Sharpbill is one of the world’s odd cotingas. Photo: David Fisher
Imagine a rainforest-cloaked mountain range on the most bird-rich continent in the world. Then imagine that it’s been isolated from the vast contiguous forests of the Amazon Basin off and on for a few million years, separated by savannas, deserts, and brushland, and that the bird life has been allowed to evolve as it will. This is the magical Mata Atlântica of eastern Brazil, where the typical Neotropical families of woodcreepers, foliage-gleaners, antwrens, antpittas, cotingas, tapaculos, manakins, and tanagers are present but offer a totally different and sometimes surprisingly colourful mix of species that can be seen nowhere else on earth. Much of this once extensive rainforest has long been cleared, as this is where Europeans first settled and where the large cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are located. We’ll use these two cities as our ports of entry and departure, but we’ll visit national parks, a state park, and private lodges and reserves where sizable chunks of habitat have been preserved and where a huge number of Brazil’s endemic birds can still be found.
Day 1: The tour begins this morning at Rio de Janeiro airport where shuttles will be arranged to take you to Itororó Lodge. Once there we’ll be able to enjoy the vivid tanagers and hummingbirds at the lodge feeders and we may have time to walk some of the trails. Night in Nova Friburgo.
Days 2–3: The feeders at Itororó will be hard to leave - the Red-necked Tanagers, Black Jacobins, White-throated Hummingbirds, and Maroon-bellied Parakeets are great fun to watch - but there are several areas harbouring species with very small ranges that will draw us away from the lodge. One is home to the very local Three-toed Jacamar, whose neighbours might include Crescent-chested Puffbird, Crested Black-Tyrant, Serra Antwren, Gray-bellied Spinetail, and Biscutate Swift. Another is Pico da Caledônia, an impressive granite dome with a strange flora dominated by cliff-hugging bromeliads and a forest below that supports Black-and-gold Cotinga, the very rare Gray-winged Cotinga, the endearing Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, Spix’s Spinetail, and Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, among others. Nights in Nova Friburgo.
Days 4–6: We’ll depart early on our final morning at Itororó to look for birds on the wetlands of REGUA, an ambitious and large conservation project that is restoring habitat and protecting wetlands. We’ll walk around these bird-filled areas looking for Rufous-sided Crake, White-barred Piculet, and Blond-crested Woodpecker before continuing to our base for the next three nights, a comfortable lodge nestled in Itatiaia National Park, an extensive protected forest and the oldest national park in the country. Our first walk this afternoon might result in more of Brazil’s attractive endemics, perhaps a White-collared Foliage-gleaner or Golden-chevroned or Gilt-edged Tanager, among more widespread birds such as Yellow-legged Thrush and Swallow-tailed Manakin.
Itatiaia National Park covers a large section of the Serra da Mantiqueira, a mountainous spine in the interior of Rio de Janeiro state whose lush fern and bamboo forests are home to many endemic species. The stands of bamboo host secretive Fork-tailed Pygmy-Tyrants, moist draws have skulking Slaty Bristlefronts with their odd pinging call, and fruiting trees attract guans, tanagers, and cotingas. On one day we’ll drive to the higher elevations of the park to look for the adorable Green-crested Plovercrest and very local Itatiaia Spinetail, as well as the sometimes difficult Black-capped Piprites, here near the edge of its range. There will be more relaxed birding at the lodge feeders, where we should see Saffron Toucanet, Brazilian Ruby, and many others. Nights in Itatiaia National Park.
Day 7: We may walk a nearby track or bird around the visitor center of Itatiaia National Park until late morning, and we’re sure to see several species we might have missed earlier. Then we’ll make a three-hour drive to the scenic coast of Rio de Janeiro state. Night in Parque Mambucaba.
Day 8: Very few roads pass through habitat within the miniscule range of the Black-hooded Antwren, and one is just down the street from our hotel. We’ll look for birds here for a few hours, perhaps also seeing Gray-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Chestnut-crowned Becard, Lemon-chested Greenlet, and Green-headed Tanager, among many others. After lunch in the stunningly picturesque town of Paraty and a brief check for any seabirds and shorebirds, we’ll continue down the coast, crossing into the state of São Paulo. Night in Ubatuba.
Day 9: The Serra do Mar is a coastal range of hills still largely cloaked in a gorgeous wet forest, in many places dropping right down to the sea. It teems with regional and Brazilian endemics, and we’ll visit a couple of private conservation areas that are perhaps the best locations to find Buff-throated Purpletuft, a little treetop percher related to tityras and found only in this part of Brazil. Ferruginous, Scaled, and Squamate Antbirds live in the understory, along with Gray-hooded Flycatcher, Pin-tailed Manakin, and Spot-backed Antshrike. If we’re very lucky, we’ll at least hear the elusive Spotted Bamboowren, an extremely secretive little bird. Night in Ubatuba.
Day 10: We’ll spend much of the day in our vehicles, though there will certainly be some roadside stops on the southward drive along the entire coastline of São Paulo state. One scheduled stop is a private home open to birders wanting to see an incredible display of hundreds of hummingbirds. Festive Coquette is one of the highlights, and we may be lucky enough to see Frilled Coquette as well. Night in Cananeia.
Day 11: The coastal habitats at the southern end of São Paulo state are very different from what we will have seen earlier in the tour; the sandy soils and lower hills do not trap much moisture, resulting in a shorter, denser forest. Some special birds are found here, such as Azure Jay, Restinga Tyrannulet, and Red-tailed Parrot, and we’ll spend the morning in search of them before we make the longish drive to our next lodge. Night near Intervales State Park.
Days 12–13: We’ll have two full days and the following morning at and near Intervales State Park, one of the loveliest remaining patches of Mata Atlântica forest. Once a private logging property, it is now well protected and visited by tourists, who mostly want to see the various waterfalls and caves and are oblivious to the marvellous biodiversity. We’ll find many species here, and because our lodge is located amid the rich forest we’ll have a chance for Rusty-barred Owl and Long-trained Nightjar right on the grounds. The electric pings of Bare-throated Bellbirds and the jerky whistles of Hooded Berryeaters ring across the valleys, and the downward tinklings of White-browed Warblers give this enchanting forest a character unlike no other. The numerous other specialities here could include Chestnut-backed Tanager, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Red-and-white Crake, Giant Antshrike, and Violet-crowned Plovercrest. Nights near Intervales State Park.
Day 14: After a final relaxing morning on the grounds of our lodge we’ll leave for the São Paulo International Airport, arriving in time for a farewell dinner and evening flights homeward.
This tour is arranged by our American partner WINGS
Updated: 09 March 2016