Friday, August 22, 2008

Birding in Brazil: Free as a Bird!

The nests and a distant look at a pair of firewood gatherers.

Driving from Itatiaia National Park to Ubatuba during our Brazil birding adventure, our group made a stop at a small farm. Although the habitat was heavily agricultural, there were a lot of birds there. We saw several excellent new species, including the firewood gatherer, which builds its nest very carefully out of sticks it collects.

Among the more colorful of the new species spotted at this farm was the saffron finch. The male saffron finch is a bright yellow bird with a blush of orange on the top of the head. We first heard this male singing from a large flowering tree in the farm yard.

Wild saffron finch, male.

I heard the same song coming from nearer to the farm house and, peeking around the corner of the building, found an adult male saffron finch singing from a small cage. The caged bird seemed to be healthy, but I felt a bit sorry for it being confined, so near to its flock mates.

Captive male saffron finch.

Why DOES the caged bird sing?

We did not see a lot of wild birds in cages in Brazil, which was good. I've stumbled upon caged birds in Latin American marketplaces before, and it never fails to depress me.

Brazil is not yet a nation of bird watchers, but I was surprised by the numbers of bird feeders we encountered—especially hummingbird feeders. While we did not encounter any Brazilian bird watchers while afield, we did run into an Australian couple who were birding Brazil for several months. Lucky dingoes.

Violet-capped woodnymph at the Hotel Ypé feeders.

I spent some time watching the action at the bird feeders and talking with a couple of Brazilian families at the Hotel Ypé in Itatiaia. The families loved watching the birds, but really didn't care what the species names of the birds were. It was enough that the birds were beautiful and easy to watch as they flew to and from the feeders, almost within arm's reach. In fact the Brazilians, young and old, got a big kick out of the fact that I knew the names of all the birds. They would point and say "Which one is that?"

I did fairly well at identifying the birds for them.

The patriarch of the larger family asked me, through his English-speaking son:
"How is it you know all of these birds when you are from so far away? Are you sure you're not part bird, my friend? Maybe you understand their secret language"

I just smiled.

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