Thursday, 8 October 2015

NE BRAZIL: Boa Nova and Serra Bonita (4-8 October 2015)

This blog is the forth 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.  With just three days to go I carelessly lost all my photos and am most grateful to Barry and Jon for allowing me to use theirs - most are of better quality than mine would have been.

Sunday 4th October (continued).  We arrived in Boa Nova at 15:00 and checked into the Pousada dos Passaros overlooking the main square, a birder oriented lodge although we were the only guests.  We dumped our bags and headed to an area of wet forest southeast of town where we birded along a forest track.  Barry and Jon had visited Boa Nova previously but for Rod and me it was new, and brilliant. We saw Fork-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant, Yellow-lored Tody-Tyrant, Rio de Janeiro Antbird, Bahia Spinetail, White-eyed Foliage-Gleaner and best of all an amazing male Pin-tailed Manakin.  For me it was up there amongst the other really great birds seen on the trip.  We continued to a higher area to be at a small marsh at dusk.  We rather inelegantly climbed over a fence and as the light went a Giant Snipe responded to Ciro’s recording. A brief period of hide and seek ensued with at least two birds, flying if we approached too close but not before Barry managed a decent photo.  We returned to the hotel very happy and drove to the edge of town for a meal.  On returning Rod banged on our door and asked if we wanted to see an owl.  He had been outside for a smoke and a local had pointed it out in the top of the tallest tree on the edge of the square outside.  We didn’t even have to go outside to see it, in fact the angle was better from inside.  It was a Stygian Owl and my ninth new bird of the day!

absolutely amazing male Pin-tailed Manakin (photo Barry)
another 'bird of the trip' contender (photo Jon)
I was pretty sure I had taken similar photos myself (photo Jon)
Brazil has some amazing manakins (photo Jon)
superb forest at Boa Nova (photo Barry)
it was easy to access (photo Barry)
and nice to bird although we were usually looking up(photo Barry) 
watching Fork-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant, not staged honest (photo Barry)
Fork-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant (photo Barry)
White-eyed Foliage-gleaner (photo Barry)
Rio de Janeiro Antbirds (photo Barry)
driving higher at Boa Nova (photo Barry)
our marshy destination, Giant Snipe habitat (photo Barry)
Giant Snipe (photo Barry)
Stygian Owl (photo Barry)
Monday 5th October.  We were up before it was light, unsuccessfully checked the main square for the owl, had breakfast at 04:30 and then drove to a nearby area of forest, parking along a track by the edge of it soon after dawn.  We started birding in the very open almost parkland a little way back down the track.  Here we quickly saw Pink-legged Graveteiro, a unique funarid discovered as recently as 1994. We spent most of the morning following an excellent trail up through the forest seeing Least Pygmy Owl, Spot-billed and Saffron Toucanets, Cinerous and Chestnut-backed Ant-Shrikes, White-shouldered Fire-eye, Ferruginous Antbird, Rufous Gnateater, Striated Softtail, Bahia and Sooty-fronted Spinetails, White-collared Foliage-gleaner, Black-billed Scythebill, Pin-tailed Manakin and Blue-naped Chlorophonia. Scanning of the ridge, when it was visible, produced a Sloth and a King Vulture. We returned to Boa Nova for a pay-by-weight lunch (I wandered down the road seeing little) before returning to the hotel.  Barry and I walked right round the tree the Stygian Owl had roosted on, and allegedly bed in.  It was not apparent but it was a thick tree. At 15:15 set off for Mata de Cipo, a higher dryer area that was good for hummingbirds.  On the way we stopped and walked along a short section of road as it cut through a patch of dry, sharp scrubby forest.  Here Ciro found Slender Antbird and Narrow-billed Antwren in quick succession.  We drove further up, leaving the track we were on to reach a small hill.  From here it was a short walk to Mata de Cipo which was quite unlike anywhere I have been before.  The top of the rounded hill was bare rock with many cacti and a line of whitish beachball sized stones which did not seem to serve any purpose.  The cacti were like deflated footballs with tiny red flowers which opened as the sun went down and were particularly attractive to hummingbirds.  Not many were open when we arrived so we wandered around.  Barry found a Pygmy Nightjar, the same species we had seen at Quixada but looking quite different – a much darker race to blend in with the darker rocks. We saw Striped-backed Antbird and 2 Blue-winged Macaws flew over before it was time to concentrate on the hummingbirds.  I was particularly hoping for a good male Ruby-Topaz, Ciro had shown me some amazing photos he had taken on a previous visit, but they were a seasonal visitor and only just arriving.  We did see a male but it wasn’t quite the views I was hoping for.  A superb male Stripe-breasted Starthroat made up for it and we also saw Sapphire-spangled and Glittering-throated Emeralds and Swallow-tailed Hummingbird. We stayed until the light started to go and the temperature drop and flushed a Scissor-tailed Nightjar on the way back to the car.  We returned to the Possada dos Passaros but the Stygian Owl was not apparent in the main square.  It had been a ‘big birding day’ in Brazil when observers saw how many species they could record.  Ciro had been doing it on the quiet while guiding us and ended the day with over 180 - very impressive considering we had not been near to a wetland. It had been my biggest species total for the trip too, but my 95 was rather modest in comparison!  Not that I was at all concerned, it had been another superb day and I had seen five classy new birds.

Boa Nova main square at dawn, no owl obvious in its tree (photo Barry)
Graveteiro habitat (photo Barry)
Pink-legged Graveteiro at Boa Nova (photo Jon)
quite the acrobat (photo Jon)
Pink-legged Graveteiro (photo Barry)
Chestnut-backed Antshrike (photo Barry)
White-shouldered Fire-eye (photo Barry)
Rufous-tailed Jacamar (photo Jon)
birding at Boa Nova (photo Barry)
female Spot-breasted Antvireo (photo Jon)

Striated Soft-tail (photo Barry)
Least Pygmy Owl (photo Barry)
a second Least Pygmy Owl (photo Barry)
Spot-billed Toucanet (photo Barry)

Saffron Toucanet (photo Barry), Ciro had not seen this species at Boa Nova before and was a little sceptical when I called it. 
superb forest at Boa Nova (photo Barry), note size difference between Ciro's camera and mine

Rufous Gnateater (photo Barry), our fourth representative of a superb family
lizard (photo Barry)
leaving the forest at Boa Nova (photo Barry)
Jon studying the Boa Nova list to make sure there was nothing else he needed to see (photo Barry)
Slender Antbird habitat (photo Barry)
Slender Antbird (photo Barry)
Narrow-billed Antwren (photo Barry)
approaching Mata de Cipo (photo Barry)

follow the white balls (photo Barry)
view from Mata de Cipo, sadly not much forest on the far hillsides (photo Jon)
vegetation on Mata de Cipo (photo Barry)

most interesting were the dalek-like cacti (photo Barry)
the tiny flowers on top only opened as the sun started to set (photo Jon)
their nectar attracted hummingbirds (photo Jon)
Sapphire-spangled Emerald (photo Barry)
Ciro finding a use for the white 'balls', not all were as round as they first appeared (photo Barry)
 Pygmy Nightjar (photo Barry), a much darker race to perfectly match its surroundings

Barry at Mata de Cipo
shadows lengthening (photo Jon)
more flowers opening (photo Jon)
male Stripe-breasted Starthroat (photo Barry)

Mata de Cipo (photo Barry)
dalek creche (photo Jon)
were the white spheres keeping an eye on them (photo Jon)
Scissor-tailed Nightjar (photo Barry)
Scissor-tailed Nightjar (photo Jon)
Tuesday 6th October.  We had breakfast at 04:30 and failed to find the Stygian Owl again, we had been very fortunate to see it our first evening.  We did not get away from Boa Nova much before 05:30 and then it was almost three hours drive to a Reserva Agua Boa, a small private reserve Ciro had obtained permission for us to visit. On the way Ciro pointed out a graveteiro nest in a tree almost over the main road, how had they remained undiscovered until just over 20 years ago?  We drove up to a nice looking house in a small clearing on a hill but no one was about.  Ciro led us down a trail into the forest then off to a damp area where he started playing recordings of Bahia Tapaculo.  One soon responded from some distance but quickly came in to investigate.  It kept well hidden on its first pass but gave reasonable views on a second, a smart bird.  Also in the area, and particularly the clearing around the house were Black Jacobin, White-fronted Nunbird, Swallow-wing, Blue-backed and White-crowned Manakins, Thrush-like Wren and Brazilian, Green-headed and White-bellied Tanagers. We left Agua Boa in sunshine and drove to an area where Ciro had seen Margaretta’s Hermit, Ciro driving down a very narrow track to park his car out of sight of any passers by. It was the only area we visited where this was a concern.  After some searching Ciro heard a hermit calling. It sounded as if it was perched nearby but the habitat was boggy and thickly tangled and did not allow close approach. We crashed around and unsurprisingly it flew without our seeing it.  We tried another area nearby with no success before returning to where we knew there had been one. Ciro’s persistence finally paid off as we heard it calling again and this time, eventually, located it sat on a thin horizontal creeper.  Getting back onto the main road the car became bogged down.  A minibus of school kids were passing and stopped to helped us out but unfortunately Ciro dented the rear of his passenger door in the process. He was rather annoyed as a friend had agreed to buy it from him when he returned to Fortaleza.  Back on the main road we headed southeast to Camacan but the weather soon closed in, the first time it had really looked threatening all trip.  We stopped by the road at what was claimed to be the largest tree in Brazil (how could they possibly know?) but it was only just visible, with a bit of imagination, through the low cloud.   We continued to Camacan in the rain and checked into a basic but perfectly adequate motel, the Pousada Primavera.  The rain eased off and we headed out to visit a nearby patch of lowland forest where we might find Eastern Striped Manakin.  Along the road just outside of town we saw Black-necked Aracari and Golden-capped Parakeet before turning off on a narrow track.  We tried walking the track but birding was soon abandoned as the drizzle intensified and the light worsened.  The manakin would have to wait for the morning.  It was raining hard by the time we returned to Camacan and Ciro was slightly concerned as the dirt road up to Serra Bonita, where we were going in the morning, was very steep in places and was usually very slippery when wet, even with a 4WD.

Black Jacobin at Agua Boa (photo Jon)
Black Jacobin (photo Barry)

White-fronted Nunbird (photo Barry)

White-fronted Nunbird (photo Jon)

tapaculo habitat (photo Barry)
getting ready (photo Barry)
success (photo Barry)
me (photo Barry)
hoppers (photo Barry)
I was glad they were tiny (photo Barry)
going in again (photo Barry)
the house at Agua Boa (photo Barry)

White-bellied Tanager (photo Jon)
the narrowest track (photo Barry)
Margaretta's Hermit (photo Barry)
stuck trying to rejoin the main road (photo Barry)
back on the main road with local help and a slightly dented door (photo Barry)
the largest tree in Brazil was visible from this point on a clear day, its trunk is just about visible rear right horizon between the two nearer trees (photo Barry)

Black-necked Aracari (photo Barry)

Black-necked Aracari (photo Jon)

Golden-capped Parakeet (photo Barry)
Rod shopping (photo Barry)
Wednesday 7th.  We left Camacan soon after 05:00 and returned to the lowland forest patch we had tried the previous evening.  It was drizzling as we drove there and started raining more heavily when we arrived.  We saw nothing on a quick walk further up the track and decided to continue on to Serra Bonita, Eastern Striped Manakin occurring on the lower slopes.  Ciro drove a 100m further on to turn the car around and driving back noticed my OBC cap on the track where we had parked.  It was a replacement for one I had left in a hotel on Bali two months earlier and would probably have been a carelessness record for me had I lost it too. We stopped on the lower slopes of Serra Bonita seeing Yellow-fronted Woodpecker on the way and Golden-capped Parakeet on arrival.  In light rain Ciro heard a manakin.  It gave us the runaround for some time but was eventually found by Barry, superb.  A male White-bearded Manakin was very nice too.  We continued up a steep road on slippery mud for several kms before it became cobbled and much easier going.  As the rain intensified we arrived at the very impressive research centre and lodge where we met Vitor Becker on the veranda. He, with his wife Clemira Souza, had established the Serra Bonita private reserve.  During 1998-2001 they had bought 50 properties totalling over 2200 hectares of Atlantic forest.  Since then Vitor and Clemira had established a charitable foundation, Instituto UiraƧu, enabling a further 3700 hectares to be purchased.  On a clear day the view would have been superb but it was far from a clear day with the rain showing no sign of easing up.  Vitor told us the rain, which had started the previous day, was the first for weeks so our timing was unfortunate.  There were some excellent feeders on the veranda attracting tanagers and we spent some time watching them (and taking loads of photos) before driving a short distance to the accommodation block.  Our rooms had their own verandas looking out into the clouds.  We birded along the road returning to the centre for lunch, the main meal of the day at Serra Bonita so not one I thought I should skip.  Sheltering from the rain in a barn while being serenading by a captive Red-browed Amazon was memorable, the parrot enjoying the rain much more than we were.  There were periods when the rain eased off somewhat and we managed to see Bahia Tyrannulet, Sharpbill, Grey-hooded Atilla and the Atlantic forest race of Rufous-brown Solitaire.  We ended up spending a lot of time on the veranda watching the feeders seeing Maroon-bellied Parakeet, White-necked Thrush, Green-headed, Red-necked and Azure-shouldered Tanagers and Chestnut-bellied Euphonia.  After an evening meal of soup, just as well I had had lunch, Vitor took us to see his moth collection in a de-humidified room in the basement.  It is the largest in Latin America and the result of a lifetime of collecting.  It can only be described as amazing, and I’m not usually at all interested in moths!  He has over 300,000 specimens of 35-40,000 species collected mainly in Brazil. Back at the accommodation block we switched on the moth light and regularly checked what had been attracted to it.

raining (photo Barry)
shoe problems, but nothing superglue could not fix when home (photo Barry)
Jon (photo Barry)
Grey-headed Atilla (photo Barry)
Eastern Striped Manakin (photo Barry)
Vitor and Rod on the veranda (photo Barry)
Jon watching the feeders (photo Barry)
Violet-capped Woodnymph (photo Jon)
Black Jacobin (photo Jon)
Azure-shouldered Tanager (photo Barry), rare but rather dull
Red-necked Tanager (photo Jon), not so rare and not so dull
Red-necked Tanager (photo Barry), in fact quite stuning
Green-headed Tanager (photo Barry), the head isn't the greenest part
Green-headed Tanager (photo Jon)
female Violaceous Euphonia (photo Jon)
female Orange-bellied Euphonia (photo Jon)
male Orange-bellied Euphonia (photo Jon)
female Chestnut-bellied Euphonia (photo Jon)
male Chestnut-bellied Euphonia in the rain (photo Jon)
table set for lunch (photo Barry)
Maroon-bellied Parakeet (photo Jon) 
female Pin-tailed Manakin (photo Jon)
Greyish Mourner (photo Barry)
Spot-billed Toucanet (photo Jon)
Red-browed Parrot (photo Barry)
Vitor and his life's work (photo Barry)
a draw from Vitor's moth collection (photo Barry)
big moths (photo Barry)
smaller moths (photo Barry)
Rod, Vitor and a draw of tiny moths (photo Barry)
orange and brown moths (photo Barry)
grey and white moths (photo Barry)

orange and black moths (photo Barry)
a colourful draw (photo Barry)
hawk-moths (photo Barry)
more hawk-moths (photo Barry)
more exotic moths (photo Barry)
more very big moths (photo Barry)
more moths (photo Barry)
Vitor and his amazing collection (photo Barry)
still room for a few more (photo Barry)
we felt really privileged to have seen it (photo Barry)
time to see what had been attracted by the moth light (photo Barry)
 (photo Barry)
 this one was a dead ringer for a fallen leaf (photo Barry)
 one of the more spectacular moths we saw (photo Barry)
 another nice one (photo Barry)
 this one was just weird (photo Barry)
yellow moth (photo Barry)
 modern art moth (photo Barry)
a hawk-moth (photo Barry)
green moth (photo Barry)
moths will never be the same again (photo Barry)
Thursday 8th.  We were up soon after 04:00 for a pre-dawn moth session.  It was dull and the clouds were low but it wasn’t actually raining.  At 05:00 we left to walk to the centre for breakfast birding on the way.  It was initially too dark to see the birds that were calling although we did eventually see Spot-backed Antshrike.  After breakfast and a quick look at the feeders, which were as active as before, we headed up a steep trail to look for an as yet undescribed treehunter.  It took some tracking down and remained high in the canopy although we eventually had reasonable views of it.  More obliging were Black-throated Trogon, White-bibbed Antbird and White-throated Spadebill.  We returned to the lodge mid-morning and with a long journey ahead somewhat reluctantly left. Plumbeous Antvireo, Short-tailed Antthrush, Variegated Antpitta and Cinnamon-vented Piha remained heard only, doubtless due to the weather but it slightly took the edge off our visit to this amazing place.  In the event we arrived at Almenara in Minas Gerais at 16:00.  We were still about two hours from the Stresemann’s Bristlefront reserve, tomorrow’s birding site, but Ciro was unsure if there would be rooms available in the only closer village – it had been full of construction workers when he had visited six weeks before.  In Almenara we stayed in a fenced in resort complex on the edge of town. It appeared to be a reasonable option and with no birding nearby Barry and I wandered around the grounds seeing little. It was a shame we had not stayed a couple of hours longer at Serra Bonita as we might have had more luck with some of the ‘heards’.
Maroon-bellied Parakeet (photo Jon)
'Serra de Lontras' Treehunter (photo Barry), as yet undescribed and only known from Serra Bonita and adjacent mountains.  Definitely one for later.
Yellow-throated Woodpecker (photo Barry).  The eastern race has a red-throat, another new bird for later?

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