Trip Report – Brazil Pantanal

Tour Leader: Pieter Verheij
Tour Guide: Helder Freitas
Author: Pieter Verheij

Day 1 – 4, 8th – 11th October, Baiazinha
Because all of our fellow travellers had arrived on the 7th we planned to leave around 7 o’clock in the morning. We travelled southwards for about 220 km on very good roads to Caceres. During a short comfort stop some of the group managed to see a Crane Hawk sitting in a nearby tree.

We arrived just outside Caceres at a small shipyard on the Paraquay River, where our riverboat was waiting for us. Including the boat-driver we were with a group of 10 people. The boat we had at our disposal during this first stay of 4 nights was a real experience. No problem at all to go at a speed of over 50 km/hour, which seems to be high for bird watching but soon it became clear why this is a must.

The Pousada Baiazinha Lodge is situated at a distance of more than 100 km downstream in a remote but very beautiful area. The boat ride was a real birding experience. There were many birds on the Paraquay River and along the shore. Southern Screamer, Neotripical Cormorant, Cocoi Heron, Southern Lapwing, Black Skimmer, Anhinga, Large-billed Tern, Jabiru , Southern Caracara were present in big numbers. We also saw several Black-collared Hawks and Ospreys.

The Baiazinha Lodge is run basically as a lodge for Fishermen. It is a very nice place to stay with rooms looking out over the river. The food is of a high quality too.
On the riverside there are always birds like Yellow-billed Cardinal, Brown-chested Martin and Caracaras present looking for an easy meal.
In the afternoon we went out for a walk close to the lodge. We had a close encounter with a Aplomado Falcon and a group of Guira Cuckoo.

The next morning, our 1st full day, we left at sunrise for a full day on the river having with us a packed lunch and enough drinks to survive the day. The whole area is very good for birding, but the idea behind going to this place was to find the Jaguar in its natural unspoilt habitat. The best places for this are at a distance of 3 hours by (fast) boat in a big area surrounded by water.
We took our time enjoying the different Kingfishers, Capybara’s sunbathing and looking in the distance, Great Black Hawk, Black-collared Hawk and Osprey trying to catch the biggest fish, several green Iguanas and many Jacaré Caiman.
After a couple of hours we passed an enormous Rookery with thousands of Wood Storks nesting and between them, nests of Roseate Spoonbills and Great Egrets.
Southern Caracaras, Black Vultures and several Hawks were sitting next to each other, waiting for an over-confident chick to fall out of the nest. An amazing spectacle and sound show.

Having a comfort stop a bit further on at a place under construction (maybe a new lodge for the future) we found some more birds Picui Ground Dove, Rufous Hornero, Monk Parakeet, Yellow-bellied Elenia and Giant Cowbird. We also had our first Black and White Tegu.
Shortly after continuing our boat ride we came across a nesting site of Giant Otter. What an experience to see these huge animals in their natural habitat. A real highlight of the day.
Other birds we saw that day were Tropical Kingbird, Lesser Kiskadee, Scarlet-headed Blackbird, Moscovy Duck, Green and Amazone Kingfisher, Cattle Egret, Striated -, Capped – and Rufescent Tiger Heron, Savannah Hawk, Pied Lapwing amongst many others.
We sailed around the prime jaguar area but we did not have any luck to see one.

The 2nd day at Baiazinha Lodge we repeated the same route we had done on day one, but now with stops at different places. A stop somewhere along the river always produces a couple of new exciting species. We saw Greater Rhea, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Rust Margined Guan, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Bare-faced Curassaw and Ringed Kingfisher.
Our hunt for the elusive Jaguar was again not successful.
Our guide and also the boat-driver assured us that 9 out of 10 times, the Jaguar has been found along the shore, normally with excellent views from a quite close distance.
We all had seen a lot of fires around and the presence of these fires might have been the most important reason that we did not see one Jaguar so far.

Having one day left we discussed among the group what to do with this day. Give it another try or spend the day birding in different locations along the river. All fellow travellers unanimously agreed to give it a final try. “We are here now and maybe we will have more luck tomorrow”.

We started our 3rd day at Baiazinha Lodge with an early morning walk around the Lodge. We were happy to find, and having very good views of, a Great Horned Owl with a young one in a nearby tree. We also spotted Cattle Tyrant, Saffran Finch and several Parakeet species.We left after breakfast for another day on the river. We started with a walk under the trees of a Rookery of Wood Storks. It was an interesting experience finding the mixture of bones of many young ones and bird droppings, and between this an unfortunate chick who would probably not survive to the next day. New birds we saw were Limpkin, and Black-capped Danacobius, both very close.
We disembarked at a local hacienda, where we expected to see the Hyacinth Macaw, because they are nesting in the area. This visit was very productive. We had very good views of a big flog of Black-hooded parakeets attacking the fruits in a Mango Tree. We also saw White-eyed Parakeets in the same tree. We spotted Plumbeous Ibis and Whistling Heron in a nearby pond. We saw Green-barred Woodpecker and everybody enjoyed very much the beautiful pair of Hyacinth Macaw showing off in a nearby tree.
We paid a short visit to the local school for the children of the Hacienda.We also had another very interesting stop along the river. We stopped at a place where fishermen normally have their camp, when they are out on the river. Birds know that at these places there is always something to eat. We saw Silverbeak Tanager, Shiny Cowbird, Grayish Saltador, White-tipped Dove, Great Antshrike (male and female). There was also a Gold Tegu waiting to see if there was something left for him to eat. Later on we saw a big colony of Snail Kites, coming in to roost.

This last day on the Paraguay River we missed the Jaguar yet again. Bad luck, but in spite of that, everybody enjoyed the experience very much.

Day 5 – 7, 12th – 14th October, Pousade Pouso Alegre We left after breakfast for our boat ride back to Caceres. Close to our destination we got very good views of a Toco Toucan within a short distance and after that of a pair higher up in the trees. The highlight of this boat ride however was a Crane Hawk posing for us like a professional model.We took the minivan to drive back to Poconé, a small town between Cuiaba (starting point of our tour) and the entrance to the Pantanal. Here we had our lunch in a nice local restaurant. Not far from here we entered the Transpantaneiro. The Transpantaneiro is no more than a dirt track, but the only (important) road into the Pantanal area. All lodges inside the Pantanal area can be reached by this road.On both sides of this track are small ponds with the last amounts of water at the end of the dry season. Birds and animals, such as Caiman and Capybarra, were trying to catch one of the remaining fishes, which are still available in the mud of the ponds. This gives fantastic bird watching opportunities, because the birds are focused on the water and are not interested to move far. To see a Sunbittern that close and relaxed is just lovely. We were looking at White-headed Marsh-tyrants, Burrowing Owl, Wattled Jacana, Orange-backed Troupial, Buff-necked and Green Ibis, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture and many others.Not to mention that this place is an Eldorado for the photographer.Our lodge for 3 nights was the Pousada Pouso Alegre. It is one of the closest lodges to the entrance of the Pantanal. The accommodation is basic but clean, but the location makes it more than worthwhile. The distance from the Transpantaneiro is several kms, which makes this place one of the more remote places in the Pantanal.Following the track to the lodge we saw a group of Greater Rhea, or better said one male Adult and at least 30 chicks following the adult. We also had very good views of South American Coati. The property is also a breeding place for some pairs of Hyacinth Macaw. It is very special to be welcomed by those super birds.We spent our days at the lodge in a very relaxed way. We had at our disposal an open truck for small excursions a bit further away, when we stayed closer to the lodge we normally walked. We went out in the early morning until around 10 o’clock and again in the afternoon leaving at around 3 o’clock. We also did some “night” excursions.The rest of the time was free to relax or do birding around the lodge, which was also very interesting.One early morning we went out for a walk at sunrise. Following the track to the main road we passed some places where there was still some water left. The whole place was full of birds. New birds for the trip were, amongst others, Blue-fronted Parrot, Rufous-bellied Thrush, Streaked Flycatcher, Purplish Jay, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Black-tailed Tityra.One of our participants did not come with the group but went for a longer walk. She had a close encounter with a Giant Anteater, which was still waiting for her on her way back. She made the photographers in the group very jealous showing the very good photos she had taken with her small camera.We did an afternoon excursion to another water hole a bit further away and were lucky to meet on our way with an Ocelot stealing up on a prey.We saw Marsh Deer and Grey-brocket Deer. New birds were Blue-crowned Trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Little Woodpecker and White-eyed Atilla.On our way back in the dark we found Crab-eating Racoon, Common Pauraque and Boat-billed Heron.Another morning we arrived in time at one of the water wholes to enjoy the show of a group of Black Skimmer fishing between the Caiman, herons and Storks. We really had spectacular views.We tried hard to find a Tapir. They are not very common in that area but often seen. We were waiting at one of the normal drinking places at dusk, but again we were not very lucky with mammals. To look for birds waiting quietly at the end of the day at a drinking place is very good. We had very good views of the Whistling Heron, Red-crested Cardinal, Epaulet Oriole, Pale-legged Hornero and Unicolored Blackbird.But just walking around relatively close to the lodge was very rewarding. We had excellent views of Great Rufous Woodcreeper, Golden-green Woodpecker, Black-crowned Tityra, White Woodpecker, Chaco Chachalaca, Chestnut-bellied Guan and Bay-winged Cowbird, not to mention all the birds we have seen earlier.From our Terrace we could observe a fight between a Great Black Hawk and a Black Vulture, which did not end very successfully for the Vulture. The second performance was an adult helped by a young Southern Caracara finishing off the Black Vulture and starting to eat.Altogether I only can say that Pouso Alegre is a fantastic place to spend a couple of days, which we certainly will repeat next year.

Day 8 – 9, 15th – 16th October, Pousada Rio Claro 
After lunch we travelled to Pousada Rio Claro. This place is not too far away and we travelled with our open truck to fully enjoy the area. During our transfer we had some new birds for the trip; Campo Flicker, Lineated Woodpecker and Bar-faced Ibis.Pousado Rio Claro is situated directly on the Rio Claro. This place is much more up-market than the Pouso Alegre, but is lacking a little the ambiance of a natural environment. The advantage is that the place is situated right on the river.It will not be a surprise that the main objective is going out on the river, although walking in the surroundings of the Lodge is also an interesting activity.The next morning we went out for a boat ride. We got an excellent show of a fishing Black-collared Hawk, waiting for us in the trees. Many birds we saw we had seen before but getting that close by boat is always a pleasure and the photographers in the group got new chances to improve close ups of Kingfishers, Herons and many others. We all had very good views of Orange-winged Parrot being a new bird for the tour.We returned to the Lodge for Breakfast. After breakfast everybody enjoyed in his own way the grounds of the Lodge. We had a walk and were happy to see a pair of Squirrel Cuckoo, Pale-crested Woodpecker and we also had very close views of Purplish Jay. Close to the lodge a pair of Burrowing Owls were nesting and it was very amusing to observe the movements of the pair and their chick.In the afternoon we went out by boat again. Target species for this place was Agami Heron. This bird is rare and the best places are the rivers in this area. We saw a group of White-faced Whistling Duck and a pair of Golden-collared Macaws. It was very nice to find Sungrebe, first we had a female and a while later we found a male, both very willing to show themselves well (which often is not the case). Other new birds were Green and Rufous Kingfisher and a bit later the American Pygmy Kingfisher, Little Blue Heron and Blue-throated Piping-Guan. And finally our boatman spotted from afar the beautiful Agami Heron. And this is a real beauty.The next morning we had a slow start. We had planned to go out for a walk along the river after breakfast to look for some specials for the area. Leaving the room we had a group of Guira Cuckoo enjoying their breakfast with big moths and other insects attracted by the light of the buildings. It was very enjoyable to watch this gang, chasing each other and fighting for the best prey.We were lucky to quickly find the Red-billed Scythebill, one of the target birds for this place. We also had Rufous Cacholote and a pair of Bare-faced Curassaw. A bit further on we came across a big group of Tufted Capuchin Monkeys, playing in the tree and enjoying eating eggs (really big ones, which might be from a Greater Rhea?). In the same trees we saw the Narrow-billed Woodcreeper. We also met a group of Black-tailed Marmosets. 

Day 10 – 11, 17th – 18th October, Fazenda Santa Tereza We left after lunch to go to Fazenda Santa Tereza.Again we went by open truck for the best bird watching. It is always a great experience to be that close to so many wonderful birds and animals, although it started to be difficult to find new ones for the tour, we could add a Roadside Hawk and Brazilian Teal.Fazenda Santa Tereza is a very nice place to stay; there are only 10 apartments in a rural style building. The lodge is located directly on the edge of the river. We arrived in the afternoon and enjoyed birding around the lodge. There is a watchtower overlooking a Jabiru nest from nearby. There are some small ponds, which are attracting several birds such as flycatchers and Wattled Jacana. Many Cardinals, Yellow-billed and Red-crested were gathering in the trees along the river. It is also a good place to relax with a beer and listen to the specific sounds of the Chaco Chachalaca. In the garden we had the double collared Seedeater, Bananaquit, Silver-beaked Tanager, Orange-backed Troupial and Rufous Cacholote.The next morning we went on the river, which is the main attraction of staying in this lodge. We again saw the Agami Heron and also Ringed Kingfisher, Boat-billed Heron, Yellow-headed Caracara, Yellow-chevroned Parakeet, Spotted Sandpiper, Brown-chested Martin, Swallow-tailed Flycatcher amongst many others.We met again with the Giant Otter, this time we got real good views of this animal moving around on the shore. It is amazing how big this animal is. A big male can easily reach 2 meters and a body weight of more than 40 kg. The abundance of fish in the river could be well observed by looking at all those birds feeding on fish. I never saw a place where so many birds where eating fish at the same time. The boatman is an employee working on this lodge (which is actually a farm) during the rest of the year. He asked us if we were interested to see Great Potoo, which of course we were. We walked with him into the woodlands where he first showed us a Male Potoo high in a tree and a bit further on a Potoo on the nest with a young one. A lovely view to see them apparently fast asleep.After lunch and a rest we left again by boat and enjoyed another wonderful afternoon on the water The next morning on a walk in the surroundings of the lodge, before getting ready to leave, we saw besides a lot of birds a pair of Crab-eating Fox.

Day 12, 19th October, Pousada Piuval To reach Pousada Piuval we had to go back towards Poconé, leaving the Transpantaneiro behind us. Initially we had planned to stay 3 nights in this place, but we changed the itinerary because we got the message that this place was very dry at the moment and most of the birds and wildlife had moved away.Because Pousada Piuval is known as a very comfortable and interesting lodge we decided to stay one night in this place to get an impression, which might be very useful to setup next year’s itinerary.Pousada Piuval indeed is a lodge of a high quality standard, probably the best we have had so far. It also was true that the huge lake on the land was almost inaccessible and in great part was dried out.One of the species we had not seen so far was Red-legged Seriema and this place is one of the best places to find it. We went out in the afternoon to have a look around and indeed we found a pair feeding on fruit in the trees.The next morning we went out for a walk to have a look at another nesting site of the Hyacinth Macaw.You cannot think of a better farewell to this beautiful part of the world looking at these special birds flying around and posing for you. 

Day 13, 20th October. Departure We arrived in time at Cuiaba to have our last shared lunch before all fellow travellers went on their separate ways. Some went home and others went to the Atlantic Coast to do the extension of this trip.We all agreed that Pantanal is a super place to be, maybe not for the number of different species, but certainly to really get to know the birds and mammals around and to enjoy them in their natural environment.The open habitat makes it a real paradise for photographers.It certainly will be worthwhile to visit this area again at the end of the rainy season when the whole place is covered with water. We decided to set up an extra tour in May 2013 to enjoy the Panatanal and in a completely different way.

Travelling together as Friends