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Brazil Pantanal Trackers – In search of the Jaguar 2009 (1 Viewer)

kittykat23uk

Well-known member
Brazil Pantanal Trackers – In search of the Jaguar 2009

August 14th Hooray, hooray it’s a holi-holiday!

We left home on the 13.30 coach to Heathrow, which should have got us in by 17.30. However, snarl-ups on the M25 and elsewhere meant that we arrived decidedly later at around 19.00. Still, not to worry we had plenty of time to catch our flight at 10.05.

August 15th The queue is How long?! Cuiaba to Rio Claro Lodge Pocone

We flew with TAM Lineas – A Brazilian airline and I have to say we were both impressed by the service – well for £1000 per person flying economy you would expect good service would you not? That said, the in-flight entertainment was rather limited. We arrived on time in Sao Paolo early the next morning and had a three hour window to catch our onward connection to Cuiaba. Unfortunately with it being a domestic connection we needed to collect our bags and clear customs before proceeding to the gate. There were massive queues that seemed to snake back and forth through the airport and no help from the local authorities as we became somewhat anxious that we might miss our connection. I tried to remain calm, as Ian became increasingly panicky and we eventually got to the gate with about 10 minutes to spare.

Our connecting flight stopped at Campo Grande before Cuiaba and its eventual destination of Brasilia. The flight took about four hours, but we gained another hour as we passed through another time-zone arriving on time at 11.15. On arrival at Cuiaba it took a while for our bags to be offloaded and we were beginning to wonder if they were on their way to Brasilia. We needn’t have worried, everything arrived safely.

I was so relieved and elated to see Julio, our guide waiting for us in arrivals that I gave him a big hug! After introducing Ian (I had made all the arrangements for the trip) we were on our way. We stopped at a local supermarket to pick up some essentials for the camping part of the tour. This consisted of a bottle of rum, a slab of beer and a slab of coke (oh and some food and plenty of water).

From Cuiaba we drove directly until we reached the Transpantaneira highway at which point we slowed considerably to enjoy the wildlife that gathers in the ditches either side of the raised road. We started to see a range of birds and mammals including a variety of egrets, storks and herons. A full bird list is presented at the end, but highlights on the first day included Solitary Tinamou, Red-legged Seriema, Jabiru, Roseate Spoonbills, Plumbeous Ibis, Buff-necked Ibis, Rufus-bellied Thrush and Rufescent Tiger Herons (first sightings of these common but impressive looking birds).
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
Along the road we also came across our first family group of Capybaras and a family of Brown Capuchins at a roadside bar. We stopped here for a while for a rest and a drink and I spent a bit of time photographing a one-eyed capuchin amongst others. The plan was to wait here and then spotlight for crepuscular animals on the way to the Rio Claro lodge- our base for the first few nights. We headed on our way again and as it started to get dark an Agouti jumped out onto the road but just as quickly dove back into cover again. Julio then spotted something moving on the left hand side of the road, I caught a brief glimpse of the tail and back end of a greyish looking cat- a Jaguarundi! We also came across a pair of Crab-eating Foxes- but they were too distant to photograph.

We got settled into our nicely appointed lodge and it quickly became apparent that Ian and Julio had a lot in common, particularly their love of music. In the evening Julio got a jamming session together and we had a wonderful time listening to him play his acoustic guitar and occasionally joining in with a song or two.

The singing was interrupted by a call outside that sounded for all the world like a couple making love on bed with a rusty spring! Julio quickly located the culprit- a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. Now I have seen some small owls in my time but this one was tiny! What a cutie! Sadly he flew off before I could get my camera on that occasion.
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
16th August- Rio Claro Lodge – In search of Giant Otters

After a good night’s sleep we were awoken before dawn to the dulcet tones of Rufus Horneros and Chacochacalacas. As the sun began to creep about the horizon I decided to have a wander around the lodge. I was able to see some spectacular new lifers including a couple of pairs of Bare-faced Curassows and three Burrowing Owls sitting on fence posts. Food is put out for the birds around the lodge. This attracts flocks of Yellow-billed Cardinals, Shiny, Bay-winged and Giant Cowbirds, Saffron Finches, Purplish Jays and the colourful Nanday Parakeets. Also in the trees were Versicoloured Emerald, Crested Oropendola, and Yellow-rumped Cacique.
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
After breakfast Julio took us birding in some local woods alongside the river. We were lucky enough to see four Toco Toucans in a single tree, the first of many seen on our trip. This was in stark contrast to one of Julio’s previous trips where a gentleman had really wanted to photograph a toco toucan and they had only seen one on the whole trip.

Julio also showed us a Great Potoo, sitting on a tree. I had no idea they were that large! We also saw our first Vermillion Flycatcher- a stunning little bright red bird and three species of Antshrike- Giant, Great and Variable, along with various woodpeckers (Yellow-patch and Smoky-brown- also called Little Woodpecker) and a Black-banded Woodcreeper.

We returned to the lodge for lunch and cooled off by having a swim in the pool before Ian went for a lie down and I did a spot of painting. Later that afternoon Julio took us on a boat trip along the river to look for the giant otters, but we didn’t see them on our first outing. We did, however, see our first troop of Black Howler Monkeys- but they were quite distant. This became the theme for these primates. We also saw a good variety of waterbirds, including the beautiful rufescent tiger heron, three different kingfishers (Ringed, Green and Amazon Kingfisher), Green Ibis and the jabirus. As well as lots of Caiman.

As it got dark, we stopped at a roost of Great and Snowy egrets, Neotropical cormorants and Bare-faced Ibis watching as the birds came in to settle down for the night. Then on our way back the sky was filled with hawking nightjars. There may well have been other species in the flock but for the purposes of this report I’ve noted these down as Common Nighthawk.

That evening we had another music fiesta! Who’d have thought I’d be doing karaoke along to Bon Jovi and Pink Floyd accompanied by Julio on acoustic in the middle of outback Brazil! Even Ian was encouraged to have a quick pling.
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
17th August Rio Claro Lodge – Otter-fest!

I was up early again and this time managed to get some photos of the bare faced curassows before breakfast. Breakfast itself consisted of a good spread, including a variety of very tasty cakes.

Just as we were on our way to the boat I turned to wait for Ian only to see a tree full of Chestnut-eared Aracaris- this, along with toco toucan was one bird I really wanted to see and what a stunner it is! After taking a few shots of these beauties we boarded the small motorboat for our trip along the Rio Claro in the search for giant otters.

We saw a few new birds, but as I forgot my notebook I might not have noted down all of them. They included Blue-throated Piping Guan, Sungrebe, Amazon Parrot, Blue-fronted Parrot, Yellow-headed Caracara, Picazzuro Pigeon and Scaled Dove.

It was getting quite late into the boat trip when we saw our first fleeting glimpse of a large otter, but this lone animal turned out to be a Neotropical Otter, not a Giant River Otter- still much more impressive than our own otters and a delight to see. Further on the Otter-fest continued with another tantalising glimpse of a small family of Giant River Otters. But as soon as they saw us they were off. In an attempt to encourage them out into the open, Julio played a recording of territorial growls and whistles to see if that would get a rise from the resident group. However, this group of four obviously decided that discretion was the better part of valour and kept a low profile. Julio knew of a second, larger family in the area and we went off in search of them. Unfortunately they were a no show.

Ian was just packing up his camera when Julio spotted the original pack of otters that we had seen before, swimming away. Once again, Julio tried his recording and this time we got a response as the group of six started whistling, squealing and growling in a show of force against the supposed intruders. The rest of his family sought cover whilst a large dog otter came closer to inspect us, lifting his head and neck right out of the water, giving us a nice view of the pale patches on the throat, which are to otters as distinctive as a fingerprint. Satisfied we posed no threat he soon slipped away under the water. Wow! Giant Otters were one of the key mammal species I wanted to see on this trip and this was the start of several brief encounters throughout our safari.

By this time it was getting towards lunchtime and the temperature was getting rather hot, so we headed back to the lodge, surprising a caiman as Julio punted the boat up onto the bank. It seemed like a good a chance as any to test out my underwater camera and housing so we spent a few minutes trying to film the caiman. Sadly the water was too murky to get any good underwater film, but we did get an interesting eyelevel perspective at the surface.

After a quick swim and just before lunch some capuchins dropped into the lodge by the restaurant. I spent a bit of time photographing these entertaining primates. They were encouraged to hang around by the lodge staff who put out some bananas. This is an activity that Julio frowns on somewhat. He believes that wild animals should be allowed to be truly wild and should not be fed, because it alters their behaviour and makes them dependent (at least to a certain degree) on the people.

It is an interesting moral dilemma whether to encourage wildlife as close to the visitors as possible to try and guarantee an encounter by providing food. It’s widely accepted in the UK and around the lodges that feeding the birds is beneficial, but when food is used to attract monkeys the benefits and consequences are more complex. Julio told us of an instance where another lodge used to encourage howlers and capuchins by feeding them from a tower hide. People would be encouraged to provide fruit and water to the monkeys. One lady was moved to tears by feeding the monkeys some water. Unfortunately one monkey went looking for some fruit in a bag and threw the rest of the contents over the side- including a rather expensive camera! We did not get close to howler monkeys on our trip, so perhaps they are not fed from the tower hides anymore. There are some interesting points regarding the above observations and jaguars, which I will come onto later.
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
The plan for the afternoon was to head out on a game drive along the Transpantaneira Highway. Just as we were heading out we could see the sky darkening on the horizon. We spent some time photographing the Burrowing Owls and as we did so the wind started to really gust as the storm-front arrived really swiftly. A Greater Rhea braved the elements and we passed another tree-full of aracaris and toucans. Other new birds included Undulated Tinamou, Epaulet Oriole, and White-winged Pigeon. We once again stopped at the bar on the highway to watch the Capybaras whilst we waited for the worst of the storm to pass.

Whilst we hung out at the bar we encountered a string of other, rather damp-looking groups stopping to use the facilities. Most of the people who dropped in seemed to completely blank us, despite us offering a cheery greeting. We deduced that one group of Spanish visitors was not happy because of one member of the party, a photographer complaining that they were moving around too quickly. Ian and I were extremely thankful that for once we were not part of a larger group tour. Booking your own guide is definitely the best way to travel! Another French group turned up, barged past us and only one person stopped to say hello. Oh well, maybe it was the weather getting everyone down- it’s not supposed to rain at this time of year!

On the way back we had a successful spotlighting experience with three Crab-eating Foxes and a very fleeting glimpse of a Brazilian Rabbit (Tapeti). Then we caught the eye-shine from another Great Potoo, alert and watchful on a dead tree, until it flew off into the night. Best of all was when we turned down the track leading to the Rio Claro Lodge where Julio spotlighted an Ocelot! Through my binoculars, I had good clear views of this little spotted cat (I say little, but for an ocelot it seemed quite big), walking in the open for perhaps a minute or two before it skulked off into a patch of longer grass. Fantastic! But sadly there was no way I was going to be able to get a photo at that range in the dark.

After dinner entertainment consisted once again of Julio and the other guitarists playing accompanied by a guy with a big trumpet made out of steer horns.
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
August 18th – Happy birthday to me and a slight slip up..

It was my birthday and at 6 am we took another boat trip. Julio hoped we might be able to get better views of the Giant Otters before they left their holt. It was a good idea but unfortunately the otters didn’t play ball. Still it was a nice way to spend the morning and we caught a fleeting view of Sunbittern in flight showing off the pattern on its wings and Black cowbirds on the feeders back at the lodge. I spent a bit of time photographing the Silver-billed Tanagers that were also at the feeders and after breakfast we left the lodge for our drive down to Porto Jofre and the start of our Jaguar search, proper.

The drive to Porto Jofre was like an extended game drive in itself as the standing water either side of the road attracts large flocks of birds. We picked up several new species including two Marsh Deer, a party of South American Coatis, a brief view of a Red Brocket Deer, Black-capped Heron and the odd-looking Southern Screamer. At one point we stopped at some abandoned buildings, and Julio pointed out a nest of Great Horned Owls- two chicks could be seen on the nest. We also saw Rufus-tailed Jacamar, Lesser Whistling Duck, American Pygmy Kingfisher. An interesting find was a Yellow Anaconda on the highway. We spent a bit of time photographing this pretty snake and Ian even had a go holding it while Julio took some photos for his blog.
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
A few more:
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
Porto Jofre Lodge

Arriving at this rather extensive lodge we added more birds to our list including one I had been hoping to see, the spectacular Hyacinth Macaw! The Pantanal is one of their last strongholds and they are relatively easy to see around the lodge. The lodge is built by the river so some of the rooms (including ours) had riverside views. The gentleman in the next room over from us had had good views of jaguar that day so that was encouraging, but we didn’t have plans to go out on the river that afternoon as Julio needed the time to prepare for the camping.

At the far end of the lodge is the restaurant and games room with pool tables. To the right of that is a nice little swimming pool and beyond that is a very picturesque lake full of giant water lilies which attracts a good variety of birds. Whilst Ian had a rest in the air conditioned room, I had a nice dip in the pool, followed by some birding around the lodge. I saw several new species including Tropical Kingbird, Guira Cuckoos, Rusty-collared Seedeater, and two resting Common Nighthawks. The grounds also have a very tame population of Southern Caracaras.

I forgot to take a spare battery with me and my other one was giving out so I headed back to the room to pick up a fresh one before heading back out again to watch the macaws coming in to roost. Ian was sitting outside, so after a quick change I was on my way again. I didn’t get far though as I slipped in some rather sticky mud and landed on my camera, covering it and the TCON17 converter in the process! Ian did a fine job clearing up the mess I made but there was clearly still some mud in the zoom lever mechanism as it felt very gritty to the touch and still doesn’t work as smoothly as it used to. I also made the mistake of trying to wash off the mud on the TCON but did not realise that it wasn’t watertight. The next day it had fogged completely so was unusable for most of the trip!

This and clouding skies meant that I missed the best of the light and the birds coming into roost. That evening was quite quiet- Julio seemed quite tired so we all got an early night.
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
Thanks! It gets better!:t:
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
A few more on the way to Porto Jofre Lodge
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
And a few more:
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
August 19th OMG it’s a Jaguar!!!!

Whilst it is possible to get lucky and see a jaguar on the Transpantaneira highway, the most reliable area in the North Pantanal is around Porto Jofre where the Jaguars come down to the riverbanks to sunbathe when the weather is hot. This was therefore the first day where we had a reasonable chance to find a Jaguar, and the day did not disappoint! We packed for our camping expedition and boarded Julio’s boat.

We got lucky straight away with a nice sighting of another Neotropical Otter. This one showed better, clambering out of the water onto a sandbar. Next we passed another sandbar full of Black Skimmers - a bird Ian was really hoping to see.
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
We then took a side channel off the main river and came across two boats full of people who were staring intently at the riverbank. Julio cruised in for a closer look at what they were viewing. His suspicions were correct, it was a magnificent male Jaguar which Julio estimated to be around 9 years old. Pantanal Jaguars are the biggest Jaguar subspecies and this male was huge and looked very powerful! I’ve seen lions, tigers and leopards and I would say he was comparable in size to a small tigress or lioness. He had clearly been in some fights in his time and had a small wound on the inside of his left front quarter. At first our views were somewhat impeded by the other viewers, and it was very difficult to get a properly exposed photograph owing to a sunlit log and the jaguar being in deep shade. But we bided our time.

Some of the lodges in the area give the Jaguars pet names, apparently there is one called “Jack” for instance. An Italian photographer from one of the other boats asked Julio whether he knew this cat’s name. Julio replied that he didn’t name the cats, although he has known this individual since he was a cub. He does not believe it is right to name a jaguar out of respect for the animal. Who has the right to give a pet name to an animal revered as a God anyway? The three of us had a discussion about this later on. I personally feel it is a useful way for people to tell a story about an animal. By naming it, you give it an identity and it helps to relate it to other animals, be they rivals, family members or whatever. But it should be done with respect and should, I think, reflect some characteristic of the animal, like with the leopard, “Half Tail”, in Big Cat Diary.

Several other groups arrived and the sighting turned into a bit of a free-for-all, as boats jostled for position around the bank. The Jaguar got rather unsettled at one point as he started to feel penned in with the boats surrounding him. He expressed his displeasure by giving a few annoyed roars before he settled down again. Julio told us that this was becoming more of a problem as more tourist boats now operate in the area. The Jaguars are quite tolerant, but only to a point, and there needs to be some ground rules established, otherwise sightings of jaguars along the banks could become less frequent. Julio told us that he has actually noticed a rather worrying trend in the animals’ behaviour in that they already seem to be coming out into the open less than in previous years.

We also heard some disturbing rumours about attempts to feed jaguars in the hopes of guaranteeing a sighting. I will not go into any detail because this is only hearsay and there is no hard evidence to back this up. All I will say though is that, given the right weather conditions, the Jaguars seem to be happy to show well by the river banks and as long as viewing is conducted sensitively there should be no need to find ways of artificially encouraging the cats to change their behaviour.
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
As boats came and went, we remained and achieved some amazing views and finally got some amazing photos. We stayed with the Jaguar for 2 ¾ hours, sharing cervezas with another group of Brits as we toasted our success (and whilst the Jaguar dozed in the shade). After we finally tore ourselves away from the handsome cat we caught a glimpse of a group of Giant Otters. We also came across a party of Black Howler Monkeys and all this excitement was before lunchtime! B :)B :)B :)
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
Cooling off with caiman

We came across a dead caiman and Julio took a closer look. I think he wanted to check whether it had died of natural causes, it transpired that a Jaguar was the culprit- there were twio holes in the skull where the Jaguar had bitten down into the Caiman's brain, killing it. It had also eaten the stomach area but left the limbs intact.

We found a nice sandbar and sat in the river together to cool off while we ate our sandwiches. As we bathed we had an odd sensation on our skin as fish nibbled at us, picking of any dead skin. Sharing the water with us was also a caiman further along the sandbar. I tried to sneak up on it with my underwater camera but it wasn’t having any of it. Southern Caracara and Black Vultures waited hopefully for any scraps, but they were sorely disappointed.

As we headed on our way to camp, we stopped to photograph some capybaras and arrived at our camp a short while before sunset. Our site was the garden of a local couple, Senor Carminda and Donna Maria. They were both very welcoming but didn’t speak word of English. The facilities were understandably basic with an outside-loo-come-shower, a single storey residence and a chapel. We pitched our tents in the garden and quickly covered up as swarms of mosquitoes started to descend on us. Then went inside and had some coffee. Ian wasn’t looking too good, I think he had too much sun. Julio headed off to a local fishing lodge to get some ice before dinner. We were going to use the shower, but Ian said he couldn’t find it- turned out to be in the toilet – he’d just missed it!

Dinner consisted of rice and buffalo jerky and a pacu stew made with bananas. Pacu is a type of fish, related to the piranha. It’s quite tasty (despite the fish heads) but very bony. It was dark by 18.30 and the grass lit up with flashes from Fireflies. When Julio returned, we finally found the shower. Then after a quick rum and coke, it was time to hit the sack. It was only about 19.30, but there is nothing else to do except hide from the insect swarms.

We hadn’t put the flysheet on the tent because Julio advised us that it would help us keep cool and anyway it never rains at this time of year. Famous last words! The first time we tried to settle we started to feel little water droplets and quickly realised it was raining! So there was a mad dash to cover the tent and get our gear inside the chapel.

I was just settling down again, when I got a shock as something wet and slimy landed on my thigh. I grabbed my torch and found that it was a little yellow frog! After evicting the amphibian, I once again tried to get some sleep. Ian managed to get off to sleep, which was good because I think he needed the rest.

Then it seemed that, just as I was drifting off to sleep the resident cockerel started crowing at goodness knows what time! Abandoning the thought of getting any more rest, I got up to use the toilet to find a Cane Toad on the path on the way back to the tent. Then the Chacochacalacas started up….:C
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
August 20th Biting flies and overcast skies

After an eventful night I was up before dawn but Ian had a lie in so I spent a bit of time birding around the lodge. A flowering tree attracted Yellow-rumped Caciques, Crested Oropendolas, Solitary Cacique and Orange-backed Troupials, additionally Green-winged Saltator, Black-capped Donacobious, Masked Flycatcher, Monk Parakeets, Buff-winged Swallow. There was also a Fork-tailed Woodnymph flitting from flower to flower.
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
After a leisurely breakfast we headed out on the boat. Due to the cold front moving in the weather was overcast which meant that it was not good at all for sighting jaguars. Needless to say our search proved fruitless on that front and we spent time watching the birds, including Black-capped Heron. We stopped for a rest on a sandbar and spent a bit of time just drawing in the sand. We didn’t see much else before lunch, which we took on another sandbar. We rested for a while enjoying the rice, jerk buffalo meat and manioc flour, observed hungrily by the caracaras and black vultures. After eating our fill we left the rest for the birds, who descended rapidly to scavenge our leftovers. It quickly became apparent that there was a pecking order for the scraps, with the feisty caracaras beating up the larger vultures.

We headed off on our way and this time came across some more Giant Otters. One was on the bank in some cover happily munching on a piranha. Then from further away several other otters started squealing and growling which got his attention and he swam off to meet up with the rest of his pack as they all swam away from us. Later on, we came across the same otter family again, but they didn’t stick around, continuing their journey along the river.
 

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kittykat23uk

Well-known member
Julio then took us to a secluded spot to search for birds. He noticed some fresh jaguar tracks in the area and briefed us on what to do if we should happen to come across the cat whilst in the area. We found a very rare bird for the area, a Helmeted Manakin, as well as Undulated Tinamou, Cream-coloured Woodpecker, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Variable Antshrike and Great Antshrike. Unfortunately for us it wasn’t just the birds that liked this spot but also the horseflies and mosquitoes and despite wearing insect repellent clothes and deet we got bitten to death. One horsefly bit Ian on the back of the neck, he swatted it and in return it flew over and bit me right on my little finger! The bite drew blood and was very painful for a while, but thankfully it didn’t swell up too much. Finally Julio slipped in the mud on the way back to the boat so we decided to call it quits for the day! We enjoyed another nice meal with our hosts back at camp and then had another quiet night in our tents.
 

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