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REGUA's wetlands and forest.

REGUA (Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu) is a privately held reserve and birding lodge two hours northeast of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But more importantly REGUA is a story of hope and inspiration. It is a story of seeing threatened species on old logging roads; of seeing water pass through man-made wetlands before heading to a factory; of a volunteer reforestation program and community education programs. But a little background first...

The Atlantic rainforest, or Mata Atlantica in Portuguese, stretches from northeast Brazil to north Uruguay, and is the second most endangered 'biome', or large ecosystem, on the planet, behind Madagascar. Over 95% of almost 1.5 million square kilometers has been deforested, and less than half of the remaining forest is primary forest. But the Atlantic rainforest is still one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. REGUA's mission is to protect and reforest their area, and to create a model for others to follow.

A Hooded Berryeater (a cotinga) comes in for a closeup on the Red Trail. ©

One of the great success stories of REGUA is the wetlands. The land was purchased with an agreement that the water would continue to flow to a beer factory. REGUA, with support from wetland conservations groups, created a massive multi-level wetland system which drains the water down to the factory. So much water is so many places is being diverted from where it should naturally flow that it is good to see that man and nature can sometimes work together.

REGUA is a great place to visit even if you are not a birder. Hiking, horseback riding, swimming, or just relaxing at the pool are all possible. But for birders you have all of that and more. The wetlands sit next to a lowland forest around 33 meters above sea level. The terrain climbs to around 1000 meters via the trails, and another 1000 meters accessible from outside of REGUA. Over 600 species of birds can be seen at REGUA and the surrounding areas. And most of these are 'good' birds; in addition to around 100 Atlantic rainforest endemics, many of the REGUA birds are only found in places where it is more difficult to see them, such as the Amazon basin.

A typical day for me at REGUA was just walking the yellow trail around the wetlands and the Forest or San Jose trail through mature secondary forest. One day I shared a ride with some researchers to the Green trail, and agreed to meet them later at the base of the Blue trail. I would cross using the high altitude Red trail, which I had wanted to visit. This was not the best idea; with all of my equipment it was too much for one day. I had lost my hiking shoes earlier in the trip and on the way up I found myself in a four meter swarm of army ants with 'Crocs' sandals. Then I reached the top to find many interesting birds waiting, including a Hooded Berryeater who posed for me, but too close! Unfortunately I realized I had to hurry down, and could not spend any time at the top.

Night 'owling' turns up an almost endemic Black-capped Screech-Owl. ©

One of the things I enjoyed about REGUA was meeting the many researchers who are drawn by REGUA's friendly policies towards scientific research. The science of ecosystems is already complicated, but trying to understand highly fragmented and changing ecosystems like Mata Atlantica is many times more problematic. A dragonfly researcher was trying to document the species of the region focusing on visual and color cues, unlike previous research. And two ant reseachers were studying leaf-cutter ants in secondary forest.

Unlike many lodges, REGUA has a wide range of day trips, from the sand dune ecosystem on the beach to the peaks of the local mountains, and many points between. The night 'owling' trip can turn up any of eleven species of owl and two species of potoo. And REGUA's guides are famous for their ability to identify seemingly any bird from the slightest peep.

Many threats face the remaining Atlantic rainforest including population growth, climate change, redirection of water, and the short and long term effects of a fragmented ecosystem. REGUA is a great way to help, and have a great vacation at the same time.

Colorful tanagers visit the fruit feeders and bromeliad bath around the lodge. ©

Duncan Wilson has written a thorough document describing in great details the various trails and birding areas in and around REGUA, as well as all of the birds he saw in two months. This document is on the REGUA web site in the trip report section for 2011. Birders will always see more birds than me, because they don't have to focus on all of the details of getting the shot. Sometimes I wait hours for a particular bird at a particular location. And I rarely look through the canopy knowing those birds are unlikely to come close enough. So those are my excuses for all of the birds that Duncan saw that I did not see. I did see and photograph a few species not mentioned in his report, and quite probably many of those were because of seasonal differences; I visited REGUA in the off-season, in the Brazilian summer. That list follows...

Dark-billed Cuckoo, Pearly-breasted Cuckoo: Both were seen on the yellow trail. My shot of the Pearly-breasted is quite weak, and it maybe a Yellow-billed, but there were reliable sightings of both species during my stay.

Much of REGUA is reforested banana plantation and the remaining banana plants are no problem for the Marmosets. ©

Lined Seedeater: Apparently migrates from the north. This and the Double-collared were the most common seedeaters.

White-winged Becard: Both a male and female seen on the yellow trail. Duncan only mentions the less widely distributed Black-capped Becard.

The Swallow Tanager, Rufous-tailed Jacamar and Streaked Flycatcher were seen in large numbers, but only mentioned as a few isolated sightings.

The White-vented Violetear and White-tailed Trogon were seen on an outing near the town of Santa Maria Madelena a few hours from REGUA.

Five Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were often seen at the wetlands.

More information about REGUA is online at

Asleep on the job! Yellow is the color for woodpeckers in the Atlantic rainforest, with the stunning Yellow-browed, Yellow-throated, Yellow-fronted and the more drab Yellow-eared Woodpeckers all commonly seen. ©
The White-barred Piculet, a miniature woodpecker, is an endearing bird often seen pecking close to the trails. ©
A male White-flanked Antwren at the bromeliad waterbath. For hardcore birders, 25 species of antbirds have been recorded at REGUA. ©
The Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher is a Brazilian endemic closely related to the Common Tody-Flycatcher, but a little less hyperactive. ©
The Masked Water Tyrant is commonly seen around the wetlands. ©
Properly photographing the southeast Brazilian endemic White-necked Hawk is left as an exercise for the reader.


I didn't really touch on the amazing biodiversity at REGUA. So many interesting insects, frogs, lizards, snails, and plants as well. Wish I could focus on that type of photography as well, but it's just too hard to focus on telephoto and macro photography at the same time.

Reforestation is not easy

I was able to see many parts of a reforestation project, and it is a lot of work. The African 'cow grass' used throughtout Latin America prevents the growth of other plants and gradually weakens the soil. Reforestation is much harder the longer the grass has been there. The grass must be killed with chemicals or painstakingly hacked and plowed away.

At REGUA new trees come from a nursery where seeds and seedlings are extracted from the forest. A big advantage of this is that tree species normally only found in primary foret can be used to kickstart the new forest. REGUA has staff and a volunteer program to help with the planting of the small trees from the nursery. And this February there was so little rain the workers had to be hired and volunteer reenlisted to water each tree individually with a water bucket from the stream. Your author even participated in this one day, and it is hard work!

When I am at home in Florida I grow trees on my balcony, such as avacado, papaya, and mango. They make great gifts. The world's complex ecosystems can never survive with just the park system (not to mention the problem with carbon and climate change), and I feel it is essential that all of us do what we can to keep a balance with nature.