Boa Nova, Bahia: June 23-24, 2013

Forrester himself in 1992 describes Boa Nova as being long popular with ornithologists and birders. Decades later, the attraction of easy access to two of Brazil’s major biomes, Caatinga and Atlantic Forest, remains, although the highlight is actually a species endemic to the unique transitional habitat between the humid climate of the coast and the bone dry weather of the interior. Mata do Cipó is moist but stunted forest, the floor of which is laden with large bromeliads, around which creeps the terrestrial Slender Antbird. While all of the other 150 species a birder of Ciro Albano’s caliber might tick here on an average day can be found elsewhere, this is the only place on the Bahia birding circuit for Slender Antbird.

Ciro’s directions in his Birding Northeastern Brazil article in Neotropical Birding are spot on, and I found both sites without resorting to the use of GPS. I spent the first morning at the Mata do Cipó site, hoping to build up my Caatinga endemics list from my previous trip to Chapada Diamantina. I followed up with an afternoon visit to the Mata Atlántica site, where I would return the next morning before heading on to Serra Bonita. After reading a few trip reports about the basic accommodation in Boa Nova, I had decided to scope out the nearby town of Poções instead, where I found several pousadas and restaurants, the best of which turned out to be a churrasqueria at the BR gas station. The pousada I stayed at was also quite basic, and I was glad I had brought my mosquito net; however, once carefully tucked inside I was contently sipping ice cold beer and downloading bird calls from Xeno-Canto using the pousada’s wireless Internet.

Parking the car at the antennas 5km from the turn off, I walked along the ridgeline at dawn following a dirt road. Narrow-Billed Antwrens started calling first and kept it up all morning, their call quite similar to that of the Slender Antbird, which I also soon recognized in the rising dawn chorus. Small flocks of screeching Cactus Parakeets swooped about, stopping to perch nearby a few times. I worked over a growing mixed flock for a few minutes before settling in to try for the antbirds.  A brief burst of song from my iPod elicited an immediate response, as a pair of Slender Antbirds came aggressively to the edge of the road. Tail pounding, the male threw back its head and returned fire, its angry red eyes and dark black throat fully exposed. A pair of Narrow-Billed Antwrens were next, but I had to work my way into the bush in order to get a good look at them. Then, I tried for Stripe-Backed Antbird, which I assumed was around even if it wasn’t calling yet; indeed, a bit of luck had me on within a few minutes, definitely more of a cracker than its threatened or endangered counterparts.

Clearly, the habitat here is being eroded, but I was considerably taken aback as a large truck unloaded a group of men with machetes who chopped away at the larger trees. They were presumably collecting firewood for the São Joåo Festival, a ritual of which apparently involves burning huge stacks of wood in the street all night, but judging from the quality of housing in the town, I wouldn’t be surprised if many families were still using firewood instead of natural gas for cooking. A local herd of cattle were taking advantage of these informal logging trails to eat away at the scrub as well, munching on the bromeliads and leaving dung all over the place. While Ciro mentions a Mata do Cipó reserve close to town, I didn’t see any signs of environmental protection along this road, which can’t be long destined as a reliable site for the Slender Antbird. 

A bit disappointed with the state of conservation in the area, I spent the rest of the morning hoping to tick a few more Caatinga endemics, including the Great Xenops, which I had heard at Palmeiras but missed seeing. Like the Bahia Antwren on the previous day, Caatinga Antwren was an easy tick, and other specialties, such as Spotted Piculet, Silvery-Cheeked Antshrike, and Gray-Headed Spinetail didn’t take much effort.  Interestingly, the Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, an Atlantic Forest endemic, was seemingly everywhere, foraging at eye level along the roadside.  Other fine birds observed this morning included a cracking male Green-Backed Becard, an Ochre-Cheeked Spinetail flicking through the leaf litter, and a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl being mobbed by small passerines and hummingbirds. Once the morning bird activity burned off in the growing heat, I gave up the search for the Great Xenops and opted to spend the afternoon at the Atlantic Forest site instead.

Notable birds seen: White-Tailed Hawk, Cactus Parakeet, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Barn Owl, Spotted Piculet, Green-Barred Woodpecker, Campo Flicker, Straight-Billed Woodcreeper, Ochre-Cheeked Spinetail, Gray-Headed Spinetail, Silvery-Cheeked Antshrike, Planalto Slaty-Antshrike, Stripe-Backed Antbird, Caatinga Antwren, Narrow-Billed Antwren, Slender Antbird, Green-Backed Becard, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, Pearly-Vented Tody-Tyrant, Ochre-Faced Flatbill, Gray-Eyed Greenlet, Moustached Wren, Burnished-Buff Tanager, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Gray Pileated Finch.

Arriving at midday in sunny conditions, I headed up the jeep track into a patch of well preserved Atlantic Forest, provoking a pair of Rio de Janeiro Antbirds and a Bahia Spinetail into action with a bit of playback. The forest along the track is heavily laden with vines and thick clusters of vegetation, perfect habitat for endemics like the Striated Softtail and Fork-Tailed Tody-Tyrant, although I didn’t find either; however, Common, Yellow-Lored, and Ochre-Faced Tody-Flycatchers were easy pickings, as well as Eye-Ringed Tody-Tyrant. I searched around for a trail leading off into the forest, but eventually gave up and decided to take a brief nap in the car, nabbing a Pallid Spinetail on the way back. Coming to an hour later, I decided to try for Wing-Banded Hornero on a whim, thinking I wouldn’t have another chance to find the bird in its appropriate habitat. One swooped in from a nearby house immediately in response to playback. 

Back along the jeep track, I stopped a local farmer and asked him about the whereabouts of the trail. He helpfully pointed out the entrance just behind a recent treefall and told me to return in the morning when bird activity would be in full swing. Of course, I was happy to bird in the quiet time of the afternoon and spent the next several hours working over the first few hundred meters of the trail, ogling such Atlantic Forest goodies as White-Collared Foliage-Gleaner, Tufted Antshrike, and Yellow-Eared Woodpecker as well as getting better looks at Bahia Spinetail and Ferruginous Antbird. The trail is something of a jeep track itself, and was probably originally used as a logging road with pack animals hauling out sawed boards and smaller trunks. I didn’t make it very far beyond the first bend before I decided to call it a day, with the sun setting just after 5pm during the winter in Brazil.

It was raining on the following morning, hard enough to disrupt the morning bird activity and wet enough to discourage me from setting off into the field. Exhausted, I slept in the car for a few hours, half listening for the rain to stop pelting the roof. Eventually around 9am, the weather relented although the wind was still whipping the treetops back and forth. Clearly, it was too late to hope for Buff-Throated Purpletuft in the canopy at the forest edge, and so I set off on the same trail in search of the softtail. An understory flock contained the terrific Spot-Backed Antshrike as well as a pair of Spot-Breasted Antvireos and a White-Eyed Foliage-Gleaner. A pair of dainty Scaled Antbirds was training a noisy group of Red-Crowned Ant-Tanagers, and I couldn’t resist stirring up the male with my iPod with the hopes of capturing this perpetual motion machine on film in a brief moment of respite.

As the weather turned again for the worse, I made my way back down the trail, bagging Black-Throated Grosbeak and Crescent-Chested Puffbird before returning to the jeep track. The same pair of Tufted Antshrikes was calling again, and I couldn’t resist spending a few more minutes with these dominating understory birds. As the rain came down harder, I picked up a few more birds for the road, including a Red-Cowled Cardinal and a nice male Dubois’s Seedeater, both thoroughly drenched like me. Clearly, I had just scratched the surface of this productive site, but I had made plans to spend the next few nights at Serra Bonita, a private montane forest reserve host to yet another array of Atlantic Forest endemics, and needed to get on the road.

Notable birds seen: Blue-Winged Parrotlet, Channel-Billed Toucan, Yellow-Throated Woodpecker, Yellow-Eared Woodpecker, Crescent-Chested Puffbird, Lesser Woodcreeper, Scaled Woodcreeper, White-Throated Woodcreeper, Wing-Banded Hornero, Bahia Spintail, Pallid Spinetail, Rufous-Fronted Thornbird, White-Collared Foliage-Gleaner, White-Eyed Foliage-Gleaner, Streaked Xenops, Plain Xenops, Tufted Antshrike, Spot-Backed Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, Spot-Breasted Antvireo, White-Shouldered Fire-Eye, Rufous-Winged Antwren, Rio de Janeiro Antbird, Scaled Antbird, Ferruginous Antbird, Rufous Gnateater, Greenish Schiffornis, Grayish Mourner, Green-Backed Becard, Chestnut-Crowned Becard, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, Eye-Ringed Tody-Tyrant, Ochre-Faced Tody-Flycatcher, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-Browed Tody-Flycatcher, Tropical Pewee, Long-Tailed Tyrant, Boat-Billed Flycatcher, Bran-Colored Flycatcher, Rufous-Browed Peppershrike,  Golden-Crowned Warbler, Moustached Wren, Black-Goggled Tanager, Rufous-Headed Tanager, Burnished-Buff Tanager, Flame-Crested Tanager, Black-Throated Grosbeak, Red-Crowned Ant-Tanager, Red-Cowled Cardinal, Doubois’s Seedeater, Pectoral Sparrow.

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