For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to visit Brazil. I guess it must have had something to do with the football! Birding had not diminished those thoughts and at the Birdfair in 2007 I met Andy & Christina Foster of Serra dos Tucanos Lodge.
The only problem I had with a visit was time, literally fitting it in! Eventually we came up with a date, 10th-24th January 2009. So it was to be that Pat, Gary Player, John Bowler and I arrived in Brazil.
Because of our early flight on Saturday morning we stayed overnight at Heathrow Lodge, a small motel near the airport which enables us to park our cars for however long at a reasonable charge. The motel is adequate, nothing more but the parking option softens the blow. We duly departed on an uneventful TAP flight to Lisbon. Lisbon Airport was very disappointing, a tiny Duty Free area, queues for the toilets and poor refreshments. We survived and boarded our onward flight to Rio de Janeiro……another unremarkable flight but at least I managed some shut-eye for an hour or two. Landing at Rio just at dusk gave us a view of the favellas under the flight path but very little else apart from several Great Egret. It was 19:30 local time! We were grateful for a tip given by Andy to book our cab to our overnight hotel within the airport confines, apparently outside the cabs charge outrageous fares……surely not! We negotiated our taxi and changed money with a shady character wearing airport uniform of some kind before reaching our vehicle and our driver Norberto. This guy spoke English very well and obviously very proud of his city, he acted as tourist guide on our forty minute journey to Copacabana and the Best Western Rio Copa Hotel.
What luxury! The service and facilities were second to none, how fortunate I picked this hotel! Dropping our luggage and quickly freshening up we explored the immediate surroundings and finding a suitable bar/restaurant we passed the remainder of the evening in a relaxed mood just watching the world go by.
We were to be picked up at 08:00 Sunday, so taking an early breakfast and paying our bills we awaited Mauro, the lodge driver. On time Mauro arrived and we headed down to the beach for a look before all those beautiful women arrived wearing very little clothing. Obligatory photos taken of Copacabana Beach we headed north to the mountains and forests.
N.B. Mauro is an excellent driver, he also acts as an extra spotter and his English is getting better.
Sunday January 11th.
After seeing a Brown Booby (honestly the avian version) flying along Copacabana Beach, we left the confines of the city passing through famous suburbs like Flamengo and Botafogo , past the Maracana (football again) before taking the 13km bridge over Guanabara Bay to Niteroi.
The docks and beaches provided Great and Snowy Egrets, Cocoi and Black-crowned Night Herons, Kelp Gulls, Black and Turkey Vultures, Neotropic Cormorants and the ubiquitous Magnificent Frigatebirds, alas no terns.
With our avid interest in the surroundings the two hour journey north passed quickly, Pat thought she saw a Laughing Falcon in a tall tree surrounded by wetlands, I had a glimpse and tend to agree with her but it could not be substantiated, Smooth-billed Ani were everywhere . We had left Rio on route 101 but then moved onto a smaller road through towns like Itaborai and Cachoeiras de Macacu until we reached Serra dos Tucanos Lodge. Electric gates shut the lodge off from the main road (the rest of the world) and a driveway of 400m ends at a locked wooden gate on a bridge over a raging mountain river.
On arrival Andy & Christina met us and introduced us to the Lodge. A superb piece of property situated on the edge and enclosed by the Atlantic Rainforest. The facilities left you wanting nothing and after depositing our kit we sat down opposite the multitude of feeders before eating a very welcome lunch. The remainder of the day was occupied by chilling-out, watching the feeders and the garden and accumulating a myriad of garden birds. The list was stunning! Hummingbirds were represented by Black Jacobin, Violet-capped Woodnymph, Swallow-tailed and Sombre Hummingbirds, Versicoloured Emerald, the tiny Frilled Coquette and a Rufous-breasted Hermit. Violaceous and Chestnut-bellied Euphonias mixed with their larger cousins in the form of Green-headed, Golden-chevroned, Brazilian (a stunner!), Ruby-crowned, Palm and Sayaca Tanagers. A Squirrel Cuckoo played hide and seek in the forest edge whilst Shiny Cowbird, Masked Water Tyrant and Southern House Wren shared the grassy areas with Rufous-bellied and Pale-breasted Thrush, Saffron Finches in family parties scavenged for seeds at our feet. The overhead wires provided perches for Great Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird and a lone Long-tailed Tyrant. The feeders provided further excitement, apart from the aforementioned species others joined them on the table and tree feeders including Green Honeycreeper, Blue Dacnis, Plain and Maroon-bellied Parakeet, the punk like Blonde-crested Woodpecker and Bananaquit. All the while White-collared Swifts cavorted overhead and an unusually bold Grey-hooded Attila posed for all to see. Suitably sated as the light diminished we showered and changed in our well appointed rooms, ours had a balcony overlooking the feeders and the forest, and resumed our vigil downstairs, partaking of liquid refreshments until dinner was served.
More refreshments after dinner were taken and we retired to the library to call the first log. Pete Forrest our guide introduced himself to us in preparation for our first trip the next morning.
The evening meal had been good, typical South American food, plenty of black beans and rice with fish and salad followed by a sweet Brazilian dessert and coffee. Well satisfied with our day we slept well and deep.
Monday January 12th.
As was to be our regular task, Pat and I opened up the locked security gates to the patio at 06:00. Breakfast was served at 06:15 daily so we had a short time to watch the gardens. Whilst sitting under the sun umbrellas, Pat and I watched as a wren landed on the edge of the swimming pool before flying towards us, eventually it landed literally six feet from us on the grass, stunned we realised that we had a Long-billed Wren! It stayed around on the lawn for maybe 45 seconds before flying off giving us a short time to check the salient features, all checked out correctly! Unusual as this siting was we managed to confirm it later in the week when we saw another at the wetlands. The anomaly of this siting was that these birds are usually at lower altitudes and only one other has been seen in the lodge gardens!
Breakfast taken and enjoyed we boarded the bus around 06:50 departing immediately for the Theodora Trail a mere 5kms north of the lodge. The trail starts at 1079m and slopes gently downhill through dense forest. The trail was originally a railroad in the 19th century before becoming a road in the 20th century. Lack of use had allowed the forest to retake the land but still leaving a firm foundation making the walking easy. The entrance behind the police station was simple to find but the site of two shrines containing offerings of alcohol, food, shiny objects and cigarettes was certainly a surprise. The shrines, Pete told us had been made by followers of the Macumba Religion, a relict African religion still prevalent in Brazil, a sort of African voodoo!
At the beginning of the trail the vista was quite open and we were entertained by the antics of many Blue & White Swallow and Rufous-collared Sparrows (Satan’s Sparrow).
On the trail proper, Pete called out a very smart Bertoni’s Antbird before all hell let loose with new birds everywhere…………….Ochre-faced Tody Flycatcher, a female Pin-tailed Manakin, a female Blue-billed Black Tyrant, Scale-throated Hermit, Golden-crowned Warbler, Plain Antvireo, Black-goggled, Azure-shouldered and Brassy-breasted Tanagers, White-throated Spadebill, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, a soaring Black Hawk Eagle, Blue Manikin, Star-throated Antwren and appropriately at a stream, a Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper. Returning to the beginning of the trail we were very lucky to flush a Brown Tinamou who left at pace but not before giving all brief but conclusive views.
We returned to the lodge in time for lunch. Hunger satisfied we resumed our positions in the garden for a couple of hours picking up new birds such as a female Burnished-buff Tanager and an energetic pair of Double-collared Seedeaters. We rested until 15:00 hrs when Pete came and collected us to show us around the lodge trails which were situated above the lodge on the adjacent hillside.
The trails proved productive and interesting with many new birds seen at close quarters including Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Yellow-eared Woodpecker, Spot-breasted and Plain Antvireo, White-barred Piculet, Plain Xenops, Streak-capped Antwren, Black-throated Grosbeak, a male Pin-tailed Manakin, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Red-necked, Flame-crested and Yellow-backed Tanagers, Chestnut-crowned Becard, Chivi Vireo and Black-cheeked Gnateater. It was whilst climbing the trail with Pete leading and myself following that the two of us had brief views of a startled Ruddy Quail-Dove which took off like a rocket. Unfortunately the others in the group heard it but did not see it…..!
After returning from the mountainside we relaxed in the garden drinking the local brew but still adding new species to our ever growing list. This time we were entertained by the outstanding Saw-billed Hermit, very attractive Orange-bellied Euphonia and many returning Grey-rumped Swifts hurtling through the lodge chimney to roost for the night. This spectacle was one we enjoyed every evening and most mornings as they left the roost to forage who knows where.
After a shower and a change of clothes we sat down to a good dinner and a couple more beers before Pete led us through to the lounge and the first real log of the trip. Needless to say all slept well as the excitement and effort finally caught up with us.
Tuesday January 13th.
Today was to be an all day trip to San Lorenzo and the lower levels of a high elevation trail starting at 1600m. Breakfast at the normal time only allowed us a short while watching the garden but a new trip bird was seen in the form of a Streaked Flycatcher. Prompt as usual Pete arrived at the minibus with Mauro already primed and we left immediately. After leaving the lodge grounds behind we stopped abruptly to view a Rufous-thighed Kite that Gary had spied at the roadside. We continued onward seeing only Southern Lapwings on the way until we reached San Lorenzo some two hours north west. What a spot! It reminded me of the rolling hillsides of southern Scotland with small dairy farms and weekend retreats but of course the birds were a little different. At our parking spot we loaded up with snacks for the trail whilst overlooking the immediate area. The first bird seen, almost, was a very obliging White-eared Puffbird which gave great views. Bird activity around our parking lot was busy so we decided to stay a while and see what we could see. We were handsomely rewarded with Picazuro and Pale-vented Pigeons flying all over and around us, some Picazuro landed on conifers in front of us giving a good impression of our own Woodpigeon. Also perched up on the nearby trees we found the first of many Swallow-tailed Cotinga and Hooded Siskin whilst on a fence wire we had Cliff Flycatcher, White-rumped Monjita, several Campo Flicker and Chalk-browed Mockingbird. White-eyed Parakeets now settled in the trees and a male Aplomado Falcon hunted the area as did a Roadside Hawk albeit in a different fashion. The hawk then landed in the aforementioned trees showing how cryptic this species is, although it was visible with effort.
Somewhat reluctantly we left the parking lot and descended down a short paved roadway before reaching the actual trail. Near where the road and trail met a singing Olivaceous Elaenia led us a dance for a short time. Shortly after this we heard Red-legged Seriema calling but we could not find them anywhere.
The trail itself wound around the rolling hills passing through a typical upland habitat, consisting of grazing fields, coarse grassland and then when dropping down wet pasture and riparian habitats. A Yellow-headed Caracara made its presence felt with its raucous call, a Boat-billed Flycatcher sat on a post and in a hedgerow Pete called out Variable Antshrike for all to see. In the hedgerow opposite a family of Pallid Spinetail were industrious in their nesting efforts and a beautiful White-tailed Hawk cruised over us. Further down along the hedgerow several Red-eyed Thornbirds were busy at the lower levels.
At the highest point of the trail (approx. 1800m) the path levelled out and became heavily wooded with the ground in places strewn with rocks. This area was very productive for quality birds with several Burnished-buff Tanagers including at least two males, Scaly-headed parrot, Planalto Tyrranulet, Shear-tailed Grey Tyrant, a female Brazilian Ruby, Dusky-tailed Antbird, Rufous-capped Spinetail, Velvety Black Tyrant, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, White-throated Hummingbird, Rufous Gnateater and Mottled-cheeked Tyrranulet. It was so good that we just sat and had our packed lunch there and then!
One other bird of note was a very skulking Serra do Mar Tapaculo; this grey mouse was only seen by two, Pete and Gary.
Eventually we came to a halt as time was running out, we could have walked on for ever in this magical habitat but we retraced our steps picking up a few new birds on the return leg including Variegated Flycatcher and Glittering-bellied Emerald. When we reached the grasslands again, Pete found an adult and three young Burrowing Owls sitting on the hillside in the late afternoon sun. A raptor was spotted and much discussion as to its identity was undertaken, the final identification was only made when we got back to the lodge and consulted “Raptors of South America”……..it was a light phase Short-tailed Hawk.
The journey back to the lodge was uneventful, I guess because we were more tired than we had thought but we still managed Grey-breasted Martin and Ruddy Ground Dove in Novo Friburgo. Back at the garden feeders a Buff-throated Saltator made a welcome appearance as did two new customers, Mark and Paul, brothers from Wealdstone, both good birders and nice guys too.
Showered, changed and relaxed we enjoyed our evening meal and a few beers before taking on a much longer daily log.
Wednesday January 14th.
The usual niceties were observed i.e. opening of the gates, eating a hearty breakfast etc., before departing before 07:00 north and then west to Teresopolis and the Serra dos Orgaos N.P. On the way a Ringed Kingfisher perched on a wire over a large dam looking huge was obvious. The first part of the N.P. visited allowed us to walk leisurely downhill on a paved road to a river; however the birding started in the car park where a pair of Spot-billed Toucanet sat unconcernedly in an adjacent tree. The downhill walk provided many great birds and with a large, mixed feeding flock near the river the list grew at pace with Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Lesser Woodcreeper, Black-capped Foliage-Gleaner, Pale-browed and Sharp-billed Treehunter, Tawny-throated Leaftosser and Southern Rough-winged Swallows darting over the river itself.
All too soon we had to drag ourselves away and rejoin our vehicle for a short drive to a higher trail (1400m). The first bird seen here was a male Black-throated Trogon which got us off the mark in style. This trail had much denser vegetation and much larger trees, typical forest birding in fact. Not surprisingly the birding was more difficult but very rewarding. Pete called out Buffy-fronted Seedeater, a tricky bird to see, and then Uniform Finch succumbed to his efforts. One of the avian stars of this trail had to be Sharpbill and with immense luck we saw several, Rufous-backed Antvireo, White-rimmed Warbler below our feet in a hollow and White-browed Foliage-Gleaner all followed onto the list but these all paled in significance when after a huge effort Pete called a Serra do Mar Tapaculo into view, just like a little grey mouse was the opinion of all. Returning back down the trail a magnificent male Brazilian Ruby caused oohs and aahs from the group.
The return drive to the lodge was no less exciting, we drove by way of Teresopolis along a valley bottom in the direction of Cachoeiras de Macacu. The flatter land enabled us to find a few Southern Caracara, before the heavens opened quite suddenly and the greatest storm we had seen for years provided the entertainment. Forked lightning and loud thunder accompanied the torrential rain. Driving was getting hazardous and Mauro had slowed the vehicle to a crawl as we approached tail lights from other vehicles. The reason being was that the storm had blown down a large tree and the road was completely blocked with a line of vehicles in each direction…….impasse! The rain abated and people left their machines to survey the damage, impossible we thought, but low and behold men in orange high-visibility suits appeared from a bus, organised a truck with a rope to haul the tree as far as it could towards the side of the road before about twenty of these guys manhandled the tree the rest of the way to safety. Apparently they were gas workers returning home from their shift at the gasworks just outside Macacu……that would have happened in England….I don’t think so! The road cleared and the rain stopped we journeyed on avoiding other fallen trees to reach the lodge.
One new bird at the feeders when we arrived was a White-chinned Sapphire adding to our impressive list of hummingbirds. Also new at the lodge was a couple from Sussex, David and Diane, so now the four was eight!
The usual dinner and drinks followed by the log finished off the day, excitement all round!
Thursday January 15th.
After the exertions and excitement of the previous day we had a welcome short journey to a trail some 6km. from the lodge for half a days birding.
The Cedae Trail is an access road to the Brazilian Water Utility plant for the area; it slopes downhill gradually and is a good open forest trail. After the previous days rain the track was pretty wet but the sun was shining and all was right with the world as we headed down the trail. The first bird that the excellent Pete called out for us was a Ferruginous Antbird which lived up to its name. A couple of very noisy Channel-billed Toucan let us know that they were there but completely opposite in character was a very furtive Oustalet’s Tyrranulet which in the end showed well. Other birds on the downhill trek were Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, Black-tailed Tityra and a wonderful Surucua Trogon. About this time we heard Spot-winged Wood Quail but despite Pete’s best efforts it refused to show itself. We reached as far down the trail as we could before a very boisterous Doberman Pincher showed up just prior to the plant gates. The dog was all bravado but lacked the balls to further investigate and deciding that prudence was required we retraced our steps back past the gushing standpipe and back up the trail. The return journey was as good as the outward jaunt with Crested Becard, Olive-green Tanager, Grey-hooded Flycatcher, Spot-backed Antshrike (skulker), and Scaled Woodcreeper all being seen.
Satisfied with our morning’s work we returned to the lodge for lunch.
After lunch the weather deteriorated somewhat and nothing new arrived at the feeders, Pat went upstairs for a nap and Gary went to shower. John and I watched the garden and Mark and Paul went up the lodge trails. After a short while Mark came back urging us to come and see a feeding flock which we duly did. The flock were feeding on an ant swarm and amongst others there were several White-shouldered Fire-eye and the star of the show a Rufous-capped Motmot. Coming back down the hill we found Yellow-lored Tody Flycatcher, a family party of five in fact feeding above our heads. Pat and Gary never did catch up with the Motmot; there must be a lesson there somewhere!
The daily routine continued with dinner and the daily log.
Friday January 16th.
An all day trip to a new couple of trails was the business of the day, today. Leaving the lodge at our normal time we drove north and west of Novo Friburgo to Portao Azul. We parked next to a lake inexplicably bereft of duck or grebe, not an auspicious start but we soon overcame that when two Slaty-breasted Wood Rail promenaded in front of us only twenty metres away. The weather was overcast but dry and warm as we walked the trail and soon we were finding new species, several Gilt-edged Tanagers cavorted in the taller trees and with much patience Pete called out a Tufted Antshrike from some deep vegetation where it gave great views perched in the tangle. Some birds of real quality were seen on this excursion with Bran-coloured Flycatcher, Yellow and Grey-capped Tyrranulet, Spix’s (Chicli) Spinetail all seen before four Saffron Toucanet flew nonchalantly into a tall Cecropia giving excellent views. The birds continued to come: Sapphire-spangled Emerald was the latest hummer, Magpie Tanager, a stunning Yellow-browed Woodpecker, White-collared Foliage-Gleaner and Rufous-crowned Greenlet were members of a feeding flock and a Grey-fronted Dove waddled along the track in front of us.
We took lunch back at the bus before heading to Macae de Cima just south and east of Novo Friburgo. This was a much more open habitat with different species for us to find. The sharp eyes of Pete found us Plovercrest at a lek site and Black & Gold Cotinga sang in the open on top of a ridge. Our time was curtailed here because we had spent too long a the wonderful Portao Azul but returning to the lodge we were in time to see a Tail-banded Hornero on the lawn. A super day involving birds of quality rather than quantity. The log was short but very satisfying!
Saturday January 17th.
The longest excursion of our stay in the Atlantic Rainforest was always going to be the “Jacamar Trip”. This involved a one way distance of approximately 200kms culminating at that point in hopefully viewing Three-toed Jacamar. That it did and much more besides, in fact a one day trip list of exactly 100 species.
After breakfast and leaving at our customary time we headed through Novo Friburgo and struck out NNW stopping at likely looking spots, the first being on a road overlooking a nice wetland marsh area and gentle hills. This spot was fantastic and provided a many varied list including Blue-black Grassquit, Chestnut-capped Blackbird (a real stunner), Common Waxbill, they get everywhere, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Blackish Rail right out in the open as was a further Slaty-breasted Wood Rail, Black-capped Donacobious, Grassland Sparrow, Rufous Hornero, Cattle Tyrant, a fly over pair of Blue-winged Macaw, Brown-chested Martin and Streamer-tailed Tyrant. Dragging ourselves away reluctantly from this wonderful spot we climbed aboard the van and drove on to a new wetland site where many of the same birds were seen but also Yellow-chinned Spinetail. Whilst scanning the site Pete heard an interesting call and we decided to investigate a patch of bush across the road to our right. Initial investigation proved nothing but a few Piratic Flycatchers. We were just about to leave when a Serra Antwren gave the previously heard call and all locked on to it. We watched it until it had had enough and disappeared back into the foliage. Leaving this area and before reaching the road we had more luck when we found a pair of Hangnest Tody Tyrant busily gleaning above our heads.
Back out on the road a Crested Black Tyrant flew obligingly onto the wires giving us all a good view. Next stop was a new scenic lookout, not yet open but still giving a super vista out over rolling countryside. Another new Blackbird this time a just as stunning White-browed Blackbird and three American Kestrels perched in some lonely trees a short distance away. However a long, long distance away two Whistling Heron searched the hillsides, we were to get closer birds as the day progressed. The last bird seen from the Mirante was a very smart Grey Monjita on a fence line post. Moving on we travelled some farm tracks seeing nearer Whistling Herons before stopping by a smallholding for snacks. This area had a marsh on one side and the rolling grasslands on the other. A gang of noisy Guira Cuckoo provided entertainment with their punk hair-dos. Proceeding down this track gave us nothing further until we reached a similar site much later where we stopped for our packed lunch. A dry open forest gave us both Firewoodgatherer and Common Thornbird with Chopi Blackbird on the immediate hillside, a cruising Savannah Hawk upset the residents and the wetland produced the usually hard to see Wedge-tailed Grassfinch but the absolute stars were two Red-legged Seriema patrolling the rolling grassland hills above us no more than fifty metres from the bus. Fifty metres in front of the bus a stand of small pines had a nest hole frequented by the lovely Blue-winged Parrotlet. A coffee stop was needed but before reaching Duas Barras we found White-winged Becard in trees at the last junction.
The coffee at Duas Barras was excellent and the little town itself was typical South America, shops complete with hitching rails for your horse, selling every item imaginable. Apparently the rock artist Lenny Kravitz has a house in Duas Barras. Ever onward we headed to Sumidouro near the Rio Sao Francisco and found not one but five Three-toed Jacamars in residence. Target achieved! Pete also found Rufous-capped Antshrike in the vicinity which added to the list of birds with Ant in their name. Generally speaking any bird with ant or pitta in their name are b******s to see but with the aid of Super Pete we were finding many. Starting our return journey we stopped for a break at the opposite end of Portao Azul, still new birds were being found. Two which did not need much finding were a couple of Dusky-legged Guan crashing their way through the trees. No matter how many guans I have seen I still find it incongruous that this huge bird is found in the spindly tops of trees! More Saffron Toucanet, Ashy-tailed Swift (Sick’s), Green-barred Woodpecker (very difficult I’m told), Drab-breasted Bamboo Tyrant (there is a name to conjure with), Southern Beardless Tyrranulet and the crème de la crème a singing Half-collared Sparrow in all his glory.
Exhausted we headed back without further ado to our evening meal and relaxation, an excellent day, one of those days you don’t forget in a hurry!
Sunday January 18th.
Today was to be a tourist day! We had arranged for a cab to take us to Rio de Janeiro to see the sights, how could you go to Rio and not see some of the wonders of that great city of the south? The taxi picked us up after breakfast and we headed directly to Rio and more specifically “Christo Redentor”. We arrived before the crowds and parked before taking the shuttle bus to the top of Corcovado and the massive, enigmatic statue of Christ the Redeemer, with views over to Sugarloaf (Pao de Acucar). It was wonderful, the sun was shining and the statue, with the views was to die for.
At 710m above sea level it was a novelty to look down upon the cruising Black and Turkey Vultures as well as the marauding Brown-chested Martins, even the Rufous-collared Sparrows looked different up there. The crowds were building up just as we left and we took a quick coffee before rejoining the shuttle bus back to the car park. The scene at the car park was absolute bedlam with many, many vehicles, mostly taxis, parked hickledy pickledy in no semblance of order. After a few choice words of Portuguese our driver extricated us with alacrity and no small skill and we then descended down through the surrounding Parque Nacional da Tijuca (a remnant of the Atlantic Rainforest) to the Jardim Botanico (another remnant, in fact a continuation of the NP).
As one gate of the Jardim was closed we had to drive round to find an entrance, eventually we found one and entered the garden. It was now very hot and of course mid summer in these latitudes so very little in the way of flowering plants were evident. However the selection of trees and water features were good value with the wildlife benefitting from the sanctuary. Birds in the garden included Greater Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Blue & White Swallow, Sayaca and Palm Tanagers, Bananaquit, Ruddy Ground Dove, a very close Slaty-breasted Wood Rail, Black Jacobin, Sombre Hummingbird, Double-collared Seedeater, Common Waxbill, Masked Water-Tyrant and Plain Parakeet.
However the presence of a family of Tufted-eared Marmoset was the highlight. Also in the park was a Three-toed Sloth but despite much searching we could not locate it. We had a very nice alfresco lunch in the Jardim Botanico and a look around the shop and art gallery before it was time to leave.
The return journey was enlivened when Gary pointed out a roadside McDonalds and we decided to stop for some fodder. The trip from and to the lodge provided many birds again but nothing unexpected, they included Great, Cattle and Snowy Egret, Cocoi Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Neotropic Cormorant, Magnificent Frigatebird, Kelp Gull, Tropical Kingbird, Smooth-billed Ani, Wattled Jacana and Roadside Hawk. In Rio itself we had the doubtful pleasure of House Sparrow (our greatest export). Back at Serra dos Tucanos we relaxed with some drinks and our evening meal as was becoming our custom.
Monday January 19th.
With some excitement we looked forward to the day’s excursion, it was to be the only chance for truly wetland birds. The journey was only a few kilometres to Reserva Ecologica de Guapi Acu directly west from Cachoeiras de Macacu. Parking the van by the reserve reception, Pete sprung a surprise by indicating to the tree directly above the van where a pair of Tropical Screech Owls roosted. The car park was also visited by a party of fabulous Swallow Tanagers and we watched them for quite awhile before entering the wet lowland forest. This different habit brought new birds at lightning pace with Chestnut-backed Antshrike, White-flanked Antwren, a female White-bearded Manakin, a Moustached Wren was called to within a few metres by Pete before the nearly legendry Sooretama Slaty Antshrike was found and seen well by all. A Long-billed Wren was next providing Pat and I with conclusive evidence that it was what we saw back at the lodge on the twelfth. A Rufous-breasted Hermit flitted through but a Crescent-chested Puffbird was the last we saw in the deep forest except for Pete and me as we disturbed a Tataupa Tinamou causing it to bolt at breakneck speed up a hillside. Coming out of the forest we entered an area of long wet grassland and the first bird seen was the bird you would expect, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture quartering the marsh like a harrier. Now we reached the open water with high expectations but the only duck here was one Brazilian Teal! Other birds were around including Striated Heron and Moorhen and some lucky people saw Rufous-sided Crake but Pat and I could not get on to it causing much frustration. Walking through the impoundments along the bund we were encouraged by a fly in Capped Heron and the more common Purple Gallinule and White-headed Marsh Tyrant but no further specials were seen. At the other side of the open water was an area of dryer forest and we made up for some of the disappointment with Common Tody-Flycatcher, Lined Seedeater, Lemon-chested Greenlet and Short-crested Flycatcher. The weather had been hot and sunny making the enjoyment even better.
Back to the lodge for lunch and then another trip up the mountain to the lodge trails. Two new trip birds were encountered, a family of Red-crowned Ant-Tanager and Ochre-bellied Flycatcher. An early night was the order as we had a long strenuous day tomorrow.
Tuesday January 20th.
Breakfast taken we stepped into the bus for the most strenuous trip of the entire vacation….the upper section of the high altitude trail. The weather was rather gloomy and light rain was in the air as we headed due west of Novo Friburgo to the Pico de Caledonia at the edge of Tres Picos NP.
We parked the bus when it would go no higher on a very steep slope at around 1900m before walking, or should I say staggering even higher. Frequent stops for birds were much appreciated by tired legs and were rewarding with Diademed Tanager, Serro do Mar Tyrranulet and Rufous-tailed Antbird (called out by Pete) seen before we reached the Siemens relay station and gained entry by way of a very accommodating guard after giving him our passport details. Just before reaching the high fence of the enclosure we had stumbled upon Bay-chested Warbling Finch, at last a male Blue-billed Black Tyrant, another Half-collared Sparrow and a Mottled-cheeked Tyrranulet all seen through the thick cloud. Climbing yet higher we reached a set of stairs leading up to the array whereupon we mounted them until we reached 2060m where our target bird showed….Itatiaia Thistletail. Rather an ordinary looking bird with a long spiky tail but with such a limited distribution due to specific habitat requirements making it really special. With everybody satisfied we made our way back down to the bus stopping to eat our lunch on the way. Shortly after lunch Pete heard Large-tailed Antshrike and with patience he successfully called it in eventually, it took around twenty minutes but Pete would not be beaten with the result that the bird showed exceptionally well despite being such a notorious skulker. Also at that particular spot we were entertained by a super male Brazilian Ruby and yet another Plovercrest, two ends of the hummingbird scale.
Moving further down the mountain the sun came out briefly before the cloud moved in again whilst we were having a short break. Suddenly a panic arousing shout from Mark alerted me and I raced to where he was standing, “quick look through my scope” he demanded! There in the scope was the Holy Grail of the Atlantic Rainforest….a Grey-winged Cotinga……..fantastic! Everyone saw it before it flew off into the cloud covered forest which is its home. At the bottom of the mountain another great bird was seen, a group of Cinnamon Tanager were feeding in roadside trees much to our delight.
We drove back through Novo Friburgo and headed east to Macae de Cima to finish the day, by now it was raining quite heavily but at an overlook we heard and saw no fewer than four Bare-throated Bellbird…..stunning! Rather less auspicious but still lovely were Olivaceous Elaenia and White-chinned Hummingbird at the same spot. Heavier and heavier fell the rain and we headed back to the lodge chuffed to bits with our day’s work.
Wednesday January 21st.
At breakfast we said our goodbyes to Mark and Paul, they were moving on in the company of Rick Simpson who runs a guiding service from Ubatuba, Sao Paulo state.
Their trip was to be hitting the hotspots in Minas Gerais and Sao Paulo ending up at Ubatuba for a couple of days. We wished them all the best before we departed and arranged to keep in touch.
It had rained all night and we were due to take the Bamboo Trail a few kms. to the north of the lodge today. At breakfast we all agreed that we should try so off we went. We got as far as the first stream crossing getting soaked in the process due to the incessant heavy rain, seeing very few birds and deciding that the torrent, as it was now could not be crossed safely. Despondently we returned to the lodge to sit and watch a soggy garden, read, drink coffee and generally fret.
During the night Andy and Christina were awoken by a loud crashing noise, fearing the worst Andy got up to see what was happening. It was boulders the size of small cars being propelled down the river by the torrent which forms the eastern boundary of the lodge grounds. Pete who lives next to the river heard nothing!!!!
Thursday January 22nd.
It was still raining! Now it had been raining for forty-eight hours and we were stuck at the lodge because the heavy rains during the night had caused seven landslides which closed the road in both directions. We could hear the heavy plant vehicles working away to clear the road and by 12 noon the road was open…..just like it would be in Britain?
We were reminded how inconsequential our problems were when news came in from Novo Friburgo that landslides had brought down houses in the hilly suburbs and tragically many people had lost their lives, notwithstanding the massive damage to property and infrastructure.
So another day of Gardenwatch but with due respect three interesting species showed, a pair of Spot-billed Toucanet graced the bananas, Crested Becard and Grey-hooded Attila frequented the area behind the feeders.
It was still a washout!
It finally stopped raining about 19:00, that is to say sixty hours after it started.
Friday January 23rd.
Today we had a spare day so we had to decide where to go, a unanimous vote was given to Portao Azul and the surrounding area as it had given so much sport before. Today Diane and David left for home and at breakfast we bid them farewell.
At our normal time after breakfast we loaded up and off we went, the road was now completely cleared of the landslides and traffic was back to normal. This time we started at the bottom end of Portao Azul and walked in the opposite direction. Activity was manic and we added Grey-bellied Spinetail, a fine Ochre-rumped Antbird, with much effort Pete called out a huge Giant Antshrike and we heard but despite Pete’s best efforts we failed to call out White-breasted Tapaculo which would have been a first for the area. This bird is extremely rare in Rio Janeiro State and not common anywhere. However we found Whiskered Flycatcher, another Drab-breasted Bamboo Tyrant, on the trail and rarity upon rarity of the mammalian persuasion, five Brown Howler Monkeys, endemic to the Atlantic Rainforest.
We left the fantastic Portao Azul and headed further north towards Bom Jardim and the wetlands along the Duas Barras Road where we had had much success before. We were not disappointed; at the first patch of wetland we located Yellow-browed Tyrant in the now steady drizzle. At the last wetland before the junction with the Novo Friburgo Road we stopped and saw the usual suspects and then seven White Woodpeckers flew over before a Blue-winged Macaw flew in and perched obligingly in a tree giving great scope views, a Bran-coloured Flycatcher was new to the list and with a little reluctance we drove back towards the lodge. Heavy traffic in Novo Friburgo gave us extended views of the riverside and with much surprise we saw a female Capybara and baby sat on the bank, obviously away from the raging torrent. We stopped of course and this added to the congestion as locals stopped their cars to see what we were looking at………confusion reigned!
Back at Serra dos Tucanos we packed our gear in readiness for our departure on Saturday before chilling out with a few beers and a nice dinner.
Saturday January 24th.
The last morning and we were going to cram the Bamboo Trail in before we left for Rio, so a quick breakfast was the order of the day. Leaving only slightly earlier than normal we drove the few kilometres to the start of the trail, water was lying everywhere but undeterred we progressed along the track to the deep forest. Crossing of the first major stream was a comedy in itself. Removing boots and socks and rolling up of trousers we all made our way across in our own style, John crossed like Spiderman, Pat threw one boot to Pete acting as receiver, which missed and started bobbing downstream towards a waterfall. Not wishing to miss again, after the boot had been retrieved with difficulty, she threw the second boot much more directly, so much so that she nearly knocked Pete out cold! The sun appeared as we trekked the narrow path and we were all in high spirits especially as we were finding, or rather Pete was finding localised and difficult species. He started off with Greenish Schiffornis, a Yellow-legged Thrush surrendered without a fight but Pete kept up the onslaught with Green-winged Saltator, White-throated Woodcreeper, a very inquisitive Hooded Berryeater, White-necked Thrush a widespread species was next to succumb before the hard to see Black-billed Scythebill came into our view. The scythebill was in a small feeding flock along with several White-browed Foliage-gleaners and Saffron Toucanet made another appearance. However the real star was a Brazilian Antthrush which everybody saw except me as I was tail-end Charlie and could not get a view in the dense, tangled undergrowth……….that’s birding!
We returned to the lodge for the last lunch before stowing our gear and heading for the airport. The journey into Rio produced all the usual birds, the only bird of note was a possible Crane Hawk cruising, harrier like over the road but a positive ID was not forthcoming. We had said goodbye to Christina and Andy at the lodge, bade farewell to Pete at Cachoeiras de Macacu and finally Mauro at the terminal. These individuals had made us so welcome, guided us in the field in excellent fashion and transported us and our gear faultlessly, we are indebted to them for their efforts!
The flight to Lisbon was tedious and late, so we missed our connection to London, however TAP rebooked us on the next flight but omitted to also rebook our luggage. The luggage turned up two days later! That’s travel!!