Octavio Salles Photography

Photo Tours in Brazil

Archive for the ‘Bird photography’ Category

A common visit by an uncommon visitor

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 22 de October de 2010

Every year is the same. With the summer approaching and its calm, warm nights, I start to hear a strange and somewhat gosthly whistled song echoying through the calm neighbourhood I live in. For me, this is one of the “songs of summer”, much like warblers are to many north-americans. The song comes from one of the weirdest birds of all, the Potoo.

http://www.xeno-canto.org/embed.php?XC=16810&simple=1
Potoo song recorded by Richard C. Hoyer in Ceará State, Brazil.

During the day this bird remains motionless perched at a branch, trying to resemble a part of the branch itself, or a broken branch. Sometimes they do it so well that it’s hard to actually see the bird, even though you might be looking straight at it! They are active only at night, when they fly from fixed perches to capture large moths, aided by their huge mouths and large eyes, which shows they have excellent eyesight.

This week I found another daytime perch of a Potoo, just a hundred meters from home. I shot some pics, but the background is quite busy, so no great pics here. The bird was there for the last 3 days, he might still be there, I’m gonna check it out later.

A Common Potoo doing that hello there... look.

The eyelids of these birds are quite interesting. During the day they keep their eyes shut most of the time to help with their camouflage against predators. However, even with their eyes shut, they are still seeying everything that is happening around them. Their eyelids have two small peek-through openings. You can see it clearly on the photo below:

Common Potoo and it's peek-through eyelids.

There are 5 known species of potoos in Brazil, however, I and several ornithologists think there might be more just waiting to be discovered in the dense rainforests. Recently in the Pantanal I photographed the Great Potoo, a really huge bird.

A Great Potoo in its daytime perch.

To photograph potoos at night you must use an off camera flash. Someone holding the flash for you from a different angle than the lens, otherwise the light will reflect on the potoo’s eyes directly into the sensor, making it just a bright blown-up area.

Common Potoo photographed at night at Fazenda Barranco Alto in the Pantanal with a local guide holding the flash to the right.

Posted in Bird photography | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Tropical colors!

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 19 de October de 2010

When I guide birdwatchers in the Atlantic Rainforest often the most wanted birds are the LBB’s, or the little brown birds. Endemics like the Salvadori’s Antwren, Serra do Mar Tapaculo, Slaty Bristlefront, Brown-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant, etc. However when I guide photographers things are radically different. They all focus on the most attractive species, the colorful ones – not necessarily the most rare ones. Fortunately some of these species often visit fruit feeders at lodges and house yards in the forest, and so they become easier targets for our lenses.

The gorgeous male Violaceous Euphonia below was photographed during a recent tour to Ubatuba, in the Atlantic Rainforest. I love how their back plumage graduates from violet to a deep blue with the right light. And the contrast with the rich yellow from underneath is amazing. When shooting rainforest birds I also find it very important to pick the right background color – green in this case.

Violaceous Euphonia

This was shot with a Nikon D700, Nikkor 600mm f/4 AF-S lens on a banana feeder setup.

Posted in Bird photography | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Back from the Pantanal!

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 23 de September de 2010

Hi guys, I am now back from my 2nd. tour this year to the Pantanal. It was exceptionally dry due to the La Ninã effect in the Pacific Ocean, so for that reason the Rio Negro was very low and some animals that are usually very abundant, like hawks, kingfishers and water birds, were less frequent than usual. But regardless of that we did get some very good shots. In Bonito we made some fantastic shots of the flying Red-and-green Macaws, once again proving that time spent there means several amazing shots.

I am just starting to go through my photos, but so far I really liked this… the motion blur adds life and speed to the image… and believe me, these macaws fly real fast! Where else on Earth do you have the realistic chance of photograhing scenes like this during a short stay? Next years trip is already online.

D700, Nikkor 600mm f/4, 1/80 @ f/10 - ISO 200

Posted in Bird photography, Destinations, Trip reports | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Nocturnal predators

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 24 de August de 2010

If there’s one family of birds that I tend to clearly show more interest than in others (and believe me, that’s a big thing) are the owls. I love them. They all have a lot of character and they show it with facial expressions that we humans can relate to. They silently hunt in the darkness of night, which gives them a sort of mysterious aura.

In many parts of Brazil, and I’d guess in other countries too, owls are associated by more simple people of the interior to bad omen. No wonder you see owls in horror movies, cemetery scenes, etc. They carry that omen all over, even on some of their scientific names, like the Asio stygius, where stygius comes from Styx or River of Styx, a Greek mithological river of the underworld, hence hellish, infernal… “Oaths sworn by it were supremely binding and even the gods feared to break them“. The truth is that owls are only a bad omen to their prey! And humans certainly are NOT in their diet! All owls are carnivorous, feeding on a variety of live prey, from insects taken by the smaller species to fish, crustaceans, rodents and even big birds.

Owls are probably some of the most specialized predators on Earth. Here’s their main virtues:
1) Eyesight – all owls have excellent nocturnal eyesight. Because of the position of the eyes (forward facing), they have great binocular vision, meaning that they can tell distances very accurately. We have binocular vision too, not as precise as an owl, but we do. Do a test, close one eye with a hand and see how you instantly lose the ability to precisely tell the difference between close and far objects. Without it the world essentially becomes 2D, and that’s how non-predator animals see the world.

2) Hearing – owls have an amazing hearing. Experiments with the Barn Owl showed that they can perfectly hear, and locate, the slightest sound produced by a mouse softly walking on a grass field a hundred yards away.

3) Silent flight – special soft feather edging gives all owls an extremelly silent flight. Even the largest of owls makes no sound at all when flapping their broad wings. This helps them approach and attack their wary prey without being noticed.

4) Power – extremelly sharp nails and powerful claws can kill a prey instantly. Sharp beaks help in cutting the flesh.

I spent last weekend guiding a small group of birdwatchers at a private reserve I’m familiar with in the Atlantic Rainforest. On saturday it was a perfect night for owls: clear skies, no wind and a big moon. So as soon as it got dark I started hearing a couple Black-capped Screech-Owls singing. Their song is a level, slow trill up to 18 seconds long. While not particularly rare, this endemic to the Atlantic Rainforest is a difficult bird to photograph, because they always stay inside dense forest. This particular owl was singing just a few meters from me but I wasn’t being able to locate it. Finally after some time I found it, but just for a few seconds. I snapped the (bad) pic below and it flew away not to return again. It just lost interest in my playback.

Black-capped Screech-Owl, dark eyed variation

This night luck wasn’t exactly on my side, but a couple years ago, at the same reserve, I located and photographed an extremely rare species while guiding a couple north-american clients, the Buff-fronted Owl. Very few is known about this small owl and after this photo I never found or heard it again. Who knows, I might never find it again in my lifetime!

Buff-fronted Owl

But I keep on searchiing. My goal is to photograph all brazilian owl species (12 to go, a lot of work!) and then move on to other south american countries.

Posted in Bird photography, Trip reports | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Seed dispersers

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 19 de August de 2010

Seed dispersion in natural habitats has always been a topic of interest to me. Some of the relationships between fauna and plants is really interesting. For example take the huge Brazil Nut tree, native to the Amazon. The only animal capable of opening up its incredibly hard shells to reach the seeds inside is the small Agouti. Without them, the seeds would never reach the outside world and thus would never germinate. But the story starts with one specific kind of orchid that thrive only in healthy primary rainforests. This orchid produces a scent that a certain species of bee needs to use in order to attract females for reproduction. This bee is the only one that will visit the Brazil Nut flowers and thus pollinize it. So without the orchid there would be no bees, without the bees the tree would never accomplish reproduction and would never produce fruits and seeds. This is the reason why Brazil Nut trees planted in cities never fruit. They are too far from primary forest where there are bees and orchids.

But back to the small Agouti, once the hard shells fall explosively to the ground (you don’t want to stand below a fruiting Brazil Nut tree!), these rodents move in and start munching on the hard, inch thick shells. They reach the large seeds and eat a few but also bury some for later. Thankfully Agoutis don’t seem to have a good memory, because many seeds are buried and forgotten, germinating to maybe one day become the king of the rainforest. Agoutis do the same thing to disperse the seeds of the Acuri palm (the one it is feeding at the photo below). The Acuri is an extremelly important food item to macaws, specially the Hyacinth Macaw.

Azara's Agouti feeding on an Acuri palm fruit

Another extremelly important seed disperser, this time of smaller seeds, are the toucans and araçaris, such as this striking Chestnut-eared Araçari, a relatively common bird in the Pantanal and adjacent areas. Some of these seeds, such as those from the Açai palm (yes, the energetic drink) can only germinate after the pulp is digested by these birds and later the clean seed is regurgitated somewhere else far from the mother tree. Both photos here were made at the extensive garden and forest trails of the hotel we use in Bonito, during the first part of our Pantanal Tour.

Chestnut-eared Araçari

Posted in Bird photography, Destinations | Tagged: , , , | 44 Comments »

Hyacinth Macaws

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 11 de August de 2010

The big Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) is, in my opinion, one of the most (if not THE most) beautiful parrots in the world. Seeying them flying in the wild for the first time is an experience you won’t forget. I remember when I saw my first ones, back in 1990 when I was only 10 years old, it was at the Paraguay River during a fishing trip.

Their native home range goes more or less from the Pantanal or nearby Bolivia all the way to southern Amazonia, passing through central Brazil. However, after many years of intensive bird collecting for the pet trade (a single bird can cost over US$ 20,000!), they have been almost extinct from central Brazil, with separate population in the NE (near Amazonia) and, especially, in the Pantanal. Pet trade collecting does not happen anymore in the Pantanal and so the bird is making a great comeback. In the Pantanal they are already common birds, frequent around the fazendas of the region. They are still considered an endangered species though. Estimates from 2003 say that are at least 5,000 birds in the Pantanal and 2,000 birds elsewhere. There may be more Hyacinth Macaws in captivity throughout the world.

Like other parrots, they often mate for life. Their nests are made in big natural tree holes, especially of the Manduvi tree, where 90% of their nests are found. The macaws may excavate the hole to make it bigger. The same hole may be used in another time by other species, like large owls, Muscovy Duck, hawks, toucans, etc.

They feed almost exclusively of very hard seeds, of the natives Acuri and Bocaiúva palms. These seeds (or small coconuts) are so hard that you will have a hard time trying to brake one with a hammer, but these guys can crack them very easily only using their powerful beaks.

I shot the short video below during our last photo tour to the Pantanal, at Fazenda Barranco Alto, a truly special place. The macaw’s nest is in a Manduvi tree. Also notice the huge Jabiru nest at the same tree!

Posted in Bird photography, Destinations | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Wild Atlantic Rainforest

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 2 de August de 2010

I spent entire last week guiding a photographer to my favorite place in the Atlantic Rainforest, the private reserve Parque do Zizo, located in southern São Paulo State, about 3 hours from my home. The region is where the largest piece of Atlantic Rainforest remains. This is many thousands os square miles of intact, primary rainforest habitat. The private reserve borders a state reserve, which in turn borders another state reserve and so forth, so the whole area is well protected. It’s not unusual at all to see many tracks of large mammals on the trails, like tapirs and even jaguars or pumas, a sure sign that the place is helthy.

On previous visits I have seen and photographed some extremelly rare birds here, just behind the lodge, like the Buff-fronted Owl. This time we didn’t see any real rarity (although we did hear a Pavonine Cuckoo, a new bird to the reserve), but we more than compensated it with some great photos. We did see a huge Black Hawk-Eagle attacking something just behind the lodge, a great scene, but just to fast to be photographed.

One of the waterfalls of the reserve, surrounded by lush vegetation.

This pano was made with 4 images taken with my D700 and Nikkor 24mm f/2.8. It was stitched together by Photoshop CS5, which did and amazing job considering I wasn’t using a pano head (a regular ball head instead).

Olive-green Tanagers

The Olive-green Tanager is a bird always seen high up in the trees, in big monospecific groups. This time however they were coming to the feeder and I was able to set up different perches for them.

Yellow-fronted Woodpecker

Not your usual woodpecker! Besides being amazingly colorful, these guys eat mainly fruits instead of the usual insect larvae and such.

White-necked Thrush

These attractive thrushes are forest inhabitants, never venturing far from it. They are also quite wary, more wary and elusive than the common Rufous-bellied Thrush.

I will post more photos during the week.

Posted in Bird photography, Destinations, Trip reports | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Photography workshop in the Atlantic Rainforest

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 22 de July de 2010

I just got back from a 3-day workshop at the Atlantic Rainforest of SE Brazil, near the town of Ubatuba, at the same place where we are going to for the extension tour of our Pantanal tour next September.

This was a post-processing workshop, focused on Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5, but of course we put a lot of photography in-between the classes. The weather was, quite frankly, horrible. It was drizzling constantly and very cold. At night I think temps got down to around 45º F (7º C). I know… that’s almost pleasant for you guys way up north, but for us tropical creatures, it’s nearly freezing.

But, everything has its positive sides. With the cloudy sky the light was just the way I like for rainforest photography: diffuse, even. Plants were nice and wet and even the drizzle made for interesting shots. This time of the year there is also a shortage of fruit in the forest, so several different species were coming to the feeders to feed on banana, papaya or guava. A banana wouldn’t last more than 15 minutes. So I set-up some natural-looking perches near the covered veranda of our lodge and we all had a very good time photographing these birds (and we kept dry!).

I have ventured into video editing just for fun and made this short clip. The footage was done by a client with a Canon 7D through a 300mm f/2.8 lens, while the photos are mine with my trusty Nikon D700 and Nikkor 600mm f/4 AF-S (some with a 1.4x TC).

Golden-winged Cacique

Cinnamon Tanager


This attractive species almost never visits feeders, so getting a good shot of one is difficult. This time however things were different and we all got good shots.

Brassy-breasted Tanager


This gorgeous little guy (a brazilian endemic) is another bird that never visits feeders. I guess food shortage in the forest is pretty bad this winter, because this guy was coming in all the time.

Blue Dacnis


If you live in a rainforest you just gotta get used with rain.

Posted in Bird photography, Destinations, Trip reports | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

No fisherman’s tale!

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 5 de July de 2010

Kingfishers are amazing birds. Like their name suggest, no other bird can catch fish so effectively. In the rich waters of the Pantanal we can find all 5 species of neotropical kingfishers. During our last trip we had a good time photographing these guys from a boat. Kingfishers are usually wary birds, but if you silently approach them from a boat they will let you get very close. So close in fact that sometimes I just could not focus with my 600mm!

The video below shows one of these moments, with a client taking some shots of a Ringed Kingfisher. We use silent electric engines on the boat, so that we can approach and position the boat at the best angles without scaring the bird.

Ringed Kingfisher, female


The Ringed Kingfisher is the largest one. Normally they are very aggressive to intruders, and that includes competition from other kingfishers, but since there are so many fish in the Pantanal rivers they will tolerate other kingfishers around during the dry season.

Amazon Kingfisher, female


The Amazon Kingfisher is a bit smaller and also very common. We saw this whole sequence: the bird dived in the water and caught a small Pacu, a fish far too wide for its throat. It first hit the fish hard against the branch several times to kill it, you can see the fish scales at the branch. Then it proceed to try to fit the fish and swallow it. I thought it wasn’t going to make it but eventually it literally folded the fish in 2 with its powerfull bill and swallowed it whole. A big meal for sure!

Green Kingfisher, male


This one is a much smaller kingfisher, very cute. Comparing to the huge Ringed ones, these guys are tiny. A good way to tell them apart from the Amazon Kingfisher, besides the obvious size difference, are the small white spots on the wing.

Posted in Bird photography, Destinations, Trip reports | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Macaw festival

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 29 de June de 2010

On my Pantanal tours I always include a visit of a few days to a truly fantastic place just south of the Pantanal. This is an impressive natural crater where Red-and-green Macaws nest and roost. But in order to fly out of the deep crater they must fly in circles to gain height, and this means truly amazing opportunities for flight shots! It’s a bird photographers Disneyland, with the difference that here it’s all real 🙂

The history of this place is a great example of good conservation measures that is taking place now in many parts of Brazil. Back in the 70’s and 80’s this crater was used by local people to dump garbage and, its said, even criminals. People used to practice shooting at the macaws and they were all but exterminated of the place. Eventually a good man bought the property (which was worth less than average because of the crater – it occupied what could otherwize be a pasture for cattle) and saw the potential for eco-tourism early on. The semi-deciduous forest around the crater grew back and the macaws started to return. Initially just one single pair, but they were the most important ones, they represented hope.

The place was transformed into a private nature reserve recognized by the brazilian government. This means that it can never be destroyed again, even if eventually the property is bought by somewhere else in the future. Today the days of destruction are long gone, and over 60 pairs of macaws nest there each year, and the number is growing. Many other birds are also present, like Peach-fronted Parakeets, Blue-fronted Parrots, Blue-crowned Motmots, Buff-necked Ibis, Laughing Falcons and many many more.

I’ve got hundreds of flight shots this past trip, but I can’t post right now the best ones because I’m saving them for an upcoming photo contest. So these will have to do for now. All were shot with Nikon D700 and Nikkor 600mm f/4 AF-S.

They usually fly in pairs, but a few times a day all of them fly together. That means over 30 macaws at least, all circling and screaming, a show not to be fortgotten.

Posted in Bird photography, Destinations, Trip reports | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: