Southeastern Brazil Part I Oct 01—17, 2007

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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Once again, Southeastern Brazil Part I served up its usual share of exciting birding, producing over 400 species and a whopping 146 regional and/or Brazilian endemics.

We started in Iguaçu, where, besides the spectacle of the world's greatest waterfalls, we were treated to exceptional views of the localized Russet-winged Spadebill, an impressive pair of Robust Woodpeckers, a lethargic Sharpbill, and an unusually cooperative pair of Mottled Owls. In between came close encounters and point-blank views of such avian eye candy as the improbably coiffed Blond-crested Woodpecker, spectacular Red-breasted Toucans, an elegant Black-throated Trogon, and the dressy Plush-crested Jay, not to mention Rusty-breasted Nunlet, Ochre-collared Piculet, Southern Antpipit, and the endearing São Paulo Tyrannulet. For all of that, 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. Over the next two days, the restinga woodlands yielded one highlight after another, including a skulking Yellow-legged Tinamou; a singing Spot-backed Antshrike; a family of Blond-crested Woodpeckers; a glaring Variable Screech-Owl; eye level views of dazzling Black-backed Tanagers; a point-blank Squamate Antbird and an equally cooperative Scaled Antbird; inquisitive Unicolored Antwrens; a stolid pair of Crescent-chested Puffbirds; 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, where the far-reaching calls of Bare-throated Bellbirds and Hooded Berryeaters presaged great looks of males of both species. Intermittent light rain literally dampened bird activity throughout our morning, but it didn't stop us from securing nice looks of a pair of Slaty Bristlefronts, a tape-responsive pair of Rufous-breasted Leaftossers, and a pair of stream-creeping Sharp-tailed Streamcreepers. Our morning birding was followed by a typically sumptuous Brazilian lunch, during which the weather improved slightly.

Our next stop was a visit to an active lek of Plovercrests, these being the black-breasted southern subspecies loddigesii. We enjoyed crippling views of multiple snazzy males on song perches before a look at our watches reminded us it was time to head to the next spot. Here, our quarry was the elusive Canebrake Groundcreeper, the resident individual of which might more aptly be renamed the "Curitiba Neckbreaker"! After some effort, everyone in our group had flight views and a bad case of whiplash, while several lucky individuals at least got their binoculars on the perched bird for a few seconds. We were more than happy to wave the white flag on this one in order to position ourselves for a dusk try at the rare, and seldom-seen, Sickle-winged Nightjar. The nightjars appeared on cue, and delighted us with brief spotlight views of a calling male (showing off its bizarrely shaped wings), and prolonged views of a female that was literally close enough to reach out and touch. The evening was capped by excellent views of a lovely Rusty-barred Owl.

On to São Francisco de Paula, where moss-draped araucaria woodlands and windswept, plateau grasslands treated us to a delightful mix of forest and open country birding. Our morning on the escarpment trails netted numerous prizes, from exceptional views of Mottled Piculet, Green-chinned Euphonia, and Brown-breasted Bamboo-Tyrant, to impressive White-throated Woodcreepers and skulking Gray-bellied Spinetails. But the real stars were a pair of Vinaceous-breasted Parrots that I pulled in with the tape. Upon alighting in a nearby araucaria tree, the pair proceeded to treat us to a captivating repertoire of behaviors, ranging from allopreening to courtship-feeding to copulation, all while filling our scopes!

The grounds of our hotel, and another nearby, yielded a surprising duo of Swallow-tailed Cotingas, a most cooperative Long-tufted Screech-Owl (one of an impressive 7 species of owls seen during the tour), Speckle-breasted Antpitta, Chestnut-backed Tanager on the feeders, and a remarkably well-behaved Mouse-colored Tapaculo. Nearby open country yielded loads of new birds, including such perennial favorites as Plumbeous Rail, Long-tailed Cinclodes, Straight-billed Reedhaunter, Black-and-white Monjita, and Saffron-cowled Blackbird. One of the major trip highlights came when we found a Planalto Tapaculo, a species just described to science in 2005. The bird was quite tape-responsive, and provided everyone in the group with good views. This was the second consecutive year that we have scored this species since its formal description.

Then, it was on to Itatiaia National Park, a perpetual favorite. The park was drier than we had ever seen it (is the weather normal anyplace anymore?), and locals said there had not been a significant rain in over two months. Bird vocalization and flock activity seemed to be way down, and the trickle of birds visiting the hotel feeders was but a pale shadow of the norm. Although the weather clearly impacted us on a few birds, we still managed to see most of the expected species, along with a few bonus birds. The number one highlight for many of us had to be the male Black-and-gold Cotinga in full display, bowing and posturing with wings spread like a canopy, showing off the golden color to maximum advantage. In 17 years of birding the park, I had never witnessed this display behavior—SPECTACULAR!

Other highlights included a sensational pair of White-bearded Antshrikes (14 years in a row for this rare endemic on this trip) and an equally superb pair of Large-tailed Antshrikes on the Agulhas Negras Road. We also enjoyed exceptional studies of both subspecies of Red-eyed Thornbird (soon to be split as separate species), as well as the always-entertaining antics of displaying Streamer-tailed Tyrants in the lowland marshes below the park. The bamboo was seeding in a number of spots, which was responsible for the presence of both Uniform Finch and Temminck's Seedeater. Nice looks at both Rufous-tailed and Cryptic antthrushes, combined with our earlier studies of Short-tailed Antthrush at Iguaçu, once again gave us a hat trick on seeing the always-challenging Chamaeza antthrushes. A major emergence of winged ants presented us with the rare opportunity to watch massive White-collared Swifts feeding below canopy level, whereas the variety of large and colorful moths attracted by lights to the dining room windows provided a veritable smorgasbord for the resident pair of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls. Perched Frilled Coquettes at minimum-focus-range, Rufous-backed Antvireos at eye level, and scope views of Black-capped Piprites were just a few of the many other highlights from Itatiaia.

All too soon, it was time to return to Rio, where some said their good-byes, while others embarked on Part II, Espírito Santo, where a whole new group of Atlantic Forest endemics awaited.

Favorite Birds of the Trip (as voted by the group)

1. Black-and-gold Cotinga and Vinaceous-breasted Parrot (tie)

2. Large-tailed Antshrike

3. White-bearded Antshrike and Blond-crested Woodpecker (tie)