The Atlantic coastal forests of Brazil show almost un-paralleled levels of endemism: around 200 species are restricted to this area. Amongst these are some of the most beautiful and threatened species in the neotropics. It is impossible to try and see all the endemics in one trip since many of the species are restricted to small, disjunct areas. Dave and Idecided to spend most of our time in the most speciose zone (between Sao Paulo and southern Espirito Santo) and made a brief excursion to the most threatened forests, those of the north-east. Having decided to visit the North-east we quickly recognised that we could not go so close to Araripe manakin and Lears macaw without trying for these species too. Swallow-tailed cotinga was the bird we most wanted to see in the south-east, we made the trip especially long to give us time to try and find this enigmatic species.
Brazil is very large. I planned the itinerary on an inflatable globe whilst watching the Hollyoaks omnibus on Channel 4, even then I realised a car was necessary to cover so many sites in such a short time. Using a hire car in the tropics was something we had only ever done before in Peru, and then only for four days. Dave, as the only driver, had to put up with my ever increasing distance estimates; we had driven 9000km by the time we returned the last hire car. Over 2000km of this was in the north. We also made use of a plane, taking a return flight from Rio to Recife with Vasp airlines. Accommodation was plentiful, clean and reasonably priced. We usually stayed in pousadas, a sort of nice guesthouse in the countryside your mother would like. Occasionally we had to stay in lodges, hotels or camp in the tent.
The hire cars
We hired with Localisa (a Brazilian company) in the south and Hertz in the north. Localisa were cheaper. We used three cars in the south and one in the north which allowed us to compare and contrast the two vehicles available to those hiring the cheapest car offered (two door, 1 litre engine). The Fiat Palio had better ground clearance and a higher top speed (183km/h) than the Celta (172km/h).
The size of Brazil meant we had to choose between ambling along slowly with all the other drivers and spending the entire trip in the car; or welding the accelerator to the floor and getting on with the birding. Thankfully, Dave had packed his brick; we ate up the kilometres and drank the (cheap) fuel at a fierce rate. Speed limits are ludicrously low, 80-100km/h at best. Whilst speed cameras are well advertised in the north they are equally well hidden in the south, where they also have mobile cameras. Fines are high, 10% over the limit is £50, another 10% is £100 whilst a further 20% or more is £200. Before getting in the car we agreed to drive at maximum velocity at all times and to split all fines between us. I was on camera duty, and I either spotted them all or we were actually going too fast for them to register us. We also chose to drive at night to save birding time. This was a poor decision. Brazilians never dim their headlights, roads are often un-marked and the drivers, who are sedate by day, become insane after night fall. After being clipped by one car and witnessing an accident that should have been fatal we gave up the night driving.
None of the cars we hired was immune to the foibles of the Brazilian roads. Massive pot-holes are commonplace in the north and anywhere else once off the main roads. All the cars quickly developed rattles and scratches on the bumper and two had to be replaced mid-trip. Giving a car a thorough wash (including under the bonnet) is a good idea before returning it to the hire company.
Almost all our gen was taken from Jeremy Minns excellent site notes on Arthur Grossets web pages: www.arthurgrosset.com. The John Van de Woude trip report was also extensively used. For identification purposes we took Sousas Birds of Brazil. We also brought Ridgley and Tudor which proved invaluable.
7th July: Flying from Rio de Janeiro to Recife, driving to Juarzero do Norte
8th July: Birding the Chapada de Araripe
9th July: Birding the Chapada de Araripe, driving to Jeremoabo
10th July: Birding near Jeremoabo, driving to Pedra Talhada
11th July: Birding Pedra Talhada, driving to near Murici
12th July: Birding near Murici
13th July: Flying from Recife to Rio
14th July: Birding mid and high level at Serra dos Orgaos
15th July: Birding Serra dos Orgaos, Carmo and the Soumidouro road
16th July: Birding the lower levels of Serra dos Orgaos
17th July: Driving to Linhares
18th July: Birding Linhares
19th July: Birding Linhares
20th July: Birding Linhares
21st July: Birding Linhares, driving to Cherry-throated tanager meeting point
22nd July: Birding Fazenda Pindobas IV and the new tanager site
23rd July: Birding the new tanager site, driving to Belo Horizonte
24th July: Driving to Cipo NP, birding Cipo NP
25th July: Birding Cipo NP, driving to Canastra NP
26th July: Birding Canastra NP
27th July: Birding Canastra NP
28th July: Birding Canastra NP
29th July: Birding Canastra NP, driving to Intervales, birding Intervales
30th July: Birding Intervales
31st July: Birding Intervales, driving to Ubatuba
1st August: Birding Fazenda Capricorn
2nd August: Birding Pereque and surrounding area
3rd August: Birding Fazenda Angelim and Corcovado
4th August: Driving to and birding Campos do Jordao, driving to Itatiaia NP
5th August: Birding Itatiaia NP, driving to Alguas Negras road
6th August: Birding the Alguas Negras road and Itatiaia NP, driving to Penedo
7th August: Birding the Penedo area, driving to Terresopolis
8th August: Driving to Serra dos Tucanos
9th August: Birding the coast near Cabo Frio
10th August: Birding near Nova Friburgo
11th August: Birding Guapi Acu
12th August: Flying home
I met Dave in Rio de Janeiro having flown in from La Paz the previous day. We flew with VASP to Recife, a three hour flight. We picked up our hire car and headed for Juarzeiro de Norte, 740km to the west. Our car hire contract stipulated a 100km per day allowance so we knew already we would have to pay extra. We arrived in town at 10pm, checked into the only hotel in town and went out for a pea pizza.
We awoke early and drove back down the road a few kilometres to the town of Barbaha. From here we followed signs and the directions of locals to Arajara Park, home of the Araripe manakin. This species was discovered in 1998 and is restricted to the pockets of moist forest surrounding springs that emerge from the base of the Chapada da Araripe, a plateau in an otherwise arid landscape. The park, a water fun park, opens at 10am but we were allowed in for free at 7. The ground keeper knew the bird we were looking for and pointed us down a path leading through the remaining vegetation. After a few minutes an adult male Araripe manakin flew in. The bird perched up and showed well and was briefly joined by a female type. Over the next few hours we got great views of the bird (there was only one adult male at this location); it was hard to believe what we were seeing. We had a good chat with the landowner afterwards who encouraged us to "bring all our birding friends" something we would defiantly agree with! This bird must not be allowed to go extinct. In between enjoying the manakin we searched for and found Tawny piculet. Here we also saw our first Planalto hermit, Sombre hummingbird, Yellow-breasted flycatcher, Golden crowned and Flavescent warblers, and other edge species.
We spent the afternoon birding the tall caatinga on top of the plateau, especially the area around the disused airfield and tracks across the road from it. Our target species here was Great xenops, which we only heard distantly. Birds we did see included White-browed and Rusty-margined guan, Glittering-throated emerald, Rufous-breasted leaftosser, Black-capped antwren, Black-tailed flycatcher, Pale-bellied tyrant-manakin, White-naped jay and Burnished-buff tanager. The mammal list got off to a good start with a cheeky White-tufted-ear marmoset. After dark we saw a Common Potoo, our only potoo of the trip.
Dawn broke on two birders at the airstrip searching in vain for Great xenops and White-browed antpitta. We saw many of the birds of the previous afternoon; Grey-eyed greenlet was the most notable addition though we also added birds such as Grey-headed kite, Blond-crested woodpecker, Olivaceous woodcreeper, Eastern-slaty antshrike and Pectoral sparrow.
This trip was never meant to be about the caatinga, so with minds focussed on the task in hand we headed south to Jeremoabo and Lears macaw. The caatinga is possibly the least studied habitat in Brazil and contains many good birds, seeing them would require a different trip. Nonetheless, we stopped again by some good looking roadside caatinga high on the plateau and birded a sandy track finding our first of many Rufous-tailed jacamars and a few good birds: Barred antshrike, Pileated antwren, Black-bellied antwren, Long-billed wren and Cinnamon tanager.
The long journey to Jeremoabo was broken only by a brief stop at a lake where we saw Southern pochard. The roads were very potholed but straight and empty, and we were able to make great progress, even with a hitching policeman aboard!
We arrived at Jeremoabo a few hours before dark and tried to arrange with the man who owns the petrol station on the northernmost approach road to town to visit the macaw roosting cliffs. Apparently, we would have needed to bring a 4x4 so we gave up on that idea and went birding in some fields close to town for the last hour of daylight. As expected it was all dross, but most of it was new, neither of us had been east of the Amazon basin before. Swallow-tailed hummingbird and Rufous chachalote were the most memorable species.
We awoke at dawn and birded the caatinga fragments along the road to the fazenda at km 50 where Lears macaw arrives to feed at 8am. Spot-backed puffbird was appreciated as was Pileated finch, whilst Blue-winged parakeet and Scaly-headed parrot flew over. As we arrived at Fazenda Toureiro, I saw a group of macaws in flight and we skidded to a halt. The birds flew over the road and landed in some distant trees, our first Lears macaw. What followed was a slightly surreal experience as a middle aged lady led us out past her cows and through a field to view 14 Lears macaw feeding in the top of a tree. This was a bird I had always wanted to see and some consolation for being born too late to go for Spix. It was a bit surreal to view such a mega rare bird amid the dross supporting cast of Peach-fronted parakeet, White monjita and some cows.
We dragged ourselves away from the macaws, tipped the lady, and drove back to Jeremoabo, stopping to try for Pectoral antwren at km 24, the only gallery forest on the road. We followed a path into the very degraded patch and started pishing, almost immediately a Pectoral antwren appeared and sang right next to Daves head! This was rapidly followed by Ochre-cheeked spinetail and Narrow-billed woodcreeper, and shortly afterwards, Hooded tanager and Blue-crowned trogon.
Now we drove to Pedra talhada, a closed IBAMA reserve protecting an important area of Atlantic coastal forest. The site was hard to find, we had to ask a lot of locals, and only just possible to get to in our 2 wheel drive vehicle (Yellow-winged and Chestnut-capped blackbirds). After ploughing through tonnes of mud we eventually had to abandon the car and walk the last kilometre seeing Spotted nothura. We found accommodation in the small village just below the reserve and went out to find the key species here: Forbess blackbird. Thankfully, the site for this bird is just outside the reserve on the path leading up to the entrance. We found only one individual, which gave good views in a small tree, though we saw far too many Shiny cowbirds, the nest parasite which is driving the species to extinction. A short distance up the track we found some trees and with them a pair of Seven-coloured tanager! This amazing species seemed to glow in the evening sun and was our most desired of the North-eastern Atlantic coastal forest endemics. We continued to the reserve entrance to try to blag a mornings birding. About half an hour of discussion was required to secure a 9-11am guided walk for the next day.
We awoke at dawn and birded on the outside of the reserve, re-seeing the Seven-coloured tanagers, but not the Forbess blackbird. Our first White-throated spadebill and Violaceous euphonia were all we saw. We only had two hours in the forest, the pressure was on, and we knew what the target birds were, even if our guides and their dogs did not. We soon heard a tody tyrant who took what seemed like forever to show, but it was worth the wait: Buff-breasted tody tyrant. Soon after we found a small canopy flock in which I located Alagoas tyrannulet, before the dogs sniffed out a pair of Plain spinetail. Close to here, we were treated to a view over the surrounding countryside from a high vantage point. We both lamented how similar to southern England the view was, just fields, hedgerows and the occasional tree. Two hours went far too fast, but we were pleased with our haul, which also included Golden-spangled piculet, Lesser woodcreeper, Pale-bellied tyrant-manakin, White-shouldered antshrike and a spectacular male Black-cheeked gnateater.
Unable to return to this forest we walked back to the car and drove to Murici. We got close to Murici, but this site really is only possible to access with a 4x4. Disappointed we found some small patches near Murici and decided to try birding them the next day. A friendly fazenda owner let us stay in his spare room nearby, and with beers, the Copa America on TV, and having seen some real rares it was hard to feel down for too long.
We awoke at dawn and spent the whole day birding the nearby forest patches. The species were an interesting mix of Amazonian and Atlantic coastal forest specialists. Pearly-vented tody tyrant and Long-tailed woodnymph were useful birds and Seven-coloured tanager was seen again. Unfortunately, the patches seemed not to be large enough to contain any of the other species we still desired from this region. Other birds we saw included Blue-chinned sapphire, White-backed fire-eye, Rufous-winged antwren, Bright-rumped attila, Red-headed manakin and Flame-crested and Yellow-backed tanagers. We also saw White-flanked antwren of the distinctive, greyer, Atlantic coastal forest taxon luctosa. In the evening Scissor-tailed nightjar hunted over the fields.
The previous evening we had decided to cut our losses and fly south early, and with the rain now falling heavily we made quickly for Recife airport. We were able to change our flights and flew back to Rio in the afternoon where we spent the night.
We returned to the airport and arranged a much better deal with a different hire company (Localisa) which gave us double our previous mileage allowance (just sufficient) at less overall cost. By lunchtime we were at Serra dos Orgaos ready to start birding. We used the upper entrance and parked at the dam (1100masl), packing a tent and nowhere near enough fish, crackers and cheese for two days on the hill. With clear skies, blazing sun, strong wind and tourists everywhere it looked like a birding nightmare. We had forgotten though that this was the Atlantic coastal forest, not the Andes or the Amazon, the birds seemed to relish the terrible birding weather!
We could not believe how easily the birds gave themselves up, usually showing down to a few metres; highlights were undoubtedly a stunning male Hooded berryeater and the superb Plovercrest. We also enjoyed Spot-winged woodquail, Streak-throated hermit, Brazilian ruby, Rufous-breasted leaftosser, Planalto woodcreeper, Star-throated antwren, Rufous-backed antvireo, Rufous-tailed antbird, Drab-breasted bamboo tyrant, Blue manakin, Yellow-legged thrush, Golden crowned warbler, Brassy-breasted tanager and the unique Diademed tanager. We arrived at the desired campsite just before dark, in time to take in a Bay-chested warbling finch before nightfall.
A dawn start found us walking uphill in search of the little known Grey-winged cotinga, but it failed to produce sight or sound of our quarry. We headed slowly down the hill listening for cotingas and eventually heard one, a Black and gold. Dave whistled it in and we got excellent views of a territorial male. Pallid spinetail and some familiar dross followed before we found a day roosting Tawny-browed owl. A movement in bamboo next to the path rapidly turned into a magpie sized male Giant antshrike, which gave insanely good views on a low bough. Next, Dave whistled a Rufous-tailed antthrush into full view, which was followed by some common birds: Reddish-bellied parakeet, Olivaceous woodcreeper and Plain antvireo. Before getting to car we found an understorey flock which contained White-browed foliage gleaner, Black-billed scythebill, White-shouldered fire-eye and Black-goggled-tanager.
It was well into the afternoon now and we decided to head to Carmo to try for Three-toed jacamar before dark. After totally miscalculating the distance we had to take the car rally style down the twisty dirt tracks to be at the site with any daylight. It was at this time that the boot lock developed a rattle which only got worse with time. Time was short upon arrival at Carmo, so I immediately blasted out the cd (much to Daves consternation) and the desired species appeared in a roadside tree above our heads and showed nicely. With no sight or sound of Rio de Janeiro antbird, and no tape of it at our disposal, we left and shot off to the Soumidouro road. We arrived just before dusk, in time for the Blue-winged macaw flyby. A few open area species were seen and Blackish rails showed briefly in the marsh. As darkness fell a Pavonine cuckoo called tantalisingly from the forest patch opposite.
We returned to Teresopolis where we struggled to find accommodation, eventually using the Hotel Philip.
We elected to bird the lower levels of Serra dos Orgaos during the morning, in the vain hope of Kinglet calptura - its surely worth a try! Obviously we drew a blank, but picked up plenty of other new birds including Spot-billed toucanet (easy in the campsite), White-barred piculet, Buff-bellied, Black-capped and White-eyed foliage gleaners, Sharp-tailed streamcreeper, Scaled and Plain-winged woodcreepers, Streak-capped antwren, Spot-breasted antvireo, Ochre-bellied, Sulphur-rumped and Sepia-capped flycatchers, Southern bristle-tyrant, Yellow and Rough-legged tyrannulets and Black-capped and Chestnut-crowned becards.
Shortly after leaving the park our rattling car boot situation took a turn for the worse when it flew open! The lock had sheared right off and there was nothing to do but return to Rio and get a new car. It took the best part of the afternoon to convince the hire company that it was not our fault, but eventually we got a replacement and an upgrade. This car was brand new with only six kilometres on the clock. There was no time to drive to Linhares, and in any case it was Saturday night and we were in Rio! We met up with one of Daves friends and drove into town (Magnificent frigatebird). Many people have since told us this was a silly thing to do. We stayed at the Hotel Canada and had a good night out, but were definitely the two worst dancers in the whole club: do not try to compete with the Brazilians!
We awoke at ten to a very wet Rio de Janeiro. It was 750 kilometres to Reserva Natural da Vale do Rio Doce (Linhares) so we broke the journey at Pocas des Antes, a reserve not far from Rio. There are two reasons for visiting this closed reserve, the highly endangered Golden-lion tamarin and primatologists, always female and usually hot (especially in Brazil). Unfortunately, the latter would not let us see the former so we walked the short public trail where the monkeys are occasionally seen. This is lowland secondary skank and there was little of interest, though we did see the luctosa race of White-flanked antwren again.
We arrived at Linhares at 9pm and arranged accommodation (we had made no prior booking) and a guide. We both prefer to bird alone, but guides were compulsory so we asked for the best bird guide.
Linhares is an odd forest. Flat and low it is criss-crossed by an extensive network of driveable tracks, indeed it is a few kilometres from the lodge to the forest. A number of species which occur at nearby Sooretama (e.g. Striated softail) do not occur at Linhares and other species which are hard at Linhares (e.g. Plumbeous antvireo and Salvadoris antwren) are much easier at Sooretama. However, Red-billed curassow is much easier at the better protected Linhares. We gave the guide our list of target species; the curassow at the top followed by some cotingas and drove into the forest.
The avifauna was an odd mix of lowland Atlantic coastal forest endemics and familiar Amazonian species, and like all lowland forest the birding the pace was slow. We concentrated on areas with Red-billed curassow; unfortunately, these are 20 kilometres from the lodge, so we had to drive our new car fast down the muddy tracks to avoid wasting time. It rained all morning, and indeed almost constantly for our whole time here. Star bird of the morning was a subtly beautiful male Black-headed berryeater, which seemed to do more berry vomiting than berry eating! The supporting cast included Variegated tinamou, Orange-winged amazon, Plain and Maroon-tailed parakeets, Minute hermit, White-tailed trogon, Black-cheeked gnateater, Eared pygmy-tyrant, Olivaceous flatbill, White-headed marsh tyrant, Greyish mourner and Thrush-like schiffornis. On our drive back to lunch we found a Uniform crake on the track.
The afternoon was once again spent searching for the curassow, but in vain. Instead we had good scope views of Blue-winged macaws and found Solitary tinamou, Rusty-margined guan, Violet-capped woodnymph and Opal-rumped tanager. We returned to the lodge in the dark stopping to spotlight another Tawny-browed owl.
We began the day trying for cotingas at some fruiting trees, but only saw Channel-billed toucan, Black-necked aracari and Yellow-fronted woodpecker. We quickly resumed the curassow hunt, picking up Rufous-breasted hermit, Black Jacobin, White-chinned sapphire, Rufous-capped anthrush, Three-striped flycatcher, White-crowned and Red-headed manakins and Brazilian tanager but there was no sign of the big cracid.
A burst of sunshine in the early afternoon coincided with another more successful visit to the cotinga clearing. First a Bare-throated bellbird started up its bizarre tonking song, and we quickly located the calling male which was singing from a bare branch. Whilst admiring the bellbird I saw another cotinga fly into a nearby tree: White-winged cotinga! A great species but the wrong sex, we really needed a male. It began to rain again so we went in search of our main quarry. We found only White-backed fire-eye.
Dawn saw two increasingly tense birders once again on the cracid hunt. We started the day with Spot-winged woodquail and then an Ocelot in the middle of the track. In a rare two bird moment I found a Plumbeous antvireo and Dave simultaneously found a pair of Crescent-chested puffbirds; two great species. These were followed by a Yellow-throated woodpecker; the race in the Atlantic coastal species has a red throat and may be a good species. Soon afterwards the unmistakable shape of a Red-billed curassow burst out of dense vegetation and landed high in a tall tree. We re-located the bird, a male, and got good views of this very wary individual. Other species seen included Rufous-breasted leaftosser, Buff-throated woodcreeper, Dusky-capped flycatcher and Buff-throated saltator. This was a good day for mammals; we also saw the localised Tufted-ear marmoset and also Brown capuchin monkey.
As we drove back to the lodge for lunch we flushed a White-necked hawk, a bird we had hoped for, but hardly expected to see. The afternoon was spent looking for cotingas. We did better today with a male White-winged cotinga and a female Bare-throated bellbird.
A morning spent scouring the canopy led to scope views of Red-crowned amazon and another female Bellbird. We found a few more feeding flocks than on previous days and added Grey-bellied spinetail, Eastern-slaty antshrike, Yellow-olive flycatcher, Greenish tyrannulet, Crested becard, Yellow-green grosbeak and Green-headed and Masked tanagers. Whilst driving out of the forest at mid-afternoon, we again saw a White-necked hawk, almost hitting it with the car this time!
We now began the drive to our pre-arranged meeting point with Anna and Pedro for the next days attempt at Cherry-throated tanager. We were satisfied with our time at Linhares, like any lowland forest site the longer you stay the more chance you have at the harder birds, of which there are not many. We reckoned it might take at least a week to have a realistic chance of hitting on Banded cotinga (which occurs at densities one tenth of White-winged) and the rarer antwrens. There is one record of Hook-billed hermit and the mythical Atlantic coastal forest taxa of Neomorphus is supposed to be present.
The road was twisty, dark and foggy. Driving here at night is a bad idea.
Having met up with our guides the previous night we had an early breakfast and were driven by them to Fazenda Pindobas IV. At $100 per day, this was big pressure birding, and we did not want to have to pay for a second day. It was cold, wet and windy at the site, which did not bode well. Unfortunately, this is not one of those birding stories where two increasingly irritable and depressed individuals chance upon the bird they are after at the eleventh hour, or even during the first (either would have done fine). The only Cherry-throated tanagers we saw were on the guides T-shirts and car stickers; they really know how to grip you off!
The Fazenda did produce some nice birds: Dusky-legged guan, Sapphire-vented puffleg, Suruaca trogon, Ochre-rumped and Ferruginous antbirds, Black-tailed flycatcher, Southern-beardless tyrannulet, Blue-billed black tyrant, Streamer-tailed grey tyrant and three very confiding Hooded berryeaters.
After lunch we moved to the new tanager site, a much larger piece of forest with better views of the canopy. This site also held more supporting cast. We quickly picked up a useful Cinnamon-vented piha and also Pallid and Rufous-capped spinetails, Buff-fronted foliage gleaner, Grey-capped tyrannulet, Chestnut-bellied euphonia and Rufous-headed, Gilt-edged and Ruby-crowned tanagers. Despite seeing a lot of new birds we felt incredibly down, a feeling relieved only by a stunning male Frilled coquette.
We had to try at the new site for a second day, and though we often saw canopy flocks with Sirystis, apparently a carrier species, it was the same overall result: massive disappointment and the low point of the trip. We did see Buff-headed marmoset, a very rare monkey, and Masked-titi monkey, though this was little consolation. Whilst dipping Cherry-throated tanager we also saw a lot of good birds typical of middle altitudes including: Scaly-naped parrot, Black-throated trogon, Robust woodpecker, Saffron toucanet, White-browed and the handsome White-collared foliage gleaner, Yellow-lored tody flycatcher, Oustallets tyrannulet, Greenish schiffornis, Pin-tailed manakin and Sharpbill. Of course since this was the Atlantic coastal forest most of these birds showed ridiculously well. We heard but failed to see Variagated antpitta and only Dave got lucky with Cryptic anthrush.
We left in the late afternoon after settling the hefty hotel bill; Anna and Pedro charge a plus expenses fee for their services, but remember the money helps fund their research into the tanager. The plan was to drive to Cipo National Park. This would have meant negotiating the centre of Belo Horizonte at night and after a vehicle dented our front wing overtaking us on a blind bend, we finally saw sense and, at midnight, gave up on the night driving. Accommodation on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte was plentiful and cheap. We drove into the Snob Motel, naively unaware of what a motel was. Things became clearer when we discovered we would have to pay for our under lit leather double bed by the hour! I negotiated a rate for the whole night whilst Dave located the complementary crotchless knickers and, more usefully, the fridge full of free beer.
Cipo National Park is surprisingly difficult to find, it took us till midday. It is best to take the route which goes past the airport. We decided to leave the canastero until the evening and, after checking into a pousada, headed for the main entrance of the park. This was our first experience of cerrado birding, and in the baking afternoon heat we unsurprisingly saw very little. Nonetheless, we were very impressed with the bustard-like Red-legged serima that we followed through the grass, and Curl-crested jay. We also saw Black-tufted-ear marmoset.
We spent until sunset on top of the plateau, in the area described as "like a football field" in Van de Woudes trip report. Here we could not locate our target Funarid but did enjoy finding a few Hyacinth visorbearers. I briefly saw Grey-backed tachuri whilst we both saw White-vented violetear, Campo flicker, Swallow tanager, Yellow-rumped marshbird and the surprisingly good looking Buff-throated pampa-finch. A nothura was flushed but could not be identified.
We began at the main entrance to Cipo at dawn with a displaying Stripe-breasted starthroat then Yellow-bellied seedeater and Blue finch. Just inside the park the White-rumped monjitas were again in evidence and we quickly found a spectacular Streamer-tailed tyrant. We saw little else so quickly left for higher ground. Once again we failed to see the canastero. More visorbearers were found and we were both able to enjoy Grey-backed tachuri. A Cinereous warbling-finch was a good find and we also saw Rufous-winged antshrike, Cinnamon tanager and Black-throated saltator.
Cipo was always meant to be just a break in the long journey to Canastra NP so we felt we had to leave, even without one of our target birds. We arrived at Sao Roque de Minas just before dark and checked into Pousada Borcello run by a man named Bruno, the most helpful man in Brazil The Copa America final was on TV, not that anyone in Brazil cared, it was just their world cup warm up.
Bruno had all the recent gen on where to find the most important bird here: Brazilian merganser. He gave us a site, we were there at dawn (essential) and Dave called our bird within a second of leaving the car! A pair swimming down-stream meant that it was on, but better views were desired. Before getting back into the car I found a singing male Helmeted manakin which we both admired, it was very good but not a patch on Araripe!
We were at the park (waterfall) entrance by 7:30, where we woke up the guard who let us in early. We walked to the picnic site where to our surprise there was another Brazilian merganser asleep in the river! We watched the bird for over ten minutes as it awoke, preened and swam off downstream. Around here we also saw Grey-headed kite, Pale-breasted spinetail and Crested black-tyrant. After this we birded the gallery forest leading up to the waterfall with its roosting swifts. We saw many White-collared and a few Great-dusky swifts, but on this and later occasions all the Biscutate swifts we saw became White-collared on better views. The gallery forest yielded Versicoloured emerald, Scaled woodcreeper, White-shouldered fire-eye, a surprise Pin-tailed manakin, Chestnut-headed tanager and Green-winged saltator.
During lunch we had un-tickable views of a small flock of White woodpeckers and then headed for the main entrance of the park. Large mammals were on the agenda here as well as birds. Sharp-tailed tyrant, Wedge-tailed grassbird and Great pampa-finch provided distraction until we spotted our first Giant anteater, a few hundred metres away. There was a rocky knoll close by the anteater so we headed for that, staying up-wind of the beast so that it did not detect our presence. On the way we stopped for an Ochre-breasted pipit. Once we were on top of the knoll, the anteater approached to within a couple of metres and we could even see its tongue as it fed; blind animals are easy to stalk! This was the first of three we saw. Chopi blackbird was present at the wardens hut.
Bruno had arranged with the park guards for us to access the park at any time we wanted, so we arrived pre-dawn to search for Maned wolf. We failed to find the wolf in the dark and turned our attention to looking for Cock-tailed tyrant and Greater rhea. We also failed to find the latter, but located a pair of the former in an area of low stringy bushes near a split in the track after taking the first major turn on the right (c.10km into the reserve). A smart little tyrant. Birding also produced Red-winged tinamou, Turquoise-fronted parrot, King vulture, White-tailed hawk, White-rumped and White-browed tanagers and Stripe-tailed yellow finch.
Cerrado birding was surprisingly slow at the best of times, but with the sun now high in the sky it was getting even slower and we decided to leave for a siesta. Thirty kilometres into the park the car lost power and came to a halt. Petrol was pouring out of the cracked pump which had have been hit by a stone flicked up by the wheel. After an hour or so of waiting a chicken truck came by with room enough for Dave in the front and me perched on the tail-bar, so we began our journey out of the park. Our lot improved immensely when some park guards on motorbikes caught up with us and, after we explained our predicament, went to inform Bruno. Bruno arrived in a big 4x4 with a tow-rope and took us back to our stricken car, which had been brand new just 3000 kilometres and two weeks ago. We had picked our spot well, upon arrival we found a Maned wolf hunting in association with an Aplomado falcon. Forgetting about the car we raced over the grass to get a closer look at this camp fox on stilts. Bruno toed us out (via another Maned wolf) and let us use his phone all afternoon to convince the hire company to send us a replacement car. Apparently, we were only entitled to a replacement if we broke down within 100km of a Localisa garage, which we were not. Bruno argued our case into the night, taking it in turns with Dave. Sometime between midnight and 2am our new hire car arrived.
The morning was spent gathering police documents, Bruno agreed to be our witness, and then travelling to the nearest Localisa office to make everything official. With half the day wasted we had no chance of getting to Intervales by nightfall; since we had given up night-driving and still needed tickable views of Toco toucan, we decided to spend a night on the southernmost edge of Canastra NP. The afternoon was spent birding in this area where we saw no birds.
We awoke and changed locations slightly in the hope of seeing something avian. A Tataupa tinamou was a start and we added a few other common species. Just as we were leaving (9 am) we found a small fruiting tree with at least eight Toco toucans. Though a widespread and common species, we had both really wanted to see this emblematic bird.
Most of the 550km of road to Intervales was new and of good quality, we arrived at the reserve soon after 2pm. For the majority of the reserve a guide is obligatory, so we booked Luis, the best bird guide and a top man with it. He had a Dutch group arriving in a few days so we did not have time to waste. By 14:30 a Festive coquette was being admired near his home, where we stopped to get his binoculars. We immediately set to whistling for White-bearded antshrike in an area which he said was also good for one of our other big targets. A tapping was heard behind us on some giant bamboo, I turned and rapidly called "Helmeted woodpecker!", or words to that effect. Dave and Luis turned to view the bird, which after playing a little hide and seek showed well a few more times.
Distant White-bearded antshrikes and later distant Spotted bamboowrens were heard but could not be persuaded closer. More obliging were Saffron toucanet, White-collared foliagegleaner, White-throated woodcreeper, Bay-ranged tyrannulet and Large-headed flatbill. As dusk began to fall we headed for a stake-out for White-breasted tapaculo, the bird was calling but we were beaten by the darkness and the birds mad skills. Darkness brought its delights in the form of a Long-trained nightjar which hovered just above the road close by us and perched on a low branch.
Luis met us just before dawn to try for another tapaculo: Slaty bristlefront. We located a calling bird though only got poor views. In some forest across the track we heard a Variegated antpitta calling. Luis showed us to a small trail leading close to the calling bird, and whilst wondering the best way to approach and find it, another bounded across the forest floor! Views were brief but good and we could not believe our luck. I turned on the cd, placed it in an elevated position on a large rock and retreated. Luis then located another calling Bristlefront which was showing much better, fanning its tail as it crept along a log a couple of metres away. Our attention was now drawn from the tapaculo to the antpitta which was stood next to the CD player! This massive bird bounced in close circles round the rock giving crippling views. We eventually dragged ourselves away from this normally skulking pair to bird some lower elevation forest in search of the Muriqui, the endangered Woolly spider-monkey.
Unfortunately, we could find only Brown howler monkeys but picked up some new bird species: Short-tailed antthrush, Olive-green tanager and Black-throated grosbeak. We were now also seeing many birds we had seen before, notably Pin-tailed manakin, Bare-throated bellbird, Cinnamon-vented piha and Suruaca trogon, here with a rufous rather than yellow belly.
A stop by the trackside produced Buff-fronted seedeater, a nomadic flowering bamboo specialist. At this spot we also picked up Green-barred woodpecker and Golden-winged cacique before hearing White-bearded antshrike, this time close by. Half an hour of whistling from Luis got the bird, a male, flying across the track to a smaller patch of bamboo. With time Dave and I got good views of this superb antshrike.
It was now time for lunch, a buffet affair at Intervales. Lunch was late so Dave and I went for a short walk without Luis, finding Brown-breasted bamboo-tyrant. After lunch Luis took us to his Hang-nest tody-tyrant stakeout, which did the business and also held Planalto tyrannulet. We spent the afternoon trying for Blue-fronted piping guan. We dipped this species but were compensated with good views of Mantled hawk soaring across the valley and then perching on an exposed limb, as well as Ochre-collared piculet and Red-breasted toucan.
In the evening we tried again for White-breasted tapaculo, this time with success! Plovercrest (of the southern race) and another Three-striped flycatcher were also seen before the end of the day. Since we were close, we had to have another look at Long-trained nightjar, again the bird performed beautifully. Another bird was calling too, Buff-fronted owl, so Luis whistled an imitation of the call and to our surprise it flew straight in. We enjoyed great views of this patchily distributed difficult little owl, a fitting end to an amazing day.
We began the day pursuing invisible Spotted bamboowrens around huge stands of giant bamboo; forget morphological anomalies, this truly is a tapaculo! A male Tufted antshrike provided compensation along with White-throated hummingbird, Dusky-tailed antbird and Rufous gnateater. A Dusky-throated hermit was heard but not seen. Attention was turned once again to Blue-fronted piping-guan and once again the bird was not seen. A stunning male Spot-backed antshrike was taped out of some dense bamboo and showed very well. Nearby we had Grey-bellied spinetail.
Luis had to meet his Dutch party in the afternoon, and wanting to find our own birds we were suffering from guide fatigue, so we decided to leave after lunch. Before this we ticked Golden-chevroned and Azure-shouldered tanager from deckchairs opposite the birdtable! If only we had had the bird table and bananas at Pindobas IV! After this we took a short walk around some forest behind the cabin, adding White-spotted woodpecker, Squamate antbird and Grey-hooded flycatcher. As we were paying Luis a Large-tailed antshrike started singing nearby, in a weird way we did not want to be shown the bird, we wanted to save at least something good to find ourselves. Thankfully, good sense got the better of our egos and a minute later the big male antshrike flopped onto the path by our feet. It soon moved into some slightly denser cover (denser than inch high grass) and we did some crawling on the ground to make us feel like proper birders again.
The drive to Ubatuba was longer than I had predicted (500+km) and we did not arrive until after dark. It was Saturday night so we went to a club to celebrate an exhausting but brilliant weeks birding.
A late start to the day did not seem to affect the birding. Fazenda Capricorn was lowland forest birding made easy, no mid-storey to obscure the canopy or darken the under-storey, which here was cacao. The house with the feeders held the spectacular Saw-billed hermit and another Festive coquette whilst White-thighed swallows were much in evidence in the sky above. A Buff-throated purpletuft was the highlight of the afternoon, but we both wanted views in better light, it was a rather dull day. The recently split Buff-bellied puffbird was also found and we located a useful Russet-winged spadebill. Calling bellbirds were plentiful and we also appreciated another Sharpbill in the canopy. Grey-hooded Attila, Long-billed gnatwren and Fawn-breasted tanager were all added as well.
Our thoughts for sometime had been on Swallow-tailed cotinga, a species almost guaranteed at Intervales in October but not present in July-August. We knew it could now be seen anywhere and with it being our most wanted bird we began to scan the canopy of every tree everywhere that we went.
We had an early start to get to Pereque for dawn, but it was well worth the effort. On the first twenty-five metres of trail we found the diminutive Sao-Paulo tyrannulet and our target bird: Black-hooded antwren, a male! Both showed well in the regenerating bushes. A more thorough investigation of the site produced Lined antshrike, Ferruginous antbird, numerous, dapper Scaled antbirds, Green-backed becard and Bearded manakin amongst others. The good views of purpletuft we had been hoping for were also realised when one landed in the tri-becard nest tree.
We spent a few hours searching the network of tracks which crisscross this largely cultivated area for Swallow-tailed cotinga in isolated trees and patches, we saw nothing of note. We then headed to some restinga (scrubby dune vegetation) where we also saw nothing of note. On our return to Ubatuba a Barred forest-falcon hit the windscreen, we found the bird sat low in a tree where it showed very well though did not look healthy. The last few hours of the day were spent searching for bamboowren in roadside bamboo inland from Ubatuba. We found only Tufted antshrike.
Another pre-dawn start, this time at Fazenda Angelim; it is necessary to book by phone a few days in advance to visit this site. To begin with, we were a bit over zealous in our whistled bamboowren imitations; it was still virtually dark when we tracked its tiny form creeping up the bamboo dome. Silhouette only views were of no use. Sometime after dawn we located another close individual and for over an hour or so Dave whistled it in close, just how close it had got we did not immediately realise. I suddenly noticed it sat at head height little more than a metre away, Dave quickly got on it too as it sat motionless giving us the evil eye! This intricately patterned little beast suddenly turned nasty when it flew straight at Daves face in territorial defence! It was nearly ten before we finally saw the bird, our exploits not helped by a noisy and inconsiderate tour group. Neotropical river-warbler and Reddish hermit were seen too, but we failed to find Fork-tailed tody tyrant.
For this special tyrant we went to Corcovado. We found the site with little difficulty even though most of the landmarks on the route are now removed or fallen over. A large green bin made from a horizontal oil drum now marks the turning to the bridge where the car can be parked. Bamboo areas were checked without success so since most of the bamboo was along the river we decided we would have to wade. After an unsuccessful trip downstream our upstream travels led us to a pair of Fork-tailed tody tyrants. Prolonged views of one of the best representatives of a super family were ample reward for wet legs. Investigating the site further we found a useful Red-eyed thornbird, Spixs spinetail and a Rufous-capped motmot.
It was now mid-afternoon and rather than leave the pleasant Ubatuba we went to the beach for a beer and to remind some Brazilian kids why their country always beats ours at football.
We left early in the morning for Campos do Jordao, an affluent resort close to an arboretum with some good Araucaria forest. We arrived at midday, but since our target species were few and this was high altitude we did not think time of day would affect our chances. We did the Araucaria loop, a two hour walk.
We soon found Bay-chested and Red-rumped warbling-finches, with which a Sharp-billed treehunter was loosely associating. The path followed a valley and we soon reached a point which afforded eye-level canopy views. A short blast of the CD player produced a fine pair of Araucaria tit-spinetails which came in to the closest tree. The cd caused them to sing and then even mate: who says playback is bad for birds! With views along the valley Dave picked up a small group of large parrots approaching, as they flew by it became clear these were Vineaous-breasted parrots, a speciality of this site. We later saw more distant groups of this species.
The path descended to a valley bottom where the understory was dense, and we located Serra-do mar tyrannulet. A fine male Black-capped piprites came silently in to the cd a little further up the path and gave great views. This was a bird we had both really wanted to see and one that is much harder on the Alguas Negras road at Itatiaia. We had spent only two hours birding this site but had seen all our target species, except Red-ruffed fruitcrow, so we decided it would be best to leave and get an evenings birding at Itatiaia.
We had little more than half an hour of daylight at Itatiaia before settling into the Hotel Ype, the Hotel Simon was full and the others too far from the trails. This was just enough time to locate a fine male Red-ruffed fruitcrow near the turning to the visitor centre!
An evening spent with Ridgley and Tudor (the book) convinced us that the Tres Picos trail covered the right altitudes for many of our remaining targets. We began at dawn finding a Yellow-browed woodpecker by the tennis courts. A little way up the trail mobbing alerted us to our third and final Tawny-browed owl which was quickly followed by a stunning Blue manakin, though not uncommon it was hard to tire of this species. Buff-browed foliage gleaner was soon found and then a Pale-browed treehunter foraging in bromeliads with a feeding flock.
We sat down to tape in some Brown tinamous, without success, but Dave made up for this by whistling a Cryptic anthrush onto the path. Upon standing up we discovered a male White-bibbed antbird behind us. A pair of Blackish-blue seedeater was found in some bamboo, a plant which was abundant though not as common nor as large as at Intervales. Upon arriving in the narrow elevational range of Bertonis antbird we used the cd to see the species, which proved to be quite common and showed well. As we gained in altitude we heard Speckle-chested antpitta, a pretty little antpitta which quickly came into view in response to Daves whistling. As we gained in altitude Rufous-tailed antbird and Rufous-tailed antthrush were seen and a Black and Gold cotinga heard. We had now seen virtually all the mid-altitude species available in the Atlantic coastal forest and we decided to head back to the hotel (White-spotted woodpecker).
During lunch at the hotel close views of Black Jacobin, Brazilian ruby and tanagers such as Blue-rumped chlorophonia were enjoyed. The afternoon was spent in the lowest area of the park, mainly searching for Swallow-tailed cotinga. We admired the Red-ruffed fruitcrow again, in a similar place to the previous day, but saw little else.
We left Itatiaia in the late afternoon and headed towards the Alguas Negras road to check it out ready for the next morning. Many Mouse-coloured tapaculos were singing and it did not take long to see one. It was quickly dark and we headed into Minas Gerias and found accommodation in the first large town.
Before heading up to the Alguas Negras road we tried to find Serra antwren, searching woodland patches in the correct elevational range. We failed to find this species though did locate another Cinereous warbling-finch as well as Yellow-chevroned parakeet and Yellow-browed tyrant.
We were on the Alguas Negras road by midday and began birding the stunted forest, finding more Mouse-coloured tapaculos, White-crested tyrannulet, Serra do Mar tyrannulet and the two available warbling-finches. Further along in a more open area we found Pallid spinetail, Velvety black-tyrant and Shear-tailed grey-tyrant. Stopping at the regular site, it did not take us long to get good views of Itatiaia thistletail and a Sooty tyrannulet.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the lower echelons of Itatiaia NP searching in vain for Swallow-tailed cotinga. The only new bird was a roadside Slaty-breasted woodrail at dusk, a useful bird. We found a hotel outside the park in Penedo.
We awoke at dawn and birded the patch of forest behind the Hotel Arboretum where we were staying. We found White-bibbed antbird and Rufous gnateater. Penedo is close to some low forested hills; high class housing development was cutting large gaps in the forest, creating a parkland type habitat which we thought might be ideal for Swallow-tailed cotinga.
Most of the day was spent exploring this area and though we failed to find our target bird we did add Black-hawk eagle, Yellow-eared woodpecker and Thick-billed saltator. Other interesting birds we saw included White-collared foliage gleaner, Sao Paolo tyrannulet and Hang-nest tody-tyrant. The forest here is good, we heard Cryptic anthrush and Undulated antpitta.
We were heading now to stay at Serra dos Tucanos, run by Andy, a friend of a friend. We decided to break the journey at Terresopolis to avoid too much night driving, staying again at the Hotel Philip. Many people may have wondered why they never see Eddie Izzard on TV anymore; we found him working behind the bar of the only club in town.
After an evening out we were late leaving our beds. Thankfully no birding time had been wasted, there was very heavy rain. The drive to Andys place was very slow, mainly due to the state of Dave who had to stop periodically to vomit by the roadside. The same weather system was at Serra dos Tucanos so no birding was attempted. Hopes for the next day were raised when Andy told us he had seen a distant Swallow-tailed cotinga the previous day. The bird was perhaps within our grasp.
With the weather still poor we decided to head for the coast to try for Restinga antwren. On the way we again stopped at Pocas des Antes to try to persuade them to let us see the Golden-lion tamarins. Once again the hot primatologists said no.
We had little more success with the antwren. Heading towards Cabo Frio we found some good restinga behind a school. The school was guarded by that massive man with healing power from the film The Green Mile, except this time he looked meaner and had some weapons. Nothing of note was seen in this restinga but we did not fancy taking our chances closer to the cape: if this sort of guard was required at a school what would we need for our car?! We had heard Cabo Frio was not safe so searched elsewhere without success, perhaps we should have chanced it. A look at the sea produced Royal and Cayenne terns.
Near Cabo Frio we were stopped by the police and searched. They sniffed their way through the glove compartment and our day-sacks, but totally ignored the boot! We did not have any driving documents with us, something they were not happy about. Thankfully they were easily distracted using the do you want a look through my binoculars? trick and soon forgot what they were meant to be doing.
With improved weather, we headed to the site where Andy had seen a Swallow-tailed cotinga a few days previous. We arrived a few hours after dawn and quickly saw Ochre-faced tody flycatcher. After only ten minutes a flock of birds flew across the path and landed in the topmost branches of a tree fifty metres in front of us, we raised our bins and Dave said what we both knew: "Theyre Swallow-tailed cotingas!" There were sixteen of them, more distant than we would have liked, but we were awestruck nonetheless. They quickly moved on up the hill and out of view; we had seen them at 1800masl, much higher than they are meant to be, especially at this time of year.
We walked back towards the car, hoping to relocate them, but not finding them turned back to try the original spot. Amazingly, I relocated half the cotinga flock sat in the bare topmost branches of a tree on the lower side of the path, this time they were at eye-level and only twenty metres away. We set up the scope and enjoyed them for nearly half an hour till all 16 flew off low over our heads calling like winter thrushes, only much quieter. We were too rared out to concentrate on anything else, so returned to the lodge to spend the afternoon sat in a trance like state in the garden.
Our last full day in Brazil, we decided to make the most of the morning by visiting Guapi Acu in search of its contentious antwren, as well as Shrike-like cotinga. The forest was accessed by passing by a marsh where we found Yellow-chinned spinetail and Savannah hawk. We birded up the hillside through fairly recent secondary growth, much of it was formerly a banana plantation, and then down a path that led to older forest. Thrushes were very much in evidence, but we saw little else until we located a pair of Eye-ringed tody tyrants.
As we walked back down the hill, we located an understory flock. Unicoloured antwren was present and a good tick (we were doing very badly for antwrens) and there was also a pair of the contentious birds. The male looked perfect for Rio-de Janeiro antwren, and indeed we believe these birds do represent that species. The only anomalous feature was the semi-concealed white flank feathers, which were constantly flicked out from beneath the wings whilst the bird was foraging. It is this feature which has led many birders to believe that these birds are White-flanked antwrens. However, the White-flanked antwrens (subsp luctosa) at nearby Pocas des Antes, and everywhere else in the Atlantic coastal forests, are consistently much darker overall, especially on the underparts. We suggest that Rio de Janeiro antwren, which was never seen in the field before it was described, might have white flank feathers and that they may not have been noticed on the type (and only) specimen. This could mean that Rio de Janeiro antwren is only a race of White-flanked antwren. However, the alternative suggestion, that there are two almost identical antwren taxa (Rio de Janeiro antwren and an undescribed White-flanked antwren subspecies) restricted to a tiny area near Rio where White-flanked antwren subsp. luctosa is absent, seems less likely.
A superb trip over, we returned the car to Localisa and settled our bill, managing to arrange the largest discount Localisa had ever given, or so they said. We flew home the next day.