20 November 2010

New Checklist of the Birds of REGUA

With 452 species now recorded at REGUA, this Brazilian Atlantic Forest reserve has some of the highest avian diversity of any single locality in South America outside of the east Andean slope. This is largely due to REGUA being one of the few places where the Atlantic Forest remains intact across the complete altitudinal range. This, together with the Atlantic Forest also being one of the world's top five biodiversity hotspots, makes REGUA an important reserve, protecting a high number of endemics.

I've just finished work on the new REGUA checklist of birds. Rather than just produce a simple list of birds found on the reserve I wanted to include data collected over the last four years (largely by REGUA's guides Adilei and Leonardo) on seasonal abundance and movements, and the new checklist is one of the first in the neotropics to include seasonal bar graphs for each species (click on images below to enlarge).

12 November 2010

Early winter at the London Wetland Centre

Spent a couple of quiet hours at the London Wetland Centre. A Bittern in the reeds bordering the Main Lake showed well, but there was no sign of the reported Bearded Tits in the moderate south-westerly. A scan of the Grazing Marsh and Scrape for a Jack Snipe produced 11 Common Snipe and a Reed Bunting instead, and 56 Wigeon, 65 Shoveler, 40 Teal, 11 Gadwall and a Shelduck were amongst the wintering wildfowl.

31 October 2010

Lapland Bunting

A wander around Otter Head this afternoon resulted in Jaffa finding a Lapland Bunting in amongst a flock of around 70 Skylarks. The bird was mainly seen in flight but we did manage to get some good views on the ground. The estuary produced much the same as yesterday with the Glossy Ibis seen again (albeit very distantly), 30 Redwings, 20 Curlew and 1-2 Kingfishers. At dusk around 5000 Starlings gave a spectacular display at the regular roost site, while trying to avoid falling prey to a couple of Sparrowhawks.

30 October 2010

Back in the field!

A late autumn trip to Devon to visit good friends Jaffa (aka the Cream Tea Birder) and Helen seemed the perfect way to take a break from renovating the house. We spent most of today checking out Jaffa's patch. The coastal path around Budleigh Salterton was crawling with Goldcrests, but there was nothing of note on the sea despite the strong south-westerly. The Otter Estuary was also very quiet with just 25 Curlew, 1 Kingfisher, 1 Common Snipe, 1 Little Egret, 30 Teal and 15 Wigeon noted. However I did manage to catch up with the last of the flock of 20 Glossy Ibises that turned up in September. The bird showed ridiculously well in the morning sunlight, but this didn't make getting a decent digiscoped shot any easier, as the photo below clearly shows.

13 September 2010

Potoo training

Spent the day at the Natural History Museum at Tring studying potoo skins. I was particularly interested in a feature I observed in the field on a couple of Long-tailed Potoos at REGUA in Brazil back in May. Unfortunately I found that this feature is not well preserved on the skins due to the way they are stored (which might explain why field guide illustrations do not show it), however, after inspecting 102 specimens of six species (including 14 Long-tailed Potoo specimens of two subspecies) and a whole bunch of photos, I found enough evidence to back up my theory that the feature is unique to Long-tailed Potoo (more on this later). This is the first time I have visited the museum at Tring and it was fascinating pulling out trays containing little known species. I couldn't resist taking this potoo family portrait (click to enlarge)! There's one species missing - any idea which one?

23 August 2010

Birdfair 2010

For the forth year running, Rachel and I represented REGUA on the World Land Trust stand at the UK Birdfair. Once again we received a lot of interest and it was great to catch up with so many people that we had previously met out at REGUA and at past Birdfairs. Nick Baker visited the stand and Bill Oddie stopped by to the chat about his visit to REGUA earlier this year.

It was encouraging to see evidence that environmental considerations are, at last, beginning to become more prominant in the birding tourism industry. One or two tour companies are now stating that they prefer to use lodges that undertake habitat conservation, and at least two companies are now offsetting their CO2 emissions by planting trees at REGUA. Regardless of the merits of carbon offsetting, I find it surprising that birding companies have been so slow to adopt such schemes, especially considering that companies in the wider commercial world have been doing this for over half a decade now!

Once again I owe a huge thank you to the World Land Trust for allowing us to commandeer part of their stand and for making us feel part of the team.

18 July 2010

Yellow-legged Stilt-Plover

Try as I might, I really can't seem to get excited about twitching these days, but as a much needed break from seemingly endless DIY and sitting in front of a computer, I persuaded myself to make the trip to Dungeness for the White-tailed Lapwing. With so many photos of the bird plastered all over the net, there were absolutely no surprises when I clapped eyes on it running around on the mud - it looked, well, just like all the photos! Perhaps this is why I find twitching so dull nowadays. This fantastic bird showed well, feeding and flying around, but remained distant and unfortunately well out of DSLR range. However, my partner in crime, Pete Alfrey, did manage some digiscoped shots - here. 1 Garganey, 1 Green Sandpiper and a Marsh Harrier were also logged.

29 May 2010

The Atlantic Forest comes to the Chelsea Flower Show

Spent the day helping out the World Land Trust on their Saving the Atlantic Rainforest exhibit at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Launched by Bill Oddie on Tuesday, the aim of the exhibit is to celebrate the biodiversity of the Atlantic Forest as part of the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity, and raise awareness of the importance of its conservation. The exhibit has received a gold medal as well as the Best in Section award, no mean feat! It was certainly very popular today, receiving lots of interest and many enquiries about the Atlantic Forest, the World Land Trust and REGUA.

The stand featured a webcam streaming live action from the feeders at REGUA, that proved to be a huge hit. I logged 15 species throughout the day, including 3 Rusty-margined Guans, Ruby-crowned, Green-headed, Red-necked and Brazilian Tanagers, Red-rumped Cacique, and a surprise first for the Lodge garden - a male Yellow-legged Thrush! This species is unusual at feeders and is yet another indication of the success of the reforestation at REGUA. Many thanks to the World Land Trust for a great day!

22 May 2010

My, what long legs you've got!

Just got back from Brazil. Rachel and I spent the last week with our friends Andy and Cristina Foster (of Serra dos Tucanos) and took a six day trip north into the county of Minas Gerais, where we spent three nights at the Santuário do Caraça monastery (photo above), about 10 hours drive north of REGUA. Our main aim was to see the Maned Wolves Chrysocyon brachyurus that visit most nights to feed on kitchen scraps.

Maned Wolf is the largest canid in South America and is a strange looking animal to say the least, rather like a huge Red Fox on stilts! They are mainly nocturnal and solitary animals, found in open and semi-open habitats such as Cerrado where they feed mainly on mice and fruit. Since 1982 the monks at the monastery have been putting out kitchen scraps for them, and on two nights one or two animals came in to feast on meat scraps in front of a circle of onlookers - a rather bizzare scene, but blimey what great views (first and second photos and video)! How much of a negative effect this nightly ritual has on the wolves is open to debate, but from what we could see the animals appeared to spend most of the night away hunting natural food. On our first night a Striped Hog-nosed Skunk also made an appearance.


The video above was taken with a Canon 7D and Sigma 17-50mm f2.8-4.5 DC lens. For some excellent BBC footage of Maned Wolf in a more natural setting click here.

The monastery is located at the boundary of the Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado (third photo) - a savanna biome with patches of woodland and scrub, covering a large area of the Brazilian plateau (about 21% of the country), which lies between the Atlantic Forest and the Amazon. We saw few birds not found in the REGUA area and only a few lifers, but had great looks at Dusky-legged Guan (forth photo), King Vulture, Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Red-legged Seriema, Planalto Hermit, Scale-throated Hermit, White-throated Hummingbird, Sapphire-spangled Emerald, Amethyst Woodstar, Toco Toucan, Green-barred Woodpecker, Large-tailed Antshrike, Variable Antshrike, Dusky-tailed Antbird, Rufous Gnateater, Crested Black-Tyrant, Velvety Black-Tyrant (fifth photo), Long-tailed Tyrant (sixth photo), Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Sirystes, Grey-eyed Greenlet, Magpie Tanager, Gilt-edged Tanager and White-browed Warbler.

Once again a very successful trip to Brazil. REGUA is developing fast and I feel priviledged to be a part of this pioneering and important project. Althought some birds are much harder to see in the austral winter compared to the spring, the winter mixed species flocks make birding at this time of year very exciting.

12 May 2010

Ringing at REGUA

Spent the day on the Waterfall Trail at REGUA assisting a group from Rio University mist netting for hummingbirds. The aim of the study is to determine hummingbird diversity at different altitudes in the Atlantic Forest and this was the first day of ringing. Saw-billed Hermits and Violet-capped Woodnymphs were the most common species caught, a Scale-throated Hermit was processed before I arrived (a very low altitude record for this species), but best of all was a Dusky-throated Hermit (first photo). This tiny hummer can be very tricky to catch up with and was a new bird for me. Other birds ending up in the nets included Plain-winged Woodcreeper (second photo), Grey-hooded Flycatcher, Blue Manakin and several Black-goggled Tanagers. We even had a recovery - a pair of Star-throated Antwren (third photo). It will be very interesting to see what else turns up in the nets during the course of this study.

Other birds seen on the Waterfall Trail today included Brown Tinamou, Scaled Antbird, Black-cheeked Gnateater, Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant, White-thighed Swallow and Red-crowned Ant-Tanager.

11 May 2010

Restinga specialities and shorebirds

Spent the day at the coast birding the restinga and coastal lagoons around the small town of Cabo Frio, about 2 hours east of REGUA. The main aim of the trip was to iron out a route and itinerary for the excursion here offered at REGUA's lodge, but I was also keen to finally see Restinga Antwren - split in 1990 from the very similar Serra Antwren. Restinga is comprised of low woodland, scrub and cacti on sandy soil and is found in a narrow strip along the Brazilian coastline. Urban development is the main threat to the restinga, and with so much of it now destroyed the Restinga Antwren, which is only found in this habitat, is classified as Critically Endangered. They are still easy to see at Cabo Frio and we had 2 males show well. Other highlights at the restinga today include 1 Hook-billed Kite, 3 Sooretama Slaty Antshrike, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, 1 Plain-breasted Ground-Dove (not common at REGUA) and a Tropical Parula.

Male Restinga Antwren

Tropical Parula


Also nearby are several lagoons that held 8 Roseate Spoonbills, Little Blue Heron, Royal, Yellow-billed and Cayenne Terns, Grey-hooded Gull, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Collared and Semi-palmated Plovers, Black-necked Stilt, a distant probable Western Sandpiper, lots of White-cheeked Pintails and a very obliging Clapper Rail.

Clapper Rail

Clapper Rail

Clapper Rail

Little Blue Heron

10 May 2010

Garden birding

More rain today and so I decided on a quiet day birding around the lodge garden. Highlights included a Rufous-browed Peppershrike (another forest species and another sign that the reforested areas are maturing), Hooded Tanager, 2 Planalto Tyrannulets, Purple-throated Euphonia and the male Brazilian Ruby still defending its feeders. A late afternoon walk around the wetland added Limpkin and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift to the trip list.

9 May 2010

Frustration as rain stops play

I had a great day planned for today - leave at 4am, walk the Waterfall Trail before light to try for Variable Screech-Owl and then be on the high altitude Elfin Forest Trail for dawn, but as often happens, things didn't go to plan. The day started off well enough with a pair of Tawny-browed Owls showing well around the REGUA conservation centre at 4:15, but soon afterwards it started to rain. We decided to push on up the Waterfall Trail but saw only a Paraque and South-eastern Common Opossum. As the drizzle continued it became obvious that climbing the Elfin Forest Trail would be fruitless, so over a breakfast at the waterfall (while watching a Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper) we decided on a change of plan and we headed off to the Grey Trail to try for Russet-winged Spadebill. We flushed a Dusky-legged Guan, had yet a frustrating view of Blue-bellied Parrot and heard three Short-tailed Antthrushes, all in quick succession, but then the heavens opened. At this point we found a group of the endangered Golden-tailed Parrotlets sheltering in a tree but frustratingly viewing was so difficult I just couldn't get onto one! I've lost count of how many times I've dipped this species now, but hopefully the weather will improve and we'll be able to try again.

8 May 2010

Magical day at REGUA

Today we birded the 4x4 Track to Casa Anibel and what a day it was! 2 Rufous-crowned Motmots at the lodge got things off to a great start and the 4x4 Track itself was just dripping with birds! Fruiting trees at the trail head produced a large flock that included around 50 Blue Dacnis, Fawn-breasted, Brassy-breasted, Red-necked, Green-headed, Golden-chevroned, Rufous-headed and Yellow-backed Tanagers, as well as my first lifer of the day - a Sooty Grassquit. It was hard to tear ourselves away but walking up the trail we logged Channel-billed Toucan, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Black-capped and White-collared Foliage-Gleaners, 2 Spot-backed Antshrikes, Black-goggled Tanager, 2 Blonde-crested Woodpeckers, Black-cheeked Gnateater, 2 Crescent-chested Puffbirds, Long-tailed Tyrant, Slaty Bristlefront and my second lifer of the day - a Large-headed Flatbill (first photo). The strangler figs at the top of the trail are currently fruiting and these proved to be the highlight of the day. Birds were everywhere but 3 Bare-throated Bellbirds (second photo) busy gorging themselves on fruit were particularly notable as this is a difficult bird at this time of year. However, the 'cherry on the Pecan and Mapel Slice' came in the form of 2 Swallow-tailed Cotingas (third photo) that flew in to rest for a few minutes before heading off into the forest. There have been very few records of this beautiful species at REGUA and this was certainly one of my favourite moments on the reserve. As if this wasn't enough, the day was then finished off with a superb Boa Constrictor on the road back to the lodge (forth photo).

7 May 2010

Owl fest at REGUA

Amazing views of 2 Black-banded Owls (top photo) and a Tawny-browed Owl (bottom photo) this morning at a new patch of REGUA forest was well worth the 3am start. The Black-banded Owls kept to the higher branches making photography difficult but the Tawny-browed came in much closer. Out here, owls seem to be much more active on calm moonlit nights and the moon is now waning but I hope to get back and get some better photos of Black-banded Owl if possible. The species recorded here so far this trip indicate that this forest fragment contains some good quality forest and well worth exploring further.

A half-hearted attempt at Russet-crowned Crake at the wetland mid morning resulted in one bird actually showing itself for once (ticked at last). Returning to the wetland in the afternoon I also managed great looks at Blackish Rail and a Rufous-sided Crake that showed down to just 3 metres. At the moment the water level at the wetland is slightly lower than usual making rails a little easier to see. A quick look at the fields opposite the reserve entrance at dusk produced the hoped for Barn Owl floating around in the half-light - a fitting end to another long day.

6 May 2010

Long-tailed Potoos at REGUA

An early morning attempt for Black-banded Owl this morning once again concluded with the birds begin heard but not seen. However, a lifer in the form of a Long-tailed Potoo and an excellent encounter with this Mottled Owl (first photo) more than compensated. We also heard Tawny-browed Owl here and so if these species are indicators of the overall health of an ecosystem then this large fragment of lowland Atlantic Forest appears to be in good shape. Hopefully I'll manage to get back here during daylight to explore some more. After breakfast at the lodge while watching this Yellow Armadillo (second photo) I spent the rest of the day walking the Waterfall Trail, which had a lot of activity. The highlights were this roosting Long-tailed Potoo (third and forth photos), a Shrike-like Cotinga, 2 Rufous-capped Antthrushes, Pin-tailed Manakin and Black-cheeked Gnateater. Check out the upturned feather tips on the upperparts of the Long-tailed Potoo, giving an impression of peeling bark on a tree (click on photos to enlarge). I cannot find any reference to this feature in any of the literature? What an incredible bird!

High ISO bird photography

It's been an excellent couple of days forest birding at REGUA. The trails through the secondary forest near the lodge hold some really great birds and plenty of endemics. As the reforested areas through which these trails pass become more established, more and more forest species are being recorded. A walk along a couple of these trails yesterday produced great views of Grey-hooded Attila, White-bibbed Antbird, a Shrike-like Cotinga at the regular wintering site (top two photos) and a ridiculously showy Southern Antpipit (bottom photo). Today we birded the higher altitude Matumbo Trail and found a number of large mixed species flocks. Highlights were Green-backed Becard, Crescent-chested Puffbird, Scaled Woodcreeper, Ferruginous Pigmy-Owl, Black Hawk-Eagle, Variable Antshrike (my bogey bird seen at last!), Hangnest Tody-Tyrant (a REGUA tick and a good bird for the Reserve), Tufted Antshrike, White-shouldered Fire-eye and Black-capped Foliage-Gleaner (probably my favourite of this family).

Bought a Canon 7D DSLR a few days before this trip and I've been blown away by it! The autofocus is lightning fast and the high ISO (up to 6400) with little noise is ideal for forest photography where light is in short suppliy. Here's a few shots from yesterday, all taken at ISO 3200 and would have been impossible without a flash at lower ISO.

3 May 2010

Black-legged Dacnis

Another look at the wetland today produced a small flock of the hoped for Black-legged Dacnis - a rare and endangered Brazilian Atlantic Forest endemic that is difficult to catch up with, but lately seems to have become a REGUA speciality. Otherwise the birding today was fairly quiet, although a sortie this evening for Black-banded Owl was partially successful with 2 birds heard calling. I'll be trying hard to see these birds on this trip. This reintroduced Red-billed Curassow, one of 48 birds released at REGUA, has taken up residence in the lodge garden - an amazing looking bird!

2 May 2010

The REGUA wetland

After arriving at REGUA late last night we decided on an easy day around the restored REGUA wetland today. How things have changed in 18 months since our last visit! The final phase of landscaping and flooding of the wetland is now complete, increasing the total area of lakes, pools and channels to 18 hectares. Since 2005, around 60,000 trees have been planted around the edge of the wetland and growth rates have been phenominal with many trees now over 20 ft tall! Wildlife has been quick to move back in and as the forest edge is effectively brought nearer to the lodge, forest-dwelling birds are becoming increasingly common. A year ago, Maroon-bellied Parakeet was rarely seen in the lodge garden, but today about 100 were on the feeders or nearby - a good indicator of the quality of the replanted forest. Highlights today included 4 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks (the first breeding record for Rio State), a Brazilian Ruby at the lodge feeders (very low altitude for this species) and some excellent mammals including a pair of Greater Grison, around 40 Capabara and this gorgeous orphaned Orange-spined Hairy Dwarf Porcupine.

30 April 2010

REGUA - my neotropical patch

In 2006, after two years of planning, Rachel and I quit our jobs, packed up our stuff, let out the house and set off on a trip around South America. We saw a lot of amazing wildlife, but one of the highlights was three months volunteering at REGUA (Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu) - an NGO protecting a large area of Atlantic Forest in south-east Brazil. We took on the task of developing the Reserve's tourism, set up to generate funds for their conservation work, and during our stay we fell in love with the place and made some life-long friends. Since our trip we've continued our work for REGUA, which has included building the website and representing REGUA at the Birdfair. REGUA is now becoming a top birding destination and we like to think we have helped put REGUA on the birding map. All income generated goes towards protecting the habitat the birds depend on and so tourism here helps conserve this highly threatened biome.

The Atlantic Forest is of the world's top five biodiversity hotspots and dripping with endemics! Over the last few years I've got to know the birds well and adopted REGUA as my foreign patch. Each year we try to return to see how the Reserve is developing and tomorrow we fly out for a three week trip. This time we'll be spending two weeks at REGUA before embarking on a mini tour to Caraça and I'm hoping to write the occassional post, internet access allowing. To find out more about birding in the Atlantic Forest and REGUA visit http://www.regua.org/.

Rachel and I in 2006 with Adilei (left) - one of REGUA's bird guides

25 April 2010

A few more year ticks

I didn't have much opportunity for birding this weekend, but a walk today along the Cuckmere Valley and up on the South Downs near Alfriston in East Sussex produced my first Common Whitethroats and Sedge Warbler of the year, lots of Blackcaps and about 20 Swallows.

21 April 2010

3rd watch from Tower 42

Clear skies and light northerlies over London produced a rather quiet day at Tower 42 today. Personal highlights were 3 Common Buzzard north over, including a spectacular show put on by two birds being harassed by a local Peregrine. Other birds seen include a Common Swift (my first of the year) and up to 4 local Peregrine including a bird perched on St. Paul's Cathedral. Joining us on the roof today was a film crew from BBC Natural World, making a film about wildlife in the capital.

For more on the day's watch, including other birds seen, see Tower 42 Bird Study Group and Non-stop Birding.

18 April 2010

Migration picks up

A noticable increase in movement today. A morning visit to Thomas Cleeve Wood on the edge of Dartmoor produced an early singing male Wood Warbler, a male Pied Flycatcher, a Tawny Owl (flushed by a dog walker), up to 9 Marsh Tits (top photo) and loads of Siskins. Back in Budleigh Salterton (via a tea room of course), we were chilling in Jaffa's garden when we looked up to find 2 male Wheatear sitting on the chimney! A surreal sight, the birds spent a good half hour preening before dropping down to feed in the park in front of Jaffa's house!

Another look at the sea at Brandy Head in the evening produced a trickle of Swallows moving north, 27 Manx Shearwaters heading west, 20+ Common Scoter, 1 Guillemot and a flock of 25 Pale-bellied Brent Geese flying in and landing on the sea. Spent a bit of time trying to photograph birds in flight - difficult!

For more on the weekend's birding see Cream Tea Birding.