With a few weeks free between jobs, I wanted to go somewhere hot, lush and bird-filled. The Atlantic Forest seemed like the perfect option, and I wasn't disappointed. My approach was to start with four days at the superb REGUA reserve, staying at the Guapi Acu lodge (see: Guapi Assu Lodge), where I would be spoon-fed neotropical avian delights, before setting off on my own. I then went up to Minas Gerais, to Caraca, Cipo and Canastra. Then back down to Ubatuba, a few days in Serra Dos Orgaos and then back home. Sweet.
Driving in Brazil
Do you remember 'Wacky Races'? If not, see Wacky Races. Driving in Brazil is quite similar. Basically the idea is to drive as fast as your vehicle will allow at all times, irrespective of anything, such as darkness, blind corners, certain death etc. My approach was a bit like that of Penelope Pitstop - I hired a reasonably good 1.6l engine car, giving me some acceleration for easier overtaking of lorries. The worse thing about it is how the locals race through urban areas, which probably helps to explain Brazil's incredibly high road death rate, and also why communities have built truly savage speed bumps everywhere (including as you leave town, as well as enter).
Just one suggestion - never drive at night. I did so once, unwillingly, and it was utterly terrorfying. Ugh.
Jeremy Minns excellent site notes on Arthur Grosset’s web pages are very useful, as is the John Van de Woude trip report. Nicholas Locke of REGUA gave me some good info on the parks in Minas Gerais. Bruno of Pousada Barcelos in Sao Roque de Minas (by PN Canastra) had some good info on the Brazilian Merganser and Brazilian Tapaculo. I found Simon Mahood's trip report to be pretty useful too, as much for inspiration as information. The report on REGUA by Lee Dingain (also on Surfbirds) is good too, especially for REGUA inspiration.
I mainly relied on Sousa in the field, despite its shortcomings. It grew on me after a while, once I had a good grasp of what the birds generally look like. I also had some other plates and photos kindly given to me by fellow birders - big thanks to James in particular. I had a few plates from the illustrious Ridgely and Tudor too.
I got to my hire car about 10am on the 20th, and was at Guapi Assu Lodge in REGUA in time for lunch. Lee's directions on the website are pretty good, all I would add is that from the airport one just needs to follow the signs to Petropolis, then on the outskirts of Rio signs to Teresopolis appear and should be followed (I think you turn off at saida 109a for Teresopolis). From then on Lee's directions are really precise. I was greeted at the entrance by Bicolored Hawk.
REGUA is quite a significant chunk of atlantic forest, ranging from low levels to elfin forest at the top of the hills. It is excellent for birds due to the range of habitats, there's farmland, the large wetlands and forest at a range of different altitudes. Late October is perhaps a little bit late in their spring, as the birds are apparently settling down to raise young rather than being hyper territorial, but I saw a couple of hundred species in four days, admittedly with a guide (Adulay), which is pretty good. The Lodge itself is really pleasant, clean, relaxing and well supplied with tasty food. I give the place a big thumbs up.
The first afternoon Nicholas (the owner) took us to the Green Trail. This was mainly secondary forest that was a bit quiet until close to sunset, when the birds livened up. At the parking spot, by Casa Pesquesa, the hummingbird feeders attracted plenty of hummers, including Black Jacobin and Swallow-tailed Hummingbird. There was Slaty Bristlefront behind the bamboo stand just up from there.
Other good birds along the trail included Crescent-chested Puffbird, Rufous breasted Leaftosser, White-flanked Antwren, White-bearded Manakin, Blue Manakin and Burnish-buff Tanager.
In the evening there was Tawny-browed Owl around the lodge itself, and Cream crested Woodpecker in the morning.
The next day we went to a new trail on the far side of the reserve, the Matumbo trail. The farmland to the start of the trail was productive, producing White Woodpecker, White-eared Puffbird, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Euler's Flycatcher, Chestnut-vented Conebill and, up a track about 100m above the start of the trail, the fabulous Frilled Coquette. Lots of forest species along the trail (which is very steep towards the far end), with noteworthy ones including Mantled Hawk, Star-throated Antwren, Streak-capped Antwren, Star-breasted Antvireo, Yellow-eared Woodpecker, Golden-chevroned Tanager, Red-necked Tanager, Black-goggled Tanager, White-shouldered Fire-eye, White-eyed Foliage Gleaner, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Grey-hooded Flycatcher, Grey-headed Attila and many others.
That afternoon we spent around the wetlands. It was brutally hot and humid and I was sweating like a crazy man. Despite this, birds were plentiful. Adulay did a pretty convincing impression of a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, convincing enough not only to attract such an Owl, but also loads of enraged smaller birds. Everything came to mob him (little birds hate the Pygmy Owl presumably as it hunts them on the roost), including Eye-ringed Tody Tyrant, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Masked Yellowthroat, Unicolored Antwren and Streaked Xenops. Also in those woods the remarkable Brazilian Tanager, Black-capped Becard, Chestnut-bellied Antshrike, Long-billed Wren and White-barred Piculet. In amongst the wetlands Wattled Jacana, Purple Gallinule, Blackish Rail, Capped Heron, Double collared Seedeater, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Brazilian Teal, Masked Duck, White-faced Whistling Duck, White-headed Marsh Tyrant, Grey-headed Tody Tyrant, Channel-billed Toucan and many others.
On the third day, it was time to do the renowned Red Trail. This involves a proper day of hiking, and it took us ten hours to complete. The trail goes to the very top of a big hill, peaking at about 1,500m I believe, with elfin forest (trees about 12 foot tall at most). But in return for the effort, the birds came thick and fast. Just after the start of the red trail, Shrike-like Cotinga showed well, along with Black-throated Trogon, Southern Antpipit, Yellow-green Grosbeak, Spot-billed Toucanet, Pin-tailed Manakin, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Eared Pygmy Tyrant, Black-cheeked Gnateater. There was a weird ghostly white squirrel in a tree. Close to the top we had Least Pygmy Owl, Grayish Mourner, Greenish Schiffornis, Surucua Trogon, Sharpbill (heard only), Large-headed Flatbill, Dusky-legged Guan, White-bibbed Antbird, Ochre-rumped Antbird, Hooded Berryeater (heard only) and Rufous-winged Antwren . Back down lower produced Blue-billed Black Tyrant, Scaled Antbird, Tropical Parula, White-necked Thrush and Laughing Falcon .
On the fourth day, Adulay and I went to a couple of sites outside of REGUA. Firstly we went to the land owned by David Miller, to the east of REGUA. This contains good forest at about 1400m, well worth walking through slowly, as we picked up Golden tailed Parrotlet, White-browed Warbler, Rufous-capped Spinetail, Drab-breasted Bamboo Tyrant, Black & Gold Cotinga, Rufous-browed Peppershrike and Spectacled Tyrant. It was a bit odd just rocking up to his house, but David Miller was very friendly (he's an expat British biologist). His feeders produced White-throated Hummingbird, Brazilian Ruby, Plovercrest, Scale-throated Hermit, Amethyst Woodstar.
Next we went to the Three Toed Jacamar site near Carmo. Its on a well made dirt track that goes off to the left about halfway along the road between Sumidora and Carmo. After about 1km there is a big bend in the road, which is where the Jacamar pair is easily found. Under an overhang of rock over the road, a pair of Barn Owls roosted. The woods there are quite dry and relatively quiet birdwise, although we found Planalto Tyrannulet, Plain-breasted Ground Dove, Short-crested Flycatcher and nearby White-tailed Hawk and Aplomado Falcon.
On the final morning, another walk around the excellent REGUA wetlands, producing Least Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, Striated Heron, Palm Tanager and lots of Cayman.
Parque Natural do Caraca
It took about six hours to drive from REGUA to Belo Horizonte, but then I got lost in that grim city and it got dark. Trying to get out I ended up driving into the favella near Saint Luzio and found driving at night pretty terrorfying. I stoped at the first pousada I saw.
In the morning, at about 8am, I was in the park, which is well worth a visit for a day. I wasnt there for the wolf feeding in the evening, but the pictures suggested this is a bit of a circus and not really how I want to see such a fine beast.
First I walked along the Tanque Grande trail up to the man made lake. There is some good dry woodland along the trail, full of birds, including Black-backed Parrotlet, Planalto Woodcreeper, Uniform Finch, White-lined Tanager, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, Gilt-edged Tanager.
I then walked past the monastery and up to the Cruzeiro, which is a cross on a small hill. Forrester described this as open rough country, but it has clearly grown up as it is now covered in dense bushes/trees and also entirely birdless.
Much better was the walk down to Ponte do Bode. I immediately found a very fine pair of Swallow-tailed Cotingas. Nicholas of REGUA promised me such a species with certainty here, and he wasnt wrong. Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Yellow-browed Tyrant also.
Parque Nacional da Serra do Cipó
Next, I drove to Cipo. I stayed at the delightful Pousada Chao de Serra, near the start of the steep rise up to the top of the plateau at the end of the Cipo village. In the garden at night was Common Potoo and Common Pauraque. In farmland in the area Crested Black Tyrant and Toco Toucan.
My main quarry was the delightful Cipo Canastero. The owner of the pousada knew of this fine bird, but had clearly never seen one given his flambuoyant description of one to another guest.
I started at the top of the plateau at first light. There is a small layby just after the very highest point the road reaches, and from here two paths lead away from the other side of the road. The right hand path leads up to the top of the plateau, which is where you should go. The path actually leads to the right hand (southern) end of the plateau, then a clear trail leads along the top.
On the walk up (about 1km), I found a male Hyacinth Visorbearer viscously attacking a probably female Horned Sungem which it probably would have killed if I hadnt of stepped in. Yellow-rumped Marshbird, Stripe-tailed Yellow Finch and Saffron Finch were much in evidence. Also Grey-backed Tachuri. But the best was without doubt the fine Cipo Canastero which was midway along the top, on the far side. I heard the bird, with its descending near trill call being quite distinct. I clambered over rocks to get close, but then the friendly little critter decided to hop right close to me giving amazing views. Top.
Next I went to the main entrance to the park Cipo. The track to the entrance was good for birds, Ultramarine Grosbeak, Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, Peach-fronted Parakeet, Burrowing Owl, Scaled Dove, Cinerous Warbler Finch. Within the park proper is a mixture of pampa grass and fairly open woodland, which was all very very hot in late morning and a bit quiet. Still, it produced Black Hawk-Eagle, Green-barred Woodpecker, Pale-throated Pampa Finch, Firewood Gatherer, Stripe-breasted Starthroat, Eared Dove. Also some cool monkey with white foreheads.
TOwards the end of the day I walked down a dirt road that starts from the road up the plateau about 1km on from the Pousada Chapeau del Sol and leads down the hill. This good bit of open scrubland produced Blue-fronted Parrot, American Kestrel, White-rumped Tanager, White-banded Tanager, Red-legged Serieme.
Parque Nacional da Serra da Canastra
Another top park in Minas Gerais, offering proper open cerrado with patches of quite dense riverine forest and some speciality birds, and the force was with me that day. I stayed at the excellent Pousada Barcelos in Sao Roque de Minas, which has a remarkable clean pool, a sauna (not really what I wanted in the heat though) and Bruno, renowned to be possibly the most helpful man in Brazil. He is very helpful, and even speaks English. He has info on the Merganser and Tapaculo, and I gave him details of my finds as detailed below.
After much searching, I found a pair of Brazilian Mergansers on the river 9.1km on from Vergem Bonita, at a point where the road to the cascada follows the river closely. There is a place you can park, where stone diggers have been, and from there a myriad of small tracks lead through the trees to the river. With care you can view the river without being seen, as I did, without the birds ever knowing of my presence.
The cascada was nice but quiet in the heat and with all the Brazilian tourists. Still, I found River Warbler, Helmeted Manakin, Swallow Tanager.
Up on the plateau, from the road from Sao Roque, the open grassland produced good birds, including Capped Seedeater, Grey Monjita, Cock-tailed Tyrant, Wedge-tailed Grass Finch, Lesser Nothura and Red-winged Tinamou. All these were within about 10km from the park entrance. But best of all was Brazilian Tapaculo in bushes by the statue of Sao Francisco, at the source of the river by the same name. I did not have playback for this species, but I brought it out into the open using the songs of Mouse-colored and White-breasted Tapaculos, which irritated the bird no end. It sang in response and jumped out into the open.
Next I drove down to Ubatuba. This was a massive all day drive from Canastra, taking nearly ten hours (inc breaks). Ubatuba is a nice beachside spot, and to be honest I temporarily lost interest in birding and prefered just chilling on the beach, in the bar and by the pool. This made up for my lack of success with the speciality birds.
I first tried the Corcovado site, which produced Ferruginous Antbird, Green-headed Tanager and top views of Slaty Bristlefront (quite common). But no sign of Fork-tailed Tody Tyrant. I should have tried Simon Mahood approach of wading upstream the river, to where there is more bamboo, but I forgot to do so.
At Folha Seca I had Flame-crested Tanager, Saw-billed Hermit, Reddish Hermit, Hooded Berryeater but little else. No sign of Spotted Bamboo-Wren.
The sea is remarkably lifeless, given how lively the forest is. Still, I got a few extra species including Kelp Gull, Brown Booby, Magnificent Frigatebird.
Pereque was more successful, despite the fact that I got there at midday on a day when temperatures reached a truly sweaty 37 degree celcius. Black-hooded Antwren sooned revealed itself from trees about 50m on from the wire fence marked "Facenda Formaleza, Nao Entrade" - see Grusset site for directions.
Parque Nacional da Serra dos Órgãos
I like this place, and would recommend it for early in ones trip as it seems to readily produce species typical of Mata Atlantica, including lots of antbirdsm and cotingas.
The main mountain trail is the place to be - Trailho Pedo do Sino. This leads to the top of a 2100m mountain, above the treeline. I got close to the treeline and back down again in a day, but it would be better to camp (I didnt have a tent) at the campsite about 1600m up. Sharpbill, Black & Gold Cotingas were common, and I heard a Shrike-like Cotinga. Other top birds included Rufous backed Antvireo, Rufous-capped Antshrike, Rio de Janeiro Antbird, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper (by dam), Chestnut-headed Tanager, Orange-headed Tanager, Diademed Tanager, Brown Tanager, Bay-chested Warbling Finch, Mouse-colored Tapaculo, Spot-winged Wood Quail, Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, Crested Becard, Buffy-fronted Seedeater.
The lower entrance to the park was quieter and more disturbed, both by the road and by tourists going for a swim in the river. Still I found Ruddy Quail Dove, Ochre-breasted Foliage Gleaner, White-throated Woodcreeper, Rufous-tailed Attila.
Black-crowned Night Heron
White-faced Whistling Duck
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
Black Hawk Eagle
Spot-winged Wood Quail
Grey-necked Wood Rail
Plain-breasted Ground Dove
Ruddy Ground Dove
Picui Ground Dove
Ruddy Quail Dove
Least Pygmy Owl
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Great Dusky Swift
Black-capped Foliage Gleaner
Ochre-breasted Foliage Gleaner
White-eyed Foliage Gleaner
Buff-browed Foliage Gleaner
Buff-fronted Foliage Gleaner
Rio de Janeiro Antbird
Black and Gold Cotinga
Masked Water Tyrant
White-headed Marsh Tyrant
Crested Black Tyrant
Blue-billed Black Tyrant
Eared Pygmy Tyrant
Grey-headed Tody Flycatcher
Common Tody Flycatcher
Hangnest Tody Tyrant
Eye-ringed Tody Tyrant
Drab-breasted Pygmy Tyrant
Serra do Mar Tyrannulet
Southern Beardless Tyrannulet
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Nearctic River Warbler
Red-crowned Ant Tanager
Bay-chested Warbling Finch
Cinerous Warbler Finch
Pale-throated Pampa Finch