Southeast Brazil Part I and Part II Sep 16—Oct 02, 2006

Posted by Kevin Zimmer

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Kevin Zimmer

Kevin Zimmer has authored three books and numerous papers dealing with field identification and bird-finding in North America. His book, Birding in the American West: A Han...

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This report covers Southeast Brazil Part I, September 16-October 2, and Part II, September 30-October 10.

Once again, Southeast Brazil served up its usual share of exciting birding, producing nearly 500 species and a whopping 164 regional and/or Brazilian endemics.

We started in Iguaçu, where, besides the spectacle of the world's greatest waterfalls, we were treated to prolonged close studies of a magnificent pair of Black-fronted Piping-Guans; spotlight views of a Barred Forest-Falcon; a male Violaceous Quail-Dove strolling down the jeep track, seemingly oblivious to our presence; a pair of foraging Brown Tinamous right next to the road; and numbers of Great Dusky Swifts clinging to the rock walls of the falls, so close that we could see the individual drops of water beading up on their feathers. In between came close encounters and point-blank views of such avian eye-candy as the improbably coiffed Blond-crested Woodpecker, the spectacular Toco Toucan, and the dressy Plush-crested Jay, not to mention Variable Screech-Owl, Rusty-breasted Nunlet, Ochre-collared Piculet, Rufous Gnateater, Southern Antpipit, Southern Bristle-Tyrant, and the endearing São Paulo Tyrannulet. My personal favorite highlight was provided by our stunning encounters with multiple Creamy-bellied Gnatcatchers, including one particularly yellowish male that descended nearly to eye level.

Curitiba was our jumping-off point for exploring the restinga woodlands of Santa Catarina, as well as for the cloud forests of the Serra da Graciosa. We got things off to a nice start on the first afternoon of what was largely a travel day by securing great views of the recently described Marsh Antwren, not to mention incandescent male Brazilian Tanagers in the same marsh, scope views of a male Bare-throated Bellbird, and a pair of Slaty-breasted Wood-Rails parading down the middle of the road. Over the next two days the restinga woodlands yielded one highlight after another, including a magnificent Spot-backed Antshrike at eye level; dazzling Black-backed Tanagers; skulking Squamate Antbirds and White-breasted Tapaculos; inquisitive Unicolored Antwrens; and count-the-feather studies of three localized endemic flycatchers?the Restinga Tyrannulet, Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant, and the very rare and only recently rediscovered Kaempfer's Tody-Tyrant.

The Serra da Graciosa introduced us to an entirely different avifauna, that of the cool, wet slopes of the Serra do Mar. The far-reaching calls of Bare-throated Bellbirds and Hooded Berryeaters were a constant backdrop for a virtual parade of new birds, among them a less-than-cooperative Canebrake Groundcreeper. Our antshrike luck was far better, as we thrilled to crippling views of a male Large-tailed Antshrike, followed by a pair of spectacular Giant Antshrikes, and topped off by a knee-buckling encounter with a pair of White-bearded Antshrikes at the same spot where Andy Whittaker and I had found a male 5-6 years ago (making this 13 years in a row of seeing this rare endemic on this tour). Getting three of the so-called "Big 5" Atlantic Forest antshrikes in a single morning was nothing less than amazing, and was made all the more so by the prolonged, close studies that we enjoyed of each species.

Our morning birding was followed by a typically sumptuous Brazilian lunch, during which a storm front moved in. The resulting rain put a real crimp in our attempts to get better looks at the Canebrake Groundcreeper, but it didn't stop the Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper or the Slaty-breasted Wood-Rails and Blackish Rail from offering killer views. The weather cleared in time for a late afternoon attempt at the notoriously difficult-to-see Wetland Tapaculo, which lived up to its billing by teasing us from very close range, while managing to elude all binoculars except mine. The Sickle-winged Nightjars were more cooperative, and the evening ended with crippling views of a spotlighted Long-tufted Screech-Owl.

On to São Francisco de Paula, where strong winds and much colder than usual temperatures impacted our open-country birding, causing us to miss some birds that we have seldom or never missed before. Despite this, we still managed nice studies of such favorites as the Plumbeous Rail, Long-tailed Cinclodes, Straight-billed Reedhaunter, and Black-and-white Monjita.

One of the major trip highlights came when we found a Planalto Tapaculo, a species just described to science in the past year. The bird was extremely tape responsive, and provided everyone in the group with sensational views. To the best of my knowledge, we were the first organized tour group to have seen this species since its formal description (our 2005 group heard one distantly that we could not lure in).

The magnificent araucaria woodlands of the region produced many additional highlights, including perched Vinaceous-breasted Parrots, eye level views of rare Mottled Piculets and Green-chinned Euphonias, a beautiful male Chestnut-headed Tanager that waited until the eleventh hour to put in an appearance, a rare Blue-bellied Parrot, dazzling Chestnut-backed Tanagers, acrobatic Araucaria Tit-Spinetails, and a most confiding Speckle-breasted Antpitta. Setting the stage for the Planalto Tapaculo (and setting the tone for the trip as a whole, which yielded an impressive list of six tapaculos seen), was the Mouse-colored Tapaculo that performed so well on our hotel grounds.

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 mind-blowing looks at such specialties as Black-capped Piprites, Rufous-backed Antvireo, Itatiaia Thistletail, Brown Tanager, and many more. We enjoyed exceptional studies of both subspecies of Red-eyed Thornbird (soon to be split as separate species) in the same marsh in the lowlands below the park, not to mention the always entertaining antics of displaying Streamer-tailed Tyrants. We were treated to encore performances from the Giant and White-bearded antshrikes, and completed our sweep of the Big 5 with good looks at a male Tufted Antshrike that had to be coaxed into view. One morning provided us with nice looks at both Cryptic and Rufous-tailed antthrushes, and a jaw-dropping performance by a pair of Slaty Bristlefronts that paraded about at our feet. 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! And then there were those spooky Tawny-browed Owls that became amorous while our scopes were trained on them!

Espírito Santo was, as always, excellent. We once again scored great looks at the Cherry-throated Tanager, upping our success record to 7 out of 8 attempts. Given that the entire known population of this species consists of fewer than 20 birds, finding it is never a given, and to have enjoyed this level of success was 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, multiple encounters with the rare White-necked Hawk, a most cooperative Spotted Bamboowren, dapper Pin-tailed Manakins, and a show-stopping Variegated Antpitta.

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 Frilled Coquette. Tail-wagging Oustalet's Tyrannulets, rare Wied's Tyrant-Manakins, and the enigmatic 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 (a singing male!) and Plumbeous Antvireos; and fine studies of flashy Red-browed Parrots, Ocellated Poorwill, Brazilian Pygmy-Owl, Striated Softtail, Black-tailed Leaftosser, Black-headed Berryeater, White-crowned Manakin, and many others.

In between, we enjoyed numerous wonderful meals (including visits to multiple churrascarias), 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!