Birding

Day 36: A Bird Without a Name

Noah may be the first American to see a new species of piculet.

View from the beach in northern Brazil. Photo: Noah Strycker

February 5, 2015, Belem, Brazil — Alex, Nargila and I spent most of the day on the coast, targeting some unique habitats: mangroves, brackish flats, a beach estuary, and seasonally flooded fields. We found some good stuff.

One of the most interesting sightings was a pair of piculets, a type of tiny, woodpecker-like bird that creeps around branches like a wind-up toy. There are a few different kinds of piculets in South America, and I’ve seen several so far this year, but these were new. Really new, according to Alex: He says the ones that live in the mangroves here likely represent an unrecognized species! They don’t look like any of the piculets in the field guide (though there are similarities); these have dense black spots underneath where the others should have barring. For now, they are provisionally classified (by some) as a subpopulation of the White-bellied Piculet, which lives farther north, but Alex’s analysis may soon result in a species with an as-yet-undetermined English name. Hardly anyone has seen or heard of this bird (Alex says, with a smile, that I’m the first American ever to lay eyes on it). It was fun to see a bird with no name!

This part of Brazil is basically never visited by foreign birders because there is little tourist infrastructure here, which means it’s relatively unexplored. Alex gave a running commentary on the taxonomic status of each bird we encountered (Nargila calls him “Alexpedia”), and many of them remain poorly studied. Birding is fun because you never know what you might find; that’s especially true in the Amazon, where major discoveries are still being made.

I’ve made a discovery of my own in Brazil: Guarana, a type of soft drink made with a caffeine-heavy fruit and a lot of sugar. It says “Antarctica” on the can, and nobody I’ve asked knows why. Maybe it’s because, after a couple of hours on a sunny beach, an ice-cold Guarana makes you forget the heat!

New birds today: 26

Year list: 853

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