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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Paraguay

2017 Narrative

On leaving the airport, having picked up the last members of the group to arrive, we were soon on our way to Loma Plata, heading clear of the busy city limits of Asuncion and towards our first birding destination. Ençroute we stopped at numerous small wetlands where roadside species included Scarlet-headed and Unicoloured Blackbirds, elegant White Monjitas, punk-crested Guira Cuckoos, the odd Yellow-headed amongst numerous Southern Crested Caracaras, and a few Snail Kites and American Kestrels.

Reaching our lunch stop at Pira Hu produced a whole host of quality new birds in a flooded field with both Plumbeous and Buff-necked Ibis joined by Southern Screamer, a couple of Solitary Sandpipers, Giant Wood Rail and several Wattled Jacanas. Nearby in the Eucalyptus trees, a pair of Guira Cuckoos were busy collecting nesting material and a male Lined Seedeater showed well singing close to its nest. Red-eyed (or Chivi) Vireos were calling nearby and both Great Kiskadees and Tropical Kingbirds were adorning bushes, trees and roadside wires.

Parakeets present here included Nanday (Black-hooded), White-eyed and Blue-crowned, whilst other species present and vying for our attention were Red-crested Cardinal, Chopi Blackbird and Screaming Cowbird.

Further along the Chaco Road was Buffalo Bill’s; a disused holiday camp surrounded by scrubby bushes, trees and small oxbow lakes which produced more great new birds. The first of which, a calling White Woodpecker, greeted us as we got out of the vehicles. Working our way along the trails we came across Crowned Slaty-flycatcher, White-fronted Woodpeckers, Masked Gnatcatcher, Crested Hornero and the bizarre but beautifully marked Lark-like Brushrunner.

Nearby in a thick tangle both Great and Barred Antshrikes called and showed briefly whilst Yellow-chinned Spinetail and Black-capped Donacobius called from the reedbed. We’d only walked a few hundred metres and already the quality of the birds was only too apparent!

Stopping slightly further along the road we were soon overlooking a bird-rich wetland where Roseate Spoonbill, Cocoi Heron, both Great and Snowy Egrets were common and joined by smaller numbers of Bare-faced Ibis, Wood Stork, Jabiru, Rufescent Tiger Heron and our first Brazilian Teal which was joined briefly by a male Ringed Teal.

As we neared our first hotel at Loma Plata, a quick roadside stop as dusk fell saw us face-to-face with a young Greater Hairy Armadillo which, after being admired by the group, was quickly reunited with its mother in the nearby vegetation.

Our first day was mainly a travel day however our birding stops en route had rather remarkably produced over 100 species - not a bad start to the tour!

Our first base at Loma Plata produced some great birding experiences during our early-morning walks.  Greater Rheas were noted at a couple of spots as were a few Southern Screamers and Laughing Gallinules, whilst Lesser Yellowlegs and Upland Sandpiper were also noted nearby. Early morning birdsong was provided by the superb Many-coloured Chaco Finch, Great Pampa Finch and the entertaining and almost umbrella-like display flight of White-browed Blackbird, which contrasted with the simple ‘up and down’ display of Blue-black Grassquit aka Johnny Jump-up!

Laguna Ganso produced a memorable few hour’s late afternoon birding with superb views of Chaco Earthcreeper and a pair of the wonderfully-named Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper showing well in perfect light. In the grounds at Laguna Capitan was a superb pair of Cream-backed Woodpeckers, with Chaco Puffbird, Cinereous Tyrant, Red-crested Finch and White-barrred Piculet all noted on the trails, whilst numerous Collared Plovers were watched running almost Sanderling-like across beaches.

Late afternoon and early evening saw a small flock of Coscoroba Swans along with small numbers of Chilean Flamingo amongst mixed vast evening flights of Neotropic Cormorants, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, Cattle, Snowy and Great Egrets, all heading to roost. The lagoons themselves held White-faced Whistling Duck with a few Black-bellied mixed in, White-cheeked Pintail, and Pectoral and Solitary Sandpipers were also present, whilst mammals included a family of Capybaras.

A night-drive produced Pampas Fox, Greater Fishing-bat, several Common Pauraques and incredible views of the nocturnal activities of the social spider Parawixia with its vast network of individual orb-webs - a truly amazing sight!

The lawns bordering the property were a hive of activity in the early morning with the Hoopoe-like Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper joining Crested Hornero, Lark-like Brushrunner, Brown Cachalote, and Golden-breasted Woodpecker presumably searching for ants and termites. As we packed the vehicles just before leaving, a party of White Woodpeckers flew in and showed well, followed shortly afterwards by yet another flypast by the superb Cream-backed Woodpecker we’d seen briefly when we arrived. The Olive-crowned Crescentchest sang and showed for the group although it was mainly elusive in the thick thorn-scrub.

Black-bodied Woodpecker is a rare and highly sought-after species in the chaco, one of the ‘big 6’, so our roadside stop, which produced great views of a male both in flight and perched, was very popular, as was seeing the nearby Ultramarine Grosbeak and nesting Little Thornbird. A short drive took us to Fortin Toledo, a site where the original war trenches of the trans-chaco war have been preserved and acccompanied by information boards explaining the conflict and its history. For visiting naturalists the reserve is perhaps of greater importance as the home to the breeding programme for Chaco Peccary, a species thought long to be extinct but which was rediscovered in 1975. The Peccary breeding centre is home to three species and whilst the entrance track produced wonderful views of a feeding Blue-tufted Starthroat, few other birds were seen here.  However, a brief tour around the pens was actually very interesting as we were able to compare the widespread Collared Peccary with the ultra-rare Chaco and their bad-tempered cousin, the White-lipped Peccary.

Travelling along the trans-Chaco road produced a few roadside highlights including White-tailed Hawk and several tinamous including Brushland and Spotted. We arrived at Teniente Enciso early evening and settled into our accommodation. Danny, Tony and Franci started preparing our evening meal whilst we waited for darkness to fall. Very soon a pair of superb Chaco Owls landed right above the group in their favourite bare tree and gave wonderfully prolonged close views.

Our first full day in the field here in the dry Chaco produced Stripe-backed Antbird which proved elusive at first but once the call was heard it was fairly easy to locate in the low thorn scrub and eventually it showed well. Black-backed Grosbeak was also seen well as was a pair of Rufous Casiornis. A Lowland Tapir gave brief views as it crossed the track. Amazing how such a huge mammal can just vanish into thin air only seconds after it was initially seen a few yards away!

Whilst looking for the Tapir an obliging juvenile Zone-tailed Hawk showed just how well it mimics Turkey Vultures, with the broad silvery secondaries bearing a striking resemblance to its suitor.

In the hot dry conditions the nearby pool proved to be a magnet for birds coming down to drink and bathe with at least 20 Yellow-billed Cuckoos being joined by a single Dark-billed whilst Great Antshrike, Orange-backed Troupial and Brown Chachalote also visited. More unexpected however was the superb Sungrebe which sailed elegantly through the aquatic vegetation, giving us all great views. 

The night drive produced great views of a ‘rattling’ Tropical Rattlesnake, with another couple of Tapir and Pampas Fox all noted as well as numerous Little Nightjars flushed from the sandy track our way back to Enciso NP. During the night a very large spider was caught as it ambled across the open ground by the picnic area. It fed on moths and cicadas although, from the remains the following morning, it didn’t seem to care much for moths!

Early morning scanning the Chaco Road produced several Black-legged Seriemas, Chaco Chachalacas, Chaco Pygmy Owl, Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper feeding on the ground just like a Eurasian Hoopoe and, after what seemed like an eternity, the superb Quebracho Crested Tinamou crossed the track, followed by another, then another, and another. I mean, how daft could it get - you wait for hours and then get at least 3 in 20 minutes.

Laguna Blanca produced wonderful views of Rufous-capped Motmot close to its cavernous burrow near the rubbish tip. Nearby an Ash-throated Crake showed well on the edge of the lagoon whilst our only Scaled Doves of the tour showed well in a bare tree. Flavescent Warbler was singing here as was Black-tailed Tityra and Undulated Tinamou.

Heading out into the grasslands at dusk on consecutive nights produced superb views of a White-winged Nightjar perched on a termite mound, as well as a very confiding Red-winged Tinamou, in addition to numerous huge Rococo Toads by the gate house at the entrance.

Visiting the same site by day gave us great views of Chestnut Seedeater, several Cock-tailed Tyrants, Sharp-tailed Grass-tyrant and Lesser Grass Finch.

Travelling across country to Mbaracayu Lodge we were soon in the Atlantic Forest zone and the birdlife certainly reflected that. Our first hour of birding produced Bare-throated Bellbird, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Red-breasted Toucan, Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, a family of Masked Tityras and several Crested Becards.

The following days produced a wealth of Atlantic Forest species including both Saffron and Spot-billed Toucanets, and White-eared and Buff-bellied Puffbirds as well as a game of cat and mouse with a Helmeted Woodpecker which, for a large striking bird, proved tricky to connect with.

Night birding here produced good views of Tropical Screech Owl whilst several Rufous-capped Motmots rather surprisingly replied to the recording of Black-capped Screech Owl, which eluded us on the first night. The second night we enjoyed great views of Black-capped Screech Owl along with several Common Pauraque alighting on the track.

Early morning birding on our final day at Mbaracayu produced no less than 9 hugely-entertaining Plush-crested Jays, 4 Purplish Jays and several Chestnut-eared Aracaris before we had to tear ourselves away and head south.

The Atlantic Forest at San Rafael produced a whole host of new birds. On the short trail opposite the accommodation a Southern Antpipit was typically elusive first time around but showed well the following morning, at least as entertaining were the troop of Hooded Capuchin Monkeys moving through the trees only pausing to stare directly at us through the foliage, also in this area Black-throated Trogon showed along with several foliage gleaners including White-eyed and Buff-fronted although a Short-tailed Antthrush calling close-by got as close as it wanted to but didn’t come in to investigate us. Tufted Antshrike did the same but a little perseverance and forgoing half of breakfast produced good view of a male for one group member.

The bright lights around the buildings attracted good numbers of Hawkmoths at night and some rather impressive Rhinocerus Beetles and a few tree frogs. Our main night drive produced excellent views of Rusty-barred Owl and an adult Common Potoo accompanied by a well-grown youngster in the very same tree we’d stood under earlier in the heat of the day! 

The trails alongside the reservoir and small bridge produced Lineated Woodpecker, Swallow Tanager, several territorial Black-throated Mango, a vocal but elusive Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper as well as Plumbeous, Rufous-thighed and Swallow-tailed Kites, a single Peregrine drifted overhead one morning whilst another early morning watch near the breakfast table produced a Hook-billed Kite.

Midway through the forest, small areas of bamboo scrub produced Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, the rare and range restricted Blackish-blue Seedeater, and exceptionally obliging Greenish Schiffornish and White-rimmed Warbler.

An evening spent out at Kangueri grasslands at produced at least 1 Giant Snipe, Pampas Wren and Pearly-breasted Seedeater whilst a woodland trail resulted in good views of at least 1 Russet-winged Spadebill and a group of Red-ruffed Fruitcrows. Checking the wetter areas of grassland produced many species coming in to roost. These included both Saffron-cowled and Scarlet-headed Blackbirds whilst an Aplomado Falcon was busy feeding on the huge emergence of Globe Skimmer dragonfly. The journey back many Pauraques, White-bellied Nothura calling at close range for 1 group member and several groups of Burrowing Owls sitting on the track obviously waiting for vehicles to flush out crickets, grasshoppers and no-doubt, other flying invertebrates of the night.

On arrival at La Graciela we headed out on foot across the dry and sun-baked grazing field to the longer grass where we soon put up an Ochre-breasted Pipit, and judging by the fresh plumage, a juvenile, thus probably only the second ever juvenile to be photographed! Also here, several Long-winged Harriers, a soaring Anhinga, a flock of Bobolinks, 5 Pinnated Bitterns, great looks at Lesser Grass Finch and large numbers of Monk Parakeets coming down to drink alongside Hooded Siskin and Shiny Cowbird. Driving along the tracks as we headed out of the rice fields a very welcome bonus was an immature male Cinereous Harrier along with a single Yellowish Pipit.

Our final morning was spent birding the productive wetlands at Arroyos y Esteros, situated to the east of Asuncion. Here the group could enjoy good views of Strange-tailed Tyrant, including several family parties, the recently described Ibera Seedeater, Crested Doradito and Black-capped Donacobius. After having been noted briefly throughout the tour, a White-tailed Goldenthroat finally perched long enough for us all to enjoy this mobile and often elusive hummer. Species associated with open scrubby wetlands were in abundance here with Rusty-collared Seedeater, Scarlet-headed and Unicoloured Blackbird all seen well. One of the main target species here was the Bearded Tachuri which, despite our best efforts, managed to elude us, however there were surprises in the form of a male Least Bittern showing well on the edge of a reed-fringed pool, and a flyover Chestnut-eared Aracari was most unexpected for the middle of a marsh!

We returned to Asuncion to make our final preparations for the journey home. Reflecting on what we’d achieved in 14 days we’d travelled around 4300km, recorded 370 species of bird and around 50 each of butterfly and dragonfly. We’d seen 3 corners of the country, birding near the borders with Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil, and in addition to a quality list of birds we’d witnessed some marvellous wildlife spectacles, such as the social spiders and their ultra-strong webs, to Tropical Rattlesnake ‘rattling’, a large bird-eating spider, and probably the most amazing looking locust on the planet!

– Stuart Elsom

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