Monday, April 11, 2011

Birding in Brazil

Brazilian Tanager
Itatiaia, Ubatuba, Guainumbi
September 2010
 (Bird and wildlife photos by Nancy Bell, text and scenic photos by Chuck Bell)
Burrowing Owl

Monday, Sept 20
We arrived in Rio around 8:30 am and cleared formalities quickly.  Our driver, Eugenio Souza, was waiting for us.  He is a birder and took us immediately to a Burrowing Owl along the airport highway network.  Nancy got some good photos. After stopping again for some Southern Lapwings and Chalked-browed Mockingbirds, we headed down the toll road toward Sao Paulo.  We stopped once for coffee, and then did some more birding as we neared Itatiaia National Park.  Eugenio made the drive lively and interesting. Our accommodation, the Hotel do Ypé, was located about 20 km inside the park.  We arrived around 1 pm and were met by our guide Paulo Boute and the 5 other members of our group, who had all been in the Pantanal with Paulo before arriving here yesterday.  We took our luggage to our chalet and returned for a copious lunch, which Chuck devoured hungrily while Nancy kept popping out on the balcony to photograph hummers coming to the feeders.

Dusky-legged Guan
Since we were pretty tired after our night on the airplane, we stayed at the hotel for the remainder of the afternoon while the group went out with Paulo.  We enjoyed several species of hummers, tanagers, etc. that came to the feeders, and on a walk down the hill we enjoyed a large family of Dusky-legged Guans settling in to some trees for the night next to the hotel.  Nancy had a wonderful time photographing!

Our A-frame chalet was very cozy, with two rooms plus a bath.  The big bedroom had a brick fireplace.  It was quite chilly, and Chuck lit the hardwood fire that the staff had prepared.  It stayed lit while we went to dinner, and we went to sleep with the fire light flickering on the ceiling.  What a delight!

We got 7 new species today including Sick's Swift, Maroon-bellied Parakeet, Slaty-breasted Woodrail and Versicolored Emerald.

Tuesday, Sept 21
We were up at 5 am for a 5:30 breakfast and 6 am departure for an hour's drive to another part of the park.  Once inside the park, we walked up the road with our van following behind.  There were lots of birds about in the first part of the morning, keeping us very busy.  We had seen nearly all of them but it was 5 years ago, and we enjoyed seeing them again, and Nancy had great fun trying to photograph as many as possible.  She was joined in this pursuit by Rick, who clearly enjoyed having another photographer on the trip.  
A highlight was the Plovercrest lek.  You could hear these tiny hummers chirping in the woods but with all the foliage they were surprisingly difficult to find. Once we found one a short ways back into the forest and Nancy eagerly attempted to get closer.  She nearly disappeared into a hole that Paulo had warned us about.  But no harm and a few deserving laughs.  Paulo eventually found a wonderfully visible male and Nancy and Richard were in heaven with their cameras.  We had seen this little hummingbird in 2006 but we had much better looks this time, and Nancy did get very good photos. Our first lifer of the day was a Red-rumped Warbling-finch, which we then saw repeatedly throughout the day.  Kim spotted a White-spotted Woodpecker, which was also new for us.  We stopped at a grove of Araucaria (Monkey Puzzle) trees to look for the Araucaria Tit-spinetail but none responded to Paulo's I-pod playback.  We then drove on up to the pampas, which starts about 9000 feet.  We saw and photographed Great Pampas-finch, Rufous-winged Antshrike and Itatiaia Thistletail, all of which we had seen on a previous trip to Brazil.  We ate our packed lunch by the stone ranger station and walked back down the road, enjoying the unique plants of this tropical alpine environment.  Farther down the mountain we found the spinetail at another Araucaria grove, a new bird for us.  We also had views of the skulking but very vocal Mouse-colored Tapaculo. We stopped at a stand where a woman was selling goodies made from Araucaria nuts and other local products.  Once back at our hotel we showered, looked unsuccessfully for an owl, did the checklist, and ate a buffet dinner.  We saw 74 species today, but only 3 of them were new, for a trip total of 107 birds, 10 new.
Birding the alpine
Saffron Toucanet
 Wednesday, Sept 22
We got up at 5:15 am, packed our bags and set them outside our chalet before climbing up the hill to breakfast.  After eating, we watched the feeders on the balcony while enjoying more of the strong Brazilian coffee.  Then Paulo led us up to the pool area and played the call of the Saffron Toucanet.  Almost immediately, four birds came in, much to Nancy's delight as she had missed this bird when Chuck saw it on our last trip to this area.  The toucanets moved down to the feeders and so did we.  We were only a few feet away from them, allowing for some great photos.  Nancy continued to follow the toucanets as they flew to some nearby trees.  She took tons of photos but the sun was in her face making the birds more of a silhouette and the yellow not very apparent.  We then birded our way down the mountain, stopping at a wonderful hotel perched on the edge of a fast-flowing rocky mountain stream. We saw two brilliant red male Brazilian Tanagers, and Chuck got a quick look at a flying Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper. Nancy got some photographs of the Gilt-edged Tanager, another one of those brilliant colored South American tanagers. At one of the stops, we saw a Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, a lifer for us both.  
Yellow-fronted Woodpecker
Eventually, we got on to the main toll road heading for Sao Paulo.  We turned off the main highway about 11:30 am and headed down toward the coast and Ubatuba.  We stopped at a huge roadhouse restaurant which served traditional food which was self-serve from platters and bowls on a wood fired stove.  A cashier weighs your plate to calculate your bill.  We had various cuts of meat, cassava fries, and of course rice and beans.

After lunch, we stopped at a farm whose family Paulo had befriended to look for the Firewood Gatherer. We saw the nest but no bird.  We did see some other good birds, including the elusive Yellow-browed Tyrant.  But none of them were new for us.  The farmer cut some Loquats, which were fun to taste and quite refreshing in the heat of the day.  We stopped briefly to look at the view from a lookout at the top of the range.  The sea was visible through the humid air.  The road then made an amazing descent of more than 2000 feet in a harrowing series of hairpin turns and switchbacks straight down the face of the mountain to sea level.  We drove quite a ways over a hill range and through a park.  When we came out at the coast, we stopped at Restaurante Tropical, famous for its bird feeders.

We saw more Bananaquits here than we've probably seen total in all of our tropical birding. They were just humming like bees around the sugar feeders.  We got two lifers, the Red-necked Tanager and the Sombre Hummingbird, which was present in significant numbers.  
Bananaquits at feeder
Nancy had great fun photographing them all, although the feeders were in deep shade and proper exposures were difficult. The coast of Ubatuba district is gorgeous with many small bays, each with its white sandy beach.  The bays are inlets off of a protected bigger bay.  There are many fine houses along these bays as well as small towns.  We stopped at Praia Grande, which is open to the sea.  Rollers were coming in, and people were body surfing.  A Kelp Gull was flying around.  We arrived at the Ubatuba Palace Hotel a little after 5 pm.  It is a very large establishment of a high standard.  Our room was good and the dining room was very good.  We did our bird list in a function room featuring a lovely exhibit of bird photos.  Before dinner, we walked to a nearby supermarket to buy drinks.  We turned in a little after 9 pm.  We picked up only 3 new species today, giving us a total of 140 species, 14 of them new.

Saw-billed Hermit
Thursday, Sept 23
We got up at 4:50 am for breakfast and a 6 am departure.  The sky was fully overcast, so it was relatively cool.  We drove out to the home of a very pleasant man, Jonas, who lives in a forest and has set his place up as a bird sanctuary with lots of hummer feeders and a few fruit feeders.  The key bird for us was Festive Coquet, a tiny little hummer which was abundant here.  We sat on the veranda and enjoyed the many hummers of about 8 species, while Nancy and Rick had fun photographing.

We then took a walk down a forest track.  This path was quite productive, yielding 4 more lifers - a scope view of a calling Bare-throated Bellbird, a very good look at a Slaty Bristlefront, the Ferruginous Antbird, and Fork-tailed Tody- (or Pygmy) Tyrant.  The Scaled Antbird showed itself very well, and a rare Sharpbill appeared high in a tree.  We stopped at another farm, and Paulo passed out more soap and a big bag of toilet paper rolls, as is his habit as a way to help out very poor folks who also allow birding on their land.  We had another glimpse of a Sharpbill but saw nothing else special.  We had lunch at a restaurant along the pedestrian walk and park that runs along the seafront.  Then we returned to the hotel for an hour's down time since we planned to stay out after dark to look for owls.

Swallow-tailed Hummingbird
We returned to the area where Jonas lives and started walking down the forest track.  Paulo used playback to try to attract target birds.  We picked our way into the forest, where he called in a Rufous-capped Antthrush.  Chuck was at the far right end of the line and the bird moved left.  Three in the group chased it, driving it away before Chuck could see it.  We walked on to Jonas' house.  After a short while watching the bird spectacle, the group went back into the forest, while Nancy stayed back to photograph hummers. It was again a very cloudy day and dark arrived quickly.  Nancy experimented with her flash some more and ended up with some artistic photos of just the glittering parts of the hummingbirds in a black background.  Chuck and the rest of the group enjoyed scope views of a gleaming white male Bare-throated Bellbird, and with persistence, Paulo managed to call in a Rufous-capped Motmot.  A Brown Tinamou responded to playback but obviously saw us and fled before we could see it.  At dark, we tried for owls around Jonas' house.  We walked down the road a bit and heard a screech owl but it wouldn't budge from its distant tree.  We gave up on owling and returned to Ubatuba and our hotel for showers, checklist, dinner and bed.  Today we saw 5 new birds for a total of 173 species, 19 of them new.

Green-headed Tanager
Friday, Sept 24
We departed at 6:15 am.  The day was overcast again, and the birding turned out to be very slow and difficult throughout the day.  We went to a couple of private farm/reserves.  We worked very hard for the Bamboowren and finally everyone got reasonable looks.  We walked down a track to a stream and picked up the Neotropical River Warbler, another new bird for us.  In the afternoon, we managed good scope views of the tiny Buff-throated Purpletuft high in a tree, followed by the Blond-crested Woodpecker, which we had previously seen.  It started to rain, and we abandoned our quest for a puffbird and returned to Jonas' where we could bird from the covered veranda.    We got three new species today, plus the resident Chivi Vireo, which may well be split from the migrant Red-eyed Vireo.  We have now seen 187 species, 22 of them new.

Red-breasted Toucan
Saturday, Sept 25
We packed our bags and were down for breakfast by 5:30 am.  We left the hotel about 6:30 am and wound our way up the mountain from the coast to Guainumbi, a reserve in the Serra do Mar.  On the 7 km dirt road in from the highway, we stopped for some birding.  We had a flyby of Red-capped Parrots, a lifer for us.  
We were enchanted by the Guainumbi lodge the moment we arrived.  It is a vine-covered stucco place with a red tile roof and surrounded by flowering plants and bird feeders.  The hummingbirds, tanagers, etc. were all around.  We took a walk on the grounds and saw a pair of White-eared Puffbirds and an amusing Whistling Heron high up in a pine tree.  The group stayed for about an hour and then headed off to Sao Paulo.  We were sorry to see them go.  They were so much fun.  Nancy spent hours photographing, and Chuck really enjoyed just sitting on the veranda watching birds at the huge banana feeder and sipping coffee laced with cocoa powder.  One of the feeder birds was new, the Golden-winged Cacique.  The crew at the lodge prepared a very delicious steak and fries lunch complete with salad just picked from the garden.  This was followed by lemon chiffon custard.  We had coffee back out on the veranda and settled in for a very lazy afternoon of watching and photographing birds at the feeders, reading a little and taking a half-hour walk on the trails.  The day continued very gray and misty but it didn't really rain.  Nancy photographed using her tripod and sitting on a little stool out in the yard.  With the two new species today, we now have 24 new ones for the trip and a total of 197.
Golden-winged Cacique
Sunday, Sept 26
Chuck woke up a little past 5 am and started the water for coffee, which was finally ready a half hour later.  We told our hostess, a young woman who lived in a nearby house, not to bother to come up until 7am.  With no common language we managed to convey to her we would make our own morning coffee if she would show us the pots, filter, coffee, etc.   We enjoyed coffee in bed, looking out the window, then got dressed and went out on the veranda.  It was still very foggy and misty.  The dampness penetrated everything.  Chuck was first out and was greeted by a pair of White-eared Puffbirds dueting up in a bare tree. He called Nancy but by the time she came out they had finished singing and did not resume.  Leila made chebes for breakfast - delicious!  We took a walk around the little lake and picked up one new bird, the Rufous Gnateater.  By the time we were half way around the lake, it had started to rain so we returned to the lodge, where we talked to one of two Brazilian guys who had arrived to watch birds.  He had studied aeronautical engineering at Purdue and spoke excellent English.  
Brown Tinamou
Paulo arrived around noon, explaining that with the rain, which was also falling in Sao Paulo, he saw no chance of really birding.  We had a big lunch and afterward set off in the rain with Josao, the preserve manager, to a hide in the hopes of seeing a Brown Tinamou.  We weren't in the hide 10 minutes when a Brown Tinamou appeared to feed on the corn scattered on the ground below us.  Then another joined it.  Nancy took lots of photos.  Paulo came an hour later and we hiked up a steep trail but nothing was moving in the steady rain.  So we returned to the lodge and watched a PBS documentary video on hummingbirds.  Dinner was a relatively simple affair.  We then sat in front of the wood stove fire and read before turning in.  We now have 203 species, 26 of them new.

Monday, Sept 27
Chuck got up early and made coffee again, giving us a nice start to the day.  The sky was much clearer, promising better weather.  Leila made chebes again for breakfast.  Then we headed out for lower altitudes, stopping in Serra do Mar National Park to call in a Long-tailed Antthrush.  We went back down that incredible road that drops at least 2000 feet to sea level.  We birded some back roads at the base of the mountain range, spotting a lifer White-necked Hawk, then 4 Mantled Hawks and a Black Hawk-eagle.  We tried hard for Buff-bellied Puffbird checking every Secropia tree on a 6 km road but to no avail.  We then went into Ubatuba to the Palace Hotel to use their Wi-Fi.  We went back to another rural road still looking for puffbird and other species we needed but found no new birds.  
Brazilian Ruby
We did get a life mammal though, Nancy found a troupe of Tufted-eared Marmoset with its little wrinkled face like a very old man.  They looked like trolls with all black bodies and funny white faces.  We were thrilled and Nancy managed to get some photos as they peered at us from the bamboo.   Then it was back up the hill to Guainumbi for a late and copious lunch.  We took a walk in the forest at 3 pm but it was very quiet.  We saw only an Olivaceous Woodcreeper and heard a few others before we got absolutely drenched in a heavy rain shower.  We returned to the lodge to dry out.  Nancy tried to photograph hummingbirds coming to the feeders along the edge of the veranda that are protected from the rains.  The light levels were very low and it was very difficult to get good photos of these moving targets!  We did our bird list, watched a film on Cristolino Jungle Lodge, (a place we have visited in the Amazon), had a bland soup for dinner, read and turned in.  Our total stands at 206 species, 27 of them new.

Tuesday, Sept 28
Chuck once again made coffee early in the morning and this time he found big cups.  We had breakfast before 7 am and had the car loaded and were rolling out the driveway by 7:20 am after saying our goodbyes to Joseao and Leila. 

Crescent-chested Puffbird
Instead of heading back toward the main road, we turned right and took the farm road its full length, stopping many times along the way to bird.  We saw the Serra do Mar Tyrant-manakin, had good views of many others, and Nancy got some good photos.  The road itself was lovely, winding its way up and down the slopes of the Serra do Mar, passing alternately through small farms with cleared hillsides and forest.  We tried for Rufous-sided Crake and got a response to playback but the bird refused to come in to the sound.  Shortly after we regained the main road, we stopped at the farm we had visited a few days previously in an unsuccessful search for the Firewood Gatherer.  This time two birds responded to playback, giving Nancy a good photo-op, although they were still high up in the tree against a gray sky.  
Buffy-tufted Marmoset
We drove on to Taubaté and beyond, turning down a road between rice paddies for the White-browed Blackbird.  One popped up and obligingly perched above us on a wire, showing off its brilliant breast.  We then studied some swifts, drove up another mountain to look for more, but had no better views.  After lunch, it was off on the long and truck-filled toll road to Sao Paulo.  We went directly to a couple of lakes with run-down infrastructure smack in the middle of a busy industrial area.  We drove to a grove of trees at the very back of the parking lot, got out of the car and Nancy almost immediately spotted our target, a Crescent-chested Puffbird.  She was able to get some good photos.  We then moved on to find our second target, Buffy tufted-eared Marmosets with white tufts and much cuter faces than the kind we saw yesterday.  It took some hunting to find them, but we did, and Paulo coaxed them in with some bananas he had picked up at a shop.  They were adorable and so small that they would fit in the palm of your hand.  Too bad Chuck left his camera in the car.  We then went to Paulo's brother's house to shower and change, which was very helpful to us after a full day of birding and a 10 hour flight coming up.  We left Sao Paulo in the evening for our overnight flight back to the U.S.

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