Some of the rarest and most unusual-looking creatures on the planet are found in the forests, open woodlands and grasslands of south-east Brazil. Due to historical isolation, many species have evolved here and can be found nowhere else on earth. From tiny endemic hummingbirds, such as the Hyacinth Visorbearer to spectacular King Vultures, there is fantastic diversity in the birdlife. Mammals are a particular draw on this itinerary; we will visit arguably the best places in the world to see Giant Anteater and Maned Wolf.
The diverse and unusual bird family of cotingas includes many outrageous-looking species. All are highly sought-after and many are rare and difficult to find. On this itinerary we can hope for seven or eight species, including the beautiful Swallow-tailed Cotinga, the incessantly noisy Bare-throated Bellbird, and Grey-winged Cotinga, one of the rarest birds on the planet. Our local guide hit the headlines when he rediscovered the Kinglet Caliptura; his find constituted the only fully authenticated twentieth century sighting of this tiny cotinga. Although we will visit the site, there has not yet been any further sightings….
Having arrived at Sao Paulo, we will fly up to Belo Horizonte and start our tour with two nights enjoying the rugged beauty of Serra do Cipo. This is the only place in the world where the recently discovered Cipo Canastero can be found. From here we will move to Caraca, to stay two nights in a remote monastery in the hills east of Belo Horizonte. The monastery is famous for its Maned Wolves, and we will also see many birds of the Atlantic forest. Our next destination is Canastra; our four night stay here should yield sightings of Giant Anteater and a multitude of grassland birds. There is even a chance of the world’s rarest duck, the Brazilian Merganser. Finally, we will drive towards Rio, and stay at Serra dos Toucanos, a British-owned eco-lodge. Situated in the heart of some of the best preserved Atlantic forest, the lodge is a lovely place to spend the last five nights. We will do day trips into the surrounding hills, whilst the gardens have feeders and flowering trees that attract a multitude of birds, ensuring that there will never be a dull moment. There never is in south-east Brazil….
Just an hour north of Belo Horizonte airport, Serra do Cipo National Park is a wild and beautiful place. The habitat is true campo, with numerous rocky outcrops, whilst in the lower section of the park there is cerrado and gallery forest, both adding to the diversity of bird, animal and plant life. We will look for several special birds amongst the rocky outcrops. Hyacinth Visorbearer, Grey-backed Tachuri, Pale-throated Serra Finch, Plumbeous Warbling-finch and Cipo Canastero are the specialities; the latter was discovered as recently as 1985. This is a rugged terrain, resembling somewhat the upland parts of the Peak District or Yorkshire Dales, and bird diversity is not high. When we move to the lower section of the park, however, we will find birds in abundance such as Horned Sungem, White-eared Puffbird, White Woodpecker, Firewood-gatherer, Hooded Tanager, Pileated Finch, Yellow-rumped Marshbird and Capped Seedeater. We will have an afternoon, a full day and a morning birding here before we drive east to Caraca, our base for the next two nights.
Set amid forest covered mountains to the east of Belo Horizonte, the monastery at Caraca is a great base from which to birdwatch. The places we will visit are all within a stones-throw of the monastery; most of our birding will be on trails that lead out into the forest. We can hope for a large diversity of Atlantic forest species, the highlight of which may well be Swallow-tailed Cotinga. In addition there is Dusky-legged Guan, Blackish Rail, Sapphire-spangled Emerald, Suracua Trogon, Robust Woodpecker, Pale-browed Treehunter, Dusky-tailed Antbird, Ochre-faced Tody-flycatcher, Grey-eyed Greenlet, Magpie Tanager, Gilt-edged Tanager and Brassy-breasted Tanager.
Maned Wolves occur in the surrounding forest, and one or two individuals appear at night at the entrance to the monastery, attracted to kitchen scraps put out by the monks. Like over-sized urban foxes, these magnificent creatures are seen almost every night, allowing a rare glimpse into their otherwise secretive world.
From Caraca it is quite a long drive to Canastra, our base for the next four nights. Our hotel here looks across to a dramatic escarpment, and we will spend the next few days exploring both the lower section, with its forests and rivers, and upper section of open grassland. This is a particularly beautiful area and the birding is very rewarding. On the higher section we can expect displaying Cock-tailed Tyrant as well as Greater Rhea, Spotted Nothura, White-vented Violet-ear, Brasilia Tapaculo, Black-masked Finch, and the rare and local Ochre-breasted Pipit. From the top of the dramatic Casca d’Anta waterfall, we can watch Sooty and Great Dusky Swifts.
In the lower section there are masses of birds; Whistling Heron, King Vulture, Grey-necked Wood-rail, Red-legged Seriema, Golden-capped Parakeet, Toco Toucan, White-eyed Foliage-gleaner, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Helmeted Manakin, Crested Black-tyrant, Streamer-tailed Tyrant, Cinnamon Tanager and Plush-crested Jay. We will spend some time searching for Brazilian Merganser. This fascinating species occurs on clear streams and rivers and nests in holes in the escarpment. It numbers perhaps just 200 pairs in the world and Canastra is the best place to look for it.
Various mammals are possible at Canastra. Most are elusive, such as Giant Armadillo, Maned Wolf, Ocelot and Mountain Lion. One, however, is reliably seen; the wonderful Giant Anteater can be found raiding termite nests that are dotted across the open grassy plains.
On day ten we will reluctantly leave Canastra, and head towards Rio, spending our final five nights at Serra dos Toucanos Lodge. Set up, owned and managed by enterprising British birder, Andy Foster, this lodge is perfectly situated to explore the mountain forests of Serra dos Orgaos. One valley resounds to the calls of Bare-throated Bellbird, an incredible all-white cotinga. Both Black-and-Gold and Grey-winged Cotinga can be found; look at a distribution map of the latter and you’ll need a magnifying glass to see its tiny world range. The curious Sharpbill is traditionally treated with the cotingas, but more recently it has been classified in a family of its own. Hooded Berryeater may also be found, adding to our tally of cotingas.
The list of other species here is long. Special mention should be made of Saw-billed Hermit, Sombre Hummingbird, Plovercrest, Three-toed Jacamar, Spot-billed Toucanet, Blond-crested Woodpecker, Red-eyed Thornbird, Sharp-billed Treehunter, Giant Antshrike, Serra Antwren, Rufous-capped Antthrush, Black-cheeked Gnateater, Hangnest Tody-tyrant, Yellow-backed Tanager, Flame-crested Tanager, Brazilian Tanager, Azure-shouldered Tanager, Red-necked Tanager, Half-collared Sparrow, White-browed Blackbird and Long-billed Wren. At a wetland site we will look for Masked Duck, Least Grebe, and Ash-throated and Rufous-sided Crakes. Mammals are occasionally seen including Tufted-ear Marmoset, Brown Howler Monkey, Coati and perhaps Maned Three-toed Sloth.
After 14 wonderful days in SE Brazil, we will reluctantly drive one and a half hours back to Rio airport, allowing plenty of time for our evening flight home.
On most days, breakfast will be at 7am so that we can get into the field quite early. Basic fitness is all that is required. Full days will be spent in the field with short/medium length walks on the flat. A little uphill walking is necessary, but this will be at a sensible pace. On hot days there will be a longer break in the middle of the day, with birding in the mornings and late afternoons.
Full-board accommodation is provided with two nights at the Cipo Veraneio Hotel, two nights at Caraca Monastery, four nights at the Pousada Horizonte, Canastra and five nights at Serra dos Toucanos Lodge. The hotels are of a good standard with en suite bathrooms. The monastery has rooms that are rather plain, but nevertheless clean and spacious. Packed lunches will be taken when necessary.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guide, full-board accommodation (starting with lunch on 11th, ending with breakfast on 24th), soft drinks, local transport by coach, domestic flight, international flights and airport taxes.
Our optional travel insurance, payable at the time of booking. Items of a personal nature, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flight from London Heathrow to Sao Paulo, returning from Rio de Janeiro, using the scheduled services of British Airways. Outbound flight departs mid-evening, return flight arrives back early morning. Shuttle flights are available on this tour for £70 return (due at time of booking), from Manchester and other regional airports.
15 nights including
two overnight flights:
Maximum group size:
Cost with discount
(if you book before
5th August 2009):
10th to 25th October 2009
Paul J. Willoughby
10 clients with one leader
and a local guide
£3080 per person sharing
£3230 per person sharing
£59 due at time of booking
(£89 for age 65 to 69)
(£118 for age 70 and over)
Brazillian Merganser is one of the rarest duck in the world. This pair were seen displaying, before they took their family fishing.