Monday, 12 October 2015

NE BRAZIL: Stresemann's reserve and Veracel (9-11 October)

This blog recounts the final part of 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 prior to this period and I am immensely grateful to Barry and Jon for allowing me to use theirs, particularly in the earlier blogs where I had none.  This blog has a mixture, most mine with most of the best ones from Jon and Barry (and labelled accordingly). 

9th October.  We left at 04:00 for the long drive to Stresemann’s Bristlefront reserve.  Soon after dawn, while on a dirt road still some distance short of the reserve, a White-bellied Nothura crossed the road ahead of us and disappeared into a hedge, a sort of slow run.  We piled out and it flew away across a large field as we approached.  Not a bad view considering.  The road soon worsened, culminating in a steep climb for several kms which would have been very difficult when wet.  We were pleased to finally arrive by an isolated and deserted house at 06:00 and after a quick breakfast set off up a trail into the remnant forest.  After about 20 minutes of steadily climbing, interrupted briefly by a close Crescent-chested Puffbird, Ciro pointed out a bank where a pair of bristlefronts had nested the previous year. The nest was predated by an armadillo before the young could fledge and the parents have not been seen since.  We continued for another 15-20 minutes, still climbing through rather dry and fairly open woodland, to the top of a territory where Ciro had seen a pair with a juvenile six weeks earlier.  He played a recording and heard a very distant response well down in the valley below.  I barely heard it and it did not respond further.  The trail here was much flatter and we continued towards the head of the valley hoping for a further response but to no avail.  We returned to the top of the territory and tried again, hearing another distant call.  The bird was not moving any closer leaving us no option but to head down towards it.  It was a very steep slope but fairly easy to negotiate with small trees to hang on and not much ground vegetation to negotiate.  We continued down into a deep valley for 10-15 minutes until we could see the other side level with us.  We spent three hours in the area, initially feeling that we were close, but we heard nothing at all in the final hour and felt it must have slipped away unseen.  While looking for the bristlefront Barry saw Black-cheeked and Rufous Gnateaters and White-throated Spadebill in quick succession,  I was sitting less than 10m away and failed to see even a movement.  It perhaps explained how one or two of us might have missed seeing the bristlefront but that a thrush sized bird managed to exit a reasonably open area that five birders were peering into was a great disappointment although it not being at all responsive and only calling very occasionally did not help.  It was with a heavy heart that we climbed our way back up to the path, not a feeling we were used to with Ciro and sadly this was now the only territory he knew for the bird.  Perhaps if we had been on site at dawn it might have made a difference, not that we had been that late.  Unfortunately we did not have a spare day to try again as we would really have liked to.  Tautapa and Brown Tinamous, the latter flushed off the trail by Ciro and Barry, Rufous Gnateater and a pair of Three-toed Jacamars on the walk back down to the car were some consolation as was a Striped Cuckoo when we arrived there.  On leaving the reserve we had to stop to open a gate and in so doing disturbed three East Brazilian Chachalacas which gave good views.  We continued around to the Bahia entrance to the park where the HQ was and where an accommodation block was being built.  We saw a few tanagers and four more Three-toed Jacamars while having a picnic lunch there.  We left the HQ just after 14:00 with a long drive to Puerto Seguro ahead.  Ciro took a short cut on dirt roads to avoid having to return to Almenara.  We were almost back on the main road when we came to a river.  The ferry was on the other side which seemed unfortunate timing on our part, although even more unfortunate was that it had been there for some days as the river level was too low for it to operate.  We retraced our route, the ‘detour’ taking two hours, crossed the river at Almenara and headed for the coast, finally arriving at Puerto Seguro at 20:25.  On the outskirts of town a Tourist Information booth was staffed by young men on scooters who, after Ciro had negotiated, took us to a cheap hotel in town.  It turned out it only had double beds but the Pousada Pedra Azul next door was fine, if one did not mind the odd cockroach and being flooded by an overflowing air-con unit.

Black-capped Donacobius
Campo Flicker
looking out of the Minas Gerais side of the Stresemann's Bristlefront Reserve
Magpie Tanager (photo Jon)
female White-lined Tanager
Crescent-chested Puffbird
Crescent-chested Puffbird (photo Jon), much sharper than mine
Crescent-chested Puffbird (photo Barry), superb
Stresemann's reserve
Stresemann's gulley, Ciro looking confident (photo Jon)
an hour later and confidence is starting to wane ...
brilliantly camouflaged frog, nice but little consolation ...
Three-toed Jacamars

I could even count the toes
Jon without the usual spring in his step, we were all feeling a little deflated
East Brazilian Chachalaca

Bahia side of Stresemann's Bristlefront Reserve
White-eared Parakeet
Gilt-edged Tanager
female Burnished-buff Tanager (photo Jon)
Striated Soft-tail

Pectoral Sparrow (photo Jon)
the end of our hoped for short cut, ferry not running and at least two hours drive round ...
10th October.  We left Puerto Seguro at 05:00 and drove to the forest at Veracel.  Half way there Rod realised he had not brought his bins, not the worst ‘forget’ of the day as it turned out.  Ciro continued to the edge of the forest and dropped Jon, Barry and myself there at 05:20 while he took Rod back.  We were birding on our own for the first time and if we needed any reminding of the worth of Ciro this was it with several unfamiliar calls emanating from the forest nearby.  Ciro was back by 06:00 and we drove further into the reserve to a more open area.  We birded around here seeing Hook-billed Hermit, many Swallow-wings, Ringed Woodpecker, Bat Falcon, Reichenow’s Blue-headed Parrot and Bahia and Band-tailed Antwrens.  We also saw six Bare-throated Bellbirds and five White-winged Cotingas, including a male of each, visiting a fruiting tree.  We watched them coming and going for some time, feeding and occasionally perching up on an exposed branch.  Just the sort of behaviour we hoped a Banded Cotinga might adopt but if one did it remained unnoticed.  By 10:00 it was quite hot and activity had dropped right off so we returned to Puerto Seguro.  It was while changing into shorts to visit the beach with Barry that I discovered, to my horror, that my small memory card holder was no longer in my zipped trouser pocket.  I turned all my gear out although was pretty sure it wasn’t there.  I checked behind the seats in Ciro’s car where feeling the tab of an old motel key gave me momentary hope.  Ciro tried several times to phone the Cesc Almenara, the previous hotel we had stayed in, but there was no answer.  It was the only place I might have left them having changed cards there that evening.  I had either left them in the room and not noticed when I checked it before leaving (it was 04:00), had not zipped the pocket after putting them away and it had fallen out (unlikely) or it had fallen out when taking out my wallet (although I could not remember using it).  Very upsetting, despite both Barry and Jon very generously offering me copies of their photos (Barry’s which would have been way better than mine).  The beach was a bit of a disappointment, high tide not helping, although there were two Semipalmated Plovers along the tideline and a distant Magnificent Frigatebird offshore.  Barry found an excellent ice-cream shop although trying several different flavours didn’t quite take my mind off my lost memory cards.  We returned to Veracel at 15:00 birding along some narrow tracks until dark.  We heard a Brazilian Golden-Green Woodpecker but only saw it poorly as it flew over. A pair of Rufous-capped Antthrushes were excellent and we also saw Black-headed Berryeater, Cinereous Mourner well.  A pair of Red-browed Parrots flew over at dusk as we waited for the light to go.  Ciro tried taping a White-winged Potoo and almost immediately had a response.  He was surprised as we were as it wasn’t an area of Veracel where he had encountered them before.  It soon came I to investigate, perching on the top of a dead palm stump.  Amazing.  Half way back to the road through the reserve Ciro spotted a bird sitting above the track.  It initially looked like a crouching owl but improving the angle of view showed it to be a roosting Solitary Tinamou.  We walked a section of the road hearing a distant Mottled Owl that would not come any closer and a little further on a Black-capped Screech Owl.  I thought it was a very distant too but Ciro and Jon were sure it was close and calling quietly.  He led us in and after a bit of crashing around through the thicker vegetation at the road side soon spotlighted it.  It was superb.  We returned to Veracel for another pay-by-weight meal and to the Pousada Pedra Azul where the aircon had flooded our room, fortunately without getting much of our gear wet.  I turned my bag out again in the forlorn hope that my memory cards were somewhere there and I had failed to notice on the previous three bag searches.  They weren’t.  A brilliant day but the edge had certainly been taken off it for me by my carelessness.  It probably wasn’t as if I had taken enough images to fill single card, my changing being purely for security and not having all my images in one place.  Nice theory …

Bahia Antwren (photo Barry)
Grey-rumped Swift (photo Barry)
Red-rumped Cacique (photo Jon)
distant Sloth
Buff-throated Woodcreeper
Hook-billed Hermit
Ringed Woodpecker
Band-tailed Antwren (photo Barry)
female White-winged Cotinga
male White-winged Cotinga (photo Barry)
Porto Seguro beach
Semipalmated Plover
Cattle Tyrant
me de-sanding after a paddle in the Atlantic
Porto Seguro estuary
colourful waterfront at Porto Seguro
Cinereous Mourner
time to move on
Jon and snake, it was gone before we could approach any closer
White-winged Potoo demonstrating the limitations of a bridge camera
White-winged Potoo (photo Barry), now you can see what it looked like!
Solitary Tinamou, bridge camera was OK when the subject was not too distant

Solitary Tinamou (photo Barry), even better 
Black-capped Screech-Owl
it did not appear too concerned by us crashing around below, absolutely superb

 believe it or not all these were my photos
Black-capped Screech-Owl (photo Barry)
11th October.  Another early start leaving the hotel just after 04:30 and arriving at the open forest at Veracel at 05:00 where two Pauraques were on the road at dawn.  A few parrots were flying over, including a Red-browed Amazon and we saw a Blond-crested Woodpecker but there was not much cotinga activity for an hour or so until the fruiting tree we had been watching the previous day was visited by Bare-throated Bellbirds, White-winged Cotingas and then then an immature male Banded Cotinga, my 121st and final new bird of the trip!.  It was smaller than the white-winged and one took exception to it and chased it around a few times before it flew off.  It was an interesting bird with a blue rump and small blue patches (perhaps single feathers) on its vent, belly and mantle and a single orange feather on its lower breast.  A full adult male would be stunning indeed.  Very happy with what we had seen in the fruiting tree we returned to one of the tracks we had visited the previous afternoon seeing Rufous-capped Motmot, Hook-billed Hermit, Ringed Woodpecker and Blue-throated Parakeets but not the hoped for Brazilian Golden-Green Woodpecker we had heard the previous day.  By 09:30 it was hotting up and time to leave.  We returned to Puerto Seguro, showered, packed, returned to the ice-cream shop to find it closed.  Not to be denied an ice-cream the others went on to McDonalds but I felt anything else would be a disappointment and sat on a bench by the beach instead.  The tide was still well in but about 25 Semipalmated Plovers flew over.  Ciro dropped us at the airport and we said a sad farewell.  He had been absolutely excellent, always in good spirits and had made the trip one of the best and most enjoyable I have done.  Barry and I started the long journey home with a two hour flight to Sao Paulo while Jon and Rod were also flying to Sao Paulo, but via Belo Horizonte and arriving a couple of hours after us.  In Sao Paulo we made for the International Terminal where I wrote up some notes and walked outside to find the woodland by the car-park I had looked at with Jon when we arrived.  I had forgotten it was outside the Domestic Terminal and although I tried to walk there from outside a major road junction/fly over prevented me doing so.  I had not left enough time to return through the terminal so gave up having seen a Southern Lapwing with chick and a Rufous Hornero.  Jon and Rod were continuing on to southern Brazil and were being joined by Nick Preston, Neil Bostock and Duncan Brooks.  They were flying in with Iberia on the plane we would eventually (six hours later) be leaving on so we went to the arrivals hall to wait for them.  There we met Adrian Rupp who would be guiding them and had a long chat with him.  Tales of a pair of Swallow-tailed Cotingas breeding near the restaurant at Invervales was gripping for me but I knew would be good news for Nick.  They duly arrived and we had a brief chat before Adrian took them off to the domestic Terminal to meet Jon and Rod.  It was the first time I had seen Neil for years although his infectious smile was instantly recognisable.  It was also the closest Nick and I had managed to a birding trip this year, although Megan and I had visited him in the summer, a pity I didn’t have longer to join them.  Barry and I flew to Madrid at 23:00, a better plane than coming over with seemingly more leg room and seat-back entertainment.
Barry found a viewpoint at Veracel
Banded Cotinga - pushing the boundaries of a bridge camera too far
what it actually looked like (photo Barry).  Even a stretch with Barry's Nikon but good enough to see the first blue feathers. An adult male must be amazing.
Swallow-wing (photo Jon)
Blue-throated Parakeets (photo Jon)
I misjudged the bright light and this was my best
another of Jon's

another Ringed Woodpecker
Ringed Woodpecker (photo Jon)
Rufous-capped Motmot
I had to settle for extreme magnification, and it shows, as it was impossible to approach any closer

Hook-billed Hermit, the hook was at the bill tip and almost impossible to see
12th October.  We landed in Madrid at 14:15, changed planes and departed to Heathrow just over two hours later.  At Heathrow we quickly collected our bags and said goodbyes, Barry heading for Purple Parking and me the bus station for my booked bus to Brighton.  I had over two hours to wait but the driver of the earlier one let me on it and I was back home by 21:15.  It had been a superb trip, one of the best I had done.  NE Brazil is a destination that has a lot more to offer than might at first seem to be the case.  Some stunning birds, some very rare birds and some very rare stunning birds.  The success of the trip was due in no small part to Ciro Albano who guided us brilliantly - we fully endorse his awesome reputation.  Barry, Jon and Rod were excellent companions, I’m particularly grateful to Barry and Jon for sharing their photos while Barry was the perfect room-mate.  Hopefully we'll team up again in the not too distant future.  

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