Thursday 20 April 2023

HWY 101 - Forest Birding Near Iguazú

Highway 101 is the main corridor that runs east-west along the top end of Misiones Province in Argentina. Though this road looks like a major artery on Google Maps, in practice it is nothing more than a clay track that receives very little traffic - mainly, just a few locals traveling between one of several small villages and the big city of Puerto Iguazu. By switching over to satellite view, it quickly becomes apparent why this road would hold great appeal for birders and other naturalist-types. 

Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Lush forest surrounds the road for many kilometres. While most of this forest has been degraded from its original form, a number of large trees still stand and a wide variety of species utilize this area. And though no public trails have been cut into this forest, being limited to roadside exploring isn't a bad option. The minimal traffic is hardly a nuisance, and the opening created by the road allows most types of birding to be very productive (the exception being, of course, searching for those skulky understory species like antthrushes or antpittas). 

Our visit to Iguazú Falls was enjoyable due to the surprisingly good 'naturalizing' we experienced in the busy park, but we were yearning for a bit of solitude. Just us and the forest. Plus, of course, a chance to connect with many species that can't be easily found in the national park. And so Laura and I spent the better part of two full days exploring Highway 101 east of Iguazú Falls. 

Black Capuchin - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

February 5, 2023

The road conditions were a little treacherous on our first morning, as heavy rain the previous day had sodden the clay substrate and created a slick mess. I only drove a short ways down the road, nearly getting stuck in one area, before I found a safe pull-off. Luckily, the road dried out quickly in the tropical sunshine and a lack of further rain meant that the road was easy to navigate during all future visits. 

Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

The lifers came hot and heavy as we were exploring a new area for the first time. We heard our first Spot-winged Wood-Quails and Slaty-breasted Wood-Rails, while the first few mixed flocks contained Ochre-breasted and White-eyed Foliage-gleaners, Ochre-collared Piculet, Scale-throated Hermit and more. 

Ochre-breasted Foliage-gleaner - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

It is hard to beat the anticipation that comes with birding an area for the first time. Probability dictates that lifers will be around nearly every bend.

White-eyed Foliage-gleaner - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

The haunting voices of Tufted Antshrikes rose up from the thick shrubbery. With a bit of effort we were soon face to face with this beautiful species; its sleek plumage matching the shadows where it resides. The Atlantic Forest has a number of really interesting antshrikes and we were keen to see them all, of course.

Tufted Antshrike - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

We spent an hour or so birding from an observation blind located beside the road which looks out over a small marsh and clearing. The blind is named after the late Daniel Pupi Somay, an influential birder from the area. 

View from the Daniel Pupi Somay blind - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

We found a few more birds of interest here, including our first Three-striped Flycatcher and Sibilant Sirystes. The Three-striped Flycatcher was our fourth and final species in the genus Conopias that we have now seen, along with Lemon-browed, Yellow-throated and White-ringed Flycatchers. It was a little too far for anything more than just "record" shots, though. 

Three-striped Flycatcher - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

But with the clock ticking and the sun rising higher in the sky, it was time to continue further down the road. I wanted to cover as much ground as possible during our few days along Highway 101 to increase our chances of finding a Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher. This uncommon species has a small range in the Atlantic Forest, and the Iguazú area surely provided our best chance of crossing paths with one. 

Luck was with us and I heard an interesting vocalization during the late morning hours. The gnatcatcher! The looks were brief as both birds were rather skulky. I mainly focused on obtaining good looks of them, but I squeezed out a few terrible photos as well. 

Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

The butterflies along Highway 101 were incredible. Several dozen species were seen coming to puddles along the muddy, clay road and I made an effort to photograph as many of the species as I could. 

Dynamine tithia - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Adelpha thessalia - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Lasaia agesilas - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Coenus Sailor (Dynamine coenus) - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Caria marsyas - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Barbicornis basilis - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Eventually, the direct angle of the midday sun was enough to send us back to town for a siesta. One benefit of our hotel was the friendly feline that we befriended during our stay. We enjoyed a midday nap together...

By the late afternoon we had renewed our energy stores to return to the road. Dusk is always a dynamic time to be in a tropical forest and I relish every opportunity we have to experience it. 

Side road off of Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

A short visit to the Daniel Pupi Somay blind produced a small flock of Chestnut-eared Aracaris whose antics were fun to observe.

Chestnut-eared Aracari - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

As night fell, the forest became alive with the hoots of Rufous-capped Motmots. This was a milestone species for us as it was our 14th and final species of motmot that we have seen and photographed! Laura was particularly excited as motmots are some of her favourite birds. 

Rufous-capped Motmot - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

During the magical period where dusk turns to night, the forest came alive. A Short-tailed Nighthawk made several passes, just barely visible in the sky above us. Common Pauraques and a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl sang, while a short walk down a side road produced a Black-capped Screech-Owl. Despite our best efforts, our only sighting of the owl was of a dark shape gliding overhead in the moonlight. 

Common Pauraque - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Our brief night-hike turned up the usual medley of insects, but herps remained absent. 

Topana aguilari - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Coptopteryx argentina - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

The next day, Laura and I visited Iguazú Falls (you can read about it in my previous post) but we revisited Highway 101 on February 7.

February 7, 2023

Despite our successful visit to Highway 101 a few days earlier, our second morning provided us with many new and exciting things. Bird-wise, the undisputed highlight was not a lifer, but a species we had heard on many previous occasions: a Barred Forest-Falcon. It flew right in and perched beside the road, letting us soak in the incredible views. 

Barred Forest-Falcon - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

I rarely get a chance to observe these secretive raptors, and to have one at eye-level was just a bonus. What a bird!

Barred Forest-Falcon - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Some of the "lifers" that we found this morning included Streak-capped Antwren, Greenish Tyrannulet and Rufous-crowned Greenlet. All of these are fairly common species in the Atlantic Forest that we would end up seeing many times in the subsequent months. 

Rufous-crowned Greenlet - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Iguazú Falls is one of the more reliable sites to watch Great Dusky Swifts in the region as hundreds nest and roost here. We had struck out with them during our only visit to the waterfall. Luckily, we were afforded redemption this morning, as a flock of around 150 individuals streamed over the road.

Great Dusky Swift - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

We continued eastwards down Highway 101, covering a much further distance than on February 5 due to the improved state of the road. We stopped for various birds - some singing White-shouldered Fire-eyes here, a Riverbank Warbler there - before reaching a bridge that can be a reliable site for the scarce White-bearded Antshrike. 

White-shouldered Fire-eye - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

The antshrike was not cooperating and we heard just a single rendition of its song. The strong mid-morning sun had begun to shut down bird activity by this time, too. But that just meant that the butterfly action was really ramping up. The quickly drying puddles in the clay road were attracting them by the hundreds. 

Below are some of my favourites. It was one of the better butterfly spectacles that I had ever witnessed. 

Agathina Emperor (Doxocopa agathina) - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Widespread Myscelus (Myscelus amystis) - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Rusty-tipped Page (Siproeta epaphus) - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Hydaspes Eighty-Eight (Callicore hydaspes) - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Gulf Fritillary (Dione vanillae) - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Unidentified hairstreak (tribe Eumaeini) - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Ethemides Skipper (Thespieus ethemides) - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Turquoise Emperor (Doxocopa laurentia) - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

This road-killed blind snake was an unfortunate discovery. I believe that it is called the Dark Blind Snake (Liotyphlops beui), a species which ranges from central Brazil south to northeastern Argentina and eastern Paraguay. 

Dark Blind Snake (Liotyphlops beui) - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Laura and I took a midday break, returning to the road for the late afternoon and evening. It had been a scorcher of a day and even at 5 PM the sun was vicious. Fortunately, the shadows were long by this hour. Birdlife was very quiet, though we heard a distant Red-breasted Toucan; our first. 

We spent the evening spot-lighting for wildlife along Highway 101. Right around the time that the sun was setting, I noticed a dark shape roosting high in a tree. A closer inspection revealed that it was a Rusty-margined Guan. 

Rusty-margined Guan - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

The dusk drive was really enjoyable, despite striking out with snakes (always our #1 target in the evening!). As night fell, we staked out the area near the White-bearded Antshrike bridge. Soon, our main target was singing - a Silky-tailed Nightjar - but it was too far off the road for us to attempt to spotlight it. We also heard our first of many Common Pauraques, a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, a Collared Forest-Falcon and a Tropical Screech-Owl here. 

Common Pauraque - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

The owling was pretty good with five species tallied. Most of these were heard only, including the Atlantic Forest subspecies of Mottled Owl. Laura spotted a Tawny-browed Owl in flight, but it disappeared before proper looks could be had. 

Below are some of the other creatures from our excursion. Another memorable evening...

Cururu Toad (Rhinella diptycha) - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Black Witch (Ascalapha odorata) - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Unidentified moth (family Erebidae) - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Carales astur - Highway 101, Misiones, Argentina

Tuesday 4 April 2023

Cañadon de Profundidad and Iguazú Falls

February 4, 2023

For our second day in Misiones, Laura and I ventured over to a small park only a half-hour drive from our accommodations in Posadas. Our main reason for visiting Parque Provincial Cañadón de Profundidad was to search for Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher, of which there were recent records, but the site also seemed to hold a variety of other novel species for us. 

Our early arrival meant that the gates had not yet opened, but we had read that this shouldn't be a problem. I parked near the gates and walked in, eager to see what bird life awaited. 

Cañadon de Profundidad, Misiones, Argentina

The park is rather small but it contains two short loop trails which travel next to a little watercourse for part of their distance. By walking very slowly as us birders usually do, we spent almost four hours in the park. The best part was that we had the place to ourselves. Just us and the birds. 

Unfortunately, we dipped on the gnatcatchers but we found many other new species for us. A female Black-goggled Tanager met us near the entrance. And while we would undoubtedly see many more of this widespread species, we enjoyed the close views of this one.

Black-goggled Tanager - Cañadon de Profundidad, Misiones, Argentina

The Southern Bristle-Tyrant occurs in relatively low densities and can be difficult to connect with so we were pleased to find a pair consorting over the creek. 

Southern Bristle-Tyrant - Cañadon de Profundidad, Misiones, Argentina

A Rufous-breasted Leaftosser chattered away, while we enjoyed nice views of our first Rufous Gnateater, Swallow-tailed Manakin (a young male) and White-spotted Woodpecker. Spot-backed Antshrikes and Rufous-capped Spinetails were heard and not seen, but we would have plenty of time in the upcoming weeks to correct that. 

Rufous Gnateater - Cañadon de Profundidad, Misiones, Argentina

Swallow-tailed Manakin - Cañadon de Profundidad, Misiones, Argentina

White-spotted Woodpecker - Cañadon de Profundidad, Misiones, Argentina

Below are two Lepidopterans that I photographed: the local subspecies of the Common Morpho (Morpho helenor achillides), and a huge sphinx moth called the Streaked Sphinx (Protambulyx strigilis).

Common Morpho (Morpho helenor achillides) - Cañadon de Profundidad, Misiones, Argentina

Streaked Sphinx (Protambulyx strigilis) - Cañadon de Profundidad, Misiones, Argentina

Laura and I continued east towards our ultimate destination of Puerto Iguazú. We broke up the drive by investigating a little sideroad where other birders had found Large-tailed Antshrikes and White-shouldered Fire-eyes. 

Santa Ana area, Misiones, Argentina

This was a productive venture, though both species remained largely out of sight while they called back at us from the undergrowth. The only birds that I photographed here were this female Ruby-crowned Tanager and a Blue-naped Chlorophonia. 

Ruby-crowned Tanager - Santa Ana area, Misiones, Argentina

Blue-naped Chlorophonia - Santa Ana area, Misiones, Argentina

February 6, 2023

Iguazú Falls is one of the most magnificent waterfall systems in the world. With a height of 82 m, it is significantly taller than Niagara Falls, while Jog Falls in India (253 m) and Kaieteur Falls in Guyana (226 m) are much taller. What makes Iguazú so spectacular is its massive flow of water combined with impressive width of the waterfall system. Iguazú is divided into roughly 275 individual flows spanning 2.7 km; an incredible sight. 

Laura and I typically avoid touristy places (with few exceptions, we simply don't like other people that much!), and Iguazú Falls is the most popular tourist destination in Argentina and Brazil, perhaps even challenging Machu Picchu for the South American title. But Iguazú Falls was a must-visit site for us, and we chose February 6 as the day for our visit. 

Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

Of course, there is more to see than just the waterfalls and so we planned to spend the morning birding one of the park's trails. This way, we could maximize the relative cool of the morning, as well as enjoy the forest before too many tourists showed up. The "best" birding trail at Iguazú is called the Macuco Trail. It traverses various forest habitats for around 3.5 kilometres before terminating at a lookout over the river downstream from Iguazú Falls. 

Macuco Trail - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

The foot traffic was relatively tolerable and we enjoyed a birdy couple of hours. An early highlight was a pair of Plain-winged Woodcreepers, our first. 

Plain-winged Woodcreeper - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

Our lifer Blond-crested Woodpecker was another highlight, though it disappeared before I could imprint its likeness onto my memory card. Some of the other birds we encountered were Greater Ani, Ochre-breasted and White-eyed Foliage-gleaners, Fuscous Flycatcher, Southern Antpipit and Saffron-billed Sparrow. 

Greater Ani - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

Laura was up to her usual tricks; that is, spotting a day-roosting potoo. And this time, the Common Potoo was snuggled up with a baby!

Common Potoos (adult and young) - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

Common Potoos nest by laying a single egg at the top of a dead snag or in a crevice of a branch. After hatching, they will brood the baby for roughly six weeks or until it is fully independent. This was the first time that we had ever seen a young potoo with its parent. 

Common Potoos (adult and young) - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

And Laura wasn't done with spotting awesome birds; she also located this Pearly-breasted Cuckoo near the end of the trail. Pearly-breasted Cuckoo is a rather rare breeding species in Argentina, with most records occurring in northeastern Misiones province, and it was a new species for us. 

Pearly-breasted Cuckoo - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

The walk back was a little bit less birdy, not unexpected given the time of day. We checked in on the potoos while I also spent a lot of time photographing butterflies. 

Red Postman (Heliconius erato) - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

Lychnuchoides ozias - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes) and Blue-frosted Banner (Catonephele numilia) - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

Common Blue-Skipper (Quadrus cerialis) - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

Red Rim (Biblis hyperia) - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

Notheme erota - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

Orange Banner (Temenis laothoe) - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

Harmonia Tigerwing (Tithorea harmonia) - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

We visited several viewpoints of the falls for the remainder of the day. Even though the water level was relatively low, and some of the "best" viewing platforms were unaccessible, it was a spectacular sight. 

Iguazú Falls - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

Iguazú Falls - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

We even spotted a few birds including our lifer Maroon-bellied Parakeets, right at the edge of the falls!

Maroon-bellied Parakeet - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

I attempted a few photos of various bird species with the falls in the background. This was pretty tricky as I was limited to my fixed-length telephoto lens. 

White-eyed Parakeets - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

Can you spot the Snail Kite?

Snail Kite - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

The tourists on the Brazil side seemed to have a pretty epic view of the falls.

Iguazú Falls - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

One bird that we did not see at Iguazú Falls was the Great Dusky Swift. This species nests here, and they can often be seen roosting near the lip of the falls or flying around in big flocks. Unfortunately, I completely forgot that I should be searching for this species here, only remembering when we were almost back at the car. Shoot! There were definitely no swifts flying around (we would have noticed that, I would hope), but maybe we missed a shot at finding the roosting birds. 

Dynamine tithia - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

One of the more interesting species we found during the afternoon was this Williams' Side-necked Turtle (Phrynops williamsi) that was happily basking below the metal walkway, only a few meters from hundreds of passersby. 

Williams' Side-necked Turtle (Phrynops williamsi) - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

This highly aquatic turtle prefers rocky-bottomed streams in its limited range, which includes parts of southern Brazil, northeastern Argentina, and southern Paraguay. 

Williams' Side-necked Turtle (Phrynops williamsi) - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

You may be wondering what those strange, white growths are on the turtle's chin. Many species of freshwater turtles have tubercles, some which are more obvious than others. These are a sensory organ that likely assist the turtle with finding prey in murky waters.  

Williams' Side-necked Turtle (Phrynops williamsi) - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina

I'll finish this post with another reptile. We didn't exactly find this Giant Parrot Snake on our own; rather, we found a crowd of people excitedly pointing up into a tree. Giant Parrot Snakes have a widespread distribution in Central and South America. As you can imagine, they do quite well in trees where they hunt for lizards, frogs, birds and other arboreal species. 

Giant Parrot Snake (Leptophis ahaetulla) - Parque Nacional Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina