The Atlantic Rainforest snake species, Bothrops jararaca (a species of pit viper) is one that locals hold in the highest regard and with good reason. It is dangerous only if one steps on one and accidently get bitten. According to serpent specialists, research biologists, snakes are not uncommon in REGUA’s forests.
I have to admit that although I have walked many times in the forest I have failed to find one. However, I am sure that finding one coiled on the path can be a harrowing experience. In the distant past most local people would kill every snake irrespective of colour, thickness and length.
Today the REGUA rangers know that reptiles form an important part of our biodiverse forests and are not aggressive. They now leave them to their own business, and are helping to spread the word that unless they are inadvertently disturbed, most snakes would slither off into the forest before we are even aware of their presence.
World Land Trust “Keepers of the Wild” project sponsors ranger Rildo da Rosa de Oliveira who found this one by a rock and left it apparently dozing. He didn’t want to look closer!
The Atlantic Rainforest endemic Solitary Tinamou (Tinamus solitaries) has to be one of the hardest birds to see at REGUA. I have only once seen one walking a distant trail some years ago. The bird leapt onto the path in front of me and we walked serenely in single file for what seemed like an eternity but perhaps it was only a few seconds before it left. I rejoined the bird group I was with half an hour later and told them excitedly what I had seen. All I could see on their faces were torturous expressions of sadness. Never again!
The Solitary Tinamou occurs throughout the Atlantic Rainforest and suffers from the loss of habitat. Hunters’ reputation depended on bagging these birds, but with the conservation efforts and reduced hunting the populations are rising and the birds can be heard throughout the reserve. Ranger Rildo da Rosa Oliveira found this single egg. He wasn’t able to go back to make sure it hatched, but we do hope all is well for the chick and its parents.
The austral winter months see fewer visiting birders than the spring, when birds are more vocal and on territory, but winter birding in the Atlantic Forest brings its own rewards and is equally exciting. Some species are actually much easier to find at this time of year, including the rare Black-legged Dacnis and large mixed-species flocks in the forest make for exciting experiences. Also, the lodge garden feeders are much busier, with many species that breed at higher elevations moving lower where temperatures are higher. Here are the avian highlights on the reserve for June and July.
Casa Anibal/4×4: Black Hawk-Eagle, Spot-billed Toucanet, Saw-billed Hermit, Spot-breasted Antvireo, White-eyed Foliage-gleaner, Black-capped Foliage-gleaner, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Green-headed Tanager and Red-necked Tanager.
Lodge garden: Red-ruffed Fruitcrow (the first record for the garden on 2 July), Black-banded Owl (5-6 July), up to 5 Black-legged Dacnis, Common Potoo, 1 White-eyed Parakeet (6 July), Maroon-bellied Parakeet, Blue-winged Parrotlet, Toco Toucan, lots of Channel-billed Toucan, Tropical Parula, White-bellied Tanager, Azure-shoulder Tanager, Yellow-backed Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Purple-throated Euphonia and Buff-throated Saltator.
Wetland Trail: Grey-bellied Spinetail, female Masked Duck, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Tataupa Tinamou, Boat-billed Heron, up to 12 Capped Heron (an excellent number), lots of Snowy Egret (they seem to be increasing at REGUA), Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle, Laughing Falcon, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift (small numbers over the wetland in the evenings), Rufous-sided Crake, Blackish Rail, Limpkin, Amazon Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Sooretama Slaty-Antshrike, Grey-capped Tyrannulet, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant (both very unusual here), Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Hooded Tanager and Black-capped Donacobius.
Elsewhere at REGUA, Shrike-like Cotinga, a male Tufted Antshrike and White-bibbed Antbird were all seen along the trail to the São José Tower, a Harris’s Hawk, Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle and Rufous-fronted Thornbird (the later now much scarcer at REGUA now that the reforestation is becoming more established) were seen along the dirt road to Casa Pesquisa, and the 2 Tropical Screech-Owls were still roosting by the conservation centre.
On our night-birding excursion Giant Snipe, Mottled Owl, Scissor-tailed Nightjar and Collared Forest-Falcon were among the birds seen.
On 24 July, Raquel and New Zealand volunteer Marc Vanwoerkom were helping me to map a property that has been offered to REGUA adjacent to the João Paulo Farm. Clambering up steep hillsides is never fun, but the work has to be done to accurately map properties with GPS and avoid issues on property size and location.
The day ended well and we were walking home when to our surprise we found a chattering bunch of Yellow-rumped Marshbirds Pseudoleistes guirahuro perched on a shrub in the pastures. This is rare bird in Rio de Janeiro state and Marc got some great photos and I managed a register shot.
Yellow-rumped Marshbird is a species of marshland and grassland, with a distribution covering much of southern Brazil but also east Paraguay, northern Uruguay north-east Argentina. They are not usually found in Rio de Janeiro state and this is the first time we have seen this bird so close to REGUA land. Perhaps it is spreading eastwards? Nevertheless, it is a stunning bird and I am hopeful we can get some better images soon.
The Red-ruffed Fruitcrow Pyroderus scutatus is high on visitors wish-lists, but it is scarce and a very hard bird to see well. However this splendid bird appeared in the lodge garden on the 2nd July and was seen by two lucky people sitting quietly on the veranda. It stayed in the garden for a few minutes allowing a series of photos to be taken before flying off when someone came up the drive.
Adilei Carvalho da Cunha, one of REGUA’s resident bird guides, spends his working life showing birds to visitors to the reserve. It is therefore not common for him to find a new species for his personal bird list. Imagine his delight therefore, when on 22nd June he found a Pale-breasted SpinetailSynallaxis albescens.
Although widespread throughout South America, this species is not normally found in the Atlantic Forest, as it is more associated with central Brazil and the Cerrado habitat. Maybe this individual knows about global weather change for he can be seen on the edge of our reserve in open grasslands.
This is the second record of this species for REGUA.
I am fascinated by snakes. My father, Helmut, is an orchid specialist and he knows of over 680 species of orchids that can be found in the cloud forests of the Serra dos Órgãos mountains in South East Brazil. This is a really important area for biodiversity.
Accompanying my father on his trips to the Atlantic forest starting in the late 1970’s we frequently stumbled over different species of snakes without really knowing them. I became interested in what was creeping between our feet. Looking closer, my fascination for these creatures grew and looking even closer I finally fell in love with snakes. Over the time I have specialized on true vipers and pitvipers. In the past 30 years I studied female Bothrops jararaca and other snakes in upland habit of the Atlantic forest. Looking for snakes at REGUA is quite a different story because it is lowland habitat and snakes behave quite differently. Generally higher temperatures give these poikithermal animals even less reason to expose themselves to the sun. Snakes are well camouflaged, shy and secretive. Especially vipers will hide most of their lives. All this makes snakes very hard to find for the naturalist. However, on 9th of April 2017 I found something very special here at REGUA, a new born Jararacussu (Bothrops jararacussu) on one of its trails.
The little snake was only a little over 20 cm long, which is small for this species. Literature gives 26-28 cm for this species but it is not mentioned if this data was taken from captive animals or those in the wild.
Breeding of the genus Bothrops takes place between November and March. Bothrops are ovoviviparous; Juveniles are born alive or under breaking a transparent egg hull. Up to fifteen young can be born simultaneously. This happens usually at the end of the rainy season.
Juvenile snakes are difficult to identify. In this case it had to be determined whether it was a Jararaca or a Jararacussu. The unicoloured top of the head, the more triangular shaped head, the slightly upturned and sharper edged snout, the more rounded A’s on the snake’s flanks and the little spots along the snake’s spine between the A’s make this snake a Jararacussu.
The Jararacussu is a large heavy bodied terrestrial snake. Females longer than two metres are frequently encountered. Males are smaller. Preferred habitat is rocks in close proximity to water. It is often said to live in semiaquatic conditions. Generally it prefers damper habitat and is by far less abundant than its generalist cousin Jararaca (Bothrops Jararaca).
Please forget your possible fears and dislike for snakes for a moment and have a look at this beauty. This tiny, vividly coloured creature already has all the scales that it
will have when it is a two metre giant. So these scales are only micrometres small and still are individually coloured in grey, brown, black and white or even have a pinkish hue.
Did you notice the snake’s pale tail? Many Bothrops as juveniles feed on frogs. By waving the tail a worm is imitated and frogs are lured into striking range. Remember Bothrops are born at the end of the rainy season when young frogs are numerous also. Growing up, Bothrops change their food preference to warm blooded rodents. At this stage the tail colour changes to the ground colour or black in this species.
The location site of this snake was well off the regular tourist trails. Venomous snakes are very rarely seen on REGUA trails. Still everybody should remember venomous snakes could be encountered everywhere in tropical areas. Snakes will never attack unless seriously cornered or hurt.
Give snakes their space and try to enjoy the rare adventure of seeing a snake in the wild, and if you are lucky enough to find one remember to take a good look, get a sketch, photograph or video and as much information as possible to enable an accurate identification.
Please give snakes their space, have respect and try to enjoy…
While March might see less bird activity in general at REGUA than during the breeding season, there is still plenty of excellent birding to be had. Here are the sightings highlights for March on the reserve.
Wetland/Yellow Trail: Black-legged Dacnis (numbers much lower than usual this year), 3 Sungrebe (including a bird showing at close range by post 400 – just a two minute walk from the lodge), a female Masked Duck, several Boat-billed Herons showing well from Amanda’s Hide (at least 2 adults in full breeding plumage and 1 or 2 juveniles), a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Duck with a single offspring (another successful breeding at REGUA), Crane Hawk, Grey-necked and Slaty-breasted Wood-Rails, Rufous-sided Crake, Brazilian Tanager, Chestnut-capped Blackbird, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Amazon, Green and Ringed Kingfishers, lots of Streaked Flycatchers (a summer migrant here) and lots of Rufous-tailed Jacamars which were seemingly everywhere! Now that the breeding season is over, the numbers of roosting Cattle Egrets is starting to increase with most still in fantastic breeding plumage.
Green Trail: an immature Shrike-like Cotinga, a White-necked Hawk (at an ant swarm), Buff-bellied Puffbird, Southern Antpipit, Black-cheeked Gnateater, Rufous-capped Antthrush, Spot-backed Antshrike, Sooretama Slaty-Antshrike, Scaled Antbird, Rufous-breasted Leaftosser, Grey-hooded Attila, Black-tailed Flycatcher, Spot-billed Toucanet, Saw-billed Hermit, Blonde-crested Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Woodpecker, Black-capped Foliage-Gleaner, White-eyed Foliage-Gleaner, Rufous-winged Antwren, Streak-capped Antwren, Spot-breasted Antvireo, Eye-ringed Tody-Tyrant, Pin-tailed Manakin, Blue Manakin and Red-crowned Ant-Tanager.
Waldenoor Trail: this trail continues to provide excellent raptor sightings with 2 Mantled Hawk, 2 Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle and 2 Black Hawk-Eagle all seen.
Typically for this time of year the lodge garden has been quiet, but 2 female Black-legged Dacnis, lots of Swallow Tanager, Rusty-margined Guan, Sooretama Slaty-Antshrike, Blonde-crested Woodpecker, White Woodpecker, Channel-billed Toucan, Purple-throated Euphonia, a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and Piratic Flycatcher, Crested Becard, Flame-crested Tanager and Yellow-backed Tanager all made appearances. Hummingbird numbers were down but the feeders were still entertaining with 3 Black Jacobins fighting over the sugar-water with Rufous-breasted Hermits, Swallow-tailed Hummingbirds, Violet-capped Woodnymphs and Glittering-throated Emeralds.
On our night-birding excursion Giant Snipe were seen well on the ground and also in display flight (with 3-4 seen at close range some nights), and Tawny-browed Owl, Common Potoo and Pauraque were all also seen, but frustratingly Black-banded and Mottled Owls were both heard only. The roosting pair of Tropical Screech-Owls were still in residence near the conservation centre.
On 23 March, our bird guide Cirilo Vieira was guiding two guests David Wilcove and Tim Treuer from Princeton University at Pico da Caledônia who were keen to see the rare Grey-winged Cotinga Tijuca condita found in the elfin forest around the top of the mountain. Unfortunately they could only hear the cotinga calling, but then imagine their surprise when they caught sight of an Orange-breasted Falcon Falco deiroleucus perched on a bare branch close to the road (just a few hundred metres from the checkpoint at the start of of the starts to the summit). David had been looking for this bird for 30 years and sighed in disbelief when he realized what it was!
Orange-breasted Falcon is very similar in appearance to the much more common and widespread Bat Falcon Falco rufigularis. Identification can be difficult, but there are some key identification features if seen well. Structurally, Orange-breasted Falcon is larger and bulkier than Bat Falcon and with a larger head and slightly shorter graduated tail. The feet are also noticeably larger and are yellow to greenish-yellow compared to the bright orange-yellow feet of Bat Falcon, and the bill is significantly heavier. Orange-breasted Falcon has blackish upperparts that contrast very little with the blackish head, whereas across much of it’s range, Bat Falcon generally has paler greyish upperparts that contrast with the blackish head.
There are several supporting identification features, that while not diagnostic, are also useful. In Orange-breasted Falcon the white throat is bordered by an orange breast (above the black ‘vest’ on the belly) and neck sides, whereas in most Bat Falcons the white throat contrasts strongly with the black vest with little or no orange or buff on the breast (there are some exceptions though so this alone is not a reliable identification feature). Also, the whitish barring on the black vest is coarser with an orange wash on Orange-breasted Falcon compared to Bat Falcon that usually shows faint narrow whitish barring on the vest.
Guilherme Serpa informs us that this is only the second sighting of Orange-breasted Falcon for Rio de Janeiro state – an incredible record! Intriguingly, Adilei has seen a falcon here in the past that he assumed was Bat Falcon and Nicholas has photographs of a falcon taken nearby on Pico da Caledônia, again presumed Bat Falcon at the time. We will be checking these photos to double check the identification.
The following day another group from the lodge visiting Pico da Caledônia failed to relocate the bird, but hopefully it will be seen again. Very well done to David Wilcove for an excellent state find and for taking an excellent set of photographs.
Some of our visitors will remember bird guide Igor Camacho, who has not stopped his survey work and guiding since he left REGUA.
He continues to bring clients to REGUA and on his visit early this year, to the restored forest around the San José tower, he found Red-legged Honeycreeper, White-bellied Tanager, Yellow-backed Tanager and Blue Dacnis to show Ernani Oliveira. The star of this trip however was Barred Forest-Falcon near the tower.
He suggested a hanging feeder near the tower might attract forest birds such as Yellow-green Grossbeak, Channel-billed Toucans, Rufous-winged Antwren and Greyish Mourner, so we considering how feasible it will be to maintain a feeder at this remote location.