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Brazil, Southern Atlantic Forest

March 12-27, 2024

Alejandro Pinto, Tanager Photo Tours


Participants: Alejandro Pinto, Alex Mesquita and Scott C.




Brazil is undoubtedly one of world’s top birding destinations with approximately 250 endemics among more than 1800 resident or regularly visiting bird species. One of the country’s richest habitats – in terms of rare and endemic species – is the much-depleted Atlantic Forest which covers a large mountain range along the Atlantic Ocean coast. In 16 days, we covered a small portion of such a big country in order to watch, enjoy and photograph as many bird species as possible, meeting people, having cultural experiences along the way and always maintaining a spirit of fun and enjoyment.


Our first part of the trip took place south of São Paulo and our second part north. Our group visited both the Atlantic Forest along the Serra do Mar and also the cloud forest in the Montiqueira mountains and the valley in between. We ultimately saw 376 bird species – heard only species were not counted – with over a hundred endemics or near endemics -birds shared with a few countries.

 




 Brassy-breasted Tanager



 

Legado das Aguas

Located 3h south from the city of São Paulo, Legado das Aguas represents a significant portion of the remains of the Mata Atlantica Forest in the state of São Paulo. The 31.000 hectares reserve protects water but also the flora and fauna, including several range restricted and endemic bird species.


In the first afternoon we drove to this birding spot from SP airport, and once we got to the gravel road entrance, we slowed down to find one of the superb birds of the area, the rare Giant Snipe, we saw it in flight but also on the ground vocalizing and snapping its bill. After our arrival we spotted also the magnificent Black-banded Owl and during the drive a couple of Crab-eating Fox and Capybara - yes, a forest Capybara!





On our first full day we invested our time driving and making stops on the private gravel roads inside the reserve (20km from the entrance gate to the facilities and another 20km from the facilities to the end of the park) which was very productive in terms of birds, and we managed to see 88 species for the day, a lot of endemics to the Atlantic Forest and many range restricted. Some of the highlights included the Red-necked Tanager, Green-headed Tanager, Spotted-breasted Antvireo, Buff-throated Purpletuft and many others.

 


Green-headed and Red-necked Tanagers, Buff-throated Purrpletuft

 


Our top moment in the Legado das Aguas area was an unexpected bird. We were having breakfast and taking photos in the balcony area of the restaurant when the high pitch song of a Sharpbill singing made us jump from the table! We had incredible views of this bird.



Saffron Toucanet and Sharpbill

 



Intervales


We bird 2 full days at Intervales state park, despite the high temperature we had a very successful mornings and we added several new species for the trip.

 





The first morning we parked the car on one of the roads and walked for about 3 miles, the activity was very good, and we enjoyed mixed flocks loaded with Foliage-Gleaners and Tanagers. The first bird in the morning was the range restricted Slaty Bristlefront, which was singing right next to the road. After that very high-quality birds appeared: Spot-backed Antshrike, which opposite to other Antshrikes tends to forage quite high and the super beautiful White-bearded Antshrike, with contrasting marks on the face. White-collared Foliage-Gleaner, White-browed Foliage-Gleaner were flocking with other species, and a Black-fronted Piping-Guan was eating berries in the forest, Mantled Hawk soaring a couple of times in the blue sky and both Saffron and Spot-billed Toucanets appeared in a distant Cecropia tree. At the end of the morning, we added some skulkers: Spotted Bamboowren, Ferruginous Antbird and Squamate Antbird and we finished with a second Slaty Bristlefront which was posing for photos.

 


Black-capped and White-eyed Foliage-Gleaners and the famous Slaty Bristlefront

 

In the afternoon we visited a wetland area near the entrance gate, and we kept adding species to our list. First the Red and White Crake emerging from sedge, an Orange-breasted Thornbird, the Southern Yellowthroat – recently split from the Masked Yellowthroat – and the Blackish Rail. To finish our day we went into the forest once again and we added three superb birds, the beautiful Spot-winged Wood-Quail, the always hard to see Rufous-capped Antthrush and the impossible Short-tailed Antthrush, 3 skulkers in 20 minutes, such a sight!



 Spot-winged Wood-quail



Our second morning we visited a different road and trail into the protected area, this time we focused our morning on the remaining missing targets for the area. One was really high on the list, the Hooded Berryeater, this bird was singing and very active in the forest and finally we had a good chance to see and enjoy it near the canopy, but we also saw the male and female Swallow-tailed Manakin and a beautiful White-spotted Woodpecker. We saw a White-rumped Hawk hunting into the forest – and found a Spot-winged Wood-Quail partially eaten by the hawk – Surucua Trogon, the nice looking Robust Woodpecker, Star-throated Antwren, Mouse-colored Tapaculo, Rufous Gnateater, Greenish Schiffornis and the endemic Brown Tanager among others.



Swallow-tailed Manakin



That afternoon, we decided to go back to the road in order to add a couple of forest species and we had very good views of the beautiful female Tufted Antshrike, Diademed Tanager and a couple of Araucaria Tit-Spinetail.




White-rumped Hawk, Rufous Gnateater and Black-throated Piping Guan

 


Salesopolis, Sitio Macuquinho.


Located 2h northeast from São Paulo near the town of Salesopolis, its forest is connected with Serra do Mar state park. This small family run “sitio” excelled at hospitality and had plenty of photo opportunities with feeders for Tanagers and Hummingbirds. On our arrival we enjoyed the feeders and late afternoon we visited a forest flooded area in order to watch a Rufous and White Crake who came with a juvenile near the flooded tall grass forest area.



Rufous and White Crake



A short 5 min drive to another wetland area was a priceless endeavor upon seeing the uncommon and endemic Marsh Antwren, which with no doubt was one of the highlights of the day and of the trip.



Marsh Antwren (hard bird to photograph!)

 

Our full day here was very productive, we started with a short walk on a single track into the forest and added high quality birds like the White-shouldered Fire-eye and the incredibly beautiful Blonde-crested Woodpecker. During the forest walk we heard the Giant Antshrike but we couldn’t see it ( an experience repeated often). After a nice breakfast we enjoyed other birds like Orange-eyed Thornbird, Dusky-tailed Antbird and Bertoni’s Antbird.



Brazilian Ruby, Amethyst Woodstar and Channel-billed Toucan



During lunch we ran to the window, in the back of the kitchen, to see a stunning Red-breasted Toucan who was eating some oranges in the backyard of the property and during the afternoon we saw the Ochre-faced Tody-flycatcher and managed to get a couple of shots of the São Paulo (Marsh) Antwren!


 


Red-breasted Toucan


On our second morning we put our luck under test again and went in the early morning to the forest hide to wait for the cryptic Brown Tinamu, which is usually an “only heard” bird. We set down and enjoyed other birds coming to the feeder: White-shouldered Fire-eye, Black-goggled Tanager among others, but after 30 minutes we were giving up and…it appears! Brown Tinamou came walking in very quietly and spent some time right in front of us!


 


Brown Tinamou and White-shouldered Fire-eye



After a delicious breakfast, our luck was put to a test again- was it possible to see and photograph the endemic White-breasted Tapaculo? Our local guide and owner of the place gave us this unexpected and beautiful bird! During the morning walk we heard Large-tailed Antshrike but unfortunately we could not see it, but other birds during the morning were the endemics: Bertoni´s Antbird, Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakin, Spot-backed Antshrike, White-browed Warbler, Brassy-breasted Tanager, Brazilian Tanager among others.


Thanks for the warm hospitality of Nanda and Elvis from Macuquino site.

 


Ubatuba, Ninho da Cambacica.


A heat wave is in the east of Brazil, the temperature in the last day was well over  30 C° (100 F°) and obviously affected birding (and us) and the bird activity after 9am dwindled, early starts were mandatory. Despite this we had incredible views of so many range restricted and endemic birds to the Mata Atlántica and to Brazil. Ninho Cambacica is located halfway between Ubatuba and Paraty in the lowlands of the buffer area of Serra do Mar. The small lodge, whose owners made cooking an art, was set amidst the mountains surrounded by secondary forest but with vistas to the mountains and the primary forest.

 


Serra do Mar


 

On our first birding day in the area we went to a flat open gravel road surrounded by forest and wetlands and had great activity, some of the highlights included three Rufous-sided Crake walking in the tall grass along one of the wetlands, incredible views of the Scaled Antbird singing from bamboo bushes, the striking Orange-eye Thornbird and the endemic Long-billed Wren.



Orange-eyed Thornbird, Rufous-side Crake and Scaled Antbird


Later in the morning we walked on a forest trail inside Ninho da Cambacica and enjoyed the Least Pygmy Owl, the little Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant and the Pin-tailed Manakin, but to this we had two additional great moments - a close view of a Tufted Antshrike and the endemic Black-cheeked Gnateater playing in front of us for our cameras!



Black-cheeked Gnateater


Before our group left the lowlands of the Atlantic,  we made a short stop for one of the most range restricted birds of the trip, endemic to a single area along a river, the Black-hooded Antwren. We got very good views of males and females in the bushy areas and vines during our walk including the Fork-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant, Yellow-eared Woodpecker and Yellow-throated Woodpecker.


 


Pin-tailed Manakin

 


Itatiaia National Park.

Itatiaia, the first national park of Brazil, is set amidst the mountains of Serrani Montiqueria including one of the tallest peaks of Brazil in Aghulas Negras. Finally, rain is here and the lower temperatures in the mountains were more than welcomed!



Itatiaia national park


 

Little by little we started to add more and more new birds to our already big list, during our first morning walk in a single track into the forest, we saw one of the most spectacular antbirds of the trip, the White-bibbed Antbird, male and female were walking on the ground and the male even displayed his bib for us! Star-throated Antwren was also a “star” bird.



Star-throated Antwren and White-bibbed Antbird


 

A couple of Southern Pipits were also very cooperative and not only did they sing for us,  we saw them very well in the forest, including their "bill snap" while foraging. Later in the morning, a couple of Black-billed Scythebills were working into the bamboo areas giving us great views. Our morning thrills continued when we got a mixed flock at an observation area, one of the tanagers we were missing finally appeared- the Gilt-edge Tanager, a strikingly colorful bird and in the flock a couple of extremely close White-barred Piculet (male and female), Rufous-headed Tanager, Sibilant Sirystes among others. In the afternoon we worked out of the park in a secondary bushy area to have great views of the impressive Cinnamon Tanager but also: Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Winged-banded Hornero, White Woodpeckers and others.



Southern Pipit and Gilt-edge Tanager

 



White-barred Piculet


Our second and final morning in the area took place in the famous Aghulas Negras road, this gravel road gains elevation in the mountains and with that, new species of birds. During the morning walk, much in on again off again rain, we encountered mixed flocks, which including some of our most wanted species- Black-capped Piprites and Rufous-backed Becard. Our group also enjoyed other beautiful birds like: Buff-throated and Bay-chested Warbling-Finch, Rufous-tailed Antbird (the last one to clean-up all the Drymophilas), Mouse-Colored Tapaculo, Pallid Spinetail.  We  eventually drove to a higher elevation in order to have a chance for other birds and we were very lucky seeing the endemic Itatiaia Spinetail and the extremely beautiful Green-crowned Plovercrest, also Diademed Tanager, Velvety Black and Blue-billed Black Tyrants and we finally ended with the endemic Serra Do Mar Bristle-Tyrant.



Green-crowned Plovercrest


 

 

Pindamonghangaba and Campos do Jordao area

 

We visited several spots in between these two towns including the local rice plantations, Trabitu Park, Campos do Jordao state park and Itapeva regional reserve. These areas were loaded with good birds and several additions to our checklist. During the first morning and after looking with no success for the Half-collared Sparrow and Crescent-chested Puffbird, we spotted soaring in the sky an uncommon  White-necked Hawk while we were enjoying a mixed flock of birds in a secondary growth area. In this flock we had the colorful Brazilian Tanager, Brassy-breasted Tanager, White-crested Elaenia, Orange-headed Tanager, Variable Oriole, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird and Sapphire-spangled Emerald. In the afternoon we drove to the outskirts of Pindamonhangaba and we finally got the Half-collared Sparrow and the super beautiful Crescent-chested Puffbird.


 


Crescent-chested Puffbird




Streamer-tailed Tyrant



The last full morning above Campos do Jordao started with a nice surprise. Our group was driving to a birding spot when we heard the calls of the Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper near a creek, we stopped the car immediately and jumped out, ran to the creek and spotted not only one, but two in an open branch over the water, such a hard bird posing for us!



Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper

 


We kept driving in order to gain elevation and a forest area. We started to walk into the cloud misted forest and under the drizzle we heard the unmistakable call of a Black and Gold Cotinga, we ran to get closer to the area where it was singing, and we spotted a male and eventually a female! It was a successful morning!


Araucaria forest



Our last afternoon in the field and with the rain still around we only went for two targets and we did it, the Long-tailed Reed-Finch in the top of the mountains and the elusive Vinaceous-breasted Parrot which prefers the forest of Araucaria trees. We spotted about 8 of them in a patch of forest, filled with the beautiful Araucarias, along with several Curl-crested Jays.


Vinaceous-breasted Parrot and Serra do Mar Tyrannulet


Last morning and only with a couple of hours, we went in search of our last birds and we still made additions to the trip! A couple of beautiful and endemics- Grey-backed Tachuri and a Pampas Finch in a grassy area were the final birds.


 


Gray-backed Tachuri



Our final list was 376 species which included over 60 endemics to Brazil and over a hundred endemic to the Atlantic forest – shared mostly with Argentina – our guest Scott, added to his personal list 195 lifers! And a lot of good memories.


We want to thanks to our tour leaders Alex Mesquita and Alejandro Pinto for such a great trip, also to all the local providers in the field. Special thanks for Nanda and Elvis for their hospitality in Sitio Macuquinho and Aline and Marco from Ninho da Cambacica.


                                                Alex, Alejo and Scott



TOP BIRDS.

This is a census between our guest and the tour leaders.

  1. Sharpbill

  2. Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper

  3. Green-crowned Plovercrest

  4. Black-hooded Antwren

  5. Pin-tailed Manakin

  6. White-necked Hawk

  7. Gilt-edged Tanager

  8. Brassy-breasted Tanager

  9. Red-breasted Toucan

  10. Crescent-chested Puffbird

 

Special notes:

  1. We saw all the possible Foliage-gleaners!

  2. We saw 4 different Tapaculos during the trip!

  3. We cleaned up on the Tanagers!

 

Full checklist at:


Request for a Atlantic forest detailed itinerary:



Guide profile:


Alejandro Pinto. Colombian biologist, profesional guide, birdwatcher since 2009, birding guide since 2011. Main interest: bird & wildlife photography. As a biologist his main interest was related to seed dispersal by birds in the Colombian Eastern plains. Eventually he moved south in Colombia to research the change of bird composition in the Orinoco-Amazon transition near the area of Guaviare. Alejandro has been guiding birdwatching tours full time since 2015.


As a biologist and birder he has collaborated in writing academic journals and articles:

• Birds of the Orinoquian region of Colombia: A review of its records.

• Inventory, additions and biogeographical analysis of the birds of San Jose del Guaviare, Colombia.

• A morphological data base for 606 Colombia bird species.


And books and other documents:

• Tesoros Alados

• Aves de Casanare (ft. Murray Cooper)

• Colibries en Colombia (ft. Murray Cooper)

• Aves de la isla Baru – Colombia

• Expedicion Guaviare WWF.



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