Sunday, February 5, 2017

Pink-legged Graveteiros and 3 Days in Boa Nova

Bahia Brazil (Part 1)

This trip was a bit of a whim.  I'm a retired (recovering?) world lister which means I don't do stuff like this any more, but every now and then, a trip hits me as something fun to do.  I'd always wanted to go to Bahia, eat Vatapá (the real local stuff), and I have a real soft spot for the Brazilian SouthEastern Rain forest.  So when I got an email from Field Guides offering a one-week short trip, really just an extension to their NorthEast Brazil trip, with the legendary Brett Whitney as leader,  I went ahead and booked it, planning to combine it with some business, food, and personal things for a 10-day Brazil vacation.

So on January 25th I flew via São Paulo to Salvadore do Bahia, joined Brett and 5 other world birders, and got ready for a fun few days in some of the relic forests of central Bahia.

Salvadore do Bahia - a super intersting place.  Portuguese and African cultures,
baroque churches, Brazilian food, colonial architecture.  A rare photo of me in
the blue tee-shirt below ...

Friday, January 27 - from Salvadore to Boa Nova

This day was basically a travel day, and a long one.  We left the hotel in Salvadore at 4am to catch a ferry across Baía de Todos os Santos and then basically headed SouthWest all day along roads of mixed quality to end up in Boa Nova in the evening.  To keep us sane, Brett added a handful of birding stops.  Some Scarlet Ibis and shorebirds along the Rio Jaguaripe were a treat, as was a longer forest walk near Valença which gave us some nice birds, most notably the Eastern (and presumably soon to be split) form of STRIPED MANAKIN.

Bird of the day though was always going to be the unusual and recently described PINK-LEGGED GRAVETEIRO if we could find one.  A species described only in 1996 it clings on in remnant canopy trees left after the forest was cleared for cocoa plantation.  The farmers leave a few trees to shade the cocoa, and this seems to be just enough for the Graveteiros to hang on in what looks like farm country, despite the fact that it was once a forest bird.

By mid afternoon we were in the right habitat, a mixture of cattle fields and what looked like open forest, that is until you noticed that the entire understory of the forest was single species feeding the worlds insatiable need for chocolate.  Our first stop came up empty, but at the second stop Brett had a nest staked out and, after playing take for a few minutes, a pair of birds appeared up around their nest high in a forest-edge tree.

Pink-legged Graveteiro singing from just above it's nest.  Not the most
exciting bird to look at, but recently-described, local, and rare.
Happy with the Graveteiro, perhaps ironically my most wanted bid on this trip, I settled back into the long ride and shifted focus to Boa Nova which we eventually reached, checking into a very basic hotel and eating take-out pizza for dinner (the only non-Brazilian food we ate on the whole trip).

Saturday, January 28 - Boa Nova National Park

Brett once voted Boa Nova the most important, threatened place for birds in South America.  A new National Park, although with no park infrastructure that I could discern, the town sits at the border between wet forest, dry forest and caatinga and is incredibly rich in bird life, including chances to see several very range-restricted species.

We started the day a little outside the park in a patch of forest on top of a dry ridge.  The very last of the moisture from the trade winds that feed the Atlantic Rainforest just reaches these dry ridges and provides just enough liquid (in the form mostly of mist) for small strips of forest to survive in an otherwise dry scrubby area.  We came to this patch to follow up on recent rumors of a breeding pair of Rieser's Tyrannulets (a near mythical species seen only a handful of times) and saw the recently vacated nest, but unfortunately did not see the birds.   We did however manage to get great views of two very range restricted antbirds that were major targets for the trip, the SLENDER ANTBIRD and the NARROW-BILLED ANTWREN both of which put on great shows for the group.

Narrow-billed Antwren (above) and Caatinga Antwren (below)

In the afternoon we wandered a trail in the super birdy Wet Forest in the National Park, adding lots of species including Bahia Spinetail (I wanted to see birds with Bahia in the name seeing as I was in Bahia), Rio de Janeiro Antbird, Striated Softtail and Black-throated Grosbeak.
Rufous Gnateater (above) and Slender Antbird (below)

Then, as it got toward sunset, we drove a little further to a stake-out site for another one of the major trip targets, the never easy, but always impressive GIANT SNIPE (a bird at least twice the size of a Common or Wilson's Snipe).  As it got dark we started to walk down the hill towards some wet fields where Brett had seen the snipe in prior years.  We passed a Common Pauraque and a Scissor-tailed Nightjar on the way, but tonight was a Snipe-Hunt, no time for nightjars.  As we got to the spot we started to work our way under a barbed wire fence, expecting to play tape and try to lure in a snipe, but the first people under found a snipe waiting for us, right out in the open not 30 feet from the road.  Now if only these things were always this easy!  We all had amazing views, the Giant Snipe itself, while initially nervous and crouched ready to flush, eventually got over us and started to wander around feeding, pushing it's truly enormous bill into the wet grass looking for worms.  We all had amazing views, and got back to the hotel early enough for an extra Caiparinha before dinner ... what's not to like?

Giant Snipe, at this stage still ready to flush ....

Sunday, January 29 - Boa Nova National Park

The major target for today was another "Bahia" bird, the very restricted and hard to find BAHIA TYRANNULET.  This bird was much more typical of rare birds though in that it required us to walk steeply up hill on a bad trail all morning ... in the rain ... and when we got to the site, the bird was no-where to be seen.  Now that's more like the type of birding I remember!  Knowing that the bird was probably around somewhere - he'd seen it here in past years - Brett tried to toot up some action using Least Pygmy-Owl calls.  We were soon joined by a real Least Pygmy-Owl, a swarm of freaked-out hummingbirds and small passerines, but unfortunately, not by a Bahia Tyrannulet.  Until, then there it was, not joining in the mobbing, but skulking quietly through canopy foliage overhead.  It took a while for us all to get good views, and I never got even the crappiest record shot, but the bird was seen well.  Mission accomplished, allowing us a more leisurely descent on the trail and the addition of yet more antbird species to the list.

Least Pygmy-Owl, getting them agitated is a good way to attract rare tyrannulets.
After a pleasant afternoon exploring some of the drier habitats near town, dinner proved to be another highlight of the trip. Boa Nova is a pretty basic place, certainly not known for it's fine restaurants, but in years past Brett had made the acquaintance of a local lady who sometimes cooked for visitors in her home. Tonight she had agreed to cook for us, and she put out a table groaning under the weight of amazing home-cooked local specialties.   A fabulous meal, and a great experience ... did I mention how much I love Brazilian food?

A home cooked meal in Boa Nova, Bahia.

Monday, January 30 - Boa Nova Area

Last morning in Boa Nova and, hoping to pad our Bahia lists, and get Masked Duck for a group member who really wanted one, we headed to a local fazenda which had a nice wetland area "stuffed with birds".  Unfortunately the historic local dry-spell had dried up the marsh but we spend a very pleasant few hours with dry-country birds before slogging 500 kilometers to the East to Porto Seguro, our base for the next part of the trip.

Suiriri Flycatcher, Spot-backed Puffbird and Silvery-cheeked Antshrike

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