Birding

Day 37: Birding in Primary Forest

Older trees bring a different set of birds.

Primary forest in the GUNMA reserve near Belem, Brazil. Photo: Noah Strycker

February 6, 2015, Belem, Brazil — Alex, Nargila and I were up at four this morning to be at a patch of primary forest (a reserve called GUNMA, about an hour’s drive from Belem) at dawn. This strategy paid off: We spent the entire morning birding on foot and racked up an impressive number of birds by lunchtime.

It was interesting to spend time in primary forest after birding mostly in secondary forest (at Utinga State Park and other places) over the past couple of days. The difference isn’t exactly what you might think: Primary forest doesn’t have to be pristine old growth as long as the land has never cycled through another use. You can log a bunch of big trees out of a rainforest and it will still be considered primary forest; but if you clearcut it, graze cattle there for a while, then let it regenerate, it becomes secondary. Eventually, secondary forest will return to its roots, so to speak, but around here that takes hundreds of years.

This difference is important because the two types of forest have different birds. Today I saw things like Opal-crowned Manakin and Spangled Cotinga (cracking good birds!) that are absent from nearby secondary patches around Belem. It helps to know your habitat types when you’re a birder, and birding helps illustrate the importance of conserving high-quality environments. You can plant trees and grow a secondary forest, but it won’t replace the older, more complex forest that’s already there.

We spent the late afternoon driving around Belem, looking for parakeets which live in the city. Hundreds of White-winged Parakeets flocked with two Peach-fronted Parakeets in a graffiti-ringed square, and we watched them from inside our rental car with the engine running and black-tinted windows rolled up (remember, Belem is a pretty dangerous city). Birding sure takes you to some interesting places!

View of Belem from Alex and Nargila's 11th-floor flat. Photo: Noah Stricker

New birds today: 34

Year list: 888

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