Southeastern Brazil Part II Oct 07—17, 2010
Posted by Kevin Zimmer
Once again, our Southeast Brazil Part II tour served up its share of exciting birding, producing 300 species (85 of them regional and/or Brazilian endemics) in just eight days of birding! That we did so well in the face of a number of unusual challenges was somewhat remarkable. I inherited the tour at the eleventh hour, when Andy Whittaker contracted malaria. To make matters worse, the local guides who normally accompany all groups searching for the Cherry-throated Tanager canceled out on us (and all other groups they were slated to escort this fall) at the last minute due to some unexplained emergency. As if this weren't enough, the weather was pretty unfavorable for most of the week. We didn't experience too much rain except for one day at Linhares when we were pretty much birding under the umbrellas for most of the day. But it was constantly threatening to rain, with colder than normal temperatures and dull, heavily overcast skies that really suppressed bird song and general activity. Many of the more common forest species were completely non-vocal and unresponsive, and when forest birds in this part of the world don't vocalize, they essentially cease to exist in terms of the chances of finding them. In a particularly bizarre twist, the Linhares region was actually in the midst of a prolonged drought when we arrived (more than 100 consecutive days without rain!), and the forest reflected that, with almost no flowering plants (= no Minute Hermits) and substantial dry leaf litter. So, naturally, we were the curative agent for the drought, bringing rains that ate up most of our second day in the reserve.
But, enough about the weather—what about the birds? Well, we missed the Cherry-throated Tanager, although not for lack of effort. I think this dropped our success record to 6 out of 10 trips over the years, although we've missed it now 2 of the last 3 visits. The only other group that I know of that tried this year also missed it, if that's any consolation. Given that there are probably fewer than 15 Cherry-throated Tanagers occupying this rather large tract of forest, it's not surprising that they are missed with some regularity. The forest at Caetés still produced a number of great birds, from colorful Yellow-fronted Woodpeckers, Saffron Toucanets, Channel-billed Toucans, and Hooded Berryeaters, to perched Frilled Coquettes, showy Bare-faced Bellbirds, too-close-to-focus-on Sharp-tailed Streamcreepers, and tail-wagging Oustalet's Tyrannulets. The Shrike-like Cotinga tormented us by singing continuously for three days, seemingly without budging from its inaccessible (to us) perch. Much better behaved was the fabulous male Pin-tailed Manakin that dropped from the sub-canopy to perch just a few feet above the ground, and right in front of us. Caetés also produced a couple of major highlights in the form of some rare and localized primates. First, we were treated to an impressive chorus and brief views from a troop of increasingly rare brown howler monkeys. Then, as we were leaving the reserve, I was able to tape in some distant buffy-headed marmosets that came in close and gave us a great show.
Then, it was on to the bustling little town of Santa Teresa. This was our base for exploring Nova Lombardia (a.k.a. the Augusto Ruschi Reserve), a beautiful remnant tract of foothill forest. Once again, the weather was less than ideal, with intermittent rain showers and/or cold and overcast with the threat of rain virtually throughout our two mornings here. Very few bird species were spontaneously vocal, and some things that we normally see (e.g. Wied's Tyrant-Manakin and many of the antbirds) were seemingly missing in action. However, we picked off a number of good birds, including Spot-billed Toucanet, Yellow-eared Woodpecker, Spot-backed Antshrike, Sharpbill, and Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, and were treated to some mind-blowing mob scenes of mixed-species tanager flocks coming in to mob my Brazilian Pygmy-Owl tape. We had trees full of Gilt-edged and Red-necked Tanagers right in front of us, with an assortment of Flame-crested, Ruby-crowned, Black-goggled, Azure-shouldered, Golden-chevroned, Rufous-headed, and other tanagers liberally sprinkled in.
For sheer spectacle, nothing could top our afternoon visit to a hummingbird feeding station at a nearby private property. In spite of poor weather, the station was probably attended by over 500 individual hummingbirds, among which we identified 15 species! A single bush had multiple Frilled Coquettes and a couple of Amethyst Woodstars perched in it at once, which would be enough to put any birder into sensory overload. The general consensus among the group was that this equaled or exceeded any hummingbird show in the collective group experience, including some of the rightfully famous ones in Ecuador.
Our tour concluded with three days spent in the extensive lowland forests of the Vale Linhares Reserve. Here we enjoyed nice accommodations located inside the reserve, with an impressive array of birds right outside our doors. We were still getting bags into the rooms when a magnificent pair of Blond-crested Woodpeckers put in an appearance directly behind the cabins, and within the hour, we were seeing small groups of endangered Red-browed Parrots commuting to their evening roosts. We were out before dawn the next morning, driving the maze of jeep tracks that crisscross the reserve. Our primary target was the highly endangered Red-billed Curassow, a magnificent creature for whom this forest represents a major stronghold. We struck curassow gold in our first half-hour, with a splendid male stalking the track ahead of us. We stopped our bus and quietly offloaded, and soon had the curassow in the scope for all to see. Over the next couple of days, we were treated to four more curassows, including one along the main entrance road as we were leaving the reserve on the last day.
Other highlights came in rapid succession. A pair of impressive Robust Woodpeckers, a dashing male Black-cheeked Gnateater, a diminutive Brazilian Pygmy-Owl, a confiding Black-headed Berryeater and an equally confiding male Collared Trogon (the latter a rare bird anywhere in the Atlantic Forest region), screeching flocks of White-eared (Maroon-faced) Parakeets, and a Crescent-chested Puffbird that played hard-to-get, but eventually perched in full view. The forest here added a distinct Amazonian element, introducing us to isolated populations of several widespread Amazonian birds, including such things as Orange-winged and Mealy parrots, White-chinned Sapphire, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Swallow-winged Puffbird, Red-stained Woodpecker, Screaming Piha, Bright-rumped Attila, Thrush-like Schiffornis, White-lored Tyrannulet, Gray-crowned Flycatcher, Thrush-like Wren, and Yellow-backed Tanager. Parrots and parakeets teased us with frequent screeching passes, but we eventually secured wonderful scope studies of Red-browed Parrots, Blue-winged Macaws, and most of the others, although the Ochre-marked Parakeets never gave us more than fly-by views. A night drive produced a pair of impressively big Tawny-browed Owls and a more elusive Variable Screech-Owl, and an afternoon drive produced a massive Brazilian tapir trotting down the road behind our bus. Even the last morning was very productive, with four species of becards in one spot, and a low-soaring White-necked Hawk that showed off so well that it was voted Favorite Bird of the Trip.
In spite of some unusually poor weather, a most congenial group of birders saw a bunch of really special birds, and along the way enjoyed numerous wonderful meals, some sinfully good icy caipirinhas, and loads of famously friendly Brazilian hospitality! We look forward to seeing each and every one of you on future trips. After all, that Brazilian visa is good for five years, and there are bunches of more birds to see!
Favorite Birds of the Trip (as voted by the group)
1. White-necked Hawk
2. Red-billed Curassow & Pin-tailed Manakin (tied)
3. Black-cheeked Gnateater & Crescent-chested Puffbird (tied)