Southeast Brazil: Rainforest & Savanna - Birding Tour
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.
14 September - 3 October (TBA; 2023 price: $6990; single supplement: $450)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 20 Days
Starting City: Curitiba
Ending City: Belo Horizonte
Physical Difficulty: Moderate
Group size: 8 + 1 leader
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, where we will spend a few hours birding a quiet dirt road. The loud clanging calls of Bare-throated Bellbirds are often the first thing we hear as we start walking, but they can be surprisingly hard to see sometimes – this road offers one of the better chances to see the. The forest can be pumping with highland Atlantic Rainforest species like Bertoni’s Antbird, Hooded Berryeater, Scalloped Woodcreeper, Ochre-collared Piculet, Rufous-tailed Attila, Brassy-breasted Tanager, and Red-breasted Toucan. Occasionally Canebrake Groundcreeker is seen here too. 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.
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 handsome Gray-hooded Attila and scarce Mantled Hawk. 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 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. Night birding 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.
Day 6: Intervales to Ubatuba
After some final birding, we’ll spend most of the rest of the day driving to the town of 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. We have three nights in a charming hotel in a quiet suburb of Ubatuba.
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.
Day 9: Perequê and Guapiassu
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 the Guapiassu Ecolological Reserve (also known as Regua) 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. We spend three nights in a nice lodge inside the reserve.
Day 10: Guapiassu
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 Antpipit 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; even though it is a rather common species, it can be hard to find a nice adult male. We’ll spend time on forest trails, but the walking will be done at a fairly slow pace.
Day 11: Serra dos Órgãos
We’ll rise early and head up into this picturesque mountain range, named after the organ pipes they resemble. We’ll first attempt to reach a site 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 road conditions can sometime prevent reaching the best site for the cotinga. The lush forest here is also excellent for Large-tailed Antshrike and Velvety Black-Tyrant, and we’ll have 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 in the morning we’ll bird another road that can be excellent for the superb Swallow-tailed Cotinga, and where the Red-legged Seriemas can sometimes be absurdly tame. After a packed lunch, we’ll head back to Guapiassu, likely arriving early enough to some more birding around the wetlands near the lodge.
Day 12: Guapiassu 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.
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 comfortable hotel is right near the start of the road, giving us a chance for a mid-day siesta if the birding gets slow. Note: the hotel near the Algulhas Negras road is now only open seasonally – if it is not open for our tour, we will have a third night in the hotel in Itatiaia National Park.
Day 15: Travel to Canastra
This is mostly a travel day, but we may have a bit of time in the morning to target anything we still need. We’ll then drive much of the rest of the day to the town of São Roque de Minas, where we spend three nights. En route, we’ll stop at a reliable site for Streamer-tailed Tyrant, 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 its 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 (though we did manage to find it in 2017). 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.
Day 18: Onward to Caraça
It’s a long drive today, about 6.5 hours total, but we’ll stop occasionally for breaks, 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 look for Serra Antwren, White-breasted and Rock Tapaculos, Gray-eyed Greenlet, Black-capped Antwren, and a few other birds. We’ll also see the bizarre nightly ritual of priests feeding wild Maned Wolves on the church steps (they usually come in but you may need some patience, and occasionally they stay away). Note: On some trips we stay in a nearby lodge and visit the reserve from there.
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 electric Blue Finch and the unique White-banded and White-rumped Tanagers. We may also stay out late to look for Least Nighthawk, Spot-tailed Nightjar, and Band-tailed Nightjar.
Day 20: Cipó and Departure
We’ll spend part of the morning looking for the endemic Cipo Canastero. 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.
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 6 hours or more, though these drives are broken up with rest stops, lunch stops, and birding stops.
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 trails with some steeper sections where a walking stick can be helpful. One morning may involve a short walk on a very steep, cobblestone road, though road conditions sometimes prevent access. 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, the 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.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Starting in January 2024, Brazil will once again require visas for US, Canadian, and Australian passport holders.Tourist visas are currently not required for citizens of the UK, EU, New Zealand, and South Africa. For other nationalities, please check with the nearest Brazilian embassy or consulate for current requirements. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check your visa requirements a few weeks before you travel.
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.
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