Duration: 13 days
Group Size: 2 – 8
Date Start: September 20, 2019
Date End: October 02, 2019
Tour Start: Rio de Janeiro
Tour End: Rio de Janeiro
When they first landed on its shores in the 1500s, the Portuguese discovered a vast stretch of verdant rainforest cloaking much of the Atlantic coast of what would one day be Brazil. Through centuries of deforestation, only 7% of this forest’s original area remains in remnants scattered within the most densely populated region of Brazil. Despite the long history of human population growth and disturbance, these highly threatened pockets of Atlantic Rainforest harbor an incredibly diverse and often highly endangered collection of bird species. Due to being long isolated from neighboring Neotropical wet forest ecosystems by a dry grassland and thorn-scrub corridor in the interior of Brazil, these forests possess a diverse and fascinating range of species, many of which are found nowhere else. In a country with more than 200 endemic bird species (the third-highest total for a single country in the world), the vast majority are found in the Atlantic Rainforest.
We split the southeast Brazil itinerary into two separate tours that are perfectly complementary, forming a 26-day mega tour with up to 70 Brazilian endemics and an additional 90 Atlantic Rainforest endemics possible when both tours are taken together.
On the first leg of our journey we embark from Rio de Janeiro to Itatiaia National Park, the oldest national park in Brazil. Here we will get our first taste of Atlantic Rainforest birding by exploring both the lower and higher elevation moss-laden slopes for Black-and-gold Cotinga, White-bibbed Antbird, Brown Tanager, and more. Just over the border in São Paulo state, Campos do Jordão will offer our best opportunity to see the unusual Black-capped Piprites, a bird that would not look out of place in the Himalayan foothills. After a brief stop for the recently described São Paulo Antwren, we explore coastal Ubatuba for lowland specialties such as Black-hooded Antwren, Saw-billed Hermit, and Buff-throated Purpletuft. We then head towards REGUA for a couple of days. From there we hope to catch up to the much-desired Grey-winged Cotinga and the charismatic Three-toed Jacamar. As we head back to Rio de Janeiro, we will swing by the arid beach scrub habitat of the Praia Seca area for the endemic Serra Antwren (recognized as a full species, Restinga Antwren, by most authorities). The tour ends in Rio de Janeiro.
This tour can be combined with our Brazil: Cerrado Endemics, Brazilian Merganser, and Maned Wolf tour and our Comprehensive Southeast Brazil, Part II tour for an extended Brazil mega tour.
Itinerary (13 days/12 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Rio de Janeiro
Arrival in Rio de Janeiro.
Overnight: Rio de Janeiro.
Day 2. Transfer to Itatiaia National Park, birding the lower part of Itatiaia
Today we drive to Itatiaia National Park, with a stop at a wetland along the way to begin familiarizing ourselves with many of southeast Brazil’s common open country and wetland species such as Chestnut-capped Blackbird, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, and Yellow-rumped Marshbird. Once we arrive at the scenic Hotel Donati at Itatiaia, we begin birding around the lodge grounds and roadsides: Surucua Trogon, Frilled Coquette (endemic), Green-headed Tanager, and more can be present, while the fruit and hummingbird feeders should attract species like Saffron Toucanet, White-throated Hummingbird, and Scale-throated Hermit. After dinner we can try for the resident Tawny-browed Owl.
Overnight: Hotel Donati, Itatiaia
Day 3. Birding all day in the lower part of Itatiaia
On this day we concentrate our efforts on the extensive network of trails in the lower elevations of Itatiaia National Park (700-1,400m). By sifting through various feeding flocks and listening for birds in the undergrowth we will focus on species which are difficult to see elsewhere on this trip: the exquisitely patterned White-bibbed Antbird (endemic), the shy Spot-winged Wood-Quail, and the cryptic White-browed Foliage-gleaner (endemic) are among them.
Overnight: Hotel Donati, Itatiaia
Day 4. Birding all day in the upper part of Itatiaia
We need an early start to arrive at the entrance of the Agulhas Negras Road (1,550 – 2,400m) at dawn. The beginning of this high-elevation road passes through beautiful moss-laden cloud forest, where our main target will be the endemic Black-and-gold Cotinga. Colorful feeding flocks should be commonplace, with regular species including Diademed Tanager, Brassy-breasted Tanager (endemic), and Thick-billed Saltator. Climbing higher still, the habitat becomes much more open and slowly gives way to high-altitude fields and rocky outcrops. The endemic and highly localized Itatiaia Spinetail is our main target at this elevation.
Overnight: Hotel Donati, Itatiaia
Day 5. Birding in the morning in Itatiaia, transfer to Campos do Jordão
After some early morning birding in Itatiaia National Park to pick up any birds we might still be missing, we drive west to Campos do Jordão and time our arrival so that we can see Vinaceous-breasted Amazon coming to roost at the Horto Florestal. The European character of Campos do Jordão is immediately apparent with all its hydrangeas, Swiss chalets, and chocolatiers!
Overnight: Campos do Jordão
Day 6. Birding along the Pedro do Bau Road
We spend our day birding the Pedro do Bau Road. The high-altitude forest here is much drier with much larger stands of distinctive Araucaria (Monkey Puzzle Tree) than the Agulhas Negras Road. Correspondingly, the bird composition is a bit different, and some species are more common at this site. Araucaria Tit-Spinetail, Golden-winged Cacique, and Sharp-billed Treehunter should all be regularly encountered, although our main target will be the lovely Black-capped Piprites. We also stop at the very end of the road to look for Hellmayr’s Pipit.
Overnight: Campos do Jordão
Day 7. Transfer to Ubatuba with stop en route for São Paulo Antwren
Today we travel to the coastal city of Ubatuba, with a stop en route to look for the recently described São Paulo Antwren. Despite being endemic to an area right on the outskirts of one of the largest cities in the world, ornithologists only submitted a formal description of this species in 2013. Once we arrive in Ubatuba, we visit the feeders at Folha Seca to search for the robust Saw-billed Hermit (endemic) and fairy-like Festive Coquette. These hummingbird feeders provide excellent photo opportunities due to the many low, bare branches for perching. This site is also excellent for lowland rainforest species like Brazilian Tanager and Riverbank Warbler.
Day 8. Birding all day at sites around Ubatuba
We spend all day birding sites around Ubatuba for the many endemic lowland rainforest species found here: The boldly marked, endemic Black-cheeked Gnateater lurks in the undergrowth; Spot-backed Antshrike works vine tangles in the subcanopy; the diminutive Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant flits nervously in stands of bamboo; the cute, endemic Buff-throated Purpletuft sallies from exposed perches. These are just some of the targets we hope to connect with during the day.
Day 9. Birding in the morning at Pereque, transfer to REGUA
We make our way to REGUA northeast of Rio de Janeiro. However, we must first stop at Pereque for the recently rediscovered Black-hooded Antwren. Ornithologists first collected this species over a hundred years ago and did not see it again until 1987. Once we arrive at the famous REGUA research station and lodge at the foot of Tres Picos State Park, we will explore the various forest trails for a wide variety of Atlantic Rainforest endemics. Brazilian Laniisoma and Giant Snipeare distinct possibilities during our stay here.
Days 10 – 12. Birding at REGUA and nearby areas
Using the lovely REGUA Lodge as our base, we explore the Serra dos Órgãos and surrounding areas for the next three days. Although the daily schedule can vary depending on weather conditions and other factors, we plan to visit the following areas in no pre-determined order: Pico da Caledônia, Sumidouro, and Portão Azul. Towering Pico da Caledônia offers our only chance for Grey-winged Cotinga, a recently described Brazilian endemic that lives only in the stunted forests below treeline in the Serra dos Órgãos. The area around Sumidouro provides a totally different experience as it sits in a rain shadow and as a result has a wide variety of open country species. The main target here is the unique and endemic Three-toed Jacamar. Finally, Portão Azul is a stronghold for the endemic Half-collared Sparrow, where it is abundant.
Day 13. Birding Praia Seca, transfer to Cachoeiro de Itapemirim, departure
We need an early start today to arrive at the coastal restinga habitat found between the town of Praia Seca and the city of Cabo Frio by early morning. The restinga at this site is an open landscape composed of medium-high bushes and thorny scrub on sandy soils. The endemic Restinga Antwren (still considered by IOC a subspecies of the equally endemic Serra Antwren) is our main target, although the many saltpans and beaches nearby should hold a variety of migrant waders and seabirds. Afterwards, we drive to Rio de Janeiro, where the first portion of this tour ends.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors.