Cipo Canastero

Birding at Espinhaço Mountains, Minas Gerais, Brazil

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In January I went in a three-day tour at Espinhaço Mountains* (Minas Gerais, Brazil) guided by Eduardo Franco from Destinos MG agency. Specifically, we went birding through the southern region of the mountain chain, visiting Serra da Calçada, Serra do Cipó National Park and other nearby sites. It was a spectacular trip, full of lifers and framed by the beautiful landscapes of Minas Gerais.

Blue Finch

Blue Finch (Porphyrospiza caerulescens), a typical Cerrado species

To understand this destination choice, it is worth talking about the region. The Espinhaço Mountains extends for more than a thousand kilometers, from the vicinity of Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, to Chapada Diamantina, in Bahia. Due to its magnitude, it is also known as the Espinhaço Cordillera. The name “espinhaço” (which means something like “spinous”) was coined by the German geologist Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege. In a paper published in 1822, Eschwege called the geological formation “Rückenknochengebirge”, because the mountains would look like a long spine that separates, roughly, the biomes Cerrado (west) and Atlantic Forest (east). In the northern portion of the Espinhaço Mountains the Atlantic Forest is replaced by Caatinga.

Collared Crescentchest

Collared Crescentchest (Melanopareia torquata), endemic bird species of the Cerrado

Where altitude is higher, you will find “campos rupestres”, a vegetal formation characteristic of more arid environments. Low sized plants predominate – grasses and shrubs – all of them very resistant to the water scarcity.

campo rupestre

Campo rupestre vegetation at the Espinhaço Mountains, plus a breathtaking view!

Among the plants that draw the most attention in the campos rupestres there are canelas-de-ema (Vellozia sp.), sempre-vivas (Paepalanthus sp.) and small quaresmeiras with purple flowers (Tibouchina sp.).

evergreen flower

Sempre-viva, also known as “chuveirinho”, a portuguese word for “shower” (Paepalanthus sp.)

It was in this seemingly hostile (and extremely hot!) environment that we searched for three species of endemic birds, i.e. birds that can only be found in that region and nowhere else on the planet: the Cipo Canastero (that illustrates the cover of this post), the Cipo Cinclodes and the little Hyacinth Visorbearer.

Cipo Canastero

Cipo Canastero (Asthenes luizae), known in portuguese as lenheiro-da-serra-do-cipó or joão-cipó

Thanks to Eduardo we found the three endemic birds, besides many other species! I was willing to see the Cipo Canastero. This small bird belongs to the same family of the common Rufous Hornero (Furnariidae) and was discovered in 1985, being formally described in 1990 by the ornithologist Jacques Vielliard.

Cipo Cinclodes

Cipo Cinclodes (Cinclodes espinhacensis), endemic bird of the southern portion of the Espinhaço Mountains.

Even more recent was the discovery of the Cipo Cinclodes , which is also a bird in the Furnariidae family. This species has been described with the aid of DNA sequencing techniques, only five years ago!

birdwatching at serra do cipo, Brazil

Passarinhóloga, Joseane and Eduardo

During the tour we spend the nights in Santana do Riacho, very close to the entrance of the Serra do Cipó National Park. I visited this park for the first time in 2012, when I trekked the 12 km trail to the Bandeirinhas Canyon. It was interesting to be there again, to notice the changes in the landscape (this year was much drier) and to find many of the birds that highlighted my first visit: White-rumped Monjita, Cinnamon Tanager, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Helmeted Manakin…

Silvery-cheeked Antshrike

Silvery-cheeked Antshrike (Sakesphorus cristatus), male

We walked in the park and its surroundings. I missed Cerrado so much and I was very happy to find many nice species, especially the Silvery-cheeked Antshrike, Blue Finch, Cinereous Warbling-Finch, Sharp-tailed Tyrant, Checkered Woodpecker and Least Nighthawk.

Least Nighthawk

Least Nighthawk (Chordeiles pusillus) and its excellent camouflage

Three days in a great company! And it was very intense days, birding from early morning (when the heat is bearable and the birds are more active) until the end of the afternoon. Fortunately, Eduardo is a super professional guide and he planned all the details, so Joseane and I just cared about birding.

Ocellated Crake

Ocellated Crake (Micropygia schomburgkii), at Serra da Calçada, in Brumadinho/MG

Back in Belo Horizonte (the starting point and also the end of the birdwatching tour) I decided to keep traveling to Brumadinho. We were in this municipality on the first day of the tour, but we only visit the Serra da Calçada, from where it is possible to see the small town at a great distance, totally covered by mist (the reason of the city’s portuguese name) in the early hours of the day. My goal was to return there to know the famous Inhotim, where I spent a very pleasant day visiting the galleries of contemporary art and walking through vast gardens. With this last trip I topped off my vacations and returned home, very happy.

Just two days later, a tailings dam owned by the mining company Vale collapsed in Brumadinho, causing one of the biggest socio-environmental tragedies in Brazil. As I write the newspapers report that 110 bodies have already been found and there are still more than 200 people missing. The toxic mud has already reached more than 100 km. It is with great sadness that I think about the people who received me so well in Brumadinho and who now are going through so much suffering. I can only wish that justice be done and that we may learn from Brumadinho what we didn’t learn from the similar disaster in Mariana, three years ago.


(*) Brazilians call them “Cadeia do Espinhaço”


References consulted


Alisson, Elton (2018) Campo rupestre no Brasil apresenta alta diversidade de espécies de plantasRevista FAPESP, 20 de Junho de 2018.

Conservação Internacional (2008) Cadeia do Espinhaço: avaliação do conhecimento científico e prioridades de conservaçãoMegadiversidade, vol. 4, n. 1-2

Costa, Lílian Mariana (2011) História de vida de Asthenes luizae: biologia reprodutiva, sucesso reprodutivo e o impacto de Molothrus bonariensis em uma ave ameaçada e endêmica dos campos rupestres da Cadeia do Espinhaço. Tese de dissertação de mestrado/ UFMG.

Freitas, Guilherme H. S.; et al (2012) A new species of Cinclodes from the Espinhaço Range, southeastern Brazil: insights into the biogeographical history of the South American highlandsThe International Journal of Avian Science, vol. 154, 738-755.