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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Brazil: The Northeast - Bahia the Beautiful

2019 Narrative

This tour started with a pre-tour extension to look for Indigo Macaw near Canudos. After meeting at the hotel and a first night in Salvador de Bahia, we spent the first morning driving to the remote village of Canudos. In the afternoon we had our first experience in the Cerrado habitat, here composed of dry scrubland with a high diversity of cacti and ground bromeliads. We quickly saw the most common but fantastic species in this particular habitat, including Cactus Parakeet, Caatinga (Barred) Antshrike, Stripe-backed Antbird, Black-bellied Antwren, Red-shouldered Spinetail, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Stripe-breasted Starthroat, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Red-cowled Cardinal and White-lined Tanager. After a stunning sunset we drove back to our hotel for a great dinner and peaceful night.

We had a very early pre-breakfast start on our second day to be at the macaw cliff at dawn. As soon as we arrived, we heard and saw a few Indigo Macaws flying overhead and giving fantastic views. Later on, we went closer to the breeding cliff, where we had stunning views of a nicely perched group of this endangered parrot. What a treat to see these beautiful Indigo Macaws flying in front of the ochre and reddish cliffs. We saw between 80 and 100 macaws this morning, an amazing number considering the world population is estimated to be less than 1000 pairs! In addition to these stunning macaws we also had a few large flocks of Blue-crowned Parakeet, a pair of Burrowing Owl, a Black-chested Buzzard-eagle and two Crane Hawks. We then drove back to the hotel for a breakfast and spent the rest of the morning birding the area. Birding here is fantastic and we had a stunning encoutner with a pair of Great Xenops, but also saw a Tropical Screech-owl by day, found a few Silvery-cheeked Antshrike, a pair of Caatinga Cacholote, both Bahia (Lesser) and Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, a Gray-eyed Greenlet, and many more!

After a full day around Canudos, we had to drive the whole way back to Salvador de Bahia, still enjoying a few hours of morning birding. We managed to find a few new species including several Ultramarine Grosbeak, Spot-backed Puffbird, a Black-throated Saltator, and Mouse-colored Tyrannulet. We enjoyed repeated views of many of the species found on the previous days. Arriving at Salvador in the mid-afternoon, we had some time to rest. We met the rest of the group joining the main tour and had a lovely dinner all together.

After an early breakfast, we departed the busy city of Salvador de Bahia and her 3 million inhabitants for the little town of Lençois, in the picturesque Chapada da Diamantina range. We soon left the luxuriant and bright green vegetation of the humid coast, for drier and drier habitat. We mostly drove through agricultural fields (mostly cattle or goat farming), patches of dry forest and open cerrado. About one hour before arriving in Lençois, we stopped at some wetlands that were unfortunately almost completely dry. A last pond with a bit of water was still attracting a few White-cheeked Pintails and a lonely Pied-billed Grebe, and a pair of Yellow-chinned Spinetail showed well in the last patch of dense vegetation. Scanning a nearby dry slope we also had nice views of a Red-legged Seriema. A few Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture were gliding low over the fields together with some Tropical Turkey Vulture, allowing us to study well these birds (which are not appreciated as much as they should be). Soon after our excellent lunch in Lençois we checked-in to our fabulous hotel, with swimming pool, hydromassage, sauna and most important, birdy grounds! Rufous-bellied Thrush, Boat-billed Flycatcher, and even Tropical Screech-Owl (after dinner) were seen in the garden, as well as a group of a dozen Black-eared Marmoset. In the early evening we visited a nearby dry forest, and were rewarded with good views of the cute Flavescent Warbler, a pair of Olivaceous (Reiser’s) Woodcreeper, a few bright Ochre-lored (Yellow-breasted) Flycatcher, Euler’s Flycatcher while two Yellow-legged Tinamou were heard almost continuously far in the background. After a focused search, we also enjoyed excellent views of a pair of the recently split Ceara Gnateater, bird of the day for most of the group!

We had an impressive rain storm during the night, but our rooms were so comfortable that it didn’t disturb our pleasant night. A pair of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl were singing during our breakfast, after which we headed towards the little and lovely little village of Palmeiras. We spent the whole morning near this village where, thanks to an overcast sky, the bird activity stayed great until noon. In the dry forest we found many interesting birds, including two pairs of the recently described Sao Francisco Sparrow, several endemics such as Caatinga Antwren, a group of 10 Scarlet-throated Tanagers seen well in the scope, a pair of Stripe-backed Antbird, the common Planalto Slaty-Antshrike, the cute Pearly-vented Tody-tyrant, and more. In nearby open cerrado, we had absolutely amazing views (scope views!) of a lovely Collared Crescentchest, while we were looking for a pair of Rufous-sided Pygmy-Tyrant (that we saw well too). The Plain-crested Elaenia and Pileated Finch hardly kept our attention… After our lunch in Palmeiras, we headed to the impressive landscape of the famous Morro do Pai Inacio, an isolated tableland known as the ‘postcard of Chapada Diamantina’. Hiking our way up to the plateau, we had close encounters with the red-eyed Velvety Black-Tyrant and a few Pale-throated Pampa-Finch, but also Hepatic Tanagers, the lovely Cinnamon Tanagers, a pair of Blue Dacnis, and noisy flocks of Chopi Blackbirds. We also saw a few Rock Cavies jumping from one rock to the other. It was now time to celebrate such a great day with a refreshing Caipirinha!

We had another early morning in Chapada Diamantina, this time walking in wooded savannah. Along the way we had great views of Burnished-buff, Sayaca and White-lined Tanagers, White-bellied, Dubois’s and Yellow-bellied Seedeater, a stunning Black-throated Saltator singing atop a dead trunk, no less than three males of the stunning Ruby-topaz Hummingbird and a soaring White-tailed Hawk. A Tropical Screech-Owl even came by (attracted by the pishing), offering fantastic photographic opportunities. But the highlight of the morning was waiting for us at the end of our walk: a beautiful pair of Sincora Antwren. They came very close to us and we couldn’t imagine a better sighting. We finished our morning in the dry forest near Lençois, but it was now so hot that bird activity dropped almost completely. We still managed to have great views of a Black-capped Antwren and a pair of Surucua Trogon. It was now time to drive back to the colonial village of Lençois for packing, check-out and lunch, and for our drive onward towards Mucugé during the hottest hours of the day.

Just before arriving in Mucugé, we birded the surrounding of a rocky ridge in the Chapada Diamantina, where we were delighted by a flock of the flashy Gilt-edged Tanager feeding on little fruits just a few meters from us! We also had nice looks at Yellow-headed Caracara, while a pair of Spix’s Spinetail was harder to follow between the branches of the dense vegetation. An impressive flock of Biscutate Swifts gave us an amazing show, flying low so we could study them well. After checking-in our comfortable hotel in Mucugé, we went to a lovely restaurant for a relaxing evening.

Our two hours of pre-breakfast birding near Mucugé were absolutely fantastic! The bird activity in the dry forest and open cerrado was really good, and we continuously saw new species. In the dry forest, we had a stunning view of a pair of the recently split Ochre-backed Woodpecker, but also Gray-headed Spinetail, Swainson’s Flycatcher, and a fantastic view of a cooperative Great Xenops! A narrow trail allowed us to go deep inside the forest, where we saw very close and very well an Ochre-cheeked Spinetail and two Narrow-billed Antwrens. We also did a short stop in the open cerrado, were in just a few minutes we found a male Rufous-winged Antshrike, a family group of Wing-banded Tanagers, two Bahia (Lesser) Wagtail-Tyrants and found a beautiful White-eared Puffbird atop a dead branch. On the way back to Mucugé we stopped briefly at the Byzantine-style cemetery, and then headed to our breakfast table. It was now time for packing and the long drive to Boa Nova, which we reach at the end of the afternoon.

The Boa Nova region marks the continental divide between the wet forests of the Atlantic slope and the arid scrub of Brazil’s interior caatinga region. This is why the region is so popular for birding, as we can easily switch from one habitat to the other. During our first morning here, we birded a large track going through a nice patch of humid forest, where we never stopped finding new species. One of the first species we found was the range restricted Bahia Spinetail, fairly common here, followed by Black-necked Aracari, Rufous-winged Antwren, Fork-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant, Striated Softtail and Yellow Tyrannulet. A pair of Rio de Janeiro Antbird showed well, and while we were watching at a beautiful male White-shouldered Fire-eye singing at the forest edge, a male White-bibbed Antbird came close and began to sing atop a dead branch! Other fantastic birds found here included a stunning male Frilled Coquette and a Scale-throated Hermit singing at his lek, an excellent view of the beautiful Spot-backed Antshrike, the lovely Campo Troupial and a few Blue-winged Parrotlet. It was hard to leave such a birdy spot, but after a full morning birding there we went back to our hotel for a lunch and a deserved mid-day break.

After our nap, we drove to the ‘mata-de-cipo’ habitat, a dry forest of normally less than 10 m in stature, characterized by a mid-storey of small trees and bushes covered in bromeliads and vine tangles, and a dense understorey of large terrestrial bromeliads Aechmea, some reaching nearly 2 m tall. There we almost immediately found the unique and charismatic Slender Antbird. What a stunning view of a male singing for a while just a few meters from us! We then drove to a lovely rocky ridge covered by stunning blooming melocacti, where we spend the late afternoon enjoying fantastic views of several Ruby-topaz Hummingbirds and a few Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Glittering-bellied Emerald and Stripe-breasted Starthroat, all enjoying the flowers of the cacti. We also had great views of a male Rufous-winged Antshrike, a few Pale-breasted Spinetail, a pair of Blue-winged Macaw flying-by in the evening, and at dusk a male of Pygmy Nightjar gave us a wonderful show in this spectacular habitat.

After our second night in Boa Nova and an early breakfast, we drove back in the humid forest for a couple hours birding before our long drive towards Serra Bonita. A very excited Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper came close and offered long views while perched on an exposed branch. We also had stunning views of the dwarf and lovely Eared Pygmy-Tyrant and his neighbours, a pair of Gray-headed Tody-Flycatcher. But after a couple of hours birding, we had to begin our long drive through the Brazilian countryside towards the little town of Camacan. We reached it in the mid-afternoon, and after changing our minibus for three 4x4 vehicles, we finally arrived at the lovely lodge of Serra Bonita at the end of the afternoon.

We had two full days to explore this private reserve, spending most of our time in the stunning forest that we could reach walking from our cabins. During our walks, we found stunning birds such the magnificent Kinglet Manakin, a recent split from Striped Manakin, but also the superb Spot-billed Toucanet, Swallow-tailed Manakin, Black-throated Grosbeak, Yellow-throated Woodpecker and Yellow-legged Thrush. In the forest understorey we had great views of both Plumbeous and Spot-breasted Antvireos, a male Salvadori’s Antwren, and a close pair of Rufous Gnateater. We also surprised a beautiful Crescent-chested Puffbird hunting in the midstorey, and scanning a canopy flock we also found a Pallid Spinetail and a pair of the recently described and sought-after Pink-legged Graveteiro! During our mid-day breaks we also enjoyed the feeder attracting flocks of Red-necked and Green-headed Tanagers, Orange-bellied Euphonias, Azure-shouldered Tanagers and Maroon-bellied Parakeet, as well as a little group of Wied’s Black-tufted-ear Marmoset. We also had great views of at least two Rufous-brown Solitaire, and after hearing many of them we finally saw well the lovely Sharpbill. As the lodge is administrated by one of the most famous South American entomologists, we also had the chance to visit his incredible collection. It was a great privilege to have a look to the dozens of boxes contained thousands of specimens extremely well conserved, and opening our eyes to the fascinating Neotropic insect diversity.

We could obviously have spent more time in this fantastic reserve, but after a last morning there during which we found a nice pair of Bahia Tyrannulet and had great scope views of a distant Cuvier’s (Channel-billed) Toucan, we headed back towards the lowlands and our final destination of Porto Seguro. Arriving there in the early afternoon, we had time for evening birding. We visited the superb Estacao Veracel Reserve, protecting some large tracts of white sand forest. The bird activity was slow at the end of this very hot day, but we did manage to find a few Peach-fronted Parakeet and Scaly-headed Parrot, a Bahia Antwren, a stunning male of White-crowned Manakin, a cooperative Brown-winged Schiffornis and a few Red-rumped Cacique. On some blooming scrub brush we found a dozen Rufous-throated Sapphire, and the lovely Racquet-tailed Coquette. Thanks to the help of a local ranger, we also had a fantastic view of White-winged Potoo coming to perch atop a dead trunk just on the roadside, and later in the night we also had a great view of a Black-capped Screech-Owl.

For our last morning we went back to the Estacao Veracel Reserve where we had good views of a pair of Sooretama Slaty-Antshrike, a nice male of White-fringed Antwren, two males of Red-headed Manakins and an Opal-rumped Tanager. We also found a female White-winged Cotinga perched atop a dead tree. And in the forest understorey, after flushing two huge Solitary Tinamous, we found a beautiful Black-headed Berryeater, one of the highlights of the tour! What a superb way to end this fantastic tour. After a succulent farewell lunch on a beach restaurant, it was now time to head for the airport for our flight back home.

-Fabrice Schmitt

Created: 04 December 2019