Estação Veraçel, Porto Seguro, Bahia: June 22, 2013

The inspiration for this birding trip, a follow up to the one Aimee and I made to Chapada Diamantina earlier this year, was Ciro Albano’s two-part article in Neotropical Birding, which promotes birding in Northeastern Brazil. In the second part, Ciro focuses on the diverse state of Bahia, providing detailed site information covering the Atlantic Forest, Cerrado, and Caatinga biomes. Armed with a GPS, a rental car, and a bit of Portuguese, independent birders can literally follow in his footsteps, retracing his epic birding tours on the cheap. Of course, just because you have the exact coordinates where he has once seen the Sincora Antwren in Chapada Diamantina, for example, doesn’t mean you will repeat the experience, as finding any rare bird is always a combination of skill and luck, but the article remains the principle resource for birding Bahia.

This time I would focus on the Southeastern region, revisiting the Caatinga briefly but focusing my efforts on finding some of the Atlantic Forest specialities at Boa Nova, Serra Bonita, and Estação Veraçel. With respect to logistics, I flew to Porto Seguro on Friday night after work, renting a car at the airport, before crashing briefly in a basic hotel in town. After spending the morning at Estação Veraçel, I made the long drive to the town on Poções, where I stayed two nights, while birding different sites outside Boa Nova (most birders stay in the town of Boa Nova itself, but I was concerned that I would have to scrounge for food or wouldn’t have access to cold beer). Finally, I proceeded to Serra Bonita for another two nights before returning to Porto Seguro for my flight home. As everywhere in Brazil, interstate highways, such as the BR-101, offer better road conditions but contain more slow moving trucks, while local roads are often riddled with potholes or pass incessantly through small towns with speed bumps every 100 meters. Pick your poison. 

Porto Seguro is a rundown beach resort town, with higher-end hotels stretching north along the coastal road. I had the good fortune of arriving in the middle of the Festival do São João, meaning the Rua da Alcól was packed with drunk men in tight shirts and women teetering on high heels. Accommodation was difficult to find and overpriced, and I was motivated to hit the road well before dawn, dodging revelers on my way out of town. Amazingly, Estação Veraçel is only fifteen minutes away boasting humid lowland forest interspersed with stunted white stand forest. The guard at the entrance gate was happy to give me access to the dirt road that cuts across the reserve, even pointing out a spot about 4km back that is popular with birders. I didn’t see many trails branching off the road, but he reminded me that these are only accessible with a park guide. 

The reserve is the most reliable spot for both White-Winged and Banded Cotingas, the latter of which is very rare and the former relatively common. As with all arboreal cotingas, the key to seeing them is having visual access to the tops of as many tall trees as possible; consequently, the best approach here is to set up the scope in a white-sand forest clearing and scan the surrounding canopy with binoculars all morning. It didn’t take long for me to find my first female White-Winged Cotinga, the first of several drab female cotingas and manakins I would see on this trip instead of their spectacular males counterparts. This technique soon led me to discover a hulking Red-Browed Parrot perched in the distance, another site specialty. Unsurprisingly, I did not see a Banded Cotinga, male or female.

Of course, there are a number of other endemics to look for here, including Blue-Throated Parakeet, Bahia and Band-Tailed Antwrens, and Black-Headed Berryeater.  Bahia Antwren was common and vocal, much like the Black-Capped Antwren in Central Brazil, only sounding differently. I did hear the berryeater calling several times from the humid forest at the edge of a white-sand clearing but failed to tape it in. Otherwise, dawn activity in the first clearing, including White-Beareded Manakin, Pale-Breasted Spinetail, Yellow Tyrannulet, and Black-Capped Becard, and a small mixed flock late morning in the humid forest, included Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, Moustached Wren, White-Fringed Antwren, and surprisingly, given their distribution, a pair of Sooretema Antshrikes, their tail wagging almost manic in effect. Having hardly scratched the surface of this promising site, I left at noon and hit the road for Boa Nova.

Notable birds seen: Blue-Winged Parrotlet, Red-Browed Parrot, Reddish Hermit, Black-Necked Araçari, Yellow-Eared Woodpecker, Swallow-Winged Puffbird, Plain-Winged Woodcreeper, Pale-Breasted Spinetail, Sooretema Slaty-Antshrike, Bahia Antwren, White-Fringed Antwren, White-Winged Cotinga, White-Bearded Manakin, Black-Capped Becard, Yellow Tyrannulet, Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, Moustached Wren, Red-Rumped Cacique, Orange-Bellied Euphonia, Swallow Tanager.

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