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A Report from

South-eastern Brazil December 9th - January 18th 2010,

Jan Hein van Steenis

Ubatuba – Intervales – Volta Velha – São José dos Pinhais – Campos do Jordão – Sumidouro – Caetes – Linhares – Santa Teresa – Praia Seca – Três Picos – Itatiaia – Biritiba-Mirim

Participants: Barry Reed, Phil Ball, Jan Hein van Steenis (jhvsteenis AT


This trip was arranged by Barry. Therefore the aim was to see as many South East Brazilian specialties that he had not seen as possible, basically by following the BirdQuest itinerary. Phil had never been in Southeastern Brazil, Jan Hein had never been in Brazil at all, so they were ready for a tickfest anyway.

The logistics of the trip were quite complicated, but Barry managed to sort the puzzle.

The arrival of Ber van Perlo’s guide was helpful: Phil’s copy must have been the first one to get thoroughly destroyed. Of course you need to see Tudor’s illustrations if you want an enjoyable visual experience, but the text and illustrations in Van Perlo’s guide do the job.

Heavy traffic when leaving Itapoá meant we had to skip a few coastal sites, thereby missing Black-hooded Antwren (guess who had seen that one!) – but that day the coast was hit by torrential rain which might have meant the same thing (or worse) anyway.

We did well on the number of species, although we missed a few high-profile species. On the other hand we did well with tinamous, antbirds and those mind-blowing tyrannulets. We also saw a few very nice mammals.


We flew with BA from London Heathrow to São Paulo. As an overwhelming majority of BA’s personnel had voted in favour of a strike during the Christmas holiday period, I would like to thank the High Court judge who declared the strike vote illegal for making our trip possible.


The currency is the Réal (plural Réais) (the plural is pronounced as Hay-ice).

The exchange rate was about R$ 1 = ₤ 0.37 = € 0.40 = $ 0.55 when using a cash point or when paying by credit card. Of course the exchange rate at the airport was significantly worse. Most cash points accept European bank cards.

The trip cost about ₤ 2050 per person, excluding the costs of the flight.


We rented a car via Hertz at São Paulo airport. This was a five-door Volkswagen Gol (indeed, not Golf), which ran on both petrol and alcohol. It just about fit us.

Finding fuel is not a problem in Southeast Brazil, although you should fill your tank before visiting Linhares, where you’ll do a lot of driving. We only used alcohol, which varied in price but was usually below R$ 1,70 to R$ 2,– per litre. Petrol cost about R$ 2.50 per litre. Prices were highest in Espirito Santo.

Driving between towns is relatively easy, with (usually) plenty of (sometimes small) road signs. The state of the roads varies, but only a few (especially in Minas Gerais) were quite pothole-ridden. Even the dirt roads were passable, although some only just.

The major roads in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are toll roads: keep change at hand.

It pays to learn the number and name of the roads (especially in São Paulo): these will be indicated more often than the destinations you are looking for. On major roads (rodovias), getting to the other side (sometimes necessary for exits) is facilitated by “Retornos”. Driving in towns can be very confusing because of intricate one-way systems which we did not master. Mistakenly driving through the São Paulo city centre went relatively well because of a good map in the Rough Guide.

The Brazilian style of driving will be familiar to anyone who has driven in southern Europe: some drivers enjoy a gamble (passing in a blind turn etc.). This can be heart-stopping and quite possibly fatal when the drivers are in a lorry and they are approaching you. The traffic police sometimes keep scrap yards to serve as a horrible example. Note that many cyclists will cycle against the flow of traffic.

Leaving a coastal town on the first Sunday after New Year was a mistake not to be repeated.

Most of our Accommodation was booked in advance (see SITES AND USEFUL ADRESSES), which is an absolute necessity when heading for seaside towns like Ubatuba and Itapoá between Christmas and New Year.

Finding hotels can be a challenge: they are not always well signposted. Don’t be tempted by the ubiquitous *motels* which are all meant for couples in the mood for love. Confusingly, some motels are called hotels, but usually their true identity will be clear from the fact they advertise televisons in each room (among other details).

Most accommodations served buffet-style food, with variations in choice and quality. Despite what the guides tell you, vegetarians are (usually) well-catered for – especially when you warn in advance.


Southeast Brazil is a modern region, despite its favelas, and food and (even) tap water (as tested by me) did not cause us any trouble.

You may still get the usual vaccinations. You should try to avoid being bitten my mosquitos because of the possibility of dengue (there is no malaria), but despite litres of repellent we failed miserably. They were especially voracious at Volta Velha. Ticks, gnats, flies with impressive snouts and a range of ants also bit us, but apparently they did not carry any diseases. We saw a few snakes at Ubatuba.

We avoided walking around in major towns or parking in down-trodden areas. At Serra dos Tucanos, you are fenced in at night with unpleasant dogs roaming the grounds, which is more or less how wealthy Brazilians live.


It is the height of the Austral summer and the rainy season. In the lowlands it can be very warm; but at great heights (e.g. Itatiaia) it can be chilly, especially when it’s raining. Devastating rain causing dozens of deaths hit both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo states while we were in Brazil; the year before, Itapoá had been cut off from the outside world for three weeks after flooding. Although we had our share of rain, we luckily missed the worst of the weather. It was very hot and dry in coastal Espirito Santo.


An i-pod and a minidisc player with the required songs were carried. Peter Boesman’s mp3-collection and the impossible-to-overrate xeno-canto were the main sources. My (new!) microphone did not work: this hopefully did not cost us any species in the end.

Barry carried an LED torch for owling.

We always carried binoculars and telescopes, although Barry’s scope fogged up.



B. van Perlo, A Field Guide to the Birds of Brazil. Oxford University Press, 2009.

R. S. Ridgely, G. Tudor, Birds of South America – Passerines. Christopher Helm, 2009.

J. F. Eisenberg, Mammals of the Neotropics. Volume 1. Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana. University of Chicago Press, 1989.

J. F. Eisenberg, K. H. Redford, Mammals of the Neotropics. Volume 3. Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil. University of Chicago Press, 1999.

D. Cleary, D. Jenkins, O. Marshall, The Rough Guide to Brazil, Rough Guides, 2009.

B. C. Forrester, Birding Brazil: A Checklist and Site Guide, 1993.

Site guides

There are plenty of older reports on the net.

Here are two Belgian reports with plenty of references:

The BirdQuest reports were helpful for a general idea of birds to be expected.


I have spent most effort in describing the less well known sites.

The coordinates given should give the right location on Google maps.


Accommodation, guide

Rick Simpson (rick AT

We used Hertfordshire expat Rick Simpson as our guide. We stayed at his apartment, which just about fit. His wife coped very well in catering for two vegetarian guests. It will become clear that Rick’s not just in Brazil for birds of the feathered kind. He’ll happily introduce you to the local nightlife. This did not include owls, to Barry’s dismay.


All these places are well-known private sites where birding is allowed. Request access in advance at Angelim & Folha Seca. A small voluntary fee was requested at Fazenda Angelim.

Pica Pau campsite (-23.399739,-45.059236). The forest edge along the northern edge of the campsite is most interesting. There is a short trail into the forest. The site for the purpletuft, which occurs on the campsite itself.
Fazenda Angelim (-23.401085,-45.063046). Secondary forest along the track between the entrance and the houses.
Folha Seca (-23.465951,-45.164974). A road through nice forest, and well kept feeders near the fazenda.

Av. Gov. Abreu Sodré: at the northeastern end of Ubatuba. We overlooked the river mouth during a heavy downpour.

Best species

Rufous-capped Motmot, Scaled Antwren, Spotted Bamboowren, Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant, Buff-throated Purpletuft, Rufous-capped Antthrush, Slaty Bristlefront.


Accommodation, guide

Junior (juniorintervales AT; intervalesbirds AT

To visit Intervales, you should really book in advance and make clear you are a birder.

We stayed at Onça de Pintada, which is quite basic (bunk beds and a bath room). The usual place for birders is apparently Pica Pau, which has a pool and a Large-tailed Antshrike in its backyard.

Meals, based on rice and beans, as they should be, are at the restaurant. Early starts were no problem – they’ll even make you a good breakfast.

Our guide Faustino was a quiet and soft-spoken man, but when he started going through his book we had to pay attention! At our arrival we were asked what we wanted to see – we had to stop Barry when he pointed out his 50th species.


Riberão Grande (-24.095314,-48.364227): Good possibilities for roadside birding between this town and Intervales were mostly lost as we thought we’d leave the same way we came in. There is apparently also a good area near Capão Bonito (which you’ll also pass).

Sede (-24.2659312, -48.4121561): this is the open entrance area, where birding on your own is possible. There are a few small marshes, some secondary growth and a self-guided trail along the Lago Novo (-24.266542,-48.414434).

Carmo Road (-24.276537,-48.418447): this long road leads through some fine forest.

Pedra de Fogo (-24.261959,-48.442005): from this point, several trails lead into the forest.

Barra Grande: unfortunately, an afternoon visit to Barra Grande was made impossible by rain.

Best species

Black-fronted Piping-Guan, Spot-winged Wood-Quail, Mantled Hawk, Rusty-barred Owl, Surucua Trogon (southern form), Crescent-chested Puffbird, Rusty-breasted Nunlet, Robust Woodpecker, Pale-browed Treehunter, Orange-breasted Thornbird, Tufted Antshrike, Giant Antshrike, White-bearded Antshrike, Dusky-tailed Antbird, Variegated Antpitta, Short-tailed Antthrush, White-breasted Tapaculo, Bay-ringed Tyrannulet, Rufous-tailed Attila, Three-striped Flycatcher, Hooded Berryeater, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Black-legged Dacnis, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Half-collared Sparrow.


Blue-bellied Parrot, Least Pygmy Owl (heard), Buff-fronted Owl, Long-trained Nightjar, Brown-breasted Bamboo-Tyrant, Atlantic Royal-Flycatcher, Chestnut-backed Tanager.


Accommodation, guide

Antonio ‘Beto’ Vieira (beto.itapoa.s.c AT

We stayed at the Volta Velha reserve (arranged by Beto Vieira), which was probably the only vacancy left in Itapoá! It would have been cheaper if we’d all been put in one room instead of two.

The meals in the restaurant were good (again a cook coping well with vegetarians), but the lack of windows did not really work well to keep out the clouds of mosquitos. Early breakfasts were possible, but we suffered a half hour delay when we left.

Beto Vieira knew a few important stake-outs, but he admitted he was a photographer and no birder (which became very clear). He grew up in France, which eased communication, but explaining how a European tap worked really wasn’t necessary, even for the two British birders.


Volta Velha

- Accommodation & palmheart plantations: the feeder at the restaurant attracts Black-backed Tanager in other times of year.

- Sambaqui trail: this trail leads south through low forest rich in deeply orange-coloured streams. At the end of the trail there is some more open restinga. The end of the path was flooded, so taking wellies (or a towel!) may be an idea.

- Casa Vidro trail: this runs north to forest that is a bit higher and denser than the Sambaqui trail.


- Balneário Rosa dos Ventos (Rua 2370): follow this dirt road south of Itapoá inland for a few hundred metres will take you to a Typha marsh with Paraná Antwren. There has been some recent bulldozing, so it may not be there for much longer...

- Rua 1720: an overgrown garden where Black-backed Tanager sometimes occurs. Probably a better spot in winter.


Best species

Yellow-legged Tinamou, Speckled (Scaled) Chachalaca, Pearly-breasted Cuckoo, Stygian Owl, Paraná Antwren, Restinga Tyrannulet, Kaempfer’s Tody-Tyrant, Azure Jay, Veery, Riverbank Warbler.


Russet-winged Flatbill, Black-backed Tanager.

São José dos Pinhais


Fazenda São Pedro: the Marsh Tapaculo site. This bird is seldom successfully twitched, but there are a quite few other attractions. The directions were spot on. After wishing the guy living next to the gate a happy new year, he let us in without any problem (although we had not understood the gate was not locked!) The track to the grassland was steep and muddy in places and would not have been fun after rain. It is not far and you could easily walk there. You will pass through some forest before you reach the grassland. After checking the Araucaria trees at the forest edge, proceed to the low-lying tussocky, wet grassland with many ground bromeliads and some carnivorous plants (bladderworts, which you won’t notice when not in flower), where the tapaculo occurs. All other birds appeared to prefer dry ground.

Best species

Araucaria Tit-Spinetail, Sharp-tailed Grass-Tyrant, Uniform Finch, Lesser Grass-Finch, Long-tailed Reed-Finch.


Marsh Tapaculo (heard within two metres).

Estrada da Graciosa

We took the wrong exit (-25.307751,-48.998147) when coming from the south (we ended up on a dirt road which ended at a recently paved road), but by then we did not know where we were. When coming from Curitiba, do not take the first exit to the Estrada da Graciosa, but the second (-25.305326,-48.94637), where an arch over the road indicates the start of the route. Because of time constraints we did not attempt the right route, only to end up in a four-hour traffic jam.


Canebrake Groundcreeper, Olive Spinetail, Chestnut-backed Tanager.

Campos do Jordão


Pedra do Baú road (probably -22.670796,-45.623138): Easy to find from Campos do Jordão by following the wooden signs. We birded the lower part of the dirt road and the grassland where the Pedra do Baú came into view.

We spent only one morning at Campos do Jordão, but if we could have added an afternoon we would have birded the Horto Forestal as well.

Best species

Spotted Nothura, Black-capped Piprites, Planalto Tyrannulet.


Hellmayr’s Pipit (Jeremy Minns claims this can’t happen), Vinaceous Parrot (no time for the best site).

Carmo area


Sumidouro road: A well known site; if you give or take 500 m, John van der Woude’s directions are still OK. The start of the road (21.919691,-42.696093) was very muddy: be very careful after rain. Walking from the main road is an option. The marshy area (-21.941268,-42.690965) had very high vegetation in which seeing anything was a challenge. In the sharp bend (-21.951313,-42.69202) we were welcomed by four jacamars.

Carmo road: The directions by John van der Woude confused us a bit. The correct road is the one to Cantigalo (indicated before you enter Carmo) (-21.919785,-42.614558). The best birding was at the (former) Antbird site (-21.894209,-42.557412).

Best species

Three-toed Jacamar, Chestnut-backed Antshrike.


Ash-throated Crake (heard), Rio de Janeiro Antbird – does anyone see these around here anymore?


Accommodation, guide

Ana Cristina Venturini & Pedro Rogério de Paz (faunativa AT

This is a well-known expensive package deal. Included in the Cherry-throated two-day extravaganza is a stay at the Alpes Hotel in Venda Nova do Imigrante. We had breakfast here as well, quite late compared to our usual routine. There are plenty of places to eat in town.

You also pay everything for Ana and Pedro. They do not work by constant playback anymore (mentioned in earlier reports), but walk around listening for clues until they hear something (two possibles too far away, apparently). Ana speaks English and showed us quite a few birds (after Phil told her that what Barry said “we” needed might not necessarily be all we needed); Pedro apparently only speaks Portuguese. Of course not seeing our main target did not really do them any favours, but for the moment there is no other choice.


Caetes (-20.515038,-40.992837) is a private site west of the road through Castelinho, reached via a track along a saw mill, about an hour’s drive from Venda Nova. I assume Ana and Pedro must have some arrangement with its inhabitants.

Best species

Rufous-thighed Kite, Yellow-eared Woodpecker, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, Sooty Tyrannulet, Grey-hooded Attila, Wing-banded Piprites, Dubois’s Seedeater.


Cherry-throated Tanager, Long-trained Nightjar.


Accommodation, guide

Ozir Siqueira (ozir.siqueira AT

Tel: 55 (27) 3371-9795 (watch with Explorer!)

Officially called Reserva Natural Vale de Rio Doce, signposted as Linhares – and confusingly located north of Sooretama town.

Booking this luxurious accommodation was a nightmare, with no replies to emails by Barry. Eventually, a Brazilian colleague of Phil arranged our stay. We were supposed to pay half the fee in advance, but no credit card was accepted. They booked us anyway after they were assured that Phil was a man of the highest virtues (oh, how we laughed), but for two instead of three nights. However when we arrived, changing this to three nights was no problem. We could not get a guide for one afternoon because of a meeting, but we were given an extra morning instead. We even received an email thanking us for our stay, so you might want to try the address given in the contacts, but do so in Portuguese! You will also have to provide the full names of all guests.

This posh reserve is well set-up for birders, with early breakfasts and good food.

Our guide (whose name I did not catch) knew the stake-outs and how to find the parrots (although they were not very cooperative), but we couldn’t expect much more. He was reasonably talkative (which was not too bad, because the birding was often slow, but of course our Portuguese was rather limited).


Accommodation clearing (-19.137291,-40.060837): good for open area birds; the lake at its western end did not hold too much. The access road was one of the birdiest areas in the whole reserve!

Logging roads: the tracks through the forest are excellent for mammals.

Marshy area (-19.153604,-39.930594): a large clearing with two narrow streams spanned by iron bridges (about which later). About an hour from the accommodation, it appeared almost bone dry. Not without reason BirdQuest spend a lot of time here.

Marsh (probably -19.141212,-39.99059): a nice, really wet area on the northern edge of the forest, next to papaya plantations.

Lake (probably -19.07732,-39.875593): this area of restinga-like vegetation, a long drive from the accommodation, was not really worth the effort.

Watch tower (-19.153021,-40.018806): according to the guide, this area about half an hour from the accommodation was usually good for birds, but it disappointed him too.

Sooretama Biological Reserve: Visiting this reserve just north of Linhares with a great bird list is not an option anymore, because IBAMA has stopped giving authorisation to birders. We did not even consider an illegal visit.

Best species

Red-billed Curassow, Rusty-margined Guan, Speckled (White-bellied) Chachalaca, Muscovy Duck, White-eared Parakeet, Blue-throated Parakeet, Red-browed Parrot, Black-capped Screech-Owl, Minute Hermit, Red-stained Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Woodpecker, Silvery-flanked Antwren, Greyish Mourner, Short-crested Flycatcher, Red-headed Manakin, White-crowned Manakin, Black-headed Berryeater, Thrush-like Wren, Moustached Wren, White-bellied Tanager.

Missed: Striped Cuckoo (heard); quite a few rare passerines should occur that not too many people see here.

Santa Teresa


We stayed at a hotel in the centre of Santa Teresa.


Museu Prof. Mello Leitão (-19.935921,-40.60016): Not overly easy to find thanks to the one-way streets in this tiny town. We watched the historical feeders on a Sunday afternoon. Low numbers as usual at most feeders – too many flowers in summer!

Via Lombardia (-19.916848,-40.586588): 3 km after the turn-off to the Augusto Ruschi Reserve in Santa Teresa, a marshy area on the left of the road attracted our attention. The fields and gardens were good for some of those hard-to-get “non-forest” birds. Other parts of this road (away from the Eucalyptus plantations) also had potential.

Augusto Ruschi Biological Reserve (-19.906579,-40.557459): This is excellently signposted from Santa Teresa, but sadly permission to visit this reserve is NOT granted to birders anymore (this was confirmed by an email from IBAMA). There is a sign in the park proclaiming “Welcome foreign visitor”, but reading the small print reveals that you need a permit to visit this reserve and that you should proceed to the headquarters (where they will send you away). Driving through the reserve is allowed, so the temptation to get out of the car naturally got too much for us – twice. We were kicked out by 11 am with the message that the next foreign visitors would be taken to the Federal Police. Hopefully, the policy will change one day.

Santa Lúcia Reserve: To visit the Santa Lucia Reserve, which is located along the road to Santa Leopoldina (which starts here: -19.953961,-40.551914), you have to go to the administration at the Museu Prof. Mello Leitão, which is open on weekdays from 9 am (also on Monday, when the museum is closed). We were told (in French) that it cost R$ 150 for the three of us, for a four hour visit. A guide was only available from 12 pm, which did not suit our plans. The reserve holds Wied’s Tyrant-Manakin and Serra Antwren. With slightly better planning you should succeed.


Best species

Blackish Rail, Frilled Coquette, Long-tailed Potoo, Wied’s Tyrant-Manakin, Buffy-fronted Seedeater, Pileated Finch.


Serra Antwren.

Praia Seca


We stayed at a pousada (the room looked like a converted garage) in Iguaba Grande which had a cheap midweek deal. Quite a relief to find a place to stay after the eight hour drive from Santa Teresa.


Salt pans: just west and east of Praia Seca.

Praia de Massambaba: the restinga habitat starts immediately east of Praia Seca. This is protected according the signs. The habitat is quite open, not more than 2.5 m high and easy to walk into. We spent most time in the restinga west of the Estrada Mário Quintanilla (-22.925822,-42.272154). We also did a bit of seawatching, without much success. Further to the east, we watched a dune slack (-22.932502,-42.240225).

Lagoa de Araruama (-22.885777,-42.382511): Park on the track to the east when the Avenida Praia Seca turns west away from the Lagoa de Araruama. Walk north along the lagoon. There is a small island where terns and gulls rest, with shallow water to the north.

Best species

Restinga Antwren, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, Chilean Flamingo.

Três Picos SP


serradostucanos AT

We stayed at Serra dos Tucanos. which is plush but a bit far from the action. The food was so-so (being told that rice and carrots was the vegetarian choice did not go down well with Phil), and the free hard liquor after dinner was not our kind of thing (I felt like the alcoholic of the group with just a single beer!) Leaving early was not easy, thanks to a locked gate and guard dogs. The English owner is very helpful.


Cedaé trail (± -22.402611,-42.588912). This is road veering to the left about 5 minutes up the road from Serra dos Tucanos. Park at the “Cedae” sign and disregard the “no entry” sign.

Theodoro trail (-22.377221,-42.555183). This trail starts behind the scrap yard of the police station along the road to Nova Friburgo. A paved road leads to a hotel, but you need to follow a rather overgrown track that

Pico da Caledônia (-22.352684,-42.588937). An hour away from Serra dos Tucanos and probably easier (and cheaper) to tackle from Nova Friburgo, notable for being the Brazilian capital of lingerie. To reach the site, take the Avenida Cnso. Julius Arp south from the main roundabout in Nova Friburgo. Drive on towards a set of traffic lights and turn right (Vila Janete Pires Barroso). A large yellow concrete building will be obvious on the left just after the turn off. Follow this road, paying attention to the wooden signs indicating São Sebastião. Turn right at a sushi restaurant and follow the cobblestone road up the mountain, passing the Hotel Fazenda Caledônia Inn on the way. Do not take the last right turn to São Sebastião (over a rickety bridge), unless you want to see Swallow-tailed Cotinga in its garden. To reach the top (where Itatiaia Thistletail occurs), you will need to take your passport (which you should carry anyway), but we did not bother.

Best species

Swallow-tailed Cotinga, Black-and-gold Cotinga, Sooty Swift, Yellow-browed Woodpecker.


Grey-winged Cotinga, Shrike-like Cotinga, Scaled Wood­creeper.



Hotel do Ype:

We stayed at the Hotel do Ype. Very plush, but the best birding hotel in the world? No – their breakfast is hideously late. The food could have been better, but if you like deserts you’ll love it. Make sure you pay for all days you stay in the National Park, as the price drops significantly the more days you stay (keep the receipt). The obviously not that bright girl at the entrance asked me if we were foreigners (who pay double): my Portuguese must be better than I thought.


Itatiaia NP

John van der Woude’s summary is still valid: great to start, but a disappointment after a long trip! We even had the weather he describes.

- Hotel do Ype & Park road: we walked up to the start of the “Jeep trail” and down to the path towards (former) Hotel Simon. The hummingbird feeders at Hotel do Ype were quiet (I did not see any other feeders).

- Três Picos trail: A well-known trail, that was hard to pass in places because of fallen trees. It can be reached it via the Maromba trail from Hotel do Ype, but as this was rather boring we started from former Hotel Simon (closed for refurbishment, to be renamed Park Hotel Itatiaia?) instead.

- “Jeep trail”: You need authorisation to enter this, which could be sought via the hotel staff according to the guard on duty. It only opens (and is only guarded) after 8 am (if permission is granted at all); the guard leaves at 5:30 pm. The other trails starting at the same point (the end of the paved park road) were all closed because of undisclosed dangerous conditions. As a result, we did not try any of these routes.

Itatiaia town: We checked the marshy areas in town, but had little success.

Engenheiro Passos: Just above this town, 5 km from the exit off the Via Dutra, is a rather nice marsh (-22.476951,-44.704463), which is sadly a bit far from the road. The agricultural land starting from Hotel Fazenda 3 Pinheiros (-22.49426,-44.690645) is good for those ever-spreading common inland species which were ticks for Phil and me.

Agulhas Negras Road: Another famous road, culminating in the marsh (-22.358649,-44.735985) where Itatiaia Thistletail occurs.

Best species

Surucua Trogon (northern form), Rufous-tailed Antthrush, Itatiaia Thistletail, Grey-bellied Spinetail, Velvety Black-Tyrant.


Speckle-breasted Antpitta (heard), Brown-breasted Bamboo-Tyrant, Sharp-billed Treehunter, Chestnut-headed Tanager.

Mogi das Cruzes


Biritiba-Mirim (-23.542484,-46.115642): The São Paulo Antwren site. The directions were not much use, because we encountered a diversion – thankfully I had printed out a map of the area so we could find the Av. João XXIII and Av. Pres. Castelo Branco (both well-sign­posted). The distances were unclear, which led to some heavy debate because I had thought we had to be closer to Mogi das Cruzes than in reality (it is about 6 km from the turn off from the Av. João XXIII). The site has been fenced off (barbed wire) and is apparently guarded. It was pretty obvious where you had to crawl under the wire to get in. To be safe, we had tried contacting the owner in advance (via Rick Simpson), but we probably did not succeed. We asked the inhabitants across the road if it was OK to enter. They said it was – Phil did not believe them.

Cesar da Souza (-23.524934,-46.150306): A marsh on the way to the antwren site.

Best species: São Paulo Antwren.

Sunday, 27/12/09: We arrived at São Paulo Airport (Guarulhos) at 6:45 in the morning, took 45 minutes to get out of the airport and another 45 to get our car. We drove to Ubatuba via Caraguatatuba, which was quite a hard slog because traffic came to a stand-still at almost every beach. I happily ticked some abundant species, the best of which was probably Curl-crested Jay. The forests of the Serra do Mar were full of purple-flowers from the Tibouchina trees.

We were at Rick Simpson’s apartment in Ubatuba at about 1 pm, where we dropped our luggage in the now very full guest room. Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Black Jacobin, Violet-crowned Woodnymph and Glittering-throated Emerald visited the feeder.

After lunch, we went to the Pica Pau campsite. At first we searched around the feeders and the stream at the northern end of the campsite, where Brazilian and Green-headed Tanagers provided colour, Ruby-crowned, Sayaca and Golden-chevroned less so. We also saw White-barred Piculet. The main goal here was Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant, which we saw eventually, although unfortunately not as well as a male Festive Coquette. During a walk along a trail through a bit of forest where we saw another Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant and a Ferruginous Antbird, the heat and jetlag got the better of Phil and he retreated to the bar. Barry and I saw a Reddish Hermit, Rufous-capped Antthrush and White-bearded Manakin in his absence.

Back in the clearing, Plain and Maroon-bellied Parakeets were easy to find. At the bar I decided to familiarise myself with the call of Buff-throated Purpletuft and heard one soon after, but of course someone else had to see it first.

We then birded the access road (Sooty Grassquit, Long-billed Wren, Chicli Spinetail, Red-necked Tanager) until rain started which continued into the evening.

Monday, 28/12/09: We birded Fazenda Angelim both in the morning and the afternoon. A Brazilian guide with his Belgian/Italian client passed us by, intent on ticking Spotted Bamboowren. We joined as spectators while the bamboowren showed very well in its usual arena. After this, they left for Intervales, while we birded on till 12. In the forest before the fazenda, we had great views of Spot-backed Antshrike and Blond-crested Woodpecker. Streak-capped Antwren showed badly, as it would continue to do throughout the trip. Our first encounter with what would become our favourite group of the trip came in the shape of São Paulo Tyrannulet. A narrow trail to the left passed the territory of a Squamate Antbird.

In the more open area near the fazenda we saw a Lemon-chested Greenlet, Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher and Buffy-throated Purpletuft. We paid our “voluntary” fee for the visit – of course everyone should do the same.

Beyond the fazenda, the forest gets thicker, but the path stays quite wide. Here we saw Saw-billed Hermit, a very skulking Slaty Bristlefront and an “unmistakable” Channel-billed Toucan that I misidentified. At a certain point we took a narrower path up a slope, where a noisy pair of Star-throated Antwrens met us. A Variegated Antpitta higher up attracted Barry’s undivided attention. We saw our first Swallow-tailed Manakin. After Barry had given up on the antpitta, we watched some fruiting trees which held Spot-billed Toucanet, Black-throated Grosbeak and Black-capped Foliage-gleaner. Other birds seen at Angelim were Lesser Woodcreeper, Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant, Unicoloured Antwren and Spot-breasted Antvireo and Flame-crested Tanager.

After lunch we returned to Angelim, but we turned round when heavy rain hit. After deciding the campsite was not a good idea (a stream could cut it off completely!), we watched the rivermouth a while. Seven Kelp Gulls were on the beach and a Capped Heron flew by (only Rick’s second in Ubatuba). The rain seemed to subside, but our third attempt to bird Angelim was again quite wet. An evening visit to the town and beach was too wet to yield nightjars.

Tuesday, 29/12/09: We started late enough to arrive at Folha Seca when it was already quite light. We walked along the road upwards from Jonas’ place until the end of the forest patch. Highlights were a Common Potoo with chick, a pair of Black-cheeked Gnateaters, Scaled Antbird, Rufous-capped Motmot and two snakes, while Thrushlike Woodcreeper and Fuscous Flycatcher were good but somehow less exhilarating. Other birds included White-shouldered Fire-eye and Scale-throated Hermit. After returning to the start of the track we watched the feeders for a while and saw an Orange-eyed Thornbird and our first Bare-throated Bellbird – sadly a distant female!

We then went on our way to Intervales at about 11 am, following the same route back and enjoying some slow traffic up the Serra do Mar. Driving through São Paulo was amazingly easy.

The birdlife along the long drive was rather uninspiring until we reached Riberão Grande, just 25 km from Intervales. Here we saw Streamer-tailed Tyrant, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Grey Monjita, Hooded Siskin and various other inland birds.

After the usual time spent at reception, we met Faustino, our guide for the next few days. I felt really bad by now, but after the guide we had met in Ubatuba told us about Black-legged Dacnis nests I revived. The first nest, next to the reception, was under construction, with the builders nowhere to be seen. However, this search provided us with an Azure-shouldered Tanager. The second nest, just beyond the restaurant, had a female on eggs. The male flew in shortly after, showing its black legs quite well. After this excellent bird we went to our room in the Onça Pintada, and I went to bed. Phil and Barry did not manage to grip me off (because the elaenia id remained contentious) but had managed to hurt their ankle and head in a single accident (allegedly not a fight).

Wednesday, 30/12/09: We had breakfast at 5:15 and set off for the Carmo Road. We started birding at 6, with a (brief) Black-fronted Piping-Guan for starters. Excellent birding all the way, with Faustino obviously “warming up” as the morning went on. The weather was excellent. Compared to the Mouse-coloured Tapaculo which we saw in bad light, the White-breasted Tapaculo crawling through the roots at point-blank distance was quite a stunner. White-bearded - and Tufted Antshrikes occurred almost side-by-side in a bamboo patch, opposite which various Half-collared Sparrow sang, but stayed mostly hidden. A Short-tailed Antthrush (apparently so called because it occurs above ant nests – they kept on biting for hours) sang high up a tree along one of the few trails that led off the road; at the same locality we later saw a Hooded Berryeater. Rufous-capped Spinetail was common.

In a mixed flock, we found Sharpbill (a family-tick-for-all) along with the furnariid-loving Black-goggled, Brown and Olive Tanagers. A Dusky-tailed Antbird tried its best at hiding in the roadside vegetation. Woodcreeper features had to be thoroughly discussed to identify a Planalto Woodcreeper; luckily the Scalloped Woodcreeper was unmistakable. Bay-ringed Tyrannulet is another one of those small birds that prefer to stay up high – Eared Pygmy-Tyrant is easier. We saw a few Golden-winged Caciques and a pair of the common Red-rumped Caciques dwarfed by their involuntarily adopted Giant Cowbird chick. Finding Crescent-chested Puffbird and Robust Woodpecker was a nice surprise. Ochre-collared Piculets were seen at their nest. After intermittent looks at a very flighty Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakin next to the car, we returned to the Sede for lunch and some unguided birding till 3.

At the Sede, we found a White-vented Violetear near the Black-legged Dacnis nest, Pallid Spinetail and Green-winged Saltator near the lake along the self-guided trail, and a Diademed Tanager opposite the Onça Pintada.

In the afternoon we went to the Pedra de Fogo area where we walked a few trails. Birding was much slower than in the morning. In a bamboo patch a Rufous-tailed Attila was lured in after quite a while, while not much further a Bertoni’s Antbird appeared less willing to pose than its congeners. We added Cinnamon-vented Piha to the list, but failed to draw in either Rufous-breasted Leaftosser or Variegated Antpitta, although the latter came very close. In the same area, we saw two male Bare-throated Bellbirds (the first after much searching for a hole in the canopy, the second of course just by looking the right way) and two Brown Tufted Capuchins. A Surucua Trogon was seen near a stake-out for Giant Antshrike, which called but did not show.

We did not wait till dark, but went back to the Sede for dinner. No night birds could be found near the Onça Pintada.

Thursday, 31/12/09: Afer hearing a Tropical Screech-Owl at breakfast, and stumbling across two Crab-eating Foxes, we birded the Pedra de Fogo area again. We started off along the road with a successful search for Rusty-barred Owl. A Least Pygmy-Owl did not show, and Barry had to abort his search when I found a pair of Rusty-breasted Nunlets. It was clouded and it started to rain close to lunch, which apparently explained the rather quiet morning. The third strike for Variegated Antpitta was successful at last, after a Rufous Gnateater caused a stir when it landed in front of us during playback. The Greenish Schiffornis we saw low down in the vegetation surely deserved a beter name. In a furnariid flock, we found White-browed and White-collared Foliage-gleaners; a solitary Buff-browed only flew over our heads. Likewise, Red-breasted Toucan afforded bad views. Luckily, you can trust on Drymophila antbirds to perform on call: today it was the turn of Ochre-rumped Antbird.

Back at the stake-out where we failed yesterday, Barry and Phil saw a male Giant Antshrike in vines over the path, but I feared another dip. Luckily Faustino’s expert whistling pulled in one or two female-plumaged birds. A Red-ruffed Fruitcrow afforded short views in the same area.

Near the restaurant, we found a White-spotted Woodpecker. After lunch, we searched for the Large-tailed Antshrike that lives in the clearing behind the Pica Pau lodge. We walked up the trail that passes the lodge and played the tape. Although it was distant at first, it quietly came closer and eventually was just a meter away in the tangles!

We then set out on the Santa Rita Road, but after passing the Eucalyptus plantations it started raining. We hoped it would clear quickly, but after two hours we gave up.

Back at the Sede, the weather had improved. We searched for rails (in vain), but did see White Woodpeckers, a White-vented Violetear and Short-billed Elaenia. No New Year’s Eve celebrations to keep us awake, luckily.

Friday, 01/01/10: The New Year started badly when we woke up to rain, but amazingly this had cleared up by 5:30. Our last morning was spent birding the Carmo Road again. We started at the Long-trained Nightjar stake out, but the nightjar flying off had a rather short tail showing white – a Pauraque? Luckily, Faustino forced Barry to make an emergency stop a bit later for a pair of Solitary Tinamous roosting above the road. At long last, a Pale-browed Treehunter came to inspect its mechanical rival up close. A single Saffron Toucanet was seen rather distantly, while a small group of Three-striped Flycatchers fouraged close to the road. The identification of a White-throated Woodcreeper led to the expected debate. After hearing plenty of Spot-winged Wood-Quails, finding one that could not climb the steep bank next to the road was a lucky break for us, but the feeling was not mutual. Faustino picked up a Mantled Hawk soaring across the road, but only I saw it. To Phil’s and my relief, Oustalet’s Tyrannulet was clawed back from Barry.

Back at the Sede, we saw the resident Orange-breasted Thornbird near its nest. We had lunch and left at 1 pm, taking the road to Guapiara on the way out. It was a long, winding way to Curitiba, which was a five hour drive. The way through Curitiba did not go completely to plan, thanks to our understanding of the Brazilian road system and nation-wide topography. However, it luckily has a ring road which saved us from ending up in a completely wrong location.

The final part of the trip was easy till we reached (what we thought was) Itapoá – a large and very busy coastal town, very unlike the “very small place” promised by Beto’s directions. Actually, this large town was Itapema — Itapoá is indeed a lot smaller. After finding Beto’s house, he told us we’d be staying at Volta Velha (we had thought we’d be staying in “a structure on the beach”). The seven minutes to the reserve were a bit more than that. The easiest way to find Volta Velha turned out to be following the signs to the “Eros Motel”.

We were shown our two rooms, after which we went for a good dinner. Too bad the lack of windows meant a wealth of mosquitoes. Beto turned out to be very talkative (in French) and started out by showing us the heron plate in the book – we put him right on our desires.

Saturday, 02/01/10: A good morning started with a displaying South American Snipe that even showed on the ground. The bird of the day was the not very rapidly responding Kaempfer’s Tody-Tyrant staked out at the start of the Casa Vidro trail. We then turned our attention to the Sambaqui trail, flushing a Pauraque + chick on the way. A first winter Veery was a major surprise, although the Sombre Hummingbird Beto photographed may not support our sighting as much as he thought. Another addition to the park list came in the shape of a pair of Pearly-breasted Cuckoos following a bird flock that also contained Restinga Tyrannulet. The large ants that caused insects and spiders to flee the path drew the attention of Riverbank Warblers. We were told that the best place to find Black-backed Tanager would be around the Accommodation (although continuing to the sandy restinga might have been a better choice), so we decided to walk back. We encountered a flock of Eastern Sirystes and the highly desired Azure Jay, that stayed well away from us. Back at the clearing, not too much stirred in the late morning heat.

After lunch, we decided to have a look at the Casa Vidro trail, unguided this time. A White-eyed Foliage-gleaner was a welcome addition (except for Phil, who had already seen one in Ubatuba). A few tinamous had been calling and when one seemed quite close I suggested Barry should try and lure it. The fourth species was the right one. While the mosquitoes became more and more unbearable, the bird came closer and closer, eventually allowing us great views of a calling Yellow-legged Tinamou. Close to an anaphylactic shock we returned to the accommodation for a trip away from the reserve.

After (expensive!) sun screen and insect repellent had been acquired, Beto took us to the southern tip of Itapoá. At the end of a short dirt road was a Typha marsh, which had been significantly reduced in size by recent bulldozing. We sought a good vantage point and played the tape: instantly a pair of Paraná Antwrens appeared which showed marvellously along a narrow ditch, with only the appearance of a small group of Speckled Chachalacas interrupting viewing. We saw a flock of Common Waxbills: the only established exotic species that seems to occur in somewhat less-disturbed habitat. After a short seawatch (on a luckily rather quiet bit of beach), we searched an overgrown garden in Itapoá without result.

Back at Volta Velha, we walked the Sambaqui trail once more, but little was added except a large family of South American Coatis crossing the path. In the plantation, we found a pair of Southern Yellowthroats, which were a lifer for me (and Beto).

After dinner, Barry and I went owling after Beto had given us good hope. Phil gave his recently healed ankle some rest after the mosquito onslaught. After many tree frogs and a Grey Potoo, a Stygian Owl was found calling from a palm frond (the strange shape of which against the sky having drawn my attention). Its call was quite high: we had neglected it at first, but luckily it called incessantly (and continued for hours after we had seen it).

Sunday, 03/01/10: We wanted breakfast at 5, but the cook had overslept. Then we also had to drop off Beto, so we left Itapoá at 6. We had already wondered about the amount of traffic, and it soon became clear that we were not the only ones leaving. Three-and-a-half hours later we were at the main road. We did have some good views of Brazilian Teal...

We drove to São José dos Pinhais, where the tapaculo site proved accessible. The forest edge and grassland provided quite a few ticks. First, we taped in an Araucaria Tit-Spinetail which shouldn’t be too rare in the extensive Araucaria forest we had passed through. The lookalike trio Great Pampafinch, Lesser Grassfinch, Wedge-tailed Grassfinch may not be the most impressive. A distant Sharp-tailed Grass-Tyrant, Grassland Sparrows and Long-tailed Reed­finches added to the little brown bird assemblage. The only colourful birds were the Yellow-rumped Marshbirds. We arrived at the wettest area (not wearing wellies: a mistake), where a Marsh Tapaculo was calling, in the tallest bit of grass available (Tall-grass Wetland Tapaculo really is a better name). Despite getting very close, it never showed. Admittedly, even seeing your own feet was difficult, which led Phil to step on an ant nest and perform an Austrian slap dance while we were sneaking towards the tapaculo. On the way back, a pair of (again not colourful) Uniform Finches showed in the shrubs along the track. If it wouldn’t have been for the female, we would never have believed we were looking at this bamboo specialist!

We tried to visit the Serra Graciosa, but taking the wrong turn to the Estrada da Graciosa lost us too much time. Also, the verge of the newly widened asphalt road we encountered did not look like a smart place to park. We saw a Whistling Heron in a field and found Hooded Siskin for Phil.

The drive to São Paulo went well until we were about 140 km away: the next 40 km were painfully slow. Only when we had passed the first petrol station after the serra, traffic started moving again, although it took till São Paulo to find petrol stations without queues. We mistakenly drove straight through the centre of São Paulo. Luckily we had a map and we found our way out. In São José dos Campos, we had to conquer labyrinthine road structures to reach the hotel we had seen from the rodovia.

Monday, 04/01/10: After yesterday’s long drive, we didn’t leave too early for Campos do Jordão, where we birded the dirt road that leads to the oddly-shaped Pedra do Baú. Campos do Jordão itself has a Swiss-inspired shopping front lined by a few favelas higher up the mountain. After reaching the dirt road to the Pedra do Baú, we soon saw a White-browed Warbler.

Quite a few highland species occurred along the road, among which a few are easily identifiable, like Shear-tailed Grey Tyrant, Red-rumped Warbling-Finch and Thick-billed Saltator. Luckily we also added a number of tyrannulets: Planalto and Mottle-cheeked needed confirmation by voice, but Serra do Mar Tyrannulet was uncharacter­istically easy too find and unmistakable. Compared to the female Brazilian Rubies, the male Plovercrests received an excessive amount of attention, while a Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner was passed by all too quickly. We naturally did take our time to admire an Olivaceous Elaenia (“differs in being drabber”), which confirmed its identity by reacting aggressively to playback. When we walked back to the car, the main target along this road finally reacted on the edge of a tussock-filled marsh: a pair of Black-capped Piprites flew in and showed terrificly. A very strange bird!

We drove on to an area of grassland in view of the Pedra do Baú, which we searched thoroughly, but unsuccessfully, for Hellmayr’s Pipit. Barry flushed a Spotted Nothura (which kindly flew past Phil and me) and saw a fly-by Swallow-tailed Cotinga (which we missed).

After a (too?) large pizza in Campos do Jordão, we drove north to Rio de Janeiro state. On the way, we passed the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, which is a decidedly long name for a decidedly huge church. The highlight was a Nacunda Nighthawk sitting on a wire, that was disturbed by a train just as we passed. We found a (bad) hotel near Três Rios. In a greasy spoon nearby, we saw that it was Angra dos Reis that had been badly hit by disastrous landslides a couple of days back. Today southern and coastal São Paulo had been hit: the Marginal Tietê in São Paulo was flooded and the coastal road (which we had originally planned for today) had suffered long delays.


Tuesday, 05/01/10: We saw some better-looking hotels near Sapucaia on the way to the Sumidouro road, which turned out to be passable for our car (it had been very muddy in November). In the well-known sharp bend, finding Three-toed Jacamar was ridiculously easy: they were calling when we stepped out of the car. A pair of Sooretama Antshrikes reacted well to playback and allowed close study. Other birds here were Chestnut-vented Conebill, Hooded Tanager and high-flying, badly lit Blue-winged Macaws.

We transferred our attention to the marsh, where an Ash-throated Crake called but did not leave the high vegetation. Along the road, Rufous-fronted Thornbird and Wing-banded Hornero were easy to find (and their nests even easier). In the marsh, a few Black-capped Donacobius were present – common throughout South America, but a family tick for me.

After finding the right “Carmo road”, we started with a half-hearted attempt to find Rio de Janeiro Antbird, which no one seems to report from here anymore anyway. Luckily, Barry managed to find a Chestnut-backed Antshrike that was willing to pose. In the same area, Phil found a quiet Three-toed Jacamar. His insistence on checking the “turkey vultures” paid off in showing that they were Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures – which would turn out to be the standard species further north every time we bothered to check. A flock of Yellow-green Grosbeaks was all we could find in a second area of roadside forest.

We left Carmo and drove to Venda Nova do Imigrante through Minas Gerais, which was wholly uninteresting (and the pothole slalom meant I needed to pay attention to the road anyway). A stop at an interesting-looking reservoir only yielded a dead dog.

We met Ana and Pedro at the hotel – Ana spoke English, but Pedro was mute, only to interrupt his silence for passing judgement on Ana’s parking skills.

Wednesday, 06/01/10: We spent most of the day walking the Caetes track, intermitted by a two-hour lunch break (well, a twice a one-hour ride and some quick buffet dining) and two-and-a-half hours of afternoon rain. The track passes some forest before reaching a clearing, a second patch, a Eucalyptus plantation, two small reservoirs and again some fields. Be sure to have your lunch in the field! In the lowest part of forest, two Grey-hooded Attilas showed really well next to the path. A Rufous-thighed Kite stayed on its branch long enough to sketch it, call Phil, watch it, get Barry and find out it was even a lifer for him. If we’d only known that! It flew off to catch a frog and came back to feed it to its young – the reason why it didn’t fly off. We also saw Gilt-edged Tanager and Wing-barred Piprites. Near the first clearing where the forest edge was all-too quiet, Ana taped in an Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher. A concerted effort in a dense forest patch before the far too long lunch break was successful to draw in a male Pin-tailed Manakin.

We were finally back in the forest by 3 (after seeing or missing White-thighed Swallow near the sawmill at the start of the track). Both Buffy-headed Marmoset and Brown Howler Monkey showed that the last patches of forest have plenty of possibilities. A Yellow-eared Woodpecker showed well to all, but Such’s Antthrush was cryptic and only showed to me (only fair – I was doing the work). We were assured that the Myiobius flycatcher here was Black-tailed Flycatcher. Around the reservoirs, we saw Sooty Tyrannulet and Yellow-chinned Spinetail once the rain had finished.

After not seeing any nightjars we decided not to go out for dinner (although Ana & Pedro did on our costs).

Thursday, 07/01/10: The morning was spent walking up and down Caetes, where after a bit of playback we could admire fleeting glimpses of a Rough-legged Tyrannulet. Luckily, a Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper showed a lot better (not in a stream). Golden-tailed Parrotlets flew over, but of course no good views were obtained. Near the first clearing, I finally managed to catch up with Burnished-buff Tanager, which I had seen flying off twice.

Thanks to Ana we had excellent views of both White-bibbed Antbird and Black-billed Scythebill. At the second clearing, a usually lumped and therefore neglected Dubois’s Seedeater was singing, while a pair of White-crested Tyrannulets was little compensation for the Blackish Rail I had just seen landing in the thick vegetation.

At about 1, we were back at the hotel, where as usual my credit card only worked the second time (but unlike in the UK, I never got billed twice).

We set off for Linhares, on what turned out to be a rather uneventful drive. Our identification of Picui Ground-Doves would be constantly questioned by Phil over the course of the next days. After some confusion when we entered the town of Sooretama, we arrived at Linhares around 6. Arranging an extra night was no problem, but we heard that tomorrow we’d only have a guide in the morning. Many Orange-winged Parrots flew around the accommodation: a good sign!

We had dinner after we had made clear that despite our appearance (with books and checklist on the table), we were ready to eat.

Friday, 08/01/10: We left at 5:30 after a 5 am breakfast. Soon we had seen a South American Tapir cross the track, 4 Solitary Tinamous and plenty of Pauraques. Birding around a watch tower was pretty boring and not something you should put tick-hungry birders through, especially not with the target bird calling not far away. Luckily, we saw two Red-billed Curassows not much later, one of which flew up from the path to Barry’s delight. The very loud songs of Thrushlike Wren sounded everywhere and we managed to see one pair duetting. Our mammal list got a boost with Bush Dog and 2 Masked Titis.

Not much later we arrived at the “marshy area” of the BirdQuest reports. This spot was a good place to see parrots fly by, although the size and composition of the flocks varied from day to day. A call of “Peach-fronted Parakeet” made Phil turn round. He had not noticed he was on a narrow iron bridge, and plunged down 6 feet between the two lanes, into a muddy ditch. After he had climbed out, we expressed our deepest sympathy by pointing, laughing, and muttering about lost photo-ops. His ankle survived the drop: now it was (especially) his hip that hurt.

Just beyond the (dried-out) marsh, we found a pair of Greyish Mourners and Silvery-flanked Wren. A whistling song was eventually deciphered to come from Bright-rumped Attila, which was decidedly unshowy. On our route through the forest we made several stops, which yielded a nice male Red-headed Manakin, Olivaceous Flatbill at its nest and a singing Minute Hermit. Other birds along the tracks included Dusky-throated Hermit, Screaming Piha (many calling – we saw one), Red-stained Woodpecker and a few Rufous-tailed Jacamars. Back at the access road, we found a Black-capped Becard and our first Swallow-wings.

As we had been told there would be no guide in the afternoon, but the guide had been somewhat unclear about this. Eventually, we birded around the accommodation, where we found Chopi Blackbird, Campos Troupial and White-eared Parakeet.

In the evening, we had good views of a Tawny-browed Owl along the access road, with more calling in the forest.

Saturday, 09/01/10: The day started well with a pre-dawn Black-capped Screech-Owl and a pair of calling Mealy Amazons along the road. Today, the marshy area yielded overflying Muscovy Ducks. We had good views of Rusty-margined Guan, after a bad view in the twilight yesterday. A family of South American Coatis detracted me just too much to have a proper look at a White-crowned Manakin Phil found. A long trip to a disappointing lake took up a lot of time, although we got another South American Tapir and Black-headed Berryeater on the way and a pair of Moustached Wrens in the restinga-like vegetation near the lake. On the way back, a track-side dove looked remarkably like a Violaceous Quail-Dove, but I did not note a red bill... A red-throated Yellow-throated Woodpecker showed near the access road.

After lunch, I found three White-bellied Tanagers in the accommodation area. Birding in the afternoon was slow, although the track appeared attractive to Blue Ground- and Ruddy Quail-Doves. We found a Brazilian Giant Tortoise (Geochelone denticulata) and had better views of a Black-headed Berryeater. We then searched various papaya plantations for parrots, but these did not appear. We finally ended up in a marsh next to an Orange-winged Amazon roost, where we saw (dark-billed) White-bellied Seedeater and managed to identify Short-crested Flycatcher. Ash-throated Crakes and Blackish Rails called, but again did not show. A falcon overhead may have been Orange-breasted, but it was too quick to note anything else than that it looked quite big for a Bat Falcon.

Sunday, 10/01/10: Our morning’s targets were parrots and we started by scanning from the infamous Bridge of Phil. The marshy area was interesting enough, with two Speckled (White-bellied) Chachalacas an all-important security tick. We heard the distinctive calls of Red-browed Parrot, but they did not appear to move. The guide suggested to drive in the direction of the calls, but when we arrived at the edge of the reserve, they could not be heard and our prospects looked bleak. On our way back to the marshy area, the guide urged us to stop: birds were calling nearby! At first they flew across the track only providing Phil with untickable views, but quite a bit too long later, they were found back on some dead snags, where they stayed long enough for good views. By now, the Striped Cuckoo that had been calling in the marshy area had moved on, but instead we saw a Jaguarundi walking towards us for a few minutes, distracted by something behind it!

The search for Blue-throated Parakeet, of which we had only seen fast-flying flocks that the guide had pointed out, took us to the watch tower area, where we indeed got a response, but unfortunately they never landed in view. A much better response was given by a Little Tinamou that walked into view upon playback.

After lunch we drove to Santa Teresa. In Linhares, we had excellent views of a Picui Ground-Dove, which momentarily ended the questioning of our identification skills. A small pond between São Antonio and Jacupemba (near km-post 162) was full of (trip) ticks, best of all seven male Southern Pochards. Our identification skills were brought back into questioning by the yellowlegs.

In Santa Teresa, no one could help us get a permit for the Santa Lúcia reserve, because the administration of the museum was closed. After a close encounter with some Dusky-legged Guans, we watched the feeders and saw Planalto Hermit and Sapphire-spangled Emerald.

We made a reconnaissance trip to the Augusto Ruschi reserve, where the the sign saying “Welcome Foreign Visitor” was followed by a smaller “you need authorisation to visit this reserve”. Of course, you won’t get this unless you are a proper biologist who knows how to deal with red tape. On the way back to Santa Teresa, we made an excellent stop at a roadside marsh, with four highly visible Blackish Rails and Pileated Finches in the roadside bushes.

We found a hotel and had an uninspired pizza in one of the few open restaurants.

Monday, 11/01/10: We started before dawn with a Long-tailed Potoo, that perched shortly on a roadside snag. The forest along the lower road was full of the strange calls of Buffy-fronted Seedeaters, accompanied by Sooty Grassquits. Wied’s Tyrant-Manakin was remarkably easy to find and very unremarkable to see. Surprisingly, we also heard a Red-browed Parrot.

We headed back to the museum, where we heard that we could only visit the Santa Lúcia reserve by 12 – too late for us. We headed back into the hills, where we saw a Green-backed Becard near the marsh. Our stint higher up (with a Frilled Coquette for Phil) was ended at 11:30, when we were kicked out by a park guard whom we understood better than we made out. He said that the next foreigners would be taken to the Federal Police and that permission should be sought via the internet (which, as you’ll understand by now, you won’t get).

We drove the coastal road to Rio de Janeiro for over eight hours, with five Red-legged Seriemas in two locations the highlights of a drive that led us mostly through a thoroughly destroyed landscape. After some confusion by a motel that posed as a hotel, we found a poussada in Iguaba Grande.

Tuesday, 12/01/10: At about sunrise (the first we actually witnessed?) we drove to Praia Seca, which turned out to be straightforward. After adding the all important Sanderling to the trip list, a pair of Restinga Antwrens responded from the first bit of habitat encountered.

After a short seawatch, we searched a better-looking area until a Hangnest Tody-Tyrant came into view, which Barry had luckily read about in one of his reports. A stop at a dune lake did not add anything new. At the northwestern tip of the Lagoa de Araruama was well worth a short walk, because of the presence of Grey-headed Gulls, Cayenne Terns and especially four adult Chilean Flamingos.

Serra dos Tucanos was easy to find but difficult to enter through a rather concealed gate. We were rather taken aback by the steep guiding prices, but guiding yourself turned out to be perfectly acceptable. A search for our nemesis woodcreeper along the nearby Cedae trail failed of course.

Back at the lodge, we added Grey-capped Tyrannulet to the tally, after which we had a meagre dinner where the vegetarian option was to have just rice and carrots – very amusing. The omelette came too late to pacify Phil.

Wednesday, 13/01/10: At breakfast, a Rufous-breasted Hermit flew into the room, could not find the way out and collided with the glass apparently stunning itself. We turned off the light to help it find its way out, but it proceeded to fly wildly around the roof space before seemingly wedging its beak into the rafters. It then hung totally motionless for a couple of minutes dangling from its beak: it appeared to have died. When we turned the lights back on, it was off again flying around the room to land on the rim of a glass of fruit juice on the table. Amazingly Barry was able to pick it up from the glass before releasing it into the garden.

We left for the Pico da Caledônia at about 7 am, through Nova Friburgo which obviously is the lingerie capital of Brazil. We did not have too many problems, although driving up a steep dirt road behind the Caledonia Inn was a mistake (as thankfully two locals pointed out): the road is paved up to the top.

A Black-and-gold Cotinga was conveniently located next to the road and would be there every time we passed this spot. However, Grey-winged Cotinga first called in the distance, came closer but then flew off (probably seen by Barry) and disappeared. We waited a long time for it to return, but without success. We got Rufous-tailed Antbird and Blue-billed Black-Tyrant while waiting. A walk down the road yielded a very smart Bay-chested Warbling-Finch. On the way back to the car, Barry and I were quite a way ahead of (still injured) Phil, when we suddenly heard him roar. The reason was not that he felt left behind, but the appearance of a family of Swallow-tailed Cotingas. Great birds to see, and the juvenile’s plumage, lacking any yellow, was interesting.

After this, we walked the Theodoro trail behind the police station on the road to Nova Friburgo. This old road has been reclaimed by the undergrowth, although many of the trees along it are still Eucalyptus. We saw a Yellow-browed Woodpecker, but when trying to get better views of a Tawny-throated Leaftosser, a heavy downpour commenced. This meant the end of all Phil’s connections to the outside world when his bag was flooded. Because he was in heavy emailing traffic with home because of a problem with theatre tickets, his mood did not improve.

When we were back at the lodge, the weather somewhat improved, and among the many swifts a few Sooty Swifts could be located.

Thursday, 14/01/10: Barry woke up with a bad back, which did not improve through the day. We tried again for the Grey-winged Cotinga, but it was cloudy and windy and the bird never called. Yesterday’s rain had caused a small landslide which had blocked the road up the Pico da Caledônia close to the top, and a large one which had taken away a fair bit of hillside and just nearly missed the road. I managed to drop my speaker right down this abyss... A Rufous-tailed Antbird came out in the open, wondering where its territory had gone; I also saw a Serra do Mar Tapaculo which probably had the same problem. With one of Barry’s speakers, I drew in a Rufous-backed Antvireo.

After lunch at Serra dos Tucanos, and a bill that did not include the drinks because of the dinner incident, we drove to Itatiaia. The panorama from the Rio–Niteroí bridge was fantastic, enhanced by hundreds of Magnificent Frigatebirds.

After some heavy rain on the way, Itatiaia was dry. We found our plush chalet, after which Barry lay down and Phil and I walked along the road finding a pair of White-throated Wood­creepers which obtained Phil’s seal of approval.

Friday, 15/01/10: In the morning it was raining, which pretty much ruined all our plans. Velvety Black-Tyrants were showed nicely around Hotel do Ype. After walking around in Itatiaia NP (towards Hotel Simon, where we marvelled at the post-apocalyptic sight of the pool). The first Fawn-breasted Tanager of a few was added to the trip list.

When the weather appeared to improve, we set off for the Agulhas Negras road. The road up from Engenheiro Passos was good for inland species that like habitat destruction, such as Yellow-chevroned Parakeet, White-rumped Monjita and Crested Black-Tyrant. At the marsh, we quickly found Itatiaia Thistletail and other high altitude species we had already seen at Campos do Jordão or Pico da Caledônia. An immature Large-tailed Antshrike was found by its hoarse call and today’s trio of Black-Tyrants was completed with Blue-billed, but a Speckle-breasted Antpitta was uncooperative. The weather closed in again, which forced us to head back down. A Rufous-sided Crake called from the marsh above Engenheiro Passos, but did not show (and we did not think entering the field would be a good idea).

At Itatiaia, we walked up to the Jeep trail “trailhead” where we noticed that all trails were closed. The guard told us we should ask for permission to enter the Jeep trail via the hotel. After a family of Brown Tufted Capuchins and a brown morph Barred Forest-Falcon, we made a short trip to Hotel Simon again, where Phil finally connected with Green-winged Saltator – but it started to rain almost immediately. Not too much was added by viewing from the balcony.

Saturday, 16/01/10: According to the trip reports, the Agulhas Negras road still offered the best opportunities for additions to Barry’s list, so we made another attempt. A Brazilian Guinea Pig crossed the road, after which I thought I heard one of our targets. After a long silence, the Grey-bellied Spinetail responded and eventually showed quite well in what looked like a quarry. Luckily the log I stood on did not give in: I think there was quite a deep hole beneath me. We saw one or two White-rumped Hawks fly across, as well as a Tayra near the marsh. Neither Rufous-capped Antshrike nor Brown-breasted Bamboo-Tyrant could be found and the Speckle-breasted Antpitta was elusive again. The clouds rolled in and we headed back.

It rained during lunch (oh joy, a barbecue), after which we walked up the Três Picos trail. Phil gave up quite quickly, because his hip did not agree with the various trees we had to climb. Of course, further on the path was less obstructed. Barry and I had good views of a Such’s Antthrush walking below the path (many were heard) and eventually I managed to see Rufous-tailed Antthrush as well (after it had almost hit my head and Barry had proved that experience helps to see these birds). The path was very birdy, despite it being afternoon – with the northern form of Surucua Trogon (“Brazilian Trogon”) the best of the bunch. I even had almost reasonable views of Red-breasted Toucan. Despite thunder in the distance, it stayed dry until the evening. Back at the hotel, Phil had seen his desired Green-barred Woodpecker. We paid our bills to assure an early departure tomorrow.

Sunday, 17/01/10: We left the hotel at 6:10 and drove to Mogi das Cruzes. Phil saw an Aplomado Falcon on the way. Despite a diversion and not-to-clear site notes, which had led me to think the site was a lot closer to Mogi das Cruzes then I thought, we evntually found the fenced-off marsh. No response when we played the tape from the road, so after a few people had said it would be OK to enter Barry and I tried (via an obvious hole under the fence). Phil did not enjoy the prospect of five months in a Brazilian jail and deferred. After a bit of searching and taping (using a good quality Paraná Antwren tape), a (silent) male São Paulo Antwren showed.We returned to the road and tried another marsh we had passed on the way. The main find here was an almost completely submerged Capybara.

We were at the airport very early (about 1), after failing to find a petrol station near the airport, although we did find some fenced-in Capybaras in the company of a Cocoi Heron. We bored our time away till boarding.

Monday, 18/01/10

After a rather sleepless flight back (not helped by some heavy shaking of the plane), my car needed a bit of coercion to let go of its handbrake. Only pathetic patches of the “big snow” remained.

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