Experiences are often the most enjoyable when shared with other people. Here at the Cristalino Private Reserve in the Brazilian Amazon, residential guides and visitors are joined by the birds, where over 600 species have been recorded.
As a guide at Cristalino, I am fortunate to be amongst species such as Spangled Cotingas, several species of macaws, Paradise Jacamars and a variety of tanagers day in and day out. As with any job or routine, it can be easy to normalize experiences that one does daily.
It is impossible to become jaded here, however, normalized as my daily sightings are. The main reason for this is because enthusiasm is contagious, and enthusiasm is abundant when in such a bird-rich environment. Birders and wildlife devotees alike have the same reaction when they view a showy bird through the scope for the first time. A Red-headed Manakin, a bird commonly seen along the forest trails once you key in on it’s displaying vocalizations, looks impressively sharp even when seen with the naked eye. But when seen through the Televid APO 65 scope that I religiously take out for every outing, details and colors that can’t be expressed through even the crispest binoculars will make even the most seasoned birders gawk. It is this type of reaction that helps motivate me to seek these birds out. When a client sees their first Gould’s Toucanet or a cryptically patterned roosting Common Potoo, I can recall my own excitement when I saw these birds for the first time. As if the birds themselves aren’t enough, I feed off of the reactions of others, and this is what helps keep me motivated to seek out these birds day in and day out.
I couldn’t possibly come across as an expert, though, even though I am a guide at Cristalino. After all, I, too, am a visitor here. I studied trip reports, vocalizations, and field guides before I arrived, but no amount of studying can hold up to real life experience on the ground. Amongst me are a number of guides and extraordinary birders that grew up in the region. They know the birds at a level that any stranger to the area like me could ever imagine. Many of them have extraordinary and humble homegrown backgrounds and don’t speak but a few words in English.
On a number of occasions where I have been fortunate to be on the trails with some of the Brazilian birders, there is often a language barrier between me and them. They are the teachers and I am the student, but few words are exchanged. We would quietly navigate dense forest trails, patiently sharing sightings with one another and used mostly gestures to explain the location of a perched bird when spoken language was too limited. There are some activities in the world where such barriers can be broken down; birding is one of those. When we are joined by our shared effort of birding, cultural differences are diminished, and we are joined by the camaraderie of seeking out and enjoying birds together.