A resume of the 2011 southern Spring

by Richard Raby on December 21, 2011

Since my arrival back in Brazil, in September, the 2011 Southern hemisphere spring has been cold, unusually cold, and this cold spring was proceeded by an unusually dry southern winter. The local forest was bone dry, apart from patches immediately adjacent to stream courses and occasional other damp spots. This untypically cool weather continued into December and the summer heat and associated tropical/summer rains have only just begun to arrive in my area as I write this Blog entry.
The quality of Birding in the region appears to however have been little affected by these climatic events, although it does appears that the spring breeding season may have started earlier than normal? …. Re. Swallow-tailed Cotingas, back and nesting at Itatiaia (the old Hotel Simone site) in October. My garden orchids are flowering at least one month earlier than usual, and most of the garden birds have now fledged their first brood. This year I am keeping an “Insect Log” of the Marica region and although I have very limited data, from past years, with which to compare, it does appear that the butterfly season started early, in mid September, with the first rains that followed the notably dry winter .
My birding trips have all been within the confines of Rio and Sao Paolo state this season but are proving just as successful , on a visit to the Pereque valley in October we managed to call-in a Spotted Bamboo-wren that came in without warning (not one call in reply to my “playback”) this caught us a little unprepared, I normally search for a bamboo canopy under which to abscond, as soon as I get a vocal response. This however turned out to be to our advantage as this obviously VERY agitated bird proceeded to perch right out in the open and “eyeball” us. Views were magnificent of this normally very reclusive species and an excellent photographic opportunity was not missed.
Another favourite, and often shy species, Fork-tailed Tody-tyrant, has been proving easy to find in the Pereque valley for a number of seasons now, it has also been appearing near the hotel Ype at Itatiaia after an absence of a number of years in that region. Other species “returning” to Itatiaia are Royal Flycatcher, nesting for the second year running nr. the Hotel Simon and Brown Tanager, seen at the Ype feeders but more likely to be encountered in the open forest, we appear to be towards the northern range extremity for both of these species that are more frequently seen in Sao Paolo state.
At the serra da Bocaina I finally managed to re-encounter that magnificent endemic Long trained Nightjar, it was settled on a newly graded dirt access road, this was unusual as the night was wet and misty, something I’ve previously found “unproductive” for night-birding. Also at Bocaina, Bare-throated Bellbirds continue to sing from exposed perches, giving excellent views, Serra do Mar tyrant-manakins remain a “common” species and I appear to have a male Green-backed Becard “nailed to a perch” behind the hotel, it’s just a case of using playback and he will appear…almost immediately, this has now been repeated on virtually every visit there for the past 3 seasons.
On the butterfly front I am recording species from my local forest patches & within a 10mile range from the Marica Lodge. In the Lodge garden itself, that local speciality, Parides Ascanius (the Beach Swallowtail), has been appearing almost daily, I’ve also recorded 3 Charaxinae species coming to bait, these are fast flying fruit-loving members of the large Nymphalidae family. Further a-field I’ve so far found THREE species of the magnificent “Kite Swallowtails” family brooding in reasonably good numbers following rains. Including these “Kites” I’ve now recorded over 11 species of Swallow-tail butterflies flying here in the months since my arrival.
I’m planning another research trip to northern Minas Gerais and the extreme south of Bahia states, this will be in February 2012 and I plan to revisit places first known to me on a previous trip 2 years ago. This time I will concentrate on getting to know places where my available time became limited on the previous trip, i.e. places around the Jequitinhonha river valley nr. the Bahia/ Minas boarder and the new forest reserve created nr. Prado, in the extreme south east of Bahia state.
Back in Rio de Janeiro the summer rains have commenced. It appears that Minas Gerais state is receiving the worst of the flooding this year, in particular the capital, Bello Horizonte? Last year it was the Rio mountain municipalities and the previous year the next state north along the coast, Espirito Santo. This is TYPICAL December weather and I trust that all of this should be long over by the time I lead my next trip in early February?

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