Flip Harrington and I always plan an escape from March madness and find a good birding area to visit. This year we were glad not to be on-Island after reading the Gazette issues we missed, madness hit the Vineyard with a vengeance this March.
Flip and I had organized a birding trip with Flip’s brother, Brian, and wife, Martha, to the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil. We hired a famous bird photographer, Edson Endrigo, as our guide and requested visiting and birding three different habitats in the forest during our two-week stay. We are definitely happy to be through packing and unpacking every night!
All four of us knew that the Atlantic rainforest is, as Edson told us, “one of the most diverse forests in the world. The forest originally covered an area of one million kilometers square in a strip running parallel to the coast from the state of Rio Grande do Norte to the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Because of its proximity to the coast, the Atlantic forest has suffered a long process of degradation”
Now only about eight per cent of the original forest remains, having been badly fragmented by development. We all wanted to see the many unique bird species that make this forest home before the forest is totally destroyed.
The red-eye flight from the United States to Brazil was the pits, as all red-eyes are. Edson met us at the Sao Paulo airport at 7 a.m. and loaded us into a van driven by Paulo, Jr. We drove southwest for about 200 kilometers into the Serra de Paranapiacaba mountain range and into Intervales State Park. This park had both lowland and high altitude species and we spent five and a half days there birding high and low.
The lion’s share of our birding at Intervales was from roads within the forest or off of short paths. We saw antshrikes, antvireos, antwrens, antpittas and anthrushes. All these species are skulkers and particularly hard to see. Many people think antbirds eat ants but in fact they specialize in following columns of army ants to eat the small invertebrates flushed by the ants. Most of these ant birds are found on or near the ground and it seemed always amongst the thickest vegetation. Edson was amazing at enabling all of us to find the bird he had found. Edson used a lazer pointer which put a green dot on a branch near the bird. He then told us to look left, right, above or below the dot and bingo we saw the bird in question. At the end of the fifth day we had observed close to 230 species of birds, most of them new to all of us.
Our next stop was Itatiaia National Park which was the first Brazilian national park and was established in 1937. It is located on the border of the states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais and was about a seven hour drive from Intervales. The park is 30,000 hectares (approximately 2.5 acres to a hectare) and it also has both high and low altitude forest. The lowland or humid Atlantic rainforest is around 300 meters, while the highland or “campo de altitude” is around 2,800 meters or about 8,400 feet.
The hummingbird show at the feeders off the dining room was spectacular and included hummers with names such as Plovercrest, Black Jacobin, Festive Coquette and Glittering-bellied Emerald. A family of Saffron Toucanets frequented the tray of bananas, mangos and papaya that the hotel replenished daily. One youngster hit a window and after Edson retrieved it he put it on the branch of a nearby tree. Within ten minutes the bird was in flight and gone.
Our final stop was Ubatuba which is on the coast of Brazil in the state of Sao Paulo. It is touted as one of the most beautiful coastal areas in Brazil and as Edson told us, “The area is one of the remaining few with Atlantic rainforest blanketing land from the mountain-tops down to sea level.” Little did we know that the beach at the eco-resort where we stayed was one of the best board surfing areas. We still were able to find a patch where we could swim and get a bit of body surfing in! We took a couple of trips on a small catamaran raft with an electric motor up a river and found some old friends: snowy egret, black and turkey vultures, but also other great sounding birds such as the buff-throated purpletuft, slaty bristlefront, blond-crested woodpecker and black-cheeked gnateater and toco tucan.
The end of the trip came too soon and we tallied up the species we had seen in the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil and were shocked to find we had seen 301 species of birds, and those just in the state of Sao Paulo!
It is nice to hear that Liz Baldwin spotted on April 1 in Aquinnah Bahama Jack, the piping plover that was banded in the Bahamas and nested in Aquinnah the last couple of years. It is also nice to hear so many ospreys have returned and that the tree swallows are back on Island.
Allen Slater e-mailed on April 3 that the ospreys are back on their nest on Chappy. “They are on the new pole and on their new nest after the old one was blown up.”
I was unable to figure out what “blown up,” meant, but I would venture a guess that Allen meant blown down.
John Nelson and Jeff Bernier birded the Farm Institute on the morning of April 1 and sighted two red-tailed hawks, a female northern harrier and a peregrine falcon. John identified the falcon as member of the tundra race (tundrius). The peregrine was terrorizing the small birds but didn’t catch any. Sounds like he was full and just playing!
Carolyn Lucas and Dave Tenney spotted a brown creeper on one of the trees in Oak Bluffs (Lagoon Heights) March 30.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail email@example.com. Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is vineyardbirds2.com.