Sept/October 2010; photography & mamals

by Richard Raby on October 29, 2010

I’ve just recently got back from my first trip of the season, this trip visited most of my Minas Gerais state locations plus the “newish” Golden-lion Tamarin stake-out that I’m offering to visitors in Rio de Janeiro state. The trip terminated with a final stop at my lodge in Marica to photograph and hand-feed cotton-eared Marmosets.
The emphasis for this trip was on mammals and, somewhat to my surprise, turned out to be seriously focused towards photography.
After a Belo Horizonte airport encounter we started the trip at Serra da Canastra, in the extreme west of Minas Gerais state. We did relatively well here, especially in the upper Canastra park where we found our major targets, Giant Anteater and Pampas Deer, with little fuss on our two afternoons there, our second day’s encounter with the anteaters proved the best when we found a good-sized adult feeding on large termite mounds (this was a new event for me, before I’ve always found the Anteaters strangely avoiding these 2metre high nests and probing at holes in the ground, and also under scattered rocks). Towards dusk we found these mounds to be extremely active with flying termites exiting from them in huge numbers, this event appeared to have been triggered by the recent arrival of the first spring rains?
The Pampas Deer that we found this visit, were surprisingly unwary & very approachable, they appeared to be feeding on new-growth and bulbs & flowers? The bucks were sporting horns and we all got great pictures!
The upper park grasslands had recently burned (approx 40% of the old grass was now in the process of renovating and these areas were often covered in flowers). The grassland bird life was more “obvious” than normal and the major novelty were a number of that rare and unusual Furnaridae, the Campo Miner, on some of the most recently burned areas, we also noted that the normally very elusive, Black-masked Finch appeared to be much more visual than normal (on previous visits they have habitually “disappeared” into the tall grass between singing and or flying). A pair of that delightful and miniscule flycatcher Grey-backed Tachuri performed for us close to what appeared to be their nest, in construction? And we also saw three individuals of that often elusive grassland tapaculo, the Collared Crescent-chest. We got great views of both Red-winged Tinamou and Spotted Northura, although we saw many more of the former. Another Canastra grassland speciality, Ochre-breasted Pipit, was seen in small numbers at the “usual stake-out area” but was not noted from elsewhere in the park, unlike last year when it appeared almost common. The nomadic Stripe-tailed Finch was present in good numbers and appeared to be breeding here this year? We gave the Merganser “a try” on both days in the upper park and again on our last morning in the lower park, but it was not to be found easily and our time was limited, our priorities for this trip were others. We did however get great views and photographs of a lone Toco Toucan in the lower park, repeatedly attempting to raid a Cacique nest, but getting violently mobbed and eventually successfully driven away, by a most valiant pair of Greater Kiskadee, all of the time giving us some excellent camera opportunities.
Our next stop was at the Serra do Cipo, on the other side of Bello Horizonte( the centrally placed state capital). Here, unlike at Canastra, it had not really rained for a number of months, birds were scarce and the breeding season in contrast had barely started. We found singing Flavescent Warbler, Cinnamon Tanager and a semi-respondent Pearly-vented Tody-tyrant in the circa 900meters zone. Immediately above this zone a very territorial Pale-throated Serra-finch was found and photographed, but otherwise the high montane habitat above was extremely quiet and almost lifeless. This was possibly to prove our least productive stop of the trip? Even the Hyacinth Visor-bearer hummingbirds, normally common here, were scarce, and the brightly coloured males apparently absent or in moult? Below in the dry woodlands of the lower Park however we turned-up some interesting bird species, such as Black-capped Antwren, Sooty-fronted Spinetail and Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, at a new birding area for me, and these species represented new species for my Serra do Cipo locations list.
En-route to our next stop we had fleeting views of a pair of the scarce White-rumped Tanager crossing the road ahead of us and latter found the gaudily coloured Helmeted Manakin at my now established stake-out for this species. Upon arrival at Caraca Monastery we were fortunate and found the Maned Wolves arriving to feed very early (just after dark) on our first evening there (it would have been so easy to have gone to eat early and missed it!). On our second evening the Wolves arrived latter, but unusually there were 3 or possibly 4 individuals? Also in the monastery grounds we managed to see and photograph Masked Titi Monkey, along with the typical Minas Gerais Callithrix Marmoset (these show extensive black colouring on the underside of the torso and on the inside of the arms). We looked for evidence of Tapir but on this visit found none (in the past foot-prints have been common and I’ve even seen a Tapir swimming across the tanque grande reservoir here once, in daylight!
Our next visit was to the Rio Doce State Park, where we spent a very rapid visit trying to see and photograph Red-rumped Agouti (D. leporine) and Brown Capuchin monkeys, in both of which tasks we succeeded! We also discovered three new bird-species to add to my site-list for this location, being; Great Antshrike, Serra Antwren and Silver-beaked Tanager.
At our next stop was at Caratinga, an hour or so’s drive East and across country from the Rio Doce state Park, we were targeting the three species of monkey to be found in this privately owned reserve. The Caratinga private initiative is set-up to protect the biggest remaining colonies of Wolly Spider-monkey, the largest South American primate, once common, and a species endemic to the Atlantic Rainforest of South-eastern Brazil. Upon our arrival at the reserve we encountered the first of a number of family parties of Brown Howler-monkey right at the entrance gate! We then met-up with our guide and entered the forest in search of main target here, the Wolly Spider-monkeys. On this our first day the animals were very active and although we heard their horse-like “neighing” vocalizations it was only after a lot of hiking that some of us finally caught-up with them, and then only briefly. On our second day we encountered another group, this one more sedentary, but calling less frequently (hence proving more difficult to find). After initially struggling to locate their whereabouts we eventually managed to get very close and right in-amongst this group and also get great photographic opportunities.
Our next stop was at Caparao, a national park that encompasses the second highest peak in Brazil ( Bandeira Peak @ 2,892metres). Caparao is situated at a comfortable driving distance of a couple of hours, south from Caratinga. We had no real target species here but I had memories of Coatimundi and Red-rumped Warbling finches being very confiding and tame here. The reserve is little-visited by naturalists such as ourselves and always produces something interesting to add to my growing knowledge of this location.
As it turned-out we encountered a party of the former (Coatimundi) as we left the Caratinga reserve, and we found the later (the Red-rumped Warbling –finches), as I had hoped for, still very tame and confiding and gathering nesting material, around the camping area within the National Park, I threw a few crumbs of biscuit onto some nearby rocks and the pair of Warbling-finches came straight in to feed almost at our feet. Earlier in the morning we had also encountered a beautiful pair of Red-breasted Toucan posing for photographs just as we arrived at the Park entrance.
From the heights of the Bandeira peak, we now headed south towards the lowlands and the coastal plain, finally leaving Minas Gerais state (where we had spent the whole of our trip, so far) and crossing into the state of Rio de Janeiro. This was a travel day with a planned interim stop in the valley of the Rio Paraiba do sul (which forms the state frontier here). It is also here where a rather remarkable, and decidedly cute, species of Galbulidae (3-toed Jacamar) chooses to set-up it’s highly restricted distribution range. At a well documented stake-out for this species, and at a sinuous bend on a dirt-track near Sumidoro, we found two pairs of the Jacamar as responsive as ever to tape playback and settling on dead branches above our heads, the views were great but the ambient lighting (dull and cloud-covered) could have been better for photography! At the same location, we saw a distant and very vocal pair of Blue-winged Macaw and a daytime roost for Barn Owl was also located with one adult bird found and photographed. By this time we had to move-on to get to our overnight hotel at Casimiro de Abreu. We arrived at our hotel after dark having managed to get caught in football-crowd traffic in the market town of Novo Friburgo, and after a quick meal we retired straight away, to be well rested for the following day and our encounter with another of Brazil’s rarer primates.
The following morning we visited a local forested hill near our Hotel. The land is privately owned but forms part of the reintroduction program for the WWF/Jersey Wildlife Trust/ IBAMA, Brazilian conservation authority, scheme for the super-rare Golden-lion Tamarin project. We made two hikes through the forest on good trails and on our second hike we hit pay-dirt! These beasties are so well named, they are firstly SO golden that they appear surreal in their jungle environment, secondly they all (both sexes) posses a most well-developed and lion-like mane, and thirdly they appear quite “toothy” and have an almost “aggressive” lion-like facial expression. After taking loads of photo’s and the light becoming increasingly non-co-operative we finally said goodbye to the Tamarins and headed out on the 2 hrs. drive to our final location, the coast and Marica. On route we almost ran-over a wild Guinea-pig as it scuttled across the new tarmac road ahead of us. After an evening meal at a restaurant specializing in “as much roasted meat, served at you table, on swords, as you can manage” we retired to our rooms.
The last day of our trip was spent chilling and also feeding and photographing my resident birds and garden Marmosets. The exact scientific classification of these Callithrix marmosets appears to be a bit messy, and there is also speculation that two species or forms(?) are involved in Marica and have interbred to produce individuals with both whitish “cotton” ear-tufts and others with “normal” dark cotton ear-tufts, both within the same family groups. My garden Cotton-eared Marmosets are probably C. aurita, and the previously mentioned Minas Gerais marmosets (seen at Canastra, Caraca & Serra do Cipo) C. geoffroyi, but I still need to catch-up on the latest scientific opinion & classification here.
After lunch at a local “por Kilo” = “by weight”, restaurant in Marica town, commented upon for it’s quality and wide option of dishes (food had been a little basic at times, during our time in the interior of Minas Gerais!), we packed our bags and headed out on the last leg our journey, for an uneventful drive down to the Rio International Airport, situated at 1.5hrs away and to the West of Marica.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

peterchiderstone January 16, 2011 at 9:29 pm

hello richard,time passes too quick -getting slower ,takes longer. I had a card from Sutton yesterday, so I thought it was time to shake myself and I will write Kay an update for last year.

Life for you is still a busy and interesting one, reading the above is a reminder of your travelloges from Saudia A to Eaton Socon.

Hope these rains have bypassed you, it sure looks bad in Rio.
The cold weather here is curtailed “the shed”. Fotunately Dave replaced the plastic roof on the conservatory with board and felt so we had a much warmer home.
We have replaced our vehicle and I have regained confidence to go more than 50 mile radius Sutton will return to the radar again.

John must be relaxing now, I note that linesiding has moved into model field.

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