GENERAL INFO & SITE ACCOUNTS
Since many years a trip to Brazil and in particular the Atlantic Rainforest in the southeast has been one of the destinations I was hoping to visit once in a lifetime. The main reason for this is the abundance of endemic birds in the area. The nowadays highly threatened and fragmented Atlantic Forest (with only about 7% of its forests remaining) hosts the largest number of endemic birds in the world. The whole area holds 199 endemic birds and extends along the Atlantic coast of Brazil from Rio Grande do Norte state in the north to Rio Grande do Sul state in the south and inland towards Paraguay and Misiones Province in Argentina. We restricted our trip to the Atlantic Forest visiting sites in Rio de Janeiro state and the area around Iguacu NP at the Brazilian-Argentinean border. Still this area holds about 580 bird species of which 133 are AF endemics. This time we didn’t book a complete tour with one company but instead booked accommodations at two highly recommended bird lodges in Rio de Janeiro state during the first 10 days, followed by a 4 day tour to Iguacu and ending with 2 days in Rio de Janeiro city. The first 6 nights/7 days we stayed at the excellent Serra dos Tucanos Lodge (www.serradostucanos.com.br) located about one and a half hours drive from Rio. The comfortable lodge is surrounded by forest and the bird feeders in the garden are a real treat with dozens of daily visiting birds. Beforehand I made arrangements for taxi transfers and excursions by e-mail with Andy Foster who runs and owns the lodge together with his wife Cristina. On arrival at the lodge Andy had already set up an excellent itinerary with daily guided excursions to interesting birding sites in the area ranging in altitude between 450 and 2000m. Andy himself accompanied us during the excursions and proved to be an excellent and professional bird guide. Besides that he was a very pleasant guy who really knows the area and its birds like the back of his hand. For the second leg of our trip we booked 3 nights/4 days at the wonderful Guapi Assu Bird Lodge (www.guapiassubirdlodge.com). This very comfortable lodge is located about a 45 minutes drive from Serra dos Tucanos and about 2 hours from Rio. The lodge is part of the fantastic REGUA conservation project (www.regua.co.uk) both of which are managed by Nicholas and Raquel Locke. The lodge is beautifully situated on a hill overlooking the restored wetland and forested mountains in the back. It is non-profit making with all income generated going to their excellent conservation work. Our stay here really was a wonderful experience. We had a very large and comfortable room with balcony. The lodge had a comfortable lounge and dining room where we enjoyed the delicious freshly cooked meals and we relaxed at the nice veranda enjoying the beautiful view and the birds coming to the feeders. During the day we ventured out into the reserve with our excellent bird guide Adelei Carvalho da Cunha. Adelei’s skills as a bird guide were really outstanding. His eyesight and ability to localize birds and imitate birdcalls were really unbelievably good. For the last leg of our trip to Iguacu and Rio city we booked a private tour at Brazil Nature Tours (www.opendoortur.com.br). The tour included accommodation, transportation and private bird guide at Iguacu, followed by accommodation, transport and a half day private city tour in Rio. The tour was perfectly arranged by BNT although the bird guide wasn’t of the high quality we were used to at Serra dos Tucanos and Guapi Assu Lodge.
For general birding preparations we used the usual websites like www.fatbirder.com and www.bsc-eoc.org/links/links.jsp. I checked out several reports on the web published at www.travellingbirder.com and www.birdtours.co.uk and after reading them it became pretty obvious that birding in the Atlantic Forest with Serra dos Tucanos and Regua as a base was very popular and highly recommended. In the field we used the new Field guide to the birds of Brazil by Tomas Sigrist. One disadvantage of this book is that it contains all the birds of Brazil, so you have to go through a lot of plates to identify a bird in the field. Some of the plates are fairly poor but the book is still far much better then the Souza book. The other Sigrist book with the southeast birds in it only was out of print. For general travel information we used the Lonely Planet of Brazil.
Although poverty exists (especially in the big cities), Brazil is by no means a poor or underdeveloped country. In fact it is the world’s eight largest economy and the political and economic leader in Latin America. It has large and very well developed agricultural, mining and manufacturing sectors. Brazilian export is booming. The major export products include coffee, cars, steel, ethanol, textiles and electrical equipment. In 2007 Brazil launched a four-year plan to spend 300 billion US$ to modernise its road network, power plants and ports. The people are very helpful and friendly but virtually nobody speaks any English. The unit of currency is the Brazilian Real. The exchange rate during our visit was R$ 1,78 against one US$ and R$ 2,60 against one Euro. Changing money in cities and bigger towns is usually possible at ATM machines however it is sometimes difficult to find one that accepts your particular card. So it is advised to bring some cash money (US$ or Euros). At the Rio airport we couldn’t find any ATM so we had to change cash money at the exchange office in the arrivals hall.
Flights to Rio from The Netherlands are offered by several airlines like TAP, Iberia, Air France and KLM with the latter flying via Sao Paulo. Normally we prefer to fly from Dusseldorf in Germany because it is closer to our home, but this time flights from Amsterdam were much cheaper. Probably due to the economic crisis prices had dropped significantly and we made an excellent deal with TAP Airlines at Euro 510 each including all taxes.
All transport was
pre-arranged through the lodges and through Brazil Nature Tours. During the
excursions from Serra dos Tucanos Andy acted as our driver and bird guide using
his own private car. He also arranged a taxi for the airport pick-up and the
transfer to REGUA. Except short drives to the start of some trailheads we did
not use any car in REGUA. The transfer back to the airport was arranged by
REGUA. All transportation during the last part of our trip was arranged by
Brazil Nature Tours. Road conditions were excellent with all roads asphalted
except the last
WEATHER AND WHEN TO GO
The period from late October until March is summer time with high temperatures ranging between 20 and 40 degrees. During this period the birds are breeding and are much more vocal, but this is also the period with the highest rainfall. Between April and September temperatures are much more pleasant ranging between 15 and 30 degrees during the day, and there is also less rainfall. During this period there are more mixed flocks but the birds are less calling. However due to the lower temperatures the birds are often more active throughout the day. We decided to go more or less in the transition between these two periods (second half of September) hoping to have fairly dry weather at pleasant temperatures. From birding point of view this is also a good period because there is still evidence of mixed flocks and many birds have started calling. However in general the weather can be unpredictable year-round as we experienced also. We had many cloudy days but luckily only one full day of rain. We arrived on a warm and sunny day but the next 6 days at Serra dos Tucanos it was mostly cloudy with some rain. However we were still very lucky. On a couple of mornings we ventured out for excursions leaving the lodge behind us shrouded in clouds and mist but when arriving at the birding sites it mostly stayed dry with even sometimes a bit of sun. On the last day at SdT it rained all day. In the afternoon we transferred to REGUA and had to stay in the lodge because of the rain. The following day it was cloudy but dry, followed by two warm and sunny days. We arrived at Iguacu in sweltering moist heat (37 degrees) but the following days were cool and cloudy with some rain. In Rio it was cloudy the first day followed by sunny weather on the day of departure.
ACCOMODATIONS & FOOD
The food in Brazil was a real treat. I don’t know if this counts for the whole of Brazil but the meals we had were really outstanding with delicious meat and fish dishes accompanied by a variety of vegetables and salads. Especially the food at REGUA was a real delight. On our last evening in Rio we were advised by our guide to go to a Churascaria restaurant called El Porcao in Ipanema. Well we did not regret his advise. The grilled meat we had there was probably the most delicious, juicy and tasteful meat we ever had. It is fairly expensive to Brazilian standards but highly recommended. Brazil has a wide range of accommodations from basic to high luxury. We mainly stayed at midrange to luxury hotels and lodges we had the idea that the standard of quality is fairly high compared with many other countries in Latin America. We stayed in the following lodges and hotels:
Serra dos Tucanos Lodge (www.serradostucanos.com.br): comfortable lodge catering mostly to birders located about a 11/2 hours drive from Rio. It has a nice main lounge, dining room, back veranda and patio and a small swimming pool. The bird feeders in the garden are the best I have ever seen. Food and service was excellent. Despite its natural setting there was a bit of traffic noise especially in our room which was located at the front side (read roadside) of the lodge. Our room was fairly comfortable and clean although it was fairly small. The bathroom was on the hallway but we did not have to share it with other guests.
Guapi Assu Bird Lodge (www.guapiassubirdlodge.com.br): a very comfortable lodge beautifully located on a hill overlooking the REGUA conservation reserve. It is located about a 2 hours drive from Rio and 45 minutes from Serra dos Tucanos. The lodge has a nice and spacious lounge annex dining room with an adjacent veranda providing beautiful views of the reserve. However the feeding tables were not as good as at SdT. In the back of the lodge is a small swimming pool. We had a very comfortable and spacious room with a large comfy bathroom and balcony. From our balcony the view on the reserve was really marvellous. The food was one of the many highlights at REGUA including the refreshing caipirinha’s in the evening. This was one of the nicest places we had ever stayed at.
San Martin (www.hotelsanmartin.com.br): very comfortable large hotel
Everest Rio Hotel (www.everest.com.br): very comfortable 4-star hotel located in Ipanema only one block from the beach. Large comfy rooms, rooftop restaurant and small swimming pool. Excellent location.
As mentioned before the Atlantic Forest is the world’s hotspot in terms of endemic bird species. The area we visited has a bird list of about 580 birds of which 133 are AF endemics. We did a really good job by seeing an amazing 355 species which is more then 60% of all birds occurring in the region. An additional 16 species were heard only. We saw 93 AF endemics and I added 209 species to my life list of now 2981 species. The first week at Serra dos Tucanos Lodge we birded several different sites ranging in altitude between 450 and 2000m which produced 252 species of which 91 were not seen during the rest of the trip. The following 3 days at REGUA we mostly concentrated on lowland birds. We saw 183 species and added 60 birds to our trip list. Of these 48 were not seen on any other site. The two and a half days at Iguacu produced 123 species adding 40 species to our trip list. In Rio we added another 2 species to our trip list. The highlights of the trip for me were Black-fronted Piping-guan, Red-legged Seriema, Common Potoo (with a chick), Saffron Toucanet, Blond-crested Woodpecker, Giant Antshrike, Hooded Berryeater, Bare-throated Bellbird, Swallow-tailed Cotinga, Brazilian Tanager and Half-collared Sparrow. However we also missed some birds which were high on my wish list like Giant Snipe, White-eared Puffbird, Black-billed Scythebill and Eastern Striped Manakin. We saw remarkably few raptor species probably because of the many cloudy days.
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