Thursday (Day 2)
Once light had fallen the previous evening, a very light drizzle had started to fall. This made a difference to our destination today, since rain would lead to low cloud cover on the high altitude extensions, and therefore would result in an alternative trip. However, the morning began with blue skies, so the first choice remained. Before leaving for this at 7am, which strangely seems to be the standard departure time for excursions, we had an hour to scan the garden again. All eyes were on the fruit feeders, since this was reputedly the best time for the regular attendance of Blond-crested Woodpecker. It did have a distant stare at the banquet on offer from the safety of the trees, but was no doubt nervous of our presence, and so made a hasty exit. The converse was the case for the Spot-billed Toucanets, which spent most of the hour on the fruit feeders to the rear of the garden – they had no problem with us gauping at them.
The journey to the lower extension of the high altitude trip took about an hour, the last leg of which veered off from one of the towns, and up a bumpy cobbled side road, which climbed steadily up to our destination. Once out of the car, we walked along the track to view a small plot or two of farmland set amongst the hills. A Picazuro Pigeon greeted us, before we gazed down on a smallholding, which offered a trio of richly coloured Cinnamon Tanagers raiding one of the orange trees. Much closer to us, in fact in the bushes lining the track, a pair of Spix’s Spinetails led a merry dance, constantly calling, but not offering anything that could be termed a decent view initially. After some time and eventual half reasonable views, we plodded further along the track towards an avenue of trees (where the van was now parked), and stirred up good numbers of passerines on the way – Saffron Finches, Double-collared Seedeaters, and Rufous-collared Sparrows clustered along wires and low bushes, with a Chalk-browed Mockingbird on the ground. Once at the avenue, a major treat in the form of a trio of Red-legged Seriemas was offered, as they strode slowly across a hilly meadow opposite. The smallholding at the base of the avenue was equally as good, seeming to jump with birds – a pair of nesting Pallid Spinetails, Scaled Woodcreeper, a pair of Yellow-eared Woodpeckers, and Slaty-breasted Rail in the field amongst them.
It was now time to tackle the more strenuous part of the day – the haul up the upper extension. The van parked up amongst the trees at around 1500m elevation, and the plan was to walk up the track to just below the summit, which is at around 2000m. This was no easy matter, since the track was steep in many places, although the temperature wasn’t too uncomfortable (at around 17oC). The cloud had also started to close in by now, with a rolling mist replacing the earlier sunshine. This left us with very little in the way of a view, and quite often poorer resolution of the birds. Most of the way was through fairly thick forest on a well paved road, with open areas (not always visible in the conditions) along the way. Early signs were of typical slow forest birding, with calling birds few and far between. On the ascent, we did manage to tempt out a Rufous-tailed Antbird, but much better views were had of a couple of Diademed Tanagers, Serra do Mar & Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulets, and a briefly perched Plovercrest. The only other addition before we reached our terminus was a small group of Rufous-fronted Greenlets. The intermittent blue sky through the predominant mist allowed glimpses of the radio masts at the top of the climb (and the constant sound of grasscutters), but Cirilo told us that general admission here wasn’t allowed. We sat and had lunch on an open grassy area, which at times of better visibility commanded excellent views. Once satiated, we found that a nearby area of bushes offered a good handful of species – a pair of endemic Thick-billed Saltators, a chasing pair of Plovercrests, Pallid Spinetail, and a Rufous-collared Sparrow.
The descent wasn’t nearly as strenuous as the ascent, although the steepness still took its toll on the knees. In addition, the mists began to clear. A small group of Brassy-breasted Tanagers was seen early on in the descent, but didn’t give much of an indication as to the shower of a bird wave that was to follow. We had spent some time trying to locate the calling Black-and-Gold Cotingas, which despite being above our heads, defied location (it was fortunate that we had seen a female higher up some time earlier), when a few birds in an overhanging tree ahead turned out to be Black-goggled Tanagers. This was the prelude to a fantastic flythrough of feeding birds, which not only lasted for about 20 minutes or so, but also started up again to a lesser extent a short time later. Many of the birds were also fairly low down, although the density of the foliage made many difficult to see clearly. A sample of the contents of the bird wave were Streaked Xenops, White-browed Foliage-Gleaner, Squirrel Cuckoo, Brassy-breasted & Diademed Tanagers, Golden-crowned & White-rimmed Warblers, and Rufous-browed Peppershrike. The most common member of the clan turned out to be Bay-breasted Warbling Finch. Before reaching the van again, a small group of Yellow-headed Caracaras were wheeling overhead.
It was still only 3pm, and despite Cirilo suggesting that we make our way back, we persuaded him to spend more time back at the lower extension again. This proved to be a good move. Within minutes of arriving there, we had added 3 species not seen earlier – Velvety Black-Tyrant, Rufous Hornero, and Bran-coloured Flycatcher. An old man stopped us from his car, relating tales of a productive walk for views and birds just above us – we tried this and were predictably disappointed. Back along the avenue of trees again, and further exploring the local area found it to be much quieter than before. However, when we were making our way back to the van again, another mini bird wave emanated from the trees below, containing birds such as Scaly Woodcreeper, Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet, Brassy-breasted Tanager, and Pallid Spinetail.