Sunday, August 30, 2015

Farewell to the Pantanal and Brazil

August 14, 2015

We had one last morning of birding at our lodge, a working ranch called Pouso Alegre, before the drive back to Cuiabá and everyone’s flights back home.
Pouso Alegre

We first caught up with Red-billed Scythebill, a most improbable woodcreeper.
Red-billed Scythebill

Then these amorous Hyacinth Macaws began feeding each other, then later were audibly copulating for a few minutes. It’s that time of year.
Hyacinth Macaw

We said our goodbyes to the abundant Yacare Caiman.
Yacare Caiman

On the drive back to Cuiabá, an irresistible stop was demanded by this Capped Heron, a species which had evaded the perfect photo op until just now.
Capped Heron

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

Cristalino Departure – Loads of Lapwings and a Warm Pantanal Welcome

August 9, 2015

Alas, our day has come to depart my beloved Cristalino Jungle Lodge, much too soon. We did have some nice morning birding hours before our scheduled 10:00 a.m. departure. The most exiting few minutes was an enthusiastic mobbing response to my Amazonian Pygmy-Owl whistle and recording, which included this Amethyst Woodstar male.
Amethyst Woodstar

Our only Yellow-bellied Dacnis of the tour joined the mob.
Yellow-bellied Dacnis

And before we left, someone spotted this huge buprestid beetle high in one of the trees. My guess was that it was about 3 to 3.5 cm long (just over 2 inches).

On the wet sand by the boat were two eighty-eights in the same genus for good comparison: Diaethria candrena
Diaethria candrena

and Diaethria clymena.
Diaethria clymena

Here we are in the boat ready for departure.

Birding was largely over for the day, but we had to make a stop for this huge group of 78 Southern Lapwings in the ranchland on the way back to Alta Floresta. Apparently they will nest colonially in certain situations.

Later in the day, we flew to Cuiabá, greeted our driver José, and boarded the bus for the 3-hour drive to Pouso Alegre in the northern Pantanal. With a planned arrival right at dark, I decided we would not make any stops, despite the huge numbers of photogenic water birds and caiman along the roadside. Our timing was perfect: as José slowed down to make the turn into our lodge’s gate, a Giant Anteater crossed the Transpantaneira Highway right in front of the bus. What a nice welcome!

Cristalino Day 5 – The Serra and Lots of Moths

August 8, 2015

This morning we did the steep climb up to the overlook on the Serra, a dome of granite rock that rises above the rainforest. We were lucky to be there when a small fig was in fruit right next to the overlook – several tanagers including Opal-rumped and Bay-headed gave us extended views. The view of the forest below is also stunnning, and we had a hard time tearing ourselves away from it.

The local guides discovered this Common Potoo along the trail, apparently on a nest, as it has been here for several days.
Common Potoo

We finally departed for the cooler rainforest trails when we began to see the first soaring raptors, such as this Hook-billed Kite.
Hook-billed Kite

Before we got back on the boats to return to the lodge, I decided to try to show my group what a larval antlion looks like. Everyone knows the little sand pit traps they make, but few have actually seen the creature. You have to scoop up all the sand and let it sift between your fingers while looking for the one thing that isn’t a grain of sand.
ant lion larva

Right over the common area of the lodge right after lunch was this brilliant King Vulture.
King Vulture

And shortly thereafter by the guides’ dorm was this juvenile Gray-lined Hawk.
Gray-lined Hawk

My daily check of the wet sand by the boats was productive.

Emesis mandana, a metalmark.
Emesis mandana

Marpesia orsilochus, one of the commoner daggerwings here
Marpesia orsilochus

Historis odius, Orion Cecropion. The caterpillars of this butterfly feed on cecropia leaves.
Historis odius

This tiny wasp was guarding her small paper nest built atop a leaf on a small tree (a Moluccan Roseapple) by the dorm. She kept turning to face the camera, ready to sting at a moment’s notice, so I had to take a lot of photos and maneuver slowly to get this profile. Only after I took the photo did I realize that eggs and pupae were visible in open cells.

We took an afternoon boat ride down the Cristalino River to the Manakin Trail, here the group gathering in the shade before loading into the boat.

And right below them was a pair of foraging Capybaras.

Bird highlights on the short Manakin Trail were Bronzy Jacamar and Amazonian Streaked-Antwren, and we then boarded our boat for our last return to the lodge.

This evening after dinner, there were only a few insects on the moth sheet a short ways down the trail, lit by a weak fluorescent bulb.

A grasshopper in the genus Copiocera.
Copiocera sp.

A skipper, Dubiella sp.
Dubiella sp.

And several geometrid moths (inch worms). This is probably a Chloropteryx sp.
Chloropteryx sp.

This geometer may be Iridopsis or a closely related genus.

And two whose genera I have no idea:

But the most diversity was at the lights along the boardwalk and steps down to the floating deck.

What looks exactly like a dead leaf is actually a praying mantis.

Colla sp., a Bombycid silk moth
Colla sp.

Sosxetra grata, Walker’s Moth, an erebid
Sosxetra grata, Walker’s Moth

Perigramma famulata, a geometrid
Perigramma famulata

Cresera sp., an arctiine erebid
Cresera sp.

Possibly an Hapigia sp., a prominent (family Notodontidae)
Hapigia sp.,

Possibly a noctuid

Yet another pyraloid (see my blog from two days ago)

A tiny artciine

My guess is family Lasiocampidae on this one.

This one has the shape of many geometers but is quite possibly in the family Erebidae.

And many more typical geometers. The latter two are also probably Iridopsis, the first one a more clearly marked individual of the same species on the sheet above.