Elizabeth is the one who found the ecolodge called REGUA and suggested it as a place to spend a few days before the main trip started. It’s in a beautiful location; the image at the top of this page is of the view from REGUA of the Tres Picos mountains. REGUA has a great reputation for the work it’s doing to help restore the Atlantic Forest—you can see a cool video about it, narrated by Michael Palin, here. It’s also known as a destination for birders.
In our first full day at REGUA we met up with a pair of birders from the U.S. who had come there to hike one of the trails, specifically to see one particular bird species that REGUA is known for: the grey-winged cotinga, a bird that’s endemic to the Atlantic Forest. The couple had come to the lodge after their hike to pay the $10-per-person fee for day visitors, and we struck up a conversation with them. Small world: It turns out they’re from Pennsylvania. Ross Gallardy grew up near Johnstown, and his wife, Melissa, in Canonsburg. They’re both Pitt grads who now live in the Philadelphia area, and they have a blog called Budget Birders.
Elizabeth, Steve, and I spent three full days at REGUA. In the mornings, before the light got too harsh, we’d try to photograph the birds that came to the fruit feeders in the yard: sayaca tanagers, burnished-buff tanagers, palm tanagers, violaceous euphonias, and maroon-bellied parakeets. I don’t have a lot to show for those efforts—the birds came only sporadically, and as I look through the few photos I got, I just don’t see a lot of keepers. One exception was this female blue dacnis, who posed for me in sweet light:
The male is completely blue—a striking bird—but I think the female is pretty good looking as well.
I’m also happy with some of the images I got of the maroon-bellied parakeets. What’s not to love about colorful birds that are big enough to fill your viewfinder? Here’s a pair of them:
The birds shared the feeders with small monkeys called marmosets. That was a new one for me, and a lot of fun to photograph. (You can click on the one at left to see it bigger.) I think they were a species called common marmosets, though I’ve since learned that there are six different species of marmosets in the Atlantic Forest. Apparently the dramatic loss of forest habitat has caused them to migrate and interbreed with other marmoset species, which is not ideal. You can learn more about the marmosets at REGUA here.
I also was pretty psyched to find an “88” butterfly in the yard—I had seen pictures of these when I was reading up on this trip, so I was happy to get a photo of my own. The way they got their name is probably pretty obvious; it looks like they’ve got the numeral 88 (or sometimes 89) on them. The one I found was closer to an 80, but who’s counting?
From REGUA we also took a day trip to a place called Macaé de Cima, which sounded a lot better on paper than it turned out to be. It’s in the mountains, about 4500 feet up, at the top of a very long, very bumpy, dirt road—we went up in a 4×4 truck called a Toyota Bandeirante, which is a type of Land Cruiser. The house at the top used to be the home of orchid expert David Miller, who was once featured on a David Attenborough segment. We were especially pumped because we’d heard that the yard was full of hummingbird feeders. But Miller died a few years ago, and it turns out that, while his widow still owns the property, she lives elsewhere now. So it was a BYOF situation—Bring Your Own Feeders. When we arrived, our guide set up three hummingbird feeders, and it took a while for any hummingbirds to find them. Eventually we did get photos of a green-crowned plovercrest, a white-throated hummingbird, and a Brazilian ruby.
We also got out of the truck a few times on the drive up to Miller’s place and again on the drive back down, to listen for birds in the woods along the road and try to photograph them. That was pretty frustrating. I thought you’d enjoy seeing two of my more humorous efforts. See the blurry red, black, and blue blob in the photo at right? That is an out-of-focus blue manakin, the only shot I got of that beautiful bird. (I’ll have you know, though, that the branch right in front of the bird is tack-sharp!)
And at left is all I have to show of an orange-eyed thornbird, an Atlantic Forest endemic. I did get the orange eye, and it’s sharp, but I’m afraid you’ll have to use your imagination as to what the rest of the bird looks like. Again, click on the blue manakin above or the thornbird at left to see a larger version of just how lousy they are.
There was a birder along with Steve, Elizabeth, and me on that excursion—a guy from Scotland named Tony—and I think he had a great time. Birders are happy to get a decent glimpse of a bird, especially if it’s a new one for them, i.e., a “lifer.” Bird photographers, on the other hand, want a good photo—crisply focused, unobstructed, with a nice soft background. I struggled constantly to get that on the Macaé de Cima trip, with very little success, and by the time it was over, I was pretty cranky.
The good news is that once we got down off the mountain and got a cell signal, the guide found out that Brazil had beaten Mexico in that day’s World Cup action. “Mais caipirinhas esta noite!” he said. Translated: More caipirinhas tonight! So we drove back to the lodge and finished the day with a pitcher of caipirinhas.
As one does.