29 July 2011

What can you expect to see out of a Guapiaçu hotel bedroom window?

Well maybe not the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or herds of wildebeest, but certainly views like this!

The view from the veranda

The view from room 1

REGUA set up Guapi Assu Bird Lodge to provide accommodation for people visiting the reserve and raise funds for protecting the Atlantic Forest. The lodge has changed a lot since I first visited in 2006. We've built new rooms increasing the capacity to up to 18 people, all rooms are now en suite, there is a new car park and a courtyard has been created planted flowers to attract hummingbirds and nectar feeding insects. The lodge now even has Wi-Fi and a webcam trained on the feeders! For more details on the lodge including rates click here.

Guapi Assu Bird Lodge

Guapi Assu Bird Lodge

Rooms 9 & 10

Here are a few images of the scenery at REGUA.

The REGUA wetland

The Waterfall Trail

The Wetland Trail

The Serra dos Órgãos mountains at REGUA

The Waterfall Trail

Rachel and I will be representing REGUA at the British Birdfair at Egleton Nature Reserve, Rutland, from the 19th to 21st August, in Marquee 5, stand number 35. Please come and visit us if you can.

23 July 2011

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 23 July

Woke to heavy rain early this morning which put paid to the planned pre-dawn night-birding around the wetland for Tawny-browed Owl and Common Potoo. In fact any birding or photography whatsoever was looking very unlikely but then around mid morning the rain stopped. As this was the last day of the trip I dashed off to the wetland to try and catch up with some of the more common species that I have so far neglected.

A Slaty-breasted Wood-Rail and a Bran-coloured Flycatcher showed at the start of the Wetland Trail but then the heavens opened again! Taking shelter in the new hide, I had another look for the recently seen Boat-billed Herons, but had to make do with 1 Rufescent Tiger-Heron, 10 Black-crowned Night-Herons, 1 Bananaquit (surprisingly scarce at REGUA) and a Broad-snouted Caiman Caiman latirostris lying in wait for an unsuspecting Least Grebe or Common Moorhen. The downpour escalated to biblical proportions but after an hour it finally stopped and I set out again, and this time the rain held off.

A mixed species flock contained 1 Green-winged Saltator (a very low altitude record for this species and probably the same bird seen on the 15th), 2+ Yellow-browed Tyrant, a pair of White-bearded Manakin (photo 1 of the female), a female White-winged Becard, an immature male Crested Becard, 1 Long-billed Wren, 2 Yellow-legged Thrush, 1 Brazilian Tanager, 1 Ruby-crowned Tanager, at least 2 Golden-chevroned Tanager and a Tropical Parula. A Bare-throated Bellbird started singing from the hillside above but refused to show itself (if you don't know what they sound like click here) and the number of Masked Duck have increased to 1 male (photo 2) and 6 female.

Other birds seen before I ran out of time and had to return to the lodge include 4 Capped Heron, 1 Squirrel Cuckoo, 3 Chestnut-backed Antshrike, 3 Yellow-chinned Spinetail (photo 3), 1 Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher, 3 Planalto Tyrannulet, 1 Yellow-bellied Elaenia, 1 Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, 1 Yellow Tyrannulet, 2 White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, 2 Short-crested Flycatcher, 1+ Grey-breasted Martin and 1-2 Black-capped Donacobius.

After watching 3-4 Channel-billed Toucans scoped from the veranda and 3 flyover Orange-winged Parrots, we said our goodbyes to Adilei, Helen, Nicholas and Raquel and then it was into the minibus and off to Rio airport. Gangs of Magnificent Frigatebirds patrolling the skies over Rio gave close views as we drove through the outskirts of the city and proved to be the last species of note for the trip.

REGUA has changed a lot over the last five years and thinking back to when we first got involved in 2006 its incredible how different the place is now. Back then the lodge was empty for much of the time, but REGUA is becoming a well known birding destination and now the lodge receives many more guests and is often full during the spring months. The wetland was about a third of the size and still bordered by fields with cattle and crops that held open country birds such as Yellowish Pipit and Grassland Sparrow, whereas today the fields have been replanted with native trees and these birds have been replaced by forest species such as Rufous-capped Motmot and even Red-ruffed Fruitcrow. Adilei was a ranger who couldn't speak any English but is now an excellent guide who knows a great deal of English including all the English bird names. In 2006 there were only two houses for volunteers to stay in compared to four now and a lot more volunteers, and REGUA now attracts many university researchers studying the biodiversity of the forest.

The success of REGUA is a true testament to the vision and resolve of Nicholas and Raquel Locke, who have created a robust model for nature conservation that proves it is possible to restore much of what has been lost. They have worked tirelessly to include the local community who now fully support REGUA and attitudes towards the forest are slowly changing. Rachel and I are honoured to be part of the team and we can't wait to see what the next five years will bring. A full report on this trip will follow soon.

22 July 2011

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 22 July

I awoke this morning to the calls of a Common Potoo and a Tawny-browed Owl drifting through the window. A quick search before dawn failed to find them but I didn't have time for a longer look as we had an early start today. At least I've got early tomorrow morning to try. The moon isn't rising until the early hours at the moment which might explain why these birds are not so vocal in the evening?

The Elfin Forest Trail is one of the best trails for birds at REGUA and is particularly good for several Threatened and Near-threatened Atlantic Forest endemics such as Golden-tailed Parrotlet, Blue-bellied Parrot, Salvadori's Antwren, Spotted Bamboowren and Brown Tanager. But this is a long and difficult hike and not the easiest trail to bird. For starters, the trail begins at post 2350 of the Waterfall Trail and so there is a long walk before you even reach the trail head, and also much of the trail is rocky and very steep, particularly the final kilometer to the top, which lies at 950 metres above sea level. However, the forest here is excellent quality primary and selectively logged forest and is some of most beautiful Atlantic Forest I've seen. The trees are dripping with bromeliads and orchids and the pristine stunted elfin forest and views at the top are awesome.

We arrived at the start of the Elfin Forest Trail at around 08:30. The forest was fairly quiet and many more birds were heard than seen, but as we moved up the trail we encountered some good mixed species flocks which included 2 Pale-browed Treehunters busy ripping apart bromeliads while 2 Black-capped Foliage-gleaners, 2 Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaners, a Spot-breasted Antvireo and a Rufous-browed Peppershrike were amongst the species foraging under the leaves. A little higher up the trail at post 1700, another mixed species flock contained a male Salvadori's Antwren along with at least 1 White-collared Foliage-gleaner and a White-throated Woodcreeper, and a Shrike-like Cotinga started calling! Post 1700 is a location of a breeding territory for Shrike-like Cotinga, which are thought to move to lower altitudes in the austral winter, so what is this bird doing here at this time of year? Maybe the adults remain higher up all year and the immatures move lower after being forced out of their parents territories? One thing is for sure, there is a lot more to discover about altitudinal migration and post breeding dispersal in the neotropics!

Things were very quiet at the top of the trail with a Spot-billed Toucanet, 1 Velvety Black-Tyrant (photo 1) and 1 Long-tailed Tyrant being the only noteworthy sightings. At this point the weather closed in and we decided on a rapid descent. On the way down 2+ Ferruginous Antbirds and a Large-headed Flatbill were seen in the bamboo and 4 Spot-winged Wood-Quail ran/flew across the trail in front if us (only my second lifer on this trip)! Also seen on this trail throughout the day were a pair of Surucua Trogon, 1 Plain-winged Woodcreeper, 1 White-throated Spadebill, 1 Crested Becard, Black-goggled Tanager and 2-3 Golden-crowned Warbler.

View at the top of the Elfin Forest Trail overlooking remote Atlantic Forest
with a cold front approaching

The top of Elfin Forest Trail

At this altitude bromeliads grow on the forest floor

Birds seen on the dash up and down the Waterfall Trail include a White-barred Piculet, a pair of Plain Antvireo, 1 Unicoloured Antwren, 1 Scaled Antbird, a female Black-cheeked Gnateater, 1 Plain-winged Woodcreeper, 1 Olivaceous Woodcreeper, 1 Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, 2 Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant, 1 White-throated Spadebill, 1 Crested Becard, 3 Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, 4+ Flame-crested Tanager and a Tropical Parula.

Also found today on the Elfin Forest Trail were no fewer than three signs where a Puma Puma concolor had scent marked the trail. We see tracks and signs of these cats almost every time we come up here and I'd love to camp out sometime to try and see one.

21 July 2011

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 21 July

Decided on a morning visit to the Waldenoor area today. The dirt road up the Matumbo valley produced a very obliging Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (photo 1), 4 White-eared Puffbirds, a pair of Double-collared Seedeaters (the first of this common bird I'd seen this trip), 2 Shiny Cowbirds and this Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth Bradypus variegatus (photo 2) crossing the road and blocking our path. After taking a few photos Adilei placed it gently in a tree out of harms way (photo 3).

Eyes in the back of the head - click photo to enlarge

Towards the top the 'road' becomes too steep to drive safely and you need to walk the last few hundred metres to the trail head. However, it was very windy from this point onwards and there were few birds in evidence. 2 Mantled Hawk and a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle were soaring overhead and 2 Blue-winged Parrotlet, a Tropical Pewee (a winter visitor here), 1 Chestnut-crowned Becard and a showy Blue-naped Chlorophonia were the only birds of note actually seen.

The trail at the end of the dirt road that leads to the disused house where Waldenoor (the previous owner of the land here) once lived was more productive but still relatively quiet. The highlights were a flock of 10 Brassy-breasted Tanager (a good record for the reserve) and a troop of Brown Capuchin Monkeys Cebus apella moving through the trees. Other birds seen include 1 Grey-fronted Dove (the first I've ever seen on the deck), about 10 Plain Parakeet, 3-4 Pileated Parrot, 2-3 Grey-rumped Swift, 1 White-chinned Sapphire, 1 Rufous-breasted Leaftosser out in the open, 1 Sepia-capped Flycatcher, 1 Yellow-olive Flycatcher, 1 Blue Manakin, another Chestnut-crowned Becard, 1 Black-goggled Tanager, 1 Flame-crested Tanager, just a single Green-headed Tanager and 3 Yellow-green Grosbeak.

20 July 2011

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 20 July

Had an excellent day birding on the Waterfall Trail. One of the first birds we found was a superb male Shrike-like Cotinga at post 400, a very low altitude. This bird performed brilliantly, calling just a metre or so above our heads and feeding on caterpillars, and despite the severe lack of light I still managed a few reasonable pics (photos 1, 2 & 3). Note the rufous tips remaining on some of the greater and lesser coverts in photos 2 & 3 which indicate that this is an immature bird (click on photos to enlarge). Interestingly, it appears that most of the birds found at lower altitudes at REGUA at this time of year are immatures. Shrike-like Cotinga is something of a REGUA speciality, being much easier to find here than anywhere else. A second bird was later heard calling a little higher up the trail.

These three photos are dedicated to my good friend Sam Woods - one day mate!

We saw a lot of birds today but some of the highlights include a White-necked Hawk soaring with a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, a Saw-billed Hermit seen well at last (with many others heard), 3 Surucua Trogon, 1 Buff-bellied Puffbird (photo 4), 1 Blond-crested Woodpecker, 1 Scaled Antbird, 1 Black-cheeked Gnateater, 1 Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper (at the waterfall), 1 Southern Antpipit, 2 Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant, 2 Large-headed Flatbill, a fantastic male Pin-tailed Manakin, 1 White-necked Thrush, several Olive-green Tanager, 1 Azure-shouldered Tanager, 2 White-bellied Tanager, 2 Brassy-breasted Tanager (another atitudinal migrant found in small numbers on the lowland trails at this time of year) and a pair of Rufous-headed Tanager. We also came very close to finally connecting with Variegated Antpitta today, but unfortunately despite Adilei succeeding in calling it into an area of relatively open forest floor, only he managed to catch a glimpse of it.

Also noted today were 2 Whistling Heron, an Aplomado Falcon and a White-rumped Monjita on the dirt road from the lodge to the trailhead, and at the Conservation Centre 2 more Whistling Heron and the resident pair of Tropical Screech-Owl were seen. Last but not least, a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth was watched clambering about in a tree at the junction of the Waterfall Trail and Lost Trail.

The Waterfall Trail remains one of my favourite trails at REGUA. Over the last few years I've accumulated many many hours birding here, completely absorbed in the rainforest ecosystem, and I never tire of the birds or the views (photos 5 & 6). On my next Brazil trip I hope to explore the largely unexplored rough upper section of the trail.

19 July 2011

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 19 July

An overcast day spent with Helen Cavilla (the newly appointed lodge manager), Rachel and Raquel Locke designing the trail network around the lodge. Now that the final phase of the wetland restoration at REGUA is complete, the trails can be formally marked and mapped. Once marked out we will create an accurate map of the wetland showing the trails and in addition produce leaflets for each of the main trails around the lodge, which will make it much easier for guests to bird the area without a guide. Birding opportunities today were limited but 35 White-faced Whistling-Duck (a good site count), 4 female Masked Duck, an adult Cocoi Heron (scarce at REGUA), 7 Snowy Egret (my highest site ever count), 1 Savanna Hawk, 1 Aplomado Falcon, 1 Squirrel Cuckoo, 10 Greater Ani and 1 Ringed Kingfisher were amongst the many birds noted while walking around the wetland. Up at the lodge a Reddish Hermit and a Purple-throated Euphonia were noted amongst the more common species.

18 July 2011

Serra dos Tucanos, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 18 July

A visit to the photo hide at Serra dos Tucanos this morning was less productive than yesterday but I still managed some reasonable images including one of the male of a pair of Purple-throated Euphonias (photo 1) and a male Orange-bellied Euphonia (photo 2) which shows a nice comparison of these similar species (note the less extensive yellow forehead and duller overall colouration on Purple-throated, the later feature not often made obvious in field guides). Other birds seen on the feeders include a Slaty-breasted Wood-Rail, Plain Parakeet, at least 20 Sombre Hummingbird, 1 Blond-crested Woodpecker, a pair each of Red-crowned Ant-Tanager and Ruby-crowned Tanager and an Azure-shouldered Tanager. Many thanks Andy and Cristina for a fantastic few days and we can't wait for our next visit. Next time we'll bring a bumper supply of Jaffa Cakes!

Back at REGUA in the afternoon and a Tiger Rat Snake Spilotes pullatus was found up in the trees behind the lodge (photo 3). Named after their yellow markings, Tiger Rat Snakes are the longest members of the Colubridae family and I estimated this one to be over two metres long. Mainly arboreal, they feed on small mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles and have some of the best vision of any snake, judging distance using triangulation by moving their head from side to side, in much the same way as a bird of prey.

Tiger Rat Snake Spilotes pullatus

A walk down to the wetland late afternoon revealed an odd raptor perched up on a tree - a female Snail Kite! This is only the second time I've seen one here and it is still a rare bird at REGUA. I also managed to finally see a Blackish Rail and the partial albino Pale-breasted Thrush was still about. A night walk along the Onofre Cunha Trail in cloudy and misty conditions drew a blank with just 2 Burrowing Owl seen on the way back to the lodge.

17 July 2011

Serra dos Tucanos, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 17 July

Serra dos Tucanos is a well known birding lodge located in the Três Picos State Park, about an hour drive from REGUA. The fruit feeders here are some of the best I've seen in the neotropics with almost constant activity. Andy and Cristina, the lodge owners, have built an excellent photography hide (photo 7) next to the feeders which provides amazing photo oppotunities, so after a walk around the grounds I spent a few hours busily snapping away in the hide. With the lodge lying at around 400 metres above sea level the feeders here attract a different mix of species to those at the lodge at Guapi Assu Bird Lodge. Highlights on the feeders this morning include Sombre Hummingbird (Serra dos Tucanos is easily the most reliable place to see this Brazilian Atlantic Forest endemic), a very brief Rufous-capped Motmot, 1 Spot-billed Toucanet, 1 Blond-crested Woodpecker, 2 Ruby-crowned Tanager, a pair of Brazilian Tanager (photo 1), fantastic views of an Azure-shouldered Tanager - an altitudinal migrant (photo 2), lots of Green-headed Tanager (photo 3), a pair of Burnished-buff Tanager (photo 4 - female), a stunning male Green Honeycreeper (photo 5), Orange-bellied Euphonia, 2 Chestnut-bellied Euphonia and a Blue-naped Chlorophonia (photo 6). I also managed some nice shots of Rufous-bellied Thrush (photo 6).

Other species seen around the grounds were 1 Black Hawk-Eagle, 1 Slaty-breasted Wood-Rail, Plain Parakeet, 1 White-eyed Foliage-gleaner, 1 White-throated Spadebill, a pair of Red-crowned Ant-Tanager and several Red-necked Tanager. I strongly recommend a stay at Serra dos Tucanos, especially if bird photography is your thing, and make sure you bring plenty of memory cards! Check out their website at www.serradostucanos.com.br.

Rachel and I then spent a relaxing afternoon catching up with our dear friends Andy and Cristina, chilling out on the veranda of their beautiful house overlooking the forest, eating and drinking - which is what we do best!

16 July 2011

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 16 July

A few hours watching the lodge garden this morning found a female Blue-naped Chlorophonia visiting the feeders (photo 1). This species is a good record for the garden, only occurring here in the austral winter when they move to lower altitudes. Usually a canopy species, it was interesting to watch this bird feeding on the ground. A Purple-throated Euphonia and 2 Brazilian Tanager were also seen and I managed some half decent photos of Maroon-bellied Parakeet (photo 2), Rufous-breasted Hermit (photo 3) and Sayaca Tanager (photo 4). In the afternoon we travelled an hour north-east of REGUA into the mountains to Serra dos Tucanos to visit our friends Andy and Cristina Foster for a couple of nights.

15 July 2011

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 15 July

I felt ill for much of the day so birding was once again restricted to the wetland. Mist early morning provided some challenging conditions for photography but I managed some reasonable images of Yellow-legged Thrush (photo 1), Burnished-buff Tanager (photo 2) and White-barred Piculet (photo 3). The most noteworthy sighting of the day was unfortunately one that got away - a saltator at the wetland with a white looking throat could have been a Green-winged Saltator but unfortunately I didn't get a good look at it. Frustratingly, Adilei found a Green-winged Saltator nearby in the lodge garden later in the afternoon which might have been the same bird. This is a high altitude species and is very unusual at just 30 m or so above sea level. Equally frustrating was a Grey-necked Wood-Rail heard calling but refusing to show itself. This would be a new bird for me at REGUA.

Other birds seen throughout the day include 5 Muscovy Duck, 1 Rufescent Tiger-Heron, 1 Aplomado Falcon, 1 Rufous-sided Crake, 1 Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher, 1 Yellow-browed Tyrant, a pair of White-winged Becard, 2 Lemon-chested Greenlet, an interesting partial albino Pale-breasted Thrush (photo 4), a pair of Brazilian Tanager, 1 Yellow-backed Tanager and Chestnut-capped Blackbird. In the lodge garden a Reddish Hermit showed at very close range. A walk around the wetland trail and along the adjacent forest trails at night was very quiet but still produced a Tropical Screech-Owl (photo 5), 4 Pauraque and a male Scissor-tailed Nightjar which showed down to 3 metres (photo 6)!

14 July 2011

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 14 July

I didn't have much time for birding today but I did spend part of the morning at the wetland and on the adjacent forest trails. Highlights along the Brown Trail, which runs through an area replanted with pioneer tree species in 2007, were 1 Crane Hawk, 5 Sooretama Slaty Antshrike (including a pair feeding a juvenile), a Euler's Flycatcher and 2 Fawn-breasted Tanager. Afterwards a quick walk along the São José Trail once again failed to find any Shrike-like Cotingas, but 1 White-bibbed Antbird, 1 Black-billed Scythebill, 1 Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, 2 Whiskered Flycatcher, a pair of Black-capped Becard, 1 Rufous-browed Peppershrike, a Flame-crested Tanager and 2 more Sooretama Slaty Antshrike provided some compensation, along with a White Witch Moth Thysania agrippina (photo below), which has the largest wing-span of any moth or insect in the world at up to 280 mm! I was in a meeting for the whole afternoon but still managed to catch up with the Rufous-tailed Jacamar that has taken up residence at the conservation centre.

13 July 2011

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 13 July

An early morning walk up the Grey Trail eventually produced our target bird for the day - Russet-winged Spadebill - but unfortunately it wasn't co-operating for the camera. REGUA has become one of the most reliable sites for this Vulnerable Atlantic Forest endemic, with at least three areas on the reserve where they can be seen. An unexpected bonus on the Grey Trail came in the form of 3 Black-legged Dacnis feeding in a flowering tree. Black-legged Dacnis have become a regular feature at the REGUA wetland in the autumn but it is still unusual to see them at this time of year.

Other birds seen today include 2 Pileated Parrot, Grey-rumped Swift, Black Jacobin, 2 Spot-billed Toucanet, 2 Yellow-eared Woodpecker, Black-cheeked Gnateater, 3 Rufous-capped Antthrush (photo below), 1 Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, 2 White-rumped Monjita, 1 Greyish Mourner, 1 Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Azure-shouldered Tanager and Golden-crowned Warbler.

12 July 2011

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 12 July

Spent the day birding an area of REGUA known as Waldenoor - a collection of small holdings only recently purchased by REGUA which contains some excellent quality, and not to mention beautiful, forest (photo 1). The excellent new Veludo Trail drops steadily in altitude through primary forest, secondary forest and dense scrubland, as well previously cleared areas that REGUA has replanted with native pioneer tree species.

The most notable sighting of the day was a female Green Honeycreeper, found by the superhuman eyes of Adilei, one of REGUA's guides. This is a new species for the Reserve and brings the REGUA list up to an incredible 457! Highlight of day for me though was finally catching up with Saffron Toucanet! This little bugger has given me the runaround on previous trips, often reappearing in the very places I had looked just a day or so later and so finding one feeding in a fruiting tree caused for a celebration!

Although the forest was relatively quiet with few birds calling (to be expected in early July) we found some some fantastic winter mixed species flocks and still managed to notch up a long list of birds, including: 4 Whistling Heron, 2 Mantled Hawk soaring with a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Plain Parakeet, 1 Pileated Parrot, Scaly-headed Parrot, a superb Least Pygmy-Owl being heavily mobbed (photo 2), Scale-throated Hermit and Brazilian Ruby (two altitudinal migrant hummingbirds), 1 Surucua Trogon, 1 Black-throated Trogon, 1 Rufous-capped Motmot, 1 Rufous-tailed Jacamar, 2 Crescent-chested Puffbird, 1 Yellow-throated Woodpecker, Spot-breasted and Plain Antvireos, 1 Star-throated Antwren, 1 Rufous-winged Antwren, Streak-capped Antwren (including one bird at eye level for a change - photo 3), 1 White-shouldered Fire-eye, 2 Rufous-breasted Leaftosser, 2 Scaled Woodcreeper, 2 Rufous-capped Spinetail, Black-capped and Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaners, 1 Pale-browed Treehunter, Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant, 1 Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, 2 Rough-legged Tyrannulet (photo 4), 1 Planalto Tyrannulet (photo 5), 2 White-throated Spadebill, 1 Blue-billed Black-Tyrant, 1 Black-tailed Tityra, Black-capped Becard, 1 Rufous-browed Peppershrike, several Olive-green Tanager, 1 Uniform Finch, 9 Yellow-green Grosbeak, 1 Black-throated Grosbeak, 2 Chestnut-bellied Euphonia and a Blue-naped Chlorophonia.