Jaguars of Brazil's Pantanal

Probably the world’s best wildlife photography destination!

Jaguar (Mick Boyle) - we will be hoping for portraits as nice as this dreamy-eyed cat

Jaguar (Mick Boyle) - we will be hoping for portraits as nice as this dreamy-eyed cat


Thursday 30th July - Sunday 9th August 2015
(11 days)

Leader: Mike Watson
Group Size Limit: 9


Potential photographic highlights:

  • Five full days of boat trips on the Rio Cuiabá devoted to Jaguar photography
  • Giant Otters, Sunbitterns and caimans in a vast wetland landscape
  • Hyacinth Macaws & Toco Toucans - the world's biggest parrot and toucan!
  • Jabiru, the world's biggest stork and a host of other herons, egrets and ibises
  • Wide variety of other photogenic Neotropical bird species

Brazil’s remarkable Pantanal is simply one of the natural wonders of the world. It is a vast watery wilderness harbouring one of the greatest wildlife concentrations on the planet. In fact we think it is also probably the world’s best wildlife photography destination in terms of number and quality of opportunities and subjects. We will visit the northern fringe of this huge expanse of wetlands, which is the place to photograph Jaguars and we will have five full days of boat trips on the Rio Cuiabá devoted to them. A very impressive supporting cast of other photogenic wildlife includes the delightful Giant Otter, gorgeous Sunbitterns as well as an enormous number of caimans. Around 1000 bird species have been recorded in the Pantanal, far too many to mention here but some of the most obvious ones include the very attractive and sought-after Hyacinth Macaw, the world’s biggest parrot and Toco Toucan, the world’s biggest toucan. Impressive Jabirus, the world’s biggest stork, feed alongside a throng of herons, storks, egrets, ibises and other waterbirds. In fact the sheer number of photographable wildlife subjects here is truly mind-boggling.

Called ‘Terra de Ninguem’ (No Man’s Land) by the Brazilians, the Pantanal is a vast alluvial plain, half the size of France, situated at only 330ft (100m) above sea level and is inhabited by just a few thousand people. Receiving the run-off from the Planalto Highlands this immense and seasonally watery world is essentially a huge inland river delta, which has been the subject of some awe-inspiring wildlife films. The main attraction for the wildlife photographer in recent years is the near certainty of an encounter with the most powerful cat in the New World, the mythical Jaguar. Although this magnificent animal is still quite widespread in Central and South America, occurring from northern Mexico south to central Argentina, it is rarely seen anywhere and is more commonly detected by camera traps. Jaguars are usually associated with large tracts of dense rainforest, but it is now known that they equally feel at home in more open habitat, with a very marked preference for the immediate vicinity of watercourses. The Pantanal holds the highest density of this enigmatic creature and is the world’s foremost locale for viewing and photographing Jaguars. The most reliable way of seeing this elsewhere elusive cat is to take boat trips on the rivers, as they like to loaf at the edge of a river or on sandbanks. As we patrol the waterways we will be keeping a constant lookout for this spotted beauty, which is regularly active by day here, in contrast to its more crepuscular and nocturnal habits elsewhere. The largest individuals of ‘El Tigre’, as it is commonly referred to in most of Latin America, live here in the southern Mato Grosso, where average adults usually weigh twice as much as their relatives in Central America at up to 300 pounds! We stand a good chance of encountering this cold-eyed, exquisite marvel on one or more of our outings and, with a little luck, will be cooperative enough to allow our shutters to click away furiously.

Although Jaguars dominate the scene in the Pantanal as the keystone predator, they would not be here were there not a healthy population of prey animals. Capybaras, the world’s largest rodents, are by far the favourite prey of the big cat and occur all over the Pantanal, leading a semi-aquatic life although some Pantanal Jaguars also prey on caimans, their ultra powerful jaws enabling them to bite through the crocodiles’ skulls! We should also see the awesome Giant Otter. Several family parties inhabit the narrower stretches of the rivers and, sometimes, inquisitive individuals come to inspect the boat and can then be photographed at minimal range. Other mammals that we have a fairly good chance of encountering include Crab-eating Fox, South American Coati, Black-striped Tufted Capuchin, Black Howler Monkey, the curious-looking Brazilian Tapir, and Marsh Deer. We will also be stunned by the masses of crocodilians here. It is estimated that as many as 10 million Yacare Caimans inhabit the waters of the Pantanal - the largest single concentration of crocodilians in the world!

As well as our five full days of boat trips on the Rio Cuiabá in search of Jaguars, we will spend the rest of our time exploring sites along the famous Transpantaneira, a dirt road with more than a hundred, often rather dilapidated bridges, that runs through a variety of habitats including pastures, palm groves, gallery woodland, scrubby growth, meandering rivers, ponds and extensive flooded marshes. One of the lodges we will be based at overlooks a silt-laden, tree-lined river, where caimans abound. The rough pasture behind the lodge holds dainty Long-tailed Ground-Doves and a roost of impressive Nacunda Nighthawks. After dusk, Common Pauraques emit their distinctive voices whilst hawking over the plains. We will drive within metres of the gigantic nests of the huge and grotesque Jabiru, which seem to balance precariously on the crowns of the scattered trees. The weird haunting cries of Southern Screamers are a common early morning sound, as numerous herons, egrets and ibises fly in to throng the marshes. Pairs of reclusive Plumbeous Ibises feed in the shallows, away from the more boisterous species. Raptors are very well represented and may include Black, Turkey and Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, Grey-headed and Snail Kites, Crane, Savanna, Black-collared, Roadside and Short-tailed Hawks, Southern Caracara (or Southern Crested-Caracara), Yellow-headed Caracara, American Kestrel and Laughing and Aplomado Falcons. Away from the water, birdlife abounds in the scattered patches of gallery forest and in the distinctive savanna habitat, called cerrado, which is so characteristic of this part of Brazil. These palm-rich forests are the stronghold of the world’s largest parrot, the spectacular Hyacinth Macaw. We will watch these huge birds flapping lazily towards their roosting trees, their rich purplish-blue feathers glowing in the last rays of the setting sun. The world population of this fantastic creature, which surely epitomizes the wildness and uniqueness of the Pantanal, is now sadly reduced to just a few thousand birds, due to trapping for the cagebird trade.

Itinerary

Day 1 The tour begins this morning at Cuiabá Airport in the capital of the state of Mato Grosso. From here we will drive south across the cerrado towards the town of Poconé, gateway to the Pantanal. As we make our way through this splendid area we will be stunned at the profusion of wildlife in the roadside wetlands. We will have time to make a few stops where we spot suitable photographic subjects and amongst a very fancy selection of possibilities are the peculiar Southern Screamer, a plethora of different storks, herons, egrets and ibises, the snail-loving Limpkin, the gorgeous Sunbittern, Red-legged Seriemas in the drier areas and Toco Toucans. We will spend the next two nights at a lovely lodge situated in the Pantanal and if our arrival time allows, we will be able to do some initial exploration and evening photography.

Day 2 We will spend the whole day exploring the vicinity of our lodge, a working cattle ranch or 'fazenda', where a series of lakes and ponds, which remain into the dry season, are set within 7000 hectares of a picturesque open cerrado landscape with patches of gallery forest. This location offers some great photographic opportunities for particularly flashy birds like Southern Screamer, Bare-faced Curassow, Boat-billed Heron, Snail Kite, Sunbitterns, Hyacinth Macaws, Toco Toucans and Great Rufous Woodpeckers. We will also take a short boat trip here as well to get closer to some of the waterbirds. The drier areas are home to a slightly different avifauna than further south in the Pantanal including the likes of Greater Rheas and Red-legged Seriemas. Mammal possibilities include our first Giant Otters, Azara's Agouti as well as Black Howler and Brown Capuchin Monkeys.

Day 3 After spending the morning around our lodge we will head deep into the Pantanal. Continuing south on the Transpantaneira we will make stops where we find suitable subjects and amongst many possibilities in the roadside marshes we may be able to photograph such impressive birds as Maguari Stork and Rufescent Tiger-Heron as well as more chances of the now familiar faces from our first lodge. Eventually we will reach the ‘end of the road’ at the frontier town of Port Jofre, our base for the next six nights, maybe in time to enjoy the roost of magnificent Hyacinth Macaws in the sprawling grounds of our hotel there.

Days 4-8 Our next five days on the slow-flowing Cuiabá River and its tributaries will follow a similar routine. We will set off each morning at sunrise in fast, motorized skiffs, which will allow us to search the extensive waterways for Jaguars, passing by numerous skimmers, terns and other waterbirds. In our fast boats we can reach the ‘Jaguar Zone’ from Porto Jofre in no time at all. The boatmen here maintain contact and share information of Jaguar sightings and as well as finding our own animals we should also benefit from the efforts of the other boats scouring the riverbanks. Sightings are usually of resting Jaguars or those making their way though the fairly narrow gallery forest, which borders the river, occasionally coming down to the water's edge to drink. Very occasionally they can even be seen hunting Capybaras or caimans. Based on past experience, over the course of our days on the river we should enjoy several sightings, some of which may be very photogenic. A sighting, let alone a prized photo of a Jaguar, is a very moving experience for most people! The presence of Jaguars in this area came to light partly owing to boatmen operating sport fishing trips and they are experts in manoeuvring their boats for photographers, a necessary skill acquired when catering to the fishermen’s similar needs. We will return to our hotel for lunch in the heat of each day before returning upstream in the afternoon for another jaguar search. Whilst searching for Jaguars we should encounter several of the other very special inhabitants of this secluded waterway, notably Giant Otters, which are often found in small family groups and can be very photogenic indeed. We will hope for water-level photos of the pink gapes of these sharp-fanged but very endearing creatures as they devour fish amongst a floating carpet of water hyacinth. Other potential photographic subjects here include Marsh Deer, Brazilian Tapir, Black-striped Tufted Capuchins and Black Howler Monkeys. Eventually as darkness falls and the mosquitoes come out we will leave the river behind and return to our hotel, the skimmers and terns now replaced by fishing bats and nighthawks.

Day 9 Retracing our route back north on the Transpantaneira we will make a two nights stay at another eco lodge, arriving in time for a boat ride on another wildlife-rich river. This will offer further opportunities to fill some gaps photographing similar species to our southbound lodge as well as the chance of some sought-after river birds.

Day 10 We will spend a full day exploring the vicinity of our lodge. Here we will have a chance to photograph a number of impressive Cracids: Bare-faced Curassow and both Chestnut-bellied and Blue-throated Piping Guans as well as the largest of the toucans, the incomparable Toco Toucan with its banana-shaped bill and glorious blue eyes. Amongst the many other bird species we may well be able to photograph here are Whistling, Capped and Cocoi Herons amongst a throng of egrets, Wood Storks and numerous other waterbirds. A nearby canopy tower offers superb views over the surrounding landscape as well as a chance of photographing the attractive Orange-backed Troupial and other birds we will have a chance to photograph include Greater Rhea, Snail Kite and Turkey Vulture, Limpkin and Rufescent Tiger Heron. We will take another boat trip here along a quiet river where strange Boat-billed and gorgeous Agami Herons can be seen and stripey Sungrebes lurk in the shadows. Golden-collared Macaws, a speciality of this area, and Pale-crested Woodpeckers haunt the riverbank trees and we could also encounter more Giant Otters. Other mammalian possibilities today include river otters, Black Howler Monkeys and Black-tailed Marmosets

Day 11 After breakfast we will transfer to Cuiabá Airport, where the tour will end in the early afternoon.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are of good or medium standard throughout. Road transport is by minibus and roads are mostly good.

Road transport is by minibus and roads are mostly good.

Walking: The walking effort is easy throughout.

Climate: Generally warm or hot, dry and sunny at lower altitudes, but cool (even quite cold in the early morning) in upland areas. Overcast weather is quite regular and there may well be some rain. It will be rather humid in places.

Tour Price: £3590, €4490, $6100 Cuiabá/Cuiabá.

Price includes all transportation, all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.

Single Room Supplement: £280, €350, $476.

Deposit: £430, €540, $730.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.

If we are lucky our Jaguar will do something, like this beast prowling the riverbank (Jack Clark)

If we are lucky our Jaguar will do something, like this beast prowling the riverbank (Jack Clark)

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