THE BEST OF THE PANTANAL: BIRDS & JAGUARS
Jabiru Stork

The Pantanal

During the rains, the cerrado drains quickly. Although some rivers flow directly into the Atlantic or north into the Amazon, many drain towards the west. In the wet season, a huge surge of water tumbles down spectacular waterfalls along the western escarpment and into a vast basin filled with wildlife, known as the Pantanal.

The Pantanal of Mato Grosso is an extensive mosaic of savannah, forest, swamps and lagoons situated in the upper Paraguay River basin. Although the annual rainfall is less than on the higher cerrado, the Paraguay River and its tributaries back up during the wet season and burst their banks, turning the Pantanal into a gigantic wetland the size of England.

The Pantanal is a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts. It is, after all, the largest continental wetland on Earth, the Brazilian part alone covering 140,000 square kilometers (55,000 square miles) of the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, as well as extending into Bolivia and Paraguay.

During the annual floods, the waters bring a fresh covering of silt, clay and organic material to the land. The diversity and numbers of the wildlife it supports are staggering – over 500 species of birds, 80 mammals, 260 fish and 50 reptiles, and these are only the ones known to science. There are estimated to be 10 million caiman here, the largest concentration of crocodilians in the world.

The place is also a stopover for birds on migration, and about 75 per cent of the species found in the Pantanal spend only a part of their year here. There are two main approaches to visiting this immense area. The north entrance is from the city of Cuiabá, along the only road to penetrate this part of the Pantanal, the Transpantaneira, a long red wound that winds in from the north for 150 kilometers (90 miles). The route includes 126 trestle bridges. The wildlife viewing along this road at any season is nothing less than spectacular, although the dry season (April to November) is the best because the lakes and wet areas become more restricted and concentrate birds, mammals and reptiles in large numbers.

During the wet season, the wildlife is spread widely across the region, but in the dry season the pools along the road are a magnet. Zillions of birds, including jabiru storks, egrets, whistling herons, snail kites and more make this a birdwatcher’s paradise. There are also capybara, peccaries and caiman either in or visiting the pools, and if you are really lucky you might spot a jaguar and some of the smaller cats.

This itinerary will visit all major habitats giving participants the chance to witness this amazing environment, we will cover the area dramatically, the Transpantaneira is the only road to penetrate deep into the Pantanal, crossing a wide range of habitats: dry grasslands and open scrub in the north gradually give way to large semi-deciduous forests and extensive swamps. This habitat gradient means that each lodge along the road has its own distinctive wildlife offering, it thus makes sense to stay at three widely separated lodges: there is easily enough excitement for one to two weeks. This tour is a perfect combination of bird and mammal watching providing an exciting selection of birds plus the thrill of searching for the majestic Jaguar. One of these locations is based at the best habitat to see jaguars, indeed every single tour we took there in 2010 saw a jaguar or more. Hyacinth macaws, golden-collared macaw, Mato Grosso antbird, white-lored spinetail, fawn-breasted wren, jabiru, large-billed antwren, helmeted manakin, great rufous woodcreeper, plumbeous ibis, rufous casiornis, long-tailed ground-dove, pale-crested woodpecker are some birds we are going to see during our stay. No other tour operator offers a full week program just in the pantanal.

The Best of the Pantanal: 07 Day / 06 Night Itinerary

DAY 01 - CUIABA to the PANTANAL

Tour will start at Hotel reception in Cuiaba at 07:00am. Immediate transfer to the PANTANAL, the first 100km of good paved road crosses a disturbed cerrado transition ecosystem, featuring examples of cerrado vegetation, gallery forests and a unique tall cerrado forest, we will stop for some birding when necessary. The pavement stops just after Pocone, and the Transpantaneira dirt road starts. In this habitat, birds are all over, from Greater Rheas to tiny Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrants, the pantanal is full of life and is hard to don't see a bird in any bush we put our binoculars on! Big birds such as Jabiru, Wood Stork, Plumbeous, Bare-faced and Buff-necked Ibis, Great, Snowy and Cattle Egrettes, Roseate Spoonbill and many more will maintain us busy along the road. But, not only birds, there are hundreds of Yacare Caiman sharing ponds with Capybaras, the world´s largest rodent, while majestic Marsh Deer, the largest deer species in South America could be seen feeding in almost always in or near water on a wide range of plants, from water lilies to grass and legumes. Its large hooves can each spread more than 10cm (4 in) apart so the deer can walk and run more easily across mud and aquatic vegetation.

Our goal is the Rio Claro/Pixaim river with its rich gallery forest and this time of the year the only remnant of water. We will get there for lunch. Our main target has no feathers but fur, once occurred throughout Amazonian South America from Venezuela to northern Argentina, but it is now absent from most of this range. Its huge size (up tp 2m, 6.5ft, and 34kg, 75lb) and noisy vocalisations in family groups make it easy to find. Its luxurious pelt makes it a target of intense persecution by people. It remains now only in isolated and highly protected patches of its former range. There are only a few places left in South America where you can still hear the haunting whistles, screams, and hums of a group of theses wondrous animals as they frolic in the water of pristine lakes or river just like the one we are in looking for Giant Otters! (L,D)

DAY 02 - PANTANAL at RIO CLARO/PIXAIM RIVER

Early breakfast and exploring the gallery forest will produce some of the best bird specialties, among them Mato Grosso Antbird, White-lored Spinetail, Ashy-headed Greenlet, Gray-crested Cacholote, Helmeted Manakin, Red-billed Scythebill, Pale-crested Woodpecker, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Blue-crowned Trogon, to mention few. Our attention will be focus on the three species of monkeys we could find in this rich gallery forest. Black-and-Gold Howler Monkeys are highly arboreal and rarely come to the ground; typically they spend most of their time in the upper reaches of the forest. In contrast to many other monkey species, howlers are relatively slow-moving and more deliberate in their canopy travels, they eat fruit and a lot of leafy material and due to this they are very inconspicuous, unless males let loose with their amazing lion-like roaring, which is amplified and modulated by a special bony plate over the throat. We will track their voices in the attempt to see them. Brown Capuchin Monkeys are very active monkeys, spending 80% or more of daylight hours moving through the forest, they forage over all levels of the forest, from canopy to lower tree trunks, and they also occasionally come to the ground to feed. Their diet is broad, consisting mainly of ripe fruit and insects, but also bird eggs, young birds, baby squirrels, and small lizards. Troops maintain exclusive territories, aggressively defending their turf whenever they meet other troops of the same species at territorial boundaries. The last of the three species is also the smallest, Black-tailed Marmosets are small in size with long tails that are NOT prehensile. Their feet have claws instead of flattened nails. They travel in noisy troops giving chirps and twitters that sound more bird-like than primate-like.

Our afternoon will be dedicated to explore the river again, several birds are waiting for us among them all five resident kingfishers in South America (Ringed, Amazon, Green-and-rufous, Green & American Pygmy), Rusty-backed Spinetail, Sunbittern and Sungrebe, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Lesser Kiskadee, Band-tailed Antbird, Boat-billed Heron and with some luck Agami Heron and even Zig-Zag Heron could be found. Band-tailed Nighthawks fly over the river catching insects. And as soon as the light starts to dim, our spotlight will be spotting Brown Brocket Deer, Crab-eating Fox, Crab-eating Racoon, Brazilian Tapir or even an Ocelot. (B,L,D)

DAY 03 - RIO CLARO/PIXAIM RIVER to CENTRAL PANTANAL

This morning will find us crossing the pantanal along the famous Transpantaneira road, all the way south, this road get wild every single kilometer we go ahead, along 83km we will cross 97 wood bridges! Capybaras, world's largest rodent, are along the road and do not want to move. Capybara is always closely associated with river banks, lake edges and forested swamps, and in the dry season it can be found in groups of up to 20, depending on the availability of water.

The road start to warm up and several reptiles are using it to warm their bodies, with luck we may see Yellow Anaconda, Black-and White Tegu Lizard (a kind of monitor lizard), Green Iguana, Amazonian Whiptail lizards and the Paraguayan Caiman Lizard (rare). Birds which could be seen along the road are Southern Screamer, Chaco Chachalaca, Bare-faced Curassow, Blue-throated Piping-Guan, Scarlet-headed Blackbird, Cinereous-breasted Spinetail to mention a few. A particular stop in our stakeout for the highly localized Fawn-breasted Wren will be done. This afternoon, we will be along the Piquiri river looking for the most elusive of all big cats in the world: the mighty Jaguar. At dusk, hundreds (if not thousands) of bats over fly the river catching insects. (B,L,D)

DAY 04 - CENTRAL PANTANAL

A full day search tracking the Jaguar. The central pantanal is by far the best place to see a Jaguar, the largest of the American cats, subspecies palustris from the pantanal are reportedly some of the largest in South America. In the Brazilian Pantanal, where jaguars have been studied, females range over at least 25-38 sq km and males over an area more than twice as large. The range of females overlap, and the ranges of males include those of several females. However, it seems that the land tenure system of jaguars may vary with prey density. Jaguars are solitary except when females are in heat and when a female is accompanied by cubs. Jaguars are most active after dusk and before dawn, though they may be active throughout the day. We will devote this full day to look for jaguars, and as the road ends here we will use boats to cover bigger distances. Of course, we will see other interested wildlife during our search, flocks of Black Skimmer use the sand beach of the river, Yellow-billed & Large-billed Tern join the flocks as well. (B,L,D)

DAY 05 - CENTRAL PANTANAL to FAZENDA IPIRANGA

We are going to use the morning to continue looking for jaguar or other wildlife. After lunch, we will drive back the Transpantaneira road, there are 148km and 129 wooden bridges to be crossed, several stops for photographing and last chances for any species we may had miss along the road. Our last lodge was a research base for a big Brazilian-Germany project to study the "Ecology of the Pantanal" because has nearly all habitats found in the whole floodplain. (B,L,D)

DAY 06 - PANTANAL at PIUVAL LODGE

Several walks and wildlife watching from our vehicle will be a routine here. A festival of parrots and raptors await for us here, there are Hyacinth macaws nesting in the near forest, Golden-collared Macaws, Blue-crowned, Monk & Golden-chevroned Parakeets, Turquoise-fronted & Orange-winged Amazons as well as Southern Crested & Yellow-headed Caracaras, Savanna, Black-collared, Great Black, Roadside & Crane Hawks, Pearl & Snail Kite, Laughing Falcon, American Kestrel, Black, Turkey & Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures. We will take a boat trip at Piuval lake looking for Least Bittern and some crakes. Great Potoo, Great Horned Owl, Tropical Screech-Owl, Mottled Owl and Black-banded Owl will share with Pauraques our attention in our night outing. Our checklist will produces over 100 species of birds a day! (B,L,D).

DAY 07 - PANTANAL to CUIABA

Our last morning in the pantanal will found us in dry forest islands looking for a trio of Brazilian endemics: Spot-backed Puffbird, Chesnut-bellied Guan (vulnerable) and Planalto Slaty Antshrike. Nominate form of Black-bellied Antwren, Sooty-fronted Spinetail, Saffron-billed Sparrow and Rufous Casiornis share the same habitat. After lunch, back to Cuiaba. End of our services.

Participants join our CERRADO TOUR will meet other participants and will be transferred to Rondonópolis. (B,L)

INCLUDED: Our safari is all included: lodging for six nights, meals from lunch on day 01 to lunch on day 07, outings, ground transportation in open safari vehicle in the pantanal, and air-conditioning van during the transfer from Cuiaba to Pocone on days 01 and 07, professional English-speaking naturalist guide, fauna checklist, fees (except to any source of drinks, available to buy at lodge) and start and end in Cuiaba, Brazil.

NOT INCLUDED: Air tickets to Cuiabá, any kind of beverages at lodges and hotels, medical costs or hospitalization, insurance, personal expenses as laundry, phone calls.

ACCOMMODATION : The Pantanal lodges used are the Piuval Lodge, the Canto do Arancua Lodge, Rio Claro Lodge or Mato Grosso Pantanal (at the Rio Claro/Pixaim river), and the Jaguar Camp or Porto Jofre Hotel or even one of the boat hotels at the end of the Transpantaneira road in Porto Jofre (for two nights), depending on room avaibility. All lodges with private bathrooms and air-conditioning.

GROUP SIZE : Group Size is limited to 06 participants, unless special arrangements are made for private tours. Should only one space remain on a tour, our policy is to accept a couple traveling together, even at the risk of exceeding our stated tour limit.

UPON REQUEST: For tailor-made itineraries into the Pantanal in/out these months, logistical support, consult us.

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