I was standing on one of two observation towers at Cristalino Lodge with my guide Rafa, waiting to see the sunset. We were taking a welcome break at the lower platform to take on some water and catch our breath before heading to the top. At around 40 metres we were above much of the canopy, but there were still plenty of trees towering over us.

I would never consider myself to be a bird watcher, but I can be swept along in the enthusiasm of a great guide with amazing knowledge and spotting skills. Rafa pointed out a number of birds already, many of which I am sure he had shown me before. There were so many that I knew I should be writing them down.

He pointed to a slightly non-descript bird, a bare necked fruit crow that you can only see up in the canopy. I was quite nonplussed but he continued to try and convince me that this was a top spot. With that, a blue flash landed on the branch next to it. It was a spangled cotinga; with its iridescent blue and red neck, I was considerably more interested in this. Rafa was giving me the low down on both species when a red blur joined them: a pompadour cotinga.

Pompadou cotinga and spangled cotinga, Cristalino Lodge, Brazil
Pompadou cotinga and spangled cotinga, Cristalino Lodge, Brazil

This seemed to be the catalyst to a flurry of activity in a triangle of trees just below us; a feeding frenzy of birds with so many we did not know where to look. Rafa gave up on trying to point them all out as there were just so many; he did not have time to tell me about one before another arrived. It must have looked like we were watching two games of tennis at the same time! We looked back and forth pointing at a bird, only to be distracted by the next that flew through our field of vision.

We were experiencing a bloom of termites taking flight, which had attracted everything from tiny fly catchers to great toucans. They were all flying through the bloom, some elegantly flicking their tails to twist their bodies in the air, while others that were not natural fly catchers were simply snatching at anything that came near. They would land briefly before turning and flying back into the cloud of termites.

I have been lucky enough to have seen bait balls and feeding frenzies at sea a number of times, but nothing like this. We both watched in silence for around 20 minutes. Just as quickly as it had started, the birds disappeared into the leafy canopy. There are too many birds to mention, but in that half an hour we had seen three species of Aracari, two species of toucans, spangled, pompadour and paradise cotinga and black faced dancins.

White throated toucan, Cristalino Lodge, Brazil
White-throated toucan, Cristalino Lodge, Brazil

Climbing to the top of the tower, we could see there was a similar frenzy going on further into the forest. As the sun was now close to setting, the great blooms of termites were backlit by the low-level sun hovering over the treetops like clouds. A pair of macaws squawked their arrival as they flew past seemingly disgruntled that they weren’t the centre of attention for once.

Thanks for reading

Sue Grimwood, Russian Arctic

Author: Sue Grimwood