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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Brazil: South East 4th-18th July 2003,
In July-August 2003 I undertook my first visit to Brazil, and planned two weeks in the southeast and three and a half in Amazonia, which is dealt with in part two of the report. My personal total for the five and a half week trip was just over 700 species, including, in Amazonia, some of the least known species on the continent. I spent the first leg of the trip with Bruno Walther and the second with Mike Catsis and Heinz Remold.
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Southeast Brazil is a well-documented global birding hotspot, which should be firmly placed on the wish list of any birder who has not been there. The infrastructure is excellent, the roads are good, there is a high number of restricted range and rare species and the vast majority of specialities are much easier to find than in other areas of South America, due in part to higher densities of individuals and the fact that outside national parks and reserves the extent of habitat destruction is often rather depressing. It was a place I had long wanted to visit and so I put together a two-week itinerary for July 2003 and persuaded my friend Bruno Walther to accompany me.
I flew with Varig to Rio de Janeiro via Saõ Paulo. Once there, in order to give ourselves maximum flexibility, we hired a car for the whole two-week period through Localiza, the biggest car hire company in Brazil, arranged for us for no extra cost by Andy Whittaker of Birding Brazil tours. The car we had was a Fiat Palio, which was very reliable and gave us no problems whatsoever. This worked out at about 1750 BR (about $600 US) kilometre free for two weeks, which we thought was quite reasonable, although note that Localiza do expect you to return the car in pristine condition, and will hit you with an automatic charge for cleaning if you hand it back dirty, and charges were higher in Manaus and Carajas.
Fri 4th July Fly from London (depart 12 midnight, two hours late) to Rio de Janeiro via Saõ Paulo.
Sat 5th July Arrive Saõ Paulo 6:30, delayed flight to Rio due to fog, arrive 12 noon. Meet up with Bruno, pick up car from Localiza, drive to Teresopolis with brief stops at Garrafaõ and Serra dos Orgaõs NP. Night Pousada Recanto Comari, Teresopolis.
Sun 6th July 6:00-17:30: all day on Pedro do Sinho trail up to first campsite and back. Night Pousada Recanto Comari, Teresopolis.
Mon 7th July 05:00-07:00 drive Teresopolis to Sumidouro. 07:00-9:30 birding Sumidouro road; 10:30-12:30 birding Carmo road near Alem Paraiba. 13:00-17:00 drive from Alem Paraiba to Itatiaia NP. Night Hotel Simon.
Tues 8th July 06:00-07:00 birding around Hotel Simon; 07:00-12:30 Tres Picos trail; pm birding around Hotels Ype and Donati, and 'Squirrel Corner'. Night Hotel Simon.
Wed 9th July 07:00-15:00 Agulhas Negras road; 15:00-17:00 marsh and open country at km18 on Engenheiro Passos - Caxambu road. Night Hotel Simon.
Thu 10th July 06:30-13:00 Tres Picos trail; 15:00-18:00 Hotel Donati area. Night Hotel Simon.
Fri 11th July 07:00-11:30 drive Itatiaia NP to Parati via Barra Mansa and Angra dos Reis. 12:00-14:00 birding at Black-hooded Antwren site; 14:30-16:30 drive to Ubatuba, with brief recce to Fazenda Angelim. Night Hotel Agua Doce Praia, Praia Dura west of Ubatuba.
Sat 12th July 06:30-09:30 Fazenda Angelim; 10:00-13:00 Fazenda Capricornio; 14:30-17:30 Corcovado area. Night Hotel Agua Doce Praia
Sun 13th July 06:30-09:00 Folha Seca area; 09:30-12:30 Corcovado area; 15:00-17:30 Corcovado area. Night Hotel Agua Doce Praia
Mon 14th July 06:30-08:30 Folha Seca; 09:00-17:00 drive from Praia Dura to Fazenda Intervales via Saõ Paulo, Tatuí, Itapetininga and Capaõ Bonito. Night Fazenda Intervales.
Tue 15th July 07:00-13:00 upper Carmo road; 14:30-18:00 lower Carmo road. Night Fazenda Intervales.
Wed 16th July 07:00-13:00 Barra Grande road; 14:30-18:30 around the 'sede' at Intervales. Night Fazenda Intervales.
Thu 17th July 06:00-15:00 lower Carmo road beyond the research hut; 15:30-18:00 around the 'sede'. Night Fazenda Intervales.
Fri 18th July 07:00-11:00 trail from sede up to radio masts viewpoint; 12:00-15:30 drive to Saõ Paulo. Night Hotel Canard Bleu, Guarulhos.
Despite the lack of an adequate field guide, there are relatively few identification problems to contend with in SE Brazil. I purchased a copy of the new English version of Deodato Souza's All the Birds of Brazil: An Identification Guide (2002) which illustrates, albeit poorly in a number of cases, all the specialities of the region. The two volumes of Ridgely and Tudor's Birds of South America (1989 and 1994) would of course be invaluable references but one can probably get away without carting them around in the field. By far the most useful reference tool and, of course, source of vocalisations, was my friend Heinz Remold's excellent CD ROM The Landbirds of Southeast Brazil Disc 2: Furnariids to Sharpbill (2001) which contains illustrations and a range of songs and calls for virtually all the species in this important group. From this I was able to make cassette and minidisc recordings for use as playback in the field.
Being such a popular birding destination, SE Brazil is well covered by trip reports available on the internet. Amongst those we used for information on sites and distances were those written by:
Mike Hunter (1999)
Garry George (2001)
Mark and Cindy Lockwood (2001)
Jon van der Woude (2001)
Jan Vermeulen (2001) (See http://www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/brazil/index.htm)
In addition, Wheatley's Where to Watch Birds in South America (1994) was useful for species lists and of particular value were Jeremy Minns' very detailed and helpful site notes for the area available on the web at www.arthurgrosset.com .
The Brazilian currency is the real (plural reais). In July 2003 the exchange rate was about 3.3 reais to the US dollar. Brazil is a very modern country and getting money from ATM machines is easy and makes the hassle of travellers' cheques almost unnecessary.
In terms of timing of the trip, we missed very few species we had expected, although October and November are supposedly better for activity, and is certainly when major tour groups tend to visit the area. We did not lose a significant time to rain and most species were vocalising and/or responding, with the exception of Speckle-breasted Antpitta and Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakin, two of our dips of which we did not have a sniff.
In addition to the authors of the reports above, my thanks go particularly to Heinz Remold for the copy of his excellent CD ROM as well as his generous advice during the planning stage of the trip about sites and logistics etc.
Diary and Sites
The trip reports and sources of information cited in the reference section contain plenty of details on how to get to sites and where to go once there. Thus I have chosen not to deal with these sites individually, although with lesser-known areas, I have included the relevant details within the following account.
Saturday 5th July
Having left London two hours late, a further delay materialised on my arrival in Brazil when we were left on the tarmac at Saõ Paulo airport due to fog at Rio. Once this had cleared and we had filled the plane, we made the short flight to Rio, to be met by a long and tedious immigration queue. It was 12.30pm by the time I finally got through, five hours behind the scheduled arrival time. Once I had met up with Bruno, who had been waiting there since 6 that morning, we made our way to the Localiza office and picked up our Fiat Palio. Having missed the notoriously missable turning towards Teresopolis, we found ourselves heading into the centre of Rio, but thankfully lost only an hour before finding our way onto the right road. An hour later, we found ourselves climbing up out of the dusty lowlands into increasingly forested hills. We made a brief, almost token, birding stop at Garrafaõ about half way up the serra, where the mythical Kinglet Calyptura was seen in 1996. A pair of Red-necked Tanagers was my first lifer, alongside a handful of other widespread species such as Pale-breasted Thrush and Scaly-headed Parrot, but the sun was setting quickly and we wanted to make it to Serra dos Orgaõs NP before it shut. Having purchased tickets (12 R per person) and arranged for early entry in the morning at 6 rather than the often-quoted time of 8am, we drove up to the car park of the Pedra da Sinha trail to orientate ourselves for the following morning. Here, a few minutes birding in the gathering gloom allowed us to hear a number of species we would see well the next day. Unfortunately I had previously discovered the pousada located within the park would be closed for repairs (thus making our chances of getting up to Grey-winged Cotinga country early more difficult) so at 6 we headed back down the hill and found our way to a rather peaceful part of town where our pousada, the Recanto Comari, was situated. After a huge dinner (portions in Brazilian restaurants are vast) it was time for some much needed sleep.
Sunday 6th July
Up at 5, we were at the trailhead by about 6.10, before it was light enough to see any birds. The Pedro do Sinho trail winds its way up quite steeply in places through wonderful tall forest, dominated in certain areas by stands of bamboo, into more stunted and epiphyte-laden trees higher up, with patches of scrubbier, more open habitat nearer the top, from where one has fantastic views back down over the city of Teresopolis. As with any montane avifauna, the cast of species changes according to altitude, and we saw a wide range of new and exciting species during the day at different elevations. Early treats included a lek of Scaly-throated Hermits, a furtive and sometimes elusive Large-tailed Antshrike that crawled through the bamboo literally a couple of metres in front of us, and a vocal but rather shy Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper which we encountered at a small river crossing. Mixed flocks held the ubiquitous Golden-crowned Warbler, Rufous-crowned Greenlet, Black-goggled and the stunning Brassy-breasted Tanager, Planalto Tyrannulet and Scaled Woodcreeper, whilst a young male Blue Manakin and then a striking pair of Pin-tailed Manakins appeared in the understorey. A Brazilian Ruby perched obligingly, a couple of localised Yellow-browed Woodpeckers inspected a mossy trunk, and we eventually gained knockout views of the very vocal and spectacular Hooded Berryeater, which at this time of year are calling all over the place.
After a few initial steep sections, the trail is actually relatively flat, and in a patch of bamboo-dominated forest along one of the several long flat stretches, we were treated to more point-blank views of some skulkers such as the handsome Rufous-backed Antvireo, the local Rufous-tailed Antbird and Rufous-capped Spinetail, whilst an enormous Giant Antshrike, one of the birds of the trip, never mind the day, hopped onto the path in front of us and showed really well as it foraged.
Higher still, a more open patch of habitat held a pair of smart Plovercrests and several Diademed Tanagers, whilst a flock of Maroon-tailed Parakeets screeched by. New birds continued to flow at a steady rate, including an imposing White-throated Woodcreeper, Golden-chevroned Tanager, Creamy-bellied Thrush, Yellow-eared Woodpecker and the cute and confiding Serra do Mar Tyrannulet which drew attention to itself with an interesting display of wing-snapping. In this area, the high-pitched, drawn-out whistle of the Black-and-gold Cotinga was a constant sound, and it was not long before we were admiring a smart male at close quarters in response to playback. Such was the constant stream of interesting species on offer lower down, that we did not reach the first campsite, the traditional 'lower limit' of these mountains' most celebrated inhabitant, the rare Grey-winged Cotinga, until about 2pm. According to Heinz Remold and Juan Mazar Barnett, the birds are getting decidedly scarce in the area, and there was certainly no sign of them on this occasion, and the only inkling we had of possibly having heard the bird's shorter, two-tone whistle, was lower down where they are supposed not to occur.
At 3pm we turned around and made our way back down the mountain towards the car park. On the way back down, we added a few more interesting species in the form of a female Tufted Antshrike, some confiding White-rimmed Warblers and a few Buff-browed Foliage-Gleaners, and we made it back down the mountain by about 6pm, from where it was time for another large meal before bed.
Monday 7th July
Serra dos Orgaõs NP is closed on Mondays, and since we had a chance for all other species other than the Grey-winged Cotinga elsewhere, we decided to use the morning to head inland towards Minas Gerais and look for a different cast of species. Before leaving Teresopolis, we spotlighted a Tropical Screech-owl which was calling right in the hotel grounds well before dawn, and before 6 we were off on our way towards drier habitats near the town of Alem Paraiba. Following some detailed directions, we pulled off the main highway towards Sumidouro at km7, onto a remarkably dusty road which passed by some cleared fields, a marsh and then, after 4kms or so, to a sharp bend in the road in a little valley with some remnant, but degraded dry forest. A cooperative Long-billed Wren worked its way up a viney tangle and a small group of the declining Blue-winged Macaw gave good flight views against a clear sky, but it was half an hour or more before we found our main quarry, the localised Three-toed Jacamar, on the far side of the bend, where a pair perched quite high in the branches of a bare tree. Unexpected splashes of colour were added by Gilt-edged and Rufous-headed Tanagers, whilst the tiny endemic Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher also put on a good show. Further species we found in the area included White-tipped Dove, an unexpected Barn Owl that we flushed from an earth bank, a female White-bearded Manakin, Short-crested Flycatcher, White-winged Becard, Chestnut-vented Conebill, Burnished-buff Tanager, Pileated Finch and Double-collared Seedeater, although at our stop at the marshy area back towards the main road, Blackish Rail was only heard.
As the temperature increased in this more arid habitat, we continued a little to the north to another site for the jacamar, the 'Carmo' road closer to Alem Paraiba. Despite the heat, here we found another Three-toed Jacamar, this time perching on an overhead wire next to the road, whilst some secondary growth yielded an interesting selection of more open country species including Planalto Hermit, Sapphire-spangled Emerald, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, the raucous
Campo Flicker, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, a vocal Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Yellow Tyrannulet, Bran-coloured and Boat-billed Flycatchers, Crested Becard, Chalk-browed Mockingbird and several Chopi Blackbirds, although despite considerable trawling, we neither heard nor saw the rare Rio de Janeiro Antbird which has been found in the area in the past. A final stop at a little watering hole adjacent to some farm buildings allowed us to add Band-tailed Hornero, Chestnut-capped Blackbird and White-headed Marsh-Tyrant to the list before we were on our way again.
Much of the rest of the day we spent working our way through a depressingly degraded landscape that was often entirely devoid of trees, via Tres Rios and Vassouras to the ugly industrial town of Volta Redonda, where we rejoined the Dutra highway and made our way to the famous Itatiaia NP. Arriving about half an hour before dusk, we stopped at a set of hummingbird feeders in the lower part of the park where we admired Black Jacobin, Versicolored Emerald, Violet-capped Woodnymph, White-throated Hummingbird and a pair of sleek Chestnut-bellied Euphonias, before continuing up the hill and checking in to the Hotel Simon, which was to be our home for the next four nights. A quick look around the car park allowed us to add Green-headed Tanager and Green-winged Saltator in a flowering tree before we retired to experience the delights of the nightly dessert buffet. Although not as popular with tour groups as more expensive the Hotel do Ype, which does have more birds in the immediate vicinity, we found the Simon to be a more-than adequate alternative, and the cost of $62 US per night for the two of us, including three buffet-style meals, was quite reasonable given the location.
Tuesday 8th July
After admiring the resident Cliff Flycatchers over breakfast, the first hour or so of daylight was spent birding the immediate vicinity of the Hotel Simon, where highlights included White-barred Piculet, gaudy Yellow-fronted Woodpeckers, Ruby-crowned Tanager, a pair of striking Saffron Toucanets and a Planalto Woodcreeper. Another flowering tree on the way to the Tres Picos trail allowed us good views of Maroon-bellied Parakeets and the unusual Brown Tanager as well as Red-rumped Caciques and a number of hummingbirds species, whilst Velvety Black-Tyrants perched conspicuously on the fence surrounding the hotel pool.
Entering the still-dingy forest, we soon found a Rufous-capped Motmot perched by the trail and coaxed some Star-throated Antwrens into view. We turned right up the Tres Picos trail, and soon found ourselves in a patch of bamboo where we found Drab-breasted Bamboo-Tyrant and Bertoni's Antbird in quick succession. Further good birds materialised in the form of the dainty Streak-capped Antwren, a responsive and imposing Robust Woodpecker, a spectacular male Blue Manakin and a Surucua Trogon. Skulkers in the understorey included Rufous Gnateater that came hopping out onto a rock in the middle of the trail, White-shouldered Fire-eye and the uncommon White-browed Foliage-Gleaner, whilst the remarkably tiny Eared Pygmy-Tyrant gave repeated views. As the trails climbs, good views into the mid-storey can be had on the right hand side, and here we found a very productive flock which contained Grey-hooded Flycatcher, Sharpbill and, best of all, the rare Black-capped Piprites which gave excellent eye-level views. Before heading back to the hotel for a rest and some lunch, we also added Black-tailed Flycatcher, Ochre-rumped Antbird and Sharp-billed Treehunter.
In the afternoon we took the car down the hill a little from the hotel towards the Hotel Donati. We were trying to find a spot where Mike Catsis had seen Shrike-like Cotinga some years before, but unsurprisingly this great rarity did not appear. Activity was low but along one of the roads we added Greenish Schiffornis, before heading upslope again towards the Hotel do Ype, the most upmarket option for accommodation in the park. Here, Dusky-legged Guans hopped tamely around the cabins and trees around the main building harboured a party of Olive-green Tanagers and a beautiful Blue-naped Chlorophonia. Returning back towards the Hotel Simon, we stopped at a little shop on the left side on the way up towards the hotel called 'Esquinha dos Esquilos' ('Squirrel Corner') on the recommendation of Brazilian resident bird guide Paulo Boute, whom we had met in the Hotel Simon the night before. Here, as promised, we found the endearing Frilled Coquette amongst some more aggressive species, as well as the uncommon Dusky-throated Hermit, before returning to the Hotel Simon.
Wednesday 9th July
We were up well before dawn this morning, and we drove down back towards the town of Itatiaia itself, where we connected with the Dutra highway and followed it for about 12kms until we reached the town of Engenheiro Passos. Here we turned right on the road towards Caxambu which winds through largely deforested mountains up to the Agulhas Negras road, which is the best site for the high altitude specialities of the Itatiaia mountains. Large numbers of Picazuro Pigeons flew up from the road in these open areas, and a couple of Slaty-breasted Wood-Rails scurried across the road as we entered a more wooded section of the road. At the pass, some 26kms from the Dutra, we turned right onto a dirt track that was initially of good quality and which ran through some more stunted forest than is found around the hotels in the main area of the park. Here small groups of Red-rumped Warbling-Finches fed on the road, we quickly taped in a very responsive Mouse-coloured Tapaculo and a chunky Thick-billed Saltator foraged in some vegetation near a furtive family party of Rufous-tailed Antbirds. We soon also added White-spotted Woodpecker, more White-rimmed Warblers with their beautiful song, and the confiding Blue-billed Black-Tyrant, whilst higher up we found a couple of Bay-chested Warbling-Finches.
Approximately 8kms from the turn off at the pass there is a large open area to the right of the road, centred around a rather extensive swamp. The stunted vegetation in this area is the classic locality for the extremely localised Itatiaia Thistletail, which soon responded to playback and proved to be fairly common. Other inhabitants of this bushy vegetation and adjacent forest edge included Chicli Spinetail, Planalto and Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulets, Diademed Tanager, more Plovercrests and a distant probable Shear-tailed Grey-Tyrant. On the far side of the marsh is a grove of distinctive Araucaria trees, where we found a single Yellow-winged Cacique, whilst after some playback a rather unobtrusive Araucaria Tit-Spinetail came in and sang near the top of the dense tree crown. Beyond here the quality of the road deteriorates, and as it was already quite late and hot and birds were decidedly inactive, we had a late lunch on the rocks on the hill opposite an oddly located (and presumably often empty) hotel.
On the way back down the mountain, once we had stopped for refreshment at the roadside stalls at the pass, we branched off the road back down towards Engenheiro Passos at km 18.5 where a dirt track drops steeply down to the left and continues along the base of the hills for a few kilometres. From here one can really appreciate the extent of the destruction of the habitat outside of the national park, and there were very few trees left at all in the area. A stop at a farm with a couple of taller trees gave us Violaceous Euphonia and Golden-chevroned Parakeet, whilst the marshy area back towards the highway, mentioned in some trip reports, eventually yielded a soaring Short-tailed Hawk, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Yellow-rumped Marshbird, the sleek Crested Black-Tyrant and best of all, the spectacular Streamer-tailed Tyrant, although no Firewood-gatherer.
Thursday 10th July
We awoke to clear skies once again and within a few hours the sun was hot and suppressing bird activity. Nevertheless, with a number of the park's specialities still required, we once more returned to the Tres Picos trail for the morning, and were rewarded with a nice range of different species to those we had recorded previously. I finally caught up with the attractive Red-breasted Toucan which Bruno had seen briefly on our first day at Itatiaia, and amongst the more notable sightings along the trail were a showy Pale-browed Treehunter flashing its bright rufous tail, the uncommon Spot-breasted Antvireo, two Shear-tailed Grey-Tyrants perched in the outer branches of an emergent, and Grey-capped Tyrannulet. A pair of endearing Pileated Parrots fed quietly in a small tree at eye level right beside the trail, unperturbed by our presence, and I enjoyed excellent views of a striking Brazilian Antthrush foraging in the understorey. On the way back down we added Ferruginous Antbird to our burgeoning collection of endemic Drymophila antbirds, as one report acknowledged, a group that represents one of the great treats of birding in Southeast Brazil. We also bumped into some Belgians who had just had White-bearded Antshrike in bamboo near the start of the trail, but we did not linger long in the area as I was confident of catching up with this much sought-after bird at Intervales later in the trip.
After lunch activity was again much reduced and we could have done with a shower of rain or some cloud and drizzle to perk up the vocalisation and response to tape of some species. Speckle-breasted Antpitta called neither independently nor in response to playback, for example, throughout our time in southeast Brazil, and July is clearly a much more difficult time to catch up with this bird than, say, October or November. Nevertheless, we continued birding and found a fascinating antswarm beside the road near the Hotel Donati, attended primarily by Black-goggled Tanagers and White-shouldered Fire-eyes, but also by two Thrush-like Woodcreepers which we had not encountered previously. A walk along the trail leading up into some bamboo from the back of the chapel at this hotel revealed little of interest, although this area is supposedly good for Black-billed Scythebill, White-bibbed Antbird and even Atlantic Royal Flycatcher, and we would probably have done this trail early one morning if we had had more time. It connects up with the Tres Picos trail so one could get back to the Hotel Simon from there along this route. The day was rounded off with brief but excellent views of a splendid Tawny-browed Owl which responded to playback with coarse grunts at its stake-out near the start of the Tres Picos trail at the back of the Hotel Simon.
Friday 11th July
Finally the weather had taken a turn for the worse, and a dense fog surrounded the hotel as we had our breakfast overlooking the garden, out of which appeared an unexpected party of Red-breasted Toucans. Our plan had been to spend the first couple of hours along the Maromba trail which leads up towards the Hotel do Ype, before checking out and heading down towards Ubatuba and the coast. Given the minimal visibility, however, and the fact that we would have a chance for the vast majority, if not all the remaining targets at Fazenda Intervales in a week's time, we decided to cut our losses and head back down towards the Dutra.
The normal route to Ubatuba from Itatiaia involves following the Dutra south to Taubaté and then turning southwest towards the coast. However, we wanted to visit Pereque on our way to our next destination rather than having to back track, so we worked our way back to Barra Mansa and from there turned south on the windy but not too uneven road down towards Angra dos Reis. The weather was still poor, and as we came over the pass onto the seaward side of the spectacular forested Serra do Mar mountains, rain continued to fall heavily. To reach Pereque you need to turn right when you hit the coast road towards Paratí, with the town itself some thirty or more kilometres towards Ubatuba. We got to Pereque by about 11.30am and once we had come off the highway, we followed Jeremy Minns' excellent directions past the football pitch and through the back of the town towards the forested base of the coastal range. Stopping at a small clearing about 7kms along the dirt road after we turned left at the football pitch, there was the odd spot of drizzle but the rain was beginning to ease off.
The habitat in the area is scrappy second growth with some taller trees, but it remains the only known site for the critically endangered Black-hooded Antwren. This delightful little bird remains pretty common in the area and it was not long before we found a pair foraging low in some dense bushes. The area proved remarkably productive over the next couple of hours, before the rain came down again, and yielded some of the most noteworthy sightings of the trip. Within the space of about fifteen minutes we had also added Saw-billed Hermit, the very localised Red-eyed Thornbird, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, the vivid Brazilian Tanager, displaying male White-bearded Manakins, and gained fabulous scope views of an exquisite male Frilled Coquette perched in a low shrub. After another brief shower of rain our attention turned to the tall bare tree next to the road where Minns reports three species of becard were nesting in 1998. We found only Chestnut-crested Becard on this occasion, but the tree also provided us with good views of an Azure-shouldered Tanager, Channel-billed Toucan and a most unexpected male Green-chinned Euphonia, a rare and little-known species.
Another brief shower of rain forced us to take cover in the car again but once that had passed, I ventured back along the track, adding Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher and best of all, and again very unexpectedly, the distinctive silhouette of a Swallow-tailed Cotinga which flew into a tree and showed briefly, but had gone by the time Bruno arrived. Some compensation came in the form of an immature Bare-throated Bellbird that we scoped, albeit rather distantly, although the numerous calling adults all remained out of sight. Both this species and the Swallow-tailed Cotinga undertake seasonal altitudinal migration, as they are common around Fazenda Intervales in the mountains from October to March or April, but both were completely absent during July at that site, so it's just as well we found them here.
It was raining quite hard again by about 2.30pm so we decided to cut our losses and continue to Ubatuba before it got dark so we could recce some sites for the following day and also locate our hotel that I had pre-booked via email. The scenery along the coast, with forested hills meeting the sea and rocky headlands and sandy beaches side by side was much appreciated even in the drizzle, and Magnificent Frigatebirds and the odd Kelp Gull drifted by from time to time. We made a very quick visit to Fazenda Angelim to orientate ourselves for the morning, adding nothing more than a confiding White-eyed Foliage-Gleaner, before heading into Ubatuba itself, only to discover that our hotel, the Agua Doce Praia was in Praia Dura, some 25kms to the southwest towards Sao Paulo. This would be inconvenient for getting back to the Fazendas but handy for two of the other key sites in the Ubatuba area as well as allowing us a quick getaway on our travel day to far-off Fazenda Intervales. Despite boasting three swimming pools and another nice buffet-style restaurant, the hotel was not one of our favourites, as firstly a loud disco next door kept us up and forced us to have to change rooms in the middle of the night, and then once we did drift off to sleep with ear plugs firmly in, the mosquitos gorged themselves on the rich pickings on offer.
Saturday 12th July
Dawn came as something of a relief, and we were soon on our way back towards Ubatuba town and Fazenda Angelim. In contrast to our days at Itatiaia, the weather was drab and overcast, but this did not seem to have a positive effect of bird activity, which was rather low throughout the morning. Nevertheless, come of our key target species succumbed in the first few hours, starting with the notoriously elusive Spotted Bamboowren, which responded and showed reasonably well, as reported by Jon van der Woude, in the natural dome of bamboo and lianas on the left side of the path at the far end of the main clearing. Flocks of long-tailed Plain Parakeets were quite commonly seen, and a vocal Long-billed Gnatwren put in an appearance, although we were getting rather frustrated with our morning's efforts until I found a charming little Buff-throated Purpletuft at the top of a tree back in the clearing which initially seemed to be moving with a mixed flock but then returned to a favourite perch for a good fifteen minutes. From there we enjoyed extended scope views of this rare bird regurgitating small white seeds and stashing them on a bare branch, one of the highlights of this leg of the trip.
By about 10am we made our way back to the car, adding a pair of the striking Scaled Antbird and some more sombre White-thighed Swallows in the process, and then continued on to nearby Fazenda Capricornio (see Minns for detailed directions), an old coffee plantation which doesn't look particularly productive but which yielded a good number of interesting species during the next two hours or so. Firstly a stop at the hummingbird feeders yielded more Saw-billed Hermits, some dainty Festive Coquettes and a sluggish Sombre Hummingbird, whilst the large tree behind the house held Rough-legged Tyrannulet and another Buff-throated Purpletuft.
Venturing into the old coffee growing area, birds were plentiful, and amongst the more noteworthy species we encountered was the scarce Sao Paulo and Bay-ringed Tyrannulets, the uncommon Ochre-breasted Foliage-Gleaner, Rufous-winged and Streak-capped Antwrens, a surprise Sharpbill and a good selection of honeycreepers and tanagers, although the rare endemic Black-legged Dacnis, which is supposedly easier to find in July/August in this area than later in the year, remained elusive. We continued through the back of the fazenda past a large thatched hut that some men were constructing, into some more mature forest. Following a stream bed upwards a little way, speculative trawling of the song of the rare Salvadori's Antwren soon brought a pair of this highly localised species into view, whilst Bruno had a couple of looks at a Rufous-capped Antthrush as it circled us along the forest floor. On the way back to the car we happened upon a cooperative Crescent-chested Puffbird to round off an ultimately successful morning.
After lunch back at the hotel we headed to nearby 'Corcovado', an area of forest surrounding a clearing at the base of the imposing Pico Corcorvado, which we easily found thanks to the excellent directions of Jeremy Minns. The main target bird for the afternoon was the rare Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant and with a little tape playback we got good views of a single bird in the bamboo along the river. Lesser Woodcreeper and Neotropical River Warbler were added whilst the day was ended with brief views of a calling male Slaty Bristlefront.
Sunday 13th July
Our first destination of the morning was Folha Seca, a good area of lowland forest quite close to Corcovado, and we certainly enjoyed a fruitful morning. Parking at the disused quarry described in Minns, we worked our way along the road for a couple of kilometres until the forest gave way to fields. A calling Blond-crested Woodpecker gave rather brief views early on, before we were treated to a much more leisurely look at a confiding female Slaty Bristlefront at a small pond on the left side of the road about 500 metres down from the quarry in the main patch of forest. Small feeding parties in this area also yielded the scarce Unicoloured Antwren, Black-capped Foliage-Gleaner and the imposing, arboreal Spot-backed Antshrike in addition to a number of species we had found the previous morning, and Reddish Hermit and Ruddy Quail-Dove were also added to the trip list. Perhaps best bird of the morning, however, went to a gorgeous male Black-cheeked Gnateater that showed well in the understorey.
At about 9.30 or so we returned to Corcovado, and this time explored the forest trail beyond the clearing to the left a little more thoroughly, in search of the rare Russet-winged Spadebill. Although we had a possible sighting near the limit of the forest, we could not relocate the bird, and despite returning after lunch for a further vigil, we added little more than some Red-crowned Ant-Tanagers in the dingy forest interior, and the spadebill was to become one of the few, and most frustrating, dips of the trip.
Monday 14th July
This was always intended to be essentially a travel day, as we had the long drive to Intervales ahead of us. However, we did allow ourselves a couple of hours birding at Folha Seca before we left, which yielded nothing new but good views of birds we had already seen in that location, including excellent looks at a calling Rufous-breasted Leftosser. Returning to the coast road, we made our way south to Caraguatatuba before heading inland on the windy road back up through the coastal range, which was finally bathed in sunshine after the few overcast days we'd had, allowing us nice views out over the sea as we climbed the serra. Once back on the Dutra, Sao Paulo was reached quite quickly, and from there we negotiated the ring road without the anticipated difficulties, soon enough finding ourselves out in the open country again on Castelo Branco towards Tatuí. There we turned south, via Itapetininga towards Capao Bonito, where a decent dirt track leads to Fazenda Intervales, some 25kms away. A brief stop at a marsh here produced the only Whistling Heron of the trip, and we arrived at the park HQ just before 5pm to find the place shrouded in mist. Once we had checked in, arranged for Luis to guide us the following day and orientated ourselves, we had time for a quick walk around the 'sede' which yielded little more than a few common species, but included the only Vermilion Flycatcher and Cattle Tyrants of the trip next to the artificial lake. Soon it was time for dinner, where we encountered a Toucan Tours group guided by Eustace Barnes and exchanged some birders' tales with them before retiring.
Tuesday 15th July
We arranged to meet Luis at 6.30am, as it doesn't get light until shortly afterwards, being as it was the southern winter. The mist of the previous evening was still quite dense around us as we made our first stop in a dense area of bamboo along the early part of the road that leads down the valley towards the small research hut at Carmo, about 7-8kms away. As soon as we got out of the car, the extraordinarily loud call of the drab but highly localised Buffy-fronted Seedeater echoed all around us, although we had to wait a good twenty minutes before a couple of males could be located in a seeding bamboo thicket as the weather improved. This nomadic species appears in great numbers when bamboo is seeding and is absent, sometimes for years at a time, when these seeds die off. Another species largely dependent on bamboo, Uniform Finch, was also numerous and both of these birds were seen repeatedly over the next few days. From our overlook, Luis heard the distinctive song of the striking White-bearded Antshrike and some judicious use of the tape soon brought this handsome and supposedly rare bird into view. At Intervales, however, we found it be almost common in bamboo stands and the area would appear to be a real stronghold for this species.
Moving further along the road, the mist lifted even more, allowing us views of the graceful Mantled Hawk as it took to the skies on the morning's first thermals. Yet more extensive patches of bamboo yielded the chisel-billed White-collared Foliage-Gleaner, the cosmic and highly responsive Black-billed Scythebill and a vocal Black-throated Grosbeak. Luis also heard a singing Temminck's Seedeater, another bamboo specialist (here comfortably outnumbered by Buffy-fronted), and it took quite some time to locate what was an alternate-plumaged male in the mid-storey. Further additions to the list included the localised Cinnamon-vented Piha and cute Ochre-collared Piculet alongside the more widespread Lineated Woodpecker and White-tailed and Black-throated Trogons, whilst old friends Tufted Antshrike, Bertoni's and Ochre-rumped Antbirds also appeared, although Solitary Tinamou, Barred Forest-Falcon and Short-tailed Antthrush were all heard only. Returning to the sede for lunch, we made a short stop back at the car where a vocal Brown-breasted Bamboo-Tyrant gave rather fleeting views before finally bombing across the road and out of sight.
After a brief siesta we took the car much further down the Carmo road and were rewarded with some different species than we had found earlier in the day, including two Buff-bellied Puffbirds and another two Crescent-chested Puffbirds perched cooperatively by the roadside, a single Spot-billed Toucanet just beyond the research hut and on our way back up the hill, a calling Squamate Antbird that we coaxed into view with the tape. The day was rounded off by brief views of a male Long-trained Nightjar on the road in the car spotlight near the researchers hut close to the sede, a regular haunt of this spectacular and sought-after species.
Wednesday 16th July
This morning we tried the Barra Grande road, heading down in the other direction from the sede, also passing through excellent forest where plenty of specialities can be found. Passing through a locked gate to which Luis has the key, we drove slowly along the road listening for activity early on and keeping our eyes on the track ahead. This soon yielded a Grey-hooded Attila which we flushed to a low perch beside the track. Alighting from the vehicle we headed out further on foot, adding another speciality of the area, Oustalet's Tyrannulet, which also contained Wing-barred Piprites and a couple of Three-striped Flycatchers perched high in the canopy, and it was not long before we were watching one of the target species of Intervales, the imposing Black-fronted Piping-Guan, perched quietly in a roadside tree.
We devoted the afternoon to birding around the sede on foot. Our first stop was at a marsh close to the entrance where a Blackish Rail obligingly appeared at the edge of the reeds and bathed itself in the shallow water. Although somewhat blighted by rain for the next few hours, we did find a very confiding Grey-bellied Spinetail in an area where Luis knew was reliable for the species, and then spent quite some time chasing a White-breasted Tapaculo as the mist descended again. The bird gave at best fleeting views as it approached the tape by skulking like a mouse almost at our feet, before finally emerging at the side of the road and showing best as it flew over to another dense patch of vegetation. A Hooded Berryeater and a heard-only Rufous-tailed Attila were the only reward for our walk up a little river valley to an unfortunately abandoned nest of the rare Atlantic Royal Flycatcher, and the rain returned as we were waiting in vain for the bird to appear, curtailing birding for the day.
Thursday 17th July
The plan for today was to drive down the Carmo road as far as the previous night's rain would allow us and then walk as far beyond the hut as possible, along the now overgrown road which is all but impassable to the majority of vehicles. Again low cloud made for rather poor viewing conditions and low levels of activity, although we did gain excellent scope views of the uncommon Least Pygmy-Owl, as well as a singing Such's Antthrush which showed very nicely next to the track, whilst I got brief views of a Spot-winged Wood-Quail that we flushed from virtually at our feet. Two more Black-fronted Piping-Guans, another Mantled Hawk and some Saffron Toucanets and Red-breasted Toucans added interest but in general it was not a particularly productive morning in the way of new birds. After picnicking at the research hut at the bottom of the valley, we returned in the early afternoon to the sede where we revisited a few areas from the previous afternoon, finding a Green-barred Woodpecker and some skulking Dusky-tailed Antbirds to complete our set of endemic Drymophila, as well as a responsive White-bibbed Antbird, although a distant Variegated Antpitta which was heard calling in the gloom showed no interest in coming in to the tape. We spent a couple of hours in pursuit of the uncommon Rusty-barred Owl after nightfall but heard no response whatsoever to the tape.
Friday 18th July
Our final morning at Intervales was again heralded by dense fog, out of which a distant and very rare Helmeted Woodpecker called tantalisingly from the forest on the other side of the lake from the restaurant where we met Luis. He led us up a winding, bamboo-dominated trail which led up to some radio masts at the top of the highest peak in the area. Although birds were relatively thin on the ground and only a diminutive White-crested Tyrannulet in a scrubby area was new for the trip, we enjoyed good views of a number of interesting species, although the highlight was undoubtedly the magnificent 360 degree vistas of the forested hills of the Serra de Paranapiacaba which became more and more impressive as the cloud lifted and the sun emerged.
Having returned to the sede and thanked Luis, all too soon we were on our way from Intervales, a fantastic place which we rated as the highlight of our stay. Apparently, July is not a great month to go and activity and vocalisation is much greater in October and November. A visit then would certainly guarantee Swallow-tailed Cotinga and Bare-throated Bellbird, both of which spend the austral winter by the coast, as well as perhaps increasing one's chances of finding some of the rarest species in the area such as Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Shrike-like Cotinga, Black-legged Dacnis, Buff-fronted Owl and Blue-bellied Parrot.
The drive back to Sao Paulo passed without incident and we were soon back in civilisation having the car cleaned, and watching a Swallow-tailed Hummingbird feeding in an adjacent garden. Eventually we found a very good weekend rate on a double room at the very comfortable Hotel Canard Bleu in the suburb of Guarulhos near the international airport, where I was due to rendezvous the next morning with Mike Catsis and Heinz Remold to begin a three-and-a-half week trip in Amazonia. Bruno meanwhile was to make his way back to Rio along the Dutra to return the car the next day and fly to Caracas the day after, thus bringing a most successful phase of the trip to its end.
[Solitary Tinamou] - heard
[Brown Tinamou] - heard
Herons and Egrets
New World Vultures
Hawks, Kites and Eagles
[Barred Forest-Falcon] - heard
Ashy-tailed (Sick's) Swift
[Helmeted Woodpecker] - heard
Brazilian (Rufous-tailed) Antthrush
[Short-tailed Antthrush] - heard
[Variegated Antpitta] - heard
Southern Beardless Tyrannulet
Sao Paulo Tyrannulet
Serra do Mar Tyrannulet
[Rufous-tailed Attila] - heard
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Old World Sparrows
Neotropical River Warbler
287 species seen, 7 heard
Part II Amazonia