After completing 2 fairly short internal flights, we arrived in Cuiaba late morning. Having departed a cool and damp Rio early morning, the 35 degree heat of Cuiaba was a shock to the system, but a welcome one at that. We adjusted to the glare and the heat, enjoyed a superb buffet lunch with ice cold drinks and headed off to our first birding destination, the world famous Mato Grosso region - we were full of anticipation at what we might see and our enthusiasm wasn’t wasted - it was superb!
Our first few hours were spent birding the reserve and nearby fields at Serra das Araras. The Swallow-wing Puffbirds perched by the entrance deserved a good look and couple of Purplish Jays flew over, followed by a Lettered Aracari, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker and Barred Antshrike - our first Mato Grosso birds!
Moving to the reserve itself we had great views of the massive Red and Green Macaws, elegant Plumbeous Kites and the first of 7 Black-tailed Trogons. A little further on, stunning views of 3 Turquoise Tanagers feeding low in the grass, 2 White-eared Puffbirds perched sentinel-like and a soaring Grey-headed Kite showed well. Nearby a very the strange sight of a Scaled Pigeon sitting right next to a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl in broad daylight made for an interesting composition!
Early evening we were joined by the local guide who took us to an area which looked superb for owls. Virtually immediately after dusk we had Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, several Pauraques and a few spectacular fireflies on this very warm and humid night. After calling a few times a superb Spectacled Owl flew in to a bare Cecropia and gave superb views - a large owl and a spectacular one at that.
Early the following morning, we returned to Araras where we hoped to find the magnificent Harpy Eagle. Early morning birding produced a wealth of birds on the pools including Cocoi, Capped and Rufescent Tiger Herons, a family of Least Grebes, Southern Screamer, Solitary Sandpiper and both White-faced and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. As the day warmed several Swallow-tailed Kites were seen as were 2 King Vultures and a few Plumbeous Kites.
Heading into the wooded area, Blue-crowned Trogon was noted as were Chestnut-eared and Lettered Aracaris, Buff-throated Woodcreeper and the ultra-vocal Thrush-like Wren. White-throated Kingbird and Black-crowned Tityra also allowed a close approach as did a superbly confiding Barred Antshrike.
Suddenly Alex’s attention was drawn away from the birds in front of us and to the sound of a bird being mobbed nearby. A few seconds later after scanning the trees, he calmly announced “Female Harpy Eagle”. For the next two hours we watched, photographed and videoed this awesome raptor, either perched in Cecropia trees, flying, or on one occasion taking a drink in a small pond. The massive size, thick sturdy legs, huge talons and massive bill all contribute to an immense feeling of power - this is a very big raptor and it knows it too!
Dragging ourselves away we moved on to other areas of the reserve which held Red-shouldered Macaw, Magpie Tanager, Guira Cuckoo, Gray-fronted Dove and a female Greater Rhea guiding her very young family of 8 chicks through the dry grasslands into cover.