One of My Favorite Places in the World
Cristalino Jungle Lodge is one of my favorite places on Earth. OK, you could probably put me almost anywhere in the Amazon Basin and I’d be in a natural history nirvana. But maybe since I spent two full months at Cristalino, the place and the people really grew on me.
The Crimson-bellied Parakeet (above) is one of the flagship species found here that usually takes a special effort at the muddy wallow known as the Saleiro, while the more widespread Black-tailed Trogon (below) is a common bird on many of the trails that pass through the taller forest.
I first visited in early November, 2004 with a small private tour of butterfliers, and I witnessed the volunteer guide program in practice when Karen Blumenthal and Mark Pretti were nearing the end of their three months there. On my first morning down the bamboo trail behind the bungalows I saw Dark-winged Trumpeter, Collared Puffbird, and Dusky-cheeked Foliage-gleaner – all life birds – and I was hooked. I began planning ahead and arrived for my own two-month stint as a volunteer almost two years later, on September 1, 2006.
One of my favorite places to spend a morning was on the canopy tower, a free-standing metal structure with three levels, the highest being taller than the highest tree around. Here’s a view of it from one of the trails below.
From the tower one gets views of birds that normally break your neck. The strange Tooth-billed Wren (few wrens live in the canopy) was barely known in the wild before observations started coming from this tower. It turns out to be quite common here.
For others, a ride up the Cristalino River, and then quietly paddling down with one of the local guides, such as Jorge, is one of the most delightful experiences at Cristalino.
Some of the birds we often see on the boat trips are White-throated Toucan, Kawall’s Parrot, Brown Jacamar, Sunbittern, and Green-and-rufous Kingfisher. Agami Heron is a rarity, but Rufescent Tiger-Herons, like this one, are one of the more frequent encounters on such a river cruise.
In my two months at Cristalino Jungle Lodge, I saw about 450 species of birds, all within about a 10-kilometer radius. And during the two times I’ve returned since then, each time for just a few days’ tour, I still managed to see something that I hadn’t seen in my two months, a testimony to the area’s mind-boggling and seemingly undending diversity. On my August 2007 private tour, the most exciting find was this Fiery-tailed Awlbill late in the afternoon on the Manakin Trail – a trail that I had walked dozens of times. This enigmatic hummingbird from remote areas to the south of the lower Amazon River was known at Cristalino from just a couple recent reports at the Serra, but this digiscoped silhouette became the first documentation from the state of Mato Grosso.