Southern Bahia state research trip; Part 3

by Richard Raby on June 28, 2010

The third and final part to my story of a recent research trip to southern Bahia and north-eastern Minas Gerais states covers the journey to the coast of southern Bahia, where I had three last places to visit.

After leaving Salta da divisa it was just a matter of travelling a few kms. East and the same direction as for the coast, before I re-entered southern Bahia state. I had approx 40kms to travel to reach the main coast road and all on good tarmac, but well before arriving there I had another mechanical hick-up, this time the bike went onto one cylinder (it’s a twin), with just enough power available to climb the steeper hills, I decided to “plough-on”, at least until finding some habitation at which to stop and find the fault. The first habitation was in-fact at the junction with the BR101, which is the main coastal highway, here I stopped, stripped the bike down to get at the spark-plugs and ignition coil (my money was on a duff plug), and I quickly found the problem……. Water in a spark-plug cap, nicely sealed-in by the rubber waterproofing between the sparkplug and the cap, don’t ask me how this water got in to where it did, I am myself unsure, although I do remember fitting new sparkplugs prior to embarking on this journey, and I’m not 100% sure as to how well I had “seated” the plug-caps and their rubber seals after I had performed this maintenance? Oh well, I’d only myself to blame (and also probably yesterdays jet-wash) and I’d only wasted about an hour or so in finding & fixing the fault!
With the bike back together I proceeded North up the coastal highway I aimed for Camacu, a pretty little market town and about 1hrs ride away. Upon arrival there I stopped to eat at a petrol station/restaurant. Whilst lunching I asked-around about how to get to the Serra Bonita nature reserve, unbelievably I found that one of the pump attendants just so happened to also be a part-time driver for the reserve, and that he had an official reserve 4×4 Toyota Land cruiser parked-up right there at the petrol station, and “yes the road was steep” but “I could leave my bike here at the petrol station” and he would drive me up to the accommodation, which is exactly what we proceeded to do.
The road up to the reserve was about fifteen kilometers of dirt-track, the last five being steep but cobble-stone- dressed “pavement”. Serra bonita is made up of jungle-covered hilltops at circa 750meters and other jungle patches, old cocoa / coffee plantations, and fields in various states of reversion or still in current use as pasture. At the top of the mountain is a radio tower serviced by a maintenance road, and off of this cobbled road the Serra Bonita foundation / private reserve/ charity has built an equally well constructed spur-road that leads to the administrative, research and accommodation buildings. The view from these buildings at approx 700meters altitude and overlooking the town of Camacu and valley below, is magnificent, and the whole complex is situated in the middle of the forest just below the highest ridge.
On arrival I was warmly met by Dr Beker. Vitor Beker is the founder and also the major investor in this private initiative reserve and is a Brazilian entomologist of note, he is of German extraction, but he also speaks perfect English. Vitor Becker is the owner of probably the largest collection of moths in Southern Brazil, and he has also designed and supervised the building of all the reserve administrative, museum & research buildings and the lodge accommodation, that make-up the complex, he has also supervised the spur-road construction and maintenance. He is an ardent conservationist and organiser, Vitor Beker is a man of many talents!
After unpacking my bags and settling in it was dark, I started to explore early the following morning and I was most interested in finding out what the typical avifauna would be in this “isolated” Atlantic rainforest block.
The speciality bird of Serra Bonita is the Pink-legged Gravateiro, it is an unusually coloured Furnaridae, grey, quite small and with bright pink legs. It is a canopy dweller and it builds a stick-nest, also in the tree-tops, I imagine that during the nesting season that this bird would prove pretty easy to observe, but it was now well past the breeding period, so, rather than stake-out one of a number of rather obvious nests, I had to search amongst the members of the mixed flocks, especially the canopy ones. In the early morning I only seemed to find flocks made-up of Tanagers and the occasional Vireo and flycatcher. I did however find another low-down mixed flock made up of thrushes, a family group of the quasi-endemic Black-throated Grosbeak, antbirds, a strange Spotted Picculet?(seen better & photographed the following day) and a gorgeous pair of the ultra-shy Pectoral sparrow, today feeding on the forest floor and out in the middle of the track. I came across a couple of other interesting species as I walked the Radio tower track, Plumbeous Antvireo (I appear to be finding this species everywhere recently!), Sooty Grassquit (a singing male) and a raucous band of Golden-capped Parakeet. On my return walk for lunch at the centre, I struck gold. I came across a very large mixed flock high up in the tree-tops, it must have contained 30 species or more, I first found Spot-backed Antshrike, a surprisingly tame Greyish Mourner and then more Plumbeous antvireo, then the major part of this large flock started to move high overhead. In-amongst the more common members of this flock my binoculars suddenly stopped on an all grey bird, two-tone grey really, and darker above. Without having to concentrate much at all, the bright pink legs were obvious even 50 feet above my head and observing through 8x binoculars, as it swung over and under small twigs and branches feeding acrobatically in the canopy of the largest trees directly above me. I think that my feelings were equally of relief as they were of joy, as I observed this bird for a further minute or two before it moved on with the rest of the flock, not to be located again. I decided there and then that I will only target this species during the nesting season, It would be a very long way to come and the source of much disappointment if we were to miss this one on a trip, and I’ll be honest that it would have taken a bit of luck for others to have got on this bird well-enough or long-enough to give satisfactory views, especially if I had tried to direct them onto it. Pink-legged Gravateiro is an obvious bird, not difficult to identify but only if it manages to appear in the field of view your binoculars! I feel that staking out an attended nest is important for any return visit targeting this species.
Latter that afternoon I saw a number of Sharp-bill, a few Drab-breasted Bamboo-tyrant , White-necked Thrush and an over-flying Black &White Hawk-eagle, I got good views of an unusual Capuchin Monkey (no black cap) and local Marmosets, that show bright Rufous upper thighs.
The following morning I found an unusual female ant-wren amongst a large flock of antbirds low-down in the undergrowth, I was most surprised when my “wild-shot” of trawling with Salvatori’s Antwren produced an immediate and instant response from a glorious male bird, the female that I had been watching also reappeared at his side and I got some mediocre pictures of both birds, the dense vegetation and steep sides to the track did not help at all here, even with the male bird seemingly mesmerised by the playback. Latter in the day I heard a Least Pygmy-Owl calling near the accommodation block and I managed to record it and then lure it in with playback. The light was too bad and the bird was too high in the trees for pictures however.
The next day I had packed my bags and then breakfasted by 07.00hrs. I hitched a lift down to the lower Park (Fazenda Paris) with Vitor and after arranging a midday pick-up I proceeded to explore the trails of this old Cocoa plantation and surrounding tall forest. The bird-life was quite different from the Serra Bonita ridge above. We were now at circa 200 meters and the common birds here were Red-rumped Cacique and another local speciality Yellow-rumped Cacique. A campo Troupial was perched up high in a Cecropia tree and then I entered the forest proper. I got good views a Rufous-breasted Hermits and a brief view of a Black-eared Fairy, the forest was full of the calls of Little Tinamou and the occasional Tataupau Tinamou. Birds were a bit thin on the ground but I did manage to “stumble” across a large leque of Eastern-striped Manakin males and a little before that I had also seen a female bird reasonably well, I’m assuming that this species will prove “repeatable” at the leque, a useful discovery for me and the first leque that I have discovered for this species. All too quickly my rendezvous hour with Vitor arrived and I headed back to the Fazenda buildings and then on to where I had garaged my Motor Cycle where I said my farewells.
My next stop was to be Barrolandia, approx 1 hour south of here but I was getting tired, and impatient to get moving to my last location! I’d now had 13 days without break performing my research and so at the last minute I decided to skip Barrolandia, leaving it for my next research trip. I instead headed further South down the coast road to Prado, situated only 140kms inside the southern boarder of Bahia with Espirito Santo state, I arrived there late pm, just an hour or two before a heavy rainstorm broke. Prado, like Barrolandia has remnant low-level jungle patches on sandy ground and on the relatively flat coastal plains. At Prado a new national Park is being inaugurated the “Park of the Discovery”, it is relatively close to (just a few tens of kms south) of Monte Pascoal National Park, and it appears to house a very similar group of species? My rapid survey of the Southern edge of the Park and the adjacently surrounding privately owned Forest patches proved most interesting. I discovered a host of trails that can be explored, a dirt road skirts the edge of good forest for at least 7 kms. allowing access for birding along the whole route, this is better, much better than at Monte Pascoal. Birds seen here included Blue-necked Parakeet, Band-tailed Antwren, Screaming Phia, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Thrush-like Mourner, both Red-headed and Eastern-striped Manakins and Red-browed Amazon Parrot.
I spent three and a half days at Prado relaxing on the beach and visiting a Motorcycle club rally there before finally departing for the 1000kms return journey South to Marica and Rio de Janeiro state. I spent the night en-route at Guarapari, a famous beach resort town just south of Vitoria, the state capital of Espirito Santo. The following afternoon I arrived back at the Marica lodge having completed a round trip of just over 3600Kms over a period of 17 days.
I arrived back exhausted but well pleased with myself(I had kept my calm at some taxing times, I’d been rigorous in my research right up until the last few days of the trip), the motorcycle (even at 14 yrs old she still glides over the rough Brazilian roads and tracks), the places I had visited (I can see myself returning to every place visited, with clients) and most importantly the new birds that I had either seen, recorded or pictured.

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