South-Eastern Brasil 6 Days “Clean-up” trip

by Richard Raby on January 28, 2011

21st. Jan thru 26th 2011.

On 21st of this month I received a return visit from a North American visitor; he was in the region on other business but had 6 days available and a list of some 40-odd endemics, “could I help him see some of them”?
Our previous trip had been concentrated in the Northern Rio state, Minas and Espirito Santo areas, so the biggest number of “wants” would be most easily satisfied to the south of the area.
I designed a trip taking in Itatiaia, Ubatuba, Pereque and the upper Serra bocaina sites, which proved both workable in the time available and agreeable to my client.
After an early morning meet-up at a Rio beach hotel, we were out of town and well on the way to our first birding spot by 08.00hrs. Our first stop was at Itatiaia lower park where I had recently confirmed that a rare nest of an (Atlantic) Royal Flycatcher (found under construction in late November 2010) was now with young and still being attended. One bird was sat close-by the nest as we arrived and allowed unusually close study and even photographs, this is possibly a first nesting record for this rare species in the Itatiaia reserve? Our next stop was at the Hotel Donati (also within the Itatiaia park) where we hoped for a Such’s Antthrush, but got instead another targeted bird, Rufous-tailed Atilla! We next walked most of the trail from Hotel Simoe to Hotel Ype, again in search of an Antthrush; this time we came up with two other wanted species, a female White-bibbed Antbird and a pair of Large-headed Flatbill. At this same point we got fleeting glimpses of another bamboo rarity, White-bearded Antshrike, but we had seen this bird on previous visits, and it was not a targeted species for us, so we did’nt pursue this bird further.
After lunch at the hotel Ype, next to the famous feeders, we headed down to the coast and Pereque for the very range restricted Black-hooded Antwren. We had a quick look at the rediscovery location for this bird that same evening but only found Yellow Tyrannulet and Red-necked Tanagers, however, the following morning we found a number of pairs of our targeted bird, along with other targets; Long-billed Wren, Fork-tailed Tody-tyrant, a number of the dainty Scaled Antbird. Next we got superb views of a recently fledged and roosting, Tawny-browed Owl and a rather shy and reclusive Squamate Antbird. Although typically shy this last target-bird never stopped singing and so gave my client the chance to follow it’s passage through some very dense undergrowth until he finally achieved a clear view. I then proceeded to guide him back to the jungle trail, where I was stood, by shouting directions! This strategy worked perfectly, and proved altogether successful, a good mission accomplished with a “known to be difficult” species.
Our next stop was a 100kms away in Ubatuba. We drove over the hottest part of the afternoon arriving at Fazenda Angelim at approx 15.30hrs, where we proceeded to hunt for our two major target species, Buff-throated Purpletuft and Spotted Bamboo-wren. We were successful with distant perched views of the first, but failed miserably with the second (we had tried at Pereque for the Bamboo-wren and we tried again the following morning at the Fazenda……. But not a sound was heard of this sometimes elusive species during the whole trip).
In the morning of our second day at Ubatuba, we firstly bettered our views of the previous day of Buff-throated Purpletuft (this time with a pair of this delightful species, the female collecting lichens and nest- building in a tree over our heads, the male standing close guard, always above her), we next repeated our encounter with a another male Squamate Antbird, this one a little more inquisitive, and approaching us rather than the contrary behaviour of yesterday’s bird at Pereque. We next headed over to the neighbouring Fazenda Capricornio where we were delighted to be informed that on the other side of Ubatuba (nr. Praia Vermelho) there was a “very good chance” of finding Brown-backed Parrotlet in some fruiting trees there, it was a unanimous decision to head straight over to this locality as this chance was a “rare one” to see this little-known bird settled and close-to. Upon arrival at Praia vermelho we found the “site” easily but only managed to stand listening to the sound of a group of departing Parrotlets. We hung around for over half an hour before deciding to break for lunch and then return. On our return we hit “Paydirt” and also encountered an enthralled Jeremy Mimms observing and taping the returned birds, they were in a fruiting fleshy-leafed Myrtacea? tree about 10-15 feet above our heads, a group of approx 8-10 incredibly rare Brown-backed Parrotlets, apparently completely unperturbed by our presence or proximity, continued to feed on some strange looking “inedible” fruits ! After totally satisfying ourselves with perfect study-views, and the taking of numerous photo’s we were about to leave when another ex-pat and local birder, Rick Simpson, arrived with news that we should stop-off on our way to the Taubate road (our next destination en-route to Upper Itatiaia) to check for a roosting Stygian Owl on the western outskirts of Ubatuba. Again it proved to be a unanimous decision to try for another rare opportunity. This one proved even easier, we followed the directions given by Rick and arrived straight at the tree, in the suburbs of town, and the Owl was there, Large, Dark, distinctive and Obvious in the rather open canopy of the said tree, this one was a new species even for me, THANK YOU RICK SIMPSON !
WE continued driving on to Itatiaia Upper park and arrived on the Argulhos Negras road at about 18.30 hours, about an hour and a half before dusk. Our target bird here was a quasi endemic Owl, Rusty barred, I knew that it was in the region after having heard it calling on a previous visit, but this time we were trying before dark! After trying unsuccessfully to get a response (to archive-tape) at my first location we got an almost immediate abrupt “Grrrr!” at our second, and with some careful use of playback (assisted by my client who is an expert on N.American owls of this same genus) we managed to coax this bird into view, in broad daylight, where we both got superb views and I took a number of photographs, as the said bird sat in full view bobbing it’s head and scrutinizing us, at a distance of approx 20 feet!
We spent the night at a lovely “new” guest-house (refugio dos Lobos) set at about 1600meters altitude near the Argulhos Negras road and in the morning we targeted some more classic species of this high altitude forest, including Plover-crested Hummingbird, Itatiaia Thistle-tail, Araucaria Tit-Spinetail, Buff-throated Warbling-finch (a recent split from Red-rumped Warbling-finch), Rufous-backed Antvireo, Rough-legged Tyrannulet and Serra do mar Tyrannulet & Black & Gold Cotinga, all of which we found without trouble. We struggled however in particular with two target species, Black-capped Piprites and Speckle-breasted Antpitta which were never heard and thus went unseen, but more on the Pitta to follow…. By just after midday the weather was HOT, bird movement and vocalizations had halted so it was time to move-on to our next and last stop, Serra da Bocaina which is approx. a 2 hrs drive south-east from here.
After a drive through mostly deforested lowlands we arrived back at altitude (circa 1100meter) at the serra da bocaina having stopped for a bank cash-point and a quick Internet check for important messages in the last large village (Bananal SP). As we reached the highest point on the scarp and started to descend into the forested interior we found a hawk sitting on a fence-post by the side of the well wooded track. Surprisingly it allowed us to set-up a scope and even walk around the car so that both of us could get great views of what turned-out to be an adult Double-toothed Kite, a new sp. For my Bocaina site list. As we were scoping the kite a Slatey Bristle-front called in the forest and a sub-adult male Bare-throated Bell-bird was well visible on a near-by tree-top. Closer to our hotel, and another kilometre or so down the track we found a vocalizing Araucaria Tit-spinetail, and a little further on a perched Swallow-tailed Cotinga, all this proved a great introduction to the fantastically rich bird-life found at this, once charcoal/railway sleeper producing region, that now forms part of the hugely important Serra da Bocaina National nature reserve.
For, at the time, unknown reasons, our first choice Guest House was closed, not even anybody at home! So, as it was the right time for dusk observations we headed off to a forest-edge open area to check for Nightjars. We got a drumming South American Snipe performing it’s amazing aerial display over our heads but only heard a distant Short-tailed Nighthawk. We checked into another guest-house close by the snipe field where we were made to feel most welcome, even though we had arrived unannounced.
The following morning Dale was up early to get good views of overflying Nighthawks (Short-tailed) that I’ve discovered can often be “Whistled-in” by imitating their common “Teu-Witt, Teu-Witt” flight contact call.
After an Early breakfast we explored an old, abandoned road through the forest. We spent the whole morning birding this track and came-up with a number of good birds; Hooded Berry-eaters, Pin-tailed and Blue Manakins, Surucua Trogon, Dusky-tailed Antbird, and two more Target species, a Black-billed Scythe-bill and an unusually inquisitive Speckle-breasted Ant-Pita that came straight-in to playback and sat singing & circling us down to a distance of approx five yards, in semi-open forest undergrowth.
In the late afternoon we found a very vocal pair of another targeted species, Robust Woodpecker, foraging in secondary re-growth & maintaining contact using an unusual squeaky note that I managed to record. Views were brilliant of this sometimes elusive woodpecker as we used the just-recorded call to keep the birds in the area. That evening and at dusk, we walked the road back to the snipe field trawling for Nightjars and found a pair of Grey Potoo which we studied both perched and flying, before we managed to get even closer views of “whistled-in” Short-tailed Nighthawks.
On our last morning we tried to call-in a Giant-Antshrike, at a location close to where we had head one calling the previous day, but to no avail (we are of the opinion that both this species along with the Piprites and possibly the Bamboowren were at that stage in their breeding cycles where they do not respond?). We did however succeed in calling-in a brilliant male Green-backed Becard (at a known territory) and saw a host of both adult male and one female Bellbirds. Near the feeding Bellbirds were a pair of Azure-shouldered Tanager and we also heard a number of singing Serra do mar Tyrant-manakin (a species previously seen so Not required by us this trip). As we departed the serra da bocaina, heading for Rio de Janeiro airport (approx 3hrs drive away) we stopped at that point on the road where the Double-toothed Kite had been seen the day before, and we proceeded to rapidly call-in a lovely adult male Slatey Bristle-front.

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