Saturday, September 24, 2016

Pantanal Day 4 - Porto Jofre

The beds at Porto Jofre were softer and came with two pillows, which was nice. But, the rains came overnight as mother nature entertained us with thunder and lightning.  Despite this, I think we slept OK. We awoke to the sound of steady rain and the plan to leave early was scrapped.

At breakfast, we talked with Julinho and decided on a 9:30AM departure.  All the other boats had taken off at 6AM on schedule for what I am sure was a wet morning.  At about 8AM, the clouds started to break up and I walked around the grounds of the hotel for the first time to see what wildlife was out.

Bare-faced Ibis:

Bare-faced Ibis

Scaled Dove:
Scaled Dove

Muscovy Ducks:
Muscovy Ducks

Behind our room was a huge open grassy area and a small lake.  Splitting that lake virtually in half was a long wooden walkway that went all the way to the other side of the pond.  This walkway was a great way to get close to the wildlife.

Hotel Pantanal Norte Boardwalk

Wattled Jacana:
Wattled Jacana

Southern Screamer with Chicks:
Southern Screamer with Chicks

Buff-necked Ibis.  I take back what I said earlier about the Monk Parakeets.  These Ibis are LOUD but really cool looking:
Buff-necked Ibis

As you can see, the morning walk around the grounds was really successful and would turn out to be a daily tradition the I grew to like more and more.

We met Julinho at 9:30AM "Under the fish" which is the gateway to the docks:

Hotel Pantanal Norte Dock

Now I am going to digress a bit to talk about Julinho.  His over all wildlife watching philosophy is so much like ours, we were a perfect match.  He loves watching wildlife but doesn't want to stress the animals and does everything he can not to affect their behavior.  At Pouso Alegre, he sat us down to give us a briefing on how things work on the river.  He does this with all he clients to prepare them and to avoid conflict on the river with other boats.  The briefing included things like:

  •  It's hard to see a Jaguar in the wild.  It's not guaranteed but he sees them more days than not
  • Goal #1 will be to see our first Jaguar.  That's our priority when we first get on the river.  He wanted us to see one and know that they really exist and that they are magnificent. This is exactly what he did yesterday.
  • If we see one and there are other boats around, the canopy comes down on the boat so as not to impact the views from other boats.
  • The first boat on the scene sets the perimeter and all other boats should respect that and find the next best suitable location from which to watch.
  • He tries to find the best place and then anchor to watch with the engine off (this helps greatly with photography and reducing fumes by the way).
  • Because the river has a current,  he will need to go upstream first, drop the anchor, then drift into the right position and tie off the boat.  During this time, he may block other people for a brief time and we may see other boats do the same to us.  Don't worry about this he said, they will move right by.
  • Once we experience our first Jaguar, he recommends that we sit and wait.  His goal is quality over quantity.  Getting photos of natural behavior like swimming, hunting, and especially a successful hunt are rare.  That is Goal #2.
  • If we do find a Jaguar walking he will stay behind it in hopes that it will hunt and to be sure that we won't disturb it or alert any possible prey by getting ahead of it.
  • Finally, he recommended that we stay out on the boat all day.  Most boats leave around 11AM to go in for lunch and come back out at 2PM.  He has seen the Jaguars change their behavior to be more active during lunch times recently.
I remember all this well, his strategies worked for us and we noticed that most of these "rules" seem to set him apart from other boatman.  From what we saw, the other boats did race from Jaguar to Jaguar and some companies even name them with a goal to see each individual.  We also saw that most boats didn't anchor much.  Instead, they would idle a lot more which caused excess noise and fumes.  A few of the boats still had 2 stroke engines which made this practice particularly annoying. 

In any case, the more time we spent with Julinho the more our decision to choose him was validated.  As one of the original guides to lead Jaguar tourism trips, he knows his stuff and he has the respect of the other boatman.  He would try to convince other boats following Jaguar to say behind it in hopes of not disturbing a hunt. Unfortunately, not all boats did this and we saw more than one Jaguar head inland after boats got too close.

Anyway, I digress a bit.  So, back to the matter at hand...launching the boat for day #2 on the river.

Since we had great Jaguar looks yesterday, we talked about making today's goal to find some Giant Otters.  Julinho likes to find them, then follow them from a distance until they eventually feed or better yet climb out of the water.  Well, we didn't have to wait long for the former as we easily found a group of around 7 Giant Otters feeding:

Giant Otter with Lunch

Look at those teeth:
Look at those Teeth

Giant Otter

We also saw some other river residents.

Ringed Kingfisher following the otters hoping for scraps or eating fish that were eating the scraps:
Ringed Kingfisher

Capybara.  Notice the large gland above the nose of the big male.  He uses this to scent mark vegetation:

Anhinga drying its wings:
Anhinga Sunning

At around 11:30AM, a Jaguar was spotted nearby.  We got there in time to see it walking through some plush green vegetation. What a great backdrop:

Jaguar Sighting #3




There were quite a few boats around so the Jaguar eventually went inland and out of sight.  All the boats but ours and another one left for lunch.  We anchored the boat around the corner in hopes that the Jaguar would come back out.  This was the same Jaguar with the cut mouth that we watched the night before. So, we knew that it was pretty comfortable around the boats.

During this time, I was able to get close and photograph a couple shore birds.

Collared Plover:
Collared Plover

Pied Plover:
Pied Plover

Shortly after my shorebird photo shoot, Mr Jaguar appeared on the bank and proceeded to survey the area:

Next, he got up, gave another look out over his territory and proceeded to start hunting:

He came down to the river, slipped into the water and started to swim along the bank.  Julinho said that he was likely looking for Caiman.


Jaguar Hunting

We watched the Jaguar swim along the bank and seemingly check out every nook and cranny.  At one point, he disappeared into some think plant growth and all of a sudden we heard a loud noise and a huge splash.  He had flushed a Capybara from the bank that shot into the water.  The Jaguar missed this opportunity though as the Capybara made it to safety.

We watched as the Jaguar swam out into open water for the last time, went back ashore, and disappeared into the bush.


It was an unsuccessful hunt for the Jaguar, but a thrilling hunt for us to watch.  And, it all happened at lunch time with only one or two other boats around.  It was great to have him almost to ourselves.

Exactly 7 minutes later (I know due to the times on the pictures), we saw a huge group of Giant Otters.  They were piling out of the tall green grass one after one.  There must have been close to 12 of them in all.

Giant Otters

We watched them frolic on land and in the water.  When they were out of the water we could really see how impressively large they are.

Giant Otters

Giant Otter

And then some undetected signal caused them all to bolt out of the water and back into the tall plants:

Everyone...OUT OF THE POOL!

Note that Giant Otters have huge flat tails while regular river otters have round tapered tails.  When the Giant Otters swim, those tails move up and down.  Caiman have large tails too, but when they swim the tail moves side to side.  I find that interesting.

3 Otters stayed in sight after the others disappeared.  

Big Mama:
Giant Otter

Big Mama Scent marking:
Giant Otter Scent Marking

The Gallery watching big Mama:
Giant Otters

Eventually, all the otters disappeared inland. Julinho mentioned the next day that there's an oxbow lake in that direction so he suspected they had their den there.

The rest of the afternoon was spent trolling the river.

Caiman with fish:
Spectacled Caiman

Big Gulp:
Spectacled Caiman with Lunch

At one point, we cruised up to a family of Capybara eating.  We could see a couple young ones in their midst so we quietly approached and drifting onto the sand to watch.



Little Capybara

After that, we headed for home and enjoyed another nice dinner.  As we returned to our room from dinner we noticed the light on outside our room.  Hmm...we don't remember leaving that light on.  So, I unlocked the door and walked in only to to hear Karen say "This isn't our room!".  It turns out the key to room 7 also opens room 5.  Luckily, no one was there.  Oops.

We decided to go for a night walk after that to see what might be out.

Right outside our room was this huge Cane Toad:
Cane Toad

We also found a few small frogs around the boardwalk area.

Warty-snouted Tree Frog (How's that for a name):

Chaco Frog:

And with that, we retired for the evening.  While we only had one Jaguar today we spent quality time with it watching it hunt and we had great views of Giant Otter.  Not too shabby.

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