NORTHEAST BRAZIL TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Northeast Brazil: Day 1 Morning tour start at Fortaleza. From Fortaleza, the capital of the state of Ceará, we will drive westwards to Sobral for a two nights stay.
(If you would find it more convenient, and you are not flying directly into Fortaleza from overseas, we can supply an internal flight ticket to Fortaleza from São Paulo (Guarulhos) or any other gateway Brazilian city even if you are booking your international flights yourself. We can also book your hotel accommodation if needed.)
Driving through the vast Caatinga zone of Northeast Brazil, we are likely to encounter some of the commoner species along the road, like Black and Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, Roadside and Savanna Hawks, Crested Caracara, Southern Lapwing, Ruddy and Picui Ground Doves, Guira Cuckoo (comical-looking and vocal creatures that are often found in loose groups), Smooth-billed Ani and Neotropical Palm Swift.
We should arrive in the Sobral area in time for some initial exploration.
Northeast Brazil: Day 2 During our stay at Sobral, the very smart, range-restricted endemic Hooded Gnateater and the rare and elusive Buff-fronted Owl, which should be actively calling at this time of the year, will be our major targets in the Serra de Meruoca hill country. While the gnateater is fairly straightforward, we will need good fortune with the owl.
We will also be covering the dominant Caatinga habitat in the lowland areas and the semi-open ‘carnaubal’ (dominated by the ‘carnauba’ palm tree) where we expect to find a good selection of birds, including a number of Northeast Brazil endemic specialities. These include Caatinga Puffbird, Ochraceous Piculet, the handsome Ochre-backed Woodpecker, Caatinga Parakeet, Band-tailed Hornero, Ochre-cheeked Spinetail, Caatinga Cacholote, the Caatinga form of the Barred Antshrike, Campo Troupial, Pale Baywing and Red-cowled Cardinal. We also have a first opportunity to find the uncommon Ash-throated Casiornis.
Likely widespread species in the Sobral region include Small-billed Tinamou (a widespread bird that is much easier to hear than see), Hook-billed Kite, Crane Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Laughing Falcon, Scaled and White-tipped Doves, Striped Cuckoo, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Common Potoo, Blue-crowned Trogon, White and Little Woodpeckers, Blue-winged Parrotlet, Pale-legged Hornero, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Great Antshrike, Large Elaenia, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Social, Streaked and Variegated Flycatchers, Great Kiskadee, White-winged and Crested Becards, Chivi Vireo, White-winged Swallow, Grey-breasted Martin, House Wren, Rufous-bellied Thrush, White-browed and Chestnut-capped Blackbirds, Variable Oriole, Shiny Cowbird, Orange-headed and Palm Tanagers, and Blue-black Grassquit.
Some nice wetlands and adjacent pastures are likely to turn up Brazilian Teal, White-faced Whistling Duck, Southern Pochard and White-cheeked Pintail, as well as Least and Pied-billed Grebes, Black-crowned Night Heron, Striated Heron, Western Cattle, Great and Snowy Egrets, Neotropic Cormorant, Snail Kite, Common Gallinule, Limpkin, Wattled Jacana, Black-necked Stilt, Greater Ani, Amazon and Ringed Kingfishers, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Black-backed Water Tyrant and the endearing White-headed Marsh Tyrant. More uncommon or hard-to-see species include Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Masked Duck, Grey-cowled wood Rail, Purple Gallinule and Rufous-sided Crake.
Northeast Brazil: Day 3 Today we will drive eastwards to another hilly part of Ceará state, the isolated Serra do Baturité, where we will stay overnight at Guaramiranga.
The relict Atlantic Forest type present on the higher slopes of the Serra do Baturité is situated at the edge of the endless Caatinga dry woodland zone and holds a very interesting avifauna. This includes a mixture of disjunct endemic forms of Atlantic Forest species (some of which may in the future prove to be full species) and a number of species of wider distribution.
Our main quarry in this area will be the extremely localized Northeast Brazil-endemic Buff-breasted Tody-Tyrant, a small unobtrusive flycatcher that we should find quietly perched in a vine tangle in the sub-canopy. We will probably hear the distinctive croaking of the near-endemic Gould’s Toucanet long before we see this gaudy bird, which is represented here by the isolated and aptly-named baturitensis subspecies. We will have another chance to find the little Northeast Brazil-endemic Ochraceous Piculet clinging to thin twigs, whilst Ceara Gnateaters (another highly localized Northeast Brazil endemic) hide in the undergrowth. Extremely handsome, near-endemic Red-necked Tanagers visit fruiting trees. One of our most important targets here is the highly localized and critically endangered Northeast Brazil-endemic Grey-breasted Parakeet, for which we will be visiting a good roosting site.
Other species to look for at Guaramiranga include the uncommon Pearly-breasted Cuckoo, the Northeast Brazil-endemic Grey-headed Spinetail, the restricted-range Black-capped Antwren, the shy, uncommon near-endemic Spot-winged Wood Quail, the near-endemic Planalto Woodcreeper and Planalto Tyrannulet, and the Northeast Brazil endemic subspecies of the secretive Rufous-breasted Leaftosser, the near-endemic Lesser Woodcreeper and Variable Antshrike. There will also be another chance for Ochre-backed Woodpecker and the rare Yellow-faced Siskin.
More widespread birds include Zone-tailed Hawk, Rufous-breasted, Planalto and Reddish Hermits, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Green Kingfisher, Green-barred Woodpecker, Yellow-chevroned Parakeet, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Sooty-fronted Spinetail, Plain Antvireo, Ochre-lored Flatbill, White-throated Spadebill, Masked Water Tyrant, Cattle Tyrant, Tropical Kingbird, Euler’s Flycatcher, the spectacular Band-tailed Manakin, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Moustached Wren, Pale-breasted Thrush, the introduced Common Waxbill, Purple-throated Euphonia, the skulking and attractive Pectoral Sparrow, Golden-crowned Warbler, Guira, Sayaca and Burnished-buff Tanagers, Blue Dacnis, Yellow-bellied Seedeater and Bananaquit. Uncommon possibilities include the skulking Short-tailed Antthrush.
Northeast Brazil: Day 4 We will spend most of the morning exploring the forests at Guaramiranga. Afterwards, we will transfer to the town of Quixadá for an overnight stay. We have more chances for the scarce Masked Duck today.
Quixadá is situated in a vast area of Caatinga punctuated by peculiar rocky mounds. At one of these kopje-like outcrops, we should surely find the perfectly camouflaged Northeast Brazil-endemic Pygmy Nightjar, although their small size and cryptic colouration may delay that Eureka moment!
This typical dry and rocky Caatinga habitat will give us more chances for most of the widespread Caatinga specialities, including the gorgeous, near-endemic Black-bellied Antwren. In particular, we have our best chances to see the very shy, Northeast Brazil-endemic White-browed Guan which has recently taken to visiting a feeding spot at the forest edge. Some widespread species found here include Turkey Vulture, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Eared Dove, Dark-billed Cuckoo and Golden-green Woodpecker.
Northeast Brazil: Day 5 Today we will have a fairly long drive to the lovely Sítio Pau Preto in Potengi (in the southernmost part of Ceará state), where we stay overnight.
En route, we will break our journey at the town of Crato so that we can visit the forested slopes of the fabulous Chapada do Araripe. Imposing red and grey cliffs surround the isolated plateau of the Chapada do Araripe and at its base lives one of the most spectacular members of the manakin family. The Araripe Manakin was first described as recently as in 1998 and has an extremely small area of distribution, limited to the lush growth at the base of this escarpment. The total population of this cracking species must be minute. The adult males with their gleaming white bodies, ebony black wings and cardinal-red heads have to be seen to be believed and we will make a concerted effort to get everyone good views of this highly threatened species. This will also be the best place for us to find the interesting ‘ Tawny Piculet’, now considered to be a colour morph of Ochraceous Piculet. Also here in zones of taller vegetation, our attention will be drawn to the bizarre nasal calls of the drably-hued, near-endemic Pale-bellied Tyrant-Manakin.
Later in the afternoon, we will enjoy the nice feeders and grounds of the attractively situated Sítio Pau Preto, together with surrounding open and semi-open habitats that should offer the icing on the cake with a few more localized Caatinga species such as the local races of both Greater and Lesser Wagtail-Tyrants (curiously sharing the same habitat in this area) and the very odd-looking and uncommon Scarlet-throated Tanager, a species that moves in nomadic flocks through the dry Caatinga looking for places with water. We should also find Plain-breasted Ground Dove, Boat-billed Flycatcher and Rufous-collared Sparrow. There are also good chances to find the restricted-range White-bellied Nothura and the widespread Spotted Nothura. At dusk, we should see Least Nighthawks flying around.
Northeast Brazil: Day 6 This morning we will visit the splendid Caatinga in the protected Brejinho Natural Park. This reserve protects important stands of a very dense, stunted and partly deciduous Caatinga woodland (a habitat locally called ‘carrasco’). Along a trail that cuts through part of this low-canopy Caatinga, one of our main targets will be the enigmatic and endemic Great Xenops. This striking and monotypic species (genus Megaxenops) is restricted to the Caatinga woodland of Northeast Brazil. We should be able to admire this bright rufous Furnariidae with its gleaming white throat whilst it gleans tree trunks or pries off pieces of bark with its upturned, cleaver-like bill.
At Brejinho we will also find the finest array of Caatinga endemics, including species like the shy Broad-tipped Hermit, the fascinating White-browed Antpitta (we will make a special effort to get to grips with this furtive ‘egg on legs’), the striking Silvery-cheeked Antshrike, the recently described Caatinga Antwren and the little known and uncommon Red-shouldered Spinetail (distinctive and sometimes placed in the monotypic genus Gyalophylax). We will also see the striking Stripe-backed Antbird, a terrestrial species with two widely separated populations: one in the Chaco of Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina and one in the caatinga of northeastern Brazil. We will also have another chance for the retiring Ash-throated Casiornis, besides some other Brazilian endemics of wider distribution like Planalto Slaty Antshrike, Long-billed Wren and Grey-eyed Greenlet.
Other birds in this fascinating area include the lovely endemic White-throated and Copper Seedeaters and the interesting but uncommon White-naped Xenopsaris as well as Sick’s Swift, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, the spectacular Red-billed Scythebill, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Mouse-coloured Tyrannulet, Tawny-crowned Pygmy Tyrant, Fuscous, Short-crested and Brown-crested Flycatchers, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Flavescent Warbler, Ultramarine Grosbeak, Hooded Tanager and Grey Pileated Finch.
Afterwards, we will drive eastwards to the town of Palmares for a two nights stay.
Northeast Brazil: Day 7 The ‘zona da mata’ (literally meaning ‘forest zone’) in Pernambuco state is restricted to a narrow coastal strip of only 100 kilometres (60 miles) wide, but little is now left of the dense Atlantic coastal forest that greeted the first Europeans in the 16th century. Sadly, in this better-watered region where most of the population now lives, most of the rich forests of the Pernambuco avian endemism centre have long since vanished.
Several ridges clad in dense evergreen forest have been preserved as reserves in the Palmares region. Everywhere else in the region, cattle raising and sugarcane production have taken a heavy toll and so these woods are like fertile islands in a sterile sea. Protection is only partial, so the future of these reserves is still a question mark. These woods harbour some of the most localized and threatened birds in South America and several species new to science have been described from here in the last 20 years. We will have to get up very early in order to reach this highly threatened habitat by the time the sun rises and the optimum time for birding begins.
We plan to visit both the Pedra D’Anta private reserve and the Frei Caneca private reserve during our stay. The nearly 1000 hectares of Atlantic Forest protected in this latter reserve near Jaqueira make this the most important remnant of the ‘zona da mata’ of Pernambuco.
The extremely localized White-collared Kite, a close relative of the widespread Grey-headed Kite, has a total population of fewer than 50 pairs, making it one of the rarest birds of prey in the world. Recent research has revealed more about this species’ behaviour, although the nest remains unknown. We have a fair chance of being able to witness the antics of this really special bird.
Besides this mega-speciality, we will be looking for some easier-to-find Northeast Brazil endemic species of the Pernambuco-endemism-centre, such as Long-tailed Woodnymph, Orange-bellied Antwren, Scalloped Antbird (here of the race soror), Alagoas Tyrannulet (only described in 1987) and the stunning Seven-coloured Tanager (usually encountered in small parties at the forest edge). If we are lucky, we will come across one of the rare specialities, which include Pinto’s Spinetail, Pernambuco Foliage-gleaner and Yellow-faced Siskin.
Endemic subspecies we may encounter include Great-billed Hermit (subspecies margarettae, sometimes split as Margaretta’s Hermit), Golden-spangled Piculet (subspecies pernambucensis), Plain-winged Woodcreeper (subspecies taunayi), White-shouldered Antshrike (hard to see, subspecies distans), Willis’s Antbird (subspecies sabinoi), East Amazonian Fire-eye (subspecies pernambucensis), Black-cheeked Gnateater (subspecies nigrifrons) and Yellow-green Grosbeak (subspecies frontalis). Needless to say, the way things are going some of these endemic subspecies will likely be raised to species level.
Other birds regularly found in the area include the majestic endemic Mantled Hawk and the Northeast Brazil isolated endemic race (naumburgae) of the White-bellied Tody-Tyrant. Uncommon possibilities include Blackish Rail and Lettered Aracari.
Skittish Black-rumped Agoutis can often be found shuffling about the woodland floor.
[Note on the Murici Reserve: We pioneered going to the Murici Reserve in adjacent Alagoas many moons ago but we have had to give up on the place. ‘Island Effect’ has very sadly resulted in grave losses to the avifauna. Alagoas Foliage-gleaner, which we used to see there, is now perhaps extinct and during our most recent three visits, we only heard the increasingly rare Alagoas Antwren once, in spite of great efforts to track this species down. It too appears to be slipping away.]
Northeast Brazil: Day 8 We will have another opportunity to visit one of the reserves this morning. Afterwards, we will transfer to the coastal town of Tamandaré for an overnight stay.
Near Tamandaré, we will be visiting a marshy area in search of another localized and threatened Northeast Brazil-endemic species, the gregarious Forbes’s Blackbird. Finishing the day, we will be waiting for the Northeast Brazil-endemic Jandaya Parakeet as it comes to roost at some coconut groves.
Northeast Brazil: Day 9 We may have time early this morning for some final birding around Tamandare.
Afterwards, we will head inland, eventually passing through an impressive rocky landscape dominated by thorny scrub, numerous cacti and parching winds, scorched by a relentless sun for most of the year. This enormous arid zone conbsists of typical Caatinga habitat, regionally known as ‘sertão’. This is goat country par excellence, where the local ‘vaqueiros’ have tended their herds since the 17th century. Driving southwards, we cross a narrow strip of the state of Pernambuco and enter the vast state of Bahia, bordered by the mighty Rio São Francisco. This famous river, whose source lies far away in the magnificent Serra da Canastra in southwestern Minas Gerais, is the only river in the northeast of Brazil that never runs dry!
Before reaching our destination, the little town of Canudos, where we will stay for two nights at the nice Canudos Biological Station, we will have a quick stop to check a nesting area for the uncommon Blue-winged Macaw. We should also encounter Suiriri Flycatcher.
The little town of Canudos is historically famous because of ‘The War of Canudos’ at the end of the 1890s. The war was a conflict between the state of Brazil and a group of some thirty thousand settlers, led by a preacher named Antônio Conselheiro (‘The Counsellor’), who had founded their own independent community in the northeastern state of Bahia, named Canudos. After a number of unsuccessful attempts at military suppression, it came to a brutal end in October 1897 when a large Brazilian army force overran the town and killed nearly all the inhabitants!
Such tragedy, fortunately, did not compromise the existence of the most distinguished avian inhabitant of the area, the highly threatened Lear’s Macaw. The Canudos Biological Station and Raso da Catarina Ecological Station are where most of the remaining thousand or so macaws live and breed. In 1978 Helmut Sick, one of the best known Brazilian ornithologists finally tracked down this enigmatic bird to this area. This magnificent species had been known from collections and occasional birds that appeared in the pet trade, but nobody really knew where these birds had come from. The expedition mounted by Sick to this inhospitable area (shown as plain white on maps until only recently) found them breeding in the sandstone cliffs. This species is now one of the rarest birds in the world and makes a living in this rugged dry terrain clad in thorn scrub. But to find its main food source, the nuts of Licuri palms (Syagrus coronata), the macaws need to fly quite long distances from their breeding and roosting cliffs every day.
Northeast Brazil: Day 10 We start this day with one of the great highlights of the tour, an early morning visit to the cliffs of the Canudos Biological Station to see the awakening at a Lear’s Macaw’s roosting site. By dawn, we will be positioned on the top of the cliff enjoying the early morning chorus of Tataupa and Small-billed Tinamous, Least Nighthawks and perhaps Scissor-tailed Nightjar, Striped Cuckoo and others. With the first light of day, there will be loud calls and dozens of indigo birds in the sky, as the Lear’s Macaw show begins. Flocks seen in flight or perched in trees or on cacti and clifftops will certainly stir the emotions of every lucky person present. While enjoying the macaw spectacle, we shall also be alert for King Vulture (an uncommon bird in this area) and Turquoise-fronted Amazon, as well as the cute Rock Cavy (which looks rather like a hyrax).
A lovely breakfast will be waiting for us after this remarkable experience. We will probably have some more time to cover the Caatinga habitats inside the reserve or along the entrance road in search of any missing target species.
During the afternoon we will bird the entrance road of the Canudos Biological Station and a few other sites along the dirt road to Rosário. In this splendid Caatinga habitat, we will be expecting to find the stunning Brazilian endemic Stripe-breasted Starthroat and the common Blue-crowned Parakeet. We will also have more chances for such difficult Caatinga endemics as Broad-tipped Hermit and Red-shouldered Spinetail.
Other birds of the area include Pearl Kite, Picazuro Pigeon, the fascinating Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, White Monjita and White-lined Tanager. We have another chance here for the retiring White-bellied Nothura. At dusk, we may find Scissor-tailed Nightjar.
Northeast Brazil: Day 11 Today we will drive to Jeremoabo for an overnight stay. On the way, we will be on the lookout for the stately Red-legged Seriema, as well as American Kestrel, Aplomado Falcon, Burrowing Owl and perhaps Brown-chested Martin.
Our main stop will be in an area of gallery woodland where we should find the Northeast Brazil-endemic Pectoral Antwren. This very localized and distinctive member of the genus Herpsilochmus is dependent on this fast-disappearing habitat. In the same area, or in scrubby areas elsewhere, we will look for Spotted Piculet (another Northeast Brazil endemic), Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant and Southern Scrub Flycatcher.
Northeast Brazil: Day 12 Early today we will drive from Jeremoabo to Estância, situated near the coast of Sergipe, the smallest state of Brazil, where we will stay overnight. Close to the small village of Crasto, some Atlantic Forest remnants house an important avifauna, including the extremely localized Northeast Brazil-endemic Fringe-backed Fire-eye, which we should find in the dense forest undergrowth. This is now one of the rarest and probably most threatened antbirds in eastern Brazil.
An exciting supporting cast may well consist of such Brazilian endemics as Jandaya Parakeet (a Northeast Brazil speciality) and Sooretama Slaty Antshrike, as well as the more widespread Glittering-throated Emerald, Peach-fronted Parakeet, Orange-winged Amazon, Red-shouldered Macaw, Channel-billed Toucan, Stripe-necked Tody-Tyrant and Black-capped Donacobius
As well as the forest remnants, there are some stretches of mangrove where we will put in some effort to try and find Mangrove Rail, South American Snipe and the uncommon, restricted-range Rufous Crab-Hawk, although these can be difficult to find.
Northeast Brazil: Day 13 After some final birding around Crasto if necessary, we will have a long drive inland to the Chapada Diamantina in the centre of Bahia state, where we will stay for two nights at the lovely settlement of Lençóis. We should see White-tailed Kite during the journey.
The Chapada Diamantina is an area where geological forces have created deep valleys and rocky ridges, and the locality derives its name from the diamonds that were once found here.
Unless we need some extra time at Crasto, we will spend the last hours of light covering the vast forest that surrounds the little town of Lençóis, which is situated in the foothills on the east side of the rocky spine of the Chapada. This forest supports an interesting assembly of species, including such typical Atlantic Forest birds as the near-endemic Surucua Trogon (the local form is sometimes split as Northern Surucua Trogon). We may hear the deep calls of the extremely shy endemic Yellow-legged Tinamou, but they are devilishly hard to see. We shall also be looking out for Southern White-fringed Antwren and Grey Elaenia.
Northeast Brazil: Day 14 We will spend the entire day exploring the fascinating landscapes around Lençois. Hummingbird feeders in town occasionally attract Brown Violetear, which occurs here as an isolated population.
The higher reaches of the Chapada Diamantina offer spectacular scenery (reminiscent of parts of the American West), with huge, isolated rocky outcrops, steep cliff faces and grassy expanses. This rock-strewn, scrub-covered escarpment is one of the few accessible spots where that remarkable hummingbird the Hooded Visorbearer can be seen. This bronzy-green marvel of a bird displays a glittering-green throat adorned with a fiery red spot and is restricted to just this small area of interior Bahia.
Investigation of this restricted habitat should also yield the localized Northeast Brazil-endemic Serra Finch (or Pale-throated Pampa Finch), the endemic Velvety Black Tyrant and the uncommon and localized Stripe-tailed Yellow Finch. We may also find White-vented Violetear, White-eared Puffbird, the near-endemic Rufous-winged Antshrike, the handsome Collared Crescentchest, Lesser and Small-headed Elaenias, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Red (or Lowland Hepatic) Tanager, the endemic Cinnamon Tanager and the near-endemic Black-throated Saltator. If we are lucky we will find the stunning near-endemic Blue Finch.
At lower altitudes, pockets of evergreen forest are to be found amidst the savanna (Cerrado), a place where we should find the wary Northeast Brazil-endemic East Brazilian Chachalaca, Green-winged Saltator, Spix’s Spinetail and Wedge-tailed Grass Finch.
In the afternoon we will hike part of a trail that leads to Lençóis through a superb rocky valley mostly covered with scrub (known locally as ‘campo rupestre’), the habitat of our main target, the Chapada Diamantina-endemic Sincora Antwren (a close relative of the Rusty-backed Antwren, and only described in 2007). At dusk, we will try for vocal Rufous Nightjar in the forest.
Other birds we may well observe in the Diamantina include Pale-vented Pigeon, Blue Ground Dove, Tropical Screech Owl, Campo Flicker, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Plain-crested Elaenia, Bran-colored Flycatcher, Grassland Sparrow, Chopi Blackbird, Southern Yellowthroat, Tropical Parula, Grassland Yellow Finch and White-bellied Seedeater. More uncommon or unpredictable possibilities include the fast-flying Biscutate and White-collared Swifts and Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher.
Northeast Brazil: Day 15 We will set out early this morning on our way to the nice little town of Mucugê, situated in the southern range of the Chapada Diamantina, where we will overnight. Our route will take us by dirt road via the town of Palmeiras on the western slope of the Chapada, and along the way, we will bird some good stretches of Caatinga and Cerrado.
Our first stop is dedicated to finding the perky endemic São Francisco Sparrow, which was only described in 1997 and which usually leads a quiet life in the dense undergrowth. We will also have further chances for many Caatinga specialities.
After reaching areas of short, scrubby Cerrado (locally called ‘gerais’), another stop will provide some fantastic but sometimes difficult near-endemic species such as the uncommon Rufous-sided Pygmy-Tyrant, Shrike-like (or White-banded) and White-rumped Tanagers, Collared Crescentchest and the gorgeous
Horned Sungem. We should also encounter Plumbeous Seedeater and have more chances to find Copper Seedeater.
Finally, in the Mucugê area itself, and surrounded by the scenic wilderness of the ‘campo rupestre’, we will visit a narrow defile where moister and taller vegetation creates the perfect shaded habitat for another Chapada Diamantina endemic, the Diamantina Tapaculo. Only described in 2007, this tapaculo is closely related to the taxonomically complex Scytalopus speluncae (Mouse-coloured Tapaculo) group. The ‘campo rupestre’ around Mucugê will also offer us chances to find the localized endemic Grey-backed Tachuri and the attractive Grey Monjita.
To finish off this fantastic day, we will cover more of the ‘gerais’ habitat (Cerrado) in search of Rusty-backed Antwren. Here we should notice the deep calls of the Red-winged Tinamou and the trill of the Spotted Nothura. Some semi-deciduous woodland known as ‘mata-de-cipó’ (vine forest) will provide another chance for some Caatinga specialities such as Great Xenops and Stripe-backed Antbird, as well as the opportunity to see a Northeast Brazil endemic that is restricted to this particular type of forest, the Narrow-billed Antwren. At dusk, we will have another chance for Scissor-tailed Nightjar.
Northeast Brazil: Day 16 Today we will spend a few hours birding the ‘gerais’ or ‘mata-de-cipó’ around Mucugê before hitting the road towards Boa Nova. Our main target along the way will be the uncommon Sharp-tailed Grass Tyrant (or Sharp-tailed Tyrant), which was only recently discovered in this area (this is a little-recorded species in Northeast Brazil).
We should arrive at Boa Nova, where we will stay for three nights, in time for some initial exploration. The famous Boa Nova area is a transition zone between the dry thorny scrub, known as Caatinga, and the Atlantic Rainforest that once used to cover most of the eastern Brazilian coastal hill ranges, but of which only a few patches remain in the Boa Nova municipality.
We will visit two very different habitats this afternoon, each with its own assortment of very distinctive species. The dry, semi-deciduous, low-canopy woodland with its numerous lianas and vine tangles, known as ‘mata-de-cipó’, here also includes large terrestrial bromeliads and holds some extremely localized antbirds. The handsome Slender Antbird is only found where these bizarre, sharp-edged bromeliads (of the genus Aechmea) grow in profusion on the sandy soil. This endemic of southern interior Bahia is usually not too hard to see well and is readily detected by its shrill song. It was only known from three old specimens until it was rediscovered here in 1974. More arboreal, but almost as range-restricted, is the lovely Narrow-billed Antwren, which we have another chance for here as it gleans in foliage and along tree limbs.
The dry forest of the Boa Nova region has a very peculiar avifaunal composition, mixing some typical members of the Caatinga, Atlantic Forest and interior woodland. Here we will be concentrating on the amazing, near-endemic Black-billed Scythebill.
We will also visit a famous rocky outcrop called ‘Lajedo’, a superb site replete with short, rounded cacti (Melocactus) which sometimes attract a large number of hummingbirds. Other species found here include the endemic Dubois’s Seedeater. At dusk, we will look for the impressive, near-endemic Tawny-browed Owl.
Northeast Brazil: Days 17-18 During our stay at Boa Nova, we will definitely want to cover the humid montane Atlantic Forest. Just a few miles east of the dry forest, the scenery changes dramatically as, in valleys and on slopes that catch more moisture from the oceanic winds, we encounter the much lusher Atlantic Forest with its taller and thicker trees and a much less dense understory. Here we will try to locate three endemic species that are restricted to this threatened habitat; the poorly-known Rio de Janeiro Antbird and the busy Striated Softtail (both of which we do not normally encounter outside Northeast Brazil) and the secretive Northeast Brazil-endemic Bahia Spinetail.
We will also be looking for the recently-described endemic Boa Nova Tapaculo.
A mass of additional endemic and near-endemic Atlantic Forest birds can be witnessed here, including a number from the marvellous antbird family, such as the tangle-loving Spot-backed Antshrike, the shy Tufted Antshrike, Spot-breasted Antvireo, Ferruginous Antbird, the stunning White-bibbed Antbird, White-shouldered Fire-eye, Scale-throated Hermit, the fierce-looking, endemic East Brazilian Pygmy Owl, the tricky Crescent-chested Puffbird, Pallid Spinetail, White-collared and White-eyed Foliage-gleaners, Plain-winged and Scaled Woodcreepers, Rufous Gnateater, Drab-breasted Bamboo Tyrant, Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher, Oustalet’s Tyrannulet, the superb Pin-tailed and Blue Manakins, the vociferous Grey-hooded Attila, Greenish Schiffornis, Black-throated Grosbeak and the attractive Golden-chevroned, Brazilian, Gilt-edged and Rufous-headed Tanagers. More uncommon possibilities include Ochre-breasted Foliage-gleaner, Ochre-rumped Antbird and Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant.
Species of wider distribution we expect to record in the Boa Nova region include White-tailed Hawk, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Squirrel Cuckoo, Little Nightjar, Black-throated Mango, Sapphire-spangled Emerald, Maroon-bellied Parakeet, Scaly-headed Parrot, Black-eared Fairy, Black-throated Trogon, Yellow-throated Woodpecker (confusingly represented here by a red-throated race), Lineated Woodpecker, Rufous Hornero, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, the remarkable Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Rufous-winged Antwren, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Yellow Tyrannulet, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Long-tailed Tyrant, Tropical Pewee, Black-tailed Tityra, Chestnut-crowned and Green-backed Becards, Blue-and-white Swallow, White-necked Thrush, Yellow-green Grosbeak, Saffron Finch, Sooty Grassquit, Red-crowned Ant Tanager and Black-goggled and Flame-crested Tanagers. We could also come across Ash-throated Crake and the bizarre Red-ruffed Fruitcrow.
Around dusk, we will try to find the impressive Giant Snipe.
We will also cover the forest surrounding Poções, only about thirty kilometres (18 miles) further south. Despite the proximity to Boa Nova and the similar habitats (hilly Atlantic Rainforest and transitional woodlands), there are some differences in the avifauna. In the transitional ‘mata de cipó’ at the Serra do Arrepio we will look for the range-restricted endemic Wied’s Tyrant-Manakin and the little-known endemic Reiser’s Tyrannulet, a rare species occurring here much further east than most of its known range (in the dry woodlands of central Brazil). We also have good chances to find the endemic Buff-throated Purpletuft, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant and Slender Antbird and the near-endemic Pale-bellied Tyrant-Manakin.
Afterwards, we will visit a small semi-deciduous Atlantic Forest patch in the lowlands. Here we will target one of the finest antbirds of Northeast Brazil, the gorgeous but rare and threatened Scalloped Antbird (nominate race). Decent views of this skulking bird hopping among the dry leaves on the forest floor could well be obtained.
Eventually, we start moving back towards Poções, having a final stop in the hills of the Serra do Amolar to catch up with another jewel, the charismatic endemic Three-toed Jacamar that we should find by the edge of a secondary Atlantic Forest remnant. At the same place, we will be looking for another Brazilian endemic usually found further southeast, the attractive Orange-eyed Thornbird. We also have more chances for Striated Softtail, Bahia Spinetail, Tufted Antshrike and even a very slim chance of encountering the fascinating endemic Swallow-tailed Cotinga.
Northeast Brazil: Day 19 After a final session in the Boa Nova region if necessary, we will head eastwards and downhill to the beautiful coastal area around the little town of Itacaré where we will stay for two nights.
We will have time in the afternoon to visit some good lowland humid forest in the Serra do Capitão. On a nice track in the dense forest, we will certainly hear shy Variegated and Little Tinamous calling, and we shall find understory mixed flocks with species such as Cinereous Antshrike, the near-endemic Streak-capped Antwren, the uncommon and range-restricted endemic Band-tailed Antwren, Plain Xenops, Streaked Xenops, the colourful Red-headed and Blue-backed Manakins, Long-billed Gnatwren and Yellow-backed Tanager. We will also have chances here (as well as elsewhere in the region) to find the endemic Scaled Antbird and Black-cheeked Gnateater, the shy Rufous-capped Antthrush, the timid Bright-rumped Attila and the retiring Whiskered Myiobius.
Northeast Brazil: Day 20 We will spend much of the day exploring the Agua Boa Private Reserve to the north of Itacaré. Along the dirt access road, we will stop at roadside scrub to look for the rare, near-endemic Smoky-fronted Tody-Flycatcher, the uncommon Cinereous-breasted Spinetail and the shy Russet-crowned Crake. Our special target is, however, one of the rarest and most range-restricted tapaculos in the world, the smart-looking Bahia Tapaculo. The Agua Boa Reserve is one of the few known sites for finding this Northeastern endemic.
In this fine protected area, we should also encounter Channel-billed Toucan, the smart White-fronted Nunbird, Golden-spangled Piculet, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Buff-throated Saltator and a feast of manakins including the gorgeous endemic Kinglet (or Eastern Striped) Manakin. We also have another chance for the rare margarettae race of the Great-billed Hermit (sometimes split as Margaretta’s Hermit). Uncommon possibilities include the stunning Atlantic race of the Ringed Woodpecker and the Atlantic races of Olivaceous Flatbill and Cinereous Mourner.
In the afternoon we should have time to check a lovely garden with fruit feeders and some forest edge in Itacaré, expecting to get good looks at the stunning Atlantic Forest races of both Turquoise and Opal-rumped Tanagers, as well as Brazilian and White-lined Tanagers, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Violaceous Euphonia and flocks of Peach-fronted and Golden-capped Parakeets.
Northeast Brazil: Day 21 Heading south from Itacaré we will visit the fantastic Caititu Reserve for most of the morning. The well-preserved forest here is potentially good for cotingas with good first chances to find the stunning endemic White-winged Cotinga, the rare endemic Black-headed Berryeater, the noisy, near-endemic Bare-throated Bellbird and Screaming Piha. Black and Black-and-white Hawk-Eagles occur here but are uncommon.
Moving on southwards, we will stop for lunch before reaching the hills of Serra Bonita near Camacan where we will stay for two nights stay. The amazing Serra Bonita Lodge at about 1000m (3281ft) above sea level will provide another great birding experience as some rare and restricted-range birds occur here. On the way uphill we will check out a nesting site of one of our main targets here, the peculiar and localized Pink-legged Graveteiro, an aberrant little Furnariid only discovered in this region in 1994 (and first described in 1996). We hope to get good looks at this curious species, which builds its bulky nests in epiphyte-laden trees and lives an acrobatic life in the highest part of the canopy. After dusk, we may try for Mottled Owl.
Northeast Brazil: Day 22 Today will be spent exploring the system of trails around the lodge at Serra Bonita. One of our main targets will be the new species of Heliobletus treehunter (variously named Bahia, Serra das Lontras or Serra Bonita Treehunter), a still undescribed form only found in these hills. Another very special bird is the very range-restricted, Northeast Brazil-endemic Bahia Tyrannulet that we should find foraging in the sub-canopy.
Other specialities we will search for here include the stunning, near-endemic Spot-billed Toucanet, the endemic Plain and Golden-capped Parakeets, the endemic Pale-browed Treehunter, the endemic Silvery-flanked Antwren, the endemic Plumbeous Antvireo, the restricted-range Rufous-brown Solitaire (which is quite abundant here) and the endemic Azure-shouldered Tanager. We also have another chance for the powerful, near-endemic Mantled Hawk. Uncommon endemic possibilities include the striking Brazilian Ruby, Star-throated Antwren and Cinnamon-vented Piha.
Along the beautiful trails, if we are lucky, we will encounter such rarities as the shy, near-endemic Spot-winged Wood Quail, the near-endemic Buff-bellied Puffbird or the endemic Golden-tailed Parrotlet. In the dense undergrowth, we will hear the shy Brown Tinamou, though getting a view needs both patience and good fortune. Variegated Antpitta and the endemic Cryptic Antthrush also occur in the area but are equally shy.
More widespread species include Rufescent Tiger Heron, Short-tailed Nighthawk, Grey-rumped Swift, Scale-throated Hermit, Green-backed Trogon, Black-necked Aracari, Red-stained Woodpecker, Barred Forest Falcon (regularly heard but harder to see), Piratic Flycatcher, Greyish Mourner, the remarkable Sharpbill, Black-capped Becard, Lemon-chested Greenlet, Thrush-like Wren, Yellow-legged Thrush, Orange-bellied Euphonia and Yellow-rumped and Red-rumped Caciques.
Good mixed flocks are usually found here containing such species as the endemic Pallid Spinetail, the uncommon endemic Salvadori’s Antwren, the widespread Yellow-throated Woodpecker and occasionally the near-endemic White-throated Woodcreeper and Black-capped Foliage-gleaner.
Excellent feeders will provide many fantastic hummingbirds and tanagers, including the endemic Sombre Hummingbird, the near-endemic Violet-capped Woodnymph and perhaps the near-endemic Black Inca. Occasionally female Frilled Coquettes show up at surrounding Lantana flowers. They also attract the near-endemic Maroon-bellied Parakeet and stunning near-endemic Green-headed and Red-necked Tanagers, as well as Green Honeycreeper, the near-endemic Chestnut-bellied Euphonia and sometimes even Spot-billed Toucanet or Sharpbill.
Northeast Brazil: Day 23 Leaving the Serra Bonita Lodge at dawn, we will make a visit to the foothill forest of Serra Bonita Reserve at Fazenda Paris. If we are lucky enough here we will encounter this site full of berries from the Açai palm tree which can give us good chances to find the super rare and most impressive endemic Banded Cotinga, which seems to have only recently been attracted to this site. Here we may also find two stunning endemic Pyrrhura species of limited distribution; White-eared and Ochre-marked Parakeets. There will also be another chance for Kinglet Manakin and we will surely find Swallow-winged Puffbird.
Later we will drive south to Porto Seguro, the area where Europeans first discovered Brazil, where we will spend the last two nights of the tour. We will begin our exploration of the Veracel Reserve this afternoon.
Northeast Brazil: Day 24 Most of our time in the Porto Seguro area will be spent visiting the famous Veracel Private Reserve. The reserve protects a large stretch of white-sand lowland Atlantic Forest, home of an important group of endemics and localized species.
Unless we were fortunate and found it at Fazenda Pais, a major target at the Veracel Reserve will be the rare and aberrantly colourful endemic Banded Cotinga. We will make a big effort to find this enigmatic canopy species along the dirt road that cuts through the reserve, as well as in clearings where the canopy is lower and the field of view is wider. Specific fruiting trees in this ‘restinga’ habitat are the key places to find both White-winged and Banded Cotingas.
Other important target species are the uncommon and range-restricted endemic Hook-billed Hermit and the range-restricted endemic Bahia Antwren. We also have more chances at Veracel for the endemic Ochre-marked Parakeet and the endemic Band-tailed Antwren.
At dusk, we will make an effort to find the rare Atlantic Forest form of the poorly known White-winged Potoo, but this is a difficult bird to see. We are more likely to have success with the near-endemic Black-capped Screech Owl. Pauraques are common here.
Flowering bushes occasionally lure in the stunning Racket-tailed Coquette and Amethyst Woodstar, as well as the more usual White-chinned and Rufous-throated Sapphires. Other likely species here include Blue-headed Parrot, Scaled Pigeon, Versicolored Emerald, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, the tiny White-lored Tyrannulet and White-crowned Manakin. Among the more uncommon or at least harder-to-see possibilities are White-barred Piculet, the near-endemic Eared Pygmy Tyrant, Brown-winged Schiffornis and the threatened endemic Red-browed Amazon.
We will also check some mangroves in the Porto Seguro area in search of such inhabitants such as the poorly-known endemic Little Wood Rail, the restricted-range Plain-bellied Emerald and the nice Bicolored Conebill. We will have a second chance for Mangrove Rail here and other species in this habitat include Yellow-crowned Night Heron.
Northeast Brazil: Day 25 After some final birding this morning we will return to our hotel to change and finish packing. Our Northeast Brazil birding tour ends this afternoon at Porto Seguro airport.
(If you would find it more convenient, we can supply an internal flight ticket from Porto Seguro to São Paulo (Guarulhos) or any other gateway Brazilian city even if you are booking your international flights yourself.)