Thursday 30 August 2012

BRAZIL - The Pantanal

The Pantanal is an area of seasonally inundated grasslands and cattle ranches on the borders of Bolivia and Paraguay. Clare and I visited the Pantanal during a Brazil tour in 1992, and now, 20 years on, we had a chance to take our son Douglas there. We took a boat from Porto Jofre upstream, where Jaguars can often be seen along the banks, hunting for Capybara and caiman. Douglas took this photo - one of two fine Jaguars we watched during our morning boat trip. 

An hour earlier, from the same boat, we watched a family of noisy Giant Otters as they found a huge supply of fish all around us. The otters always kept a wary eye on the caimans if they approached with the intention of stealing the otters' fish. 

The bird life was plentiful and equally photogenic. This Southern Screamer roosted at the top of a leafless tree, before flying down to feed in the wetland below. Screamers are a South American family of noisy, heavy marsh-birds, a metre long and weighing 4.4 kg. The three screamer species are in a family of their own, but in the order that includes swans, geese and ducks.

The Sunbittern is also in a family of its own. Often secretive along rivers, this one was out in the open in midday sun. They resemble a delicate heron, and nest in a tree on the river bank. I was lucky enough to watch one at the nest in Costa Rica some years ago. Their beautifully barred plumage is enhanced when they spread their wings, to reveal two huge chestnut-and-black 'eyes' near the wing-tips. When alarmed, a Sunbittern will spread its wings to give the impression of great size, designed to frighten off a potential predator.  

We spent two nights at a lodge named Rio Claro, half way along the Transpantaneira, the dusty road that crosses the Pantanal. This photo of the drive shows typical features of the Pantanal in August, such as the drying wetlands and the pink piuva trees (Tabebuia impetiginosa) in flower. The pyramid shape on the left is a termite mound. 

This Campo Flicker, a mostly terrestrial woodpecker, was a regular visitor to the lodge garden, where it would feed on ants and termites, usually with its mate. Parakeets of various species came regularly to drink on the irrigated lawn: a colourful spectacle that I'll include in my next post.