Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Birding the Atlantic Rainforest Brazil Part 1

It's been a while since I last posted; 2 reasons, first I went on a birding holiday to Brazil for 10 days; second, I arrived home and within three days was laid low with a horrible flu-like virus that knocked me out for nearly 2 weeks.
So back to Brazil. Brazil is a vast country and my tour visited just a tiny part of it near Rio de Janeiro concentraing on endemic and regional endemic birds of the Atlantic rain-forest, a much diminished and fragmented habitat. We were met at the airport in Rio by our guide, the excellent Andy Foster, incredibly patient, genial and a superb birder, and driven straight to Serra dos Toucanos lodge about 80 miles away. The highlight of the drive was the numerous Magnificent Frigatebirds cruising at eye-level along the massive bridge that crosses the bay around which Rio is built. At the lodge we were immediately seeing our first endemics in the garden such as Brazilian and Green-headed Tanager, Sombre Hummingbird and Black Jacobin before being served a filling lunch.

                                                             Brazilian Tanager

                                                         Green-headed Tanager

                                                           Sombre Hummingbird

                                                               Black Jacobin

After lunch  Andy led us on our first walk in to the surrounding forest, secondary growth that had reclaimed an abandoned banana plantation, but still rich with birds including the endemic Scaled Antbird. During evening drinks and the days bird list on the verandah, the lodges Slaty-breasted Wood-rails, another endemic, put on a good show emerging from the forest and stalking around the edge of the garden pond.

                                                       Slaty-breasted Wood-rail

Day 2, our first full day, saw us heading upwards to Pico Caledonia, a mountain that reaches up to 2100m, in search of higher altitude birds and some particularly special endemics. We had barely left the minibus when the calls of the very localised Black-and-Gold Cotinga had us scurrying up the steep track to enjoy some excellent views of calling males. They were also joined briefly by a Swallow-tailed Cotinga.

                                                     Black-and-Gold Cotinga

The even rarer Grey-winged Cotinga (a species only described in 1980 and only known from a handful of sites) was harder to find. A calling male tantalised us for some time before Andy spotted it perched on a distant tree, not exactly the best views in the world but a relief to catch up with it.

                                  Phone-scoped Grey-winged Cotinga (scope on 50x)

Climbing beyond the trees to the scrubby low bushes at the top of the mountain our next target was the Itatiaia Thistletail, another very localised endemic. This too gave us an anxious wait before showing briefly, but eventually it decided to show a little better in the bushes below our viewpoint on the stairway that climbed the mountain to the communication aerials on the mountains summit. Other highlights were the creeping mouse-like Serra Do Mar Tapaculo (described only in 2006), Rufous-tailed Antbird and Brazilian Ruby.

                                                            Rusty-tailed Antbird  

                                                                  Brazilian Ruby

From our lofty position the views too were also tremendous but we also had an interesting encounter with a swarm of bees which appeared from nowhere. Andy ordered us to lie on the ground and keep still as the swarm passed over us as the bees could be potentially aggressive.

After a successful trip up the mountain we moved to a lower, more open area and here a family of Red-legged Seriemas put on a terrific display.

                                                              Red-legged Seriemas

The following day, we went in the opposite dierction to the lowland forest area of REGUA, a wetland and forest reserve that has been reclaimed from old pastureland by the planting of thousands of trees. In the heat of Brazil, the trees grow rapidly and the areas we were birding in with large trees had only been planted within the last 10 years. The change in altitude and the wetland brought a new set of birds and two endemic antwrens, Unicoloured and Silvery-flanked, and the endemic Sooretama Antshrike. For variety, we also saw 2 Capybaras and a Broad-snouted Caiman.
Returning to the lodge in the mid-afternoon there was time for a visit to a trail just up the road where we came across yet another endemic Antwren, Star-throated and also Spot-breasted Antvireo.

                                                           Spot-breasted Antvireo           

Day 3 was spent fully at Serra dos Toucanos exploring the grounds more fully and also giving the photographers some free time to concentrate on taking photos. Highlights were Rufous-crowned Motmot, a superb but elusive bird, Black-throated Trogon, White-eyed Foliage-gleaner and stunning views of Rufous-capped Antthrush, walking along the forest floor with its cocked tail reminiscent of a tiny moorhen.

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