ULTIMATE NORTHEAST BRAZIL TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 1 Our tour starts early this afternoon at Fortaleza airport. Fortaleza is the capital of the state of Ceará and the major commercial centre of northeastern Brazil. From there we will drive southeastwards to Icapuí for an overnight stay. During our visit to the Icapuí area we will visit an area of mangroves where we stand a good chance of encountering the very poorly known Little Wood-Rail. This endemic species is confined to the central coastal region of Brazil (although it is easier to see in Northeast Brazil than further south) and around Icapuí it can be found foraging along the muddy edges of mangrove swamps.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 2 We will return to the mangroves this morning if need be and then drive inland to Guaramiranga, in the Serra do Baturité, where we will stay overnight. The dry evergreen forest 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, which includes a mixture of northeastern Brazilian endemics, distinctive, often disjunct, races of more widespread species (some of which may in the future prove to be full species) and a number of bird species with a wider distribution.
Our hotel is located amidst a preserved stretch of splendid woodland, where our main quarry will be the handsome, but 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. Cute little Northeast Brazil-endemic Ochraceous Piculets cling to thin twigs, whilst Ceará Gnateaters (another highly localized Northeast Brazil endemic, split from Rufous) 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 such Brazilian endemics as Ochre-backed Woodpecker (split from Blond-crested) and Band-tailed (or Wing-banded) Hornero, the Northeast Brazil-endemic Grey-headed Spinetail, the shy, near-endemic Spot-winged Wood-Quail and Planalto Tyrannulet, and the Northeast Brazil subspecies of the secretive Rufous-breasted Leaftosser, Buff-throated and Lesser Woodcreepers, and Variable Antshrike.
More widespread birds include Zone-tailed Hawk, Rufous-thighed Hawk (uncommon), White-tipped Dove, Squirrel Cuckoo, Planalto, Rufous-breasted and Reddish Hermits, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Little Woodpecker, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Sooty-fronted and Ochre-cheeked Spinetails, Plain Antvireo, Black-capped Antwren, the skulking Short-tailed Antthrush, the spectacular Band-tailed Manakin, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-olive and Yellow-breasted Flycatchers, White-throated Spadebill, Black-tailed Flycatcher (which behaves exactly like an Old World fantail), Swallow, Euler’s, Boat-billed, Streaked and Social Flycatchers, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Red-eyed Vireo, Rufous-bellied and Pale-breasted Thrushes, Moustached Wren, Golden-crowned Warbler, the skulking and attractive Pectoral Sparrow, Bananaquit, Guira, Sayaca, Palm and Burnished-buff Tanagers, Purple-throated Euphonia, Blue Dacnis and Epaulet Oriole.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 3 We will spend most of the morning exploring the forests at Guaramiranga. Afterwards we will transfer to the town of Quixadá, situated in a vast area of Caatinga punctuated by peculiar rocky mounds, where we will spend the night.
We will visit one of these kopje-like outcrops, where we should find the perfectly camouflaged Northeast Brazil-endemic Pygmy Nightjar. We will also have a first introduction to some typical Caatinga birds, including such Northeast Brazil endemics as Caatinga Parakeet, Caatinga Cacholote, Campo Troupial, Pale Baywing, the gorgeous Red-cowled Cardinal, White-throated Seedeater and perhaps even the rare and shy White-browed Guan, as well as the Brazilian near-endemic Capped Seedeater.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 4 This morning we will have a fairly long drive to Crato (situated near Juazeiro do Norte in southernmost Ceará state) for a two nights stay. Some short stops in agricultural areas, interspersed with thorn scrub and ponds, are likely to yield widespread birds like Western Cattle, Snowy and Great Egrets, Striated Heron, Pied-billed and Least Grebes, Black, Turkey and Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, Snail Kite, Savanna and Roadside Hawks, Southern Crested-Caracara, Black-bellied and White-faced Whistling-Ducks, Southern Pochard, Wattled Jacana, Southern Lapwing, Smooth-billed Ani, Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, Ringed Kingfisher, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, the lovely Masked Water-Tyrant, the endearing White-headed Marsh-Tyrant and Grey-breasted Martin. There will also be chances for the uncommon Comb and Masked Ducks.
In the afternoon we will begin exploring the slope forests of the fabulous Chapada do Araripe National Forest. Imposing red and grey cliffs surround the isolated plateau of the Chapada do Araripe and at the base of these 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.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 5 Today we will concentrate our time on finding the Northeast Brazil endemics and other specialties in the buffer zone of the Chapada do Araripe National Forest. This fascinating reserve protects some splendid stands of bizarre, stunted, very dense and partly-deciduous Caatinga woodland. Wide sandy tracks cut through this low-canopy Caatinga, where one of our main targets is the enigmatic and endemic Great Xenops. This striking and monotypic species (genus Megaxenops) is restricted to the Caatinga woodland of northeastern Brazil. We should be able to admire this bright rufous furnariid with its gleaming white throat whilst it gleans tree trunks or pries off pieces of bark with its upturned, cleaver-like bill, often while accompanying a mixed flock of understory birds. Here we have another opportunity to see White-browed Guan and we will also make a special effort to get to grips with that egg on legs, the diminutive Northeast Brazil-endemic White-browed Antpitta. The latter was formerly lumped in Speckle-breasted Antpitta of southeastern Brazil and northeastern Argentina, but has very different plumage characteristics and vocalizations.
This spectacular tract of Caatinga is also home of other Northeast Brazil endemics, such as the uncommon and localized Tawny Piculet and the little-known Red-shouldered Spinetail. This last distinctive species with its crake-like song has been put in a genus of its own (Gyalophylax) and is restricted to the arid interior of northeastern Brazil. Completing the Northeast Brazil endemic cast here are the harlequin-patterned Silvery-cheeked Antshrike, Caatinga Antwren and White-naped Jay. We should also see Planalto Slaty Antshrike, Long-billed Wren, Grey-eyed Greenlet and Cinnamon Tanager, all of which are Brazilian endemics with a wider distribution. 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.
Other birds in this fascinating area include Blue-crowned Trogon, Olivaceous Woodcreeper (of the distinctive rufous race reiseri), 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), Black-bellied Antwren, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Southern Beardless and Mouse-coloured Tyrannulets, Forest, Grey and Plain-crested Elaenias, Sepia-capped, Grey-crowned, Bran-coloured, Fuscous, Swainson’s, Short-crested, Brown-crested, Variegated and Piratic Flycatchers, Great Kiskadee, the localized Bearded Bellbird (with its arresting and resounding calls), Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Green-backed and White-winged Becards, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Flavescent Warbler and Ultramarine Grosbeak. At dusk the amazing Scissor-tailed Nightjar may show up, as well as Little Nightjar and Common Pauraque.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 6 Our day begins with a long drive 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 is typical Caatinga habitat, regionally known as ‘sertão’. This is cattle 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 large 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 that never runs dry!
Along the way we may encounter Brazilian Teal, Short-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Spot-flanked Gallinule, Limpkin, Solitary Sandpiper, Eared Dove, Common and Ruddy Ground-Doves, Guira Cuckoo (comical-looking and vocal creatures that are often found in loose groups), Black-backed Water-Tyrant, Cattle Tyrant, White-winged Swallow and White-browed and Chopi Blackbirds. Before reaching our destination, the little town of Canudos, where we will stay overnight, we will have a quick stop to check a nesting area for the uncommon Blue-winged Macaw. We should also encounter a few other inhabitants of this area, such as Narrow-billed Woodcreeper and Suiriri Flycatcher, as well as have another chance to observe some of the Caatinga specialities.
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 (or Indigo) 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 and Licuri palms (Syagrus coronata), the nuts of which are its main food source.
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 looking for such Northeast Brazil endemics as Broad-tipped Hermit, Spotted Piculet and the dainty and uncommon Ash-throated Casiornis. There will also be another opportunity for Caatinga Parakeet and Red-shouldered Spinetail amongst others.
Other birds of the area include Pearl Kite, Yellow-headed Caracara, Laughing Falcon, the endemic Stripe-breasted Starthroat, the sometimes-tricky Ruby-topaz and Swallow-tailed Hummingbirds, the endemic Caatinga Puffbird (formerly lumped with Chaco Puffbird and called Spot-backed Puffbird), Barred Antshrike (here a race with red eyes), Greater and Lesser Wagtail-Tyrants (both represented by isolated forms in this area and both potential candidates for splitting), plus such species as Small-billed Tinamou, Blue-winged Parrotlet, Green-barred Woodpecker, Picui Ground-Dove, White Monjita, Grey Pileated-Finch and Hooded and White-lined Tanagers.
At a tract of private land, the vegetation surrounding the water backed up behind a weir concentrates a number of birds, including the Northeast Brazil-endemic Scarlet-throated Tanager (which may in fact turn out not to be a tanager at all). At dusk we may see our first Lear’s Macaws against the rapidly dimming sky, as well as a large number of Least Nighthawks.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 7 We start this day with one of the greatest highlights of the tour, an early morning visit to the cliffs of 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 Nightjars, Striped Cuckoos, Lesser Wagtail Tyrants and others. With the first real 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 cliff tops will certainly stir the emotions of every lucky person present. While enjoying the macaw spectacle, we shall also be alert for a few other nice species such as Bat Falcon, Turquoise-fronted Amazon and Blue-crowned Parakeet.
A lovely breakfast will be waiting for us after this remarkable experience. For the rest of the morning we will cover the Caatinga habitats inside the canyons or along the entrance road in search of any missing target endemic species, as well as White-bellied Nothura, King Vulture, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Ultramarine Grosbeak and Rock Cavy (a mammal which looks rather like a hyrax).
During the afternoon we will transfer to Jeremoabo for an overnight stay. On the way we will be on the lookout for the stately Red-legged Seriema, as well as Crane Hawk, Aplomado Falcon, Grey-necked Wood-Rail, Picazuro Pigeon, Dark-billed Cuckoo, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Burrowing Owl, Amazon Kingfisher, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Brown-chested Martin and Bay-winged Cowbird.
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 we should encounter Scaled Dove, Golden-green Woodpecker, Pale-legged Hornero and Southern Scrub Flycatcher.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 8 In the early morning 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 (or White-fringed) 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 Golden-tailed Parrotlet, Jandaya Parakeet (which is endemic to Northeast Brazil), Golden-capped Parakeet (these two last species have a contact zone in this area, so we may see some hybrid individuals) and Sooretama Slaty Antshrike, as well as Peach-fronted Parakeet, Orange-winged Amazon, Green-backed Trogon, Channel-billed Toucan, Crimson-crested Woodpecker and Stripe-necked Tody-Tyrant. 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, Grey-breasted Crake, South American Snipe and the uncommon, restricted-range Rufous Crab-Hawk, although most can be difficult to find.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 9 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 stay at the lovely settlement of Lençóis. We should find White-cheeked Pintail, White-tailed Kite, Black-necked Stilt and Rufous Hornero 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 needed 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 some typical Atlantic Forest birds such as the stunning endemic White-bibbed Antbird, the near-endemic White-shouldered Fire-eye and the near-endemic Surucua Trogon (the local form is now sometimes split as Northern Surucua Trogon). We should also be looking out for Scaly-headed Parrot, Streaked Xenops, Sibilant (or Eastern) Sirystes, Greenish Elaenia and Red-rumped Cacique. We may also hear the deep calls of the extremely shy endemic Yellow-legged Tinamou, but they are devilishly hard to see.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 10 We will spend the entire day exploring the fascinating landscapes around Lençois. The hummingbird feeder of our pousada will bring the first records for the day, including beauties like Glittering-throated and Versicoloured Emeralds, and Brown Violetear (occurring 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 Highland Elaenias, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Blue-and-white Swallow, Hooded Siskin, the stunning and uncommon, near-endemic Blue Finch, Lowland Hepatic-Tanager and the near-endemic Black-throated Saltator.
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). Other birds we hope to observe here include the inconspicuous Small-billed Tinamou, Russet-crowned Crake, Pale-vented Pigeon, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Black-tailed Tityra, Yellow Tyrannulet, Grassland Sparrow and Purple-throated Euphonia. Returning to Lençois before dusk, we should find flocks of Biscutate and White-collared Swifts.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 11 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 find 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. Other species we may find here are Great Antshrike and Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant.
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 rare Rufous-sided Pygmy-Tyrant, Shrike-like (or White-banded) Tanager, Collared Crescentchest and with luck, the gorgeous, Horned Sungem. We should also encounter Plumbeous Seedeater.
Continuing our journey to Mucugê, we will be on the alert for White-tailed Hawk, White-eared Puffbird, Campo Flicker and Grey Monjita. 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.
To finish off this fantastic day, we will cover more of the ‘gerais’ habitat (Cerrado) in search of Rusty-backed Antwren, the near-endemic Copper Seedeater (split from Pearly-bellied) and any missing target species. Here we should notice the deep calls of the Red-winged Tinamous and the trill of the Spotted Nothura. Some semi-deciduous woodland known as ‘mata-de-cipó’ (vine forest) will provide another chance for some selected Caatinga specialties such as Great Xenops and Stripe-backed Antbird, as well as the opportunity to see a Northeast Brazil endemic that is restricted to this peculiar type of forest, the Narrow-billed Antwren. At dusk we will have another chance to look for Little and Scissor-tailed Nightjars if we need to.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 12 Today we will spend 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 found in this area, a rare record for 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 small patch remains in the Boa Nova municipality.
We will visit two very different habitats, 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 localized, 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 Boa Nova has a very peculiar avifaunal composition, mixing some typical members of the Caatinga, Atlantic Forest and interior woodland such as Silvery-cheeked and Planalto Slaty Antshrikes, Caatinga Antwren, Ochre-cheeked Spinetail, the amazing, near-endemic Black-billed Scythebill and the endemic Hangnest Tody-Tyrant.
While exploring this area, we will visit a famous rocky outcrop called ‘Lajedo’, a superb site replete with short, rounded cacti which attract a large number of hummingbirds. Here we will have a fantastic time watching Ruby-topaz Hummingbirds, Sapphire-spangled and Glittering-bellied Emeralds, Swallow-tailed Hummingbirds, Black-throated Mangos and Stripe-breasted Starthroats. The supporting cast includes the uncommon Blue-winged Macaw, Large Elaenia, the endemic Dubois’s Seedeater and Yellow-bellied Seedeater. At dusk we should look for the impressive, near-endemic Tawny-browed Owl.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Days 13-14 Our first morning will be spent covering 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 taller and thicker trees and a much less dense understory. Here we will try to locate three endemic species, some of them restricted to this threatened habitat in this region, such as 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.
Usually a blast of endemic and near-endemic Atlantic Forest birds can be witnessed here, including a number from the marvelous antbird family, such as the tangle-loving Spot-backed Antshrike, the shy Tufted Antshrike, Spot-breasted Antvireo, Ferruginous, Ochre-rumped and White-bibbed Antbirds, the tricky Crescent-chested Puffbird, Yellow-eared Woodpecker, Pallid Spinetail, White-collared Foliage-gleaner, Scaled Woodcreeper, the superb Pin-tailed Manakin, Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher, Oustalet’s Tyrannulet, the vociferous Grey-hooded Attila and the stunning Gilt-edged and Rufous-headed Tanagers.
Species of wider distribution include Maroon-bellied and Reddish-bellied Parakeets, Scale-throated Hermit, Black-eared Fairy, Black-throated Trogon, Yellow-throated Woodpecker (confusingly represented here by a red-throated race), Plain-winged, Planalto and White-throated Woodcreepers, Ochre-breasted and Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaners, the remarkable Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, the aberrant Sharpbill, Swallow-tailed Manakin, the bizarre Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Drab-breasted Bamboo-Tyrant, Tropical Pewee, Greyish Mourner, Chestnut-crowned Becard, White-necked and Cocoa Thrushes, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Yellow-green Grosbeak, Sooty Grassquit, and Black-goggled and Golden-chevroned Tanagers.
In the afternoon we will visit a site in the Caatinga in search of the uncommon White-naped Xenopsaris. Back in the humid forest, we will wait for dusk to find the impressive Giant Snipe, followed by some owling focused on the shy, near-endemic Black-capped (or Variable) Screech-Owl and Mottled Owl.
During our second morning we will cover another superb area of Atlantic Forest. This time it will be a bit lower in height, a forest called ‘mata do timorante’. Here the avifauna will be similar to the previous day, but with some exceptions. The main one is surely one of the most charismatic Northeast Brazil endemics, that aberrant little furnariid the Pink-legged Graveteiro, which was only discovered in 1994 (and first described in 1996). We will concentrate on finding this curious species, which builds its bulky nests in epiphyte-laden trees and lives an acrobatic life in the highest part of the canopy. Another charismatic endemic we will hope to find here is the tiny Buff-throated Purpletuft.
We will also be on the lookout for Blackish Rail, the fierce-looking, endemic East Brazilian Pygmy-Owl, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, the endemic Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant, the near-endemic Smoky-fronted Tody-Flycatcher, Black-capped Becard, Lemon-chested Greenlet, the near-endemic Black-throated Grosbeak, White-bellied Seedeater and even such uncommon bamboo-seed followers as the near-endemic Buffy-fronted and Temminck’s Seedeaters. For the rest of the day we will return to the amazing ‘Lajedo’ rocky outcrop.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 15 After some final birding in the Boa Nova area, we will drive south to Macarani, situated on the border of Bahia and Minas Gerais states, for a two nights stay. On our way we will stop near the town of Itororó to look for the southern subspecies (ruficauda) of the threatened Northeast Brazil-endemic Scalloped Antbird.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 16 We have a full day to explore the excellent Atlantic Forest of the Mata do Passarinho Reserve. This is currently the only known site where the critically endangered Northeast Brazil-endemic Stresemann’s Bristlefront, one of the world’s rarest birds, can be found. Very little is known about the Stresemann’s Bristlefront. The species was first recorded in the 1830s, but scientists did not collect a second specimen until 1945. The third sighting was 50 years later, in 1995, when a single male was observed near the Una Biological Reserve in southern Bahia, but no further bristlefronts have been seen there since. The species was finally rediscovered further north in 2004 in the region that would later become the Mata do Passarinho Reserve, where surveys have since observed just six individual birds. Using those surveys, the organization BirdLife International estimates the total population for the species at just 10 to 15 birds!
Besides this mega-target species, Mata do Passarinho offers good birding and we shall be very busy watching some other fantastic Brazilian endemic birds such as the perky Three-toed Jacamar, Ochre-marked (Blue-throated) and White-eared Parakeets, the secretive Black-headed Berryeater, the rare Plumbeous Antvireo and Salvadori’s Antwren. There will also be more chances to find Rio de Janeiro Antbird, Striated Softtail, Bahia Spinetail, Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant and Pink-legged Graveteiro. Other species to look for here are Black Hawk-Eagle (uncommon) and the lovely, near-endemic Spot-billed Toucanet.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 17 Today we drive to the coast of southern Bahia, more specifically to Porto Seguro, the area where Europeans first discovered Brazil, where we will spend two nights. Here we will be visiting the famous Veracel Reserve which protects a large stretch of white-sand lowland Atlantic Forest, home of another important group of endemics and localized species. We will start our exploration at Veracel this afternoon, and in spite of the less favourable time of day we should expect to locate some of our target species, such as the rare and extremely localized Hook-billed Hermit and Bahia Antwren, both now effectively Northeast Brazil endemics as their more southerly populations have become extinct, the endemic Band-tailed Antwren and the superb endemic White-winged Cotinga. At dusk we will make an effort to find the rare Atlantic Forest version of the poorly known White-winged Potoo.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 18 We will spend the whole day at the Veracel Reserve at Porto Seguro. An early start here will be essential to look for our main target species, the rare and aberrantly colourful endemic Banded Cotinga (a species we normally only see on our Northeast Brazil tour). 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 places to find both White-winged and Banded Cotingas.
We also expect to find some other threatened endemics of eastern Brazil, such as Red-browed Amazon. Flowering bushes will offer great chances for the stunning Racket-tailed Coquette, as well as White-chinned and Rufous-throated Sapphires. The endemic Sooretama Slaty Antshrike should be vocalizing frequently. Other species of interest here include Blue-headed Parrot, Scaled Pigeon, the handsome Southern White-fringed Antwren, the endemic Scaled Antbird, the endemic Silvery-flanked Antwren (a species we normally only see on this tour), Black-necked Aracari, Swallow-winged Puffbird, Brown-winged (Thrush-like) Schiffornis, Red-stained Woodpecker, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Red-billed Scythebill, the tiny, near-endemic Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, Screaming Piha, Red-headed and White-crowned Manakins, and the lovely endemic Brazilian Tanager. After dusk we have second chances for Black-capped (or Variable) Screech Owl and White-winged Potoo.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 19 Still in southern Bahia, today we drive further north to the hills of Serra Bonita near Camacan for a two nights stay. The amazing Serra Bonita Lodge at about 1000m (3281ft) above sea level will provide another great birding experience where some rare and restricted-range birds occur. On the way uphill we will check out a nesting site of the Pink-legged Graveteiro, while around the lodge we will seek the endemic Crescent-chested Puffbird (this form sometimes being treated as distinct from the northern form under the name Greater Crescent-chested Puffbird) and the endemic Cinnamon-vented Piha. Good mixed flocks are usually found here containing such Atlantic Forest endemics and near-endemics as Black-capped and White-collared Foliage-gleaners, Rufous Gnateater, the rare Salvadori’s Antwren and Pallid Spinetail. Excellent feeders will provide many fantastic hummingbirds and tanagers, such as the endemic Sombre Hummingbird and Brazilian Ruby, the near-endemic Violet-capped Woodnymph and the superb endemic Frilled Coquette (which can be a difficult bird to find). They also attract near-endemic Maroon-bellied Parakeets and stunning Red-necked Tanagers, Green Honeycreepers, and Violaceous and near-endemic Chestnut-bellied Euphonias.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 20 Today we will be exploring the system of trails around the lodge at Serra Bonita. One of our main targets will be the new species of Heliobletus treehunter species, a still undescribed form only found in these hills. Another very special bird is the localized, Northeast Brazil-endemic Bahia Tyrannulet that we should find foraging in the sub-canopy.
Other rarities we will search for here include the massive, near-endemic Mantled Hawk, the endemic Plumbeous Antvireo and the restricted-range Rufous-brown Solitaire. In the dense undergrowth we will hear the shy Brown Tinamou, Variegated Antpitta and both Short-tailed and Cryptic Antthrushes, though getting a view of any of them needs both patience and good fortune. Along the beautiful trails we may encounter such endemics and near-endemics as Yellow-eared Woodpecker, the strange piculet species that inhabits the area (which may be a hybrid between White-barred and Spotted Piculets, or even a distinct species), Star-throated Antwren, Grey-hooded Attila, the stunning Swallow-tailed (or Blue) and Pin-tailed Manakins, and Rufous-headed, Green-headed and Azure-shouldered Tanagers. More widespread birds include Buff-throated Saltator. At dusk we will try to locate the attractive Ocellated Poorwill.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 21 Before heading further north to our last destination, the coastal town of Itacaré, we will spend the morning birding the tall foothill forest at Serra Bonita. Here we hope to find some different species compared to the ones found higher up, such as White-fronted Nunbird, the uncommon, near-endemic Buff-bellied Puffbird, the superb endemic Eastern Striped Manakin and the tricky Olivaceous Flatbill. We also have another chance for the tiny East Brazilian Pygmy Owl.
Arriving in Itacaré, where we spend two nights, we will have time to check an excellent fruit feeder where the stunning Atlantic Forest races of both Turquoise and Opal-rumped Tanagers are frequent visitors, as are Red-legged Honeycreeper and Violaceous and Orange-bellied Euphonias.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 22 We will spend a full morning (or more) visiting the Agua Boa Reserve not far from Itacaré. Along the dirt access road we will stop at a few marshes and ponds to look for the uncommon Masked Duck, Purple Gallinule and Cinereous-breasted Spinetail. Our special target today is 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 also hope to find Little Tinamou, Cinereous Antshrike, the stunning Atlantic race of the Ringed Woodpecker, Golden-spangled Piculet, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, a festival of manakins including Blue-backed and White-bearded Manakins, Bright-rumped Attila and Ochre-bellied Flycatcher. We should have time to check the surroundings of Itacaré in the afternoon, looking for such birds as Rufous-sided, Grey-breasted and Russet-crowned Crakes (all can be difficult), the endemic Golden-capped Parakeet and Golden-tailed Parrotlet, and Black-capped Donacobius.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil: Day 23 Before we make the drive to Salvador, we will visit the fantastic Catitu Reserve near Itacaré for most of the morning. Here we expect to find Rufous-capped Antthrush, the endemic Black-cheeked Gnateater, Red-billed Scythebill, White-lored Tyrannulet and the noisy, near-endemic Bare-throated Bellbird. We also have further chances for many other Atlantic Forest specialities, including Scaled Antbird, White-winged Cotinga and even the rare Banded Cotinga. Large raptors are often seen here, including Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle. The tour will end at Salvador airport in the late afternoon.
ALAGOAS & PERNAMBUCO EXTENSION
Ultimate Northeast Brazil (Extension): Day 1 We will overnight at Salvador.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil (Extension): Day 2 We will take a morning flight from Salvador to Maceió in the state of Alagoas. From Maceió we drive a few hours to the town of União dos Palmares for a two nights stay, our base for visiting the famous Murici Reserve. Late this afternoon we will have a first taste of Alagoas’s remaining Atlantic Forest as we explore a small patch of this highly endangered habitat. We stand an excellent chance of finding the spectacular Northeast Brazil-endemic Seven-coloured Tanager, which is usually encountered travelling in small parties along the forest edge in search of fruiting trees. Other likely species include Yellow-bellied Elaenia and Yellow-backed Tanager, while there are also chances for Blackish Rail and Ash-throated Crake.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil (Extension): Day 3 Several ridges clad in dense evergreen forest have been preserved as a reserve near the town of Murici. 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, which can be difficult of access after heavy rain, 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 as the sun rises and the optimum time for birding begins.
Here we have the chance to find the unobtrusive and very rare Alagoas Antwren. This member of the large genus Myrmotherula was first described in 1979 and makes a living in the dense mid-canopy.
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 very good chance of being able to witness the antics of this really special bird.
Besides these two mega-specialities, we will be looking for other rare Northeast Brazil endemic species and subspecies of the Pernambuco-endemism-centre, such as Plain Parakeet, Scalloped Antbird, White-backed Fire-eye (subspecies pernambucensis), Pernambuco Foliage-gleaner, White-shouldered Antshrike (subspecies distans), Willis’s Antbird (subspecies sabinoi), Golden-spangled (subspecies pernambucensis) and Tawny Piculets, Long-tailed Woodnymph, Great-billed Hermit (subspecies margarettae), Amazonian Motmot (subspecies marcgravianus), Black-tailed Leaftosser (subspecies umbretta), Plain-winged Woodcreeper (subspecies taunayi), Alagoas Tyrannulet (only described in 1987) and Seven-coloured Tanager. Needless to say, the way things are going some of these endemic subspecies will soon be raised to species level.
Other species found here include Little Tinamou, the majestic endemic Mantled Hawk, Swallow-tailed Kite, Red-shouldered Macaw, Lettered Aracari, Lineated Woodpecker, the endemic Black-cheeked Gnateater (subspecies nigrifrons), White-bellied Tody-Tyrant, Long-billed Gnatwren and Yellow-green Grosbeak (subspecies frontalis).
Plain Xenops, Rufous-winged Antwren, Long-tailed Tyrant, Chestnut-vented Conebill and Flame-crested Tanager. Skittish Black-rumped Agoutis can often be found shuffling about the woodland floor.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil (Extension): Day 4 We will set out early on the road towards the Frei Caneca Reserve across the border in Pernambuco state. The nearly 1000 hectares of Atlantic Forest in this reserve near Jaqueira make this the most important remnant of the ‘zona da mata’ of Pernambuco.
Here we will have second chances for the localized specialties previously listed for Murici. Some of them can be easier to find here, such as Long-tailed Woodnymph, Willis’s Antbird and Alagoas Tyrannulet. New Northeast Brazil endemic specialties here will be the rare Orange-bellied Antwren, Pinto’s Spinetail and Yellow-faced Siskin. Some other birds we may find here include Grey-fronted Dove, Black Jacobin and an isolated form of Eared Pygmy Tyrant which might be a new species.
Later we transfer to the coastal town of Tamandaré for an overnight stay. Near Tamandaré we will be visiting a marsh 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.
Ultimate Northeast Brazil (Extension): Day 5 We will have time for some final birding in the region around the town of Palmares (not to be confused with União dos Palmares) to look for any possible missing species, such as White-collared Kite, Pinto’s Spinetail and Yellow-faced Siskin, before heading to Recife’s international airport where the extension ends in the late afternoon.