Travel to Brazil

Friday, July 31st: Traveling was not my first order of business today. First, I had to head to the Baptist Medical Arts Building for my regular myeloma treatment (my usual schedule is two out of every three weeks). It was scheduled for 9:15, but actually started at 10 or so. I was done by 11, and picked up a sandwich at Au Bon Pain before heading home.

I headed to the airport around 2pm. I ran into torrential rains on 836. I was pouring when I parked my car at Airport Fastpark, and even though I parked under the carport, I got wet before while getting the bags out and into the shuttle.

I used the business class line, and got the nice Pre-check stamp on my boarding pass, making for a quick trip through security. Then I headed to gate D9. I didn't get any exercise this morning, so I walked instead of taking the skytrain. When I got there I found a surprise. It said “Los Angeles” instead of “Manaus” and listed a departure time of 4. I checked the AA app, and it still said D9, boarding at 4:10. Obviously, that wasn't going to happen!

Around 4, they made an announcement about a further delay to the LA flight (the flight crew wasn't here yet), and told us the Manaus flight was leaving from gate D49, a long way from D9, maybe half a mile. Again I walked rather than using the skytrain. The skytrain is not much faster, if at all, but it is easier. I still felt I needed the exercise, so I walked. When I got to the gate, it said “Manaus”. Yah! I ended up being one of the first ones there.

Supposedly, we were boarding immediately. However, with no plane at the gate, that wasn't going to happen soon, so I settled in to wait. Boarding was rather e extended, and didn't end until around 6. It was a long wait after we got in line. Due to the weather, they were spacing planes out more, and the line moved very slowly. We eventually took off around 7:15pm, over 2 hours late.

I mind the waiting a lot less when sitting in business class (no first class on this A-319). I took some of the time to go over the Brazilian birds again, both those in van Perlo, and in the Special Volume of the Handbook of the Birds of the World (I have pdfs of the relevant species on my computer and phone).

Had dinner over the Caribbean, as the sun was going down. It wsa nice: Thai Chicken; Mixed Greens with Artichokes, Roasted Tomatoes and Feta; and Bread, followed by Almond Crusted Chicken. It was topped off with an Ice Cream Sundae. I also had a couple of glasses of an Australian Verdelho (Baddaginnnie Run) with it.

After dinner I went back to studying the birds. I'm making progress as a good number of them pop into my head when I see the name. Others need more review. Although I will have limited time to sleep in the hotel tonight, there's no real point in trying to sleep on the plane. Today's dexamethasone made sure of that. Indeed, it'll probably keep me more or less alert much of the day tomorrow, even if I get little sleep tonight.

Later on, over southern Venezuela, I had a snack: fruit, small salmon sandwiches, and some chocolate.

We arrived in Manuas about a quarter past midnight. It didn't take long to get through passport control, baggage claim, and customs. A driver from Field Guides was there to take me to the hotel. I won't get much sleep as I have to get up around 4:30am tomorrow.

Quality Hotel, Manaus

Speedboat to Novo Aripuanã

Saturday, August 1st: I got about 2 hours of sleep last night. We left the hotel around 5am to head to the dock and our speedboat Pérola I. We had breakfast at the dock. The Pérola I runs a regularly scheduled service between Manaus and several river towns on the Madeira. It holds about 70 people and was close to full. There are other boats that ply the river, but are much slower (and cheaper). They are filled with hammocks as it is often a multi-day journey.

The first bird of the trip was a Gray-breasted Martin nesting or roosting in a pipe at the dock. We heard it calling, and once it got light, it flew out and away. We also spotted Rock Pigeon and Black Caracara before we got on the boat.

We left Manaus about 6am, headed down the Rio Negro to the confluence with the Rio Solimoes where the meeting of the water forms the Amazon (at least if you are Brazilian, others consider that the Solimoes is the Amazon from near Iquitos, Peru).

It wasn't long before we saw White-winged Swallows flying over the water. A bit later, I found a Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture flying low over the water. Then Jay (one of our leaders) pointed out some vultures on a log. I got a good look, they were also Lesser Yellow-headed. Further along, I saw 4 Muscovy Ducks flying along. We saw a few more later. American (Great) Egrets were present in small numbers everywhere along the river today. A big flock of dark birds puzzled us for some time. It was paralleling us, but eventually turned over the river and crossed our bow. By then we had figured that they were Neotropic Cormorants. After a while, we reached the Madeira. As we crossed the other channel a female Anhinga was spotted. Then we headed upstream on the Maderia.

The Madeira

The Madeira is a big river, and would normally be very impressive. But after being on the post-confluence Amazon, the Madeira is a couple of steps down. One of its big claims to fame is the huge amount of sediment it carries, reputedly the most of any river in the world.

We proceeded up the Madeira at about 25mph. We made two stops, at Nova Olinda do Norte, and at Borba. The boat coninued upriver as far as Manicoré after dropping us at Novo Aripuanã.

We spent much more time near the bank on the Madeira, so we saw more birds, including most of what we had seen on the Amazon. Our first new bird on the Madeira was Large-billed Tern. Further along, a Cocoi Heron flew over. Then we started seeing Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks.

Small numbers of both Water Buffalo and Cattle were seen grazing along the side. We started to get our first of hundreds of Black Vultures. Snowy Egrets also started to appear. I think in the end they outnumbered the Great Egrets. Some Cattle Egrets were with the livestock and elsewhere. Then we had a spate of raptors: Yellow-headed Caracara, a couple of Great Black Hawks, and a few Savanna Hawks. When we were close to the shore, a small flock of Red-breasted Meadowlarks flew by. By scanning the treetops, I caught up with Swallow-winged Puffbird.

Later, a Striated Heron flew by. A bit further along I saw a Plumbeous Kite perched in a tree. Some Yellow-billed Terns put in a appearance. We would see more during the day. Brown-chested Martins were perched in various places along the river and I started seeing kingfishers. The only ones I positively identified were Ringed Kingfishers. Some dovish birds flying along the side were Pale-vented Pigeons. A Pied Lapwing flew by. We saw a couple more of them later on the island. My last new bird before reaching Novo Aripuanã was Osprey.

Novo Aripuanã

At Novo Aripuanã, a big crowd disembarked, including us. The speedboat continued downriver. We took some motor canoes a very short distance to the Tumbira. But before that, we found a few birds near the dock, including a heard-only Yellow-browed Sparrow, the white-winged form of Blue-gray Tanager, Tropical Kingbird, Turkey Vulture some heard-only House Sparrows, a number of flyover Short-tailed Parrots and Fork-tailed Flycatcher.

We moved out toward the big island in the Madeira by the mouth of the Aripuanã. I spotted a Brazilian Teal flying away from us. It flew near ome Black Skimmers that were on a mudflat at the upstream end of the island. We also saw Giant Cowbirds on the main shore. Both Tucuxi, Sotalia fluviatilis (Gray River Dolphin) and and Inia geoffrensis (Pink River Dolphin) were spotted in the water as we headed toward the island.

After we got close to the island, a Sand-colored Nighthawk flew out, showing off its distinctive wing pattern. A couple of Pied Lapwings were on the shore, as was a Collared Plover. Three other birds were heard: Lesser Hornero, Barred Antshrike, and Ladder-tailed Nightjar.

We circled the island off the mouth of the Aripuanã as the sun was going down. Some Greater Bulldog (Fishing) Bats, Noctilio leporinus came out over the river.

Before long it was time for dinner. Our plan is to head up the Aripuanã overnight. By immediately heading upriver, we will be able to maximize the distance traveled before falling water levels force to turn back.

I ended the day with 43 bird species including 2 lifers. We also saw 3 mammal species, 2 of them lifers (the dolphins)

Aboard Tumbira, cruising up the Aripuanã