Want to Go on a Snipe Hunt?

Giant snipe.

I have a vague childhood memory of being involved in a snipe hunt in the woods behind my house. I don’t remember much, except that a large paper bag was involved, and that no snipes were actually captured that night. For those not familiar, a snipe hunt is a prank played on a gullible person and involves trying to catch a nonexistent creature called a snipe.

On the Brazil trip last month, I joined several other people on a hunt for an actual snipe: a species of South American bird called the giant snipe. And we actually found one. But more on that in a moment; first, a look at some of the other birding we did that day, followed by a slide show of some of the highlights.

After our somewhat disappointing outing to Macaé de Cima the previous day, Thomas, the lodge manager at REGUA, suggested an excursion he thought we might find more productive: Read more

Birding the Atlantic Forest

Elizabeth is the one who found the ecolodge called REGUA and suggested it as a place to spend a few days before the main trip started. It’s in a beautiful location; the image at the top of this page is of the view from REGUA of the Tres Picos mountains. REGUA has a great reputation for the work it’s doing to help restore the Atlantic Forest—you can see a cool video about it, narrated by Michael Palin, here. It’s also known as a destination for birders.

In our first full day at REGUA we met up with a pair of birders from the U.S. who had come there to hike one of the trails, specifically to see one particular bird species that REGUA is known for: the grey-winged cotinga, a bird that’s endemic to the Atlantic Forest. The couple had come to the lodge after their hike to pay the $10-per-person fee for day visitors, and we struck up a conversation with them. Small world: It turns out Read more

Two Weeks in Brazil

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. Read more

You Might be a Bird Nerd If …

Each morning as I’m waking up, I try to remember the dreams I had the night before. Sometimes they’re nonsensical; sometimes they’re frightening. Sometimes they’re profound and poignant. Sometimes I try to puzzle a dream out and realize it’s my brain’s way of reassuring me about something: “Relax; you’ve got this.” And sometimes they’re just not loaded with much meaning.

A dream I seem to have every so often in that last category is that I’ve spotted some really cool and unusual bird, often right in my backyard. There’s not much more to the dream than that—other than the part where I wake up and realize that it didn’t actually happen, and/or that the bird doesn’t even exist in nature.

Last night I dreamed I was with a bunch of other photographers standing on a porch at some ecolodge, looking for a saffron toucanet—a beautiful bird in the same family as toucans, and one that I hope to see when I’m in Brazil next summer. And, sure enough, one landed on the railing directly in front of me. It was less than a foot away from me, looming over me, bigger than saffron toucanets are in real life. It was way too close to photograph, and besides, the sun was behind it, so it would have been a lousy shot all around. I just stood there, frozen, staring at it in amazement, and not wanting to move for fear of scaring it off. Other people were getting good photos—and laughing at my predicament.

Eventually the toucanet moved, and by then there were a lot of interesting birds lining the railings. But of course there was no memory card in my camera (as is always the case in dreams!), so I had to root around and find one.

And that’s all I remember.

I don’t think there’s anything particularly profound about this dream. No moral to the story—sorry! Mostly it just goes to show how geeky I am about birds, that I would dream at night about seeing them.

The photo you see above is of a real saffron toucanet, and it was taken by my friend JoAnne Fillatti when she went on the same Glenn Bartley trip to Brazil that I’ll be doing next summer. I really hope I’ll see a saffron toucanet, and I hope I can get an image half as good as JoAnne’s. A lovely bird and a beautiful image, wouldn’t you agree? Click on it to see it larger.

Learning Portuguese—or Maybe Not

When I put down a deposit last month on the Brazil trip for next July, I told myself I was not going to try to learn Portuguese.

Given how much I love to travel, I’m constantly wishing my language skills were better. I learned some Spanish in high school, though it didn’t really take. I’ve worked on trying to get better in recent years, as my travels have taken me to countries like Mexico, Cuba, Peru, and Costa Rica. And, being quite fond of Italy, I recently spent several years taking Italian lessons, to the point where I could actually carry on a halting conversation with someone in Italy—as long as that someone had a lot of time and patience.

But learning a language as an adult is hard, and I don’t think there’s room in my brain for anything beyond a little Spanish and a little Italian. As for Portuguese, well, there’s Brazil next July, and I do hope to get to Portugal someday, but that doesn’t seem to justify the time it would take to learn an entire new language.

I would, however, like to just expose myself to a little Portuguese. To get to Brazil and be able to say “Hello” and “Thank you” and “I’m here to photograph birds” and “May I have a Diet Coke with ice?” Maybe also to recognize a few of the words I see on menus and road signs.

To that end, Read more


While I’m pretty pumped about hosting the Alumni Association’s trip to Antarctica next January, I’m also in the beginning stages of salivating over a vacation I’m planning for next July: to Brazil. I’m signed up for a photography trip to the Pantanal region with Glenn Bartley Nature Photography.

The Pantanal is a ginormous wetland area—like Florida’s Everglades, but 10 times bigger. And it’s teeming with wildlife, including caiman (similar to crocodiles), anteaters, monkeys, and giant river otters. You’re also almost guaranteed to see capybara—the world’s largest, and perhaps cutest, rodent:

Capybara. Photo by Dagget2.

The Pantanal is also one of the few places left where you can see jaguars—and, for many visitors, that’s the main draw.

Jaguar. Photo by Dagget2.

But what interests me most are the birds: hyacinth macaws, spot-billed toucanets, jabiru storks, several kinds of kingfishers, tanagers, and more. To spend the better part of two weeks photographing all of that is my idea of the perfect vacation.

To get an idea of the beauty of Brazil’s birds, Read more