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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Birding Brazil's Pantanal with Michael De Rosa

I recently came back from an 8-night independent trip to the Pantanal ‑ the largest tropical fresh water wetlands in the world. Wetlands equals birds. All arrangements were made on-line. Google translate was a big help as many places have no English speaking staff. My only problem was a thunderstorm that closed the Philly airport and I missed my flight to Rio, and as a result, a day in the Pantanal. I spent the day at the Georgia aquarium (Atlanta) with its two 25-foot long whale sharks. 

I flew from Rio de Janeiro to Cuiaba (via Brasilia) where I picked up a rental car (stick shift) and an English speaking guide (for 3 days). From there I drove to Pocone and the start of the Transpanteniera. For the most part it is a dirt road with over a hundred and twenty wooden bridges. Built in the early 70s, it was never finished once it became clear that the annual flooding made it impractical to maintain. It is now a corridor through the Pantanal that ends at Porto Jofre. The road is very drivable in the dry season. But there were heavy downpours the last two days of my stay that turned the road to mud and made the drive back ‘interesting’. Taking about 6-hours to go about 80 miles with lots of sliding and skidding. Before I left I was given some advice: go slow and stay in the middle of the road, the first 15-20 km would be the worst (no), and the rain would let up after about 25-30 km (forecast was wrong). For most of the trip the car was in second gear trying to maintain a speed fast enough not to get bogged down in the mud , but not so fast that the car ended up in a bank.

I stayed at the Pousada Rio Clarinho, basic but good, appeals to budget and independent travelers-no English or Spanish, St. Tereza (SouthWild Pantanal) more upscale (small pool), part-owned by an American, gets birding and photo tours, feeders and lots of birds around lodge including Hyacinth macaws, and lastly the Pantanal North Hotel in Porto Jofre at the end of the road, also more upscale (pool), no English, gets lots of fisherman and those looking for jaguars, good birding around lodge and Hyacinth macaws. Pouso Alegre visited twice on day trips from Rio Clarinho—birds and very good for mammals-got a brief view of a tapir and longer views of marsh deer. Missed a tamandua anteater. At all three places meals were buffet style and lunch and dinner always included rice and beans (feijoada).
Transpantaheira: A 140 km road from Pocone to Porto Jofre. Mostly dirt with over 120 wooden bridges.

One of the many bridges. There was a temptation to slow down, or stop on the bridges and check for birds.
Most of them are not marked. You know you are approaching one when to road starts to rise.

Greater Rhea: Seen only at the beginning of the road.

Jabiru: A very large stork about as tall as the rhea. Each year the pair adds to the nest. Monk parakeets or other small birds nest underneath. The jabirus provide security, and the small birds are part of an early warning system.

 Only the Andean Condor has a greater wingspan than the Jabiru.

 Jabiru Chicks

Yellow-billed cardinal: Very common

Yacare Caiman: Even more common

White Woodpecker

Campo Flicker

Flower #1

Agami Heron: I was very lucky to see this rare heron out in clear view. Boatman phoned it in, but a group of birders arrived a few minutes after it went to ground. Two days later I saw a pair, also along the Pixiam River.

 Speed bumps

Chestnut-eared Aracari

 Black Crowned Night Heron (immature)

Rufescent Tiger Heron. It was nesting season and I saw several nests. At one, a capuchin monkey had stolen an egg, and I could hear the heron complaining, and the monkey crunching on the egg.

Immature Rufescent Tiger Heron

Silver Tailed Marmoset: They chew holes in bark and lap up the sap that comes out.

Saffron Finch

Striated Heron: Common but very wary. Was once considered to be the same species as the green heron found in the US.

Pied Plover

Hyacinth Macaws: Largest members of the parrot family. Endangered due to habitat destruction and the pet trade. Making a comeback in the Pantanal and often seen and heard.

Blue and yellow macaw: Being re-introduced back into the Pantanal.

Capybara: Our largest rodent.


A quick grab shot of a pair.

Boat-billed Heron

 Southern Screamer: Lived up to its name.

 Giant River Otter: Several sightings and in one case the boat got to close to a den and the otter bit the paddle.

Greater Potoo: They always roost in the same place. Once you know where it is you can keep going back.

Capped Heron: uncommon

 Another one

Wattled Jicana: Common but never seem to stay still. 

 Flower #2

 Tuco Toucan: Largest member of the family at a feeder.

Two Tuco Toucans Together

Southern Crested Caracara

Roadside Hawk: Lunch time

Black-Collared Hawk

Giant River Otters

Blue-CrownedTrogon: The only member of the family in the Pantanal.

Orange-Backed Troupials

Scarlet-Headed Blackbird
Masked Water Tyrant

Vermillion Flycatcher: Common but hard to sneak up on.

Wood Stork

Caiman: I was told the black spot is a parasite.

Ringed Kingfisher
Amazon Kingfisher (female)
Muscovy Duck
Blue-Crowned Mot-Mot
Bare-faced Curassow pair
Large-billed Tern
Monk Parakeet: Common, noisy, and very hard to photograph. Most images are green blurs.
The first time I saw this species it was flying over Sheepshead Bay (Brooklyn) in 1969.
Baywing: At feeder
Turquoise-Fronted Amazon: Most often seen (backlit) and heard flying overhead. This one was at its nest.
Long-Tailed Ground Dove: This dove, and the others below, found around feeders at St Tereza.
Scaled Dove
White-Tiped Dove
Eared Dove
Black-capped Donacobius: Always seen hanging onto an aquatic plant.
Neotropic Commorant
Cattle Drive: Most of the land in the Pantanal is part of  a cattle ranch- (fazendas).
I ran into two cattle drives on the way out.

Plumbeous Ibis
Buff-necked Ibis
Glittering-bellied Emerald: Near a feeder at St Tereza-it also attracted a Glittering-throated Emerald.

Chaco Chachalaca: Common, noisy and wary-feeder St Tereza
Rufous Hornero: Pair at nest

White-winged Swallows
Pauraque: At dusk landed on the railing of a boardwalk right in front of me.
I got within two feet before it decided it wasn't invisible and flew off.

Cattle Tyrant: On a giant Victoria water lilly. Can be seen 'riding' on live stock and capybaras.
Southern Lapwing

Cocoi Heron
Most of the travelers that make the trek to Porto Jofre are going fishing or looking to spot a
Jaguar. On the river there were four flotels catering to fisherman. Got to sample pacu (related to piranhas),
caught by one of the guests, at lunch-very tasty. The Pantanal is one of the best places to see a jaguar.
One tour operator, for a price, will give you a money back guarantee that you will see a jaguar.
That was one of the reasons I was there. Boats go out in different directions looking for one.
Once they spot one, they  radio in the location. My boatman got the news and off we went. As we approached two boats were leaving, and they signaled to go down a small channel where another boat waited.

Julinho, guide in sunglasses, said to look at the bush to right of the roots of a large tree.
This is what I saw through a 400mm telephoto and also with my binoculars.
With my bare eyes I just saw bushes. Can you spot the large, well-fed male jaguar?

After cropping and increasing the exposure, you can see what I saw from a better angle.
A third boat showed up and we collectively spent 90-minutes watching the jaguar. We hung out,
— the jaguar hung out. He lay down, got up, sat down, drooled (not a good look for a fierce jaguar), walked a short distance and peered out. All his movements were very slow and deliberate. 

I passed the time looking, and listening to the birds around us. In a tree behind us there were
some melodious thrush-like wrens, and a raucous colony of yellow-rumped caciques. Overhead 
egrets, herons, ibis, and parrots flew by, going to their roosts as the sun set. A few  yellow-billed and large-billed terns scooted by. A pair of orange-backed troupials flitted through the trees in front of us, and a family
of curassows pecked at the ground for food. A black-capped donacobius landed on an aquatic plant,
while noisy monk parakeets carried on in a tree to our right. My boat left as dusk approached.

Michael De Rosa, Ph. D.

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