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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Brazil: The Southeast Atlantic Rainforest

2009 Tour Narrative

In Brief: To the average traveler, Southeast Brazil and Rio conjure up images of Copacabana, carnival, and salsa. But to birders who have spent ten days exploring the forested side of the region, Rio brings images of arrival and a quick departure to areas more engrossing than the country’s picturesque beaches. And mention of Southeast Brazil evokes memories of endemic cotingas including Hooded Berryeater and Black-and-Gold Cotinga broadcasting their presence before being seen; of a day in drier, more open habitat with over 90 bird species including Red-legged Seriema and Three-toed Jacamar; of hours spent searching out skulkers in low-light forest, with perhaps the auditory and visual performance of Slaty Bristlefront taking the prize; and of a successful owl prowl that provided one of the best views ever of Tawny-browed Owl. Each day and each site provided new species, at the same time providing overlap with the previous day’s sightings so that we not only saw lots of birds in a short time but also learned many of them, creating a familiarity with the avifauna of Southeast Brazil.

In Detail: The increasingly popular birders’ lodge Serra dos Tucanos, a new site on our Southeast itinerary, did not disappoint. The feeders in the garden were active with multicolored tanagers, a Blond-crested Woodpecker, and hummingbirds including the appropriately named Brazilian Ruby, a species that stopped conversation mid-sentence when the sun caught the male’s throat. The hospitality of our hosts enticed us away from the feeders to the first of several delicious buffets served during our stay. Our first afternoon’s walk along a narrow forest trail showed us that not all birding experiences in the Atlantic rainforest are as easy as the feeders, but we also discovered that whatever the setting, the birding is extraordinary in this area of the country, especially after we sighted our target, Hooded Berryeater.

The next two days were spent exploring areas away from the lodge, including higher altitudes and more open habitats. Flocks of Brassy-breasted Tanagers, an obliging Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, and a low-flying Black Hawk-Eagle were all sighted on a clear day that afforded views of the surrounding peaks. Our day spent birding remnant forest patches and grassland areas was one of the most bird-filled days of the trip, with enjoyment of a confiding Blackish Rail, scope views of Red-legged Seriemas and Streamer-tailed Tyrants, and superb sightings of our primary target of the day, Three-toed Jacamar.

The birds of Itatiaia National Park were a same-but-different experience. Two days in Brazil’s oldest national park provided a sampling of its rich bird life with a Black Jacobin and other hummingbirds, many species of antbirds, furnariids including Itatiaia Spinetail, Black-capped Piprites, Black-and-gold Cotinga, and, of course, a kaleidoscope of tanagers topping the list. Our birding was rivaled by gastronomic indulgences: trout mousse and araucaria pine nuts preceded an effortless owl prowl, where a Tawny-browed Owl peered at us intently from an open branch; an evening of soup and quiche warmed us after a day at the higher elevations with the eleventh-hour sighting of Araucaria Tit-Spinetail.

Our time along the coast provided yet another subset of the birds of the Atlantic forest. Buff-throated Purpletuft, Sharpbill, and Bare-throated Bellbirds fed our cotinga appetites, while Red-necked and Brazilian Tanagers provided us with bright colors against the verdant forest. Those with an affinity for antbirds regaled in sightings of Black-hooded Antwrens, Scaled Antbirds, and a Spot-backed Antshrike, among others. After we’d given up hope, a Buff-bellied Puffbird was finally sighted one afternoon on our walk back to the bus. And perseverance and group cooperativeness finally resulted in all of us seeing the ultimate of skulkers, a Slaty Bristlefront, while providing us the opportunity to hear this species’ charismatic liquid song. The spectacle of Festive Coquettes, Saw-billed Hermits, and other species at feeders made for an excellent final afternoon of this incredible trip to the Southeast of Brazil.

The few species that eluded us on the trip will hopefully give all of us a reason to return to Brazil: to enjoy repeat encounters with favorites, to become further enamored of Brazilian hospitality, and to explore more of this bird-rich and diverse country.

- Judy Davis

Updated: August 2009