Summary & itinerary
We had a great birding trip to Southeast Brazil, from 13 October till 5 November 2001. It had cost a considerable preparation bird wise, but the logistics were easy in this well developed region. The reward was that we got our 2000th american bird species here (we still needed 136 before the trip), and this happened to be the Buff-throated Purpletuft, a small and rare cotinga. We also got our 50th wren here (Long-billed). We got 345 species in total, a number that would certainly have been somewhat bigger with specialized guides, but we just like to bird on our own.
Southeast Brazil is famous for its many endemic bird species in the remains of the Atlantic rainforest belt. This broad zone consists of lowland, hills and mountains, and we visited sites in all of these subzones. From low to high altitude these were Sooretama/Linhares, Ubatuba, Augusto Rushi (Nova Lombardia), Serra dos Orgaos, Itatiaia, Caparaˇ (plus a drier intermontane area N of Serra dos Orgaos). More inland there is a broad zone of savannes (cerrado and campo), where we visited Cipˇ and Canastra. SE Brazil is so isolated from the other areas where we have been birding before in South America (Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and the coast near Buenos Aires), that really half of the species we saw were new for us. These 170 lifers are for a great majority specialties of this region. Half of these 170 species did we see only once, and I think it's good that we visited all these different sites (but will evaluate this further on in the report). This meant a lot of travel of course (4500 km), but the roads are good and the rental car (small but with airco) was cheap: 1800 Real or 600 US$ for 23 days, all in. Everything was cheap in Brazil, because the value of the Real has fallen considerably in the last years. Hotels and food are good and (both) plentiful.
The weather was a pleasant 25 degrees C generally, with some hot afternoons and some rain at the start and esp. the end of the trip. This is the transition from the dry to the wet season, and spring was clearly in the air, with many birds nest building. SE Brazil is already at 21 degrees South latitude but because of the moist Atlantic forest it seems real tropical, also in the avifauna (many antbirds, woodcreepers, tanagers, toucans, etc.). Yet it is malaria-free.
We found the people very kind and polite, and we felt safe and at ease everywhere but did never visit a big city (no need to). Road traffic has its dangers here, and in general we took some care when approaching bends in the roads, in order to avoid surprises by overtaking cars from the other direction. Food hygiene must be good in this region, we never had any stomach troubles.
All in all, this is a rather ideal birding destination, and we agree with another birder that this region may be called the "USA of South America". Two drawbacks are the language and the lack of a true field guide. Portuguese is really different from Spanish, but the people are patient enough to try to understand you and help you. Todas as Aves do Brasil (all the birds of Brazil, D. Souza) is a hard-to-get, simple field guide or rather an illustrated checklist, but we were really glad we had one. However, for several bird families (like woodcreepers, furnarids, flycatchers) we had brought additional and better pictures collected from various sources (esp. Ridgely & Tudor - Birds of S America). Other birders use Dunning (photographic guide for S American birds), the Collins for Southern South America, the complete Ridgely and Tudor, or even Sick's 2.6 kg natural history book Birds in Brazil. We think that it's best to use Todas as Aves (or Dunning if you can't find this) together with Ridgely & Tudor (copies of the plates with the texts opposite, and have the books with the whole text in the car or your room). This should be accompanied by Forrester's Birding Brazil (1990), a bird finding guide with detailed checklists. Updates to the bird finding part of this book can be found at www.arthurgrosset.com (the notes by Jeremy Minns). The Brazil chapter in Nigel Wheatley's Where to watch birds in South America seems a mere summary of Forrester's book, but gives a more convenient indication of the target species per site. Recently a CD has been published with the sounds of 99 species from the mountains of SE Bazil (see e.g. at http://www.birdsongs.com/Others/BirdsMountainsSEBrazil/main.htm).
We enjoyed enormously seeing so many lifers in bird taxa familiar to us, like 6 new parrots, 15 new hummingbirds, 3 new toucans, 7 new woodpeckers, 14 new furnarids (5 new foliage-gleaners), 20 new antbirds, 7 new cotingas, 25 new flycatchers, 15 new tanagers, and 11 new finches/grosbeaks/saltators. Our best memories are of Red-billed Curassow, Red-capped and Red-browed Parrot, Tawny-browed Owl, Saw-billed Hermit, Plovercrest, Hyacinth Visorbearer, Stripe-breasted Starthroat, Three-toed Jacamar, Crescent-chested Puffbird, Saffron Toucanet, Blond-crested and Robust Woodpecker, Black-billed Scythebill, Araucaria Tit-Spinetail, Cipo Canastero, Black-capped Foliagegleaner, Rufous-capped Antshrike, Star-throated Antwren, Rufous-tailed Antbird, White-bibbed Antbird, Spotted Bamboowren, Slaty Bristlefront, Black-and-gold Cotinga, Hooded Berryeater, Buff-throated Purletuft, Bare-throated Bellbird, Sharpbill, Helmeted Manakin, Pin-tailed Manakin, Drab-breasted Bamboo-tyrant, Fork-tailed Tody-tyrant, Yellow-lored Tody-flycatcher, Sharp-tailed Tyrant, Eared Pygmy-tyrant, Russet-winged Spadebill, Grey Monjita, Velvety Black-tyrant, Cock-tailed Tyrant, Chestnut-crowned Becard, Ochre-breasted Pipit, Long-billed Wren, Curl-crested Jay, Rufous-crowned Greenlet, Chestnut-vented Conebill, Brown, Rufous-headed, Brazilian and Diademed Tanager, Chestnut-bellied Euphonia, Red-necked, Brassy-breasted and Gilt-edged Tanager, Bay-chested, Red-rumped and Cinereous Warbling-finch, Buff-throated Pampa-finch, Thick-billed Saltator, Yellow-billed Blue-finch, and Golden-winged Cacique.
Besides, we were surprised by seeing many mammal species, amongst others three monkey species, Maned Wolf, and Maned Three-toed Sloth. At one spot in the Augusto Rushi reserve we even got frightened by mammals. We were quietly walking the lower of the two dirt roads amidst dense forest, when we heard barking and wailing calls, like of mad dogs, and they were coming towards us so it seemed. We quickly walked back towards the car which was a few 100 m away, and meanwhile heard the sound getting nearer and nearer. We ran the last 100 m, and when we were at the car the frightening sound traveled past us right through the forest, at a fast pace. We must assume that what we witnessed here was the hunt of a small pack of Bush Dog, and then this may have been the rarest observation of our whole trip.