Category Archives: Sightings

The Capybaras of the REGUA wetlands by Katja Seehawer

Inspired by my Grandfather’s (Helmut) stories of adventure in identifying orchids and my Father’s (Klaus) passion for snakes, I visited REGUA as a volunteer in 2015.   I want to pursue a career in biology and my focus then was on which mammals venture to and from the wetlands and which routes they choose to take, using camera traps positioned on visibly active animal trails.

I showed that trail building in an around the wetlands is almost exclusively done by the Capybara, who permanently live in the wetlands though other animals would also use their trails.   These animals like to use the main tourist trails but between the wetland lakes and the major routes also exists a network of minor “social” trails.

Katja Seehawer with Capybara (© Klaus Seehawer)

The Capybaras’ stronghold is the wetlands but they leave the wetlands for feeding.   This was done on three major routes leading to neighbouring farmland, adjacent wetlands and into reforested Rainforest with remnant pastures.

I returned to REGUA in March 2017 and observed all the major routes still existed. There was no change in the trail network although there was an obvious change where the Capybaras stay during daytime.   The object of my stay was to to determine how the Capybaras live in the wetlands.

Based on different counts I estimate that there were 50 – 70 capybaras living in the wetlands in March/April 2017. These numbers were less than we expected.   I did not count them in 2015 but I have the feeling their numbers have declined.

In 2015 there were seemingly two major groups of Capybaras and they were apparently present everywhere in the wetlands. This was not the case this year.  There was only one group left and other individual Capybaras were scattered.

In 2015 I also noticed that many Capybara had wounds and cuts especially on their rear body parts.   Some Capybaras were seriously wounded and were noticeably limping.   I could witness several moments when Capybaras bit each other.   They seemed to be quite aggressive between each other.

The wounds were not as obvious this year.   Fighting still took place but the wounds were not as numerous and not as severe.   I have the feeling there may have been over-population in 2015 and the lower numbers could have diminished social pressure in 2017.

Katja with curious Capybara (© Klaus Seehawer)

I also observed that only the group near the volunteer houses remained and concluded that the animals also formed “Capybara nurseries”.   A group of 20 to 30 Capybaras would gather on an island and look after the new born and young less than six months of age and guarded by three to six adults.   The young were clearly protected with the adult guards looking in every direction supervising the group.   This nursery island was abandoned about one hour after sunrise each day, the young guided to their day area and to other Capybara groups.   The majority of Capybaras live loosely dispersed on the shores and islands all over the wetlands.

Aside from the nursery, I could not find evidence of a constant group of Capybara larger than five animals during my three week study.   I could not mark any Capybara and there are no individual markings on any Capybara body to distinguish them apart.  From the pictures of the camera trap I could see that there were no uniform constant groups. Capybara would go alone or form differently composed groups daily.

Over the past three years there was a noticeable relocation of the Capybara population towards human housing especially during night time.   This behaviour could be the result of a clear increase of larger predators in the wetlands.   We have seen at least three large Caimans (Caiman latirostris) longer than two metres and there was a clear evidence of an increase of big cat activity in the wetlands.   I had read tales from African safari camps of alternating behaviour of animals with young moving towards humans to avoid their predators.

It is possible that the whole population of the REGUA wetland Capybara are in fact a loosely connected society but their behaviour may vary seasonally.   This has to be verified.

The REGUA wetland Capybaras give me the impression of a healthy population that very well adapts and regulates itself by wandering off to the adjacent habitat and perhaps also through increasing predation.

For future work on the Capybara and to study their social behaviour I will have to find a way to mark individual Capybara.  Radio tagging would only make sense when and if we could get funding for a major work on Capybara.

There are excellent conditions to study the life in nature of Capybaras and other wildlife at REGUA because wildlife is diverse and abundant and almost free from human pressure.

I look forward to returning and conducting further research work at REGUA.

Katja Seehawer

A new born Jararacussu found on REGUA trail by Klaus Seehawer

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

Jararacussu (Bothrops Jararacussu) (© Klaus Seehawer)

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…

Klaus Seehawer

Orange-breasted Falcon at Pico da Caledônia

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 Falco deiroleucus, Pico da Caledônia, RJ, 23 March 2017. Note the bulky structure, heavy bill, large feet, white throat contrasting with the orange breast and neck sides, broad barring on the belly and blackish upperparts. The photo also shows the graduated tail quite well. The greenish tinge to the yellow feet, cere and orbital ring suggest this bird is a sub-adult. (© David Wilcove)

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.

The Neotropical Bird Club website has an excellent paper on the identification of Orange-breasted and Bat Falcons.

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.

Barred Forest-Falcon

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.

Barred-forest Falcon (©Igor Camacho)

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.

Bird Sightings – three days in February

There are now over 470 species of birds confirmed at REGUA – more than at any other site in the Atlantic Forest and probably a greater number of species than at any site in Brazil outside of the Amazon region.   Here are just a few highlights from recent walks at REGUA.   Whilst this is our Autumn, it just shows what a great all-year-round birding destination our wonderful Reserve is.

Cirilo and Adilei – REGUA’s brilliant Bird Guides (© REGUA)

6th February – a short afternoon walk along the Green Trail
Black-throated Trogon (Trogon rufus)
Rufous-breasted Leaftosser (Sclerurus scansor)
Blue Manakin (Chiroxiphia caudata)
Pin-tailed Manakin (Ilicura militaris)
Eye-ringed Tody-tyrant (Hemitriccus orbitatus)
Yellow-Olive Flycatcher (Tolmomyias assimilis)

7th February – the Forest/Brown  Trail
Blond-Crested Woodpecker – a pair (Celeus flavescent)
Rufous-capped Motmot (Baryphthengus ruficapillus)
Sooretama-slaty Antshrike (Thamnophilus ambiguus)
Chestnut-backed Antshrike (Thamnophilus palliatus)
White-flanked Antwren (Myrmitherula axillaris)
Scaled Antbird (Drymophila squamata)
Eye Ringed Tody Tyrant (Hemitriccus orbitatus)
Southern Antpipit (Corythopis delalandi)
Blue Manakin (Chiroxiphia caudata)
Green-headed Tanager (Tangara seledon)
Yellow-backed Tanager (Hemithraupis flavicollis)
Orange-bellied Euphonia (Euphonia xanthogaster)

Birding the Yellow Trail with Adilei (© Sue Healey)

8th February – the Green and Black Trails
Grey-hooded Attila (Attila rufus)
Yellow-throated Woodpecker (Piculus flavigula)
Lesser Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus fuscus)
Scaled Antbird (Drymophila squamata)
Southern Antpipit (Corythopis delalandi)
Eye-ringed Tody-tyrant (Hemitriccus orbitatus)
Rufous-breasted Leaftosser (Sclerurus scansor)
Grey-fronted Dove (Leptotila rufaxilla)
Spot-winged Wood-quail (Odontophorus capueira)
Red-crowned Ant-tanager (Habia rubica)
Black-capped Foliage-gleaner (Philydor atricapillus)
Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner (Philydor rufum)
Pale Browed Treehunter (Cichlocolaptes leucophrus)
Red-necked Tanager (Tangara cyanoventris)
Black-throated Grosbeak (Saltator fuliginosus)
Blue-bellied Parrot (Triclaria malachitacea)
White-browed Foliage-gleaner (Philydor erythrocercum)

Boat-billed Herons nest at REGUA

Juvenile Boat-billed Heron Cochlearius cochlearius, REGUA, 2 December 2016 (© Adilei Carvalho da Cunha)
Adult Boat-billed Heron Cochlearius cochlearius, REGUA, 2 December 2016 (© Adilei Carvalho da Cunha)

The Boat-billed Heron Cochlearius cochlearius, or arapapá in Portuguese, is one of the more mysterious bird species present at REGUA. Records over the years have been very few and far between, with only occasional sightings of roosting birds from the replanted forest around the wetland.

But for the last three years birds have been arriving at REGUA in the beginning of December and breeding has been suspected. Then on 2nd December Adilei found 12 nests at the wetland in the ten year old replanted forest close to Amanda’s Hide – the first confirmed nesting of Boat-billed Heron at REGUA.

The nests are made from twigs and lined with feathers and situated 6-8 m above ground, and at the time of writing the chicks are close to fledging.

Boat-billed Heron is widespread throughout Latin America and although numbers are thought to be declining, with such a large range they are classified as Least Concern by the IUCN.

Being a nocturnal species, it is never that easy to see them. But many local birders have recently come to REGUA to photograph these birds and last year Francisco Falcon took this amazing photo of a displaying adult that became a huge success in the local birding world.

In 2012, we captured on camera trap, an adult bird feeding at night along one of the small forest streams that flows into the wetland. Watch the video »

October bird sightings

We are well into the austral spring and the weather in October has been rather mixed, with hot temperatures much rainfall, including a couple of days of full rain. Many bird species have now moved to higher, cooler elevations for the spring and summer, whilst activity around the wetland and lodge garden is increasing as more species are breeding.

The undoubted highlight of the month was finding Rio de Janeiro’s first Andean Flamingo on one of our excursions to Cabo Frio.

On the reserve, the wetland continues to provide excellent birding opportunities with an amazing four Sungrebe now being reported – surely a record count for Rio de Janeiro state? Also at the wetland, Boat-billed Heron, Greenish Eleania (very scarce in Rio de Janeiro state), Uniform Crake, Russet-crowned Crake, Rufous-sided Crake, Pauraque and Red-cowled Cardinal (scarce at the wetland nowadays). The adjacent Brown Trail continues to bring in yet more forest interior species, with White-bibbed Antbird and Scaled Antbird making appearances, along with the more usual Sooretama Slaty-Antshrike and Tawny-browed Owl.

Highlights on the Green Trail include Shrike-like Cotinga, Temminck’s Seedeater, White-necked Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle, Pin-tailed Manakin, Crescent-chested Puffbird, Southern Antpipit, Saw-billed Hermit, Spot-billed Toucanet, Bare-throated Bellbird, Rufous-capped Motmot and Rufous-capped Antthrush.

On the Grey Trail another of REGUA’s specialities, Russet-winged Spadebill, was seen along with Salvadori’s Antwren, Buff-bellied Puffbird and Least Pygmy-Owl, On the 4×4 Trail the very rarely encountered Tufted Antshrike was heard but not seen, and nearby a Bare-throated Bellbird seen on the area planted two years ago near the Guapiaçu river.

At the other end of the reserve on the Waldenoor Trail, another Tufted Antshrike was heard, as was Salvadori’s Antwren, but 2 male Frilled Coquette, Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, White-throated Woodcreeper and Spot-billed Toucanet were amongst the birds seen.

On our night excursions, Giant Snipe, Scissor-tailed Nightjar, South American Snipe, Ash-throated Crake, Streamer-tailed Tyrant and White Woodpecker were all seen.

hangnest-tody-flycatcher-nicholas-locke-800x533
Hangnest Tody-Flycatcher Hemitriccus nidipendulus (© Nicholas Locke)

Excursions offsite have been equally popular and productive. Cabo Frio and its rare coastal restinga habitat produced Restinga Antwren, Roseate Spoonbill, American Oystercatcher, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, Lemon-chested Greenlet and of course, the Andean Flamingo.

Our trips to the Atlantic Forest mountains produced a good number of high altitude Atlantic Forest endemics. Pico da Caledônia produced great views of the extremely rare Grey-winged Cotinga, nesting Swallow-tailed Cotinga, a female Chestnut-headed Tanager (rare on the coastal slope), Large-tailed Antshrike, Dusky-tailed Antbird, Rufous-tailed Antbird, Yellow-browed Woodpecker, Plovercrest, White-throated Hummingbird, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Sharp-billed Treehunter, Black-billed Scythebill , Shear-tailed Grey Tyrant, Saffron-crested Tyrant-Manakin, Diademed Tanager, Bay-chested Warbling-Finch and Cinnamon Tanager. While at Macaé de Cima, Black-and-gold Cotinga, Bertoni’s Antbird, Giant Anshrike were among the species noted.

On our excursions to the remnants of the Dry Atlantic Forest around Sumidouro we found the highly sought-after Three-toed Jacamar, as well as other open-country species including Blue-winged Macaw, Magpie Tanager, Serra Antwren, Half-collared Sparrow, Sooty Tyrannulet, Firewood-gatherer, Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, Masked Yellowthroat, Ultramarine Grosbeak, Sapphire-spangled Emerald, Plumbeous Kite and White-tailed Hawk.

Finally a belated sighting from September – a Swallow-tailed Cotinga on the Waterfall Trail!

Sharpbill at the wetland

One very desirable bird found in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest is Sharpbill Oxyrincus cristatus. This enigmatic bird with its distinctive orange eye is never easy to find and many of REGUA’s visitors wish to see it during their visit.

It has a wide distribution and is not uncommon, with a call resembling the sound of a falling bomb without the explosion at the end. It appears to be more concentrated in areas of mature secondary or primary Atlantic Forest where it is often found high in the canopies searching for fruit.

Sharpbill
Sharpbill (© Gustavo Pedro de Paula)

Imagine Gustavo Pedro de Paula’s surprise as he spotted the bird feeding low down on Trema micrantha fruit by the REGUA wetlands recently. Gustavo took several photos and suggested that the presence of this species denoted the maturity of the forests by the wetlands, a real sign of the success of our reforestation project. Gradually the more common open ground species are being displaced as the trees around are growing and maturing.

Upon closer examination of the image one could think that the bird was inspecting some chrysalides left by a butterfly. Some tasty morsels so to speak! In any case we extend a big thank you to Gustavo for sharing the image with us.

Andean Flamingo at Cabo Frio – a first for RJ state!

andean-flamingo_7630-a-alan-martin
Andean Flamingo Phoenicopterus chilensis, Cabo Frio, 16 October 2016 (© Alan Martin)

The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that our news post about a Chilean Flamingo Phoenicopterus chilensis seen at Cabo Frio on 16 October has been removed. Well, there is an exciting reason for this – the bird has been correctly re-identified as an Andean Flamingo Phoenicoparrus andinus, and the first record for Rio de Janeiro state!

Initially thought to be a Chilean Flamingo, thankfully Alan Martin was able to take a few photos and it was only after subsequently checking the photos a few days later that the true identity of the bird became clear. News of the bird was put out and a major twitch (in Brazilian terms) ensewed, with several local birders making the trip to Cabo Frio to see it. It was still present on 6 November and photos from many photographers can be seen on WikiAves.

Andean Flamingo is the scarcest flamingo species, mostly restricted to the salt lakes of the altiplano of southern Peru, Bolivia, northern Chile and north-west Argentina. They are altitudinal migrants, moving to lower elevations for the winter, and vagrants have made as far as Buenos Aires province in Argentina, the Brazilian Amazon, and Brazil’s southern coast, where flocks of up to 32 individuals together have been found. The Cabo Frio bird is by far the most easterly occurrence of this species.

Very well done to Alan Martin and the Limosa birding group for finding and photographing the bird, and to Gabriel Mello for re-identifying the bird.

Comb Ducks still present at REGUA

pato-de-crista-ricardo-mattos
Comb Ducks Sarkidiornis sylvicola with White-faced Whistling-Ducks Dendrocygna viduata, REGUA wetland, 7 August 2016 (© Ricardo Mattos)

As we happily reported two weeks ago, Marcos Felipe spotted the Comb Duck Sarkidiornis sylvicola on the REGUA wetlands making this a very first for the Reserve’s bird list. The photo wasn’t the best of the bird, as it likes to keep the White-faced Whistling-Ducks Dendrocygna viduata company and they stay well hidden. Marcos didn’t have a powerful lens, but it was nethertheless a magnificent record shot.

This weekend Ricardo and Elisa came and stayed at the lodge. Ricardo had visited before and he has a lot of experience in scuba diving practising under water photography. He arrived with his brother and their respective wives to stay at REGUA and dabble at photographing birds, as well as soaking up the calm nature REGUA offers.

Adilei took him out on the morning of Sunday 7th August and they espied the Comb Ducks sieving for bugs in the water and was able to get a clearer shot of it for us to share with you all. All credit to Ricardo Mattos and may this successful shot encourage him to take to land and look for birds!