Fortunate to have the window seat on the incoming flight, the first birds of South America for me were numerous Great Egrets in their hundreds lining the banks of the rivers and concreted estuaries of Rio, just before touching down at the airport. The first of the Black Vultures were also seen just before landing (and on the short trek to the airport terminal). It was these 2 species, along with the as usual ubiquitous feral pigeons, which were easily the most numerous species evident. One or two swallows were seen on the journey but were not seen well enough for identification. The only other species of note on the journey to the hotel were 2 Roadside Hawks, doing exactly what their name suggested, sat on perches next to the main highway. On arrival at the hotel, and from the hotel room itself, streams of hundreds of Magnificent Frigatebirds passed along the length of Copacabana Beach towards thermals around Sugarloaf Mountain.
After hurriedly unpacking and putting together all the equipment required for an afternoon's birding, I stepped out of the hotel and quickly caught one of the multitudinous yellow cabs. Despite the fact that there is a direct bus service to the Botanical Gardens from the hotel, this method of transport across town was slow, and I was advised that the yellow cabs were safe to use and the best option. This proved to be the case, with the journey only taking about 20 minutes and costing 11 Real (around £3). The taxi dropped me off directly outside the entrance, where the entry fee was only 4 Real.
The location of the Botanical Gardens is on the outskirts of the main city, which still means that it is bounded by suburbanisation. Yet it is quite a sizeable oasis, and as time progresses, it can be seen to be rich in birds. There are also plenty of people meandering around the numerous soft tracks of the gardens, but they only occasionally form a disturbance problem. At first, it seemed that the park was full of kingbirds, Short-crested Flycatchers, Southern Rough-winged Swallows, Kiskadees, and small groups of escaped Waxbills. During the first 1½ hours, I walked the length of the gardens, which is about 500-600 metres. This turned up many more species, in particular Masked Water-tyrant, Blue Dacnis, and male Violet-capped Woodnymph hummingbird. At around 1:20pm, I received a text from a birding colleague who was by then also on his way to the gardens.
As soon as we met up at the entrance to the gardens, we found ourselves watching another 3 Masked Water-tyrants. From the same spot, and following a loud call, we had excellent views of a Channel-billed Toucan, which was a little surprising in such an urban park. We spent the next 2½ hours wandering the gardens. Initially, birds were a little bit few and far between. Then, in the corner of the gardens, we spent about an hour in a continuous passage of bird parties or feeding individuals. Tanagers in the guise of Sayaca & Palm predominated, in addition to Kiskadees, the odd Social Flycatcher, and more Short-crested Flycatchers. In amongst these were less numerous and newer birds (to us), including Swallow-tailed Hummingbirds, Black Jacobin, Yellow-lored Tody-flycatcher, and at least 5 Green-headed Tanagers.
Having seen some Brazilian Squirrels earlier in the day, rustling in the trees above was mainly ignored, until we realised that this was due to the presence of Common Marmosets. We eventually managed to pin down around half a dozen of these wonderful little primates. Time was marching on, but the birds kept appearing, with notable additions of 2-3 Plain Parakeets and much greater numbers of Maroon-bellied Parakeets (initially not showing any red on the belly, they were eventually found to sport this feature). I had seen 2 Grey-necked Wood-rails when first wandering around the gardens alone, but just as we were about to leave, with an exclamation of “so much for any more wood-rails!”, we coincidentally looked to the left to the sight of a limping individual right out in the open.
Leaving the gardens to return to the hotel was easy. There were plenty of yellow taxis passing by, and we even found one stationed directly outside of the main entrance touting for business. The taxi took us along the length of Ipanema and Copacabana Beaches, which were largely uninteresting apart from the numerous Magnificent Frigatebirds still patrolling above. On closer inspection, small numbers of Brown Boobies could be seen passing lower down over the sea.