Southeast Brazil, Parts I & II, September 17-October 9, 2005 Sep 17—Oct 01, 2005
Posted by Kevin Zimmer
Once again, Southeast Brazil served up its usual share of exciting birding, producing nearly 500 species and a whopping 151 regional and/or Brazilian endemics.
We started in Iguaçu, where, besides the spectacle of the world?s greatest waterfalls, we were treated to point-blank views of Variable Screech-Owl; Robust and Blond-crested woodpeckers, and Plush-crested Jays; spectacular Toco Toucans; multiple Creamy-bellied Gnatcatchers, including a pair dancing circles around an annoyed looking Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl; and such specialties as Ochre-collared Piculet, Rufous Gnateater, Southern Antpipit, Southern Bristle-Tyrant, São Paulo Tyrannulet, Eastern Slaty-Thrush, and Green-headed Tanager. For all of that, my personal favorite highlight was the Pavonine Cuckoo, rarely seen anywhere in its range, and a first for this particular tour. After hearing it sing in the distance, I tried using tape, seemingly to no avail. Several minutes later it materialized almost on top of us, and proceeded to put on a most amazing show, including dropping to the ground and running around like a ground-cuckoo.
On to São Francisco de Paula, where we were hampered by strong winds the first morning, and a fast-moving fog-bank on the second day that largely obscured the normally breathtaking Itaimbezinho Canyon from view. Despite these frustrations, the weather largely cooperated. A litany of birding highlights would have to begin with the utterly fearless Plumbeous Rail that made a beeline for us, and then stopped to sing within inches of me as I sat playing tape. Other highlights included great studies of perched Vinaceous-breasted Parrot, an 11th-hour pair of Green-chinned Euphonias, the beautiful male Chestnut-headed Tanager that was almost too close to focus on, the spectacular male Large-tailed Antshrike that even allowed scope views, and the most cooperative pair of Long-tufted Screech-Owls (he with yellow eyes, she with brown!). The open-country birds were particularly cooperative this year, with Saffron-cowled Blackbirds, Straight-billed Reedhaunter, and Long-tailed Cinclodes offering some of the best views ever.
The southern part of Rio Grande do Sul treated us to a very different avifauna. The sheer spectacle of seeing many hundreds of Black-necked and Coscoroba swans, thousands of Southern Screamers, and flocks of White-faced and Bare-faced ibis too numerous to count is always awe-inspiring. Among the throngs of waterfowl and three species of coots, we were able to scratch out a single pair of Ringed Teal (surely one of the most elegant members of the family) after our record-breaking 18 in 2004. Shorebirds were almost completely missing in action this year, but we compensated with several lingering austral migrants seldom or never before recorded on this tour, including Bar-winged Cinclodes (at least six of them!), White-bellied Tyrannulet, and White-banded Mockingbird. Common Miners and Freckle-breasted Thornbirds were additional treats not usually encountered on this trip, and a dark-morph Parasitic Jaeger in the sand dunes at Molhas was yet another unexpected tour first. Scarlet-headed Blackbirds, White Monjitas, Giant Wood-Rails, Long-winged Harriers, Spectacled Tyrants, and others also gave us plenty to look at whenever we felt ourselves headed for waterfowl overload.
Then it was on to Itatiaia National Park, a perpetual favorite. Highlights here were almost too numerous to mention, but ranged from a singing male Black-and-gold Cotinga filling the scope, to a stunningly gorgeous male Plovercrest on a song perch, to good looks at such specialties as Black-capped Piprites, Rufous-backed Antvireo, Itatiaia Thistletail, Brown Tanager, and many more. My personal favorite was obtaining crippling views of both subspecies of Red-eyed Thornbird (soon to be split as separate species) in the same marsh in the lowlands below the park. Once again, we scored the magnificent and very rare White-bearded Antshrike (making this 12 straight years for seeing this species on this tour), seeing not one, but two different males. The grounds at our hotel were sensational, with Saffron Toucanets, several species of tanagers and euphonias, Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, and a nonstop swarm of hummingbirds making it difficult to ever leave the deck or the driveway!
Espírito Santo was, as always, excellent. We rebounded from last year?s dip on the Cherry-throated Tanager (the first time in six attempts that we had failed to find this ?mega bird?) to score an amazing nine birds in one day, with stunning scope studies to boot. Given that the entire known population of this species consists of fewer than 20 birds, finding it is never a given, and to have upped our success rate to six out of seven tries is truly remarkable. While searching for the tanager, we encountered lots of other birds, among them some of the most sought-after Atlantic Forest endemics. Topping the list was the elegant and rarely seen Shrike-like Cotinga (or Elegant Mourner), followed by the bizarrely beautiful Swallow-tailed Cotinga, Spotted Bamboowren, a surprising Rusty-breasted Nunlet, displaying male Bare-faced Bellbird, Hooded Berryeater, Pale-browed Treehunter, Tufted Antshrike, and Pin-tailed Manakin. The Santa Teresa area brought us a hummingbird feeder extravaganza, wherein one had to decide whether to ogle the whopping-big Swallow-tailed Hummingbird or the bee-sized, but impressively coiffed Frilled Coquette. An impressive Spot-backed Antshrike; a rare, but cooperative Russet-winged Spadebill; tail-wagging Oustalet?s Tyrannulets; Wied?s Tyrant-Manakin; and Rufous-brown Solitaire were among the many highlights. Then it was on to Linhares, where we concluded our tour with a bang. Linhares and Sooretama Reserves combined to feature exceptional views of the ultra-rare Red-billed Curassow and Plumbeous Antvireos; fine studies of flashy Red-browed Parrots, Ochre-marked Parakeets, and White-eared Parakeets; Minute Hermits on a lek; a Black-headed Berryeater; and a male Scalloped Antbird almost at our feet.
In between, we enjoyed numerous wonderful meals, including a visit to an excellent churrascaria, sinfully good icy caipirinhas, and loads of famously friendly Brazilian hospitality. All in all, a most congenial group of birders saw a bunch of really special birds, and had great fun in the process!