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My Brush with Royalty

Royal Flycatcher

A column of army ants are crossing the path as we enter a clearing where a giant forest tree has fallen. The small gap in the canopy is flooded with light and dozens of small yellow butterflies are dancing above the luxuriant growth of ferns and large-leaved pioneers. A family of capuchin monkeys are working their way through the branches on one side, searching for cicadas, katydids and the like.

These monkeys are being followed by a rather inconspicuous fawn-brown bird which perches lower down, hoping, I’m sure, to snap up anything that escapes the furry little inspectors. At first, it looks like any of the confusingly similar tyrant flycatchers that inhabit Neotropical forests, but when it turns, the head is anvil shaped, with a definite folded crest. Mmmm. Interesting. Could it be?

As is the way with flycatchers, the bird remains stationery for minutes on end. We do the same – watching and waiting. Like any perch hunter, it must remain still until the last moment – suddenly flipping out to grasp a moth or some other winged insect. And then it happens. For no apparent reason, the bird tilts its head, and flashes its impossibly ornate crest – a flaming burst of orange and indigo. We only see the back, and its over in an instant, but its enough. You take whatever brief sightings offer themselves up in the rainforest. The clammy heat, the sweat-bees and the mosquitoes have been worth it  . . . it’s a Royal Flycatcher in the Amazon.

Cristalino Jungle Lodge, Brazil; July, 2007

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