HOTSPOT: El Cerrado


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A Promotional Video for Canudos Biological Station, Brazil

Looking down at the Brazilian Cerrado from a plane or helicopter, one might imagine that there is little life here. Dry sand and red sandstone stretch to the horizon, and plants are scraggly and tough looking. Only a few goats or cows would be visible from a distance, the projection of their pelvic and shoulder bones from their flanks visible even from far away.

On the ground, this misconception is immediately shattered. Shadows constantly circle and soar between you and the sun: the Cerrado’s diversity of vultures [a Lesser yellow-headed vulture, a King vulture, a Black or a Turkey vulture]. The presence of hawks, falcons, or kites sitting vigil atop low trees is signaled by occasional piercing screams. On the other hand, if you happen to wander onto a burrowing owl’s territory, he will constantly scream blue murder and bob his head at you [from a safe distance].

Hummingbirds are abundant in the caatinga… They may give the impression of being small and fragile, but when it comes to their territory they are also little warriors. Emitting what they must think to be a fearsome cry [but which to human ears sounds distinctly like the screech and whir of an un-oiled old bicycle], they pursue vehemently any trespassing hummer that dares beat wing around their shrubs or their tree, brandishing their beaks like rapiers.

Parakeets are constantly moving throughout the canyons. They keep always to their flocks, moving often and with great fuss and bustle. They are that group of raucous teenagers, moving through the city carrying the loudspeakers and blasting music, laughing and talking at the top of their voices; no matter the hour and that everyone else is taking a siesta. An attribute seemingly shared by all parakeets is that they grossly underestimate their own weight: they land on fine, emergent twigs with their robust frames, and are both surprised and indignant when their perch snaps and they have to re-settle.

It’s often true that the visually plainest birds are the most talented singers. Birds like the Creamy or Rufous-bellied thrush might not be the flashiest to look at… but their songs are sweet and lovely! These are the sirens whose songs you will end up pursuing across the valley floor, hoping to catch a glimpse of the singer.

In Brazil, I am going to try to represent a small fragment of what is the immensely rich avian life of the caatinga by creating a promotional/documentary film for Canudos Biological Station. This video is being designed to be placed on the Conservation Birding website, to hopefully help increase the number of people aware of and visiting the reserve. I will be in Brazil for three weeks, and shall simultaneously be undertaking the georeferencing of their trails via GPS. Once I have the trails marked, I will classify them by difficulty; and by which visitors they would be suitable for [groups of children, birders, seniors, college students]. This should help facilitate visitors’ activities in the reserve.

See all of my Canudos photos HERE .

© Copyright Emma Steigerwald | Vanderbilt Traveling Fellow