The Ultimate In Birding Tours

South America

PANTANAL & INTERIOR BRAZIL

with Alta Floresta

Friday 2nd October – Wednesday 14th October 2020

Leaders: Eduardo Patrial and a local bird guide at Rio Cristalino

13 Days Group Size Limit 8
Alta Floresta

Wednesday 14th October – Thursday 22nd October 2020

9 Days Group Size Limit 8

Birdquest’s Pantanal & Interior Brazil birding tour is one of a series of Brazil birding tours that we offer. The first part of our exciting Pantanal & Interior Brazil birding tour focuses on Brazil’s wonderful Pantanal and the cerrado (home to Hyacinth Macaws and Brazilian Mergansers respectively). The second part explores Alta Floresta in Brazil’s southern Amazonia, home of Bald Parrots, Dark-winged Trumpeters and so much more. It is possible to take the tour in its entirety or the Alta Floresta birding tour section as a stand-alone tour.

On this exciting journey through the large states of Mato Grosso and Minas Gerais we will visit the endless rolling cerrado and campo of the Brazil’s interior and the foremost wetland of the entire Neotropics in search of the many endemics and other specialities, including such marvels as Hyacinth Macaw, Brazilian Merganser and Cock-tailed Tyrant.

Every birdwatcher and naturalist has heard about the remarkable Pantanal of Brazil, one of the largest wetlands in the Americas and a place that harbours one of the greatest wildlife concentrations in the New World. Called ‘Terra de Ninguem’ (No Man’s Land) by the Brazilians, this vast alluvial plain, half the size of France, is situated at only about 100m above sea level and is inhabited by just a few thousand people.

In this immense and seasonally watery world, which has been the subject of some awe-inspiring wildlife films, the number of waterbirds defies the imagination. The Pantanal of Brazil is home to untold thousands of herons, egrets, storks, ibises, spoonbills and other waterbirds, but it should be borne in mind that they are spread over an immense landscape, with local concentrations here and there. We shall be visiting the area at the end of the long dry season, when throngs of these piscivores compete with fierce-looking jacarés (caimans) for wriggling fish in the drying pools.

However, the bird that epitomizes the Pantanal more than any other is not a waterbird at all but the unique and gorgeous Hyacinth Macaw, the largest and easily the most impressive parrot in the world. Small numbers of this resplendent violet-blue marvel of the avian world live in the semi-deciduous woodlands and nut-rich palm groves of the Pantanal, and seeing a pair flap lazily across an azure sky will unquestionably be one of the highlights of our stay.

Our Pantanal & Interior Brazil birding tour will visit the northern fringes of this huge area along the famous Transpantaneira, a well-maintained dirt road with 118 bridges, that allows access to the many different habitats of the region. Bare-faced Curassow, Chestnut-bellied Guan, Sunbittern, Toco Toucan and Mato Grosso Antbird are amongst the many other prizes that await us here.

The Pantanal is also renowned for its variety of mammals. That holy grail of Neotropical animals, the powerful Jaguar, can still be found here. Its evocative name conjures up images of an almost never seen, cold-eyed, powerful, spotted cat inhabiting large stretches of virgin and impenetrable rainforest. The Brazilian Pantanal is now probably the finest area in the Americas to see this near-mythical cat and is recognized by wildlife enthusiasts and naturalists as the place where one can sometimes experience close encounters. Boat trips will offer us excellent opportunities and we have a very good chance of being able to stare into the golden, telltale eyes of this fabled predator, perhaps several times. The Pantanal of Brazil also holds a splendid selection of other mammals and we will be hoping to encounter Brazilian Tapir, Giant Otter, Crab-eating Fox and Marsh Deer here.

Before we travel to the Pantanal, we will explore two superb reserves that protect large tracts of Brazil’s cerrado and campo habitat. The celebrated Serra da Canastra National Park contains some of the finest cerrado and campo remaining in central Brazil, and provides an aspect of rolling grasslands with scattered trees and patches of gallery forest quite unlike other parts of tropical South America and more reminiscent of the plains of East Africa. Mammalian and avian delights include the amazing long-snouted Giant Anteater, the huge and stately Greater Rhea and the bizarre little Cock-tailed Tyrant, along with most of the other special birds of this unique habitat, but our main quarry here, the much dreamed-of Brazilian Merganser, inhabits the wild rivers that originate in these hills. Serra da Canastra is without doubt the very best place to find this extremely localized and highly-threatened species. Here too, we hope to lay eyes on the unobtrusive Brasilia Tapaculo, a bird that skulks in dense shrubbery in isolated patches of woodland.

Our next port of call is the Serra do Cipó National Park near Belo Horizonte, an area renowned for its spectacular gorges and waterfalls, but of greatest interest to us because of its avian specialities, which include several highly localized endemics. One of these, the elusive Cipo Canastero, was discovered as recently as 1985, whilst the stunning Horned Sungem, the spectacular Hyacinth Visorbearer, Grey-backed Tachuri, the recently-described Rock Tapaculo and Serra Finch (or Pale-throated Pampa-Finch) will add to the excitement.

Finally, after our exploration of the Pantanal, we will visit the spectacular canyonlands of the Chapada dos Guimarães, where eroded rock formations, spectacular waterfalls and deeply-carved ravines with slivers of forest are surrounded by cerrado, a chaparral-like habitat with low gnarled trees and shrubs. Cliffs harbour colourful macaws and speedy Biscutate Swifts, while dignified Red-legged Seriemas stride over the shrubby plains.

During the second part of our Pantanal & Interior Brazil birding tour we will explore the far less well known but equally wonderful Amazonian rainforests that lie to the north of the Pantanal in Brazil. Alta Floresta is situated at the southern edge of the Amazonian rainforest, between the upper reaches of the mighty Tapajós and Xingu Rivers. Based at two very hospitable lodges with great food, Rio Azul and Cristalino, we will have access to large tracts of undisturbed and untouched Amazonian rainforest where Dark-winged Trumpeters, Razor-billed Curassows and Brazilian Tapirs still roam. One of the highlights of Alta Floresta are the splendid 50m high canopy towers, from where one has amazing views over the surrounding forest canopy and its flocks of multi-hued parrots, tanagers and toucans.

We should come away from Alta Floresta with great views of such rarely seen birds as Bald Parrot, Kawall’s Parrot, Black-girdled Barbet, Red-necked Aracari, Tooth-billed Wren, Red-billed Pied-Tanager and Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak and wonderful monkeys like White-whiskered Spider Monkey and White-nosed Bearded Saki. Lower down, in the dark forest interior we will listen for the churring of Bare-eyed Antbirds and Black-spotted Bare-eyes attending a raiding army ant swarm and investigate dense bamboo thickets in search of Bamboo Foliage-gleaner and Manu Antbird, whilst patiently creeping along the forest trails may yield Brown-banded Puffbird, Blue-cheeked (or Blue-necked) Jacamar and Curve-billed (or Tapajos) Scythebill. In the varzea, seasonally flooded forest near the river we will meticulously search for Long-billed Woodcreeper and the alluring Glossy Antshrike. At a granite outcrop carpeted in scrubby vine-tangled woodland we will aim to locate the localized Natterer’s Slaty Antshrike, whilst Zigzag Heron, Red-throated Piping-Guan and Giant Otter will enliven our boat trips on the blackwater rivers of wonderful Alta Floresta.

Birdquest has operated Brazil birding tours to the Pantanal and interior regions since 1989.

Alta Floresta birding tour Option: You may opt to take the Alta Floresta section as a stand-alone tour.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are of good or medium standard throughout. Road transport is by minibus and roads are mostly good.

Walking: The walking effort during our Pantanal & Interior Brazil birding tour is mostly easy, but there are a few optional harder walks.

Climate: Generally warm or hot, dry and sunny at lower altitudes, but cool in upland areas. Overcast weather is quite regular and there may well be some rain. It will be rather humid in places.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during the first part of our Pantanal & Interior Brazil birding tour are good. They are worthwhile during the second part, at Alta Floresta.


PANTANAL & INTERIOR BRAZIL BIRDING TOUR: PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.Our tour prices also include all flight costs and all tipping, including tips for local guides and drivers. Some bird tour operators do not do this, yet for participants these costs are an unavoidable part of the tour. The value of these inclusions on this Birdquest tour amounts to approximately $600. Flights included in Brazil are: Belo Horizonte-Cuiabá and Cuiabá-Alta Floresta.

Deposit: Main Tour: £450, $590, €510. Alta Floresta Extension/Tour: £350, $460, €400.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2020: £4250, $5390, €4700. Belo Horizonte/Cuiabá.
Alta Floresta (taken as an extension): £3270, $4150, €3620. Cuiabá/Alta Floresta.
Alta Floresta (taken as a stand-alone tour): £3150, $3990, €3480. Alta Florestra/Alta Floresta.

Single Supplement: 2020: £370, $470, €410.
Alta Floresta (taken as an extension): £410, $530, €460.
Alta Floresta (taken as a stand-alone tour): £410, $530, €460.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

PANTANAL & INTERIOR BRAZIL BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Part I: THE CERRADO & THE PANTANAL

Pantanal & Interior Brazil Birding Tour: Day 1  Our tour begins this morning at Belo Horizonte, the capital of the huge state of Minas Gerais. From here we will drive westwards to the remote Serra da Canastra for a three nights stay. In the afternoon we will begin our exploration of this fine area.

Pantanal & Interior Brazil Birding Tour: Days 2-3  The Serra da Canastra National Park covers an area of 71,525 hectares in the southwest of Brazil’s state of Minas Gerais. It harbours the headwaters of the Rio São Francisco, the longest river lying totally within Brazil, which flows northward for over 2500 kilometres 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, fast-running but secretive Red-legged Seriemas and bizarre Giant Anteaters roam. 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.

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.

In some areas, patches of shrub and bushes prevail and here we will try to locate the secretive Brasilia Tapaculo. This distinctive and very localized endemic was first described as a subspecies of the more widespread White-breasted Tapaculo, but its different voice resulted in studies that led to a change of status. Lush gallery forest lines the wider stretches of the rivers and holds an avifauna with distinctly Atlantic Forest affinities.

Amongst the many other species we may well encounter in this splendid part of Brazil are Spotted Nothura, Red-winged Tinamou, Least and Pied-billed Grebes, Snowy, Great and Western Cattle Egrets, White-faced Whistling-Duck, Muscovy Duck, Brazilian Teal, the unobtrusive Masked Duck, Black, Turkey and King Vultures, White-tailed Kite, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Roadside and White-tailed Hawks, Southern (split from Crested) and Yellow-headed Caracaras, American Kestrel, the dashing Aplomado Falcon, Rusty-margined Guan, Blackish Rail, Southern Lapwing, Picazuro and Pale-vented Pigeons, Eared and White-tipped Doves, Scaled and Ruddy Ground-Doves, White-eyed, Golden-capped, Peach-fronted and Maroon-bellied (or Reddish-bellied) Parakeets, Blue-winged Parrotlet, Scaly-headed Parrot, the punk-headed Guira Cuckoo, Squirrel Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, the endearing Burrowing Owl, Least Nighthawk, Common Pauraque, Great Dusky, White-collared and Sick’s Swifts, Planalto Hermit, the huge Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Glittering-bellied and Glittering-throated Emeralds, White-vented Violetear, the rare Stripe-breasted Starthroat, Amethyst Woodstar, Surucua Trogon, Ringed and Amazon Kingfishers, the smart White-eared Puffbird, Red-breasted Toucan, the incomparable Toco Toucan (the largest member of the family, showing off its huge, banana-shaped bill and glorious blue eyes), White-barred Piculet, Campo Flicker, and Green-barred and Blond-crested Woodpeckers.

Passerines include the unusual and rarely-observed Campo Miner, Rufous Hornero, Spix’s, Sooty-fronted and Pale-breasted Spinetails, Firewood-gatherer, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Streaked Xenops, Olivaceous and Narrow-billed Woodcreepers, Variable and Rufous-winged Antshrikes, Plain Antvireo, White-shouldered Fire-eye, the adorable Collared Crescentchest, Yellow-bellied, Plain-crested and Highland Elaenias, Sooty, Mouse-coloured, White-crested and Southern Beardless Tyrannulets, Grey-hooded, Sepia-capped, Bran-coloured, Euler’s, Social, Streaked, Variegated, Boat-billed, Fork-tailed and Short-crested Flycatchers, Grey-headed (or Yellow-lored) Tody-Flycatcher, Grey and White-rumped Monjitas, Masked Water-Tyrant, the marvellous Streamer-tailed Tyrant, Long-tailed and Yellow-browed Tyrants, the dainty Sharp-tailed Tyrant, Tropical Kingbird, the loud Eastern Sirystes, Rufous Casiornis, Crested Black-Tyrant, Great Kiskadee, Chestnut-crowned and White-winged Becards, the glorious Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, the superb Helmeted Manakin, Gray-breasted Martin, Southern Rough-winged, Tawny-headed, White-rumped and Blue-and-white Swallows, Curl-crested Jay, Southern House and Grass Wrens, Rufous-bellied, Pale-breasted and Creamy-bellied Thrushes, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Grey-eyed Greenlet, the rare Ochre-breasted Pipit, Cinnamon, White-rumped, Rufous-headed, Hooded, Sayaca, Palm, Swallow, Burnished-buff and Gilt-edged Tanagers, Purple-throated Euphonia, Blue Dacnis, Bananaquit, Grassland and Rufous-collared Sparrows, Great Pampa-Finch, the striking Blue Finch, Saffron Finch, Grassland and Stripe-tailed Yellow-Finches, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, Yellow-bellied, Double-collared and Plumbeous Seedeaters, Blue-black Grassquit, Pileated-Finch, Black-masked Finch, Green-winged and Black-throated Saltators, Southern Yellowthroat, White-bellied and White-browed Warblers, Crested Oropendola, Chopi and Chestnut-capped Blackbirds, Yellow-rumped Marshbird, Giant and Shiny Cowbirds, and Hooded Siskin.

If we are really lucky we will stumble upon the endearing but uncommon Maned Wolf.

Pantanal & Interior Brazil Birding Tour: Day 4  After some final birding in the Serra da Canastra we will retrace our steps to Belo Horizonte and drive northeast to the Serra do Cipó for a two nights stay.

Pantanal & Interior Brazil Birding Tour: Day 5  The Serra do Cipó National Park is situated at the southern end of the Serra da Espinhaço mountain range, and its impressive rock formations and spectacular waterfalls have long made it a popular place among Brazilians. The higher parts of the reserve are true ‘campo’ (grassland), giving way at lower elevations to a patchwork of ‘cerrado’ (bushy savanna) and gallery forest.

The discovery in 1985 of the Cipó Canastero Asthenes luizae catapulted the area into the ornithological limelight. This fairly elusive bird can sometimes be found bounding across the higher rocky outcrops, tail cocked, or skulking amongst the boulder-strewn bushes. Whilst this behaviour is not unusual for a canastero, most remarkably the species was discovered over 1500km from any other known member of the genus! Hyacinth Visorbearer, a truly spectacular hummingbird, the tiny Grey-backed Tachuri, the recently-described Rock Tapaculo, the lovely Cinereous Warbling-Finch and the plump Serra Finch (or Pale-throated Pampa-Finch) are five other little-known birds endemic to the high campo of eastern Brazil, and a diligent search combined with a little luck should produce them all. Flowering bushes attract yet another marvel of a hummingbird, the stunning Horned Sungem.

Other species we may well encounter in this area include Small-billed Tinamou, Rufous-fronted (or Common) Thornbird, the uncommon Campo Suiriri, Small-billed Elaenia, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Golden-crowned Warbler and Purple-throated Euphonia. If we are in luck we will see an American Crowned Eagle. Mammals are not conspicuous here, but delightful Black-tufted Marmosets regularly raid the feeders at our hotel.

Pantanal & Interior Brazil Birding Tour: Day 6  After some final birding in the Serra do Cipó we will return to Belo Horizonte and catch a flight to Cuiabá, the capital of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, for an overnight stay.

Pantanal & Interior Brazil Birding Tour: Day 7  From Cuiabá we will drive deep into the Pantanal for a four nights stay (spending the first and last nights in the Pixaim area to the south of Poconé and the middle two nights at Porto Jofre at the end of the Transpantaneira). As we drive through this splendid area today we will not be able to resist stopping as we come across one exciting new bird after another.

Pantanal & Interior Brazil Birding Tour: Days 8-10  The Pantanal of Brazil 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.

We will spend most 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. We will drive to 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 include Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Osprey, Grey-headed, American Swallow-tailed and Snail Kites, Crane, Savanna, Black-collared and Short-tailed Hawks, Great Black-Hawk, and Laughing and Bat 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. As we watch these huge birds flapping lazily towards their roosting trees, their rich purplish-blue feathers glow 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.

Amongst the many other bird species we may well see here are Undulated Tinamou, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Whistling, Little Blue, Capped, Cocoi and Striated Herons, the splendid Agami Heron, 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, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Purple and Common Gallinules, Limpkin, the strange Sungrebe, the spectacular Sunbittern, Wattled Jacana, Collared Plover, Pied Lapwing, Black-necked Stilt, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, Black Skimmer, Blue Ground-Dove, the dainty Long-tailed Ground-Dove, Monk Parakeet, Yellow-chevroned Parakeet (recently split from Canary-winged), Blue-fronted (or Turquoise-fronted) Parrot, Little and Striped Cuckoos, Great Horned Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Band-tailed and Nacunda Nighthawks, Spot-tailed and Little Nightjars, Common and Great Potoos, Buff-bellied Hermit, Blue-crowned Trogon, Green, Green-and-rufous and American Pygmy Kingfishers, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Black-fronted Nunbird, Chestnut-eared Aracari, White-wedged Piculet, and Golden-green, Little and Pale-crested Woodpeckers.

Passerines include Red-billed Scythebill, Pale-legged Hornero, Chotoy, White-lored, Cinereous-breasted, Rusty-backed and Yellow-chinned Spinetails, Greater Thornbird, the jay-like Rufous (or Grey-crested) Cacholote, Great and Barred Antshrikes, Large-billed and Rusty-backed Antwrens, Mato Grosso and Band-tailed Antbirds, Common and Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, Stripe-necked Tody-Tyrant, Fuscous, Vermillion, Yellow-olive, Rusty-margined and Piratic Flycatchers, Black-backed Water-Tyrant, White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, Cattle Tyrant, Green-backed Becard, Lesser Kiskadee, Black-crowned Tityra, the unusual White-naped Xenopsaris, Purplish Jay, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Chivi Vireo, Ashy-headed Greenlet, Black-capped Donacobius, Thrush-like, Buff-breasted and Fawn-breasted Wrens, Masked Gnatcatcher, Brown-chested Martin, White-winged Swallow, Yellowish Pipit, Chestnut-vented Conebill, Silver-beaked, Guira and Grey-headed Tanagers, Thick-billed Euphonia, Red-crested and Yellow-billed Cardinals, Red-crested Finch, Rusty-collared and White-bellied Seedeaters, Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch, Greyish Saltator, Flavescent Warbler, Solitary Black and Yellow-rumped Caciques, Epaulet Oriole, Orange-backed Troupial, Unicoloured and White-browed Blackbirds, the exquisite Scarlet-headed Blackbird and Bay-winged Cowbird. If we are lucky we will find Ash-throated Crake, Long-winged Harrier, Yellow-collared (or Golden-collared) Macaw or Nanday (or Black-hooded) Parakeet.

A major attraction of the Pantanal 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. 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 they 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 adults usually weigh twice as much as their colleagues in Central America. We stand a good chance of encountering this golden-eyed, exquisite marvel and, with a bit of luck, one 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 for a healthy population of prey animals. Capybaras, the world’s largest rodents, are (along with caiman) a favourite prey of the big cat 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 fair chance of seeing include Azara’s Agouti, Crab-eating Fox, Neotropical River Otter, South American Coati, Black Howler Monkey, the curious-looking Brazilian Tapir and Marsh Deer. If we are particularly lucky we will encounter a Jaguarundi or an Ocelot. We will also make a special boat trip to try to see the awesome Giant Otter. Several family parties inhabit the rivers. Sometimes inquisitive individuals come to inspect the boat and can then be admired at minimal range. On at least one evening we will make an extended night drive, armed with a powerful spotlight, with the aim of trying to observe some of the spectacular mammals that inhabit the Pantanal.

Pantanal & Interior Brazil Birding Tour: Day 11  Today we leave the Pantanal behind and drive to the Chapada dos Guimarães for a two nights stay. This afternoon we will have time for some introductory birding.

Pantanal & Interior Brazil Birding Tour: Day 12  Situated at the western edge of the Planalto do Mato Grosso, the canyonlands of the Chapada dos Guimarães offer excellent birding amidst spectacular scenery. Impressive waterfalls plunge over sheer sandstone cliffs which rise out of riparian forests and cerrado. The scarce Biscutate Swift nests in the safety of these cliffs, which also provide a secure roosting site for several members of the parrot family. The most common species here is White-eyed Parakeet, but we can also expect spectacular Red-and-green and Blue-winged Macaws. In a stretch of wild cerrado we will search for such specialities as Chapada Flycatcher, White-banded Tanager and the marvellous Coal-crested Finch, while a wooded valley often holds Planalto Slaty Antshrike, White-backed Fire-eye, Moustached Wren and Pectoral Sparrow.

Amongst the other species we may encounter in this area are Tataupa Tinamou, the elegant White Hawk, Scaled Pigeon, the magnificent but rare Pheasant Cuckoo, the localized Cinnamon-throated Hermit, Blue-crowned Motmot, Lettered Aracari, Lineated Woodpecker, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Swallow Flycatcher, Band-tailed Manakin, Tropical Parula, Black-faced, White-shouldered and White-lined Tanagers, and Buff-throated Saltator. If we are in luck we will find the rare Rufous-sided Pygmy-Tyrant, an inhabitant of untouched open cerrado.

Pantanal & Interior Brazil Birding Tour: Day 13  After some final birding in the Chapada dos Guimarães we will drive to Cuiabá, where the main section of our Pantanal & Interior Brazil tour ends this afternoon.

ALTA FLORESTA

Pantanal & Interior Brazil Birding Tour (Alta Floresta): Day 1  Those taking the Alta Floresta section of our Pantanal & Interior Brazil tour will overnight in Cuiabá.

Pantanal & Interior Brazil Birding Tour (Alta Floresta): Day 2  This morning we will take a flight to the town of Alta Floresta, situated in the far north of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, on the border with the state of Pará. We will divide the next seven nights between two of Alta Floresta’s famous lodges, Rio Azul Jungle Lodge (3 nights) and Cristalino Lodge (4 nights), each of which has a subtly different suite of wonderful birds. After driving through pastures and isolated patches of forest to the banks of the Rio Teles Pires (the local name for the upper reaches of the Rio Tapajós), a boat will take us to the first of our two venues. In the late afternoon will start birding this remote paradise.

Pantanal & Interior Brazil Birding Tour (Alta Floresta): Days 3-8  The Alta Floresta region is situated near the geographical centre of Brazil, at the southern edge of the Amazonian rainforest, between two large rivers (the Rios Tapajós and Xingu) which have, over time, acted as barriers to the dispersal of many bird species.

Rio Azul Jungle Lodge at Serra do Cachimbo is surrounded by protected areas that are part of Brazil’s ‘Southern Amazon Protected Corridor’. The 630 hectare privately owned Rio Cristalino Forest Reserve surrounding the Cristalino Lodge is well protected and is bordered on three sides by 250,000 hectares of almost completely undisturbed jungle. No indigenous people live here, there is no disturbance from outside settlers and no hunting takes place. The lodge itself is built in a clearing on the banks of the river. The rivers in this area are mainly blackwater rivers, a natural phenomenon whereby tannins leaching out from the forest vegetation through the sandy soil give a dark colour to the water. Both lodges are very comfortable and serve good food.

We will have plenty of time to immerse ourselves in the amazingly varied avifauna of this splendid and little-explored corner of Amazonia. One of the main attractions at the Rio Cristalino Forest Reserve are the two well-built 50m high aluminium towers that offers extraordinary views over the surrounding forest, which stretches away to the far horizon. One of the towers stands next to a magnificent forest giant and the roomy platforms allow intimate looks at different levels in the surrounding forest canopy. The towers are superb spots to bird from during early mornings, late afternoons and just after showers when many species come to dry out and enjoy the sunshine on top of the canopy.

In the early morning and late afternoon, squabbling and screeching flocks of macaws, parrots and parakeets exhibit a riot of colours as they fly between their roosts and distant feeding trees. Scarlet, Red-and-green and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, Hellmayr’s and Golden-winged Parakeets, Dusky-billed Parrotlet, White-bellied and Blue-headed Parrots, and the spectacular Red-fan Parrot are all regularly encountered here, but the main prizes of the psittacid family are the strange endemic Bald Parrot (a major draw at Rio Azul) and the recently-described Kawall’s (or White-faced) Parrot. Kawall’s Parrot is a restricted-range species that resembles the closely related Mealy Parrot, but can be identified by the patch of bare whitish skin at the base of the bill and the grey eyering. Another localized speciality is the striking Crimson-bellied Parakeet, chattering parties of which may well find foraging in the canopy.

Swirling mixed species flocks, led by exquisite White-winged Shrike-Tanagers, career through the canopy and may hold such species as the handsome Black-girdled Barbet, Masked Tityra, the hard-to-see-well Tooth-billed Wren, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, the lovely Red-billed Pied-Tanager, Yellow-backed, Flame-crested, Turquoise, Paradise, Bay-headed, Opal-rumped and Green-and-gold Tanagers, Rufous-bellied and Golden-bellied Euphonias, Black-faced and Yellow-bellied Dacnises, Green and Purple Honeycreepers and the widespread, but rarely-encountered Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak. Exposed snags provide lookouts for Plumbeous and Ruddy Pigeons, Paradise Jacamar, White-fronted Nunbird, croaking Channel-billed and yelping White-throated Toucans, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, the glowing Spangled Cotinga and Bare-necked Fruitcrow.

There are usually flowering or fruiting trees to be found, giving us the opportunity to get acquainted with a whole realm of nectar-loving and frugivorus species including Red-necked and Curl-crested Aracaris, Gould’s Toucanet, Slate-coloured and Blue-black Grosbeaks, and Olive (or Para) Oropendola.

We will also be able to study the different species of monkeys that live in the Alta Floresta region. Family groups of Dusky Titi, Brown Tufted Capuchin, Red-handed Howler, White-whiskered Spider Monkey and White-nosed Bearded Saki often forage in the trees, and we may also see Silvery Marmoset. Other mammals are not conspicuous, but sightings of Red Brocket Deer, Paca, Brazilian Tapir and the awesome Giant Otter are by no means uncommon.

As the thermals start rising, Greater Yellow-headed Vultures, Double-toothed and Plumbeous Kites, and Black Hawk-Eagles will cruise lazily overhead, whilst Pale-rumped, Short-tailed and Grey-rumped Swifts sweep past. A pair of diminutive Amazonian Pygmy-Owls often resides in one of the nearby hollow trunks and the secretive Black-bellied Cuckoo often creeps about in emergent trees.

We will spend a lot of our time quietly creeping along trails in the tall terra firme forest of Alta Floresta. Understorey flocks can usually be detected by listening for the loud calls of Cinereous Antshrikes and may hold a dizzying mixture of species including the dazzling Blue-cheeked (or Blue-necked) Jacamar, Red-stained Woodpecker, Curve-billed (or Tapajos) Scythebill, Olivaceous, Striped and Dusky-billed Woodcreepers, Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Plain Xenops, Fasciated, Plain-winged and Amazonian Antshrikes, Pygmy, Sclater’s, White-eyed, Plain-throated, Long-winged and Grey Antwrens, Wing-barred Piprites and Long-billed Gnatwren.

In the ‘alborada’, the local term for the mysterious twilight preceding dawn, we will position ourselves strategically to listen for the barking calls of the Cryptic Forest-Falcon, a newly described species, and we will definitely try to lure this exciting bird into view. Low guttural humming sounds emanating from the forest floor will betray the presence of Dark-winged Trumpeters. These large and social birds roam the jungle in small groups and are one of the much-wanted prizes of the area, but as they do wander widely they are sometimes scarce.

Tiny, restless Snow-capped, Fiery-capped and Band-tailed Manakins play hide-and-seek in the middle levels, where we will also hope to encounter the gorgeous Flame-crowned (or Flame-crested) Manakin. Isolated, almost-impenetrable bamboo thickets hold a very interesting range of species including the localized Chestnut-throated Spinetail, Bamboo and Chestnut-crowned Foliage-gleaners, Manu and Striated Antbirds, and Dusky-tailed and Large-headed Flatbills. We will also keep an eye and an ear open for army ant swarms with their attendant species. The superb Bare-eyed Antbird with its pale glaucous-green orbital ring and funny crest is a very-localized professional ant-follower, as is the unreal-looking Black-spotted Bare-eye. Other species we should encounter at the amazing phenomenon of an army ant swarm include Plain-brown and White-chinned Woodcreepers, Scale-backed Antbird, White-backed Fire-eye and Red-crowned Ant-Tanager.

Trails that penetrate the varzea, the seasonally flooded forest near the river, allow us access to a quite different assortment of birds. Here we will diligently search for the rather saurian-like Long-billed Woodcreeper and the dazzling Glossy Antshrike.

A short boat ride away, a fairly steep trail at Rio Cristalino will take us to the top of a granite outcrop covered in scrubby and thorny woodland, terrestrial bromeliads and many vines. This is the territory of Brown-banded Puffbird, the localized Natterer’s Slaty Antshrike, Black-throated Antbird, Dusky-capped Greenlet and Masked Tanager, whilst Blackish Nightjars roost on the bare rocky areas.

Boat trips along the river and visits to adjoining oxbow lakes should add two members of the enigmatic cracid family to our tally: the gorgeous Red-throated Piping-Guan and the huge Razor-billed Curassow, both of which only survive in areas where guns and traps are unknown, and, with a bit of luck, we will come across the much sought-after Zigzag Heron. Additional species we may well find along the river or at the forest edge include Pearl Kite, Black Caracara, Orange-cheeked Parrot, the prehistoric Hoatzin, Short-tailed Nighthawk, Ladder-tailed Nightjar, Swallow-winged Puffbird (or Swallow-wing), Amazonian Umbrellabird, Drab Water-Tyrant, White-banded Swallow and Red-capped Cardinal.

Amongst the many other birds we may well find in this region of Brazil are the little-known White-browed Hawk, the vociferous Red-throated Caracara, Spix’s Guan, Marbled Wood-Quail, Grey-fronted Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Blue-and yellow Macaw, Yellow-crowned and Orange-winged Parrots, Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, Ocellated Poorwill, Rufous-breasted, Great-billed and Reddish Hermits, Grey-breasted Sabrewing, White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Versicoloured Emerald, Black-eared Fairy, Long-billed Starthroat, Black-tailed, Amazonian White-tailed, Collared and Amazonian Violaceous Trogons, Broad-billed Motmot, Great Jacamar, White-necked and Striolated Puffbirds, Rufous-capped Nunlet, Bar-breasted (or Gold-fronted) Piculet, and Yellow-throated, Cream-coloured, Scale-breasted (or Scaly-breasted), Ringed, Crimson-crested and Red-necked Woodpeckers.

Additional passerines at Alta Floresta include Long-tailed, Wedge-billed, Amazonian Barred, Spix’s and Lineated Woodcreepers, the fantastic Point-tailed Palmcreeper, Chestnut-winged Foliage-gleaner, Chestnut-backed, Spot-winged, White-shouldered and Saturnine Antshrikes, Amazonian Streaked, Ornate, Rufous-winged and Dot-winged Antwrens, Grey, White-browed, Spix’s Warbling and Spot-backed Antbirds, the hard-to-see Rufous-capped, Striated and Black-faced Antthrushes, White-browed Purpletuft, Screaming Piha, Blue-backed and Red-headed Manakins, Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, Slender-footed, White-lored and Yellow-crowned Tyrannulets, Forest Elaenia, Short-tailed and Helmeted Pygmy-Tyrants, Ochre-bellied and Ruddy-tailed Flycatchers, Bright-rumped and Cinnamon Attilas, Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher, Black-capped Becard, Cinereous Mourner, Varzea Schiffornis, Thrush-like Schiffornis, Scaly-breasted (or Southern Nightingale) Wren, the amazing Lawrence’s Thrush with its unique imitations, the unobtrusive Hauxwell’s Thrush, Grey-chested Greenlet, the striking Rose-breasted Chat, and Blue-grey Tanager.

If we are lucky we will see a few of the rarely observed (but in some cases often to be heard) forest floor skulkers, such as Great, Variegated, Brazilian and Cinereous Tinamous, and Spotted, Variegated or Thrush-like Antpittas.

We even have a chance for Harpy Eagle at Alta Floresta, depending on whether or not there is an active nest we can visit. Seeing an adult at the nest is unlikely; a well-grown or recently-fledged juvenile is much more probable.

Pantanal & Interior Brazil Birding Tour (Alta Floresta): Day 9  This morning we will return to Alta Floresta airport, where the tour ends.

PANTANAL & INTERIOR BRAZIL TOUR REPORT 2018

by Eduardo Patrial

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PANTANAL & INTERIOR BRAZIL TOUR REPORT 2016

by Eduardo Patrial

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PANTANAL & INTERIOR BRAZIL TOUR REPORT 2015

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