Arjan's Biggest Year

In 2016 I will attempt the ultimate in global birding, to break the world record in birdwatching, this involves observing more than 6000 species in a single year!
Like my predecessor Noah Strycker I will count heard-only birds, but I will differentiate between heard-only- and seen species to make sure my list stays comparable.

During my 'Biggest Year' I will raise money for the groundbreaking Birdlife Preventing Extinctions Programme in a collaboration with Vogelbescherming Nederland and the Dutch Birding Association. This programme aims to prevent the extinction of all globally threatened bird species by applying an active, innovative and highly effective methodology.

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July 26 - August 3: Brazil (3)

6 augustus 2016  ·  Arjan Dwarshuis  ·  5977 × bekeken

Last night at Sao Paulo airport we’d met Eduardo Patrial, our guide and travel companion for the coming 9 days. From Sao Paulo we would travel to Itatiaia NP, from there to Uba Tuba and onward to Intervales and finally Curitiba. We were very honoured that Eduardo said yes to guide us since he is without doubt one of the best guide in this massive birding country. In addition to this he is a very cool dude, being a top skateboarder and a great storyteller.

We woke up this morning at the Pousada dos Lobos, surrounded by forested hills, perfect! I had barely put up my scope to look at some Blue-and-white Swallows sitting on a wire when I noticed a bird sitting on an exposed snag in the canopy. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I aimed my binoculars, a Swallow-tailed Cotinga! Literally our first bird in the Atlantic Rainforest!!

The morning session at Itatiaia with Eduardo was almost too amazingly good. We literally cleaned up on all the difficult specialties before lunch. One jaw-dropping bird after another meant that Ies and I could hardly control our excitement. Imagine the following list in just a couple of hours’ time: Black-and-gold Cotinga, Speckle-breasted Antpitta, Black-capped Piprites, Sirra do Mar Tyrannulet, lekking Green-crowned Plovercrests, Rufous-crowned Antvireo, Itatiaia Spinetail and Araucaria Tit-spinetail. Wow…

After a quick lunch it was time for the skulkers. We won battle after battle with Mouse-colored Tapaculo, the stunning Rufous-tailed Antthrush and one of my most wanted birds ever, the huge Large-tailed Antshrike!

We ended this magical day with a magical owl. We saw no less than 5 different Rusty-barred Owls (!) displaying, calling, singing, the full Monty… crazy day…

Swallow-tailed Cotinga Phibalura flavirostris (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Green-crowned Plovercrest Stephanoxis lalandi (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Black-capped Piprites Piprites pileata (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Bay-chested Warbling Finch Poospiza thoracica (Ies Goedbloed)

Large-tailed Antshrike Mackenziaena leachii (Ies Goedbloed)

After yesterdays’ madness we thought things could hardly get any better, we were wrong… As we drove down from Itatiaia we made several quick stops along the way which produced Rufous Gnateater and the rare Brown-breasted Bamboo Tyrant, a good start before we drove down to the coastal town of Pereque, the only known site for the recently rediscovered Black-hooded Antwren.

Along the Brazilian coast there are many more incredibly endangered bird species like this beautiful little Antwren, all of this because of deforestation. In fact there is only 5% of the Atlantic Rainforest left and a large part of it is so severely fragmented that some bird population have reached critical levels. This antwren is just one example, but large parts of north-eastern Brazil the situation is even worse. With regards to the antwren it was thought to be already lost forever until recently a tiny population was rediscovered along the edge of secondary forest near Pereque town. 

We arrived at the site in the late morning, but somehow it was still very birdy. Bare-throated Bellbirds were singing from several directions and immediately we stumbled upon a flock of different endemic Tanagers. Just 5 minutes after our arrival the Antwren started calling and moments later we had incredible views of one of my rarest birds this whole year, a sad thought, but nevertheless a fantastic bird to see!

For several hours we explored the secondary forest near Pereque and to our big surprise we found one incredibly good bird after another, most birds of course picked up by Eduardo, I’ve rarely seen any birder that sharp before. Are you ready for yet another list of mind blowing rarities? Buff-throated Purpletuft, Slaty Bristlefront, Uncoloured Antwren, Orange-eyed Thornbird, Sao Paulo Tyrannulet, Fork-tailed Tody-tyrant, the beautiful Squamate Antbird, a smashing male Pin-tailed Manakin and just as we were about to leave the icing on the cake; a flock of 2 males and a female Black-legged Dacnis, one of the rarest and most difficult birds of them all!! Hia!

Rusty-barred Owl Strix hylophila (Ies Goedbloed)

Sao Paulo Tyrannulet Phylloscartes paulista (Ies Goedbloed)

Fork-tailed Tody-Tyrant Hemitriccus furcatus (Ies Goedbloed)

Pin-tailed Manakin Hemitriccus furcatus (Ies Goedbloed)

We thought that after seeing so many amazing species yesterday and the day before things had to slow down by now, we were wrong again :)

After an early breakfast in our pousada in Uba Tuba town we drove to Angelim Farm, the stakeout for the rare Buff-throated Purpletuft, which we had miraculously already seen the day before. So what else to look for? Well, luckily the hills surrounding Uba Tuba are home to one of the larger tracks of Atlantic Rainforest in Brazil and in these reasonable well protected forests some amazing bird species are found.

With the Purpletuft out of the way our main point of focus was the rare and unique Spotted Bamboowren. A peculiar bird that is now placed in the Tapaculo family, but could well belong to a family of its own.

As we entered the fantastic wide forested path that runs to the farm birds were everywhere and after an hour of nonstop birding action we had covered less than 300 meters. It was simply that good!

Within those first 300 meters we found the rare Salvadori’s Antwren, Tufted Antshrike, Spot-backed Antshrike, Eye-ringed Tody-tyrant, Black-capped Foliage-gleaner, Long-billed Wren, Blond-crested Woodpecker and Black-cheeked Gnateater. Then the Bamboowren started calling. We chased the bird for an hour, but then came that glorious moment when the bird suddenly gave itself up and showed fantastically! This thrilling moment was followed seconds later by an unbelievably showy Rufous-capped Antthrush!

The best birds of the whole day came in the afternoon. First we went to the house of Jonas, better known as the hummingbird man for he has over 10 hummingbird feeders in his garden. The show we got to see here was simply mind boggling with tens of Saw-billed Hermits, Festive Coquet’s, 5 other species of hummingbird and dozens of tanagers turning bald trees into tropical Christmas trees! 

After this spectacle we did a little birding along the dirt road behind Jonas’s house and here the magic happened… First a Solitary Tinamu on the road, next a smashing White-necked Hawk – actually our second today, the first was seen briefly – attending an ant swarm and finally the piece the resistance, a Buff-bellied Puffbird!!

Blond-crested Woodpecker Celeus flavescens (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Rufous-capped Antthrush Formicarius colma (Ies Goedbloed)

Slaty Bristlefront Merulaxis ater (Ies Goedbloed)

Saw-billed Hermit Ramphodon naevius (Arjan Dwarshuis)

White-necked Hawk Buteogallus lacernulatus (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Buff-bellied Puffbird Notharchus swainsoni (Ies Goedbloed)

We had a long day on the road ahead of us, traveling all the way from Uba Tuba, through Sao Paulo to Intervales State Park. Luckily Eduardo had a couple of very interesting stops planned along the way.

Our first stop was at a marshy area in the hills about an hour from Uba Tuba. Here we looked for one of the best tyrants in the world, the Streamer-tailed Tyrant. It took some searching, but eventually we had breath-taking views of a pair displaying on a telephone wire, a sight I will not soon forget. As a by-catch we saw Tawny-headed Swallow and the cool Firewood Gatherer. 

The second stop was even more interesting. Eduardo took us to an undisclosed site near Sao Paulo to look for the Sau Paulo Antwren, a critically endangered species that was described only last year and therefore it is not yet on the IOC list!

We had stunning views of a pair of this great looking Antwren in its marshy habitat and picked up Ultramarine Grosbeak while we were there. After that highlight we commenced with the long drive to Intervales, but we had one last stop before we got there. Only 15 minutes form the gate, just after dusk, we taped in a beautiful Long-tufted Screech-owl!

Streamer-tailed Tyrant Gubernetes yetapa (Ies Goedbloed)

Intervales is something special. It is arguably the best and most well-known birding site in the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest and for a lot of the specialties it is by far the easiest place to find them. The park is well protected from hunting and logging – a rare commodity in corrupted Brazil – and the trailsystem is well maintained. When walking these trails and forested tracks one experiences the Atlantic Rainforest as it once was along the entire east coast of Brazil; beautiful rainforest covered hillsides with mossy trees covered in bromeliad’s and of course plentiful birdlife. It is a sad thought that now only 6% of this amazing ecosystem remains in Brazil…

After picking up local guide Renato we started with a pre-breakfast birding round around the Intervales headquarters which produced Planalto Woodcreeper, Ochre-rumped- and Dusky-tailed Antbird and the petit Ochre-collared Piculet.

After breakfast it was time for the best birding locality in Intervales, the Karmo Road. A 40 km forested track that leads through pristine cloud forest. No people are allowed here except birders with a local guide like Renato.

Just after passing the gate one of my ultimate dream birds started calling, a Giant Antshrike aka ‘The Beast’! We held our breath as Eduardo played the tape, then suddenly a movement in the undergrowth and there was one of the best birds I’d ever seen, ‘The Beast’! 30 centimetres of pure badassness. What a start!

The rest of the morning was fantastic despite the rather bad weather (cloudy and cold with a slight drizzle now and then). We saw Bay-ringed Tyrannulet, Three-striped Flycatcher, Greenish Schiffornis, Green-billed Toucan, Bertoni’s Antbird, Yellow-browed Woodpecker, Sharpbill, Sibilant Sirystes, Crescent-chested Puffbird and best a smashing Red-ruffled Fruitcrow!

After lunch we kept the momentum going with a perched Black Hawk-eagle next to the restaurant. After that highlight we payed a visit to a Variegated Antpitta and a Red-and-white Crake! How you ask me? Well, these birds are currently being fed, so two normally incredibly difficult birds are now very easy.

Next we hit the Karmo Road again; it was total madness! We saw only about twenty individual birds, but almost all of them were rarities. Best were Black-throated Grosbeak, Hooded Berryeater, Brown Tanager, Robust Woodpecker, Saffron- and Spot-billed Toucanet and best a very showy Solitary Tinamu on the road! Brazil is just amazing!

Giant Antshrike Batara cinerea a.k.a. "The Beast" (Ies Goedbloed)

Variegated Antpitta Grallaria varia (Ies Goedbloed)

Red-and-white Crake Laterallus leucopyrrhus (Ies Goedbloed)

Hooded Berryeater Carpornis cucullata (Ies Goedbloed)

Saffron Toucanet Pteroglossus bailloni (Ies Goedbloed)

Looking at the list of possibilities it looked like today was going to be tough since nearly all the birds we still needed were hard to find rare species, but any day is a fantastic day birding regardless in Intervales.

Eduardo picked a different trail today focussing more on the bamboo specialties and we had a great start with a male White-bearded Antshrike, one of the main Intervales targets. Another great find was the rare White-browed Foliage-gleaner and the Oustalet’s Tyrannulet, but we most enjoyed a very showy Short-tailed Antthrush skulking next to the trail.

After lunch we went to a place were sometimes Spot-winged Wood-quails come to feed and as luck happened to be 5 of these little beauties were present!

Best bird of the afternoon was a totally unexpected out of season male Purple-crowned Plovercrest found by Ies foraging next to the road.

I ended this month with an amazing 950 new birds for my Biggest Year, making this the best month of my entire year so far!

Spot-winged Wood-Quail Odontophorus capueira (Ies Goedbloed)

We had a long travel day ahead of us so we left Intervales around 6 AM when it was still dark, this proved to be an excellent decision since we found a male Long-trained Nightjar sitting on the road, a most wanted and completely unexpected bird!

We spent the rest of the day on a bendy road driving towards Volta Velha. Upon arrival 2 hours before dark we quickly tried the rare Kaempfer’s Tody-tyrant in its incredibly threatened restinga habitat, one of the many different coastal ecosystems in Brazil that is vanishing at an alarming rate. We only heard the Tody-tyrant so tomorrow we have to work hard to find this little bastard! We did see several adequately named Restinga Tyrannulets at this site.

We ended this day on the road with a fantastic owl, after trying for an owl of so we obtained amazing views of a Mottled Owl while a Black-capped Screech-owl was calling in the background. The latter unfortunately didn’t give itself up. 

Atlantic rain forest (Arjan Dwarshuis)

After breakfast at the very nice Volta Velha lodge we had to move quickly since bad weather was coming our way according to the weather forecast. First we tried for the endemic Scaled Chacalaca which was found without any problem.

Eduardo mentioned that the most difficult bird of the day would be the rare and endangered Black-backed Tanager, but only 15 minutes after nailing the Chacalaca he heard one calling. A tense minute went by, but then we had incredible views of this beautiful bird calling from the canopy of a roadside tree.

In a small pocket of restinga woodland within the Volta Velha reserve we gave the Kaempfer’s Tody-tyrant another try and like yesterday the bird called back once, but immediately shut up. While we kept on trying it slowly started drizzling, time was ticking away. Suddenly the bird called again and Ies picked up on a movement, the Kaempfer’s! We enjoyed this pretty little bird for a couple of minutes before it vanished in the canopy, yes!

We had one last bird to find near Volta Velha, the critically endangered Marsh Antwren. Like its name suggest this bird prefers coastal marshlands which are vanishing at an alarming rate due to cultivation and drainage of water sources along the Brazilian coast. If these last remaining marshes disappear this bird will be lost forever…

We saw no less than 4 of these rare little antwrens and I managed to document this sighting with some nice video.

Near Curitiba we visited another endangered marsh with another endangered inhabitant, the incredibly skulking Marsh Tapaculo. Without much effort we heard two different birds, but we decided not to over-tape this endangered species, which is unfortunately necessary to see it. A heard-only that felt good!

We ended this versatile day at an undisclosed site where – despite the terrible weather – we managed to see a female Sickle-winged Nightjar and hear a Striped Owl.

Kaempfer's tody-tyrant Hemitriccus kaempferi (Ies Goedbloed)

Already our last morning in Brazil with our guide and by now good friend Eduardo Patrial. To find some last new birds we visited a small wetland near Curitiba Airport.

Besides seeing Plumbeous- and Blakish Rail and two very showy Rufous-sided Crakes we found a vagrant which proved to be a new Brazilian species for Eduardo, a Cinnamon Teal! A great finish to an absolutely fantastic trip.

Eduardo has to be one of the best neotropical guides ever and for any birder visiting Brazil I can highly recommend him as a guide and besides being an incredible birder he is a cool dude to hang around!

You can contact him via

And now the grand end total… I saw 550 new yearbirds in Brazil making it my best country by far this year! On to Argentina!

Arjan Dwarshuis


Black-backed Tanager Tangara peruviana (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Arjan's Biggest Year is supported by:


Dušan Brinkhuizen  ·  8 augustus 2016  21:04

Super stuff heren! Die Variegated Antpitta waren ze 3 week voor jullie komst nog niet aan het voeren; Solitary Tinamou daarentegen weer wel... top plek Intervales.

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