Brazil: Field Guides Birding Tours
Bret Whitney suggests how to begin choosing a birding tour to Brazil, a favorite destination among our participants.
Brazil is by far the largest country in South America (about the size of the lower 48 US states), and is home to one of the richest avifaunas on Earth including some 220 endemic species, a good number of them ranking among the threatened and endangered. Brazil is also one of the top tourist destinations in the world, not only because of its wealth of beautiful places and rich cultural heritage, but also because infrastructure for tourism works in Brazil: air service is excellent, hotels and pousadas are clean and cozy, the food is fabulous, and people in the service industries and countryside alike invariably go out of their way to make things happen the way you want them to.
Field Guides remains deeply committed to advancing birding tourism in Brazil, which directly supports the preservation of natural habitats there. That’s why we offer so many different itineraries for birding tours to Brazil, with 15 in our schedule. “FIFTEEN different trips!?” you say. “Where do I begin?” Well, folks have many different perspectives on this question, ranging from:
- those who are sure they want to do just one trip to Brazil that sees a wide variety of endemic and more widespread but spectacular species, to
- those who would like to experience many areas of Brazil and don’t mind seeing a good number of species on more than one trip, to
- those who want to target the endemics and have fun doing it, to
- those who want a wilderness experience based on a comfortable river-cruising vessel or in a floating lodge.
We’re convinced that every birder in the world is in one of these categories, so we’ve designed tours and sets of tours to live up to the loftiest of expectations. Here are some pointers that may help you plan to see the best of Brazil, your way.
Category 1 is easy. If you’ll be doing just one birding trip to Brazil, take our rich sampler tour, titled Brazil Nutshell: Atlantic Forest, Iguazu Falls & the Pantanal [map]. It’s just right for seeing the highlights (outside of Amazonia) at a leisurely pace. If your one tour must include both Amazonia and the Pantanal, the two most famous birding venues in Brazil, then what you want, for sure, is Rainforest & Savanna: Alta Floresta & the Northern Pantanal [map] in June. If you prefer a short tour with mostly one-site birding and rainforest and endemics are the focus of your dreams, do your one trip at Serra dos Tucanos [map] (Sep-Oct). And of course, we also have our Jaguar Spotting: Pantanal & Garden of the Amazon [map] itinerary for a great chance to see the fabulous big cat with a nice taste of southern Amazonian birds. Just don’t be surprised if one of these makes you change your mind about coming back to Brazil!
Category 2 is the toughest to define because there are many satisfying solutions. Let’s pick three or four tours, which is about the average that most folks traveling with us to Brazil will take. Assuming you didn’t start with one of the above (Category 1) trips, or even if you did, you should begin with either Safari Brazil: The Pantanal & More [map] (Sep-Oct) for an in-depth cross-section of the special habitats and birds from near the Bolivian border in the southern Pantanal through the cerrados and gallery forests of the Brazilian Planalto to wrap up with the special serras on the fringes of the Atlantic Forest in Minas Gerais—or Nowhere but Northeast Brazil! [map] (Jan-Feb), for a delightful sojourn through a little-known region of Brazil that introduces you to both seasonally dry and humid Atlantic Forest habitats loaded with both widespread and rare endemic species against an interesting cultural backdrop. If in doubt, take Safari Brazil and Nowhere but Northeast Brazil one right after the other.
Then you’ll face a fork in the road in a verdant, emerald world. Go left and you’re headed for Amazonia. That means Rio Negro Paradise: Manaus [map] (Sep) in northern Amazonia, where you’ll learn to love the Rio Negro and the Rio Amazonas in live-aboard luxury as you enjoy the hunt for rarities among the hundreds of more common birds, or Brazil’s Rio Roosevelt [map] (Jun) deep in southern Amazonia, for a comfortable immersion in an endemic-rich site with a mile-long birdlist. We’ve also added a variation on the Alta Floresta theme with our Brazil’s Cristalino Jungle Lodge [map] (Oct-Nov) itinerary featuring a longer stay at wonderful Cristalino. And in 2016 we inaugurated Brazil’s Mouth of the Amazon: Mexiana Island, the Lower Xingu & Carajas [map] (Aug) for an exploration of several little-visited sites in the complex easternmost watershed of the mighty Amazon. Or you may choose to go right…
Category 3 is, for many folks, an inescapable, craving continuum from Category 2. Memory banks overflowing with Brazilian wonders (of all kinds), and having gained an increasingly comfortable knowledge of the habitats and special birds of Brazil over the past few years (and probably a healthy appetite for high-quality churrascarias [Brazilian barbecue buffets] and the finest of caipirinhas [the national cocktail]), the Category 3 fan now builds on the foundations of Safari and Northeast, embarking upon that epic journey known as Spectacular Southeast Brazil [map] (Oct-Nov; in two parts that may be combined, offered every other year, trading out with our Great Rivers itineraries [see below]). Or not. In fact, many have taken the Category 2 and 3 recommendations in somewhat random order and appear to have come out none for the worse, all for the better!
Category 4 is one we inaugurated in 2015 and operate as primarily every-other-year itineraries. The concept? A remote wilderness experience based for a week to twelve days either on a very comfortable Brazilian river boat with air-conditioned cabins and a canopied upper deck, allowing us to stop wherever we wish in areas that few if any other birders have explored, or in a luxurious floating lodge in a remote, undisturbed setting deep in Amazonia. In this category currently are three itineraries. Our current two boat-based tours are Great Rivers of the Amazon II: Birding the Madeira-Tapajos Interfluvium, and Great Rivers of the Amazon III: Exploring the Lower Rio Tapajos Region, while our floating-lodge-based trip is Brazil’s Remote Rio Tapajos. The prizes? Of course, a great diversity of Amazonian birds and other wildlife, but an added dimension is the pursuit on each itinerary of new species only recently described to science, and exploring unknown sectors of the Amazon basin to simply find out what is there! As you might imagine, these tours attract a lot of attention and fill far in advance, especially being offered only every other year, so best to plan far ahead. Furthermore, you can expect that some of these tours will be offered just a few times before we substitute for yet other little-explored regions of the vast Brazilian Amazon.
Getting Ready For Your Tour
There are a number of good field guides in the works for Brazil, including my own, with Brazilian colleagues, to be finished one of these days and published by LYNX Edicions, publisher of the fine series Handbook of the Birds of the World. [Read more about this project in our blog post.] For now, there are several options available, including:
A Field Guide to the Birds of Brazil, by Ber van Perlo, published by Oxford University Press in 2009. It features illustrations of almost all Brazilian birds (as usual, ranging from very good to unrecognizable, mostly good), including more than one subspecies or form of some of them. It has useful introductory pages, small range maps and sparse text on facing pages, and is currently the best thing going for Brazilian bird ID. Read more about this guide in Bret’s 2010 review from The Auk (PDF file).
Wildlife Conservation Society Birds of Brazil: Pantanal and Cerrado of Central Brazil. by John A. Gwynne, Robert S. Ridgely, Guy Tudor, and Martha Argel. Published in 2010, this guide is beautifully illustrated, mostly by Guy Tudor and Dale Dyer, and has very helpful text. It is recommended especially for the Safari Brazil tour and tours that include the Pantanal.
Wildlife Conservation Society Birds of Brazil: Southeast Brazil. by Robert S. Ridgely, John A. Gwynne, Guy Tudor, and Martha Argel. Published in 2016, this guide is beautifully illustrated, mostly by Guy Tudor and Dale Dyer, and has generally good text and range maps. It is recommended especially for the Southeast Brazil tours, and is also very helpful for Northeast Brazil and our Bahia Birding Getaway.
Guia de Campo: Aves da Serra dos Orgaos e Adjacencias, published in 2015, is available at book stores in Brazil, at least in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. This compact guide has very good photographs of about 500 species, many of which are endemic to the Atlantic Forest, making it useful far beyond the designated area of coverage. It includes range maps for the distribution of each species in the country of Brazil, but no text – it is purely an illustrative work.
Birds of South America: Non-Passerines-Rheas to Woodpeckers, published by Princeton Univ. Press in 2006, is a compact, inexpensive, one-volume work with brief text and tiny range maps covering all of South America’s non-passerines, including key groups such as raptors, hummingbirds, owls, and woodpeckers. Illustrated by Jorge R. Rodriguez Mata (also one of the authors), the useful plates (from okay to very good) are very helpful in Brazil.
Field Guide to the Songbirds of South America: The Passerines by Robert Ridgely and Guy Tudor is to be published by University of Texas Press in June/July 2009. The book is a reprinting of Tudor’s passerine art from the two-volumes of Birds of South America (UT Press, 1989, 1994) with substantially more species illustrated, plus updated text and range maps. This will be an enormously helpful book for Brazil, although it still will not illustrate all of the passerine breeders. Paperback is $40.95, hardcover $125. Read more about this guide in Bret’s 2010 review from The Wilson Journal of Ornithology (PDF file).
Birds of Southern South America and Antarctica, originally published by Collins but reissued in 1998 as a Princeton Illustrated Checklist, is an English adaptation of de la Peña’s classic Guia de las Aves Argentinas, a multi-volume manual treating the birds of Argentina. Inexpensive, it is helpful in southern Brazil.
A Birdwatching Guide to Southeast Brazil, by Juha Honkala and Seppo Niiranen (2010, mongabay.com, available in the US at Buteo Books) is a great little book packed with information on birds and birding spots in eastern Brazil. There are many high-quality photos not published elsewhere (they even got most of their flycatcher identifications right!) and most species accounts and maps are also quite helpful.
Finally, the website www.wikiaves.com.br is a fantastic source of imagery and, to a lesser extent, sounds, of Brazilian birds and is highly recommended for pre-tour study and post-tour consolidation of birds sought and seen. Each species account also features a map showing points for all photos and sounds, which is helpful for an overview of the species’ ranges and for determining if a particular species has been registered at a specific site.