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.
This tour can be combined with our tour, Brazil Southeast Atlantic Rainforest. If taking the tour back-to-back with Southeast Atlantic Rainforest, please note that the flight from São Paulo to Belo Horizonte, and the extra night between tours, are not included in the tour price above. Instead these will be booked by us and the prices added to your final invoice.
Day 1: The tour begins at 6 pm in the lobby of our hotel, near Belo Horizonte International Airport. Night in Belo Horizonte.
Day 2: This is a long traveling day as we drive through Belo Horizonte, cross the busy city, and make our way west to Serra da Canastra National Park. We may have time to check the shore of a lake as we pass through the city, where we have chance to find a few waterbirds including the rare Southern Pochard. The total time of the drive is approximately six hours, and because we want to arrive early enough to do some birding there, we’ll only stop for lunch…and for stunning birds such as Toco Toucan or Red-legged Seriema. Night in São Roque de Minas.
Days 3-5: We’ll have three full days to explore 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, Ochre-breasted Pipit, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, Stripe-tailed Yellow-Finch, the uncommon but stunning Black-masked Finch, and the super cute Gray-backed Tachuri, one of numerous Brazilian endemics we’ll see on the tour. The savanna is dotted with grey and red termite nests, on top of which are often perched photogenic Peach-fronted Parakeets. These termite nests also attract the bizarre Giant Anteater (which mostly feeds on termites), and we’ll have a good chance of spotting one, as 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, such as the secretive Brasilia Tapaculo, the vocal White-rumped Tanager, White-banded Tanager, Rufous-winged Antshrike, and with some luck even the local White-striped 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 near our picnic spot we have a chance of seeing Black-throated Saltator, White-vented Violetear, White-rumped Monjita, Crested Black-Tyrant, Cinnamon Tanager, and Plain-crested Elaenia, among many others. We’ll stay as late as possible on the plateau since Giant Anteater are usually more active late in the day.
On another day we’ll visit the lowest part of the park, at the base of the plateau. We’ll bird along the São Francisco River, looking for the extremely rare and critically endangered Brazilian Merganser, a species that requires very high quality water and has disappeared from most of Brazil. In the forest along the river, we’ll find superb birds such as Helmeted Manakin, Red-breasted and Toco Toucans, Curl-crested Jay, Pileated Finch, White-shouldered Fire-eye, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and Ruby-crowned Tanager. We’ll also visit a small marsh where the gorgeous Streamer-tailed Tyrant, one of the most beautiful tyrant-flycatchers, breeds, and we might also find Yellow-rumped Marshbird, Chestnut-capped Blackbird, Rufous-sided Crake, Gray-cowled 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 park, depending on which birds we may not have seen yet, or just want to see again. Nights in São Roque.
Day 6: After some morning birding on a road near our hotel, we’ll spend the rest of the day driving to Caraça, about a four-hour drive. Caraça is unique. Created in 1774, the Caraça Sanctuary was first intended as a religious center and it is still an important place for pilgrims. The sanctuary and monastery are now open to public and the extensive trail system is wonderful for birding. The monastery is also famous for the Maned Wolves that come every night to a feeding station, just a few metres from 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 excellent, and the list of range-restricted species seems endless: Hyacinth Visorbearer, Pale-throated Pampa-Finch, Serra Antwren, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, Rock Tapaculo, and on and on. Mixed-species flocks usually include Brassy-breasted, Gilt-edged, Golden-chevroned, and Black-goggled Tanagers, while in the understory we may find White-shouldered Fire-eye, Dusky-tailed and Ochre-rumped Antbirds, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, and Rufous-capped Spinetail sometimes foraging together. Rufous Gnateater is common, though difficult to see, as is the smart Drab-breasted Tody-Tyrant. There are several leks of the stunning Swallow-tailed Manakin, and we may 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 be looking for are White-bibbed Antbird, Large-tailed Antshrike, and the rare Swallow-tailed Cotinga. During our walks we also have a good chance of finding a group of Black-fronted Titi Monkeys, and in the evening we’ll wait for the famous Maned Wolves. Every night, in a custom started decades ago, 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 some morning birding near our lodging, we’ll depart for Serra do Cipó. We’ll bird the spectacular and isolated mountain where another one of our main targets is the very restricted Cipo Canastero, a bird present only in these mountains. There are plenty of other attractive birds here as well, including Blue Finch (a really pretty one!), Horned Sungem, Checkered Woodpecker, Gray-backed Tachuri, and other specialities of the specific campo rupestre habitat of the cerrado biome. Even the rare Cinereous Warbling-Finch can be seen here. Night in the Serra do Cipó.
Day 10: After all morning birding around Cipó looking for the regional specialities, we’ll have lunch in town and then return to the Belo Horizonte airport, where the tour concludes at about 3 p.m.
Note: This tour is sometimes run in reverse to avoid weekends and local holidays at Caraça and Serra do Cipo.
Updated: 17 November 2020