INTERIOR BRAZIL & THE PANTANAL BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Interior Brazil: Day 1 Our tour begins this evening at Montes Claros in the huge state of Minas Gerais.
(We will be pleased to arrange your internal flight to Montes Claros from your arrival city in Brazil on request, even if you are arranging your own international tickets.)
Interior Brazil: Day 2 We have a full day for exploring the rich ‘mata seca’ of Lapa Grande State Park at Montes Claros. The park is right next to the city, and a good mix of species, including cerrado and caatinga specialities, will easily entertain us for a day.
Here we expect to record a really splendid variety of Brazilian endemics including Yellow-legged Tinamou, Spotted Piculet, the superb Ochre-backed Woodpecker, Caatinga (or Cactus) Parakeet, Caatinga Cacholote, Grey-headed Spinetail, Caatinga Antwren, Planalto Slaty Antshrike, the very localized Minas Gerais and Reiser’s Tyrannulets, Ash-throated Casiornis, the localized Sao Francisco (or Caatinga) Black Tyrant, White-naped Jay, the localized Sao Francisco Sparrow, Campo Troupial, Pale Baywing, Red-cowled Cardinal, Scarlet-throated Tanager, and in particular the very localized endemic Outcrop (or Dry Forest) Sabrewing. We should also encounter the distinctive endemic Caatinga form of the Barred Antshrike. Additional specialities include the near-endemic Black-bellied Antwren and the patchily-distributed Stripe-backed Antbird, Yes, that impressive list of specialities just keeps on and on…! What an amazing place Lapa Grande is!
Other species we may well encounter include Grey-lined Hawk, Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Ornate Hawk-Eagle (uncommon), Dark-billed Cuckoo, Rusty-breasted Nunlet, Golden-green and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, Bat Falcon, Pale-legged Hornero, Ochre-cheeked Spinetail, Great Antshrike, Black-tailed Myiobius, Crested Becard, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Orange-headed and Hooded Tanagers and Ultramarine Grosbeak.
Botumirim has become famous in recent times owing to the rediscovery of the Blue-eyed Ground Dove, certainly one of the rarest and most threatened birds in the world! After two specimens were seen in southeastern Goiás state in 1941, the Blue-eyed Ground Dove was only found again in 2015 by ornithologist Rafael Bessa, in a very specific cerrado habitat; a type of white-sand ‘campo rupestre’ (rocky scrub). The species is definitely correctly ranked as Critically Endangered and the small known population in Botumirim may only comprise twelve birds! Happily a private reserve (the Blue-eyed Ground Dove Reserve) was created in the place of rediscovery by the Save Brasil Foundation (a BirdLife International partner) and now the Botumirim State Park is being implemented in the region, together protecting an area of over 350 square kilometres.
We should arrive in time to start birding by late morning around Botumirim. The mosaic of vegetation in the area, as elsewhere along the Espinhaço range, is rather varied, with influences of cerrado, caatinga and the Atlantic Forest.
Our first site will be the interesting forest known as Mata do Lobo where we will look for such endemics as the localized Narrow-billed Antwren, the uncommon White-browed Antpitta, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant and Long-billed Wren, as well as the impressive, near-endemic Blond-crested Woodpecker. We also have another chance for the rare Planalto Foliage-gleaner. Additional birds in this area include Scaled Pigeon, Blue Ground Dove, White-wedged Piculet and Red-shouldered Macaw.
After lunch at our guesthouse we will make our first visit to the Blue-eyed Ground Dove Reserve. The chances of seeing this ultra-rare bird are surprisingly good and the beautiful ‘campo rupestre’ should provide some other interesting species. These will most likely already have been seen during the tour, but this is a good area for both White-bellied and Copper Seedeaters.
Interior Brazil: Day 3 From Montes Claros we travel eastwards to the little town of Botumirim, situated amidst the scenic Espinhaço mountain range for a two nights stay.
Interior Brazil: Day 4 A full day to enjoy the Blue-eyed Ground Dove Reserve and some other productive areas in Botumirim. Nice views and chances for photos of one of the world’s rarest birds should make this one of the biggest highlights of the tour.
In the reserve, and further down the road, we can search for more cerrado and caatinga specialities, with more chances for White-browed Antpitta, Collared Crescentchest and the endemic Scarlet-throated Tanager. We will also hope to find tough but rather more widespread species like the rare Chaco Eagle and the uncommon Long-tailed Ground Dove.
The trail to the plateau of Campina do Bananal can be a good option if we have the time. Here we have second chances for such uncommon endemic specialities as Hyacinth Visorbearer, Cipo Canastero and Grey-backed Tachuri.
Interior Brazil: Day 5 Today we travel northwestwards to the municipality of Januária, situated in the middle reaches of the mighty São Francisco River (one of Brazil’s largest), where we will stay for two nights. Deciduous forest (‘mata seca’) and caatinga are the habitats we will be covering in the Januária area.
The Cavernas do Peruaçu National Park is an important reserve that protects the typical ‘mata seca’ and also one of the most famous prehistoric archaeological sites in South America, with many caves and rocky paintings from thousands of years ago that will definitely be on our schedule as well.
After lunch, we will spend the rest of the day covering caatinga habitats (from semi-open dry scrub to arboreal) next to the bank of São Francisco.
Our major target here is the restricted-range endemic Plain-tailed Nighthawk, but for this we will have to wait until dusk.
A pleasant session until it gets dark should include numerous bird species, including the endemic White-throated Seedeater and the restricted-range White-bellied Nothura as well as Undulated Tinamou, White-faced and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Crane Hawk, Snail Kite, Giant Wood Rail, Black-necked Stilt, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, Picui Ground Dove, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Ringed and Amazon Kingfishers, Rusty-backed Spinetail, Red-billed Scythebill, Stripe-necked Tody-Tyrant, Tawny-crowned Pygmy Tyrant, Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, Large Elaenia, Black-backed Water Tyrant, Solitary Cacique, Variable Oriole, Orange-fronted Yellow Finch, Silver-beaked Tanager and Greyish Saltator.
Interior Brazil: Day 6 During our last full day in magnificent northern Minas Gerais, we will enjoy the beautiful Cavernas do Peruaçu National Park, exploring ‘mata seca’ and wooded caatinga.
One of our main targets will be the rather prehistoric-looking endemic Moustached Woodcreeper, a rather rare bird through its range. In our favour, the national park seems to be this species’ stronghold. Certainly, this is the best place in the country for finding this large woodcreeper.
Our priority list will also include the local race of the Scaled Woodcreeper (considered by some a separate species – Wagler’s Woodcreeper), the uncommon Brazilian caatinga-endemic Great Xenops and Red-shouldered Spinetail, the uncommon endemic White-browed Guan, the endemic Sombre Hummingbird and the near-endemic Rusty-margined Guan and Sibilant Sirystes.
We will also have further chances for Yellow-legged Tinamou and the uncommon and localized endemic Outcrop (or Dry Forest) Sabrewing, Sao Francisco (or Caatinga) Black Tyrant and Sao Francisco Sparrow.
The park also offers opportunities to find such species as Grey-headed Kite, Grey-cowled Wood Rail, Plumbeous Pigeon and Pearly-breasted and perhaps Pheasant Cuckoos. A nightbirding session could turn up Spectacled and Black-banded Owls and Rufous Nightjar.
The impressive rocky paintings will also be a major highlight of our visit to the park, allowing us to reflect on our historic dependence (or otherwise) on nature and how important conservation can be in our planet’s very near future!
Interior Brazil: Day 7 Today we will head southwards to Cipó village in the Serra do Cipó, where we will spend three nights.
Interior Brazil: Days 8-9 The Serra do Cipó is a beautiful and famous geological formation in the state of Minas Gerais, part of the more complex and larger Espinhaço mountain range that extends a thousand kilometres, mostly through Minas but partly in Bahia.
After lunch in our rather touristic village, popular with weekend visitors from the city, we will enjoy the afternoon in the hills of Cipó (at around 1200m above sea level), covering the typical rocky scrub (‘campo rupestre’) habitat of the hilltops, which is key habitat to look for three Espinhaço Mountains endemics, Hyacinth Visorbearer, Cipo Canastero and Serra Finch, as well as the restricted-range endemic Grey-backed Tachuri.
Adjacent Cerrado (at a little lower elevation) also offers a good selection of birds, including such near-endemics as the gorgeous Horned Sungem, Rufous-winged Antshrike, Black-throated Saltator the stunning Blue Finch and Cinereous Warbling Finch and also the endemic Cinnamon Tanager.
Other species in this area include Small-billed Tinamou, Toco Toucan, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Checkered Woodpecker, Peach-fronted Parakeet, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Southern Scrub and Suiriri Flycatchers, Plain-crested and Lesser Elaenias, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant and Burnished-buff Tanager.
Very widespread birds in the Cipó area include Turkey Vulture, Roadside Hawk, Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras, American Kestrel, Picazuro Pigeon, Scaled, White-tipped and Eared Doves, Ruddy Ground Dove, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Tropical Kingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Shiny Cowbird, Chopi Blackbird and Rufous-collared Sparrow.
In the early morning, we will visit the eastern side of the Cipó plateau, an area comprising grasslands and Atlantic Forest remnants, where we will look for some more target species such as Rock Tapaculo (another species endemic to the Espinhaço) and the ultra-skulking endemic Marsh Tapaculo, as well as some other interesting species of the area like the endemic Gilt-edged Tanager and the near-endemic Lesser Grass Finch, as well as White-barred Piculet, Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet, Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, Long-tailed Reed Finch, Yellow-rumped Marshbird and Hellmayr’s Pipit. Uncommon possibilities include the near-endemic White-shouldered Fire-eye and the pretty Rufous Gnateater.
We will spend the rest of the morning at lower elevations not far from Cipó village. Here we will cover open areas (‘cerrado’) and dry woodland where we expect to find the noisy and impressive Red-legged Seriema, the endemic Caatinga Puffbird and Silvery-cheeked Antshrike and the near-endemic Pale-bellied Tyrant-Manakin, as well as Sooty-fronted Spinetail, Black-capped Antwren, Chivi Vireo, Flavescent Warbler, Chestnut-vented Conebill, Guira Tanager, Grey Pileated Finch and Saffron-billed Sparrow. With luck, we will also encounter the near-endemic Rufous-capped Spinetail.
From there, we have just a short journey to reach the beautiful cerrado in the hills of Lapinha da Serra, where we will the rest of the day enjoying the spectacular scenery and looking for goodies like the endemic and very localized Diamantina Sabrewing, the endemic ‘Cipo Cinclodes’ (currently lumped in Long-tailed Cinclodes, but so isolated from the range in southernmost Brazil that many Brazilian taxonomists consider it a separate species), the endemic Band-tailed Hornero and White-striped Warbler, and the near-endemic Curl-crested Jay and Shrike-like and White-rumped Tanagers.
Species of wider distribution include Firewood-gatherer, the wonderful Streamer-tailed Tyrant, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Red (or Lowland Hepatic) Tanager and Plumbeous Seedeater.
Interior Brazil: Day 10 This morning we will take the Serra Morena road, mainly to check a few sections of gallery forest. There we will be mainly looking for the uncommon Henna-capped Foliage-gleaner. The stunning Helmeted Manakin should also appear in the gallery forest and some others like Variable Antshrike, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Streaked Xenops, Greenish Elaenia, Planalto Tyrannulet, Golden-crowned Warbler and Grey-headed Tanager may well be seen.
Afterwards, we will drive to the town of Pompéu for an overnight stay. Pompéu is situated well to the northeast of São Roque and to the southwest of Belo Horizonte.
There is one big reason why we have come to this little town – seeing tricky crakes! With help of local guides, we will visit at least two different sites where shy and rare crakes are being very cooperative for great views and photos. Our main targets here are the rarely-observed Ocellated Crake and equally difficult, near-endemic Rufous-faced Crake.
The rich cerrado in the area should offer some additions to our list, including the marvellous, near-endemic Coal-crested Finch and Copper Seedeater as well as Plain-breasted Ground Dove, the marvellous Blue-and-yellow Macaw, Red-bellied Macaw, Turquoise-fronted Amazon, Rusty-backed Antwren, Greater Thornbird, Chotoy Spinetail, the charismatic Suiriri Flycatcher with its impressive display (the form here has sometimes been split as Chapada Suiriri or Chapada Flycatcher) and Black-faced Tanager. There are also chances to catch up with species we might have missed previously, such as Lesser Nothura, Campo Miner, Henna-capped Foliage-gleaner and Black-masked Finch.
Interior Brazil: Day 11 Most of the morning will be spent around Pompéu, checking for crakes and cerrado specialities.
Afterwards, we will drive to São Roque de Minas in the southwest of Minas Gerais where we will stay for four nights. The town is situated adjacent to the famous Serra da Canastra National Park.
Interior Brazil: Days 12-14 We will have three full days to explore the unique tableland of Serra da Canastra. Created in 1972, the National Park protects the São Francisco and other river sources, being an important ‘river nursery’ lying between two of the largest watersheds in the country, the Paraná and the São Francisco. This chest-shaped tableland (the shape is what gives Canastra its name) with higher altitudes near to 1500m (4900ft), also protects one of the most threatened habitats in the Brazilian Cerrado, the grasslands. In addition, the Canastra region also comprises other cerrado physiognomies like typical cerrado (savanna), gallery forests, ‘cerradão’, and ‘campo rupestre’, and the area still has some influence from the Atlantic Forest that is revealed by its semi-deciduous forest remnants. It is this marvellous diversity that makes the Serra da Canastra such a special place.
Emblematic mammals are part of the fauna of the national park, with regular sightings of the splendid Giant Anteater and Pampas Deer. There is even a slim chance for a Maned Wolf.
Birding in Canastra is divided into two parts, the open habitats of the high grassland plateau and the much lower foothills and surroundings, which mostly involve more forested, riverine habitats.
The clear river waters of the Canastra region hold the largest population of the super-rare and critically endangered endemic Brazilian Merganser, with about two hundred birds estimated present in the greater Canastra region (IUCN, 2020). Watching this shy and rare bird is a dream for every birder, but the search for it can be prolonged and that is why we allow extra time if necessary, with three full days in the area. This is definitely one we don’t want to miss!
During the dry season (from June to October) the chances of finding Brazilian Merganser are generally higher in the lower part of the Canastra region, so we shall check favoured areas along the Sao Francisco and other rivers. The density of the mergansers is low, and they can hide away in inaccessible stretches of the main rivers or up smaller tributaries, so persistence is often necessary!
The merganser aside, we will have a large list of birds to look for in Canastra during these days. Some of our most important targets here are the endemic Stripe-breasted Starthroat and Brasilia Tapaculo and such near-endemics as Lesser Nothura (a retiring species that can be hard to see or flush), Campo Miner (an uncommon species that favours burnt areas of savanna), Planalto Foliage-gleaner (another uncommon species) and Ochre-breasted Pipit (we will be at Canastra when these shy birds are in display flight and so easier to locate). There are also some important restricted-range specialities including the wonderful Cock-tailed Tyrant, Stripe-tailed Yellow Finch and Black-masked Finch.
The endemic Dwarf Tinamou, a species that lives in holes excavated by armadillos, is quite widespread in the grasslands. We are likely to hear them calling, but seeing one of these tiny creatures in the thick grass is another matter! The near-endemic Yellow-faced Parrot gets recorded here on occasion but is easier to find later in the tour around São Domingos.
Other specialities that we should encounter at Canastra include the endemic Golden-capped Parakeet, Pin-tailed Manakin and Rufous-headed Tanager, the near-endemic Large-billed Antwren, beautiful Collared Crescentchest and Crested Black Tyrant, and the restricted-range Sharp-tailed Grass Tyrant, White-rumped Monjita and Pearly-bellied Seedeater. The endemic Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher and Grey-eyed Greenlet are also possible. The near-endemic Blacksmith (or Eastern Slaty) Thrush and the endemic Dubois’s Seedeater spend the Austral winter here and sometimes linger.
More widespread species we should encounter in the Canastra region include Greater Rhea, Red-winged Tinamou, Spotted Nothura, the splendid Bare-faced Curassow, Muscovy Duck, Buff-necked and Green Ibises, Western Cattle Egret, King and Black Vultures, Savanna and White-tailed Hawks, Black-chested Buzzard Eagle, Smooth-billed Ani, Guira and Squirrel Cuckoos, Great Horned Owl, the cute Burrowing Owl, Least Nighthawk, Sick’s Swift, Planalto Hermit, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Surucua Trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, White-eared Puffbird, White, Little and Green-barred Woodpeckers, Campo Flicker, Aplomado and Laughing Falcons, Yellow-chevroned and Maroon-bellied Parakeets, and Blue-winged Parrotlet.
Among the likely passerines are Spix’s Spinetail, Plain Antvireo, Southern Antpipit, Small-headed, Highland and Grey Elaenias, Southern Beardless, Sooty, White-crested and Mouse-colored Tyrannulets, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Bran-colored, Cliff, Social, Fork-trailed, Swainson’s and Short-crested Flycatchers, Grey Monjita, Yellow-browed Tyrant, Masked Water Tyrant, White-throated Kingbird, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Plush-crested Jay, Grey-breasted Martin, White-rumped, Southern Rough-winged and Tawny-headed Swallows, Grass and House Wrens, Black-capped Donacobius, Giant Cowbird, Chestnut-capped Blackbird, Purple-throated Euphonia, Grassland Sparrow, Hooded Siskin, Tropical Parula, Southern Yellowthroat, Sayaca and Swallow Tanagers, Blue Dacnis, Pampa Finch, Wedge-tailed Grass Finch, Green-winged Saltator, Blue-black Grassquit, Yellow-bellied Seedeater and Bananaquit.
More uncommon possibilities include the rare Chaco Eagle, Spot-tailed Nightjar, Sooty Swift, Robust Woodpecker, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Rufous Casiornis and Masked Gnatcatcher.
While in Canastra we should also appreciate the opportunity of trying the Canastra cheese, the best one in the country, and also the very good coffee produced in the area.
Interior Brazil: Day 14 After some final birding at Serra da Canastra, and after a chance to wash, change and pack at our hotel, we will travel to Belo Horizonte airport where the Interior Brazil section of the tour ends early this evening.
(We will be pleased to arrange your internal flight from Belo Horizonte to your departure city in Brazil on request, even if you are arranging your own international tickets.)
NORTHERN PANTANAL EXTENSION
Pantanal: Day 1 From Belo Horizonte we fly southwards to Cuiabá, the capital of Mato Grosso state in Southwest Brazil, where we will spend the night.
Pantanal: Days 2-6 From Cuiabá we will drive deep into the northern Pantanal for a five nights stay (spending two nights at Piuval to the south of Poconé, two nights at Porto Jofre at the end of the Transpantaneira and a final night in the Pixaim area). 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.
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. In recent decades this part of South America has become famous among wildlife enthusiasts for its spectacular and unafraid Jaguars that are now routinely observed by visitors (indeed, usually every day between July and September!).
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, Western Osprey, Grey-headed 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 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 and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets, 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 should almost certainly encounter this golden-eyed, exquisite marvel during our two boat trips from Porto Jofre and very likely more than one. With a bit of luck, an individual will be cooperative enough to allow our cameras to click away furiously at close range!
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: Day 7 After some early morning birding, we leave the Pantanal behind and drive to the Chapada dos Guimarães for an overnight stay. This afternoon we will explore the area.
Situated at the western edge of the Planalto do Mato Grosso, the canyonlands of the Chapada dos Guimarães offer some good birding amidst spectacular scenery. Impressive waterfalls plunge over sheer sandstone cliffs which rise out of riparian forests and cerrado. The scarce, near-endemic 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 psittacid species here is the White-eyed Parakeet, but we can also expect spectacular Red-and-green and Blue-winged Macaws.
With a bit of luck, we will find the rare, near-endemic Rufous-sided Pygmy Tyrant, an inhabitant of untouched open cerrado. A wooded valley often holds the near-endemic Cinnamon-throated Hermit as well as Western Fire-eye, Moustached Wren and Pectoral Sparrow and there is also a chance for the magnificent but rare Pheasant Cuckoo.
Among other species that we could encounter during our visit are Tataupa and Small-billed Tinamous, Swallow-tailed Kite, the elegant White Hawk, Pavonine Cuckoo, Amazonian Motmot, Brown Jacamar, Lettered Aracari, Channel-billed Toucan, Lineated Woodpecker, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Band-tailed and Fiery-capped Manakins, White-shouldered Tanager and Buff-throated Saltator.
Note that most of the species found at the Chapada dos Guimarães are widespread cerrado species that we will already have encountered in Minas Gerais, so our short visit to the area is focused on a number of species that will be new for the tour.
Pantanal: Day 8 After some final birding in the Chapada dos Guimarães and after a chance to wash, change and pack at our hotel, we will head for Cuiabá airport, where our Interior Brazil & The Pantanal birding tour ends this afternoon.
(We will be pleased to arrange your internal flight from Cuiabá to your departure city in Brazil on request, even if you are arranging your own international tickets.)
MANED WOLF EXTENSION
Maned Wolf: Day 1 Midday extension start at Belo Horizonte airport. From there we will travel eastwards to the Santuário do Caraça (Caraça Sanctuary), a large monastery nestled amidst the spectacular mountainscapes of the Serra do Caraça. The Caraça Sanctuary combines beautiful humid valleys with lush vegetated rocky outcrops and fields of ‘campo rupestre’, all surrounded by towering mountains.
We will arrive in time for some introductory birding before checking in at the impressively huge monastery building for our two nights stay.
Maned Wolf: Day 2 Visiting the Caraça Sanctuary is always a memorable experience for those who appreciate nature.
Caraça is most famous for its Maned Wolves and we have a very good chance of seeing one or two Maned Wolves coming to food placed right at the front entrance to the monastery each evening, in spite of the crowd of onlookers who usually completely fail to keep their voices low or stop moving around! On occasion, Maned Wolves get spotted along the roads or in other locations during the daytime, but they are generally shy and typically the sightings are brief.
Interesting endemic primates are found in Caraça and the chances are good to see Black Tufted-ear Marmoset and Black-fronted Titi Monkey. Other mammals are likely to include Guianan Squirrel and Crab-eating Fox.
A large array of birds should be recorded during our time in Caraça. The reserve covers a large area and has various trails through the different habitats. The avifauna is very strongly influenced by the Atlantic Forest and most of the accessible species at Caraça are characteristic of that biome. It should be noted that all the species mentioned below are regularly recorded on our classic Southeast Brazil tour or elsewhere during Interior Brazil & The Pantanal. If you have never birded Southeast Brazil then naturally you will get a lot of lifers!
Among the potential species during our visit are Brown and Tataupa Tinamous, Dusky-legged Guan (ridiculously tame here as they are fed by both the monks and visitors), Blackish Rail, White-collared Swift, the near-endemic Biscutate Swift, Planalto and Scale-throated Hermits, Glittering-bellied Emerald, the endemic Brazilian Ruby, the near-endemic Violet-capped Woodnymph, Sombre Hummingbird, White-vented Violetear, Hyacinth Visorbearer, Frilled Coquette (uncommon), Plumbeous Pigeon, Slaty-breasted Wood Rail, Mantled Hawk (uncommon), Band-winged Nightjar, Long-trained Nightjar (uncommon), Ocellated Poorwill, Tawny-browed and Rusty-barred Owls, Black-capped Screech Owl, Rufous-capped Motmot, Surucua Trogon, Green-billed Toucan, the endemic Crescent-chested Puffbird and Yellow-eared Woodpecker, Robust and Yellow-browed Woodpeckers, White-barred Piculet, Plain and Golden- capped Parakeets, Scaly-headed Parrot, Lesser, Scaled, Planalto and White-throated Woodcreepers, Buff-fronted, White-eyed and Buff-browed Foliage-gleaners, the endemic Orange-eyed Thornbird, Rufous-capped, Spix’s, Grey-bellied and Pallid Spinetails, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Rufous-breasted Leaftosser, Giant Large-tailed and Tufted Antshrikes, the endemic Ferruginous, Ochre-rumped, Dusky-tailed and White-bibbed Antbirds, the endemic Star-throated Antwren, Black-capped Antwren, the localized endemic Serra Antwren, White-shouldered Fire-eye, Rufous Gnateater, the endemic Rock and White-breasted Tapaculos, Spotted Bamboowren, Blue and Pin-tailed Manakins, Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakin, Swallow-tailed Cotinga, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, the endemic Cinnamon-vented Piha, Greenish Schiffornis, Green-backed and Crested Becards, Grey-hooded Attila, Brown-breasted and Drab-breasted Bamboo Tyrants, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, Grey-hooded Flycatcher, White-throated Spadebill, Southern Antpipit, Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet, Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher, Sibilant Sirystes, the endemic Velvety Black Tyrant, Long-tailed Tyrant, Great Kiskadee, Blue-and-white Swallow, Grey-eyed Greenlet, Rufous-bellied, Pale-breasted, Yellow-legged and Blacksmith (or Eastern Slaty) Thrushes, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Chestnut-vented Euphonia, the endemic Half-collared Sparrow, Crested Oropendola, Red-rumped Cacique, Red Tanager, Blackish-blue Seedeater, White-browed Warbler, Cinnamon, Palm, Magpie, Orange-headed, Brazilian, Golden-chevroned, Azure-shouldered, Brassy-breasted, Gilt-edged, Fawn-breasted, Rufous-headed and Swallow Tanagers, the localized endemic Serra Finch, Uniform Finch, Saffron Finch (the monks feed a veritable horde!) and Green-winged Saltator.
Maned Wolf: Day 3 Today we will travel to Montes Claros where the main tour starts.