Tag Archives: Neotropical Birding

A Pantanal Panoply: The ‘Big Five’ of Brazil Birds and Mammals

Brazil is the most biodiverse country on the planet, home to some 20 percent of all species on Earth. Which is why coming up with a top five Brazilian birds and top five Brazilian mammals was no easy feat – even narrowing our scope down to the Pantanal, the focus of our three 2022 tours to Brazil.

Ten times the size of the Everglades, the Pantanal is the size of Washington State (though it’s still dwarfed inside Brazil, a country even larger than the lower 48 US states). The world’s largest wetland, it is incredibly important to the survival of many species.

  • brazil birding and mammals are abundant in the Pantanal

Five Brazilian Mammals

  • Jaguar is among the most exciting Brazil birds and mammals
  • Giant Otter is among the most exciting Brazil birds and mammals
  • The Maned Wolf is among the most exciting Brazil birds and mammals
  • The South American Tapir is among the most exciting Brazil birds and mammals
  • The Giant Anteater is among the most exciting Brazil birds and mammals


Some 2,000 jaguars call the Pantanal home, which is the highest density of these marvelous big cats anywhere in the world. (Brazil is thought to be home to some 85,000 jaguars, about half of the jaguars in the world.)

Jaguar are among the species you will see on our Brazil birding and nature tours.
Jaguars love water! Photo Credit Bernard DuPont via Wikimedia Commons

Jaguars adore water, which helps explain their presence in the Pantanal. Their spotted yellow-orange fur should be a warning sign to prey species. Incredibly powerful jaws allow jaguars to bite right through skulls and sink their teeth through the rough hides of Yacaré Caiman, a favorite meal. Our expert local guides give us great chances to see these water-loving cats, and we set aside one full day to find them.

Maned Wolf

Despite its name, this largest canid of South America is neither fox nor wolf, but the only member of the genus Chrysocyon. It evolved to hunt in tall savannah grass, which helps explain its 3-foot-tall frame and reddish coat. It is able to blend in with and be tall enough to see over vegetation.

We may smell Maned Wolf before we see it, as its urine has a powerful skunk-like aroma. A solitary hunter when it does eat meat, the Maned Wolf is an omnivore, and a fruit-lover! As much as half of its diet is fruits and vegetables, and it has a particular taste for lobeira, a fruit that in Portuguese means “fruit of the wolf.”

Giant Anteater

  • giant anteater may be seen on Brazil Birding and Brazil Mammal tours

Although they are kin to sloths, the Giant Anteater can move much more quickly! They are ant-eating machines, with powerful claws to rip into ant and termite mounds and a two-foot tongue covered with barbs to help them retrieve up to 30,000 insects a day! Anteaters can be considered conservationists, though, because they only feed for a few minutes at each mound before moving on rather than decimating any one colony. We often see these majestic creatures during both our Brazil and our Guyana tours.

Giant Otter

Giant otters can be found cavorting in family groups. Photo Credit: Bernard DuPont via Wikimedia Commons

When we see Giant Otter, it’s common to see them as a family group, cavorting and splashing, as 6-foot-long, 75-pound adults will do! Giant animals like Giant Otter need giant and pristine riverine territories, where they are often among the most significant predators. Great news arrived in 2021 when a solitary Giant Otter was spotted in Argentina for the first time in 30 years, in El Impenetrable National Park. Giant Otter are far more common in the Amazon River basin and its tributaries, including Brazil’s Pantanal. With webbed feet, water-repellant fur and ability to close their nostrils and ears underwater, these weasel-family wonders are always a joy to see in the wild.

Brazilian Tapir

The Tapir’s snout is an overgrown upper lip with prehensile qualities! Photo Credit: Vauxford via Wikimedia Commons

To those of us who didn’t grow up seeing Tapirs on a regular basis, the mind grapples with what animal it most closely resembles. Many different ones spring to mind: a pig, a rhinocerous, a little elephant, a small horse. Thought to have remained more or less the same for tens of million years, the Brazilian Tapir is well adapted to its herbivorious function. A 500-800 pound adult can easily eat 75 pounds of food every day, using its prehensile snout to strip leaves and fruit from branches. Following our Pantanal theme, they are a water-loving species, who wallow in mud and even dive to eat aquatic plants. Most closely related to horses and rhinocerous, their cubs have camoflauged fur!

Five Brazilian Birds

  • Helmeted Manakin is among the most exciting Brazil birds and mammals
  • Hyacinth Macaws is among the most exciting Brazil birds and mammals
  • Greater Rhea is among the most exciting Brazil birds and mammals
  • Harpy Eagle is among the most exciting Brazil birds and mammals
  • Toco Toucan is among the most exciting Brazil birds and mammals

Harpy Eagle

Harpy Eagle is among the Brazilian Birds and Brazilian Mammals you may see on a Naturalist Journeys Tour
Harpy Eagle. Photo Credit: Jonathan Wilkins

Even for birders who don’t care about checklists, the Harpy Eagle is one of the most sought-after species on any birding and nature tour in their rapidly-shrinking range. Brazil still has enough continguous wild territory to support this massive and powerful raptor that one of the most famous of all “listers,” Carl Linnaeus himself, put into a class of its own. The Greek “harpies” were composite creatures with the body of a vulture and the face of a woman with the job of ferrying the dead to Hades. We have good chances to see Harpy Eagle in both Brazil and in Guyana.

Greater Rhea

Greater Rhea is among the Brazilian birds and Brazilian Mammals found on our tours.
Greater Rhea. Photo Credit: Charles J. Sharp via Wikimedia Commons

Five subspecies of Greater Rhea come together in the Pantanal region we visit. Flightless and long-legged, this bird is well adapted to savannah. Nearly 5 foot tall and 60 pounds, they are a quiet species, using their voices almost exclusively during mating season, when they also use their rather long wings in courtship displays. Greater Rhea have an unusual breeding system, where the males are sedentary nest tenders of eggs laid by many different females. Females are serially polyandrous, traveling about to mate with different males, and once each egg is laid near her mate’s nest (he inspects and then rolls it in, with as many as 70 others) she moves on to find another partner.

Hyacinth Macaw

Hyacinth Macaws. Photo Credit: Bernard DuPont via Wikimedia Commons

At the other end of the devotion spectrum, the Hyacinth Macaw is said to mate for life. The world’s largest parrot, it is stunning to see flying in the wild, with a four-foot ultramarine blue wingspan, offset with accents of gold at the eye and hooked bill. Nuts, seeds, fruit and insects make up its diet and they roost in groups. On our Brazil birding trips, we often see these sociable creatures flying overhead, especially in the morning and near roosting time.

Toco Toucan

Toco Toucan. Photo Credit: Charles J. Sharp via Wikimedia Commons

Toco Toucan is one of the most striking birds found anywhere in the world, and its massive bill performs many functions. It’s used to collect and process fruit (which is more than can be said for the Fruit Loops mascot it inspired). But the bill is also useful in crunching up frogs and snails, and intimidating and fending off nest-robbing predators. But the bill has another important function. Like an elephant’s ears, a Toco Toucan’s bill is used to regulate heat and is lined with blood vessels. At night, when temperatures are lower, the Toco Toucan can be seen to tuck its bill under a wing before sleep.

Helmeted Manakin

Helmeted Manakin. Photo Credit: Dario Sanches via Wikimedia Commons

Helmeted Manakin are sexually dimorphous to the nth degree! Females and juveniles are very boring indeed compared with the male Helmeted Manakin’s sleek glossy black plumage, crowned with a red crest. We often see these birds while “on safari” at Aguapé Lodge, sometimes in exciting mixed-species flocks. During the height of the fruiting season, Helmeted Manakin are very choosy eaters, shifting to the understory to eat less perfect fruit only when circumstances require. In the dry season, when there is less fruit, they have been observed eating insects in Brazil.

Of course, these are just a handful of the many hundreds of species we may see on any given Brazil birding and mammal adventure. To get more of a flavor, read a species list or two and read the trip reports that show what past guests have seen on our journeys.

Pre-Tour and Post-Tour Extensions

The pre- and post-tour extensions in Brazil further expand the many wonderful species you have an opportunity to see!

Brazil birds and Brazil mammals are often seen by boat! Photo Credit: Peg Abbott

Itatiaia National Park Pre-tour Extension

Itatiaia National Park. Photo Credit: Augusto Alves via Wikimedia Commons

Itatiaia was Brazil’s first National Park and shelters an incredible variety of birds, including Black Hawk-Eagle, Dusky-legged Guan, Slaty-breasted Wood-Rail, Giant Snipe, White-throated Hummingbird, Brazilian Ruby, Frilled Coquette, Black-breasted Plover-Crest, Saffron Toucanet, Yellow-fronted and Robust Woodpeckers, Wing-banded Hornero, White-browed Foliage-gleaner, Itatiaia Thistletail, Speckle-breasted Antpitta, Giant and Large-tailed Antshrikes, White-bibbed and Rufous-tailed Antbirds, Fork-tailed Pygmy-tyrant, Southern Antpipit, Velvety Black-tyrant, Pin-tailed Manakin, Eastern Slaty Thrush, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Black-and-Gold Cotinga, Brassy-breasted and Gilt-edged Tanagers, and Sharpbill.

For more details, read all about this 5-Day, 4-Night extension.

Chapada Post-tour Extension

Chapada dos Guimaraes. Photo Credit: Carlos Souto via Wikimedia Commons

Located 65 km northeast of Cuiaba, Chapada dos Guimaraes is a unique destination in the Cerrado, the Brazilian Savanna, a transition zone between the Cerrado and the Amazon, giving you the chance to see the Cerrado’s avian highlights like Small-billed Tinamou, Red-legged Seriema, Scaled Dove, Horned Sungem, Blue-tufted Starthroat, White-eared Puffbird, Rusty-backed and Large-billed Antwren, Rufous-winged Antshrike, Band-tailed and Fiery-capped Manakin, Curl-crested Jay, and White-rumped Tanager. Wow!

Read more about this 4-day, 3-night extension.

10 Reasons to Say ‘Yes!’ to Panama Birding in March 2022

Bridging North and South America with a narrow isthmus of lively jungled real estate, Panama is considered the ultimate neotropical birding destination for many reasons. Here are ten reasons our classic March 21-29 Panama Birding and Nature tour with guide Steve Shunk should be on your wish list for 2022.

1. Location, Location, Location!

We’ve already mentioned the importance of its continent-bridging location to Panama birding success. But our own lodgings at Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge turn “location, location, location” up to 11. If our 9-Day, 8-Night tour were an adventure film, Canopy Tower would play a starring role.

  • Looking out from Canopy Tower is one of the pleasures of Panama birding.
  • canopy tower is a great spot for Panama birding
  • Panama birding is luxurious in Canopy Tower, which puts us into the treetops
  • View from Canopy Tower, a Panama birding delight!
  • Canopy Tower offers wonderful Panama birding!

A lovingly repurposed radar tower inside Soberanía National Park, our unique cylindrical lodgings put us into the treetops, with every curved window offering a view onto lush rainforest and its many furred and feathered inhabitants.

A rooftop observation deck features even more panoramic views of Soberanía’s 55,000 acres, and offers an opportunity to hold binoculars in one hand and a coffee or a cocktail in the other. Ecologically priceless, Soberanía boasts 525 of Panama’s 981 species of birds and 105 mammal species, including both Two and Three-toed Sloths and four species of monkeys we often see scampering or hear howling from our perch.

  • Black-throated Trogon is a target in Panama birding.
  • Panama birding offers chances to see Red-capped Manakin
  • Montezuma Oropendola is a target in Panama birding
  • Geoffroy's Tamarin is a pleasant addition to Panama Birding
  • Howler Monkeys are a by-product of Panama birding.

Canopy Tower is also striking distance from many of Panama’s “hotspot” birding locations, putting us in the middle of the action in yet another way. After four nights in the tower, we move inland and upwards, to Canopy Lodge near El Valle in the central mountains, which is alive with wild activity. From our open-air dining room we see a spectrum of species, including some considered furtive! Before breakfast we often see aracaris, motmots, oropendolas, honeycreepers, and warblers. We luxuriate by being in the middle of the action throughout this tour.

  • Panama birding is as easy as going to your window at Canopy Lodge.
  • Canopy Lodge is one of the best locations for Panama birding
  • Lovely orchids are a byproduct of Panama birding.
  • Seeing Collared Aracari is one of the pleasures of Panama birding

2. Our Timing is Perfect: Spring Migration

This trip is timed for the peak season of Panama birding. Spring migration will be in full swing and we are treated to a parade of warblers and neotropical migratory birds in fresh breeding plumage. While not as concentrated as fall migration, as many as 18 species of raptors will be making their way north, drafting on thermals, concentrating as Panama narrows. What a spectacular show! Hundreds of Broad-winged and Sharp-shinned hawks, in particular, may be spotted in a single day!

  • Panama birding offers looks at Capped Heron.
  • Anhinga sunning is one of the pleasures of Panama birding
  • Panama birding offers the opportunity to see a Snail Kite eating a snail!
  • Christmas Bird Count data show lingering warblers, like this Prothonatary Warbler

3. Hummingbirds on Parade

  • Rufous-crested Coquette, a rare pleasure of Panama birding
  • Rufous-tailed Hummingbird is one of the pleasures of Panama birding
  • Violet-bellied Hummingbird is one of Panama birding's pleasures
  • Violet-capped Hummingbirds are one of the pleasures of Panama birding. Photo Credit: Gail Hampshire
  • Snow-bellied Hummingbirds are one of the pleasures of Panama birding

Central America is a haven for hummingbirds, and the birders who love them, and Panama birding offers some 60 hummingbirds for us to discover! Our lodgings’ feeders and adventures further afield offer plentiful opportunities to create your own photo gallery of these delightful high-energy species!

4. Mixed Flocks

It can be VERY exciting when birds NOT of a feather flock together, layers of varied colors and sounds dividing up close-proximity territories and exploiting co-located food sources and collectively looking out for predators. This is a very common phenomenon in Central American countries like Panama, making for exciting and productive bursts of birding!

Panama birding is an all-hands-on-deck affair when we get into a mixed flock!
Panama birding is an all-hands-on-deck affair when we get into a mixed flock! Photo Credit: Naturalist Journeys Stock

Mixed flocks puzzled scientists for a long time, but now it’s believed that there are leader and follower birds that create this arrangement, with smaller insectivorous birds feeding nearer the treetops hitching a ride with other birds feeding lower in the canopy, taking advantage of their vigilance to predators, letting down their own guards a bit and spending more of their time and energies feeding. Our groups certainly seem to get a jolt of energy when we get into a mixed flock!

5. The Trogon and Motmot Show

Showy is right! Panama birding offers opportunities to see nine members of the trogon family: Black-throated Trogon, Orange-bellied Trogon, Baird’s Trogon, Lattice-tailed Trogon, White-tailed Trogon, Slaty-Tailed Trogon, Collared Trogon, and Gartered Trogon. We also have chances to see several Motmots, who rival the Trogons for colorful display, including those shown in this gallery: Tody, Broad-Billed and Blue-Crowned.

  • Black-throated Trogon are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.
  • Orange-bellied Trogon are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.
  • Blue-Crowned Motmot are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.
  • Broad-billed Motmot are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.
  • Collared Trogon are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.
  • Tody Motmot are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.

6. Night Shift Hijinks

We offer opportunities to seek out Panama birds and animals that work the forest night shift, including Spectacled Owl and mammals like Allen’s Olingo, Woolly Opossum, and Kinkajou, which are often feeding on fruits and flowers. It’s a lot of fun to be under the immense canopy of rainforest trees as the nocturnal wildlife gets active. Our skilled Canopy Tower guides are specialists in finding these mysterious jungle residents!

  • Spectacled Owl are among the night residents we see in Panama birding
  • Kinkajou is a mammal we sometimes see during Panama birding trips

7. Boating Gatun Lake and the Panama Canal

  • Panama birding means the Panama Canal
  • Gatun Lake is a scenic boating tour during our Panama birding adventure
  • A scenic view of the Panama Canal from our Panama birding tour
  • Panama Canal views are part of our Panama birding adventure!

Boating is part of this Panama birding tour as well, as we explore two un-natural wonders: Gatun Lake and the Panama Canal. The largest man-made lake in the world when it was created, Gatun Lake contains the flow of all the rivers within the Panama Canal Watershed to provide water for the operation of the Panama Canal lock system. And of course, it also provides a habitat to a host of species we are eager to see!

8. Beautiful Blooms, Butterflies and Bugs!

  • Panama birding includes flowers and butterflies!
  • Beautiful flowers and Panama birding are a pair!
  • butterflies are a happy byproduct of Panama birding

More than 10,000 plants call Panama home, including many lovely showy orchids and flowers, which attract butterflies, other insects, birds and photographers! So beautiful are the plants on this tour, you might be distracted from your birding….

9. Ants! (And the Birds Who Love Them)

  • Barred Antshrike is one of many ant-loving species on this Panama birding tour
  • Panama birding is sometimes about following the bugs, like these Leafcutter Ants
  • Panama birding offers chances to see white-flanked antwren
  • Bicolored Antbird is one of many ant-loving species we see on this Panama birding and nature tour
  • Pygmy Antwren is one of several ant-loving species we may see on this Panama birding tour
  • Panama birding is sometimes about the ants!
  • Panama birding includes following Army ant swarms

If you’ve spent any time in the tropics, especially in a jungle, you’ve no doubt seen Leafcutter and Army Ants at work! Leafcutter ants in particular are a marvel as they march along, fluttering bits of verdant leaf and colorful flowers on the way back to their mounded nests. Ants are especially interesting to us as they also attract antbirds and antwrens and we are always on the lookout for ants for that reason!

10. Panamanian Coffee and Food!

  • Panama birding comes with Panama food and drink!
  • Panama birding comes with Panama food and drink!
  • Panama birding comes with Panama food and drink!
  • Panama birding comes with Panama food and drink!

One of the most pleasurable experiences of the trip is taking a steaming cup of Panamanian coffee to the observation deck of Canopy Tower and waking up as the forest comes alive around you. We eat many of our meals in view and earshot of the forest as well, enjoying camaraderie and delicious and fresh local foods. There is pleasure aplenty for all of the senses on our March 21-29 Panama Birding and Nature Tour!

Birding Belize … Why We Love It!

At Naturalist Journeys we are thrilled to offer a grand array of Neotropical birding tours. Our expert guides vie for the chance to lead groups in Belize. For many reasons, we love birding Belize! Find out ….

Deciding where to bird in the Neotropics, which includes both Central and South America, can seem like a daunting task, and rightfully so. There are many lodges to choose from, and each country has its own draw. We suggest a stair-step approach in which you gain skills and knowledge with each visit, making the most of your time and budget.

Birding Belize
Violaceous Trogon by Peg Abbott

Continue reading Birding Belize … Why We Love It!

Highlights from Our Belize Birding Tour

Every winter, Naturalist Journeys heads to Belize for a number of fun-filled trips. Here are highlights from a 2016 Belize birding tour.

Belize Birding Tour
Group at Pook’s Hill Ruins, Naturalist Journeys Stock

The highlights detailed in this blog post were from a February 2016 Belize birding tour …  and this trip was extra special: Naturalist Journeys‘ owner Peg Abbott celebrated her 60th birthday on the trip; it was a bit of a reunion with long-time travel companions, which made for a whole lot of fun. You can read the full trip report here.

Without further ado, here are the highlights, day by day. Continue reading Highlights from Our Belize Birding Tour