Brazil, 28 October–27 November 2006: to photograph 600 species of birds in a month

Published by Guy Kirwan (GMKirwan AT

Participants: Guy Kirwan, Hadoram Shirihai


This was a private tour that I arranged for Hadoram Shirihai, as part of his work on a new and ongoing project with Hans Jornvall on the birds of the world. It was the first serious photographic trip that Hadoram had made in South America and unofficially we had set ourselves the target of him photographing 600 species.

28 October. Hadoram had arrived in Rio de Janeiro the night before and we'd met up at his hotel in the Zona Sul. Typically he'd reached the hotel first, despite my leaving my house in São Conrado at the same time his plane was due to land; the Friday night traffic was typically atrocious (I always manage to forget how bad it can be). On the Saturday, the day dawned wet and windy (a somewhat inauspicious start, rather like Hadoram's first, non-photographic, visit to Brazil some years back when I don't think it stopped raining for the first two weeks!). Nevertheless, we set off for Serra dos Órgãos National Park hopeful that the weather might clear up, and by the time we stopped to get some salgados on the climb up to Teresópolis the sun was out, allowing Hadoram to make an impromptu start to his photographic task (we'll gloss over the fact that the first bird was a Tropical Kingbird; you have to commence somewhere). We decided to bird the lower entrance to the national park, which is usually quieter at weekends, and within a couple of hours or so we'd racked up 20 or so species photographed, amongst them neat species such as Saw-billed Hermit, Star-throated Antwren, Grey-hooded Attila, Rufous-capped Motmot and Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant. However, things then really started to slow down, so we decided to hotfoot it back to Rio and spend the last part of the day at my local patch, Tijuca National Park. This was pretty quiet too, but we did eventually manage some nice work with the nominate race of Long-billed Wren, which was the main target, as well as Spot-breasted Antvireo and Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher.

29 October. Early start for the airport and our flight to Cuiabá, via Brasília. We reached Cuiabá about lunchtime and then spent more time than we should have done hiring a car and getting through the city (despite the lack of traffic), but eventually we were on our way southeast towards Águas Quentes State Park, which was to be our base the next couple of nights. En route we picked off a number of common birds, and had some time to explore the road down to Barão de Melgaço, but sadly some of the better birds seen today, like Yellow-faced Parrot, Great Rufous Woodcreeper, Nacunda Nighthawk and Tataupa Tinamou, were all missed. (By missed, I mean that they weren't photographed.) We don't reach our lodging in the park until after dark, so we have our evening meal and then turn in early.

30 October. Much to the shock of the old 'gadger' next door, I drag (not literally) Hadoram out, somewhat unsuitably attired, to start the day's work with the Thrush-like Wrens, Pale-crested Woodpeckers and Black-fronted Nunbirds, all of which are to be seen from the door of our chalet. We spend the entire day in the state park, which is a pleasant place to photograph birds; there are few people around, wide trails and a reasonable variety of birds common to the habitat. However, as photographers will know, getting a decent for publication shot even of a common bird can take time and effort, especially as Hadoram's brief is also to photograph distinctive male and female plumages etc. The evening is livened up by the arrival of my friend, Marcos Raposo and two of his students, who are working a nearby area for the Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro.

31 October. We spend the morning in the state park, again mainly photographing common birds, before heading back towards Cuiabá and then on towards the Transpantaneira. En route we pick off some good photographic opportunities with a Pearl Kite and a group of Blue-and-yellow Macaws. We spend the last period of daylight on the road through the northern Pantanal 'dealing' with more roadside species, such as Long-tailed Ground Dove, Greater Rhea and a variety of herons. Chances of photographing Upland Sandpiper and Golden-collared Macaw go missing, as Hadoram is busy chasing some Whistling Herons round a field at the time. We are still some way short of our final destination, the SESC reserve near Porto Cercado, when darkness falls, but we are rewarded with a somewhat long-range view of a Jaguar crossing the dirt road en route to the hotel.

1 November. Having convinced the reserve staff that we can be trusted to go out alone (!), we are given the run of the nearby boardwalk trail, which is where we commence the morning, racking up a good list of Pantanal passerines photographed: Mato Grosso Antbird (both sexes), Band-tailed Antbird, Grey-crested Cachalote (breeding in the hotel grounds), Plain Tyrannulet, Helmeted Manakin, Red-crested and Yellow-billed Cardinals, Arrowhead Piculet, Ashy-headed Greenlet, White-lored Spinetail etc. A Little Cuckoo is the one miss on the photographic front (two years later and we still haven't managed to photograph this species!), and mammals are led by a Giant Otter in the river. We spent the afternoon birding the dirt road into the reserve, which is excellent for cracids, including the Brazilian endemic, Chestnut-bellied Guan. After our success the previous night, we decide to try a nocturnal drive for cats, and a playful Ocelot is our reward. Both sexes of Pauraque are duly photographed, but a staked out Great Horned Owl and Common Potoo don't make the grade, so we need to photograph these again another time.

2 November. We repeat yesterday's winning combination of a morning on the boardwalk and an afternoon driving the road and using the car as a hide. Photographic successes include: a Stripe-necked Tody-Tyrant (nest building ---- I see that HBW 9 claims that the nest is undescribed; one more job to do!), Chaco Chachalaca, White-eyed Attila, nesting Jabirus (rapidly becoming Hadoram's favourite bird) and Blue-throated Piping Guan, but we miss out on Red-throated Piping Guan and a Veery which I alone see (apparently a first record for the Pantanal ecoregion). By the end of the day, we are already up to almost 120 species photographed.

3 November. After an early morning exploring the riverbank in front of the hotel, which yields a few new seedeaters, as well as both sexes of Unicoloured Blackbird, we head off back towards the Transpantaneira, pausing at some woodland, where even in the heat of the day both sexes of Large-billed Antwren are easily called in for the photographer. We spend most of the rest of the day on the Transpantaneira, taking any photographic chances as they come. The time of year is not the best for waterbirds, but we are picking up most of them as we go along, albeit not in large numbers (but the name of this particular game is only the total number of species). We end the day with a pleasant boat trip, along the rio Pixaim, from our base at Fazenda Santa Teresa. Both Red-throated and Blue-throated Piping Guans are common along the banks, and we also have nice encounters with a family of Bare-faced Curassows (allowing Hadoram to capture all plumages of this species in one photo) and a superb immature Agami Heron fishing oblivious to us at close range.

4 November. We are back on the boat this morning to visit a Great Potoo that our boatmen knows about. En route we get flight photos of Hyacinth Macaws, several Sunbitterns (a bird that it really is impossible to become bored by) and a shy immature Boat-billed Heron. The potoos are, typically, ensconced, but we also enjoy good fortune with a photogenic Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher. Much of the rest of the day is spent along the Transpantaneira, filling in as many gaps as possible. En route back to Cuiabá we finally find a perched Hyacinth Macaw, which proves amenable to having its photo taken.

5 November. We spend the morning exploring some cerrado close to the city of Cuiabá. This doesn't prove exceptionally successful, as the day is uncharacteristically miserable weather-wise, but Hadoram gets some nice shots of Coal-crested and Red-crested Finches, and reasonable images of Curl-crested Jay. The only Guira Tanager of the trip is sadly placed in the rejected folder! We are back at Cuiabá in good time for our flight to Alta Floresta. Getting to the Cristalino takes the rest of the day.

6 November. Up early with our local guide, Jorge, for a visit to the tower. Anyone who's birded the Amazon knows that towers are nigh-on essential to get to grips with some species, but for photography this is even truer. Although our few hours at the tower this morning cannot be deemed classic, they provide the opportunity to photograph both sexes of Black-girdled Barbet, Lettered, Red-necked and Curl-crested Aracaris, White-bellied Parrot, and Spix's Guan. The rest of the morning is spent successfully working on Crimson-bellied Parakeet and Musician Wren. In the afternoon, we take a short river trip that provides stunning views and photographs of Zigzag Heron, a roosting Common Potoo, and less-good photos of a male Bare-necked Fruitcrow.

7 November. Today is spent on the Serra trail and along the river. The latter produces exceptional photographs of a Red-throated Piping Guan on a rock in the middle of river, as well as Ladder-tailed Nightjar, a female Silvered Antbird, and Red-capped Cardinal. The trail is reasonably busy, with Bare-eyed Antbird, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, Rufous Casiornis and both sexes of Yellow-browed Antbird all photographed. We have less photographic success with Bronzy Jacamar, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Black-spotted Bare-eye and Dusky-cheeked Foliage-gleaner. Back at the lodge, a Blackish Nightjar is roosting on the roof of our bungalow, but a flock of Dusky-billed Parrotlets is less 'helpful'.

8 November. The morning is spent on the Haffer trail. We soon find a Snow-capped Manakin or two, but despite much effort we still don't achieve a really decent photo. Manu Antbird is heard-only, a pair of Plain-throated Antwrens just refuses to perch in the right place, and a group of Sapphire-rumped Parrotlets belts over without stopping; it's one of those days. Even a big flock at the end of the trail does little to bolster our spirits. However, in the afternoon we try a few stake-outs and pick off Glossy Antshrike, Dot-backed Antwren, Brown Jacamar, Amazonian Inezia and Flame-crested Manakin.

9 November. Our last morning in our whistle-stop trip to the Cristalino is spent back at the tower, but there is not much activity except for a couple of Cryptic Forest Falcons that are 'duetting' close by. Hadoram is nothing if not determined and despite the fact that we have heard this species every day of our time here without a sniff decides that we need to redouble efforts. He's eventually rewarded with good photos of not one but two individuals of this recently described (but widespread) raptor. We finish off our time on the Cristalino with a brief walk along the river, which gets us close, but not close enough, to a pair of Amazonian Razor-billed Curassows, great looks (but rejected photos) of Banded Antbird (there's just not enough light on this overcast day), a too-brief Rufous-necked Puffbird, and one, undisputed, success, perfect photos of that most magnificent of woodcreepers, Nasica, the Long-billed Woodcreeper. It's then onto the boat, back to Alta Floresta and then the plane back to Cuiabá, from where we drive to the Chapada dos Guiramães.

10 November. Early morning on the Água Fria road. We miss out on photographing Rufous-sided Pygmy Tyrant, and Hadoram is occupied with photographing something else when the only Horned Sungem of the morning puts in an appearance. However, many other regular cerrado birds of this locality prove more photogenic: Chapada Flycatcher, White-banded and White-rumped Tanagers, Rufous-winged Antshrike and a variety of elaenias are all 'bagged'. We need to be back in Cuiabá for our next flight, so we are soon on our way again. To get to our next destination, Porto Velho, the capital of Rondônia, we actually have to return to Brasília, so, coupled with a delay, it is not until midnight that we hit the sack in a hotel in Porto Velho.

11 November. It's another wet start to the day, but as we drive to our destination, Guajará-Mirim, on the border with Bolivia, we see that the weather has brought a huge fallout of Purple Martins, a bird not actually mentioned in the literature for Rondônia. We spend virtually all day getting to Pakaas Palafitas lodge on the rio Marmoré; although virtually all of the forest is gone along our route, there are opportunities for photographing other species. We also find another first state record, a Semipalmated Plover, a very rare bird inland in South America, which was sharing a roadside pool with a stack of yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpipers.

12 November. Pakaas Palafitas is a rather unusual lodge, being seemingly almost entirely constructed of wood; all of the other guests seem to be Bolivian. There is a nice boardwalk around the lodge, which provides enough birds to keep us going the whole day. Amongst them are the resident pair of Chestnut (Purus) Jacamars, point-blank views of Tui Parakeets, Golden-fronted Piculet, Bluish-necked Jacamar, Speckled Chachalaca, Zimmer's Tody-Tyrant, both sexes of Amazonian Antshrike, Dusky-headed Parakeet and a pair of Black-throated Antbirds that take a great deal of work to get anything on. A Black Hawk-Eagle, the only one of the trip, doesn't give us a chance for a photograph, but a pair of Zone-tailed Hawks is more cooperative.

13 November. The day starts badly with a female Amazonian Umbrellabird right outside our room, which doesn't give Hadoram chance for a photo. We spend part of the morning at a nearby patch of forest, which proves reasonably rewarding, with both sexes of Rondônia Warbling Antbird and Southern Chestnut-tailed Antbird posing for the photographer, a Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher nest building, our second race of Dot-winged Antwren photographed on the trip, but another chance at Banded Antbird goes untaken, as the bird just won't come in. The rest of the day is spent on the river and the boardwalk. We have no luck photographing any of the three Sungrebes seen, but we have a better luck with a reasonable variety of other species, including a superb male Long-winged Harrier, which is notable for being rather late for an austral migrant.

14 November. We depart the lodge very early for a patch of forest en route to Porto Velho. There is a Southern Tawny-bellied Screech Owl singing right outside the room as we pack-up, but we decide to keep to our plan rather than trying to photograph it. We don't have great luck at the forested area. Another Black-throated Antbird gives us the runaround, without ever 'posing' for photos, we only get long shots at a Red-necked Woodpecker, a Snow-capped Manakin is too brief, and a huge flock with White-winged Shrike Tanager, Black-girdled Barbets and many others is too far away to photograph anything at all! That's about it for Rondônia, as we have to get back to Porto Velho and our flight to Rio de Janeiro.

15 November. Our trusty driver, Eduardo, collects us from our hotel early in the morning and we head off for Praia Seca. Our intention is to photograph Restinga Antwren and then proceed north to Minas Gerais. However, the antwrens are playing hard to get. As ever, there's no problem finding the birds, but getting an acceptable photo of the female proves to be a real runaround, so we decide to work on a few others birds in the local area, and then proceed to Teresópolis to spend the night. In the end we manage to get both sexes of the Formicivora, as well as Sooretama Slaty Antshrike, Chestnut-backed Antshrike and Hangnest Tody-Tyrant. We are behind schedule, but at least the birds are 'done'.

16 November. First port of call is a regular site for Three-toed Jacamar, and these are quickly photographed, along with a Crescent-chested Puffbird and a handful of other common species. Our overnight destination is the Serra do Caraça, so it's another day mainly of travelling, but we have some time towards the end of the day in the forest at Caeté, where a few typical Atlantic Forest birds do pose for the camera, including White-shouldered Fire-eye and Rufous Gnateater.

17 November. First thing in the morning we are busy working on the local Slaty-breasted Wood Rails, when we are surprised to see Andy Whittaker, who is here leading his VENT group. But, he's even more surprised to bump into Hadoram for the first time in about 25 years, when Andy was volunteering in Eilat! We spend the whole day in the vicinity of the monastery, which provides plenty of new birds photographed, amongst them: Pale-throated Serra Finch, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Swallow-tailed Cotinga, Serra Antwren, Green-backed Becard, Red-eyed Thornbird, Velvety Black Tyrant, and many others. A highly convivial evening with Andy.

18 November. Following an early morning working on the local tapaculos, White-breasted and Mouse-coloured, we head off north towards Pirapora. Our one main birding stop of the day is near Lassance, where we pick off a number of common birds of this region, including Campo Troupial, Grey Pileated Finch, and the female of the Coal-crested Finch. We spend the night in Pirapora.

19 November. We spend the whole day along the road to the rio das Velhas, south of Pirapora. At least 30 new species are photographed during the day, which is something of a recent record. Highlights include: Minas Gerais Tyrannulet, Scarlet-throated Tanager, Henna-capped Foliage-gleaner, Rusty-breasted Nunlet, White-striped Warbler, Black-capped Antwren, and Planalto Slaty Antshrike. Almost ten new species are photographed in one 'flock' of birds responding to my Ferruginous Pygmy Owl! Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we are unable to photograph Forbes's Blackbird or Plain-tailed Nighthawk, both of which are also seen. Night in Pirapora.

20 November. Early morning is spent along the road to Lagoa dos Patos, but we are driven back to town by heavy rain. Although we do manage a few new species, amongst them the local race of Chotoy Spinetail, Dark-billed Cuckoo, the north-east Brazilian race of Barred Antshrike, and the endemic Stripe-breasted Starthroat, others such as Stripe-backed Antbird and Tawny-crowned Pygmy Tyrant will not perform properly. Having done well the previous day, we decide to head south to the Serra do Cipó, where we arrive in time to spend some time photographing swifts (White-collared and Biscutate) at the foot of the serra in the nice evening light. We are able to ignore the Henna-capped Foliage-gleaner singing behind us.

21 November. Our efforts at the birds on the top of the serra are somewhat dashed by poor weather. Although we manage reasonable images of Hyacinth Visorbearer and perfect photos of Grey-backed Tachuri, most of the other specialties that we still need will not pose for photos in the strong wind and heavy rain showers. We have a 'go' lower down, but even here it is very windy and none of the Horned Sungems I find stays, whilst a Yellow-billed Blue Finch does not hang round to have his portrait taken. The rest of the day is spent driving (through the rain) back to Teresópolis.

22 November. We've decided to give the national park another go and this proves a reasonable plan. Other than a break for lunch in town, we spend most of the day walking the road inside Serra dos Órgãos National Park. The Giant Antshrikes, Sharpbill and Black-and-gold Cotinga won't come in, but birds that do 'play ball' for photos include Pin-tailed Manakin, White-collared Foliage-gleaner, Uniform Finch, Bicoloured Hawk, Large-headed Flatbill and Yellow-eared Woodpecker. We spend the evening in Rio, enabling Eduardo to say hello to his wife and us both to catch up on e-mails.

23 November. Hopeful of better weather, we drive along the coast to Mambucaba to try our luck with Black-hooded Antwren. Just like the Restinga Antwrens a week ago, finding the birds is not difficult, but getting good photos takes time, and in the end we only come away with a male (in fact we see very few females and wonder whether most might be on nests). (Typically, we returned to the site in 2007 and photographed a female easily, albeit a month or so earlier in the year!) Night in Parati.

24 November. The morning is spent at Fazenda Santa Maria, Trindade. Typically we get rained out and this proves to be the only time I've ever visited this site and neither seen nor heard Salvadori's Antwren. Neither will any of the regular pairs of Spot-backed Antshrikes perch long enough for a decent photo! Indeed, there are few compensations, but we do see and photograph the only Spot-billed Toucanet of the trip (a female). The final site of the trip is going to be Itatiaia and as we are going past, we decide to give Mambucaba and the female Black-hooded Antwren another go, with the same result. Nenhum foto! Coisa chata!

25 November. We spend the whole day on the Agulhas Negras road. However many times one spends on this road in the high part of Itatiaia National Park, it always produces exciting birding. With reasonable weather, we do pretty well for photographs---Black-capped Piprites, Large-tailed Antshrike, Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakin, Itatiaia Thistletail (I just can't think of this bird as a spinetail), Plovercrest, Rufous-backed Antvireo, Brown-breasted Bamboo Tyrant, Serra do Mar Tyrannulet and Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper (which has a nest in the same place it always seems to) are all successfully worked on. Many others go down on the seen or heard list (which passed 800 on the entire trip), but don't count as they are not photographed.

26 November. We wake to steady, but not quite torrential rain. The great thing about the Hotel do Ype is that even when its raining, you can still bird from the terrace, watching the birds coming to the feeders. Of course, we prefer not to photograph really wet birds or individuals actually on the feeders... So, no surprises but a steady number of new birds photographed, and after the usual handsome lunch the rain's eased off enough to give the Hotel Donati trail a crack. We pick up a number of new birds, although the light is too bad to get a shot of any of the regular pairs of Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrants, which are too high and too heavily obscured in the bamboo. The biggest surprise is a Black-capped Piprites down at 950 m so late in the year; I'd expect them to be all up high at this time, but a male Stripe-breasted Starthroat feeding at flowers in the grounds of our hotel is also pretty unusual, being c.300 m above its usual altitudinal range.

27 November. Our final morning is spent back on the Agulhas Negras road, working on Rufous-tailed Antbird, which gave us the runaround two days ago. It's not much better today, although Hadoram eventually gets something on a female. There are plenty of Uniform Finches around, and we both see a male Blackish-blue Seedeater for a short period but too quick for a photo sadly; this is a rare bird that it's a shame to miss. True to form the Speckle-breasted Antpitta won't give us a real chance for a photograph either! Come lunchtime and the birding has slowed down; we look at each other and admit we're both knackered and ready to call it day. Our final total of species photographed was a little way off our pre-trip target, but at 547 species photographed to publication quality, this was still pleasing.

Photos from other tours I've led to the Pantanal, Alta Floresta and south-east Brazil can be viewed at