Indigo Macaws Photo: Fabrice Schmitt
Bahia is known among Brazilians as a cultural hotspot celebrated for exotic food, mysterious religions, and energetic dance forms. But it’s also a natural history wonderland, encompassing nearly all that Brazil has to offer. From coastal white-sand woodland, to interior caatinga, to the moist mata atlântica of the hilly south, to the extremely localized viney mata de cipó, to the complex mix of habitats at Chapada Diamantina National Park, we’ll make a circuit through this largest of the northeastern states in search of its varied avifauna and local endemic species. During our short trip we’ll visit two major biomes, the cerrado and the Atlantic Forest. The cerrado covers about one-quarter of Brazil’s territory and supports one of the planet’s biologically richest savannas. It’s typically an open to semi-open habitat, making birding quite easy, and includes a mix of grassland, wooded savanna, dry forest, and stone gardens.
We will start our trip looking for the splendid and sadly endangered Indigo Macaw, whose world population is estimated at fewer than 1000 individuals. These birds live in a remarkable place where the amazing caatinga vegetation mixes with landscapes of red cliffs and giant cacti. We’ll make a donation to the NGO protecting land for the macaw (and plenty of other interesting species), so our visit will also contribute to the conservation of these fantastic birds. We recognize that the drives to and from the macaws are long but these birds are magical as is the place. Following our exploration of the cerrado, we will visit one of Brazil’s most scenic places, the Chapada Diamantina, where several plateaus are surrounded by impressive cliffs. The area hosts a unique botany and a long list of endemic and specialized birds, including Hooded Visorbearer, Sincora and Caatinga Antwrens, Diamantina Tapaculo, Sao Francisco Sparrow, Pale-throated Pampa Finch, Black-throated Saltator, and so many more!
On the second part of our trip we’ll prospect the northern part of the threatened Atlantic Forest, from sea level to 3000 feet. We’ll stay two full days at a wonderful lodge at Serra Bonita, and then explore the coastal area near Porto Seguro. We have a great chance of finding the “vulnerable” Pink-legged Graveteiro (discovered only 25 years ago!), the endemic Bahia Tyrannulet, Bahia Antwren, and Bahia Spinetail, the minute Buff-throated Purpletuft, the stunning Banded and White-winged Cotingas, and a multitude of more widespread but still beautiful species, including Pin-tailed Manakin, White-shouldered Fire-eye, Spot-billed Toucanet, and plenty of colourful tanagers.
Day 1: The tour begins at 6:30 p.m. in the lobby of our hotel, near Salvador de Bahia International Airport. Night in Salvador de Bahia.
Day 2: We’ll need to drive all day with few stops to reach the Indigo Macaw reserve. As we travel, the agricultural fields, grassland, and patches of forest found near Salvador will slowly be replaced by drier and drier habitat. Ultimately, we’ll reach the little village of Canudos, where prime caatinga habitat, and the Indigo Macaws, can be found. This distinctive xeric habitat holds not only exciting birds but also fascinating cacti, euphorbias, and trees. Night in Canudos.
Day 3: We’ll have a full day’s birding near Canudos, starting early at the cliffs where Indigo Macaws breed. Seeing the macaws flying in front of the ochre cliffs in the morning light is truly magical.
After feasting on excellent views of the macaws, we’ll spend the rest of the day birding the caatinga habitat with its mix of short trees, cacti, euphorbias, and thorny bushes. We’ll look for fancy birds such as Caatinga (Barred) Antshrike, Black-bellied Antwren, Broad-tipped Hermit, Stripe-breasted Starthroat, Caatinga Cacholote, Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, the unique Red-shouldered Spinetail, and the lovely Cactus Parakeet. With some luck we might even find the rare Great Xenops or the elusive Stripe-backed Antbird. After dinner we’ll search for Scissor-tailed Nightjar and other nightbirds. We should note that the botanical diversity here is also impressive, and in addition to the birds we’ll enjoy wonderful plants and flowers, even if blooming is dependent on the random rains. Night in Canudos.
Day 4: We’ll make the long drive toward the picturesque town of Lençois in the Chapada Diamantina region. After arriving in Lençois, if time permits, we’ll bird in the nearby dry forest, looking for the elegant Surucua Trogon, the vocal Planalto Slaty-Antshrike, and the secretive and recently split Ceara Gnateater which inhabits the forest understory. Night in Lençois.
Day 5: After an early breakfast we’ll visit dry forest and caatinga habitat near the village of Palmeiras. We have an excellent chance of finding Silvery-cheeked Antshrike, Caatinga Antwren, Gray-eyed Greenlet, the cute Tropical Gnatcatcher, Red-cowled Cardinal, at least a few Cactus Parakeets and perhaps even the noisy Scarlet-throated Tanager. It’s also here that we hope to find the Sao Francisco Sparrow, a lovely bird only described in 1997. A few miles away we’ll explore an interesting area of grassland mixed with low shrubs. Despite growing on poor and sandy soils, the vegetation here is extremely varied, from dwarf palm trees to stunning flowers, and is home to fabulous birds such as Rufous-sided Pygmy-Tyrant, White-rumped Tanager, Campo Flicker, Collared Crescentchest, and Black-throated Saltator.
After a mid-day break in Lençois we’ll visit the scenic Morro do Pai Inacio, a plateau covered by spectacular vegetation. The more intrepid will have the opportunity to climb the plateau and enjoy the wonderful view, but even without reaching the top, we’ll have a great chance of finding the stunning Hooded Visorbearer, the endemic Pale-throated Pampa-Finch, and the lovely Velvety Black-Tyrant. Between the boulders we may spot a Rock Cavy, a weird-looking mammal related to Guinea Pigs. We’ll also look for the very recently described Sincora Antwren, a beautiful and extremely local species, found only in the northern part of the Espinhaço range, as well as more common species such as Burnished-buff Tanager or Planalto Tyrannulet. Night in Lençois.
Day 6: We’ll spend the morning in the dry forest near Lençois, looking for Pale-bellied Tyrant-Manakin, the recently split Ochre-backed Woodpecker, Black-capped Antwren, and the superb White-naped Jay among others. In the background of the songs and calls of more common birds we’ll probably hear the marvellous song of the Yellow-legged Tinamou.
In the afternoon we’ll travel to the charming village of Mucugê. Just before arriving at our destination, we’ll bird open cerrado habitat, where we hope to see Rufous-winged Antshrike, Wedge-tailed Grass-finch, and possibly even the uncommon Stripe-tailed Yellow-Finch. Night in Mucugê.
Day 7: We’ll have a full day to investigate the savanna and a patch of superb dry forest near Mucugê. In the savanna we’ll look for species we haven’t yet seen, perhaps the cute Gray-backed Tachuri, the unique White-banded and White-rumped Tanagers, or the cute Bahia (Lesser) Wagtail-Tyrant. In the dry forest we could find several birds new to us, such as the handsome Spotted Piculet, the shy Stripe-backed Antbird, Gray-headed and Ochre-cheeked Spinetails, the endemic Narrow-billed Antwren, the minute Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, or the charismatic Great Xenops if we haven’t seen it already near Canudos. Night in Mucugê.
Day 8: After some extra birding in the morning near Mucugê, we will have a long drive to the little town of Boa Nova where we plan to arrive in the late afternoon. Night in Boa Nova.
Day 9: The Boa Nova area is at the border between the humid coastal range and the dry interior cerrado: in just a few kilometres one can pass from a dry forest with cacti and huge bromeliads to a wet forest with tall trees and very dense bamboo understory. The bird communities of these two habitats are almost completely different, explaining why Boa Nova is so popular with birders. In the dry forest, among many interesting species, we’ll be looking for the unique Slender Antbird, the only species in the Rhopornis genus, whose total population is estimated to be fewer than 2000 individuals.
After a few days birding in mostly open and semi-open cerrado, we’ll shift our ornithological interest to wet forest with its collection of mixed-species flocks filled with tanagers, interesting furnariids, and elusive antbirds. The list of new species here is almost endless, but we’ll be particularly interested in finding the Brazilian endemics, including Rio de Janeiro Antbird, Striated Softtail, Bahia Spinetail, and Gilt-edged Tanager. Other enticing species such as Tufted Antshrike and Fork-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant should also be present.
Near Boa Nova we’ll also visit rocky outcrops with spectacular cacti and fascinating euphorbia. Hopefully the cacti will be in bloom, as their flowers attract the sparkling Ruby-Topaz Hummingbird. With some luck and perseverance, we may even spot a Pygmy Nightjar hidden between the cacti. Night in Boa Nova.
Day 10: After birding for a few hours near Boa Nova, we’ll begin our long drive toward the Serra Bonita Private Reserve. Located near the city of Camacan, the reserve was created by a consortium of owners to protect 2500 hectares of Brazilian Atlantic Forest. The reserve is perched on the top of steep mountains, and we’ll need 4x4 trucks to get there. We’ll stay at the Serra Bonita Lodge, run by the famous entomologist Vitor O. Becker and his charming wife, Clemira Souza. It will be wonderful spending two full days here, not only enjoying the unbroken forest and its birds but also meeting that wonderful couple. People interested in moths will be in moth-heaven, and may even have a chance to visit his impressive collection of 400,000+ specimens, including several thousand yet undescribed species.
After our long journey we’ll probably be happy to relax and enjoy a drink in front of the bird feeders, which usually attract Red-necked and Green-headed Tanagers, Spot-billed Toucan, Sombre Hummingbird, and even the very local Wied’s Black-tufted-ear Marmoset. Night at Serra Bonita.
Days 11–12: There will be plenty to discover during our time at Serra Bonita. With accommodation in the “middle” of the forest we won’t have to go far from our rooms to find plenty of birds: we could see flocks of colourful tanagers from our room terraces, and the rare Cinnamon-vented Piha sometimes displays between the buildings. In the dense and rich understory we’ll look for secretive birds such as Spot-breasted and Plumbeous Antvireos, Scaled Antbird, and Rufous Gnateater. We also hope to find a lek of Kinglet Manakin, one of the most beautiful manakins recently split from Striped Manakin! In the canopy flocks we may find two recently described species, the Bahia Tyrannulet and Pink-legged Graveteiro, the latter a “vulnerable” species, alone in the genus Acrobatornis. Following these flocks, we could even find a “Bahia Treehunter,” a still undescribed species of the Heliobletus genus, illustrating how much there is to learn in the remarkable Atlantic Forest. Nights at Serra Bonita.
Day 13: After a final early morning at Serra Bonita, we’ll drive back to Camacan and then to Porto Seguro, the last stop of our trip. It’s a popular tourist location, well known for long sandy beaches and coconut trees, but we’ll spend our time in coastal mangroves and patches of humid forest. After checking in to our hotel, and with a break during the hot hours of the day, we’ll explore the nearby mangroves looking for species all but restricted to this habitat, such as Bicolored Conebill, Mangrove Rail, Little Wood-Rail, and Plain-bellied Emerald.
We’ll end the day with a short visit to the nearby Estação Veracel Reserve, where we should see Red-browed and perhaps Blue-headed (Reinchenow’s) Parrots as they travel to their night roost. The chorus of tinamous is usually impressive, and perhaps we’ll even see one of these beautiful singers. At dusk we’ll hope to see a Short-tailed Nighthawk and at least hear the rare White-winged Potoo! Night in Porto Seguro.
Day 14 We’ll follow our exploration of the white sand forest of the Estação Veracel Reserve, located only 15 kilometres from Porto Seguro and protecting 6000+ hectares of Atlantic Forest. This is a great place to see the stunning White-winged Cotinga as well as the uncommon Black-headed Berryeater and Banded Cotinga. Sooretama Slaty-Antshrike and Bahia Antwren are fairly common, but we’ll need some luck to see the secretive Solitary Tinamou. In the mixed-species flock we might encounter a few Rufous-headed or Opal-rumped Tanagers and perhaps even Yellow-green Grosbeak. No doubt there will be new species right up to the end of the day, making it difficult to return to the hotel for final packing, a last meal together, and the short trip to the Porto Seguro airport, where the tour concludes.
Updated: 17 November 2020