Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Pantanal – Largest Freshwater Wetlands in the World

August 13, 2015

Wow, what an amazing four days we’ve had in the Pantanal! After teasing out species after species in mindboggling diversity at Cristalino, here our minds have been boggled by shear numbers, size, and beauty of the wildlife.

After a day of driving and birding at Pouso Alegre and roadsides, we set out early on our second morning on the Cuiabá River for two full days of searching for jaguar. Of course there’s lots of other things to see, and maybe the distraction of all kept us from seeing a jaguar that morning.

A Black Skimmer of the locally resident subspecies intercedens is preparing to breed on the recently exposed sand banks. The first rains won’t start for another month, and water levels won’t rise for another 2 or 3, so there’s plenty of time to rear a family.
Black Skimmer intercedens

Black-capped Donacobius, the sole member of the family Donacobiidae, is a common sight in the riverside vegetation. The vocal sacs on the side of the throat are more like a Sooty Grouse than any other passerine.
Black-capped Donacobius

We saw several Black-collared Hawks, but only this one, intent on its armored catfish, let us approach so closely.
Black-collared Hawk

Cocoi Heron is the Great Blue replacement species here.
Cocoi Heron

This is a juvenile Great Black Hawk.
Great Black Hawk

Large-billed Terns breed alongside the skimmer, Yellow-billed Terns, Collared Plovers, and Pied Lapwings.
Large-billed Tern

Monk Parakeets build nests independent of nest cavities, unique in this regard among the world’s parrots.
Monk Parakeet

The strange Southern Screamer, distantly related to ducks and geese.
Southern Screamer

Wattled Jacana is surprisingly not a very common bird along the Cuiabá River. Maybe too many of them get eaten by caiman.
Wattled Jacana

Yellow-billed Cardinal is everpresent in the riverside vegetation.
Yellow-billed Cardinal

The biomass of Yacare Caiman, Caiman yacare (misleadingly called Paraguayan Caiman on some lists), is impossible to overestimate.
Yacare Caiman

Here are some Yacare Caiman babies, guarded by the mother, barely visibile in the water.
Yacare Caiman

Marsh Deer aren’t rare, but we never see very many.
Marsh Deer

There are two species of water-hyacinth here. The bigger one is the native Eichhornia azurea, Anchored Water-hyacinth, and where it is native, it is not invasive. Annual flooding cycles, as well as multitudes of symbionts keep it in check.
Eichhornia azurea

Inhabiting the water-hyacinths was this gorgeous dragonfly, Diastatops intensa.
Diastatops intensa

For some reason, this Erythemis peruviana, Flame-tailed Pondhawk, decided to land on someone’s wrist.
Erythemis peruviana, Flame-tailed Pondhawk

On our first afternoon boating, we got word of a jaguar sighting, and we went racing the direction of the other boats. The first thing we saw was this.

Then this:

Then this:

We later learned from Joe and Robbie’s friend Paul Donahue that this particular jaguar has been dubbed Ruth.

The 120+ people in 20 boats was part of the spectacle, as we watched the jaguar patrol the river bank for 30 minutes. Clearly there is no dress code here.

Later the next morning we joined another crowd to view yet a different jaguar.

Finally, later that same morning our boatman spotted what Joe called “our own  private Jaguar.” We watched it for a couple minutes before she got up and disappeared into the dense riverside vegetation.

Here’s a very happy jaguar watcher.

We spent a good amount of time in drier habitats along roadsides in the Pantanal as well. The tree Vochysia divergens, known locally as Cambara,́ was in full bloom. It’s apparently an invasive plant here though native to areas of Brazil not far away; it’s not clear to me what kept it from being native in this part of Brazil until only recently.
Vochysia divergens

Here is a closeup of the flowers. A member of the tropical family Vochysiaceae, it’s quite unlike anything we have in North America.
Vochysia divergens

The rather obscure Fuscous Flycatcher reminds one a bit of our Empidonax.
Fuscous Flycatcher

Jabiru is a huge stork, and birds on nests are an iconic sight in the Pantanal.

Campo Flicker is a much more coloful relative of our Northern Flicker.
Campo Flicker

Cattle Tyrants follow cattle, but also associate with the Capybaras and other animals, picking off ectoparasites and insects flushed by them as they forage.
Cattle Tyrant

Long-tailed Ground Dove is rather local in the drier scub in areas of slightly higher elevation.
Long-tailed Ground Dove

Peach-fronted Parakeet is common, but to see one snacking on the sweet nectar of Tabebuia flowers is not a daily sight.
Peach-fronted Parakeet

The Red-crested Cardinal is rather shaped like our Northern Cardinal, but is unrelated and a member of the tanager family.
Red-crested Cardinal

Rufous Casiornis, a tyrant flycatcher, is also only in the drier woodlands.
Rufous Casiornis

On our last evening, a guide for another group went out of his way to run back to the restaurant to inform us of this Giant Anteater at the far end of the buildings at our lodge, Pouso Alegre.
Giant Anteater

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