ULTIMATE SOUTHEAST BRAZIL BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Part I: ESPÍRITO SANTO & RIO DE JANEIRO
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part I: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Vitória, the capital of the state of Espírito Santo. Our first birding stop will be nearby at the town of Aracruz, where we visit the Augusto Ruschi Biological Station in search for the localized endemic Minute Hermit. We will then drive through cultivated country to the VALE Natural Reserve near Linhares for a three nights stay. During the journey we can expect to see such widespread species as Black and Turkey Vultures, White-tailed Kite, Roadside Hawk, Yellow-headed and Southern Caracaras, American Kestrel, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Smooth-billed Ani, the unique Guira Cuckoo, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Shiny Cowbird and Chopi Blackbird. In the late afternoon we will begin our exploration of the reserve.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part I: Days 2-3 The private VALE Reserve and the adjacent state-owned Sooretama Biological Reserve protect the largest remnant of Brazil’s southeastern Atlantic coastal lowland rainforest. Both reserves are jealously guarded by their wardens, who keep a watchful eye out for illicit poaching or timber cutting. The extensive areas of level ground are dissected by deep, swampy gullies that drain into a lake on the eastern margin of the reserves.
This superb area is one of only five sites where one of the world’s rarest cracids, the huge Red-billed Curassow, can still be found. The total population is very small, but our chances of seeing this critically-endangered bird will depend largely on whether or not there are showers during our visit, as the birds regularly walk out on the trails after rain. Other species that are considered endangered or vulnerable include White-necked Hawk, Blue-throated (or Ochre-marked Parakeet), Red-browed Amazon and Black-headed Berryeater, and we stand an excellence chance of recording all of these exquisite birds during our visit. If we are very lucky, the rare Plumbeous Antvireo may show up here.
VALE boasts such an unusually rich avifauna that even experienced birdwatchers tend to be confused by the many different sounds coming from the canopy, understorey and forest floor. Rainforest, more so than any other habitat, provides birders with their greatest challenge, but with patience and perseverance it can prove to be the most exciting and rewarding habitat of all, whether we are tracking down the plaintive whistles of tinamous, checking fruiting trees for cotingas, tanagers, parrots and toucans, or listening for the distant churring of an antbird flock following a swarm of army ants.
Amongst the superb selection of other birds that we may well find during our stay are Solitary, Little, Variegated and Yellow-legged Tinamous (although, as always, they are much easier to hear than see), Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Gray-headed and Plumbeous Kites, Bat Falcon, Rusty-margined Guan, Rufous-sided and Ash-throated Crakes, Scaled and Pale-vented Pigeons, Blue Ground-Dove, Peach-fronted and Maroon-faced Parakeets, the endemic Plain Parakeet, Blue-winged Parrotlet, Scaly-headed, Orange-winged and Mealy Parrots, the parasitic Striped Cuckoo, the hard-to-locate Black-capped Screech-Owl, Least Pygmy-Owl, Common Pauraque, Minute Hermit (perhaps displaying in the understorey), White-chinned Sapphire, White-tailed Goldenthroat, Amazonian White-tailed and Collared Trogons, Swallow-wing, Black-necked Aracari, and Blond-crested, Ringed, Red-stained, Yellow-fronted, and White Woodpeckers.
Passerines include Plain-winged, Olivaceous and Buff-throated Woodcreepers, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Ochre-breasted Foliage-gleaner, Plain Xenops, Sooretama Slaty Antshrike, White-flanked and Rufous-winged Antwrens, Rufous-capped Antthrush, the delightful Black-cheeked Gnateater, Screaming Piha, White-winged Becard, Black-crowned Tityra, Red-headed, White-crowned and White-bearded Manakins, Thrush-like Schiffornis, White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, Variegated, Boat-billed, Streaked, Social, Short-crested, Dusky-capped, Yellow-breasted, Sepia-capped and Gray-hooded Flycatchers, Grayish Mourner, Olivaceous Flatbill, Thrush-like Wren, Yellow-legged, Cocoa and White-necked Thrushes, Long-billed Gnatwren, Yellowish Pipit, Red-rumped Cacique, Southern Yellowthroat, Red-legged and Green Honeycreepers, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Burnished-buff, Hooded and Yellow-backed Tanagers, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, the garrulous Yellow-green Grosbeak, Dubois’s Seedeater and Pileated Finch.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part I: Day 4 After some pre-breakfast birding at VALE Reserve we will drive to Santa Teresa for an overnight stay. We will make a short stops in rolling pastures where possibilities include Neotropic Cormorant, Great, Snowy and Western Cattle Egrets, Striated Heron, White-faced Whistling-Duck, Wattled Jacana, Southern Lapwing, Picazuro Pigeon, Scaled Dove, Burrowing Owl, Ringed Kingfisher, the showy Campo Flicker, Rufous Hornero, Cattle Tyrant, Brown-chested and Gray-breasted Martins, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, House Wren, the gorgeous White-browed Blackbird, Blue-black Grassquit and Saffron Finch.
The small town of Santa Teresa was the home of the late Dr Augusto Ruschi, a world authority on hummingbirds. Ruschi found ‘hummers’ so difficult to study in detail in the wild that he resorted to suspending feeders brimming with sugar solution from the roof of his museum. The museum is a famous place among birders and during a short stop there we will be able to see just how successful he was when we visit this ‘hummingbird capital of Brazil’. However, we will spend more time at our accommodations, which is nowadays an even a better place to watch these marvellous creatures. The air is full of low-flying, hovering, trilling, buzzing and twittering hummingbirds of many different shades of colour, some consuming as much as 30 times their own weight in food every day! Here we will look for the endemic diminutive green, red, black and white, insect-sized Frilled Coquette and the large, almost bee-eater-like Swallow-tailed Hummingbird.
Other species often to be seen here include Rufous-breasted and Planalto Hermits, Black Jacobin, White-vented Violetear, Violet-capped Woodnymph, Glittering-bellied, Glittering-throated, Versicolored and Sapphire-spangled Emeralds, White-throated and Sombre Hummingbirds, Brazilian Ruby and Amethyst Woodstar. Dainty and opportunistic Bananaquits often join the hummers at the artificial flowers, whilst a walk through the gardens may produce the secretive Slaty-breasted Wood-Rail, the strutting Wing-banded Hornero, the smart Masked Water-Tyrant and both Rufous-bellied and Creamy-bellied Thrushes.
After a ‘mind-blowing’ hummingbird experience we shall visit some really good private hill forests that surround the town. Only a small fraction of the state of Espírito Santo is still covered in the primeval natural forest which once stretched from horizon to horizon. However, the few forests that remain amongst a sea of cultivation have fortunately been well protected as reserves. These private forests around Santa Teresa are fine examples.
Here birds abound, probably concentrated by ‘island effect’ (the destruction of similar habitat nearby).The higher altitude and humidity mean that the forests are dense and full of epiphytes, and this is one of the few places that the rare Wied’s Tyrant-Manakin can be found. This is also the place where we will start understanding how abundant the birdlife can be in the hilly Atlantic Forest in Southeast Brazil. Short walks this afternoon will provide a major increase in our bird list, with great highlights and endemics such as the colourful Spot-billed Toucanet, Yellow-eared Woodpecker, Spot-backed Antshrike, Plain and Spot-breasted Antvireos, Streak-capped Antwren, Black-capped, White-collared and Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaners, Pallid Spinetail, Planalto Woodcreeper, the strange Black-billed Scythebill, Short-tailed Antthrush, the impressive Gray-hooded Attila and Bare-throated Bellbird. With luck we will locate the secretive Rufous-brown Solitare.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part I: Day 5 Long before sunrise the barking calls of Barred Forest-Falcons emanate through the forest and at the crack of dawn the leisurely, piercing notes of White-throated Woodcreepers and the musical chatter and trills of Scaled and Lesser Woodcreepers dominate the morning chorus. Other birds we may well find in this splendid area include Plumbeous Pigeon, Maroon-bellied Parakeet, Squirrel Cuckoo, White-collared, Sick’s and Gray-rumped Swifts, Scale-throated Hermit, Black-throated and Surucua Trogons, Channel-billed Toucan (of the distinctive race ariel), White-barred Piculet, Green-barred, Yellow-throated and Yellow-browed Woodpeckers, Ferruginous Antbird, Green-backed and Chestnut-crowned Becards, Eastern Sirystes, Shear-tailed Gray Tyrant, Euler’s, and Yellow-olive Flycatchers, White-throated Spadebill, Drab-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant, Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, Oustalet’s Tyrannulet and Violaceous Euphonia. The tanager guild is especially well represented here and includes such splendid species as Rufous-headed, Green-headed, Red-necked and Gilt-edged Tanagers and the less colourful Sayaca, Golden-chevroned, Flame-crested, Black-goggled, Palm and Ruby-crowned Tanagers. The endemic Azure-shouldered Tanager resembles the ubiquitous Sayaca and we will make a special effort to find and identify this localized species.
A small marsh near our accommodations often holds Blackish Rail and Spix’s (or Chicli) Spinetail, while the surrounding flowering and fruiting bushes are often alive with birds including the endemic Grey-headed (or Yellow-lored) Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, the endemic Gray-capped Tyrannulet, Pale-breasted Thrush, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Red-eyed Vireo, Tropical Parula, Blue Dacnis, Chestnut-bellied Euphonia, Green-winged Saltator and Double-collared Seedeater.
On our way to Vargem Alta we plan to have lunch in a very nice private reserve called Cantinho dos Três Pontões, a scenic place that protects some great species of birds too. The rocky outcrop on the top of a hill offers shrubby vegetation, perfect habitat for the stunning endemic Serra Antwren. Here we shall also look for some other good birds such as the endemic Hangnest Tody-Tyrant and Cinnamon Tanager, the imposing Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle and, with luck, the well-camouflaged Pygmy Nightjar. A delicious lunch can be enjoyed in front of a bird feeder where Dusky-legged Guans, Scaly-headed Parrots and stunning Blue-winged Macaws are frequent visitors.
Providing we arrive in Vargem Alta in time, we will make a first visit to the private reserve at Caeté Forest. This outstanding forest remnant, linked to some other forest fragments, is nowadays the only known site with recent records of the beautiful and ultra-rare Cherry-throated Tanager. Finding any of the few surviving individuals is a challenging task, and our chances are not high, but it is surely a memorable and most rewarding moment when it does happen.
This amazing site is not just important for the Cherry-throated Tanager, for there are several other spectacular species living here, including stunning rarities such as the poorly known Brazilian Laniisoma, and great endemics like the noisy Such’s Antthrush and Cinnamon-vented Piha, White-bibbed and Ochre-rumped Antbirds, Star-throated Antwren, Pale-browed Treehunter, White-breasted Tapaculo, Hooded Berryeater, Pin-tailed Manakin and Brown Tanager.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part I: Day 6 Today we have a full day to explore much of Caeté Forest. Obviously Cherry-throated Tanager will be the main target, if it eluded us yesterday, but the intention today is also to enjoy every new species that we come across. There is still a long list of charismatic birds to be seen here, such as the striking Red-breasted Toucan and Saffron Toucanet, the good-looking Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Rufous-breasted Leaftosser, Rufous Gnateater, Variegated Antpitta, Swallow-tailed Manakin, Wing-barred Piprites, Ochre-faced Tody Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Greenish Tyrannulet, Rufous-crowned Greenlet, Magpie and Brassy-breasted Tanagers, Uniform Finch and the much-wanted Sharpbill. Certainly these species and more will be enough to keep us very busy during this remarkable day of birding.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part I: Day 7 Today we shall set off very early, because we have a long travel day in order to reach REGUA in the state of Rio de Janeiro where we will spend the next three nights. Before reaching this fantastic private reserve in the foothills of Serra dos Órgãos, we shall stop in the vicinity of the town of Cabo Frio to search in the restinga habitat for the highly localized endemic Restinga Antwren.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part I: Days 8-9 This attractive lodge is situated at an altitude of about 120m in the foothills overlooking a beautiful lake, at the edge of the 45,000 hectares Tres Picos State Park, which lies to the northeast of Rio de Janeiro. This community-owned reserve is well known for its Brazilian Laniisoma population and with luck we will enjoy good views of this generally very rare and infrequently seen species. The hill forest here is also home to a good population of the similarly rare Russet-winged Spadebill which with perseverance we should also see.
Noisy flocks of endemic Olive-green Tanagers will hide themselves in the dense canopy of fruiting trees, while mixed species flocks often hold Unicolored Antwren (and sometimes the rare Salvadori’s Antwren) and Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant. Other new species are likely to include Brown Tinamou (much harder to see than to hear), Ruddy Quail-Dove, the splendid Rufous-capped Motmot, Lineated Woodpecker, Planalto Woodcreeper, the retiring Rufous-breasted Leaftosser, Chestnut-vented Conebill and Black-throated Grosbeak. A nocturnal excursion may reveal the rarely seen Giant Snipe, Black-banded Owl and Tawny-browed Owl.
We will drive up to the higher reaches of the Tres Picos State Park to try for one of the least known and most localized of the Brazilian endemics, the Gray-winged (or Orgãos) Cotinga. This wary and elusive relative of the Black-and-gold Cotinga lives in elfin forest above 4600 ft (1400m) and emits its disyllabic song from within the fairly open canopy. It was only described in the 1940s and is known from only two fairly small mountain ranges. Until fairly recently, its haunts could only be reached after a long hike, but now there is a good possibility to see this bird with minimal physical effort. We will still need to be lucky with the weather, as low clouds can often interfere with our endeavours to find this rare endemic.
We will also have our first opportunity in the Tres Picos area for numerous montane specialties. A bird that everybody hopes to see in southeastern Brazil is the charismatic Swallow-tailed Cotinga and here we stand an excellent chance of spotting its unique and appealing silhouette. The birds often sit out sunning themselves in the crisp early morning air and then suddenly take off in rather parakeet-like flight. In addition, the memorable, eerie, high-pitched song of the stunning Black-and-gold Cotinga echoes through the often misty environment. Other species we may well find in Tres Picos include Rufous-capped Spinetail, Variable and Large-tailed Antshrikes, Rufous-tailed Antbird, the secretive Rufous-tailed Antthrush (easy to hear, sometimes hard to see), Mouse-colored Tapaculo, Serra do Mar and Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulets, the smart Diademed Tanager, Fawn-breasted Tanager, Thick-billed Saltator, Bay-chested and Buff-throated (or Red-rumped) Warbling-Finches, and Hooded Siskin.
We will also visit an area of dry deciduous woodland in interior Rio de Janeiro state, near the town of Carmo, where the endemic and localized Three-toed Jacamar digs its nesting holes in high earth banks. This species often sits on exposed branches, watching the surroundings for flying insect prey. In the same woodland area we will also have chances to find the endemic Grey-eyed Greenlet and Rufous-fronted (or Common) Thornbird, and even have a second chance for Serra Antwren.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part I: Day 10 Today, after some early morning birding at REGUA, we head south to the beautiful Itatiaia National Park for an overnight stay in the lower section. We plan to have lunch in the lower part of the national park and also to check in at our nice hotel, where spectacular feeders should give us a blast of tanagers and hummingbirds, including beauties that we could have seen before such as Black Jacobin, Brazilian Ruby and Green-headed and Olive-green Tanagers. Two really fantastic species are quite frequent at the feeders; the impressive Saffron Toucanet and Blue-napped Chlorophonia. We will also spend hours in the dense bamboo of the Três Picos Trail, mainly in search of rare endemics such as Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part I: Day 11 Itatiaia National Park is located between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in an inland branch of the Serra do Mar. The fantastic hills of the Serra da Mantiqueira hold some of the finest remaining cloudforests on the flanks of some of the country’s highest peaks, which here rise to 9177ft (2797m). Some 130 bird species endemic to southeastern Brazil and immediately adjacent areas have been identified in this superb area, a higher total than anywhere else in the region. Most of the species will be well known to us by now, but we will be focusing on the middle and higher elevation forests but several are more easily found here than elsewhere.
We will spend the night at another hotel, located at a high pass, that gives us easy access to the best high elevation forests in the park (the famous Agulhas Negras Road). The most important of the local specialities is the delightful Black-capped Piprites and every effort will be made to find this species. In the moss-encrusted, gnarled bushes and thickets of gloomy bamboo (it is often misty here) we shall also hope for encounters with the handsome Rufous-backed Antvireo and that remarkable ‘egg on legs’, the Speckle-breasted Antpitta.
Further rewards await us in the high temperate forest and above the treeline in the paramo-like grasslands. The Itatiaia Spinetail (or Itatiaia Thistletail) is restricted to a higher elevation zone than any other Brazilian endemic and can often be found at the edge of marshy clearings. This species is so different from other furnariids that it is usually placed in its own genus, Oreophylax. The dazzling Plovercrest is a stunning hummingbird that flits about the fuchsia bushes, while in an isolated copse of monkey-puzzle trees we will look for the pretty Araucaria Tit-Spinetail.
Other birds we may well find at Itatiaia include Sharp-billed Treehunter, Rufous-tailed (or Brazilian) Antthrush, Rufous Gnateater, Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, Brown-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakin, White-crested Tyrannulet, Olivaceous Elaenia, Buff-throated Warbling-Finch and Golden-winged Cacique.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part I: Day 12 Today we transfer to Ubatuba on the Atlantic coast for a two nights stay, stopping on the way at Perequê, situated on the southern coastline of Rio de Janeiro state. Here the striking Black-hooded Antwren is one of the rarest of the antbirds and is only found in this small area. It had long been feared extinct, until its dramatic rediscovery in the late 1980s which caused quite a stir amongst Neotropical aficionados. There has also been a fair amount of debate about its exact taxonomic position, but this has been resolved and it is now firmly anchored in the genus Formicivora. The total population is minute, but luckily it manages to survive in second growth. This morning we will focus on this little jewel, but we will also pay tribute to another endemic, the Orange-eyed Thornbird. Other birds in this area include Short-tailed Hawk, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, the attractive Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Yellow Tyrannulet and an isolated race of the Lemon-chested Greenlet. Later, we will continue southwest along the scenic coastal road to Ubatuba. Upon arrival we will begin our exploration of the surrounding area.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part I: Day 13 The lovely coastline between Santos, the harbour of São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro consists of immaculate white sandy beaches interspersed with rocky promontories, quiet secluded bays and a turquoise sea dotted with rocky islands. The whole scene reminds one a bit of the French Cote d’Azur, especially now that luxurious villas, preposterous condominiums and fancy yacht marinas are appearing here and there along the narrow coastal strip. During the week not much happens here, but at the weekend this is the playground of the better-off Paulistanos and Cariocas (the inhabitants of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro respectively), who come here for a dose of sun, sea and surf.
The imposing verdant hills of the Serra do Mar rise up just behind this gorgeous coast and provide a haven for a rich array of rarely-encountered endemics and other specialities. During our stay we will explore the lush surroundings of our lovely hotel in the town of Ubatuba and nearby forest, where our main targets include the tiny Buff-throated Purpletuft and the mysterious Slaty Bristlefront. The purpletuft favours exposed snags at the forest edge, usually not far from fruiting trees, but this aberrant cotinga is easily overlooked because of its diminutive size. The enchanting song of the bristlefront is one of the most evocative sounds of the Atlantic Forests. This strange tapaculo is an expert at hiding itself, but with a bit of luck we should be able to admire its lovely frontal tuft and long tail.
A patient wait at a productive set of hummingbird feeders should produce the superb Saw-billed Hermit and the exquisite Festive Coquette. In dense clumps of bamboo we shall hope to track down the large and very skulking Tufted Antshrike (and here we have a second chance if necessary for the cute, beautifully-patterned Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant). These forests harbour an excellent selection of antbirds and in the dark forest interior we will prowl the undergrowth in search of three more endemic members of this appealing family: Star-throated and Salvadori’s Antwrens and the piebald Scaled Antbird. More diligent examination may add the awkward Russet-winged Spadebill and Sao Paulo Tyrannulet to our list. Here too, endemic Long-billed Wrens sing persistently from dense tangles and less often the secretive Spotted Bamboowren.
Additional species we may well encounter include Magnificent Frigatebird, Hook-billed Kite, Black Hawk-Eagle, Laughing Falcon, South American and Royal Terns, White-tipped Dove, Dusky-throated Hermit (the local nominate form of which is sometimes considered a separate species), Reddish Hermit, Black-throated Mango, White-shouldered Fire-eye, Piratic and Swallow Flycatchers, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, White-thighed Swallow and Crested Oropendola.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part I: Day 14 Today, after an early start, we head to a well known area for the recently described São Paulo Antwren near São Paulo. The rapidly diminishing marshes at this site mean that this species is already under considerable threat. Providing we find the antwren by midday, we will then visit the Cantareira State Park in the vicinity of São Paulo. There our main target will be the tiny rare Southern Bristle Tyrant. We spend the night in the São Paulo area.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part I: Day 15 The Espírito Santo & Rio de Janeiro section of our tour ends this morning at São Paulo international airport.
Part II: SÃO PAULO TO RIO GRANDE DO SUL
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part II: Day 1 The São Paulo to Rio Grande section of our tour starts this morning at São Paulo international airport. From there we drive through São Paulo with its 20 million souls before heading south into the Serra de Paranapiacaba for a four nights stay at Intervales State Park. Late this afternoon we will begin our exploration of Intervales.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part II: Days 2-4 During our visit to Intervales State Park we shall encounter a succession of different forest types as we reach increasing altitude. At the lowest level is subtropical forest where the rich green tapestry is broken only by an occasional patch of gorgeous blue or red where a tree has come into flower. Higher up there is a transition to lush, bromeliad-laden cloudforest with its attendant mist, and finally, at the highest altitudes, temperate forest where birds hide in the dark tunnels amidst the bamboo.
The easiest birding is to be found around our pleasant hotel where several species of iridescent, multi-hued tanagers can be watched squabbling over who should be next to savour the delights of the fruit obligingly left for them on the bird tables. Large parts of the Serra de Paranapiacaba and of the Serra do Mar in southeastern São Paulo state are still cloaked in pristine Atlantic rainforest and form the Mata Atlantica Biosphere Reserve, which was declared an International Biosphere Reserve in 1991 and a World Heritage Site in 1999. The park is linked to two other reserves and between them they protect the largest contiguous Atlantic Forest remnant in Brazil.
We shall be spending much of our time in Parque Estadual Intervales, a 121,000-acre (49,000-hectare) state park that is part of a complex of two more adjacent reserves that protect a total area of around 460 square miles (1200 square kilometres) at altitudes varying between 60-3600ft (20-1100m). Parts of the park consist of undulating limestone hills where deep caves add to the attraction. Sparkling streams tumble through these virtually untouched forests where patches of excellent bamboo are another major draw for visiting birders. A splendid set of wide and well-laid-out trails allows easy access to the forest, while nearby are lakes, areas of dense and impenetrable secondary growth and even some more open terrain.
While the sun is still below the horizon, we will position ourselves at a strategic viewpoint overlooking a forest edge with many exposed canopy snags, for here we have another good chance for the wonderful Swallow-tailed Cotinga. A wing-whirr display will alert us to the presence of the rare and declining Black-fronted Piping-Guan. This appealing cracid favours dense humid forests where its main food, the palmito, thrives. Small family parties of Blue-bellied Parrots can sometimes be seen hurtling over the treetops, but this unique species is never easy to observe well. As the thermals start to rise we will hope to see the distinctive black and white shape of the Mantled Hawk as it wheels effortlessly over the woods.
We will then enter the gloomy forest interior, where patient stalking and quiet waiting should add some more good birds to our tally. The strange stout-billed White-bearded Antshrike, the sole member of its genus, favours dense patches of tall, slender bamboo and sometimes joins mixed species flocks. Careful examination of the undergrowth should reward us with such skulkers as Giant Antshrike, Dusky-tailed Antbird, the smart Squamate Antbird and Half-collared Sparrow (split from Pectoral). Rarities are regularly found in this superb park and we will concentrate our efforts on some breath-taking species such as Grey-bellied Hawk, Buff-bellied Puffbird and Helmeted Woodpecker. We also have a second chance for Spotted Bamboowren.
Nightbirding is exciting here as Long-trained Nightjars show off their very unusual silhouette at dusk and later the rare Rusty-barred Owl will lure us into the forest with its hoarse grunts.
Other species we expect to encounter here include Rufous-thighed Hawk, Grey-bellied Spinetail, the localized Orange-breasted (or Red-eyed) Thornbird, White-browed Foliage-gleaner, the gorgeous Red-ruffed Fruitcrow and Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakin.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part II: Day 5 Today we depart early, descending out of the hills of the Serra do Mar once again. Our destination is a huge bay in the coastline of Paraná state, the Bay of Paranaguá, where we will spend the night at the town of Caiobá.
On our way we shall stop at the famous and scenic Graciosa Road. Here we shall find a similar avifauna to that at Intervales, but we also have chances to find the uncommon Blackish-blue Seedeater, the noisy Azure Jay and the stunning Chestnut-backed Tanager, as well as another opportunity to look for the skulking Speckle-breasted Antpitta. Arriving at the harbour town of Paraguá, we will take a fast boat through the bay to some pristine lowland forest and mangroves. A spectacle happens just before sunset at a little island where hundreds of the localized endemic Red-tailed Parrot comes to roost. Other birds that we may see here are Brown Booby, Roseate Spoonbill, Little Blue Heron, Grey-necked Wood-Rail and Sandwich Tern.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part II: Day 6 Today we will enjoy some early morning birding in the tall Restinga woodlands that dominate this coastal area, more specifically near the town of Itapoá, situated in the border area between Santa Catarina and Paraná, where we will overnight. The high humidity that persists in this lowland region makes the forests a bromeliad garden from ground-level to the canopy, and in areas with poorer soils we can find the stunted Restinga type of forest.
Close to the Saí Mirim River, we will be looking for threatened localized endemics. Here the star is the small Kaempfer’s Tody-Tyrant, which was poorly-known until recently, followed by the curious Restinga Tyrannulet and the marvellous Black-backed Tanager. We should also have fun with White-bearded and Swallow-tailed Manakins and search for Scaled Chachalaca and Three-striped Flycatcher.
Next we focus on another main target, the little-known Marsh (or Parana) Antwren, which was only described in 1995, and which leads a quiet and secretive life in Typha marshes. These marshes are seriously threatened by real estate speculation along the coast, which has much reduced its already scarce habitat. To the south of the marshes, we shall visit the lovely Volta Velha Reserve in the afternoon, where the pristine lowland forest offers numerous birds, including good chances to find Yellow-legged Tinamou. Nearby rice paddies may provide a dose of rails and crakes as well.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part II: Day 7 Providing we have seen our main target species around Itapoá, we will leave early today and head uphill to the capital of Paraná state, Curitiba, where we will overnight. Exploration of the Araucaria-dominated forests on the Paraná plateau will give us the chance to observe the gorgeous Chestnut-headed Tanager and the skulking Canebrake Groundcreeper. We may find also Grey-throated Warbling-Finch and Diademed Tanager. During the afternoon we shall spend time in the habitat of yet another recently-described species, the Marsh (or Wetland) Tapaculo. This extreme skulker was discovered in 1998 in an area of humid lush grass, definitely an unusual environment for a tapaculo, and even today in southern Brazil it is only known from a few patches of this very restricted habitat in marshy grassland areas. Here we may also encounter Long-tailed Reed-Finch, Lesser Grass-Finch and Yellow-rumped Marshbird. We will remain until after dusk, hoping to see the rare Sickle-winged Nightjar and the gracious Long-tufted Screech-Owl.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part II: Day 8 We shall be visiting more marshes and grassland areas in the vicinity of Curitiba this morning before heading to the airport. We may find such ducks as Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Silver Teal, White-cheeked Pintail and with luck Rosy-billed Pochard, as well as Plumbeous Rail, Great Pampa-Finch and Black-and-rufous Warbling-Finch.
After a short flight from Curitiba south to Porto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul state, we drive westwards to Santana da Boa Vista for an overnight stay. If there is time in the late afternoon we shall make an initial foray in search of the now very rare Red-spectacled Amazon. This species has declined catastrophically in recent decades and is now only found in very few areas with any degree of regularity. The Santana da Boa Vista area is, however, an excellent location where a small population is still known to breed. With just a little luck we will be able to watch this endangered psittacid gathering before it goes to roost in the remaining copses that provide a home for this spectacular species. We should also find the stunning Red-crested Cardinal.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part II: Day 9 After some early morning birding around Santana da Boa Vista, where there will be another opportunity to see the parrot should it be necessary, we will transfer to São Francisco de Paula, situated on the top of the southern part of the Serra do Mar range, for a two nights stay. The vast plateau here is mainly covered by undulating grasslands interspersed with Araucaria woods. Our hotel is beautifully situated in a tract of Araucaria (Paraná Pine) and during the afternoon we will explore similar habitat in the surrounding area, specifically in the São Francisco de Paula National Forest.
Before reaching the Araucaria forest habitat we will be crossing some attractive grasslands and marshes remnants where a number of very localized species (including some that cannot be seen on any other bird tour) can be found. A major target is the restricted-range Long-tailed Cinclodes, which is endemic to northeastern Rio Grande do Sul and southeastern Santa Catarina. It favours road cuts and the vicinity of water, and behaves very much as other members of the genus. By walking through areas of well-preserved campo grassland we stand a fair chance of finding the rare Black-bellied Seedeater, and also the long-billed Straight-billed Reedhaunter, Freckle-breasted Thornbird, the delicate Black-and-white Monjita, Lesser Grass-Finch, Tawny-bellied Seedeater and the rare Saffron-cowled Blackbird.
Finally, in the national forest, we will be searching for Vinaceous Parrot, the scarce Mottled Piculet, Olive Spinetail, the cute endemic Striolated Tit-Spinetail, Brown-breasted Bamboo-Tyrant, Eastern Slaty-Thrush, Green-chinned Euphonia and the handsome Chestnut-backed Tanager. The national forest also offers second chances for Blue-bellied Parrot and even Black-capped Piprites. After dark, we will try to find the cute Long-tufted Screech-Owl, Rusty-barred Owl, Long-trained Nightjar and with a lot of luck the enigmatic Buff-fronted Owl.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part II: Day 10 Today we leave our hotel early for a visit to two national parks near the neighbouring town of Cambará do Sul. First we take the dirt road to the Aparados da Serra National Park which contains the impressive Itaimbezinho Canyon. This park is mainly covered by Araucaria woodland and we shall be stopping along the way in search of the recently described Planalto Tapaculo (often and erroneously considered a race of Mouse-colored Tapaculo). The trail in the park leads to a superb viewpoint by the canyon’s cliff. During this lovely walk we have second chances for such target species as Vinaceous Parrot, Mottled Piculet and Striolated Tit-Spinetail.
Later we shall visit the Serra Geral National Park, a beautiful grassland area with some narrow strips of Araucaria woodland. We will have the opportunity to look once more for grassland highlight species mentioned for the previous day. If we are really lucky we will find the rare Ochre-breasted Pipit here, and we will also be looking for the uncommon Glaucous-blue Grosbeak. The Pampas Fox is an attractive mammal that is often seen around here.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part II: Day 11 Today we transfer early to our last destination, the Lagoa do Peixe National Park, situated right by the coast, where we stay for two nights. This amazing national park consists of a narrow shallow lagoon by the sea coast about 40 kilometres (24 miles) long and no more than two kilometres (little over a mile) wide. It is surrounded by sand dunes, short grasslands and different types of marshes, reedbeds and even relict Restinga forests . It is an area that rivals the famous Pantanal for the density and diversity of its wildfowl and other wetland species. The marshes and lakes around the little town of Mostardas will provide us with a great number of new species for our list, such as dozens of Southern Screamers, Greater Rhea, Wood and Maguari Storks, Bare-faced, White-faced and with luck the uncommon Plumbeous Ibis, White-faced and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, possibly the rare Ringed Teal and the ultra-secretive Pinnated Bittern, the impressive Giant Wood-Rail, Rufous-sided, Red-and-white and Ash-throated Crakes, Spot-flanked Gallinule, the imposing Long-winged Harrier and also passerines such as the amazing Chotoy Spinetail, Wren-like Rushbird, Curve-billed Reedhaunter, the lovely Spectacled Tyrant and White Monjita, the impressive Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, Correndera Pipit and with luck Glaucous-blue Grosbeak.
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.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part II: Day 12 Today we will be visiting the main lagoon in the national park, taking the Talha Mar Trail. Here we can see clearly that this place is mandatory stopover for resting and feeding for a number of migrant species, especially shorebirds. We will find both migrants, mostly from the northern hemisphere, and resident species. Here we may find hundreds of Coscoroba and Black-necked Swans, Chilean Flamingo, Yellow-billed Pintail, Yellow-billed Teal, American Golden Plover, Collared Plover, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Hudsonian Godwit, White-rumped Sandpiper, Large-billed, Yellow-billed and Snowy-crowned Terns, Brown-hooded Gull, Black Skimmer.
We will be also leaving the track in search of some difficult target birds such as the skulking little Bay-capped Wren-Spinetail, Hudson’s Canastero and the fascinating South American Painted-Snipe. We will also take a look at the beaches, which are usually full of birds such as American Oystercatcher, Sanderling and Sandwich, Common and Royal Terns.
Provided there is time we will finish our day covering some reedbeds and Restinga habitat where we can look for Spotted Rail, the brilliant Gilded Hummingbird, Masked Gnatcatcher and the huge Great Horned Owl.
Ultimate Southeast Brazil, Part II: Day 13 After some final birding in the morning at Lagoa do Peixe, we will drive to Porto Alegre airport, where the São Paulo to Rio Grande section of our tour ends this afternoon.