Brazil: The Atlantic Forest Introtour
Hummingbirds, tanagers, and antbirds everywhere.
This tour is designed for people who enjoy a shorter trip based in just two excellent lodges, both of which cater to the needs of birders. We’ll spend four nights at Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, located at the base of the Serra dos Órgãos mountains in a large 18,500 acre (7400 ha.) nature reserve. Many trails pass through rich forest, and the restored wetlands here have quickly garnered a reputation as being the finest in the region; they are always teeming with birds. The other three nights will be spent at Vale das Taquaras in a beautiful forested valley high up in the mountains. This is a charming new lodge that has easy access to some great birding sites.
Day 1: Rio to Guapi Assu. The tour begins in the Rio’s Galeao airport at 11:00am (or earlier if everyone has already arrived – it usually takes about an hour to clear immigration and customs), and we’ll drive two hours northeast to Guapi Assu, where we will spend the next four nights. After lunch, we’ll start by birding around the wetlands near the lodge taking in some easy waterbirds like Brazilian Teal, White-faced Whistling-Duck, and Masked Duck. The regenerating woodland nearby has neat birds like Long-billed Wren, White Woodpecker, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and Wing-banded Hornero. During some of our evenings here, we can stay out after dark to watch for hulking Giant Snipes displaying, handsome Scissor-tailed Nightjars hawking insects, and owls such as Striped and Tawny-browed.
Note that the order of this itinerary is occasionally modified based on weather conditions.
Day 2: Guapi Assu. On our first full day in the lowland forest, we will (weather permitting) take a 4WD up to a slightly higher altitude sector of the reserve. By birding a clearing at an abandoned farm that provides good views of the surrounding trees, we’ll watch for Plain and Maroon-bellied Parakeets, Channel-billed Toucan, Green-headed and Ruby-crowned Tanager, Long-tailed Tyrant, and other canopy birds. With a bit of luck, we might also spot an immaculate white Bare-throated Bellbird “bonking” from a distant treetop. As the morning heats up, we’ll walk slowly down a forest track looking for Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, White-bibbed Antbird, Streak-capped and Rufous-winged Antwrens, Crescent-chested Puffbird, Spot-backed Antshrike, and a variety of woodcreepers and foliage-gleaners. In the afternoon, we’ll spend more time around the wetlands and other nearby trails, where we could find Rufous-capped Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and Sooretama Slaty-Antshrike.
Day 3: Guapi Assu. After breakfast, we’ll drive about 20 minutes, then walk along a long but mostly easy trail that climbs gradually through the rainforest to a scenic waterfall. Taking it slowly, we’ll check out territories along the way for the handsome Gray-hooded Attila, the gaudy Spot-billed Toucanet, cute Pin-tailed and Swallow-tailed Manakins, skulking Scaled Antbird, Southern Antpipit, and Rufous-capped Antthrush. We’ll spend time looking for one of Guapi Assu’s star birds, the Shrike-like Cotinga, which is probably easier to find here than anywhere else in the world (but we’ll still need some luck!). Mixed species flocks up here can also be good, with Sharpbill, Yellow-green Grosbeak, and a whole suite of tanagers possible. We’ll have a picnic lunch at an impressive waterfall before heading back to the lodge.
Day 4: Atlantic Coast. A two-hour drive will take us to the Atlantic coast where we target the critically endangered Restinga Antwren. This bird is restricted to the rapidly vanishing coastal scrub east of Rio. Other possibilities here include Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, Lemon-chested Greenlet, Black-backed Tanager, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, and Brazilian Tanager. We’ll be birding right alongside a magical ocean setting, where we may also see Brown Boobies, Magnificent Frigatebirds, a few terns, and sometimes even a rare seabird. A nearby salt lagoon usually has rafts of White-cheeked Pintails and a selection of shorebirds. We return to Guapi Assu for lunch and visit another part of the reserve in the afternoon. Depending on what we have already seen, we may spend more time around the wetlands, or drive to a higher part of the reserve to try for Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, Green-backed Becard, Mantled Hawk, and some hummingbirds.
Day 5: Sumidouro. This is a long day and requires an early start; first we head north to some drier habitat on the far side of the Serra dos Órgãos range, passing the iconic Dedo de Deus, or “God’s Finger” mountain en route. Forest patches support small populations of the endangered Three-toed Jacamar along with a great selection of other birds like Gilt-edged and Hooded Tanagers, Scaled Woodcreeper, Sooty Grassquit, Black-necked Aracari, White-eared Puffbird, and Yellow-eared Woodpecker. The area also holds a variety of distinctive open-country species like Red-legged Seriema, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Firewood-gatherer, Streamer-tailed Tyrant, Whistling Heron, and Gray and White-rumped Monjitas. We’ll arrive at Vale das Taquaras Lodge late in the afternoon, our base for the rest of the tour. Hummer feeders here attract beautiful gems like Brazilian Ruby, White-throated Hummingbird, and Scale-throated Hermit. On the October tour, there are sometimes Swallow-tailed Cotingas nesting right on the grounds.
Day 6: Vale das Taquaras. Birding starts right on the doorstep, where we’ll work some fairly easy trails for some cracking Atlantic Forest gems like Brassy-breasted Tanager, Ferruginous and Ochre-rumped Antbirds, White-bibbed Antbird, Bare-throated Bellbird, Surucua Trogon, Rufous Gnateater, White-collared Foliage-gleaner, and others. In the afternoon, we’ll do some easier roadside birding, hoping to find other species like Hooded Berryeater, White-throated Woodcreeper, Rufous-crowned Greenlet, Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakin, and Shear-tailed Gray Tyrant. Some super-cool nightbirds also occur nearby including the ominous Stygian Owl and outrageous Long-trained Nightjar.
Day 7: Pico da Caledônia. This 7200 ft (2200 m) peak is the highest in the area, and we’ll drive as far as possible on the very steep cobblestone road. The treeline forest is home to one of the world’s rarest birds, Gray-winged Cotinga, as well as other high elevation birds that we won’t see elsewhere, such as Rufous-tailed Antbird, Rufous-backed Antvireo, Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, Diademed Tanager, Plovercrest, Black-and-gold Cotinga, and the endemic Itatiaia Thistletail. Once the fog rolls in, we’ll return to Vale das Taquaras, stopping for Dusky-tailed Antbird along the way.
Day 8: Return to Rio. Most international flights leave Rio quite late, giving us the morning to keep on birding. We’ll walk up a short but steep dirt road to a small patch of forest loaded with bamboo and some great birds. With luck we might see some rare and local species like White-bearded Antbird, Spotted Bamboowren, and Half-collared Sparrow as well as other terrific birds like Tufted Antshrike, Bertoni’s Antbird, Sharpbill, White-browed and Green-barred Woodpeckers, Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, and more. We’ll have an early lunch back at the lodge, and plan to arrive in Rio’s international airport by around 3:30pm.
CLIMATE: Warm to hot in the lowlands, cool or even cold in the mountains. Some rain is likely.
DIFFICULTY: Moderate. This trip does require a substantial amount of walking, but most of it is not strenuous. There are three walks of about 3 miles (5 km) roundtrip on inclined trails. The trails are usually not very steep, but there are a few short stretches. Birding at Pico da Caledonia requires walking up a steep but fairly short cobblestone road as well as some stairs.
ACCOMMODATION: Excellent lodges where you are treated like family. Two of the rooms at Guapiassu do not have attached bathrooms, though they are not shared. Do to the small size of the lodge, single rooms may not be available at Vale das Taquaras, and for larger groups it may be necessary for some bathrooms to be shared. Typically couples will have private ensuite bathrooms, and singles/twins may have nearby bathrooms that are either private for smaller groups or shared for larger groups.