Southeast Brazil: Atlantic Rainforest and Savanna

It is not just the allure of beaches, music, and sporting events that draws people from around the world to Southeast Brazil; the wet rainforests along the southern coast of Brazil are a birder’s delight. Separated from the Amazonian rainforests by the dry interior habitats that dominate much of the country, the birds here evolved in relative isolation, resulting in loads of endemics. Numerous spectacular antbirds, cotingas, flycatchers, and tanagers are found nowhere else. Just a hundred miles inland, the rainforest is replaced by savanna and gallery forest with a very different set of birds and its own set of endemics. This tour combines the best sites of both regions for a truly unforgettable experience.



Day 1: Curitiba. Flights arrive this afternoon in Curitiba, and you will be transferred to a nearby hotel.

Day 2: Curitiba to Cananeia: Beautiful wet montane forest occurs less than an hour from the city, and our main target will be the very local Canebrake Groundcreeper. This forest can also be pumping with other highland Atlantic Rainforest species that we will likely see again later on the tour, but it never hurts to have extra chances at the very shy species, notably Speckle-breasted and Variegated Antpittas. Other possibilities include Bertoni’s and Dusky-tailed Antbirds, Hooded Berryeater, Ochre-collared Piculet, Rufous-tailed Attila, and Brassy-breasted Tanager. We’ll then drive about 2.5 hours to the Atlantic Coast and take a short ferry over to Ilha Comprida (Brazil’s Long Island). We should find the the rare and beautiful Red-tailed Parrot as they fly towards their roosting sites in the late afternoon, and will also target species such as Black-backed Tanager, Restinga Tyrannulet, and Azure Jay; Scarlet Ibis can sometimes be seen here too. We’ll have one night in Cananeia.

Red-tailed Parrot is our main target on Ilha Comprida near Cananeia
Red-tailed Parrot is our main target on Ilha Comprida near Cananeia (Nick Athanas)

Day 3: Cananeia to Intervales State Park.  After targeting anything we still need near the coast, we’ll drive up into the coastal mountains, still covered in forest, stopping along the way for our first chances at star birds like the gorgeous Bare-throated Bellbird, scarce Mantled Hawk, and the local Sao Paulo Tyrannulet, among other common species. In the afternoon, we arrive at Intervales State Park. We’ll spend three nights in a simple but pleasant guesthouse.

You will never tire of seeing Green-headed Tanagers, no matter how common they are
You will never tire of seeing Green-headed Tanagers, no matter how common they are (Nick Athanas)

Days 4-5: Intervales. This huge park is a birding wonderland – large numbers of endemics thrive in the wet montane forest, and many are easier to find here than anywhere else. We’ll spend our days walking various wide dirt tracks through the forest. Portions of these tracks are moderately steep and can be a bit slippery if it has been raining, but overall it is quite easy going. On each day we will return to the park for lunch (or have lunch in a nearby restaurant since sometimes the restaurant in the park is closed), and have a short siesta after lunch.

Some of the best birding is in the main park complex. It’s easy to see many of the common Atlantic Rainforest specialties like Azure-shouldered, Golden-chevroned, and Green-headed Tanagers, Green-winged Saltator, Black Jacobin, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Pallid Spinetail, Red-breasted Toucan, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, and Yellow-fronted Woodpecker. A reed-filled marsh may have Orange-breasted Thornbird and Red-and-white Crake, and local guides sometimes have a nest of Swallow-tailed Cotinga staked out. With a bit of work, we can usually tease out a Dusky-tailed Antbird.

A network of forested-fringed roads crisscrosses the park, and we’ll spend our mornings looking for Giant, Tufted, and White-bearded Antshrikes, Black-fronted Piping-Guan, Cinnamon-vented Piha, Hooded Berryeater, Buff-bellied Puffbird, Black-legged Dacnis, Blue-bellied Parrot, Bare-throated Bellbird, Saffron and Spot-billed Toucanets, White-collared and White-browed Foliage-gleaners, Brown Tanager, Solitary Tinamou, Squamate, Bertoni’s, and Ochre-rumped Antbirds and Violet-crowned Plovercrest just to name a few.

Nightbirding can also be good at Intervales. We’ll check stakeouts for the mind-blowing Long-trained Nightjar, and have chances to see several owls including Tropical and Black-capped Screech-Owls, Rusty-barred Owl, and Tawny-browed Owl.

Large-tailed Antshrike is a stunning Atlantic Forest endemic
Large-tailed Antshrike is a stunning Atlantic Forest endemic (Nick Athanas)

Day 6: Intervales to Ubatuba. After some final birding early in the morning, we’ll spend most of the rest of the day driving to the town of Ubatuba, where we have three nights. We have to drive through the megapolis of São Paulo, and if traffic is bad we may end up arriving late to Ubatuba. We’ll break the trip up with occasional rest stops and a lunch stop at one of the many good buffet style restaurants along the highway. Depending on traffic, weather conditions (and access to the site, which has become more difficult in the last few years), we may be able to stop and look for the highland subspecies of Parana Antwren.

Days 7-8: Ubatuba area. The lowland forest patches near town can be surprisingly good, and the going is easy along mostly flat trails and roads, though there are a couple of small streams to cross and overgrown trails to negotiate. Many great birds are regularly seen here like Buff-throated Purpletuft, Spotted Bamboowren, Tufted Antshrike, Ferruginous and Scaled Antbirds, Spot-breasted Antvireo, Unicolored Antwren, Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant, Red-necked Tanager, Crescent-chested Puffbird, Buff-bellied Puffbird, Black-cheeked Gnateater, White-necked Hawk, Slaty Bristlefront, Thrush-like Woodcreeper, Rufous-capped Antthrush, Fork-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant, Crested Becard, Flame-crested Tanager, Salvadori’s Antwren, Star-throated Antwren, Rufous-winged Antwren, Black-capped Foliage-gleaner, Gray-hooded Flycatcher, Spot-backed Antshrike, and Lemon-chested Greenlet. We’ll visit a private residence with hummer and fruit feeders that is a magnet for handsome birds like Festive Coquette, Saw-billed Hermit, White-chinned Sapphire, Black Jacobin, Sombre Hummingbird, Brazilian Tanager, and Green-headed Tanager.

Festive Coquettes are common visitors to hummer feeders near Ubatuba
Festive Coquettes are common visitors to hummer feeders near Ubatuba (Nick Athanas)

Day 9: Perequê and Guapi Assu. We’ll need a very early breakfast today as we start with a 2 hour drive to the town of Perequê (now called Parque Mambucaba). The valley north of town has some drier, scrubbier forest that is one of the last havens for the incredibly beautiful and endangered Black-hooded Antwren. While this is the main target, there are many other possibilities including Frilled Coquette, Yellow-eared Woodpecker, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Half-collared Sparrow, and Squamate Antbird. In late morning, we will drive another 4 hours, stopping for lunch en-route, before arriving at Guapi Assu Bird lodge in late afternoon. There should be time for some easy birding around the wetlands for species like White-faced Whistling-Duck, Brazilian Teal, Capped Heron, Chestnut-capped Blackbird, Wing-banded Hornero, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Masked Water-Tyrant, and others.

Day 10: Guapi Assu. Birding this huge reserve at the foot of the mountains will give us a chance to find some species we may have missed up till now such as Sooretama Slaty-Antshrike, Crescent-chested Puffbird, Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant, Spot-billed Toucanet, Black-capped Becard, Yellow-eared Woodpecker, and the star of the reserve, the rare Shrike-like Cotinga. We’ll try to call in the shy and difficult Southern Antpitta at a known stakeout. Noisy flocks of Yellow-green Grosbeaks are often around, and this is one of the better spots on the trip for Pin-tailed Manakin, which even though is a rather common species, can be hard to find a nice adult male. This will be the longest walk of the tour, as we bird an out-and-back trail that will be about 4 miles roundtrip. Most of the trail is only slightly inclined, but there is one steep section. We’ll have a packed lunch near an impressive waterfall.

Day 11: Pico da Caledônia.We’ll rise early and head up the mountains in order to search for the very rare Gray-winged Cotinga, a ghostly bird that haunts the highest reaches of the forest. We’ll take a 4WD vehicle as high as possible, but depending on the road conditions, we have to walk anywhere from a few hundred meters to up to a kilometer to get to the best spot for the cotinga. Seeing it requires patience and luck, though we will likely at least hear it. The lush forest here is also excellent for Large-tailed Antshrike and Velvety Black-Tyrant, and will give us our first shot at some really nice high-mountain species more common in Itatiaia (later in the trip), including Green-crowned Plovercrest, Rufous-tailed Antbird, Black-and-gold Cotinga, and Serra do Mar Tyrannulet. Later we bird our way back down the mountain, making selected birding stops depending on what we still need. We’ll likely arriving early enough to some more birding around the wetlands near the lodge.

Green-crowned Plovercrests inhabit the highest elevations we visit on this tour
Green-crowned Plovercrests inhabit the highest elevations we visit on this tour (Nick Athanas)

Day 12: Guapi Assu to Itatiaia NP. After a detour to the coast for the endemic Restinga Antwren and the chance for some coastal and seabirds, we carry on to Brazil’s oldest national park. We’ll stay two nights in a lovely hotel with fruit feeders that attract some of the most colorful birds on the planet, including Green-headed Tanager, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, and Saffron Toucanet. Hummer feeders bring in Scale-throated Hermit, White-throated Hummingbird, and occasionally even a Frilled Coquette, among others. Dusky-legged Guans are bordering on tame here, and are sometimes joined by a Slaty-breasted Wood-Rail. Blue-winged Macaws can sometimes be seen coming in to roost in the forest below the hotel, and Tawny-browed Owl is a regular visitor to the lodge grounds after dark.

Day 13: Itatiaia NP. We’ll have a full day to explore the lower part of the park. We’ll start birding right near the hotel, which is one of the better spots for the impressive Robust Woodpecker and scarce Pileated Parrot. Swallow-tailed Cotinga can also occasionally be seen here with some luck. Later, we’ll work our way along some moderately inclined (but not difficult) forest trails looking for shy species like Such’s and Rufous-tailed Antthrushes, Speckle-breasted Antpitta, White-bibbed Antbird and Bertoni’s Antbirds, White-bearded Antshrike, and Rufous Gnateater. Other targets include Drab-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant, Black-billed Scythebill, White-browed Woodpecker, Scaled Woodcreeper, and Gilt-edged Tanager. The afternoon plan will depend on remaining targets, but we often bird the grounds of an abandoned hotel, which can be good for species such as Swallow-tailed Cotinga, Black-legged Dacnis, Cliff Flycatcher, and Blue-billed and Velvety Black-Tyrants

Itatiaia National Park is usually the easiest place to find White-bibbed Antbird
Itatiaia National Park is usually the easiest place to find White-bibbed Antbird (Nick Athanas)

Day 14: Algulhas Negras. The highest peaks in southern Brazil are easily accessed by a dirt road on the other side of the park, about 1h20m drive from our hotel. Species like Itatiaia Thistletail, Black-and-gold Cotinga, Black-capped Piprites, and Thick-billed Saltator are more easily seen here than anywhere else. We’ll also be looking for Rufous-tailed Antbird, Rufous-backed Antvireo, Brassy-breasted Tanager, Plovercrest, Mottle-cheeked and Greenish Tyrannulets, Buff-throated and Bay-chested Warbling-Finches, Gray-bellied Spinetail, Araucaria Tit-Spinetail, Olivaceous Elaenia, Swallow-tailed Cotinga, Speckle-breasted Antpitta, and others. Our luxurious hotel is right near the start of the road, giving us a chance for a mid-day siesta if the birding gets slow.

Day 15: Travel to Canastra. This is mostly a travel day, but we’ll have a few hours in the morning to target anything we still need on the Algulhas Negras road (often the antpitta!) before returning for a late breakfast. We’ll drive about six hours northwest, and the habitat changes dramatically as we head inland to the town of São Roque de Minas, where we spend three nights. We’ll be sure to stop at a reliable site for Streamer-tailed Tyrant along the way, and we usually arrive early enough for some afternoon birding in dry forest not far from town.

Days 16-17: Serra da Canastra NP. This park is simply magnificent. The Canastra plateau, with it’s scenic escarpments and waterfalls, dominates the area, and there is a mosaic of habitats including gallery forest, rivers, wooded farmland, scrubby cerrado (savanna), and tall, undisturbed grasslands. The area is one of the last strongholds for the Brazilian Merganser, one of the world’s rarest ducks; while we have seen it on many of our tours, in recent years sightings have become less frequent. Even if we aren’t fortunate enough to find one, there are plenty of other birds and animals to fill our days here.

During one full day, we’ll bird areas at the base of the escarpment. There are numerous lookouts to scan for “ducks”, but there are plenty of other birds to see while we do so such as Whistling Heron, Buff-necked Ibis, Yellow-chevroned and Golden-capped Parakeets, White-eared Puffbird, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Black-capped Antwren, Plain-crested Elaenia, Yellow-browed Tyrant, Plush-crested Jay, Yellowish Pipit, Blue Finch, Plumbeous and Dubois’s Seedeaters, Black-throated Saltator, and Chopi Blackbird. We’ll walk along a trail to the base of the impressive Casca D’Anta Waterfall, where Great Dusky Swifts can usually be seen clinging to the cliffs. The trail can also be productive for some tough birds like Brasilia Tapaculo, Flavescent Warbler, and Chestnut-headed Tanager, and we can usually track down a singing male Helmeted Manakin

On the other day, we’ll bird the windswept grasslands on top of the escarpment, which is a world apart from anything else on this tour. Cock-tailed Tyrants zip back and forth over the grass, Ochre-breasted Pipits perform cool display flights, and cute grassland specialists like Sharp-tailed Tyrant and Black-masked Finch can usually be found with a bit of searching. It’s not unusual to see Giant Anteaters, and Maned Wolf is a possibility as well. We’ll reach the top of the waterfall we visited the previous day, which is also a spot to look for Brazilian Merganser. If the water level is low enough, we may be able to cross the river and try to flush up some Sickle-winged Nightjars. Other birds we have a chance for today include Collared Crescentchest, Gray-backed Tachuri, Rufous-winged Antshrike, and Tawny-headed Swallow.

Cock-tailed tyrants look like model airplanes when they fly around the grasslands in Canastra
Cock-tailed tyrants look like model airplanes when they fly around the grasslands in Canastra (Nick Athanas)

Day 18: Onward to Caraça. It’s a long drive today, but we’ll stop occasionally for breaks. We’ll want to leave early to have time to look for Three-toed Jacamar in a park near Belo Horizonte, and arrive in Caraça by mid-afternoon. This is a private nature reserve protected by a Catholic monastery set in impressive mountain scenery. We’ll have only one night here, but it will be enough to see the endemic Serra Antwren and target two difficult tapaculos: White-breasted and Rock. We’ll also see the bizarre nightly ritual of priests feeding wild Maned Wolves on the church steps.

Day 19: Caraça and Cipó. After a few hours of birding before breakfast, we’ll move on to our last site, the isolated Serra de Cipó. In the afternoon we’ll have a first visit to the rocky mountaintops in search of Hyacinth Visorbearer (it’s as good as it sounds!), Cipó Canastero, Cinereous Warbling-Finch, and Pale-throated Pampa-Finch. Lower down, there are great spots for the cool Blue Finch and the unique White-banded and White-rumped Tanagers. We can also stay out late to look for Least Nighthawk, Spot-tailed Nightjar, and Band-tailed Nightjar.

Rock-loving Cipo Canasteros hop around the tops of the mountains
Rock-loving Cipo Canasteros hop around the tops of the mountains (Nick Athanas)

Day 20: Cipó and departure. We’ll make one last assault on the mountain for the endemic Cipó Canastero. Seeing it requires a two mile roundtrip hike over moderately inclined and somewhat rough terrain, but once reaching the right area, we have a very high chance to see the bird. Afterwards we’ll target anything we missed yesterday afternoon, such as Cinereous Warbling-Finch and Pale-throated Pampa-Finch. We’ll return to the hotel late morning, pack up, and drive to the Belo Horizonte airport, where the tour ends after lunch.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Intense. This is a hardcore birding tour that tries to see as many species as possible, especially focusing on the regional endemics, and we usually amass an impressive list. Breakfasts will typically be at 5 or 5:30am, with one or two a bit earlier. On a few days of the trip, there will be a chance for some downtime after lunch, but most days are full days with little downtime. On a few days, we will stay out after dark for nightbirding. Brazil is a huge country, and as such there is a lot of driving; at least 5 days will involve drives of 6 hours or more.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Generally moderate, with a few more difficult walks. Most of the birding is done from flat or moderately inclined roads and trails. You can expect to walk 3-4 miles (4.8-6.4 km) on the full birding days, and less on the travel days. Two days of the trip will involve harder trail walking, with some steep and slippery sections (a walking stick can be helpful). One morning will involve walking up and then back down a very steep, cobblestone road. Some of the walks needs to be done at a reasonably quick pace in order to reach particular stakeouts within the time allotted. There are no very high elevations involved; the highest elevation visited is about 6500 ft (2000 m), and only for a few hours; all accommodations are at 5600 ft (1700 m) or less.

CLIMATE: Warm to hot in the lowlands and cool to pleasant in the mountains. The coldest temperatures are usually around 45°F/7°C early in the morning on about 3 mornings. Some rain can be expected.

ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent, all have private bathrooms, full-time hot water, and 24h electricity. Except for Intervales, accommodation has wi-fi, though it may only be available in public areas and may be slow.

PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, but casual photographers will have great opportunities to photograph birds at feeders in Intervales, Ubatuba, and Itatiaia. The wetlands near Guapiassu and the savanna habitats later in the tour are also productive. Photography inside the rainforest is much harder. Since this is a fast-paced tour, it may not be appropriate for a serious bird photographer.

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.