Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pantanal Day 10 - Barranco Alto

This morning, after another cake infused breakfast, we did a boat trip on the river.  The Rio Negro runs through the Barranco Alto property and is basically a private river.  So, you will never see other boats or people...just wildlife.

Our 7AM boat trip was very relaxing and much different from the boat trips in the North.  The river and boat are both smaller so we went at a slow and relaxed pace the whole time.  Sometimes, Stefan just cut the engine and we floated with the current listening to all the great sounds around us.

There were Capybara on the river and it didn't take long to find a small group.  At one point, we must have alarmed these guys because they started barking:

Capybara on Alert

Capybara with

The slow quiet approach on the river enabled us to get insanely close to the birds too which was awesome.

Striated Heron hunting:
Striated Heron

Southern Lapwing:
Southern Lapwing

This Southern Lapwing did something interesting.  It would use its left foot to prod around in the grass looking for food.  Then it would take a few steps and do it again.  It was like some funky Elaine dance.  Only, the bird was a better dancer (Oh geez another Seinfeld reference.  Damn you TBS!)

In a few places, there were large banks of sand so it was really easy to check out the footprints to see what had walked through.  Here is a bank where a caiman or two had recently been:
Caiman Tracks

After cruising down the river a while, Stefan angled the boat towards the shore and we got out to take a walk.  He wanted to show us something.  We hiked for a few minutes on a path through the dense brush to a tree.  There were scratch marks all over the tree.  It was a Jaguar scratching post.  Yes, Barranco Alto has Jaguar but they aren't seen nearly as often as they are in the north. Seeing the scratching tree was pretty cool.

On the walk back to the boat, Stefan heard a Blue-crowned Mot Mot calling.  It didn't take long for him to locate it.  These are cool birds that we have seen before and loved seeing again:
Blue-crowned Motmot

Back on the boat, Stefan nudged it really close to a Rufous-tailed Jacamar on the river bank:
Rufous-tailed Jacamar

The whole time we were being watched by this Yacare Caiman:
Yacare Caiman

One of the things I had wanted to see in the North was a Piranha.  But, I didn't get a chance.  So, I asked Stefan about it and he said "no problem".  He brought fishing poles and bait with him on the boat.  So, we stopped at another sandbar.

At first we were reluctant to get off the boat because the sand was swarming with wasps.  But, Stefan told us that these were sand wasps and that they didn't sting.  They appeared to spend all their time digging little burrows and were actually fascinating to watch after the whole "don't sting" phrase sunk in.

Fishing for Piranha is pretty basic.  You put raw beef on a big hook and cast it out.  Sometimes letting it sit works and sometimes reeling in slowly works.  Stefan demonstrated a couple times.  After his last cast, he handed the pole to Karen.  Just as he did this we heard "Guys, there's something on the far bank".   We looked up and saw the unmistakable weasel shape of a Tayra.  It came out of the brush and onto the top of the bank.  At that point, Karen felt a tug on the pole "I've got something".  "Forget it!", I yelled as I jumped to the boat to grab a camera. Meanwhile, she dropped the pole and grabbed the binoculars.  But the Tayra disappeared before either of us could get a look at it.  So, that's two Tayra sightings in our lifetime (the other in Costa Rica) with no pictures of either...darn it.

So, after that bit of excitement it was back to fishing for Piranha.  Stefan gave me the nod to give it a go.  So, I made my first cast in 30+ years...felt some nibbling and reeled it back in.  The hook was bare.  Something grabbed my meat...uh, I mean took the bait.

Stefan dutifully cut more beef and re-baited the hook.  I cast out...reeled in...and the hook was bare.  With a bit of a sheepish grin I walked back over to Stefan to start the process anew.  This happened at least a dozen times with my grin getting more sheepish each time.  At one point I tried to bait my own hook but Stefan waited on us the whole trip and this was no exception.  We decided to change the strategy and reel in a bit faster.  The second time I tried that, it worked.  I reeled in what had to be the largest Piranha caught in the Rio Negro.  I mean this thing was huge and it took all my strength to land it.

Before viewing a picture of it, I need to mention that Stefan, while not a giant, had HUGE hands.  So, keep that in mind when you view the picture since his HUGE hands tend to make the Piranha look smaller than it actually was........................:

Get ready for it.................

HUGE Piranha I Caught

Impressed aren't you?!

Here's a closeup of its HUGE teeth:
Piranha Teeth

Using both his hands, due to the weight of the fish of course, Stefan released it back into the river.  And with that, my fish tale is done.

On the way back up the river, I spotted a different kind of tail in the brush.  We backed up the boat a bit and sure enough, a Coati popped its head out:
South American Coati

We also got a good look at a sunbathing Caiman:
Caiman Sunbathing

Interestingly enough, we didn't see any birds with fish until after I caught the Piranha.  I am not saying that I single-handedly inspired them, but it can't be a coincidence that the birds now knew how to catch fish.  But, I must point out that my catch was bigger.

Amazon Kingfisher:
Amazon Kingfisher

Ringed Kingfisher:
Ringed Kingfisher

After our morning boat ride, we relaxed a bit, had a great lunch, and did a bit of wandering around the lodge.  That's when I saw a most exquisite Jay...then a second one.  Luckily, they were together and posed for a picture.

Plush-crested Jays:
Plush-crested Jays

At 4pm, we headed out for another game drive with Stefan.  This drive was once again loaded with cool wildlife sightings.

Black-hooded Parakeet:
Black-hooded Parakeet

 Hyacinth Macaws in Flight:
Hyacinth Macaws in Flight

Red and Green Macaw:
Red and Green Macaw

Capybara and buddy (Cattle Tyrant):
Male Capybara

Crab-eating Fox with half a Tegu:
Crab-eating Fox with Half a Tegu

Right after we saw the fox, Stefan pulled the jeep over near some buildings. As it turns out, the first house built on the property was still standing...sort of.  The only room actually standing was a bathroom.

Right after we stepped out of the jeep to get a closer look, Karen blurted out "Pygmy Owl!".  Yup, for the second time this trip, Karen spotted a Pygmy owl.  This was an even tougher spot than the night one at Pouso Alegre because it was pretty far up the tree. But, we got good looks at it anyway:
 Ferruginous Pygmy Owl

With that out of the way, back to the big burning question. Why would they pretty much tear down the whole house and only leave the bathroom?  Well, because of Vampire Bats of course.  There was a huge colony of well over a hundred living in the bathroom according to Stefan.  He moved some plywood from in front of an opening and voila:

Vampire Bats!

Close up you can really see their teeth:
Common Vampire Bat

In fact, one even had a newborn clinging to it. I tried to get a good angle to isolate the mama and baby and just as I took the picture a nearby bat stuck its head out:
Vampire Bat with Baby

That is likely the first and last Vampire Bat Photo-bombing I will ever witness.

The sun was going down now but not before we saw multiple Crab-eating foxes in the vicinity.  On the way back to the lodge we did some more spotlighting.  Once again Karen was in control until the bugs attracted to the light just became too annoying and then I took over.

Before I did, Karen spotted a Brazilian Rabbit and I got one blurry proof picture that I won't bore you with.  It was a great sighting of a relatively elusive mammal.

I should mention that because I was in the passenger seat for all these drives, I volunteered to get out to open and close the many gates we passed through.  Stefan and Lydia would have happily done this themselves.  But, in the interest of time and to feel like I was actually not being waited on hand and foot everyday I decided to do this.  It was not a big deal...just a little extra dust now and again.

The rest of the trip back was eventful.  We saw another Potoo, a Feral Pig, tons of White-lipped Peccaries, more Nightjars and Capybara.  In fact, we actually got one of the Nightjars, a Common Paraque, to pose for a picture:
Common Paraque

Just like last night, Stefan stopped the jeep at one point so we could see the stars with the lights out.  They were truly impressive and now I know what the Southern Cross looks like to boot.  We were stopped under a Manduvi tree that was being used as a roost by a lot of macaws.  So, the bright night sky coupled with the squawking of the Macaws made for another memorable experience.

After another great dinner we took a short night walk again.  We saw another Nightjar, had a chilled Capybara that didn't move at all no matter how close we got (I didn't test it too much though), and we had a fox trot past us.

Not a bad way to end another great day in the Pantanal.

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