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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Brazil: The Southeast Atlantic Rainforest

2015 Tour Narrative

In Brief: The birding on our Southeastern Brazil tour started spectacularly and continued to be so through the very last day. At our first lodge north of Rio de Janeiro, a fourth and final attempt for the Long-trained Nightjar on our lodge grounds was fabulously successful, as the magical bird flew over us a few times before settling on the ground nearby, posing for photos. Though many wonderful birds and experiences were to follow over the next week and a half, this bird remained a favorite, receiving the most votes at the end. Violet-crowned Plovercrests, fearless on their lekking perches, were not far behind in votes, and it was nearly a toss-up for so many others. They included the Red-legged Seriema belting out its song from a fence post, handsome Yellow-fronted Woodpeckers, Saffron Toucanets at the hotel feeders in Itatiaia National Park, a very close and adorable Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, strange Saw-billed Hermits fighting over feeders, a very curious Mouse-colored Tapaculo, displaying White-bearded Manakins, a pair of Southern Caracaras scratching like chickens in the roadside leaf litter, the always reliable and charming Rufous-collared Sparrows, an unexpected visual of a Solitary Tinamou, utterly gorgeous Brazilian Tanagers, a Planalto Woodcreeper taking its time to fully incapacitate its prey at very close range, and Green-headed Tanagers for just their sheer beauty.

In Detail: The first afternoon at Itororó Lodge was a good introduction to the region’s birds, but already overwhelming for some. Time was well-spent at the feeders where Burnished-buff Tanager, Black Jacobin, and Maroon-bellied Parakeet were most memorable. The tour’s first Slaty-breasted Wood-Rail was walking right by our rooms, a stunning Magpie Tanager perched up for us, and some of us had views of the amazing Swallow-tailed Manakin on our short walk into the forest. While the rain did frustrate our first attempts for the Long-trained Nightjar, a fantastic consolation prize was an Orange-spined Porcupine that walked right by us.

At Pico da Caledônia we were taunted by singing cotingas. The frequently enveloping fog prevented us from seeing the simple but rare Gray-winged Cotinga. But there were lots of amazing other birds to be seen. Having a Such’s Antthrush walk right by was amazing, but even more confiding was a Rufous-tailed Antbird, and a Large-tailed Antshrike performed well at the same location. Later down the mountain we were enchanted by a Red-legged Seriema that had become habituated to people, and Swallow-tailed Cotingas feeding young were a real treat to see.

On our drive into the drier interior from Nova Friburgo to Duas Barras we amassed a large day list on which we saw Firewood-gatherer, Blue-winged Macaw, Surucua Trogon, a Masked Water Tyrant feeding Shiny Cowbird, vibrant Saffron Finches, and Gray-headed Tody-Flycatchers, but the star of the day were Three-toed Jacamars, seen easily from the highway pullout where we parked.

We had a very enjoyable mid-morning walk around the very birdy wetlands of REGUA. Rufescent Tiger-Heron, White-bellied Seedeater, a nesting Common Pauraque and White-barred Piculets were highlights, but a piercing whistle that announced the arrival of the aptly named Whistling Heron was unforgettable. We then arrived at Itatiaia National Park, where were enthralled by all the birds on our hotel grounds. At the fruit feeders were Saffron Toucanet and Green-headed Tanager, while the hummer feeders hosted many species, the highlight of which was a Frilled Coquette. Red-rumped Caciques were in the trees nearby, nearly countless Dusky-legged Guans gathered to feed on scattered corn, and a Black Hawk-Eagle amazingly landed on an exposed tree not far from the hotel’s balcony.

We found of some of the best birds at Itatiaia along the road, where we had Fork-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant, Rufous-crowned Motmot, and Red-ruffed Fruitcrow. One mixed flock had the interesting Brown Tanagers, which we watched through the spotting scope, and it was fun to watch the Planalto Woodcreeper beating a caterpillar with no concern for our presence. Our first White-bibbed Antbird was seen only fleetingly by mostly from the road, but trail birding had its moments too, such as when one came in for all to watch through the scope. It was here we saw the strange Slaty Bristlefront , a very confiding Large-headed Flatbill, Streak-capped Antwrens gathering nesting material below eye level, and a difficult-to-detect Rough-legged Tyrannulet. One of the best moments at Itatiaia was when the Tawny-browed Owl finally responded and sat out in the open after dinner one night.

We also ventured to the highest elevations of Itatiaia, where a Mouse-colored Tapaculo showed well, but most unforgettable were the Green-crowned Plovercrests on their lek. Lovely Fawn-breasted Tanagers, the Southern Caracaras scratching in leaf litter, a surprise White-vented Violetear, and eerily singing Black-and-gold Cotingas (recalling Holst’s Neptune, The Mystic; one bird finally seen on an exposed perch) were further highlights there. Before leaving this amazing national park, the biologist at the visitor center let us in on a secret. She had been keeping a window-struck Surucua Trogon quiet, and I offered to release it in the woods, but she warned me not to release it near the pair of vipers that were roosting outside the center. What vipers!? I exclaimed. She led us to a gorgeous, quietly resting Bothrops jararaca, a Jararaca Lancehead. Before we left the national park a pair of Crested Becards were one finally addition to the bird list.

The coasts of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo states provided an abundance of endemics and other noteworthy birding experiences. On a back road, the super local Black-hooded Antwren was a pleasure to discover and watch without playback trolling, but an adorable São Paulo Tyrannulet nearby would have been overlooked without this useful tool. We had distant views of singing Bare-throated Bellbird, watched Spot-breasted Antvireo at close range, had very cooperative White-eyed Foliage-gleaner and Gray-hooded Attila, and were pleased that even here that the charismatic Squirrel Cuckoo is often easy to observe. Especially memorable here was a Reddish Hermit spied foraging low in some roadside flowers, and as we watched it came closer and closer to feed near our feet.

At Fazenda Angelim, an amazing sighting was of a Tooth-billed Hermit tidying up and then settling on her nest. Watching White-bearded Manakins display was an experience to remember, and patience finally rewarded us with scope views of the sometimes difficult Buff-throated Purpletuft. Back at our hotel, an early morning Tropical Screech-Owl was fun to see. A bit further south we visited Jonas d’Abronzo’s feeders and were gobsmacked by the numbers and variety, especially by the amazingly common Festive Coquettes. Near his house we spotted our only Blond-crested Woodpecker of the tour.

We arrived at our Cananeia hotel just in time to see a pair of Red-tailed Parrots land in the trees behind it, and the next morning we had more views of birds flying over to find fruiting trees. Excellent views of a pair of Long-billed Wrens was even more enjoyable than the very local Restinga Tyrannulet, and we also scored well with Azure Jay and the seldom seen Black-backed Tanager here. Other more widespread birds that still made for a fun morning were gorgeous Tropical Parulas and an interesting Fuscous Flycatcher, and getting a Kelp Gull photo in flight was a target met with success.

We completed the tour at the avian symphony known as Intervales State Park. Bare-throated Bellbirds, White-browed Warblers, tyrannulets, tapaculos, and trogons combined to make an auditory backdrop complex enough to humble any Messiaen. We continued to find some amazing birds such as Temminck’s Seedeater, White-bearded Antshrike, Giant Antshrike, the recently split Violet-crowned Plovercrest alongside displaying Dusky-throated Hermit, and Spot-billed Toucanet at a nest. A real treat possible only by having a local guide in the form of Luis Avelino was a roosting or possibly even nesting Common Potoo. Other highlights from the state park were visuals of both White-breasted and Mouse-colored Tapaculos, an amazingly close Squamate Antbird nearly at our feet, only one responsive Hooded Berryeater among the many heard, the always lovely Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, and a tiny Eared Pygmy-Tyrant that just came close enough to show its “ear.” We were very lucky that the recently recalcitrant Red-and-white Crake had begun to show once again at the cracked corn strewn at the edge of the entrance marsh.

There were several highlights from the extensive property of our hotel as well. Green Kingfishers performed well at the small reservoir below our rooms, where a Striated Heron was spotted on a nest. A scarce Green-throated Euphonia was just below the dining room, and up the road we reveled in the song of Yellow-legged Thrushes and saw a pair of Star-throated Antwrens. The surprise Solitary Tinamou on our last morning was preceded the night before by a confiding pair of Rusty-barred Owls, thanks to the lodge staff who alerted us to them. On our way to and from the hotel and the park was a Burrowing Owl that made it to a list of daily favorites. There were plenty of non-bird highlights as well, such as a large yellow leach that specializes on the blood of large earthworms, and having sharp-eyed participants doesn’t hurt either – one of the most amazing sightings was of a spider wasp having already stung its victim, a ctenid spider, which would become the multi-day rations for its developing larva.

-Rich Hoyer

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