Southern Amazon

My journeys in the southern Amazon are limited to the area around the Cristalino Jungle Lodge in August 2003.  The primary feature of the lodge, in addition to being right in the middle of the jungle, is its fantastic canopy tower.

The Bird Videos - Brazil page on the website includes links to the individual bird species I recorded in this area (see also The Birds of Brazil video portfolio) and an index to the two long-form videos shown below.  This is the location where my son and I recorded the first documentation of a Rufous-necked Puffbird at its nest (see the Brazil page on this website).  The Birds of Brazil photo gallery includes photographs taken in this area.

The narrative for this area follows the two long-form videos presented below:

From a post entitled: Canopy Towers

Canopy Towers are some of the most exotic places in the tropics.  Not because of what they are but where they put you - in the tree tops.  I’m at the top of a fifty meter tower in the Southern Amazon, its the end of July and it is a bright sunny day.  A few feet away a White-bellied Parrot (photo below) is eating berries in the top of a tree. It is possible to see for miles in any direction, across the top of the jungle.  

It is still early, the air is pleasantly warm, but will be hotter by 9:30, and water will taste very good then. The little wasps are just beginning to show up and gather water from the little pools of dew on the metal floor.  Soon they will begin buzzing around and stinging. In the end, it is the stinging, not the heat, which will drive me down from the tower.  

For now, everything is wonderful - a flock of Parakeets (probably Painted Parakeets) is flying in and out of the green canyons formed by the difference in tree heights.  A bit of mist lifts and shifts from here to there.

The sea of green is punctuated occasionally by a splash of super-saturated color which is a blooming tree.

The stairs seem to go on for a long time when you climb to the top, but not nearly as long when you walk down and enter the darkness of the jungle floor. From the jungle floor, the tower suddenly appears, amazing that something so big can hide in the jungle. 

The only human sounds here are footsteps on the stairs and the mechanical squeak of the pulleys as the cameras and tripods are raised to, or lowered from, the top of the tower.

From a post entitled: Rufous-necked Puffbird

It was July in the Southern Amazon, Jon and I were at the Cristalino Jungle Lodge. The nest of a Rufous-necked Puffbird had been found upriver. There was no documentation of this species at a nest. The Lodge management had a plan to thoroughly document the nest at the end of the nesting period, before the high water of the wet.  We discussed the possibility of documenting the bird at the nest. The bird rarely visited the nest, however, and there was concern about disturbing that limited schedule.

After a day of discussions with the staff we conclude that we will use a Hi-8 camera we have with us to try to document the adult bird’s visit to the nest. We have used this camera in very low light and night-time photography in the past.  (We have some interesting video of scorpions shot in pitch dark in Costa Rica.)

Over the next several days we set the camera up near the nest with battery packs and long tapes and let it run. We are able to document the bird at the nest on two occasions.

Our tape of this effort captures the tedium and the excitement, the boat rides, the walks through the dark jungle, and the joy. And I hope that it captures the pride I felt as my sixteen year-old son organized and led the effort; of how he kept it going when everyone else was getting discouraged. It has to be the high point of that trip.

Razor-billed Curassow

From a post entitled: The Bridges of the Pantanal, A Photo From The Amazon, and Caiman, Jabiru, Egrets, Herons, Etc.

A cursory review revealed some interesting photographs, including this one of a Razor-billed Curassow taken by my son in the Amazon near Alta Floresta, Brazil.  We had been boating upriver on the way to tape Hoatzin when Jorge suddenly said “Curassow”, pointed to his nose, said “rojo”, and headed for shore.  My heartbeat doubled as Jonathan and I readied camera equipment.  We scrambled up the bank and into the thick undergrowth, moving as quietly as we could -- we saw the bird within moments but getting a clear shot proved to be problematic.

From a post entitled: Sunsets In The Amazon & Equipment

This last week I have been plowing through photographs from Brazil.  The photograph above reminded me of a long and rather nondescript day we spent in the Southern Amazon.

Just as dawn was breaking we were in the boat heading upriver, the air was cool and moist and the steam hung heavy on the river as we wound our way deeper into the jungle.  At a rapid on the river the boats pulled in for a portage (others were heading farther upriver to see Hoatzin) and we disembarked to venture up a track into the jungle.  At first we passed through disturbed land which had been put into various crops, then through a transition zone of second growth, and then into the jungle -- with tall Brazil Nut trees and some slow birding.  We had a great deal of fun on this day, it was a slow and peaceful effort with just enough excitement to keep things interesting.

As dusk approached we walked back through the disturbed areas to meet the boat coming down river.  The sun was going down quickly -- in this land of equal day and night the period of dusk and dawn is remarkably short and shots like ones shown here can be difficult.

We arrived back at Cristallino Lodge just after sunset and had a wonderful dinner which included piranha soup and their great deserts.

It’s heavy, it’s hard to carry around, and it’s an anchor in so many ways.  It also opens a whole different world, a different way of seeing.

Many years ago I purchased my first macro lens for my SLR and suddenly I was seeing things I had never seen before, usually smaller things but also things which I was seeing differently because of the framing.


I also purchased a super-8 movie camera with a big lens at that time and fell in love with motion, but found the restrictions of the format terribly burdensome.  I only returned to motion pictures when the first portable VHS cameras came out -- that was fun but lugging the deck around (especially in the type of environment I relish) was difficult.  We all wondered if there would ever be a time when everything was integrated.


I still groan with the weight and bulk of the equipment but it now has such fantastic capabilities, delivers such beautiful images that all of the “carry-on luggage” hassles and the worry about being “ripped off” is nothing in comparison.

From a post entitled: Videotaping vs. Birding & Eyes

Can videotaping and birding co-exist?  Yes, I think so - but you have to set the parameters.  When I was a lister, I would travel hundreds of miles for a new state bird.  But as a videographer, I spend more time with individuals and with individual species.  I am more interested in behavior, in getting an excellent sighting.  It takes more time, species counts go down, and it is more tiring.  But they are not incompatible, as these photos show, you need to have the bin’s to determine if you have a chance at the bird of interest.

When you photograph or videotape birds, the eyes must be in focus.  It does not matter if everything else in the image is in focus, if the eyes are not in focus the impression left with the viewer is that it isn’t right, that it doesn’t accurately depict nature, that it is not true.  Works of art are often not clearly focused in a physical sense, they are representative, they are less than precise physically so that they can capture the metaphysical truth.


Today, a lovely woman asked me “what is true?”, actually she asked several people, but being egocentric I am sure it was really addressed to me.  The answer is easy, if I had a picture of her eyes I would place them on this site for the world to understand truth.  The clarity of focus, of knowledge, of intellect, of beauty.  Nature is true, eyes are true, if we loose nature, how will we know the truth -- there are only so many enchanting eyes in the world.

From a post entitled: Wide Open Spaces & The Jungle Cometh

Me in BrasildroppedImage-filtered_1

It is late July in the Southern Amazon.  We have ventured down a side trail to a site called the “Secret Garden”.  A open area in the jungle dominated by stone outcrops.  It is a location which has been a traditional favorite because it gives good views into the jungle and pole benches have been built to accommodate the guests.  We are early in the season, however, and the benches are still covered in vines from the off-season.  The jungle encroaches everywhere when it is given a remote chance.  Facilities often have to be cleared each year of vines and young trees.  This location is relatively immune because of the bedrock but even here human-made structures are quickly engulfed.

It is a location where you can sit and wait for an Amazonian Umbrellabird (photo below right)  to show up - it  happened to us, I’m sure it could happen to you too!!

From a post entitled: Windstorm In The Jungle & Rainstorm On The River

It is August and Jon and I are in the Southern Amazon of Brazil.  The weather has been nice but the word on the trail is that we should expect some afternoon rains in the next day or so.  We have ventured off in search of a manakin and we are now deep into primary forest.  The trees here often have buttresses - for stability in the wind, I know this because of my readings.

We hear it coming, it is a roar like a locomotive.  We can’t see anything, the jungle is very thick, it is not coming terribly fast, but it is very loud.  Through a hole in the jungle we see the tops of trees start to whip around savagely.  Then the wind is upon us, branches and leaves are falling, the sound is incredible, the top half of the jungle is a nightmare of movement, on the ground there is barely any wind, just falling debris, big debris.

We stand there for a long time, there is no place for cover, all we can do is look upward, watching for falling limbs.  It is very scary.  It would be less so if my son was not with me.  But there we stand, learning by experience why the trees have buttresses in the jungle.



It is about a week later (from yesterday’s post) and we have had a rain or two.  My son and I decide to canoe down the Rio Cristalino, despite the threat of an afternoon rain -- we have worked hard at a location called the “secret garden” this morning and the thought of being on the water in the afternoon heat is very appealing.

We start off and make leisurely time as we paddle close to the shore, taking photographs of birds like the Donacobius in the photo below .  We have a long way to go, and have a pretty good idea of where to pull in (a small beach on the right just before the Rio Teles Pires).

We see the wind coming, the top of the jungle whipping around, and then we see the rain - a sheet of rain.  We cover the equipment with our rain gear and paddle as hard as we can.  We almost make it.  We are soaked by the time we reach the beach.

We make a small platform for the equipment and cover it with rain gear and the upside down canoe.  We sit on the beach in the pouring rain.  We are not in a good mood.

The sound of the outboard is welcome, we can hear it for quite awhile before we see Jorge coming to rescue us and haul us back to the lodge.  He has been around us for awhile now and knows the priorities.  His boat has a covered area in front and as he glides it up on the beach he points to the equipment.  We grab the equipment and hand it over.  Then we hook a tow rope to our canoe and head off up river.  We rain pelting our faces hard as we zip upstream.

© Robert Barnes 2017-2018