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A Report from

Natal, Rio Grande do Norte (province), Brazil - December 2004,

Jan Landsverk

My wife and I spent two weeks - Dec. 6 - 20 - at Ponta Negra, Brazil  (15 km from Natal) in the province of Rio Grande do Norte.  It was never meant to be a birding trip, and it wasnt, but I took time many early mornings as well as some afternoons to "explore" the outskirts of the town, often taking the local bus to the same place west of the town where there is a small dam close to a rubbish dump.  Other days I just walked south from our hotel to some trees and gardens and every time I saw some "new" birds.  Unfortunately Ponta Negra isnt the best place to watch birds.  Pipa - 85 km further south - which also is a holiday resort, is much better for birds as you are close to the forest.  We took the bus to Pipa one day.  Buses are plentiful in this country and they go often and are very cheap.  In Pipa we took time to walk through the Ecological Forest, which is a reserve, but not a good place for birds, even if we saw some exotic ones there. 

The climate in this area - 5 degrees southern latitude - is excellent.  Every day the temp. was exactly the same - 30,5 degrees Celcius.  The temp. never fell lower than 26 during the night and the ocean held 28.  The humidity - which is often a problem so near the equator - was much lower than one could expect and was only felt a couple of days.  We had beautiful sunshine every day, except one (cloudy) and because of the breeze, which was the same every day, we found the days to be just perfect - never hot because of this lovely breeze. 

In the Natal area ( a town of 800000 inhabitants) there are about 250 species of birds - according to the maps in the book "All the birds in Brazil" by Deodato Souza.  Even if this book is quite poor in most ways, it is still a book you cant do without.  But dont trust the maps.  I observed 3 species that shouldnt be here, and two of them are found far away from where I saw them.  A little bit annoying for me was the fact that many of the birds seen here I also saw on a trip to Trinidad and Tobago in 1990 - almost half of them. 

[The Author replies...."Gentlemen: only now did I see the trip report by Mr. Jan Verkland on the Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, area of Brazil, dated December 2004. I was really astonished by his saying that the maps on my book All the Birds of Brazil are not to be trusted, because he saw the Dot-winged Antwren, the Moriche Oriole and the Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch in that area. Except for the latter one, which my map DOES include in the mentioned area, his other two registers are completely perplexing, for those are strictly Amazonian birds so labeled in widely respected books such as Ridgely's The Birds of South America and (for the Antwren) the Handbook of the Birds of the World. In fact, Mr. Verkland will find support for his statements in NO ornithological science source; it is a pity that he did not mind to provide photographic evidence of his most brave deed. But perhaps I still need to remark that three (in fact, two) wrong maps do not seem to represent a serious impairment to a book covering more than 1600 species; my maps, in fact, represent the best researched part of my book, though it is well know that species distribution of birds in the tropics is not a well-mastered subject. I expect that you will find useful to give publicity to this note, so the general public can know more about the matter." Yours, Deodato Souza.]

The biggest "problem" I felt in Brazil is the fact that so few Brazilians speak English - very tiresome.  If you dont speak Portuguese or Spanish, then you have a problem.  But they are very friendly and helpful.   The population is a mixture of everything, it is really multicultural and you find many beautiful people (ladies), who are much slimmer than the Americans.  What I remember most from our stay is probably all the "bodies" - both on the beach and on the buses, too much actually.  They dress in order to show their bodies.

Renting a car can be very cheap, and even cars from Avis and Hertz cost less than 100 Reals pr. day, including insurance.  One Euro is about 3.60 Reals, and one US Dollar is about 2.70 Reals.  There is no problem driving around in Brazil, even if the roads arent that good, but I chose not to.  I thought it was safer/better to rent a car with a driver included - a taxi.  The prize was about the same, but remember they dont speak a word of English.  I found a "friend" on the beach, who had quit practising as a lawyer and now lived like a hippie in this town.  He liked to help people and he did because he spoke English quite well.  He instructed the taxi driver where to go and stop when I told him and to meet me outside the hotel at 5.30.  The sunset was about 5 p.m. and the sunrise before 5 a.m. The first time I hired a taxi it turned out to be a failure.  He drove me to Natal and a big park with some big trees, but full of people (several 100) doing their morning exercise.  After that he drove me around in the town itself, before I asked him to go back to the hotel.

The second time I hired one was a success.  He drove me far into the countryside where very few people were living and where the roads were really bad.  I would never have driven on such roads with my car.  He went out of his way to help me find birds and he stopped wherever I said so.  I felt safe all the time even in these remote areas.  Also when I was stopped by a police car with 3 heavy armed policemen close to a big prison I felt safe, even if I have heard stories about what some of these policemen can do and also what some taxidrivers have done to tourists and people like me in this huge country.  But the Natal area is known for very little crime, unlike most of the rest of Brazil, I think.  Tourists from abroad started to come here 6 years ago (by charter). Because of them this area isnt as safe as it used to be.  I can easily imagine that people are willing to rob you when you think of how poor many of them are.  Most of those who live here have almost nothing, and really have to struggle to survive.  Then a tourist is a very tempting target.

One day I went with my wife into the countryside where she was going to ride a horse.  While she was doing this, I took time to search around the farm area for birds for about 2-3 hours.

I wish I had more time for birds, as it would have been no problem to observe many more.  It is always fascinating to see what a new area can show regarding birds, especially when it is a place few birders have been.  It seems that this area is quite unexplored in this regard, as I didnt find any reports on Internet from this area before I left.  Am I the first one doing this from Natal?  It is a very good place to combine a (family) holiday - some lazy days on the beach and some days spent finding some really interesting birds.

Species List (50kB PDF)

January 10 - 2005

Jan Landsverk

3812 Akkerhaugen, Norway


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