Photographing Tanagers at Itatiaia NP/ Brazil

DreifarbentangareStumbling out of the cabin you will be enchanted by the expansive view looking out over the valley below. A blue-grey carpet of clouds is normally lying over the lowlands.  In the half light of dawn, Cliff Flycatchers (Hirundinea ferruginea) are already gathering on the roofs of cabins nearby. A first priority should be a careful inspection of the hotel grounds and the hotel feeders. Extremely appetizing and delicious -looking fruit platters are carried and hang from the balconies outside the hotel restaurant. Dishes of sliced oranges are laid in the gardens below for the slightly more wary birds and of course. Sugar water feeders are supposed to attract the hummingbirds. Abundant are tanagers in several species which are feathered in an amazing palette of colors.

Sitting in the hotel for breakfast, I settled down at a table on a window overlooking the fruit and nectar feeders.  First, a family group of Green-Headed Tanagers (Tangara seledon) and a single Red-necked Tanager (Tangara cyanocephala) dissembled a big banana on the silvery plate.  Then, a breath-taking male Burnished-buff Tanager (Tangara cayana) swept in, quickly followed in succession by a pair of Black-goggled Tanager (Trichothraupis melanops), a single Orange-headed Tanager (Thlypopsis sordida), Olive-green Tanagers (Orthogonys chloricterus), Sayaca Tanagers (Thraupis sayaca), Palm Tanager (Thraupis palmarum) and Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonias (Chlorophonia pyrrhophrys)  were feeding on a slices of papaya.  A stunning male Golden-chevroned Tanager (Thraupis ornata) raided the hummingbird feeder, probing inside with its pointed bill as the feeders swayed violently back and forth. The tanager gallery give a perfect impression.  A lone Olive-green Tanager finally made an appearance, slipping in and out with a chunk of papaya.

A pair of Ruby-crowned Tanagers (Tachyphonus coronatus) was more reluctant to feed so close to audience. The female is more a reminiscent of a funariid (esp. a Spinetail) but the male was sitting on a bare branch for a while, showing its red crest from time to time.

With its mountainous relief, the variation in altitude is quite impressive. Itatiaia NP covers altitudes of 540 to 2,791 meters (asl) Agulhas Negras is the 5th highest mountain in Brazil. The altitudinal gradient favors the existence of several ecosystems of the Atlantic Forest Biome, covering vegetation formations from the subtropical montane forest to the High-Altitude grasslandfields. Accordingly some tanagers are more abundant further down, some more up on the mountains. A nice location to observe Tanagers and other birds lower down is on the so-called Mirante. Brassy-breasted Tanager (Tangara desmaresti), Gilt-edged Tanager (Tangara cyanoventris) and Ruby-crowned Tanager (Tachyphonus coronatus) were common and easy to photograph there.

As I had to travel to the Pantanal for some weeks of work, I planned to spend some days before return flight at Itatiaia. The idea was birding all day and relaxing by the fireside at night.  I arrived at Congonhas airport on the commuter flight from Cuiabá at around 4pm, rented a car at the nearby Localiza location, and drove along the Via Dutra towards Rio. Unfortunately it was rainy season and – after some heavy traffic out of São Paulo – I have got stuck in a traffic jam with many big trucks. The high water level and heavy tidal waves from the rains threatened the bridges of the Via Dutra. Only around 10pm the Via Dutra was cleared again. Consequently I arrived at Itatiaia only around midnight.  Winding our way up into the park, I finally arrived at the hotel, which is located practically not far from the end of the road.  The hotel has a real mountain lodge feel. It is composed of a series of solitary cabins and wooded buildings all hugging the hillside. The grounds of the hotel are surrounded by mature second growth, some older trees quite close to the buildings.

You are not fixed to Hotel do Ype for bird photography because in Itatiaia National Park feeders can be found on several hotel grounds and at private houses.

The logistics laid out in Forrester’s Birding Brazil or in Where to Watch Birds in South America by Nigel Wheatley haven’t changed much since the 1990s.  There are several lodging options in the town of Itatiaia itself as well as within the park. In my opinion, the most convenient is the traditional Hotel do Ypê.  Simply waiting patiently on the balconies of the hotel or birding the grounds of the hotel can be rewarding. Several trails spread out in several directions, including to the Tres Picos Trail, which is highly recommend on for its extensive bamboo habitat.  The (only) access road also offers excellent birding and provides better views than the narrow trails, which are quite overgrown after some distance.  Instead of hiking up to higher altitudes on one of the trails, I would recommend driving around to the back side of the park, which means returning to the Via Dutra and heading back to São Paulo until the next exit and driving up the “354” towards the town of Itamonte, before turning off onto the Agulhas Negras Road, a dirt road towards the highest peak of Itatiaia National Park. From here you can access montane forest, elfin forest and high altitude grassland.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find mainly in the Western Palearctic – but not only. Trips to remote places to capture images of rare birds were very successful. The nice images of the gallery of tanagers are only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Just give me a message, if bird-lens.com could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

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