The phantom Cone-billed Tanager rediscovered in our tours!
Emas National Park, endless grasslands and termite mounds

Cerrado Specialties: Emas NP & Chapada dos Guimaraes NP

Giant Anteaters are regularly seen and allow close views for photographing South of the Amazon Basin lies a series of high plateaux where you can see for ever. The ground is carpeted in grasses and shrubs, and there are small, gnarled trees with thick, corky bark. This vast area of grassland and scrub is known as cerrado or savannah, and it covers South America’s high plains, the Planalto Central – about 500-800 metres (1650-2600 feet) above sea level – and surrounding areas.

Ten Brazilian states share the 2 million square kilometers (800,000 square miles) of cerrado, an area the size of western Europe, and it is rich in wildlife. Some estimates suggest that 5% of the world’s species of animal live here, and there are over 10,000 recognized species of plant, including 420 different grasses and shrubs.

The cerrado is the second largest habitat in Brazil and represents just over a tenth of the world’s savannah, but it is far more endangered than the rainforest. It has been estimated that 40-50% had disappeared during the past 30 years due to cattle ranching and then huge scale of arable agriculture, particularly soya, corn and sunflowers. Although the soils are poor, vast quantities of lime and fertilizers have made them productive.

The park was named after the Greater Rhea, which in Portugese is called <b>Ema</b> Today, about half of the original cerrado remains but only 2% of this is protected as either national park or a reserve. It is in these remnant areas that you can get a glimpse of what the cerrado was like decades ago, oases for wildlife and wildlife watchers alike.

Emas NP, undoubtedly the wildlife jewel in the cerrado’s crown, is 8 hours drive from Cuiaba, on the north-eastern edge of the Pantanal. The area is relatively flat and criss-crossed by a network of dirt roads and fire breaks along which you travel in four-wheel drive vehicles. There is a lot to see, including giant anteaters, peccaries, armadillos, maned wolves as well as a multitude of birds including Greater Rheas, macaws, toucans and numerous birds of prey perching on the many termite mounds.

Here, the entire ecosystem is driven by fire and water, the patterns of grass, scrub and trees determined by when the previous bush fire passed through and when it last rained. The seasons are marked, half a year each of wet and dry, but fires aside, there is little change in the landscape from one half of the year to the other – the grass is simply green in the wet season and brown in the dry. In the wet season, from October to March, mornings are clear, but in the afternoon clouds build up; the atmosphere is hot and humid, and it rains almost daily. From April to September, the dry season brings blue skies with handfuls of white fluffy clouds. It is hot during the day, but the nights are cold, clear and sharp.

The Emas NP grasslands, however, are not dominated by large herbivores. Aside from a few pampas deer and tapirs, the antelope of the Serengeti and the buffalo of the American prairies are replaced here by ants and termites. They are the main grazers, and it is these tiny creatures, working together as super-organisms, that drive the entire ecosystem.

At Emas NP, there are 90 known species of termites, and as far as the eye can see, there are termite mounds. The mud walls of these mounds are a hard as concrete, and inside there are interconnecting passageways and galleries with walls of softer chewed wood.

Bioluminiscence in termite mountsAt the beginning of the rainy season (October and November) as darkness falls, however, you gradually become aware that the termite mounts are covered in myriad luminous specks, like the lights of a high-rise office block. Closer examination reveals that the tiny pinpoints of light are produced by the larvae of a beetle (Pyrearinus termitilluminans) with a luminous tip to its abdomen. Each termite mound has hundreds of larvae living in its outer skin.

With such a large number of ant and termites colonies on the plains, it is not surprising to find one or two larger animals that exploit them as food. The biggest of these predators is the Giant Anteater, and those individuals living on the cerrado have a preference for termites rather than ants.

Chapada dos Guimaraes NP is situated near the western rim of Brazil's Planalto Central – a land of beautifully eroded and fractured red rim rock formations, drained by spectacular waterfalls and dissected by deep ravines containing fingers of Amazonian forest. The surrounding countryside is cerrado. Although sharing some cerrado avifauna with Emas NP, the Chapada region is home to many highly localized species that we won't see at Emas NP. The most memorable aspects may be the scenic canyons with rich tropical forest and screaming macaws.

A great spot deserves a great program, we are proud to offer a 7 day program in the cerrado habitat visiting Emas NP and Chapada dos Guimaraes NP, exploring these amazing National Parks. Due to far distances between any Brazilian capital, our tours start and end in Cuiabá, Mato Grosso. This allows you to enhance your Brazilian experience taking one of our combined tours in Mato Grosso.

Birding open grasslands and cerrado offer possibilities to spot Red-winged Tinamou, Spotted and Lesser Nothura, Greater Rhea, Red-legged Seriema, Yellow-faced Amazon, Peach-fronted Parakeet, Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, Campo Miner, Pale-breasted & Sooty-fronted Spinetails, Rufous-winged Antshrike, Cock-tailed Tyrant, Streamer-tailed Tyrant, Gray Monjita, White-rumped Monjita, Collared Crescent-chest, Black-masked Finch, Bearded Tachuri, Sharp-tailed Grass-Tyrant, Bran-colored Flycatcher, Grass Wren, White-rumped & White-banded Tanager, Yellow-rumped Marshbird and a good array of seedeaters among them Plumbeous, Marsh, Chesnut, Capped, Tawny-bellied, Black-bellied and many more.

Birding gallery forest produces Pale-crested Woodpecker, Planalto Foliage-Gleaner, White-striped Warbler, Large-billed Antwren, Plain Antvireo, Pale-bellied Tyrant-Manakin, Helmeted Manakin, Flavescent Warbler, Sepia- capped Flycatcher, Rufous Casiornis, Guira Tanager, Fawn-breasted Tanager, Thick-billed Euphonia, Fuscous Flycatcher, Pale-breasted Thrush, and many more.

Cone-billed Tanager as seen in our tours In August 1938 a single individual of an uncommon bird was collected and then described as a full species, its name: Cone-billed Tanager. Nothing else was known about this mythical bird, which became to be called the phantom tanager. In August 2003, during one of our birding tours, our guide Braulio A. Carlos saw a black-and-white bird moving inside vegetation, immediatly recognize it and point it out as being a male Cone-billed Tanager. Despite that the habitat was wrong, the site was thousand kilometers away from type locality, the bill was bluish white and not black as shown in the very few illustrations at that time. Unfortunately no vocalizations were heard at that time. It was Braulio's word spreading the news mouth-to-mouth among most Brazilian birdwatchers. With the help of our friend Dante Buzetti (studying White-winged Nightjars in Emas NP), vocalizations and a territorial pair was found in the same area in October 2004. Since there, our tour participants are seeing this near-mythical bird. Join one of our tours and be part of this restrict group of people. We know the territory, the vocalization and behavior!

White-winged Nightjar as seen in our tours

If this is not enough, Emas NP is also the destination for one of the most rare and beautiful nightjars in the Neotropics: the enigmatic and Critically Endangered White-winged Nightjar. Until fairly recently, known only from two museum specimens dating from 1820's. This species was reported only from three sites anywhere in South America this century! Aguara Ñu in Reserva Natural del Bosque Mbaracayú, E Paraguay, where up to 20 pairs discovered in suitable habitat during September-December 1995. Male captured at Beni Biological Station in N Bolivia in September 1987 suggests possibly of a population in this area, though not recorded there again as yet. And at Emas National Park in central Brazil where we manage to see them in every single tour we go there.

Birding nights deserves a good array of species such as: Striped Owl, Short-eared Owl, Barn Owl, Tropical Screech-Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, White-winged Nightjar, Scissor-tailed Nightjar, Spot-tailed Nightjar, Least Nighthawk, Nacunda Nighthawk, Pauraque.

Maned Wolf photographed by tour participant Jenny BowmanThis is not a destination just for birders, but also for mammals seekers and wildlife photographers, Emas NP boast with the Pantanal of Mato Grosso, the fame of best mammals watching spot in South America. An array of mammals such as Giant and Collared Anteaters, Maned Wolf, Pampas and Marsh Deers, Brazilian Tapir, White-lipped & Collared Peccary, Hoary Fox, Crab-eating Fox, Bush Dog, Puma Jaguarundi, Pampas Cat, Pampas Skunk, Brown Capuchin Monkey, and Giant, Southern Naked-tailed, Yellow, Nine-banded and Seven-banded Armadillos were seen and photographed in our tours since our scouting trip in August 2000. We still need to see the largest predator Jaguar, but we are trying every tour.

Apart from wildlife, the most interesting features of Emas NP are the termite mounds (cupinzeiros) that strech as far as the eye can see in most of the park. Hundreds of thousands of brickle-red mounds are more or less evenly distributed over the countryside, usually campos limpos. Most are as tall as a man, but some reach 10 feet. During the day they lend an unearthly aspect to the landscape, and at the beginning of the rainy season (September-November) some acquire an eerie but spectacular aspect at night when they glow greenish blue, the result of phosphorescent larvae raised by the termites.

Most birding in-and-out of our vehicle, with short walks along roads, trails in gallery forest, or into grasslands; easy terrain; full mornings in the field, usually returning to lodge for lunch and midday break, followed by late afternoons back in the field; some night drives; moderate to warm temperatures and relatively dry climate.

Cerrado Specialties: Emas NP & Chapada dos Guimaraes NP: 07 Day / 06 Night Itinerary


Red-legged Seriemas are all over the park, the easiest place to see one

Tour will start at Hotel reception in Cuiaba at 07:00am. Immediate transfer to EMAS NP. A long drive to one of the finest preserved examples of campo/cerrado habitats in central Brazil. Focus on birds and mammals of savanna and gallery forest habitats; easy birding with excellent chance for Cone-billed Tanager, White-winged Nightjar, Yellow-faced Parrot, Cock-tailed Tyrant, and an array of fancy migrant seedeaters. Mammal-rich, with good chance of maned wolf, giant anteater, Brazilian tapir, white-lipped peccary, and others. During our transfer we will stop in our stakeout to Horned Screamer. Lunch on route.

Overnight. (L,D)

DAYS 02, 03 and 04 – EMAS NP

Emas presents a vivid landscape of golden grasslands dotted with red termite mounds, and dissected by narrow green ribbons of gallery forest that follow the many clear, rushing streams. Here, spritely Cock-tailed Tyrants hover above the grass like so many toy helicopters, while flocks of Yellow-faced Parrots and Blue-and-yellow Macaws noisily commute between roosting sites and feeding sites in the nearby cerrado. Majestic maned wolves, atop impossibly long legs, stalk tinamous in the grass, while Aplomado Falcons maintain watchful vigilance atop the termite mounds. Giant anteaters, improbable in every respect, roam the grasslands, which resound with the songs of Red-winged Tinamous, Sharp-tailed Tyrants, Grass Wrens, and Black-masked Finches. Ephemeral marshes may host a mixed-species flock of migrant seedeaters, among them such prizes as Marsh, Chestnut, Rufous-rumped, and Black-bellied seedeaters. The next bend in the road may reveal a group of huge Greater Rheas, or a herd of pampas deer. For its landscapes, ease of birding, and abundant mammal-viewing opportunities, Emas has been compared to the savannas of east Africa. In addition, it is an excellent place to see the many specialties of Brazil's campo-cerrado habitats, including such prizes as Lesser Nothura, Red-legged Seriema, Rufous-sided Pygmy-Tyrant, Chapada Flycatcher, White-rumped Tanager, and Yellow-billed Blue-Finch. A major attraction is the opportunity to see the recently rediscovered Cone-billed Tanager, a bird that was long known from only a single specimen. Other rare or locally distributed birds that we hope to produce include Giant Snipe, Planalto Foliage-gleaner, White-striped Warbler, and Great-billed Seed-Finch.

Three full days to explore all major habitats in this amazing park. (B,L,D)

Yellow-faced Parrot as seen in our tours


Today we will drive to the edge of the Brazilian Central Plateau at the Chapada dos Guimaraes NP. Another change of habitat, landscape now are cliffs where Blue-winged Macaws (vulnerable), Blue-headed Parrot, Red-and-Green Macaw, White-eyed Parakeet, Swallow Flycatcher, Crested Black-Tyrant, Bat Falcon and many more could be seen. Lunch on route. Overnight. (B,L,D)


Full day birding the cerrado vegetation some different species here. Curl-crested Jays, Black-faced, White-rumped & White-banded Tanagers, Rufous-winged Antshrike, Rusty-backed Antwren, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Chapada Flycatcher, Campos Flycatcher, Rufous-sided Pygmy-Tyrant (vulnerable), Coal-crested Finch (near-threatened), White-eared Puffbird, Plumbeous Seedeater, Horned Sungem (rare), White-vented Violet-ear, Black-throated Saltator, Gray Monjita, Yellow-billed Blue-Finch. Overnight.(B,L,D)


Morning will find ourselves exploring the forest looking for Planalto Tyrannulet, Planalto & Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Planalto Slaty-Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, White-backed Fire-Eye, Band-tailed & Fiery-capped Manakins, Pectoral & Saffron-billed Sparrows, White-bellied Warbler, Tataupa Tinamou and many more. Afternoon transfer to Cuiaba, in our way back we will stop in a mature cerrado for our last birding of the tour, species likely to be seen are Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, Green-winged Saltator, Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, Masked Gnatcatcher, Hooded Tanager and last but not least (well this fit on the name), a dusk flight of Least Nighthawks. Transfer to your city hotel. End of our services. (B,L)

Our exclusive open safari vehicle

ACCOMMODATION : Since there is no any lodges or hotel inside the National Parks, we use accommodations in the towns nearby.

Note that in most hotels, twin beds are standard. Let us know if you want double beds, and we'll request it where possible. Non-smoking rooms are rarely available in South America. Hotels noted above are subject to change if there is sufficient reason. Hotel substitutions will be with the next best available, or a better hotel.

Giant Anteater sign

TOUR CONDITIONS : The tour fee includes all lodging, meals chosen from the regular menu from lunch on Day 1 to lunch on Day 7, all ground transportation, entrance fees, the services of a full time naturalist guide.

Items not included are airfare to and from Brazil and the flights within the country including the flights to/from Cuiabá. The tour price does not include any airport taxes (there is an approximately $9 tax at each Brazilian airport and the roughly $36 departure tax), visa fees, optional tips to bus drivers, boatmen and cooks, laundry and other personal expenses, items not on the menu of included meals, beverages including mineral water, room service, gratuities for beverages, optional gratuities for hotel housekeepers and the customary end-of-the-tour gratuity for the naturalist guide.

All attempts will be made to place singles desiring a roommate with another person. In the event such a match is not found it will be the responsibility of the single participant to pay a Single Supplement.

GROUP SIZE : Group Size is limited to 08 participants, unless special arrangements are made for private tours. Should only one space remain on a tour, our policy is to accept a couple traveling together, even at the risk of exceeding our stated tour limit.

UPON REQUEST: For tailor-made itineraries into EMAS NP, logistical support, guidance, consult us.


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