Southeast Brazil: Birding with a Camera (BwC)

This is a Birding with a Camera Tour (BwC). We try to balance seeing as many birds as possible while also trying to take great photos of them. We still target endemics and other specialties. We will also try to see and photograph other animals if any are around. Click here to see a comparison between our different types of tours. If you are looking for a traditional Birding Tour, you should check out our Brazil: Atlantic Rainforest and Savanna tour or our shorter Brazil: The Atlantic Forest Introtour.

The Atlantic Rainforest is home to some of the most colorful and spectacular birds in all of South America, and many of the best are found only in Southeast Brazil. Birders come from all over the world to enjoy the spectacle. If you are photographer, don’t let the word “forest” scare you! The bird photography in this region is surprisingly good; birds are often very approachable and even normally tough families like antbirds are well within the reach of an amateur photographer. Most species can also be seen from wide tracks or clearings where low light is less of an issue, with little need to spend time on difficult, narrow trails. Add to this some amazing parks and reserves, and some of the best feeding stations on the continent, and you can get an idea of why most Brazilian birders are also photographers.

Day 1: Arrival. Your flights arrive today in São Paulo, where we’ll spend the night in a hotel convenient to the international airport.

Day 2: São Paulo to Intervales State Park. São Paulo is one of the biggest cities on the planet, and we’ll be happy to leave it behind us as we head west and then south for several hours into the mountains of the Atlantic Rainforest. Intervales State Park protects a massive amount of lush forest and is famous among birders and bird photographers alike for the extraordinary number of endemic species that can be found. On our first afternoon, we’ll start with an easy walk around the HQ area, targeting Orange-breasted Thornbid and Rufous-capped Antshrike, while also seeing loads of the more common species like Green-headed Tanager, Yellow-fronted and Green-barred Woodpeckers, Rufous Hornero, Southern Lapwing, Cliff Flycatcher, White-rumped Swallow, and Picazuro Pigeon. We’ll have three nights at one of the simple guesthouses in the park.

Green-headed Tanagers are common throughout the trip, it's hard to get tired of seeing and photographing them
Green-headed Tanagers are common throughout the trip, it's hard to get tired of seeing and photographing them (Nick Athanas)

Days 3-4: Intervales State Park. Intervales has superb bird guides who will accompany us on these days, sharing their stakeouts, including hidden feeding stations for great birds like Spot-winged Wood-Quail, Solitary Tinamou, Variegated Antpitta, Short-tailed Antthrush, and Red-and-white Crake. We’ll spend much of our time deeper inside the park. The birding is fantastic, and the miles of tracks are wide enough to allow a decent amount of light in so that we can photograph many of the birds we see. Some of the more tantalizing possibilities include Black-fronted Piping-Guan, Hooded Berryeater, Spot-billed Toucanet, Bare-throated Bellbird, Giant, Tufted, and White-bearded Antshrikes, Ferruginous, Bertoni’s, Ochre-rumped, and Squamate Antbirds, Purple-crowned Plovercrest, Sharpbill, Ochre-collared Piculet, Helmeted Woodpecker, great numbers of tanagers and flycatchers, and many more. Nightbirding can also be great, with chances to see Long-trained Nightjar, Rusty-barred Owl, Black-capped Screech-Owl, and others.

The local guides at Intervales put food out for the normally very shy Spot-winged Wood-Quail
The local guides at Intervales put food out for the normally very shy Spot-winged Wood-Quail (Nick Athanas)

Day 5: Intervales to Trilha dos Tucanos. After another morning at Intervales, we’ll drive about three hours to Trilha dos Tucanos Lodge, a lodge designed from the ground up for birders and bird photographers. Their feeders are terrific and we’ll invest quite a bit of time trying to get great shots of everything that comes to them. Fruit feeders attract Azure-shouldered, Golden-chevroned, Green-headed, Ruby-crowned, Black-goggled, Magpie, and Olive-green Tanagers, Chestnut-bellied and Violaceous Euphonias, Golden-winged and Red-rumped Caciques, Rufous-bellied Thrush, Plain Parakeet, among others, and occasionally something truly special like Saffron Toucanet or Red-breasted Toucan turns up. Hummer feeders will give us our first chances to shoot Scale-throated Hermit, Brazilian Ruby, Violet-capped Woodnymph, Black Jacobin, Versicolored Emerald, White-throated Hummingbird, and others.

Black Jacobins are seasonally common, and frequently visit feeders
Black Jacobins are seasonally common, and frequently visit feeders (Nick Athanas)

Day 6: Trilha dos Tucanos. We’ll plan our time here largely based on what we still are looking for after our time at Intervales. We’ll like spend time on the trails targeting birds which might include Crescent-chested Puffbird, Rufous Gnateater, Speckle-breasted Antpitta, Black-capped Foliage-gleaner, and Pale-browed Treehunter, and also spend more time at the feeders.

Day 7: Trilha dos Tucanos to Ubatuba. After a few hours of morning Birding, we’ll depart on a long drive back through São Paulo and then down to the Atlantic Coast, where we’ll spend three nights in a hotel near the town of Ubatuba.

Numerous endemics occur around Ubatuba, such as Black-cheeked Gnateater
Numerous endemics occur around Ubatuba, such as Black-cheeked Gnateater (Nick Athanas)

Days 8-9: Ubatuba area. The coastal mountain range plunges into the ocean along this part of the Atlantic coastline, producing some dramatic scenery as a backdrop for our birding. We’ll bird several different private forest reserves around Ubatuba, targeting a number of superb birds including Buff-throated Purpletuft, Slaty Bristlefront, Spotted Bamboowren, Spot-backed Antshrike, White-necked Hawk, Scaled Antbird, Blkac-cheeked Gnateater, Buff-bellied Puffbird, Black-capped Foliage-gleaner, Riverbank Warbler, Robust Woodpecker, and many others. That may sound like a daunting list to photograph, but over the years we have gotten shots of all of them on our various tours, nothing is impossible! One of the highlights of the area, and in fact for the whole tour, will be visiting Jonas’s feeders at Folha Seca. He treats his hummers almost like family, and there is no better place to see and photograph the likes of Festive Coquette, Saw-billed Hermit, Sombre Hummingbird, Black Jacobin, Brazilian Ruby, Versicolored Emerald, White-chinned Sapphire, Black-throated Mango, and others. His fruit feeders vary in activity put sometimes are pumping, and we may pick up a few new species at them such as Red-necked Tanager or Green Honeycreeper.

Festive Coquette is arguably the flashiest hummingbird at Jonas's feeders near Ubatuba
Festive Coquette is arguably the flashiest hummingbird at Jonas's feeders near Ubatuba (Nick Athanas)

Day 10: Ubatuba to Itatiaia. We’ll leave rather early today and drive east along the coast to the town of Parque Mombucaba. The valley north of town is one of the only places in the world to see the beautiful Black-hooded Antwren, which can be shy put sometimes poses for shots. Other birds we will look for here include Orange-eyed Thornbird, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, and Yellow-eared Woodpecker. In the afternoon, we drive back into the mountains to Itatiaia National Park, where we spend the final three nights of the tour in a hotel inside the park.

Day 11: Itatiaia National Park. Our first day in Itatiaia will be spent in the lower part of the park. The hotel itself is often a great place to see and photograph some of the best birds around, including Saffron Toucanet, Frilled Coquette, Maroon-bellied Parakeet, and Dusky-legged Guan. If we still need Swallow-tailed Cotinga, it will be a major target for us today as well. We may also spend part of the morning on a more challenging trail that can be good for some gorgeous birds like White-bibbed Antbird.

Frilled Coquettes sometimes feed on the Lantana flowers in front of our hotel in Itatiaia
Frilled Coquettes sometimes feed on the Lantana flowers in front of our hotel in Itatiaia (Nick Athanas)

Day 12: Algulhas Negras road. We’ll take a day trip to the highest mountains in Southeast Brazil, where a number of special birds await. Rufous-tailed Antbird, Large-tailed Antshrike, Black-and-gold Cotinga, Bay-chested Warbling-Finch, Black-capped Piprites, and Diademed Tanager are a few of the star birds we’ll look for along this easy dirt track. We’ll check a reliable lek of Green-crowned Plovercrest, try to see Rufous-tailed Antthrush (hard to photograph) , and bird the edge of an overgrown marsh for Itatiaia Spinetail before returning to our hotel in the afternoon (we may end up spending this night near the Algulhas Negras road if the shuttered hotel we used to use reopens).

The gorgeous Large-tailed Antshrike will be a target on the Algulhas Negras road
The gorgeous Large-tailed Antshrike will be a target on the Algulhas Negras road (Nick Athanas)

Day 13: Itatiaia to São Paulo and departure. We’ll have most of the day to bird our way back to Sao Paulo, arriving in time for evening international flights. The tour concludes in the international airport.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate. Breakfasts will typically be at 5 or 5:30am, with one or two a bit earlier. Where possible, there will be some downtime at the lodge in the middle of the day. On days where this is not possible, we will attempt to arrive to the hotel early enough to relax a bit before dinner. There will be chances to do some nightbirding at several locations, but those wishing to skip it may do so. Brazil is a huge country, and as such there is a lot of driving; at least 5 days will involve drives of 3 hours or more, the longest being about 6 hours on day 7.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Most of the birding is done from flat or moderately inclined roads and trails. You can expect to walk an average of around 3 miles (4.8 km) on the full birding days, and less on the travel days. Two days of the trip will involve some trails with some steeper sections where a walking stick can be helpful. 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. It could get down to 45°F/7°C early in the morning on 1 morning. Some rain can be expected.

ACCOMMODATION: Generally good to excellent, though the guesthouses at Intervales are a bit basic. 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.

EXPECTATIONS: A great trip for both birding and bird photography. You could easily see more than 300 bird species on this trip, and it would not be beyond the realm of possibility to photograph more than half of those.

GEAR: Binoculars are essential. A 300 mm lens with teleconverter or a 100-400 mm zoom work well in most areas. A full-frame camera helps in darker situations for being able to shoot at higher ISOs, but is by no means required. Longer lenses such as 500-600 are fine if you have them, but they can be tiring to carry on some of the walks.

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 of day 19; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to lunch on day 20; safe drinking water as well as tea and coffee during meals (if eating at a restaurant that does not include drinks, reasonable non-alcoholic beverages will be included); safe drinking water only between meals; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the evening of day 1 to the afternoon of day 20; airport transfer on day 1 of the main tour; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from day 2 to day 20 (for smaller groups the guide will drive, and for larger groups there will be a driver); local guide on day 4 and day 5 of the main tour at Intervales; entrance fees to the 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; tips for luggage porters if you require their services; flights; excess luggage charges; 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.