In late June I went to Brazil for two and a half weeks to do nature photography, focusing mostly on birds but also some other wildlife. I spent the first half of the trip in an area called the Atlantic Forest, and the second half in the Pantanal, an enormous wetland that’s home not only to hundreds of bird species but to jaguars as well. In fact it’s one of the few places where you can see jaguars in the wild. Anyway, I thought I’d share with you a more or less day-by-day account of the trip.
I signed up a year ago for the trip, a photography workshop offered by Glenn Bartley. Soon after, I heard that my friends Elizabeth and Steve—whom I met on a photography workshop on St. Paul Island last summer—had signed up for the Brazil trip too. And not long after that, Elizabeth asked if I’d be interested in joining them in going down a few days early to do some shooting on our own. Before I knew it, I had signed on for a total of 18 days in Brazil.
I flew from State College to Philadelphia, then JFK (not the most efficient routing, I realize), and then flew 10 hours overnight from JFK to Rio de Janeiro. I met up with Steve and Elizabeth in customs, and we then met Alcenir, the driver from our first lodge, who drove us about two hours north and east to the lodge.
We kept our cameras handy on the drive, and Alcenir would pull over when he spotted an interesting bird, like this savanna hawk …
… and this aptly named roadside hawk, sitting on a wire above the road.
I’ve seen about six or eight roadside hawks in my life, and with the exception of one along a river, I’ve never seen them anywhere but—well, alongside the road.
We arrived at the lodge, called Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu, or just REGUA, and spent the first afternoon just hanging out and photographing what was around. The lodge has fruit feeders in its yard that got a lot of traffic from maroon-bellied parakeets and common marmosets (a type of small monkey); hummingbird feeders that weren’t getting much traffic at all except for a swallow-tailed hummingbird that chased other hummers away; an extensive system of trails; and a giant wetland, a portion of which is shown here:
The wetland is part of the success story at REGUA. The Atlantic Forest, or Mata Atlântica in Portuguese, is an ecosystem that has shrunk over the years to about 7 percent of its original size, thanks in part to cattle farming, coffee growing, and the sprawl of nearby cities like Rio de Janeiro. REGUA, which is a nonprofit, is working to help restore the Atlantic Forest—they have a big nursery where they grow seedlings, and they plant hundreds of trees in an effort to reforest the area. The wetland was once farm and pasture land that has since been reclaimed and is now home to birds, capybara, caiman, and more.
In the afternoon one of REGUA’s guides, Cirilo, offered to walk down to the wetland with me, and I got my first exposure to how hard the bird photography on this trip would be. REGUA is teeming with bird species, but so many of them are flitty little birds that dart around in the trees and just dare you to try to get an in-focus picture with a nice clean background. Here are a couple of birds that Cirilo found for me. First, a chestnut-crowned becard, against a decidedly not clean background.
This next guy is a white-barred piculet, a relative of the woodpecker.
A photo like that is OK, but ideally you don’t want to be shooting up at birds from below—it’s just not a very pleasing image. As with photos of people, you generally want to shoot at the subject’s eye level. But with some species, I’m learning, you take what you can get.
Cirilo and I had to head back to the lodge around 5 pm, because it’s wintertime in Brazil, and the sun goes down early. A lovely treat awaited at the lodge: The kitchen staff brings out a pitcher of caipirinhas every night at 6. For those not familiar, the caipirinha (pronounced KY-per-EEN-ya) is Brazil’s national cocktail, a refreshing and potent mix of fresh lime juice, sugar, ice, and a rum-like liquor called cachaça (pronounced kuh-SHAW-suh). It’s delicious.
In the next post: More on our stay at REGUA, with a few tanagers, a pretty bird called the blue dacnis, and an actual—and successful—snipe hunt.