Walking the trails at REGUA, with ornithologist Fernando Pacheco and mathematics professor Luis Florit on the Waldenoor trail was an exhilarating experience.
Amongst several beautiful bird species seen at mid-elevation forest in the canopy one was particularly interesting, the Rough-legged Tyrannulet Phyllomias burmeisteri. Less than eager birders might groan and say “Oh no, not another Tyrannulet”, for it looks strikingly similar to other Phyllomias cousins such as the Planalto, Mottle-cheeked and Greenish Tyrannulet – small birds with short bills, streaky yellow breasts, wing bars and longish tails – making them a challenge to identify.
If they are bobbing skittishly in the canopy it can be very hard work indeed. The distinguishing feature is the call, in this case a plaintive high pitched eight-note “psee” loosing pitch towards the end which differs completely from other Phyllomias species.
Phyllomias is a genus of the Elainiinae, in turn a sub-family of the Tyrannidae family, a very large family many of which are confusingly similar. Fernando was quick to tell me that this particular species was named by the German naturalist Hermann Burmeister, a naturalist who travelled in Brazil between 1850 and 1851. In addition to this species he also has Chaco Siriema, Chunga burmeisteri named after him, as well as the largest prehistoric bird ever discovered, Brontornis burmeisteri.
The black warty legs of the Rough-legged Tyrannulet must have some particular function, as yet unknown. This feature gives the name. The species can be found in the Atlantic Forest as well as the slopes of the Bolivian Andes. When closely inspected, this Tyrannulet is a superb bird and we were thrilled at seeing this one which was calling so close to us we could examine the finer details which give its name.