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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
North East Brazil (Baturite, Araripe, Jeremoaba and Murici), 7th June-16th June 2007,
Graemes photos from Brazil (and other places) can be found on www.worldbirder.com
Background and Summary of the Trip.
We had often contemplated a trip to see the special birds of NE Brazil but were always a bit concerned by the prospect of driving huge distances on poorly signposted ( many not signposted at all ) and badly maintained roads often in the middle of nowhere. Further, some of the sites are accessed using tracks through sugar cane plantations which would be impossible to find without precise directions over which track to follow. However in Ciro Albano we found a local biologist and part time guide who knew the area well who put together a 10 day itinerary that gave access to all the important species and so the trip was on. Our route took us from Fortaleza - Serra de Baturite – Chapada do Araripe – Murici - Engenhero Cachoeira Linda. We travelled some 3500 kilometres in the process.
We saw around 250 species including many of the important endemics, Lears Macaw, Grey-breasted, Caatinga and Jandaya Parakeets, Araripe Manakin, Great Xenops, Alagoas Antwren, Seven-coloured Tanager Alagoas Tyrannulet, and many others. We missed a few; White-browed Guan and Alagoas Foliage-gleaner ( both extremely difficult), White-collared Kite ( could not access the site in the wet conditions) and others such as Plain Parakeet, Golden-tailed Parrotlet and Pinto’s Spinetail which just refused to respond in any of the locations we tried.
There are a couple of considerations when planning a trip to NE Brazil;
When it’s the wet season ( good for birds) in Baturite and Chapada do Araripe it is the dry season ( not good for birds ) in Murici and vice versa. For example, for us travelling in June, Chapada do Araripe was very quiet which cost us the Bellbird but on the other hand Murici was very active. There again the White-collared Kite site at Engenhero Cachoeira Linda was too wet and proved inaccessible. November – February may be the best time.
Roads in NE Brazil are very poorly signposted.To access the Bananeira Forest (aka Murici) you need to drive 1.5-2 hours on dreadful tracks through sugar cane plantations where you will need not only a 4WD (even in the dry season) but also a detailed plan of which turnings to take otherwise you will get lost. The same caveat applies to Engenhero Cachoeira Linda.
The area is vast and requires long drives through deserted countryside.
We had a great time and this trip report tries to provide information that will be of use to future birders as well as a log of what we saw and where we saw it. It does this under the following headings
Serra do Baturite
Located 2 hours south of the city of Fortaleza, Serra do Baturite is a Caatinga moist forest enclave (regionally called "brejos") being a well-defined patch of Atlantic Forest surrounded by the Caatinga dry forest of northeast Brazil. Forest covers the windward slopes and plateaus between 600 and 800 m elevation.
The main type of vegetation is Atlantic semi-deciduous forest currently less than four percent of the original forest from NE Brazil remains. Habitats of transition between Atlantic forest, Caatinga dry forest and Cerrado vegetation are also found. One of 4 major plateaus in NE Brazil, Serra de Baturite contains a number of sub-species that, because of their isolation from the original populations, show significantly different characteristics that may merit full species status. Important species here include Rufous (Caatinga) Gnateater, Grey-breasted Parakeet, Gould’s Toucanet, White-throated Spadebill, Ochraceous Piculet,. Band-tailed Manakin, Buff-breasted Tody Tyrant, Spot-winged Wood-Quail, Rufous-breasted Leaftosser.
Accommodation in Alto da Serra Hotel.
Chapada do Araripe
The Chapada do Araripe, close to Juazeiro do Norte, forms the boundary of Ceará and Pernambuco states, and is the watershed between the Jaguaribe River of Ceará, which flows northward into the Atlantic, and the much larger basin of the São Francisco River of Pernambuco and neighbouring states, which drains eastward into the Atlantic. At an altitude of around 800 metres on the plateau the protected Araripe National Forest contains a mixture of cerrado, carrasco, caatinga and low forest criss-crossed by sandy tracks. The area holds a number of important species including White-browed Guan, Bearded Bellbird, Planalto Slaty Antshrike, Silvery-cheeked Antshrike, Great Xenops, Tawny Piculet, Caatinga Antwren, Pale-bellied Tyrant Manakin and, in the degraded land on the edge of the protected forest, Caatinga Barred Antshrike, Lesser Wagtail Tyrant, Grey-eyed Greenlet, Tawny-capped Pygmy Tyrant, Stripe-backed Antbird and Red-shouldered Spinetail. Probably the most important species however is the extraordinary, range restricted Araripe Manakin, first described in 1998 which can only be found in the lush streamsisde vegetation of underground streams that emerge at the base off the cliffs of the Chapada do Araripe. The entire range of the Araripe Manakin appears to be a strip of land 60kms long at the base of these cliffs and only on the Ceara side. Most people see this species at the Araja Water Park.
Accommodation in the comfortable, if noisy, Encosta de Serra Hotel in Crato.
The small town of Jeremoabo is the base for exploration of the area of Raso da Catarina. one of the most arid zones in Brazil owing to the lack of natural springs and the fact that the rivers frequently run dry. It is a flat area covered with brushwood, including cacti and exotic plants which provide one of the rare sources of water at certain times of the year. This is one of the last examples of the caatinga biome which used to cover almost all north-east Brazil. In some places there are sandstone formations resembling canyons, pillars and walls, home of the critically endangered Lears Macaw. Within this area lies the Fazenda de Serra Branca which contains some of the least disturbed caatinga in NE Brazil as well as one of the major roosting sites for the remaining population of Lears Macaw. The macaws roost in cliffs at the fazenda, owned by Sr. Otávio, the owner of the São Lázaro petrol station in Jeremoabo. It also holds many caatinga species and others including ; Lears Macaw, Caatinga and Blue-crowned Parakeet, Blue-fronted Parrot, Red-legged Seriema, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Caatinga Cachalote, Campo Suiriri, Pectoral Antwren and Scarlet –throated Tanager
Accommodation in the Hotel Senhor de Bonfim in Jeremoabo.
Murici is a fragment of the Atlantic forest that once covered much of eastern Brazil where, in Alagoas, the forest extended up to100 km inland in a strip known as the Zona da Mata Extensive deforestation has taken place and by 1985, this had left Alagoas with less than 2%of its original vegetation. Even less remains today, and most fragments are on mountain ridges. It is one of only two known sites for two critically endangered species, the Alagoas Foliage-gleaner and the Alagoas Antwren and it hosts a total of 13 globally threatened bird species including Alagoas Foliage-gleaner, Alagoas Antwren, Orange-bellied Antwren, Alagoas Tyrannulet and Seven-coloured Tanager. In 2001 Murici was declared an Ecological Station which, under Brazilian law, should mean a permanently fully protected reserve which should ensure the survival of its many threatened species. The level of actual protection on the ground however appears negligible. Murici is in fact a slight misnomer because the forest is now many kilometres from the town of Murici at a place formerly known as the Fazenda Bananeira. The forested ridge of the main remaining forest fragment is accessed by very bad tracks through many kilometres of sugar cane field and without precise directions you will in all probability get lost.
Engenhero Cachoeira Linda / Saltinho Ecological Station
These areas are in located close to the beach resort of Tamandare on the southern coast of Pernambuco State. The first is a private area with a small patch of forest inside a Engenho (place where the sugar cane is processed after the cutting). In 2006 local ornithologists from the NGO Observadores de Aves de Pernambuco found a couple of the critically endangered White-collared Kite, which have been sighted on a number of occasions since. The forest fragment is small and thus the chance to find that species is perhaps greater than elsewhere. Once again without detailed information on the turnings to take through the unmarked canefield tracks the site will be difficult to find. 4WD is essential and its probably better to go in the dry season..
Saltinho is an Ecological Station with a good patch of preserved forest,. It is the location for the recently described Pernambuco Pygmy-Owl, but the bird has been seen in the area only once since the original description (that was based in old museum skins). There is only one recording of the bird made by one of the species author . A group of ornithologists of the Pernambuco state are trying to find that species there and in some small fragments around, but without success until now. You will need permission from IBAMA to access the site which is located directly opposite the turn off to Tamandare.
Accommodation - many options in Tamandare.
Our good friend Arthur Grosset ( check out his website of Birds of S America at www.arthurgrosset.com put us in touch with Ciro Albano an English speaking biologist working on research and conservation of the Grey-breasted Parakeet in Baturite. Although Ciro was fairly new to guiding he seemed to have an excellent knowledge of the birds of the area, was responsive in the planning stages and put together a good looking itinerary so we decided to go with him. In the event Ciro knew the sites really well, the hotels were good and he was truly excellent in the field. The last couple of days were scheduled at a site that Ciro had not visited before (we knew this from the outset) and for a variety of reasons this did not work so well but overall we had a very good trip and look forward to the opportunity of travelling with Ciro in future. He can be contacted at email@example.com
07 June (Day 1)
The trip began in Cuiaba where we stayed overnight at the conclusion of Graeme’s two month period as a volunteer guide at Cristalino Jungle Lodge. Unfortunately this start date coincided with Corpus Christi, an important religious festival in Brazil, and a period of peak travel, particularly by air. Flight from Cuiaba to Brasilia at 05.30am arrived on time but, perhaps unsurprisingly, we were delayed about 3 hours for the flight to Fortaleza. Arrived there around 04.00pm where we were met by our guide Ciro Albano and headed out for the 2 hour drive to the Serra do Baturite and our accommodation at the simple but comfortable Alto da Serra Hotel situated right on the edge of some remnant montane humid forest.
08 June (Day 2)
Began birding at 05.30 from the steps of our chalet and, within 2 hours, having walked only some 300 metres along the track we had seen 30 odd species including Rufous (Caatinga) Gnateater, Grey-headed Spinetail, Gould’s Toucanet, White-throated Spadebill, Ochraceous Piculet and Blond-crested Woodpecker. After breakfast drove the short distance to the large Remanso Hotel de Serra where Ciro negotiated our access with the security staff. Once inside we walked the Trilha do Vale where found more good birds including Band-tailed Manakin, Buff-breasted Tody Tyrant, Short-tailed Antthrush and amazingly obtained views of the secretive Spot-winged Wood Quail. . Returning to our hotel we saw Rufous-sided Crake in the pond at the entrance and Yellow-throated Spinetail. Around 3.00pm we drove the short distance to the extensive grounds of a private house which contains the roosting site of the critically endangered Grey- breasted Parakeet. Having caused Ciro considerable anxiety the birds finally returned to their roost very late around 5.30 but still in time to be seen well. Tried for the highly elusive Buff-fronted Owl which Ciro had heard and recorded some days previously but it was not around.
09 June (Day 3)
Awoke to a very damp, misty morning and spent an hour and a half birding along the trail which produced Rufous-breasted Leaftosser and more great views of Gould’s Toucanet.. Departed around 08.15am passing through miles of empty caatinga arriving at Quixada at 10.15am; a town set amidst a strange landscape of rocky mounds which is apparently one of the Brazilian hotspots for UFOs. Continuing south and east we arrived at Morada Nova at noon in the middle of a vaqueiro festival; hundreds of cowboys riding through town and what appeared an equal number of police impounding dozens of motorbikes; completely blocked the main road in the process. However Ciro made a call and the local landowner showed up amazingly quickly to lead us out to his fazenda where, after a short hot walk, we had stellar views of Pygmy Nightjar at their daytime roost. Leaving at 2.30 pm we made the long drive to the city of Crato close to Juzeiro do Norte and checked in to the Encosta de Serra Hotel around 8.00pm.
10 June (Day 4)
It was clearly the Brazilian winter as we awoke to another cold damp morning departing at 5.00am for the 45 minute drive to the “carrasco” ( type of caatinga) vegetation of Araripe National Forest on top of the plateau of the Chapada da Araripe. As we parked the car it was extremely quiet confirming that the breeding season was over and the birds had given up singing . Barred Forest Falcon was about the only bird we could hear. However with Ciro’s skill at identifying species from the briefest chip we began to find birds and in the end had exceptional views of many of the caatinga birds including Planalto Slaty Antshrike, Silvery-cheeked Antshrike, Great Xenops, Caatinga Antwren and Pale-bellied Tyrant Manakin. We then drove a short distance to more open scrubby country with degraded “”carrasco” where we encountered the recently split species of Barred Antshrike (Thamnophilus capistratus) which will probably be called Caatinga Barred Antshrike, Lesser Wagtail Tyrant, Grey-eyed Greenlet, Tawny-capped Pygmy Tyrant, Stripe-backed Antbird and Red-shouldered Spinetail. Drove back to the hotel for breakfast around 9.00am and then drove to the Ajara Water Park which is the place to see Araripe Manakin; the bird appearing to co-exist quite happily within the noisy water park albeit along a quiet secluded stream with controlled access. In fact the park owners appear to take great pride in helping conserve this critically endangered species. In life the Araripe Manakin is every bit as stunning as its picture suggests and we headed back to the hotel having had a great morning. In the afternoon we drove back up to the Araripe NF where White-browed Antpitta, but little else new, put on a great show with its “balanca de bunda” mating dance. Drove to the far edge of the plateau for the engaging Spotted Piculet before returning to the forest for nightjars which failed to turn up. Still it had been a very good day.
11 June (Day 5)
Left at 05.30 for the Araripe National Forest seeing our first flock of White-naped Jay and Tawny Piculet but things were again quiet and as we had seen the key birds the previous day we decided to head off on the long drive to Jeremoabo. It was indeed a long drive, eventually crossing the mighty Rio Fransisco on to an appalling road leading to the town of Paulo Alfonso and finally to Jeremoabo where we checked into the Hotel Senhor de Bonfim around 06.00pm. Despite Ciro’s many telephone calls access to the fazenda where Lears Macaw could be found was not yet finalised and we were slightly anxious as we headed to bed.
12 June (Day 6)
Went out early to some degraded habitat but saw little and returned to town for breakfast and a meeting with Sr. Otavio whose fazenda contains the spectacular sandstone cliffs where Lears Macaw breed and roost. The usual practice appears to be that Sr. Otavio’s farmhands monitor where the macaws are feeding and you go there but at this time of plenty apparently the birds could be anywhere so it was decided that we should go to the cliffs where the birds would be “guaranteed”. Ciro was delighted as the farm, some 56kms from Jeremoabao, contains some of the finest caatinga left in the area. We arrived at the fazenda at 11.00 am and drove along very rough tracks to the roost site. It was a great sight to see the magnificent Lears Macaw wheeling around the high sandstone cliffs. Blue-winged Macaw and Blue-fronted Parrot were also seen as well as Scarlet-throated Tanager and Velvet-black Tyrant which was somewhat unexpected and proved to be Ciro’s bird of the trip. By now it was late afternoon and we finally departed Jeremoabo at 5.00pm arriving around 10.00pm in Uniao dos Palmares, our base for Murici. Tired after the travelling ( as well as 2 months of early dawns at Cristalino) we elected to have a late start and bird the hotel grounds in the morning.
13 June (Day 7)
Out at 6.00am birding the hotel grounds where we saw many species including Green-backed Becard, Guira Tanager, Sombre Humingbird, Great Antshrike, Yellow- breatsted Flycatcher but not the hoped for Seven-coloured Tanager. We then drove to Murici and on the edge of town turned off to drive to a forest remnant at the Murici Ecological Station in what was once the Fazenda Bananeira. The forest everywhere has been systematically destroyed for sugar cane which now covers the hillsides in all directions and it was a depressing, rough and difficult 1.5 hour drive to reach the forest which, at 3000 hectares, is the largest single remaining fragment out of a total of some 5000 hectares. Sick’s Swift flew overhead and despite the late hour birds were calling at the start of the trail. Rufous-winged Antwren, Black-cheeked Gnateater and Scalloped Antbird were calling although the latter proved difficult to see. Blue-backed and Bearded Manakin were vocal and obvious. Things quietened down a bit but 9 Banded Armadillo kept up our interest. As we stopped for lunch Black-headed Berryeater perched nearby whistling loudly. We walked further on the trail seeing Plain Xenops and then in a very small flock we found a pair of the rare Alagoas Antwren which offered unrivalled views. Returning to the vehicle Cinereous Antshrike and White-backed Fire-eye at the forest edge concluded an excellent day.
14 June (Day 8)
Departed at 4.15am in order to get to the Bananeira Forest pre-dawn to catch the early morning bird activity. Arrived just after dawn seeing White-tailed and Zone-tailed Hawk at the forest edge but as we were about to enter the forest Ciro suddenly stopped and led us back up to the high point of the track. We could see nothing but in the distance he had heard the call of Jandaya Parakeet and as he played the tape, 8 of these beautiful parakeets whizzed from the forest cover to perch in a dead tree nearby. Inside the forest the trail was not particularly active and birds proved somewhat elusive. Plenty of Scalloped Antbirds calling but they showed no interest in playback but we eventually had good views of a male. Willis’s Antbird proved more responsive. Activity was really quite low and by 10.30 we had seen little more. Tried for the Alagoas Foliage Gleaner at a couple of places where it has been seen in the past but with no luck and around 11.00 we reached the ruined house at the end of the trail. Suddenly a large mixed flock appeared high in the canopy and during some prolonged neck-breaking viewing we found three of the four remaining target species with great views of Alagoas Tyrannulet, poor views of a pair of Orange-bellied Antwren, and brief views of one Seven-coloured Tanager. White-shouldered Antshrike showed well and after a brief lunch we headed back to the car. Stopped off at the Serra do Ouro Research Station where Golden-spangled Piculet was the main highlight. Good views of White bellied Nothura as we drove out through the cane fields.
15 June (Day 9)
The car suspension was playing up after the battering it took getting to Bananeira Forest and Ciro took it to a mechanic before we left for the drive to Recife to pick up Mauricio who would provide directions to reach the forest at Engenhero Cachoeira Linda . Arrived in Tamandare and headed straight to the forest fragment. Unfortunately our luck ran out and the 4WD became firmly embedded in the mud and despite all our efforts we could not get out. It was raining and dusk was falling when we had the great good fortune to be rescued by the only tractor for miles around which just happened to be passing. Without the tractor the options were not good!!
16 June (Day 10)
Clearly the forest at Engenhero Cachoeira Linda was not accessible so Ciro made some calls and we obtained permission to bird the Reserva Biologica de Saltinho. He worked hard to obtain these permissions so it was a pity that, on the day, the birding proved to be something of a disappointment. Returned to Recife early afternoon we were lucky to catch an early flight to Sao Paulo which gave us loads of time to relax in the hotel before the flight back home the next day.