To Brazil for the Birds!

Brazil

“So how big is Brazil?”, someone asked me.  I had also wondered when I decided to venture there.  Having been to several Central and South American countries and I knew it was bigger than any of them but I didn’t know how much.  I wondered if it was as big as Texas.  Big surprise!   It’s a little bigger than the ENTIRE CONTIGUOUS 48 STATES COMBINED.  Over 900 miles of coast; almost 210 million people; 8th largest economy in the world; and it’s hard to find anyone who speaks English!  But my interests lay elsewhere than the human altered areas (and there is a lot).  My interest was in the birds of the Amazon and Atlantic forests and the Pantanal, the largest wetland in the world.  Birds, birds, birds!  And a lot of other things too.  So, I signed on with a group of bird watchers on a tour run by Jim and Cindy Beckman (Cheepers Birding) and traveled for 36 hours via United Airlines to Sao Paulo, the largest city in the southern hemisphere (and 12th in the world) where we began our tour.

As I ended up with good images of over 110 species (and a lot of bad ones of many more as I shot almost 10,000 frames , I’ll have to do this blog in 2 parts to let you have time to rest your eyes.  Thus, it will begin with the Atlantic and Amazon forests and then on to the Pantanal.

Atlantic and Amazon Forests

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Initially we traveled on freeways equivalent to those in the USA; then onto local roads where the government has significantly reduced urban and sub-urban traffic deaths by requiring speed bumps between 100 and 400 meters apart (you just never know until you see the sign).  The max here is 40 km (25 mph) and you basically come to a stop over the bumps.  Therefore, it’s very slow going.

Speed Bump 1

Of course, no trip is complete without a few misfortunes and we had one or two.

Tire Repair 2

Tire Repair

Blown Tire

 We began at the Ype Lodge in Itatiaia National Park where there were a large variety of forest birds and mammals.  The lodge maintains several fruit and nectar feeders that attract a variety of birds.

Hotel Ype

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Some of the species I was able to photograph at the lodge and vicinity included:

Green-headed TanagerGreen-headed Tanager 3

Brazilian Tanager

Brazilian Tanager 1

Red-necked Tanager

Red-necked Tanager 3

Olive-green Tanager

Olive-green Tanager 1

Magpie Tanager

Magpie Tanager 1

Golden-chevroned TanagerGolden-chevroned Tanager 3

Maroon-bellied Parakeet

Maroon-bellied Parakeet 7

Saffron Finch

Saffron Finch 2

Chestnut-bellied Euphonia

Chestnut-bellied Euphonia 3

Blue Dacnis

Blue Dacnis 1

Red-breasted Toucan                                                                     

Red-beasted Toucan 4 copy

Brazilian Ruby

Brazilian Ruby 1

Gray-necked Woodrail

Gray-necked Woodrail 2

Red-rumped Cacique                                                                     

Red-rumped Cicque 2

Golden-winged Cacique

Golden-winged Cacique 3

Chestnut-collared Sparrow

Chestnut-collared Sparrow 1

Tufted Capuchins

Tufted Capuchin 7

Tufted Capuchin 2

After 3 days we traveled to the coastal city of Ubatuba that reminded me of the Southern California beach cities where I grew up; lots of surf board and dive shops and many bars, restaurants and tourist lodges along a beautiful beach.  (But it was weird as THE SUN ROSE OUT OF THE OCEAN!!!!)

Ubatuba, Brazil

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Following our time in these  coastal areas  we returned to Sao Paulo and boarded a plane for Cuiaba, capital city of the state of Mato Grosso and considered the geographical center of South America.  From there we headed north to the edge of the Amazon rain forest.

Our first lodge was the adjacent to Chapada dos Guimaraes National Park.  But the weather turned rainy and cold so we had limited success there.  We did go to Veu de Noiva waterfall, the face on which red and green macaws roost but none came close enough for images.

Veu de Noiva Waterfall

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But, there were a few cooperative birds around,  such as:

Orange-winged Parrot                                                           

Red-shouldered Macaw 6

Peach-faced Parakeet

Peach-faced Parakeet 2             

Ruddy Ground Dove

Ruddy Ground Dove 1

Blue and Yellow Macaw                                               

Yellow and Blue Macaws 4

White Woodpecker

White Woodpecker 2

Rufous-bellied Thrush

Rufous-bellied Thrush 2

On to Gardens of the Amazon, a lodge on the Rio Claro River.  I spent my time on the lodge grounds while the birders went up the river in a boat.

Gardens of the Amazon

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Birds I found included:

Rusty-margined Flycatcher

Rusty-margined Flycatcher 1

Amazon Kingfisher

Amazon Kingfisher 1

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck 1

And then it was on to what had drawn me to Brazil,  the Pantenal!  That’ll be chapter 2 in a few more weeks.

Quality of Life and America’s Flawed Value System

“Quality of life is subjective and multidimensional, encompassing positive and negative features of life. It’s a dynamic condition that responds to life events.” (Forbes Magazine). Yet we as Americans have been conditioned by our capitalistic principles that quality of life is primarily defined by economic factors, factors that affect our pocketbooks personally for the present.  In our current mind-set, if we can only afford one automobile, quality of life sucks; if we can afford two, it’s a bit better; two, plus a boat is good and add an RV and a 3,500 square foot home in the suburbs and it’s great.  Then if we can retire at age 50 and ride around in our RV on cheap gas, go on cruises, and buy everything on credit…well, that’s how it should be.

While both political factions in our country follow this philosophy, the conservative bent basically (or at least, currently) ignores the existence of any other contributing factors while those of the liberal bent just whine.  That is until disaster strikes; a hurricane, flood, epidemic, cancer, etc., then the big RV doesn’t matter that much and the question is “why wasn’t this prevented?”  But, until that time we cast our votes primarily based on a single issue, “Does it mean more money in my pocket for the immediate future?”  Effects of a degraded infrastructure, health and safety concerns, increases in pollution levels are afterthoughts…things to deal with when we have all the bells and whistles commerce advertises we must have to be happy in the steady stream of commercials on our 72 inch television screens.

I wonder about my current quality of life.  Sitting here in my dark living room with the air conditioner on full throttle because the temperature is 105 outside and has been that way for over a month (one day the thermometer hit 115) does not please me.  Will I again be able to sit out on my deck and enjoy my evening glass of wine as I did much of the summer 15 years ago when I moved here?  When…in November?  Does my future now fear the summer months rather than looking forward to them?  Do I fear driving across the highway bridges or have to wonder if the dam above my home will collapse and wash it away?  How about the effects on my aging lungs from breathing the smoke from wildfires regularly blocking out the view of the valley?  Do I really have the same quality of life I enjoyed as a child?  I certainly have more “stuff” but in actuality maybe there’s more than dollars to quality of life, at least for some of us.

Mad Dog Blues

On your morning walk to work each morning you pass a house that has a vicious dog tied in the yard by a rope.  As you pass it races towards you, snapping and biting but the rope holds it but as it is only a puppy , you ignore it.

As months pass the puppy grows larger and larger into a full adult dog but never ceases to race at you, teeth bared and snarling loudly, hitting the end of its rope, but the rope holds it in place.  However, as time goes on you not only note the dog continues to grow and gain in strength, rope is beginning to look frayed with broken strands showing.  Still, it prevents the dog  from reaching you and since you must pass this way, you pray it continues to hold.

But, at some point you realize the size and strength of the dog and the weakening of the rope will eventually result in the dog breaking free and attacking you.  What is the solution?  You can sneak in while the dog is asleep and replace the rope with a chain but it is likely you will wake it.  You can remove the dog’s food dish in hopes its owners won’t notice so it will starve and grow weaker.  You can shoot the dog before it attacks but you may only wound it and stimulate it to break free and attack.  What is a logical solution?  I can’t think of one, can you?

BTW, the dog’s name is Kim Jong Un.

Ugly American

In 1958 one of the most politically influential novels, The Ugly American, was published.  Of the books’ core revelations the one that was most renowned was that of a foreign journalist who had lived in the US and said, “For some reason, the people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States.  A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They are loud and ostentatious.”

Well, folks…times have changed…or not?  The “Ugly American” is no longer limited to the loud and ostentatious living pretentiously (although Mr. Trump certainly fits nicely into that description).  No…today’s Ugly Americans are the people who gather to yell at Hispanic and Asian school children, “Go back to your country!” and scratch swastikas on cars they deem might be owned by non-Christians.  They’re the people who hated Obama because he was black but complain if their disability check is a day late as they had planned to go 4-wheeling that weekend and need the money for beer and cartridges for their AK-47s.  They’re the ones who prefer “Christian home schooling” for their kids who never learn enough to fill out an application at McDonalds.  They’re the folks who wouldn’t stoop so low as to picking fruit or working farm fields for wages but blame those who are doing it as their reason for their inability to find a “decent” job.   They’re to ones who want to get rid of “Obamacare” but claim they’d definitely support an Affordable Care Act.  They’re the ones who believe the “American Dream” is something to be handed to you for free on your 21st birthday and after that you just lay back and life is a breeze.

Yep…ugly is as ugly does!

Has Our Constitution Failed Us?

The Constitution of the United States is unequivocally considered the epitome of the political foundation of a free people.  The principal tenant of this document is government of the people, by the people and for the people…democracy.  Yet I have growing concerns that expectations of this document’s infallibility have resulted in our apathy toward these freedoms (Remember, only 54% of eligible voters cast ballots in the last election.)

Arising issues bring to question as to whether this revered document is truly fail-safe in protecting the individual freedoms of our citizens and ensuring against domination by radical political and religious minorities.

Let’s consider these issues:

  • Three of the last seven Presidential elections resulted in the winning candidate garnering less than the majority of the electorate. This manifested itself in the last election with a nearly 3 million vote advantage to the losing candidate.
  • The increasing preponderance of a growing plutocracy where the nation’s oligarchs are allowed to dictate election results through their monetary contributions and, in turn, receive favorable benefits from the administration.
  • The ability of action (and inaction) by a political majority of the legislative branch to thwart actions in the other two branches.
  • The application of insidious gerrymandering to ensure uneven political dominance in populated areas in the nation.
  • The judicially undisputed voter suppression laws throughout the union directed towards lower income and non-white citizens.
  • Increasing partisanship in our nation’s judicial systems.
  • Isolationism as a means of political control.

One can only wonder if the Founding Fathers were simply too naïve in their vision of the nature of future affluent societies and actually set in place a system which, once political control was achieved, prevents any valid future opposition.

For the sake of my grandchildren I hope I am over-reacting.  But, my observations tell me maybe not.

Oops

My neighbor’s recent admission to “having made a gross error” in voting for Trump brought to mind Thomas Hobbes’ quote, Hell is truth seen too late,” (although Hobbes would have likely supported a Trump administration following his beliefs in Leviathan where he argues in favor of a social contract and rule by an absolute sovereign.)  Yet my neighbor’s admission was hollow and I asked myself how someone could have believed that Trump would make a good, competent, and just leader of this country after having listened to his campaign rants; his early morning Tweets; his out-and-out lies; his misogynic utterances?  How could anyone trust him when he refused to show his tax returns and openly thumbed his nose at our Constitution?  How could he have accepted someone who gets his advice from Steve Bannon?  And that was BEFORE Russia was implicated as his co-sponsor.

It appears this change of heart is based more on self-serving as opposed to philanthropic issues:  ‘Oops…II may not be able to afford my healthcare anymore!’  ‘Uh oh…what about my federal disability check?’  ‘Hey, wait a minute…you’re going to close the waste water treatment plant where my daughter works?’   ‘Okay…I agree you need to eliminate immigrants taking our jobs…but, Golly…will that raise the price of tomatoes?  Will my grocery bill go up?’  ‘And I’m just not too keen on a nuclear war, even a “limited” one and it never occurred to me you were REALLY going to do all those things.’  ‘And BTW, does it really cost taxpayers 3 million every time you go to Mar Lago (5 times in the past 6 weeks)?’  ‘And to keep Melania and Barron in New York costs us $300 million a year?  That’d sure help fix a lot of infrastructure.’  ‘Wow!  I guess I just wasn’t listening close enough.’

Our New Oligarchy

“My country tis’ of thee; sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died; land of the Pilgrim’s pride; from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” 

Great lyrics we’ve all been brought up to believe.  Sadly, in our new oligarchy freedom only rings for a handful of our population, those elite individuals we can identify as the ‘plutocrats.  Plutocrats are “an elite or ruling class of people whose power derives from their wealth.”  Some estimates of Trump’s cabinet’s wealth round out at $35 billion (yes, BILLION!!!) while their admitted admissions exceed $13 billion.  In Iowa, Trump told his supporters, “I want people that made a fortune.”  Was HOW they made their fortunes of concern?  Obviously not!

Let’s take Jeff Sessions, Attorney General  nominee.  Jeff entered the employ of the U.S. Government two years out of law school and has remained a public servant ever since.  Now I also entered the government right out of college so it’s amazing to me that a career government employee could amass a net worth of $6 million (unless, of course, he had some really lucrative part-time night jobs).  The same goes for General James Kelly who Bankrate magazine indicates is worth $4 million and that “A government pension is responsible for most of his wealth, according to Forbes.”  (Wow!  How did I miss out on that?)

Then there’s Betsy DeVos who hasn’t really earned anything but inherited her wealth and married into money.  Then…OMG…the several Wall Street gurus who made their fortunes putting the screws to many thousand home-owners (most now FORMER home owners) in the last decade.  But, there’s no question these people have more money than you or me.  Unfortunately, most haven’t a clue as to the role they are supposed to play (except as ‘yes men’ (and women) to Trump and Brandon.  I doubt most could describe what the agencies under their responsibility really do (we know Perry couldn’t) and even name the people they were replacing.

But, as my Trump acquaintances keep telling me, “Get used to it.”  I wonder when they’ll discover it’s not something they really want to get used to.