Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
Cresent -chested Puffbird
This was a TROPICAL BIRDING custom tour www.tropicalbirding.com, guided by Nick Athanas and Sam Woods.
This tour turned out to be just fantastic, with great company on the tour, a range of genuinely superb accommodation and food; the weather was good throughout most of the trip with serious rain only encountered on one afternoon, hampering the birding only for these few hours of the whole tour. The timing of the tour seemed perfect with many species being responsive and obliging, so that we had some really superb birds, including over 50 Brazilian endemics and a total of over 490 species recorded. These included Black-and-Gold & Swallow-tailed Cotingas, Bare-throated Bellbirds, Speckle-breasted Antpitta, Giant Antshrike, nearly 30 species of Antbirds and a bunch of brightly-colored Tanagers in the Atlantic forests of the southeast, while the Pantanal produced a few surprises, not least the Zigzag Heron observed being active during the day, in addition to a pair of roadside Sungrebes, Great Rufous Woodcreepers, Helmeted Manakins, thousands of waterbirds including hundreds of mighty Jabirus, and many views of Hyacinth Macaws. Some nice views of mammals such as Brazilian Tapir and families of Giant Otters in addition to the spectacle of hundreds of Caiman meant the Pantanal also left a lasting impression with all of us. The large numbers of birds and mammals seen on both parts of the tour left us with a good overview of both the Brazilian Pantanal and the Atlantic forests of southeast Brazil.
30th July Arrival day - Rio de Janeiro and onto Guapi Assu Bird Lodge.
31st July Guapi Assu Bird Lodge (REGUA)
1st August Guapi Assu Bird Lodge (REGUA)
2nd August Macae de Cima, Nova Friburgo
3rd August Nova Friburgo
4th August Early AM Around Guapi Assu Bird Lodge & onto Itatiaia N PPM Itatiaia N P
5th August Itatiaia National Park
6th August Agulhas Negras
7th August AM Itatiaia National Park PM Traveling to the coast (Agra DOS Reis)
8th August AM Pereque PM Travel to Ubatuba
9th August AM Ubatuba - Folha Seca PM Ubatuba - Corcovado
10th August AM Ubatuba - Fazenda Angelim PM Ubatuba - Corcovado
11th August Travel to Sao Paulo Airport and fly to Cuiaba
12th August AM Travel to the Pantanal PM Pousada Piuval, The Pantanal
13th August Pousada Piuval, The Pantanal
14th August AM Pousada Piuval, The Pantanal & onto Fazenda Rio Claro PM Fazenda Rio Claro, The Pantanal
15th August Fazenda Rio Claro, The Pantanal
16th August AM Transpantanal HighwayPM Fazenda Rio Claro, The Pantanal
17th August AM Depart Pantanal, birding Transpantanal Highway on way. PM Chapada DOS Guimaraes
18th August Chapada DOS Guimaraes
19th August Early AM Chapada DOS Guimaraes, and travel back to Cuiaba. PM Flight back to Sao Paulo. End of tour.
The late arrival of the flight for the group meant we had little time for birding on arrival at Guapi Assu, although a brief stop on the way for some low-flying swifts produced great views of Biscutate Swifts amongst a mixed flock.
After arrival at the lodge we did manage to see some birds around the garden before the light faded, including our first Brazilian endemic of the trip - Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher - in addition to Burnished-Buff & Yellow-backed Tanagers. We retired to the plush lodge with a much appreciated welcome drink awaiting us of Caipirinha, a strong Brazilian alcoholic drink. Guapi Assu is an active conservation project which protects over 5000 hectares of Atlantic rainforest ranging between 30-2000m and is therefore a highly important reserve for this extremely threatened habitat.
We began the tour in earnest by spending the day walking a wide open forest trail that leads to a scenic waterfall, although the initial influx of new birds (many of them specialties to the Atlantic forests) prevented us from ever reaching it. It was not long before we saw some of our first Brazilian endemics for the trip, with repeated views of both Saw-billed Hermits and Brazilian Ruby at the hummingbird feeders (see photo) as we got out of the car at the start of the day.
We then headed up the trail and soon picked up the first of many antbirds seen on the trip (over 30 were seen on this tour), with some good views of Star-throated Antwrens, soon followed by a pair of Unicolored Antwrens in company with White-flanked Antwren. Not long after we added more endemics with a close Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant and a Gray-hooded Attila. A short while later a Southern Antpipit gave us the runaround for a while and some fortunate ones amongst us managed to get some close, if brief, views.
Yet more antbirds were seen further up with a Streak-capped Antwren moving around in the canopy, while a pair of the striking endemic Scaled Antbird performed well after initially skulking in the undergrowth. However, try as we might we could not manage to coax the Shrike-like Cotinga that Nick had seen on his last tour to respond at all, although I guess you have to miss some birds, even on this trip! Some great prolonged views of a male Black-cheeked Gnateater by the end of the day and some nice mixed flocks including some colorful birds such as Red-crowned Ant-tanagers and Flame-crested Tanagers and our first Cotinga for the trip - Sharpbill, made up for that in part anyway.
This turned out to be really bird packed day with over 100 species seen in a very small area, as we found we had not actually traveled very far due to the good birds that just kept coming to us, making our progress very slow. We had our first views of dazzlingly red Brazilian Tanagers shortly after reaching the trail (which bought audible gasps from many) in addition to a pair of Long-billed Wrens. Other birds seen included Black-capped Foliage-gleaner (surely one of the most stunning furnarids in the World), Yellow-eared Woodpecker, more antbirds with Rufous-winged Antwren, Spot-backed Antshrike and Spot-breasted Antvireo all seen in a very small area, along with the the endemic Sooretama Slaty-antshrike which was seen later inadvertently after the reserve manager informed us he had seen a pair of Crescent-chested Puffbirds which we soon had great views of in addition to the nearby Antshrike. However,
I think it is fair to say the pair of White-bibbed Antbirds that characteristically chose to feed on the open path for 5 minutes stole the show as far as the antbirds were concerned (we were not expecting to have such an easy time trying to see that species and it was really satisfying to know everyone enjoyed good, prolonged views of the birds). Bare-throated Bellbirds calling all around us throughout the morning proved typically frustrating to see for some time (particularly as some of the group had seen one well early in the morning), although by the end of the morning we had managed to see several startling white males perched at close range to add our second Cotinga of the trip. Other less colorful birds recorded in that bird-packed morning included some more Brazilian endemics such as Plain Parakeets which flew over us on several occasions, and several Golden-chevroned Tanagers were also encountered, although the male Spot-billed Toucanet that called nearby and eventually decided to come into check out our recording was appreciated far more. After a relaxing lunch back at the lodge we walked around the wetland that can be seen from the lodge. Guapi Assu Bird Lodge and the area around it is a an active conservation project within the Reserva Ecologica de Guapi Assu (or REGUA for short), which has included recently restoring and expanding this wetland. We added some wetland species to the list in this area including Muscovy Ducks, Brazilian Teal, Rufescent Tiger-Herons, Yellow-chinned Spinetails and Moustached Wrens in addition to the seemingly resident Aplomado Falcon, before heading back to the lodge for more Caipirin has that seemed to grow in popularity as our time at the lodge wore on.
We left the lodge early to head up higher in elevation (around 1, 400m) to the forests of Macae de Cima, near the town of Nova Friburgo. The Atlantic forest at this altitude holds some very special birds that are only found higher up. Before reaching the main forest area we were going to spend the say we paused for an hour at some roadside forest along the way which can be remarkably productive if a mixed flock is encountered. Although not as lively as hoped we still managed to see some interesting birds there such as Dusky-tailed Antbird, Red-eyed Thornbird, Chicli (or Spix's) Spinetail, Greenish Schiffornis and White-rimmed Warbler. At the top of the road we stopped at the hummingbird feeders by a private house where we added Scale-throated Hermit and White-throated Hummingbird to the list before heading down the road to bird the forest alongside this quiet, private road. A fast-moving flock along there produced a Black-billed Scythebill that unfortunately only one of us saw at the time, although by the end of the morning (after many brief frustrating flight views of the bird), it finally gave itself up and allowed everyone good views of this quirky-looking bird. Other roadside flocks produced more endemics such as dozens of multi-colored Brassy-breasted Tanagers, Rufous-backed Antshrikes and a few Pallid Spinetails, in addition to boldly patterned Yellow-browed Woodpeckers and a Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner. We especially checked the roadside bamboo stands as there are some specialists to this habitat, and we soon heard a few of these while searching for the Scythebill, and with some gentle luring with a recording we added another Antbird - the endemic Ochre-rumped Antbird - although the Bertoni's Antbird (a recent split from Ferruginous Antbird) calling virtually from the same clump of bamboo gave us the run-around for a while before deciding to show itself to all of us in the end. The long time spent hanging around this area of roadside bamboo paid off for some when a Brazilian Antthrush quietly walked by allowing at least some of us some good, if brief, views of this skulking endemic. Another bamboo specialist - Drab-breasted Bamboo-tyrant - was untypically showy in the same area.
On walking back up the road towards the feeders again after some time we soon heard the call of a Hooded Berryeater closeby (sounding strangely like one of the Asian pittas), and soon found the bird sitting motionless in a fruiting tree by the road. As we proceeded further along the road we could hear the mournful calls of many Black-and-Gold Cotingas around us although they were difficult to see in the windy treetops from where they call although eventually we had good scope views of this striking endemic.
A short time later a close-calling Mouse-colored Tapaculo was fortunately close to a convenient gap in the vegetation and was tempted into there allowing most people to see this typically skulking bird. We then headed back up towards the house for lunch on the lawn there while watching the feeders for any new species such as the Amethyst Woodstar that appeared a few times during lunch and an Azure-shouldered Tanager was almost missed by many of the group were it not for the large camera lens pointing towards the bird alerting us to its presence! After adding some great new birds to the list including two new Cotingas, we headed back to Guapi Assu lodge for more great food and Caipirinhas.
This day had been left open to use for re-visiting any areas where we may have missed some important birds, so we decided to head back towards Nova Friburgo, this time birding a quiet trail that was the site of an old railroad. As the day warmed and the birds became active we added another woodpecker to the list - the flicker-like Green-barred Woodpecker, in addition to a Rufous-capped Spinetail (which decided to perform unlike the birds we had only heard the day before), a very showy White-shouldered Fire-eye, another Greenish Schiffornis for some of those who had missed the brief bird the day before, Scaled & White-throated Woodcreepers and a few Variable Antshrikes. Although pride of place for the day undoubtedly went to the stunning male Pin-tailed Manakin, not only a monotypic endemic genus, but a really, really good-looking bird. Mixed flocks held some colorful species such as endemic Rufous-headed Tanagers in addition to Blue Dacnises, Chestnut-bellied Euphonias and more Brassy-breasted Tanagers.
As the day heated up the bird activity visibly slowed so we headed back to the bus for a late lunch stopping briefly to admire a handsome male Plovercrest feeding for a short time on the trailside Impatience flowers. After lunch we explored another trail for a short time seeing another endemic Tanager - Olive-Green Tanager, and also some Blue-naped Chlorophonias and a Black-throated Grosbeak although as time was getting on and bird activity was particularly slow we decided to head back to Guapi Assu for some well-earned rest (and maybe some more Copereinas!)
The early part of the morning was spent 'relaxing' and birding around the Guapi Assu Bird Lodge garden although the high level of bird activity left little time to relax. Soon after first light we began adding more species to the bird list such as Rufous-breasted Hermit feeding on flowers at the edge of the lawn, and Rufous-tailed Jacamar was very popular with the keen photographers on the tour putting on a lengthy show for them. A White-chinned Sapphire visited the flowers by the feeders several times although managed to miss the gaze of may of us. More appreciated was the bold Blonde-crested Woodpecker that after distantly calling back to the tape for around an hour eventually decided to come over to the lodge and investigate. Other birds seen included Campo Flickers, White-winged Becard, Lemon-chested Greenlet and Chestnut-backed Antshrike. We then forced the photographers to leave the Jacamar alone so that we could head to Itatiaia, (Brazil's oldest and perhaps best known national park), stopping for lunch along the way. On reaching the park we checked into our idyllic accommodation, perched on the edge of the forest and right beside their restaurant which has a number of well-placed hummingbird and fruit feeders alongside the restaurant window. The frenzy of bird activity at the feeders on our arrival was unbelievable and many of the group soon abandoned their bags to take photos of the many Blue-naped Chlorophonias, Green-headed & Olive-green Tanagers and Chestnut-bellied Euphonias around the fruit feeders, while the hummingbird feeders provided some new species such as the distinctive Black Jacobin, and the less obvious Versicolored Emerald. We also soon had great views of the breathtaking Yellow-fronted Woodpeckers feeding at the fruit trays, although unfortunately the regular Saffron Toucanets failed to put in an appearance at that time. After a serious level of overeating at the restaurant due to the enormous variety of good food on offer, we went for a leisurely stroll along the road near the hotel and despite it being fairly quiet we still managed to add some endemics such as White-collared Foliage-gleaner, Grey-capped Tyrannulet and Gilt-edged Tanager, in addition to some other interesting birds such as Magpie Tanager, White-browed Foliage-gleaner and Green-winged Saltator. We then walked back to the hotel, frequently commenting on the rediculous abundance of the Dusky-legged Guans at Itatiaia where you can sometimes see over 12 birds together walking around on roadside lawns! After another absolutely amazing buffet where we were well and truly spoilt for choice (leading to yet more over indulgence), we retired to our excellent rooms at the Hotel do Ype for the night noticing the cooler climate at this altitude (1150m), compared to the lowlands of Guapi Assu.
We were soon distracted from our early breakfast by a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl perched by the window and the hoped for Saffron Toucanets by the feeders, before we had even finished eating. The plan was then to head straight for the Tres Picos trail, a closeby trail well-known to visiting birders, although the number of birds coming into the feeders and surrounding flowering trees around the hotel halted our progress for sometime. In addition to the well-appreciated Toucanets we saw many Maroon-bellied Parakeets and a fine Red-breasted Toucan in the red-flowering trees around the hotel along with some Velvety Black-Tyrants (yet another Brazilian endemic-see photo below) by the poolside, a Rufous-capped Motmot that would have been visible from some of the groups rooms (had they been in there), a Planalto Woodcreeper.Although best of all was a Swallow-tailed Cotinga seen in trees behind the restaurant (see photo), which the photographers were well placed for due to their well-chosen decision to remain at the feeders for the abundant photographic possibilities.
A few minutes after leaving the Cotinga we encountered another two in a tree by the road a short way down from the hotel (and another was later seen on the trail). More birds along the roadside delayed us from reaching the trail such as our first Eared Pygmy-Tyrants of the trip, before we finally made it to the trail and soon saw some Large-headed Flatbills and a small flock of the foliage-gleaner-like endemic Brown Tanager and were soon after chasing a calling White-bearded Antshrike which although initially proved awkward to see in the dense bamboo that it remained in, we soon appreciated the fact that it chose to remain there once we managed to get the scope well-positioned. Some good feeding flocks were encountered along the trail with a number of colorful Tanagers such as Gilt-edged & Brassy-breasted Tanagers side-by-side and a diversity of Furnarids in them including White-browed, Buff-fronted & Black-capped Foliage-gleaners as well as our first Sharp-billed Treehunters of the trip. Although one stretch of the trail bought us two really good birds - first a small covey of Spot-winged Wood-Quails crossed the trail several times, allowing any who missed them the first time to catch them on the repeat run, and then strangest of all was an owl heard calling for a long period in late morning that at the time we were unsure of. Therefore we spent a long period of time taping the bird in close, although as it seemed determined to remain in a very dense canopy we had resigned ourselves to leaving the bird unnamed, before Mr. Tsai quietly announced he had the bird (sending the guides into a panic as we could not understand their Mandarin directions to the bird and we were still unsure what the bird was, although we were fairly sure it had to be something good!) After we all finally got on the small area of the bird that was visible and maneuvered ourselves where we could examine it more closely, it confirmed Nick's suspicions that the bird was indeed a good one - Variable Screech-Owl - and a lifer for all on the trip. We then headed back for lunch stopping for a calling antbird that we had hoped would be Squamate, only for the bird that came into the call of Squamate to turn out to be another White-bibbed Antbird.
During lunch Sam had seen a male Tufted Antshrike behind our cabins and with a little patience we all eventually saw the bird soon after lunch. The afternoon after then was spent birding the roadside near the same trail as it was very active in the morning and although the activity had definitely slowed since then we had some good birds there, including a pair of Robust Woodpeckers (that had eluded us in the morning despite repeated attempts to lure them in) another Rufous-capped Motmot and an uncharacteristically showy Rufous Gnateater. Another evening of bountiful food led us to bed for an early night in preparation for our early start the following morning.
After an hour or so drive from our accommodation (after a much appreciated early breakfast at the hotel), we reached the Algulhas Negras road. The road climbs from around 1700m at the start to about 2300m and so was extremely chilly just after first light, although this did not seem to bother the singing Black-and-Gold Cotinga that we scoped just after getting out of the bus.
New birds came fast up here as we had not yet ventured this high on the trip and we soon picked up and saw a calling Grey-bellied Spinetail (a very localized bird), small flocks of Diademed Tanagers were welcome and were the first of many seen on the day, along with a our first White-spotted Woodpeckers, Red-rumped Warbling-finches were common along there and sometimes seen side-by-side with the scarcer endemic Bay-chested Warbling-finch, and of course on this trip there had to be more antbirds to see and soon after first light we lured in another one - Rufous-tailed Antbird - a bird that is confined to high altitude bamboo stands in Brazil. Although a call further up the road soon hurried us on and we all waited nervously for a time as the bird came in to the tape and continued to call back but evaded anyone's attention until Nick finally found the Speckle-breasted Antpitta lurking in the shadows on the forest floor which, despite the fact the bird was only visible in a tiny hole, most people managed to get a view of in the end. We also had views of two more Plovercrests including a male which allowed us to fully appreciate it's true beauty by feeding close to us in the open on roadside flowers for a more prolonged period than our last sighting. After struggling for a response a Serra do Mar Tyrannulet (a flycatcher confined to Brazil), finally decided to give itself up, although the hoped Black-capped Piprites eluded us for a while until later down the road when we halted the bus to pick up some of the photographers (who had moved on ahead to photograph an approachable male Surucua Trogon) when a Piprites called on the other side of the road. Unfortunately this bird decided to respond atypically to tape-luring and fly away from the noise, although I think most of the group had good, if briefer than hoped-for, views. Having seen many of the star birds by this time we continued up the mountain road, climbing in altitude until a small stand of Auracaria trees beside the road where we pulled over and after initially flying around and hiding in the dense canopies we all eventually had superb views of the extremely localized Auracaria Tit-Spinetail, a bird completely confined to stands of these distinctive trees. Having seen many of the specialties we decided to lunch by a larger stand of Auracarias before climbing higher along the road to around 2200-2300m, for one of our last main targets, an extremely localized Brazilian endemic that is confined to scrub and forest at higher altitudes there. On leaving the bus we immediately heard the contact call of the Itatiaia Thistletail (Spinetail), although despite the bird coming in it remained untypically elusive in the scrub and was not seen well by anyone, so we continued on up the road and searched for another one. This proved difficult in the early afternoon heat as activity was understandably low, although after about three quarters of an hour of frustration we heard one closeby which behaved more obligingly, by showing well to us all, revealing it's distinctive tawny throat when singing back at us. Having reached almost the highest point along the road we headed back down the road where bird diversity would increase again and looked for some of the species that were eluding us, that included Shear-tailed Grey-Tyrant that only a few of us had managed to see in the morning. Fortunately we saw a few flycatching from the treetops on the way back down, in addition to a characteristically elusive Brown-breasted Bamboo-tyrant that unfortunately was only seen by a few of us, although a White-crested Tyrannulet was much more accommodating. In the late afternoon we headed back to the Hotel do Ype for a last night of serious feasting there before heading off towards the coast.
We only had a morning left at Itatiaia, before we headed to the coastal lowland forests, so we decided to concentrate on some of the difficult interior forest birds along the Tres Picos trail. The decision was a good one, and a short way up the trail a Slaty Bristlefront called extremely near to us and this typically elusive and difficult species then gave repeated close views allowing us all to see the bizarre tuft of feathers that this Tapaculo is named after. Not a bird that would first spring to mind, although the quirkiness of this bird and the amazing views that everyone had of it led some to name it as their favorite bird of the trip. It was pleasing to see this bird here as it meant we did not have to rely on another site where Nick had more frequently encountered it. Some Pileated Parrots near the start of the trail were also new for us. Unfortunately as before the Such's Antthrushes appeared largely oblivious to our tape and so eluded us, although a Giant Antshrike calling ahead had us heading up the trail with greater urgency. As their loud calls carry for such great distances they sometimes appear much closer than they actually are and they are far more frequently heard than seen (we had heard on many occasions over the last few days), so Nick decided to plough ahead to see if there was anyway to get closer to it. Fortunately someone had recently trodden a small trail into the forest at an opportune point and we steamed in there, all the while the bird calling loudly nearby. A short time later Nick found the bird sitting high in a dense bamboo stand where we watched it calling in our scopes for a long time, all appreciating the enormity of this well-named antshrike and watching the extremely long tail bobbing up and down each time it called. It was easy to understand how a bird like this could be so difficult to see when the bird steadfastly remained at its chosen singing post the whole time, where we eventually had to leave it and head back to the hotel, with the antshrike's far-carrying calls sounding behind us all the while. Although there was just enough time before leaving the bird to have good flight views of a lucky Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle that flew over us while we were admiring the antshrike. We then packed up and left for the quiet coastal town of Angra dos Reis where we spent the night in some pleasant chalets.
Thankfully (like all the hotels on this trip), this one was very accommodating being only to happy to provide us with a well-needed very early breakfast, before we drove to the coastal lowland woodlands near the town of Pereque. The forest at near sea-level there, is home to one of the most rare and localized of the Brazilian endemics seen on the trip - the globally-threatened Black-hooded Antwren (a bird that at one time had been unrecorded for over 100 years before its rediscovery in 1987) . Apart being a rare and endemic bird, the male at least is a very smart one, so we were pleased to connect with a pair a short time after arriving (although most of us had to be satisfied with a female initially before one of the photographers produced a stunning photo of a male and we put a concerted effort into seeing that bird where he had taken the shot). Unfortunately on arrival we had noticed a locked gate had been erected in one area, which prevented us entering a known territory for Squamate Antbird, so we confined ourselves to the road seeing some striking birds such as Channel-billed Toucans of the far more colorful orange-breasted race, some male White-bearded Manakins, Red-necked Tanagers and some more Yellow-fronted & Blonde-crested Woodpeckers. A few less colorful (although no less appreciated) birds were added to the list such as Neotropical River Warbler and Half-collared Sparrow (now a Brazilian endemic as it has been split from Pectoral), that both showed well and more Red-eyed Thornbirds were also recorded. We then had a stroke of luck when we met the caretaker for some of the land who was only too happy to lend us the keys to the gate to the area for the Squamate Antbird, although before we reached the place we heard and briefly saw another endemic - Hangnest Tody-Tyrant which unfortunately eluded many of us. We then walked into the forest where the antbird was calling and spent much time trying to get views of the bird in the dense ground cover, a female of which we amazingly all saw in the end. As we approached lunch time we stopped at a good restaurant in the town before we proceeded westwards along the coast to the town of Ubatuba, where we checked in for two nights at an amazing hotel where the seafood is out of this world and that it rightfully has a significant reputation for (everyone in the group seemed suitably blown away by their excellent seafood dishes).
We left our hotel after another easily arranged early breakfast and drove around 20 minutes to a private residence at Folha Seca (that means 'dry leaf' in Portuguese), where there are a number of very lively fruit and hummingbird feeders, and it was not long before we were getting our first glimpses of the amazing Festive Coquettes there. Although the serious photographers were determined to stay behind for the many photo opportunities available we managed at least to drag some people away from the feeders so that we could concentrate on the forest birds when they are active in the early morning with a promise that we would return to the feeders later. As we proceeded up an overgrown trail nearby we flushed up some Ruddy Quail-doves that must have been feeding alongside the path, although the narrow trail meant few people had decent views. In a bamboo stand further along though we soon enjoyed great views of one of the days target birds - the fantastic Ferruginous Antbird - and another endemic, Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant, also showed well a short time later (and another two were seen well further on). As we reached a more open area we added Green-backed Becard and Reddish Hermit to the list and enjoyed more views of Sharpbill and Saffron Toucanets. We then headed down a short more open trail and soon managed to get some really close satisfying views of another of our target species there - Tawny-throated Leaftosser at a known territory, before we retired back to the feeders for a multitude of well-used photo opportunities, including more great views of the Coquette (see photo), another endemic hummer, Sombre Hummingbird and many Tanagers and parrots (including great views of Plain Parakeets and Brazilian & Azure-shouldered Tanagers). However a brief respite from the photography was necessary when a Pale-browed Treehunter called closeby, an endemic furnarid that eluded us so far, and we all got views of this Bromeliad specialist as it rooted around for insects in amongst the canopy bromeliads betraying its presence there by scattering moss and debris as it did so. We then headed for lunch near Ubatuba before heading to Corcovado to look for the Russet-winged Spadebill, although rain stopped play soon after and we agreed to look for it again if weather favored us the next day. We the fled back to our accommodation to enjoy more amazing seafood stew, a much-appreciated local specialty, that evening.
We left our hotel early as usual and drove the short 25 minute drive to Fazenda Angelim, a private area of lowland forest (only around 20-50m above sea-level) that holds some rare Atlantic forest endemics. Before we had gone far down the path we heard a Squamate Antbird so as many people had struggled for decent views of a grotty female the day before at Pereque, we decided to see if going in here would be more rewarding. It proved to be a good move as we all had stunning close views of a much better-plumaged male bird. As Nick went to sort out permits Guo-Fang found one of our target birds perched typically unobtrusively at the top of a dead tree - Buff-throated Purpletuft, a tiny, diminutive endemic cotinga. As we continued to watch it the bird flew into another tree joining another bird there, which after a short time stood up to reveal a largish white chick that it had been sheltering from the sun underneath its body. It was genuinely amazing how such a tiny bird could hide a chick underneath it in the smallest snag of a bare tree. We then continued up another forest trail hoping to hear a Spotted Bamboowren that we had hoped to see here although we failed to get any response at the time. However we did bump into another Crescent-chested Puffbird that showed well. We also encountered a nice flock of birds in some open trees and added Ochre-breasted Foliage-gleaner to the trip list for many who had missed the earlier one at Guapi Assu, in addition to a Thrush-like Woodcreeper, although the Spotted Bamboowren continued to remain silent. We then got lucky again when a low-flying raptor proved to the endemic White-necked Hawk. We then headed back the way we came trying several more territories in vain for the wren until we reached the last one played a tape, got no response, left the area and began to head back whereupon the bird quietly called back from where we had been standing! So we piled back in there hastily and soon everyone managed to get great views of this odd-looking bird (that looks nothing like the rest of the tapaculo family to which it belongs). We were then only too happy to head down to the scenic seafront in Ubatuba for some excellent barbecued food, before heading to Corcovado to look again for the elusive Russet-winged Spadebill (that of course once again eluded us despite much effort, as did the calling Blue-bellied Parrots nearby). Although our time was not completely wasted there, when Sam noticed two birds fly over with deeply forked tails that soon alighted in some near trees so we could enjoy further views of Swallow-tailed Cotingas (never a bad thing in my book!) This brought a nice end to the Atlantic forest part of the tour with one of the most special birds found there and we were soon looking ahead to the Pantanal...
This was essentially a travel day, with no birding, as we drove initially from Ubatuba to Sao Paulo catching a domestic flight to Cuiaba, where we spent the night at a hotel close to the airport. Although the birding was non-existent the day will best be remembered for perhaps some of the best food on the tour when we tried a local Charascaria near to the hotel. The waiters were relentless in bring huge varieties of meats to our table although they may not have banked on our huge capacity to consume them, and I think it is fair to say we all suffered that night after a period of serious overindulgence!
After breakfast we met with our new driver for this part of the tour and loaded up the bus and headed for the Pantanal, only a few hour drive from Cuiaba. Before we had even reached the main Transpantanal highway we were picking up some spectacular new birds such as Toco Toucans - the largest species in this popular family and one made most famous from the Guiness drink adverts, Orange-backed Troupials and Yellow-chevroned & Peach-fronted Parakeets. A short way from Pocone that marks the start of the famous Transpantaneira (or the Transpanatal Highway), we began to see some of the birds for which it is rightly famous, such as a pair of mighty Jabirus collecting nesting material for their huge tree nest (see photo), while a small group of Greater Rheas were a new family for many on the trip.
We soon saw our first if hundreds of Caiman for the trip, loafing by roadside pools, that also gave us our first views of Capybaras (like a giant oversized Guinea Pig), and many waterbirds such as Rufescent Tiger-herons, Cocoi Herons, Ringed & Green Kingfishers, Limpkins and Buff-necked & Bare-faced Ibises. It was very difficult to pull people away from these pools but we wanted to ensure we reached at the resort by lunchtime and we knew we would have many more opportunities to admire the masses of waterbirds and animals. We stopped and walked along much of the entrance track to the ranch we were staying at Pousada Piuval, which proved to have some excellent birds. We played the Ferruginous Pymgy-Owl tape in the hope of stirring up some passerines in the roadside scrub and before long we were being mobbed by Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrants, Masked Gnatcatchers, White-wedged Piculets, Rusty-backed Antwrens, Southern Beardless & Plain Tyrannulets, proving what a useful method for finding birds having a pygmy-owl call to hand can be (a method that was to be used endlessly in the Pantanal to good effect).
While we were still sifting through the frantic mobbing hord of passerines, we caught our first site of one of the Pantanal's undoubted stars - a flock of loud croaking Hyacinth Macaws flew in landed briefly and we watched their giant blue frames disappear off into the distance leaving us desperate for more. We finally reached the ranch, seeing our first Chestnut-eared Aracari at the ranch itself the fierce midday heat and were glad to check into our air-conditioned rooms and enjoy a good buffet before we had a little more relaxation time than we had been used too by then, to wait for the temperatures to drop to more reasonable levels.
Over lunch we learnt that Mr. Tsai was one of the more serious listers of the group when he put in a special request for two new families for his list - Seriemas and Sungrebe, although for the latter we politely advised 'forget it'! As we headed out towards the boat port in the bus for our afternoon trip down the river we soon ran into a pair of Red-legged Seriemas, fulfilling one of his requests anyhow (I think Mr. Tsai was a little surprised how soon after mentioning them he had the opportunity to see them). We had barely got back in the bus from seeing these when we encountered our first rare Cracid of the trip - a pair of Bare-faced Currassows at the edge of the forest that sent the cameras on the bus into overdrive. It really was an impressive short drive to the boat port as we then came across a Sunbittern feeding on small pool beside the bus, a bird that even if you have seen it before you fell compelled to look at.
We finally boarded our boat after that mad run of great birds and were then treated to the spectacle of hundreds of waterbirds (including Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Maguaris, Striated, Cocoi & Black-crowned Night-herons) and Caiman along the river, including over 100 Jabirus in view at one time. A massive Southern Screamer that flew by and then fed close to our boats was a welcome new family for some on the trip. Just after a blood-red sunset started to fade dozens of nighthawks, (made up of mostly Band-tailed Nighthawks with some larger Nacunda Nighthawks in there as well), were watched hawking low over the water close to our boats that was a really nice way to bring our introductory exploration of the Pantanal to a close. We then fled the emerging mosquitos to go back to the tranquility of the ranch.
Morning saw us back on the boat again picking up some Plumbeous Ibis, although some of the more significant additions to the bird list for the day were found in the gallery forest patches around the ranch. We made an unofficial stop at one of these along the river and found a Black-fronted Nunbird, a pair of Red-billed Scythebills, Blue-fronted & Orange-winged Parrots, Buff-bellied Hermit, Mato Grasso Antbird and White-lored Spinetail all hiding in this small forest patch, in addition to some Silvery Marmosets and a family of Black Howler Monkeys. We then headed back to the port for midmorning due to another booking for the boat coming in, although this allowed us to bump into one of the most startling surprise birds of the trip. After seeing a pair of Cream-colored Woodpeckers, Large-billed Antwren and a Great Antshrike (even in the Pantanal we were adding more antbirds to the burgeoning list) by the port we were attempting to tape in a Buff-breasted Wren when a large barred bird flew into the low bushes where we were looking for the wren, hopped about in the bushes for a while and then stood motionless at the water's edge. It was at this point that we allowed our first impressions to be confirmed, and Sam announced what had undoubtedly been on everyone's minds - we were watching a Zigzag Heron (see photo), a bird that is more normally secretive, and more significantly, nocturnal. We simply had to watch this bird for some time as we were privileged to have seen this species in such good light (normally seen by the light of a torch), before we headed back to bird the gallery forest alongside the dirt track back to the lodge. We soon heard a Band-tailed Antbird calling and went into the forest after them, soon enjoying great views of a pair there, and picking up some other good birds while we in there including a stunning male Helmeted Manakin and a Flavescent Warbler. Back on the track we added a further 2 woodpeckers to the list - Little & Golden-green Woodpeckers, and on walking further back to the lodge we bumped into more Hyacinth Macaws which thankfully this time perched for a long time in the trees above us, and more views of the same Sunbittern were welcomed by the photographers amongst us. We then retired back to the ranch from the intense midday heat and ventured out later searching more forest patches, picking up the other rare Cracid that we were looking for there - Chestnut-bellied Guan in amongst the commoner Chaco Chachalacas. The forest patches around there bought us other new birds including Crimson-crested Woodpecker and Dull-capped (White-eyed) Attila, Solitary Cacique, Grey-crested Cacholote, Swallow-wing and Blue-crowned Trogon. As we headed back to the ranch in the late afternoon we encountered some more Nacunda Nighthawks hunting insects over the grasslands.
The morning after breakfast was spent birding the entrance track again, picking up some difficult birds such as White-naped Xenopsaris and more significantly a pair of Chotoy Spinetails that proved to be a landmark bird for the trip, as it was Mr. Tsai's 4,000th bird. We then headed towards our next port of call - the Pousada Rio Claro ranch further south along the Transpantaneira. While traveling there we counted no fewer than 11 Bare-faced Currasows, and added Green Ibis, White-backed Stilt and Greater Thornbird to the list. After checking in and noting the rediculous number of Yellow-billed Cardinals at the feeders there we headed out on a boat ride up river after lunch. Soon after heading out Sam saw a distant large gray lump which on moving closer proved to be a Brazilian Tapir feeding on the bankside vegetation, that soon retreated when we approached. We all managed to get views of a Pale-crested Woodpecker and Rusty-backed Spinetails, although we were frustrated by a Great Rufous Woodcreeper that called only a few times. However, one lucky boat got great views of an Undulated Tinamou walking along the river bank. Unfortunately at the time the other boat was experiencing some serious engine trouble and had fallen behind (that ultimately resulted in one boat towing the other one back to the ranch).
After hearing the Great Rufous Woodcreeper the day before calling from riverside woodland, we decided to walk along the trail that runs towards that area in the hope of seeing one. Unfortunately we failed again on that one, although saw some interesting birds that we had not yet seen such as Stripe-necked Tody-Tyrant and Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher in addition to some better views of birds we had seen before like Little Woodpecker. During lunchtime Mr. Tsai and his wife had reason to celebrate (again) as the Nanday Parakeets they had found were the 4000th bird for her. In the afternoon we headed out on the boat again, this time in the other direction along some quieter stretches of water seeing an American Pygmy-kingfisher and some more views of Toco Toucans as they cruised across from one side to the other. We also got our first glimpses of Giant Otters, one of which continued feeding right beside one of the boats with little concern for us. The trees covered in pink flowers alongside the river were often loaded with Guans, it seemed like all of these flowering trees contained a guan of some sort, with some trees holding several individuals of three separate species - Red-throated Piping-guans, Chestnut-bellied Guans and Chaco Chachalacas, and we also saw a Bare-faced Currassow feeding in one of these. Golden-collared Macaws also flew over the boat on one occasion. On heading back as dusk fell we were again treated to the site of dozens of Band-tailed Nighthawks hunting insects low over the water around the boat.
Having seen many of our target birds in the Pantanal already we were in serious danger of running out of birds to look for, so we headed further south along the Transpantaneira in search of some other species, soon picking up Cinerous-breasted Spinetail and Buff-breasted Wrens both of which we had heard several times before. A walk along the road for some time paid off when Sam flushed a pair of Boat-billed Herons from a roost, with one bird at least showing well in the open for great views and photos. As the heat increased we decided to head slowly back to the ranch birding along the way. While we stopped to photograph some Peach-fronted Parakeets we had a fortuitous encounter with a European birder who informed us 2km further along the road he had just seen a Sungrebe. We joked with the group that we may not have time to go and look for it, but we knew few of them (especially Mr. Tsai) were not going to accept no for an answer, so we headed rapidly back there, with our initial searches of this heavily vegetated lagoon returning nothing until a whistle alerted us to Nick having found it, whereupon we all lost our heads (and decorum) and ran at top speed towards him (our panic heightened somewhat by the site of oncoming car that might scare the bird back into the vegetation). However our fears were not realized and we all watched the bird at close range, which was later joined by a second bird, for some time. Indeed on showing photos of the bird to the photographers, who had chosen to stay behind for further chances of photos, they even managed to return there later in the day and see them equally well, much to their relief.
This was a real surprise bird for us, and especially Mr. Tsai as we had basically told him we had no chance of this bird only a few days previously. He was particularly pleased with this as it was a new family for him and as we had superb views of this enigmatic bird, which for him anyway, was bird of the trip. Satisfied with our morning haul we headed back to the ranch for more excellent food and to relax during the heat of the day before our final boat ride in the afternoon once the day had cooled at least a little. Having seen many of the birds in the area we did not expect much from the ride, although it was good to get more great views of Bare-faced Currassow and pick up Red-crested Cardinals for those who had previously missed them at the feeders at Pousada Piuval. Once again the guans were out in force, with all three species seen again feeding in the blooming trees alongside the river, although pride of place for the ride undoubtedly went to the Great Rufous Woodcreepers. This was a bird we had repeatedly searched for in vain for over the last few days, only for this pair to give themselves up easily by perching in the open tops of the trees even allowing some of us to get scope views from the boat.
Another great bird and a lifer for all. As we headed back to the ranch we saw some more Large-billed Terns and also added a Black Skimmer that passed by as the light faded, swooping briefly to skim the river surface with its massive, deformed bill.
We departed the Pantanal birding along the Transpantanal on the way back, adding some new species such as Guira & Hooded Tanagers and get parting views of majestic Hyacinth Macaws that flew past close to the bus. We then left the Pantanal behind and headed for the dry cerrado around Chapada dos Guimaraes. As we were climbing upto around 800m we expected to be refreshed by the cooler mountain air, although it seemed as if the area was going through a mini heat wave as their was no let up from the heat there either. After a frustrating search we finally located a restaurant that was open along the way and as we waited for our food added Blue-browned Motmot, Red-crested Finch and White-bellied Warbler to the list. On reaching Chapada we first birded along a paved road where the flowering trees alongside there seemed to be filled with hummingbirds and we soon saw White-vented Violetear, Black-throated Mango and Glittering-bellied Hummingbird.
We also had brief views of a pair of Blue-and-Yellow Macaws as they flew over, although the roadside Red-legged Honeycreepers were far more obliging. Thankfully by the time we reached the 'cerrado road' that leads to Agua Fria the day had cooled a little and was comfortable for birding. Despite the apparent ugliness of the scrub habitat along the road it holds some really special birds and so we planned to visit there on this day to give us an extra chance at finding some of the harder species there. As soon s we got out of the car we were greeted by the site of a White-eared Puffbird perched on the wires, and a short period of 'trawling' with the tape paid off when a pair of White-rumped Tanagers flew in. However it largely seemed much quieter than expected with very little bird activity until a Rufous-winged Antshrike (see photo) put in an appearance and there followed a very frantic ten minute period where new birds appeared to be everywhere.
We had little time to enjoy the antshrike as one of the rare birds in the area called closeby - a Rufous-sided Pygmy-Tyrant, which while looking for we picked up another of our targets, the strangely shrike-like White-banded Tanager, before we all had great looks at the Pygmy-Tyrant. We then picked up a small flock of Black-throated Saltators although had little time to enjoy them before we were onto the next bird - a pair of Coal-crested Finches perched by the roadside, just before a Red-and-Green Macaw flew low past us. It really was hard keeping track of all the action around us. With all the bird activity we had stayed later than intended so headed towards the extravagant Pousada Penhasco resort so that we could check in before dark. We were pleased to have such plush surroundings for the end of the tour, with a superb selection of food available to us in the evening.
For our final full day we decided to start by going back to the cerrado road where we had gone the afternoon before to look for some of the birds we missed. We soon saw one of the - a male Horned Sungem which unfortunately did not linger at the roadside flowers for a long as we hoped, and Pale-breasted Spinetail was seen shortly afterwards. Although our trawling for one of Chapada's most highly sought after birds - the Collared Crescentchest, seemed to be falling on deaf ears until we heard one off into the distance and Nick and I discussed whether going all that way for it was likely to produce the required result, when another one called much closer sending us heading straight for it. On uttering the words it sounds like it is right here Sam and Nick both got onto the bird which then rapidly disappeared and remained silent to frustrate the rest of the group who were slightly behind. Despite a concerted effort to lure the bird in (which did at least get Guo-Fang some brief close views), the bird largely remained hidden and such typical behavior betrayed its position within the skulking tapaculo family. We finally had to give up the search for this individual in the slim hope of picking up another one further down the road, which amazingly within a short time we did. On hearing this one we all rushed in with greater urgency before Sam picked it up perched in a low bush in the open so that all of us could really appreciate this exquisite bird. We also saw some of the birds we had enjoyed the day before such as White-eared Puffbird and White-banded Tanagers although as the oppressive heat moved in we decided to head back to the resort and bird a less exposed shady forest trail on the grounds. This allowed us to get views of a pair of the hoped-for Planalto Slaty-Antshrikes, in addition to more views of Helmeted Manakin and also yet another new spinetail - Sooty-fronted Spinetail. Another new hummingbird was added with a Planalto Hermit seen nearby, although as everyone was pretty exhausted and heat-drained from the continuing heat wave we decided to retire to the hotel and venture out once the day had cooled a little. After lunch we headed to the impressive Bridal Veil Falls for some other specialties and we soon saw one of these - Blue-winged Macaw, flying around the trees near the base of the falls. Hepatic Tanagers in his area were also new for the trip, although the rare swift we had come to see made us wait until late afternoon to appear when we watched these Great Dusky Swifts diving dramatically through the waterfall to roost behind on the rocky cliff behind. It was while watching these that we noticed a Bat Falcon hunting dragonflies and were treated to extremely close views of this tiny falcon dismantling its prey on a nearby perch.
Our last morning of the tour, before we headed back for our flight connections, was spent birding the paved road we had first birded in this area for final few hours of birding. We still added new species with the stunning Yellow-tufted woodpecker seen almost straight away, and a Saffron-billed Sparrow was finally seen towards the end of our walk along there. Although undoubtedly the star bird of the day was a hummingbird that Mr. Tsai had found perched when few of us had decent views of. Luckily another two were seen further along the road and seeing that they were one of the stunning Coquettes, intially assumed them to be Dot-eared Coquettes as they are the ones normally reported by people from this area. However after close examination they proved to be another highly sought-after bird for the trip - the very similar Frilled Coquette, particularly satisfying for us as we had missed them earlier on the trip perhaps due to the normal feeders for the bird having been left idle. It was a good bird to end on - really stunning hummird and an endemic one at that.
We then headed back to Cuiaba for our connection to Sao Paulo, where we bid a fond farewell to Guo-Fang and his group. The trip had exceeded expectations - we had a really good haul of over 490 species, including over 50 Brazilian endemics, some real surprises such as the Sungrebe and Zigzag Heron, and enjoyed some great views of many of these. In addition to the birds the great company and simply fantastic accommodation and food on the trip made it a truly memorable one.
For a full trip list click here