Sunday, October 29, 2023

Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last

PART 4 of 5:  
When I last left you we were stuck on a rock in the middle of the Rio Negro River just over 2 degrees south latitude in Brazil.  As rocks go, our was at least a comfortable one and the boat was only slightly perched askew with the rain accumulating aft

We went out at night and mostly saw spectacled caiman, the above blue and yellow macaw came later....

During the night the Princesp Clariant, a smaller motorized transport ship came to rescue us and take us to a hotel on the mainland.  I do not remember the town. Having nothing better to do, and with the ship still stuck on a rock, we got up at 0530 and went to scout the shoreline for something, anything.  The morning air was still cool and so I climbed in a back seat and off we went.

Something else was also different, I had bug bites, all sorts of bugs bites on my torso.  Were they mosquitoes, flies, or bed bugs?  From the look of them, it appeared that they were chiggers, a souvenir from the walk on shore yesterday.

As birding explorations go it was just okay.  It was overcast and the only lifer bird for me was a velvet-fronted grackle, a black bird not unlike many of the other grackles found around North and South America.

Not the stylish Amazon bird but a lifer none-the-less

After a rain scare we were heading back to the boat to eat breakfast and to pack when the driver of our small boat stopped and grabbed for Silja’s bins.  The boat had moved, THE BOAT HAD Moved!

 Princesp Clariant tied up to the Premium but the ship was three hundred yards from its last position

A phrase came to mind from Martin Luther King, maybe well out of context but it described my feeling, "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last."

The crew reloading an air compressor.  The owner came with the rescue boat.  They dove under the boat and used floats and with 2 tons of people off the boat, they were able to bust it loose.    Now we could proceed, but the program which I had never read was thrown out the window.  The river was deemed too low to go much up river and so, they planned alternatives and they deployed Brazilian sonar to lead the boat as we poked along up the river.

But then the water was deemed too low, so we went back and then went to the shore and hacked a trail through it, there were no birds nor snakes but two frogs...

a frog of the Hyla genius, "green tree frog"
Find this 5 inch forest toad...

Later more birding in the boat, all lifers except the Crane Hawk

Brown chested martins

Crane hawk

A shocking find of a paradise jacamar from the boat!

rusty margined flycatcher

Silver billed tanager


white throated toucan, heard many seen a few, all were badly photographed, my fourth species of toucan the other in the area channel billed I have seen in Trinidad

tui parakeet

If nothing else, I kept seeing birds and logging lifers 

At the end of the day of freedom, Silja was made a princess, princess of the Amazon, queen of the after dinner drinking, or empress of the evening, I don't know but she looked good
but then that night she also got chiggers.

The trip, continued and where we go or what we would see, no one except maybe Wolf had an idea, what else could happen?  Hopefully the birding gods and the vacation gods would give us a pass and let the bad luck go on to someone else, but when Olaf gets the weird going, it just keeps going.....

Hey at least we got off the rock!



Saturday, October 28, 2023

Aground on the Rio Negro

It was the best of times, and then it was the worst of times.  The title of this blog reads like a Hitchcockian novel, Aground on the Rio Negro and it was, sort of, save for the mysterious deaths or lack of them.

Day 3 started off lucky as Silja spotted a Burrowing owl on "her" beach in front of where the boat was parked for the night. I don't know how many of these guys are around nor extent of range in the Amazon basin but I thought this was a good bird.

A Burrowing owl on the "beach of Sarah," or as we (I) initially thought it was encouragement to "pray for Sarah" Portuguese is tricky! I pray for Silja every day

We went to a native village and saw the Dessana people.  We bought a few trinkets  
 I realized how nice the people were on this boat as we got to know each other.  Everyone had a story and interesting ones too.  I tried to stay as low-key as I could even though it is hard.  That evening we went out on a magical boat ride for birding.

Scarce and an incredible colored male Agami heron, the "hummingbird heron" as named locally

Cocoi herron

Festive parrots

Fulvous shrike tanager

Hoatzin, an odd bird with two stomachs

Orange crowned yellow finch

Rufescent tiger heron, not a lifer but still a cool bird

Things were going well, I even got two nightjars driving home which was a long trip as the channel we were on was blacked and the boat had moved.

The next morning brought more luck, early morning with my spotting scope on the front deck of the Premium ship we drove past two huge birds that came out of the woods feeding, the crestless curassow, what luck!  A drive-by miracle.....lifer birds were falling into place!

We went for a forest walk that morning, and mostly saw trees, but there was this trogon, in the distance, then up close but maybe 20 yards behind but the guides did not want to turn around the pack train, and I bit my tongue, remembering my pledge to keep my mouth shut but the trogon did not, it moved with us and then nearing the end of the planed walk was to our right and then forest guide Aldinei said "for those of you birders lets go find the trogon."  I was right behind him.

It was high in tree but it is pictured as the lead photo to this blog.  A lifer, but a lifer what, there are lots of trogons here.  The bird pictured is a female and then back at the boat a friendly disagreement between the three birders ensued.  White-tailed vs. Green backed trogon, it was obviously a green backed to me, it turned out we both meant T. viridis which had been split and used to be the White-tailed trogon but the T viridis subspecies had been split off to be the "Green backed trogon."  It was worth a chuckle at using old books and old names.  Birding is hard enough when just knowing it is a trogon is not good enough.

We were sitting up in the air-conditioned lounge on the second deck, and I was fixing the first picture here when all of a sudden, the boat violently stopped, and you could here the sound of steel on rock.  Glass at the bar could be heard breaking.  There was suddenly a feeling that the front of the boat was higher than the back of the boat. I looked over the rail and saw crew doing the same.  It was clear, we had run aground in the middle of the river.  Yikes!

Our intrepid leader did not look fazed by the ordeal he had his normal midday "Medicine" his Caipirinha, a drink of the local cachaca with lots of lime, sugar and ice.  Here is Wolf with Eddy the barman.

You can see the reef by the waves dropping over it, the ripple tells of a ledge

So plan A was to use the diesel engines to blast us back, and off the rock.  So the engine roared to life and the boat shuttered and shook but it did not budge.
Then we added the two shore boats to the mix and they tried to loosen it sideways

 That did not work either.  We had lunch while it rained and then the ship tried it again, to no avail, and then they got out the "Brazilian Sonar" a man in a boat with a stick

A passing ship the Tucano came to our rescue

We sent over a boat to get their experts onboard to assess the situation.  They apparently had a better and more sophisticated sonar system and used it around the boat.  This upgrade "Brazilian sonar" (Lidar?) had an extra blue stick attached to the end and extended the range apparently.  Sometimes they even used two sticks.  "Double mounted sonar?"

They moved in the Tucano for an apparent big combined pull and attached a rope, tying it to something in front.

As an objective reporter, the rope looked a bit substandard.  They tied it on and then.....untied it.  Men looked over the two boats and then....Our captain in a small boat took a picture and....the Tucano turned and left us to our fate without even trying.  We were stuck...

There we sat perched on a rock like a cormorant.  Plan C was not a plan at all, pink dolphins circled the boat and looked to attempt to get us off but they just moved on, too.  A rumor circulated later that evening that we would be rescued by a "fast boat" from Manaus and taken to a hotel in some small village on the river...Plan D apparently but who was counting, the program would need to be adjusted, but again, I could say nothing. I was just along for the ride, and what happened, happened.....We went for a night boat ride and I looked for birds, there was nothing else left to do except watch the barges of sand pass us.

We saw a few boat-billed herons and a few caiman.  It was nothing stunning.  Just our boat sitting stuck

The Premium boat still sitting aground that first uneasy night.....

Aground on the Rio Negro....nineteen passengers, 2 guides, and 10 crew.  Around midnight I hoped this would be our rescue boat but  We were not that lucky, it just sped past.

Stayed tuned, does Olaf and Silja get recued?



Friday, October 27, 2023

Exploring the Amazon...or so we thought

Large billed tern I dipped on at Naples Florida a month back, a world lifer here

Part 2 of 5: I apologize for my "hanging post" as I have been lost in the jungle so to speak. So after some obligate cultural activities in Manaus Brazil we boarded the "Premium" ship of the Amazon Clipper, a flat-bottomed ship design quite common of the Amazon River system, most of these ships look like they were built in the 1950s but this one 2007.  It was a comfortable room with 16 small cabins and only two with decks.  There was a ten person crew, and two guides to show the Amazon to us.  We were led by Wolfhard Wink, a plucky German ex-patriot who came to the Amazon looking for a new start in life sixteen years previous and except for two years of unemployment due to COVID forcing him to sell his house to keep his kids in a good school he had been prosperous as a local tour guide.

His German English accent was almost imitatable after a while.  He was knowledgeable and his local partner  Aldinei was also pretty good and a better birder, so we tried to hang with him more on little boat excursions.

We took off after seeing the Governors Palace.  Manaus sits a few miles upstream from the mouth of Rio Negro where it meets the Amazon, The Rio Negro a big river itself, which unlike the Amazon had clearer but tannin stained water.  A few miles downriver we would head to the Amazon and take a right and do some serious exploring.

First look at the Premium ship, the Rio Negro Bridge in the back, note how low the water is.  

The advertised hot tub, which was not hot, and filled with brown Rio Negro water.  No one gave it a try in the entire week, would you?

My first idea that something was up when Wolf pointed out the Rio Negro Bridge and stated we would be going under it twice but then we went the other way.  It should also be known that the Amazon and Rio Negro are at their seasonal lows and this year the lowest in a century.  The Rio Negro for one fluctuates a good 60-100 feet in depth, an amount that is somewhat unfathomable.  

Truth should also be known that although the program had been sent out twice, I never read it, as I said earlier this was a trip I was going on and was keeping my mouth shut on it as I was going to make due with whatever came our way.

We reached the confluence with the great river in no time at all and we followed the dividing line for a while where the black and acidic Rio Negro does not mix well with the faster, lighter, and more basic Amazon.  We saw gray dolphins and looked west at the great expanse that was the upper Amazon and then....turned around and headed back towards Manaus.

Amazon right, Rio Negro Left

So that was the Amazon for us, 1000 miles from the Atlantic and just a quick turn in the edge for ten minutes.  

We parked for the evening and went Parana fishing.  I caught a very small one which made me a rare lucky guy for the boat.  We used no pole-it was basically a hand jig with a piece of meat dangled from a set line, they bit well but were hard to hook. 

The next morning, we went for a walk in the trees to see where giant water lilies lived until the dry season came, BUT we saw a bird, a straight billed woodcreeper, another lifer, so it was not all bad.  The walk was slow and snaky with 21 people and hard to see much, but we did what we could

Then we went off to a River village, then a native settlement where they danced for us, we met the chief, they lived in thatch

Straight billed woodcreeper

We tipped our hats for the mighty bridge going under it for the first time.

Silja and her sister swam with wild pink dolphins  and we even saw jack fruit below, such an ugly odd fruit of the tropics

I had seen a few birds, the trip was a pretty good tourist trip, the food fine, the ship okay, and the company of the other nice people excellent BUT day three ended with storm clouds on the horizon, and it was not the weather, something odd was a bout to happen and I just could not figure it out.  We went to bed thinking of a morning jungle walk and well, of better birds to come.  It was a restless night, and luck was turning.

We were not on an Amazon adventure but on a Rio Negro adventure, but what could go wrong?

To be continued....


Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Viva Brazil!

Where has the summer gone?  Better put, where has Olaf and Silja gone? I guess between selling and buying houses, properties, building sheds, stolen cars, wrecked cars, book events, and even new RV Tires, it went away in a sea of busy-ness like every other year.

So we took off with our new tires south a week ago.  I had a book event in Wabasha Minnesota and talked about the Wabasha Nelson bridge which was a chapter in my "Expensive crossings" book to about 40 people.  It was a good show, a fun crowd, and then came the uneventful drive in the RV to Florida

is this the treasure chest of the Mississippi?

The last speaker on a book that was loosely based locally was the author of "Grumpy old Men" he may have out drew mw but I was a close second.  We did tour "Slippery's" the restaurant in the movie.


Yesterday, we drove to Miami and flew through Panama City to Manaus Brazil.  This is not really a birding trip.  It is a wife hanging out with her sister trip.  I was given three options

1) Go with and keep my mouth shut and entertain myself

2) Stay home and watch the cats

3) go somewhere else by myself

Life is lonely alone so, well, and as I have never really been to Brazil so...I took door #1, and plan on making do.

This is a Road Scholar trip which used to be called "Elder Hostel". and well, the only person younger then me is Silja.  I have never felt so young. I am four years younger than even the German born guide, who tries hard but he was misidentifying birds today so if I need to ID anything I see, I have to do it myself.  He got some correct but parrots and parakeets....yikes.

There was a really negative and sensationalized article on the rain forest in the NY Times on Sunday and well, it spooked two people who actually cancelled the trip since the Amazon is now "gone."  It seems so odd, but it is true.  People believe everything and well let me say, the Amazon is still here.  yes the water is low, but a year or two and it will be at record heights, the Mississippi was record low last year and again one of these years it will have an epic flood because everything is sensationalized.  The guide had to bring 131 years of river data to show us that the two were wrong in not coming, and said, if it was so bad then maybe they should "come faster."  As Culture Club states, the shole world is stupid.

The fourth youngest person on this trip is my sister in law at 66, My mother would be middle of the pack on age, i think.  But, at least so far I have logged country #59 for my Century Club project, 41 to go.  Today I added five lifers too

Two Red bellied macaws, misidentified by my guide as "orange winged parrots"

He got the Striated heron correct but this is not a lifer bird.

I missed photo shots of  things and the lighting was generally bad but heck, it beats playing with the cats!

How bad could Manaus and the Amazon be with these people?

I'll see some birds...and I need most Brazilian birds

Manaus Brazil a city of 2.5 million

We arrived at 4 AM to our hotel and Wolf our guide gave a little grandfatherly (his) advice.  When you have a short night, you need to "sleep a little faster" and we did but tired tonight so time to go to bed

So a lifer Brahma beer for five, I wished I had photographed the red and green macaw pair that flew overhead but you cannot have it all, 

Cheers!  More soon on this trip with the Elders


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