Intervales State Park, São Paolo: September 29-30, 2012

Brazil is loaded with Important Bird Areas located in a wide variety of regions, including the Amazon, the Cerrado, and the Pantanal, but no region is as unique as the Atlantic Forest.  Indeed, with an astounding number of endemic bird species present, the Atlantic Forest must be the center around which every birding trip to Brazil is structured.  The coastal region from Rio Grande do Sul to Rio Grande do Norte is geographically isolated from the rest of the country by a series of mountain ranges and arid plateaus, and despite being densely populated and severely deforested, still contains several good humid lowland and montane forest reserves.  I’ve had the opportunity to visit a few sites in this region, and while my previous trips to Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu and Serra dos Orgãos National Park were both excellent, they were surpassed by a short but highly productive visit to Intervales State Park.

Without any extensive vacation time, my approach to birding Brazil beyond the Cerrado sites near Brasília has often involved taking advantage of work-related trips to other parts of the country.  Sneaking time off the job in Acre, I was recently able to bird the bamboo rich forests of Southwestern Amazonia, for example.  Likewise, once I learned at work that I would be headed to São Paolo, the country’s booming business capital, I started researching the best birding sites outside the metropolitan area, which now includes over twenty million people.  Almost all of the trip reports I read came to the same conclusion, that no other site in the Atlantic Forest tops Intervales for birds, atmosphere, and economy.  The trip there would involve working all week and then getting on a plane, renting a car, and driving for four hours, only to sleep a few hours before getting up to bird all day, but from everything I had read, the site was worth it. 

Nick Athanas, Tropical Birding guide and photographer extraordinaire, whom I crossed paths with on the trip, likes to joke about seeing the Big Five of the Atlantic Forest at Intervales in his trip reports.  Not to be confused with the lions and leopards of the Big Five of sub-Saharan Africa, the five endemic antshrikes can all be found within park’s boundaries, including the Spot-Backed, Tufted, Large-Tailed, White-Bearded, and Giant Antshrikes.  These strange and stunning birds no doubt prove a greater attraction to birders than do buffalos, and I was anxious to tick off a few more myself, considering I had only seen the Spot-Backed Antshrike previously.  Of course, there are plenty of other avian attractions, ranging from tanagers to tinamous, with the endemic and endangered Black-Fronted Piping-Guan no doubt at the top of the must-see list.

Setting up the logistics of the trip proved to be painless.  Reservations at one of the small guesthouses within the park can be made through the website (birders prefer the Pica-pau Lodge, R$105, for its fruit feeder, but they’re all within walking distance of each other), and three meals a day are available in the restaurant (R$7-15), which serves a simple but hearty Brazilian buffet.  It’s best to reserve the services of one of the three resident birding guides in advance (R$100 per day), without one of which you will only have access to the area around the headquarters and two relatively short trails.  A birding guide will open up access to the reserve’s many kilometers of forested tracks and other trails, and as always their local knowledge of bird territories will give you a much greater chance of finding the site specialties.  Finally, given how restricted access is to national parks in the country, which typically only open at 8am, I was blown away to also learn that I could arrive anytime afterhours, even at 3am, if necessary. 

With my GPS in hand, I managed to escape the megacity of São Paolo without too many wrong turns or traffic jams (the city is notorious for having some of the worst traffic in the world).  It’s worth noting that Congonhas, the domestic airport, is certainly the better of the two to leave from, if you’re headed to Intervales.  Grabbing a late dinner at one of the well-accommodated rest stops along the SP-270, I swapped my suit for my field clothes in case I felt up for doing some night birding as I neared the reserve later.  I’ve notice that birders like to be prepared for anything at anytime, and I’ll freely admit to wearing binoculars around my neck at lunch during birding trips and always carrying my spotlight in my backpack, regardless of the hour of the day.  My preparation would prove worthwhile in a few hours when I came across several male Long-Trained Nightjars in the road.  Stunned by the car’s headlights, they allowed me to approach on foot within several meters before lifting off the ground effortlessly, their marvelous tails feathers trailing behind.

I couldn’t imagine a better first bird of the trip and proudly showed off my photos to the guard at the park’s entrance gate.  Despite the late hour, he was cheery and impressed, and he presented me with my room key and wishes for a good trip.  A few hours later I was debriefing Luiz Avelino, my bird guide for the weekend, just what exactly I was hoping to find, including the region’s fabled antshrikes.  We headed out on foot from the Pica-pau Lodge up the Mirante Trail, which passes through bamboo-dominated secondary forest.  Within a few hours, Luiz was whistling in a male White-Bearded Antshrike that eventually came in overhead allowing for uncomfortable but still rewarding views.  Other highlights from this first section of the trail included Bertoni’s Antbird, Yellow-Browed Woodpecker, Ochre-Collared Piculet, Rufous Gnateater, Rufous-Capped Motmot, Black-Throated Trogon, and a nesting Brown Tinamou, which Luiz simply noticed out of the corner of his eye.

Eventually we came into a clearing where activity was a little livelier.  A mixed flock encountered here included the splendid Red-Necked Tanager as well as Rufous-Headed Tanager, Chestnut-Crowned Becard, and Pallid Spinetail.  We also noted a pair of Eared Pygmy-Tyrants while trolling for the rare and difficult Spotted Bamboowren.  Heading up another trail from the clearing, we came upon a well-known Plovercrest lek, a unique hummingbird that I was fortunate enough to photograph without too much hassle.  Several male Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakins were also lekking nearby.  The number of heard-only species, such as White-Breasted Tapaculo, White-Eyed Foliage-Gleaner, Black-Billed Scythebill, Greenish Schiffornis, and Large-Headed Flatbill was growing fast as I was focused only on seeing lifers.  Returning towards the lodge for lunch, we picked off a few more good birds, including a pair of Araucaria Tit-Spinetails foraging in an Araucaria tree.  Luiz also showed me three occupied Swallow-Tailed Cotinga nests in the open areas around the park headquarters; a male was also noted incubating eggs in one of the nests.

After lunch, I spent some time birding on my around the Pica-pau Lodge and on the Self-Guided Trail.  My first Diademed Tanager was a revelation, although they’re hard to miss calling around the lodge.  I had much better looks at, and photos of, the Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakin on the Self-Guided Trail.  A single roosting Tropical Screech Owl could be seen under the eaves of the roof of one of the headquarters buildings, and at some flowering shrubs I watched White-Throated Hummingbirds, Versicolored Emeralds, and Violet-Capped Woodnymphs all duke it out in the hot sun.  Back at the lodge there was quite a few photographers staked out around the fruit feeder, including the Tropical Birding group.  Luiz and I decided to head out on the Carmo Road, where we would have a better chance for actually seeing the Black-Fronted Piping Guan (we had heard its wing-rattling display flight several times that morning), as well as enjoying mixed flocks.  The afternoon was something of a disappointment though, and we saw little else than two distant Bare-Throated Bellbirds, one fabulous male Pin-Tailed Manakin, and a pair of Bay-Ringed Tyrannulets.

Near dark as we were slowly driving back to the lodge, we came across a calling Pavonine Cuckoo, which stopped us dead in our tracks.  It responded to playback only by flying over our heads a few times, without perching in sight.  We also heard a calling Giant Antshrike, one of my top target birds, in the same area.  Having resolved to return at first light, we were standing in the same spot twelve hours later, and the cuckoo responded perfectly to a brief burst of tape, coming in just overhead above the road, more or less in the open.  It proceeded to preen calmly, its tail feathers fanned out marvelously as I took a few photos and some video.  We left it in the same place and tried for the antshrike, which didn’t respond.  This proved a good time to sneak looks at the common but furtive Brown-Breasted Pygmy-Tyrant, before heading down the road on foot.  A male Tufted Antshrike came in quickly to playback, a Hooded Berryeater was seen well foraging low along the road, and a Sharpbill was noted directly overhead, my first ever looks at this very unique bird.


Continuing on passing many palms loaded with fruit, we finally found a pair of Black-Fronted Piping-Guans, by far the most elegant of the many guans I have seen in South America.  Endemic to the region and also an endangered species, it’s probably the principle target bird at Intervales, and I could rest a little easier now having seen it.  I reminded Luiz though that I was still only three for five on the antshrikes, and he promised to take me to a Large-Tailed Antshrike territory later that afternoon.  Pushing along the road a bit further, we failed to get looks at any of the calling Cinnamon-Vented Pihas, but I did see a female Squamate Antbird, as well as Planalto Woodcreeper, Black-Goggled Tanager, and another Tufted Antshrike at a small antswarm.  A break in the forest along the road also afforded terrific views of a large mixed flock that included four Black-Legged Dacnis, including one distinctive female.  White-Collared Foliage-Gleaner, Wing-Barred Piprites, and Brown Tanager were a few of the other highlights in the flock. 


After lunch, I spent a half hour alone at the fruit feeder.  A series of tanagers and allies came in one after another, progressing from the Ruby-Crowned Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Golden-Chevroned Tanager, Green-Headed Tanager, to the exquisite Chestnut-Backed Tanger.  A Fawn-Breasted Tanager was also hanging around, but I observed it foraging for insects, not feeding on fruit.  To finish out the trip, we drove down a different road this time, in search of the Large-Tailed Antshrike, Slaty Bristlefront, and Red-and-White Crake, which could all be found in the vicinity with some skill and great luck.  Walking down a forested road to an open clearing we had surprise looks at a massive but wary Red-Ruffed Fruitcrow, another terrific lifer for me on this trip.  In a marshy area, we got a response from the crake but no views.  In some scrub nearby we picked up a pair of Rufous-Capped Antshrikes and had a response from a Large-Tailed Antshrike that was coming in close when a pair of thrushes chased it off.  It took another frustrating hour of playback and bushwhacking for me just to get a quick glimpse of the male before it dove out of sight.

A long and quiet hike through good bristlefront habitat yielded not a single bird.  In general, the two sunny afternoons I spent at Intervales were dead quiet, and I could probably count the number of birds I saw during those periods on just two hands.  We got back in the car and drove slowly toward the park headquarters at dusk, coming across first a Solitary Tinamou on the road and then a White-Necked Hawk.  After photographing from the car both of these rare and near impossible birds to see well, I remarked to Luiz that we should have driven around all afternoon instead of going birding on foot.  Considering our success in both situations, he couldn’t argue.  I dropped Luiz off at the park entrance a little while later, thanking and tipping him profusely for his hard work.  It’s ridiculous to consider how many excellent birds I saw in just two short days, a reflection of his abilities as a guide and the park’s veritable bounty of great birds.

Notable birds seen: Solitary Tinamou, Brown Tinamou, Swallow-Tailed Kite, Plumbeous Kite, White-Necked Hawk, Dusky-Legged Guan, Black-Fronted Piping-Guan, Slaty-Breasted Woodrail, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Maroon-Bellied Parakeet, Scaly-Headed Parrot, Plain Parakeet, Striped Cuckoo, Pavonine Cuckoo, Tropical Screech-Owl, Short-Tailed Nighthawk, Long-Trained Nightjar, Scale-Throated Hermit, Dusky-Throated Hermit, Plovercrest, Black-Throated Trogon, Amazonian White-Tailed Trogon, Rufous-Capped Motmot, Ochre-Collared Piculet, White-Spotted Woodpecker, Yellow-Browed Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Rufous-Capped Spinetail, Pallid Spinetail, Ochre-Breasted Foliage-Gleaner, White-Collared Foliage-Gleaner, Buff-Fronted Foliage-Gleaner, Scaled Woodcreeper, Planalto Woodcreeper, Large-Tailed Antshrike, Tufted Antshrike, White-Bearded Antshrike, Rufous-Capped Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, Star-Throated Antwren, Bertoni’s Antbird, Dusky-Tailed Antbird, White-Shouldered Fire-Eye, Squamate Antbird, Rufous Gnateater, Sharpbill, Swallow-Tailed Cotinga, Hooded Berryeater, Bare-Throated Bellbird, Red-Ruffed Fruitcrow, Blue Manakin, Pin-Tailed Manakin, Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakin, Wing-Barred Piprites, Planalto Tyrannulet, Olivaceous Elaenia, Bay-Winged Tyrannulet, Oustalet’s Tyrannulet, Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, Brown-Breasted Pygmy-Tyrant, Ochre-Faced Tody-Flycatcher, Cliff Flycatcher, Euler’s Flycatcher, Shear-Tailed Gray-Tyrant, Swainson’s Flycatcher, Gray-Hooded Attila, Yellow-Legged Thrush, Rufous-Crowned Greenlet, White-Rimmed Warbler, Brown Tanager, Rufous-Headed Tanager, Olive-Green Tanager, Golden-Chevroned Tanager, Diademed Tanager, Fawn-Breasted Tanager, Green-Headed Tanager, Black-Legged Dacnis, Red-Necked Tanager, Chestnut-Backed Tanager, Green-Winged Saltator, Golden-Winged Cacique.

1 comment:

  1. Muy completa nota, llena de hermosas especies, algunas de ellas las conozco de Argentina, pero otras no las tengo muy presente, solo de ver las guías, pero son tantas que otras no las recuerdo y ni siquiera había visto en fotos, gracias por compartir


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