Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Restoring Brazil's Atlantic Forest

Greetings All,
After leaving the southern Amazon we flew to Rio de Janeiro on Sept. 10.  A pesky weather front had moved in to shroud the surrounding mountains in clouds.  We passed on the tour to Corcovado and Sugarloaf Mountains as there would be limited views.  We did manage a brief visit to the Tijuca Forest surrounding the city.  It is claimed to be the world's largest urban forest covering 32 square km.  The rainforest here has been restored as the original forest had been completely cleared by Portuguese colonists to make way for sugar and coffee plantations.  Replanting was carried out by Mayor Manuel Gomes Archer in the second half of the 19th century to protect Rio's water supply.  In 1961 Tijuca Forest was declared a National Park.  Today the vegetation is so dense that it has been estimated that the ambient temperature of surrounding areas has been lowered by up to 9 degrees C!  We stopped at the Vista Chinesa viewpoint where a pagoda-styled gazebo had been erected to commemorate China's unsuccessful attempt to grow tea here.  We admired a partial view of the city nested at the base of the mountains.


View of Rio from Vista Chinesa
 
That evening as we were enjoying dinner in the restaurant on the top floor of our hotel we were treated to a view of the city and of the colossal statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain.  The light emanating from the statue was reflected by the clouds giving off a spiritual glow.

View of Rio from Our Hotel Restaurant
  
The following day we drove for about 2 hours north of Rio to visit the Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu  (REGUA), another project to restore part of Brazil's imperiled Atlantic Forest.  To learn more about REGUA and how you can help click on the link below.


Only 7% of the Atlantic Forest remains making it one of the most threatened ecosystems on Earth!  It is also one of the most biodiverse and endemic-rich biomes in South America.   Here is a map showing the original and current areas of the Forest:

Original Versus Remaining Area of Atlantic Forest

REGUA protects 9100 hectares of Atlantic Forest and plans on purchasing more land as resources permit.  A staggering 930 species of birds are found in the Atlantic Forest including 200 species which are found nowhere else on the planet!  REGUA is home to around 470 species and we spent nearly 3 days here birding with our guide Wes.  For a complete list of birds found at REGUA click on the following link.

Checklist of the Birds of REGUA

We woke to rain on our first morning and let the birds and mammals come to us.  Hummingbird feeders and platforms with bananas had been set up around the Guapi Assu Bird Lodge to attract the birds.  The Common Marmosets took advantage of this feeding opportunity and raided the banana feeders.  They looked comical in their rain-soaked coats with scraggly tails.

Common Marmoset
 
Common Marmosets are endemic to Brazil but their natural geographic range includes the northeastern and central forests of the country.  They were introduced to this area and have become somewhat of a pest.  There is concern that they may overcompete and breed with the local species of marmoset hastening its demise.

The hummingbird hierarchy was in full swing with the more aggressive Swallow-tailed Hummingbirds and Black Jacobins chasing off the more timid Glittering-throated Emeralds.

Swallow-tailed Hummingbird
 
The Maroon-bellied Parakeets visited one of the platforms and we were able to get some decent photos.

Maroon-bellied Parakeets
 
The rain finally let up and we braved the elements to visit some recently restored wetlands.  The area is now home to Capybara, Broad-snouted Caiman and many bird species including Common Gallinule, Capped and Cocoi Herons, Wattled Jacana, Ringed Kingfisher, Moustached Wren, White-winged Becard and White-bearded Manakin.  As we were returning to the lodge for lunch, we spotted what looked like a Blue Dacnis high in a tree.  'Take a close look at the legs'" Wes advised,  "often times a rare Black-legged Dacnis is mistaken for a Blue Dacnis".  Sure enough a closer look revealed the characteristic black legs of the near threatened and highly sought after endemic of Brazil's Atlantic Forest, the Black-legged Dacnis!

Black-legged Dacnis

Every evening over 750 Cattle egrets come here to roost in the trees surrounding the wetlands. 

Roosting Cattle Egrets

The next morning we hiked along the Green Trail to a waterfall, encountering many birds and a group of inquisitive coatis along the way.

South American Coati
 
The birding was challenging in the dense rainforest with overcast skies but Wes managed to find many species for us.  In just 5 weeks he had learned most of the birds in the area by both sight and sound!  I struggled to remember the names of the birds as most were lifers (first time we've ever seen them) for us.  One of my favorites was another endemic of Brazil's Atlantic Forest, the Black-cheeked Gnateater.

Black-cheeked Gnateater
   

The trail ended at the 150-foot falls cascading over a series of rock ledges.

Waterfall at the end of the Green Trail
 
On our final morning in Brazil we drove for about an hour to Serra dos Órgãos National Park to look for more birds.  The sun was finally breaking through the clouds and Marc finally had some light to work with.  We birded along a paved road getting some very nice sightings.

Birding in Serra dos Órgãos National Park
 
My favorites were the Grey-hooded Attila and the Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher.

Grey-hooded Attila

Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher
 
We drove to another section of the park at a slightly higher elevation to look for more species.  By now the clouds had cleared and we were greeted with bright sunshine.  It was still dark in the rainforest but Marc with his trusty 300mm lens was able to get some great shots.

Birding in Serra dos Órgãos National Park
 

A colorful Brassy-breasted Tanager was bathing in rain water that had collected in the base of a bromeliad high up in the canopy.

Brassy-breasted Tanager
 
 
Everyone was thrilled when a Spot-billed Toucanet paid us a visit.  Usually these birds stay high in the canopy but this one came a little lower to check us out.

Spot-billed Toucanet
 
Unfortunately, we had to return to the lodge after lunch.  We had to pack up and return to Rio for a 9 PM flight.  The clouds had cleared and we were finally able to get a view of the rainforest and the Serra dos Órgãos Mountains from our balcony.


View of the Serra dos Órgãos Mountains

Thanks to the dedicated folks at REGUA, this part of the Atlantic Forest is now protected and will continue to harbor a myriad of bird and animal species.  A special thanks to our wonderful host Thomas and our guide Wes for finding and identifying the birds for us!
We hope all is well back home,
Peggy and Marc

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