Jaguars, Caimans, Birds, OH MY! And, a Flotel

We took a little trip to the Pantanal region of Brazil… We lost count of the wildlife we saw – until we got home and counted them in all of our 28,000 (between the two of us) photos. At the end of this diary entry I will post information about how we got here, and the people who made it special. In the meantime, here is a map of the Pantanal.

At more than 42 million acres, the Pantanal is the largest tropical wetland, and one of the most pristine in the world. It sprawls across three South American countries: Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. The name “Pantanal” comes from the Portuguese word pântano, which means “big wetland” or “big marsh”.

I have included a bunch of photos in this entry, but we saw, and photographed, over 110 new birds. If you’d like to see all of them, go to this page.

We visited during the dry season, and the area is currently in a drought.

Wednesday, August 24

Our trip to Brazil got off to a rocky start when our flight to Houston was delayed so much that we would be missing our connection to Sao Paulo, Brazil. I quickly found a United ticket agent, Robert Reed, who was wonderful and got us rerouted (thru Chicago) along with our luggage. Whew!

In Chicago we had hotdogs for a quick bite. Onboard we were asked for our meal choices, I opted for the vegetarian entrée.

The business class seating on the 787 airliner was very nice. Nice cozy pods with plenty of charging ports. The windows darken instead of a pull down blind. I think this is the nicest business class we’ve had. Unfortunately, I only got about an hour of restless sleep on the 24 hours (with layovers) of flights.

Thursday, August 25

We landed in Sao Paulo on time and breezed through customs. We then had to wait for five hours before we could check our bags for the last leg of our flight. We sat at a little table behind a little food kiosk in the terminal, killed time, had sandwiches and bottled water from the kiosk for lunch, used the restrooms at the far end of the terminal a few times and then finally, we could go and check our bags. The rule is that you cannot check bags any earlier than 3 hours ahead of your flight. We had tickets with a very small airline, saw the ticket counter, but nobody was manning the counter.

Two-and-a-half hours before our flight and the check in-booth was still unmanned. I began going to people in the airport, and with Google Translator, asked where we should go. After quite a bit of confusion and 5 different non-English-speaking people, we were told we needed to take the bus to Terminal 1. We did, and it was a long way away, but everything went smoothly from there.

We arrived in Cuiaba on time and found our driver and our guide, Jeff Parker. Once we had checked in at the hotel we joined Jeff and the other four photographers on the tour for a short walk to a Brazilian steakhouse restaurant for dinner. Alan tried a little bit of everything and I feasted on the salad bar, then politely had a thin slice of rib meat.

Jeff told us that the itinerary had changed a bit, but we would still be spending the same amount of time at each of the locations outlined for us previously.

Back at the hotel we got showered then collapsed into bed. We had a 4:45am alarm and needed our sleep.

Friday, August 26

We met downstairs for a quick breakfast at the hotel and then loaded up in the bus for our 6 hour trip to the flotel (just like it sounds, a floating hotel), and we met our naturalist/guide, Lailson on the bus.

Lialson

We drove through Cuiaba and a few small towns then stopped for a grocery and potty stop before heading out of town onto some of the toughest dirt roads we’ve ever been on.

A quick note about the potties in South America – you cannot put your toilet paper into the toilet – you have to deposit it into a provided bin. This is the case in many other countries outside of the US, so it is not new to us.

About 4 hours in, our bus stopped and we all got out and took photos of some beautiful hyacinth Macaws resting in a tree. Not long after that we stopped again, but it was to let a very large snake (which we learned was a non-venomous yellow-tailed snake) cross the road.

Finally, we arrived at the river and had a moment to use the restrooms before loading onto some small outboard boats for a twenty minute ride up the river to our flotel, the Southwild Flotel.

On the ride in we saw giant river otters, and some cabybara. It was exciting to see these so soon!

Once at the flotel we had a quick briefing about safety on the flotel and in the small boats, then checked out our rooms; very nice! We then had lunch which was served buffet-style. We soon learned that rice and beans would be served at every lunch and dinner, along with a veggie, and a meat dish or two.

Back at our room we heard a bird of some sort carrying on outside, and Alan, ever the inquisitive one, took his camera and went to check it out. I followed suit. We saw a great kiskadee, and an Amazon kingfisher. Shortly after that Alan got a picture of a green kingfisher.

Amazon Kingfisher

We went for an outing (always by boat) this afternoon for about 4 hours. The boat seats are not the kindest to the tush, but otherwise it was terrific.

We saw our first two jaguars!

Dinner was rice and beans (of course), a salad, veggie options, and a couple of meats. There is also a dessert that usually included fruit.

After dinner, at 8:00 each evening, there would be a brief lecture about one of the animals we expect to see on our outings.

Bedtime is early because mornings start at 5:30am with breakfast and then a 5 hour outing right after.

Tonight’s lecture was on jaguars. I was too tired to attend, but Alan went. It only lasted about 20 minutes.

Saturday, August 27

Up early again this morning and out on the boat right after breakfast.

We saw six jaguars today. On one of the sightings we sat for over an hour waiting and watching while a cat slept. She did look up once or twice, then she finally got up and moved off into the jungle.

But we got to see a mother jaguar with two of her 18 month old cubs – they are just about as big as she is. Their names were Ophelia with Juliet and Patricia. Lialson told me that the cubs will break away from her at about 2 years of age.

Ophelia with Juliet. Patricia was further down the river.

While out on this excursion I felt a great need to use the bathroom. The boat driver knew where to go, just down the river, and he beached the boat and helped me get off. I struggled up over the roots and vines, got myself out of sight, and found relief. Later, Alan stated that he saw the “white-rumped piddle bird”! Funny guy.

We also saw loads of new birds; great black hawk, yellow-billed cardinal (we’d seen this one before in Hawaii – but it is an introduced species there), monk parakeet, black-backed water-tyrant, yellow-billed tern, rusty-margined flycatcher, southern screamer, wood-rail, striated heron, wattled jacana, black skimmer with chicks, chaco chacaloca, white-winged swallow, squirrel cuckoo, straight-billed woodcreeper, pied lapwing and a sunbittern.

We also saw an anaconda, well, part of one – it was in the tangles of some vines and hard to see. On the way back in the evening we saw a bunch of band-tailed nighthawks and bulldog bats.

An anaconda resting among the vines and roots.

Tonight’s lecture was about giant river otters. Our lecturer is a very knowledgeable young lady.

Sunday, August 28

Today we went out for six hours this morning. A little too long for my poor ol’ back so I skipped the second outing to try and recover. We saw two jaguars, the second of which we trailed for an hour as it walked along the riverbank.

As for birds and other wildlife, we saw blue-gray saltator, smooth-billed ani, banaquit, unicolor blackbird, chestnut-bellied guan, gray-headed kite, yellow-chinned spinetail, rufous-tailed jacamar, orange-winged parrot, Brazilian teal, buff-necked ibis, howler monkeys, a golden lizard, roadside hawk, and black-fronted nunbird.

While I recovered at the flotel, I heard a wildlife ruckus going on outside. I grabbed my camera, and, after a bit, I saw brown capuchins and managed to get a few shots of them before they saw me and left.

I also got a decent photo of a band-tailed nighthawk.

Nighthawk, Band-tailed

Alan told me that I didn’t miss much on the afternoon outing. They only saw two jaguars, that just happened to be mating. Oh sure, I leave the boys for a few hours and they get up to some trouble.

Tonight’s presentation was about ocelots.

Monday, August 29

On the morning outing we veered off from the normal boat trip and instead boated upriver to visit the Piquiri Lodge, which is land-based. They have loads of birds and capybara that hang out there.

We walked around for over two hours and added new birds to our life list: cattle tyrant, giant cowbird, crane hawk, saffron finch, rufous cacholote, grayish baywing, buff-throated woodcreeper, little woodpecker, rufous-bellied thrush, cream-bellied thrush, gray-breasted martin, rufous hornero, guira cuckoo, laughing falcon, bare-faced curassow, and a plumbeous kite.

My favorite was the hyacinth macaw, and I got one of my favorite shots when a few of them flew by.

On the way back to the flotel we saw a jaguar whose name was Katniss. And most exciting, a jaguarundi swimming across the river! Jaguarundi (a small cat) are extremely rare and are in the endangered species list. Lialson was VERY excited and kept saying, “Get a picture, get a picture!”.

Jaguarundi

In the afternoon we went out by boat. It was a pleasant afternoon weatherwise. We added 6 new birds to our list, and sat on a fork-tailed flycatcher for a very long time in an attempt to catch a shot of it in flight.

In our way back in I got a nice sunset picture to round the day out, and we got some quick shots of a group of pale-faced ibis.

After we got back in the flotel I had a bit of a fall going up the stairs. Fortunately the only damage was to a couple of knuckles and my ego.

Tonight’s lecture was on the Jaburi.

Tuesday, August 30

This morning we got to spend a bit of time with a family of otters as they hunted and fed on fish. I had the presence of mind, after a few photos, to do a video of one of them while it ate right in front of us.

Afterward we spent time photographing a few kingfishers. While in that area we got to see a nacunda nighthawk sitting on a spit, and a plumbeous Ibis. While watching a caiman on that spot of sand I finally got a photo of a yellow-billed tern.

Along the way, Lialson pointed out some proboscis bats settled up on a tree trunk. They were so cute!

In the afternoon we tracked a young female jaguar, named Bastet, along the river for awhile, then we went out and found one boat watching a big male named Marley while he slept, turned over, twitched, and occasionally popped up his head to look about, and yawn, for some pictures. The other boat left and we hung out a while longer. While we waited on Marley to make an appearance, we got some pictures of black-capped donacobius.

Black-capped donacobius

Tonight’s lecture was on caiman, which I missed. But Alan learned that there are over ten million of them in the Pantanal, which would explain why we saw so to many while out on our excursions.

After the lecture we packed up to ready for traveling to a terrestrial lodge where we would stay for two nights.

>> continued on Brazil, part 2