Thursday, 28 February 2013


I was back in monkey land this morning but not too find Capuchins but to clear trails so that our passage would be made easier when we did locate then. Armed with machetes Becca and I hit the flooded forest trail. There was a small wager as too who would get stung first whilst this work was carried out. Wasp’s nests are common place and they don’t take kindly to their home being knocked down! The wasps are around double the size of wasps in the UK.

The trail clearance was successful but I took the first and only stings of the day, probably because I went in after them having taken a hit away from a small nest of 5 wasps. These insects don’t let go either! But the trail was cleared and no harm was done!

Back at the base more tidying up was carried out before lunch and then we were all sitting around relaxing when a strange call was heard which sent the crew off to investigate. A Red-breasted Toucan was the prize for all! Fantastic this bird was a lifer for me!
(Red-breasted Toucan)
Bonus birds of Chestnut-vented Conebill and Black-tailed Tityra thrown in for twitcher Jo and myself. Not bad for ten minutes of birding along the Mbopi trail!
(Black-tailed Tityra)

New traps!


A busy day was in store for all at Para La Tierra. A new set of mammal traps were to be deployed in the transitional forest having spent time the previous day making the bases. The traps are spring loaded so that when the mammal enters the metal box to eat the bait a door closes behind them. The traps when baited have to be checked regularly so that an animal is not in a trap for too long. I went out with Helen and set up 75 traps on various trails.

After lunch Jo, Jeorge and I took a trip into the Cerado to do some birding as the sun went down. Birds are normally more active early morning and evening as the sun is still very hot during the middle of the day. There was not too much activity but I added Chestnut-bellied Seedeater to my trip total which stands at 76 species.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013


The monkey crew were up “oober!” early this morning with the intention of locating the Capuchins as they departed their sleeping site. One thing was for sure the monkeys were in the same area we left them the previous night but somehow managed to give us the slip! They were heard but were always a few steps ahead of us until they reached a part of the forest that had no trails.

A pair of Rufous-crowned Motmots posed nicely for me along the way.
(Rufous-crowned Motmot)
Spotted Nothura were heard in the forest and one was seen as we left the trail near the lagoon. The Pied-billed Grebe was still present near the beach. A large flock of White-tipped Dove were seen at the lagoon edge.

This evening we returned to the sleeping site but had to return to base as one of the group got an ant in their pants. Problem being these ants are large and have a wicked bite! The situation was quickly resolved and all is fine now!

The “Bullet ant” is the biggest ant here. This ant is aptly named as you feel like you have been shot or its bite has been likened to being hit with a tazer! I’m not sure who tested that comparison out! Fortunately it wasn’t this species causing the problem tonight! 

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Monkey Mania!

We all said goodbye to Adam today. He is leaving Laguna Blanca to visit Iguazu Falls in Argentina before returning to Canada.

The day was overcast but again looked good for migration. I noticed a few Mississippi Kite which were kept low by the cloud near the base and decided to keep an eye on the Lagoon. A Barn Swallow was the only bird of note until a small bird whizzed across the front of me whilst I sat near the edge of the lagoon. “Hummer!” Poised with SLR in hand I waited for the birds next move, which was as fast as its first! But I was ready snapping away as it searched for nectar. I sent a text to Jo (a) so he could gain some experience of a “Twitch!!” but he did not get to me in time. (b) so that I could test out my Paraguayan phone. This will keep me in touch with the base when I’m out in the field.
(Glittering-bellied Emerald)
I went out with Becca and Sean an hour or so before dark on monkey watch. The idea was to locate a sleeping site so we could re-located them the next day. I was not too hopeful of seeing them when we set out but if you don’t look you certainly won’t have a chance of seeing them.

We were in the forest for a good half an hour when the trees started to sway...was this the wind? Well there is not much around...Then contact calls were heard...We could be in luck here!!... We all crept around and the chattering between the Capuchins got louder and the tree were almost bending over in places!! Then bingo!!.. 1,2,3,4 monkeys ran along a branch between two trees...5 then number 6 stopped briefly to look around before number seven cleared the gap... The excitement was too much but we had to stay composed so that the Capuchins would not get spooked! A whole fourteen minutes later and this breathtaking experience was over! We left them to settle for the night with a view to returning early the next morning.

I am not sure how many times I have looked for these monkeys since I have been here but the briefest of views, calls and sometimes only movements in trees have been my total product until this evening! Was it worth the suspense/the wait?! Too right it was! The walk back to base had all of us chattering away like excited children! Woo hoo!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Raptor migration!

A visit to the Atlantic forest this morning produced a Squirrel Cuckoo found by Becca who strongly denies having any interest in birds..I’m not so sure myself!! 
(Squirrel Cuckoo)
After a walk along the Urukurea trail a mighty crash from the canopy and the shouts from a very disgruntled Capuchin were heard. The primate was not seen again but had me wondering if the monkeys were just as curious about our presence but didn’t like being spotted taking a sly interest in their cousins!

The beach area is busy today with tourists which results in an increase of feathered visitors to the base. These included a pair of Scaled Dove.

Later that afternoon Becca had a call from Jo “There’s a tonne of Kites over the lagoon”. The message was relayed to me. After a bit of scurrying around SLR shots were fired off and the birds identified as Mississippi Kite. Jo had also seen a Swallow-tailed Kite but I did not connect with this species on this occasion.
I also noted some hirundines over the lagoon!
(Mississippi Kite)

Quality not Quantity!


Having spent the last couple of days looking like a giant Hobbit and having to keep my feet up! (I am still mystified as to whether I was bitten or it was to do with climate change!) I was back on the birding trail having noted a Great White Egret on the lagoon and a Narrow-billed Woodcreeper from my chair this morning.

It was time to visit White-winged Nightjar land (WWN) with Jo and the crew. Before we checked in with the land owner Sean banged on the roof indicating a stop point! A Red-legged Seriema was seen on the edge of the Eucalyptus plantation.

As the truck ran parallel with the WWN area a Rhea was spotted. In fact there were six seen in total in this area. Two difficult species logged in the space of an hour. Fantastic!
(Greater Rhea)
A White-rumped Mojita was first on the list once on the area. I walked part of the WWN area which had two fire-breaks splitting the area into three. White-rumped Swallow and Brown-chested Martin were both seen hawking insects.
(White-rumped Mojita)
This is an area I will be spending a fair bit of time at as the Nightjar project takes shape. It has not changed too much since my visit last year.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Day at the Dunes!

The whole gang had an afternoon at the Sand Dunes today. Mark found a Black-tailed Tityra at the base and later a Wattled Jacana on the Lagoon before we set out. I returned to the lagoon with him to photograph this colourful rail.
(Wattled Jacana)
The Sand dunes are an oasis in the middle of farmland with what is now a small stream running through it. This area looks a perfect migrant trap. This area is around 30-40min drive away from the base. A Savanna Hawk was seen in flight along with a White-rumped Monjita on a fence line.
(Sand Dunes)
Birding is creeping into all the residence daily routine not that many will openly admit to this! Twitcher Jo is rarely seen without a pair of binoculars in his hand these days. All of which causes me great amusement when the subject of birding is discussed!
(Twitcher Jo)
Time in Paraguay seems to pass so quickly and before I knew it, it was time to head back to base and say “Adios!” to the dunes.
(The Gang!)
The gang from left to right Becca (Primatologist), Jo (Project co-ordinator), Helen (Museum Curator), Sean (Aquatic Biologist), Adam (Volunteer), Mark (Ecologist, Volunteer), Sam and Dan (Volunteers), Karina (Head co-ordinator). Lobo was somewhere around!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Refreshing rain!


I woke up this morning at the usual time of stupid o’clock and could hear rain on the roof! But there was no point going back to sleep so up I got. Rain figures in this neck of the woods so I packed a small umbrella which came in very handy this morning. I thought to myself “Rain with no wind I can manage that” and off into the Cerado I went! This area holds two of Laguna Blanca’s specials White-banded and White-rumped Tanagers.
(White-banded Tanager)
The morning started slowly with Grassland Finch and White-rumped Tanager. The first new bird of the day was Eared Dove followed by a small group of loud Black-throated Saltators.
(Black-throated Saltator)

Crested Caracara was the next species to jump onto the trip-list with four seen in flight. There were a lot of birds moving around when the rain eased off for short periods.

The rain had finally stopped and two Ringed Kingfisher flew threw obviously heading for the lagoon. I wandered on and heard the distinct call of the Red-legged Sierema. I attempted playback but then heard another bird from the opposite direction. This continued for about ten minutes resulting in me spinning around so many times that I lost my bearings. Thank goodness for footprints in the sand!! (and GPS!).

The horse carcass has not attracted many potential diners yet but as the menu matures I would imagine bookings at the Vulture Restaurant will pick up!

I wandered back to base and saw Mark and Adam heading out. A Shiny Cowbird was the last addition this morning.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Introducing "LOBO" + some birds!


PLEASE NOTE: Sorry folks but most of the time I don’t have mobile phone reception at Laguna Blanca!

Lobo is the resident dog! Protector of all and all things around the base! He is still under a year old. He generally disappears at night when he is supposed to be guarding the base. He has developed a “Houdini” style act and manages to escape regularly. Last night was no different he managed to wander over to the monkey area and was dually dispatched back to base on the back of Fatima’s motorbike with Becca. Fatima just happened to be passing by! 
No chance of monkey watch today! 
Plan “B” do some birding!

The first lifer of my trip came in the form of a flyover a small group of Pileated Parrot, Tataupa Tinamou were also heard as I walked along the road.

Two Variable Antshrike were found near the gates....
(Variable Antshrike)
These were replaced by a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl who was very interested on keeping an eye on me!
(Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl)
Further down the track I spied the rufous cap of a spinetail and after a little bit of patience identified the bird as a Pale-breasted Spinetail. A Pearly-vented Tody-tyrant appeared a few moments after the Spinetail had gone from view. This species was far more camera friendly.  A Masked Tityra completed the mornings list.
(Pearly-vented Tody-tyrant)
I helped Sean out in collecting the gill net which had drifted to the E side of the lake. There was nothing of interest in the net or to report on the lagoon.

The afternoon turned overcast so I decided to check the Lagoon to see if anything had dropped in. I spied a grebe at the E end of the lake and quickly gathered my kit and telescope and made my way along the path. The grebe was confirmed as a Pied-billed Grebe making two on the lagoon.
Neotropical Cormorants were next to drop in nine in total. As I was watching the Cormorants wheeling around I notice a smaller bird flying low across the lagoon. I snapped away with the SLR and later identified it as as the largest of the Kingfishers here the Ringed Kingfisher. The last species to make it onto my list was a juvenile M Long-winged Harrier which was patrolling the long grass at the back of the E section of the lake.
(Ringed Kingfisher)
 I made my way back towards base bumping into Sean, Mark and Adam along the way. I joined up with them and went to look at the dead horse which had been dropped off into a clearing in the grass. The carcass was reasonably fresh. Adam had set up a camera trap to monitor visitors to it. Could this be an opportunity to see a King Vulture?! Note to self check this location regularly!

I added some Cerado birds to my list Red-crested Finch, a group of very noisy White-rumped Tanagers and several Grassland Sparrows.

Later that evening the Tropical Screech Owl made yet another appearance at the camp!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A Day of Dips!

Today was to be a full scale monkey hunt. Most of the crew were up early to assist Becca in finding the troop of Capuchins. I paired up with Adam who is also a volunteer and off into the Atlantic forest we went in search of these elusive primates. There are also a group of Aracari that frequent the feeding station early morning and I had yet to connect with them.

It wasn’t long before Adam had a text and then a call informing us that the Capuchins had been found near the road. We made our way through the forest as carefully and quickly as we could to join the rest of the group on the road. The news was good Becca had a beaming smile but the monkeys had moved across the road into the forest where there were no trails.

Becca informed me the Aracari’s had also been seen near the feeding platform! I returned to the base logging a Tropical Kingbird on the way. Mark who was preparing butterflies stated a group of three Aracari’s had been seen at the base at about 8am.

Brushing aside the double disappointment I went off to my Spanish lesson.  During which Adam who had gone for a swim found a Rufescent-tiger Heron in the reeds close to the beach! Nice find!
(Rufous-tiger Heron)
(photographer and copyright Adam Moltzahn)
The weather was beginning to look decidedly dodgy and it wasn’t long before the rain was tumbling from the skies. I checked the lagoon but there did not appear to be any new arrivals!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Land Ahoy!

On the back of the Osprey with large fish sighting Sean and I took to the water so that he could deploy a gill net and I could investigate the E end of the lagoon. This end of the lagoon is more secluded without the human disturbance factor. The Osprey had moved on along with the Egret’s. The gill net was deployed approximately ¾ of the way to the E bank. The net was marked with two empty drink bottles. This made me chuckle as I had previously been walking the lagoon and become slightly agitated at how careless people could be by discarding their empty cola bottles on the water. Good job I didn’t fish them out!!

Once we had reached the E bank Southern Lapwing seemed to appear from everywhere relocating to a nearby sandy area. The count reached the mid forties which was a vast improvement on the half dozen or so which frequent the W end of the lake. Time was moving on and a return to base was calling or a search party would be out looking for us! On the way back a group of Neotropical Cormorants were seen. These birds were new to the lagoon which is proving my theory that the lagoon needs checking every day.

After lunch it was time for my first Spanish lesson with Fatima who lives on the site. Karina had kindly arranged what will be a regular slot during the week. Fatima is learning English and it proved to be a very useful session for all involved.

The evening turned out to be a stormy one with torrential rain into the night! 

Monday, 18 February 2013 around!


I took a lie in till 8am this morning... Well it is Sunday! I decided to walk to the E end of the lagoon from the base side. What a good decision this was. The Neotropical Cormorant was back in full shape preferring the top of the lagoon.  An Osprey entered from stage left showing off its fishing skills by bagging a nice sized fish in the process! Fantastic! I made a mental note to speak to Sean who was studying the marine life in the lagoon.
The temperature was soaring and the birds were already on their siesta. It was time to go back to base to prepare lunch with Sean. Weekend dining is prepared by the guys on a rota basis the remainder of the week a cook from the local community has the reigns.

During lunch Becca suggested we go to the monkey feeding platform and leave some fruit and try monkey playback. It was the hottest part of the day but I was up for an opportunity to link up with these tricky characters! So off we went it was 40C in the shade but what the heck!

I arrived at the monkey feeding platform a few pounds lighter but settled in observing the platform camera poised! The playback didn’t seem to be paying off but then the trees outside this area started to bend under the weight of two Capuchin monkeys who were clearly enjoying the mid-day sun. They did not enter the feeding area but it caused some excitement in our camp! The walk back in the heat did not seem so bad but I still could not persuade Becca to visit the site of the dead horse (Vulture heaven) even on the back of monkey sightings!!

I had not been back at base long when Helen offered everyone a tour of the site. This was my first proper trip into the Cerado since visiting last February.  Ruddy Ground Dove and a White banded Mockingbird were additions to my list. Mark and Jo bagged more species but I did not have the energy to walk back to camp with them. I will save the walk for early morning on another day!
(Ruddy Ground Dove)

Early Bird!

An early start was the order of the day. A trip with Becca into the Atlantic Forest with locating the Capuchin Monkeys on top of the priority list...with the odd bird thrown in along the way!

As I was walking along the dirt track a woodpecker was seen in silhouette and was not identified. Further down the tracka  Potoo made two low sweeps across the road and then disappeared from view. That’s a good start to the day I thought to myself!

Becca found a Pale Crested and a Robust Woodpecker who both seemed to be enjoying each others company. Perhaps birding is beginning to rub off on her!
(Pale-crested Woodpecker)
(Robust Woodpecker)
A Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture was added to the trip list before we visited the feeding platform but sadly the monkeys were not playing ball today.  I kept a party of birds busy with playback which had a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl join in with the chorus line.
(Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture)
Once back at the base Mark told me he had seen a flock Great Egret over the lagoon early morning. The rain clouds were gathering and a walk around the lagoon was postponed as the heavens opened mid afternoon! Once the weather had cleared I grabbed Jo and off I went to the lagoon for the close of the days play. The flock of Great Egret obligingly re-appeared at the E end of the lagoon. I managed to photograph the Striated Heron who attempted to play hide and seek with me before returning to the reed-bed. A Neotropical Cormorant seemed to be having difficulties drying its wings as it bobbed about on the water.
(Striated Heron)
A night out with the gang in Santa Barbra closed the day off. The price of beer is stupidly cheap here 12,000G for a litre bottle of Brazillian beer and it wasn’t bad either! 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Away Day!


Today was a trip into Santa Rosa with Helen.  Becky and I required a Paraguayan driving licence to drive the site vehicle. This is a simple and I thought efficient process which involved a blood test. This enables your blood group to be shown on the licence in the case of emergency! The journey from Laguna Blanca is on a dirt road which plenty of potholes and puddles which makes the relatively short journey a long bumpy ride.

There were birding opportunities along the way with American Kestrel utilised the wires lining the road, Picui Doves were also present. At one of the bridges there is an expanse of marshland where a group of White Woodpeckers and Yellow-rumped Marshbird were observed in flight.

After lunch in Santa Rosa a few supplies were gathered then it was back to base. I had completed my induction period and had been “Let loose!” in Jo’s words which meant I could go out onto the site on my own. There are controls in place which involve booking out and giving a time of return, carrying a GPS and a local mobile phone so that contact with the base can be made if disaster strikes!

There was about an hours light left, it was off to check the Lagoon. I stopped to talk to Jo at the Beach and three White-backed Stilts interrupted our conversation and were observed flying low and off N. This species was a Paraguayan tick for me.

I have already made a mental note to regularly check the Lagoon and it is paying off having noted Barn Swallow flying W at dawn. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

Rain Stops Play!

February 14th

The plan for early morning was to go with Becca and re-locate the Capuchin monkeys but the weather had other ideas! Monsoon type conditions prevailed and quick forays out to the Lagoon edge were the only option between heavy showers. On a positive note the humidity had dropped and birds were more active.

A Striated Heron flew over the reed-bed near the beach as I was looking for the Pied-billed Grebe. The latter was re-located later on further round the Lagoon. Chopi Blackbirds were also present. I then hot footed it back as more storm clouds gathered and concentrated my efforts within running distance of the base! A group of Guira Cuckoo and Smooth-billed Ani were also seen.
(Guira Cuckoo)
(Smooth-billed Ani)
I returned to the beach area where the Atlantic Forest meets the lagoon and photographed a Streaked Flycatcher which is more heavily striped in the South of its range. Epuelet Oriole were also noted in this area.

(Streaked Flycatcher)
The bird of the day was the male White-banded Tanager which is a Laguna Blanca special. This was seen on the far side of the Lagoon through my telescope.

Becca and I went looking for the Capuchins late on but were not successful. We made it back to base in the nick of time before the heavens opened again!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Laguna Blanca Day one!

February 13th

Laguna Blanca is split into three areas Atlantic and Transitional Forest and Cerado. The lagoon is situated between these areas. The base sits on the NW end.
My first day was an induction day therefore I was not going to venture to far from the base. My first port of call at first light was the lagoon. A single Pied-billed Grebe was at the W end. Southern Lapwing were seen along the sand area and picnic site at the SE edge.  A few parrots flew over but identification of them would have to wait for another day.  A Black Vulture, Yellow headed Caracara and Canary-winged (Yellow-chevroned)  Parakeets followed on soon after.
A family party of Sayaca Tanagers were the first to be caught in the SLR. Rufous Hornero were vocal throughout the time.
(Sayaca Tanager)
I then took a brief walk along the trail which leads out from the base where I became mesmerised by a Flavescent Warbler that popped up in the small forest area before the Cerado. I put in some effort to photograph this species but failed on this attempt. If only it had sat still for a bit longer! A bird that did pose very nicely indeed was a Curl-crested Jay.
(Curl-crested Jay)
Boat-billed Flycatchers rounded off the mornings birding at the base. The afternoon was spent updating Wildlife Recorder until I noticed several black dots flying low over the lagoon Hirundines! Off I went scope in hand. Southern Rough winged Swallows appeared under a huge cloud skimming the lagoon surface then moving on as quickly as they arrived. Then two herons appeared from the bank I managed a shot and Whistling Heron was the verdict on a less than perfect picture.
(Whistling Heron)
After dinner I went with Becka to visit sleeping areas of Capuchin Monkeys. Becka is studying these elusive primates and this was a reconnaissance mission for the following morning and it paid off with the monkeys heard but not seen...An early start is in order to catch them in the morning before they get out of bed!! I added one bird species in Plush crested Jay at the back of the houses.

I think I may have blinked the first day is over already!!

PS: I am finishing this entry sat on a strategically placed internet friendly chair in the dark headlamp on...Holding an umbrella!.. I certainly bought some rain with me!!

Travel Day!

After nearly a days travel which included two flights a taxi a luxury bus and a truck journey to the reserve I made it to my destination. The bus journey threw up a few morsels including Wattled Jacana and Snail Kites to wet my appetite. There were other unidentified species along the way but I didn’t think the other passengers would have appreciated the additional stops!

Karina and Jo two of the project co-ordinators picked me up from Santa Rosa and the journey to the reserve was completed with a Burrowing Owl thrown in en route.  Once the welcoming introductions had been completed I began unpacking my birding equipment. Helen the Museum Curator called me out to the front of the base where a Tropical Screech Owl had popped in to check out the new arrival! That was a particularly nice end to the day!

Laguna Blanca reserve is run by Parra La Tierra who carries out scientific studies on the site. The project leaders are assisted by University graduates and volunteers like me. One such project is a study of the critically endangered White-winged Nightjar. I was particularly enthused that I would be assisting with start of this project and slept soundly with thoughts of re-uniting myself with this amazing bird. 

(White-winged Nightjar 2012)

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Garden Tick!!

Everyday I get up and wander into the kitchen to put the kettle on not really paying too much attention to whether I disturb the birds on the feeders. I think my garden regulars are used to me and certainly dont fly off when the seed tubs are carried into the garden.

This morning was like any other day until I noticed a greyish bird sat on one of the apple tree branches. My mind instantly went into overdrive "That's not a starling!" "Waxwing! Where are my bins!" My camera was in the front room having been downloading pictures from it last night. Chaos in the house, I flew into the front room grabbed the camera slid across the laminate floor into the back room. A quick look through the bins "Yes! its a Waxwing". Now for the tricky bit set the camera up and sneak forward into the kitchen. I'm not sure whether it was me moving or the local cat that spooked the bird but it flew off before I could get near any kind of light source to snap this MEGA of a garden tick for me.

I have always dream't of a Waxwing appearing in the garden but reality suggested it was an unlikely event. I do have a red berry bush which covers my neighbours fence but it does not have alot left on it at this time of year.

I sent out the news and then pondered and looked out in anticipation in the hope that the bird would return to pose for a few snaps.... I'm still waiting!!