After volunteering as a bird guide at Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA) in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for one month, I was asked by the World Land Trust to write a series of blogs about my experiences. This blog was published here first.
Driven by my desire to find and photograph a sloth, I took a route alongside the wetlands leading to one of the forest trails. But, as much as I tried to hurry, the wetlands proved to be full of distractions that couldn’t be overlooked: stunning Blue Dacnis fed on fruit trees as ridiculously bright-coloured Saffron Finches foraged on the ground below; a cloud of Cattle Egrets floated over their reflection in the water; and on the island a beached gang of Capybara kept a wary eye on a sunbathing Broad-snouted Caiman.
Masked Water Tyrants darted after insects at the water’s edge, a large Squirrel Cuckoo made me jump as it crashed out from a bush on my left, Jacanas and Gallinules tiptoed across lily pads, and three species of heron stood like statues in the shallows as a Green Kingfisher whizzed past. Unseen but certainly heard, a raucous soundtrack of Kiskadee, Red-rumped Cacique and mechanical sounding White-bearded Manakin filled the air. All the while, three species of Vulture and Southern-crested Caracaras patrolled the skies silently above.
I remember shaking my head as I tried to comprehend the sheer amount of life, how different it must have been before the wetlands and forest were restored. What was once a piece of farmland was now an oasis of life.
I had been told that no one had seen a sloth for a few days, and this made the challenge even more exciting; plus, I was now armed with the valuable nugget of information that sloths love Cecropia trees. The light dimmed as I headed from the open wetlands into the trees. From the darker reaches of the forest floor I trod lightly, my eyes scanning for snakes on the ground and up into the tops of Cecropia trees, hopeful for a sighting of the most delightful of stagnant furballs.
I stopped. A familiar instinct told me I wasn’t alone, something I’ve felt often enough to have learned to trust. I looked up and focused on a beautiful red Cecropia leaf set against the blue sky above. Slowly, I noticed two faces in the leaves that had gradually turned to look at me. A mother sloth with her contented looking youngster clinging to her underside. My emotions suitably stirred, I sat on the ground and watched them going unhurriedly about their business.