Archive for the ‘Caatinga’ Tag

Brazil part 3 – Pernambuco, Alagoas and Bahia States. 17th – 22nd January 2015.   Leave a comment

The last Brazil post dealt with our visit to the Canudos Biological Reserve and its wonderful Lear’s Macaws. From here we drove south-east to Jeremoabo and the following day continued to the coast at Palmares in coastal Pernambuco.

IMG_0673 Pectoral Antwren

Pectoral Antwren, one of many species of antwren seen on the tour and one that is restricted to far eastern Brazil, was a highlight of our time at Jeremoabo.

IMG_0698 Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owls could be seen along the sides of the road in open areas.


The area around Palmares is part of the ‘Pernambuco centre of avian endemism’. Unfortunately the vast majority of forest has been converted to sugarcane or banana plantations and the remaining endemic birds are critically endangered. Some forest does remain, but it is severely fragmented. In Europe or North America forest birds would disperse from one patch to another so bolstering the population, but here each population becomes increasingly isolated and inbred so numbers are falling at an alarming rate. Alagoas Foliage-gleaner, Pernambuco Pygmy-owl and Cryptic Treehunter may already be extinct and Alagoas Antwren, Pinto’s Spinetail and White-collared Kite may soon be following them into oblivion. Originally three days were scheduled for this area but rather than ‘flog a dead horse’ our time was cut to a day and a half, allowing us to see some of the specialities without wasting time on birds that had already disappeared.


IMG_0770 forest patches Frei Caneca

Frei Canaca reserve is typical of the plight of the NE Brazilian coastal rain forest, being encircled with and fragmented by plantations. We saw some good birds here but they were in very low density and it was hard work!

IMG_0717 Forbes Blackbirds

I wasn’t able get good photos of any of the Pernambuco forest birds but in coastal marshes we saw and photographed the equally rare Forbe’s Blackbird.

IMG_0833 WH Marsh Tyrant

The attractive White-headed Marsh Tyrant is a much commoner and widespread bird.

IMG_0868 King Vulture

Overhead we had great views of the largest of the lowland New World vultures (the Andean Condor of course is the largest).

IMG_0889 Fringe-backed Fire-eye

Further south in coastal Bahia State we came across another range restricted antbird – Fringe-backed Fire-eye.

IMG_0919 sunset in palms

We visited nearby palms at dusk and were fortunate to see …

IMG_0925 Jandaya Parakeet

…. the endemic Jandaya Parakeets flying to roost.

IMG_0942 mangrove creek

Searching mangroves the following morning we located several of the recently split Mangrove Rails, but they refused to be coaxed from deep cover and remained a ‘heard only’. However a chance encounter with another tour group gave us great scope views of the coastal Rufous Crab-hawk, but it was too distant for decent photos.

IMG_0960 Comb Duck

On route we saw the trip’s only Comb Duck, a species recently split from the Old World Knob-billed Goose.

IMG_0968 Chestnut-headed Blackbird

Chestnut-headed Blackbirds frequented these roadside marshes.

IMG_1376 Lencois

Moving back inland, we stayed for a couple of nights in the charming town of Lencois. From here we explored the nearby Chapada de Diamantina and surround caatinga.

IMG_0685 toilet signs

You’re not going to be confused as to which is which with these toilet door signs!

IMG_1013 Cassiornis site

A nearby river valley held two very special birds ….

IMG_0978 Sao Francisco Sparrow

…. Sao Francisco Sparrow, named after the regions largest river ….

IMG_1002 Ash Br Casiornis

… and Ash-throated Casiornis, a seldom seen tyrant flycatcher that looks more like a furnarid.

IMG_1063 rock outcrop

The Chapada de Diamantina consists of many tepui-like rock outcrops and is scenically very attractive.

IMG_1066 Sincora Antwren

Among the many great birds we saw was Sincora Antwren, a bird described as recently as 2007 ….

IMG_1088 Serra Finch

…. and Serra Finch, another eastern Brazil speciality.

IMG_1414 tapaculo gully

One of the best birds we saw in the area was another recently described species, Diamantina Tapaculo. To get to see this rarity we had to battle our way through thick scrub and climb down into this rocky gully. Our first attempt was unsuccessful, which was frustrating as our leader had already located it on a ‘recce’ whilst we were having lunch, so we knew it was there. But our attempt the next morning was successful, but no pictures were obtained of this little skulker.

IMG_1093 Red-cowled Cardinal

This slightly blurred photo of a Red-cowled Cardinal looks like (but isn’t) something out of John Dunning’s ‘South American Land Birds’. Long before any good field guides existed for South American, JD mist-netted many South American species and photographed them in a special photography cage, complete with a few branches to perch on and a pale blue background to mimic the sky. For a long time this book was the best guide available.

IMG_1099 Campo Troupial

Also endemic to NE Brazil is the Campo Troupial, a species of icterid or New World blackbird.

IMG_1119 Cinnamon Tanager

Cinnamon Tanager, another eastern Brazilian bird.

IMG_1132 Red (Hepatic) Tanager

The former Hepatic Tanager has been split into three, the Central American populations which reach as far north as the south-west USA, retain the name Hepatic Tanager, the Andean forms are now known as Tooth-billed Tanager and this, the lowland form, is appropriately known as Red Tanager.

IMG_1151 rocks nr Lencois

The following morning we climbed high into the tepui-like cliffs of the Chapada de Diamantina, but early morning mist obscured the views.

IMG_1160 Stripe-tailed Yellow Finch

Out targets, Stripe-tailed Yellow-finch ….

IMG_1175 Hooded Visorbearer

…. the beautiful Hooded Visorbearer ….

IMG_1181 Velvety Black Tyrant

… and the drab Velvety Black Tyrant soon fell.

IMG_1171 outcrops nr Lencois

On the way down we found the cloud had lifted slightly, partially revealing the dramatic scenery.

IMG_1257 BT Saltator

Lower down we found the stunning Blue Finch, but at a considerable distance. However this Black-throated Saltator performed at close range.

IMG_1282 Shrike-like Tanager

The Shrike-like Tanager is just that, a spitting image of the Old World Lesser Grey Shrike, apart from lacking a hooked bill and an evil look to its beady eye.

IMG_1356 caatinga nr Mucage

Not far from Lencois we birded an extensive area of caatinga.

IMG_1298 Plumbeous Seedeater

Plumbeous Seedeater was one of many scarce or range restricted seedeaters we were to see on the tour.

IMG_1330 Collared Crescentchest

We had great views of Collared Crescentchest. The four species of crescentchest are now considered to be a separate family Melanopareiidae, rather than being included in the tapaculos.

IMG_1346 Grey-backed Tachuri

Other goodies included the tiny Grey-backed Tachuri, a diminutive tyrant-flycatcher  ….

IMG_1404 Sharp-tailed Tyrant

…. the dainty Sharp-tailed Tyrant ….

IMG_1395 scary spider

…. and some scary looking spiders.

IMG_1380 Mucage area at dusk

Dark clouds gathered as dusk fell ….

IMG_1369 Least Nighhawk

…. but that didn’t prevent an impressive gathering of 15 or so Least Nighthawks.

From here we continued south heading for Mucage and Boa Nova. This will be the subject of the next post.

Brazil part 1: Ceara to northern Bahia – 11th – 15th January 2015   Leave a comment

I have been to Brazil twice before, to the endemic rich forests of the south-east in 2003 and to the wetlands of the Pantanal, the grasslands of Canastra and the southern Amazonian rainforest in 2008. This trip visited the coastal forests, caatinga, cerrado and canyons of the north-east states of Ceara, Alagoas, Penambuco and Bahia. Although, obviously there was considerable overlap with the birds of the south-east, I still managed to see 78 new species, about 10 more than I had expected.

This post covers the northern state of Ceara, western Perambuco and northern Bahia.

IMG_0009 mangroves

On arrival at Fortaleza we had a three-hour drive to our first destination. We didn’t get to the hotel until nearly 0200 so it was a rather short night. Soon after dawn we were birding at a nearby area of mangroves but our main target, the endemic Little Wood-Rail failed to show. Not the best start to the trip!

IMG_0016 boardwalk

Birding from this boardwalk was pleasant but a few migrant waders and coastal herons was little compensation for a serious dip.

IMG_0137 Serra do Baturite

By mid afternoon we arrived at the Serra do Baturite, a coastal range covered in Atlantic rainforest.

IMG_0099 Grey-breasted Parakeets

There was excellent birding in the area, which lifted our spirits considerably. Birds included the endemic Grey-breasted Parakeet ….

IMG_0159 Band-tailed Manakin

…. the beautiful Band-tailed Manikin ….

IMG_0204 RN Tanager

…. gorgeous Red-necked Tanagers ….

IMG_0049 Ochraceous Piculet

…. and one of the smallest woodpeckers in the world, Ochraceous Piculet, one of four species of piculet that we were to see on the trip.

IMG_0142 Rufous-breasted Leaftosser

Skulking on the forest floor we were able to glimpse a Rufous-breasted Leaftosser ….

IMG_0130 Ceara Gnateater

…. and the recently split Ceara Gnateater.

IMG_0101 Palm Tanager

It wasn’t all about rare, endemic or spectacular birds. Common species like Palm Tanager

IMG_0187 House Wren

…. and House Wren competed for our attention. House Wrens occur from Canada to Argentina and various proposals have been put forwards to divide it into a number of species, but they yet to gain approval by the various checklist authorities.

IMG_0054 pratmobile

One trouble with Brazil is that is so noisy. Many cars fit this sort of sound system in the boot of their car, which is clearly not intended as in-car entertainment but as means of annoying anyone who wants a good nights sleep.

IMG_0205 viewpoint

From a ridge over the local resort we were able to scan the tree tops for raptors but had little success. The white dot on the lake is, of all things, a Mute Swan, but somehow it didn’t make it onto the trip list.

IMG_0254 Caatinga

From Serra do Baturite we drove south to areas of extensive caatinga, a habitat comprised of xerophytic scrub interspersed with stands of cactus. Small differences in the level of aridity produce different height vegetation, which in turn leads to radically different bird communities.

IMG_0397 Caatinga Puffbird

Birds of the caatinga include the appropriately named Caatinga Puffbird ….

IMG_0410 Caatinga Parakeet

….  which was followed by the predictable Caatinga Parakeet ….

IMG_0321 Caatinga Cacholote

…. and (you’ve guessed it) the inevitable Caatinga Cacholote ….

IMG_0214 Caatinga Cacholote

…. which was captured nicely in flight.

IMG_0345 Woodcreeper to ID

In wooded area we saw Narrow-billed Woodpeckers, one of eight woodcreepers we were to see on the trip and one of 48 (if you include the similar scythebills) in South America.

IMG_0374 Lesser Wagtail Tyrant

Two species of tyrant flycatchers have evolved to look rather like old world wagtails and somewhat unimaginatively are called Lesser and Greater Wagtail-tyrant. I have seen ‘Greater’ a number of times but ‘Lesser’ was a life bird for me. Imagine the confusion when we found a pair of ‘Lessers’ (above) in the same bush as a pair of ‘Greaters’.

IMG_0319 dried up river

We visited a dried up river bed in northern Bahia, a stake out for Blue-winged Macaws, a species that prefer the tall riparian habitat. In the whole of north-east Brazil there is only one river, the mighty Sao Francisco, that never dries up.

IMG_0299 Blue-winged Macaw

And there, just as promised was the lovely Blue-winged Macaw.

IMG_0337 Masked Water Tyrant

Earlier I mentioned tyrant flycatchers that have evolved to look like wagtails, well here’s one that has evolved to look like a wheatear – Masked Water Tyrant, living in what is currently a water free environment.

IMG_0323 Streaked Fly

A more typical tyrant flycatcher (with 431 species, the largest bird family in the world) is the showy Streaked Flycatcher.

IMG_0276 Araripe Manakin

At the base of the isolated plateau of the Chapada do Araripe lies some tall woodland. Here in 1996 the gorgeous Araripe Manakin was seen for the first time. The population is estimated to be a mere 500 pairs. Although we got good views, our time with the bird was brief. The most accessible site has been converted to a theme park, we paid our entry fee but were told the park had to close, this seemed bizarre as it was only 11am, but we later learned that the park’s owner had died that morning and the staff were closing the park as a mark of respect.


With very little time available to get a decent image of this stunning bird, I have included (with permission) a wonderful shot by Ciro Albano, one of Brazil’s top birders and photographers.

IMG_0459 Burrowing Owl

We eventually reached the area around Canudos where we searched an area of scrub for the rare Scarlet-throated Tanagers, which we saw, albeit distantly. More showy species included the widespread Burrowing Owl.

IMG_0481 reflections

As the sun set, the lake where the Scarlet-throated Tanagers could be seen glowed as if lit from within. We saw a couple of the very rare Lear’s Macaws flying to roost but we knew that we had a far better chance of seeing them well the following day. More of that in the next post.

Posted February 12, 2015 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , , ,