South Eastern Brazil Trip, small group.

by Richard Raby on April 4, 2007

March 19th – April 4th. 2007.

We, I (the guide), and the group, met-up at the International arrivals gate at Sao Paolo airport, Jill & Paul, Carol & Robert having just arrived from Norfolk and Lancashire respectively, an 11hrs flight away. The weather was un-seasonally wet and it was late in the evening when we left the Airport and our one and a half hours drive to Campos do Jordan (our first stop-over) was in darkness and uneventful. We checked-in at the most comfortable Vale Verde Hotel and arranging for early morning calls / breakfast, we retired to our rooms.

Hotel Vale Verde

After catching-up on sleep our Brazilian birding started early the next morning. It was unexpectedly cool, damp and rather gusty at our 1250meters altitude and commencing outside of our hotel we birded the Horto Floresta road. Perhaps rather lucky to find reasonable bird-activity in the rather persistent low cloud and drizzle we almost immediately managed to get to grips with our first endemic species, Pallid Spinetail, a pair of these delightful acrobats performed well, coming down low in the trees, in response to our taped play-back. We continued birding from our 4×4 vehicle, stopping as bird-activity was heard, and in this manner we managed to find White-crested Tyrannulet, Sharp-billed Tree-hunter and the enigmatic Araucaria Tit-spinetail, we then ran-into our first mixed flock for the trip, this flock contained White-spotted Woodpecker, Planalto Hermit, White-throated and Scaled Woodcreepers, Diadem and Swallow Tanagers, and the quasi-endemic Red-rumped Warbling Finch.

Araucaria Tit-spinetail
At our next stop we stumbled-upon a family group of Swallow-tailed Cotinga, a delightful species and one high on our list of trip priorities. The adults were hawking insects from the tops of some Araucaria pines to feed the still semi-fledged young. Another of our target species, Vinaceous-Breasted Amazon Parrot, were seen flying noisily overhead and later perched in small groups, views were reasonable, if rather distant and the lighting conditions could have been better, but this was still our fourth endemic of the morning, and a Campos do Jordan speciality. With the wind, low-cloud and light rain persisting we made a last minute change to our afternoon itinerary. Instead of driving the dirt-track (now mud-track?) to the Pedra do Bau road we decided to take the tarmac road to Pico Itapeva, and this decision paid-off handsomely. Following a similar formula to that of the morning we continued to bird by ear from our 4×4, and almost immediately encountered a large mixed flock, this one comprised of other typical serra do mar species, and included; Variable Antshrike, Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, Lesser and Highland Elaenia, and a pair of locally scarce Hepatic Tanager. Whilst studying the Elaenia I caught a brief glimpse of a Black-capped Piprites. In less than a minute this beautiful and rare endemic was perched at the front of a bush immediately ahead of the group, having responded to our playback, it was an adult male and was out in the open, in full view, just a few meters away. The lighting was terrible for photography, people fumbled for cameras, results were not good, but WOW! What a great bird and what a fantastic start to our trip.

At the end of the afternoon at the Pico Itapeva viewpoint (today abandoned by tourists and covered in a damp mist) we came across a hummingbird feeder that was attracting both White-throated and the endemic Brazilian Ruby Hummingbird species, both seemingly oblivious to the adverse weather conditions.

That evening it was still raining, we gave it a quick try-out for Owls in suitable habitat, close to the hotel, trawling with Rusty Barred Owl. Although we thought that we heard a Stripped Owl vocalize once the weather was against us.

The following morning after a rapid scout around the Hotel Gardens we were on the road and en-route to our next stop, the Serra da Canastra, a good 500kms cross-country drive away. The journey took us the best part of the day, but we birded from the car on the way and got good views of Slatey-breasted Woodrail crossing the road ahead of us, and a great pair of Little Woodpecker at a stop to stretch our legs. A “nose-heavy” Toco Toucan overflow our car at about the mid-way point and as we approached our destination Peach-fronted Parakeets, Glittering-throated and Swallow-tailed hummingbirds, and a lone Epaulet Oriole were found in some seed-bearing and adjacent flowering trees; this was at a stop for drinks and fuel. We arrived in Sao Roque de Minas, 60kms further down the road, as night was falling.

Brazilian Merganser

Collared Crescent-chest

Giant Anteater

Stripe-breasted starthroated

After booking into the Estalagem Guia Lopes guesthouse there was just time for a swift beer (to wash the dust from our throats), before a combined evening meal and log-call, this was rapidly followed by bed. It had been a long and arduous drive but at least we had left the bad weather behind to the South. We were now in the Brazilian interior, a land of rocky grassland plains and river-hugging forest, and we had a 4 o’clock start the following morning.

The next day we were up, breakfasted and into the car before sunrise. It was a15kms.(30mins.) Dirt-track-drive to our dawn stakeout, and we had to get there early, this was the reason for our being out here at this rather remote Serra da Canastra location. We were trying to get on terms with “possibly the worlds rarest duck” the Brazilian Merganser. Amazingly our luck held fast, dawn had just broken as we approached the primary stakeout, and the first out of the car, Robert, immediately announced a pair of our target birds sat-out on a midstream sandbar! They remained remarkably calm and allowed a very close approach from where we managed a couple of almost frame filling digi-scope shots. We managed to carefully retreat back to our vehicle without flushing them. Great! What a fantastic bird and what a spectacle with which to commence our day.

The rest of the morning appeared almost dull thereafter in comparison. Highlights to the late morning / afternoon birding did however included some other rather rare and hoped-for endemics/ quasi endemics, including a pair of perched and photographed Golden-capped Parakeets, a family party of Curl-crested Jay, a few White-bellied Warblers and family groups of Cinnamon Tanager and Black-throated Grosbeak; along with a very obliging Dark-billed Cuckoo that flew between bushes several times, in a damp, sedge-filled, field.
The following day we had success in the Upper Park with some typically grassland species. Firstly we trawled-for and called-in a magnificent Collared Crescent-chest and secondly we saw and decoyed-in an endemic Grey-backed Tachuri. Next we scanned the plains from a rocky vantage point and managed to locate a family group of Greater Rhea that the park guards had advised us of. There were also small groups of Sharp-tailed Grass-tyrant and some rather unexpected Cock-tailed Tyrant (Supposedly absent outside of the breeding season here ?); we also saw a small group of the inland race of Capped Seedeater (much paler than the coastal race) plus some scarce Tawny-headed Swallows, settled on an isolated thorny tree.

A sub-adult Crowned Eagle over-flew us in the early part of the afternoon and our day was nicely completed by a couple of encounters with that other Canastra speciality, Giant Anteater, which this visit, was active even over the midday period. The day’s prize bird however must have been a magnificent male endemic Stripe-breasted Starthroat Hummingbird that came and sat above our heads in an open bush, thus allowing us rare photographic opportunities, before it upped and disappeared again, just as suddenly as it had arrived, fantastic!

Blue Finch
Our next day was also a travel day, this time to Serra do Cipo, but en-route we stopped near the town of Piumhi where we watched a large family group of Toco Toucan and found an obliging Narrow-billed Tinamou feeding by the edge of a cornfield. We arrived at our next destination (Hotel Pousada Chao da Serra) towards the end of the afternoon, checked-in, and then nipped up the mountain to the original Cipo Canastera discovery site. Unfortunately we appeared to be out of luck with this species but we did get great views of two other local endemics, Hyacinth Visor-bearer Hummingbird and Pale-throated Serra-finch, both species giving great close-up and perched, views. The following morning we visited a nearby wooded valley, stake-out to yet another rare hummer, Horned Sungem, which we found, along with Pearly-vented Tody-tyrant, a male Blue Finch and a rare and unexpected Greater Large-billed Seedfinch, both of which I managed to photograph. In the afternoon we continued on to our next stop.

Caraca Monastery and private nature reserve is a couple of hours drive south from Serra do Cipo, birding from the car on this cross-country route we arrived in the early evening. One speciality of Caraca monastery are the Manned Wolfs, which come to be fed on most nights. Some of our group waited-up to see the Wolf on the first night, others on the second. All got excellent views of this tall and extremely graceful Canine, and at very close quarters too.

Caraca was our first stop where most birding takes place along trails somewhat distant from the car. We had a good morning on the more level trails, turning up the woodland sub-species of Hyacinth Visor-bearer Hummingbird, the endemic Drab-breasted Bamboo-tyrant & Yellow-lored Tody-flycatcher, and we also called in Serra Antwren and Dusky-tailed Antwrens using playback. A White-breasted Tapaculo was seen briefly crossing the path by some of the group and another was heard vocalising the following day.

A family of Masked Titi Monkeys provided a delightful distraction in the forest over the hottest midday period and in the afternoon we set out on another slightly longer trail. I, the guide, was recovering from a broken foot, this had happened approx. 5 weeks previous, and it was complaining a little towards the end of the afternoon. So we sat for a while at an interesting dam and waterfall area, observing a mixed group of the endemic Brassy-breasted and Gilt-edged Tanagers (an interesting study in plumage), there was a seemingly semi-tame Sooty Tyrannulet feeding near our feet, at the waters edge and some insect-hawking hummingbirds (White-vented Violetear and a magnificent and minute, adult male Amethyst Woodstar). All of this activity was happening over the waterfall area and we were sitting with our backs to the reservoir. One of our group then reported some animal diving / crossing the open-water behind us.

The next time it surfaced all binoculars were focused and ready, expecting to find maybe an otter or capybara? Imagine our amazement when a fully-grown Tapir’s head broke the surface of the water! The beast appeared to be initially unaware of our presence and dove a few more times (was if feeding on aquatic plants?) before swimming over to the far bank and scrambling-out, thus giving brief, unobstructed views, and a photographic opportunity, before disappearing into the undergrowth! This is a very rare sight in daylight for South Eastern Brazil, and made us the envy of the park warden when we reported it the following morning.

3-toed Jacamar
Our next day consisted of another longish drive, this time southwards and in the direction of the coast again, back towards the serra do mar and Rio do Janeiro State. En-route we stopped for the mid-afternoon period at the River Paraiba do Sul valley situated on the Minas Gerais / Rio state boarders; here we visited a newly discovered stake-out for that un-miss-able endemic, Three-toed Jacamar. This species lived-up to its reputation of being easy, so long as you find the correct habitat within it’s very contracted range (and use liberal play-back). We also encountered pairs of over-flying Blue-winged Macaws and Scaly-headed Parrots. Continuing on South we arrived at our next stop, Teresopolis and the Recanto Conmari Hotel, after dark.

Due to my limited mobility / foot-problem (I was unable to conduct the longest of our planned hikes here) I had made prior arrangements with a Brazilian friend and fellow birding-guide, Ricardo Parrini, to lead our group for the stay in Teresopolis. Ricardo did an excellent job and the next day he managed to find all but one key species for the upper Teresopolis national park, Pico do Sino trail (only dipping on Grey-winged Cotinga). The species of the day had to have been the rare Pale-browed Treehunter, and Green-chinned Euphonia seen well by all present. Ricardo also managed to find the more typical, high altitude endemics, such as the slightly commoner White Browed Foliage-gleaner, and the more typical Hooded Berryeater, Black and Gold Cotinga, Rufous-backed Antvireo, Rufous-tailed Antthrush and Black-breasted Plovercrest Hummingbird, & etc.

Saffron Toucanete
The following day both Ricardo and I guided together at the Jacaranda trail in the morning and the Garafao trails in the afternoon. We ate lunch at a favoured roadside café with a great vista that also overlooks some fruit-feeders (maintained by the café owner). The feeders did not disappoint and produced the hoped-for and endemic Azure-shouldered Tanager, Golden-chevroned Tanager and a squabbling family party of Saffron Toucanete. At Jacaranda we found the also endemic White-necked Foliage-gleaner, White-bibbed Antbird and heard a singing Cryptic (Such’s) Antthrush. A rare and near endemic White-bearded Antshrike was lured-in along with a magnificent Male Tufted Antshrike, whilst a pair of inquisitive Red-eyed Thornbird also put in a “performance”, attracted by the activity. In the afternoon we birded the famous Garafao trail and saw an endemic White-browed Woodpecker well, we also got brief glimpses of Dusky-throated Hermit at a lecque known to Ricardo, but the undoubted “birds of the afternoon” were a rare Southern Antpipit, shy and timid but decoyed-in to playback and an almost equally shy Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant. Both birds demanded some patience to bring-in but they finally gave themselves up to all. As we returned back along the jungle trail we heard a Thrush-like Mourner calling, Ricardo and myself looked at each other, puzzled (this is a very southern record for this Amazonian species). That evening we said our farewells to Ricardo over the log-call (and picked up his bar-bill the following morning!). At dawn the next day, those up early enough were rewarded with a brilliant Tropical Screech-Owl responding to playback, in the hotel gardens. We packed our bags for travelling, our next stop would be that most famous of South Eastern Brazilian Birding stop-overs, Itatiaia’s Hotel YPE.

Yellow-fronted woodpecker

Ferruginous Pygmy-owl
Our arrival at Itatiaia was timed to coincide with the excellent Table d’hot midday spread. But we just couldn’t give-up the opportunity to check-out some Dusky-legged Guan, a very-large band of Coati-Mundi and a Robust Woodpecker on our drive up through the lower park to the hotel. For the rest of the day we watched the feeders and birded around the Hotel grounds. This was a great opportunities to photograph Hummingbirds, Tanagers and Toucans, etc at extremely close range as they came to the feeders. The birds around the Hotel Ype appear completely accustomed to birders and will almost land on you if you remain static for long enough! Bird of the day was probably the remarkably gaudy Male Yellow-fronted Woodpecker also attracted to the fruit, but it was difficult to select just one species, maybe it was even that devious Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, sat close to the feeders and waiting for a chance with a careless hummer?

The following morning was another early start, this time to drive to the Upper Itatiaia Park. We arrived just after dawn and initially concentrated our efforts on the first few kms of the Argulhas Negras track (often the most productive), we immediately heard Mouse-coloured Tapaculo (this species had been “secured” for the list two days previously at Teresopolis), very soon afterwards we “hooked-onto” a pair the of endemic Planalto Tyrannulet, managing to get some excellent views in response to playback as they gleaned their way through the tops of some tall bushes.

We heard a Speckled-breasted Antpitta but could not find a suitable area to try and lure it in. We moved further up the track, calling-in a pair of endemic Rufous-tailed Antbirds and next a Black-capped Piprites was heard vocalizing, it came in almost immediately to playback, remarkably for the second time on our tour (although admittedly nowhere near as close as that first encounter at Campos do Jordan).

Our next stop along the track produced another singing Speckled-breasted Antpitta and this time in an area much more suitable for call-in. With a little perseverance (we were too close on our first attempt) the bird was eventually lured-in to a semi-open under-story visible from the track and we all got outstanding views of this often most elusive of species. Continuing up the trail we made our way to a wetland area near a stand of Araucaria pines, this point is known as the lower stake-out for the Itatiaia Thistletail. We managed to locate a group of this species fairly rapidly but they were somewhat skulking and it required a good half an hour, or so, before the whole group got satisfactory views of this remarkable Southeastern endemic, only described to science in 1950’s.

Our next day was spent in the lower Itatiaia Park around the Hotel Simon and the lower parts of the Tres-picos trail. We succeed with certain difficulty in locating a singing Syristes, high in the tree-tops, we kept it interested by using pre-recorded playback whilst scanning through gaps up into the canopy until we finally located it. We also saw a pair of scarce Black-tailed Tityra and heard vocalizing Drab-breasted Bamboo-tyrant.

It was now time to move-on to our next birding location, Arriro & Pereque, which are located at the western boarder of the Rio state coast-line, and en-route to Sao Paolo and Ubatuba.

Leaving Itatiaia and the Hotel Ype early in the morning we managed to arrive at the Arriro region before midday. But prior to arriving at Arriro we stopped to check-out a roadside flowering Paneira tree which Hummingbirds often visit. Luck was with us and amongst the “hummers” visiting this “pink-flowering splendour” we located a female of the endemic Frilled Coquette (a species that we had just dipped-out on at Itatiaia).

Hooded Antwren

Saw-billed Hermit

Buff-throated Purple-tuft

Masked Yellowthroat

Grabbing lunch on the hoof we arrived at Arriro where we firstly watched some brilliant Brazilian Tanager and then Yellow-eared Woodpeckers before we managed to call in a stunning male Hooded Antwren at our second stakeout point. This was followed by a move on to Pereque. Upon arrival here we found a soaring Mantled Hawk which then proceeded to perch, allowing scoping. Even in the heat of the midday period we still managed to lure in Fork-tailed Tody-tyrant and the highly secretive Spotted Bamboowren, both with the help of playback. We also heard but did not see Rufus capped Antthrush. Next it was on to Ubatuba where we would be spending the night. We arrived there after dark, but well satisfied with the days birding.

Our Hotel in Ubatuba was the delightful Solar das Aguas Cantantes and the following morning we visited the nearby Corcovado Trail. At the stream crossing we managed to call in a River Warbler before moving on to bird the valley immediately past the clearing. Here we managed, with a little patience, to call-in a couple of male Slatey Bristle-front and also see the diminutive Reddish Hermit. In this same valley we also heard Russet-winged Spadebill vocalizing tantalizingly but did not get to see it. In the afternoon we visited Jona’s place and the Folha Seca trail. At the former we found the famous hummingbird feeders to be alive with activity, most interesting to us were a family group of Festive Coquette, a number of Saw-billed Hermit, many Black Jacobin and one or two Sombre Hummingbird, all of which gave excellent photographic opportunities.

The next day was spent Birding the two Fazendas, Capricornio and Angelim located on the Eastern side of Ubatuba. We had a good morning, finding Buff-throated Purpletuft at both fazendas along with our first Sharpbills and our one and only Sao Paulo Tyrannulete for the trip. A Black and White Hawk-eagle soared overhead at Fazenda Capricornio and whilst there we finally came to grips with another endemic woodpecker, Blonde-crested.

In the afternoon we returned to the Corcovado Trail on the western side of townwhere we proceeded toflush an uncommon, and almost certainly wild Muscovy Duck. Towards dusk we were fortunate to observe a small flock of the scarce Dusky Swift. Also in the vicinity of the football pitch a pair of uncharacteristically shy Masked Yellowthroat were active and eventually enticed out into full view.

As this was our last evening we stayed on until twilight, trawling with playback, hopeful for a night-bird, a Tropical Screech-Owl called once, only timidly, but didn’t show, the highlight of our dusk stake-out was however probably the distant and wheezy “who-ah-ooh ” call of an awakening Longtailed Potoo, uttered twice, just before we left and as it was finally getting dark.

The following Day we returned to Jona’s Humming-bird feeders taking along a few kilos of sugar as a donation; here we spent our final couple of hours birding the Folha Seca Trail, before heading off on the return-drive to Sao Paolo International Airport, our starting point, 17 days previous.

Group plote
This Trip To South-Eastern Brazil lasted 17 days and bagged-us 339 species seen. A further 18 species were heard only. 59 species seen are endemics or quasi-endemics to the region and 9 of the birds encountered are considered “Globally Endangered” by Birdlife International.

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