Birding and nature photography in Brazil

Brazil is a top tourist destination. The world’s most biodiverse country has more than 1,900 species of birds, a wide variety of environments, people world-famous for goodwill and sympathy, great cuisine, and those who enjoy alcoholic beverages soon fall in love with the caipirinha, a good way to close a day full of wonderful sightings.

The Pantanal, the Atlantic Forest and the Amazon are the most sought after biomes. At least for the first trips it is difficult not to be seduced by the idea of ​​seeing macaws, parrots, dozens of tanagers and hummingbirds. Even outside the Amazon biome, which houses more than 1,300 bird species, a good birdwatching agency runs an itinerary between Atlantic Forest and Pantanal, and in less than 15 days you can see or hear 400 species. The other Brazilian environments, Pampa, Cerrado and Caatinga also host diverse endemisms and unique landscapes.

A famous agency is guarantee of a trip with hundreds of lifers and few or maybe no logistical problems. But many birdwatchers do not like or can not travel with big agencies.

My name is Claudia Komesu, I’m a Brazilian birdwatcher, retired publisher and Virtude’s editor. Even though it is only in Portuguese many foreigners have accessed Virtude-ag and some have written to me requesting information. This page was created to share frequently asked questions and indications of places, guides and lodges.

I was a keen birdwatcher from 2009 to 2010. I still made birding trips in the following years, including Amazon, Tocantins, Pantanal but they were sparces. Today I consider myself more a naturalist than a birdwatcher, I don’t even chase lifers anymore. I apologize for this feature, if I had followed the traditional path I would have more information to share. I also apologize for my English, it does not represent the guides listed here who are used to deal with foreigners. Please, feel free to send me corrections, suggestions or questions, I’ll do my best to help. Just keep in mind that sometimes I can be offline (photographing nature, you can bet) claudia.komesu@gmail.com. Besides send an e-mail,  you can use Facebook.

Finding help on Facebook

If you need further information about guides or destination use Facebook

You know Brazilians use Facebook intensely. The guides listed in this page are the people who responded to my posting in one of the groups. A while ago, I received an email from an Italian biologist who needed help identifying photos of Blonde Capuchin (Sapajus flavius) – he may have seen a photo I posted on Inaturalist.org, which is connected to the GBIF. I asked my colleagues for help, and soon he had the contact of the Brazilian biologists who could help him.

There are several groups related to birds and nature in general, I recommend the https://www.facebook.com/groups/queropassarinhar/. “Quero passarinhar” means “I want to go birding”. You have to ask permission to enter the group. Silvia Linhares is the main admin (I’m admin too because I had the idea to create the group, but Silvia is the one who really manages the group. I’m an introvert and use Facebook very rarely.) Silvia usually takes a look at the Facebook page of the person who’s asking to enter the group, to see if the person seems to be a birdwatcher. Brazilian birdwatchers will always have posts with nature photos, but I know a foreign birdwatcher maybe not, or maybe he will have nothing in his page. If you want to enter the group, send a message to me claudia.komesu@gmail.com telling you just asked permission, and I’ll approve you.  You can make questions in the group even in English, probably someone will answer.

 

Brazilian local agencies and freelance birding guides

The guides in green with an * I have already hired and recommend, or some close friend of mine told me they were good guides.

What to expect from the recommended guides

– They are ethical, competent, dedicated, punctual, gentle and totally reliable people.

– They love nature and practice an ethical birdwatching. They use playback in moderation, interrupt if the bird shows signs of stress or if the guide thinks it has played too long. It can’t be more than some minutes.

– They do not disturb nests, and they tell the client to keep the distance required to not disturbing the bird’s activities. If the guide discover the nest, he tries to manage the amount of visits. Anxiety for a good photo can not stay above the well-being of birds.

– The guide may place a branch near the playback for the bird to land, but it will not take leaves and branches from a location that appears to be a usual bird hideout.

– These guides have very accurate vision and hearing. They can see the birds where a less trained person only sees leaves, and they hear the bird’s vocalization, sometimes just a peep, recognize the species, and play the playback trying to attract the bird.

– The guides I recommend never got lost. They know well the places they set out to guide. The guide does not need to personally know all the sites, for example, an Atlantic Forest guide can guide you anywhere in Atlantic Forest. But ideally he should know the places in person and let you know if he has not gone in person or gone long ago.

– Knowing the locations in person or having detailed and recent information from colleagues is important to avoid places where there is a high risk of accidents (bad maintenance trails, for example) or even a place where people know there is a risk of assault.

– The guides I recommend are honest about the odds of you seeing the species, they will not feed false expectations or omit any negative aspects of the tour, such as poor infrastructure issues, long journeys or difficult trails.

– They always have spare batteries or even spare speakers, if required, spare cables for the playback devices.

– They try to reconcile diverse interests. They are able to make immediate adaptations in the script to fulfill the clients’ wishes.

– The great majority of Brazilian birdwatchers love to photograph birds, but the guides I recommend will only photograph if you allow, only in situations where you are already focused on the bird, and without disturbing you in any way. Some guides even don’t carry their camera. The guides I trust, I prefer that they carry the camera because they never disturb me, I know that everyone likes to photograph, and that is good for their collection.

– If you are having difficulty adjusting your camera, ask your guide. If it’s something he knows, he’ll gladly help you.

– In one of the walks I told the guide that I liked to photograph insects and flowers, and he started to pay attention to the environment and pointed me when he saw something interesting.

– The guide has the posture of a service provider, he stays the whole tour focused on you, paying attention to you and trying to make your trip very pleasant and memorable. It may seem obvious, but I have already hired guides who did not have this posture, including a guide that stopped guiding to have long conversations on mobile about something that was not a urgency, guides that carried the camera without asking if they could do it and began to photograph, sometimes blocking our gaps to photograph, and a guide that did not try to make the tour a enjoyable time, as if we should feel grateful to have the companion of such an incredible guide like him.

– The guides I recommend are not racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic, do not preach any kind of intolerance or aggression.

– These guides charge fair prices. They can give discounts in some cases (sometimes I get discounts because I help to promote their work) but they will never try to charge you more just because you seem to have more money. I learned of a guide that charges more expensive from foreigners, but he told me it’s because he speaks English and helps with the logistics. It’s no problem for me as long as he makes that clear in the proposal.

– The guides I recommend are totally reliable people in all aspects even if you are a woman traveling alone. Most or maybe all are married or have a girlfriend, and treat all clients with respect.

– You can send photos or record sounds made during the tour, which you could not identify, and the guide will do everything possible to identify to you, even if it has been weeks or months of the tour.

– Compared to the guides of the big agencies, maybe some of them are less talkative, know less anecdotes or historical and cultural cases, especially if the guide doesn’t speak English, or just knows basic English. People are afraid to speak wrong, or maybe they do not even know how to speak. But if you want to talk, show that you do not care about the errors, communicate by gestures. You can be sure the guide has good will and will be glad to talk to you.

*Adrian Rupp:  Amazon, Alantic Forest, Cerrado, Pampa, Pantanal. Except Caatinga. He speaks English and German and has already guided birdwatchers from German, United States, England, Finland, Switzerland, Argentina. He takes care of all logistics and pick up you at the airport or other location. He can be the driver of a rented car or, if the group has more than 3 people, he hires a tourist transport. At first sight you can think Adrian is a German stereotype, but that’s not true. He’s very kind and funny, he just needs to know you are the kind that enjoy jokes. He is Brazilian, but you can expect German dedication and competence. http://adrianrupp.com/, birding@adrianrupp.com, https://www.facebook.com/adrian.rupp Some trip reports: Petar 2013, by Claudia Komesu, / Peru – Manu 2013, by Claudia Komesu

– Alessandro Abdala: Serra da Canastra. I haven’t hired Alessandro yet, but we talk online sometimes. Alessandro is a very kind and educated person. He is a guide, a professional photographer and a designer. He’s the guy who created Virtude logo — for free, just because he liked the project and wanted to help. He helped me too with a small magazine about birdwatching in Brazil. He lives in Sacramento, where there’s one of the gates to Serra da Canastra NP, and he is one of the few birdwatchers that photographs not only to record the species, but in search of an artistic expression. Alessandro speaks basic English and has already guided foreigners birders. His presentation: “I am a guide accredited by ICMBIO to guide in the Serra da Canastra National Park, where I have been working for more than 10 years as a birdwatching guide. Due to my partnership with ICMBio I can enter the park at special times (entrance at 5am and departure at 9pm) and this makes a big difference in the quality / quantity of sightings. Most of the foreigners I get come from the agency Maritaca Expeditions, from Fred Crema. In this case my relationship is with the agency, which takes care of all logistics, (lodging, transport, insurance, etc). But some direct contact always appears, in this case I indicate the hostels and I offer to make reservations. I can offer my vehicles (Toyota Bandeirante and Suzuki Jimny) for the ride, charging for the km rolled. I can use my car to pick you up at the airport, Uberaba is the nearest city (80km) but we also have Uberlândia and Ribeirao Preto (both 160km from Sacramento). Some prefer to come by plane to Uberlândia, where they rent a 4×4, and I can be the driver when they arrive in Sacramento. Undoubtedly the species most sought after by foreign birders (and Brazilians as well) is the Brazilian Merganser – during the good season, (June and July) we managed to show it with some ease, beyond that time it is a lottery. The other typical birds of the region, especially the birds of prairies (Cock-tailed Tyrant, Campo Miner, Black-masked Finch, Sedge Wren), these we almost always manage to show, being from October to January the best season. I have no fluency in English but I understand the language reasonably well and I have not had any major difficulties in communication. Just speak slowly, and we can understand each other using  illustrated guides, lists, photos”.

*André Grassi: Amazon, Atlantic Forest, Caatinga, Cerrado. I haven’t hired André yet, but a dear friend, Rosemarí Julio, told me he’s a great guide. Rosemarí is a very experienced birdwatcher (with more than 1.000 brazilian especies photographed), so André received the *. André offers itineraries to several locations on Tocantins (Cerrado and Amazon biome), Piauí (Caatinga), Bahia (including Chapada Diamantina, Canudos), Monte Roraima (Brazil) and Monte Roraima (Venezuela, La Escaleira). His packages are all inclusive. The proposal is sent with a detailed spreadsheet of expenses. He speaks Spanish and basic English, and has already guide foreigners, including a top twitcher. http://www.ecobirdingbrazil.com.

*Ciro Albano and Caio Brito: Amazon, Atlantic Forest, Cerrado and Caatinga. Ciro and Caio are famous in Brazil, and they frequently guide foreigners. I haven’t made a tour with them, but all my friends that hired Ciro told me it’s an amazing tour, totally recommended. http://nebrazilbirding.com/. Some trip reports: Ceará and Bahia 2014, by Silvia Linhares, / Serra Bonita, Veracel – Espírito Santo 2014, by Silvia Linhares, / Chapada Diamantina 2015, by Silvia Linhares, / Quixada, Canudos 2015, by Silvia Linhares

– Demis Bucci: several itineraries to Atlantic Forest in São Paulo state. http://passarinhandocomdemisbucci.blogspot.com.br/

– Eduardo Vieira: Maceió – AL (Caatinga) – speaks Spanish too. https://www.facebook.com/eduardojcvieira?fref=gc&dti=209849355857364

*Fábio Barata: Peruíbe (coastal Atlantic Forest) and surroundings. Fabio is a biologist and environmental activist. Thanks to his work, many residents of the neighborhood now maintain bird feeders, and instead of killing snakes that enter the houses, people now call Fabio, he will rescue and loose them in safe places. I hired Fabio in September 2017, and he showed me the Red-tailed Parrot, and I also got my best photos of Long-billed Gnatwren, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and Unicolored Antwren. In addition to guide he also owns a small hostel, a simple but well functional place with a great location. Fabio is passionate about nature, and is dedicated to defending the nature of Guaraú, a region that is threatened by major infrastructure works that would cause pollution and destruction. . http://mochileiroshostel.com.br/

– Fernando Farias: South (Joinville, Urupema, Florianópolis, Laguna and Lagoa do Peixe). He leaves in Florianópolis, speaks English and Spanish, has already guided birdwatchers from other countries, can help with logistics and pick up you at the airport. fernando-farias@hotmail.com +55 48 9-9937-7714 http://virtude-ag.com/birding-tours-south-brazil-urupema-joinville-lagoa-peixe-np-set17-fernando-farias/

– Gabriel Leite: Amazon –  Manaus, Presidente Figueiredo, Novo Airão (Anavilhanas), Parque Nacional da Amazônia (Rio Tapajós), Carajas, Roraima (Boa Vista e Viruá). He leaves in Manaus, speaks English, can help with logistics and drive a rented car. He’s accustomed to guide foreigners and know several places in Amazon. Gabriel is an ornithologist, he is finishing his doctorate and decided that instead of pursuing academic career he will devote more to guide. Thanks to the Facebook post, we started talking, I liked him, and booked a trip to Manaus in November. By mid-November I can tell you how it was. gabrielzoobio@hotmail.com, Whats +55 92 981238353

*Gustavo Pinto: Atlantic Forest of São Paulo and Minas Gerais, Serra da Canastra, Pantanal. Gustavo, his family and friends make an amazing job to protect the Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) of Americana – SP, which includes fighting fire at the owl nest sites. He got the American city hall to donate a lot for the owls, and many people learned with them how to admire and help protecting the owls. I haven’t hired him to a serious tour yet (just few hours of slowbirdwatching), but I’ve heard people get very satisfied with him. He is cheerful and really passionate about nature. http://www.gusttavopinto.com/roteiros/ /Slowbirdwatching in Amricana – SP 2017, by Claudia Komesu / Tanquã and Short-eared Owl, by Gustavo Pinto

– Igor Camacho: Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, São Paulo www.caninde.eco.br. I haven’t hired him yet, but he is a Facebook friend, and I know he is a guy who seeks an aesthetic identity for his photographs, is engaged on nature conservancy and is sensitive to issues of gender equality. Canindé Birdwatching’s motto is “more than birds”. They offer tours that integrate search for endemics species with the local culture and the naturalist historical, current and critical view. http://virtude-ag.com/birding-tours-caninde-birdwatching-sao-paulo-bahia-rio-de-janeiro-set17-igor-camacho/

– Marcelo Lisita Junqueira: Chapada dos Veadeiros (Cerrado)  http://birdingoias.wixsite.com/birdwatching

– René Santos: Atlantic Forest, Amazon, Pantanal. “I’m a biologist, ornithologist and birding guide as CalypturaExpeditions. My main Tour is at SE Atlantic Rain Forest, Salto Morato Natural Reserve, Intervales State Park, Ubatuba, Paraty and Itatiaia National Park, etc… But I also guide in Pantanal, Chapada dos Guimarães and Cristalino Jungle Lodge. Calyptura Expeditions main goal is to unite birding and conservation. Once areas visited by birders become valued and therefore protected. The most rare birds are the ones in most need of attention but the common ones must stay common”. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-2bXy0Z8RJRNfGsMRXdF9w http://www.calyptura.com.br/

*Thiago Carneiro: Atlantic Forest – Campos do Jordão – SP. Thiago lives in Campos do Jordão and does not speak English (unless he’s had one beer, that’s what I’ve heard), but it’s definitely my main indication for Campos. He knows the city and the surroundings well, is very kind and serene. As well as a guide to show birds or show beautiful landscapes, he also does carpentry work, has worked as an Outward Bounds monitor, is a vegetarian and a dedicated yoga practitioner. Campos do Jordão is the city where I go out to photograph nature more frequently. For me Thiago is more than a guide, he is a friend. Even without speaking English, he has been guiding various groups of foreigners (several of them have heard of Thiago through Virtude), and I know that it is common for these foreigners to recommend Thiago to their friends. http://www.wikiaves.com.br/perfil_carneiro WhatsApp+55 12 9 9773-2654

– Vilma de Oliveira: Atlantic Forest – Ilhabela – SP.  She is a environmental monitor accredited to Parque Estadual de Ilhabela and Sectur (Tourism Secretary), and can enter our stay at the Park in extended times beyond the common visitation. https://www.facebook.com/birdwatching.ilhabela?ref=tn_tnmn +55 12 99772-8710 / +55 11 97141-3538 http://www.wikiaves.com.br/perfil_VILMADEOLIVEIRA

 

People that are not birding guides, but can take you to some cool places

*Raul Porto Sericchio: São Paulo city, Represa de Guarapiranga, where you can birdwatching by kayak. Raul is not a birding guide, he’s the guy that will rent you the kayaks and if he’s not too busy, he’ll do the tour with you. He’s very kind, speaks basic English and is studying Italian. The Represa de Guarapiranga is a pleasant place, it was a nice experience to photography by a kayak. Many egrets, cormorants, some ducks and even capibaras. In one of my tours, I saw hundreds of cormorants and egrets, and could paddle close to them. serricchioagronomo@gmail.com

– Ronaldo Oliveira Rios: Viradouro and Olimpia – SP (4h30 drive from São Paulo), Cerrado. Ronaldo lives in Viradouro. He’s not a guide, but  can show you places with good chances of spotting some uncommon birds like Cinereous-breasted Spinetail, Orange-backed Troupial, Black-faced Tanager. Ronaldo told me he got interest in my Facebook post (I asked the guides to email me) because he would like to practice speaking English and French. So, if you are near Viradouro or Olímpia, Ronaldo can be a good birding pal. On weekends he can even pick up you at Ribeirão Preto airport. You can see some of his beautiful pictures here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ronaldorios/ 11-95106-2350, Fb.com/EiruKanh.

 

Atlantic Forest

Even though only 7% of its original coverage remains, Atlantic Forest is still home for more than one thousand species of birds, 20,000 plant species, 40 percent of which are endemic, a thousand other species of mammals, amphibians, fish and reptiles. Eight thousand species of plants and 470 species of vertebrates exist only in Atlantic Forest.

The Amazon also boasts impressive numbers, but there are some differences.

Advantages of Atlantic Forest

  • In Atlantic Forest, logistics, infrastructure and prices are better. Southeast Atlantic Forest is around São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, some of the most developed areas of the country.
  • The classic view of Atlantic Forest is a very hot and humid, but the Atlantic Forest in cities like Urupema – SC or Campos do Jordão – SP have mild temperatures and less dense vegetation. Campos do Jordão even recalls a European city in some pieces. It is not the same list of species, some you can only see in the coastal Atlantic Forest of Bahia, like the wonderful Banded Cotinga (Cotinga maculata), but in Campos do Jordão you can see Vinaceous-breasted Parrot (Amazona vinacea ), Green-crowned Plovercrest (Stephanoxis lalandi), Black-capped Piprites (Piprites pileata) and maybe the Black-and-gold Cotinga (Lipaugus ater).
  • Those arriving at São Paulo can easily drive to cities such as Intervales, Ubatuba, Campos do Jordão, Tapiraí, Peruíbe, Itatiaia, Cubatão (where you can see Scarlet Ibs – Eudocimus ruber). The cities are a 2h to 3h drive from São Paulo.
  • If you like snorkeling the beaches of the Northeast are the most famous, but if you are in the State of São Paulo, Ilhabela, Ubatuba, São Sebastião, Maresias offer some fun, especially Ilhabela and the Ilha das Couves in Ubatuba.
  • Brazilian Northeast is a region that requires more logistics, and it is not so easy to do a self-drive tour. But it is the Caatinga region, a unique biome, and the fragments of Atlantic Forest that remain harbor several endemism and species that do not exist in other regions of Brazil.

Atlantic Forest – best times to visit

From May to September is the best season to birdwatching. The Summer (Nov-Jan) is rainy and hot, but is the best season to macro photography and to snorkeling.

June and July is the best season to see and picture many tanagers and hummingbirds at the places that keep feeders, like Hotel Ipê – Itatiaia – RJ, Pousada da Fazenda – Monte Alegre do Sul – MG, Sítio Espinheiro Negro – SP, and there’s the famous Sítio Folha Seca in Ubatuba – SP, which it’s not a lodge, it’s the home of Jonas d´Abronzo. He kindly receives visitors, you can email him: j.dabronzo@uol.com.br.

From March to July is the best season to see many Red-spectacled Parrot and Vinaceous-breasted Parrot in Urupema – SC and surroundings. Vinaceous-breasted Parrot can be seen anytime in Campos do Jordão – SP, and Red-tailed Parrot can be seen anytime in Itanhaém – SP (but not in great number like in Urupema).

Atlantic Forest – go where

It’s highly recommended to hire a guide. You can go by yourself, but in Atlantic Forest a guide makes a big difference in the amount of birds you’ll see, and if you like to picture, the playback usually brings the bird closer.

Famous destinations:

São Paulo

Campos do Jordão (the main guide is Thiago Carneiro), Cubatão (to see Scarlet Ibis – you can hire the services of Náutica da Ilha), Ilhabela (Octavio Salles is a professional photographer and guide, and lives in Ilhabela), Iporanga, Parque Estadual de Intervales, Peruíbe, Tapiraí (Trilha dos Tucanos), Ubatuba – these places are 2h-3h by car from São Paulo city.

Tanquã is like a small Pantanal, where you can see many herons, Jabiru, Rosy-billed Pochard, Roseate Spoonbill, Purple Gallinule and many others. The Tanquã is a small fishing village and the birdwatchers helped prevent the construction of a dam that would totally destroy the site. It is less than 3 hours from São Paulo, Gustavo Pinto can guide you there, or you can do the tour alone, just hire a boatman in advance. The most recommended is Ivanildo (+55 19 9 9880-5882), but he does not speak English.http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S23806431, http://taxeus.com.br/lista/4641 http://virtude-ag.com/pa-tanqua-paraiso-jan14-claudia-komesu/

Rio de Janeiro

Parque Nacional de Itatiaia, Parque Nacional da Serra dos Órgãos, Parque Estadual da Costa do Sol, Paraty, Angra dos Reis, Cachoeiras da Macacu (REGUA).

Guides: Igor Camachoyou can find very detailed information here: http://caninde.eco.br/

Paraná, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul

Urupema and nearby (Red-spectacled Parrot – March – July http://adrianrupp.com/planalto-serrano/, http://virtude-ag.com/birding-tours-south-brazil-urupema-joinville-lagoa-peixe-np-set17-fernando-farias/), Morretes, Guaraqueçaba (Reserva Natural Salto Morato http://adrianrupp.com/salto-morato-reserve-parana-brazil/).

Guides
Adrian Rupp http://adrianrupp.com/birdwatching-in-brazil/
Fernando Farias fernando-farias@hotmail.com +55 48 9-9937-7714 http://virtude-ag.com/birding-tours-south-brazil-urupema-joinville-lagoa-peixe-np-set17-fernando-farias/

Bahia

Porto Seguro, Itacaré, Boa Nova

http://caninde.eco.br/birding-tours/tour-cabrucas/

http://nebrazilbirding.com/category/suggested-itineraries/

What to expect from a tour in Atlantic Forest

In places with feeders, you will always have fun and beautiful easy photos. If you are lucky enough to run into a tree with flowers or fruit that attract the animals (and if the tree is not too tall), you will also get great photos. At dawn it is always a festival of birds singing, you will hear dozens.

But to see the birds up close or photograph in the Atlantic Forest is not easy. In places like Campos do Jordão there is more light, in the Brazilian Northeast as well. But in Intervales, Ubatuba you can expect difficult photography situations, with the animals in the canopy, entangled in the dark. It’s not as difficult as in the Amazon, but not easy anyway. It is also possible to have long periods of silence, to spend more than two hours without hearing any birds, without seeing anything (except insects or flowers).

People often talk about the tours with excitement, because the good sightings make you forget all the moments without action. And there are always a lot of great times, especially if you have an experienced guide, it’s exciting to see that special bird get closer and closer and you get a beautiful picture. But I think if we go with a more conservative expectation, we take better advantage of the tour.

 

Pantanal

Pantanal richness is sometimes compared to that of the African plains. I have been in South Africa six times (most often in Kruger and twice in Kgalagadi) and can agree with that phrase. Different species, but there are few places in the world with so much wildlife.

We do not have large mammals, but there is a festival of birds, you will always see many caimans, capybaras, coatis and cotias, kingfishers, spoonbills, storks, raptors, dozens of herons, probably deer, howler and capuchin monkeys, giant otters, with some luck giant anteaters, armadillos, ocelots, tapirs. And if you go to Porto Jofre (Northern Pantanal), you will surely see jaguars. At the right time, from inside a boat, you can even see more than 10 in a single day. I know it seems crazy, but for many years people stopped hunting jaguars and started feeding them. They are still wild, but this artificial source of food explains the numbers.

Brazilian Pantanal is divided into two main areas: Northern Pantanal and Southern Pantanal.

Northern Pantanal

Northern Pantanal is the Transpantaneira area, and that’s easy to get there. Transpantaneira is a large dirt road that begins in Poconé and ends at Porto Jofre. Cuiabá is 2h30 by plane from São Paulo, there are several flight schedules. In Cuiabá you get a car, drive 1h30 and arrive in Poconé. Another 20 minutes you arrive at the beginning of Transpantaneira. Porto Jofre, the end of the road, is a 4h drive. It’s an easy trip, there are street and road signs. Even if you get lost in Cuiabá or in Poconé, anyone in the street can point you the right direction. In Transpantaneira it’s impossible to get lost. Along the road there are several lodges, I’ll list the lodges I stayed.

Southern Pantanal

I’ve only been in Southern Pantanal once, in 2008, at Pousada Mangabal. It’s a more expensive and more difficult trip, because in the Southern area you usually stay in just one place, a farm that has a tourist structure. The distances are huge and the roads are generally bad or even impassable in the rainy season. We traveled in July, the terrestrial transfer would be an 8-hour trip, or we could hire an aero-taxi, which looks smaller than a Beetle. We flew.

I do not know how Mangabal is today, but in 2008 we liked it very much. We could see giant-anteaters very close up, Red-and-green Macaw, Blue-and-yellow Macaw, Hyacinth Macaw, wild boar, deers, there was a large dormitory tree of Great Egret right next to the lodge. Near the lodge  we also photographed a pair of Cream-backed Woodpecker (Campephilus leucopogon) and a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum). The food was very good, the inn was empty and the guia mateiro (a local guide that is not a birding guide, but know the place), Jura, was at our disposal all day. We drove along the farm tracks, crossed paths with a different vegetation of palm trees where we saw up close Great Rufous Woodcreeper (Xiphocolaptes major). The memory is of a more exclusive ride amid a vegetation rich in fauna.

It’s not in Brazil, but if you like Pantanal you should travel to Esteros del Iberá, in Argentina. It’s like a Pantanal, but I think it’s even better to see birds. In October-November the sporophilas are there, and the amazing Strange-tailed Tyrant (Alectrurus risora). In Ibera you can see Yellow Cardinal (Gubernatrix cristata), it shows up at feeders. There’s a direct flight from Campinas – SP (100km from São Paulo) to Uruguaiana – RS , but not daily, and you have to buy the tickets with great advance. In 2017 we considered traveling back there, but 3 months before the date, the tickets price was already over US$ 600 / person.  Alejandro Olmos can guide you there. http://virtude-ag.com/vg-uruguai-e-argentina-16-21nov2012-por-claudia-komesu/

Pantanal – best time to visit

To birdwatching July-September is better.

The wet season is October-March. You can still see many fauna, but it’s hotter and more difficult to drive. A local guide of Piuval Lodge told of us that in Transpantaneira, he thinks Octber and November should be avoided, that’s when mosquitoes can eat you alive. But he told us January is already good to see mammals. We where there in late August 2017 and could not see giant-anteaters or tapirs. He told us that it was because the year was so dry that the mammals stayed just around the few places where there was still water, and they were not walking too much.

To people who like to photograph landscape, April-May is the best season.

What to expect from a tour in Pantanal

I have been in Southern Pantanal in 2008, in Northern Pantanal in 2013, and came back to Northern Pantanal in 2017. As I told, in Aquidauana, at Pousada Mangabal with a guia mateiro at our disposal all day to run around the farm, meetings with giant anteater very closely, the dormitory tree next to the lodge, the sensation was of a small private paradise.

In 2013 we went to Transpantaneira with a birding guide, Geiser Trivelato. He had already been to the Pantanal several times and knew the most likely places to show us unusual birds such as the Green-and-rufous Kingfisher and the American Pygmy Kingfisher (in this trip we saw the five Kingfisher species that exist in Brazil). We saw Boat-billed Heron, Nanday Parakeet, Great Potoo, White-tailed Goldenthroat and many others. It was not in our original itinerary, but we decided traveling to Porto Jofre, it was the first time that Geiser made this scheme (which he then repeated to the other clients). We were at Fazenda Santa Tereza Hotel, in Pixaim – Carvoalzinho, it is 2h30 from Porto Jofre. We headed to Porto Jofre, but stopping on the way to birdwatching. We arrived late, rented a boat, and even then there was a jaguar nearby to see. He was asleep when we arrived, several boats around waiting. We waited 40 minutes, I wondered if it was worth it because he was in an ugly setting. But then he raised his head and I regretted all my negative thoughts, it’s really a wonderful beast (and that’s the opinion of a person who has already seen many lions and leopards in South Africa).

If you want wonderful photos of jaguars, book 3 days in Porto Jofre, rowing by boat all day, and you will surely get many. Geiser said that on recent trips, they even saw the jaguars hunting caimans and capybaras.

In August of 2017 my husband and I unexpectedly decided to go back to Transpantaneira. We went on a Friday and came back on a Tuesday. On the trip with Geiser in July 2013, we had great sightings at the beginning of Transpantaneira, in the vicinity of the Portal. One of the coolest scenes I’ve ever seen: a Cocoon Heron had just caught a big fish, and was suddenly attacked by a Black-collared Hawk. But she did not fly away! When the hawk attacked, she simply dipped her head in the water to hide the fish, and he could not get out of it. He tried five times, until she managed to swallow the fish, and the hawk left, frustrated. We were not very close, and it was already the end of the day, so I did not get such good pictures, but the whole scene impressed us so much that the idea was that if we went back to that region, we would see several scenes like that.

But that’s not what happened. In 2013 our trip was in the middle of July. In 2017 it was at the end of August. At the end of August there was much less water, less birds fishing. We still saw a few bands of herons, with some storks, Jabirus and some Roseate Spoonbill. You could see them if you got on the road before 7:30. After that time, the movement of the cars increases and the bands disperse.

When we planned the trip in 2017, we expected to spend four days in the Portal region, just trying to photograph common birds fishing and fighting. We would not chase unusual species. It was still a good trip (with a meet with a jaguar inside Piuval, without having to go to Porto Jofre), but we did not have the moments of action that we hoped for.

At Piuval we did a safari ride in search of tapir and giant anteater sightings, but we could not see any. One morning, inside Piuval, we found a group of Germans that had just seen an anteater, not the giant, (in Portuguese it is tamanduá-mirim). But we arrived late, if we had arrived 15 minutes before we could have seen it too.

The Pantanal is a unique region with an incredible diversity of wildlife. But you should go knowing there are common animals you’ll see all day, and the most unusual ones depend on luck. And if you have a specific list of birds, it will be difficult to find them if you do not have a good guide.

Northern Pantanal: Transpantaneira - road conditions – self-driving

Any car rental company can rent a car with GPS. But what we usually do, when we travel to other country, is buying a SIM card and use Waze, Google Maps (and all the other advantages of 3G or 4G).

It’s pretty easy to drive from Cuiabá airport to Transpantaneira. You don’t even need the GPS, there are street signs and road signs indicating to Poconé. It’s just a 1h30 drive, but arriving in Poconé fill the tank with gas (there are no gas stations in Transpantaneira. Sometimes Porto Jofre hotel has some gas, but it’s really overpriced), stop at some market to buy water and some snacks, and in 20 minutes you’ll be arriving at Transpantaneira. It’s easy too, there are street signs.

It’s easy and it’s unlikely to get lost, but I would buy a SIM card anyway, it’s always a feeling of more safety.

You’ll have the 3G until Poconé. Arriving in Transpantaneira you will not have 3G or cellular sign anymore, but you will not need it to get directions. It’s impossible to get lost in Transpantaneira, it’s only one large road, you only need to have an idea of your lodge location. All lodges have signs on the main road, but it’s good to know if it’s around km 10, or km 30.

Piuval had Wi-Fi. It was instable, but good enough to receive and send emails and messages.

In the dry season there is an unbearable dust. The cars travel at high speed and lift a lot of dust. If you stay near the bridges it’s better because they are forced to slow down, but if you plan to birdwatching in the middle of the road you should carry some form of camera protection, like a rain coat.

The road was flat, with no holes, at least until 70 km. You must have heard of the numerous bridges on the road. They were made of wood and are being exchanged for concrete. We have seen some of the new ones: safer, but also narrower. The wood bridges were wider, and it was possible to look at the fauna above the bridge without disturbing the cars. In these new ones is more difficult.

I also know that from km 70 is when the road gets very bad in the rainy season, they say that when the rains start you should only drive after that stretch with a 4×4. But in the dry season you don’t need a 4×4. In 2017 we rented a Duster.

Pantanal - Where to stay and more information about Porto Jofre

Transpantaneira lodges I stayed and recommend

I have not stayed in these lodges but they are in Porto Jofre or closer

Guides

http://adrianrupp.com/
http://www.gusttavopinto.com/roteiros/

In 2013 my guide was Geiser Trivelato, he’s excelente, but he doesn’t speak English http://geisertrivelato.webs.com/. He told me he can guide foreigners if there’s someone in the group that can be the translator.

 

Amazon

This is the biome that lacks presentations. I only did one trip to the Brazilian Amazon (Parauapebas), and another one to the Peruvian Amazon, Manu National Park, so I do not have many personal experiences to tell, but I have some general information (and the experience of these two trips).

Amazon – best time to visit

July-October is the better season to birdwatching. They are the months with smaller volume of rain, and with temperature a little less hot. But remember that less mains does not mean no rain, in rainforest it can rain anytime.

Amazon – go where

The Amazon is 49% of the Brazil’s territory. It corresponds to 4 million square kilometers, but has only 12% of the Brazilian population. It is a region with little infrastructure. The distances are huge, sometimes the roads are impassable.

I discovered the site of a well-known guide in Brazil, Bradley Davis, and I think his section on the Amazon is great, with far better explanations than I could write: http://www.birdingmatogrosso.com/amazon

Any of the listed guides that operates in the Amazon can offer you a personalized script.

If you still want to go alone, I found this detailed report, in English, of a birdwatcher that went alone to Presidente Figueiredo: http://birdingbrazil.blogspot.com.br/2012/02/presidente-figueiredo-amazonas-february.html

Presidente Figueiredo and Manaus are famous destinations with infrastructure. Manaus has an international airport, and Presidente Figueiredo is 100km away.

My fellow Brazilian birdwatchers have made trips to the States of Acre, Roraima and Tocantis and seen many unusual birds.

Amazon guides

 

Cerrado

Cerrado is the Brazilian Savanah, and travelling Tocantins tastes adventure. There are few hotels and restaurants, usually very modest, the distances are huge, it’s very hot (you can have days of 45 C / 113F). But the birds you see are so special that you feel it’s worth it.

Cerrado is the largest South American savanna region. “The second largest of Brazil’s major habitat types, after the Amazonian rainforest, the Cerrado accounts for a full 21 percent of the country’s land area (extending marginally into Paraguay and Bolivia).

(…) vast amounts of research have proved that the Cerrado is one of the richest of all tropical savanna regions and has high levels of endemism. Characterized by enormous ranges of plant and animal biodiversity, World Wide Fund for Nature named it the biologically richest savanna in the world, with about 10,000 plant species, 150 amphibian species, 120 reptile species, 837 bird species (10 endemics), and 161 mammal species have been recorded” [Wikipedia]

Due to the great distances and difficulties of infrastructure, the Brazilians are not birdwatching intensively in Cerrado, but we should be. The transition areas between Cerrado and Amazon are especially rich in wildlife.

The Blue-eyed Ground-Dove (Columbina cyanopis) was not seen since 1940, and was rediscovered by chance in 2015 by the ornithologist Rafael Bessa, in a region of northern Minas Gerais. It is an endemic bird threatened with extinction, with a population estimated in 12 individuals. Brazilian Merganser (Mergus octosetaceus) is other Cerrado endemic bird.

The Cerrado, like the Amazon, suffers from the destruction caused by livestock and soy.

Cerrado endemic birds (in September 2017 the page is not updated with the  Blue-eyed Ground-Dove) http://en.wikiaves.com//doku.php?&id=biomas:bioma_cerrado

I’ve travelled to Tocantins in 2011. We stayed in a farm in Abreulandia, 180km from Palmas (the state capital), that unfortunately it’s not open anymore to visits. The farm was nice to birdwatching, and we visited three other cities (Caseara, Araguacema and Santa Maria das Barreiras, cities near Rio Araguaia located 2h – 3h distance from the farm). We saw Kaempfer’s Woodpecker, Agami Heron, Orinoco Goose. It was an amazing trip http://virtude-ag.com/vg-tocantins-set11-cko/.

Cerrado – go where

The city of São Roque de Minas and Sacramento are the most popular destinations to visit Serra da Canastra National Park. In the city of São Roque, with some luck you can see Brazilian Merganser.

Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, is another interesting destination to see the Cerrado. There are urban parks like Água Mineral with many common Cerrado birds.

Tocantis state is know as “State park”. Despite livestock and soy destruction, it still holds many well preserved areas. It’s hard to tell you about one special place, you describe your interests and the guide will make you a personalized itinerary.

Cerrado guides

André Grassi (http://www.ecobirdingbrazil.com.)
Ciro Albano or Caio Brito (http://nebrazilbirding.com/category/suggested-itineraries/)
Andrian Rupp (http://adrianrupp.com/) can guide you.

 

Caatinga

I do not know what’s your imaginary about Caatinga, but in my great ignorance I had many bad pictures from television shows that depicted squalid children with belly swollen with worms, oxen starving.

It is true that the Caatinga coincides with the poorest region of Brazil. It’s a region historically exploited very cruelly, and it’s still governed by politicians who have no interest in improving people’s quality of life, but keep them in misery so they can buy their vows easily, for any small favor, such as providing a water truck for the neighborhood.

There are many sad stories of the Caatinga. But in August 2016 I had the opportunity to walk a short stretch of the Caatinga, and to talk with some ornithologists from Rio Grande do Norte. I discovered that there are wonderful landscapes, scenarios with many buritis, regions with cacti of more than 3m. We did not have much luck with the birds, but they told me that in February-March, in the rainy season, the landscape changes from gray-white to festive green, and birds celebrate all the time. Pedro Vitor, an ornithologist who lives in the city of Natal, told me that when he was birdwatching in the Atlantic Forest he found it very difficult compared to the Caatinga – that in the Caatinga in the rainy season there is much more abundance of birds.

The Brazilian Northeast is a region that had its original vegetation almost totally destroyed, and the process continues. It is said that the Caatinga has been destroyed at rates higher than the Amazon. And yet, the region still shelters various endemism and unusual species. Some of the endemic and endangered species: Indigo Macaw, Araripe Manakin, Pernambuco Foliage-gleaner. The Alagoas Foliage-gleaner may actually be extinct, the last record was in 2011.

Caatinga guides and go where

I have not made a trip with Nebrazilbirding people yet, but anyone who has traveled with Ciro Albano says that it is an incredible journey, both for the script and the personality of Ciro, a very cheerful and funny person.

I do not have very detailed personal information to provide, but on the websites of Ciro Albano and André Grassi you will find detailed information on roadmaps.

Ciro Albano – http://nebrazilbirding.com/

André Grassi: http://www.ecobirdingbrazil.com.

Another guide in the Northeast very well recommended is Jefferson Bob. It seems to me that the itineraries with Ciro and André are for longer trips and in more distant places, but if you have less time, Jefferson offers simple and cheap packages to see the birds of the region of Chapada do Araripe. Take a look at these posts: http://virtude-ag.com/roteiro-chapada-do-araripe-em-3-dias-datas-flexiveis-por-jefferson-bob/, http://virtude-ag.com/eu-divulgo-chapada-do-araripe-jun14-por-jefferson-bob/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sitiopaupreto

Sítio Pau Preto Bird list: http://www.taxeus.com.br/lista/2831

I have not made a trip with Jefferson yet, but I talk to him on Facebook and I have acquaintances who have already hired him. They said that he is an excellent guide, a very kind person and besides being a guide, he can also show you cultural aspects of the region.

 

Pampa

The Pampa is a scenario of prairies. The biome occupies 63% of the Rio Grande do Sul State, but is not restricted to Brazil. It also occupies all of Uruguay, and a section of Argentina.

In Brazil, one of the most famous destinations in the Pampa is a place that is not exactly Pampa. I recently discovered that the Parque Nacional da Lagoa do Peixe, in Tavares – RS, is considered an area of ​​Coastal Ocean biome.

The Pampa has the coastal area and several lagoons and bathed, for me it is not easy to say “here is Pampa, here is Costal Ocean”, in Rio Grande do Sul they overlap.

The Pampa is not a place to see a lot of species, but it is an environment that we like a lot. I know little of the Brazilian Pampa, my main trips were to Uruguay. In Uruguay we saw ample scenarios, a lot of light, tranquility, security – our guide, Alejandro Olmos, is Uruguayan, he said that except for some regions of big cities, you can even leave your car open (something risky in Brazil).

To see the Lagoa do Peixe, the city of Tavares – RS is the most recommended. In Tavares you have the Parque da Lagoa Hotel, specialized in tourism. It is a simple but well functional place, with the difference that the owner has some Land Rovers for the rides. It is not cheap, but unfortunately in Brazil renting a 4×4 is always expensive. Do you need a 4×4? If it has not rained much, you can go with a normal car to various areas. But the rains can be somewhat unpredictable, and with the 4×4 we even made rides along the beach, something that would not be possible with ordinary cars.

Our only visit to Lagoa do Peixe was in April 2016. We took an unusual rain for the season, rain to go through the tracks with the Land Rover watching the water reach almost to the height of the glass. Of course with this scenario we saw much less birds, and we could not even get in the stretch (A place called Barra) where there would be the greatest diversity of birds. But we liked it anyway, the clouds-laden skies were beautiful, sometimes it was howling, we felt privileged to see a phenomenon of nature.

We photograph the common species of the region, such as Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot

The Pampa is also the location to see Strange-tailed Tyrant (Alectrurus risora) and Yellow Cardinal (Gubernatrix cristata). The Yellow Cardinal is also seen in Brazil in some points, but in Iberá (Argentina) we saw them easily, it was so easy that I was dismayed. I asked my guide, “This animal feed on grass seeds, eat on feeders, why is it threatened with extinction?”, The heart-cutting response was “because it sings beautiful and survives in cages.”

The Strange-tailed Tyrant is officially on the list in Brazil, but it is very difficult to see it in Brazil, I think there is only one sighting of a female in Mato Grosso. In Iberá, between September and October, it is the most likely place to see it.

Pampa - best time to visit

To see the migratory birds in Lagoa do Peixe, between late March and mid-April, or September-October are the best times. In 2016 we went at the end of April but we got the finch of the migration.

In the Pampa of Uruguay, we went in January and in November, we enjoyed both trips. My best photos of South American Painted-Snipe, South American Snipe, Lake Duck were in a park near Montevideo. In Uruguay we also love the José Ignacio beach, near Punta del Este. Wonderful scenery, empty, full of beautiful houses. And it looked great for snorkeling (I was not interested at the time), but we arrived at low tide and I have photos of a small stingray and a beautiful anemone.

Pampa guides

Pampa guides

In Tavares there is a guide that lives in the city, Flávio Ronaldo, he is well recommended: http://www.wikiaves.com.br/perfil_FLAVIORS. I think he does not think speaks English, but my colleagues tell he’s a good guide.

Alejandro Olmos: http://www.wikiaves.com.br/perfil_biophoto. He lives in Montevideo, speaks Spanish and I think he speaks English too. He’s a great guide, he knows Uruguay very well, and it was he who showed us Esteros del Iberá, the place that should not be missed by people interested in environments such as the Pantanal. We tried to return to Ibera in January 2015, but Alejandro could not guide us, we tried to go alone and we failed miserably. And in 2017 we thought about going too, but there was that problem with the flight tickets to Uruguaiana being very expensive.

Adrian Rupp http://adrianrupp.com/. Adrian was once my guide in the Mata Atlântica do Petar and in the Peruvian Amazon. I have not yet been with him for Pampa, but I recommend him as a great guide.

João Batista hoteltavares@yahoo.com.br. He owns the Hotel Parque da Lagoa. It is not an ornithological guide, but knows the region and knows where to show some of the sought-after birds. But it is not a guide to knowing the bird voices or using playback.

 

Marine and Coastal Ocean biome

Brazil officially has 3.6 million km ² of marine biome, of which only 1.6% are protected in conservation units.

Some of the best known destinations are Lagoa do Peixe, the mangroves of Cubatão and Fernando de Noronha island.

In addition to the coastal sites, some colleagues made pelagic trips in Ubatuba and Ilhabela – but I confess that I do not feel much attraction for the pelagic tours. Maybe it’s just because I have not been to one of those boats that usually throw fish baits in the sea and attract hundreds of birds, as it happens in Chile. A colleague told me about a pelagic in Chile, in … I think it was Quintero, and said that we must study Brazilian birds well before going because there are several times when there are so many birds in the sky that you have to choose which one to photograph.

I think I do not have so much interest in the marine biome, but it’s only until I see it live. For example, I thought I had no interest in seeing whales until I saw some in California. I’ve seen it from land on South Africa, but seeing from inside a boat is much more exciting.

Returning to the birds, you can see a good trip report on Fernando de Noronha here: http://virtude-ag.com/vg-fernando-de-noronha-dez13-silvia-linhares/

I already commented on the Lagoa do Peixe. And I can talk about Cubatão.

The mangroves of Cubatão are 1 hour drive from São Paulo. About 40 years ago it was a region destroyed by chemical pollution, but now the water is clean enough to attract many fishermen. On the way to the mangrove, the boat passes through several favelas, and there is much rubbish floating in the water, mostly plastic. And when you arrive in the mangrove, you will always see some bag or bottle, sometimes messing up your photo. But overall the ambience is clean and incredibly beautiful. The waters are dark, it looks like a velvet, and seeing the Scarlet Ibs is something really breathtaking, you wonder how something can be so red. The mountain scenery is also very beautiful, even with the pipelines ripping the landscape and, at some points, towers with smoke.

Besides the Scarlet Ibis you will see several herons and Roseate Spoonbill.

The Scarlet Ibis are wonderful and the area is quite rich in water birds. I just do not go there more often (my last visit was in 2012) because it’s an expensive ride for two people, the right thing is to set up a group. Aside from being expensive, we we were not satisfied with the customer service of only company that attends birdwatchers, Náutica da Ilha, and there’s a risk of assault. The mangrove path passes through favelas, and there are one or two low bridges. The boatman told us that it had already happened that the bad guys stopped the boat, threatening to shoot, and forced the people on the boat to hand over their wallets, cell phones, cameras. Putting these motives together, we stopped going to Cubatão. It’s a shame because the place is beautiful and the Scarlet Ibis are really impressive.

http://virtude-ag.com/category/tipo/destino-especie-fama/fame-scarlet-ibis/

Fishwatching – snorkeling

Fishwatching - snorkeling

I still do not have many reports because I started recently, but I’m delighted with the fishwatching (snorkeling). In 2014 I went to Praia do Forte – BA on a trip with the family and I photographed some fish and even morays. But what really piqued my interest was the change that happened to me after discovering inaturalist.org. I discovered this site in October 2016, and seeing so many photos of so many species changed my view of nature.

I always liked to photograph some flowers and insects, but I did not take them very seriously. After having seen hundreds of photos of so many life forms in the Inaturalist … maybe it was a feeling that I was wasting opportunities during the trips, that I could be photographing much more. At the end of 2016 and early 2017 I did some tours on the coast of São Paulo and did some fishwatching. Fortaleza Beach in Ubatuba and Cantão do Bora Bora in Peruíbe. They were not places with great diversity, and a diver would say they are rather bland places. But in birdwatching I like this feeling of being difficult, to pan out, the joy of sometimes finding a little treasure. And in the fishwatching too. I did snorkeling even with the water pretty blurred. And I plan to do more tours to combine birdwatching and fishwatching.

You can see photos and more information, including about underwater cameras, here:

http://virtude-ag.com/fotografia-natureza-cameras-more-baratas-do-que-celular-fev17-por-claudia-komesu/

Praia da Fortaleza – Ubatuba – SP: snorkeling e fishwatching com mar virado, abr/17, por Claudia Komesu

Passeio em São Sebastião – SP: fotografia de aves, insetos, aranhas, flores e peixes, fev/17 por Claudia Komesu e Cristian Andrei

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Birding tours – in Portuguese (+)

 

Interesting (+)

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