RIO DOCE STATE PARK
MINAS GERAIS (NE)
Lat:19o37´S/42o40´W 35,976ha flat 230-520m semidecidual forest, 230-515m, 44 natural lakes of various sizes
EBA 075 Lowland Atlantic forest
October-April (February 2005)
Birding Site Guide
Travel 210km east from Belo Horizonte take BR-262 to the Sao Jose Goiabal intersection. Then take the MG-30 road via Timótoe then to Sitio Velho. The park entrance is before Sitio Velho, just off the bus route, ask the bus driver as you get on to tell you when you are there. From the main road there is a sign but the entry gate is out of view about a half a km away along the dirt road. Here pay, and if you do not have transport get a lift off the park staff to the campsite 6km further along the road. The park offices and facilities are all along this road which is a peninsula that juts into a 7km oxbow lake, and the campsite is at the tip of this peninsula. The campsite is very cheap and has facilities such as electricity (2 round prong plugs, not 3, 110v, take an adaptor and transformer if needed), good toilets and showers and washbasins, it also has many barbecue areas. What it does not have is gas bottles or charcoal for sale, and there is no food shop, you must bring all these items with you. There are no shops, cafes, bars or restaurants near the park, only in the nearest town (Cava Grande) about 20km away. You will also need a secure box to keep food in, to keep the Capuchin Monkeys out, if you have a car fine otherwise you will need a strong box. The monkeys can rip tents and bags to shreds, do not store food in them and keep food off of the ground or else you will soon be overrun by the painfully biting army ants. The park does have a very good visitor centre (which anyone can visit) and accommodation block, but the latter is for official park visitors and for training. However if there are no researchers or any courses on you should be allowed to use it, ask at the entrance gate, cost cheap (c.US$6 per person per night).
At the campsite the best bird to look for is the Great Potoo, which comes to sit on the same lamppost every night, just as it gets dark. The post is located just past the campsite barbecue area towards the bathing area at the lake, the bird sits there for long periods and adopts the cryptic posture if it hears a noise close by. Also around the campsite bushes usually keeping in cover are Rusty-margined Guans.
There is some good birding here but if you are coming hoping to see Forbes Blackbird, you will be disappointed. According to Marcus the park director (who knows his birds and their calls very well) there is only a single old record, by a visiting female Belgium? birder. She saw the bird once around the open area at the office buildings (where Marcus has sat every workday for many years), however older records seem to suggest they were once more reliable. There are a few paths and trails along the administration road to the campsite, but unfortunately most are short and much of the forest along the road has been disturbed. The Minas Gerais State Forestry Institute (IEF) staff may be available to guide you for free, or price of petrol, but do not expect this, they are not a state organisation designed to assist the tourist.
From the entry gate the first unmarked path is about 100m along the road on the left (straight opposite the office) walk down a path to the buildings at the start of the grass runway and walk along the runway. The path is about three-quarters of the way along the runway on the right, probably the entrance is overgrown, but easy enough to find. Follow the long path through the marshes and forest, but note it can be flooded and very muddy.
Continue birding along the peninsula road for c.2km towards the campsite and the next unmarked path is on the right behind the tree nursery, look for the road turning towards a bungalow and walk past this to the nursery to the good forest behind. Ask if you cannot see the entrance point. This trial is probably a couple of km long and the birding is good, look for the tiny fast Reddish Hermit here. At the far end you will reach one of the 42 lakes in the park, where Greater Ani can be seen.
The next trail you will come to along the road is halfway along on the left. This trail is named and marked, but is a short 1km loop only. At the campsite there is a fishermen’s trail along the edge of the lake, which can be found by walking into the forest behind the campsite towards the lake. It is possible to coax the fishermen to take you onto the lake to look for Sungrebe, and though they are definitely there (quite crepuscular), do not expect to see them.
The 2 best trails however are not on the peninsula and require transport to reach. You would definitely be better off with a guide and GPS as well. To find the road that these trails go off from, you need to leave the park, back onto the main bus route heading right for c.20km towards Cava Grande. The small town sits at a road junction and you need to turn right (east) onto the rough road that bisects the park. Follow this road for c.15km till almost out the other side of the park. At around this distance keep looking for a set back iron-gate on the left, this is the start of the Campalina Trail. It is only 2.5km return and takes about 2hr to walk and terminates at the river bank. It is easy to follow for about the first third but then the track becomes indistinct and branches all over. Because GPS will not work in this dense primary forest (some real forest giants along here) a guide is a good idea (we still got lost for a time though!) and an even better reason for having a guide is because of hunters traps, which are trip wires attached to a shotgun wire low on the path. The friend of the guide I was with was shot in the ankle the previous year. Along here we saw the incredibly rare monkey known as Mono Muriqui, the Woolly Spider Monkey Brachyteles arachoides. There were about 5 and thinking we were hunters threw sticks at us!
The next path is where the GPS comes in as you cannot locate the overgrown entrance from the roadside without it. From the Campalina Trail head back 3.5km towards Cava Grande, park and search for the entrance through the chest high grass and bushes. This trail is called the Lagoa Preta Trail and is 3km return and terminates at the small Black Lagoon. Lesser Kiskadee was seen here.
This state park obviously has great potential for birding, and many more species would be found for the park list if there was good access to the best parts of the forest. As it stands though the best forest is impossible to reach without transport and the trails are difficult and dangerous to follow. As a consequence the whole site is virtually not birded, I was the only foreign visitor within the last 12 months and I have yet to meet a Brazilian birder (I never saw Marcus in the field).
325 bird species (47% of the Atlantic Forest birds), 25 of which are threatened with extinction in Minas Gerais.
Relevant BENES list
SOUTH & EAST BRAZIL FORESTS BENES (Biome Endemics and Near-Endemics list)
There are 77 species of mammals (about 30% of the Atlantic Forest species), including 28 species of bats, 20 non-volant small mammals, seven primate species (40% of the Atlantic forest primate species), and five species of felids. About 16% of the PERD mammal species are endemic to the Atlantic Forest, and 14 are on the state endangered species list.
Broad-nosed Caimen Caiman latirostris
There are 38 recorded species of amphibians, for 10 species this is the only site in Minas Gerais.
Of fish 27 species have been recorded.
1,129 plant species recorded in the area, with 134 botanical families. Fourteen plant species are threatened with extinction in the state of Minas Gerais.
REQUEST Trail name halfway along peninsula.
Rio Doce website