Observation of birds at the Volta Velha Reserve
Getting to know the Volta Velha Reserve and its importance for birds
Well-known among birders around the world, the Volta Velha Reserve has
become one of the most popular birding spots in southern Brazil. Located
in Itapoã on the northern coast of Santa Catarina state, the reserve
encompasses 1100 hectares (about 2300 acres) within one of the largest
areas of undisturbed Atlantic Forest (lowland rainforest on the coastal
plain of Brazil), without doubt among the most endangered biomes on the
From an ornithological perspective, this particular region of the Atlantic
Forest has been a micro-center of speciation, giving rise to several very
local endemics. This has been a key consideration in the establishment
of both public and private reserves in the remaining forested areas, and
the scientific community has given high priority to such initiatives.
(Foto: Iumaã Bacca)
Studies in the Volta Velha region have resulted in the identification
of of approximately 300 species of birds, the majority of which are dependent
on forest habitats. The presence of migratory and vagrant (non-resident)
species enriches the total, these being present mainly in the spring and
fall. The vegetational community, officially classified as Lowland Atlantic
Forest, also represents an impressive diversity of micro-habitats, from
coastal restingas (stunted woodlands of thin-trunked trees of uniform
height growing on sandy soils) to high-canopy humid forest to riparian
woodlands and marshes.
Displaying an incredible variety of individual plant species, the forests
in this region further stand out for their abundance of epiphytic growth
in the form of mosses, epiphytic cacti, and bromeliads, the latter especially
providing a home for numerous other life forms.
Volta Velha features three main trails for nature hikes and bird-watching,
all of which are wide and easy to follow:
Glass House Trail – a walk through level terrain
in the interior of undisturbed forest, with numerous ancient canopy trees
along the way. Birding is best in the very early morning (pre-dawn to
about 08:00) as the trail passes through closed forest and crosses a a
couple of small streams (mostly under bridges) with swampy forest off
to the sides. Large mixed-species flocks are active in this area during
the morning hours.
Sambaqui Trail – Perhaps the best overall birding
trail in the reserve as it continues for several kilometers through level
forest, roughly paralleling the course Saí-Mirim River for much
of the way, and actually giving access to the river margin at a point
about 3 km from the start. The trail passes through areas of both low-stature
and taller restingas interspersed with tall forest and some poorly drained
stretches. It’s productive at any time of day, worth exploring thoroughly
for the many species that are known to occur.
Apecatu Trail – This interesting loop trail (about
1.5 km total) comes off the Sambaqui near where that trail hits the Saí-Mirim
River, passing through taller forests as one moves away from the river.
It’s also very good for birding early in the morning.
Saí-Mirim River – Best birded by canoe,
the river provides a venue for relaxed birding in a beautiful setting
of blackwater (the result of a high tannin concentration in these sand-filtered
waters, with low particulate matter ) restingas and taller, riparian forest.
Especially good for seeing aquatic birds and species that favor the forest
edge along watercourses.
Birds of Volta Velha – Key Species
Following is a short list of the most special birds of the reserve, including
local endemics of this region of the Atlantic Forest as well as rarities
and poorly known species that always form the major “want-lists”
of visiting birders. These are designated C (critically endangered); T
(threatened); V (vulnerable); or R (rare), following the the designations
of Sick (1977).
Solitary Tinamou (Macuco - Tinamus solitarius)
-- R Under pressure mainly from illegal hunting (and has been
extirpated in many areas of the Atlantic Forest). With luck and patience,
it is sometimes seen with the best chance being along the Sambaqui Trail.
Yellow-legged Tinamou (Jaó-do-sul – Crypturellus
noctivagus) – R Also threatened mainly by illegal
hunting; most frequent along the Sambaqui and Apecatu and heard most days,
especially early and late when several widely spaced individuals may sing
repeatedly. Volta Velha is certainly one of the very best places anywhere
to see this species!
White-necked Hawk (Gavião-pombo – Leucopternis
lacernulata) – V One of the most celebrated endemic
raptors of the Atlantic Forest which may be seen soaring over the forest
canopy during the hottest hours of the day. There is a place near Volta
Velha where a probable pair has been seen frequently.
Speckled Chachalaca (Aracuã-escamoso – Ortalis
squamata) – A species that has suffered drastic reduction
of numbers owing to illegal hunting, to the point where it may soon be
classified as T. It is most frequently observed foraging within a few
meters of the ground at forest and restinga edge.
Plain Parakeet (Perequito-rico – Brotogeris tirica)
– Probably the most common parakeet in the reserve. It may be encountered
in noisy groups in open areas or inside the forest.
Brown-backed Parrotlet (Apuim-de-cauda-vermelha – Touit
melanonotus) – T This parrotlet is an Atlantic Forest
endemic that seems to prefer the forest of the Serra do Mar. It has been
recorded occasionally in the reserve and neighboring areas, in small flocks.
It is a notably rare bird, very difficult to observe. With great luck,
it is possible to see small groups flying quickly across open places betweeen
Red-tailed Parrot (Papagaio-de-cara-roxa – Amazona
brasiliensis) – T Another endemic parrot of the Atlantic
Forest, restricted to coastal forests from southern São Paulo through
Paraná to northern Santa Catarina. Volta Velha marks the southern
limit of its distribution, where few individuals occur. It is rare in
the reserve and very difficult to observe.
Blue-bellied Parrot (Sabiá-cica – Triclaria
malachitacea) – T A highly distinctive parrot, somewhat
like an Amazona but with a relatively long and wide tail. It is threatened
mainly by habitat loss. It prefers tall, closed forest where it camouflages
perfectly with green leaves. Best chance to see it is along the Sambaqui.
(Foto: Iumaã Bacca)
Saw-billed Hermit (Beija-flor-grande-do-mato – Ramphodon
naevius) – The only lowland genus endemic to the Atlantic
Dusky-throated Hermit (Rabo-branco-miúdo – Phaetornis
Sombre Hummingbird (Beija-flor cinza – Aphantochroa
Three species of hummingbirds (Trochilidae) endemic to Brazil,
the first two exclusive to the southeastern Atlantic Forest. They may
be seen on any of the trails in the reserve.
Crescent-chested Puffbird (João-barbudo – Malacoptila
striata) – A puffbird most threatened by loss of habitat.
Thanks to its cryptic plumage and habit of remaining motionless for extended
periods, it often escapes detection even by the most experienced observers.
Little chance of finding this one, but it is present along all the trails.
Helmeted Woodpecker (Pica-pau-de-cara-amarela – Dryocopus
galeatus) – C The most endangered species of woodpecker
(Picidae) in eastern Brazil. There are few recent records. It has been
reported from the reserve by some birders, but there is no documented
record (recording or photograph). At best very rare, with the slightest
chance of observation; any sightings should be carefully documented.
Robust Woodpecker (Pica-pau-rei – Campephilus robustus)
-- An uncommon species that was previously listed as threatened.
The largest woodpecker in Brazil. Difficult to observe but present on
White-breasted Tapaculo (Macuquinho – Scytalopus indigoticus)
– Endemic to the Atlantic Forest of southeast Brazil, threatened
principally by habitat loss. It inhabits the forest interior near ravines
and other very humid places. Volta Velha is an especially good place for
seeing this secretive bird.
Unicolored Antwren (Choquinha-cinzenta – Myrmotherula
unicolor) – Endemic to the Atlantic Forest of southeastern
Brazil. Common in the reserve, all trails.
Scaled Antbird (Pintadinho – Drymophila squamata)
Ferruginous Antbird (Trovoada – Drymophila ferruginea)
Squamate Antbird (Papa-formigas-de-grota – Myrmeciza
Three antbirds endemic to the Atlantic Forest that are highly sought
by birders. All are fairly common along the reserve trails.
- male and female (Photo: Eduardo Patrial)
Marsh Antbird (Bicudinho-do-bréjo – Stymphalornis
acutirostris) – T The most important endemic antbird
of the region. Another species suffering from loss of its unique habitat:
marshes with cattails, reeds, and some brushy vegetation of southern coastal
Paraná and extreme northern Santa Catarina. Among the most sought-after
of all species in the area. May be seen in appropriate habitat in one
small area in the reserve. Marshes along the drive from Garuva to Itapoã
are also good for it.
Black-cheeked Gnateater (Cuspidor-demáscara-preta –
Conopophaga melanops) – Atlantic Forest endemic
that inhabits closed forest near the ground. Uncommon in the reserve but
present along all the trails.
Pale-browed Treehunter (Trepador-sombrancelha – Cichlocolaptes
leucophrus holti) – Atlantic Forest endemic, generally
rare in Santa Catarina. Stays high in trees, foraging for insects in bromeliads
and dead leaves. Uncommon in the reserve, most frequently seen on Casa
de vidro and Apecatu.
Restinga Tyrannulet (Maria-da-restinga – Phylloscartes
kronei) – V A flycatcher endemic to the Atlantic Forest,
restricted to lowland forest, especially restinga woodland, from southern
São Paulo to northeastern Santa Catarina. Threatened by habitat
loss. Another species always highly-sought by birders. It is quite common
in the reserve and easily observed along most of the trails.
(Photo: Eduardo Patrial)
Kaempfer’s Tody-Tyrant (Maria-Catarinense – Hemitriccus
kaempferi) – T This is the species most highly restricted
to the region of the reserve, occurring only in coastal forests of northeastern
Santa Catarina and extreme southeastern Paraná. Known from very
few localities, most of which have been discovered in only the past ten
years or so. It is fairly common at Volta Velha and surrounding forest
habitat, and is the single most sought-after bird by birders; the reserve
is becoming well-known as probably the best place to see the species anywhere.
The best chances of finding it are along the early part of the Casa de
vidro trail and in the stretch of restinga forest along the Sambaqui where
it meets the Saí-mirim River.
Russet-winged Spadebill (Patinho-gigante – Paltyrinchus
leucoryphus) – A rare bird endemic to the Atlantic
Forest. Inhabits undergrowth of closed forest. Much sought-after by birders,
it is most likely to be seen along the Casa de vidro trail.
Rufous-headed Tanager (Saíra-da-mata – Hemithraupis
ruficapilla) – Endemic to the Atlantic Forest of southeastern
Brazil. Frequently encountered in canopy mixed-species flocks; all trails.
Olive-green Tanager (Catirumbava – Orthogonys chloricterus)
– A strange tanager endemic to the Serra do Mar and southern
coastal forests of Brazil. Fairly common in sizeable groups (mostly about
4-8 individuals), often with mixed-species flocks, inside the forest or
at edges. Likely to be seen along all trails.
Black-backed Tanager (Saíra-sapucaia – Tangara
peruviana) – A rather poorly known tanager endemic
to the coastal woodlands of southern Brazil, inhabiting dense, xerophytic
vegetation, especially restingas. It is certainly among the most highly
sought birds of the region. It is relatively common in the reserve, most
readily observed in restinga along the Sambaqui trail.
Brazilian Tanager (Tié-sangue – Ramphocelus
bresilius) – An Atlantic Forest endemic. Perhaps one
of the most spectacular birds of the world. May be seen in the reserve
in open areas, scrubby second-growth, forest edges, and in restingas.
Best chances are along the Sambaqui.
To provide the best service and satisfaction to visitors interested
mostly in birding, Volta Velha Reserve now offers its own birding guide.
With a thorough knowledge of the avifauna in the reserve and surrounding
region, the guide is most helpful in knowing how to identify and just
where to locate the most important species in their special habitats,
and also has a sound library and recording equipment to facilitate getting
good views of even the most inconspicuous birds.
* In order to make your stay as productive as possible, we recommend
that visitors interested in birding request the service of a guide well
The Guide – Eduardo Patrial (06/02/1982)
A native of Londrina, Paraná, his interest blossomed as a young
boy during vacations to the pantanal of Mato Grosso and in Amazonas. At
the age of 19, he began a career as a biologist and as a means of applying
his thoughts on conservation. In 2002 he dove into study of birds, when
he began to get into the field with experienced ornithologists working
on species inventories with observations and banding of birds in coastal
Paraná. Also in 2002 and 2003, still as a research assistant, he
curated the ornithological collection of the Capão da Imbuia Natural
History Museum in Curitiba, under the direction of of the ornithologist
Pedro Scherer Neto. Other research opportunities, mainly in the Atlantic
Forest, soon became available, and in 2002 he he began his ongoing study
of the birds of Itapoá, Santa Catarina .
He is currently actively leading groups of birders throughout southern
Brazil as well as important localities in Minas Gerais, and São
Paulo, as one of the few specialized birding guides available in southern
Sick, H. Ornitologia Brasileira. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1997.
Rosário, L. A. do As Aves em Santa Catarina: distribuição
e geográfica e meio ambiente. Florianópolis: FATMA, 1996.
Translation: Bret Whitney (ornitologo e
guia profissional da Field Guides, Austin, Texas, que adorou conhecer
Volta Velha em nov 2007)
de Aves da RPPN Volta Velha - pelo ornitólogo
Celso Seger e atualizada pelo ornitólogo Arthur Macarrão
com ajuda de Edson Endrigo (2010)
de Aves da RPPN Volta Velha
- Por Eduardo W. Patrial (2003 - 2006)