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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Brazil: The Southeast Atlantic Rainforest

2022 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 sensory experience that can’t be repeated anywhere else in South America. We tallied an impressive 340 species of birds recorded, as well as many interesting plants, insects, reptiles, and other critters.

Some of the birds voted “best of” included the stunning Frilled Coquette visiting the Lantana flowers at Itatiaia, the pair of Saffron Toucanets together with a Spot-billed Toucanet on a fruiting tree at Intervalles, the elusive (but finally seen very well) Star-throated Antwren, and the colorful Brazilian Tanager.  Additional starts include Black-cheeked Gnateater, Squamate Antbird, a memorable group of 40+ Toco Toucans, a Swallow-tailed Cotinga on a nest, andthe unique dance of the Bare-throated Bellbird.

Our eBird trip report with many pictures from participants can be found here:

And some of the bugs and plants photographed during the trip can be consulted here:

IN DETAIL: Fabrice met half of the group at the Sao Paolo International airport. We left the city after a great view ofRio’s harbor, the Pan de Azucar, the Corcovado giant Jesus in the clouds and a few Magnificent Frigatebirds. We arrived at Itororo after three hours’ drive, with just a quick restroom stop on the way during which we found our first Masked Water-Tyrant, Rufous Hornero and Southern Lapwing. Once at Itororo we met up with the rest of the group, who had arrived here a day earlier. In the afternoon we birded the Itororo trail system, where we had fantastic views of a male Pin-tailed Manakin, a quick view of a White-breasted Tapaculo, a responsive Rufous-breasted Leaftosser, our first Half-collared Sparrow and a beautiful pair of Orange-eyed Thornbird. What a start!

After a lovely early breakfast, we birded a forest trail at Itororo. The bird activity was excellent, and we had great views of Yellow-eared Woodpecker, Variable Antshrike, Scaled Woodcreeper and Gray-bellied Spinetail. A pair of Rufous Gnateater were very tame and seen well. We also had a great mixed flock that included White-collared and Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaners, Lesser Woodcreeper, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Rufous-crowned Greenlet and Chestnut-crowned Becard.

We could have spent the full day on the Itororo trails, but it was time to take the bus and head towards Duas Barras. Soon after passing this little village, we stopped to watch two Blue-winged Macaws perched by the road side. This random stop was very productive, with two displaying Streamer-tailed Tyrants, Band-winged and Rufous Horneros, Fork-tailed Flycatchers, great views of the beautiful White-eared Puffbird, Rufous-fronted Thornbird and Yellow-chinned Spinetail, while a Black Hawk Eagle and two White-tailed Hawks were soaring high in the sky.

At another stop we found an amazing flock of 40+ (migrating?) Toco Toucans! What a fantastic sight to see these stunning toucans filling the trees! Here also we found a fantastic Red-legged Seriema in an open field near where a Burrowing Owl was standing on a termite nest. We also had great views of Spix’s Spinetail, Streaked Flycatcher, Planalto Tyrannulet and a Yellow-olive Flycatcher building its hanging nest. We arrived at Sumiduro just after noon, and after finding a pair of the rare and local Three-toed Jacamar, we had our picnic lunch in the shade of a tree while watching Sick’s Swift, Southern Lapwing, Gray-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Chalk-browed Mockingbird and Double-collared Seedeater. After lunch we birded a dirt road, finding a colony of Red-rumped Cacique and another of Crested Oropendola, a pair of Chopi Blackbird, a beautiful Capped Heron, a pair of Brazilian Teal, and a Savanna Hawk. There was a cooperative Green-barred Woodpecker that stayed and sang for a while in the open, as well as a pair of Rufous-fronted Thornbird building their enormous stick nest. But the two stars of the area where a stunning Chestnut-backed Antshrike seen together with two White-barred Piculets, all showing well in the open for a while! It was now time to drive back to Itororo for a late afternoon break at our lovely lodge. After dinner we had a night walk, having fantastic views of both a male of Long-trained Nightjar and a Rusty-barred Owl. What a way to end a stunning day!

We spent most of the next day at Pico do Caledonia, a peak west of Nova Friburgo rising to 2,250 meters (7,400 feet). Unfortunately, we experienced a very foggy day. It was so foggy that not only couldn’t we see the peak, we oftentimes couldn’t even see the trees only 50 meters away from us! At least the fog kept the birds active, and we saw most of the local specialties such as Rufous-backed Antvireo, Rufous-tailed Antbird, Bay-chested Warbling-Finch, Diademed Tanager, Black-and-gold Cotinga (whose unique song followed us the all morning), Gray-winged Cotinga, Mouse-colored Tapaculo, Thick-billed Saltator and Serra do Mar Tyrannulet!

After our morning at the highest part of the road leading to Pico do Caledonia, we started back to the lodge, stopping at a lower elevation, where the fog finally cleared up. There we had cracking views of a male Surucua Trogon (Orange-bellied form), and found Lineated Woodpecker, Spix’s Spinetail, Small-headed Elaenia (a recent split from Highland Elaenia) and a lovely Hooded Siskin.

Back at the lodge, we enjoyed the garden and the feeders, or did some birding on the trail system. Those who went on the trail found Bertoni’s Antbird, White-browed Woodpecker, Rough-legged Tyrannulet (Burmeister’s) and heard a Large-tailed Antshrike who never came in the open. Those who stayed at the feeders added Rufous-capped Motmot, Blond-crested Woodpecker and Chestnut-crowned Becard to the garden list.

The next morning, on our way to Itatiaia, we visited the Reserva Ecologica de Guapiaçu (REGUA), a private reserve established in 2001 that protects 15,000 of tropical forest from sea level to 2,000 meters in elevation. REGUA is a fantastic place to bird and in only a couple of hours we saw plenty of great birds, such as Sooretama Slaty-Antshrike, White-headed Marsh-Tyrant and Masked Water-Tyrants, a group of a dozen Red-legged Honeycreepers, Greater Ani, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, White-barred Piculet, Bland-crested Woodpecker, White-flanked Antwren (Silvery-flanked), Yellow Tyrannulet and so many more! After lunch at a nearby restaurant, we had the whole afternoon to drive towards Itatiaia, with a couple short  stops where we found Chestnut-capped Blackbirds, Common Waxbills and White-winged Swallows.

We spent our first day at Itatiaia during the eBird global Big Day, and as most of the group were active ebirders, we took it seriously! We spent the whole day walking around the lodge, birding the garden, the access road, the Purus trail towards an abandoned hotel, as well as enjoying the amazing feeders. We found lots of fantastic birds this day, including Tufted Antshrike, Yellow-fronted and White-spotted Woodpecker, Ferruginous and Ochre-rumped Antbirds, Blue-winged Macaw, several Red-breasted Toucans, a fantastic Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper singing by the roadside, great views of Swallow-tailed Manakin and Half-collared Sparrow, the uncommon Brown Tanager, Green-winged Saltator and Black-throated Grosbeak. The feeders at Hotel do Ypê are amazing and we could have spent the full day there watching the numerous birds visiting them, such as Green-headed Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Golden-winged Cacique, Double-collared Seedeater, Brazilian Ruby, Black Jacobin and Violet-capped Woodnymph, Dusky-legged Guan and Picazuro Pigeon, but also had mammals such as Black Capuchin and Guianan Squirrel. We also had fantastic views of a lovely pair of Frilled Coquette visiting the lantana flower in the hotel’s garden. We concluded the day with a singing Tawny-browed Owl, reaching 115 species for our eBird Global Big Day, of which 14 were heard only.

For our second day at Itatiaia, we went to a higher elevation, birding the road toward Agulhas Negras. In the grassy area with patches of bamboo, we quickly found the endemic Itatiaia Spinetail, a bird you don’t want to miss when visiting Itatiaia! From the highest point, we birded our way down along the main road, finding Velvety Black-Tyrant, Buff-throated Warbling-Finch, numerous Diademed Tanager, and Serra do Mar Tyrannulet as well as Tyrant-Manakin, a few Rufous-tailed Antbird, the lovely Shear-tailed Gray-Tyrant, Sharp-billed Treehunter, Brown-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant and Gray-caped Tyrannulet. We had lunch in front of flowering bushes that was regularly visited by a stunning male Green-crowned Plovercrest (one of the most beautiful birds of the day).

We had a last morning birding around Hotel do Ypê, finding a few new species such as Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, Sibilant Sirystes, White-bibbed Antbird, White-throated Woodcreeper and Greenish Shiffornis. We also enjoyed numerous species we had already seen, including great views of Green-barred Woodpecker, Streak-capped Antwren, Pallid Spinetail and Yellow-legged Thrush. After a last lunch in front of the busy feeders we started our drive towards the coast.

We arrived in the evening to our comfortable lodging near Parque Mambucaba, just on time for a bit of birding on the hotel grounds, where we found two Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, a par of Southern Lapwing with three recently hatched chicks, our first Brazilian Tanager and a Yellow-bellied Elaenia. We could hear a few Common Pauraques from our rooms after dusk.  

The main reason for staying at Parque Mambucaba is to look for the lovely Black-hooded Antwren, and we had excellent views of this very localized endemic, thought to be extinct for a long time and rediscovered only 30 years ago. We also had amazing views of a female Tufted Antshrike just on the roadside, a pair of Spot-backed Antshrike, two very responsive White-eyed Foliage-gleaners, Gray-hooded Attila, Black-capped Foliage-gleaner and Riverbank Warbler. At a nearby marsh, we heard Ashy-throated Crake and briefly glimpsed a pair of Rufous-sided Crake, but had great views of a nice pair of Yellow-chinned Spinetail.

On our way to Ubatuba we stopped for lunch at the picturesque fishing harbor of Praia Grande, patrolled by dozens of Magnificent Frigatebird. At ‘Quiosco Sao Francisco’ restaurant we had a delicious meal of grilled fish or Moqueca, a Brazilian stew of fish or shrimp with coconut milk. Just before Ubatuba we stopped at Fazenda Angelim for some afternoon birding. It was misty but we managed to see a few good birds such as Flame-crested Tanager, Crested Becard and a flock of Olive-green Tanager.

We had the entire next day to bird the area around Ubatuba, and we spent a full morning back at Fazenda Angelim. With better weather conditions than the previous afternoon, we found numerous fantastic birds including cracking views of Black-cheeked Gnateater, plus Scaled Antbird, Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant, Rufous-capped Antthrush, Long-billed Gnatcatcher, Star-throated Antwren and Gray-hooded Flycatcher. There was also lots of seeding bamboo, attracting some rare nomadic species such as Temminck’s and Buffy-fronted Seedeater and Sooty Grassquit.

After a lunch and a short break at the hotel, we visited Folha Seca and an amazing hummingbird garden owned by Jonas. His feeders attracted more than a hundred indiviuals of no less than 10 hummingbird species during our visit, including Saw-billed Hermit, Festive Coquette, Versicolored Emerald, White-chinned Sapphire, Sombre Hummingbird, Black-throated Mango, Glittering-throated Emerald, Black Jacobin, Brazilian Ruby and Violet-capped Woodnymph. The fruit feeders were also visited by Red-necked, Green-headed, Brazilian and Olive-green Tanagers, plus Green Honeycreeper and Violaceous and Chestnut-bellied Euphonias. What a stunning place and what a charming host.

Before leaving Ubatuba and starting our long travel day to Cananeia, we spend the early morning back at Fazenda Angelim. Most of the birds we found this morning were species already seen the previous days, but we had some nice views of Blond-crested Woodpecker and Spot-breasted Antvireo, and added White-winged Becard and White-thighed Swallow to our list. We even had a distant view of a soaring Mantled Hawk.

We spend the rest of the day driving  (more than 450 kilometers!) to reach the coastal town of Cananeia, arriving right at dusk.

Cananeia is surrounded by some good restinga, a habitat of impenetrable shrubs and small trees growing on sandy soils. The weather wasn’t great; quite cold for the season and with a few rain showers, but we managed to see well a few Restinga Tyrannulets (only recently described), as well as Ochre-collared Piculet, Southern Yellowthroat (recently split from Masked Yellowthroat), Chivi Vireo, Small-headed Elaenia and Greenish Shiffornis. A few Red-tailed Parrots, a species restricted to this restinga, were heard quite close from the road but never took off and stayed hidden in the dense vegetation. And in the little fishing harbor, dozens of Neotropic Cormorants, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Magnificent Frigatebird, Snowy and Great Egrets were attracted by the fisheries. Here we also spotted two Brown Boobies and a few Scarlet Ibises.

Leaving Cananeia mid-morning, we had a second traveling day to reach the famous Intervalles State Park. Just before reaching the splendid Paraiso Eco-lodge, we spotted a Red-legged Seriema on the roadside, as well as a pair of Gray Monjita and a Yellow-rumped Marshbird.

Our first full day at Intervalles State Park was very humid as it almost never stopped raining! After breakfast, we drove the muddy road to Intervalles. We made a stop at a patch of Araucaria trees, where we saw the most-wanted Araucaria Tit-Spinetail! Once at the park, we met our local guides, Gerson and Faustino, who showed us a Swallow-tailed Cotinga on its nest, protecting his clutch from the rain. We also had a Red-and-white Crake in the open as it ate (corn!) fed by our guides. But the continuous rain spoiled our plans, and after a couple of hours in Intervalles we decided to drive back to Paraiso.

At Paraiso we enjoyed the feeders, which were visited by Azure-shouldered, Golden-chevroned, Ruby-crowned and Green-headed Tanagers, as well as by Chestnut-bellied and Green-throated Euphonias. In the garden, we had repeated views of Slaty-breasted Wood-Rail, Red-breasted Toucans, Masked Water-tyrants, a pair of Southern Lapwing defending their young chicks, and Crested Becard inspecting the main building windows and walls looking for moths attracted by the lights during the night.

Fortunately, the rain stopped for our second full day here, and we had a stunning morning birding at Intervalles. With the help of our local guides, we found plenty of fantastic birds including Spot-billed and Saffron Toucanets, Squamate Antbird, Spotted Bamboowren, Slaty Bristlefront and Hooded Berryeater. We also enjoyed a prolonged view of a male Bare-throated Bellbird ‘singing’ atop of a dead tree, as well as Dusky-throated Hermit and Purple-crowned Plovercrest at their lek. Topping off this fabulous morning, we even had stunning views of a Solitary Tinamou coming to a feeding station in the forest!

In the afternoon at Paraiso, alongside the usual visitors of the garden, we also found a lovely pair of Robust Woodpecker offering stunning photographic opportunities, and a Rufous-tailed Attila singing mid-canopy. What a great way to end a beautiful day in Southeast Brazil. Our last day was mainly a traveling day to Sao Paolo. What a great trip to this unique corner of Brazil!

-Fabrice Schmitt

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