Brazil Travel Diary - p 3|
21 September 2004
Morning is a good time to bird around the grounds or in the forest. At lunch we have fresh salad with your choice of either ham and cheese or cheese and ham. Afternoons, when good light is on the banana tray, are best for photography. When the sun sets behind the ridge at 4:30 p.m., it's time for a shower and a cold Itaipava beer. An excellent Brazilian dinner, served at 7 p.m., is eagerly awaited by all guests.
But back to the tanagers. We have 4 species that are widespread in North America: Summer, Western, Hepatic, and the dazzling Scarlet Tanager. Another 238 species live only in the New World tropics. A few of these are of course rather dull, but some of the most spectacular, drop-dead gorgeous birds in the world are tanagers. This family of birds apparently first evolved in the Caribbean, strangely enough, but like hummingbirds, reaches its maximum diversity in the Andes. Those attending the lodge feeders here are a mix of dull and colorful, endemic and widespread. The endemic Golden-chevroned Tanager, for example, is in fact a beautiful, if pugnacious bird, but here it's just another face in the tanager crowd.
Maybe it's because when the Green-headed Tanagers show up, most other birds pale in comparison. Not only do these avian jewels flaunt about 6 different colors, their plumage has an opalescent quality - they just glow on the rare occasions when good light hits them. Like most small birds, the Green-heads (whose head really looks aquamarine), rarely sit still. They bounce from one limb to the next like a pinball before settling onto the banana tray.
22 September 2004
There is one bird, however, to which all eyes and binoculars turn even when the Green-heads are around: the sparkling male Brazilian Tanager. It's one of a group of skulking, forest-edge tanagers in the genus Ramphocelus that range from Mexico to Argentina. The Brazilian is another Atlantic Rainforest endemic - its close relative, the Silver-beaked Tanager, occurs over much of Amazonian South America. The Brazilian Tanager's plumage has a soft velvet quality, which soaks up light and gives it a richness rivaled only by our Scarlet Tanager. When the sun hits this bird, wow!