Trip Report: Mostardas, Brazil. Late November 2009.
Here's my first ever birding trip report!
I won't go into detail about every bird sighting but should give you an idea of what to expect in Mostardas, with some detail on the logistics, as I’m guessing most reading this will wonder how easy getting around in Brazil is.
A bit of background, I'm very much a newcomer to birding, and travelled to Brazil for a couple of weeks hoping to build up my collection of bird photos.
In all I saw (and photographed) about 100 different types of birds, most new to me, in the Mostardas area, in three full days of birding with a day travelling on either end.
That's an awful lot of birds for someone like me, not so much reflecting my great birding skills as the great abundance of birdlife near Lagoa do Peixe.
I would guess that an experienced birder would probably see much more than me, maybe even double or more, especially if they went to a couple more locations. As you will see from the list below, the birds I saw were generally not rare for the area, but that really didn’t matter to me.
I had no bins, scope, ipod, just a 500mm lens on an SLR. In fact I didn’t even have a field guide, which was a bit of a mistake, as I didn’t pay enough attention to the coots and moorhens I was seeing, thinking they were the same as the ones back home! Back in Sao Paulo I bought Ber van Perlo's Birds of Brazil, 2009, which I have used with this forum to ID what I saw. I've also ordered Tomas Sigrist's Avifauna Brasileira which I'm looking forward to receiving soon.
I get by pretty well in Portuguese, which obviously makes day-to-day activities easier, but wouldn't think this trip would be particularly difficult for English speakers. Having said that, for those thinking of going, obviously if you can learn a few words before you go, you’ll have a richer experience.
Mostardas is on the east coast of Rio Grande do Sul, which is the southernmost, and arguably most "European" of Brazilian states. The state is generally prosperous, with strong German and Italian ties that date back well over 100 years, and a relatively high GDP.
As you fly in to the capital Porto Alegre you see that the place is full of wetlands and lakes. It's a big, mostly flat, farming area with some mountains in the north.
Flights to Porto Alegre are fairly numerous. I only learnt of Mostardas at the last minute, from Rick Simpson a birder in Ubatuba (here’s a link to someone else's trip report, some other time, on his site http://www.rick-simpson.com/jeremy-m...grande-do-sul/) so just turned up at Sao Paulo airport and was pleased to be able to book a return ticket on the next but one flight, leaving a couple of hours later (about €100 each way).
I avoided TAM (the biggest operator), as there was a truly horrendous queue (or should I say scrum?) at their ticketing office, and instead went for Ocean Air. Web Jet had an even shorter queue, and were very helpful, but their next flight was not direct.
The flight took about an hour, I couldn't be bothered to get my bearings in Porto Alegre, as I had had a long journey that day, so jumped into a cab (€10) and spent the night at the Lido (€25) in town, which I found in the Lonely Planet Brazil guide.
Lonely Planet Brazil is (IMHO of course) a truly rubbish guide if ever there was one, but still better than nothing for finding hotels in town. This book looks much better - I think I’ll get it next time I go: “Brazil handbook” By Ben Box, Jane Egginton, Mick Day. The Google preview shows it has quite a bit of information about Mostardas and birding (Lonely Planet has none).
The Lido was good value for money, though I would have been better off going straight to Mostardas that day, as Porto Alegre is not very interesting, IMHO again.
I was on the tenth floor, and eventually realised that a large green parrot was making a tremendous racket on the roof of the building opposite.
I saw it a few times and it even flew past my window, but I didn't manage to photograph or ID it. Other than that I only saw House Sparrows in Porto Alegre.
There are some boat trips you can do from PA, but my advice would be to get out into the country as quickly as possible as there is so much more to see.
The next day I got a bus to Mostardas. The bus station is easy to get to in town - 1 stop on the metro from the centre/terminus (the airport is the next stop).
No problem getting a bus ticket (€10). It’s only 200 km but the journey is a rather arduous 5 hour trip, as you stop many times on the way. Probably therefore worth getting a taxi (I was quoted €60) especially if there is more than one of you.
Hiring a car might also be a good idea, as there's plenty to see from the roadside and the coast road is not that busy. But there are a fair number of potholes, which everyone deftly avoids. One reason I like to leave driving to the pros.
In fact the road to Mostardas only continues past the next town Tavares and finishes in Sao Jose do Norte, where you would have to get a ferry to continue to Rio Grande, so it's a kind of cul-de-sac.
Tavares, is also apparently a good "base-camp" to explore the Lagoa do Peixe area, but I didn't have time to get that far. South of Rio Grande there's a well-known nature reserve, Taim, which sounds as good if not better than the Lagoa do Peixe area, so you could definitely spend much more than three days in the area without getting bored. Check the link on Rick Simpson’s site above for more details.
Anyway, back to Mostardas. It's a nice "normal", very small town, built around a central square with a grid pattern of roads, about five blocks deep in each direction. There is a choice of hotel/hostels. Most of the week, I stayed at the most expensive hotel room in town (€10), at the Hotel Mostardense. Nice clean and comfortable with en-suite shower. My first night though, for convenience, I spent downstairs in their cheapo (€3) rooms as the upper floor was fully booked with tradesmen. Not recommended!
In town, there are quite a few bars and restaurants, where I generally ate, and drank, well and cheaply, though by the end of the week my stomach had apparently had enough! There are few tourists, fewer still non-Brazilian tourists, so not much English spoken, there's one tour place, and an IBAMA office on the square.
There are also a few internet gaming places (they call them "Lan house"s), which was very important for me. My netbook had problems, so every evening I used the internet cafe computers (over several hours) to empty camera cards on to my portable hard drive. The young guy running the place I used was very helpful.
Anyway, after I checked in I ended up getting directed to the town hall to ask about birding, and they took me to IBAMA, the national eco-body, who wanted to know if I was a professional photographer, in which case I would have needed some kind of authorisation.
Apparently, there's some new eco-law in Brazil where it's OK to cut down 100,000 hectares of virgin rainforest and plant spruce but taking a photo of a bird may be robbing Brazil of its national heritage! Well not exactly, but not far off…
Anyway, everyone was friendly and helpful, and I guess I felt better for having checked with the authorities first what the situation was (though probably not necessary), and after a short while, they led me on to the tour operator which was just round the corner (Garça Tours), and there I booked most of my travel during my stay.
Essentially it consisted of a nice guy driving me around in his Toyota 4WD. He’s a farmer, and has a good amateur knowledge of birds, but is not a bird specialist as such. You’re really paying for the transport and he knows the good spots where birds tend to be very visible, including on his farm. He was very flexible and I got on well with him over the week. I found his rates neither cheap nor expensive - just a bit more than local taxis - and well worthwhile.
Mostardas and Tavares are trying to promote ecotourism in their area with a bird festival - it was cancelled in 2009 (someone drank the kitty?) but should be back in 2010.
Mostardas is a few miles from the coast and about 20 kilometres from the next town Tavares which lies south. The Lagoa do Peixe (literally "Fish Lake") area is between Mostardas and Tavares and the coast and contains semi-saline wetlands. It’s a completely different ecosystem from the Atlantic rainforest up near Rio and Sao Paulo so most of the birds will be different - it also catches many migrants.
There are other Lagoas on the other side of the main road (ie west of Mostardas) too, with different types of birds. Each new place I visited yielded a new set of birds.
There are two roads which access the Lagoa do Peixe. The first is east from Mostardas to Balneiarios Mostardense, its beach "resort" town. It starts in a rather barren pine plantation, then the national park starts with mixed woodland (many interesting woodland birds here), which opens out onto the wetlands, for a couple of kilometres, and then eventually reaches dunes, the small seaside town and the beach on the Atlantic ocean. I walked up and down this road several times - you get different birds at different distances from the woods, beach etc.
The other bisecting road is further south off the main road to Tavares - that is known as the road with most abundant birdlife, with the well-known birds such as Chilean Flamingo and Black-Necked Swan. Where the marshes meet the sand dunes on this road was where there was a huge number of sandpiper type birds, such as the Buff-bellied Sandpiper: http://monacoeye.com/birds/index_fil..._sandpiper.php . You need a 4WD for this one. I only visited here once, but should really have gone back for another visit.
So the first day I took a 4-wheel drive tour, which took me east to Balnearios, south along the beach, west back to the main road and north back to Mostardas, with the driver stopping whenever I asked to explore and take photos.
There were masses of birds, literally every few yards in some places, especially on the east-west roads, so the following days I asked to be dropped off on the road to Balneiarios and picked up a few hours later, as I realised there was masses more to see.
I wasn't sure how eco-friendly driving along the beach in a 4x4 would be, especially during nesting season, but Brazilians do use beaches as roads, and it turned out there were certainly no birds nesting right on the beach. The beach was wide, the driver was careful and there was plenty of room between us and the gulls, terns and shorebirds we saw, which were only in a few places and generally ignored us. Here I had great views of American Oystercatchers: http://monacoeye.com/birds/index_fil...tercatcher.php
I also visited a nearby farm and another lake west of the highway. Each new place produced new birds or better views of birds I had only seen at a distance, such as the Greater Rheas: http://monacoeye.com/birds/index_fil...eater_rhea.php which I saw at the road to the farm.
I don't have the time to detail each individual sighting but the list of birds I saw is below (there are a few woodpeckers, finches and common birds missing) and here you can see all the photos I took in that area which will give you an idea of proximity and terrain: http://monacoeye.com/birds/index_fil...-mostardas.php - might take a little while to load as there are a lot of photos lower on that page.
If you see any mistakes please tell me!
All in all it was an excellent trip. People were friendly, birding was easy and safe, food, accommodation and transport were good, cheap and comfortable. There was a staggering quantity of easy-to-see birds - a good mix of shorebirds, wetland birds, and raptors, big uns and little uns, with many others thrown into the mix.
White Crowned Stilt - Himantopus mexicanus melanurus
Roseate Spoonbill - Platalea ajaja
Chilean Flamingo - Phoenicopterus chilensis
Red Crested Cardinal - Paroaria coronata
Creamy Bellied Thrush - Turdus amaurochalinus
Blue and Yellow Tanager - Thraupis bonariensis
Diademed Tanager - Stephanophorus diadematus
Brown and Yellow Marshbird - Pseudoleistes virescens
Southern Beardless Tyrannulet - Camptostoma obsoletum
Vermilion Flycatcher - Pyrocephalus rubinus
Masked Gnatcatcher - Polioptila dumicola
Bay Winged Cowbird - Agelaioides badius
Chestnut Capped Blackbird - Chrysomus ruficapillus
White Browed Blackbird - Sturnella superciliaris
Highland Elaenia - Elaenia obscura
Small Billed Elaenia - Elaenia parvirostris
Black Necked Stilt - Himantopus mexicanus
White Monjita - Xolmis irupero
Sooty Tyrannulet - Serpophaga nigricans
White Headed Marsh Tyrant - Arundinicola leucocephala
Spectacled Tyrant - Hymenops perspicillatus
Yellow Browed Tyrant - Satrapa icterophrys
Correndera Pipit - Anthus correndera
Gilded Hummingbird - Hylocharis chrysura
Rufous Hornero - Furnarius torridus
Wren Like Rushbird - Phleocryptes melanops
Common Miner - Geositta cunicularia
Firewood Gatherer - Anumbius annumbi
Yellow Chinned Spinetail - Certhiaxis cinnamomeus
Olive Spinetail - Cranioleuca obsoleta
Guira Cuckoo - Guira guira
Dark Billed Cuckoo - Coccyzus melacoryphus
Green Barred Woodpecker - Colaptes melanochloros
Monk Parakeet - Myiopsitta monachus
Roadside Hawk - Buteo magnirostris
Savanna Hawk - Buteogallus meridionalis
American Kestrel - Falco sparverius
Long Winged Harrier - Circus buffoni
Cinereous Harrier - Circus cinereus
Chimango Caracara - Milvago chimango
Yellow Headed Caracara - Milvago chimachima
Southern Caracara - Caracara plancus
Eared Dove - Zenaida auriculata
White Tipped Dove - Leptotila verreauxi
Picui Ground Dove - Columbina picui
Picazuro Pigeon - Patagioenas picazuro
Brazilian Teal - Amazonetta brasiliensis
Silver Teal - Anas versicolor
Red Shoveler - Anas platalea
Southern Lapwing - Vanellus chilensis
Yellow Billed Pintail - Anas georgica
Semipalmated Plover - Charadrius semipalmatus
Collared Plover - Charadrius collaris
Lesser Yellowlegs - Tringa flavipes
American Golden Plover - Pluvialis dominica
Pectoral Sandpiper - Calidris melanotos
White Rumped Sandpiper - Calidris fuscicollis
Sanderling - Calidris alba
Buff Breasted Sandpiper - Tryngites subruficollis
Giant Wood Rail - Aramides ypecaha
White Winged Coot - Fulica leucoptera
South American Snipe - Gallinago paraguaiae
Spot Flanked Gallinule - Gallinula melanops
Wattled Jacana - Jacana jacana
Limpkin - Aramus guarauna
Southern Screamer - Chauna torquata
White Faced Ibis - Phimosus chihi
Bare Faced Ibis - Phimosus infuscatus
Coscoroba Swan - Coscoroba coscoroba
Black Necked Swan - Cygnus melanocoryphus
Striated Heron - Butorides striata
Whistling Heron - Syrigma sibilatrix
Wood Stork - Mycteria americana
Maguari Stork - Ciconia maguari
Cocoi Heron - Ardea cocoi
Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger
Large Billed Tern - Phaetusa simplex
Yellow Billed Tern - Sternula superciliaris
Snowy Crowned Tern - Sterna trudeaui
Gull Billed Tern - Gelochelidon nilotica
Snail Kite - Rostrhamus sociabilis
Field Flicker - Colaptes campestris campestroides
Kelp Gull - Larus dominicanus
Brown Hooded Gull - Chroicocephalus maculipennis
American Oystercatcher - Haematopus palliatus
Greater Rhea - Rhea americana
Campo Flicker - Colaptes campestris
Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus
All photos from Mostardas: http://monacoeye.com/birds/index_fil...-mostardas.php