Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Pantanal Day 1 - Pouso Alegre

For a few years now, the #1 trip on our bucket list has been a trip to the Pantanal in Brazil.  We read trip reports and saw pictures of all the amazing wildlife that lives there and knew that we must see it for ourselves.  We have planned trips in the past but the logistics are complicated and the costs high and all the past trips fell through for one reason or another.  But, in August 2015 I was determined to do it.  We ended up booking our guides, lodges, and airfare direct and almost a year in advance so the trip seemed so far off for so long.

But, on the morning of September 14th 2016, we set off from Tucson for a 26 hour journey that would land us in Cuiaba Brazil.  We splurged for business class tickets and thank goodness we did. The 12 hour flight from LA to Sao Paulo was tolerable in business class but would have been unbearable for my long legs in coach.

We grabbed a taxi from the Cuiaba airport to our hotel for what is supposed to be about a 25 minute drive.  However, our young driver proceeded to accelerate out of the airport at warp speed and take us on Mr Toad's Wild Ride.  I stopped counting the moving violations after 5 minutes and just held on.  We nearly sideswiped a couple cars but 20 minutes later we arrived at our destination shaken but thankful that we arrived in one piece.  Welcome to Brazil.

The Prime Deville Hotel in Cuiaba was nice. It's often used by travelers to the Pantanal so we knew what to expect.  The room was quiet and the bed comfortable.  Before we arrived, we decided to be extra cautious with food and water this trip.  So, this meant only drinking and brushing teeth with filtered water and only eating cooked food or food we could peel ourselves.  So, the daily ritual of covering the faucet with a towel began.  We learned this trick long ago since it helps us to remember to not use tap water when you are half awake and want to brush your teeth in the morning.

After a good night's rest and a decent buffet breakfast we gathered our stuff.  Our guide, Julinho from Pantanal Trackers, was meeting us at 7:30AM.  We had pre-payed our entire trip with him via bank transfers before we left so there was a slight worry that maybe we wouldn't be picked up at all.  But, not only is Julinho's reputation online impeccable but he turned out to be one of the best guides we have ever had.  Our phone rang at 7:20AM, Julinho was downstairs and was ready when we were.

We met Julinho downstairs, climbed into his Toyoto truck and headed to the Pantanal.  We made a brief stop in Pocone for water and snacks and then proceeded to the Transpantaniera, which is a long, straight, and often bumpy road that is the only access point to the Northern Pantanal.

It's official, we have arrived in the Pantanal!

Gateway to the Pantanal

The Transpantaniera is about 150 kilometers long and you cross over 120 bridges along the way to the end point 6+ hours later which is Porto Jofre.   Initially, our itinerary was to drive the whole distance that day to the hotel in Porto Jofre. But, Julinho had updated the itinerary to stay 2 nights at Pouso Alegre first and then 5 nights at the hotel in Porto Jofre.  This change didn't bother us at all.

The drive to Pouso Alegre was about 3 hours and there was plenty to see along the way.

White-backed Stilt:
White-backed Stilt

 Little Blue Heron:
Little Blue Heron

I think that one of the animal icons of the Pantanal is the Jabiru.  But, until you see it in person you just don't realize how huge it really is.  We saw lots of Jabiru this trip and all the great sightings really cemented this bird near the top of my bird list for the trip.  There is something about their size, coloration, and the way they walk, that I just love.


Our first mammal sighting of the trip was of this beautiful male Marsh Deer along the road:

Marsh Deer

A sign along the road alerted us to another mammal that is everywhere in the Pantanal but we had yet to get a really good look at:
Capybara Crossing

We made a pit stop at a bar along the Transpantaniera.  It was here that we got great looks at the Yellow-billed Cardinal that turned out to be everywhere in the Pantanal:
 Yellow-billed Cardinal

Soon after, we turned down the driveway to Pouso Alegre.  The lodge has a huge property and we knew the driveway was a long road that winds to the lodge where there is ample opportunities to see wildlife.  It didn't take long for some Brown Capuchin Monkeys to make an appearance near the road including this juvenile:
 Juvenile Brown Capuchin Monkey

There were lots of small ponds along the road to the lodge and it seemed like a Sunbittern was wading around in each one:

At one of the last big ponds before the lodge we got really good looks at the largest rodent in the world...the Capybara:

We now LOVE Capybara. As a matter of fact, we found out during the trip that the Capybara is Julinho's favorite mammal in the Pantanal.  I can see why.  They can be 4 feet long, stand 2 feet high, weigh close to 150 lbs and bark when danger is near.  Basically, they are massive and exhibit tons of interesting behavior that we saw over the course of the trip.

We arrived at the lodge, dropped our stuff in our bare bones but hopefully comfortable room and set out to walk around a bit.  The wildlife was seemingly everywhere at Pouso Alegre.

Black and White Tegu.  There were 5 or 6 of these big lizards hanging around the lodge:
Black and White Tegu

Campo Flicker:
 Campo Flicker

One of my favorite all time birds is the Toucan, and the Toco Toucan in the Pantanal is a really pretty Toucan:
Toco Toucan

Toco Toucan

Chestnut-eared Aracari:
Chestnut-eared Aracari

I was also really excited to spot a Greater Rhea.  These are huge flightless birds slightly smaller than an Ostrich.  We saw a few in the distance but didn't have to wait long to see one up close:
 Greater Rhea

There was a tree fruiting right outside one of the lodge buildings where we spotted a Brown Capuchin Monkey munching away:
Brown Capuchin Monkey

At 3PM, we met Julinho to go on a drive around the property which proved VERY successful.

Capped Heron:
Capped Heron

Black-collared Hawk:
Black-collared Hawk

South American Coati:
South American Coati

Red Brocket deer:
Red Brocket Deer

Red-footed Tortoise:
Red-footed Tortoise

The drive ended at a pond where a bench has been built.  This is apparently a great place to stakeout for Tapir so we waited here until dark.  But, it wasn't Tapir that we saw first.  Instead, we got a glimpse of one of the target animals we came to see.  A Giant Anteater:
Giant Anteater

The Giant Anteater came out of the bush, trotted about 100 yards along the edge of the field and then disappeared.  I only managed to get these two decent photos which is too bad considering this was the only Giant Anteater we saw the whole trip.

Giant Anteater

As our stakeout at the pond continued, we saw more wildlife including a Crab-eating fox, Tinamou, Agouti, and a Great Potoo that flew towards our spotlight twice right after dark.  Just as we were getting ready to leave for the night, a French lady that was waiting with us saw movement at the pond.  Julinho turned on the spotlight and we saw this:

Tapirs at Night

Our first Tapirs!  The picture is lousy but the experience was great as we watched them in the spotlight.  We owe our first Tapir to the couple from France..Viva la France!

As the Tapirs walked out of the pond and into some high brush we saw some movement at the pond again.  This time the spotlight illuminated an Ocelot walking quickly on the far bank.  I didn't get a picture because the sighting was brief but it was exciting none the less.

We left the pond and headed down the road again on a night spotlighting tour.  We saw lots of Night Hawks along the road and then another Crab-eating Fox:
 Crab-eating Fox

Then, we lucked out again as another Tapir was eating right off the road.  We carefully snuck out of the truck so as not to spook it but it was fine with our presence and allowed me to get some photos:

Looks like someone needs a better dental plan...
Poor Dental Plan?

As we were watching this Tapir another Crab-eating Fox trotted right behind it:
Crab-eating Fox

Wow, what a great evening and a great topper to our first day in the Pantanal.   Unfortunately, the days of travel caught up to Karen and between the heat, bouncy truck ride, dehydration, and lack of sleep she began to feel lousy so she skipped dinner.  But, after some rest, water, and sugar she was pretty much back to "normal" before bedtime.

Dinner at Pouso Alegre, like all meals, is served buffet style.  There was always a choice of meat, fresh fruit, cooked vegetables, and Brazilian rice and beans.  I really liked the rice and beans in Brazil much more than other Latin America countries. Julinho said the secret was how long they marinate the beans.  Whatever they do with the beans...they do it well.

Anyway, dinner was great and I celebrated a great first day by grabbing a beer from the honor bar to enjoy with dinner.  The Brazilians insist on really cold beer which is just one more reason I am loving this country.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Pantanal Day 2 - Pouso Alegre

Our only complaint about Pouso Alegre (and it's a minor complaint) is that our room had 3 twin beds all of which were rock hard.  Plus, there were only two flat pillows for the 3 beds so you couldn't even use two to make one regular sized pillow.  Good thing my girlfriend didn't join us for the trip since there would be no pillow for her at all.  OW!...(that was the elbow I just got from my wife and blog editor..)

Because of the beds, getting up for a 6AM walk was a pleasure.  We joined Julinho as he took us along a trail outside the main lodge area.  We saw lots of birds on the trip but a highlight was the Rufous-tailed Jacamar:

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

A bit later, Julinho spotted some Marmosets.  We circled around for a better view and enjoyed these Black-tailed Marmosets in just about perfect morning light:
Black-tailed Marmoset

Black-tailed Marmoset

One female was even carrying a baby:
Black-tailed Marmoset with Baby

The tails on these guys were exquisite:
Black-tailed Marmoset

Black-tailed Marmoset

A bit later, we startled a grazing Coati who didn't realize our presence until the last moment and quickly loped off but not before I got a picture:
South American Coati

After breakfast, we did another drive with Julinho. The plan was to drive the road again and then stake out the Tapir pond in the heat of the day to see if one showed up to cool off.  Sounded like a great plan to us.

We stopped at a big pond along the road to enjoy all the wildlife and raucous sounds.

 Refuscent Tiger Heron:
Refuscent Tiger Heron

Jabiru Pair:

Heck we even saw a Vermilion Flycatcher which is common in our own backyard in Az:
Vermilion Flycatcher

Some of the raucous noise was due to a flock of Monk Parakeets.  Boy these guys are loud:
 Monk Parakeet

An aquatic resident of the pond looked on hoping one of the birds would get a bit too close...

Yacare Caiman:
 Spectacled Caiman

Of course we enjoyed watching our new favorite rodent (actually, I don't think we had a favorite rodent before this trip...)

Green Ibis:
Green Ibis

We reached the Tapir pond and waited for a while.  Julinho heard an owl calling and asked if we wanted to try to locate it.  You don't have to ask us that twice.  Once we got in the thicket where we could hear the call, Julinho told us to watch for movement as he called out.  Sure enough, Karen spotted movement and soon after I had a nice picture of a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl:
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl

I also saw a Pale-crested Woodpecker near by:
Pale-crested Woodpecker

A group of Brown Capuchin Monkeys came through the trees over our heads and towards the pond.  They were calling loudly and angrily which could have been alarm calls or just monkey on monkey anger.  After scouring the area for signs of a predator we decided it was the latter:
Brown Capuchin

Angry Brown Capuchin

We left the thicket and went back to the pond.  One by one, the monkeys came down to drink.  They were very cautious and once one finished drinking it sprinted along the ground and back to the nearest tree.  It was interesting behavior to watch.

After the monkeys left, we had many other visitors to the pond.

 Southern Lapwing:
Southern Lapwing

Great Black Hawk:
Great Black Hawk

Some of the horses that have free range of the area when not in use by the cowboys came to drink:
Quenching a Thirst

No Tapirs showed up before it was time to head back for lunch.  But, we agreed to try the pond at dusk again.

After lunch, I wandered around the grounds again to see what I could find.

Yup, another Toco Toucan:
Toco Toucan

We had seen a few Agouti on this trip before but I finally found one that would hold still for pictures:

And, of course, the Black and White Tegu were everywhere:
Black and White Tegu

Both midday strolls I took yesterday and today were quite successful.  So, obviously not all wildlife hides in the heat of the day.

We rested a bit and then met Julinho at 3PM for another drive which started out with a family of Capybara that had just come from the spa.  Nothing like a little mud to get rid of those pesky bugs:
 Muddy Capybara

We also saw many deer including this little Red Brocket Deer:
Juvenile Red Brocket Deer

Mama was close by:
Red Brocket Deer

Back at the Tapir pond we were visited by 5 different Crab-eating Foxes during our stakeout time.  These guys had no issues with us and we had close views of them the entire trip:
Crab-eating Fox

At one point, the Capuchins thought about coming for another drink but this scout must have seen something we didn't because they decided to go the other direction instead of coming to the pond:
Capuchin Scout

In the distance we could hear some Black Howler monkeys and we did finally manage to see them but the few pictures I have aren't worth posting.  We really wanted to see the blond females this trip but never did.

That was pretty much all we saw of note during the afternoon into evening drive.  We did see a Great Horned Owl as we pulled into the lodge parking lot but it flew before any proof could be taken.

After another tasty dinner with a heaping helping of rice and beans and some sort of chicken pie that was really good, we set off for a night walk on our own around the grounds.  The walk was really successful because we saw lots of frogs and toads at the small pond on the grounds.

Update: Originally I had issues identifying these but I stumbled upon a great resource online. There is now only one frog that is as yet unidentified.

Chaco Frog or Cei's white-lipped frog:

Chaco Tree Frog:

Unknown Frog:

Lesser-snouted Tree Frog:

The highlight of the night walk occurred just as we were approaching our room when Karen exclaimed "I found a Pygmy Owl"!  Sure enough, she did:
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl

Now THAT is a nice way to end the day.