FLY RIO DE JANEIRO, EVENING ARRIVAL AT REGUA
Our birdwatching tour to Brazil's Atlantic Rainforest begins with a British Airways afternoon departure from London Heathrow nonstop to Rio de Janeiro, where we arrive later the same evening. Our driver will be waiting to welcome us in Rio and we head directly to the Guapiaçu Bird Lodge, at the REGUA reserve, which will be our base throughout the holiday. The journey is relatively short (approx. 90 minutes driving). Night Guapiaçu Bird Lodge, in the REGUA reserve
Days 2 – 8
THE RESERVA ECOLÓGICA DE GUAPIAÇU (REGUA) & CABO FRIO
We awake this morning to an unfamiliar dawn chorus and fold back the shutters to reveal our first Brazilian birds! The Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (home of the Guapiaçu Bird Lodge) boasts a terrific variety of habitats and species, and our first walk will be a gentle introduction to the local birds. Just by the lodge are a number of hummingbird feeders, and we will see Swallow- tailed, Glittering-bellied, Black Jacobin, Violet-capped Woodnymph and Rufous-breasted Hermit buzzing about. The trees around the lodge hold Brazilian and Burnished-buff Tanagers – amongst many others.
We take a short walk from the lodge down to where Caiman and Capibaras cruise beside a recently created wetland. Least Grebe, White-faced Whistling Duck, Masked Duck, Snail Kite, Aplomado Falcon, Limpkin and a trio of South American kingfishers - Ringed, Amazon and Green - are among many exciting birds to watch for. Capped, Cocoi and Striated Herons stalk the shallows and we may be lucky to spot Rufous-sided Crake or Blackish Rail here - the latter is a notorious tough species to see well!
Strolling gently, we will keep our eyes and ears open for the unusual White Woodpecker and large Orange-winged Parrot as well as Blue-winged Parrotlet, Dark-billed Cuckoo, White-collared Swift, Common Thornbird, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Yellow Tyrannulet, the brilliant Black-capped Donacobius, Yellowish Pipit, White-bellied Seedeater, Chestnut-capped Blackbird and the strutting Tail-banded Hornero. We should also be treated to our first Atlantic Forest endemics, such as the flitting Yellow-lored Tody-flycatcher and loud-voiced Long-billed Wren.
One of the real joys of this single-centre tour based at REGUA is that we are able to keep our programme flexible, to allow for the vagaries of the weather on the high peaks, perhaps. But our stay will always include birding in the nearby forest and wetlands, as well as some excursions further afield by minibus.
We will devote plenty of time to exploring REGUA’s quiet forest trails. We will spend a day walking the Waterfall Trail, passing through lowland rainforest that has grown up over the past sixty years to cover the scars of past clearance. Feeding stations along the trail should produce the lovely Violet-capped Woodnymph and Saw-billed Hermit, while along the forested trail we may encounter the lovely Blue Manakin or perhaps a Rufous-breasted Leaftosser. Stands of bamboo here conceal the skulking Slaty Bristlefront as well as furtive antshrikes and antwrens. The secretive Rufous-capped Motmot watches from steep-sided slopes and, where the path passes through small clearings, we will pause to check for Spot-billed Toucanets and listen to the loud, clanging song of Bare-throated Bellbirds echoing through the distant canopy.
As we continue to explore the Atlantic Forest, gradually, new specialities should begin to appear: Star-throated Antwrens scold from the undergrowth, while the distinctive song of the localised Sooretama Slaty Antshrike will give the bird away as it moves through the vine tangles above us. Feeding flocks might bring the stunning Pin-tailed Manakin, Surucua Trogon, Spot-breasted Antvireo, Streak-capped Antwren, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, and stunning Green-headed, Brassy-breasted and Red-necked Tanagers, which stay high in the canopy. The Elegant Mourner (or Shrike-like Cotinga) is something of a REGUA speciality, and we will make a special effort to find this rare bird as well as seeking Black-cheeked Gnateater, Crescent-chested Puffbird, Scaled Antbird, White-shouldered Fire-eye, Southern Antpipit, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper and Grey-hooded Attila.
We will take a full day excursion up to the Pico da Caledonia, one of the highest peaks in the Serra dos Orgãos Mountains. This rugged area soars above 2,219m (7,278ft) above sea level - on a clear day, the views from the top are truly spectacular. As the road ascends, we will listen for the ethereal whistles of the exquisite Black-and-gold Cotinga, an Atlantic Forest endemic, and pause to scan the canopy for the wonderful Swallow-tailed Cotinga. The montane forest here is also one of only two known sites where the extremely rare and elusive Grey-winged Cotinga may be found - our groups have enjoyed fantastic close views in the past! If we are lucky, we may be treated to the sight of the amazing Green-crowned Plovercrest performing at its lek, and other ‘hummers’ to watch for include White-throated Hummingbird and the beautiful Brazilian Ruby.
With patience and some searching, we may unearth some of the Serra’s more secretive forest dwellers. Mouse-coloured Tapaculo, Large-tailed Antshrike, Rufous-backed Antvireo, Rufous-tailed and Dusky-tailed Antbirds inhabit the densest undergrowth (and are easier to hear than to see), and we may be fortunate to witness a pair of Sharp-tailed Streamcreepers performing their wing-spreading display. Other species to keep us on our toes in the mountains include the wide-mouthed Rufous Gnateater, Highland Elaenia, the localised Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, Blue-billed and Velvety Black-tyrants, Shear-tailed Grey Tyrant, Serra do Mar Tyrant-manakin, the newly split Grey-eyed Greenlet, the brilliant Diademed Tanager, Bay-chested Warbling Finch and butch-looking Thick-billed Saltators.
Another day will find us driving up to REGUA’s mid-elevation forests, along the Casa Anibal trail, home to key specialities such as the fine Saffron Toucanet, the undemonstrative Rufous-tailed Jacamar and the tiny but spectacular Frilled Coquette. Channel-billed Toucan, Bare-throated Bellbird, Long-tailed Tyrant, Black-tailed Tityra, Long-billed Wren, White-necked Thrush, gorgeous Brazilian and Brassy-breasted Tanagers, Crescent-chested Puffbird and Yellow-green Grosbeak await our discovery here, too.
We make an early morning start for Macaé de Cima, an area of montane forest reaching an elevation of around 1400m. We shall pause to investigate several areas at different altitudes, but devote most of our time to a private orchid reserve at the top of the mountain. The forest here offers some of the easiest access to high altitude Atlantic Forest specialities. Most of our birding is possible from the dirt road, and we will make regular stops to check for feeding flocks of tanagers and other species.
Along the way, a number of hummingbird feeders provide excellent photographic opportunities - and first class viewing of such gems as Scale-throated Hermit, Green-crowned Plovercrest, White-throated Hummingbird, Brazilian Ruby and Amethyst Woodstar. Along the trail we may hear and see Black Hawk-eagle and Barred Forest Falcon, perhaps a smart Yellow-browed Woodpecker or the amazing Giant Antshrike. Here, Rufous-backed Antvireos may be found alongside a number of ‘humbug-like’ antbirds such as Bertoni’s, Ochre-rumped and Dusky-tailed. Perhaps we will be lucky to encounter the strutting Rufous-tailed Antthrush, Rufous-capped and Pallid Spinetails, Pale-browed Treehunter, Red-eyed Thornbird or White-browed Foliage-gleaner - even a Cinnamon Tanager or two. Birds can come thick and fast in this rich habitat!
One of the few remaining remnant patches of Atlantic dry forest exists beyond the Serra dos Órgãos. Although degraded, this habitat remains the stronghold of the endangered Three-toed Jacamar, a species at one time considered common but now only found in a very few locations and listed as ‘Vulnerable’ by BirdLife International. We have an excellent chance of seeing this and many other species on a full day trip that will take in a variety of ‘new’ habitats including remnant patches of dry forest, open grassy plains and wetlands.
Most of our birding here is done from roadside stops, and we will look for the superbly named Firewood Gatherer and Streamer-tailed Tyrant, plus various raptors including Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, White-tailed and Bicoloured Hawks, American Kestrel and Bat Falcon. As ever, a suite of parrots should be seen: Blue-winged Macaw, White-eyed Parakeet, Blue-winged Parrotlet and Scaly-headed Parrot are all likely. Yet more ‘new’ hummingbirds might include Sapphire-spangled Emerald and another hermit to watch for - the Planalto. Nonetheless, the key bird today will be the rare Three-toed Jacamar. As we search for it, others will appear and who could resist the opportunity to get to grips with such treats as Red-legged Seriema, Black-necked Aracari, White-eared Puffbird, Serra Antwren, Red-eyed Thornbird and tiny, bright-olive Hangnest Tody-tyrant!
Our itinerary now includes an extra day, enabling us visit to somewhere ‘completely different’... Following an early breakfast, we drive to the coast and lagoon near the town of Cabo Frio. Found only in this corner of Brazil (and severely threatened by clearance for beachfront development), little now remains of the special restinga habitat growing here - and which is home to Restinga Antwren, a localised and ‘Endangered’ subspecies of Serra Antwren. We should be lucky to find this little bird as we explore the coastal sand, scrub and cacti of the unique restinga. Sooretama Slaty Antshrike and Hangnest Tody-tyrant as well as Short-crested Flycatcher, Lemon-chested Greenlet and Blue-black Grassquit occur here, too.
Southern Lapwing may be nesting nearby and on small islands, Royal and Cabot’s/Cayenne Terns allow good comparison. Brown Boobies plunge like Gannets for fish offshore, and Kelp and Grey-hooded Gulls are often present - but a highlight here are the huge and 'Pterodactyl-like' Magnificent Frigatebirds that cruise overhead.
Small roadside pools and saltmarsh can hold good numbers of Black-necked Stilt, White-cheeked Pintail, Little Blue Heron and oddly 'ugly' Roseate Spoonbill - a bird which looks much more beautiful in flight than when studied close up! Guira Cuckoos and Burrowing Owls are present in good numbers, and another star species is the aptly named Long-winged Harrier.
Passage waders can be plentiful at most seasons, with the likes of Hudsonian Godwit, American Oystercatcher, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Grey, Collared and Semipalmated Plovers to watch for.
A week’s stay with Limosa and the friendly staff at REGUA offers an unrivalled opportunity to enjoy a wide cross-section of the birds of Brazil’s unique but severely threatened Atlantic rainforest habitat. By being based at the same lodge throughout will not only ensure our travel time is kept to a minimum, but allow us to devote maximum time to achieving good views of many of the region’s spectacular and special birds. While anyone with the slightest ambition with a camera should find plenty of chances to take some great photos! Seven nights at the Guapiaçu Bird Lodge, in the REGUA reserve
REGUA & RIO, FLY LONDON
Our flight home is scheduled to depart Rio late this evening so we shall be able to enjoy another full morning birding at REGUA today, followed by lunch and a relaxed afternoon taking one last look around the wonderful grounds of the lodge.
Bidding a reluctant farewell to our hosts, we then drive back to Rio in good time to check-in for our overnight flight back to London.
ARRIVAL IN LONDON
Afternoon arrival at London Heathrow, where our birdwatching tour to Brazil concludes.