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Thursday, 25 March 2010

Southern Bahia research trip; Part two, The Jequitinhonha valley.

After arriving back at, and “kissing” the tarmac, after departing Bandeira, I continued heading South to Almenara, the crossing point for the River Jequitinhonha. En route I passed by some very interesting looking woodlands/wooded Caatinga approx. 10kms south after rejoining the tarmac, but I was really not prepared to stop again so soon after getting back on good roads. I planned to stop and bird here on my next trip to this region.
Upon arrival in Almenara I asked directions from a group of Motor-cycle Taxis parked-up in the town square, I did-not want to get back onto any muddy trails again but I was also very much against having to make any un-necessary detours (some of up to 300 or 400kms?) to avoid all dirt-tracks, including some that may be found easily navigable even in these wet conditions? I was told that the route east to Salta da Divisa was about half dirt-track & half tarmac, but that the dirt-road was built on good, solid and stony ground, and navigable year-round. I took their advice and did not regret it. I stopped for lunch at about the half-way point in Jacinto, at another decent house/restaurant, they seemed to be very much in vogue here in the Jequitinhonha valley?
After lunch I encountered the off-road section but it was tame in comparison to what I had already navigated over the past 3 days, I was even averaging 50-60kms/hr in places. Just outside of Jacinto I stopped to inspect a roadside pool (almost certainly seasonal and now almost full after the rains). Straight away I confirmed two pair of Black-winged stilt (the reason for my stopping) but in amongst them was a different but equally attractive wader, a pair of large black and white plovers with bright red legs, brilliant! I had another new tick for me, the trip and my South eastern Brazil list, Pied Lapwing. I eventually arrived in Salta da divisa late in the afternoon after a very pleasant journey from Jacinto without incident. I proceeded to wash the bike down in a local jet-wash and start quizzing the locals about how to find the nearby Fazenda Santana.
Fazenda Santa is famous as an area of low-level seasonally wet Forest that harbours a number of rather unexpected endemics. In the 1990’s a survey by the Minas Gerais ministery of forests discovered Slender Antbird here, and in 2001 subsequent and more focused ornithological studies of this Forest-block also found another very rare species, Scalloped Antbird.
My initial enquiries about Fazenda Santana were not very encouraging, one needed to cross back over the river (the same, unpronounceable River Jequitinhonha) using a ferry, the river was almost in flood AND the dirt-tracks on the Northern bank were considered impassable with the arrival of the rains. The following morning I set out initially to research another locality, the newly created state reserve at Duas Barras, I had “word” that this could prove well-worth further investigation.
Today was a rather strange day. I arrived at the closest town to the duas barras reserve only to be told that the reserve was a further 22kms away on yet more dirt roads… The sky was full of clouds and I had just spent 3 times as long as I had spent yesterday, covering 20 odd kilometres & back-tracking on the same “fine” track of yesterday, but this morning it had been wet from overnight rains. In the town I also managed to discover exactly where to find the ferry-point for the Santana Fazenda (it was close-by but I’d already managed to ride past it twice without it registering).
Deciding not to continue-on to the state reserve this trip (but I took the opportunity to research the accommodation in this town for a return visit) I then headed-off back in the direction of Salta da divisa, the idea being to at least “familiarise” myself with the ferry crossing point, again with the idea of facilitating any return visit. Today appeared to be really turning out to be one of those 100% “new area familiarization days”?
Upon arrival at the ferry-man’s house however, I found that I could see the closest forest of the Fazenda, and seemingly not too far away on the opposite bank? It was 10.30 am, I still had a good part of the day remaining and I managed to negotiate an affordable price to be taken across the river by canoe. Making sure that he would return to pick me up at a pre-arranged hour and making a point of not paying in advance for this first crossing, we departed in an amazingly large dugout. The river was swift and the colour of the local mud, there were numerous items of vegetation bobbing along in the strong current, the river was close to breaching it’s banks. Arriving at the other side I found that the road was composed of wet, soft sand and to a lesser extent, mud. Easy enough to walk-on but not the sort of thing to drive on if not a competent 4x4. I managed to get to the nearest forest patch after a short, 20mins walk and after asking a couple of locals, they had appeared as if from nowhere, walking the same route as me, there were no houses at all within view, I entered a very familiar environment, or apparently so to my semi-trained eye? Ahead of me the forest was “dry” and flat and full of large terrestrial bromeliads, it appeard very similar, although maybe a shade more open, to the Vine-forests of Boa Nova? And what was the second bird that I encountered here……. a female Slender Antbird, closely followed by a gorgeous male! I taped the vocalisations and took a few pictures and then pushed-on to see what else I could find here. The next interesting species was a male Great Antshrike followed by a Rufous Hermit, and then a vocalising Yellow-legged Tinamou , I saw a number of Sooretama Slatey Antshrike and next I managed to find 2 more Great Antshrike, these ones immature or females? I tried trawling with two species know to be found here but without success (Wied’s Tyrant-manakin & the originally targeted Scalloped Antbird). By this time it was getting close to my arranged time to cross back over the river and I was also somewhat exhausted from all the rushing around the hot jungle trying to explore the maximum in my limited time here. I had a quick further scout-around to localise areas close enough to be inspected on any future visit and then headed back to the ferry-point, feeling well satisfied with my days research.
Once back on the other bank, and now having paid the Ferry-man, I saw a male seedeater, it appeared both familiar and yet strange, It appeared to be as for a White-bellied Seedeater but definitely with a collar mark (I had caught glimpses of a couple of other examples here in the Jequitinhonha valley and near Boa Nova over the past few days). This turned out to be a another new species for me and for the trip, White-throated Seedeater.
I returned to Salta da divisa that evening knowing that the following day I would have to move-on and cross the boarder again back into Southern Bahia if I was to keep to my rather tight schedule of stops……………… still to be concluded.....

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Southern Bahia Research trip: Part one.I’m very happy with the results of my lattest motor-cycle adventure designed
to set-out “the northern limits of my South-Eastern Brazil patch”. Below I tell some of the story of what happened during this trip;

En-route north from Rio I stopped at the famous Wooley Spider-monkey reserve in Caratinga to get to know it better, I will visit here latter in the year in September, with a group concentrating mainly on mammals. This reserve is a private initiative reserve and situated in eastern Minas Gerais state. The morning that I spent here, I was most impressed with what I saw, a pretty reserve set along the Manhuacu river valley with much extensive and good low-level forest, great infrastructure and an easy access from the nearest cities, Caratinga or Ipanema, a most friendly welcome, and most important, the reserve has very good birding possibilities and…….. Brilliant Monkeys, and lots of them! My time here was very limited and I just had the morning available getting to know how best to plan a future/return visit here. This I managed to do to my satisfaction, and this was also facilitated by the marvellous staff in attendance at this “mini paradise” of a private reserve, obviously very keen to demonstrate what they have managed to achieve with their dedication, devotion and enthusiasm.

Continuing northwards, my next stop was to be at Boa Nova, in the Southern interior of Bahia state ( I had stopped overnight at Teofilo Otoni in northern Minas as I had a “hick-up” with the bike, requiring a stripping down to gain access to/ and clean the carburettors, not the most accessible part of a “monster-tanked” Paris -Dakar super-traily Motor-cycle). I arrived at boa nova the following afternoon.
This Brilliant birding locality will form the Northern Western corner of my area. I had visited here once before, way back in the mid 1990’s, Little has changed since my first visit but much of this present day situation is probably due to the presence of Birdlife International and Save Brasil. This project, I understand, is a joint one to increase the environmental consciousness of the local landowners and the population in general. Back in the 90’s the remnant forest was disappearing at an alarming rate but Boa nova is now internationally recognised as an important bird area ( EBA = Endemic Bird Area).
Upon my first visit to Boa Nova I had really only targeted its most famous endemic the Slender Antbird, which I found then with little trouble and in the remnant vine-forests patches to the west and North of the town. This visit I needed to target many more endemic species, a large number of which are also Formicivoridae (Antbirds).

This second visit to Boa Nova was another successful one; upon the first morning I re-found the site of my 90’s visit and saw 6 species of Antbird, four of which were new to me ( Silvery Cheeked Antshrike, Stripe-backed Antbird, Narrow-billed and Caatinga Antwrens). I re-found Slender Antbird and I managed to record and Photograph the majority of the other species, the exception being a solitary male Caatinga Antwren that gave great views but caught me unprepared as it “drifted through the caatinga” without really vocalizing, this was before I had arrived at the vine-forested area and before I had set-up my sound and camera gear.
In the afternoon I found a great trail in the Humid Forest at Serra da Ouricana, situated approx. 10kms east of Boa Nova. The weather however turned on me and I ended up riding back to Boa Nova in a very heavy rainstorm on dirt roads. Before the rains broke I managed to find some interesting endemics here in this Humid Forest, Pin-tailed Manakins, Tufted Antshrike and a family group of Spot-breasted Antvireo. In the more open areas Red-cowled Cardinal, Cactus Parakeet and the occasional White Monjitas were also found.
The following morning I manage to make contact with Edson of Save Brazil / Birdlife International and he introduced me to a local guide who proceeded to show me around the region. Apart from learning my way around Boa Nova much better than before with Josafa, we also managed to find ; Spot-backed Puffbirds, White-bellied Northura, Narrow-billed Antwren again(my camera played-up with a flat battery this time!), Red-winged Tinamou, more Slender Antbird and roosting Pygmy Nightjars. Upon any return visit to this region I will definitely employ Josafa ,he is very competent with birdsong and knows all of the woodlots and trails in the region, invaluable talents to be both approved of and encouraged!
The following day I reluctantly left Boa Nova and headed south-east back towards the Minas Gerais boarder. It took me approx 3hrs to arrive at the boarder town of Macarani having ridden over some very pleasant tarmac country roads in a surprisingly good state of conservation. After lunching in a locally recommended house/restaurant (home cooking being the word here), I headed south out of town following the rather vague instructions that I had accumulated for the Balbina Forest and the nearby town of Bandeira. The road South from Macarani is a wide dirt-track and it is in a reasonably good state of repair, but in wet places it can be very slick and extremely slippery. I was luck today, the road was mostly dry, and I travelled the 50- odd Kilometers to Bandeira without any problems (two days latter I would have 20 more kilometres to travel on this dirt-track, in the rain, which proved to be a very technical exercise in riding skills). As I approached the state boarder line (Bahia/Minas Gerais) I could see a rather extensive forested ridge off to the left (East) of the dirt-track road to Bandeira. I stopped at a likely looking access point for this forest a couple of kilometres inside Minas Gerais state, but I found out latter that day that this was NOT the access track written about in trip reports. Just before arrival in Bandeira I found another White-bellied Northura this one vocalizing by the side of the track and displaying it’s diagnostic yellow-legs.
I spent the afternoon at a local internet café where I managed to glean some more information about this locality, made famous by the recent discovery of one of Brazils rarest Birds here, a tapaculo that goes by the enticing name of Stresmann’s Bristlefront.
The following morning I was up at dawn to find the access track to the Balbina forested ridge. Armed with my newly found internet information together with yesterdays recognisance of the region I managed to find the real access track with little trouble. If finding the access track was easy, walking up it to the forested ridge was another story, only a competitions trials M/cycle with a very competent rider would manage to ride or drive up this track. Glad that I had parked my bike at the entrance to this track, I immediately came across an interesting species as I forded the first river at the start of the long trail, a pair of Pale-legged Horniero were feeding on the road and vocalizing profusely, this was to be the first of a host of new species for me today. About 45 mins. walking-time of pretty steep trail lay ahead of me. As I approached the end I saw a patch of forest off to the right of the main trail, going through a gate at a hairpin bend, I managed to find that this equally steep and minor track penetrated the forest following a small wooded valley, the conditions appeared ideal for Bristle-front but the stream was making quite a bit of noise, it was in full-flow from the recent rains, my tape playback was probably not reaching the largest forested area on the far side of this stream, the slopes were that steep that access was virtually denied to this forest-patch away from this unique trail. Walking through the forest on this same trail I came across my second “life-bird” for the day, a brilliant male Wing-barred Piprites suddenly appeared in a tree in front of me, as I played an archive tape of its song, the bird came in very close, allowing excellent studies of this remarkably beautiful green, grey, yellow and brilliant- white dotted species. I was amazed at the similarity between the physical appearance of this species and it’s sibling co-genera species, Black-capped Piprites, virtually identical in all respects apart from voice and colouring.
After thoroughly exploring for possible alternative tracks in this first forest patch I returned to the main track and found my way up to the forested ridge. En-route I came across a number of rare and interesting species, firstly I heard the most distinctive call of 3 toed Jacamar, secondly I found a pr. of Striated Soft-tail in amongst a mixed flock, low-down in dense brush overhanging a stream. Next I found a vocalizing Bahia Spinetail in the forest-edge habitat, and as I was recording this bird I heard another interesting vocalization, the unmistakeable “fruity-bassey- squeak” of a Rio de Janeiro Antbird, I changed my focus to this bird, recorded it and proceeded to call it in.
Continuing-up a very steep trail to finally arrive at the Forested ridge I stopped for lunch. After “feasting” on a can of Vienna sausage and fresh French bread I started to explore the ridge trail, always trawling, otherwise listening, intently, for any signs of Bristle-front activity. I came across another mixed flock this one comprised mainly of antbirds. Plumbeous Antvireo was one of the surprise members of this flock along with a female Myrotherula antwren, this may have been Salvadori’s Antwren? found at similar altitude a few days latter and not many kms away at Serra Bonita, in southern Bahia.
I followed the ridge track further, hoping to find a link-up with the track that I explored earlier in the day. It started raining; I crossed a couple of swollen streams without arriving at any area recognisable from my earlier recognisance of the area. I decided to turn back the way I had come. During a break in the weather I encountered 2 groups of 3-toed Jacamar, one sat Crescent-chested Puffbird, a Yellow-throated Woodpecker and also Sooty-fronted Spinetail whilst retracing my hike back along the forested ridge. The rain returns and this time it is set-in for the rest of the day. I’m reluctant to leave but I have not heard one note all day that could be attributed to a Bristle-front. During another brief interlude in the weather I observe a mixed flock gleaning a flying ant swarm (triggered by the rains), amongst the Flame crested Tanagers, Tropical Gnateaters, Becard and Flycatchers is a brilliant Oustalet's Tyrannulet.
Returning to Bandeira the roads are treacherous, my back wheel tries to overtake my front wheel on two occasions, I’m very thankful to arrive back at my rather basic accommodation next to the petrol station without dropping the bike. I’m exhausted from a longish day but mainly from a very long hike back down to where I was parked. It rains all night, I’m now preoccupied about getting my loaded-up motorcycle back onto tarmac roads, I have two choices, 20kms south on an unknown dirt-track (being prepared for asphalting later this year), or retracing my route back north to Bahia and Macarani for 48kms of dirt/mud. I opt for the first alternative, twenty two kms of very slippery dirt road with one stretch of 100yds in shin-deep mud (but I was unaware of this at the decision making time!). I kiss the lovely new tarmac upon my arrival and the rain also appears to be abating, things are looking up! I have asked the best route to another boarder town in this “impossible to pronounce” River Jequotinhonha valley, I need to get to Salta da divisa in the extreme East of the valley and I’m not keen on taking anymore slippery dirt tracks on the way!


Sunday, 21 February 2010

I will be catering to larger groups from December 2010

As I gain more and more "feel" for organising bird-tours in my area, SOTHEASTERN BRAZIL, I am also noting that my overheads are rising quite rapidly and that this is due to local inflation.
Now in my sixth year I'm starting to open-up to offer my exclusive guiding services to larger groups, this is firstly to continue offering my tours at accesible prices to all and secondly to try and reduce further still my overheads by using hire vans & minibuses in the place of my 4x4 (which is both pretty thirsty on fuel and expensive to maintain).
I have had a number of enquiries recently from dual interest groups, for trips that include both Birds & Butterflies and Birds & Mamals, I am accepting a group of each of these to experiment . Assuming a reasonable level of success with these dual interest tours, I will shortly be broadening my Itinerary sheet to include these types of tour to everyone, as and when required.
I am planning to revise my Website homepage shortly, expanding on the above theme of Larger Groups and Dual interest Holidays.
Richard Raby

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

I’ve had a rather difficult season. Firstly I probably worked too much in England over the northern summer months at my “other job”, and secondly I did something that I swore that I would never do………….. upon my arrival back to Brazil in September I conducted 3 trips, one after the other, that visited one of my most distant and difficult location, the Serra da Canastra. On the third of these trips we also continued on to then visit Porto Seguro in Southern Bahia, which really IS my most distant and difficult birding area presently offered. Needless to say that after over 8,000kms driven in my 4x4 Mitsubishi in under 3 months, I had to confront 3 mechanical problems. Firstly the front brake pads wore down onto the indicator warning area necessitating replacement en-route, secondly the starter motor brushes wore-out completely,without warning and stopping the vehicle. And finally an annoying rattle heard on acceleration, that started mid-way through my first trip, was finally traced to BOTH of the rear prop-shaft spider-joints with excessive wear, and requiring replacement, a part available only by special order here In Brasil, but thankfully a part that could also be run safely until the new ones arrived.

At the Serra da Canastra the main attraction, the Merganser, proved more difficult than on any other previous visits, we saw one individual on our second trip, this was on our last morning and just as we were about to give-up. As some form of compensation? the grassland species in the upper park proved, if anything, easier than ever, we got great views and even photographs of species such as Black-masked Finch, Brazilia Tapaculo, Ochre-breasted pipit and Collared Crescent-chest along with good views of Cock-tailed Tyrant and Greater Rhea on each visit. On the first two visits we saw Small-billed Tinamou and on the last two visits we also saw a number of Giant Anteater, which were surprisingly absent on the first trip, probably due to the unseasonably wet and cold weather?

Back to the mechanical problems… I suppose that the starter motor problem was the most worrisome? It required us having to bump-start the car on 3 separate occasions (before we learned the trick of tapping the starter body before turning the key), the first time this happened, at the Caetes valley, it caught us by surprise, We were on a very narrow farm track, with a violent drop-off to one side, we were on an inclined part of the “track” and our only option was to attempt a bump-start in reverse gear! To be quite honest I was more than a little apprehensive, even with my now 5 years plus experience at Taxi driving in Cambridge. We HAD to start the car upon our first attempt, the track went into a small depression before rising again behind us and the width of the track exactly matched that of our vehicle-track, the drop-off already mentioned to one side of us was a little nerve-racking to put it mildly, talk about “applying the pressure”! Surprisingly this radical starting operation went smoothly, very smoothly, a bump-start using the rear-view mirrors, with all incentive in the world to “get it right first time” and “stay on track!”, we all breathed a great sigh of relief and continued our journey on to the first town where we could get a mechanical evaluation performed, leaving a more meticulous birding-inspection of the Caetes valley to a return visit.

Next we ended-up driving around the CVRD Linhares reserve in a local hire-van, in a light drizzle which sometimes turned to rain, and, as we found-out, the best time for seeing the reserve’s prime target-species, Red-billed Curasow, there were at least 6-8 of this marvellous rarety out on the track and walking around in full view. Whilst we also walked a large stretch of the tracks, ahead of our vehicle, we “lucked-in” with fantastic views of another difficult to observe local speciality, Solitary Tinamou, which was also showing more interest in the open track than usual that day.

In Southern Bahia in early December it was hot. The best birding was restricted to the first few hours of the mornings, at Monte Pascoal even the late afternoon period proved extremely quiet. At Porto Seguro we managed to see a number of the beautiful White-winged Cotinga on one of our mornings near the CEPLAC reserve, we also got lucky with a Black-headed Berryeater (we’d missed this due to weather at linhares) that we managed to call-in just off the sandy track that traverses this private reserve. In the same region we got to know of a possible Hook-billed Hermit stake-out, and most surprisingly, for me at least, we located a bird sat above the track at the exact point that we had been told to search, we even got half decent pictures of this great rarity before it flew off vocalizing. In the same region we also got to grips with Band-tailed Antwren, Bahia Antwren and another good rarity, Golden-tailed Parrotlet. A pair remained sat in a tree on two occasions during a walk along a wide forested track.
As already stated we suffered with the heat especially in Southern Bahia, and one of our group even had problems rising for our pre-dawn departures to our birding spots, whilst there!
It was with this same group that we latter found Pinated Bittern and Rufous-collared Seedeater at Lagoa Feia, Golden-lion Tamarin at Casimiro de Abreu and Giant Snipe at Marica, upon our return to Rio State towards the end of our trip.

I arrived back at The Marica Lodge in Mid-December, absolutely shattered, but still with work to be done on my car maintenance. Luckily my first group after Xmas would not be requiring the use of my 4x4.

I have just recently returned with this larger group of 2weeks that combined Birdwatching with Butterfly photography. The group comprised of 7 North American birders who’s interests have expanded to include Neo-tropical Butterflies and they are presently involved in the task of putting together an archive and maybe a future book of field acquired butterfly photographs for identification purposes in South Eastern Brazil. On this trip we visited Intervales, Itatiaia, Ubatuba and the Serra da Bocaina. It proved to be a most interesting trip for me that re-awoke old passions of mine for neo-tropical Butterflies and Butterfly lavae and foodplants. I expect to be offering similar dual interest trips in the very near future, along with my regular specialist World-birding trips.

As I write this, my latest blogg, I’m preparing to travel on another research trip to Southern Bahia and North-Eastern Minas Gerais. I will be leaving at the end of this month and travelling alone, I expect to spend 2 weeks or more on my motorcycle getting to know a number of localities in this remote region which harbours an unusually large list of rare and endemic species. My major target species include Narrow-billed Antwren, Rio de Janeiro Antbird, Stripe-backed Antbird & Stressman’s Bristle-front. I am also hoping to find Wolly Spider-monkeys for the first time, as I start to also offer trips concentrating on both Birds and Mamals.

Monday, 29 June 2009

I‘ve been in England since mid April now and, as usual, I’m working in Cambridge.
I will be at the Neotropical Bird Club stand of the Rutland Birdfair this August but because of my latter arrival this year I managed to miss-out on the club AGM.
My past season in Brazil was a great success, I made a number of discoveries and I also added to my local experience with noteworthy encounters with a number of uncommon species. I suppose that the highlights of my ornithological year, apart from the uneventful and successful completion of my largest number of visiting groups, have been, in the folowing order of magnitude;
1/ Discovering possible Plumbeous Antvireo stake-outs for myself and at two separate localities.
2/ Finding Cinamon Vented Phia at a previous locality in MG, effectively confirming this as a worth-while “stake-out”, only my second for this species.
3/ Discovering Araucaria Tit-spinetail and Rusty Barred Owl at Serra da Bocaina and at circa 1000meters, (surprisingly low for these two species), and both represent highly procured species for visiting groups.
4/ Finding breeding? Colonies of Grassland Yellow Finch at two localities in MG and ES states. This appears to be an explosive and semi nomadic? Species.
5/ Repeating sightings of Red-ruffed Fruit-crow at two previously know localities suggesting that this very shy bird and very “un-vocal” species may be more sedentary than I had expected, and worth spending more time on finding at stake-outs?
6/ Finding Great Potoo in “typical habitat” in the Nouth Eastern corner of my patch. This is an uncommon species for SE Brazil but historicaly reported from this very same region, where I finally encountered it, in literature.
7/ Confirming a new stake-out for Helmeted Manakin in Eastern MG state. This species is normally encountered at one well-know stake-out in western MG that is getting unduly disturbed. This stake-out should take some pressure off of the original and classic spot at Serra da Canastra.
8/ And lastly: I have finally Re-encountered the Cipo Canasteiro, after over 6 previous attempts with visiting groups and nothing doing !!!!!!!!!!!! This time we searched, by accident, in a different area from that of the discovery site and after filming a Hellymayr’s Pipit and then flushing and pursuing a spotted Northura, we heard the Canasteiro sing which took me totally by surprise. It just sang the once, but that was enough to locate the direction and track it down to a nearby rocky patch. I had been given the run-around by this “almost mythical bird”, for the past 5 seasons, I thought that I knew the species well, but even so it’s proven difficult to see to order. Iindependent visitors can spend days trying to find this one, and often end-up giving up. No locals to my knowledge have ever seen the Cipo Canasteiro and they laughingly refer to the bird as the “Canary “, but this time, when questioned by them, we proudly held our heads up high and responded “YES! We have seen the bloody Canary” !! However when I tried to record this momentous event and get a picture…………………. To be continued.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Mission: Plumbeous Antvireo !

Well I’m back at the Marica lodge after a really great six days research trip. In the end I stayed two nights at Raposo in the extreme north of Rio de Janeiro state, one night at Caparoa, Pico da Bandeira (the second highest peak in Brazil and situated on the boarders of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo states), I then moved on to the main focus-point of my trip, the state park of Rio Doce, situated in eastern Minas Gerais state and approximately 300kms east of the state capital (Bello Horizonte). In total I covered a distance of 1600kms, nothing excessive by Brazilian standards, but still representing quite a few hours spent behind the steering wheel of my Pajero. Yes I decided to take the 4x4, rather than my motorcycle, at the last minute.
The primary purpose of this trip was to try and track-down an eastern Brazilian rarity, an Ant-vireo menaced with extinction by cause of it’s preference for tall, primary, low-level forest, probably the most threatened habitat in the whole of South eastern Brazil. Dysithamnus plumbeus, or the Plumbeous Antvireo is one of the great local endemics that is generally considered “very difficult to nail” in South-eastern Brazil, unless you manage to obtain permission to bird the IBAMA reserve at Sooretama. Permission to bird this reserve has recently become most burocratic and I for one, have been refused on several occasions. I felt that it was time to get some more field-work done, and try to find another stake–out.
Armed with notes from the red data book concerning recent sightings of this mega-tick I headed out to the village of Raposo in northern Rio de Janeiro state, which along with a report of sightings by researchers in 1991 also happened to be en-route to my main destination and situated a convenient 6 hours drive from the Marica Lodge. Raposo was an ideal overnight stopping point it’s a pretty spar town with a good option of clean and pleasant hotels. My first morning there proved productive, but only in localizing areas worthy of a return visit and at an earlier hour of the day. Today was a hot one and the best birding hours were spent getting to know the region. I finally arrived at an area of good, tall forest at approx 11.00 hrs and by which time the heat of the day was oppressive. I spent the midday period organising permission to enter the forest on a future visit. After successfully achieving this, I headed off for my second stop of the trip at the Pico da Bandeira. I arrived there in the early evening.
My time at the Caparao National park was limited to one morning so I drove into the park and opted to explore the 1500m zone. My luck was in as two pair of endemic Vinaceous Amazon Parrot flew into the valley that I was birding and settled in the canopy close to me, I even managed to get a shot off with my camera. Other species that I also saw here were birds typical for this altitude, birds such as Diadem Tanagers, Pallid Spinetail, Rufous-tailed Antbird and Plover-crested Hummingbird. After a very pleasant mornings high altitude birding, it was time to move-on again.
The afternoon drive across lowland eastern Minas state was hot and dusty and rather sweaty, I finally arrived at the Rio Doce state park just before dusk. On arrival here I was surprised to find a really well set-up state park where camping, picnicking, bathing and fishing combine and exist side by side with a huge area of low-level forest. The fishing by the way is permitted as a way of controlling rogue introduced fish species to the local lake system, fish such as Piranha etc, that have entered into the local ecosystem via flood-water invasions from the nearby Rio Doce. After dinning at the campsite restaurant I returned to my accommodation early but not so early as to miss-out on several Paraqui settled under road-side lamps and a nearby vocalizing Tawny-browed Owl.
Early the following morning I was up and birding near my accommodation block where I found numbers of vocalizing Sooretama slatey Antshrike, White-flanked Antwren and Moustached Wren. Surprisingly I also noted two singing Minute Hermit hummingbird, I was unaware that this endemic occurs this far away from the coastal strip. In the afternoon I explored a trail near the administration block and found Rufous Hermit, Versicoloured Emerald and a huge flock of Red-rumped Cacique foraging in the forest mid-level and canopy. That evening I took advantage of the full moon, always a good time for night-bird activity, and called in a Tawny-browed Owl, some Paraque and I taped an unusual Potoo vocalization (still awaiting identification as I write this report).
The following morning I spent comparing notes with the reserve staff, and in the afternoon I drove to a rather distant track that effectively bisects the reserve from West to East, here the forest is taller and it contained different species. A number of Yellow legged Tinamou were vocalizing and at one of my stops to “trawl” with tape archive for interesting endemics, I managed to get a good response from a Plumbeous Antvireo. The reply was slightly different from my archive recording but sufficiently similar and a “strong-enough response” to get me excited, and sure enough I managed to get, with a little bit of initial reluctance from the bird, good views of a magnificent male Antbird, displaying and flexing it’s shoulder area to show two largish white “epaulet” patches inboard of the wing-bend, apart from a few small white spots on the closed wing area these were the only markings on an otherwise leaden-grey Ant bird, without doubt I was observing my target bird species for the trip, a male Plumbeous antvireo, I was ecstatic!
Early the following mourning I returned to the same area and I managed to locate 3 family groups of Plumbeous Antvireo within a 600meters stretch of the track (a very successful achievement of which I was most pleased, the reserve was beginning to give-up some of it’s secrets). Back at my accommodation I had a little time still available to check around the camping area. Sure enough, just as the park wardens had said, and immediately after watching and photographing a low group of feeding tanagers (Chestnut-vented Conebill, Flame crested and Yellow-backed Tanagers), there on the next lowish dead branch-tip was a roosting Great Potoo, Wow !! This was a lovely parting memory from this wonderful and poorly studied forest reserve.
The afternoon was spend retracing my route south to Raposo village where I spent the night, arriving at dusk. The following mourning I visited the forest patch discovered on my journey North. After trawling with my newly recorded Plumbeous Antvireo archive from yesterdays Rio Doce encounter, I managed to get a good response on my third try at this rather small forest patch. The bird came straight-in but the track-edge was so overgrown it initially appeared impenetrable and the bird was so close but effectively invisible. Three farm-workers rode up on bicycles, one of them had a cutlass, so I offered them a dollar for it’s use for 5 minutes! This was immediately accepted and the fellow even insisted on wielding the blade himself, he cut an opening into the tall primary forest beyond the vine-tangle of the forest edge.
I entered the forest and within a couple of minutes I got great views of another male Plumbeous Antvireo, this particular bird appeared more inquisitive than agitated and the white inner-shoulder patches were not displayed this time. The bird was a bit scruffier than the Rio Doce birds and was possibly moulting it’s tail feathers, but it was still my first home-state (Rio de Janeiro) observation and my third encounter with this greatly endangered eastern Brasilian endemic in three days.