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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Trilha dos Tucanos; toucan track in Brazil's precious Atlantic forest

I've just made my first brief visit to Brazil, and am delighted at the prospect of going back there. The primary purpose was a reconnaissance trip to the fabulous Pantanal, with the aim of taking a group there next year, but having flown into Sao Paulo, our organiser persuaded us to take the time to look at an example of the precious and highly threatened Atlantic forests. I was open to persuasion, as Joan Armatrading so nicely put it. These forests, which stretch along Brazil's east coast and inland to Paraguay in the south, are among the richest and most threatened forests in the world. The World Wildlife Fund regards them as second only to the Amazon lowlands in terms of biodiversity - and this despite the fact that only around 10% of the forests remain (estimates inevitably vary), of an original estimated million square kilometres. Less than 2% of the original forest is protected.
Rich lush Atlantic forest, 700 metres above sea level, some 160km south-west of Sao Paulo,
on the 70 hectare Trilha dos Tucanos private reserve.
Just a couple more figures, before I introduce you to this little corner of it. Some 2200 land vertebrate species live there, roughly 7% of the planet's total. Of these, more than 260 amphibians, some 200 bird species and 160 mammals (including at least 21 out of 27 primates) are endemic to the region, as are more than 6000 of the known 20,000 plant species. 

The drive to it from sprawling, towering Sao Paulo is sobering. Even leaving at 5am when the impressive freeway system is largely empty, the trip took nearly three hours; the return, in a nightmare of traffic, added another hour. Once outside the city the clearing is stark, though forest remnants remain on ridges. A major issue evident as we climbed into the mountains was the extent of forest cleared for eucalypt plantations, for the woodpulp industry. Our guide for the day was genial, knowledgeable Marco, taxi driver and bird guide - and father of a three day old daughter! He was going home that night, after a 17 hour day with us, to resume his home responsibilities...
Marco, excellent driver and guide!
All of course is not gloom, and much is being done - by organisations such as the WWF and Nature Conservancy, as well as Brazilian government entities - to conserve what's left. Trilha dos Tucanos is too small to provide long-term protection on its own, but it supplements the work of adjoining landowners, including a government reserve. 

On our arrival we were greeted with coffee and cake by owners Marco and Patricia, and led to the balcony, where the parade of birds to the feeders made it hard to concentrate on our own gastronomic needs!
View from the deck, with bird feeder in the foreground (where many of the following photos are set)
and a lake and forest beyond.
Here are some, starting with some of the amazing tanagers - probably my favourite South American birds, just after hummingbirds. They don't really need much more from me!

I have used an (E) after the name to indicate species which are endemic to the Atlantic forests, or nearly so; you will see that this symbol dominates.
Green-headed Tanager Tangara seledon  (E).
Ruby-crowned Tanager Tachyphonus coronatus (E).
Only the male has the discreet and lovely ruby crown, which can only be seen when he's facing you.

Female Ruby-crowned Tanager, lovely as well.
Golden-chevroned Tanager Thraupis ornata (E).
Azure-shouldered Tanager Thraupis cyanoptera (E).
Olive-green Tanager Orthogonys chloricterus
Of course there were hummingbirds too (and of course they're not easy to photograph successfully, at least by me!).
Sombre Hummingbird Aphantochroa cirrochloris (E).
The name (pronounced by Marco to rhyme with 'hombre') refers to its plumage,
rather than its demeanour!
Black Jacobin Florisuga fusca (E).
Well OK, those two weren't too bad, but with regard to hummer photos it goes downhill from there...
Black-throated Mango Anthracothorax nigricollis. This one is much more widespread than the others.
Brazilian Ruby Clytolaema rubricauda (E).
I have certainly not done this beauty justice, but you get a faint hint of its splendor
in the flash of the iridescent throat.
But even these weren't the only members of the balcony parade.
Black-throated Grosbeak Saltator fuliginosus (E).
It seems that these American grosbeaks are really tanagers too.
Tanager taxonomists are heroic beings - it's a far easier life for those of us who just watch and enjoy tanagers!

Chestnut-bellied Euphonia Euphonia pectoralis (E).
In a pretty competitive field, I reckon this little beauty may have just about have won the day!
(Euphonias were until recently believed to be tanagers, but current thinking puts them with the
true finches, Fringillidae. See comment above.)
Rufous-bellied Thrush Turdus rufiventris.A widespread and familiar species in much of eastern South America, including towns,
but nonetheless attractive and welcome at any time.
 Small groups of a couple of species of parakeet were present much of the time.
Plain Parakeet Brotogeris tirica (E).
This seems unreasonably contemptuous of a lovely little bird!
Maroon-bellied Parakeet Pyrrhura frontalis (E).
Red-rumped Cacique Cacicus haemorrhous.
The hanging nests of this colonial icterid (North American blackbirds) adorn the tree above the lake,
below the verandah.

Yellow-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes flavifrons.This exquisite little woodpecker returned several times to the feeder.
Understandably, Marco had some difficulty in prising us away to explore some of the forest tracks, but of course we willingly went in the end (especially with the promise of lunch to follow!).

The forest was of course a delight.


While we didn't see any mammals on our relatively short excursion, they are certainly there.
Tapir prints, embedded since last night's rain!
Here are a couple of the birds we saw - we were impressed, but Marco insisted it was a quiet morning.
Golden-crowned Warbler Basileuterus auricapilla.

Riverbank Warbler Myiothlypis rivularis.Both these warblers are relatively widespread, but both were new to me.

White-eyed Foliage-gleaner Automolus leucophthalmus (E).One of the huge old South American ovenbird family Furnariidae,
many of which glean insects from leaf or bark surfaces.
The highlight of this walk however was undoubtedly the most unexpected (to Marco too) appearance of a mother Brown Tinamou and two chicks at a forest feeder, comprising corn offered on the ground in front of a hide. Tinamous are a fascinating and ancient group, now known to be true ratites (the giant southern flightless birds like emus and ostriches), a realisation which has revolutionised our understanding of the entire group. I've still seen very few, so this was an especial thrill.
Brown Tinamou and chick.
Lunch incidentally, was delicious too...

But one more treat awaited us on the drive out. Just down the road we found an Atlantic Royal Flycatcher Onychorhynchus swainsoni attending a nest. I'd long wanted to see one of the royal flycatchers - their crests, when erected, are spectacular. And now I'd seen two in a matter of a few days, having very recently caught up with the Amazonian species O. coronatus in northern Peru. Neither deigned to flash their crest at me, but I wasn't complaining.
Atlantic Royal Flycatcher; a splendid finale to a splendid day!
I intend going back to Trilha dos Tucanos next year, and this time I'll stay a couple of nights. That will be even better, but our brief taster was pretty delicious too. If you do find yourself in Brazil, you'll of course want to see the Amazon and the Pantanal - but don't forget the Atlantic forests. And this little reserve is a pretty special introduction to them.

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