BRAZIL’S FAR SOUTH & SOUTHWEST BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Brazil’s Far South: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Porto Alegre airport in the capital city of Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state in Brazil.
(We will be pleased to assist with internal flight tickets in Brazil from your arrival city, even if you are arranging your international flights yourself).
From Porto Alegre will head northwards to Caxias do Sul for an overnight stay. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration this afternoon.
Brazil’s Far South: Day 2 We have a very special bird to see in the Caxias do Sul area – the highly localized and only recently described Tropeiro Seedeater. This little-known bird is only known from a small part of Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná states for a few months of the year and then vanishes northwards to unknown regions to spend the Austral winter!
Other birds we are likely to encounter in the Caxias do Sul area include some restricted-range species such as Biscutate Swift, Mottled Piculet, Pampa Finch and the handsome Diademed Tanager, as well as Sooty, White-collared and Sick’s Swifts, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Picazuro Pigeon, Eared Dove, Turkey Vulture, Campo Flicker, Crested, Yellow-headed and Chimango Caracaras, Maroon-bellied Parakeet, Rufous Hornero, Firewood-gatherer, Crested Black Tyrant, Hooded Siskin, Rufous-collared Sparrow and Southern Yellowthroat. If we are lucky we will come across a Spotted Nothura.
After we finish our birding in the Caxias area we will head further north to the small town of Vacaria for an overnight stay.
A major highlight of the Vacaria area is the fantastic little Sickle-winged Nightjar. This unusual nightjar, with its strangely-shaped, sickle-like wings, can be found reliably in some undulating country with low ridges in the Vacaria area. We should enjoy wonderful close-up views of this star bird this evening, perhaps having one land just next to us!
Brazil’s Far South: Day 3 Although largely given over to agriculture, the surviving areas of natural habitat in the Vacaria area hold a series of sought-after birds. Here we will be checking out the wetlands, grasslands and areas of scrub and woodlands for such restricted-range specialities as Straight-billed Reedhaunter, Olive Spinetail, the critically-endangered Saffron-cowled Blackbird, the lovely Glaucous-blue Grosbeak, Black-and-rufous Warbling Finch, Lesser Grass Finch, Long-tailed Reed Finch, Tawny-bellied and Dark-throated Seedeaters and the handsome endemic Black-bellied Seedeater, as well as the uncommon Sharp-tailed Grass Tyrant. If we are in luck we will actually see the ultra-secretive endemic Marsh Tapaculo rather than just hear one!
Another major target is the Long-tailed Cinclodes, which is endemic to northeastern Rio Grande do Sul and southeastern Santa Catarina (apart from a tiny, isolated population in the Cipó region of Minas Gerais, that may well represent a distinct species). It favours road cuts and the vicinity of water and behaves very much like other members of the genus.
Other new birds we are likely to encounter in this area include Red-winged Tinamou, Guira Cuckoo, Ruddy Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Buff-necked Ibis, Western Cattle Egret, Black Vulture, Savanna Hawk, the strange and noisy Red-legged Seriema, American Kestrel, Monk Parakeet, Freckle-breasted Thornbird, Rufous-capped Antshrike, Bran-colored Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Tyrant, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Blue-and-white Swallow, House Wren, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Grassland Sparrow, Shiny Cowbird, Chopi Blackbird, Yellow-rumped Marshbird, Double-collared Seedeater and Grassland Yellow Finch,
Afterwards, we will transfer to São Francisco de Paula for a two nights stay. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration this afternoon.
Brazil’s Far South: Days 4 São Francisco de Paula is situated on the top of the southern part of the Serra do Mar range. The extensive plateau country in this area is mainly covered by undulating grasslands interspersed with Araucaria (Paraná Pine) woodlands and areas of subtropical forest (rather transitional in character between the typical Atlantic forest and temperate forest). We will explore these habitats in the surrounding area, including in the São Francisco de Paula National Forest.
Major specialities in this superb area include Vinaceous-breasted Amazon, the cute endemic Striolated Tit-Spinetail, Araucaria Tit-Spinetail, Brown-breasted Bamboo Tyrant, Blacksmith (or Eastern Slaty) Thrush (a migratory species that occurs in variable numbers), Green-chinned Euphonia and the handsome Chestnut-backed Tanager. The national forest also offers good chances for Blue-bellied Parrot and Black-capped Piprites.
Another primary target will be the now very rare endemic Red-spectacled Amazon. This species has declined catastrophically in recent decades and is now only found in very few areas of southernmost Brazil with any degree of regularity.
After dark, we should come across three near-endemic nightbirds; Long-tufted Screech Owl, Rusty-barred Owl and Long-trained Nightjar. With a lot of luck, we will have an encounter with the widespread but hard to find Buff-fronted Owl.
Other special birds of the area include Dusky-legged Guan, Purple-crowned Plovercrest, White-throated Hummingbird, Slaty-breasted Wood Rail, Surucua Trogon, Yellow-browed Woodpecker, Pileated Parrot, Planalto Woodcreeper, Grey-bellied Spinetail, Speckle-breasted Antpitta, Mouse-colored Tapaculo, Planalto and Greenish Tyrannulets, Olivaceous Elaenia, the beautiful Bare-throated Bellbird (a bird that delivers a deafening sound at close range), Blue Manakin, Azure Jay, White-rimmed Warbler, Grey-throated Warbling Finch and Chestnut-headed Tanager. More uncommon specialities include Large-tailed Antshrike, Rufous Gnateater, Rough-legged Tyrannulet, Blue-billed Black Tyrant and Rufous-tailed Attila.
More widespread species we may well encounter include Brown Tinamou (more likely to heard than seen), Plumbeous Pigeon, Grey-fronted Dove, Swallow-tailed Kite, Roadside Hawk, White-spotted Woodpecker, Scaly-headed Parrot, Olivaceous and Lesser Woodcreepers, Buff-fronted and Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, White-crested and Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulets, Swainson’s Flycatcher, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Chivi Vireo, Yellow-legged, Rufous-bellied and White-necked Thrushes, Tropical Parula, Saffron Finch and Sayaca and Fawn-breasted Tanagers. More uncommon possibilities include Bicolored Hawk, Short-tailed Antthrush, Variegated Antpitta, White-throated Spadebill, Black-tailed Tityra, Hellmayr’s Pipit and Eared Pygmy Tyrant.
We will also visit one or two of the national parks near the neighbouring town of Cambará do Sul.
Aparados da Serra National Park contains the impressive Itaimbezinho Canyon and is mainly covered by Araucaria woodland. We shall be stopping along the way in search of the recently-described, near-endemic Planalto Tapaculo. A trail in the park leads to a superb viewpoint by the canyon’s cliff. Here, in the grasslands, we may come across the uncommon Ochre-breasted Pipit and we have second chances for such target species as Vinaceous-breasted Amazon, Mottled Piculet and Striolated Tit-Spinetail.
Serra Geral National Park is a beautiful grassland area with some narrow strips of Araucaria woodland. If we are lucky we will find the rare Ochre-breasted Pipit here, and we will also be looking for Grey Monjita.
Brazil’s Far South: Day 5 After a final morning in the São Francisco de Paula region we will transfer to our last destination, the Lagoa do Peixe National Park, situated right by the coast, where we stay for two nights at the small town of Mostardas.
Before reaching this fantastic national park we plan to stop along the way near the town of Tramandaí where the reedbeds are home to the tiny and skulking Crested Doradito. Getting to the site depends on the dirt road conditions, which are influenced by the amount of recent rainfall, and even then this species is uncommon.
Brazil’s Far South: Day 6 The amazing Lagoa do Peixe National Park consists primarily of a narrow shallow lagoon by the sea coast about 40 kilometres (24 miles) long and no more than two kilometres (a little over a mile) wide. It is surrounded by sand dunes, short grasslands and different types of marshes, lakes, reedbeds and even relict ‘restinga’ (stunted coastal) forests. It is an area that rivals the much more famous Pantanal for the density and diversity of its waterfowl and other wetland species.
The marshes and lakes around the little town of Mostardas will provide us with a great number of new waterbird species for our list, including the impressive Southern Screamer, White-faced and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Brazilian Teal, possibly the rare Ringed Teal, Wood and Maguari Storks, Roseate Spoonbill, Bare-faced and White-faced Ibises, Black-crowned Night Heron, Striated, Cocoi and Whistling Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, Neotropic Cormorant, Limpkin, Pied-billed Grebe, the impressive Giant Wood Rail, Plumbeous Rail, Common and Spot-flanked Gallinules, White-backed Stilt, Wattled Jacana, South American Snipe and Ringed Kingfisher.
Other typical birds of this area include Greater Rhea, Snail Kite, the imposing Long-winged Harrier, Picui Ground Dove, Smooth-billed Ani, Dark-billed Cuckoo (uncommon), Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Wren-like Rushbird, Curve-billed Reedhaunter, the smart White Monjita, the impressive Many-colored Rush Tyrant, the amazing Spectacled Tyrant, White-headed Marsh Tyrant, Long-tailed Tyrant, White-rumped Swallow, Grey-breasted and Brown-chested Martins, Yellowish and Correndera Pipits, the uncommon but striking Scarlet-headed Blackbird, White-browed, Chestnut-capped and Yellow-winged Blackbirds, Brown-and-yellow Marshbird, Red-crested Cardinal, Blue-and-yellow Tanager and Green-winged Saltator.
We will also be visiting the main lagoon in the national park, taking the Talha Mar trail. We will soon clearly understand that this place is an important stopover for resting and feeding for a number of migrant species, especially shorebirds. We will find both migrant species, mostly from the northern hemisphere, and resident species. We may find good numbers of Coscoroba and Black-necked Swans, Chilean Flamingo (nomadic, so not always present), Yellow-billed and Pintail, Silver and Yellow-billed Teals, American Golden Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Hudsonian Godwit, White-rumped and Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Kelp and Brown-hooded Gulls, Large-billed, Yellow-billed and Snowy-crowned Terns, and Black Skimmer.
We will be leaving the trail in search of such important targets as the skulking, restricted-range Bay-capped Wren-Spinetail, the restricted-range Hudson’s Canastero and the fascinating South American Painted-snipe, all three of which we have a high chance of finding.
We will also take a look at the coastal beaches, which usually attract American Oystercatcher, Sanderling and Cabot’s, Common and Royal Terns. The ‘restinga’ habitat often holds Spix’s Spinetail, Small-headed Elaenia, Sooty Tyrannulet, Masked Gnatcatcher and Great Horned Owl.
Among the rarer or more difficult to observe species in the park are White-cheeked Pintail, Red Shoveler, Rosy-billed Pochard, Spotted Rail, Rufous-sided, Red-and-white, Dot-winged and Ash-throated Crakes, White-tufted Grebe, Collared Plover, Grey-headed Gull, South American Tern and Pinnated Bittern.
Brazil’s Far South: Day 7 After some final birding at Lagoa do Peixe, we will return to Porto Alegre and catch a flight to Campo Grande in Mato Grosso do Sul state for an overnight stay.
Brazil’s Far South: Day 8 This morning we will head westwards towards Brazil’s borders with Paraguay and Bolivia. Our destination is the comfortable eco-lodge known as Pousada Aguape, where we will stay for three nights. This afternoon we will commence our exploration of the large estate on which the lodge is situated.
Brazil’s Far South: Days 9-10 Pousada Aguape is situated in the midst of an extensive tract of savanna, forest and wetlands in the far less-often-visited Southern Pantanal.
Like the entire Pantanal region, a vast area of wetlands that hug Brazil’s southwestern borders, the area around Pousada Aguape is very rich in birdlife, but there is one simple reason why we are starting the tour here, and that is our quest for the pretty Blaze-winged Parakeet, a near-endemic species with a very restricted range that is not seen on any other bird tour! Fortunately for us, this attractive bird is not difficult to find at Aguape, and is often very approachable, so we should soon be adding it to our tally.
There are many other more or less restricted-range birds at Aguape. We should encounter Chaco Chachalaca, the impressive Bare-faced Curassow (sometimes even wandering around the lodge grounds!), Buff-bellied Hermit, Gilded Sapphire, Long-tailed Ground Dove, White-wedged Piculet, White-fronted Woodpecker, Pale-crested Woodpecker, Nanday (or Black-hooded) Parakeet, Turquoise-fronted Amazon, the extraordinary Hyacinth Macaw, the beautiful Golden-collared Macaw, Henna-capped Foliage-gleaner (Aguape is one of the best places for this localized species), Greater Thornbird, the near-endemic White-lored Spinetail, Chotoy Spinetail, Grey-crested Cacholote, Large-billed Antwren, Mato Grosso Antbird, Plain Inezia, the delicate White-rumped Monjita, Purplish and Plush-crested Jays, Unicolored Blackbird, Greyish Baywing, Black-throated Saltator, Rusty-collared Seedeater and Yellow-billed Cardinal.
A very special feature of Pousada Aguape are the macaw feeders at the lodge. We are sure to enjoy absolutely stunning close-up views of flocks of huge Hyacinth Macaws feeding on palm nuts, and also have equally close encounters with beautiful Blue-and-Yellow Macaws. Plenty of other birds and even armadillos and raccoons visit the lodge feeders.
Mammals are well represented at Aguape and we have a good chance of seeing Nine-banded and Yellow Armadillos, Giant Anteater, Black-and-gold Howler Monkey, Tapeti (or Brazilian Cottontail), Capybara (the world’s largest rodent), Crab-eating Fox, Crab-eating Raccoon and Grey Brocket Deer. There is also a chance of Jaguar and Ocelot, although the former is nothing like as easy here as in the northern Pantanal.
Aguape is not just about its avian specialities and mammals of course, and it has a very rich avifauna. Among the widespread new species that we can expect at Aguape are Undulated Tinamou, Blue-throated Piping Guan, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Muscovy Duck, Common Potoo, Pauraque, White-tailed Goldenthroat, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Greater Ani, Striped and Squirrel Cuckoos, Pale-vented Pigeon, Scaled Dove, Grey-cowled Wood Rail, Purple Gallinule, Pied Plover, Solitary Sandpiper, the huge and impressive Jabiru, Anhinga, Plumbeous and Green Ibises, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Western Osprey, Black-collared Hawk, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Blue-crowned Trogon, Amazon, Green, Green-and-rufous and American Pygmy Kingfishers, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Toco Toucan (the classic Guinness toucan!), White, Green-barred, Lineated and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, Aplomado Falcon, Yellow-chevroned, Peach-fronted, Blue-crowned and White-eyed Parakeets, Orange-winged Amazon and Red-and-green and Red-shouldered Macaws.
Among the widespread passerines that we should find during our visit are Red-billed Scythebill, Pale-legged Hornero, Rusty-backed Spinetail, Rusty-backed and Large-billed Antwrens, Barred and Great Antshrikes, Forest and Yellow-bellied Elaenias, Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, Rusty-margined, Boat-billed, Short-crested and Brown-crested Flycatchers, Black-crowned Tityra, White-winged Becard, White-winged Swallow, Black-capped Donacobius, Thrush-like and Buff-breasted Wrens, Pale-breasted Thrush, Crested Oropendola, Solitary and Red-rumped Caciques, Orange-backed Troupial, Giant Cowbird, Golden-crowned Warbler, Greyish Saltator, Silver-beaked Tanager and Chestnut-bellied Seed Finch.
Brazil’s Far South: Day 11 We have a travel day today as we return to Campo Grande and then head northwards to the vicinity of Emas National Park, on the border with Goias state, where we will spend four nights. This afternoon we will commence our exploration of Emas.
Brazil’s Far South: Days 12-14 Emas National Park protects a huge swathe of ‘cerrado’ habitat on the border between the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Goiás. Covering 1320 square kilometres (about 510 square miles), the park protects dry cerrado woodland, savanna and grasslands, as well as areas of gallery forest and swamps. The park is part of the vast Pantanal Biosphere Reserve. Much of the attractive landscape at Emas is grassland dotted with giant termite mounds and scattered trees.
Emas has many good birds, including many cerrado specialities, but our major targets here will include three key near-endemics; Yellow-faced Parrot (easy to see at Emas but truly difficult in most of its range), Campo Miner (a species that prefers burnt areas of savanna) and Planalto Foliage-gleaner (which is probably easier to find at Emas than anywhere else in its range). With luck, we will come across the uncommon and secretive Lesser Nothura.
At dusk, we will be wanting to see the lovely, restricted-range White-winged Nightjar and Emas is definitely the most reliable place in Brazil for finding this attractive and much-sought-after species.
Other special restricted-range birds regularly seen here include the near-endemic Collared Crescentchest (a beautiful tapaculo), Sharp-tailed Grass Tyrant, Bearded Tachuri, the awesome Cock-tailed and Streamer-tailed Tyrants, the near-endemic Coal-crested Finch and Black-masked Finch.
The very rare endemic and thinly-distributed Cone-billed Tanager does occur in Emas, but the tiny population is scattered across a huge park and the birds are very hard to find (unlike at Jardim da Amazônia on our Pantanal & Mato Grosso tour). Indeed, one could spend a week searching for this endangered tanager and yet still miss it! We will check out known sites for the species, but we need to devote most of our time to those Emas specialities that are easier to find.
Species of restricted distribution (or not much more than that) that we may well come across include Spotted Nothura, Ocellated Crake (only likely to be heard), Planalto Hermit, White-vented Violetear, White-eared Puffbird, Helmeted Manakin, Rufous-sided Pygmy Tyrant, Chapada Suiriri, Rufous Casiornis, Scarlet Flycatcher, Tawny-headed Swallow, Creamy-bellied Thrush, Curl-crested Jay, White-striped Warbler, White-banded and White-rumped Tanagers and Lesser Grass Finch.
Emas is also a superb park for mammals. Best of all, it is one of the very best places to see the rare, long-limbed Maned Wolf! There are many sightings here each year and during our stay we have a high chance of an encounter with this very special creature.
Pampas Deer are common at Emas as are Giant Anteaters (with their numbers now recovered from a disastrous fire in 2010), while other species we should encounter include Hoary and Crab-eating Foxes and White-lipped Peccary. We will go out spotlighting at night in the hope of encountering a Brazilian Tapir, a Puma or even a Pampas Cat! The rarely-seen Giant Armadillo also occurs at Emas, so we can always live in hope!
Among the more widespread bird species that we may well encounter at Emas are Greater Rhea, Pearl and Plumbeous Kites, Long-winged Harrier, Crane, Short-tailed and White-tailed Hawks, Laughing and Bat Falcons, Blue-headed Parrot, Western Barn Owl, Burrowing and Short-eared Owls, Common Potoo, Least and Nacunda Nighthawks, Grey-rumped Swift, Neotropical Palm Swift, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Plain-crested and Highland Elaenias, Common Tody-Flycatcher, White-throated Kingbird, Grass Wren, Purple-throated and Thick-billed Euphonias, Flavescent Warbler, Grey-headed, Palm, Burnished-buff and Swallow Tanagers, Blue Dacnis, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Plumbeous, Capped and Double-collared Seedeaters, and Wedge-tailed Grass Finch.
Brazil’s Far South: Day 15 This morning we must leave wonderful Emas behind us and return to Campo Grande airport for an early afternoon tour end.