Brazil, Atlantic Forest: Sep 2013

Male VIOLACEOUS EUPHONIA Euphonia violacea. A common but colourful resident of our lodge in the Atlantic Rainforest.

We arrived in Brazil to find that spring was well under way and birds were singing all around us. The daily early morning routine of breakfast at 6am was enlivened by a duetting pair of Slaty-breasted Wood-rails, often creeping along the low wall bordering the garden then standing upright with necks extended and screaming the place down!

Our first full day in the field took us along the aptly named Jacamar Trail. We enjoyed a remarkable selection of birds and some of the more memorable sightings of our 100+ species day-total included the Gilt-edged Tanager which showed down to 4 feet; the Black Hawk-eagle which soared overhead, the displaying pair of Streamer-tailed Tyrants, the velvet-like Curl-crested Jays, dapper Magpie Tanagers and the amazing trio of Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Crescent-chested Puffbird and of course the Three-toed Jacamar in the same 20 metres of tangle.

 The undoubted quality of the species we encountered in the SE Atlantic Rainforest was matched by our brilliant half-day at REGUA wetlands. On our arrival at REGUA we simply didn’t know which direction to look in as on the first small island a very impressive Broad-snouted Caiman was basking in the sun, several Wattled Jacanas were joined by American Purple and Common Gallinules on the lake margin, Boat-billed Flycatchers, White-faced Whistling Ducks, Brazilian Teal and a superb Ringed Kingfisher flew past as dozens of huge Capybara basked in the morning sun. A few yards further along the track a superb male Hooded Tanager showed well at close range and 4 of the ungainly Greater Ani clambered about in the trees. 

 Forest birding at REGUA was equally exciting with the endemic Silvery-flanked Antwren giving very close views with a sparkling Rufous-tailed Jacamar a little further along. At one point we bumped into a feeding flock which contained 3 dapper Brazilian Tanagers, Yellow-backed and Flame-crested Tanager, 2 diminutive White-barred Piculet, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher and a nice male Blue Dacnis. The butterflies here were wonderful, but they took their time in sitting still enough for our cameras as the temperatures climbed.

Other highly sought-after species recorded and (mostly) photographed on our tour were Grayish Mourner, Greenish Schiffornis, Sharp-billed Treehunter, Giant Antshrike, Surucua and Black-throated Trogon, Pin-tailed Manakin, Streamer-tailed Tyrant and the fabulous Plovercrest, which we enjoyed at a lek, the bright purple males whizzing around as they displayed their elegant crest and irridescent plumage. Whilst watching this marvellous spectacle the background soundtrack was provided by the constant clanging of a Bare-throated Bellbird across the valley and the mellow 'Oc oc-oc Oh' of the superb Hooded Berryeater. As if this was not entertaining enough, a beautiful White-throated Hummingbird showed down to a few feet feeding on small white flowers as we came to leave the valley.

One of the star attractions at Serra dos Tucanos are the birds which can be seen in the vicinity of the lodge feeders, all making for superb photographic opportunities. Some are bolder than others but regular bird table stars includes the dazzling and delightful Green-headed Tanager, the brilliant scarlet and black Brazilian Tanager and the wonderfully named Blue-naped Chlorophonia replete with a plumage mix of blues and greens, often accompanied by Violaceous and Orange-bellied Euphonias. Regular, but in smaller numbers were Chestnut-bellied Euphonia, Burnished-buff, Sayaca, Golden-chevroned and Azure-shouldered Tanagers. The nearby trails gave us opportunity to photograph the electric blue Swallow-tailed (or Blue) Manakin and also its spectacular cousin, the Pin-tailed Manakin. These were joined by Black-cheeked Gnateater and a very elusive Rufous-capped Antthrush which eventually walked right past the group!

One of the most rewarding days was the steep climb up into the Picos de Caledonia. Known as the ‘high altitude’ excursion, today was all about the birds we were only going to see at the elevation around 1800m above sea level. We started with a bang as when we arrived an immaculate Black and Gold Cotinga sang from the treetops nearby - I say sang; it’s actually more of a high pitched and very pure whistle, nonetheless a superb bird to see and one of a group of range restricted endemics we hoped to encounter today. The next of which, Gray-winged Cotinga toyed with us for over a hour with each of us getting a glimpse or a flight view but the bird stubbornly refused to give itself up for us to admire. 

Far more obliging were the bright blue Diademed Tanagers, the normally skulking but today very obliging Giant Antshrike and the almost mechanical rhythmic ticking of the Mouse-colored or ‘Serra do Mar’ Tapaculo - itself normally very difficult to see but today, a piece of cake. Ah, talking of difficult to see, how about Brazilian Antthrush? 

Well, with patience we tracked a singing male down to the bottom of a steep vegetated slope and eventually, if you stood very still, you could see him standing, neck craned towards the sky like a bittern, delivering his weird, mournful and stragely echoing trill - what a cracker!

Moving down a few hundred metres to the private reserve at Sao Bernard we were treated to wonderful views of Red-legged Seriema strutting along the field whilst nearby the huge Large-tailed Antshrike skulked in a bush barely big enough to hide a sparrow. The highlight here was the elegant and superbly plumaged Swallow-tailed Cotinga, a pair of which shared a pine tree with both Campo Flicker and Hooded Siskin before flying off after less than a minute. Oh no, that was so brief a view for such a beautiful bird, or so I thought; well I need not have worried as the pair of forked-tailed beauties returned and gave great views. No wonder that they were unanimously voted the bird of the trip!

This trip wasn't just about birds though. We got great views and photographs of mammals including Guianan Squirrel and Capybara, whilst the amphibians and reptiles were well represented with huge 8 inch long Cane Toads, a 4 foot Tegu Lizard and perhaps most spectacular of all a Broad-snouted Caiman; a small (!) species of crocodile - well, it was only 8 feet long! Insects provided much interest with many species of butterfly, lots of crickets, mantids, katydids and beetles as well as the fearsome looking Tarantula Hawk Wasp; a 4 inch long glossy black parasitic wasp which we watched dragging a huge spider towards its burrow - dramatic stuff!

Well, eventually we had to think about heading home. In 6 full days in the field we’d seen just under 250 species of which 73 were endemic to the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest. Although there’s no field guide at the moment, we noted around 70 different types of butterfly and numerous mantids, katydids, beetles, bugs and spiders. Mammals were thin on the ground with only half a dozen species noted including the huge Capybara. The lodge did however entertain us in the amphibian and reptile department with nightly encounters with hugely entertaining Cane Toads jumping around the lounge - not something you see every day at home!

Here’s to next year where we hope to encounter even more spectacular birds, entertaining invertebrates and endearing amphibians, all in the surroundings of a wonderful place to stay, great food and great company. What more could you ask for?

Stuart Elsom. September 2013

Sample from Brazil, Atlantic Forest: Sep 2013