22 September 2012

Final day at REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 22 September

With heavy rain continuing this morning, the planned pre-dawn visit to the wetland had to be postponed, and instead I spent the morning photographing more hawkmoths attracted to the mothwall overnight (and a few unidentified moths that superfically look like hawkmoths), as well as helping Adilei download and organise his photos.

Manduca diffissa petuniae, Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, 22 September 2012. This
one is beating it's wings to raise it's body temperature in preparation for flight.

I did manage a couple of hours birding this afternoon around the wetland and along the light blue and Forest Trails. Avian highlights were a male Blue Ground-Dove at the wetland, and even better, excellent views of a male Ruddy Quail-Dove along the Forest Trail (around posts 150-200), really close to the lodge (yet another forest interior species slowly returning to the area as the reforested areas mature)! Unfortunately though I didn't manage any photos of either.

In the wet conditions, very few butterflies were flying but I did find an Orsis Bluewing Myscelia orsis, some Clausina Clearwings Episcada clausina striposis and three species of skipper taking shelter from the rain - a Dorantes Longtail Urbanus dorantes, a couple of probable Common Banded Skippers Autochton neis, and one species I have yet to identify from photos. I also found a large black and white, and rather cool, leafhopper.

Clausina Clearwing Episcada clausina striposis, light blue trail, REGUA,
REGUA, 22 September 2012

Leafhopper sp. light blue trail, REGUA,
22 September 2012. Unfortunately there wasn't
enough light to use a smaller aperture, so the
depth of field is very narrow in this image.

All too soon it was time to head back to the lodge to finish packing and then catch our transfer with Alcenir, REGUA's trusty driver, back to the airport for the flight home. This trip was without fail the quietest, in terms of bird activity, I have ever experienced at REGUA. September is usually much busier, with a lot more breeding activity evident, but the consensus is the prolonged dry spell has something to do with this. Nowhere, it seems, is escaping the effects of climate change.

Despite much of the birding being a little disappointing, I still saw some excellent birds (including a long overdue lifer), and the lack of bird sightings did help me to focus on Lepidoptera and Odonata, which was my aim on this trip after all. The diversity of moths at REGUA is particularly staggering and completely overwhelming, even ignoring micro-moths. With no identification guides to the area available and very little information on the web, we could be looking at many undescribed moth species each night. Hopefully it won't be long before I can come back to this amazing place and study these orders in a lot more detail.

21 September 2012

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 21 September

Spent much of the day checking out the huge variety of moths and other insects attracted to the new moth wall overnight. The undoubted highlight was this amazing male Harlequin Beetle Acrocinus longimanus. These huge longhorn beetles (Cerambycidae) are found throughout Central and South America, where they spend most of their lives high in the canopy feeding mainly on sap, but occasionally come to lights. The purpose of the male's huge forelegs (manus - see the scientific name) is not certain, but might help when climbing across gaps in the canopy or be used in courtship. The large and protein-rich larvae are eaten throughout much of Latin America, and mounted adults are sold for high sums of money.

Male Harlequin Beetle Acrocinus longimanus

Male Harlequin Beetle Acrocinus longimanus

20 September 2012

My Atlantic Forest birthday

Had a brilliant 42nd birthday on 20th September with some memorable wildlife experiences including a bird lifer, a new butterfly for REGUA, one of the best amphibians I've ever seen, and an up close and personal look at a potoo nest.

The day got off to a great start with this superb Burmeister's leaf frog Phyllomedusa burmeisteri, found by Rachel on the lodge veranda. Confined to south-east Brazil (distribution map), this species is mainly found in the Atlantic Forest and was first recorded at REGUA only last November. After taking some photos I placed it in a tree in the garden. What a cool looking frog!

Burmeister's leaf frog Phyllomedusa burmeisteri, lodge garden, REGUA,
20 September 2012

Burmeister's leaf frog Phyllomedusa burmeisteri, lodge garden, REGUA,
20 September 2012

We spent the rest of the morning at a small lowland forest fragment known as Onofre Cunha, which is part of REGUA but separated from the rest of the reserve by farmland. Onofre Cunha is becoming well known as an excellent site for night-birding, but has also been turning up a lot of scarce butterflies and odonata during the day. Alexandre Soares, and entomologist at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, decided to drive up and meet us, but in the end the weather closed in and all plans to spend the day looking for butterflies were dashed before Alex had arrived.

However, in the few hours before the rain started we did manage to find some good butterflies, including an Meliboeus Stripestreak Arawacus meliboeus (found by Alan Martin) - a new species of hairstreak butterfly for REGUA. Other butterflies seen include a Caulonia Groundstreak Calycopis caulonia, and an Astarte Eighty-eight Callicore astarte codomannus - a very rare species at REGUA that has only been recorded here a few times.

Meliboeus Stripestreak Arawacus meliboeus, Onofre Cunha, 20 September
2012. A first for REGUA!

Caulonia Groundstreak Calycopis caulonia, Onofre Cunha, 20 September 2012

Astarte Eighty-eight Callicore astarte codomannus, Onofre Cunha, 20
September 2012. A rubbish photo I know, but this rare butterfly really didn't
want it's picture taken.

In addition to butterflies there were also a few other critters I pointed the macro lens at.

Cricket sp. Onofre Cunha, 20 September 2012

Bird activity was very low in the heavily overcast conditions, with very few species seen. Highlights were a superb Black-necked Aracari, a lifer for me, calling from the top a tree before being displaced by a Laughing Falcon, a showy Channel-billed Toucan, and a Saw-billed Hermit, perched for once.

Back at the conservation centre a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl showed well, and in the afternoon we decided to take the blue Toyota pickup and check out the Common Potoo that Adilei had found nesting on a fencepost near the village of Matumbo. Both the adult and chick were completely unperturbed by our presence.

Common Potoo Nyctibius griseus, Matumbo,
near REGUA, 20 September 2012

As if all this wasn't enough, a gift from Nicholas and Raquel of a penknife and pair of wellies from the Machete Shop, a bottle of Chilean wine from Adilei, and not one but two birthday cakes, made by Sandra, the head cook at the lodge, made a great end to a really superb birthday. Many thanks everyone for a memorable day!

Common Potoo nests at REGUA

There are two Common Potoo nests near the lodge at REGUA at the moment. This bird is visible on the Wetland Trail by post 250 - just a three minute walk from the lodge. These photos were taken on 17 September 2012.

Common Potoo in typical resting pose. A couple of
years ago I examined potoo skins at the Natural
History Museum in Tring, UK. Basically these
things are nocturnal flying mouths.

Potoos are such strange looking birds! Note the two notches on the upper eyelid
that allow the bird to watch what's going on even with it's eyes closed - crucial
when you rely on camouflage during the day.

When there was nobody around the bird would relax
it's upright posture and occasionally even open it's
eyes and take a look around.

This bird has chosen a traditional snapped truck for
it's nest.

The second nest is located a few minutes drive from the reserve entrance near Matumbo village. I took these pics today.

The second pair have chosen a fence post and so
are much lower to the ground, and are already
incubating a chick.

You can just make out the bill and eye on this chick.

19 September 2012

Blue Manakin courtship display

The Blue Manakin or Swallow-tailed Manakin Chiroxiphia caudata is a common Atlantic Forest endemic. Small groups of males team up to attract females by performing a dancing display. Only the dominant male will actually mate with each female, with the other males acting as assistants in the hope that one day the dominant male will cark it and one of them will finally get a chance to become the dominant male.

At REGUA you often hear birds displaying as you walk around the forest trails, but most of the leks are located deep in the understorey, making seeing them, let alone photography, very difficult. However, today we found a lek on the Waterfall Trail located out in the relative open and I had enough light to capture a very short video of part of the display. No female attended which might explain why this display was quite short.

For much better footage, see this clip from the Life of Birds.

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 19 September

Birded the Waterfall and Elfin Forest Trails today, mainly to retrieve the camera trap we set up high on the Elfin Forest Trail a week ago. Today was by far the quietest, bird wise, I've ever experienced at REGUA. Some good birds were heard only, including Star-throated Antwren, Black-cheeked Gnateater, Pin-tailed Manakin but almost no birds showed themselves. The best sighting was a Tiger Rat Snake Spilotes pullatus. The Elfin Forest Trail was little better, with 1m Salvadori's Antwren, 1 Channel-billed Toucan, 1f Crested Becard, a flock of Olive-green Tanager and 2 Red-necked Tanager being the highlights. A Spider wasp seen to paralyze a small spider was also noteworthy.

Larval case of a recently hatched adult cicada,
Elfin Forest Trail, 19 September 2012

18 September 2012

Brown-crested Flycatcher - new for REGUA: 18 September

A walk around the Wetland Trail produced a few decent birds despite the unseasonally hot and dry weather conditions. The undoubted highlight was this Brown-crested Flycatcher Myiarchus tyrannulus, a first for REGUA, picked up on call by sharp-eared REGUA guide Leonardo. This large chunky flycatcher performed brilliantly and allowed some good pics to be taken. Call is key to identifying Myiarchus flycatchers, but the pale brown crown, rufous fringes to the primaries and tail feathers, bright lemon belly and vent and pinkish base to the bill, make this a relatively easy species to identify.

Brown-crested Flycatcher is widely distributed across much of eastern South America with an isolated population in the Peruvian Andes, as well as parts of Central America and into the south-western US. They are migratory at both the northern and southern ends of the their range, but despite distribution maps showing them to be resident in south-east Brazil, they are much more common in the drier interior of Brazil and are very rare on the coastal slope of the Atlantic Forest, where the morphologically similar and resident Short-crested Flycatcher Myiarchus ferox is the dominant Myiarchus (compare here).

The REGUA Brown-crested Fly is probably on route from the Amazon basin, where the southern birds winter. I love tyrant-flycatchers and could have happily watched it for hours. This bird comes hot on the heels of a Black-collared Hawk Busarellus nigricollis, another species that is more abundant in drier environments, seen over the wetland at the beginning of the month. Maybe the current usually dry conditions in Rio state have something to do with both of these vagrants turning up?

Brown-crested Flycatcher Myiarchus tyrannulus, REGUA wetland,
18 September 2012. Note the rufous in the tail.

Note the pinkish base to the lower mandible - diagnostic amongst
Myiarchus flycatchers of the region

The bird frequently opened its bill to cool down.

It ended up being a tyrant-flycatcher day with 1 very flighty Hangnest Tody-Tyrant (a rare bird at REGUA and only my second here), 1 Yellow-bellied Elaenia, 1 Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, 5 Yellow Tyrannulet, 1 Bran-coloured Flycatcher, and a male Green-backed Becard seen. Throughout the morning we also had nice views of a very showy adult Rufescent Tiger-Heron, 2 Striated Heron, 1 Snowy Egret (surprisingly scarce here at the moment), 2-3 White-barred Piculet, 1f Chestnut-backed Antshrike, 1 Wing-banded Hornero, 1f Yellow-backed Tanager and a Chestnut-vented Conebill.

Hangnest Tody-Tyrant Hemitriccus nidipendulus, another species that prefers
drier, less humid environments.

Yellow Tyrannulet Capsiempis flaveolus

Rufescent Tiger-Heron Tigrisoma lineatum

Also seen were lots of Capybara, 3 Broad-snouted Caiman and a brilliant Brazilian Owl Caligo brasiliensis. By late morning the temperature was getting ridiculously hot and so it was back to the lodge for a swim and an ice cold coke.

Brazilian Owl Caligo brasiliensis

Rufescent Tiger-Heron at REGUA

The Rufescent Tiger-Herons at REGUA are becoming much more approachable. The early morning light on this bird made for some really nice images, even though most of them are heavily cropped.

17 September 2012

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 17 September

Another day around the wetland, with much time spent on macro photography, as well as an hour or so observing and photographing the nesting Common Potoo near post 250 of the Wetland Trail. What a strange looking, but very cool bird!

Common Potoo Nyctibius griseus on it's nest,
Wetland Trail, 17 September 2012

A large unidentified immature eagle high over the wetland was the only unusual sighting today. Otherwise I had some nice views of common birds including White-faced Whistling-Duck, Brazilian Teal, Turkey Vulture, Roadside Hawk, 1 Rufescent Tiger-Heron, 2 Striated Heron, 1 Great Egret, 2 Southern Lapwing, Wattled Jacana, White-tipped Dove, 1 Amazon Kingfisher, 1m White-flanked Antwren, Wing-banded Hornero, 1-2 Yellow-chinned Spinetail, 1 Common Tody-Flycatcher (actually not that common here), 1 Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, 2 Masked Water-Tyrant, Creamy-bellied Thrush, 2 Sayaca Tanager, 1 Palm Tanager and a pair of Blue Dacnis. Also seen were lots of Capybara.

Butterflies seen include a Melite Mimic White Enantia melite, a Two-banded Satyr Pareuptychia ocirrhoe interjecta and 2 Scarlet Peacock Anartia amathea roeselia.

Melite Mimic White Enantia melite

Two-banded Satyr Pareuptychia ocirrhoe interjecta

16 September 2012

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 16 September

Adilei, Rachel and I wanted to set up another camera trap deep in the forest with the aim of capturing Puma. We decided on the top section of the Lost Trail, which is good quality selectively logged primary forest, which has had Puma sightings in the past. Rather than simply walk straight up the trail and back, we chose to drive the trusty blue 4x4 Totoya pickup up the 4x4 track to Casa Anibel, which is another good birding trail at REGUA and access the Lost Trail from here.

A group of 10 Guira Cuckoo showed nicely on the dirt road to the track, and at the start of the 4x4 track itself a Tawny-browed Owl was flushed but bird activity in the forest was otherwise still very quiet. The best sighting on the track was a Crab-eating Fox, that rather bizarrely, kept walking directly towards us and then turning back before stopping a looking at us. It clearly wanted to get past us and eventually turned off into the forest, but not before I managed a few reasonable record shots, despite the extremely low light levels.

Crab-eating Fox Cerdocyon thous, 4x4 track, 16 September 2012. These
carnivores are being seen more frequently at REGUA, a sign that the hunting of
small mammals, on which they prey, has been much reduced by our rangers.

Crab-eating Fox Cerdocyon thous, 4x4 track, 16 September 2012. Note the
raised hairs on the neck and back.

The Lost Trail was more productive with amazing views of a male Slaty Bristlefront walking across the trail (that successfully eluded the camera), a Mottled Owl accidentally flushed from it's daytime roost, 1 Scaled Woodcreeper, 1m Black-cheeked Gnateater, a pair of Chestnut-bellied Euphonia, 1m Yellow-legged Thrush, 1 Sepia-capped Flycatcher, an Olivaceous Woodcreeper and a Yellow-eared Woodpecker. A quick look along the top of the Grey Trail for Russet-winged Spadebill produced another Yellow-eared Woodpecker and not much else.

A shortcut along an unmarked trail from the Lost Trail back the 4x4 track produced few birds but we did find 1 Rufous-capped Motmot, 1f Scaled Antbird, a pair of White-eyed Foliage-gleaners bringing food to chicks hidden in their nest in an earth bank, and an Orange-spined Hairy Dwarf Porcupine.

White-eyed Foliage-gleaner, unmarked trail, REGUA, 16
September 2012

Orange-spined Hairy Dwarf Porcupine Sphiggurus villosus, unmarked trail,
REGUA, 16 September 2012

Returning along the 4x4 track we found 1m Surucua Trogon and 2 Crescent-chested Puffbird, and the drive back along the dirt road to the reserve entrance yielded a Fork-tailed Flycatcher and a few Smooth-billed Ani.

15 September 2012

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 15 September

Today started with an immature male White-flanked Antwren hanging around the eaves of the roof over the lodge veranda. The is my first record of White-flanked Antwren for the lodge garden, but the bird was apparently unable to find it's way out. Shortly after finding this bird, a Black Jacobin flew in and also got trapped, flying up in to the roof. Eventually we successfully encouraged both birds back into the garden.

Immature male White-flanked Antwren Myrmotherula axillaris, Guapi Assu
Bird Lodge. As the replanted forest around the lodge matures, we can expect
more of this forest species in the lodge garden.

With the hot and dry conditions continuing and no sign of the spring rains, bird activity remained very quiet, with 1 White-necked Hawk on the São José Trail, 1 Sooretama Slaty Antshrike and 1 Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet along the Forest Trail, 1f Masked Duck, 1 Rufescent Tiger-Heron, 1 Capped Heron, 1m Sooretama Slaty Antshrike, 1 Short-crested Flycatcher and a Glittering-throated Emerald nest at the wetland being the most memorable sightings. There is now a large resident population of White-faced Whistling-Duck at the wetland, with 70+ at least present today - a far cry from my highest count of 11 here in 2006, a year after the wetland was created.

Glittering-throated Emerald Amazilia fimbriata chicks, Wetland Trail

Large numbers of White-faced Whistling-Duck are now resident at the wetland

Also seen were 2 Broad-banded Swallowtail butterflies on the Forest Trail and a Common Whipsnake on the São José Trail.

Broad-banded Swallowtail Heraclides astyalus astyalus, Forest Trail

Common Whipsnake Chironius exoletus, São José Trail

14 September 2012

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 14 September

Spent today focusing on macro photography and practising using my shiny new Canon 100mm f2.8L macro lens. After checking out the moth light, Rachel and I walked part of the Brown and Light Blue trails as well as part of the wetland, looking for any interesting invertebrates, of which there are many. However, macro photography is no easier than telephoto photography in the dark understorey of the rainforest, so I mostly managed blurred shots, but here's a few of the bugs I did manage to get reasonable pics of. I haven't a clue what species some of these are so if you can identify any then I'd like to hear from you.

Female Telebasis corallina, near post 50 of the Wetland Trail (thanks to Tom
Kompier for the identification)

Phenax variegata - a species of planthopper (infraorder Fulgoromorpha, family
Fulgoridae) found only in South America. The strange white extensions are a
form of defence - detaching when a predator catches it, allowing it to escape.

Cricket sp.

Paper wasp sp.?

Stink bug sp.

Bird sightings were few today. The crazy male Burnished-buff Tanager was again attacking its own reflection in the lodge windows (as it does most mornings) and the usual Swallow-tailed Hummingbirds, Black Jacobins and Glittering-throated Emeralds were at the feeders in the garden. We also had good views of a pair of White-flanked Antwren on the Brown Trail and an Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant on the Light Blue Trail.

13 September 2012

BIAZA reserve, REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 13 September

In 2007 the British & Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) teamed up with the World Land Trust to raise funds for REGUA to purchase an area of well preserved Atlantic Forest already patrolled by the rangers, but owed by a neighbouring land owner. Rachel and I had never visited this area before and so Nicholas, Raquel, their daughter Micaela, Jorge Bizarro, Rachel and I, met up with REGUA ranger Messias Gomes da Silva, who patrols this part of the reserve, to take a look around.

Heavily overcast conditions kept bird activity low. Highlights were 1 male Bare-throated Bellbird, 2 showy Grey-hooded Attila, 2 Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, 2 Scaly-headed Parrot, 1 Yellow-green Grosbeak and several Red-necked and Green-headed Tanagers.

A Brazilian Squirrel Sciurus aestuans (scarce at REGUA) was the only mammal encountered, but butterfly sightings were more successful with a couple of locally scarce Parides tros seen flying high in the canopy, several Clausina Clearwing Episcada clausina striposis, and a couple of species of small yellow clearwings that could be Pteronymia euritea and Scada karschina. We're sure on the later through as they are very difficult to identify and might have to visit the National Museum of Brazil in Rio to find out for sure.

Parides tros. At least two of this scarce species of swallowtail were present.
Unfortunately, they always remained high in the canopy where the trees were
flowering, hence the rubbish photos.

Ithomia agnosia zikani

Probable Pteronymia euritea. These small yellow clearwings are not easy to

Yellow clearwing spp. possibly Scada karschina

This is an interesting area with a potentially excellent birding trail, however, it is very remote and access is far from easy. Very few birders or biologists have visited here, but sightings over the last few of years include a Crowned Eagle photographed by Adilei and a Puma encountered on the trail during the day by Messias - a sure sign that the forest here is very good quality.