Brazil, part 2

Wednesday, August 31

We got to sleep in until 5:30am, have breakfast, then board the little boats along with our luggage, to take a trip up river to get to the location where we originally put in to head to the flotel. I was encouraged to take a potty break, but after looking at the loos, I steadfastly declined.

We hopped aboard an open-air truck with our camera gear, and our cameras wrapped in plastic bags (most of us brought small garbage bags for this purpose), then were driven along on dusty and bumpy roads toward our lodge. We stopped frequently along the way to observe and photograph a large number of birds and animals, including deer, a white woodpecker, and a snail kite eating… a snail.

We arrived at the Southwild Pantanal Lodge at Santa Teresa and our luggage was delivered to our rooms. The beds were comfortable, and everything worked well.

Prior to lunch, Alan went on a walkabout and climbed up the spiral staircase to view and photograph a pair of jaburi with their chicks. He later told me that I should not try it because the stairway/platform was very wobbly. One of our (younger) travel mates concurred, saying he only got halfway up before giving up going to the top.

Photo Alan captured from his perch up in the 30 meter high platform.
photo curtesy of Southwild Pantanal lodge

After a satisfying lunch we took a boat trip up a small river to search for some new kingfishers, some of the smallest in South America. Unfortunately, we only caught a glimpse of one as it flew up and into some heavily leafed trees along the riverbank.

I did get a nice photo of some of the water plants we saw.

When we got back to the lodge at 5:30pm, we had about a half hour in which time we changed our gear up and relaxed a bit before heading out on a quarter-mile hike to, hopefully, see an ocelot.

I want to make one thing perfectly clear, this was a baited set-up.

We were seated in some old plastic chairs, and there was bleacher-like seating behind the chairs. Probably enough to hold up to 16 people in all. In front of us were two large crisscrossed branches where one of the lodge staff places some tiny bits of chicken in a few places. The chicken that is used to lure the ocelot in doesn’t amount to more than a few ounces as they don’t want to allow the cat to get lazy and not hunt for its own food. Think of putting a bird feeder out with some seed, but not keeping it full all the time.

The mosquitoes were horrible, but thankfully, Alan and I had fly nets that we put over our heads to reduce the facial annoyances.

Alas, it was not to be this night, no ocelot. So after getting eaten up by the mosquitoes, despite having on repellant, we hiked back to the lodge in the dark, had dinner, then went to bed.

Thursday, September 1

Again, we took a boat trip, down river this time, to look for the small kingfishers. Again, the kingfishers eluded us, but we did see the beautiful agami heron.

Heron, Agami

Lialson brought along some fish and tried to entice the kingfishers down by tossing it under their trees, but the little guys weren’t having it. The bigger kingfishers however, took advantage, as did a black-banded hawk. Free lunch!

Back at the lodge we rested, had lunch, then around 3:30 we headed back out, up the river, for another try at the kingfishers. Again, it was a bust, but we had fun shooting action shots while Lialson tossed small fish out for the larger kingfishers, a great egret, and a black hawk to enjoy. He tossed the last of the fish out to a Jaburi who cracked us up with its ungainliness.

We arrived back at the lodge just in time to quickly change out our lenses and then, once again, hike to see an ocelot.

There were a number of other lodgers who joined us this time, and we all sat in the dark and waited. One bright solar-powered light lit the area, but it was still dark enough to require higher ISO settings. After about ten minutes, Lialson excitedly whispered, “She’s coming, she’s coming!” He could see her (he later told me she usually comes in from the right), but we didn’t see her until a moment later when she walked cautiously to the edge of the clearing. After carefully checking us out, she came out of the dark recesses and approached the branch, walked up, and, keeping an eye on all of us photographers, ate her first bite of chicken. We were there for about 20 more minutes photographing her while she padded silently around on the ground and on the branch. Eventually she returned to the jungle just as silently as she arrived. What a great opportunity!

I asked, and Lialson told me her name is Anna, and that she is the only surviving ocelot out of three in a 100-mile area that survived the fires a few years ago. The hope is that she will eventually mate and raise one or two kittens to repopulate the region.

Friday, September 2

This morning we got up, had breakfast and packed up the open-air truck to head to our next, and last, lodge. We rode for five hours on the same tough dusty roads. These roads are washboarded and rutted like crazy, and the little bridges we had to cross frequently were rickety looking at best. I said a prayer before going over each one.

Along the way we were lucky to see some rhea with loads of chicks running all around.

We stopped often to see and photograph other wildlife, then arrived at Pouso Alegre Lodge, which means Happy Landing, but we were nowhere near a river. Kinda funny. This lodge was not as nicely appointed as the other two locations we have stayed so far, but the staff were friendly and we wouldn’t be in boats this time around.

We went for an afternoon drive at about 3:30, on dusty roads, of course, since this area is in a severe drought, and saw all sorts of new birds and critters.

Brazilian coati
Red brocket deer

Upon returning to the lodge we rested, then an hour later went looking for tapirs, one of the nocturnal animals of the area. We ended up seeing three before watching one walk almost right up to the truck out of curiosity. Since it was dark out Lialson lit her up with a spotlight, which didn’t faze her at all.

Along the way we also saw the eyes of lots of nighthawks reflected back at us. Many flew, which is how we knew they were nighthawks, most just stayed put.

We had a late dinner when we got back, then went to bed.

Saturday, September 3

The morning was fun as the lodge put out food for the birds, attracting several new birds like toucans and some chestnut-earred aracari.

Today was basically a repeat of the day before, but included a short hike where we saw a bunch of new birds. The evening drive was only good for some caiman, and a pretty sunset.

After another late dinner, we packed up to leave for the airport the following morning.

I shared the shower with three tree frogs.

Sunday, September 4

We had breakfast at 6:00am and put our bags out to be collected and put on the little motor coach. A quick breakfast was followed by us all leaving at 6:30am.

Two hours of those bumpy, dirt roads, then we stopped in the small town of Pocone for a potty break. From there we were on paved roads that were bumpy, but much better than dirt roads. We got to airport in plenty of time and said our goodbyes.

26 hours later we were home unpacking and doing laundry.

Special Mentions

We went to the Pantanal with Jeff Parker who owns and runs Explore in Focus. We had found him through NANPA’s list of excursions hosted by members. Jeff is an amiable fellow with a lot of experience in taking photographers on wildlife and landscape photo journeys. He was a perfect host and we highly recommend him if you want to do a bit of traveling for your photography.

Lialson Marques was our intrepid guide and is very knowledgeable about everything wild in Brazil, South America and other locations. He was hugely helpful with us identifying the over 110 new birds we photographed.