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October 2006 

"With the most birds of any FONT Tour, 
 in the Brazilian states of Minas Gerais & Rio Grande do Sul"
 (and that Rio Grande is just "north of the border" - with Uruguay!) 


The Maned Wolf is often seen
during the FONT tours in Minas Gerais, Brazil


Birds & Other Wildlife during the FONT Brazil Tour -  October '06

Birds in Rio Grande do Sul, in far-southern Brazil (with some photos)

Birds in Minas Gerais (with some photos)

Mammals & Other Wildlife during FONT Tours in Brazil (with some photos) 

Upcoming FONT Birding & Nature Tours in Brazil

The Plumbeous Ibis
occurs in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil 

The following narrative of the Oct '06 Brazil tour was written by Armas Hill, leader of the tour:

Our October 12-23, 2006 birding & nature tour in Brazil was the 40th FONT tour in that country (since 1991), and our second tour conducted there in 2006. Actually, it was our second tour there in two months, as we also did a Brazil tour in September 2006.
During both the September & October '06 tours, we were in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. Yes, the place is nice enough to visit twice, and the birding there is that good.
Also during the October tour, we went to the southernmost Brazilian state, Rio Grande do Sul. The southern portion of that state, where we enjoyed some tremendous birding, is very much like Uruguay and Argentina. Brazil borders both of those countries there. 
When we were in that area, it felt to us "more like" Argentina and Uruguay than Brazil. That region is so different than elsewhere in the country. It's a vast, open, and flat countryside, without many people, away from the one major city of Porto Alegre. But, there are so many birds!
And so Rio Grande do Sul has become one of our favorite places for Brazilian birding. The region is not as well known for birds as other places in the big country, but it should be. 
When one thinks of Brazil and its wildlife (including birds), it is the other places such as the Pantanal (in Mato Grosso), the Amazon Basin, and the Atlantic Forest of southeast Brazil, that first come to mind.
Our tour, the previous month in September '06, included the Pantanal in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, in addition to Minas Gerais (a state, as already noted, that was visited during both our Sep & Oct '06 tours because it's so good for some Brazilian endemic & specialty birds).
Of course, when we were in Mato Grosso do Sul in Sep '06, we saw many birds. And there were big concentrations of them at places where some water remained during the dry season. There were clusters of egrets, ibises, and storks (including Jabirus), and, generally, there were numerous birds throughout. 
However, during our October tour in Rio Grande do Sul, we actually saw MORE birds than when we were in the Pantanal the previous month, and, in fact, we probably saw the most birds that we've ever seen any FONT tour. Granted there were no Jabirus or Hyacinth Macaws, but there were many, many others, and some of them numbered in the thousands.
In the Pantanal, there were some ducks (mostly at an area we visited with irrigated rice fields), but in southern Rio Grande do Sul, there were many. There's no need for irrigation in Rio Grande do Sul, as there are numerous bodies of water, one after another, as we drove south toward the Uruguayan border. 
At one of the first ponds we encountered, there were thousands of Fulvous Whistling Ducks. In general, as we traveled, White-faced Whistling Ducks were the more common of the two whistling duck species, but both were plentiful. 
And there were also many other Ducks: 3 species of Teal (Speckled, Silver, and Ringed), Yellow-billed Pintail, Rosy-billed Pochard, and the Brazilian Duck (or Teal). The last of these is a proper name, and just a geographic adjective. 
A rarity that far south was the Comb Duck
The favorite of the ducks during the tour in Rio Grande do Sul was the Ringed Teal. The plumage of the drake is quite beautiful, and maybe nowhere can the bird be seen in greater numbers as where we were. The species has a rather restricted range in southeastern South America.
Ducks were not the other waterfowl. There were also Swans, of two species: the Black-necked and the all-white Coscoroba.
In the Pantanal, the previous month, we saw a few Southern Screamers, here and there. In southern Rio Grande do Sul in October, there were many. One time we saw as many as 200 at one place, and then a little further down the road, there was another 200. Overall, there were thousands. 
Southern Screamers
(somewhat related to waterfowl), are, if nothing else, big -- bigger than swans, and they can be noisy - hence their name.

A Southern Screamer photographed during a FONT tour in Brazil.

Also among the waterbirds, there were 3 species of Coots, all more common to the south in Argentina and Uruguay: White-winged, Red-gartered, and Red-fronted
And there were 2 species of Gallinules: the Spot-flanked and the Common (although the latter we are told to call a "Moorhen" - yet it is a Gallinule.)

Another bird in the area, that we saw surprisingly often, was the Giant Wood Rail. Although "Giant" is in its name, it's not as big as the screamer (not much is). But it is the largest of its tribe. Numerous times we saw this bird in the open, sometimes in a bit of a hurry to out of view, and  other times not.
Every bird noted so far was plentiful during our tours (except the Comb Duck). But, by far, the most abundant of the birds were the Ibises. Both White-faced and Bare-faced Ibises were continually to be seen on fields and pastures, and by puddles and ponds. Late in the day, they flew in flocks to a place that must be absolutely incredible. Strings of those Ibises flew, flock after flock, in the beautiful twilight. There were thousands upon thousands going somewhere, and wherever it was (apparently near the coast), it must be beyond belief during the night for the sheer number of birds present there.

A Southern Crested-Caracara with the twilight sky,
photographed in Brazil in 2006 during a FONT tour. 

High in that twilit sky, we saw a Short-eared Owl fly. A few times at dusk, atop roadside telephone poles, we saw Great Horned Owls (That species is said in the book to be rare there). Burrowing Owls stood by their holes, appearing more awake as the day waned. 

A Burrowing Owl in Brazil,
photographed during a FONT tour. 

And still the Screamers called. As did the Limpkins. Not quiet, they actually don't call as much as they wail. What a place to be at the end of the day, with so many birds. And there were no other people.

Into the evening, the South American Snipe continued their flight displays up high in the sky. It was similar to that of the Wilson's Snipe in North America, but the sound was notably different. The source of the sound, however, is the same. The phenomenon is called "winnowing", and the odd sound comes from air in the wings as the bird flies quickly.

Earlier in the afternoon, when the sun was higher,  shining in the west, it shone on the brilliant red wings and the otherwise pink plumage of Roseate Spoonbills.
Even though, as noted there were no Jabirus, there were many more Maguari Storks than there are in the Pantanal. And there were Wood Storks, seasonal visitors. 
The countryside was sprinkled with the Maguaris as it was with an assortment of Herons and Egrets. There were Whistling, Cocoi, Black-crowned Night, and Striated Herons. There were Great, Snowy, and Cattle Egrets, in addition to Neotropic Cormorants, and some Plumbeous Ibises
Yes, once again, let me say that there were birds - MANY of them.
Raptors were also plentiful. Probably none more so than the Snail Kite
Also to be seen were White-tailed Kite, and Savanna and Roadside Hawks. 
(Southern Crested and Chimango) were abundant. 
Oddly, however, in southern Rio Grande do Sul, there were no Vultures (other than the periodic Lesser Yellow-headed). That's very odd, particularly as to the Black Vulture, which throughout most of Brazil, is, one might say, omnipresent, or, put another way "everywhere".
The raptors that were the nicest to see were the two species of Harriers: the Long-winged and the Cinereous. Both were common, although the larger Long-winged was more so. When these raptors flew by, close to us, and usually low to the ground, it was hard NOT to watch them. The plumages of both, though quite different from each other, are yet both beautifully striking. 
One of the Cinereous Harriers, close to us, and nearly on the ground, was seen actually striking something, in the physical sense. It was a bird - a type of Tinanou, known as the Spotted Nothura. The prey, however, was a bit too heavy for the predator, causing it trouble, which was compounded by the constant harassment of noisy Southern Lapwings. We had a ring-side seat for that show.
Even though many of the birds, present in numbers, were large, not all were. 
At a reedbed, the Wren-like Rushbird was seen. 
On the ground, a Short-billed Pipit stood, until it decided to fly - straight up into the sky to do its display filled with song. In one of my books, it's said that the species has been observed, up there in the air, doing that song for as long as 55 minutes, uninterrupted. Ours may have been tired, as it soon fluttered back down to the ground. 

Throughout the region, Rufous Horneros abounded. Some telephone poles had as many as 4 or 5 hornero or "ovenbird" nests on them. Almost every telephone pole had at least one. Those nests are made of mud, with a hole, and thus they resemble an oven. 
Nests of Firewood-gatherers were also about. Those nests, made of sticks, were also occupied as it was spring-time when we were there. 
And yet other nests made of sticks, that were occupied, were those of Monk Parakeets. 
Also obvious and common were Great Kiskadees and other flycatchers. Perhaps the nicest of them to see was the White Monjita (nearly, as its name implies, all-white). The male Vermilion Flycatchers were brilliantly red.
Also referring to flycatchers, ours was a tour for tyrants. During our October '06 Brazil Tour, we saw nearly a dozen species of them. In Rio Grande do Sul, some were in the southern portion of the state, while some were more northerly. We saw the nifty Spectacled Tyrant (only in Brazil in this far-southern region), and the smart-looking White-headed Marsh Tyrant, the also-dapper Yellow-browed Tyrant, the widespread Cattle Tyrant, and two cousins, the Blue-billed and the Crested Black Tyrants. (Tyrants during the Minas Gerais portion of the tour will be mentioned later.)
There are both mockingbirds and cardinals in southern Rio Grande do Sul. Both are quite different than those in North America. 
The Mockingbird is the Chalk-browed
The Cardinal, common throughout the countryside, is the Red-crested.
But no birds were more common in Rio Grande do Sul than the blackbirds. That grouping is very well represented there, with a number of species, many of them plentiful (and one, that we saw, very rare).
The Blackbirds were: Chestnut-capped, Yellow-winged, White-browed, Scarlet-headed (a beauty), and the Saffron-cowled (the rarity).
These were in addition to 3 species of Cowbirds (Shiny, Screaming, and Bay-winged), and 2 species of Marshbirds (Yellow-rumped and Brown-and-yellow). That's 10 species of Icterids so far, in addition to the Epaulet Oriole and the Golden-winged Cacique, also seen in Rio Grande do Sul.
Never during our days in Rio Grande do Sul was there a time when there were there no birds around us. 
That Brazilian state is about the size of the US state of Colorado. About 600 bird species have been recorded in the Brazilian state, in an assortment of habitats ranging from the ocean to the forested hills of the interior. 
What has been referred to so far was in between, in the flat open country, filled with marshes and ponds. 
The 600 or so species range from the large Greater Rheas on the fields to the little Gilded Sapphire, a hummingbird in the flowers.
Oceanside, one can drive for miles on the beach, as we did in October '06, and as we have done in the past. 
We hadn't gone many miles before we had seen 7 species of terns, in addition to Black Skimmer, and gulls of a few species. The terns, and the other birds, were close to us, by our vehicle. 
The 7 species of terns that we saw on the beach were: South American (in breeding plumage), 
Common (from North America, in non-breeding plumage),  
Antarctic (in breeding plumage),  
(similar to the more-northerly Least Tern),
  (a South American population that never mixes with the birds of North America & the Caribbean), 
and the Cayenne (closely related to, and formerly conspecific with the Sandwich Tern).  
The favorite was the distinctive Snowy-crowned Tern (also called the Trudeau's Tern). It was seen in its nice breeding plumage.
An eighth tern for the day was seen a few hours later, flying about above a roadside pond. It was the Large-billed Tern, with a striking wing-pattern rather like that of a Sabine's Gull.
Referring to gulls, when we were on the beach that morning, there had been both Kelp and Brown-hooded. However, look as hard as we might, there were no Gray-hooded Gulls, as we've seen there in the past. Time went by and that species was not to be seen anywhere along the coast where we thought it could be. 
However, a couple days later, as were heading inland along a highway, we passed a large marsh that a few days earlier we had gone by in the dark. We saw, over it, a big cloud of many birds - gulls above the marsh. They were the Gray-hooded Gulls that we had been seeking, at a huge nesting colony (of thousands of birds). And so we learned where the Gray-hooded Gulls were. It really was nice for us, before we left the region, to have found them. The adults in breeding plumage are truly attractive. 
We also saw some closely, at a field, near that marsh with the breeding colony, as they followed a plow with the Brown-hooded Gulls (a species similar in appearance to the Common Black-headed Gull of Eurasia, which actually, as you may know, in breeding plumage has a brown head.)
Another grouping of birds that kept us occupied in Rio Grande do Sul were the shorebirds. In that tribe, only mentioned here thus far have been the Southern Lapwing and the South American Snipe. But they were only 2 of the approximately 20 shorebird species that we saw in Rio Grande do Sul. 
Along the beach, that was noted earlier, there were numerous White-backed Stilts in the surf (a favored palce for that species), Lesser Yellowlegs also surfside, American Oystercatcher, Collared Plover, American Golden Plover, (yes, on the beach), Red Knot (recently having arrived from northern North America), Sanderling, a single Ruddy Turnstone (a rarity that far south), and White-rumped Sandpiper (the most common "peep" in the area).
Earlier during the tour, also in Rio Grande do Sul south of Porto Alegre, we birded in an area of mostly wet agricultural fields, but with some drier fields nearby. Many shorebirds were present. 
Those that were there, already mentioned in the last paragraph, were White-backed Stilt, American Golden Plover, Lesser Yellowlegs, and White-rumped Sandpiper.  
But we also found a nice number of Pectoral Sandpipers, Baird's Sandpiper, some Wilson's Phalaropes, and a single Hudsonian Godwit, in addition to Greater Yellowlegs and Wattled Jacanas.
Incidentally, the first Baird's Sandpiper ever recorded in Brazil was in Rio Grande do Sul in 1975.
The Hudsonian Godwit is a rarity in southern Brazil, and in fact in Brazil overall. (We only saw the single bird during the tour.) Most godwits go further south in South America, during their long journey from northern North America.
When looking at such shorebirds that have just journeyed from so far away, I had to take a moment to think about the trip they undertook to be where we saw them, to be in a part of the world so distant from both where they and we had journeyed. 
A shorebird that we looked for, but did not see, in Rio Grande do Sul was the Buff-breasted Sandpiper
It was noted in our book that as many as 200 can occur there together, and that they can be found on pastures and fields with American Golden Plovers. We looked through a large number of plover flocks, on a large number of fields. In doing so, we found more Pectoral Sandpipers than expected. 
In wet fields, we found more Wilson's Phalaropes than expected. 
Both Pectoral Sandpiper and Wilson's Phalarope were said "in the book" to be rare to uncommon where we were. Apparently, they can become more common when looking for Buff-breasted Sandpipers.
Yet another shorebird that we saw in Rio Grande do Sul was said to be scarce there - the Solitary Sandpiper. We saw ONE at the edge of a wooded wetland. After all, it is called "solitary", and that it was.
Earlier the Saffron-cowled Blackbird was mentioned as one of a dozen Icterids that we saw in Rio Grande do Sul. It was, as noted, a rarity. It was, in fact, probably the rarest bird during the tour.
Two other rarities were also seen: the Black-and-white Monjita and the Canebrake Groundcreeper
Whereas the White Monjita, already noted, was common, the Black-and-white Monjita, for some reason, is quite rare throughout its range. We saw it in southern Rio Grande do Sul (near the rare Saffron-cowled Blackbird), and also in northern Rio Grande do Sul (minus the blackbird).  
Also during previous tours in Rio Grande do Sul, we've seen the rare blackbird and rare monjita in close proximity to each other. It's been written that there's some relationship between these two rarities that is not well understood.
Not well known at all, is the third rarity seen during our Oct '06 tour, the Canebrake Groundcreeper. It was completely unexpected, but we saw it nicely in a tangle at a forest-edge, in northern Rio Grande do Sul. As well as we know, in the area where we saw it, there have not been any recent records of this bird in the "Ovenbird" group (and looking superficially like a large wren with a white brow). But, honestly, other than our being along a little road off the beaten path, who, at that place, has been looking? 
That's the truth of it - in Rio Grande do Sul, one gets the feeling of being in a "birding frontier"!
Where we were in northern Rio Grande do Sul (north of Porto Alegre), the places were completely different than where we were in the south. 
Firstly, it's a higher area, with rolling hills. 
Secondly, there's more extensive forest, including nice patches of distinctive trees called "araucaria". Some people think of them as "monkey-puzzle trees". They are large, coniferous, and with branches that appear like upward chandeliers. And in them some distinctive birds can be found. 
Among birds we saw that favor araucaria were: Vinaceous-breasted Amazon, Azure Jay, Striolated Tit-Spinetail, Mottled Piculet (a small woodpecker), and Chestnut-backed and Diademed Tanagers, and the Bay-chested Warbling Finch (known in Portuguese as "Peito-pinhao" meaning "Araucaria-nut Breast").

A portion of an Araucaria Forest,
photographed during a FONT tour in Brazil.
(photo by Herb Cutler)    

In a remote area of a beautiful araucaria forest, in a late-afternoon mist, we watched and listened to noisy Buff-necked Ibises, having just entered their evening roost above a kind-of-a-log cabin, with smoke coming from the chimney. People lived there, it was clear, but not so clear was how each evening they could tolerate the noise of the ibises! 
Earlier that afternoon, a few miles sooner along the road, we saw something that was interesting and silent. It was the late-day flight display of the Blue-billed Black Tyrant. That little bird flew vertically, straight up in the air, and then straight down. Birds are fun to find, and quite often, fun (and interesting) to watch.

There's a dirt road on which we like to travel, and along which we like to bird, in northern Rio Grande do Sul. It descends from a tableland covered with both fields and forest, downward into a wooded valley to nearly sea level. Birdlife changes with the elevation. And so the lightly-traveled road is good, not only since there's so little disturbance, but also due to the diversity of the birds along the way.
At the top of the plateau, in the trees, there were Bare-throated Bellbirds
At one of our lower stops along the road, we saw, among other birds, a beautiful Red-necked Tanager (again, according to "the book" a rarity in the state, with no recent records - since 1928 - but, again, who's looking?)  
In that same area, we had the opportunity to compare and contrast 3 similar Flycatchers: the Piratic, the Variegated, and the Streaked
Also along the road, between the bellbird and the locally-rare tanager, there were birds from the small Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher to the large Green-billed (formerly Red-breasted) Toucan
Also colorful, and nice to see, was the Surucua Trogon
Nice to hear, in the distance, was the Rufous-tailed Antthrush  (yet another bird said to be scarce in Rio Grande do Sul).
We look forward to going again to Rio Grande do Sul, in far-southern Brazil, and hopefully this narrative, thus far, has conveyed the enjoyment (and excitement) that there can be birding there.
A few highlights should also be given here relating to the Minas Gerais portion of the tour, as it too was very good, and we also always enjoy going there.
Once again, as we did when we were there in September '06, we saw the beautifully-patterned Swallow-tailed Cotinga. It's always an target-bird that people are glad to see (as we did through a telescope as the bird sat atop a tree).
Not as obvious as it sat in a tree, in a nearby forest, was another bird in the cotinga-group, the rare Cinnamon-vented Piha. We heard it, and then, yes, we did see it.
Overhead, in a clear blue sky that morning, we saw an adult King Vulture in flight. That was nice (almost needless to say!). That vulture, as you may know, is mostly white.
Along a roadside, that morning, we spent some time enjoying antbirds
Yes, antbirds can be enjoyed, especially when on a CD we played their calls or songs, and the birds came in closely to investigate. We stood by quietly, and watched a procession of birds come by, in order, of: 
Variable Antshrike, Tufted Antshrike, Ochre-rumped Antbird, Dusky-tailed Antbird, Serra Antwren
, and White-shouldered Fire-eye.
The birds in the previous paragraph were among those we saw at a place called Caraca. It's large area, of forested hills, mostly undisturbed. Nestled in the hills, at the end of a long road, is a monastery, where we ate meals and spent the night. 
Before we went to bed, we watched apparently 2 different Maned Wolves, come onto the steps outside the front door of the church, to eat their meals (chicken-parts put out for them on trays).
Another place we visited in Minas Gerais was a rocky hilltop called "Serra do Cipo". 
Among birds we saw at that rather unique habitat were: the Hyacinth Visorbearer (a nice hummingbird that favors the "rather unique plants" there), the overall-rare Cinereous Warbling Finch, the localized Pale-throated Serra Finch, and another finch that was very nice to see as well as we did: an adult male Blue Finch in breeding plumage. 
As we walked about on the hilltop, we flushed a resting Least Nighthawk from among the rocks.
Later that day, at the end of the afternoon, after we found a tree full of White-throated Kingbirds, we saw numerous Least Nighthawks flying about in an evening sky.
The next day, our traveling along a back road in Minas Gerais gave us an opportunity to have very good looks of the Red-legged Seriema, a large bird that can fly, but usually walks or runs. When we stopped along the quiet road, to watch the bird, it neither walked nor ran. Instead it stood still.

A Red-legged Seriema photographed 
during a FONT tour in Brazil.

Another wonderful area that we visited in Minas Gerais was a place called Canastra. 
The place is a very large plateau, on which there's natural grassland, with birds more readily found there than elsewhere. Such birds, for us, were the Sharp-tailed Grass Tyrant, the Stripe-tailed Yellow Finch, and the Ochre-breasted Pipit
Also there were Tinamous of two species that we saw and heard: the larger Red-winged Tinamou and the smaller Spotted Nothura.

We also saw, in those grasslands, a nice number of Upland Sandpipers, in all about 3 to 4 dozen, in a few flocks. It was interesting, when watching the Upland Sandpipers from North America, to observe how, in a way, they resembled the nearby tinamous that, of course, always stay in South America. Their color was about the same. Their shape (with the skinny neck) is somewhat similar, although the tinamous are fatter. The Upland Sandpiper falls in between the size of the Spotted Nothura and the Red-winged Tinamou. All 3 species walk about in the grass, but, candidly, the tinamous do a better job at staying hidden.
About a month before our visit, there had been a fire on the plateau, and some of the grassland was burned. 
At such places where the fire had been, we found Campo Miners. We were able to observe a number of them well as they walked about on the ground, small mostly-brown birds with short tails.
A large mammal that we saw walking about on the ground on the plateau was the Giant Anteater.
Flying in the sky above the plateau at Canastra was a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, just one of the raptors we observed in the area. 
Others included a large number of Great Black Hawks and White-tailed Hawks, as well as Savanna and Bicolored Hawks, and Aplomado Falcons and American Kestrels, in addition to ever-present Southern Crested Caracaras. Near the plateau, Plumbeous Kites were flying in the sky.

A Savanna Hawk photographed during a FONT tour in Brazil

At  the end of a nice day in the Canastra area, during which we saw many birds from toucans to tyrants, we watched a rare Sickle-winged Nightjar fly back-and-forth across a dirt road ahead of us, before we left the plateau.

The Toucan was the largest of its tribe, the Toco. There were many.
Among those tyrants, that day, was one of our favorite birds, the Streamer-tailed Tyrant, a wonderful bird, beige and burgundy, with a long tail. 
In all, we saw 7 species of tyrants in Minas Gerais, including the Velvety and Crested Black Tyrants, both mostly black, and the Masked Water Tyrant, mostly white.
One last bird in Minas Gerais should be mentioned. We had, the previous afternoon, a fine time on the plateau at Canastra, so early in the morning we ventured up there again. 
But the weather was not good. It poured rain, very hard and for quite a while. On the dirt road (that was quickly turning to mud), there was a bird that we could see to be a shorebird. It, rather surprisingly, was a lone Semipalmated Plover, the first we had ever seen in Brazil, in 40 tours, away from the coast. The literature says that they rarely occur in interior Brazil, usually on mud by rivers or lakes. Well, whether or not the bird read the book, that dirt road, when we were on it, had turned to mud with puddles that seemed as large as lakes.
And so, in this narrative, a number of the birds during our Brazil Tour #40, in October 2006, in Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul, have been mentioned. 
But not all, as totally 316 species were found during the tour. 
182 species were found in Minas Gerais; 211 species in Rio Grande do Sul.
Mammals found in Minas Gerais were the Maned Wolf and the Giant Anteater
Others were: Buffy-headed Marmoset, Brazilian Squirrel, and Rock Cavy.
Mammals and other wildlife, in addition to birds, found in Rio Grande do Sul were: Capybara, Coypu (or Nutria), Greater Guinea-Pig, European Hare, Bottle-nosed Dolphin, and some very large Caiman.

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