Atlantic Rainforest Birding Trip: Intervales, Itatiaia & Ubatuba

Atlantic Rainforest: Intervales, Itatiaia NP & Ubatuba

Brazilian Tanager The Atlantic Forest boasts such an unusually rich avifauna that even experienced birdwatchers tend to be confused by the many different sounds coming from the canopy, understorey and forest floor. Rainforest, more so than any other habitat, provides birders with their greatest challenge, but with patience and perseverance it can prove to be the most exciting and rewarding habitat of all, whether we are tracking down the plaintive whistles of tinamous, checking fruiting trees for cotingas, tanagers, parrots and toucans, or listening for the distant churring of an antbird flock following a swarm of army ants.

As the light level increases in the forest the loud, repetitive song of the Grey-hooded Attila can regularly be heard, as can the far-carrying ‘cracked-bell’ notes of the splendid Bare-throated Bellbird. We will be trying to lure the amazing Giant Antshrike and striking Large-tailed Antshrikes into view in the forest edge undergrowth, and we will check out fruiting trees for colourful flocks of Rufous-headed, Ruby-crowned, Black-goggled, Azure-shouldered, Golden-chevroned, Diademed, Brassy-breasted, Gilt-edged and Fawn-breasted Tanagers. The strange stout-billed White-bearded Antshrike, the sole member of its genus, favours dense patches of tall bamboo and can usually be persuaded to show itself, as can the Ferruginous, Rufous-necked, Dusky-tailed and Squamate Antbirds. Nightbirding is exciting here as delicate Long-trained Nightjars show off their very unusual silhouette at dusk as they hawk insects from the tracks, and later the rare Rusty-barred Owl may lure us into the forest with its hoarse grunts.

Festive Coquette Other species we may well see here include Brown Tinamou, Rufous-thighed Hawk, Dusky-legged Guan, Slaty-breasted Wood-Rail, Pale-vented and Plumbeous Pigeons, Grey-fronted Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Maroon-bellied (or Reddish-bellied) Parakeet, Red-capped and Scaly-headed Parrots, Tropical Screech-Owl, Common (or Grey) Potoo, White-collared Swift, Scale-throated Hermit, Violet-capped Woodnymph, Black-throated Mango, Black-throated and Surucua Trogons, the splendid Rufous-capped Motmot, the superb Red-breasted Toucan, Ochre-collared Piculet, Yellow-fronted, White-spotted, Green-barred and Lineated Woodpeckers, Campo Flicker, Plain-winged, Olivaceous, White-throated, Scalloped (split from Scaled) and Lesser Woodcreepers, Black-billed Scythebill, Rufous-capped and Grey-bellied Spinetails, the localized Red-eyed Thornbird, White-browed, Buff-fronted, Black-capped and White-eyed Foliage-gleaners, the retiring Rufous-breasted Leaftosser, the truly amazing Giant Antshrike, Large-tailed and Variable Antshrikes, Plain Antvireo, Such’s Antthrush, Rufous Gnateater, the handsome Hooded Berryeater, the unique Sharpbill, the gorgeous Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Black-crowned Tityra, the adorable Swallow-tailed Manakin, Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakin, Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, Planalto and Yellow Tyrannulets, Yellow-bellied, Olivaceous and Highland Elaenias, Mottle-cheeked and Bay-ringed Tyrannulets, the diminutive Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, Large-headed Flatbill, White-throated Spadebill, Cliff (or Swallow) Flycatcher, Shear-tailed Grey Tyrant, the noisy Three-striped Flycatcher, Greenish Schiffornis, Chestnut-crowned Becard, Yellow-legged Thrush, Golden-crowned Warbler, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager and Black-throated Grosbeak. With a bit of luck we will come across several of the more uncommon birds of the area (or species which are silent and unobtrusive at this season), which include Mantled Hawk, Black-fronted Piping-Guan, Pavonine Cuckoo, Buff-bellied Puffbird, Unicoloured Antwren, Short-tailed Antthrush, the secretive Variegated Antpitta, Eye-ringed and Hangnest Tody-Tyrants, Riverbank (or Neotropical River) Warbler, Olive-green Tanager, Uniform Finch and Buffy-fronted and Temminck’s Seedeaters (the last three are bamboo-dependent species that occur when the local bamboos are in flower).

Large parts of the Serra de Paranapiacaba and of the Serra do Mar in western São Paulo state are still cloaked in pristine Atlantic rainforest and form the Mata Atlantica Biosphere Reserve, which was declared an International Biosphere Reserve in 1991 and a World Heritage Site in 1999. We shall be spending our five days in Intervales State Park, a 121,000-acre (49,000-hectare) state park that is part of a complex of four adjacent reserves that protect a total area of around 460 square miles (1200 square kilometres) at altitudes varying between 60-3600ft (20-1100m).

Itatiaia National Park is a superb park (12,000 ha) 257km east of São Paulo, which protects subtropical and temperate forest, with large stands of giant bamboo, as well as high grasslands on the slopes of some of Brazil's highest mountains. Mount Itatiaia rises to 2,787 m (8,490 ft). This National Park is a must for any birder in search of the Brazil's endemics, its list of over 270 species includes many of them.

Ubatuba lies near remnant lowland Atlantic forest, which supports some very rare and restricted endemic as well.

Atlantic Rainforest: Intervales, Itatiaia NP & Ubatuba, 12 Day / 11 Night Itinerary

Day 01 From the huge metropolis of São Paulo with its 20 million souls, we will drive west into the Serra de Paranapiacaba for a four nights stay. This afternoon we will begin our exploration of the area.

Days 02, 03 and 04Black-and-Gold Cotinga as seen in our tours Parts of Intervales State Park consist of undulating limestone hills where deep caves add to the attraction. Sparkling streams tumble through these virtually untouched forests where patches of excellent bamboo are another major draw for visiting birders. A splendid set of wide and well-laid-out trails allows easy access to the forest, while nearby are lakes, areas of dense and impenetrable secondary growth and even some more open terrain. While the sun is still below the horizon, we will position ourselves at a strategic viewpoint overlooking a forest edge with many exposed canopy snags. Three full days exploring the pristine woods of the Serra de Paranapiacaba and of the Serra do Mar, where our targets include splendid birds such as Black-fronted Piping-Guan, White-bearded Antshrike and Swallow-tailed Cotinga.

Day 05 After breakfast transfer to Itatiaia NP. The road up the mountain passes through a lush bromeliad-laden cloud forest and dark tunnels of giant bamboo, where restless flocks of colorful tanagers forage and secretive antbirds skulk. Our hotel features excellent food and superb birding on its attractive grounds. A variety of trails through some of the most beautiful forest anywhere will allow us to sample the avifauna of different elevational zones. At our arrival birding the lodge surroundings, bird tables and feeders attract hummingbirds and tanagers. Among some usual visitors Black Jacobin, Brazilian Ruby, White-throated Hummingbird, Green-headed Tanager & Olive-green Tanager. After dinner we will look for the Tawny-browed Owl. (L,D)

Days 06, 07 and 08 The beautiful Itatiaia National Park is located between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in the coastal range and protects some of the finest remaining cloudforests on the flanks of some of the country’s highest peaks, which here rise to 9177ft (2797m). Some 130 bird species endemic to southeastern Brazil and immediately adjacent areas have been identified in this superb area, a higher total than anywhere else in the region. During our visit to Itatiaia we shall encounter a succession of different forest types as we reach increasing altitude. At the lowest level is subtropical forest where the rich green tapestry is broken only by an occasional patch of gorgeous blue or red where a tree has come into flower. Higher up there is a transition to lush, bromeliad-laden cloudforest with its attendant mist, and finally, at the highest altitudes, temperate forest where birds hide in the dark tunnels amidst the bamboo. The easiest birding is to be found around our pleasant hotel where several species of iridescent, multi-hued tanagers can be watched squabbling over who should be next to savour the delights of the fruit obligingly left for them on the bird tables. Most of the species will be well known to us by now, but these will be joined by adorable Blue-naped Chlorophonias, Magpie Tanagers and gangs of evil-eyed Saffron Toucanets. Amazingly tame Dusky-legged Guans roam the gardens like farmyard poultry, a pair of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls overlook the grounds from their abandoned woodpecker hole in a nearby dead tree and at dusk Short-tailed Nighthawks sally out over the swimming pool. Several excellent trails penetrate the forest realm and we will concentrate on finding species like Rufous-thighed Kite, Red-capped (or Pileated) Parrot, White-spotted and Robust Woodpeckers, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, Bertoni’s (or Rufous-necked) Antbird, Black-tailed Flycatcher, Large-headed Flatbill and Planalto Tyrannulet. At middle levels, the memorable, eerie, high-pitched song of the stunning Black-and-gold Cotinga echoes through the often misty environment and in the moss-encrusted, gnarled bushes and thickets of gloomy bamboo we shall hope for an encounter with the secretive Large-tailed Antshrike, the handsome Rufous-backed Antvireo and that remarkable ‘egg on legs’, the Speckle-breasted Antpitta. Even greater rewards await us in the high temperate forest and above the treeline in the paramo-like grasslands. The Itatiaia Spinetail (or Itatiaia Thistletail) is restricted to a higher elevation zone than any other Brazilian endemic and can often be found at the edge of marshy clearings. (This species is so different from other furnariids that it is usually placed in its own genus, Oreophylax.) The dazzling Plovercrest is a stunning hummingbird that flits about the fuchsia bushes, while in an isolated copse of monkey-puzzle trees we will look for the pretty Araucaria Tit-Spinetail, Other birds we hope to find here include Sharp-billed Treehunter, Rufous-tailed Antbird, Rufous-tailed (or Brazilian) Antthrush, Brown-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant, Serra do Mar and White-crested Tyrannulets, Olivaceous Elaenia, Golden-winged Cacique, the smart Diademed Tanager, Thick-billed Saltator, Bay-chested and Red-rumped Warbling-Finches, and Hooded Siskin. Plovercrest (B,L,D)

Day 09 The striking Black-hooded Antwren is one of the rarest of the antbirds and is only found in the southwest corner of the state of Rio de Janeiro. It had long been feared extinct, until its dramatic rediscovery in the late 1980s which caused quite a stir amongst Neotropical aficionados. The total population is minute, but luckily it manages to survive in second growth. This morning we will focus on this little jewel, but we will also pay tribute to two other endemics: Orange-eyed Thornbird and Half-collared Sparrow (split from Pectoral). Other good birds in this area include Short-tailed Hawk, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, the attractive Chestnut-backed Antshrike and an isolated race of the Lemon-chested Greenlet. After lunch we will drive to Ubatuba for a three nights stay. Dinner and checklist. (B,L,D)

Days 10 and 11 The imposing verdant hills of the Serra do Mar rise up just behind this gorgeous coast and provide a haven for a rich array of rarely-encountered endemics and other specialities. During our stay we will explore the lush surroundings of the town of Ubatuba and nearby forest, where our main targets include the tiny Buff-throated Purpletuft and the mysterious Slaty Bristlefront. The purpletuft favours exposed snags at the forest edge, usually not far from fruiting trees, but this aberrant cotinga is easily overlooked because of its diminutive size. The enchanting song of the bristlefront is one of the most evocative sounds of the Atlantic Forests. This strange tapaculo is an expert at hiding itself, but with a bit of luck we should be able to admire its lovely frontal tuft and long tail. A patient wait at a productive set of hummingbird feeders should produce the superb Saw-billed Hermit and the exquisite Festive Coquette. In dense clumps of bamboo we shall hope to track down the large and very skulking Tufted Antshrike and the cute, beautifully-patterned Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant. These forests harbour an excellent selection of antbirds and in the dark forest interior we will prowl the undergrowth in search of three more endemic members of this appealing family: Star-throated and Salvadori’s Antwrens and the piebald Scaled Antbird. More diligent examination may add the awkward Russet-winged Spadebill and Bay-ringed and Sao Paulo Tyrannulets to our list. Here too, endemic Long-billed Wrens sing persistently from dense tangles and other species we hope to see include Magnificent Frigatebird, Hook-billed Kite, Black Hawk-Eagle, Laughing Falcon, South American and Royal Terns, White-tipped Dove, Dusky-throated Hermit (the local nominate form of which is sometimes considered a separate species), White-shouldered Fire-eye, Piratic and Swallow Flycatchers, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, White-thighed Swallow and Crested Oropendola. (B,L,D)

Undescribed species of Marsh Antwren seen in our stakeout in the way back to Sao Paulo airportDay 12 Our morning will be spent looking for Uniform Crake, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Spot-backed Antshrike, Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant, Long-billed Wren, White-tailed Trogon, Slaty Bristlefront and Rufous-capped Antthrush. Check out of hotel and lunch on route. In the way back to São Paulo International Airport, we will bird some open coutry areas and marsh where Firewood-gatherer, Long-tailed Reed-Finch, Least & Pied-billed Grebes, Yellow-chinned Spinetail and some crakes could be seen. Special search for the new species of Stymphalornis antwren, close relative of Parana Marsh Antwren from Curitiba. End of the trip. (B,L)

INCLUDED: The tour fee includes all lodging, meals chosen from the regular menu from lunch on Day 01 to lunch on Day 12, all ground transportation, entrance fees, the services of a full time Pantanal Bird Club naturalist guide. Rates are based upon group tariffs.

NOT INCLUDED: Items not included are airfare to and from Brazil and the flights within the country. The tour price does not include any airport taxes (there is an approximately $9 tax at each Brazilian airport and the roughly $36 departure tax), visa fees, optional tips to bus drivers and cooks, laundry and other personal expenses, items not on the menu of included meals, beverages including mineral water, room service, gratuities for beverages, optional gratuities for hotel housekeepers and the customary end-of-the-tour gratuity for the naturalist guide.

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