Friday 19 May 2023

Black-fronted Piping-Guans at Parque Provincial Urugua-í

February 8, 2023

Laura and I left the environs of Iguazú Falls and worked our way south and then east, our destination being Parque Provincial Uragua-í. This park is a little bit off of the standard birding route and is not frequently visited by foreign birders. And, because there are no lodging options other than camping, most visiting birders who drop in only do so for a morning or an evening, before spending the night elsewhere. 

Orthoscapheus coriaceus - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

This park is famous as a semi-reliable location to seek out the remarkable Black-fronted Piping-Guan. Small numbers of piping-guans sometime come down to the river's edge next to the main public road. Quite a few birders have had their lifer Black-fronted Piping-Guan from the same bridge. Laura and I planned to car-camp here for a night, giving us an evening and a morning to find the guan. We were also excited for the mothing and night-hike possibilities.

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia) - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Camping here was about as straightforward as possible. We checked in with the forest guard and he had no problem with us staying. We did not have to pay anything, nor did we have to sign in anywhere. We warned him that the strange blue light he would see in the evening was just our moth light and he didn't seem to care at all.

Our campsite - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

We chilled for a bit during the heat of the afternoon, hitting the trails by 2:30 PM. There are two main trails at PP Urugua-í: a loop trail on the south side of the road, and another loop trail on the north side. We crossed the road and took the north route. 

 PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Bird activity was low - not a surprise at this time of day - but we quickly encountered a pair of Blond-crested Woodpeckers, only our second time finding this awesome species. 

Blond-crested Woodpecker - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

A small mixed flock held our lifer Lesser Woodcreeper while another first, a Variegated Antpitta, sang from somewhere off-trail. This species is common here and we heard several, but none were willing to show themselves. A crisp male Chestnut-headed Tanager was also a lifer. 

Ochre-collared Piculet - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

We stopped by a large bend in the nearby river, hoping that we would get lucky with a piping-guan (wishful thinking). The best find here was a mature Broad-snouted Caiman. This species, which ranges south of the Amazon basin, was a new one for Laura and I.

Broad-snouted Caiman (Caiman latirostris) - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

The rest of the hike was rather uneventful and we returned to the main road to stake out the famous piping-guan bridge.

View from the famous piping-guan bridge - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

I could scarcely believe it when Laura whisper-shouted that there was a pair of them on her side of the bridge!
Black-fronted Piping-Guans - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

The next hour was magical. A total of four guans were drinking from the river and they did not seem too perturbed by our presence. The photo opportunities were mouth-watering, to say the least!

Black-fronted Piping-Guan - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

The Black-fronted Piping-Guan is a scarce resident of the Atlantic forest. Only several thousand remain in the wild, with most found in São Paulo and Paraná, Brazil as well as northeastern Argentina. As usual, habitat destruction is main reason for their decline, but illegal hunting also plays a large role. 

Black-fronted Piping-Guan - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

The Black-fronted Piping-Guan is considered to have high quality meat, while its approachability makes it an easy target for hunters. In areas without effective anti-poaching measures, this species becomes extirpated quite rapidly. 
Black-fronted Piping-Guans - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Black-fronted Piping-Guan - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Black-fronted Piping-Guan - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

It was difficult to look away from the spectacular piping-guans, but a few other birds at the bridge provided brief distractions. We really enjoyed our first truly excellent view of a Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper. 

Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

We watched the guans until the sun had slunk below the horizon, signalling the end of another day. A high-flying Common Nighthawk flew overhead at dusk. This highly migratory species is quite uncommon in Misiones province, and this was one of just a handful of records on eBird. 

Common Nighthawk - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Laura and I choked down our dinner of leftover milanesa (fried chicken), french fries and salad, and set up the moth sheet and light. Our night hike was a little less productive than we had hoped, and reptiles remained mostly absent. This Common Red Brocket was loafing at the edge of the camping area. 

Common Red Brocket (Mazama americana) - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Common Red Brocket (Mazama americana) - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Below are a few photos from the evening. As always, even a slow night-hike is infinitely more interesting than if we had just stayed back.

Tailed Sulphur (Phoebis neocypris) - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Marbled White-lipped Frog (Leptodactylus elenae) - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Unidentified freshwater crab - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Selenops sp. - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Scinax fuscovarius - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Ramphia albizona - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Black Witch (Ascalapha odorata) - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Pomacea sp. - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Australoheros tembe - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Rapids Frog (Limnomedusa macroglossa) - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Laura discovered the frog of the night: this gorgeous Ocellated Tree Frog (Itapotihyla langsdorffii). Like most species in this region, it is endemic to the Atlantic Forest. 

Ocellated Tree Frog (Itapotihyla langsdorffii) - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

The moth sheet was rocking when we returned, keeping me occupied far later into the evening than I had originally intended. I have yet to go through and edit my photos - that seems like a good project for some cold, February evening - but here are a couple of the more interesting-looking moths and other insects. 

Phaloe cruenta - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Synchlora gerularia - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Unidentified leafhopper - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Agathodes designalis - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Nectopsyche ortizi - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Mung Bean Moth (Maruca vitrata) - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Semnia auritalis - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Laura and I hit the trails around dawn the next day. It was one of those mornings where everything seemed to come together and we lucked out with some really great sightings. 

Rufous Gnateater - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Without a doubt, the morning's rarest species was the pair of Buff-bellied Puffbirds that I first picked out by their distinctive vocalizations. With a bit of encouragement, they flew into a tree directly above our heads! This uncommon Atlantic Forest endemic is rather difficult here in Argentina. 

Buff-bellied Puffbird - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

A productive, bamboo-laden portion of the north loop trail gave us Blackish-blue Seedeater, Drab-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant, Gray-bellied Spinetail and Bertoni's Antbird. 

Blackish-blue Seedeater - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Gray-bellied Spinetail - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Other new birds for the morning included a Chestnut-bellied Euphonia and a heard-only Robust Woodpecker. Laura had missed the Chestnut-headed Tanager during the previous afternoon, but she corrected that this morning. 

White-throated Spadebill - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Even apart from all of the new birds, it was just a great morning to be out. The biting insects were mostly absent, the birds were singing, and the butterflies were fluttering by. 

Eutychide physcella - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Statira Sulphur (Phoebis statira) - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Before packing up the car and leaving, I checked out the river for a few minutes. This was a good decision as a medley of various butterflies and dragonflies were active. 

Erythrodiplax melanorubra - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Coenus Sailor (Dynamine coenus) - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Aethilla echina - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Progomphus complicatus - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Hydaspes Eighty-Eight (Callicore hydaspes) - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Peristicta sp. - PP Urugua-í, Seccional Uruzú, Misiones, Argentina

Our stay at Parque Provincial Urugua-í was amazing and we came away with a bevy of great sightings and memories. I can't recommend this place enough if you are looking for a quiet place to camp where there are excellent birds and other wildlife. 

Tuesday 2 May 2023

The End Of An Era - Reflections On Our Travels

(Written on April 23, 2023)

In just a few days time, Laura and I will board a jet bound for another international destination. Our flight home to Toronto isn't that unique of a scenario, as we have flown on plenty of planes headed home since we began our international travels several years ago. But this time, there will be a sense of finality to this flight. It will mark the end of our "two years" of international travel. 

The summer of 2019 seems like forever ago. We were living in the Before Times where COVID-19 was still unknown in our collective lexicon. It was during these halcyon days that Laura and I were putting a plan into action - one that we had been thinking about, on and off, for the better part of a decade. By this point in time we had both graduated from university, become entrenched in our first full-time jobs, squirrelled away as much as we could into savings, and gotten married. Everything was going according to plan. 

By the late summer, we both quit our jobs and assembled the final pieces into the puzzle to facilitate an idyllic journey of international travel. Thanks to the generosity of my maternal grandparents, we were able to store all of our belongings in their basement, while my car would reside in the spare half of their garage. We dropped our beloved cat, Cendra, off at my parents, who had so generously offered to house her while we were off gallivanting. And then, on September 13, 2019, we boarded a flight to Ecuador so that the adventures could commence. 

Our first day in Quito (September 14, 2019)

We were young and hopeful with grand plans for what we wanted out of life. Surely there were big questions that needed answers eventually. Where would we settle down? Did we want to? Was house ownership going to be a priority? Did we want to start a family? But those were decisions to be grappled with and made by Future Laura and Future Josh. We were still in our twenties and wanted to see the world before life got too serious. So many people wait until retirement age before they endeavour to do these things. But we were young, with relatively healthy minds and bodies and no commitments holding us back. Make hay while the sun's shining, right?

Our two years of international travel was a good idea in theory, but in practice, things did not move so linearly. COVID-19 threw a serious wrench into our plans. Obviously, so many more people in this world were affected far more severely than we were, and I don't wish to minimize this. We were fortunate in that we could safely return home to Canada and live rent-free with my parents while we waited for the pandemic to subside. The 18 month period between March 2020 and September 2021 was a strange time, but this gave Laura and me a chance to regroup, focus on the money-squirrelling, and dream about future international travels, should that ever became tenable again. Luck was on our side and we have been able to finish what we started in the 19 months since. It may have taken us three and a half years, but we managed to get our two years of travel in. 

For those of you that follow our journey via my blog postings, it may be difficult to discern exactly where in the world we are at the moment. It is not easy to keep a blog updated in real time when we are spending our day-to-day exploring and traveling, all the while trying to plan the subsequent days and weeks of travel. As I write this in late April, we are currently in southern Brazil. We explored the northern half of Argentina for the first two months of the year, enjoyed a brief detour to Uruguay, and have been in southeastern Brazil ever since. I have nearly finished writing the Argentina blog posts and, with luck, I will one day write abut Uruguay and Brazil as well. In time, perhaps some of the other travels (Thailand, Panama, Costa Rica) will make their way to the blog, too. 


I wanted to touch on some of the highlights of our travels so far. Obviously, one of our goals when we set out was to see as much wildlife as possible and in that sense, we were very successful. 

Chaco Owl - Aviá Teraí, Chaco, Argentina

Birds are a huge priority when we travel. According to eBird, in the time since we left for our travels in September of 2019, we have encountered 3831 bird species. Laura has become quite the birder during this time, and she has seen her life list grow by an astounding 2,668 species. I have added 1,820 species to my life list, and now 5,000 species is a milestone I hope to reach within a year or two. When you break it down by country, here is a summary of the birds we have seen during our travels. 

Colombia: 1292 species

Peru: 979 species

Ecuador: 732 species

Brazil: 666 species

Argentina: 655 species

Panama: 643 species

Costa Rica: 619 species

Thailand: 544 species

Mexico: 527 species

Malaysia: 401 species

United States: 266 species

Uruguay: 161 species

Singapore: 91 species

Paraguay: 9 species (as seen from Argentina)

Myanmar: 7 species (as seen from Thailand) 

Empress Brilliant - Bellavista, Pichincha, Ecuador

Gray Gulls - Albufera de Medio Mundo, Lima, Peru

Fiery-billed Aracari - Paraíso Birding Paradise, Chiriquí, Panama

What was the rarest bird that we saw during this time? I would like to highlight two species. The first was feared to be extinct for many decades, until a small population was discovered recently in central Brazil. That is, of course, the Blue-eyed Ground-Dove. The known population is a minuscule 20 individuals at the moment and Laura and I were lucky to see two of them recently. Things aren't looking great for the long-term viability of the species. The hope is that there are more populations out there that humans haven't located yet. 

Blue-eyed Ground-Dove - Botumirím, Minas Gerais, Brazil

The second bird that I want to highlight isn't one that is necessarily as rare as a Blue-eyed Ground-Dove, it just happens to be a bird that is rarely ever seen by humans. On March 6, 2022, Laura, our guide Miguel, and I came across a strange tinamou in Mitú, Colombia which we eventually figured out was a Barred Tinamou. This species is only known from white-sand forest at several widely-spaced locales in the western Amazon. Ours was the first sight record for Colombia, while we managed to take the first photos of this species for eBird. I could only find two other photos of this species online. A very lucky encounter, indeed. 

Barred Tinamou - Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

Mammals are another focus of ours and we have managed to connect with around 200 species since September, 2019. If I had to single out one species in particular, it would have to be the Spectacled Bear. You can read about our first encounter with this rare species in Mindo here. Two species of tapirs are also worth mentioning, as these were animals that we have wanted to see for years. And finally, we had an incredible experience with a wild Gaur at a watering hole, in Thailand last December. 

Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) - Mindo Valley, Pichincha, Ecuador

Brazilian Tapir (Tapirus terrestris) - Intervales State Park, São Paulo, Brazil

Gaur (Bos gaurus) - Nam Nao National Park, Thailand

Snakes are another group of animals high on our wish list, and we have done quite well with 108 species photographed. These include five species of coral snakes (Micrurus) and seven species of lanceheads (Bothrops). 

Annellated Coralsnake (Micrurus annellatus) - Manú Road, Cusco, Peru

Panama Spotted Night Snake (Siphlophis cervinus) - Soberanía National Park, Panama

Green Jacaraca (Bothrops bilineatus) - Los Amigos Biological Station, Madre de Dios, Peru

Paradise Flying Snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) - Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Malaysia

Graceful Snail-Eater (Dipsas gracilis) - Mindo Valley, Pichincha, Ecuador

Our total reptile list during this time was nearly 300 species, with the vast majority being lizards. Here are a few of the standouts. 

Striped Worm Lizard (Ophiodes striatus) - Serra da Canastra National Park, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Helmeted Iguana (Corytophanes cristatus) - Snowy Cotinga House, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Scalyback Anole (Anolis notopholis) - Reserva La Bonga, Antioquia, Colombia

Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum) - Patagonia, Santa Cruz County, Arizona, United States

Phuket Pricklenape (Acanthosaura phuketensis) - Sri Phang-nga National Park, Thailand

We have encountered around 160 species of frogs during our travels and ten other species of amphibians. Big highlights included three species of caecilian, six species of leaf frog (Phyllomedusidae), and eleven species of poison frogs (Dendrobatidae). 

Linnaeus's Caecilian (Caecilia tentaculata) - Ricaute, Nariño, Colombia

Gliding Leaf Frog (Agalychnis spurrelli) - Reserva La Bonga, Antioquia, Colombia

Little Devil Poison Frog (Oophaga sylvatica) - Barbacoas, Nariño, Colombia

Chacoan Horned Frog (Ceratophrys cranwelli) - Taco Pozo, Chaco, Argentina

Yungas Red-bellied Toad (Melanophryniscus rubriventris) - Calilegua National Park, Jujuy, Argentina

Three-striped Poison Frog (Ameerega trivittata) - Los Amigos Biological Station, Madre de Dios, Peru

Harlequin Treefrog (Dendropsophus ebraccatus) - Tumaco, Nariño, Colombia

I could go on and on about the various insects that we have encountered, but will keep it brief here. Insect diversity is completely mind-blowing in a temperate region, and that gets amped up even more so in the tropics. During our two years of travel, I photographed nearly 700 species of butterflies, and likely over 1000 species of moths (not including the additional ~1000 moths I photographed in Ontario during this time). 

Pansy Daggerwing (Marpesia macella) - Rio Bravo, Valle del Cauca, Colombia

Rhamma familiaris - Monterredondo, Cundinamarca, Colombia

Acanthops erosula - Secret Forest Research Station, Madre de Dios, Peru

Red-dotted Planthopper (Lystra lanata) - Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

We brought our LepiLED and sheet with us for all our travels. While we weren't able to use it as often as we would have liked, our occasional surveying revealed an absolute treasure trove of species. 

Lebeau's Silk Moth (Rothschildia lebeau) - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

Eulepidotis viridissima - Cerro Pirre, Darién, Panama 

Argyrosticta aurifundens - Cerro Pirre, Darién, Panama

Idalus sublineata - Cerro Pirre, Darién, Panama

Even apart from all of the wildlife sightings we have experienced so many other highlights. By traveling where the birds are, we have explored beautiful mountains, pristine creeks, dirt side-roads cutting through incredible forests, and communities far, far off the tourist track. While birds are often the main goal, they often act as a conduit to experience a region. 


Obviously, it wasn't all fun and games. Traveling for long periods of time in foreign lands brings its fair share of struggles and frustrations, especially when one attempts to do things independently and relatively cheaply. 

Laura and I were caught in the crossfire of a countrywide strike during our first month in Ecuador, but were successfully able to sneak out of Otavalo due to some quick thinking by our Spanish teachers. It never felt so good to be safely at a cabin in the cloud forest!

Otavalo, Imbabura, Ecuador

We knew that car issues would be inevitable, especially given the state of many of the roads that we needed to drive to reach the best birding sites. 

Road closed - Valle de Santa Eulalia, Lima, Peru

We shredded a tire high in the mountains of Argentina and dealt with (only) three other flat tires throughout the rest of our travels. We experienced a dead car battery in the middle of nowhere along Satipo Road in Peru, got our rental car royally stuck along a muddy road in Brazil, and had a muffler fall off of the same rental later two weeks later. Luckily, we were able to avoid any car accidents. 

Driving in Latin America can bring its share of challenges but I honestly enjoyed most of it. The exception being, of course, the incredible concentration of speed trap cameras in Brazil and the tens of thousands of speed bumps that we drove over. Colombia and Brazil were definitely the worst offenders in that sense!

Our trusty rental car in Peru, nicknamed "Pardusco"

The language barrier was frustrating at times as well. Fortunately, Laura and I have learned enough Spanish that we could converse relatively fluently throughout most of Latin America. I have to give huge props to Laura for this as her Spanish proficiency is much higher than mine and so she was the "designated talker" most of the time. Thanks, Laura! Obviously, the language was more of a challenge in Brazil as our Portuguese is a work in progress, while traveling in Thailand was also a struggle at times. We heavily relied on Google Translate, but managed to get by just fine in the end. 

One final thing that I want to mention is the kindness and hospitality of so many people whom we crossed paths with. Whenever we had issues there was always someone willing to help - whether it was helping with translation, or towing our vehicle free of charge, or helping us change a tire, or providing us food and shelter when our car was stranded in the hot sun. The selflessness and willingness to help showed by countless people was a good lesson to Laura and I, something we will strive to be better at back home. 

Making friends in Joaquim Felício, Minas Gerais, Brazil


So, where do we go from here? Laura and I will be back home in Ontario shortly and we are looking to put down some roots, shallow as they may be for now, in the Hamilton area. The traveling has been a wonderful adventure but I miss quite a few things from home. Spending quality, regular time with friends and family will be a welcome change. I miss seeing the seasons transition throughout the year, and I'm looking forward to being plugged into the Ontario birding/naturalist community. 

We both have exciting career prospects, and I'm eager to pour more time and energy into making my guiding business, ONshore Birding, a successful venture. And it will be wonderful to have a home base again and to no longer have to continuously plan where we will be a day, week, or month from now. 

Obviously, this will not be the end of our travels, it will just be a pause for now. Who knows where the next adventure will be? Time will tell, I suppose. 

Thank you to everyone who helped facilitate this endeavour for us - Laura and I are eternally grateful. 

Córdoba Hills, Córdoba, Argentina