Day 1: Tour starts in the morning at Confins International Airport (CNF), the main airport of Minas Gerais, serving the state capital of Belo Horizonte. The drive to our first destination, should take only an hour and a half! The Serra do Cipó is a beautiful and famous geological formation in the state of Minas Gerais, part of the more complex and larger Espinhaço Mountain Range which extends a thousand kilometres, mostly through Minas Gerais and a smaller part creeping into Bahia. After lunch and check-in at the village Serra do Cipó, we will enjoy the afternoon upon the hills (around 1200m above sea level), covering the beautiful campo rupestre (rocky scrub). Some of the main Espinhaço endemics include Hyacinth Visorbearer, Cipo Canastero, Grey-backed Tachuri and Serra Finch. Overnight in guesthouse at Serra do Cipó.
Day 2: Full day of birding at Cipó. We will visit the very scenic campo rupestre from the hills of the lovely Lapinha da Serra. There we expect to guarantee our chances with some of the uncommon endemics such as Cinereous Warbling Finch, Cipó Canastero and “Cipo” Long-tailed Cinclodes. Taking up a trail in this fascinating habitat, we will also look for the recently-split and now localized endemic, Diamantina Sabrewing. Birding in the flaring Cerrado around Lapinha or Serra do Cipó can provide a bunch of extra birds, including Small-billed Tinamou, Hyacinth Visorbearer, White-vented Violetear, the impressive Horned Sungem; Red-legged Seriema, White-eared Puffbird, Toco Toucan, Checkered Woodpecker, Firewood Gatherer, endemic Band-tailed Hornero, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Rufous-winged Antshrike, Streamer-tailed Tyrant, Southern Scrub and Suiriri Flycatchers, Plain-crested and Lesser Elaenias, Curl-crested Jay, Black-throated Saltator, the stunning Blue Finch, Cinnamon, Shrike-like, White-rumped and Burnished-buff Tanagers. If there’s still time, we can finish the day near our place in dry woodland for endemics Caatinga Puffbird and Silvery-cheeked Antshrike, plus Black-capped Antwren and Pale-bellied Tyrant-Manakin. Overnight at Serra do Cipó.
Day 3: Day transfer to Caraça Sanctuary. In the early morning, we will visit the eastern side of Cipó’s plateau, areas of grasslands and Atlantic Forest remnants. Main attempt is for the endemics Rock and Marsh Tapaculos. Others found in the area include White-barred Piculet, Lesser Grass Finch, Long-tailed Reed Finch, Yellow-rumped Marshbird, Hellmayr’s Pipit, Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet, Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher and endemic Gilt-edged Tanager. Then driving south to a magnificent corner of the Espinhaço Mountains, the Caraça’s Sanctuary will give us a taste of the Atlantic Forest. The private reserve combines scenic transitions of humid valleys to campo rupestre, all surrounded by prominent hills, a quite shocking landscape. After checking-in the impressive monastery building, we should bird a mix of Atlantic Forest and campo rupestre mainly after the endemic Serra Antwren. This evening, the century-old tradition of Maned Wolf feeding should give us the best chances of experiencing a very close encounter with this astounding species at monastery’s front door! Overnight at Caraça Sancturary.
Day 4: Our full day in Caraça will be a good one for the Atlantic Forest endemics. Different trails in the reserve will offer a large new array of birds. Highlights include Dusky-legged Guan, White-collared and Biscutate Swifts, Scale-throated Hermit, Brazilian Ruby, Hyacinth Visorbearer, Slaty-breasted Wood Rail, Tawny-browed and Rusty-barred Owls, Rufous-capped Motmot, Surucua Trogon, Green-billed Toucan, endemics Crescent-chested Puffbird and Yellow-eared Woodpecker; Robust Woodpecker, Plain, Maroon-bellied and Golden-capped Parakeets, Scaly-headed Parrot, Lesser, Scaled, Planalto and White-throated Woodcreepers, Buff-fronted, White-eyed and Buff-browed Foliage-gleaners, endemic Orange-eyed Thornbird; Rufous-capped, Grey-bellied and Pallid Spinetails, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Rufous-breasted Leaftosser, Giant, Large-tailed and Tufted Antshrikes, endemics Ferruginous, Ochre-rumped and White-bibbed Antbirds, Star-throated and Serra Antwrens; Black-capped Antwren, Rufous Gnateater, endemics Rock and White-breasted Tapaculos, Spotted Bamboowren, Blue and Pin-tailed Manakins, Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakin, the uncommon Swallow-tailed Cotinga; endemics Cinnamon-vented Piha and Grey-hooded Attila; endemics Hangnest Tody-Tyrant, Grey-capped Tyrannulet, Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher and Velvety Black Tyrant; Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Chestnut-vented Euphonia, colourful tanagers as Brassy-breasted and Gilt-edged Tanager and hundreds more. Interesting endemic primates are found in Caraça and chances are good to see Black-tufted-ear Marmoset and Black-fronted Titi Monkey. Maned Wolf can always improve the day in the evenings as well as some night excursions after nightjars and owls. Caraça’s Sanctuary is always a memorable experience for those who appreciate nature.
Day 5: Day transfer to São Roque de Minas. After an early morning excursion on the grounds of Caraça, we will have a quite long day-transfer to São Roque de Minas (seven hours drive), southwest in the state, the main gate of Serra da Canastra National Park. We should arrive by late afternoon, but if time allows we can already look for a few birds in Cerrado habitat next to our hotel, to include Collared Crescentchest, Crested Black Tyrant, endemic Stripe-breasted Starthroat and the amazing Helmeted Manakin. Overnight in São Roque de Minas.
Day 6-7-8: Three full days to explore the unique tableland of Serra da Canastra. Created in 1972, the National Park protects the São Francisco and other river sources, like an important river nursery between two large watersheds in the country, The Paraná and the São Francisco. The chest shaped tableland (where name Canastra comes from) with higher altitudes near 1500m, also protects one of the most threatened habitats in the Brazilian Cerrado, the grasslands. Besides, the area consists of other Cerrado physiognomies and still with good influence from Atlantic Forest in the lower forested areas. Emblematic mammals are part of the local fauna, like the notorious Giant Anteater, the threatened Maned Wolf and Pampas Deer. The clear waters of Canastra also detain the largest population of the rare and Critically Endangered, Brazilian Merganser, where about two hundred birds live (IUCN, 2020). Here we will count on spare time to look for this main rarity.
The rich Canastra should offer us plenty to see. Highlights include Greater Rhea, Red-winged Tinamou, Spotted Nothura, Lesser Nothura (rare), King Vulture, Black-chested Buzzard Eagle, Chaco Eagle (rare), Great Horned Owl, Sickle-winged Nightjar (rare), Band-winged and Spot-tailed Nightjars, White-collared, Biscutate and Great Dusky Swifts, Planalto Hermit, endemic Stripe-breasted Starthroat; White and Little Woodpeckers, Red-legged Seriema, Aplomado Falcon, endemic Golden-capped Parakeet; Yellow-faced Parrot (uncommon), Campo Miner, Planalto Foliage-gleaner (rare), Firewood Gatherer, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Large-billed Antwren, Collared Crescentchest, endemic Brasilia Tapaculo; Helmeted and Pin-tailed Manakins, Southern Antpipit, Sharp-tailed Grass Tyrant, Grey-backed Tachuri, Rufous Casiornis (uncommon), the fascinating Cock-tailed Tyrant, Curl-crested Jay, Tawny-headed Swallow, Ochre-breasted Pipit, endemic White-striped Warbler; Blue Finch, Black-masked Finch, Shrike-like and White-rumped Tanagers, Stripe-tailed Yellow Finch, Plumbeous and Dubois’s Seedeaters and more. While in Canastra we should also appreciate the opportunity of trying the local cheese and coffee, some of the best in the country!
Day 9: Morning drive to the town of Pompéu for a one night stay. With help of local guides, we should visit different sites in Cerrado to try the shy Ocellated and Rufous-faced Crakes. The rich Cerrado in the area should offer several additions to our list and chances to catch up with missing species. Highlights include Lesser Nothura (difficult), Plain-breasted Ground Dove, Blue-and-yellow and Red-bellied Macaws, Turquoise-fronted Amazon, Rusty-backed Antwren, Henna-capped Foliage-gleaner, Campo Miner, Greater thornbird, Chotoy Spinetail, Chapada Flycatcher, Black-faced Tanager, Coal-crested Finch and Black-masked Finch. Overnight in Pompéu.
Day 10: Most of morning spent in Pompéu, checking for crakes and more Cerrado specialties as mentioned previously. In the late morning, we will start the long drive to Montes Claros, the main city in northern Minas, which is to be our base for two nights. On arrival we can being exploring the typical deciduous forest of the São Francisco region, which guards hundreds of birds and some uncommon localized endemics. Overnight in Montes Claros.
Day 11: Full day exploring the rich mata seca (deciduous forest) of Lapa Grande State Park in Montes Claros. The park is right next to the town and its nice composition of birds will entertain us for the day. There we expect to record highlights such as endemic Yellow-legged Tinamou; the localized and recently described Outcrop Sabrewing (split from Grey-breasted S); Sombre Hummingbird, Rusty-breasted Nunlet, endemics Spotted Piculet and Ochre-backed Woodpecker, Caatinga Parakeet; another chance of Henna-capped Foliage-gleaner; endemic Caatinga Cacholote; Ochre-cheeked Spinetail, Stripe-backed Antbird, Black-bellied Antwren, endemics Silvery-cheeked Antshrike and Planalto Slaty Antshrike; the uncommon and localized Minas Gerais Tyrannulet and Sao Francisco Black Tyrant; the rare Reiser’s Tyrannulet; endemics Ash-throated Casiornis, White-naped Jay, Sao Francisco Sparrow, Campo Troupial, Pale Baywing, Red-cowled Cardinal, Scarlet-throated Tanager (uncommon) and several other birds. Overnight in Montes Claros.
Day 12: Morning travel northwest to the Cavernas do Peruaçu National Park. The mata seca and physiognomies from the biome Caatinga are the habitats we will be covering here. The National Park protects the typical mata seca and one of the most representative archaeological sites in South America, with many caves and rocky paintings from thousands years ago (which will be on our schedule too). After arriving and checking-in, we should spend the rest of the day covering Caatinga habitats next to the bank of the São Francisco River. Our main target comes out at dusk, the endemic Plain-tailed Nighthawk, but we should have a quite busy birding session earlier at the site, where we can look for Giant Wood Rail, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Greater Wagtail Tyrant, Orange-fronted Yellow Finch and endemics Caatinga Puffbird, Spotted Piculet, Caatinga Parakeet, Band-tailed Hornero, Caatinga Cacholote, White-naped Jay, Campo Troupial, Long-billed Wren, Red-cowled Cardinal, Scarlet-throated Tanager and White-throated Seedeater. Overnight in guesthouse near Cavernas do Peruaçu N.P.
Day 13: Full day of birding at Cavernas do Peruaçu National Park, a good day for Caatinga and mata seca specialties, and to enjoy the fascinating caves and ancient rock paintings available in the park. One of our main targets birds here will the rare Moustached Woodcreeper, which normally can be found in the park without much effort. Other highlights include endemics Grey-headed Spinetail, the fascinating Great Xenops, Caatinga Antwren and White-browed Antpitta; also, Stripe-backed Antbird, Barred (Caatinga) and Silvery-cheeked Antshrikes, Black-bellied Antwren, Red-billed Scythebill and more chances for Sao Francisco Black Tyrant, Minas Gerais Tyrannulet and Outcrop Sabrewing. The lovely mammal Rock Cavy is quite common in the park. Overnight in guesthouse near Peruaçu N.P.
Day 14: After an early morning session at Peruaçu, we will travel east to the little town of Botumirim, our much-anticipated final destination on the tour (and back into the Espinhaço Mountain Range). This place recently became very famous amongst birders due to the rediscovery of Blue-eyed Ground Dove, certainly one of the rarest and most threatened birds in the world. After two specimens were collected in southeast Goiás state during 1941, the Ground Dove was not seen again until 2015! Ornithologist Rafael Bessa discovered this small population in very specific Cerrado habitat, with a white-sand campo rupestre base. The species is Critically Endangered and this small known population in Botumirim counts on about fourteen birds. Thankfully, a private reserve was created by the foundation Save Brasil (a BirdLife International partner), which now protects an area of over 35 thousand hectares in conjunction with the adjoining Brazilian state park. We should have our first attempt for the Ground Dove in the afternoon. The beautiful site will offer some other great birds, including the smart Copper Seedeater and more chances for Horned Sungem, Cinereous Warbling Finch, Velvety Black Tyrant, Stripe-tailed Yellow Finch and Serra Finch. Overnight in guesthouse at Botumirim.
Day 15: Full day of birding in Botumirim. We will repeat the Blue-eyed Ground Dove Reserve in the early morning to guarantee great views of this mega rarity, and also check some stunning areas beyond the reserve to look for the uncommon Long-tailed Ground Dove and even for more chances of Minas Gerais Tyrannulet if still necessary. Other interesting areas in Botumirim include the forest known as Mata do Lobo, where we can find the endemic Narrow-billed Antwren, Helmeted Manakin and with luck, the uncommon Planalto Foliage-gleaner. The high campo rupestre plateau called Campina do Bananal can also offer more chances for Cipo Canastero, Grey-backed Tachuri and Hyacinth Visorbearer. Overnight in Botumirim.
Day 16: Early morning birding in Botumirim before the drive back to Montes Claros Airport (MOC), where the tour ends this afternoon. There are many daily flights either back to Belo Horizonte, or directly to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Cost: $ 5,900
Deposit: $ 750
Single room supplement: $ 450
Accommodation: All comfortable hotels and guesthouses.
Walking difficulty: Mostly easy roadside birding, though a few moderate birding trails around Serra do Cipó / Serra do Caraça, plus one steep multi-hour hike for Diamantina Sabrewing and Cipó Canastero (optional).
Tour cost includes: All accommodation, main meals, drinking water, internal flights (as stated in itinerary), overland transport, tips to local drivers and guides, travel permits, entrance fees, and guide fees.
Tour cost excludes: Flights before and after the tour start/end, visa, travel insurance, tips to tour leaders, laundry, drinks and other items of a personal nature.