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January Audubon Program Will Showcase “Birds of Brazil”

Contributed by Len McKenzie —

The Lettered Aracari – photo by Matthew Matthiessen

Brazil evokes many images among Americans–Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon, tropical rainforests and abundant, exotic animals, especially its stunningly colorful birds.

Occupying almost half of South America (geographically the fifth largest country in the world), Brazil is home to an immensely rich diversity of avifauna—upward of 1,800 species of birds, more than 200 of them endemic to that country (found only within its borders). Sixty percent of the birds native to South America occur in Brazil.

Matthew Matthiessen, recently elevated from chief financial officer to CEO of the John C. Fremont Healthcare District, visited the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso in October 2011, birding from the Amazonian rainforest in the north to the extensive wetlands of the Pantanal in the south. This area harbors some of the most sought-after, beautiful birds in the world, including the Harpy Eagle, the Hyacinth Macaw and the Agami Heron.

Having taken local audiences vicariously to a number of countries in earlier presentations, Matthiessen, a world traveler who is now the president of the Yosemite Area Audubon Society (YAAS), will share some of his adventurous experiences in Brazil in a slide presentation, “Birds and Birding in Brazil,” on Thursday, Jan. 11, in Oakhurst.

His talk will feature many of his superb photographs, not only of Brazil’s eye-popping birds, but also some of the region’s non-avian wildlife, including its impressive mammals. Sponsored by YAAS, the program will be held at the United Methodist Church on Road 426 in Oakhurst beginning at 7 p.m.

A University of Tennessee graduate, Matthiessen began birding while growing up in Thailand, developing a lifelong love for international birding. An extraordinary birder and bird photographer, he has pursued his passion for birds in many countries throughout the world and captured thousands of images through his camera lens.

His adventures have also produced some memorable, heart-pounding experiences. He has lived through two bloody coups–one, in Thailand, successful and the other, in Zambia, not. He has been charged by an elephant, stalked by a lion and threatened by a crocodile. He has kissed a cobra, push-started a Jeep amidst a lion pride, had the spotlight die while next to a leopard, captured a 14-foot python and almost tripped over a sleeping silverback gorilla.

Matthiessen will no doubt share some of his unusual memories in his presentation.

Like all YAAS programs, Matthiessen’s presentation is open and free to the public, although donations to defray program costs and to support Audubon’s local activities are welcome.

Call (209) 742-5579 or visit for more information about the program.

On Saturday, Jan. 13, YAAS will also lead a field trip at the Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park on Highway 49. Call Vern Johnson at (559) 760-6327 for more information about the trip.

The mission of the National Audubon Society, the namesake of noted 19th-century naturalist and bird painter John James Audubon; its state affiliate, Audubon California; and local chapters such as the Yosemite Area Audubon Society is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.

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