Category Archives: South America

Brazil’s Pantanal: A birding spectacle

Carlos Sanchez describes his experience from visits to Brazil’s birding and wildlife spectacle, The Pantanal. Carlos sits on the board of the Tropical Audubon Society. He is a regular contributor to the birding blog 10,000 Birds, and leads local tours through his company, EcoAvian Tours. He’s also a former resident guide at lodges in both Ecuador and Brazil.

Jabiru in the Pantanal
Jabiru by Peg Abbott

The Pantanal is a vast, seasonally flooded wetland. The largest in the world and in the southwest corner of the state of Mato Grosso in Brazil. Among birders, wildlife photographers, and nature enthusiasts, it is renowned for its incredible concentrations of birds at the end of the dry season. During this time, the fish get trapped in the shrinking pools of water. This attracts hordes of herons, egrets, storks, and other wetland species. The star of such huge concentrations is the massive Jabiru. The Jabiru towers over a diverse collection of South American waterbirds such as Sunbittern, Plumbeous Ibis, and Southern Screamer. Raptors such as Savanna Hawk, Snail Kite, and Black-collared Hawk, and up to five species of kingfisher also join the bonanza. It truly is one of the world’s great birding spectacles.

Green Kingfisher Pantanal
Green Kingfisher by Delsa Anderl

Several years ago, I had the good fortune to be able to visit the Pantanal before my guiding stint at Cristalino Lodge. It was my first of several subsequent visits over the years, but a first time visit to a place always seems to be the most impactful. I quickly learned that everything I had ever read about the Pantanal was true — this was truly a birder’s paradise. Everything was easy to see and easy to photograph. Did you miss that perfectly perched Snail Kite or Green Ibis? Not to worry. There were always more just around the corner. The Pantanal was the type of place where ‘there is always more of everything’ seemed to be a recurring theme.

Red-legged Seriema Pantanal
Red-legged Seriema, Naturalist Journeys Stock

The Pantanal hosts a mosaic of forest islands and riverside forest. Home to an interesting assemblage of regional endemics such as Mato Grosso Antbird, White-lored Spinetail, and Pale-crested Woodpecker. It is in this habitat in which most of the near-endemic Pantanal specialties occur. Because of its excellent gallery forest and proximity to the southern portion of the Transpantaneira Highway. The Transpantaneira highway transects the northern Pantanal, starting from the town of Pocone down to Porto Jofre. I chose to stay at SouthWild Pantanal which is formerly the Pantanal Wildlife Center. A lodge that features as the grand finale to Naturalist Journey’s tour to the area.

I must mention one thing, dawn in the Pantanal is spectacular. Warm golden-yellow hues shoot through the trees and across the landscape. This quickly wakes up with the calls and movements of thousands of birds. Days started just outside the lodge, watching the commuting birds. Keeping a special eye out for Golden-collared Macaw! The feeders hosted Toco Toucan and Red-crested Cardinals, stars of the show. Joined by a supporting cast of blackbirds, pigeons, doves, aracaris, and others.

Once the birds settled down for the morning, I explored the forest interior. Consistently practicing my Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl imitation to draw in flocks containing Rufous Casiornis, Masked Gnatcatcher, and more. In the afternoon, I took a boat trip, the shores were teaming with birds and caiman. Ending the day with Band-tailed Nighthawks feeding over the river. It is easy to see over a hundred species in a day in the Pantanal without ever using a motorized vehicle — such is the bounty of the Pantanal.

Red-crested Cardinal Pantanal
Red-crested Cardinal, Naturalist Journeys Stock

With a pre-dawn start down the Transpantaneira Highway, it took up until noon to finally reach Porto Jofre. Such was the quality of the birding to be had along the road here. Unlike the more northerly segment of the highway, the southern Transpantaneira crosses much wetter, much more open wetlands that many species seem to prefer.

As I was driving, I quickly noticed a red light among the reeds near the side of the road and stopped. A Scarlet-headed Blackbird, only one of two birds seen on the trip. The open fields along the way had multiple bizarre Southern Screamer and elegant Maguari Stork. The patches of forest here are excellent for Fawn-breasted Wren. They can only be seen in this part of the Pantanal. As one drives south, the wooden bridges become increasingly rickety (with one of the long ones twisted sideways). Crossing them was like taking a leap of faith each time.

Halfway between SouthWild Pantanal and the northern terminus of the Transpantaneira, Pousada Alegre offers slightly more affordable lodging set within a working cattle ranch. A great opportunity to see Brazilian Tapir. Although birding here did not revolve around specific target species, it was still highly enjoyable and it was the only place where I saw Red-billed Scythebill. For the first time ever, I went birding by horseback, to get deeper into the wetlands. It was certainly not great for seeing small birds, but in the Pantanal where many of the birds are large and conspicuous, this method certainly works. Plus it was fun! I will never forget the experience of rolling out of bed, walking down a couple miles and back, and having breakfast at around 8:00 AM with a day list already over 100 species.

Giant Anteater Pantanal
Giant Anteater, Naturalist Journeys Stock

Pousada Piuval was the last stop of my trip in this glorious wetland, located north of the start of the Transpantaneira. Here, the landscape is not seasonally flooded for as long as points further in the south. Termite mounds are conspicuous. Many species more typical of the cerrado scrub-grasslands to the north and east are common, including Red-legged Seriema, Greater Rhea, Gilded Flicker, and more. It is one of the best places in Brazil to see White-fronted Woodpecker – a specialty more typical of the Chaco of Paraguay and Argentina –occuring in small numbers at Pousada Piuval. Giant Anteater, arguably one of the world’s most incredible mammals, ambles along in certain paddocks in the early morning. Always a special sighting!

Hyacinth Macaw Pantanal
Hyacinth macaw pair by Greg Smith

Alas, it was over too soon. My last sunset in the Pantanal was spent admiring a pair of Hyacinth Macaw. They are the largest parrot in the Western Hemisphere and one of Brazil’s great conservation success stories. It was a great way to end this part of my trip.

See Jabiru, Giant Anteater, and more on our Brazil Birding & Nature Naturalist Journeys tours in 2021.

Naturalist Journeys is pleased to offer birding and nature tours to all seven continents. Start planning your next adventure.

www.naturalistjourneys.com | 866-900-1146 | travel@naturalistjourneys.com

8 Reasons to Take a Guyana Nature Tour

Find out why YOU should take a Guyana Nature Tour with Naturalist Journeys. One of our favorite trips, Guyana is a country that is off the radar for many travelers, but oh so rich in biodiversity.

Discover “South America’s hidden gem.”

Continue reading 8 Reasons to Take a Guyana Nature Tour

Highlights from our Pantanal Wildlife Tour

The Top 5 Highlights from Naturalist Journeys’ July Pantanal Wildlife Tour

Pantanal Wildlife Tour
Gate to the Pantanal Transpantaniera by Peg Abbott

There are few places in the world that offer wildlife like Brazil’s famed Pantanal. On Naturalist Journeys‘ July 2017 Pantanal wildlife tour, our group of 10, accompanied by guides Greg Smith and Xavier Muñoz, had an incredible adventure down the Transpantaneira Road that bisects the incredible Pantanal.

Continue reading Highlights from our Pantanal Wildlife Tour

A Pantanal Perspective

A visit to Brazil’s Pantanal.

Hyacinth Macaws, Naturalist Journeys Stock
Hyacinth Macaws, Naturalist Journeys Stock

Naturalist Journeys is back to the blogging world and wanted to kick off our first new post with a great participant account about her time in Brazil’s Pantanal.

Please enjoy Kelly’s comments and her perspective on what we too, thought was a fantastic wildlife safari.

Gate to the Pantanal Transpantaniera by Peg Abbott
Gate to the Pantanal Transpantaniera by Peg Abbott

“Hi Peg and Xavier,

Before we all go back to our daily lives, and our memories start to fade, I wanted to thank both of you for a truly spectacular trip to Brazil!

Xavier, your ability to manage the details -both large and small- of a logistically difficult trip is impressive, and your willingness to accommodate the needs of everyone in the group is much appreciated.

Posada Horseback Ride by Mark Wetzel
Posada Horseback Ride by Mark Wetzel

But it’s your continued enthusiasm for sharing every bird new to us, even ones you have seen many times, that made the trip special (And it goes without saying that you really do know your birds!)

Peg, your knowledge of birds is equally amazing, and your steady cheerfulness (even through the group’s episodes of illness, and when some of us, [i.e. me], were getting tired and a little grumpy around the edges) was critical to the success of the trip! Bob and I hoped to see a piculet on this trip, but are not disappointed that one didn’t appear, since we instead became better acquainted with a far superior bird – the “red-crested Peg-u-let”!  I hope the association continues.

Sunbittern, Naturalist Journeys Stock
Sunbittern, Naturalist Journeys Stock

For what it’s worth, my highlights include:

Watching the incredible numbers of herons, egrets, ibises, and miscellaneous other “aves” fly up as we went along in the bus, boat, or on foot.  One of the great wildlife viewing opportunities still left in the world, this experience rivals the sight of zebras or giraffes running across the plains of Africa.

Rufous horneros and their nests. While these birds are not rare

Rufous Hornero Nest Pair by Peg Abbott
Rufous Hornero Nest Pair by Peg Abbott

or particularly showy, their characteristic strut and epic nest-building efforts epitomize the Pantanal for me.

Pouso Alegre. If I could magically transport myself back to one of our sites for an occasional weekend visit, this would be it. I loved the wetlands, the walk to the hide, the tegus outside our door, and the overall peacefulness.

The charming, befuddled expression on the faces of all capybaras, large and small. I still want to bring one home … Bob bought a capybara leather belt in Uruguay but it’s just not the same.

Capybara Family by Peg Abbott
Capybara Family by Peg Abbott

The unexpected sight of the Streamer-tailed tyrants along the road to Caraca. So cool, and one of the reasons having an experienced guide is essential! Who else would know to look for such a spectacular bird in such a mundane location?

The hikes at Caraca Sanctuary. The undisturbed habitats here are a rare treasure – in both an ecological and spiritual sense – allowing us lucky visitors to truly connect with the landscape. I will remember the araucaria trees, the fantastic flora of the fens, the Face of the Giant, the Pin-tailed manakin, and the quiet of the Brother’s Woods for a long time.

Flocks of [Gilt-edged] and Brassy-breasted Tanagers! Amazing!

Our extended encounter with the unflappable Red-legged Seriema –too funny!

Red-legged Seriema, Naturalist Journeys Stock
Red-legged Seriema, Naturalist Journeys Stock

Our final count of (~?) 302 bird species, each with its own character and personality.

Brazilian coffee!  And desserts!

And many, many, more.

Thanks also to all of my fellow travelers – I’m proud to be part of such a jovial yet stalwart group. Let’s do it again!”

Kelly

Resting Jaguar by Xavier Munoz
Resting Jaguar by Xavier Munoz


Thanks for traveling with us, Kelly … we can’t wait to go back to the Pantanal again next year.

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