Tuesday, 26 February 2019

NE Brazil Day 8: Chapada Diamantina

Well, what a night that was! Driving rain began before midnight and it was still chucking it down at breakfast and throughout the 2 hour drive to our first stop of the day. It eased quite a bit by the time we arrived but it was still steady drizzle and not the best conditions to find hummers and in particular the endemic Hooded Visorbearer. One of Ciro’s contacts had informed him last night  about an area where there was a profusion of flowers particularly attractive to hummers and so we altered our plans and headed straight there. But man it was raining. So donning ponchos and wielding those pesky umbrellas we set off along a flat track and within 2 minutes we’d found a Hooded Visorbearer – huge relief all round and big smiles from everyone.

Hooded Visorbearer - endemic

According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: "The Hooded Visorbearer is endemic to the central part of the state of Bahia, where it inhabits arid and semi-arid montane scrub (at 950–1600 m) rich in cacti, bromeliads, and terrestrial orchids and is listed by BirdLife International as Near Threatened on account of its small range." 

In fact, there were hummers everywhere. I would ay we saw at least 6 or 7 visorbearers and the views were quite exceptional as the males were on territory and utilising any prominent perch to watch over their domain. There was also a couple individuals of Brown Violetear – this is an isolated population and the subject of much discussion regarding whether it is in fact a separate species. 

Brown Violetear

We saw one of these birds constantly harassing a Swallow-tailed Hummingbird as it tried to feed on its territory. The most abundant hummer was White-vented Violetear and we also enjoyed crippling close-ups of this pretty bird as well, and there was a few Glittering-bellied Emeralds to complete the picture. 

A very soggy Swallow-tailed Hummingbird

White-vented Violetear

As well as this spectacular hummingbird spectacle we also saw Spix’s Spinetail, White-bellied Seedeater, Masked Yellowthroat, Rufous Hornero and a flyover Aplomado Falcon.

Masked Yellowthroat

Leaving here the weather had totally cleared up so we drove to another area of cerrado and walked along another flat track with a wide open vista. A pair of Rusty-backed Antwrens appeared close by, a few Shrike-like Tanagers were really nice, a Pale-breasted Spinetail came in to check us out, there was a group of at least 6 Fork-tailed Flycatchers, and there were several White-eared Puffbirds dotted around. 

Rusty-backed Antwren

White-eared Puffbird

White-banded or Shrike-like Tanager

So leaving here we made our second attempt at the endemic Diamantina Tapaculo and this time were treated to crippling views as one bird appeared just a few feet away. Wow! 

The endemic Diamantina Tapaculo

A group of endemic East Brazilian Chachalacas in the same area tried their best to remain unseen but failed! I must say the views we have been getting of most species on this tour have been outstanding. So from here we drove a short distance to a restaurant and afterwards set out on a 250kms drive to our base for the next 3 nights at Boa Nova.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

NE Brazil Day 7: Chapada Diamantina

Our first taste of birding in the rain was this morning as we birded a wide valley in the Chapada Diamantina. It was only a shower in truth and once the weather cleared we saw some great birds with the endemic Sincora Antwren showing amazingly well just a few feet in front of us. 

The endemic Sincora Antwren

A calling Rufous-winged Antshrike was also pretty impressive but is a much more widespread species, and we also saw Lesser ElaeniaCinnamon Tanager, flyover Sooty Swift, the endemic Pale-throated Pampa-FinchGreen-winged and Black-throated SaltatorsGilt-edged TanagerViolet-capped Woodnymph, and at the bus we saw a Lowland Hepatic Tanager

Cinnamon Tanager

Pale-throated Pampa-Finch

But the star performer was a pair of Collared Crescentchests that provided point-blank views and pointedly disregarded my group.

The endemic Collared Crescentchest

Chapada Diamantina

Then we drove to another area but failed to locate Sao Francisco Sparrow but a showy Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant and Plain-crested Elaenia was a little compensation. 

Lunch was in the nearby town and then we decided to keep on birding so headed to a particularly dry area of cerrado where Rufous-sided Pygmy-Tyrant and Grey-backed Tachuri proved easy to find despite the high temperature and blue midday skies. 

Grey-backed Tachuri - another endemic

Rufous-sided Pygmy-Tyrant - endemic

There was also American KestrelPlumbeous SeedeaterStripe-tailed Yellow Finch, and Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch. We checked out an area for Blue Finch without getting  response so headed back down to another area to look for Hooded Visorbearer, seeing 3 Red-legged Seriemas along the way (and good spotting from Gill and Mark). This was particularly scenic but as it was Sunday there were lots of people and no visorbearers although the endemic Velvety Black-Tyrant and Chopi Blackbird were new.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

NE Brazil Day 6: Lear's Macaw Reserve - Lencois

This was the day we had been waiting for, for a very long time! After a quick cup of coffee at 04:20 we left in a couple of 4-wheel drives and drove to a viewpoint to wait for daybreak. Walking along the path we disturbed a Scissor-tailed Nightjar and had a couple of views. 

This is the setting for the macaws

As the day slowly brightened we could hear the macaws stirring in the canyons below us and once it was light enough Ciro put his scope on a pair of Lear’s Macaws perched in a cactus not too far away. We watched them for quite a while before walking in a different direction and down to the edge of a big red sandstone canyon where dozens of macaws suddenly took flight and flew along the canyon below us. Wow! 

Lear's Macaw - classified as Critically Endangered

Over the course of the next couple of hours we watched several pairs of Lear’s Macaws flying to and fro below us and often at eye level. What stunning birds they are! There were also several pairs of Turquoise-fronted Amazons flying around and several groups of Blue-crowned Parakeets, as well as a  Campo Troupial feeding below us. As far as birding experiences go, this is right up there with the very best. You are literally in the 'middle of nowhere' watching one of the rarest birds in the world.This bird is listed as Critically Endangered and only lives in interior of northeast Brazil - so it is a bit of an adventure just to reach this area. And what a beautiful bird!

We returned to the lodge for a 07:30 breakfast during which time a Laughing Falcon was seen perched some distance away. So we eventually left this wonderful area after breakfast back at the lodge and set out on the 550km drive to Lencois and our next hotel, arriving at 6.30pm. A long drive indeed!

Friday, 22 February 2019

NE Brazil Day 5: Serra de Araripe - Lear's Macaw Lodge

So we left early doors and drove for a couple of hours to the famous water park where the extremely rare endemic Araripe Manakin resides. Along the way we made one stop where we found a pair of stunning Tawny Piculets before reaching the site. 

Tawny Piculet - endemic

A short walk into the forest soon has us watching up to 8 Araripe Manakins including a couple of stunning males feeding around us. Wow! This is possibly the top target of this tour and its such a stunning bird - can it get any better than this....? There was also a brief Black-tailed Myobius, Euler’s Flycatcher, Pectoral Sparrow and Little Woodpecker here but not a lot else.

Araripe Manakin - and yes it is endemic...

 From here we set out on the 350kms drive to our next lodge stopping at a couple of pools along the way to piuck up some new trip birds. The first one had Comb Duck, as well as Brazilian Teal, whilst the next one after lunch had our first White-cheeked PintailWood Stork, Pied Lapwing and Collared Plovers.

Comb Duck

White-faced Whistling-Ducks and Comb Ducks

As we neared the lodge we walked along the track through caatinga bush country and found hummers to be more plentiful here with Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Stripe-breasted Starfrontlet, Ruby Topaz and Broad-tipped Hermit. A superb pair of Spotted Piculets were much appreciated by everyone, and we also saw White-lined Tanager, Caatinga Barred and Silvery-cheeked Antshrikes, Brown-crested Flycatcher and Mouse-coloured Tyrannulet

Spotted Piculet - endemic

At the end of a long day we arrived at the Lear’s Macaw Lodge with a stunning vista from our rooms. Oh and pizza and beer in the local town was also pretty awesome tonight!

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

NE Brazil Day 4 - Serra de Araripe

After an overnight storm we woke to clearing skies (and it didn't stop the cockerel from crowing at 3am!!) and after a 5.30am breakfast we set off along the dirt road in the minibus. Our first stop was to check out an area of grassland that Ciro knew was good for Copper Seedeater and sure enough we enjoyed fine views of this scarce species. 

Copper Seedeater

However, this was completely overshadowed by the 3 Pinnated Bitterns we watched flying around the marsh below us and even had scope views of one stationery bird! Wow! Oh and I’m forgetting the pair of White-bellied Nothuras that we watched from the minibus as they walked along the track next to us. Not a bad start huh?

White-browed Antpitta - another NE Brazil endemic

Planalto Slaty Antshrike (female) - endemic

Anyway, things got even better if that’s at all possible when on entering the trail through some great caatinga forest we heard and eventually saw well, a pair of endemic White-browed Antpittas. Stunning birds and one to get the pulse racing for sure. Next up was a pair of Planalto Slaty Antshrikes posing well beside the path. An Ochre-cheeked Spinetail made a mockery of the previous poor views we’d had by prostituting itself in front of us! In between the mega birds we’d been finding consistently there were also some commoner things like Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Greenish Elaenia, Chestnut-vented Conebill etc. But next up was the mega endemic Great Xenops and we had repeated views of several individuals all along this trail. What a bird!  

Great Xenops - and yes, another endemic!

An Ash-throated Casiornis was a real surprise, whilst the superb views of Ochre-backed Woodpecker were awesome and a Caatinga Antwren was really cool too! 

Ochre-backed Woodpecker - endemic

Caatinga Antwren

A Golden-green Woodpecker, Flavescent Warbler and Sooty-fronted Spinetail rounded off our morning and we returned to the minibus by 11am in order to get back to the lodge for lunch and a long siesta, as boy its hot here!

At 3pm we set out in the minibus to another area of caatinga where the lodge owner knew about an active Spotted Piculet nest. We found the dead tree, saw the nest hole but no piculet. Instead we had a cracking view of an Ochre-backed Woodpecker at its nest hole! 

Ochre-backed Woodpecker - and still endemic

The same spot had White-crested and Mouse-coloured Tyrannulets and a pair of Chivi Vireos. A short walk along the track was good as we had a pair of Silvery-cheeked Antshrikes, and a fine ‘Caatinga’ Barred Antshrike – a potential split. 

Silvery-cheeked Antshrike - endemic

'Caatinga' Barred Antshrike - a potential split and another possible endemic 

A Long-billed Wren was also glimpsed here  but at our next stop most of us saw the wren better. A Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant appeared, along with an Ultramarine Grosbeak and a female Ruby Topaz but it was a little late in the day and things had died down, although we also saw Burnished-buff and Hooded Tanagers and a flyover Least Nighthawk. What a day...