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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
South East Brazil, April 1st – April 21st 2007,
Swallow-tailed Cotinga, near Nova Friburgo, Brazil, 5th April 2007 (Richard Rae)
This report details a part birding, part sightseeing trip made to South East Brazil in 2007 by DL, RR and Emer Callanan.
We saw 255 species, some of the highlights being Buff-throated Purpletuft, Fork-tailed Pygmy Tyrant, Hooded Berryeater, Three-toed Jacamar, Helmeted and Pin-tailed Manakins, Cock-tailed Tyrant, Red-legged Seriema, Black-hooded Antwren, Slaty Bristlefront, Ferruginous, Bertoni’s, Dusky-tailed, Scaled and Ochre-rumped Antbirds, Mouse-coloured Tapaculo and Brazilian Antthrush as well as the incomparable and near endemic Swallow-tailed Cotinga.
Birding was good throughout although as is usual in the (near) tropics the activity did die off around lunchtime. The weather was hot and sunny throughout, especially on the Canastra plateau, and the only real rain we encountered was on one of the driving days to the west of Rio.
Getting There, Getting Around and Ground Arrangements
Our 3-week trip was split into 3 sections. The first week was mostly guided from Serra dos Tucanos, the next 10 days was totally independent making use of our hire car and the final 5 days was spent chilling out in Rio itself after hanging up the bins. We flew from Manchester to Paris with Flybe, and then after a long wait caught our connecting TAM flight to Rio de Janeiro. Both airlines were fine and pretty much on time. It was certainly worth paying slightly more to travel with the Brazilian airline as opposed to Iberia. Service was pleasant and the food perfectly acceptable. On arrival at Tom Jobin airport we were collected by lodge staff from Serra dos Tucanos and transferred the 2 hours to the beautifully situated rainforest lodge. Our hosts Andy and Cristina treated us to a wonderfully relaxed but still bird-filled stay. All arrangements can be made direct with the lodge on firstname.lastname@example.org We stayed 6 nights here and when not fully guided by Pete, could be found sipping cocktails on the balcony watching endemic hummingbirds - textbook! After our stay the lodge transferred us back to the airport where we collected our hire car, a Volkswagen Fox, from Localiza. This was booked through www.holidayautos.co.uk, although if you have a decent grasp of Portuguese you could book it direct. We used the car to first drive up to the lovely colonial mining town of Ouro Preto near Belo Horizonate for 3 nights. This was primarily sightseeing although a couple of new species were squeezed in (as well as several beers). We based ourselves in the Hotel Colonial – perfectly fine and as usual spotlessly clean. From here we drove west to Sao Roque de Minas, a small town that is conveniently located to gain access to Serra de Canastra. This national park offers one of the best chances in the world to search for the now endemic Brazilian Merganser. We stayed 3 nights at the Hotel Chapadao de Canastra being well looked after by the owner madam Renilda. She speaks some English and can be contacted at email@example.com
After our stay here we drove southwest to the initially unpromising seaside town of Ubatuba. Never judge a Latin American town when you arrive at night – this proved to be a fantastically friendly place with well priced restaurants, gorgeous uncrowded beaches, and lethal caipirinhas! We stayed 3 nights at the well-priced and virtually empty Sao Nicolau Hotel. Ubatuba itself offers an excellent base with which to explore the Atlantic rainforest that cloaks the Serra do Mar mountain range. Birds at this altitude and range differ again from that of Tucanos and offering yet more endemics. The final 5 nights were spent in Rio itself, staying in a nice hotel (Hotel Toledo) 2 minutes walk from Copacabana beach. Obviously we did no birding at this stage.
No formal visa was required and red tape is minimal. Portuguese is the native language and little English is understood outside Rio. At dos Tucanos, Andy, Cristina and Pete all speak English and most of the guests in the week we stayed were from Britain. To a man we found the Brazilians friendly and helpful and a little effort to communicate in Portuguese was always appreciated.
Our flight was booked through Travelocity and was £673.50 return Manchester – Rio with TAM and Flybe. Our hire car was a VW Fox and was just big enough for the 3 of us including luggage and scope. This worked out at just under £380 (including one additional driver). Unleaded petrol was about 70p per litre – not that cheap although the strength of the pound during our visit helped (£1:R$3.95). The cost of beer was generally R$3 – R$3.50 for a can/300ml glass of draft. A main evening meal would normally be between R$20 and R$40, but this was generally enough for two people.
All was of a high standard and as we visited outside the main carnival time we managed to negotiate some discount in places. We pre-booked our accommodation in Ouro Preto considering it was Easter weekend and could have been quite busy. All other accommodation was sorted out on arrival – except at Tucanos. In hindsight we would have liked to arrive in Rio earlier than 10pm and been able to suss out the Hotel and district prior to committing to it. In the event though it was absolutely fine.
For our stay at Serra dos Tucanos we liaised from the UK via email with Andy and agreed which of the several available day trips we would like available during our week. Andy was very accommodating and gave us guidance on which trips to go on to minimise overlap. Rates can be obtained direct from Serra dos Tucanos and will vary depending on the number and nature of the guided trips taken. The Hotel Colonial in Ouro Preto was R$400 per night for a double and single room (although we probably paid over the odds here as it was the Easter weekend and we booked in advance). This hotel was uninspiring but spotlessly clean and well located to explore this interesting little town. Our base in Sao Roque do Minas was the Chapadao da Canastra. 3 nights here worked out at R$107 per night for a double and single room Again spotlessly clean (a real feature of Brazilian accommodation it seems) and with endemics available from inside the hotel grounds, this represents an ideal place to stay. Our stay in Ubatuba was at Sao Nicolau. Again clean and well located our base worked out at around R$110 per night. There is plenty of choice of accommodation within the metropolis that is Rio, we eventually chose the Hotel Toledo just off Rua Santa Clara. This seems to be in a safe area of central Copacabana with lots of middle class cariocas floating around enjoying the bistros and boutiques. Only 2 minutes walk from the beach this worked out around £28 each per night for a beautifully clean large room with a slice of beach just viewable from my 4th floor room. To be fair there is quite a nice view from the 14th floor that you can enjoy whilst eating your continental style breakfast.
You will not go hungry in Brazil! There are options everywhere, including the frequent Lanchonetes on the long road journeys you can’t avoid making in this vast country. Portions are large and we often found ourselves ordering just 2 meals between the 3 of us and even then left some. In both Ubatuba and Rio the seafood is very good, whilst in the interior the famous regional style cuisine, Comida Mineria dominates. Served buffet style you can help yourself to any number of the delicious fresh salads and cooked meats and then take your plate to the scales to be weighed. Very civilised and (for some of our party) a real temptation to over indulge. Special mention goes to Buchaneiro’s Pizza in Ubatuba.
Very little English is spoken outside of Rio, and even in the city it is limited. As usual learn some key phrases (and not just beer and ashtray please!) and you will receive a warm smile as your western accent makes a mess of the nasal vowels. We got by everywhere – just.
Hot and sunny throughout our stay, generally 30 degrees during the day and not dipping below 20 degrees at night. We encountered a severe thunderstorm between Sao Paulo and Rio on the 16th. On a very busy dual carriageway nearly all the traffic had to pull over and sit it out as the torrential rain turned to hail and threatened to dint the car. Thankfully it quickly passed.
An ordinary American plug adaptor is fine for use in Brazil.
Health and Safety
No major issues; the areas visited are reported to be malaria free. All people encountered were friendly and non-threatening. Some of the roads we travelled on were a little hair-raising as the hairpin bends tracked their way around steep mountains. If you do hire a car in this area extreme caution should be taken on all roads. However we felt pretty safe with all our Brazilian drivers. They understand that traffic will be coming around the corners on the wrong side of the road and make the necessary arrangements to deal with it! We didn’t see any snakes and biting insects were noticeable only by their absence. In fact the lack of mosquitoes, flies and ticks made our stay even more enjoyable – especially when sat out at night having a beer.
Trip Reports, Field Guides and Tapes
The resident bird guide at Serra dos Tucanos, Pete, guided several day trips whilst we were at Tucanos and was very good. The rest of our birding was independent – there are lots of good trip reports on the web and these proved accurate and very helpful. The usual websites contain many good trip reports www.surfbirds.com, www.eurobirding.com, www.birdtours.co.uk & www.arthurgrosset.com. Of the trip reports we used most (but not exclusively – and apologies for omissions)
John van der Woude - October/November 2001
Simon Allen - July 2003
Andy Roadhouse - 24th Nov – 31st Dec 2006
Moira & Graeme Wallace - 18th Oct – 30th Nov 2004
Greg Roberts - 29th May – 6th July 2002
Jon Hornbuckle - Jan – March 1995
David Van den Schoor - 26th July – 17th August 2002
Garry George - 22nd Sept – 13th Oct 2001
The field guide All the Birds of Brazil: An Identification Guide (by Deodato Souza) contains some pretty poor illustrations but is still really the only field guide that contains all the birds of the region. As we spent the first week in the capable hands of Pete we were able to start to get a grip with some of the tyrants and flycatchers. Tucanos has a nice little reference library with some relevant editions of the handbook of birds of the world. These proved useful when back at the lodge to see what some of the birds should have been drawn like!
We used the Birds of Brazil (MP3 sounds on CD) by Peter Boesman as well as various other recordings downloaded from www.xeno-canto.org, on our iPods, to attract certain species.
To Cristina, Andy, Pete and all staff at Tucanos. To the authors of the trip reports listed for keeping us motivated when we struggled to find some birds, and to Andy Roadhouse for a copy of his trip report and some useful advice.
March 31st: Flew from Manchester to Paris and after an 8 hour wait caught the TAM flight to Rio.
April 1st: Collected from Rio’s Tom Jobin international airport and transferred to Serra dos Tucanos. Rest of the morning spent relaxing on the balcony and in the afternoon birded the lodge trails.
April 2nd: Morning spent on the bamboo trail, 30 minutes from the lodge. Afternoon on the balcony back at the lodge.
April 3rd: Full day at Serra dos Orgaos National Park. Elevation up to approx 1500m ASL.
April 4th: Morning spent on the Theodoro trail, close to the Bamboo trail. Afternoon on lodge trails.
April 5th: Full day on the high altitude trail (lower section).
April 6th: Full day trip on the 3-toed Jacamar excursion.
April 7th: Morning birding around the lodge trails until 10.30. Transfer back to the airport, collected the hire car and drove 380km to Ouro Preto.
April 8th & 9th: Non-birding around Ouro Preto.
April 10th: Drove to Sao Roque de Minas (approx 7 hours easy drive). Birded the hotel grounds that evening.
April 11th: All day driving the lower route in the Canastra national park to Casca D’ante waterfall. Stopped frequently to scan the river.
April 12th: All day birding the upper section of the national park, including walk to the top of the waterfall.
April 13th: Birded the hotel grounds till 09:30 then checked out and drove 700km to Ubatuba.
April 14th: Morning birding around Folha Seca and Corcovado.
April 15th: Morning birding at Fazenda Angelim.
April 16th: Morning birding around Pereque until 10.30 then checked out of the hotel and drove to Rio along the Dutra.
April 17th – 21st: Non – birding in Rio. Flight to Paris at 23.45 on the 21st.
April 22nd: Travel day, arriving back at Manchester airport at 20:30.
Most sites visited are very well covered in the available literature so we will not spend too much time on this here.
Serra dos Tucanos
During our 6-night stay at this lodge, about 2hrs drive from Rio, we went on various organized excursions as follows:
Serra Dos Orgaos (full day)
High Altitude Trail – Lower Section (full day)
Three-toed Jacamar Excursion (full day)
Theodoro Trail (morning)
We also spent a morning by ourselves along the Bamboo Trail, using a taxi organized by the lodge to get there and back. Some time was also spent on the trails on the lodge grounds, as well as watching the various hummingbird feeders and bird tables visible from the veranda of the lodge.
Serra da Canastra
Two full days were spent in this area, a few hundred kilometres north west of Rio - one day in the lower part of the park and one day on the plateau.
Plenty of birds seen although we missed the Merganser. The day spent on the plateau was hard work at times and bird numbers lower than expected although in the end we pieced together a reasonable day. One surprise was up to 13 Cock-tailed Tyrants – reports we had read prior to visiting had suggested that this species was absent at this time of year.
The wacky looking Giant Anteater provided the mammal highlight here.
This site is well covered in other reports, particularly van der Woude, and we don’t have a lot to add other than that the road up to and on the plateau is in a very poor state and there are bits of it that are barely passable in a 2WD.
One morning spent at this site just to the west of Ubatuba, with a reasonable variety of species seen. Slaty Bristlefront was found in the area that most people seem to see them, also plenty of Festive Coquettes on the feeders at Jonas’s house (Jonas was out but we left a note and some money for sugar).
This site, not far from Folha Seca, was visited rather briefly, after visiting the previous site, and not much of interest was seen.
An excellent site, just to the east of Ubatuba. Permission was obtained in advance from Paul Thomsen (tel: (11) 4727 4075).
The best birds seen here were Buff-throated Purpletuft and Fork-tailed Pygmy Tyrant, both seen by following the path leading straight ahead from the main clearing. The Pygmy Tyrant was seen down a short path off to the left a little way after the straight path passes close by a stream, and the Purpletuft were seen in trees next to the main straight path a little further along it.
We also had a frustrating duel with a Spotted Bamboowren, skulking in some dense cover just to the left of the main, straight path, where a short, unobtrusive trail goes off to the left (different to the path mentioned above).
This site was visited from Ubatuba although it would probably make sense to stay somewhere nearer. Good directions are available online for this site, although we managed to make a complete mess of following them, with the result that most of our time in the area was wasted. We did, eventually, however, see 3 Black-hooded Antwrens.
March 31st. Flew from Manchester to Paris (Flybe), and then onwards to Rio (TAM). The Rio flight took about 11.5 hours.
April 1st. A driver from Tucanos collected us at about 6:30am and 2 hours later we arrived at the beautifully situated Serra dos Tucanos rainforest lodge. The journey was surprisingly swift from the airport and the infamous Rio gridlock never materialised. This was presumably because it was Sunday morning. A Cocoi Heron was seen from the car amongst other common shore birds. Our breakfast had been delayed for us (it’s usually served at 07:30) and whilst getting stuck into this we quickly started ticking off the easier endemics. The feeders were busy with Black Jacobin, Saw-billed hermit & the aggressive Sombre Hummingbirds. Several tanager species were coming down to the banana’s specially left out for them, Golden-chevroned, Sayaca, Ruby Crowned and the stunning Brazilian. Chicli (Spix’s) Spinetails skulked in the borders, whilst the endemic Plain Parakeets showed well on the tables. In the taller trees surrounding the lodge White-barred Piculet and White-throated Woodcreepers showed well. Sifting through these “garden” birds took us through until lunch was served at 1pm. With the temperature in the high 20’s, excellent coffee on demand and superb birding whilst sitting on the terrace it was going to be hard to tear ourselves away from this place! After lunch a leisurely stroll around the lodge trails produced very responsive Black-cheeked Gnateater, Red-necked Tanagers and Black-goggled Tanagers. The gorgeous and endemic Gnateater proved to be easy to see around the lodge once it’s call had been learnt. Back at the feeders a Swallow-tailed Hummingbird showed briefly before complete darkness at 18:00. As the tropic of Capricorn runs just to the south of Tucanos we got about 12 hours of daylight, but once the sun started to set it was pitch black within 15 minutes.
April 2nd: Last night Pete had arranged for a taxi to come and pick us up at the lodge after breakfast to take us up to the Bamboo trail. A gorgeous Blond-crested Woodpecker was seen in the cecropia trees right after breakfast. Then frustration for RR as an ill-timed shower break saw him dip on a pair of Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher’s. This endemic flitted quickly through the lodge garden but was soon gone. An excellent start to the day (for DL at least). The bamboo trail starts off by passing through a small village but then winds it’s way up into forest and bamboo. A word of caution here is that there are several dogs in this area and a nasty nip was received by EC when coming back down the trail from a Jack Russell. This did cast a bit of a cloud over the morning. A large stick would have been useful to swat this nasty little dog off the trail. A precautionary trip was taken to the local hospital (aided by Andy when back at the lodge) for a rabies injection. On the lower part of the trail we saw Scale-throated Hermit, Pallid Spinetails and Variable Antshrike. Once through the obvious gate and onto the higher part of the trail, some good use of the iPod by RR quickly brought in a stunning male Hooded Berryeater. This endemic Cotinga showed well as it sat living up to its name in the lower branches of a large fruiting tree. More judicious use of the iPod brought great views of Bertoni’s Antbird and Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper. This latter furnirid proving to be quite regular in suitable habitat throughout the region. Other birds seen on the trail included Ochre-rumped Antbird, Drab-breasted bamboo-Tyrant, a Blue Manakin lek, Ochre-faced Tody Flycatcher, White-collared Foliage Gleaner (probably one of the best of this generally drab group of Furnarids) Rufous-backed Antvireo and when back down in the village a female Brazilian Ruby. We had arranged a lift back to the lodge at 12:30 and after the dog incident I think we were all ready to leave the area. Looking back now, it is clear that this trail is pretty birdy and could warrant a longer visit – certainly other people have spent most of the day here. Back at the lodge a pleasant afternoon was spent chilling out on the balcony, continuing to familiarise ourselves with the more common birds. Yellow-olive and Boat-billed Flycatchers were added to the list while some of us relaxed in the lovely refreshing pool.
April 3rd. Today was to be a full day guided trip up to Serra dos Orgaos National Park. From the lodge it takes about an hour to reach the lower section of this geologically very scenic park. We birded this lower section for a couple of hours, the birding being quite slow – although at least one nice flock was encountered to keep us on our toes. A Rufous capped Motmot responded well to playback and sat in typical unobtrusive Motmot pose affording everyone good views. Eventually a flock was found and initially provided us with more birds than we could keep up with. White-eyed Foliage Gleaners, Lesser Woodcreepers, a close up Sepia-capped Flycatcher and a noisy group of Yellow-backed tanagers. A probable Crescent-chested Puffbird frustratingly showed only in silhouette. A fairly unimpressive Chivi Vireo flirted through the mid canopy, looking very like Red-eyed whilst a much more interesting Black-capped Foliage Gleaner gave good views. In the higher branches of some mature timber a nice Yellow-throated Woodpecker showed well. This flock gradually worked its way out of view and we headed back to the car park. A confiding White-throated Spadebill was the only other bird of note. It was now about 10:30 and starting to seriously heat up as we headed up to approx 1100m A.S.L. and into the upper section of the park. Bird activity on the rocky trail was disappointing low although with the aid of Pete we did manage to locate Tawny-throated Leaftosser, a skulking Mouse-coloured Tapaculo and Rufous-tailed (Brazilian) Antthrush. This latter species we were particularly lucky with. Initially flushed from the edge of the path it obligingly came back in to the forest edge to give everybody a second chance to see this endemic Chamaeza. Despite these good ground dwellers we hadn’t seen any flocks and even the calling Hooded Berryeater proved elusive. By 13:00 we had reached the lunch stop by the small waterfall. This provides a nice vista across the canopy down below and can be a good spot to look for Black and Gold Cotinga on the exposed snags. Despite hearing one or two distant birds calling they stubbornly remained out of sight. On the way back down everybody had more opportunities to see Ochre-rumped and Bertoni’s Antbirds and Star-throated Antwren. The day had been a little slow bird wise but was ended in fine style with Caipirinhas on the lodge balcony.
April 4th. Today was to be a half-day along the Theodore trail. Situated close to the Bamboo trail this area consists of secondary forest along an over grown old road. The temperature started off a little cooler although quickly warmed up into the low 30’s. At the start of the trail White-winged Becard and Maroon-bellied Parakeets showed well. A hummingbird feeder outside a small house provided us with good views of Saw-billed Hermits, Violet-crowned Woodnymphs and White-throated Hummingbirds. Further up in some secondary growth a pair of Variable Antshrikes called constantly. A White-necked Robin shot through and was seen by DL only. The activity was steady rather than hectic and after an hour or so we had had good views of Azure-shouldered Tanagers, Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet, Buff-fronted Foliage-Gleaners, Spix’s Spinetail and the endemic Yellow-eared Woodpecker. Again, by mid morning the bird activity had slackened but on the walk back to the van we connected with yet another small foliage gleaner – this time White-browed and then a big surprise in the shape of a skulking Black-billed Scythebill low down in the scrub. We got back to the lodge about 12:30 and headed straight for the pool to cool off. This proved a good tactic to recharge our batteries and by 15:00 RR & DL were ready to hit the lodge trails again. We hadn’t gone very far when Wilfried (one of the other guests at the lodge) ushered us down an overgrown side track. After an earlier tip off we half expected what may be on show and this proved to be correct – a stunning Long-tailed Potoo. This cracking bird sat in typical fashion atop a dead snag totally trusting its camouflage as many pictures were taken. A long overdue family tick for DL. Elated with this lifer we carried on up the yellow trail to search for our target birds. Both of these showed well with a little help from the iPod. The first to appear was a cracking Scaled Antbird. A couple of these attractive little birds came in close to check us out. Further on up the trail, and almost completing the Drymophila set were a pair of showy Ferruginous Antbirds. These stunning birds gave great views low down in the dense scrub, the male constantly flashing his bright white back to which the field guide does absolutely no justice whatsoever. It was a struggle to tear ourselves away from these engaging little performers but the afternoon had one more gem to offer. Almost back at the lodge whilst watching a male Black-cheeked Gnateater another movement caught our eye. We only had brief views of an all dark looking, tail pumping, stoutly built bird before it hopped out of view. With the light rapidly fading we knew it was unlikely to reappear. Thankfully at that moment Pete appeared and on describing the bird to him he suggested it could be a White-shouldered Fire-eye. We headed back to the spot and almost immediately on playback the bird re-appeared to confirm Pete’s (and our) suspicions – a male White-shouldered Fire-Eye. We got back to the lodge just as darkness was closing in and the frog chorus beginning. The night was toasted in typical fashion with several Itaipava –a nice local beer (4.5%).
5th April - A 7am departure time was arranged by the lodge to take a small group of us up to the High Altitude Lower Section trails. Despite the misty start to the day a Slaty Breasted Wood-Rail showed well by the roadside close to the lingerie capital of Brazil that is Nova Friburgo. The mist began to clear once on site and birds began to appear. A nearby Southern Crested Caracara is a potential split and was enjoyed by all. As we gained ever more height our views across the valley canopy got better and better. Tension was starting to rise. This route is famous for regular sightings of the near endemic swallow tailed cotinga, and all eyes were straining to spot this distinctive bird on any exposed snags. As we made our way along the trail that skirted the edge of the hillside more birds began to appear, Blue Billed Black-Tyrant, the endemic Planalto Tyrannulet and Dusky Tailed Antbirds, and a smart looking Shear Tailed Grey Tyrant. Finally however constant scanning of distant bare trees eventually paid dividends with a family party of 8 Swallow Tailed Cotinga! A major target bird had fallen relatively easily and although the flock was a little distant this did little to dim our enjoyment of these cracking birds. This was always going to be bird of the day (if not holiday) and the rest of the day’s sightings were put in the shade somewhat. Velvety Black Tyrants, Blue-Naped Cholophonia, Scaled Woodcreeper, Campo Flicker and Uniform Finches all tried hard but came up short. The closest rival to the Cotingas crown coming in the form of a handsome male Plovercrest seen whilst taking a lunch break. To our amazement we then located another group of Swallow Tailed Cotinga feeding right above the path we were on. This group consisted of at least 11 birds – quite likely a family party judging from the varying plumage states and tail lengths and probably different to the birds seen earlier in the day. Although we had to take lunch in the shade it wasn’t long before some low mist and even a little rain came in. The trusty van transported us back to the lodge, with more close views of the Seriema en route, and once again a heavy toasting session was soon in progress!
6th April – Another guided day with Pete and once again another specific target to go for. Our van left the lodge soon after breakfast to drive an hour of so to take us on the Three Toed Jacamar excursion. The habitat on this excursion is very different to previous days, being more agricultural, with distinctly open vistas on many of the roadside stops. Naturally this was reflected in the avifauna and we were soon ticking the endemic Band Tailed Hornero, impressively plumed Streamer Tailed Tyrants, Black Capped Donacobius and a pair of nest building Common Thornbirds. A short stop in some lowland secondary forest initially looked unpromising until quite suddenly at the edge of a clearing by the road we chanced upon a feeding flock. As White Barred Piculets, stunning Green Backed Becards, numerous tanager species, (including Gilt Edged Tanager), Ferruginous Antbird, Swallow Tailed (Blue) Manakin and Scaled Woodcreeper moved through the scrub we could barely keep up with the array of new birds. What was particularly enjoyable about this flock was the fact that it moved through at eye level – for once we did not have to strain limbs peering into the canopy for odd views of difficult to identify species. A real delight. Still more birds were to be found in this seemingly ordinary habitat. White Eyed Parakeets and Blue Winged Macaw’s flew over, while silently up in a tall cecropia a Dusky Legged Guan appeared. An excellent stop and we still had to reach our main destination. Back in the minibus we continued along twisting dusty roads until Pete asked the driver to pull in. Dutifully we all piled out not really believing that such a rare and enigmatic bird could be found in habitat that looked so ordinary. Within minutes however Pete had located a pair of Three-Toed Jacamars quietly sitting on a dead snag and making frequent sallies out to catch a juicy flying insect. With a global range that extends only to the lowlands of South East Brazil this is a real key bird for the region. Quietly attractive, we scoped these birds from the road admiring their fly catching abilities and wondering why they are restricted to this particular region when to our (admittedly) untrained eyes there are miles upon miles of this kind of habitat! A short stop slightly further up the valley produced more good views of this species. Our senses full, we started back to the lodge, stopping briefly to admire a roadside roosting Barn Owl before continuing our circuit back to Tucanos. Although we stopped at a couple of marshy areas the consensus of opinion was that water bird numbers were down, perhaps as a result of dispersal due to lots of widespread pools at this time of year? We did manage to see Ringed and Amazon Kingfishers, Brazilian Teal, Slaty Breasted Wood Rail and a surprise in the form of 3 Black Necked Aracaris. As waterbirds were in somewhat short supply some of the group tried desperately to convince the others that “Moorhens” should be split. This did result in a short, but comical, panic as one of these swamp hens disappeared into the vegetation without being seen by someone in the pro-split party. However Pete quickly restored calm by quashing rumours of a new species; the South American galeata race remaining distinctly lumped. An excellent day with a high day total of around 90 species. As this was to be our last night at SDT with sat up until late in the night talking birds, drinking caipirinhas and listening to the frog chorus from the balcony – the perfect end to our stay at this cracking lodge.
7th April – We all spent an easy morning around the local trails and birding from the balcony today until mid morning. Nice views of Long Tailed Potoo, White Shouldered Fire-eye, Swallow Tailed (Blue) Manakin, and the grip back (for RR) of Yellow Lored Tody-Flycatcher although the best was saved until last – the endemic Eye Ringed Tody-Tyrant. Eventually it is time to tear ourselves away from the lodge as we are transferred back to the airport in Rio to collect our hire car. We then travel North for 380km up to Ouro Preto and the Hotel Colonial. Few birds are seen on the way – although Kelp Gull was a bit of a tarts tick for DL.
8th & 9th April – These were 2 days of relaxing and exploring this interesting mining town. The only bird of note being a White Bellied Warbler.
10th April – Today was to be a travel day up to the Canastra plateau via Belo Horizonte and Divinopolis to Sao Roque de Minas. This small town acts as a useful gateway into the Canastra national park, this area being one of the most reliable in the world for the threatened Brazilian Merganser. An easy 7-hour drive in sunny weather was punctuated with a stop for lunch along the way. Few birds but typically tasty food. As we neared Sao Roque we stopped on a bridge approximately 15kms outside the town to take a photo and rather fortunately found a Giant Anteater foraging on the opposite hillside. We watched this bizarre mammal for 20 minutes as it ambled along past a couple of Red Legged Seriema. We checked into the Hotel Chapadao de Canastra around 16:30 and were instantly gripped off, as there were photographs of the elusive and very rare Brazilian Merganser behind reception! The lady owner of the hotel, Renilda, spoke enough English to tell us that she had even seen the Merganser on the small river at the end of the hotel grounds that morning. If anything was likely to get DL and RR up and out in a morning it was this sort of news. We spent the last hour of daylight picking up some nice birds in the hotel grounds, Toco Toucan, the endemic Stripe Breasted Starthroat and some Yellow Chevroned Parakeets being the pick of the bunch. It was an extremely bullish pair of birders that night that tucked into their spaghetti Bolognese…
11th April – It was an early start for DL and RR, as we took up our positions for the first of three lonely dawn vigils by the riverside, in the hope of a repeat of the merganser sighting that Renilda had apparently had the previous morning. As was to become a depressingly familiar routine, we returned empty handed for breakfast. To be fair, these early mornings by the riverside weren’t a complete waste of time, with regular views of Grey-necked Wood Rail, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Amazon Kingfisher and Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and the local Marmosets peering down at us from the treetops. The idyllic scene was tempered slightly by the presence of a considerable number of very large spiders webs (occupied by a considerable number of very large spiders) stretched between the tops of the riverside bushes, meaning that a certain amount of care was required when getting into and out of position. Also seen early this morning in the garden of the Hotel was a pair of Stripe-breasted Starthroats on the hummingbird feeders, and an obliging female Blond-crested Woodpecker.
After breakfast, and stocking up with sandwich making materials from a shop in town, we headed off for a day in the lower reaches of the Serra da Canastra, our ultimate destination being the bottom of the Casca d’Anta waterfall, the centrepiece of the park. The road would take us through an agricultural area to the village of Vargem Bonita, and then through a mixture of scrub, fields and woodland, never straying far from the Sao Francisco River, to the gallery forest at the base of the falls. A good mixture of habitats that was reflected in one of the holiday’s better day lists (in fact probably second only to the Jacamar Excursion from Tucanos). Before reaching Vargem Bonita, a few roadside stops had resulted in a further sighting of Red-legged Seriema, as well as Yellow-rumped Marshbird and Buff-necked Ibis. We parked up by the bridge as one enters Vargem Bonita for a while, not really expecting to see the merganser at such an open section of river, but it proved to be a worthwhile and birdy stop, with the highlight being a rather brief (and dipped by DL) pair of Crescent-chested Puffbirds. A “quirk” of our car’s alarm system meant that once it had been enabled (which we generally avoided but sometimes did by accident), the only way to switch it off was by putting the keys in the ignition. Unfortunately this involved opening the door and setting the alarm off, and this always seemed to need doing at the most inopportune time, such as when we were parked in a town or outside someone’s house. By the river at Vargem Bonita was one of the first occurrences of this all-too-regular event, and DL and EC watched in amusement from a safe distance while a flustered RR tried to deactivate the alarm in the minimum amount of time while some half interested locals looked on from further up the street at the inept gringo!
We found the road out of the other side of VB with relative ease, and the rest of the journey was punctuated by regular stops whenever we passed near the river, or through a different looking bit of habitat. Unfortunately all the attention paid to the river failed to produce the dividend we were hoping for, but it was hard to be too despondent as we added birds such as Golden-capped Parakeet, Black-throated Saltator, Cinnamon Tanager and White-tailed Goldenthroat to the list. On arrival at the park proper, we signed in, parked up and walked down to the rivers edge, following this path to the base of the picturesque falls. It was by now getting quite hot. Although we again failed with the mergansers, there were a few notable birds in the forest along the river, including Rufous Gnateater (a welcome grip-back for DL), Southern Bristle-Tyrant and a trio of Manakins in the form of White-bearded, Helmeted and Pin-tailed. There were at least 5 Helmeted around, with a lek quite close to the reception hut. Just one Pin-tailed was seen, quite unexpected at this location and all the more welcome having dipped them at Tucanos. Definitely two of the better Manakin species we’ve seen. In the heat, the bird activity was becoming noticeably less, and our stomachs were telling us it was time for lunch, so we headed back to the car, feeling pleased with the day so far. After some very satisfying tuna sandwiches we headed back towards Sao Roque de Minas, stopping regularly on the way back and adding American Kestrel and Peach-fronted Parakeet, among others, to the list, but ultimately ending the day merganser-less.
A beer or two on the balcony was followed by a meal at the same restaurant as last night.
12th April – The day started much as yesterday, and once DL and RR had finished dipping the merganser, breakfast was eaten, food was bought, and we headed out of town on the extremely rough road up onto the Canastra plateau. Hopes were high for another good day, with the expectation of a whole different suite of species and a healthy number of lifers. A few stops were made on the way up to the park entrance, but not much of note was seen apart from two Red-breasted Toucans. After signing in and paying the small entrance fee, we headed to the bit of the road where the pylons first cross over it, a regular stakeout for Brasilia Tapaculo (apparently!). Our playing of the bird’s call was met with deafening silence. The lack of apparently suitable habitat by the road soon had us scrambling across to a small patch of woodland visible in the near distance, where our tapaculo call received a similar reception. A few Stripe-tailed Yellow-finches here offered scant consolation. A little disheartened, we returned to the car and carried on along the road. It wasn’t far before a bird on the road looked interesting, but frustration was to follow as RR had a brief look at it through his bins (and the car windscreen), felt that it looked good for one of our other targets for the day (the endemic Grey-backed Tachuri), at which point the bird flew away. A stop and scan of the area failed to give another sighting. We thought the habitat here looked somewhat better for the Brasilia Tapaculo, and we did in fact get a brief response to our recording, but the bird stubbornly refused to show itself in the thick roadside scrub. Having given the birds a reasonable chance to show, but not wanting to waste all of the best time of the day on two species, we carried on further, making regular stops to scan the very open habitat. As the morning progressed, and with few birds, new or otherwise, being seen, we started to get a bit concerned. This was meant to be an easy day in open habitat! After eating our sandwiches, there was some discussion about what to do. EC, in the back seat of the car, was clearly not happy with how the day was unfolding and favoured turning round rather than going further along the extremely bumpy road. DL didn’t offer any strong opinions either way (this may have been due to the fact that he was asleep and/or suffering with his customary sunstroke!), but RR, in possession of the car keys, took the not universally popular decision to plough on to the top of the waterfall. This didn’t immediately look like a great move as the road quality deteriorated further, but after half an hour or so we arrived at the parking spot at the top of the falls, having nailed a welcome Campo Miner a few kilometres earlier. Welcome because it was about the first bird we’d seen of any kind for a couple of hours! A short walk up to the lookout was quite scenic, and a couple of King Vultures weren’t too bad either. After enjoying the views, we cooled off with a paddle in the river. At this stage the day was an unmitigated failure from a birding perspective, no question about it. Fortunately things were about to improve somewhat, as a speculative roadside stop at a gated track gave a Wedge-tailed Grassfinch, and wandering a little along the path, we came across a Giant Anteater going about its’ business. Hoping for some closer views of the anteater, we set off in pursuit, although were soon distracted by a bird perched up in the near distance that looked like a male Cock-tailed Tyrant and, on closer inspection, did indeed prove to be one, with a female close by. This came as something of a surprise, as the reports we had suggested that this species wasn’t present at this time of year. After taking a couple of crap record shots of the tyrant, we again tracked down the anteater, and were getting reasonably close when it must have caught a whiff of RR’s feet and was off, with a surprising turn of speed. Not fancying a lengthy scramble through the quite thorny and ant-filled scrub, we left it in peace and returned to the car. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves seeing more Cock-tailed Tyrants by the roadside, in fact by the end of the afternoon the tally was 13 and we found ourselves wondering how we’d missed them on the way up! Another well chosen stop and scan soon had an excited DL announcing that he’d got a couple of Greater Rheas. They were about 20 miles away but still looked pretty impressive. Almost immediately after this stop, there was of course a Greater Rhea right next to the road!
Feeling a bit happier after seeing at least a few of our targets, we found ourselves back at the Tapaculo/Tachuri spot in the late afternoon. Use of the iPod again encouraged a brief utterance from the BT, but unfortunately that was all we got. It was a rather happier story with the Grey-backed Tachuri, as we all got good views of this attractive endemic.
So, we left the park feeling that the day had been a qualified success. As we carefully descended the road back to Sao Roque de Minas, the journey was enlivened by a tree full of Dusky-legged Guans that somehow contrived to be more or less invisible until they flew noisily out, and a pair of Hepatic Tanagers, their complimentary colours looking quite stunning in the late afternoon sunlight. Once back at the hotel, the now familiar evening ritual of a couple of beers on the balcony followed by a visit to our favourite Sao Roque restaurant.
13th April – A final and predictably unsuccessful early morning visit to the riverside was followed by breakfast, and then we embarked on what was to be the longest single drive of the trip, to the outskirts of Sao Paulo and then on to the coastal resort of Ubatuba. Some info from the Arthur Grosset website suggested that a small area of marsh near the ferry at Passos might be worth a quick look, so a small detour was made for this. This proved to be a great move as we immediately found a Masked Duck, however there wasn’t a lot else in evidence and we had a considerable distance still to cover so we pressed on. As soon as we crossed the border into Sao Paulo state the road turned into a superb dual carriageway, and remained like this, apart from the last 80km or so to Ubatuba. The journey was broken up with a textbook McDonald’s on the outskirts of Sao Paulo. DL had been monitoring the “habitat” and declared that it “looked ideal” shortly before the golden arches came into view, in a retail park next to the motorway. After this welcome refuelling stop we continued our journey, through some heavy rain, finally arriving at Ubatuba at about 8.30pm, a little later than we had intended. Finding some accommodation thankfully proved straightforward, and we checked into the very pleasant and good value Hotel Sao Nicolau for the next 3 nights.
After a quick shower we headed out for a couple of beers and a very tasty pizza at Buchaneiros Pizza (recommended).
14th April – Keen to make the most of our limited time for birding in this area, we were up bright (ish) and early, and on our way to Folha Seca, a short drive to the west of Ubatuba. The site was found relatively easily using info from Arthur Grosset and John van der Woude. Almost immediately on arrival at the site, a bird briefly seen on the road before running into cover was assumed to be a wood-rail, however to RR and particularly DL’s great delight, when it reappeared it proved to be a Brown Tinamou. Good start. Some optimistic playing of the Spotted Bamboowren recording was met with zero response, however we had slightly more success with our Slaty Bristlefront recording, as a bird soon responded, and not long after appeared very close to us at the side of the trail, giving excellent views. Having walked as far as an abandoned house, we decided that Jonas’s house (an essential stop for birders) must in fact have been one of the ones we passed before we parked the car, so we turned round and head slowly back. One of the most frustrating moments of the holiday ensued for RR when DL, while answering the call of nature, had crippling views of a Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, but it disappeared before anyone else arrived. Some compensation was had in the form of an Eye-ringed Tody Tyrant, several Scaled Antbirds and a cracking Spot-backed Antshrike. On arrival back at the car, we headed back along the road and soon found Jonas’s house. There didn’t seem to be anyone home, but we stayed for a short while to watch the numerous hummers, including several Festive Coquettes. We left a note and some money for sugar before heading on to our next spot, known as Corcovado. It was late morning and stinking hot by the time we got here and not a total shock that we didn’t see anything of interest.
Heading back into Ubatuba, we enjoyed a tasty lunch of fish before having a relaxing mooch around town for the rest of the day. After a quick snooze we headed out again for a couple of beers and another meal. Also during the evening, the guy on reception at our hotel kindly phoned up the owner of Fazenda Angelim to arrange our visit for tomorrow morning.
15th April – Up early again for what was expected to be a highlight of the trip – our visit to Fazenda Angelim. It had been agreed on the phone last night that we would arrive at 7am, however we got there a bit early and rather than wait outside we went in (which was certainly the right thing to do). Walking along the entrance track towards the large clearing, we picked up a few birds, including a most welcome (for DL) Crescent-chested Puffbird. After signing in and paying the small entrance fee, we carried on to the upper part of the large clearing, scouring all tall trees for purpletufts. The Bamboowren recording is once again wheeled out, to predictably little response, before we continue on up the main track. A pair of Buff-bellied Puffbirds gave excellent views, and a couple of Spot-breasted Antvireos were also very welcome, as we had been looking for this species for much of the trip. Another stand of bamboo encouraged us to fire up the iPod for another crack at the bamboowren. After a few minutes and several plays however we had had no response and so carried slowly on up the path. We soon heard a Spotted Bamboowren calling from where we had been stood! This was an exciting moment, and we carefully crept back to where we had been and played the iPod again. There followed a tense half hour as we played our recording, the bird responded, we moved slightly, it moved a bit etc, etc but we never actually got a single view of the damn thing! In the end we had to admit defeat and carried on. A Rufous-headed Tanager seen in a canopy flock was pleasing, as we had been seeing quite a few Guira Tanagers and felt sure we must have missed some of this species. After a while we turned around and headed back in the direction of the clearing, as this is where most people seem to see things. Not long after doing so a movement in the canopy attracted RRs attention. Even though I had been looking for this bird intently it still took me a moment to compute what it was before announcing “Buff-throated Purpletuft”. Fortunately DL and EC are able to get on the pair of birds, and, with the help of the iPod, we enjoyed some great views of this uncommon, subtly attractive endemic. It was hard to tell whether there were one or two pairs around. Extremely relieved to have nailed this key bird, we carried on. We followed a short trail off to the right, where a Black-capped Foliage Gleaner showed well, before RR got on a smaller bird in the mid canopy. Having a similar experience to that with the purpletufts, it took a moment before the visual details were assimilated and Fork-tailed Pygmy Tyrant was announced with, fortunately, everyone getting on it. An excellent quarter of an hour that had really elevated the Ubatuba experience and, in the form of Buff-throated Purpletuft, provided one of the outstanding highlights of the trip. As it was now getting into the heat of the day and with most of our targets in the bag, we decided to call it a day. After a spot of lunch at one of the self-service restaurants where you pay by weight (recommended) we spent a very enjoyable afternoon chilling out on one of the numerous beaches near Ubatuba. In the evening we were treated to an impromptu display of samba dancing as the pavement outside the normally quiet bar at the end of our street became packed with people dancing to a local band – a great sight. We watched from the sidelines!
16th April – Feeling a little the worse for wear having had a couple more beers than usual last night, DL and RR were on the road very early, for a visit to Pereque, about 110km east along the coast road. This was intended to be an easy final morning’s birding to net a quality endemic (Black-hooded Antwren), and we were feeling bullish…. perhaps a little too bullish for our own good. The first part of the journey, along the excellent coastal road to Pereque, was straightforward, and we managed to find our way through Pereque and out on to the correct road. The bit of the instructions that we came unstuck on was “Drive along a dirt road for 7km; after the third bridge there is an open shed on the right with a dirt track to the left in front of it;”. Sounds simple, and most people manage to follow these instructions to the letter without problem. Not us. When we got to 7km, DL was of the opinion that only two bridges had been crossed. So, instead of looking around for an open shed, we drove to the next bridge. This was a big mistake, which resulted in us wasting about the next 2 hrs looking for an open shed in completely the wrong area! Trawling with the iPod for our target unsurprisingly didn’t achieve much, and some general birding in the area only turned up Thrush-like Woodcreeper, Black-cheeked Gnateater and Spot-billed Toucanet. We were up against the clock somewhat, as we had arranged to meet EC back in Ubatuba by about midday, so when 10 o’clock came round, we reluctantly had to start heading back towards the main road. After driving for a couple of minutes, both RR and DL looked to the left, at a rather large, open fronted building, and almost simultaneously uttered the words: “that could be a shed!”. Following this moment of epiphany, it didn’t take us long for us to find the actual Black-hooded Antwren site, and after a little use of the iPod, we enjoyed views of 2 females and a stunning male. Running behind schedule as we were, we weren’t able to hang around very long to see what else the site had to offer and had to pull out all the stops to get back to Ubatuba, and still arrived late. DL took his customary eternity to get his things packed, and then, after checking out of the hotel, some food was required, all culminating in a later than anticipated departure from Ubatuba. The journey back to Rio took somewhat longer than anticipated (and included one of the heaviest showers any of us had ever witnessed, with all traffic on the motorway having to pull over as hailstones pelted down making it impossible to see anything), meaning that we just arrived in time for the rush hour. A missed turning resulted in a couple of hours of motoring hell, before we eventually managed to get back to the airport. After depositing the car back at Localiza, we caught a taxi in to town, and after trying a couple of places, settled on the Hotel Toledo just one block away from Copacabana Beach as our base for the next 5 nights.
17th – 21st April – These days were spent doing the usual touristy activities in Rio, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Sugarloaf Mountain and the Corcovado were suitably impressive, DL was able to fulfil a personal ambition by setting foot on the hallowed turf of the Maracana, and a visit to a club in Lapa where one of Rios best Samba bands were playing proved to be a fitting way to spend our last night in this fantastic country.
The following day was spent people watching on Copacabana Beach, before, with considerable reluctance, we left Brazil late on the evening of 21st.
Cock-tailed Tyrant, Serra da Canastra, Brazil, 12th April 2007 (Richard Rae)
Dave Lowe and Richard Rae, August 2007