March is not the best month for birding in south-east Brazil, as it is the end of the bird breeding season and many species become more diffcult to see. But this didn’t stop our guide Adilei from finding yet another new bird at REGUA. On 29 March, Adilei was walking close to the Sao Jose Tower when he heard the call of the Grey-crowned Flatbill Tolmomyias poliocephalus. Grabbing his camera, Adilei managed to capture these fantastic photos.
Grey-crowned Flatbill is found in the Amazon basin and the Atlantic Forest, where Rio state is at the very southern edge of its range. This record brings the number od bird recorded at REGUA to an incredible 486 species!
The Screaming cowbird (Molothrus rufoaxillaris) belonging to the family Icteridae, is among the avian brood parasites the most specialized species.
Daniel Mello, birdwatching guide and partner of our institution, made the first record of this species at REGUA, in an open area close to the headquarters. A juvenile (rufous plumage) was spotted flying with a flock of Chopi blackbirds (Gnorimopsar chopi). Insects, seeds and on occasions fruit, are part of its diet.
It occurs in most of eastern Brazil, from Rio Grande do Sul to Piaui State.
The Black-capped Screech-Owl (Megascops atricapilla) was heard by Adilei’s house and he gave it a chance trying to photograph it. He had been hearing its call for some weeks and he finally managed to reach it! All owls occurring in Brazil, except for the barn owl (Tyto furcata), belong to the Strigidae family. The Black-capped Screech-Owl can be found in Southeast Brazil, northern Argentina and eastern Paraguay and is under Least Concern (LC) category by IUCN Conservation status. This species is of crepuscular habits hunting for insects, rodents, small mammals and birds and it often nests in natural tree cavities or in abandoned nest holes. It’s easy to find the Black-capped Screech-Owl on mature, humid and dense forests. Brazilians have a fascination for owls and it’s quite an event to make a record of it!
Mantled Hawk, Black and White Hawk-eagle and White-necked Hawk are three very special
bird species found at REGUA, they are stunning to see with their white plumage contrasting against a blue Brazilian sky. These three species are in the family of Accipiters which comprises hawks, eagles and kites.
Mantled Hawk is an Atlantic Rainforest endemic feeding on a variety of prey including small birds, lizards, large insects and small mammals. They sit on perches and ambush their prey sometimes staying in the same area for several days. Often it is the call that alerts us that the bird is around. It is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN red data list.
Black and White Hawk eagle (Spizaetus melanoleucu) is slightly larger than Mantled Hawk, it also has a much larger distribution and is considered of least concern by the IUCN. REGUA’s bird guide, Adilei Carvalho da Cunha says it can be regularly seen from trails around the reserve.
A third member of the accipiter family found at REGUA is White-necked Hawk, a smaller hawk which is white with black upper parts. This species is harder to see than the previous two species with its habit of gliding above the trees and remaining mostly within the forested areas. It also tends to perch in the mid-storey of the forest or within the canopy making it harder to find. The diet is similar to the previous two species, but may feed lower to the ground.
These birds can be seen around the reserve at REGUA and on some of our offsite trips.
With the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions on travel, as with so many places around the world, REGUA tourism levels have collapsed.
Rainforest Trust, who have helped to raise funds for us over the years, came to our aid and helped us support Adilei, REGUA’s bird guide until guests can return.
With this hiatus in his usual work Adilei has been able to do many regular walks around the reserve as well as maintaining the trails. On a recent survey of the wetlands, Adilei spotted a female Masked Duck in the middle of one of the wetland lakes. He played the call and to his surprise the bird flew toward him and landed a few metres away. The bird called with a series of short high-pitched calls in a falling crescendo.
Masked Duck is associated with wetlands which have rafts of water plants on the surface. They use these plants as camouflage and hide out of sight. As it is small duck and sits rather low in the water it can be very hard to find. Adilei’s photograph actually shows the bird in relatively clear water, maybe it was reassured by the call and Adilei’s calm, quiet enjoyment.
REGUA’s wetlands have always had this species and many guests have seen it here, however as the wetlands have matured and with the growth of the planted trees, and increased weed growth, sightings have reduced and they have become increasingly hard to see.
A male was seen last year and with this latest sighting, hopefully we will be able to see more of them in the future.
Birding at REGUA is not so easy and demands much attention and physical resistance from the birder. Trekking up slopes of what remains of the Atlantic Rainforest in a hot climate and with birds that are naturally shy, makes for hard birding conditions. The forest litter that protects the soil and retains soil moisture makes for noisy crunchy walks, giving away one’s presence in the attempt to catch a glimpse of any bird. One of the toughest birds to see is the Solitary Tinamou, (Tinamus solitarius), a large terrestrial bird that was historically much persecuted for Sunday meals. The Solitary Tinamou is an Atlantic Rainforest endemic feeding mostly on insects and toady it is labelled “Near” threatened by the IUCN red data list.
Though hunting has significantly reduced at REGUA, on any forest walk, we can hear these birds call very occasionally, though to see one is another matter. It is probably easier to find a ground nest with a couple of emerald green eggs than the birds themselves.
Adilei recounted his joy at hearing an adult call on one of his walks and when trying to stalk it found only a young chick attempting to merge in with the leaves. Naturally well camouflaged, it went into the brush to make it hard to catch a crisp image. This was a joyous moment for Adilei, as one so rarely sees these birds in the wild. A good sign that REGUA efforts in protection and conservation is contributing to increase their numbers.
Every evening, for the last six months, REGUA´s Visitor Centre wasvisitedby a mysterious nocturnal animal. It was common to see pellets and white stains on cars and all over the floor first thing in the morning. Wefinallyfound outthat the elusive creature was a Barn-owl (Tyto furcata)! Itisnestingatthe top of an oldtree byREGUA’s common area and feeding on small vertebrates.
Widelydistributed, thisspeciesoccurs in alltheAmericas, except for thedenselyforestedregionsoftheAmazon. Barn-owls inhabit open andsemi-openareasandthey are more activeatduskand at night. They arecommonlyseenflyingloworon top offencesalong theroad. Duringday time, they sleepornest in churchtowers, atticsofhousesandtree hollows. Anunmistakablefeatureofthespeciesistheirheart-shaped face. Males andfemales are quite similar however,the male maypresent a whiteunderpartwhilethefemalemaypresent a cream to light browncolourunderpart.
Barn-owls feed on rodents, invertebrates and some largermammalsandsmallbirds. Studieshaveshownthat this species is able to separate different materials in theirstomach, including hair, bonesandother non-digestibleparts. The pellet cycle is regular, regurgitating the remains when the digestive system has finished extracting the nutrition from the food. This is often done at a favourite roost. When an Owl is about to produce a pellet, it will take on a pained expression. Owl pellets differ from other birds of prey in that they contain a greater proportion of food residue. This is because an owl’s digestive juices are less acidic than in other birds of prey.
The Rufescent Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma lineatum) is often seen at REGUA’s wetlands. This species belongs to the Ardeidae family and inhabits Central and South America. Its head, sides of the head, and long, thick neck are rich chestnut brown to rufous cinnamon. The bill is relatively long, up to 10 cm, appearing slightly up tilted, and varies in colour according to age and season, in ways that are not well understood. Immature birds are variable, undergoing gradual plumage changes through the fifth year. The adult Rufescent Tiger-Heron is identified by its rich chestnut to rufous brown neck and head, dark and white lined throat, dark flanks with narrow white bands, white banded under wings, and relatively long neck and lower legs. Male and female reaching adult age are alike, although there is an indication of sexual difference in plumage details.
This species inhabits wooded tropical swamps. It occurs especially along slow-moving rivers in swamp forests, gallery forest, mangrove swamps and in other extensive forested wetlands. It is a typical bird from the great wetlands of South America, the Amazon, the Paraguayan and Argentinean Chaco, and the Brazilian Mato Grosso. It is common to spot them on rainy and dark days, as they seem to be lonely bird. Their nests are often built on top of trees and shrubs, composed by many sticks. The breeding season is not well documented and there is a need for additional study. Its diet includes fish, amphibians, insects, and snakes. Its long tarsus, bill, and neck suggests a primary adaptation for fishing. When they feel threatened, they remain motionless until they finally fly, finding shelter on top of the trees.
These pictures were taken by Claudia Bauer, a renowned Brazilian ornithologist who belongs to a birdwatcher’s club in Rio de Janeiro. She often comes to REGUA to photograph birds and nature. It is an inspiring hobby!
Among the few students who visited REGUA last year, a very atypical year in which most universities’ field trips were cancelled due to Covid-19 pandemic, PhD student Beatriz Ferreira proceeded with her research topic of evaluating how pasture management with isolated tree clumps decreases the effect of deforestation and encourages the presence of Anuran tadpoles in pasture puddles.
Anurans use these ponds for reproduction which become fundamental to their existence. Jefferson Ribeiro and Orlando de Marques Vogelbacher accompanied Beatriz on her last 2020 field trip to REGUA. They are both Biology PhD students and have taken beautiful pictures of flora and fauna found at REGUA.
For the last 20 years, REGUA has been encouraging and supporting research carried out by national and foreign universities.
Research at REGUA is one of the main pillars on which we base our conservation mission in the upper Guapiaçu watershed. Ultimately, understanding the dynamics of nature allows us to acknowledge that Mother Earth’s environmental services are paramount to human permanence on the planet.
We hope continuing welcoming researchers and students this year.
Aguas Compridas is an area of the reserve that we reforested with World Land Trust funding back in 2012. Just last week our bird guide Adilei, heard the call of Bertoni’s Antbird Drymophila rubricollis in this area. Bertoni’s Antbird is an Atlantic Forest Endemic and normally associated with higher altitudes, between 900 and 2000 metres above sea level. As this piece of land is at around 95 metres above sea level, Adilei was surprised to hear the species there.
At around 08:00, Adilei left his house as usual with his trusty binoculars. He heard the call and eventually found the bird in this small piece of secondary forest scrub. Only the single male bird was seen and it was singing its heart out, sadly without a reply. Was it simply lost, or maybe calling to a female? Maybe it had been forced low down as it is unusually cold at the moment, even for this, our winter season.
It will be interesting to see if it is heard again. Unfortunately Adilei did not have his camera with him on this occasion, so here’s a photograph of a different individual I took recently, to highlight how stunning this bird is.
Belated news of two adult Purple Martins Progne subis seen and photographed with Grey-breasted Martins Progne chalybea by our bird guide Adilei at REGUA on 9 October 2019. Purple Martin breeds in North America and winters across much of South America east of the Andes. Rio state is towards the southern limit of their range. Following a White-throated Seedeater at the wetland on 12 October 2019, also found by Adilei, this long overdue addition to the REGUA bird list brings the total number of bird species recorded here to an incredible 485! This total excludes species seen on excursions. Which bird species next for REGUA?
Almost exactly twenty years ago, renowned UK birders Guy Kirwan, Rodd McCann, Rob Williams and Canadian bird artist David Beadle visited REGUA, returning a year later in the company of the late Argentine birder Juan Mazar Barnett. Staying at the modest REGUA research accomodation, they had come to find the Rio de Janeiro AntwrenMyrmutherula fluminense, following the sighting by Stephen Knapp which had electrified the birding world and put REGUA on the international map. The birders all saw the bird in a secondary forest at 100m elevation and I even asked David if he could draw us a picture of this extraordinary bird.
The Rio de Janeiro Antwren is a monotypic species that lies in Professor Luis Gonzaga’s collection at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). During Professor Gonzaga’s doctorate field work in 1982 he found and collected a common antwren in one of his mist nets in the lowland forest near Magé, some 30 miles away from REGUA as the crow flies. Upon further study he realized that it was not the White-flanked Antwren Myrmutherula axilaris and named it Myrmutherula fluminense.
Over the years, birders came to REGUA to try to see not only this bird, but also other species of Atlantic Forest birds, and the REGUA organization grew to become the respected conservation project it is today. Birders and naturalists from around the globe visit REGUA and stay at our lodge. The results of our habitat protection, partly funded by visitation to REGUA, have been inspirational, but the Rio de Janeiro Antwren was never seen again, suggesting that it may well have been the White-flanked Antwren or even a possible hybrid.
Brazilian ornithologist Fabio Olmos visited and mist-netted in exactly the same area six years later and caught an immature White-flanked Antwren offering doubts as to the real identity of that mysterious bird that David and friends saw.
Professor Gonzaga kept the bird for over 15 years until it was given the ultimate test, the DNA test, and what did he find? The results showed that the bird was completely different from the Myrmutherula genus. Now he has a single bird of a new unnamed genus, probably the rarest bird in Brazil!
On the search now are Brazilian ornithologists Luciano Lima and Rafael Bessa, Rafael famous for rediscovering the Blue-eyed Ground-DoveColumbina cyanopis, missing for over 75 years. They are involved in a field project sponsored by American Birding Conservancy to search the lowland forests for the mysterious bird. Could others lurk out there in similar secondary forest? Luciano and Rafael have completed their fieldwork and have some ideas, but we are left with doubts. However, it was chance to tell them the story of the bird that put REGUA on the map, that brought generous donors to help establish this lowland reserve and all its programmes in conservation of the Atlantic Forest. There are still many small patches of forest out there so perhaps we have not heard the last of this enigmatic bird!
On 26th January, our bird guide Adilei Carvalho da Cunha was looking for cotingas near the gate to Fazenda São Bernardo at Pico da Caledônia with lodge guest Christian Hollville and UK volunteer Sue Loose, when he came across a stunning adult male Blackburnian Warbler. A new bird for Adilei, this is only the second record of this species for Rio de Janeiro state, after one was seen and photographed on 30 December 2016.
The Blackburnian Warbler is a long distance migrant, breeding mainly in the coniferous forests of north-eastern North America, and wintering in the north of South Amercia, primarily in the montane forests in Columbia, Venezuela, as well as in the Andes of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. There have been very few sightings of Blackburnian Warbler in Brazil, with this being perhaps only the sixth national record!
Raquel Locke informed members of the Rio Bird Club of the sighting via the WhatsApp group, and some of whom then successfully twitched it on the 28th, when Guilherme Serpa and João Sergio managed to take some great photos.
Although the population is currently thought to be stable, the Blackburnian Warbler is under threat, from climate change that is predicted to push it’s breeding range northwards, to loss of their preferred forest habitat on their wintering grounds.
Unbeknown to us at the time, we have since discovered that this bird was first seen here three weeks before, and amazingly today a female (RJ state’s 3rd!) was also discovered at the same place on the 30th! Both birds are proving a popular attraction for local birdwatchers, and so there is a good chance they may stick around for a while yet before heading back north.
Many thanks to Guilherme Serpa and João Sergio for allowing us to use their excellent photos.
Although we continue to find new birds on the reserve, it isn’t actually that easy, so the King Vulture espied by Biologist Calel Passarelles in a new area of tree planting near our Onofre Cunha forest was especially thrilling.
Raquel Locke (REGUA’s Vice-President) remembers seeing several in the same area over twenty years ago. Two months ago, Marco Wood-Bonelli photographed one soaring over the new area of trees planted. Marco is finalizing his Masters Degree at the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens Institute on the use of individual trees and artificial bamboo perches by birds.
He has already had identified 70 species that regularly use trees in open areas between forest fragments and he was keen to evaluate the use of these ‘island trees’ as stepping stones between forested fragments. His field visits terminated with the wonderful sight of the King Vulture perched on a Cecropia tree.
We hope this is an indication of more sightings to come.
On 27th October each year, Rio de Janeiro Bird Club gathered at REGUA for the annual event at REGUA. The previous day many birders visited the Três Picos Park and then arrived to stay overnight at REGUA and explore the Reserve on the following day.
The event was a real success with 76 birders participating and 242 bird species seen. REGUA took birders on the green trail to see the Shrike-like Cotinga and to Waldenoor to see the Long-tailed Potoo, both enigmatic birds that can be tough to see anywhere else.
The event raises awareness and offers an opportunity for REGUA to show its conservation efforts and biodiversity protection.
We already look forward to welcoming the club at next years event!
August and September mark the transition from winter to early spring at REGUA and it can be an interesting time for birding. In August many species are already paired up, forming territories and starting to call and even nest-building, while others are still moving around in mixed-species winter flocks. Here are the sightings highlights for August and September.
The undoubted highlights were the 3 new species found that were new for REGUA. The first of these was a superb male Southern Pochard at the wetland, found by visiting photographer Tom Friedel on 22 August. This bird stayed for 5 days and spent most of its time feeding with Brazilian Teal and White-faced Whistling-Ducks.
Other sightings at the wetland include the 3rd record of Magnificent Frigatebird for REGUA (an adult female over on 18 September), the long-staying Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Black-legged Dacnis, 2 Black-necked Aracari (1 September), Boat-billed Heron, Capped Heron, 3 Rufous-thighed Kite, Crane Hawk, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Reddish Hermit, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Rusty-margined Guan, Rufous-capped Motmot, Limpkin, Grey-necked Wood-Rail, Blackish Rail, Amazon Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Lemon-chested Greenlet, Hooded Tanager, Common Waxbill and a noisy colony of nest-building Red-rumped Caciques.
Lodge garden: The feeders in the lodge garden were extremely quiet in August, especially for hummingbirds. However, things did start to improve in September. Notable sightings at the lodge including Lineated Woodpecker (31 August), Blond-crested Woodpecker (up to 3 regularly visiting the fruit feeder), Toco Toucan, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Hooded Tanager, Yellow-backed Tanager, Green-headed Tanager, Azure-shouldered Tanager, Purple-throated Euphonia, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Scaly-headed Parrot, Orange-winged Parrot, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Curl-crested Jay, Fork-tailed Flycatcher (3 moving through on 18 September – unusual in the lodge garden) and the usual Rusty-margined Guans visiting the bananas. Black Jaonbins reappeared in September, with numbers increasing as the month progessed.
Brown Trail and São José Tower: Shrike-like Cotinga has been elusive this year but birds have occasionally been seen around the São José Tower. A pair of (Greater) Crescent-chested Puffbirds showed well along the trail to the tower and sightings on the Brown Trail include White-necked Hawk, Common Pauraque (2 birds sitting on eggs), Reddish Hermit, White-chinned Sapphire, Grey-hooded Attila, Sooretame Slaty-Antshrike, Rufous-capped Antthrush, Black-cheeked Gnateater, White-bellied (Turquoise) Tanager and Brazilian Tanager. The 2 Tropical Screech-Owls were seen most days roosting around post 0 by the conservation centre.
Green Trail: An adult King Vulture photographed on 12 September was the third new bird for REGUA during this period (bringing the REGUA bird list up to 483, not including species found on excursions)! Also noted were Swallow-tailed Cotinga, Bare-throated Bellbird, Sharpbill, White-necked Hawk, Buff-bellied Puffbird, Spot-billed Toucanet, Black-cheeked Gnateater, Southern Antpipit (6 on 27 August is a notable count), Pin-tailed Manakin, Blue Manakin, Grey-hooded Attila, Rufous-breasted Leaftosser, White-throated Woodcreeper, Black-capped Foliage-gleaner, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Yellow-green Grosbeak, Gilt-edged Tanager, Brassy-breasted Tanager, Red-necked Tanager and Rufous-headed Tanager.
Waldenoor Trail: A Long-tailed Potoo showed well for a few days in August at a roost site and other birds noted include Swallow-tailed Cotinga, White-tailed Trogon, Frilled Coquette, Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, White-eyed Parakeet, Variegated Antpitta, (Greater) Crescent-chested Puffbird, Spot-billed Toucanet, Olive-green Tanager.
Farmland safari: Our new excursion to the farmland bordering the reserve have proven extremely popular with guests, providing a change of pace from forest birding. A Long-tailed Reedfinch found by our guide Adilei on 1 September was the first record for REGUA. Other species recorded include Scaled Pigeon (heard on 1 September followed the next day by the first sight record for REGUA on 2 September), Campo Troupial, Streamer-tailed Tyrant, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, White-rumped Monjita, Short-tailed Hawk, Great Black Hawk, Savanna Hawk, Ash-throated Crake, White-rumped Swallow, South American Snipe, Guira Cuckoo, Striped Cuckoo, Burrowing Owl, Toco Toucan, Whistling Heron, Lineated Woodpecker, White Woodpecker, Campo Flicker, American Kestrel, Peach-fronted Parakeet, Plain Parakeet, Rufous Hornero, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Yellow Tyrannulet, Cattle Tyrant, Fork-tailed Flycatcher (first returning bird of the spring seen on 31 August), Bran-coloured Flycatcher, Lemon-chested Greenlet, Long-billed Wren, Masked Yellowthroat, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Grassland Sparrow, Chopi Blackbird, Red-cowled Cardinal and White-browed Meadowlark. We will be posting an itinerary for this excellent excursion on our website shortly.
On our night-birding excursion several Giant Snipe were seen along with Black-banded Owl, Common Potoo, American Barn Owl, Tropical Screech-Owl and Spot-tailed Nightjar.
Highlights from our excursions off-reserve include:
You will all remember that our Great Horned Owls Bubo virginianus were first spotted near to REGUA in August last year by Fito Downs and Adilei, REGUA’s Bird Guide. Many visitors were delighted to see this enigmatic species and Adilei caught some images of their coupling at the time.
Adilei and I visited the same tree in late December to take a photograph of the resulting juvenile bird. As you can see the juvenile has grown considerably and as it starts its first moult, the downy first feathers are being replaced by the first adult plumage.
Naturally we are delighted with the progress and hope that the juvenile decides to stay nearby like our Tropical Screech-Owls, we certainly have plenty of old suitable trees in the area.
We are delighted to announce that the Russo’s birdfeeder is back working.
Many locals and visitors alike, enjoy stopping at Russo’s makeshift stall on the road to Nova Friburgo. However, following a fire it had been closed for some time.
Russo has now, happily, picked up the courage to rebuild and regain his reputation of one the best places to photograph tanagers close up. The road works that improved access has helped and today the Russo store, though mainly equipped with bananas, snacks and sweets, offers excellent photo opportunities for Green-headed Tanager, Red-necked Tanager, Azure-shouldered Tanager, Violaceous Euphonia , Green Honeycreeper, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Ruby-crowned Tanager, Chestnut-bellied Euphonia and even the occasional Spot-billed Toucanet.
We always like to stop on our excursions, so be prepared with plenty of memory cards!
In October 2017 our bird guide Adilei Carvalho da Cunha heard a Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus at the village of Matumbo, situated at the edge of REGUA. With a large range covering much of North, Central and South America, Great Horned Owl had long been predicted as a future addition to the REGUA bird list, but this was the first record for the reserve.
Tantalizingly, there was no further sign until just a few days ago on the 18 August 2018 when Adilei finally saw a bird – the first sight record for REGUA. When he returned the next morning with his camera he found not one bird but a pair! Then while watching and photographing them he was amazed when they mated right in front of him!
What an incredible record and yet another owl species for REGUA. The addition of Great Horned Owl takes the REGUA bird list to an incredible 479 species! Well done Adilei for finding and documenting such a great record.
Even though it’s just a year since we published our last note on the sighting of the Shrike-like Cotinga in the recent news section of the web site, once again, birders are seeing this species on the lowlands in July.
We have the distinct feeling that it seems to staying longer on the lowland part of the reserve, before making its way up the mountains to disappear in January when presumably it is breeding. Both Adilei and Cirilo, REGUA’s Bird Guides, have taken many guests to see this Neotropical species, one of the most iconic species of the Atlantic Rainforest.
Please come along to visit us at the British Bird Fair Rutland Water, UK from 17th to 19th August we shall be in Marquee 1, stand 37 where you can speak to our UK team to find out more about this and a host of other species and plan your visit to see them for yourself.