To many people, Brazil evokes beaches, bronzed bodies and lively entertainment, while to others it’s a land of vast rainforests, unique birds and critically endangered ecosystems. It’s a huge country and on this trip we were only going to see a small part of the state of Rio de Janeiro along Brazil’s east coast.
We were all picked up at the very convenient Hotel Linx at the Rio Airport by Regua’s driver, Alceni, for our 1.5 hour drive to Regua Lodge, set in the shadow of Serra de Orgaos National Park’s craggy peaks. Originally a ranch, Regua is now a birding destination for birders and naturalists from all over the world, so our first walk was on the property around the large wetland complex that had been recreated in the valley. A haven for waterbirds, Cattle Egrets now nest, along with Black-crowned Night-Heron and Boat-billed Heron; Wattled Jacanas and Common and Purple Gallinules are abundant and Chestnut-capped Blackbirds nest in the reedbeds, along with Greater Ani, Great Kiskadee and Social Flycatcher. Highlights had to be a soaring Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle and the Common Pauraque which was sitting on 2 eggs along the side of the trail. The birding was excellent. Despite the gray conditions, we spent the afternoon in the open fields outside Regua. With the deforestation and the wet fields, birds like the uncommon Giant Snipe have now become far easier to see and this species has probably considerably expanded its range. Other birds of the open country included Burrowing Owl, Streamer-tailed Tyrant and the strange and entertaining Guira Cuckoo. A stop at the edge of the woods on the way home produced great views of a Tawny-browed Owl.
Our first excursion was north to search for the localized Three-toed Jacamar, which is restricted to a few locations in interior coastal Brazil. Stops along the way produced the beautiful and enigmatic Toco Toucan, as well as Crested Black-Tyrant and Ash-throated Crake. Despite their global rarity, it was not a difficult bird to find at all and I believe we saw at least 4 pairs. And because we were so close to the state of Minas Gerais we decided to cross the line to add an e-bird list; our Green-barred Woodpecker was the only sighting of the trip! It was off to the beach the next day, but not to Copacabana or any other famous Brazilian beach spot. Our final destination was the Restinga habitat along the coast; home to the endemic Restinga Antwren, but along the way we stopped at various wetlands and coastal habitats seeing Gray-hooded and Kelp Gulls, Common, Royal and Sandwich Terns and a good selection of migrant shorebirds. The Restinga Habitat has been destroyed along a good part of the coast, but thankfully we managed to see the Antwren without too much difficulty.
We stayed on the grounds of Regua Lodge the next day and decided to hike the Green Trail to the waterfall. The trail is fairly steep, but we took it slowly finding a good selection of forest birds along the way. Flycatchers are always well-represented and we found Yellow-olive, Sepia-capped, Whiskered and Ochre-bellied. Swallow-tailed (Blue) Manakins were calling all along the trail and we all got great views of the gorgeous Black-cheeked Gnateater. The next day was to the higher peaks and it was quite hot high on Pico Caledonia above the lingerie capital of Brazil (Nova Friburgo) where we needed the 4 x 4 Toyota to climb the very steep cobbled road. Our target was of course the Gray-winged Cotinga, a critically rare species that lives within a 400m range and is probably below 1,000 individuals.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see any, but our supporting cast included Diademed Tanager, Black-and-gold Cotinga and Mouse-colored Tapaculo. On the way back to Regua we stopped at the old road now called the Theodoro Trail. This is a somewhat reliable spot for the uncommon Brazilian Laniisoma (Shrike-like Cotinga) - which alas we only heard in the high canopy. Bare-throated Bellbirds were clanging away in the canopy and a Rufous-breasted Leaftosser showed itself nicely along the edge of the trail.
The Waldenoor Trail was another trail on the Regua property. Only about a 30 minute drive away from the lodge over somewhat bumpy roads, this trail snaked up through the forest through a few private houses and gardens, but it was still a great birding spot. It was a great place for forest birds, and some of the highlights including nesting Long-tailed Potoo (with a delightful fluffy chick), nesting Chestnut-crowned and Crested Becards, and an impressive large White-throated Woodcreeper. A walk around the Regua wetlands in the afternoon produced a pair of delightful Rufous-sided Crakes, a couple of probably transient Snail Kites and a couple of Muscovy Ducks. We continued our search for Masked Duck, but once again they evaded us. The following day was another excursion, but to middle elevations at Macae de Cima – just this side of Nova Friburgo. The weather again was a little foggy but hopefully this would not affect the birding. We made our usual stop in the farm fields outside of Regua where an Ash-throated Crake gave us great views. Birding along the Macae de Cima road was very good and very easy with wonderful Green-crowned Plovercrests singing along the road where we also watched a Scale-throated Hermit building her nest. A Dusky-tailed Antbird showed very well, as did both White-browed Foliage-gleaner and Sharp-billed Treehunter; more somewhat-confusing furnarids! A drive to the very peak found us deep in the fog again but on the downhill hike we did find a couple of great birds: Hooded Berryeater and Sharpbill.
Our last morning of the week was again a walk down in the wetlands. Being only a 5 minute walk from the lodge, it was easy to walk through the woods to the lakes and enjoy the coming and goings of the heronry. This morning we witnessed a very strange nesting exchange at the colony. An adult Cocoi Heron was brooding the eggs; it got up, had a brief interaction with a Great Egret and the Egret then sat on the eggs. I am not sure which of the 2 species had built the nest or laid the eggs, but it was fascinating to watch the 2 species together. There was no aggression and we were never sure which species was the true owner of the nest. Many of the Cattle Egrets had well-grown young and there were at least 2 Boat-billed Herons actively brooding. Both Blackish Rail and Rufous-sided Crake were heard from the dense marsh vegetation and multiple pairs of Chestnut-capped Blackbirds were feeding young around the marsh. It was gratifying to see how birds (and other wildlife) moves in to utilize an essentially man-made wetland.
This was our first visit to Regua Lodge to enjoy the birdlife and forests of this part of Brazil. Nicholas and his family have done an amazing job reforesting this once patch of farmland. This large acreage joins both Tres Picos State Park and Serra de Orgaos National Park, so the future looks good for this section of Atlantic Coastal Rainforest.
We finished our tour with well over 300 species of birds, as well as Capybara, Caiman and Brazilian Tapir.