Friday, 25 September 2015

NE BRAZIL: Ceara (22-25 September 2015)

This blog is the first of several recounting a very successful trip to NE Brazil where Ciro Albano brilliantly guided Jon Hornbuckle, Rod Martins, Barry Wright and myself for the best part of three weeks.
Araripe Manakin on the cover of our trip log, no pressure then! Photo: Ciro Albano
I had hoped this blog would be illustrated mostly with my photographs (of varying quality), however disaster struck three days from the end of the trip when I lost memory cards containing all my photos taken up to that point.  Barry and Jon very kindly sent me copies of theirs, otherwise this blog would be very dull!  Many thanks to both.  Jon used a Canon Powershot SX50, the predecessor to the SX60 I had and I would hope my photos would have been similar. Barry was several classes ahead of us taking brilliant shots with a Nikon D7200.

Introduction.  In 2014 I learned that Jon Hornbuckle was planning a 6 week ‘hit-list’ trip to Brazil late that Autumn, half in the NE and half in the SE.  Rod Martins was going too.  I couldn’t get away for the whole period but expressed a keen interest in the NE and was invited to participate.  For various reasons the trip was put on hold and we, and Marc Brew, ended up in Ecuador a couple of months later instead (see here).  That trip was brilliant but we were still very keen on Brazil and for the NE section hoped to be able to engage the legendary Ciro Albano to guide us (Ciro had been very highly recommended by three birding friends who had been on different trips with him).  Jon contacted Ciro with his hit list, received encouraging answers that most of what he wanted to see was feasible in a 20 day itinerary, and negotiated a rate for four of us, the optimal number for Ciro’s vehicle.  The itinerary included all the main sites in the NE as even though Jon had visited many before there were still new birds for him at most of them.  I contacted Barry Wright to see if he would be interested, an earlier conversation at the Short-toed Eagle in Ashdown Forest suggested that he might be if we were using Ciro and the dates were fixed several months in advance.  Barry and I were going for the first part of the trip only and booked our flights in April fearing availability might reduce and the cost rise if we left it.  Jon and Rod took a while to finalise how long they wanted in the SE before booking theirs and the cost had actually fallen.  As the trip grew nearer my thoughts turned to what to take and packing took several attempts, as usual, with the decision to take a telescope only being made on the third and final repack.

Monday 21st September.  Megan dropped me off in Shoreham High Street and after a short wait my bus to Gatwick and then Heathrow arrived.  It was a comfortable journey with no delays around the M25.  Despite our flight to Madrid having been brought forward an hour I still arrived at Terminal 5 in good time and was just sorting myself our when Barry phoned to say he had arrived at Purple Parking.  We checked in for our Iberia flight to Madrid.  Not the most comfortable and a budget-airline feel to it with food and drinks for purchase only and lots of hand luggage on board.  We arrived on time, at about 19:30, and had a five hour wait for our flight to Sao Paulo.

Tuesday 22nd September.  We departed on time on an old Iberia airbus.  Being a night flight I was pleased to be able to sleep some of the time, just as well as there was no in-seat entertainment and little leg room.  After almost eleven hours we arrived in Sao Paulo at about 06:30 local time, went through immigration and found Jon and Rod on the way to the Baggage Hall.  They had left Heathrow the previous evening on a direct LAN flight and arrived just under an hour before us (their flight had been cheaper too …).  Having entered the country we had to reclaim our bags, go through Customs and make our way to the Domestic Terminal.  Straightforward except there was no sign of my bag.  Being a rucksack it was usually first or last to appear, usually the latter.  Sometimes it had to be taken to outsize baggage although it isn’t that big.  After what seemed an age and as I was queuing to speak to an official who I hoped spoke English at Lost Luggage (at least my phrasebook was in my hand baggage for such an eventuality) I noticed someone wheeling a trolley to the far corner of the hall with what might have been a khaki rucksack wrapped in a large plastic bag.  My anxious wait, and thoughts of what I would have to buy for the trip if it didn’t turn up, was over.  I was back in Brazil after 27 years!  We were all on the same TAM flight to Fortaleza but it didn’t depart until 13:10, another long hour wait.  Outside the Domestic Terminal was a large car park bordered by a belt of woodland.  Jon and I went to investigate seeing a few common species of which a Swallow-tailed Hummingbird was probably the best.  Our flight departed on time and we landed in Fortaleza at 16:30, crossing the impressive Rio Sao Francisco, marking the northern border of Bahia, after about two thirds of the way.  We collected our bags and met Ciro by the airport entrance.  He was impossible to miss, looking like the proper birder he undoubtedly was.  After quick introductions Ciro led us to his Renault Duster in the car park with a nearby pair of Red-cowled Cardinals our first NE endemic.  A very tame pair of Masked Water-Tyrants made me wish my camera was more accessible.  We packed our bags fairly easily into the rear of Ciro’s vehicle, he was impressed that we had taken heed of his advice not to bring too much stuff - we were impressed that Rod had taken it on board too! Ciro had a ‘coffin’ on the roof for his stuff although some of ours could have fitted in it if necessary.  We then drove for three hours, mostly in darkness, to the town of Guaramiranga in the Serra de Baturite where we stayed in the Alto da Serra hotel.  We had our first meal of the trip and started a kitty which I kept a log of.  That evening Barry discovered on facebook that our good friend Martin Casemore had found an Acadian Flycatcher on the beach at Dungeness, fantastic and thoroughly well deserved but we’d missed a fairly local first for Britain on our first day away. Not a great start.

Wednesday 23rd September.  We were up at 05:00 as it was getting light and birded around the hotel at Alto da Serra and along a nearby road seeing Ceara Gnateater, Ceara Short-tailed Antthrush, Ochraceous Piculet, Black-capped Antwren and Band-tailed Manakin.  We were at a moderate altitude and it was a very pleasant if cloudy and somewhat cool.  We returned to the hotel for a late buffet breakfast, which ended up more like brunch, before driving a short distance to Fazenda Gameleira, a private farm surrounded by open woodland.  Here we saw Grey-breasted Parakeets, Gould’s Toucanet and Wing-banded Hornero and nearby a male Band-tailed Manakin.  We left at 11:00 for the 6 hour drive west towards the Ceara/Piaui border and a forest patch on the Serra da Ibiapaba.  At petrol and snack/ice-cream stop at an isolated garage on the way Barry wandered off and found our first Caatinga Chacalote and my only Pale Baywing of the trip.  The forest near Tiangua was excellent although it took half an hour to drive there on increasingly small tracks and we only had 45 minutes birding time before the light went.  It was enough for some of us to see Hooded Gnateater (Jon and Rod did not manage to get onto it, but we were returning in the morning), Ceara Leaftosser and Northern Lesser Woodcreeper.  Most of the drive back to Tiangua was in the dark, the route somewhat resembling a maze so it was no surprise that we once took a wrong turning.  In Tiangua we had a cheap meal and stayed in the Padre Cissero Hotel. It had been a brilliant first day.
Ceara Gnateater at Alto da Serra.  Barry's excellent photo even shows a tick on its cheek 
birding at Alto da Serra - Jon, Ciro, me and Rod (photo Barry)


resort complex in the forested hills at Alto da Serra (photo Barry)
Ciro at nearby Fazenda Gameleira (photo Barry)
Grey-breasted Parakeet at Fazenda Gameleira (photo Barry)
Gould's Toucanet (photo Barry)
Band-winged Hornero at Fazenda Gameleira (photo Barry).  Perhaps not the most appropriate name as the band was hardly noticeable until it flew.  I had probably overlooked them on my previous visit for that reason
Epaulet Oriole (photo Jon)
Masked Water Tyrant (photo Jon)
I was delighted to see this male Band-tailed Manakin (photo Barry).  It was an absolute stunner, but then the males of several manakins are.
refueling stop in NW Ceara (photo Barry)
looking for Hooded Gnateaters in a dry forest patch at Serra da Ibiapaba - me, Jon & Ciro (photo Barry)
Thursday 24th September.  We were up at 04:30 in preparation for an early start but Ciro’s car had been blocked in.  Fortunately it didn’t take long for the drivers concerned to move their cars and let us out.  We left the hotel at about 05:00 and returned to the patch of forest we had visited the previous evening, with another wrong turning quickly corrected, arriving just after dawn.  Hooded Gnateaters performed better with us all seeing them well, a superb bird.  It is likely that two pairs were involved although hi only saw one female for certain.  We also saw Spotted Piculet, Blue-crowned Trogon and Blue-backed Manakin.  We left after two hours and returned to the hotel for a big breakfast and left just before 09:00 for the 6.5 hour drive back towards Fortaleza and then south to Quixada.  We stopped twice for petrol, once combining with a lunch stop.  A roadside lake produced both Least and Pied-billed Grebes and a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle high up on a large rocky outcrop.  We arrived at Quixada at about 15:30.  We stayed at Pedro dos Ventos, a superb lodge on an isolated hillside surrounded by dry forest.   It was apparently notable for hang gliding, although none were in evidence nor the usually quite strong winds.  First off we checked out the bare rocky slopes by the restaurant where we quickly found three sandy Pygmy Nightjars at their regular roosting site.  They were quite active, shuffling around and jumping up and down and were possibly nervous of our presence although soon flew if approached too closely.  Near the lodge was a small lake at the foot of a forested hillside.  We birded in this area and found it particularly productive seeing a pair of White-browed Guans coming in to drink, Grey-breasted Wood-Rail, Ochre-backed Woodpecker, Long-billed Wren, a tail-less White-naped Jay, a flock of Scarlet-throated Tanagers and another Pygmy Nightjar flushed from another small open rocky area.  It had been another brilliant day, and the food in the lodge was excellent too.
birding the dry forest at Serra da Ibiapaba on our return visit - me, Rod, Ciro and Jon (photo Barry)
male Hooded Gnateater at Ibiapada (photo Barry)
loading the vehicle, a long drive ahead (photo Barry)
we were slightly delayed by the recovery of an overturned lorry (photo Jon)
good as new (photo Jon)
roadside lake near Quixada, with mostly Least Grebes on it (photo Barry)
accommodation at Perdo Dos Ventos (photo Barry)
Jon and Ciro looking for Pygmy Nightjars by the restaurant at Perdo Dos Ventos (photo Barry)
me and Jon photographing Pygmy Nightjars (photo Barry)
relying on their camouflage they were very photogenic (photo Jon)
if one approached too close they would get up and run, as this one was about to do, only flying as a last resort (photo Jon)
brilliant birds (photo Jon
facades at Pedro dos Ventos (photo Barry)
pool and dry hillside at Pedro dos Ventos (photo Barry)
White-browed Guans coming down to drink (photo Barry)
this is about as far apart as I saw them (photo Jon)
Long-billed Wren, the bill partly obscured by a nearer out of focus twig (photo Barry)
Ochre-backed Woodpecker (photo Jon)
another nightjar roost area on a nearby hillside with a nice view (photo Barry)
Friday 25th September.  We were out at 05:20 to find it already light.  We birded around the lodge for an hour seeing 3 White-browed Guans by the swimming pool and a small flock of White-naped Jays by the lodge.  Ciro heard a Caatinga Spot-backed Puffbird calling from up on the hillside so we headed along a track towards it, Barry picking it up on the ridge.  We continued a short distance along the track seeing a much closer puffbird, a superb buffy coloured Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Caatinga Barred Antshrike, Black-bellied Antwren, Broad-tipped Hermit, Sooty-fronted Spinetail, Ochraceous Piculet and a male Ochre-backed Woodpecker.  We returned for a big breakfast at 06:30 and left, after a final look at the Pygmy Nightjars, at 07:45.  It was a 5 hour drive due south to Chapada do Araripe where our main target resided, the stunning Araripe Manakin which was discovered as recently as 1996 and only occurs along a 60km escarpment where it lives near clear water streams.  No pressure then!  We had a couple of roadside stops on the way south including a wetland area where there were 40 Southern Pochard, Muscovy and Masked Duck, American Purple Gallinule, Campo Troupial and Caatinga Chacalote.  We arrived in the town of Crato and headed to the Arajara Water Park at the foot of the Chapada, one of the easiest places to find the manakin at the foot of the escarpment.  It was a short walk around the side of a primitive theme park (big model dinosaurs) to the lush forest at the foot of the escarpment.  We saw a male manakin almost immediately but no sooner had we seen it than it was off.  We stayed in the area for the rest of the afternoon and I saw at least 8 manakins although it took me a couple of hours to get photos I was happy with, now lost on one of my cards.  We also saw Tawny Piculet, Euler’s Flycatcher (new for me but surely something I had overlooked on previous trips?), Black-tailed Flycatcher, Pectoral Sparrow and a White-tufted Marmoset.  We returned to town where we stayed in the Hotel Poto del Crato and had a forgettable meal.  Barry and I (and presumably Jon and Rod) had mosquitos in our room but fortunately the air-com soon sorted them out.  Another superb day -  the Araripe Manakins were all I had hoped they would be, absolutely brilliant, and almost made the trip worthwhile on their own, but there was a lot more to see in the days ahead so I bought the T-shirt (two actually) and we were ready to move on. 

dawn at Pedro dos Ventos, 3 White-browed Guans were roosting in the back tree (photo Barry)
roosting White-browed Guan (photo Jon)
early morning yawn, I knew the feeling (photo Jon)
White-naped Jay (photo Barry)
it was quite a performer (photo Jon)
hefty bill and claws (photo Jon)
the staring yellow eyes were offset by the blue facial skin when seen head on (photo Jon)
photo Jon
Common Tody Flycatcher, a smart little bird (photo Barry)
Black-bellied Antwren (photo Barry)
Caatinga Spot-backed Puffbird (photo Barry)
male Caatinga Barred Antshrike (photo Barry)
Ochraceous Piculet (photo Barry)


Ciro sharing breakfast (photo Barry)
Cactus Parakeet perhaps tiring of fruit (photo Barry)
decided to try scrambled egg and joined Jon and me (photo Barry)
Cactus Parakeet (photo Barry)
time for a last look at the Pygmy Nightjars (photo Barry)


hard to resist a few more photos too (photo Barry)
another swimming pool at Pedro dos Ventos (photo Barry)
Ciro liked to drive (photo Barry)
good wetland on the road south (photo Barry)
Caatinga Chachalote (photo Barry)
Campo Troupial (photo Jon)
Pale-legged Hornero (photo Jon)
not so good lake (photo Barry)
Rod and me on the 'manakin walkway' at Arajara Water Park (photo Barry)
Tawny Piculet (photo Jon)
 Ciro had come up with the goods again with Araripe Manakin (photo Barry)
 very happy birders Barry, Jon, me and Ciro.  Rod was too, he had just wandered off (photo Barry)
Rod reflecting on the manakin's brilliance (photo Barry)
female Araripe Manakin (photo Jon).  Although we saw a male almost as soon as we arrived females proved easier to photograph initially
perhaps being duller they stayed still for longer (photo Jon)
an immature male with some red coming through on the head (photo Jon).  Water sprinklers made attractive perches and were handy for a bathe
the male Araripe Manakin was absolutely stunning (photo Barry)
it is amazing such an obvious and fairly common bird in its restricted range had gone undiscovered until 1996 (photo Jon)
although Arajara Water Park, perhaps the most easily accessible place to see it, was not open then (photo Jon)
brilliant from the front (photo Jon)
even better from behind (photo Barry)
Jon surveying the water parks attractions (photo Barry)
Barry at the Arajara Water Park, Jon or I would have taken this shot
me at the Water Park (photo Barry)
Water Park vendors, mostly selling skimpy swimming costumes (I resisted the temptation) they also had some T-Shirts (photo Barry)
my T-Shirt (I also bought a white one).The Latin name (Bokermanni) commemorated a Brazilian zoologist and film maker who died the year before it was discovered. Ciro had taken the left hand photo, he was very well known in these parts ...
it is always nice to see the main target bird early in a trip (photo Barry)
Rod, Ciro and Jon at the evening log (photo Barry)



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