The Pantanal

The Pantanal of southern Brazil (Brasil) is the world’s largest tropical wetland at from 54,000 to 75,000 square miles.  It is a seasonal wetland, experiencing both wet periods and dry periods.  My son and I spent 10 days in the area during the dry season.  During the dry season thousands of birds concentrate along the streams and ponds which remain.  I was there in July 2003.

The Bird Videos - Brazil page on the www.bobbarnes.us website includes links to the individual bird species I recorded in this area (see also The Birds of Brazil video portfolio) and an index to thelong-form videos shown below.  There are five long-form videos which I made for this area, four deal with birds, one deals with reptiles and mammals.  

The narrative for this trip follows the presentation of these videos below.





From a posting entitled Memories of Big Birds

Brazil’s Pantanal is one of the great birding places of the world - how do I know? Because I have a score of stories from the Pantanal.

The Pantanal is the largest seasonally flooded area in the world (168,000 square kilometers in Brazil alone). The road from Cuiaba shoots straight south into the heart of the northern Pantanal. During the wet, this area is covered in water, it comes right up to the edge of the roads, which have been built up from the surrounding area.

It is July, the dry season, and I am horseback riding to what is a small island during the wet. We have meandered through a maze of swamp, sometimes with the water up to our stirrups, the Caiman stay away from the horses - I’m glad that Spectacled Caiman like fish. The horses splash, the sun is warm, hundreds of egrets fly into the sky, we pass a Black-Collared Hawk calling from a tree.  Jon and I would like to see a Pygmy Anteater and Marina (Luiz and Marina own Pouso Alegre, a wonderful working ranch-hotel not terribly far from Pocone) is taking us to a reliable spot. Not for us today - no Pygmy Anteater, we have to settled for Giant River Otter just a few feet away.

Marina and Luiz have become fast friends and we thoroughly enjoy our long conversations over dinner, it is the kind of special treat I associate with birding -- birders and people of a natural history bent tend to be very interesting.

There are big birds here, like the Southern Screamer pictured above and Cocoi Heron below.  Jabiru - the huge stork with mammoth nests in the tops of trees, four species of Ibis, and various egrets, herons, macaws, parrots, and…..

From a post entitled: Manakins, Harpies, and Macaws

I am in the Pantanal of Brazil in mid-July, one of the target birds of this trip is the Hyacinth Macaw (photo below) - the largest of the Macaws and, of course, dramatically beautiful. I have spent 22 hours getting to Pouso Alegre from Portland, little sleep on the plane, I am tired and sweaty, I need a shower, more than a little rummy. I have to get my stuff in the room -- quick. I have to unpack the cameras and tripods -- quick. I have to ... hurry - there are Hyacinth Macaws all over the place - including a preening pair low in a tree thirty feet away.

From a post entitled: Brazilian Folk Songs and Anteaters

Jon and I are in Brazil’s Pantanal in July, at Pouso Alegre. It is evening and we will eat shortly. Family is visiting the owners and we join all of them on the veranda.

My son and I sit on the porch with our backs against the rough-hewn posts and sip Guarana.

It is early evening but already dark, it is warm, there are candles on the porch, family members are laughing and talking - a brother-in-law breaks out a ukulele (which is a small guitar of Portuguese origin) and everyone breaks into song - except my son and I, we don’t know Portuguese, much less Brazilian folk songs.

It has been a long and pleasantly hard day, lots of taping, some nice Ibis (like the Buff-necked Ibis to the right), and lots of pretty sights. Now I am tired, a cold drink, warm weather, soft darkness, laughter and song - things are perfect. I am at ease, I am pleased with the world. Very soon Alice the Giant Anteater will show up for her bottle of milk.

The owners of Pouso Alegre rescued Alice in a field when she was just a baby Giant Anteater. They raised her on bottled milk and successfully released her to the wild when she reached adult-hood.

In the evenings, Alice often shows up for a bottle or two of milk. Seems you can raise the kids but weaning them is a different matter. She comes up on the veranda and joins in with the family - she may be an Anteater, but those claws are huge and she isn’t taking any guff from the dog. She drains a bottle of milk in no time at all, a beautiful animal, not quite wild at the moment but certainly wild when she is away from here. There is quite a bit of conjecture about whether Alice is pregnant and if so, will she bring her young to the ranch house at night for bottled milk?

I watch this beautiful animal and sip on cold Guarana. There are two Guaranas to be aware of, the first is a powdered mix that the locals drink in the morning as an energy drink. The other is a soda drink of the same derivation. It is the latter that we drink, out of aluminum cans.

Blue-crowned Parakeet

Guarana does not have caffeine and has a quite unique taste, very good, very refreshing and the pick-me-up feels very different from caffeine. We enjoy it so much that I periodically order some - its available more widely all the time, we order from Los Angeles -- the shipping is as expensive as the drink.

Tomorrow I will tape Blue-crowned Parakeet (right), tonight I could not ask for more.

From a post entitled: The Bridges of the Pantanal, A Photo From The Amazon, and Caiman, Jabiru, Egrets, Herons, Etc.

The Pantanal of Brazil and Paraguay is one of the most magnificent places on Earth.  It seasonally floods, flooding everything except the road which has been built up over time.  During the dry period the water shrinks to a few swampy areas, ponds, rivers, and the sides of the road - which has been dug out to make the road higher.  During the dry these areas are swarming with birds and caiman.

The road south from Pocone is 117 km and has 87 wooden bridges. There is one concrete bridge. The wood bridges are in varying stages of disrepair and all have holes in them.

At night the bridges can be really scary, especially if it’s your first time to the Pantanal.  Down below there is water and mud - and potentially all sorts of terrible things.

The Pantanal and the bridges of the Pantanal will remain in my memory for as long as I have one -- very fond memories.

A typical view (below) from the road heading south into the Pantanal of Brazil. This photograph was taken during the dry period in July.  Caiman are in the foreground, Jabiru, Egret, and Heron species are scattered about.  All can be found in the hundreds at sites like this.

Pantanal

From a post entitled: Birding With My Son & Where Did It Go?

As you may have noted in some past postings, Jon (my son) and I have travelled together to a number of birding locales.  I don’t believe that he would consider himself a birder, but he knows the birds quite well, has a good eye, and takes very nice photographs.  He photographed  Barred Antshrike (see blog link) while we were in the Pantanal of Brazil.  Not far from where he took the picture of the Smooth-billed Ani shown to the right (he was around 14 at the time).

On this day we were walking down the road in the Pantanal, doing the usual stuff -- videotaping Southern Screamer, Boat-billed Heron, Anhinga -- you know, the usual stuff.  He was hanging back, working a bush very hard, I could hear the camera snapping and wondered what it would be.  He did not know what it was, he described a Barred Antshrike (or a Lined Antshrike - the differences are not easily described).  The bird had flown he said, I looked at the video camera, thought “no video” and forgot about it.  While going through the Brazil photos, I found these two images and remembered -- and that is the value to me, remembering a hot morning, on a dusty road, working hard with my son - I never want to forget that.

From a post entitled: Wide Open Spaces & The Jungle Cometh

There are a great many things which help to make good video.  Good equipment helps, as I mentioned yesterday.  Good light always helps and for video can be problematic.  Early morning and early evening have great light but the window of opportunity is even more limited for video than for photography.  Many a morning I have stood beside the tripod watching wonderful birds through my bin’s -- waiting for the light to get better.

Working in the jungle can be frustrating because it is often slow, birds can be hard to find, and when you do find them it is hard to get the camera on them (the ground is uneven, perhaps slippery, vines and leaves are everywhere, it is difficult to get a reference point to figure out where you have the lens pointed, much less where you need to get it pointed).

In the wide open spaces, it can be much easier to tape - if you can find the birds.  The light is more even, there are more reference points, and in a place like the Pantanal there are lots of birds. Exotic birds like the Southern Screamer pictured above.  That bird was perched on the top of some shrubs (screaming up a storm) eating leaves -- just thirty feet from the road -- in decent light.  It does not get any easier than that.

From a post entitled: Pantanal Colors

During the day the Pantanal is awash in green and various water colors, as the sun sets the reds and oranges come out -- some beautiful sunsets.  That is not to say that the days lack reds and yellows and...no, far from that.  When the trees are in bloom the daytime matches the evening.

From a post entitled: The Moon and The Sun

pantanal tree

I have made one of the most revolutionary findings in modern scientific endeavor.  While perusing Brazil photographs I found a view of the moon from the Southern Hemisphere. After extensive comparisons with photographs from the far north I am prepared to announce that the moon looks the same in the Northern Hemisphere as in the Southern Hemisphere.  Thus, based on rigid empirical evidence we can safely discard this issue as a source of dispute between the world’s peoples.  

From a post entitled: Hyacinth Macaws

Hyacinth Macaw13

On the 22nd of February of this year I mentioned my first encounter with Hyacinth Macaws. A dramatic and adrenaline producing event - in a birding sort of way.

A few weeks later I am farther south in the Pantanal.  It is late afternoon and I am on my way to a “Macaw Tree”.  “What makes it a Macaw Tree?” I ask and the driver smiles, waves his hands (both of them) and says “many Macaws”.   Okay, I think - I am nearing the end of this trip and I am run down, to many days of dawn to dusk taping of birds followed by an evening of notes - “many Macaws”, I wonder what that means.  I ask, he says 30 or so, I ask again -- not sure my Portuguese is up to the translation my head has provided.  He repeats the number, I nod, I am suspect (much easier to be suspect when you are tired and you haven’t seen anything of the sort in weeks).

We stop by a gate and start walking across a field, we herd the cattle (big mean looking cattle) out of the way as we head into a lightly wooded area.  We walk to a tree, we stop.  “This is the tree?” I ask.  “Yes” is the answer.  It is about five, the sun will set in an hour or so, there is little activity.  A Savannah Hawk perches on a tree near by and I spend some time with it -- but no Macaws.

yellow anaconda

Then, like so often is the case, a flock of thirty or so Hyacinth Macaws fly in and perch in “the tree”.  We tape until it is to dark, walk back through the field, and head back to dinner.  I am smiling a lot, I like it when I am wrong in this way.

From a post entitled: Flowers & Butterflies & Snakes

In my journeys in the tropics I very seldom see snakes, perhaps I am simply not attuned to their presence.  Snakes, spiders, scorpions, and Jaguars are the big things which people often ask about.  But it is the small things which I worry about, mosquitoes, fleas, and other small vectors of disease and parasites.  Those are the things which are nasty -- must be why I have so few pictures of them.

One of the most spectacular snakes I have seen is this Yellow Anaconda in the Pantanal.  It was a big snake, we stood around and shot photos and video of this individual for quite some time.  It did not seem to be very disturbed by our presence.  Anacondas can be nasty though -- their bite is usually a reason to go to the hospital (so if one tries to squeeze the air out of you, try not to get bit).  The reason -- infection, they cause very bad infections, in a land where infections can be easily had.

From a post entitled: Coconuts and Coca Beans - Tea, Coffee, and Sanka

Buff-necked Ibis

What does a Buff-necked Ibis (photo right) have to do with tea, coffee, and Sanka?  In the western US we have one species of Ibis, the White-faced Ibis, I love to visit Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in season and watch them fly about the marshes, with their legs dangling down.  Malheur is about 300 miles from my home.  It is a special trip.

It is July and I am in the Pantanal of Brazil.  There are four species of Ibis within view (Buff-necked, Barefaced, Plumbeous, and Green -- and only the Green has been even a little difficult to find). What is it that I have to give up for such an experience, well for one thing - good coffee.  When I first started traveling in Latin America I thought I would have great coffee, that is where the beans are grown, so.... Not the case, they exported all of the good beans and “coffee” typically meant Sanka.  South America is where I developed my taste for tea, tea was readily available and it was often very good stuff from the Commonwealth countries.  Now that is beginning to change, and coffee is more readily available, but I always check the tea selection first -- because they have some good tea in South America (it goes with the Ibis).

From a post entitled: Ocelot

It is July, we are in the Pantanal of Brazil, we have been taping all day and we are tired.  It has grown dark and we climb into the back of the pickup.  We stand behind the cab, the cool air feels good blowing against our tired bodies.  We slowly make our way down the track to the main road then onto another track heading for the ranch.  A spotlight appears and we try our luck at mammals.  Jon spots the first Ocelot and all of a sudden none of us are as tired as we were.  We bounce along the road and find a Brazilian Tapir and a second Ocelot (right).

From a post entitled: Water Wolves

River Otter

I recently watched a program from the series “Equator” which included some substantial footage of Giant River Otter, or as they indicated - the Water Wolf.

I have seen Giant River Otter on several occasions and each time I am reminded of the disparity between the common image of playful otters and the size of their teeth.  Nature is nature, we should never confuse the beauty of nature with any concept of peacefulness.  Nature is a continuous process in which creatures and plants take from others in order to survive.  We sometimes glamorize rather effective killers as cuddly little play things - but they are not cuddly to their prey.  However, that knowledge should never detract from our understanding of their beauty and of how they fit within Earth’s community.  A creatures place in the Earth’s community is more impressive to me than its beauty.  For that reason, it is important to save ecosystems in their entirety - absent that, the puzzle will fall apart.



© Robert Barnes 2017