The spectacular and near Brazilan endemic Swallow-tailed Manakin. Photo: Fabrice Schmitt
The State of Minas Gerais in the heart of Brazil’s cerrado biome offers some exciting birding and wildlife vewing. We’ll visit well known protected areas such as Canastra National Park, Caraça Sanctuary and Serra do Cipo where the birding will be amazing. We’ll have a great chance of seeing the extremely endangered Brazilian Merganser, the stunning Swallow-tailed Cotinga and Helmeted Manakin, the cute Cock-tailed Tyrant and Grey-backed Tachuri, the very localized Cipo Canastero and superb hummingbirds such as Hyacinth Visorbearer and Horned Sungeam, among many others. In addition we can almost guarantee the charismatic Giant Anteater in the Serra da Canastra and Maned Wolf coming to a feeding station at Caraça.
Because we are visiting mostly open to semi-open habitats, the birding is very easy and quite special with a number of range restricted and cerrado specialities.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening in the lobby of our hotel, near São Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport. Night in São Paulo.
Day 2: We fly this morning to Belo Horizonte, capital of the State of Minas Gerais and begin our journey toward Canastra National Park. It is a long drive to reach Serra da Canastra, approximately five hours, and because we want to be in São Roque da Canastra before dark, we’ll only stop for lunch…and any stunning birds such as Toco Toucan or Red-legged Seriema. Night in São Roque.
Days 3-5: We’ll have three full days exploring the surroundings of São Roque, and the various elevations of Serra da Canastra National Park.
We’ll spend one day on the top of the Canastra plateau, where the habitat is a mix of Savanna grassland and a few patches of gallery forest. In the grassland we’ll be looking for the superb Cock-tailed Tyrant, Red-winged Tinamou, Sharp-tailed Tyrant, Hellmayr’s and Ochre-breasted Pipits, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, Stripe-tailed Yellow-Finch, the uncommon but stunning Black-masked Finch, and the super cute Gray-backed Tachuri, one of the numerous Brazilian endemics we’ll see on the tour. The savanna is dotted with grey and red termites nests, on top of which are often perched the photogenic Peach-fronted Parakeet. These termites nests also attract the bizarre Giant Anteater (they mostly feed on termites), and Canastra is probably the best place in the World to see this magnificent creature.
The gallery forest will offer a completely different set of birds, like the secretive Brasilia Tapaculo, the vocal White-rumped Tanager, White-banded Tanager, Rufous-winged Antshrike, and with some luck even the local White-browed Warbler. We’ll have our lunch at the upper part of the ‘Tapir waterfall’, where the São Francisco river drops from the plateau to the lower part of the National Park. The scenery is stunning, and in the shrubbery nearby our picnic spot we have a chance of seeing Black-throated Saltator, White-vented Violetear, White-rumped Monjita, Crested Black-Tyrant, Cinnamon Tanager, Plain-crested Elaenia, among many others. We’ll stay as late as possible on the plateau as Giant Anteater are usually more active late in the day.
On another day we’ll visit the lowest part of the National Park, at the base of the plateau. We’ll look for birds along the São Francisco river, seeking for the extremely rare and critically endangered Brazilian Merganser, a species that requires very high quality water and which still occurs here having disappeared from most of the rest of Brazil. In the forest along the river, we can find superb birds such as Helmeted Manakin, Red-breasted and Toco Toucans, Curl-crested Jay, Pileated Finch, White-shouldered Fire-eye, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Ruby-crowned Tanager, among others. We’ll also visit a small marsh where one of the most beautiful Tyrant-Flycatchers breeds, the gorgeous Streamer-tailed Tyrant. In addition to that beautiful bird, we can also find Yellow-rumped Marshbird, Chestnut-capped Blackbird, Rufous-sided Crake, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Masked Water-Tyrant, Sooty Tyrannulet, and even Aplomado Falcon.
We’ll spend our last day at the upper or lower part of the national park depending on what species we still need to find, or just want to see again. Nights in São Roque.
Day 6: This is another long traveling day as we have to drive all the way back to Belo Horizonte, cross the busy city and make our way east to Caraça. Leaving just after breakfast, we should arrive in the early afternoon. Caraça is unique. Created in 1774, the main objective of the Caraça Sanctuary was to first develop religious activities and it’s still an important place for pilgrims. The Sanctuary and Monastery are now open to public and the extensive trail system is absolutely wonderful for birding. The Caraça Monastery is also very famous for the Maned Wolfs coming every night to a feeding station, just a few meters from the visitors. We’ll be staying three nights in the Monastery, giving us a good chance to see the wolves, but also to absorb this beautiful and peaceful place. Night in Caraça.
Days 7-8: We’ll have two full days to explore the extensive trail system at Caraça. The birding here is usually wonderful, and the list of restricted range species seems endless: Hyacinth Visorbearer, Pale-throated Pampa-Finch, Serra Antwren, Cinnamon Tanager, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, Rock Tapaculo, etc… Mixed species flocks usually include Brassy-breasted, Gilt-edged, Golden-chevroned and Black-googled Tanagers, while in the understory we may find White-shouldered, Bertoni’s and Ochre-rumped antbirds, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner and Rufous-capped Spinetail sometimes foraging together. Rufous Gnateater is common, as well as the smart Drab-breasted Tody-Tyrant. There are several leks of the stunning Swallow-tailed Manakin and we can also find the elegant Pin-tailed Manakin. A small pond near the Monastery usually attracts Slaty-breasted Wood-rail and Blackish Rail, and Orange-eyed Thornbird is sometimes nesting nearby. Among the other birds we’ll look for are the White-bibbed Antbird, Large-tailed Antshrike, and also the rare Swallow-tailed Cotinga. During our walks we also have good chance to find a group of Black-fronted Titi Monkey, and in the evening we’ll wait for the famous Maned Wolves. Every night, for several decades now, food is left at the entrance of the church, and every night the wolves come. It’s an utterly memorable part of the tour. Nights in Caraça.
Day 9: After our last breakfast at the Monastery, we’ll depart for the Serra do Cipo. We should be there for lunch time, and after a siesta (or perhaps a swim) during the hot hours, we’ll look for birds on the wonderful and isolated mountain where one of the main targets here is the very restricted Cipo Canastero, a bird only present in these mountains. There are plenty of other attractive birds here as well including Blue Finch (a really pretty one!), Hyacinth Visorbearer, Horned Sungem, Chekered Woodpecker, Gray-backed Tachuri, and other cerrado specialities. Even the rare Cinereous Warbling-finch can be see here. Night in the Sera do Cipo.
Day 10: We’ll have a full morning exploring the Serra do Cipo looking for anything we may have missed the previous afternoon. After our lunch we’ll drive to the nearby Belo Horizonte airport for our afternoon flight to São Paulo where the tour concludes at 17.00hrs.
This tour is organised by our American partner WINGS
Updated: 10 September 2016