Day 1. Arrival in Rio; night in Rio
Our tour starts in the evening after dinner in Rio de Janeiro. Overnight in Rio.
Day 2: Rio to Guapi Assu.
We leave Rio after breakfast and travel 2 hours northeast to Guapi Assu Bird Lodge, a birding and wildlife lodge situated in the heart of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, where we spend the next four nights. Part of the REGUA (Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu) project, our lodge sits on a small hill at the edge of restored wetlands, overlooking the forested Serra dos Órgãos mountains. After settling into our comfortable accommodations, we visit the wetlands and our first introduction to waterbirds. Since being restored in 2005 an amazing 180 species have been recorded here. The star bird is Giant Snipe, best looked for at dawn or dusk. Other target birds include Least Grebe, Brazilian Teal, Masked Duck, Limpkin, Whistling and Capped Herons, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Pinnated and Stripe-backed Bitterns, Gray-headed Kite, Savanna Hawk, Crane Hawk, Laughing and Aplomado Falcons, Rufous-sided Crake, Slaty-breasted Wood-Rail, Ash-throated Crake, Blackish Rail, White Woodpecker, Tail-banded Hornero, Sooty Tyrannulet, Yellow-browed Tyrant, Long-billed Wren, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, White-headed Marsh Tyrant, Yellowish Pipit and Chestnut-capped Blackbird. Night at Guapi Assu.
Days 3 – 6: REGUA and nearby locations
REGUA protects one of the last stands of tropical rainforest left in the severely depleted Atlantic Rainforest in Brazil, one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems. Once covering about 1.5 million km2, centuries of deforestation has resulted in only 7% of the original forest area remaining, an area of 100,000 km2, mostly on mountain sides and steep slopes, too difficult for trees to be felled, and only an estimated 2% is still primary forest. Despite the loss and habitat fragmentation, this ecoregion is still ranked in the top five of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The reserve ranges in altitude from 35 m to about 2000 m above sea level, making Guapi Assu Bird Lodge the ideal location to see a good altitudinal cross-section of Atlantic Forest birds. Over 450 species have been sighted to date, including toucans, woodpeckers, owls, cotingas, manakins, antbirds and tanagers. So far 63 Brazilian endemics and 111 Atlantic Forest endemics have been recorded. REGUA alone is home to twelve threatened species - the Endangered Crowned Eagle and Brown-backed Parrotlet, and the Vulnerable White-necked Hawk, Golden-tailed Parrotlet, White-bearded Antshrike, Salvadori’s Antwren, Russet-winged Spadebill, Bare-throated Bellbird, Black-backed Tanager, Black-legged Dacnis, Buffy-fronted and Temminck’s Seedeaters. More common and easily seen Atlantic Forest specialties include Black Hawk-Eagle, Maroon-bellied Parakeet, Surucua Trogon, Rufous-capped Motmot, Spot-billed Toucanet, Black-billed Scythebill, Pin-tailed and Blue Manakins, and Blue-naped Chlorophonia.
The lodge gardens provide superb birding and photography opportunities from the veranda. Fruit feeders attract noisy groups of euphonias, chlorophonias, and tanagers such as Hooded, Ruby-crowned, Brazilian, Sayaca, Green-headed and Burnished-buff. At hummingbird feeders Swallow-tailed Hummingbirds compete with Rufous-breasted Hermits, Black Jacobins, Violet-capped Woodnymphs and Glittering-throated Emeralds. Around the gardens Orange-winged Parrot, Guira Cuckoo, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Crescent-chested Puffbird, Channel-billed Toucan, Blond-crested Woodpecker, Chestnut-backed Antshrike are often present, while at night Pauraque, Short-tailed Nighthawk, Rufous and Scissor-tailed Nightjars can be found, along with Tropical Screech-Owl and Tawny-browed Owl near the lodge.
Often the forest seems full of birds and large mixed flocks can contain 15 or more species. 30 species of antbirds have been recorded at REGUA, including Giant, Spot-backed, Tufted and Sooretama Slaty Antshrikes, Spot-breasted Antvireo, Star-throated Antwren, Scaled and Ferruginous Antbirds, Rufous-capped Antthrush and Variegated Antpitta. During our stay we visit low and high altitude forest, wetlands, waterfalls and a variety of other habitats. This is one of the best sites for the difficult Shrike-like Cotinga (Elegant Mourner). Mantled Hawk, Blue-bellied Parrot, Saw-billed Hermit, Black-cheeked Gnateater, Slaty Bristlefront, Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant, Eastern Striped Manakin and Spotted Bamboowren are also eagerly sought.
Short trails near the lodge pass through secondary forest, grassy meadows and along the edge of the wetland. Birding here can often produce over 100 species in a day. Target birds are lowland species such as Squirrel and Striped Cuckoos, Reddish Hermit, White-chinned Sapphire, Yellow-throated Woodpecker, Chicli Spinetail, White-flanked and Unicolored Antwrens, White-bearded Manakin, Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher, Bran-coloured Flycatcher, White-winged Becard and Moustached Wren. Mammals are also plentiful, and include Three-toed Sloth, Brown Howler, Brown Capuchin and Woolly Spider Monkeys, Crab-eating Fox, Coati, Tayra, Southern River Otter, Ocelot and Capybara. The Waterfall Trail is a low to mid elevation forest trail starting from Casa Pequisa and passing through superb scenery. Species regular on this trail include Sharpbill, Southern Antpipit, Gray-hooded Attila, Golden-chevroned and Turquoise Tanagers, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Ashy-tailed Swift, Black-throated Trogon, Ochre-breasted Foliage-gleaner, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Lesser Woodcreeper, White-throated Spadebill, Whiskered Flycatcher and Grayish Mourner. Other trails pass through excellent bamboo and montane forest, where Brown Tinamou, Spot-winged Wood-Quail, White-collared Foliage-gleaner, Rufous Gnateater, Drab-breasted Bamboo-Tyrant, Uniform Finch and Pectoral Sparrow occur.
On one day, we visit Pico da Caledônia, at 2219 m one of the highest peaks in the Serra dos Orgaos Mountains. This is one of only two known sites for the extremely rare Gray-winged Cotinga, and there is also a population of Itatiaia Thistletail here. Other high altitude species include Plovercrest - a striking hummingbird endemic to the Atlantic Forest found in montane areas up to about 1,400 m, Large-tailed Antshrike, Rufous-tailed Antbird, Mouse-coloured Tapaculo, Black-and-gold Cotinga, Highland Elania, Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakin, Plumbeous Pigeon, Blue-billed and Velvety Black-Tyrants, Shear-tailed Gray Tyrant, Rufous-crowned Greenlet, Hooded Berryeater, Diademed Tanager and Bay-chested Warbling-Finch. Swallow-tailed Cotinga, Dusky-tailed Antbird and Red-legged Seriema are present lower down on the mountain, as are Ochre-bellied Flycatcher and Red-rumped Cacique. We take an excursion in search of the endemic Three-toed Jacamar. We should encounter a suite of goodies - Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Plumbeous Kite, Savanna and White-tailed Hawk, Blue-winged Macaw, White-eyed Parakeet, Common Barn Owl, Planalto Hermit, Sapphire-spangled Emerald, Amethyst Woodstar, Black-necked Aracari, Orange-eyed Thornbird, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Gray and White-rumped Monjita, Streamer-tailed Tyrant, Long-tailed Tyrant, White-rumped and Tawny-headed Swallow, Black-capped Donacobius, Curl-crested Jay, Magpie and Orange-headed Tanagers and Hooded Siskin.
A drive to the Atlantic coast could produce Brassy-breasted Tanager, Yellow-green Grosbeak as well as Saffron Toucanet, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant and Scaly-headed Parrot. Elfin Forest supports Solitary Tinamou, Dusky-legged Guan, Least Pygmy-Owl, White-throated Hummingbird, Brazilian Ruby, Yellow-browed Woodpecker, Pallid Spinetail, Rufous-backed Antvireo, Ochre-rumped Antbird, Greenish Schiffornis, Oustalet’s Tyrannulet, Brown Tanager, Green-chinned Euphonia, and Half-collared Sparrow, as well as Biscutate Swift, Yellow-fronted and Yellow-eared Woodpeckers, Pale-browed Treehunter, Black-capped and White-eyed Foliage-gleaners, White-throated Woodcreeper, Black-tailed Tityra, Rufous-headed, Olive-green Tanagers, and Green-winged Saltator.
The Matumbo Trail lies just outside of REGUA. Here we have a chance of finding Frilled Coquette, Plain Parakeet, Burrowing Owl, Gray-rumped Swift, Buff-bellied and White-eared Puffbirds, Rufous-breasted Leaftosser, Scaled Woodcreeper, Cliff Flycatcher, Red-necked Tanager and Pileated Finch.
Nights at Guapi Assu Bird Lodge.
Day 7: Transfer to Itororo Lodge
Today, we leave and travel to Iteroro Lodge, arriving late in the afternoon. This splendid new lodge is located within the 58,790ha Tres Picos State Park and is tucked away in its own private valley of 50 acres at an altitude of 1150m. Surrounded by forest, the lodge lies in a quiet location and has its own trail network, bird tables, feeding stations and hummingbird feeders, which offer opportunities of seeing many species within a short distance from the lodge and chances to see a number of species close-up, providing some great photographic opportunities. The lodge is situated in 20 ha landscaped gardens and surrounded by forest; there is also an orchid and bromeliad garden and an array of flowering and fruiting trees and plants that attract a wealth of fauna into the lodge grounds. Over 180 species have been recorded here, of which 60+ are Atlantic forest endemics! We have ample opportunities to find species we may have missed at REGUA.
We have our first introduction to species around the lodge, possibly seeing Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle, Barred Forest-Falcon, Scale-throated Hermit, Rufous-capped and Gray-bellied Spinetail, White-browed, Buff-browed and Buff-fronted Foliage-Gleaner, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Variable Antshrike, Bertonis Antbird, Rufous-tailed Antthrush, Gray-capped Tyrannulet, Gray-hooded Flycatcher, Yellow-legged Thrush, White-rimmed Warbler, and Chestnut-headed, Black-goggled, Ruby-crowned, Fawn-breasted, and Burnished-buff Tanagers.
Night at Itororo Lodge.
Days 8 – 9: Itororo Lodge and nearby locations
There is a wealth of excellent trails that cover every altitudinal aspect of the surrounding mountains, from just above sea level all the way to the highest peaks at 2300m, therefore increasing chances of seeing as many of the Atlantic forest endemics as possible.
We choose among several possible trails. The Theodoro Trail starts at 1100m. The entire length of this gradually descending trail used to be part of the old Cachoeiras - Nova Friburgo railway line and in places still remains surfaced with asphalt. Species here include Mantled Hawk, White-barred Piculet, Streaked Xenops, Black-capped and White-eyed Foliage-gleaners, White-shouldered Fire-eye, Bare-throated Bellbird, and Blue and Pin-tailed Manakins. The Bamboo Trail starts practically opposite the Theodoro Trail. As its name suggests, this trail runs through an expanse of native bamboo and leads gradually up to an altitude of 1450m and into primary forest. Birds that can be seen include Slaty-breasted Wood-Rail Green-barred Woodpecker, Sharp-billed Treehunter, White-browed, Buff-browed, Buff-fronted and White-collared Foliage-gleaners, and Rufous-backed Antvireo. The Cedae Trail, at an altitude of 650m, offers good chances of seeing some of the following species: Channel-billed Toucan, Plain Antvireo, Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, Olivaceous Elaenia, Rufous-headed, Yellow-backed, Flame-crested, and Green-headed Tanagers, Black-throated Grosbeak and Thick-billed Saltator.
Day 10: Return to Rio
Today we return to Rio. Most international flights leave Rio quite late, so we may take in one of the trails before a leisurely drive back to Rio, well in time for our flights home.