Brazil: Atlantic Forest Highlights

The Atlantic Forest region of Southeast Brazil is jam packed full of amazingly colorful and confiding endemic birds species. This short tour can be either an easy add-on to our Pantanal-Amazon trip, or a superb week-long getaway for people who can only travel for short periods of time. The tour concentrates on two distinct regions: the picturesque lowland rainforests around Ubatuba, which arguable has the easiest and finest lowland birding in all of Southeast Brazil along with some of the best hummer feeders known to man. We’ll then move into the mountains where a totally different set of birds await. We’ll stay in a hotel within Itatiaia National Park with feeders and great birding on the grounds, and use it as a base to explore both the lower and upper elevations of this vast park. Visits to several wetlands and savanna areas will add to an impressive list of birds possible on this short tour.


Day 1: Arrival in São Paulo-Guarulhos. Flights arrive today in Guarulhos, a satellite city of São Paulo. We’ll have one night in a good hotel that provides a free airport shuttle. No birding is planned for today, but the hotel is located near ponds and woodland if you want to wander around on your own. This day is also the departure day for the Pantanal-Amazon tour, so it is easy to combine the trips. If you do so, Tropical Birding will include the flight from Cuiabá to Guarulhos as an incentive.

Green-headed Tanager - a common but gorgeous Atlantic Forest bird.
Green-headed Tanager - a common but gorgeous Atlantic Forest bird. (Nick Athanas)

Day 2: Guarulhos to Ubatuba. After breakfast, we’ll head west, first stopping at a small marsh that often holds White-faced Whistling-Duck, Brazilian Teal, Chestnut-capped Blackbird, Yellow-chinned Spinetail among others species. Nearby, we’ll target the very local Parana Antwren (The São Paulo race is often considered a separate species), with good chances to find Orange-breasted Thornbird in the same spots. We’ll then drive over the coastal range and down towards the sea, enjoying spectacular views along the way if we are lucky enough to have clear weather. We’ll stop in at the amazing feeders at Folha Seca. Swarms of hummers are always present with the gaudy Festive Coquette often being the favorite. Others that visit include Saw-billed Hermit, Violet-capped Woodnymph, Brazilian Ruby, Sombre Hummingbird, Versicolored Emerald, and White-chinned Sapphire. The fruit feeders are less predictable, as sometimes they are very busy and other times rather quiet, but we should see at least a few neat such as Green-headed, Ruby-crowned, Brazilian, and Azure-shouldered Tanagers, and Violaceous Euphonia. We’ll then head to a suburb of the beach town of Ubatuba, where we spend three nights in a charming hotel.

Several male Festive Coquettes usually hang out near the feeders at Folha Seca
Several male Festive Coquettes usually hang out near the feeders at Folha Seca (Nick Athanas)

Days 3-4: Ubatuba area. Forested-covered mountains that come down to the sea make this part of the Atlantic coast truly beautiful. Various private reserves and quiet side roads at the base of the mountains offer easy birding with some of the best species the Atlantic Forest has to offer. Numerous antbirds are possible, many of which are truly handsome and often surprisingly easy to see compared in other parts of the Neotropics – a few in particular that we will be looking for are Scaled and Ferruginous Antbirds, Spot-breasted Antvireo, Tufted and Spot-backed Antshrike, and Star-throated Antwren. Two of the strangest (and coolest!) tapaculos in the world also inhabit the forest here, the strikingly-patterned Spotted Bamboowren and the perky Slaty Bristlefront with its unforgettable song. This is the best place in the world to see the diminutive Buff-throated Purpletuft, an endangered species, and we stand a great chance of finding Black-cheeked Gnateater, one of the most distinctive members of this small family. Other possibilities here include Robust, Yellow-fronted, and Yellow-throated Woodpeckers, Swallow-tailed, White-bearded, and Pin-tailed Manakins, Bare-throated Bellbird, White-necked Hawk, Maroon-bellied and Plain Parakeets, Black-capped , White-eyed, and Ochre-breasted Foliage-gleaners, Crescent-chested and Buff-bellied Puffbirds, and Red-necked Tanager.

Red-necked Tanagers can usually be found around Ubatuba
Red-necked Tanagers can usually be found around Ubatuba (Nick Athanas)

Black-cheeked Gnateaters lurk in the understory of lowland rainforest
Black-cheeked Gnateaters lurk in the understory of lowland rainforest (Nick Athanas)

Day 5: Ubatuba to Itatiaia National Park. We’ll leave early and drive a couple of hours east along the scenic coastline. We’ll spend the morning birding a dirt road north of the town of Parque Mombucaba (formerly known as Pereque). There are a number of species not found in the Ubatuba area, most notable the handsome Black-hooded Antwren, an incredibly localized endemic. Other possibilities here include Yellow-eared Woodpecker, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Orange-eyed Thornbird, Spot-billed Toucanet, Channel-billed Toucan, and Riverbank Warbler. In the afternoon, we’ll drive several hours north to the Serra da Mantiqueira, one of the highest mountain ranges in Brazil. We stay three nights in a hotel inside Itatiaia National Park, the oldest national park in Brazil. The hotel is surrounded by forest and a great place for some easy afternoon birding, where we hope to find Frilled Coquettes feeding on flowers in the garden. Nectar feeders should attract a few different hummers such as Scale-throated Hermit and White-throated Hummingbird, and the fruit feeders often bring in Olive-green Tanager, Chestnut-bellied Euphonia along with many common species, but the “holy grail” is the unique Saffron Toucanet, which the locals appropriately call the “banana aracari” – we hope for at least one sighting during our stay. Dusky-legged Guans have lost almost all fear of people and strut and flap everywhere around.

Black-hooded Antwren is our prime target at Parque Mombucaba
Black-hooded Antwren is our prime target at Parque Mombucaba (Nick Athanas)

Day 6: Itatiaia National Park. After breakfast, we’ll enjoy the activity around the hotel for a while, where we may find Slaty-breasted Wood-Rails in the garden or see Blue-winged Macaws depart their roosting holes. We’ll then spend the rest of the day birding roads and trails not far from our hotel. New antbirds await including truly pretty ones like Bertoni’s, Ochre-rumped, and White-bibbed Antbirds, and we’ll be on the lookout for the scarce White-bearded and Giant Antshrikes. Bamboo patches hold Black-billed Scythebill, White-collared Foliage-gleaner, Rufous-capped Spinetail, Fork-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant, and others, and we’ll try our luck with some tough birds like Such’s and Rufous-tailed Antthrushes. The elegant Swallow-tailed Cotinga is unpredictable this time of year, but with luck we may encounter one. Tawny-browed Owl often lurks in the forest near the hotel in the night, and it’s not unusual to be woken up by its otherworldy calls.

Frilled Coquette sometimes feeds in the flower gardens at our hotel in Itatiaia
Frilled Coquette sometimes feeds in the flower gardens at our hotel in Itatiaia (Nick Athanas)

Day 7: Algulhas Negras road. After an early breakfast, we’ll drive about 1.5 hours to a rough road that accesses the higher parts of the mountains. The stunted forest and scrub here hosts a very different set of birds, and the eerie calls of Black-and-gold Cotingas ring out through the mist. Hearing them is easy! Seeing them often takes a lot of persistence and patience, but we usually find one in the end. We’ll target several species along the lower parts of the road like Rufous-tailed Antbird, Large-tailed Antshrike (two more amazing antbirds!), Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, and Black-capped Piprites. Forest patches can be quiet until a mixed species flock comes whirling through, and then we can be inundated with birds like Diademed and Brassy-breasted Tanagers, Buff-throated and Bay-chested Warbling-Finches, Pallid Spinetail, Rufous-backed Antvireo, Sharp-billed Treehunter, and White-browed Woodpecker. We’ll check a regular lekking site for Green-crowned Plovercrest, where several males of this superb-looking hummingbird usually perch and chirp incessantly. Farther up, the forest becomes shorter, and we’ll try various spots for the endemic Itatiaia Spinetail, and be sure to look for Araucaria Tit-Spinetail in its eponymous grove of trees. After a picnic lunch, we’ll bird a side road lower down the valley that passes through pastures and light woodland. The birding here is easy and offers very different birds like comical Toco Toucans, screeching Curl-crested Jays, handsome White-eared Puffbirds, dancing Streamer-tailed Tyrants, and the aptly-named Firewood-gatherer.

The stunning Green-crowned Plovercrest inhabits the higher elevations
The stunning Green-crowned Plovercrest inhabits the higher elevations (Nick Athanas)

Black-capped Piprites is one of our targets on the Algulhas Negras road
Black-capped Piprites is one of our targets on the Algulhas Negras road (Nick Athanas)

Day 8: Itatiaia to São Paulo-Guarulhos. Our last morning is a bit of a wildcard and we’ll use it to chase after whatever else we still need in the area. On the way back to São Paulo, we’ll make a side trip to some rice fields that can be packed with waterbirds such as numerous herons and egrets, Wattled Jacana, White-cheeked Pintail, Black-necked Stilt, and a chance for the very local Pinnated Bittern. There will be many other open-country species as well that could include Savanna Hawk, Wing-banded Hornero, White-browed Meadowlark, Guira Cuckoo, among many others. We’ll arrive in the international airport by 6:00pm, in time for evening departures on many airlines. If you require an overnight stay, we can arrange a night in an airport hotel at a reasonable cost.

Saffron Toucanet is definitely one of our
Saffron Toucanet is definitely one of our "most wanted" birds! (Nick Athanas)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate. Most breakfasts will be around 5:30am-6:30am, and a bit earlier on two days. Days are fairly short in July (Sunset is around 5:30pm), and it usually does not get very hot, so there won’t be much downtime in the middle of the day; however we will also not be staying out late, so there will be some time to relax during the evenings. One lunch will be a packed lunch in the field; all other meals will be taken either in the hotel or in a roadside restaurant.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Most of the birding is done from easy dirt roads and trails, but we’ll make some short excursions on slightly steeper trails that can be slippery in wet weather. You can expect to walk about 3 miles (4.8 km) on most days, and less on the days when we travel between sites. Most of the tour is spent between sea level and 4000 ft (1200 m), with one morning at about 6000 ft (1800 m).

CLIMATE: Usually pleasant to warm in the lower elevations, and cool to occasionally cold in the mountains. Occasionally, cold fronts bring cooler temperatures into the region. Some rain can be expected.

ACCOMMODATION: Very good hotels; all have private bathrooms, hot water, full-time electricity, and wi-fi (which can be quite slow at Itatiaia).

PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, but there are decent photo opportunities at various feeders that we visit. Photography is generally better on this trip compared to most other tours in Neotropical forest areas.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are currently required for citizens of the US, Canada, and Australia (but can now be obtained electronically online), as well as most countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Tourist visas are currently not required for citizens of the UK, New Zealand, South Africa, and most European countries. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers and lodge/restaurant staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 7; meals from dinner on day 1 to lunch on day 8; some drinks (safe drinking water will always be provided, and reasonable non-alcoholic beverages will be provided during meals); Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 8; airport transportation on day 1 via the hotel shuttle bus; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary in a suitable vehicle, starting the morning of day 2 and ending the evening of day 8 in São Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport; entrance fees to birding sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; passport and visa fees; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.