Located in the southern Amazon, the world-famous Cristalino Lodge is situated within its own 52,000-hectare private reserve that borders the larger Cristalino State Park, itself connected to the enormous Brazilian Air Force Reserve that spans an area in excess of 2 million hectares. Selected by National Geographic as one of the 25 Best Ecolodges in the world and one of only two in the whole of South America, Cristalino Lodge offers a very comfortable base from which to explore the surrounding primary rainforest and waterways. With a bird list of nearly 600 species, including a phenomenal number of localised and endemic specialities, there will be no shortage of exciting target species to keep us entertained.
Our special ‘Amazon experience’ on this tour is combined with a 4-night stay in the seasonally flooded plains of the Pantanal, the largest wetland in the world which, with its vast numbers of waterbirds, offers some of the finest birdwatching on the planet. Herons, storks, ibises and Limpkins throng the marshy areas, whilst raptors such as Great Black, Black-collared and Savanna Hawks watch on with intent. The gallery forests and scrub are also rewarding, holding a bewildering array of tropical birds, amongst them antbirds, woodcreepers, toucans, tyrant flycatchers and colourful parrots, not least the magnificent Hyacinth Macaw, a welcome and frequent sight throughout the Pantanal. Arriving by air in Alta Floresta, we transfer by road and then boat to Cristalino Lodge. During our 4-night stay here we will focus on a variety of habitats, including primary tropical forest, mixed savannah with granite outcrops and the wetlands and seasonally inundated forests, exploring them on foot, by means of the lodge’s 13 miles of networked trails, and by boat. The lodge grounds themselves can also be hugely rewarding, with fruiting Cecropia attracting toucans, aracaris, parrots and fruitcrows, whilst Bare-faced Curassows patrol the immaculately kept gardens.
Over the course of our stay we will search for a myriad of fantastic species, including the poorly known Cryptic Forest Falcon, brilliant Red-fan Parrot and Kawall’s Amazon, Paradise Jacamar, Amazonian Royal Flycatcher, Tooth-billed Wren, the crepuscular Collared and Rufous-necked Puffbirds, Gould’s Toucanet and the glittering Pavonine Quetzal. As with any tropical rainforest in South America, army ant swarms are not uncommon and will often attract a fine selection of lower-storey specialities that might include Yellowbrowed and Bare-eyed Antbirds, Curvebilled Scythebill, Spotted Antpitta and perhaps the scarce Rufous-vented Ground-cuckoo. The piercing notes of Marbled Wood-quail can often be heard ringing through the forest, as can the screeches of White-bellied Parrots. We will also spend time targeting some of the very difficult species such as the very reclusive and much sought-after Zigzag Heron and the magnificent Razor-billed Curassow.
For the second leg of our tour we will fly from Alta Floresta to Cuiabá, then drive to the town of Poconé to join the Transpantaneira Highway, a raised dirt track that extends south for 140 kilometres to the locality known as Porto Joffre, offering outstanding roadside birding en route. Our comfortable lodge for the next four nights is located approximately half way along the Transpantaneira, in a delightful spot on the edge of the Pixaim River and within easy rich of the key habitats of the Pantanal. Exploring the surrounding areas through a mix of short walks, drives and boat trips, we will enjoy the enormous congregations of waterbirds, including radiant Roseate Spoonbills, giant Jabiru Storks and beautiful Capped Herons. We will cruise slowly along small river channels, enjoying close views of Sunbittern, all five of South America’s resident kingfishers, Black Skimmers, both Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns and, with luck, the jewel of the Pantanal wetlands, the splendid Agami Heron. Delving into areas of forest we will look for such gems as Chaco Chachalaca, Chestnut-bellied Guan and Helmeted Manakin, whilst open expanses of savannah are likely to hold Greater Rhea and Red-legged Seriema. Night excursions should reveal Nacunda and Band-tailed Nighthawks and Common Pauraques, but we will also hope to see some of the region’s more extraordinary nocturnal birds including the fabulous Scissor-tailed Nightjar and Great Potoo.
Finally, after four days of unforgettable birding in the Pantanal, it will be time to return to Cuiabá for our homeward flight, via São Paulo, to London.