Trip Report for Southeast Brazil – December 2008
Participants: Kim Garwood
Author: Kim Garwood
Southeast Brazil October 26 to December 15, 2008
First part is a trip to SE Brazil w/Field Guides, led by Bret Whitney, so it was mostly birding w/my doing butterflies on the side. My itinerary will be brief for this part.
Oct 26 fly overnight to Rio, spend 2nd night in the hotel ar the airport, met the group Oct 28, fly to Vitoria, then drive to Cachoeiro do Itapemirim, Espirto Santo for 1 night. The next day we went to a very nice private forest, Cafundo Reserve, where they also served us a fabulous lunch spread at the hacienda. Not very many butterflies but a few good ones. This was the pattern for most of this part of the trip. We were at the end of the dry season, so butterflies were low. I think it would be noticeably better in a few months, probably January/February.
Oct 29 Drove to Venda Nova do Immigrante, Espirito Santo to Monte Verde Resort for 2 nights to work Caetes, looking for Cherry-throated Tanager. A very nice dirt road, fairly rough, up through unprotected forest. One day we had quite a bit of sun, and some very good butterflies.
Oct 31 Drove to Linhares Natural Reserve, a huge reserve about 23,000 hectares! Spent 3 nights, which gave us 2 full days to drive around the dirt roads through the reserve. We had a forest guide with us at all times, which is required, and a good thing, as I would have been hopelessly lost on the endless roads that all looked the same. Very dry, I will definitely have come back here in the wetter time of the year. Still got some new bugs. Most of what I’m seeing are unknown species to me, which is not surprising as this is such an area rich in endemic bird species. Many of the butterfly species must be endemic as well.
Nov 3 Fly to Sao Paulo then drive to Intervales State Park in Sao Paulo for 3 nights. Another great spot that deserves to be revisited, probably several times. Not a lot of sun, but when it poked out there were new butterflies everywhere. This is a very nice spot as you can walk right from the house. There are several large houses scattered around, each of which hold 4 to 8 rooms. Simple, lots of bunk beds, 1 light hanging from the middle of the room, but functional. I could spend lots of time here.
Nov 6 Drove to Cananeia, Sao Paulo, for 1 night in the Costa Azul hotel on the water, poised for an early morning assault on the barrier island offshore for special parrots.
Nov 7 Got the parrots, and lots of other goodies, including a new Euselasia and great shots of a Cattleheart-mimic displaying and posing nicely. Then drove to Curitiba, Parana where we have 3 nights in the Roochelle Park Hotel in downtown Curitiba w/day trips out to surrounding spots.
Nov 8 up northeast from Curitiba to the mountains to Corvo Road at the start of Graciola forest, in a lovely bamboo forest, too dark and rainy for bugs, another spot to come back to.
Nov 9 drive to the southeast to Garuva in Santa Catarina, then cross back to Parana, to Guaratuba, where we take small boats out on Guaratuba Bay looking for rare marsh birds. After lunch we take a ferry to Caioba, then visit Rio Onces State Park, then drive back to Curitiba.
Nov 10 fly to Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, then drive to SanFrancisco de Paula for 3 nights in hotel Veraneio Hampel, right outside town. A very charming, old hacienda type place, the sign says from 1899. Creaky old wooden floors, big windows that fold back and open, great food, lovely gardens, and some good birds right on the grounds. It’s cool and windy, so we don’t have hardly any butterflies for the next couple of days, but very interesting mossy forest w/lots of bromeliads.
Nov 11 drive to the Sao Francisco do Paula National Forest, do a great trail loop through the woods. At the pond in back of the visitor center we find a fabulous display by whistling herons up in one of the big aracuari trees, crests standing up and whooping and hollering, raising their necks up and down at each other, pretty bizarre to watch. Very chilly morning, I was wearing my fleece every morning here for the first time. The sun came out briefly between drizzle, and at lunch time I had some satyrs in a clearing in the woods. At least 3 types of smallish satyrs, maybe Yphthmoides, bigger than Hermeuptychia, and Vanessa/Painted ladies coming to the purple verbena on the forest floor. In the afternoon we go to a large tract of houses, called the Alps of San Francisco, built in between patches of forest, looking for parrots, and find another batch of Morpho caterpillars hanging from a silken thread in a ball, this time only about 15′ off the ground in an inga tree. The first batch we saw was in Caetes, Espirto Santo, at the Cherry-throated Tanager spot, about 1100 meters, up high in a tree. Later we find a 3rd ball at Hotel Do Ypé, right outside the reception in Itatiaia Park on Nov 19, so they must be widespread throughout southeast Brazil around 1000-1200 meters, probably higher as well.
Nov 12 drive to Aparados da Sierra National Park, which is an amazing cliff edge where a huge volcanic basalt plateau comes to an end and drops off several thousand feet. This is the state boundary between Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina, all sorts of canyons cut by rivers into the plateau. We spend a lot of time rambling around open marshes and wet swales in the hollows between the hills looking for rare marsh birds, no butterflies to be found at all. I would love to come back ro Rio Grande do Sul in their summer, maybe January/February. Lovely wildflowers, but it feels like late March in New York, with summer a couple of months away.
Nov 13 fly back to Sao Paulo, but before the flight we cruise some marshes and rice fields close to the airport where we add a number of wading birds and rails. From Sao Paulo city we drive to Ubatuba, after a too many hour detour looking for another recently discovered marsh antbird. Ubatuba is on the coast in Sao Paulo state, a famous surfing spot where we stay for 3 nights at the Pousada Mar Azul, a very quiet, small hotel several blocks off the beach. Good thing too, as this is one of the big Brazilian holiday weekends on Nov 15, their declaration of independence, and all Brazilians by law have to go to the beach. Or so it seems. One night we drive into town for a great dinner at a nice place right on the beach, open air where we sit outside and pig out on fish and crab, and the traffic to get there is almost a parking lot.
Nov 14 drive to Fazenda Angelim in the morning, a private reserve 15-20 minutes from the hotel. A very nice trail up through good secondary forest, another great spot to come back to at another time. There are a few butterflies, not as many as I would expect. In the afternoon we go to Jonas’ home, Fazenda Folha Seca, where he has a dozen hummingbird feeders out in the woods and a couple of million hummers. Fabulous, up close looks at some beautiful hummers, tons of black jacobins, brazilian rubies, and a number of others. Then we go back towards Caraquatatuba (where we had Stygian Owl the night before in the middle of town, hawking from the big tree on the plaza right in front of the little place we ate dinner on the late drive to Ubatuba) to km 73, for another great feeder spot/restaurant. Red-necked tanagers at arm’s length while we eat makes for some very enjoyable dining, plus tasty food. Restaurant Tropical is a place to return to.
Nov 15 drive to Paraty, 50 km or so up the coast for lunch, after birding at Fazenda Murycana 10 km west of Paraty in the morning. Fazebda Murycana was a great road up into 2nd growth forest that found by driving through a small town then taking the right fork, while up to the left or straight was a waterfall where lots of folks were headed, on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning. Paraty is an old historical town in Brazil, very famous to Brazilians. It was the original gold port for the Portuguese, and was built in the 1500′s, then abandoned when they moved the port to Rio, so the original buildings are mostly still there. It’s now quaint and full of shops and restaurants, but nicely done. Would be fun to spend the night in one of the old pousadas and walk the town at night, when all the lanterns are lit. In the afternoon we go to Fazenda Capricornio to meet Carlos, a birding buddy of Bret’s, who has more feeders and a nice overgrown cacao plantation in back of his house. He has invited a reporter and photographer from the big Sao Paulo newspaper to come see international birders in action, so we get to pose for staged birdwatching photos and generally have a good time.
Nov 16 drive to Itatiaia National Park, to the Hotel do Ype for 3 nights at 1200 meters. This is the first national park in Brazil, and a lovely place to stay. Killer buffet, nice rooms, wonderful habitat all around and lots and lots of good birds, including yet more fabulous hummingbird feeders, where you can get them to perch on your finger. We spend the next 2 days walking trails, including one day up to the high country on the Agulhas Negras Road, or Black Needles. We drive up a very rough road to about 2,400 meters, very cold, windy and foggy. If you could hit a sunny day I’m sure there are some special butterflies up here. I was at the Hotel Ypé once before in June, their winter, and there are many more hummingbirds now, an amazing spectacle. There is a trail through the forest to the nearest hotel, Simon, which is a great walk.
The Hotel Simon, a large pink building, has been renamed the Itatiaia Park Hotel. In the parking area there is a large tree with red-rumped cacique nests, and lots of large caterpillars in large patches on the underside of the high branches, plus large patches of pupa. They look like moss, black w/yellow bands, and the pupa are tan, like large grapes. Many hundreds on the whole tree, the more we look w/binos the more we find. We take a side trail up to the left, near the Hotel Simon, or right if you come from the Simon, and climb through huge bamboo patches. I would love to see this place on a warm sunny day, it must have many special butterflies, but not now, when it’s cool and overcast, even though the day starts out clear and bright. I’m told this has been a very cool and wet spring here, so the butterflies are not around much.
One afternoon we go down to the Hotel Donati, and the road to the hotel is great for butterflies, even late in the day, 4-5pm. Many of the blue flowering salvia, and lots of grass skippers. I get good shots of what I think is Hypothyris euclea, a lovely small tigerwing. More places to come back to. You could stay at this hotel, nice grounds, and Ricardo tells me the rooms are nice and the food good, but it doesn’t have the hummingbird feeders of Hotel Ypé. We also go to the right, at the bottom of the steep road up to the Ypé, to a waterfall where there are 2 more trails, much to explore. This is a great spot, you could easily spend 4-5 days here, but they have a fair number of cool and wet days. It’s much quieter during the week, as it’s a popular weekend spot for folks from Rio. But now, Sunday night through Wednesday morning, we almost have it to ourselves.
Nov 19 a foggy rainy morning, some go back to the trails but I stay in. One more tasty lunch at the Ypé, then we drive 4-5 hours to Teresópolis for the last night of the Field Guides’ tour, in the mountains above Rio de Janeiro, at Hotel Alpina, Hotel de Realizaçóes on the east side of town. Another old, fancy grand lobby, looks like it has been in business a long time, large rooms, ornate trim, no internet. Interesting that several of the places we’ve stayed, even though they have been very nice hotels in or near town, have not had any internet hookups. I guess the Brazilians aren’t interested in the internet when they go away for the weekend, as many of these places, this one included, are weekend retreats. Simple Mexican hotels seem to have more internet access, usually wireless, than the ones we’ve used here in Brazil. Quite chilly when we arrive at 7pm, only 13 degrees centegrade, in the mid 50′s and raining. Hope it gets better for the morning. An interesting looking city, lots of huge fruit and veg stores with wonderful looking produce, country clubs, golf clubs, definitely an upscale area.
Nov 20 Drive part way on the road to Petropolis, a very good road for birds. Nice and sunny, but cold, however it warms up quite a bit later on. Lots of good birds, then we drive over to the east to a much drier habitat for our last birds, then the group splits and most head back to Rio for their flights home. I transfer to Serra dos Tucanos for a week on my own. Their british birding guide, Pete Forest, has been taking lots of butterfly photos, and I’m eager to see what they’ve got, plus get some shots of my own.
Nov 21 8 days at Serra dos Tucanos, www.serradostucanos.com.br, which looks to be very nice. Beautiful grounds, one of the better birding back yards I’ve seen. Lots of feeders, a big yard right up against forested hills, and lots of goodies coming to the feeders. Spot-billed and saffron toucanets, and lots of killer tanagers, plus tons of hummers of course. Nesting masked water-tyrants next to the swimming pool that get very upset w/me when I’m exploring around the edges. Quite a few trails up the hill as well, so I’ll have lots of explore. I spend most of the morning putting out spitwads. No action so far but get some great shots of a gorgeous new Pierella nereis and a beautiful owl, Dasyophthalma creusa which is a new genus for me, pointed out by the owner, Christine. He’s hiding under some leaves right next to the dining room.
Nov 22 – 27 spend the mornings wandering the trails at dos Tucanos. It’s a very cool and wet spring here, as in the rest of se Brazil, so we have a number of rainy/drizzly days, not good for butterflies. However, I find that part way up the hill they have a great clearwing lek, sort of exploded across the hillside, scattered along the trail. You go up 2 flights of stairs, where they have strung a rope you can hang on to to help pull yourself up the hill (a very good idea!) then the trail goes to the left and runs level around the hill. It drops off steeply below and climbs steeply above, so it’s very difficult to explore off the trail. I see clearwings float by, going uphill or down, and try to follow them in my binos to see if they land. The understory is filled w/impatients, which the clearwings use as platforms. I find a number of species, hard to separate them in the field until I get back to my reference books, but some of Oleria, Ithomia and Pteronymia at least. These are all the clear, bluish ones. You need to get a good look at the hindwing veination, so I spend lots of time taking pictures of everything that will sit still for me. Once they perch, they often let me take lots of shots, if I can scramble next to them. I get good shots of a yellowish one that turns out to be Epityches eupompe.
There are also some tigerwings, Hypothyris and Mechanitis. Pete tells me sometimes he has seen many at once, up to 50 or more. I would love to know what time of the year that happens. Right now I’m finding one or two at a time, but finding some every 10 – 50 meters or so. There are some small white flowers just starting to bloom that the clearwings feed on, which look different from other small weedy white flowers I’ve seen them feed on at other locations. Small bushes, like chili pequine from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, so they’re great for photography. While lurking around by myself in the forest I run into some nice bird flocks as well, get great upclose looks at black-cheeked gnatearters, male and female, and a number of other understory species, antwrens, antvireos and things. When the sun comes out, there are other butterflies flying high in the trees, perching mid elevation or higher in the sun, but out of my reach, unfortunately. Nice looks at what I think it Lycorea pasinuntia. Bret told me a number of bird species were originally described from specimens taken here in se Brazil, as Rio de Janeiro was one of the main access ports for the early collectors. I suspect the same thing is true for butterflies.
One of the photos Pete gives me is a nice shot of a Queen, and he has the nominate subspecies here, different from the one we have in the US and Mexico. His is the original, ours was described later. A very pleasant lodge to spend some time at. There is a group of Brits here, and another group coming in the day I leave, so they are using the lodge quite a bit from England. Pete leads them on day trips away from the lodge to a variety of other habitats, so you can see a lot based out of here, and they’re only 1.5-2 hours from Rio. Good food, comfortable rooms, great feeders, unfortunately no internet. That would be my only problem w/spending lots of time here, you have to go into town to access the net. The lodge is at 400 meters, though it feels higher. Very cool and damp, lots of moss on everything, feels more like 1200-1400 meters. I don’t usually see so many of the clear bluish clearwings at this elevation, they are more common higher in cloud forest in the Andes, but this is their kind of habitat.
Nov 28 fly back to Curitiba where I’ll stay for the next 2 ½ weeks, spending most of my time photographing specimens at the Universidade Federal do Paraná. Olaf HH Mielke has graciously given me permission to scrounge through his fabulous collection. I’m also spending some time with Raphael Sobania, a birding guide who lives here in Curitiba. He has helped me out a lot by finding hotels, driving me around and taking me to the University the first day, showing me where to go. He speaks excellent english and takes out birding groups all the time, so if you want a local guide around se Brazil, he’s great. His website is www.sobania.com.br
I first stay at a very nice hotel, the Valentini di Lucca, see www.hotelvalentini.com.br It’s 140 reais/night, which Raphael negotiates down to 120. The only problem is it’s in the upscale part of town, what they call Betel, and it’s quite a way from the University. A cab is between 20 and 30 reais (pronounced hi-yas), which is about $10-15 each way, a bit out of my budget. So I move to the Hotel Deville Express, more in the center of town, and a little cheaper at about 90 to 100 reais/night. www. Deville.com.br Also the University has an arrangement where you get a 10% discount at the Deville, and Olaf calls and gets it for me. The big plus is the Deville is right next to the bus stop for a student bus that goes just to the University, stops at the Centro Polytecnico where I’m spending my time. The bus cost less than 1 buck, 1.90 reais, and runs every 10-15 minutes, so that makes it much easier to get around. I liked the Valentini better, much bigger rooms, nice windows, great breakfast, fast internet, very comfortable. But I think the assumption was if you were at the Valentini you had a car, as it was all extended stay business types on expense accounts. For us peons on foot or taking public transportation, there were much fewer options. I couldn’t find a grocery store close by, while at the Deville a large 24 hour store is just down the block. Always a trade off. I meet lots of very friendly grad students who are extremely helpful. Brazilians are wonderful people, open and happy.