JAGUARS & BIRDS OF BRAZIL BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Jaguars & Birds of Brazil: Day 1 Our Jaguars & Birds of Brazil birding tour begins in the early afternoon at Cuiabá, the capital of the state of Mato Grosso. From here we will drive deep into the Pantanal for a five nights stay (spending the first and the last nights in the Pixaim region and the other nights at Porto Jofre). As we drive through this splendid area we will not be able to resist stopping as we come across one exciting new creature after another.
Jaguars & Birds of Brazil: Days 2-5 The Pantanal needs little introduction for it is undoubtedly one of the most famous wetlands in the Americas. This seasonally flooded grassland close to the Bolivian border is one of the largest marshes on the face of the globe and lies along the upper and middle course of the Paraná River. We will visit the northern fringe of this huge expanse of marsh, where numbers of waterfowl are impressive and where a varied avifauna definitely makes for a rich experience.
The main attraction for the naturalist is the distinct possibility of meeting the most powerful cat in the New World, the mysterious and cagey Jaguar. Although this magnificent animal is still quite widespread in Central and South America, occurring from northern Mexico south to central Argentina, it is rarely seen almost everywhere. Jaguars are usually associated with large tracts of dense rain forest, but it is now known that they equally feel at home in more open habitat, with a very marked preference for the immediate vicinity of watercourses. As hunting pressures have been curtailed, so the Jaguars of the Pantanal have emerged from the shadows, to the delight of numerous wildlife-loving visitors.
The Pantanal probably holds the highest density of this enigmatic creature and is the world’s foremost locale for viewing and photographing Jaguars. The most reliable way of seeing this inscrutable cat is to take boat trips on the rivers, as Jaguars like to loaf at the edge of a river or on the sandbanks. As we patrol the waterways we will be keeping a constant lookout for this spotted beauty, which is regularly active by day here, in contrast to its more crepuscular and nocturnal habits elsewhere on the continent. The largest individuals of ‘El Tigre’, as it is commonly referred to in most of Latin America, live here in the southern Mato Grosso, where average adult Jaguars usually weigh twice as much as their colleagues in Central America. We stand a good chance of encountering this golden-eyed, exquisite marvel several times during our outings and with a bit of luck one or two of the Jaguars will be cooperative enough to allow our cameras to click away furiously.
Although Jaguars dominate the scene in the Pantanal, they would not be there but for a healthy population of prey animals. Capybaras, the world’s largest rodents, are by far the favourite prey of the Jaguar and occur all over the Pantanal, leading a semi-aquatic life. Collared Peccaries also feature high on the Jaguar’s menu and small, snorting groups are sometimes encountered. Other mammals that we have a fairly good chance of seeing include Crab-eating Fox, South American Coati, Black-striped Tufted Capuchin, Black Howler Monkey, the curious-looking Brazilian Tapir, and Marsh Deer. With luck we will come across a Jaguarundi or even the striking Ocelot. We should also see the awesome Giant Otter. Several family parties inhabit the narrower stretches of the rivers and sometimes inquisitive individuals come to inspect the boat and can then be admired at minimal range. One evening we will make an extended night drive, armed with a powerful spotlight, with the aim of trying to observe one or two of the more difficult nocturnal mammals.
We will spend some of our time along the famous Transpantaneira, a dirt road with more than a hundred, often rather dilapidated bridges, that runs through a variety of habitats including pastures, palm groves, gallery woodland, scrubby growth, meandering rivers, ponds and extensive flooded marshes.
One of the lodges we will be based at overlooks a silt-laden, tree-lined river, where caimans abound. The rough pasture behind the lodge holds dainty Long-tailed Ground-Doves and a roost of impressive Nacunda Nighthawks. After dusk, Common Pauraques emit their distinctive voices whilst hawking over the plains. We will drive within metres of the gigantic nests of the huge and grotesque Jabiru, which seem to balance precariously on the crowns of the scattered trees. The weird haunting cries of Southern Screamers are a common early morning sound, as numerous herons, egrets and ibises fly in to throng the marshes. Pairs of reclusive Plumbeous Ibises feed in the shallows, away from the more boisterous species.
Raptors are very well represented and may include Black, Turkey and Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, Snail Kite, Crane, Savanna, Black-collared and Roadside Hawks, Southern Caracara (or Southern Crested-Caracara), Yellow-headed Caracara, American Kestrel and Laughing and Aplomado Falcons.
Away from the water, birdlife abounds in the scattered patches of gallery forest and in the distinctive savanna habitat, called cerrado, which is so characteristic of this part of Brazil. These palm-rich forests are the stronghold of the world’s largest parrot, the spectacular Hyacinth Macaw. We will watch these huge birds flapping lazily towards their roosting trees, their rich purplish-blue feathers glowing in the last rays of the setting sun. The world population of this fantastic creature, which surely epitomizes the wildness and uniqueness of the Pantanal, is now sadly reduced to just a few thousand birds, due to trapping for the cagebird trade. Here we should also find two splendid cracids: the rare Chestnut-bellied Guan and the gorgeous and not uncommon Bare-faced Curassow. That largest of toucans, the incomparable Toco Toucan, shows off its banana-shaped bill and glorious blue eyes here.
Amongst the many other bird species we may well see during our visit are Undulated Tinamou, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Muscovy Duck, Brazilian Teal, Whistling, Little Blue, Capped, Cocoi and Striated Herons, Snowy, Great and Western Cattle Egrets, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, the bizarre Boat-billed Heron, Bare-faced, Green and Buff-necked Ibises, the unlikely-looking Roseate Spoonbill, Wood and Maguari Storks, Chaco Chachalaca, the smart Blue-throated Piping-Guan, Grey-necked Wood-Rail, Purple Gallinule, Limpkin, the superb Sunbittern, the secretive Sungrebe, Wattled Jacana, Collared Plover, Southern and Pied Lapwings, Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, Black Skimmer, Pale-vented and Picazuro Pigeons, Scaled and White-tipped Doves, Picui, Ruddy and Blue Ground-Doves, Yellow-collared (or Golden-collared) Macaw, Blue-crowned, Nanday (or Black-hooded), Monk and Peach-fronted Parakeets, Yellow-chevroned Parakeet (split from Canary-winged), Blue-fronted (or Turquoise-fronted) Parrot, Little and Striped Cuckoos, the punk-styled Guira Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Great Horned Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Band-tailed Nighthawk, Great Potoo, Buff-bellied Hermit, Glittering-throated Emerald, Blue-crowned Trogon, Ringed, Amazon, Green, Green-and-rufous and American Pygmy Kingfishers, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and White, Golden-green, Little and Pale-crested Woodpeckers.
Passerines include Straight-billed and Narrow-billed Woodcreepers, Red-billed Scythebill, Pale-legged Hornero, the ubiquitous Rufous Hornero, Chotoy, White-lored, Cinereous-breasted, Rusty-backed and Yellow-chinned Spinetails, Rufous-fronted (or Common) and Greater Thornbirds, the jay-like Rufous (or Grey-crested) Cacholote, Barred Antshrike, Rusty-backed Antwren, Mato Grosso Antbird, the superb Helmeted Manakin, Common and Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatchers, Stripe-necked and Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrants, Fuscous, Vermilion, Boat-billed and Social Flycatchers, Black-backed Water-Tyrant, White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, Cattle Tyrant, Tropical Kingbird, Lesser and Greater Kiskadees, Rufous Casiornis, Purplish Jay, Ashy-headed Greenlet, Creamy-bellied Thrush, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Black-capped Donacobius, Thrush-like, Buff-breasted, Fawn-breasted and Moustached Wrens, Masked Gnatcatcher, White-winged and Southern Rough-winged Swallows, Grey-breasted and Brown-chested Martins, Yellowish Pipit, Chestnut-vented Conebill, Sayaca, Palm and Grey-headed Tanagers, Red-crested and Yellow-billed Cardinals, Saffron and Red-crested Finches, Blue-black Grassquit, Rusty-collared and White-bellied Seedeaters, Greyish Saltator, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Crested Oropendola, the attractive Orange-backed Troupial, Unicolored, White-browed and Chopi Blackbirds, the exquisite Scarlet-headed Blackbird and Bay-winged, Shiny and Giant Cowbirds.
Jaguars & Birds of Brazil: Day 6 This morning we leave the Pantanal behind and return to Cuiabá, from where we will take a flight to São Paulo. After our arrival in this huge metropolis with its 20 million souls we will drive west into the Serra Paranapiacaba for a three nights stay.
Jaguars & Birds of Brazil: Days 7-8 Large parts of the Serra de Paranapiacaba and of the Serra do Mar in western São Paulo state are still cloaked in pristine Atlantic rainforest and form the Mata Atlantica Biosphere Reserve, which was declared an International Biosphere Reserve in 1991 and a World Heritage Site in 1999. We shall be spending our time in Parque Estadual Intervales, a 121,000-acre (49,000-hectare) state park that is part of a complex of four adjacent reserves that protect a total area of around 460 square miles (1200 square kilometres) at altitudes varying between 60-3600ft (20-1100m). Parts of the park consist of undulating limestone hills where deep caves add to the attraction. Sparkling streams tumble through these virtually untouched forests where excellent patches of bamboo are another major draw for visiting birders.
A splendid set of wide and well-laid-out trails allows easy access to the forest, while nearby are lakes, areas of dense and impenetrable secondary growth, and even some more open terrain. The Atlantic Forest boasts such an unusually rich avifauna that even experienced birdwatchers tend to be confused by the many different sounds coming from the canopy, understorey and forest floor. Rainforest, more so than any other habitat, provides birders with their greatest challenge, but with patience and perseverance it can prove to be the most exciting and rewarding habitat of all, whether we are tracking down the plaintive whistles of tinamous, checking fruiting trees for cotingas, tanagers, parrots and toucans, or listening for the distant churring of an antbird flock moving though the undergrowth.
As the light level increases in the forest the loud, repetitive song of the Grey-hooded Attila can regularly be heard, as can the far-carrying ‘cracked-bell’ notes of the splendid Bare-throated Bellbird (indeed the latter’s Brazilian name translates as ‘broken bell’). We will be trying to lure the amazing Giant Antshrike and striking Large-tailed Antshrikes into view in the forest edge undergrowth, and we will check out fruiting trees for colourful flocks of Rufous-headed, Ruby-crowned, Black-goggled, Azure-shouldered, Golden-chevroned, Diademed, Brassy-breasted, Green-headed, Red-necked and Fawn-breasted Tanagers. The strange stout-billed White-bearded Antshrike, the sole member of its genus, favours dense patches of tall bamboo and can usually be persuaded to show itself, as can the Ferruginous, Rufous-necked, Dusky-tailed and Squamate Antbirds. Nightbirding is exciting here as delicate Long-trained Nightjars show off their very unusual silhouette at dusk as they hawk insects from the tracks, and later the rare Rusty-barred Owl may lure us into the forest with its hoarse grunts.
Other species we may well see here include Brown Tinamou, Rufous-thighed Hawk, Dusky-legged Guan, Slaty-breasted Wood Rail, Plumbeous Pigeon, Grey-fronted Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Maroon-bellied (or Reddish-bellied) Parakeet, Scaly-headed Parrot, Tropical Screech Owl, Grey-rumped Swift, Dusky-throated and Scale-throated Hermits, Violet-capped Woodnymph, Black-throated and Surucua Trogons, the splendid Rufous-capped Motmot, the superb Green-billed (or Red-breasted) Toucan, Ochre-collared Piculet, Yellow-fronted, White-spotted, Green-barred and Lineated Woodpeckers, and Campo Flicker.
Passerines include Plain-winged, Olivaceous, White-throated, Scalloped (split from Scaled) and Lesser Woodcreepers, Black-billed Scythebill, Rufous-capped and Grey-bellied Spinetails, the localized Orange-breasted Thornbird, White-browed, Buff-fronted, Black-capped and White-collared Foliage-gleaners, the retiring Rufous-breasted Leaftosser, Tufted, Large-tailed and Variable Antshrikes, Spot-breasted and Plain Antvireos, Cryptic (or Such’s) Antthrush, Rufous Gnateater, the handsome Hooded Berryeater, the unique Sharpbill, the gorgeous Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, the adorable Swallow-tailed Manakin, Pin-tailed Manakin, Serra do Mar Tyrant Manakin, Ochre-faced Tody Flycatcher, Planalto, Grey-capped, Mottle-cheeked, São Paulo, Oustalet’s and Bay-ringed Tyrannulets, Highland Elaenia, the diminutive Eared Pygmy Tyrant, Large-headed Flatbill, White-throated Spadebill, Cliff (or Swallow) Flycatcher, Shear-tailed Grey Tyrant, the noisy Three-striped Flycatcher, Greenish Schiffornis, Chestnut-crowned Becard, Yellow-legged Thrush, Golden-crowned Warbler, Red-crowned Ant Tanager, Black-throated Grosbeak and Green-winged Saltator.
With a bit of luck we will come across several of the more uncommon birds of the area (or species which are silent and unobtrusive at this season), which include Mantled Hawk, Black-fronted Piping-Guan, Pavonine Cuckoo, Crescent-chested Puffbird, Short-tailed Antthrush, the secretive Variegated Antpitta, Eye-ringed and Hangnest Tody-Tyrants, Riverbank (or Neotropical River) Warbler, Olive-green Tanager and Uniform Finch.
Mammals are not very obvious at Intervales, but we do have a chance of encountering the largest New World monkey, the Southern Muriqui or Southern Woolly Spider Monkey.
Jaguars & Birds of Brazil: Day 9 After some final birding in the Serra Paranapiacaba we will head northeastwards for an overnight stay at an historic ranch at the small town of Mococa.
Jaguars & Birds of Brazil: Day 10 This morning we will continue our journey to the remote Serra da Canastra in Minas Gerais state for a four nights stay. In the afternoon we will begin our exploration of this fine area.
Jaguars & Birds of Brazil: Days 11-13 Serra da Canastra National Park covers an area of about 177,000 acres (71,500 hectares) in the southwest of Minas Gerais. It harbours the headwaters of the Rio São Francisco, the longest river lying totally within Brazil, which flows northward for over 1550 miles (2500km) before entering the Atlantic just south of Recife. The imposing Canastra range overlooks the surrounding countryside and sheer cliffs border the upper parts of the park, where several spectacular waterfalls can be admired. Different kinds of bushy and grassy savanna, known as cerrado and campo, cover most of the undulating terrain and these endless, largely treeless expanses are dotted with innumerable termite mounds.
Here, imposing Greater Rheas and bizarre Giant Anteaters roam. The latter are quite common and one can usually get very close to these peculiar-looking, wacky creatures, with their long snouts and large bushy tails. Males of the remarkable Cock-tailed Tyrant perch near the top of tall swaying grass stems and proclaim their territorial rights by regularly launching themselves into the air with fluttery wing beats, holding their uniquely-shaped tails cocked over their backs.
A small population of the bizarre Maned Wolf lives in the park and with luck we will be able to observe this unique carnivore. It is the largest canid in South America and with its long, thick, buff-red pelage and amazingly long legs it offers a remarkable sight.
Rocky rivers flow in the valley bottoms and these are the exclusive habitat of the exceedingly rare Brazilian Merganser. With its tiny world population (of around 250 individuals) and mysterious appeal, this enigmatic sawbill is one of the most highly prized Neotropical avian treasures. Persistent scanning of the many wild rivers of the Serra da Canastra will be our priority and should eventually yield views of this enigmatic waterbird. Sharp-tailed Streamcreepers inhabit the quieter streams and are sometimes more obvious here than in most of their wide range. In some areas, patches of shrub and bushes prevail and here we will try to locate the secretive Brasilia Tapaculo (split from White-breasted). Lush gallery forest lines the wider stretches of the rivers and holds an avifauna with distinctly Atlantic Forest affinities.
Amongst the many additional species we may well encounter in this splendid national park are Spotted Nothura, Red-winged Tinamou, White-faced Whistling Duck, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, White-tailed Hawk, Eared Dove, Golden-capped and White-eyed Parakeets, Blue-winged Parrotlet, Squirrel Cuckoo, Planalto Hermit, the huge Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Glittering-bellied Emerald, White-vented Violetear, the rare Stripe-breasted Starthroat, Amethyst Woodstar, White-barred Piculet and Blond-crested Woodpecker.
Passerines include Planalto Woodcreeper, the unusual and rarely-observed Campo Miner, Spix’s, Sooty-fronted and Pale-breasted Spinetails, Firewood-gatherer, Streaked Xenops, Rufous-winged Antshrike, White-shouldered Fire-eye, the adorable Collared Crescentchest, Plain-crested Elaenia, Sooty, White-crested and Southern Beardless Tyrannulets, Grey-hooded, Sepia-capped and Bran-colored Flycatchers, Grey-headed (or Yellow-lored) Tody-Flycatcher, Grey and White-rumped Monjitas, Masked Water-Tyrant, the marvellous Streamer-tailed Tyrant, Yellow-browed Tyrant, the dainty Sharp-tailed Tyrant, Rufous Casiornis, Crested and Velvety Black Tyrants, White-winged Becard, Tawny-headed, White-rumped and Blue-and-white Swallows, Curl-crested Jay, Sedge (or Grass) Wren, the rare Ochre-breasted Pipit, Yellow-rumped Marshbird, White-bellied Warbler, Cinnamon, Burnished-buff and Gilt-edged Tanagers, Red (or Lowland Hepatic) Tanager, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Grassland Sparrow, Great Pampa-Finch, the striking Blue Finch, Stripe-tailed Yellow Finch, Wedge-tailed Grass Finch, Yellow-bellied, Double-collared and Plumbeous Seedeaters, Pileated Finch, Black-masked Finch, Black-throated Saltator and Hooded Siskin.
Jaguars & Birds of Brazil: Day 14 There will be a chance for some early morning birding at Serra da Canastra before we head back to São Paulo, where our Jaguars & Birds of Brazil birding tour ends in the early evening.