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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Brazil: The Southeast Atlantic Rainforest

2018 Narrative

So many endemic birds – either stunningly beautiful or with fascinating and evocative vocalizations – made our tour of the Atlantic rainforests of Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo states memorable and fun. Ridiculously colorful tanagers and sparkling hummingbirds vied for our attention, skulking antbirds and gnateaters teased us, and feeders made for some easy birding. The sounds of several Bare-throated Bellbirds echoing across the hillsides with Hooded Berryeater and White-browed Warbler ringing through the forest provided for a sensation that isn’t repeated anywhere else in South America. We tallied an impressive 350 species of birds seen and another 20 heard, as well as many interesting plants, insects, reptiles, and other critters. Such a big list means we also worked on teasing out the many obscure tyrannulets, and SE Brazil is full of them. A Pavonine Cuckoo at arm’s length on our next-to-last day was voted tour favorite, fantastic to watch it utter its soft song of six whistled notes. Other species getting top votes included a pair of giant Robust Woodpeckers, an exciting flock of Scarlet Ibises, very attractive Bay-chested Warbling-Finches, and a ridiculously cooperative Red-and-white Crake.

With everyone arriving a day early, we got in an extra morning of birding on the trails at Itororó Lodge, exploring one of the longer trails. The best find on that walk was a Yarará Lancehead slithering off the trail in the dry leaf litter. But we also had great views of a pair of Orange-eyed Thornbirds, saw our first lovely Swallow-tailed Manakins, actually watched Bare-throated Bellbirds singing from the treetops, and had a surprise Giant Antshrike quietly sneak in over hour heads. Squirrel Cuckoo is always a hit when it shows well like one did this day, and as we were returning to the lodge a pair Slaty-breasted Wood-Rails had been walking their chicks across the road, and we saved one of them from approaching dogs by moving it into the brush. A pair of Ochre-rumped Antbirds was also a hit as they foraged in dense vines at close range. Time was spent enjoying the show at the feeders, with Sombre Hummingbird and Scaly-throated Hermit being particularly memorable.

Our full day out to the Duas Barras-Sumidouro area was really birdy. Spix’s Spinetail, Ultramarine Grosbeak, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, and a Sayaca Tanager nest full of chicks were highlights at our first stop. We saw gorgeous White-tailed Hawks soaring over the fields between birding spots. A traditional stop for Firewood-gatherer was successful in the end, but Campo Flicker, Streamer-tailed Tyrant, and a very orange Campo Troupial were other good finds here. We made it to the Three-toed Jacamar site just as a pair of Black-necked Aracaris appeared then vanished, and then we finally just caught up with the jacamars as the afternoon’s first rain began, forcing back to the van and the drive back to the lodge.

A long morning hiking up Pico da Caledônia was met with fog at the higher elevations, and for some reason the Gray-winged Cotingas weren’t vocalizing. Our hopes to see this super local endemic seemed quite low, but just as we stopped to hear a distant Large-tailed Antshrike, one of the cotingas flew in and landed in the tree right in front of us. We saw many other wonderful birds on our steep walk, including Green-crowned Plovercrest, Thick-billed Saltator, Bay-chested Warbling-Finch, Rufous-tailed Antbird, Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, and Diademed Tanager, while the fascinating plant life was a good distraction between bouts of bird activity. Most exciting was Passiflora catharinensis blooming right next to the van, a rarely seen plant much sought after by passionflower enthusiasts. After lunch we birded more open areas where Green-backed Becard showed nicely and a Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper even better, singing from an exposed perch in roadside trees.

The ponds and marshes at REGUA gave us many species that we wouldn’t have seen elsewhere, including roosts and nests of Boat-billed Herons, a churring chorus of Greater Anis, Muscovy Duck, and a flushed Blackish Rail. A Cocoi Heron there was one of very few we saw, and our only Yellow-backed Tanagers were in the trees by the dining hall. Gaudy Brazilian Tanagers and Rufous-tailed Jacamar were along our walk as well, but particularly fun was an extremely close Chestnut-backed Antshrike fledgling being fed by its parents. Not to be forgotten here were the two radio-collared South American Tapirs that wandered through the yard.

Nearly all of the highlights from the first of our two full days at Itatiaia National Park were seen from the deck of the hotel, as the rain that had begun upon our arrival the previous evening continued unabated for over 24 hours. A White-shouldered Fire-eye that we watched hopping on the road as we attempted to seek drier skies by the visitor center was one favorite mentioned away from the feeders. Another was a Black-throated Grosbeak in a mixed flock down the road during one extremely brief pause in the downpour. The most adored hummingbird at the feeders was Brazilian Ruby, but further highlights included Saffron Toucanet, Red-breasted Toucan, Green-headed Tanager, Olive-green Tanager (recently placed in the small family Mitrospingidae), and Chestnut-bellied Euphonia.

The weather was definitely improving on our second day, and we had a marvelous morning on the high Agulhas Negras road beginning with a pair of the rare Black-capped Piprites, a lifer for everyone present. A Swallow-tailed Cotinga flew over as we were watching a singing Black-and-gold Cotinga, its eerie rising whistle carrying over the tree tops. Blue-billed Black-Tyrants were here and there along the road, a Golden-winged Cacique came in to attend its super long pendulant nest, Buff-throated Warbling-Finches were in mixed flocks, and a pair of very confiding Itatiaia Spinetails worked the roadside vegetation. The weather then again deteriorated, so we returned to the lower elevations and got some birding in below the visitor center where Sibilant Sirystes was a highlight.

Finally, the weather completely cleared and we got a good morning’s birding along the main road into Itatiaia below our hotel. A White-throated Woodcreeper was right on the hotel grounds, as was a Slaty Bristlefront, which everyone got to see well. As we worked our way down the road we tallied Star-throated Antwren, White-throated Spadebill, Euler’s Flycatcher, White-collared Foliage-gleaner, Gray-hooded Attila, and Green-winged Saltator. The rest of the day was devoted to travel, though a gas station stop had some adorable Blue-winged Parrotlets to add to the list.

Fazenda Angelim was our main morning birding stop on our first day near Ubatuba, and we enjoyed views of Scaled Antbird, Spot-backed Antshrike, and Long-billed Gnatwren along the entrance road. Nearly every canopy flock had gorgeous Red-necked Tanagers, and at the final spot we were lucky to have a Black Hawk-Eagle soaring right overhead. It was a lovely day in Paraty for lunch, and shorebirds included a good comparison of American Golden-Plover and Black-bellied Plover, while a good find in the mangroves nearby was a Bicolored Conebill. A great bird along a nearby roadside was Lemon-chested Greenlet, with Rufous-thighed Kites soaring overhead an added bonus.

With a second full day out of Ubatuba, we birded very slowly along the road to Jonas’s feeders at Folha Seca. Blond-crested Woodpecker finally showed well first thing in the morning, and we had even better views of Red-necked Tanager in the mixed flocks in the open areas, followed by photo opportunities at the feeding station. Gray-hooded Flycatcher was a nice addition to the list, but it was a Spot-billed Toucanet perched high in a snag that provided the top find for the day. At the feeders Saw-billed Hermit and Festive Coquette were chosen as favorites, and blindingly red Brazilian Tanagers were also mentioned as a highlight. At lunch we saw Brown Booby well inside the bay, and then in the afternoon we returned to Fazenda Angelim where a Black-cheeked Gnateater showed well.

It was then a long travel day down to Cananeia, but we were able to get in some morning birding near Corcovado where Black-capped Becard and Long-tailed Tyrant showed well. We made the most out of the last hours of daylight at our hotel, where Yellow-legged Thrush sang loudly from the trees, then just outside of town we spotted a single Red-tailed Parrot flying over to roost in the mangroves, while a huge flock of glowing Scarlet Ibis flew by across the inlet. Black Skimmer and Roseate Spoonbill were addition fly-bys, while birding the scrub added Chivi Vireo, nesting Crested Becards, and the local Azure Jay.

Our morning in the short, dense sandy forest known as restinga paid off with great views of several Restinga Tyrannulets, as well as two pair of the scarce Black-backed Tanager. Red-breasted Toucans showed well this morning, we finally found where Tropical Parulas are abundant, and Sibilant Sirystes showed even better than when we had them at Itatiaia. We flushed a pair of the lovely Lined Seedeater as we drove back through town and then birded a bit more of the forest where we found a pair of Black-backed Tanagers building a nest. A White-necked Hawk soaring here was a great addition before we had to begin our ascent into the hills of southern São Paulo. We made but one short birding stop by a small marsh, and it was very productive with our only Yellow-rumped Marshbirds of the tour as well as a reprise of Streamer-tailed Tyrants. One last bit of birding before arriving in good time at our lodge provided us with Golden-rumped Euphonia in the canopy with Hooded Berryeaters singing hidden in the dense forest.

We started the next morning’s birding near our hotel, where well-seen Oustalet’s Tyrannulet was a nice find. We then traveled to Intervales State Park, where it was spectacular to have Renato as a local guide, with his knowledge of all the current sightings and especially his super sharp ear and patient attitude. He took us to a feeding family of Spot-winged Wood-Quail, while just a few yards away was a Rufous-capped Antthrush nest with chicks being fed by a parent that came in on cue as if trained. Other stakeouts included a roosting Common Potoo, a Royal Flycatcher near an old nest, the Red-and-white Crake that appeared only seconds after we arrived, and of course the famous double-lek of Dusky-throated Hermits and Purple-crowned Plovercrests that was about as active as it could be during our visit. But we also lucked into several species by just walking the trails, such as the ornate Black-capped Foliage-gleaner, a pair of huge Robust Woodpeckers, many Olivaceous Woodcreepers, and Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakin. Owling was extremely productive after dinner, with Tawny-browed Owl showing with only a little effort, a pair of Long-tufted Screech-Owls at a known stake-out spot (and a learning opportunity to hear how different the songs are of the male and female), and a stunning Long-trained Nightjar on the roadside.

On our second day at Intervales, a Sombre Hummingbird building a nest by the main office was a highlight, while Green-barred Woodpecker also in the open areas showed very nicely. We spent the bulk of the morning on the Carmo Road, dropping down a lushly vegetated slope. Bertoni’s Antbirds did little more than tease us from their bamboo thicket, but Squamate Antbird and White-bearded Antshrike at the same location eventually showed themselves to most. A Black Hawk-Eagle soared over the forest at the same time as gorgeous Swallow-tailed Kites began taking to the skies. We heard one Sharpbill singing as we continued down the road, then later one appeared suddenly with a beak full of nesting material, only to be seen well by just a few lucky participants who were looking up and standing at just the right spot. We ended the day with one of the most spectacular sightings of the entire tour when Renato took us to a known territory of a Pavonine Cuckoo, a bird that doesn’t always show well. This was a good day for us though, as the bird flew in landed at extremely close range, began singing its song very softly, and gradually increased the volume once it was satisfied that we were of no danger, allowing us to maneuver for spectacular views.

We enjoyed one last morning of some easy birding on our lodge grounds and entrance road, with Red-breasted Toucans, flying over Pileated Parrots, Dusky-tailed Antbird, and very close Eared Pygmy-Tyrant before the final drive to São Paulo for our flights home or onward to the Minas Gerais tour.

-Rich Hoyer

Created: 09 January 2019