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Pantanal Part-I

Brasil, the land of the Carnivals, the Samba, the land of beautiful beaches is also very rich in its biodiversity which most often goes unnoticed or ignored by the earnest traveller.

The sprawling tropical forests of the Amazon, the vast wetlands of the Pantanal or the variety of other ecological systems of the country positions Brasil at ‘number one’ on the list of 17 megadiverse countries on the planet.

Megadiversity in simple terms would mean exhibiting incredible biodiversity. The term megadiverse country refers to any one of a group of nations that harbour the majority of Earth’s species and high numbers of endemic species (wildlife found only there and nowhere else).

Getting to visit Brasil was exciting for me, no surprises there! I made plans to explore the region of Pantanal this time around.

Plans were set in motion and I landed in Cuiaba to begin my journey along with a couple of travel companions who were also to be my guides, into the vast expanse of the wetlands of Pantanal.

Birding along the way was always on the cards. So, we stopped over at a beautiful farm looking for some lovely winged friends. We were not disappointed.

A few of the images below:

peach-fronted-parakeet-brasil

Peach-fronted parakeet

blond-crested-woodpecker

Blond-crested woodpecker

grey-necked-wood-rail-brasil

Grey-necked wood rail

Rufous-bellied-thrush-brasil

Rufous-bellied thrush

It was the dry season in this part of Brasil and the days tended to get quite bright and hot very soon. After the quick break at the farm, we headed towards a place called Piuval which was going to be my stopover for the next couple of days.

Piuval is located quite far away from the actual  “Pantanal” – the way most people know of it. However, Piuval is officially part of the Pantanal region too and vast portions of the habitat in there are similar swampy stretches which get totally flooded during the season of rain. I was indeed in Pantanal! 😀

We reached the lodge at noon, checked in and had lunch. Post that I walked around the lodge, a beautiful property, to catch some birds. The light wasn’t very cooperative though and it was getting very hot.

A couple of decent images I could make.

red-capped-cardinal

Red-capped cardinal

red-crested-cardinal-piuval-brasil

Red-crested cardinal

By late noon, it was time for our first safari into the Brasilian jungle.

As we enter, I notice this Roadside hawk enjoying a nice evening dip in a pond.

roadside-hawk-piuval-pantanal-1

Owing to the intense heat of the day every creature around is desperately drawn towards any available watering spot for either a quick drink or dip. Similar was the situation at the lodge too with most inhabitants settling themselves in and around the pool 😀

We then came across this huge stork called Jabiru which was nesting. This bird kind of seems to choose the highest of points to set up its nest!

Jabiru nesting

Jabiru nesting

Also, the nest is so big that there are a lot of other birds like parakeets which used the extra space available for their own nests, true community living 😀

Black howler or the Black-and-gold howler monkeys were moving around. I caught this female with a nice-sized fruit that she was desperately trying to break open.

black-howler-monkey-female-piuval-brasil

Black-and-gold howler monkey (female)

There was quite a lot of bird activity around, had been an enjoyable outing thus far. As the safari was drawing to a close, our driver brought the vehicle to a stop, put his outstretched hand and started pointing at something far away.

There were no mentions of the word or any kind of exalted reaction or such that you might expect from a guide in India, something akin to Bagh, Bagh OR Leopard, Leopard, woh dekho!.. 😀

In the direction he was pointing to, there lay a Jaguar (Onça pintada )!! The cat was lazing around on the Jeep track.

The sun had gone down and the light was really low. This was a situation that called for just enjoying the moment rather than trying to photograph. I couldn’t hold back though, as it was my first Jaguar sighting 😀

As our driver tried to get closer, the Jaguar, which looked like a female, woke up and started walking into the thickets. We followed along the jeep track and as we turned a corner, the cat settled down on the grass.

She started ducking down facing towards the deeper jungle as though she was looking at something there, something that she was expecting to come out.

A potential hunt perhaps?!, totally greedy right? 😀

And there it was, a male Jaguar walked out of the thick shrubbery and joined the lady as they indulged in what clearly looked like courtship. This was indeed a mating pair.

By then, I had pushed the ISO to 12800 😀, it was indeed pretty dark out there.

After enjoying a couple of minutes with the pair, we headed out, as we were much beyond closing time.

What can I say, I was elated to have had my first Jaguar or (Jaguars’ 😉) sighting.

Got back to the lodge for a quick shower followed by dinner over which we kept reminiscing about the amazing sighting we had.

The next day was about heading out early in the morning to explore the property looking to see if we can catch sight of the Giant anteater followed by birding and safaris in the noon and the night. Quite a packed agenda for sure.

With regard to the Giant anteater, it didn’t take much time for us to spot the animal that was ambling along, feeding on the multitude of termite mounds around, though a long distance away.

We could only see it through a birding scope or a binocular. The anteater was moving around, so was hoping that it might come a bit closer for me to make an image, at least a record image.

As we kept rooted ourselves at a spot and waited, we noticed a big group of people who were on a truck safari had gotten down and were trying to approach the anteater on foot! That was really pushing things too far!

We could instantly see the change in behaviour of the Giant anteater which I am sure had become aware of the people walking towards it. The animal then started moving in the direction that would bring it straight towards the place where we were standing!!

Giant Anteater

That’s exactly what happened. The spooked animal moved hastily towards us and ran right past me, just a meter away from me, headed towards the other side of the forest and disappeared.

I was completely rooted and pivoted around like a robot with my camera clicking away, not making any drastic movements or sounds. I was taken over by adrenaline! What a massive animal it was! This was an amazing experience and totally unexpected.

Post that hair-raising experience, we walked around a bit looking for birds. Some nice sightings and photography opportunities presented themselves.

black-bellied-whistling-ducks-piuval-brasil

Black-bellied whistling ducks

Nacunda nighthawk

Nacunda nighthawk

Nacunda nighthawk

Hyacinth macaws were also high on my list of birds to see and photograph. I got a couple of minutes with a small flock which came flying around to have a quick drink at a little stream.

hyacinth-macaws

Hyacinth macaws

The noon safari was very productive too. It was to be a self-drive one exploring the jungle in one’s own vehicle.

And, lo and behold, we happened upon a Jaguar! This looked like a male, a different individual from the one we saw the previous evening. He was resting on the cool grass very close to a pond.

He got up and walked along to settle down at a different spot. Luckily, there was an angle of view from the jeep track and we drove back there and enjoyed the moments with this amazing cat (people on the truck safari didn’t get to see it, just to mention 😀)

The night safari was an interesting experience as well. Got to see the Great Potoo and a couple of mammals, the Red-brocket deer was one of them.

Great potoo

Red-brocket deer

That put an end to the long and eventful day. We went back for dinner and a good night’s rest.

Finally, I could say that my Jaguar account had opened and I couldn’t have been happier!

The next stop of my journey was at Porto Jofre, the port of entry into the vast wetlands of Pantanal. A long and bumpy ride finally landed us in Porto Jofre by noon. After a quick lunch, we went on our first safari into the Pantanal.

After a bit of exploring around, we got information that a Jaguar had been sighted in one of the creeks (yes, the boatmen in Pantanal do share information over a walkie-talkie, that is pretty good in a way as one doesn’t need to roam around aimlessly hoping on luck but can complicate matters at times as the information of a sighting soon spreads and the place of the sighting can quickly get crowded by the multitude of boats!)

Anyways, I wasn’t complaining. I was very happy to sight a Jaguar on my first outing there! I took it as a sign, a curtain raiser of sorts, perhaps, for the things to come, over the next couple of days I was going to be spending there!

After a successful first outing, we headed back to our place of stay eagerly looking forward to a nice dinner and a good night’s rest, along the way enjoying the lovely full moon which had risen over the Pantanal making for a wonderful scene.

Nightscape from Pantanal

That was Part-I of the two-part series on my experiences from Pantanal.

Hope you enjoyed reading through this along with the images. See you in the next instalment.

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