There isn’t anything too much more indescribably exciting than nearing the end of a long journey to a foreign birding location. You’ve spent evenings gawking at Google images, worn the pages of a formerly new field guide, you’ve read dozens of trip reports in the weeks leading up to the journey, and now you’re on the cusp of being in the same exact physical location you’ve mused over for some time.
After a total of nineteen hours spent on planes and in airports, a whirlwind of a trip to the famed Pantanal, a fourteen hour bus ride, followed by a bumpy truck ride, I found myself shoving off of a sandy bank on the Teles Pires River from a small motor boat. With all of my gear and belongings at my seat, I sat impatiently with binoculars clutched with both hands once the boatman started up the single outboard motor and we began our journey across the Teles Pires – a major vein of the vast Amazon Basin – to it’s junction with the smaller Cristalino River. My phone screen reads „No Service“ on the top left corner, an indication that I am doing it right.
Thirty minutes later, we’d round a bend in the river. I’ve arrived at my home for the next few months: Cristalino Jungle Lodge, where I am going to be a resident guide for the next few months. Fatigued from travel, I greet unfamiliar faces as I’m walked to my new room. But since I’m a North American birder in the Amazon for only the third time, unpacking would wait. Birding around the living area would take priority this particular afternoon.
Keeping tabs on the bird species that pass through a birder’s yard, apartment complex or other living arrangement, no matter how bizarre, is something that many birders do – some more fastidiously than others. Whether you’re readily tallying every species that is seen from the yard or casually observing the birds that visit a feeder, there is something more personal when you’re getting to know the birds you share your space with. In my case, I wouldn’t have to look far during my move-in day; the afternoon heat was finally subsiding and the forest slowly began to liven up from it’s siesta. Palm Tanagers landed on my roof while a noisy mob of Madeira Parakeets plucked açai, dropping the extracted leftovers onto the foot path I’d walk everyday.
Beyond a mass of sulphur and daggerwing butterflies in a clearing, a lone blossoming shrub had solicited Black-throated Mangos and a Fork-tailed Woodnymph. Walking just a few hundred feet further, I found myself standing on the banks of the Cristalino River. Here, I’d see three species of swallows that can always be found, including the dapper White-banded Swallows. As the afternoon transitioned into civil twilight, I picked out Wedge-billed Woodcreepers subtly working the vegetation on the way to the lodge’s common area for dinner where I would finally have a chance to meet my peers and guests. My evening would end just as a Common Pauraque fired up under the nigh time sky. An hour or more before sunrise the next morning, I discovered another denizen of the „yard“: a Bare-faced Curassow that chose to begin its low-pitched song well before I’d have liked it to; when I stopped to about think how surreal it was to be awoken by a curassow, accompanied by distant Red Howler Monkeys and droning cicadas, all seemed okay in the moment.
It is a stretch to call this a bona fide yard by most of our standards. Other than the basic buildings and facilities at the lodge, the rainforest within the lodge’s property remains fairly intact. As a result macaws, Spider Monkeys or Bay-headed Tanagers can be seen from my dorm room. And afternoon dips in the river are often shared with Giant River Otters! For a few months, though, this is a home, and I can’t wait to explore. As a resident guide at Cristalino, I’ve signed up to curiously explore the Southern Amazon and share my sightings with it’s visitors, but I rarely have to move to far from my bed (mostly because I find that my new Leica APO Televid 65mm spotting scope works quite well from bed – okay not really) to discover something new that will gradually become familiar.