Southeast Brazil: Atlantic Rainforest and Savanna
Everything from lurking rainforest antbirds to grassland seriemas.
It is not just the allure of beaches and music that draws people from around the world to Rio; 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. Unless you are taking the pre-tour extension, your flights arrive today in Curitiba, where you’ll be transferred to a hotel.
Day 2: Curitiba to Cananeia: We’ll kick off the trip with some birding along the Atlantic Coast, targeting the rare and beautiful Red-tailed Parrot along with other species such as Black-backed Tanager, Restinga Tyrannulet, Azure Jay, and possibly even Scarlet Ibis. We’ll have one night in Cananeia.
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 many other common species. In the afternoon, we arrive at Intervales State Park. We’ll spend three nights in a simple but pleasant guesthouse.
Days 4-5: Intervales. This huge park is a birding mecca; large numbers of endemics thrive in the wet montane forest, and many are easier to find here than anywhere else. We’ll spend time walking tracks looking for striking birds like Giant and White-bearded Antshrikes, Black-fronted Piping-Guan, and Red-breasted Toucan. The more open habitat can be great for Large-tailed Antshrike, Dusky-tailed Antbird, and Red-eyed Thornbird. Swallow-tailed Cotingas often nest near the restaurant and the stunning Long-trained Nightjar can often be found flying over at dusk.
Day 6: Intervales to Ubatuba. After some final birding, we’ll drive for much of the day to a quiet hotel near the town of Ubatuba, where we spend three nights.
Days 7-8: Ubatuba. The lowland forest patches near town can be surprisingly good. Many rare birds are regularly seen here like Buff-throated Purpletuft, Spotted Bamboowren, and Tufted Antshrike. We’ll also visit a private feeding station that is a magnet for handsome hummers like Festive Coquette and Saw-billed Hermit.
Day 9: Perequê and Guapi Assu. The incredibly beautiful and endangered Black-hooded Antwren will be our morning target before we skirt the edge of Rio and drive to Guapi Assu Bird Lodge for a three-night stay.
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 such as Crescent-chested Puffbird, Spot-billed Toucanet, and Shrike-like Cotinga. There is also a nice wetland near the lodge that is good for late afternoon birding. Along with the easier waterbirds, we can try our luck at several species of skulking rails, and maybe even witness the roding display of the rare Giant Snipe.
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. This spot will also give us our first shot at some really nice high-mountain species, including Plovercrest, Rufous-tailed Antbird, and Serra do Mar Tyrannulet. Later we bird our way back down the mountain, making selected birding stops depending on what we still need.
Day 12: Guapi Assu to Itatiaia NP. After a short detour to the coast for Restinga Antwren, we carry on to Brazil’s oldest national park. We’ll stay two nights in a lovely hotel with 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.
Day 13: Itatiaia NP. We’ll have a full day to explore the beautiful, epiphyte-laden forest. Birding the trails gives us a chance at some shy species like Such’s and Rufous-tailed Antthrushes, Rufous Gnateater, and more of the Atlantic Forest’s unbeatable antbirds like Bertoni’s and White-bibbed Antbirds. This is also one of the best spots for the very local Robust Woodpecker
Day 14: Algulhas Negras. The highest peaks in southern Brazil are easily accessed by a dirt road on the other side of the park, and species like Itatiaia Thistletail, Black-capped Piprites, and Thick-billed Saltator are more easily seen here than anywhere else. Targeting the cute Speckle-breasted Antpitta usually involves a bit of bushwhacking, but we’ve had great success with it over the last few years. We spend the night in a nearby hotel.
Day 15: Travel to Canastra. This is mostly a travel day, but we’ll have a few hours in the morning and evening for some birding. The habitat changes dramatically as we head inland to the town of São Roque de Minas, where we spend three nights.
Days 16-17: Serra da Canastra NP. This park is simply magnificent. The chance to see Brazilian Merganser, one of the world’s rarest ducks, would be enough to attract most birders, but there is plenty more here. The windswept grasslands on the plateau are a world apart with their Cock-tailed and Sharp-tailed Tyrants, Black-masked and Blue Finches, and occasionally even Giant Anteaters and Maned Wolves. The gallery forest at the base of the plateau has totally different birds like Helmeted Manakin and Saffron-billed Sparrow. Scrubbier habitat can be good for the noisy Curl-crested and Plush-crested Jays, and the outrageous Stripe-breasted Starthroat.
Day 18: Onward to Caraça. We’ll want to leave early to have time to look for Three-toed Jacamar on the way to Caraça, a reserve protected by a Catholic monastery. We’ll have only one night here, but it should be enough to see the endemic Serra Antwren, as well as witness the bizarre nightly ritual of an elderly monk feeding wild Maned Wolves on the church steps.
Day 19: Caraça and Cipó. After a late 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 (with a name like that you’ve just got to see it), 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.
Day 20: Departure. After a final morning of birding, we’ll return to Belo Horizonte in time to catch mid-day flights home.
6 day pre-tour extension to Southern Brazil
Day 1: Porto Alegre. Your flights arrive today in Porto Alegre, and you’ll be transferred to a hotel.
Day 2: Porto Alegre to Aparados da Serra. We’ll leave early and drive northeast from Porto Alegre, first passing through rolling farmland where we should find Long-tailed Cinclodes, eventually reaching Aparados da Serra NP, known for its huge, scenic canyons and native Araucaria forests. These forests host some scarce and beautiful species including Red-spectacled and Vinaceous Parrots, Striolated Tit-Spinetail, Azure Jay, as well as other common species. We spend two nights in a hotel right in the forest with great birds in the ground including Araucaria Tit-Spinetail and Red-breasted Toucan. Long-tufted Screech-Owl often sings near the hotel at dusk, and we’ll make an effort to see it.
Day 3: Hotel Hampel and Aparados da Serra. Some of the best birding is right around our hotel, and we’ll look for specialties like Mottled Piculet, Olive Spinetail, Chestnut-backed Tanager, and Scalloped Woodcreeper along with a host of more widespread Atlantic Forest birds such as White-browed Woodpecker, Rufous-capped Spinetail, White-throated Woodcreeper, Brown-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant, and loads more. Depending on how we did the day before, we may bird for most of the day near the hotel, or we could depart later in the morning to have more time to bird in Aparados da Serra.
Day 4: Hotel Hampel to Volta Velha reserve. We return to Porto Alegre to catch a short flight north to the city of Curitiba. From there, we make our way south along the coast to Volta Velha, stopping at at a marsh where we should find the endemic Parana Antwren along with more common birds like Masked Yellowthroat and White-browed Blackbird. We’ll have the afternoon to bird in this small reserve that protects both forest and coastal scrub, locally known as restinga. This is one of the only known sites for the rare Kaempfer’s Tody-Tyrant, which we stand a good chance of finding, as well as the local Restinga Tyrannulet. The reserve should also give us our first shots at many more widespread lowland Atlantic Forest species such as Squamate and Scaled Antbirds, Long-billed Wren, and Green-headed and Red-necked Tanagers, to name just a few. We’ll spend the night either in the reserve or in a nearby hotel.
Day 5: Volta Velha to Curitiba. After another full morning in the reserve, we’ll drive a few hours back to Curitiba, where we spend the night.
Day 6 (Day 1 of the main tour): Serra da Graciosa and Curitiba. 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 on the main 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, and Brassy-breasted Tanager. In the afternoon, we’ll make an attempt at Marsh Tapaculo, a species that is often heard but an absolute devil to see unless you want to get covered with mud from head to toe. We’ll still give it a go before returning to Curitiba for another night and meeting up with anyone else who might be joining us for the main tour.
CLIMATE: Hot and humid in the lowlands to cool at the highest elevations. Rain is possible in most areas.
DIFFICULTY: Moderate. This is a fast-paced trip that will target as many endemics as possible. Some long days and quite a lot of driving are necessary. The walking is not usually difficult, but two-mile roundtrip hikes are required to search for Shrike-like Cotinga and Cipo Canastero, and getting to the Gray-winged Cotinga site involves walking up a very steep, cobbled road.
ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent throughout. Two of the rooms at Guapi Assu do not have attached bathrooms, but they are private to the rooms.