Venture to Southeast Brazil

Regua Lodge and excursions, Rio do Janeiro, Brazil

November 22-30, 2019

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.

Regua Lodge

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 Orgao National Park’s craggy peaks. Originally a ranch, Regua is now a birding destination for birders and naturalists from all over the world.

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 and Boat-billed Herons; 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 the soaring Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle and the Common Pauraque sitting on 2 eggs on 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, the uncommon Giant Snipe has now become far easier to see and 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 and 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.

Restinga Habitat

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.

Waterfall near Regua Lodge

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.

It was quite hot high on Pico Caledonia above the lingerie capital of Brazil (Nova Friburgo) and 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.

Our group

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, that offered adequate views considering the weather conditions!

by Simon Thompson

observation tower at Regua Lodge
Capybara
Brazilian Tapir
Common Marmoset
Three-toed Sloth
Orchids

Louisiana

Some of us drove and some took a plane, but we all ended up at the hotel in Iowa (“Eye-oh-way”), Louisiana at the correct time! Thank goodness for cell phones, so we could at least keep track of each other on our cross-country perambulations!

Our group, with leaders Simon Thompson (front) and Keith Watson (back left)
by Simon Thompson

Our “Beat the Crowds” rail trip that first afternoon was postponed due to the heavy rain earlier in the week, so we all joined a very pleasant, albeit foggy, trip along some quiet side roads in the rice country. One of our first birds was a Dickcissel, closely followed by great views of both Sedge and Marsh Wrens – all excellent birds to start our trip.

Sedge Wren
by Simon Thompson

Flocks of Greater White-fronted Geese flew over and we had our first (of several) Vermilion Flycatchers of the tour. A brief stop in a pine lot was amazing with a day-time roost of 20 or so Barn Owls – more seen in one day than many of us had seen in our lifetime!

Barn Owl roosting
by Simon Thompson

One of the attractions of the festival was the food, although vegetarian options can be challenging at times. After a classic Cajun sausage meal our first evening, we moved on to crawfish etouffee, catfish bites, shrimp and a veggie plate – definitely something here for all of us.

Our group having lunch
by Keith Watson

Our afternoon activity was walking (well maybe clambering) through a very tufty and overgrown field looking for sparrows. Sedge Wrens were the default little brown bird that we flushed, but eventually Casey spotted a very furtive sparrow which turned out to be a Henslow’s.

White-faced Ibis
by Simon Thompson

Waterbirds are a predominant feature of the area, with huge flocks of White-faced Ibis being abundant, along with White Ibis, and Roseate Spoonbill. Flocks of Snow and Greater White-fronted Geese were constant sights and sounds as they flew overhead and the most abundant duck was Northern Shoveler with smaller numbers of Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, Mallard and Green-winged Teal.

Snow Geese
by Simon Thompson

Thankfully we had low ticket numbers for the combine rides, so we could head out birding before returning to the rice fields for our turn on the combine harvesters. One of our first stops was the wonderful water treatment plant in Crowley. Here we were able to walk around at our leisure and enjoy the vast numbers of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Redhead and American Avocet.

American Avocet
by Keith Watson

A large flock of Tree Swallows was feeding low over the lake and it didn’t take us too long to find Cave, Barn, Northern Rough-wing and even Bank amongst the horde!

The combine rides and observing the rails as they escape from the harvest are the undoubted star attractions of the festival and while the rails are easier to see from the sidelines, how often can one ride a combine harvester?

A productive field
by Keith Watson

Covered in dust and chaff we all saw Sora, King, Virginia and Yellow Rails as they flushed from the fields, but the bumping of the combine made using binoculars and cameras almost impossible. However, as the combines cut the rice swaths into smaller and smaller sections, the rails became concentrated and soon flew out into the adjacent fields. This is when the photographers had a fighting chance of getting pictures.

Keith with a Virginia Rail about to be banded
by Keith Watson
Yellow Rail in hand for banding
by Tim Carstens
White-faced ibis
by Simon Thompson

Cameron Parish is probably the most bird-rich parish in Louisiana, so we spent the next 2 days exploring the marshes, cheniers (coastal woodlots), shore and fields of this coastal parish.

boardwalk at Cameron Prairie NWR
by Keith Watson

A flock of Sandhills soared out of the morning mist, revealing a single image of black and white flying alongside them – a Whooping Crane. Although it was a distant apparition, we all got to enjoy in-flight views of this rarity.

Merlin
by Simon Thompson

Loggerhead Shrikes, American Kestrels and both Vermilion and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were “wire-birds” along the roadsides and pairs of magnificent Crested Caracaras sat on nearby fences and trees, as multiple Northern Harriers quartered the fields.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
by Simon Thompson

A picnic in Peveto Woods; a Baton Rouge Audubon Sanctuary was a great place for late migrants, such as Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Blue Grosbeak and a handful of warblers: Tennessee, Bay-breasted, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided and Magnolia.

Magnolia Warbler
by Simon Thompson

The adjacent beach held the common and regularly-occurring Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, along with the more uncommon Piping and Snowy Plovers, while the mixed tern and gull flocks contained all of the expected species, such as Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls, Caspian, Royal and Forster’s Terns, as well as Gull-billed Tern and several Franklin’s Gulls hiding among the many Laughing.

Snowy Plover
by Simon Thompson
Beach birding
by Keith Watson

Highlights of the trips had to be the stake-out Say’s Phoebe in a sports field, a picnic lunch in a quiet cemetery, a pelagic Harrier (why?) and a Hermit Thrush that we “chased” up a road in the marshes.

It was then off to the closing dinner for the 2019 Yellow Rails and Rice Festival; an evening of heavy hors d’oeuvres and socializing- a very pleasant end to the week. It was then some morning birding before some of us drove and some of us took a plane back to our respective homes.

Here are a few more birds (and one reptile!) from the trip:

Black-necked Stilt
by Simon Thompson
Stilt Sandpiper
by Simon Thompson
Inca Dove
by Simon Thompson
Tri-colored Heron
by Simon Thompson
American Alligators
by Keith Watson

Venture to Ridge Junction

Dawn at Ridge Junction by Alan Lenk
Dawn at Ridge Junction
by Alan Lenk

Tuesday Oct 1, 2019

With Clifton Avery & Aaron Steed

The morning began before first light at the Folk Art Center in Asheville.  As our group drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway the conversation in the car held an exciting tone as we speculated what birds might be flying over the high passes of the Black Mountains this morning. 

We arrived at Ridge Junction just before sunrise.  Calls of Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked, Wood, and Hermit Thrush greeted us as we geared up for the day.  A spectacular sunrise proceeded and then soon after, the birds began streaming over the ridge. 

Cape May Warbler
by Alan Lenk

We found an oak tree alongside the parkway that was full of warblers including Black-and-White, Black-throated Blue, Tennessee and Cape May.  Barred Owls called from either side of the parkway.  We began to make our way up the state road towards Mount Mitchell.  A Philadelphia Vireo appeared and perched in some cherry saplings allowing our group to get nice looks and photos.  Many other warblers, mostly Tennessee and Bay-breasted passed over the road.

Common Yellowthroat
by Alan Lenk

As we began to make our way back towards our cars a rush of activity and calling was heard above our heads in the tall Spruce trees dotting the ridge. As we turned our heads to the sky we saw the reason for the sudden cacophony, an adult Peregrine Falcon perched atop a spruce.  It immediately soared over our heads and disappeared over the ridge.  The songbirds quieted back down and returned to busily foraging for food.

About midmorning we drove a few miles down the Parkway to Balsam Gap.  Many birds were still passing through, especially Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Swainson’s Thrush, Bay-breasted Warblers, and Tennessee Warblers. Red Crossbills and Pine Siskins called as they passed overhead, occasionally landing nearby in the top of a Buckeye. 

Red Crossbill
by Alan Lenk

Around noon we spread out our picnic lunch in the shade.  As we were all eating, a pair of Red Crossbills landed on a snag above us and then proceeded to drop down to eye level and forage just 5 feet away from our picnic!  They hung around for about 5 minutes giving all of us ample time to observe them and take photos.  It was a spectacular way to end a great morning of fall birding in the Appalachians.