Saturday, October 3, 2015

Correction: Twelve Jaguars

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It turns out I’ve seen 12 Jaguars.

Considering Paul Donahue’s intimate familiarity with all the jaguars down there, I decided to submit to him photos of the two for which I never did get a good frontal view. He was able to identify them, and both are new:

This is Patricia from October 1, 2013

And this is Cage from August 14, 2014

Marvelous Mato Grosso WINGS Tour: Our Last Day in Pantanal

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August 28, 2015

Today we had a long drive all the way back to Cuiabá for our farewell dinner and flights home tomorrow. But it’s not so long that we didn’t have time for some birding. We were actually supposed to have an even more relaxed day, with afternoon birding at Pouso Alegre and even a night drive, with flights home tomorrow afternoon. But less than two weeks ago, Gol canceled that afternoon flight and automatically booked everyone on an early morning flight. We would have to leave Pouso Alegre at 2:00 a.m. to be on time for that one, but WINGS and our ground agent were able to change things around last minute so that we’re in a hotel only a 6-minute walk from the Cuiabá airport tonight.

As I said, we still had time for some birding which turned out to be excellent. At one bridge we saw this very responsive American Pygmy Kingfisher. (The kingfishers are actually very territorial and often respond to recordings of their vocalizations.)
American Pygmy Kingfisher

Playback at a Gray-breasted Crake in just the right configuration of vegetation resulted in a wonderful sighting of this very shy bird.

I alerted the group that we were standing next to a large patch of Heliconia psittacorum, so we were well prepared when a scarce Buff-bellied Hermit flew in. Will Russell was especially prepared as he snapped this shot of what was one of my favorite birds of the trip.
Buff-bellied Hermit, Heliconia psittacorum

We paused again at the mango grove where this time Fabrice spotted the roosting Great Horned Owl that we couldn’t find two days ago.
Great Horned Owl

It was very busy with birds here, Chotoy Spinetail, Maguari Storks, and many other birds keeping us diverted. I managed a shot of this Silver-beaked Tanager that barely shows the deep velvety red.
Silver-beaked Tanager

A good find here was this migrant Yellow-browed Tyrant, a bird I’ve seen perhaps only 3 or 4 times.
Yellow-browed Tyrant

We made an emergency stop for a roosting Great Potoo that Fabrice says he spotted while we were driving. I think he must have had inside information. Or he possesses twice as many rods and cones in his retina and has a superhuman flicker fusion threshold. But there it was. People got back on the bus stunned.

But I proved my prowess by spotting this retina-scorching Scarlet-headed Blackbird. It took me two minutes to explain where it was to Fabrice, as he had a hard time seeing it.
Scarlet-headed Blackbird

We did have lunch at Pouso Alegre, seeing a few nice birds as well as this fancy treehopper, Membracis bucktoni, in the mango trees.
Membracis bucktoni

We made only a couple brief stops on the final stretch back to Cuiabá. One was for this cooperative Guira Cuckoo, normally a very common species but one that had largely avoided giving us decent views until now.
Guira Cuckoo

And a final stop at a truly pantanalian sight, dozens of egrets and countless Yacare Caiman, with Fabrice wondering how close he can get without scaring them.

How Many Jaguars Have I Seen?

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August 27, 2015

After having seen three jaguars earlier this month and two today, I got to wondering how many different individuals I’ve seen since I first did this boat trip with Doug Futuyma in June 2012.

I cropped out the face of every one I had photos of and compared them over and over. Turns out the answer is ten. Virtually every sighting has been a different individual; the only repeat sightings I’ve had were twice where we saw the same animal in the morning as in the afternoon (such as today) and last month when we saw Ruth on two consecutive afternoons. There are two more animals I’ve photographed without getting a good frontal view, so these could be repeats or two more new ones.

Paul Donahue was kind enough to analyze my photos and provide names for them.

Fabrice also looked carefully at his photos from the first animal this morning and determined that it was Mick, one that I hadn’t seen in almost two years.

Marvelous Mato Grosso WINGS Tour: Jaguar Day in the Pantanal

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August 27, 2015

The amazing eyes of Fabrice spotted our first Jaguar this morning. It was tucked under the foliage a bit, sitting on a bank overlooking the Tres Irmãos River. Our group is in three small boats, but the two of us in front were able to turn around just in time to see it lying there then get up and disappear into the forest. Fabrice managed one quick photo.
Panthera onca, Jaguar, Mick, Fabrice Schmitt

We waited around a bit to see if it would reappear, and at least four other boats arrived, hoping for the same. The river vegetation here was very dense, and it didn’t look as if there would be a place for it to reappear. While waiting we spotted group of Alouatta caraya, Black Howler, apparently looking down on the jaguar.
Alouatta caraya, Black Howler

I then decided we could see more birds and maybe even another Jaguar if we continued up river. We indeed saw lots of birds. This is a Pied Lapwing.
PIed Lapwing

Southern Rough-winged Swallows were by far the most numerous bird (the dirt banks here must be absolutely ideal for their nests), but this White-winged Swallow was more photogenic.
White-winged Swallow

This is a rare plumage of Rufescent Tiger-Heron, an older subadult. I believe it’s still unknown how long it takes these birds to transition from juvenile to full adult plumage; it might take a few years.
Rufescent Tiger-Heron

Not just birds – we saw plenty of Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris, Capybara.
Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris, Capybara

Then mid-morning we got word that another Jaguar had been spotted back downriver. Or rather, we saw a boat speeding by at full speed and got the gist.

Here it was, overlooking the river in a more open location, and totally at ease with the gathering flotilla of boats below. We counted 21 well-behaved boats holding just about 100 people.
Panthera onca, Jaguar, Adriano

My friends Beth and Will Russell came as participants on the tour; here they are with a Jaguar after-glow.

One of our fine boatmen, Aloysio.

We returned to our boat for lunch, then set out again the afternoon to see more wildlife.

Black-capped Donacobius must be one of the most photogenic birds here. It had, at various times, been classified with wrens, other times with thrashers, but recently finally got what it deserved – monotypic status in its own family, Donacobiidae.  They have a fantastic duet, bowing and pumping their tails, inflating a grouse-like orange neck sac that is barely visible here. Despite all this, whenever I say this bird’s name, I hear the round in my head “Dona Nobis Pacem.” But of course the words are “Donacobius Pacem.” Try watching and you’ll never hear it otherwise again.
Black-capped Donacobius

We got very lucky to see this buck Blastocerus dichotomus, Marsh Deer.
Blastocerus dichotomus, Marsh Deer

Also a lucky sighting was of this Ringed Kingfisher with a Helicops leopardinus, Leopard Water Snake. It was crushing the length of the snake with its bill, alternating with whacking it with great force against the branch. We finally watched it swallow the whole thing.
Ringed Kingfisher, Helicops leopardinus

A very common tree here is Triplaris americana, an exclusive home to an ant with a powerful sting (Pseudomyrmex triplarinus), dioecious, and a member of the buckwheat family, Polygonaceae. This female was particularly brightly colored.
Triplaris americana

We rushed to two other Jaguar sightings today to arrive with a bunch of boats drifting around waiting for an animal to appear where one had been. Each time we eventually gave up to find more birds or a more cooperative one.

Finally, very late in the afternoon came word of another Jaguar, so we dashed off to find the same animal as this late morning’s sighting enjoying a view of the river below.
Panthera onca, Jaguar, Adriano

Marvelous Mato Grosso WINGS Tour: First Day in the Pantanal

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August 26, 2015

Today we awoke to the loud, rollicking hoarse duets “pick-it-all-up/you-pick-it-up” of the Chaco Chachalacas all over the grounds of our lodge. Despite the noise, before breakfast our attention naturally was drawn to the Hyacinth Macaws feeding, playing, and obviously starting to nest in the trees by the horse corrals.
Hyacinth Macaw

After breakfast we walked the entrance drive of our Pouso Alegre lodge in advance of the long drive south to Porto Jofre. This Capped Heron was surveying its territory from the top of a tall tree.
Capped Heron

I whistled in this predictably territorial Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl.
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

Noisy groups of Monk Parakeets were tending their nests.
Monk Parakeets

One of the most characteristic sounds of the Pantanal dawn is that of the duetting Plumbeous Ibises from their perches in big trees.
Plumbeous Ibis

Maybe just feeling pretty in this pink Tabebuia was this Rufescent Tiger-Heron.
Rufescent Tiger-Heron

A favorite observation for some was watching this Chestnut-eared Aracari feeding on Ipomoea asarifolia morning glory flowers at the edge of a pond by the road.
Chestnut-eared Aracari

This pair of Jabirus were right next to the road on our way out, causing our driver to suddenly stop for a photo op.

With such a long dry season as well as occasional pouncounced cold fronts from the south, this is a terrible time of year for butterflies in the Pantanal. So I was surprised at lunch to see this Taygetis sosis fly in and land in the office of the hotel in Pixaim.
Taygetis sosis

It’s a long drive to Porto Jofre, so I was nodding off in the front seat of the bus when Carlos stopped and pointed out my window. I jerked my head up just in time to see this Eunectes notaeus, Yellow Anaconda slither off into the undergrowth, but we were lucky that it stopped just in the shade for better views. My guess was that it was only about 6 feet long, probably average for this smaller of the species. Carlos had seen it completely stretched across the road, probably sunning, and it moved off either seeing the bus approaching or feeling the vibrations through the ground.
Eunectes notaeus, Yellow Anaconda

We made a stop at the abandoned farm house and mango grove near the southern end of our drive. I had never entered the house, but bold Fabrice did, finding a huge colony of Glossophaga soricinia, Pallas's Long-tongued Bats.
Glossophaga soricinia, Pallas's Long-tongued Bat

We arrived with perfect timing at our hotel for the next two nights, the Jacaré Boat, and motored upriver to be close to the area where most jaguars are seen, arriving just after dark.

Marvelous Mato Grosso WINGS Tour: Last morning at Cristalino Jungle Lodge

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August 25, 2015

Today was a travel day, changing worlds from the Amazon rainforest to the Pantanal while remaining in the same state of Mato Grosso. Like magic. Nevertheless, we had a good morning’s birding at Cristalino before our scheduled departure.

But wait – with just one last morning in such an amazing place, how I could possibly just sleep in when so much of the magic in the rainforest happens under the cover of darkness? To the dismay of Fabrice, I set my alarm for 3:50 a.m. and walked the trail towards the tower. There was not as much bird vocalization as I had expected, but I did hear Tawny-bellied Screech- and Crested Owls. The Red-handed Howlers began roaring early as well. The only photos I came back with were of this true bug, possibly in the broad-headed bug family Alydidae.

The other was this crepuscular (or nocturnal?) skipper, Euriphellus euribates, Euribates Scarlet-eye.
Euriphellus euribates

Then the group gathered for a dawn vigil in the secret garden, a small rocky area not far from the common area that resembles a tiny version of the serra. We had a Blue-black Grosbeak here, only my second ever at Cristalino, fabulous views of Tapajos Hermit feeding from the Ananas ananassoides wild pineapple plants, and a pair of distant perched Red-fan Parrots, really showing off their crests.
Red-fan Parrot

The old dried fruits of this vine looks like the open-ended flasks of the family Lecythidaceae, but I think all members of that family are trees; I have no idea what this is then.

We moved then to the staff clearing where we saw several more birds, including these Curl-crested Aracaris feeding one the açai palm fruits.
Curl-crested Aracari

The Samanea was blooming nicely providing food for at least 3 species of hummingbirds as well as this Eulaema sp. orchid bee (yes, the same subfamily, Euglossinae, as those shiny green orchid bees).
Eulaema sp. orchid bee

I also saw a some more nice butterflies before we had to leave. This is the upperside of Callicore cynosura, Cynosura Eighty-eight.
Callicore cynosura

And the first “greenmark” I have seen in a while, Caria trochilus, Trochilus Metalmark
Caria trochilus

We departed early from the lodge in order to have some time to bird from the boat along the Cristalino River, rather than having to rush to the Teles Pires river bank. We hoped to catch a glimpse of yesterday’s Harpy Eagle, but they never seem to show up in the same place twice.

We did have an exciting raptor soaring overhead, at first thinking it might be an Ornate Hawk Eagle, but saner minds and photos held sway, and we settled on a female Hook-billed Kite.
Hook-billed Kite

Our flight back to Cuiabá was only 15 minutes late, but this still meant arriving at our lodge Pouso Alegre well after sunset, not long before dinner. We then took a drive for spotting night life but only had Common Pauraque and Common Potoo. Tomorrow we drive deeper into the Pantanal for some Jaguar seeking.

Marvelous Mato Grosso WINGS Tour: Day 5 at Cristalino Jungle Lodge

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August 24, 2015

This morning Fabrice and I switched destinations, which meant I took my half of the group up to Tower I – the 53-meter canopy tower that is located just 800 meters down a trail from the common area. The fruiting Zanthoxylum tree next to the tower has just a few fruits left after being so generous the past three weeks or so, but we still had Red-billed Pied Tanagers a few feet away, a pair of very cooperative Yellow-shouldered Grosbeaks, and a stellar performance from the pair of White-browed Purpletufts from two weeks ago.
White-browed Purpletuft

A Purple Honeycreeper also posed nicely for photos.
Purple Honeycreeper

Another Zanthoxylum a few trees away was of interest to these White-eyed Parakeets.
White-eyed Parakeet

On our forest walk afterwards we saw a few birds, such as Red-headed Manakin on the lek and a Black-tailed Trogon. But we were quite lucky to see this Anolis punctatus, Amazonian Green Anole on a tree at eye level.
Anolis punctatus

And as it got warm, butterflies became active. This hairstreak is the very widespread but attractive Arawacus separata.
Arawacus separata

As it was perched on the underside of a leaf, this Nymphidium mantus, Mantus Metalmark, took some patience to photograph. In flight it was a little black and white twinkle, so we were all wowed by the photographic result.
Nymphidium mantus

Another under-leaf percher is this Nymphidium leucosia, Leucosia Metalmark.
Nymphidium leucosia

And even tricker to photograph (because it's very shy and perches under a leaves very close to the round) was this Mesene leucophrys, Leucophrys Metalmark.
Mesene leucophrys

This is Colobura annulata, New Beauty – only by comparing photographs can I ever tell it apart from the Dirce Beauty.
Colobura annulata, New Beauty

Our final butterfly of the walk was this rarely seen metalmark Pandemos pasiphae, a female.
Pandemos pasiphae

We just barely got back to our rooms to wash up and organize before lunch when Fabrice came rushing by screaming like a mad man. “Harpy Eagle, get down to the boats now!” I opened my door to see him running off to alert everyone in the more distant cabins. I made sure the participants who were with me had heard him, rushed down to the dock, and saw that people were loading up on boats. Where? How far? When? What? Wait – not everyone was here, but the boat was full. Go, go, go! I’ll go find the others, and a second boat will follow. I ran to the common area, ran to all the rooms, and finally found the missing participants who finally came out of their cabin, all dressed for an outing, not understanding that “now” meant “don’t get dressed.” We got back down to the dock to a boat waiting with a few other agonizing people from other groups staying at lodge.. Long story short: the Harpy Eagle originally had been spotted by local guide Sebastião just over a kilometer downriver taking a drink from the beach, had moved to an open perched by the time the first group arrived, and was enjoyed enthusiastically by the first boat. But it then flew off into the forest away from the river some 30 seconds before our boat arrived. I felt bad for everyone in our boat. Me, I’ve seen six Harpy Eagles, one sighting at Los Amigos in Peru that could never be topped, so I personally wasn’t the least bit disappointed for myself. Some amazing photographs were obtained by people in my group, including this one by Fabrice.
Harpy Eagle, Fabrice Schmiitt

As it seems it’s never been published, and to prove that I missed nothing on this trip, here’s my photo the Harpy Eagle that flew over Sam Woods, Daniel Huaman, and me on the Los Amigos River almost exactly three years ago. Nearly all photos of Harpy in flight light this are staged, captive or released birds. Not this one.
Harpy Eagle, Los Amigos

We then planned to do some more trail birding for the afternoon, but we were sidelined by the report of a troop of White-nosed Sakis (Chiropotes albinasus) by the common area. We followed them for several minutes down to the walkway to the floating deck where some people got some great photos.
Chiropotes albinasus, White-nosed Saki

Then as we prepared to set out for our hike, one of the participants yelled out “snake!” Of course I came running and found a nearly legless lizard instead. Sort of a better find, as a squiggly snake might get away unidentified from my unwillingness to pick up potentially venomous species. And I had certainly had never seen this critter. This turned out to be Bachia flavescens, a “microteid” lizard in the family Gymnophthalmidae. What an amazingly cool animal.
Bachia flavescens

Bachia flavescens

Bachia flavescens

Finally, about 45 minutes late, we set out for our longish (2 ½ km) walk down the Taboca trail loop, I with five participants going one direction, Fabrice with four going the other. My group got very lucky by finding a busy mixed flock that had a number of goodies such as Yellow-backed Tanager, Long-billed Gnatwren, and Chestnut-crowned Becard. But maybe the prize from our walk was seeing the Red-bellied Titis (Callicebus moloch) in a patch of bamboo. I even managed a poor photo.
Callicebus moloch, Red-bellied Titi

We also stopped to take photographs of curious rainforest things. This is the fungus Camillea lepreuriii, looking like cigarette butts.
Camillea lepreuriii

This is the juvenile form of a Philodendron. Should the roots be so lucky to reach fertile ground and the upper stem a good patch of light, the next generation of leaves will be the large floppy things most of us associate with a house plant.

Finally just one photo from the moth sheet: Automeris egeus, a saturniid silk moth.
Automeris egeus