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Serra Cańastra and the Brazilian Merganser

BRAZIL | Thursday, 3 November 2022 | Views [21]

The future of Braziian Mergansers, Rio San Francisco

The future of Braziian Mergansers, Rio San Francisco

HAVING CHECKED OFF ALL THE TARGET SPECIES, we moved our vigil from the rainforests of southeastern Brazil to the grassland savannas around Cańastra National Park. We broke up another long drive with pee-breaks, lunch and a stop at a park in Belo Horizonte to find the elusive Three-toed Jacamar, a bird Connie and I had seen on our last visit to BH in 2013.


             Three-toed Jacamar


               Cańastra Escarpment hidden by clouds


      Casca d'Anta Waterfall

The most difficult birds to see aren’t always the tiny ones that hide in the forest. Some hide in plain sight and are hard to find only because there are so few of them. Take the  Brazilian Merganser, for example.  There are fewer than 200 individuals left and they are found only on Rio São Francisco in Serra da Canastra National Park. 


           Golden-capped Parakeets


                           Burrowing Owl


                 Red-winged Tinamou



                      White-eared Puffbirds


                  Blue Finch

We spent Wednesday driving around the base of cloud-covered Serra Cańastra escarpment alternatively looking for grassland birds and vainly scouring likely looking stretches of the river for the Merganser. Our first “good” birds were a flock of Golden-capped Parakeets and we succeeded with several of other grassland species including a Burrowing Owl, a pair of White-eared Puffbirds, an elusive Red-winged Tinamou and a very photogenic Blue Finch. 


                Proud Parents; Brazilian Megansers


                     Brazilian Mergansers running the rapids

We returned today to a different location atop the escarpment reached only by Jão’s ancient Hyundai 4-WD. It was cold and blustery and things didn’t look at all promising. At an open place on the river Andrés spotted not one, but a family of Brazilian Mergansers floating towards us—Mom, Pop and five young’uns. We watched and snapped photos as they got nearer. I managed to catch them as they scooted down the rapids like white-water kayakers. Honestly, they don’t look much different than Common or Hooded Mergansers but their rarity makes them special, so we kept on watching until they flew over the falls and out of sight.


                       Andrés, caught Red-Handed

One of my pet peeves is about bird guides who bring along cameras. They should be working, not taking photos on our dime—or at least ask if it’s OK. Andrés is among the worst offenders, more annoying because he is a professional photographer and insists on showing everyone how good his photos are. But I couldn’t begrudge him this opportunity. In all the time he has been guiding in Brazil, he had seen only one Merganser prior to today!


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