Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Pantanal Day 8 - Barranco Alto

The morning started out with our trusty bird wake up call at 5AM.  While the Hyacinth macaws can be quite squawky it was the Buff-neck Ibis that seemed to be the loudest.  A pair was building a nest nearby and that probably was the cause of their morning "discussions" with each other.  The Chaco Chachalacas were also quite noisy so it was really a cacophony of bird sounds each morning.

We weren't flying out until 7AM so I got one last chance to walk around the grounds of the hotel.

Hotel Grounds

Even the Toco Toucan popped out to say goodbye:
Toucan in a Palm Tree

After breakfast, we were off.  Julinho had arranged a charter flight for us.  While he is a pilot, he did not fly us from Porto Jofre to Barranco Alto, but he did accompany us.  The 1 hour flight was really smooth this early in the morning and allowed us to see some of the Pantanal from the air.

Pantanal from Above

Pantanal from Above

We arrived at Barranco Alto but instead of landing we did a couple circles.  I took this photo of the runway to show you why.  See the sheep on the runway?

Sheep on Runway

This Pantanal air traffic control issue was quickly solved and we landed safely.  Apparently, this isn't the first time livestock has made its way onto their runway.  In fact, while we were there a plane had to buzz the runway a couple times to scare away some horses.  No big deal in these parts though.

As we were pulling up, multiple people came to greet us.  This is where we met Klaus and Margot.  Margot is a French volunteer working at the farm for a while.  She will be studying the local Giant Otter population.  Klaus is here with Lydia who is studying the Giant Anteaters.  They welcomed us and carried our luggage to our rooms.

At this point, it was with great sadness that we had to say goodbye to Julinho.  He was more than a great guide, he had become a friend, and we hope to see him again someday.

Even though we arrived at Barranco Alto at 8:30AM, they had our room all ready for us.  The other guests and guides were out on the morning activity so after we had some refreshing juice under the mango tree, we did a little exploring on our own.

Just behind the house I saw a pig.  At first I assumed it was a domestic pig but as I got closer,  I realized it was a White-lipped Peccary and there were a total of four hanging out. 

White-lipped Peccary

After taking the above photo, the Peccaries became aware of my presence and immediately were on edge. I could tell because the hair on their backs went up.  They looked at me and started to clap their teeth together, which I know is a Peccary warning sign.  I have heard stories of aggressive Peccaries before so I just backed up and gave them some space.

As it turns out, we would see dozens of White-lipped Peccaries daily during our activities at Barranco Alto and witness some really cool behavior.  So, this was just the first sighting of many to come.  But, never did any of the Peccaries make an aggressive move towards us.

Green-barred Woodpecker:
Green-barred Woodpecker

A pair of Hyacinth Macaws were nesting in a nearby tree:
Macaw Nesting Hole

Guira Cuckoos (quite common at BA)
Guira Cuckoo

As we were sitting back under the mango tree enjoying the cold drinks that always seemed to be placed there, we could hear a loud clamoring coming from the river.  Ah the unmistakable sounds of Giant Otters.  In the distance, we could even make out some heads in the water so we ventured down to the edge of the river hoping they would come closer.

Evidently, the guide and guests on the morning canoe activity had the same idea since they were already stopped on the other side of the river hoping for the same thing.  But, the otters turned and went the other direction.  As the canoes paddled over their guide introduced herself and that's how we met Marina who owns the lodge along with her husband Lucas.  Marina was the person with whom I had emailed so many times before while arranging our visit so it was nice to finally meet her.

We also met many of the guests at this time since everyone seems to congregate under the huge mango tree for cold drinks.  We stayed there until lunch time chatting and getting to know everyone better.  The communal experience is at the heart of what makes Barranco Alto special.

Unlike at Pouso Alegre and the Hotel Porto Jofre, meals at Barranco Alto are served family style at one huge table.  So, this gives everyone a chance to mingle and talk about what they did earlier and what they saw.  We met so many great people and had so many great conversations at this table during meals that it became a big highlight of the stay.

It was also at around this time we met Stefan who would be our guide for our stay.  We had paid extra for a private guide because we like to go at our own pace. However, after meeting all the other guests we easily could have enjoyed group activities with any of them.  Another reason for the private guide is that our goal was to see a Giant Anteater while here. We were lucky to see one in the North but knew that our best opportunities were here.  Unfortunately, despite all our searching and Marina, Lucas, Stefan, and Lydia going out of there way to give us ample opportunities in the field we didn't end up seeing a Giant Anteater at Barranco Alto.  But as you will see, the trip was far from disappointing.

Stefan let us know that Lydia, the Giant Anteater researcher, was leaving to go back to Germany for the season soon so her last opportunity to spend time with us was today.  Would we mind if she took us on our afternoon drive?  I had hoped to meet Lydia and bombard her with questions so we had no problem with this plan at all.

As it turns out, Lydia was a delight and was fine answering the many questions we threw her way.  Although we didn't have that much time to chat on the drive because it was so eventful.

Pampas Deer:
Pampas Deer

Blue-crowned Parakeet:
Blue-crowned Parakeet

Red-legged Seriema:
Red-legged Seriema

A Barranco Alto tradition during the afternoon drive is to stop and have a sundowner at a nice spot.  Lydia picked the shore of one of the many salt water lakes (yes, they have salt water lakes there).  So, we had some good opportunities to chat and watch the sun go down.  We learned that very little is known about Giant Anteaters.  Lydia's research is one of the few long term research projects on them.  They even had a plan to finally collar some this year to get better information about territories.  Hopefully, Lydia will someday answer a lot of the questions that today remain unanswered about this cool looking animal.
As it turns out, we weren't the only ones enjoying the waning light.

Black Skimmer:
Skimming at Sunset

Black Skimmer

Here's our sundowner view:
Sundowner View

On the way back to the lodge, we turned on the spotlight to look for nocturnal animals.  Besides a Night Jar seemingly every 100 yards or so, one set of eye shine was much brighter. It turned out to be a Common Potoo:
Common Potoo

Since Lydia was driving and Karen was up high in the back of the jeep, she volunteered to spotlight.  Besides the Common Potoo, Karen gets props for spot lighting a Tapir too.  The jeep had startled it so Lydia turned off the engine which seemed to calm the Tapir.  Instead of retreating, it proceeded to walk across our path and wade into the salt lake we were driving past.  It stopped at about knee deep and proceeding to poop.  Yes, that's right we saw a Tapir poop.  And it was great!  I am not sure what that says about us but we don't care.

Once the Tapir was a bit lighter, it continued wading through the water perpendicular to our jeep and eventually moved out of sight behind us.  Karen and I were really excited about this spot and so was Lydia.  After all the years she has done the same drives she still gets really excited about good sightings.  That says a lot about her passion for what she does.

On the way back to the lodge we saw 3 Crab-eating fox as well.  So, the nocturnal portion of the drive was also a big success.  As we pulled up to the lodge, Lydia asked what we wanted to drink.  Of course we had to try Caipirinhas so Lydia said some would be brought to the common area in our building for us shortly.  Boy were they refreshing.  A new happy hour tradition had now begun.

Dinner was outstanding.  There is less choice at Barranco Alto since they only have 6 rooms but the food was the best we had the whole trip which is saying something.  They even went out of their way to prepare some special food for us when needed due to some allergies.

Of course, rice and beans were a staple at lunch and dinner and I wasn't shy about helping myself.

There was even an uninvited guest in the garden right outside the dining area: A Crab-eating Racoon.
 Crab-eating Racoon

After dinner, we went for a short walk around the grounds.  We saw the Chaco/Cei's White-lipped Frog which we had also seen in the North:

On our way back to our room Karen spotted a snake in the grass.  No, not some treacherous traitor but an actual little snake in the grass which we have since identified as a Sleep Snake:

Ah, a great way to top off another great day in the Pantanal.


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