Southern Bahia research trip; Part two, The Jequitinhonha valley.

by Richard Raby on March 25, 2010

After arriving back at, and “kissing” the tarmac, after departing Bandeira, I continued heading South to Almenara, the crossing point for the River Jequitinhonha. En route I passed by some very interesting looking woodlands/wooded Caatinga approx. 10kms south after rejoining the tarmac, but I was really not prepared to stop again so soon after getting back on good roads. I planned to stop and bird here on my next trip to this region.

Upon arrival in Almenara I asked directions from a group of Motor-cycle Taxis parked-up in the town square, I did-not want to get back onto any muddy trails again but I was also very much against having to make any un-necessary detours (some of up to 300 or 400kms?) to avoid all dirt-tracks, including some that may be found easily navigable even in these wet conditions? I was told that the route east to Salta da Divisa was about half dirt-track & half tarmac, but that the dirt-road was built on good, solid and stony ground, and navigable year-round. I took their advice and did not regret it. I stopped for lunch at about the half-way point in Jacinto, at another decent house/restaurant, they seemed to be very much in vogue here in the Jequitinhonha valley?

After lunch I encountered the off-road section but it was tame in comparison to what I had already navigated over the past 3 days, I was even averaging 50-60kms/hr in places. Just outside of Jacinto I stopped to inspect a roadside pool (almost certainly seasonal and now almost full after the rains). Straight away I confirmed two pair of Black-winged stilt (the reason for my stopping) but in amongst them was a different but equally attractive wader, a pair of large black and white plovers with bright red legs, brilliant! I had another new tick for me, the trip and my South eastern Brazil list, Pied Lapwing. I eventually arrived in Salta da divisa late in the afternoon after a very pleasant journey from Jacinto without incident. I proceeded to wash the bike down in a local jet-wash and start quizzing the locals about how to find the nearby Fazenda Santana.

Fazenda Santa is famous as an area of low-level seasonally wet Forest that harbours a number of rather unexpected endemics. In the 1990’s a survey by the Minas Gerais ministery of forests discovered Slender Antbird here, and in 2001 subsequent and more focused ornithological studies of this Forest-block also found another very rare species, Scalloped Antbird.

My initial enquiries about Fazenda Santana were not very encouraging, one needed to cross back over the river (the same, unpronounceable River Jequitinhonha) using a ferry, the river was almost in flood AND the dirt-tracks on the Northern bank were considered impassable with the arrival of the rains. The following morning I set out initially to research another locality, the newly created state reserve at Duas Barras, I had “word” that this could prove well-worth further investigation.

Today was a rather strange day. I arrived at the closest town to the duas barras reserve only to be told that the reserve was a further 22kms away on yet more dirt roads… The sky was full of clouds and I had just spent 3 times as long as I had spent yesterday, covering 20 odd kilometres & back-tracking on the same “fine” track of yesterday, but this morning it had been wet from overnight rains. In the town I also managed to discover exactly where to find the ferry-point for the Santana Fazenda (it was close-by but I’d already managed to ride past it twice without it registering).

Deciding not to continue-on to the state reserve this trip (but I took the opportunity to research the accommodation in this town for a return visit) I then headed-off back in the direction of Salta da divisa, the idea being to at least “familiarise” myself with the ferry crossing point, again with the idea of facilitating any return visit. Today appeared to be really turning out to be one of those 100% “new area familiarization days”?

Upon arrival at the ferry-man’s house however, I found that I could see the closest forest of the Fazenda, and seemingly not too far away on the opposite bank? It was 10.30 am, I still had a good part of the day remaining and I managed to negotiate an affordable price to be taken across the river by canoe. Making sure that he would return to pick me up at a pre-arranged hour and making a point of not paying in advance for this first crossing, we departed in an amazingly large dugout. The river was swift and the colour of the local mud, there were numerous items of vegetation bobbing along in the strong current, the river was close to breaching it’s banks. Arriving at the other side I found that the road was composed of wet, soft sand and to a lesser extent, mud. Easy enough to walk-on but not the sort of thing to drive on if not a competent 4×4. I managed to get to the nearest forest patch after a short, 20mins walk and after asking a couple of locals, they had appeared as if from nowhere, walking the same route as me, there were no houses at all within view, I entered a very familiar environment, or apparently so to my semi-trained eye? Ahead of me the forest was “dry” and flat and full of large terrestrial bromeliads, it appeard very similar, although maybe a shade more open, to the Vine-forests of Boa Nova? And what was the second bird that I encountered here……. a female Slender Antbird, closely followed by a gorgeous male! I taped the vocalisations and took a few pictures and then pushed-on to see what else I could find here. The next interesting species was a male Great Antshrike followed by a Rufous Hermit, and then a vocalising Yellow-legged Tinamou , I saw a number of Sooretama Slatey Antshrike and next I managed to find 2 more Great Antshrike, these ones immature or females? I tried trawling with two species know to be found here but without success (Wied’s Tyrant-manakin & the originally targeted Scalloped Antbird). By this time it was getting close to my arranged time to cross back over the river and I was also somewhat exhausted from all the rushing around the hot jungle trying to explore the maximum in my limited time here. I had a quick further scout-around to localise areas close enough to be inspected on any future visit and then headed back to the ferry-point, feeling well satisfied with my days research.

Once back on the other bank, and now having paid the Ferry-man, I saw a male seedeater, it appeared both familiar and yet strange, It appeared to be as for a White-bellied Seedeater but definitely with a collar mark (I had caught glimpses of a couple of other examples here in the Jequitinhonha valley and near Boa Nova over the past few days). This turned out to be a another new species for me and for the trip, White-throated Seedeater.

I returned to Salta da divisa that evening knowing that the following day I would have to move-on and cross the boarder again back into Southern Bahia if I was to keep to my rather tight schedule of stops……………… still to be concluded…..

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