Wednesday, 30 September 2015

NE BRAZIL: Canyons and coastal forest (26-30 September 2015)

This blog is the second of five 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.  I carelessly lost all my photos up to the last three days and am most grateful to Barry Wright and Jon Hornbuckle for allowing me to use theirs.  Most are of better quality than mine would have been so it was not all bad ...

Saturday 26th September.  We left our hotel in Crato at 05:30 for a 20 minute drive to an excellent patch of Caatinga on the edge of Serra de Araripe.  We birded the dry forest here for three hours seeing Great Xenops (even better than expected), White-browed Antpitta (ditto), Silvery-cheeked and Planalto Slaty Antshrikes, Stripe-backed Antbird, Caatinga and Black-bellied Antwrens, Pale-bellied Tyrant-Manakin, Grey-eyed Greenlet (surprisingly smart), Cinnamon Tanager and a rather tatty Ruby-Topaz Hummingbird.  At 08:20, having seen all that was likely and with it starting to get hot we returned to the hotel for our usual big breakfast.  We left Crato an hour later for the six hour drive south to Canudos.  We soon left Ceara which had been brilliant and entered Pernambuco.  We had petrol and lunch stops on the way south before crossing into Bahia.  Just outside Canudos we visited two areas of Caatinga.  At the first we birded along tracks through rather thick woodland, seeing Stripe-breasted Starthroat (but unfortunately not a full male), Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Red-shouldered Spinetail, Great Xenops (again), Pileated Finch and Greater Wagtail-Tyrant.  The second stop was more open and we stayed to dusk seeing Spotted Piculet, Lesser Wagtail-Tyrant, Southern Scrub-Flycatcher and some high flying Least Nighthawks.  We drove the short distance to Canudos, checked into the Hotel Brasil and had a meal and an early night with the prospect of a 04:00 start to be at a Lear’s Macaw roost site for dawn …

White-browed Antpitta (photo Barry)
early morning Caatinga (photo Barry)
female Silvery-cheeked Antshrike (photo Jon)
a fairly common Caatinga endemic (photo Jon)
male Silvery-cheeked Antshrike (photo Barry)
Ciro and Jon (photo Barry)
Jon and Rod looking for the terrestrial Stripe-backed Antbird, it took a while to see but was well worth the effort (photo Barry)
Birding the dry forest at Serra de Araripe (photo Jon)
this way (photo Barry)
Araripe Manakin pictures were a common emblem in Crato (photo Barry)
Rod and Jon catching up on sleep on the long journey south (photo Barry)
thick Caatinga near Canudos (photo Barry)
Ciro leading the way (photo Barry)
Stripe-breasted Starthroat (photo Jon)
Greater Wagtail-Tyrant (photo Barry)
Red-shouleded Spinetail (photo Barry)
Great Xenops (photo Jon)

what an amazing bird! (photo Barry)
back at the car (photo Barry)
Lesser Wagtail-Tyrant (photo Barry)
Spotted Piculet (photo Barry)
Sunday 27th September.  We left the hotel at 04:00 and drove to the Lear’s Macaw 'reserve' on a privately owned facenda where a traditional roost site in red canyons was protected.  We headed down a dirt track and soon came across a friend of Ciro’s who was waiting for us in the dark.  He had a pick-up and after a quick chat with Ciro opened a gate for us to follow him, which we did for 2-3 kms.  We parked and waited at a bench close to the edge of the canyon in which the birds roosted.  It was one of only two known roost sites and birds moved between sites depending on how close they were to the palms they were feeding on.  The macaws travelled up to 100kms to find palms in fruit, but both roost sites usually held several hundred birds.  We waited and as it started to get light we heard birds calling from the canyon below.  Soon small flocks were flying out of the canyon and I had counted about 60 macaws when two larger flocks flew by with over 100 birds in them.  Very impressive.  Twos and threes were flying around, some landing on nearby cactus.  We approached the canyon rim and could see a group of over 30 on the cliff edge opposite.  We had great views of them there and flying around in good light before they dispersed.  The blue of the macaws against the reddish walls of the canyon was a truly memorable sight.  Quite a few were perched in tree tops at the head of the canyon and Barry counted over 100 in a quick scan.  Superb.  We dragged ourselves away to visit the reserve centre and pay our $50 entrance fee.  Well worth it to help protect the area.  No T-shirts or caps for sale was a missed opportunity as I would certainly have bought one (the way I lose caps maybe two or three).  Also seen in the area were Blue-crowned Parakeets, Velvety Black-Tyrant and Cliff Flycatcher.  We felt 300 Lear’s Macaws a reasonable estimate of those we had seen.  We returned to the hotel for our usual big breakfast and left at 08:25 although we did a U-turn after a couple of minutes when Jon realised he had left his charger in the room.  We had another long drive ahead of us, this time east towards the coast.  We had a short stop to look for Pectoral Antwren by the road outside Jeremoabo.  Ongoing road improvements were hardly ideal but Ciro soon taped in the antwren which gave good views.  The rest of the journey was uneventful with a roadside stop for 7 Greater Rheas in a field and a White Monjita from the vehicle.  We were now in Alagoas and arrived at Murici late afternoon seeing Pinated Bittern and Limpkin but only hearing Yellow-breasted Crake in an area of marshy damp grassland just outside the Quiombo Park Hotel where we would be staying for two nights.  It was not particularly close to our next birding sites but nowhere suitable was any nearer.  It was also very nice and some birding was possible in the grounds, provided we were around in daylight.

Ciro at dawn, we could hear macaws calling but none had yet appeared (photo Barry)
Rod waiting (photo Barry)
the first macaws were just silhouettes (photo Jon)
me (photo Barry)

Canudos canyons  (photo Barry)
Ciro near the rim (photo Barry)
a spectacular site,  the macaws roosted in caves of which there were many to choose from (photo Barry)
watching macaws on the opposite rim (photo Barry)
Lear's Macaws on the opposite rim (photo Jon)
Rod (photo Barry)
Lear's Macaws (photo Jon)
the colour contrast with the cliffs was superb (photo Barry)
not bad on cactus either (photo Barry)
or against the sky (photo Barry)
Canudos (photo Jon)
Jon at Canudos (photo Barry)
Barry at Canudos (photo Jon)
Ciro, Jon and me (photo Barry)
Canudos (photo Barry)
sadly it was all too soon time to leave (photo Barry)
we followed our guide back (photo Barry)
passing another Lear's Macaw on the way (photo Barry)
 it was particularly obliging (photo Jon)
Canudos (photo Barry)
 impressive scenery (photo Barry)
reserve HQ (photo Barry)
roadworks near Jeremoabo (photo Barry)
fortunately the resident Pectoral Antwren did not seen to be affected (photo Barry)
the road south, a good surface and little traffic on this section (photo Barry)
Greater Rhea by the road (photo Barry)
one of the Quiombo Oark Hotel residents (photo Barry) 
Monday 28th September.  We left the hotel at 04:00 to drive to Murici where we arrived at 05:30.  The last 5km or so were along a very poor track which was quite steep in places and would most likely have been impassable in the wet, even for Ciro in his 4WD.  We stopped at an excellent viewpoint on the edge of one of the largest remaining remnant forest patches in the area. Most of the rest had been cleared and replaced by grassland for grazing.  There was an impressive view east down to the coast, across patches of early morning mist, but sadly very few lowland forest patches remained.  The hotel had given us some sandwiches for breakfast and we ate them while scanning the forest edge, hearing and then seeing 5 Red-shouldered Macaws in isolated palms.  A good start which became even better when Barry picked up a large raptor that landed in view high in a distant tree.  It looked interesting through a telescope and Ciro quickly confirmed it was a White-collared Kite, one of our main targets for the area.  A second bird appeared and they proceeded to fly around, on one occasion attempting some butterfly-like display.  It was not yet 07:00 and seemed early for large raptors to be about but Ciro told us early morning was a good time to see the kites.  We soon finished breakfast and headed to a trail Ciro knew that went into the forest.  We followed a good trail along a ridge for several hours seeing lots of birds.  We reached a ravine and turned back to concentrate of a couple of target species we had not picked up on the way out and we were back at the car at 15:00.  We heard then saw a White-collared Kite displaying directly overhead (presumably one of the pair seen earlier), Black Jacobin, Long-tailed Woodnymph (unfortunately only a female), Black-cheeked Gnateater, Rufous-winged and Alagoas Antwren (the only site the latter is now found), White-backed Fire-eye (distinctive Pernambuco race), Northern Lesser and Todd’s Woodcreepers, Pernambuco Foliage-gleaner, Red-headed, White-bearded and Blue-backed Manakins, Buff-throated Purpletuft, Black-headed Berrypecker, Screaming Piha, Thrush-like Schiffornis, Greyish Mourner and White-bellied Tody-Tyrant.  We returned to Quiombo Park Hotel and birded around the forest edge behind the hotel were Ciro quickly taped in a Seven-coloured Tanager.  We then returned to the damp grassland where we had heard Yellow-breasted Crake the previous evening but with no more success.  Despite this it had been another brilliant day with all possible targets seen, some of which were quite tricky and could have required a return visit.  For several we felt we were in the last chance saloon and Rod dubbed it ‘death row birding’. Alagoas Foliage-gleaner not having been seen for 15 years and the newly described Cryptic Treehunter going or more likely having gone the same way rather brought this home.

arriving at Murici although it was still a km or so drive from here (photo Barry, on gate opening duty)
scoping distant White-collared Kite (photo Barry)
Jon checking on breakfast (photo Barry)

Murici, the largest remaining forest patch in Alagoas but sadly too small to support  (photo Barry)
view towards the coast, we could see very few remnant forest patches and all were very small (photo Barry)
forest trail at Murici (photo Barry)
Buff-throated Purpletuft showing both named features (photo Barry)
male Rufous-winged Antwren, the rufous wings just visible (photo Barry)
Todd's Woodcreeper, currently a race of Amazonian Barred but isolated and distinct and likely to be split (photo Barry)
White-collared Kite, after early distant scope views of a pair this one flew over displaying (photo Barry)
Reddish Hermit (photo Barry)
inside Murici (photo Barry)
 Pernambuco Foliage-gleaner at Murici, but for how much longer? (photo Barry)
female Alagoas Antwren at Murici.  It is becoming increasingly hard to find, unless with Ciro! (photo Barry)
dry forest at Murici (photo Barry)
birding at Murici (photo Barry)
Rod at the fountain of youth (photo and caption Barry)
Ciro checking facebook
Barry and Ciro (photo Jon)
sitting (or lying) in the forest turned out not to be a good idea was we all picked up chiggers (photo Barry)
Pernambuco White-backed Fire-eye, another potential split.  This part of the trip wasn't quite 'one for now and one for later' but it felt a bit that way (photo Barry)
Murici, what was left was superb forest (photo Barry)
 there is just not enough of it (photo Barry)
but once it is gone it's gone (photo Barry)
view from Quiombo Park Hotel, we did get back in daylight (photo Barry)

Quiombo Park Hotel (photo Barry)
Seven-coloured Tanager - orange, black, light-blue, dark-blue & green left me feeling a little short changed if that was possible for such a stunning bird which we only saw once (photo Barry)
Quiombo Park Hotel accomodation (photo Barry)
wet marshy grassland at the hotel entrance, the decent forest behind explained why it was a good site for restricted-range Seven-coloured Tanager (photo Barry)
a thinner toad at Quiombo (photo Barry)
well camouflaged amongst the seedpods (photo Barry)
Tuesday 29th September.  We packed and left Quiombo at 04:00 for the two hour drive northeast to Jaqueira, back in Pernambuco or very close to the border.  We birded along a dirt road through the lower part of the reserve seeing mantled Hawk, Sombre Hummingbird, Willis’s Antbird, Orange-bellied Antwren and Alagoas Tyrannulet before driving up into the low hills. Here we saw another early displaying White-collared Kite, Scalloped Antbird (excellent), Pernamuco Woodcreeper (another potential split), ‘Pernambuco’ Eared Pygmy-Tyrant (a new species awaiting formal recognition) and Long-billed Gnatwren (always nice to see).  By now it was 08:30 and we had seen all possible target species so we headed towards the coast near Tamandare.  Ciro took us to sites for Forbes’s Blackbird and Pinto Spinetail both of which soon gave themselves up without setting the world alight.  We were doing so well on the targets that Ciro suggested we pressed on south to effectively save a day that could be better used elsewhere.  We were all in agreement and with 500km to drive and Ciro already having done 200km+ we left as it was already noon. It was a long drive south broken only by stops for food and petrol.  We crossed back into Alagoas and then into Sergipe, arriving in Estancia at about 21:00.  We stayed in the rather ordinary but perfectly adequate Hotel Magnus on the edge of town. Epic driving from Ciro with many big lorries with trailers to contend with.
breakfast stop, me looking for a cheese-only sandwich (photo Barry)
low forest at Jaqueira (photo Barry)
Mantled Hawk (photo Barry)
male Orange-bellied Antwren, the female has the orange-belly (photo Barry)
White-collared Kite, our third encounter of a species we had been concerned about seeing (photo Barry) 
'Pernambuco' Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, another for later as it is yet to be formally described (photo Barry)
Scalloped Antbird (photo Barry)
White-chinned Sapphire (photo Barry)
White-lored Tyrannulet (photo Jon)
forest near Tamandare (photo Barry)
forest near Tamandare (photo Barry)
Forbes's Blackbird, its rarity is about all it has going for it (photo Barry)
Moustached Wren (photo Barry)
Wednesday 30th September.  We left our hotel at 05;00 for a short drive to Crasto Forest.  We birded along a short section of newly tarmacked road were we soon saw Stripe-necked Tody-Tyrant and Fringe-backed Fire-eye, first a female then an excellent male.  We continued to the edge of some mangroves.  Rufous Crab-Hawks were sometimes seen here but none were on view nor were any Mangrove Rails responsive.  A flock of 7 Channel-billed Toucans in a distant tree were nice but little else was evident and we soon moved on to an area of palms to look for parakeets.  Here we were successful obtaining good views of a flock of 8 Golden-tailed Parrotlets and about 12 Jandaya Parakeets.  We returned to the hotel at 08:30 for a big breakfast and left for another long (550km) drive southeast, back into Bahia to Chapada Diamantina.  Some of the roads were badly potholed and lorries with trailers pulling out to avoid them made overtaking interesting although Ciro took it all in his stride.  We had our usual petrol and ice-cream stops and arrived in Lencois at 17:00 - Ciro had done brilliantly again.  Lencois was the first touristy town we had been to and as a result the first couple of hotels Ciro tried were full.  Third time lucky was the very pleasant Aguilar Pousada where we stayed for two nights.  We walked into the centre of town, 10 minutes away, and found a restaurant in a cobbled square.  The squares gradient and rather unstable tables made for an interesting meal.  A nearby bank was my first use of a foreign ATM although it took a while and help from Barry to work out how to use it.  As well as some rather special birds Chapada Diamantina was very scenic and somewhere I was very much looking forward to visiting ...

Crasto Forest (photo Barry)
newly tarmacked road (photo Barry)
dead Pauraque, casualty of the newly tarmacked road (photo Barry)
Stripe-necked Tody-Tyrant (photo Barry)
Fringe-backed Fire-eye (photo Barry)
two of a flock of seven Channel-billed Toucans (photo Barry)
Golden-tailed Parrotlets (photo Barry)
preparing to leave Hotel Magnus in Estancia (photo Barry)
Jon (photo Barry)
ice-cream stop (photo Barry)
cobbled square in Lencois (photo Jon)
Lencois street (photo Barry)
nightlife (photo Barry)