Brazil: The Atlantic Forest Introtour

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 Guapiaçu 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 Itororó Lodge in a beautiful forested valley high up in the mountains. This excellent new lodge has great forest, trails, and busy bird feeders.

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Note that the order of this itinerary is occasionally modified based on weather conditions.

Day 1: Rio de Janeiro to Guapiaçu. 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 Guapiaçu, 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 Capped Heron. The regenerating woodland nearby has neat birds like Hooded Tanager, White-barred Piculet, Greater Ani, Chesnut-backed Antshrike, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and Wing-banded Hornero. During some of our evenings here, we can stay out after dark to look for nocturnal species, which may include Tawny-browed Owl, Common Potoo, Common Pauraque, or Scissor-tailed Nightjar.

Day 2: Guapiaçu Reserve. 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 Tanagers, Spot-billed Toucanet, 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.

Swallow-tailed Hummingbirds rule the feeders at Guapiaçu Lodge
Swallow-tailed Hummingbirds rule the feeders at Guapiaçu Lodge (Nick Athanas)

Day 3: Guapiaçu Reserve. 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 Black-cheeked Gnateater. If we are very lucky, we may encounter one of Guapiaçu’s star birds, the rare Shrike-like Cotinga, which can sometimes be seen along this trail. 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. We return to Guapiaçu 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 nearby farm to try for Yellow-browed Tyrant, Ash-throated Crake, Giant Snipe, and others.

Restinga Antwren is our main target along the coast
Restinga Antwren is our main target along the coast (Nick Athanas)

Day 5: Sumidouro and Itororó Lodge. 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, Blue-winged Macaw, 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 White-rumped Monjita. After a field lunch, we’ll drive through the town of Nova Friburgo (famous for its lingerie shops), and arrive at Itororó Lodge late in the afternoon, our base for the rest of the tour. Hummer feeders here attract beauties like Brazilian Ruby, White-throated Hummingbird, Violet-capped Woodnymph, Scale-throated Hermit, and Black Jacobin; fruit feeders can be superb, bringing in tanagers like Black-goggled, Ruby-crowned, Azure-shouldered, Golden-chevroned, Brassy-breasted, Gilt-edged, Magpie, as well as other species like Dusky-legged Guan, Maroon-bellied Parakeet, and occasionally even the unique Saffron Toucanet.

Three-toed Jacamar, a very local endemic we should see on our trip to Sumidouro
Three-toed Jacamar, a very local endemic we should see on our trip to Sumidouro (Nick Athanas)

Day 6: Itororó Lodge. The lodge has a nice trail network, and we’ll spend the day exploring them for great birds like Bertoni’s and Ochre-rumped Antbirds, Giant Antshrike, Rufous Gnateater, Such’s Antthrush, Spot-winged Wood-Quail, Surucua Trogon, White-collared Foliage-gleaner, Pallid Spinetail, Sharp-billed Treehunter, Half-collared Sparrow, White-breasted Tapaculo, Chestnut-headed Tanager, and others. We’ll also spend more time at the superb feeders, and look for nightbirds at dusk such as Tropical Screech-Owl, Rusty-barred Owl, and the spectacular Long-trained Nightjar.

Superb Gilt-edged Tanagers sometimes visit the feeders at Itororó Lodge
Superb Gilt-edged Tanagers sometimes visit the feeders at Itororó Lodge (Nick Athanas)

Day 7: Pico da Caledônia. This 7200 ft (2200 m) mountain 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 most restricted-range birds, Gray-winged Cotinga, as well as other high elevation species not found elsewhere on the tour. Possibilities include Rufous-tailed Antbird, Rufous-backed Antvireo, Large-tailed Antshrike, Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, Diademed Tanager, Green-crowned Plovercrest, Black-and-gold Cotinga, Bay-chested Warbling-Finch, and Itatiaia Spinetail. After a field lunch, we’ll bird lower elevations where Red-legged Seriema can be amazingly easy to see, then return to Itororó Lodge and have more time on the trails late in the afternoon.

Large-tailed Antshrike is a fantastic antbird we often find on Pico de Caledonia
Large-tailed Antshrike is a fantastic antbird we often find on Pico de Caledonia (Nick Athanas)

Day 8: Return to Rio. Most international flights leave Rio quite late, giving us the whole morning to keep on birding. We’ll keep our options open – we could spend more time on the lodge trails, or try a different area a short drive away where we could look for Dusky-tailed Antbird, Chestnut-headed Tanager, Bare-throated Bellbird, and others. We’ll have lunch back at the lodge before driving back to Rio in time to connect with flights home.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate. Fairly early starts are the norm since birding is almost always best in the morning, and most of the morning birding sites require at least a short drive to reach. Breakfast will typically start between 5:00 and 6:00am, with one a bit earlier at 4:30am. On most (but not all) days there will be some downtime after lunch to relax. At least two lunches will be packed lunches in the field. Two days of the trip will require at least four hours of driving, though it will be spread out over the day.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Most of the birding will be on flat or slightly inclined roads and tracks, averaging about 3 miles (4.8 km) a day, with one longer hike of about 4 miles (4.8 km) with some short, steeper sections. One other day of the trip requires walking up a steep cobbled road and some stairs (usually about 1 mile/1.6 km roundtrip, though depending on road conditions it is sometimes necessary to walk farther); a walking stick can help, especially coming down. 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 hot 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 lodges; both have private bathrooms, hot water, and full-time electricity. Two of the rooms at Guapiaçu do not have en-suite bathrooms, but they are private to those rooms.

PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, but casual photographers will have great opportunities to photograph birds at feeders at the lodges and around the wetlands at Guapiaçu; photography inside the forest is difficult.

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, as well as most countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Visas may take anywhere from a week to a month to obtain, rarely longer. 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, local guides, and lodge staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 7; meals from lunch on day 1 to lunch on day 8; safe drinking water and/or juice during meals; safe drinking water as well as tea and coffee are available at the lodges at any time; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the morning of day 1 to the afternoon of day 8; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary in a suitable vehicle, starting late morning on day 1 in Rio’s international airport, and ending the afternoon of day 8 in Rio’s 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; 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.