Black-collared Hawk capturing a Piranha. This is a sequence of photos taken 1/5 second apart and then merged into a panorama. Click on the image above for a larger version.
Best Bird Photos
The Rest of the Photos (birds, mammals, and other)
This was my second trip to Brazil. There is another set of photos on my Brazil 2005 page.
Almost all of the photos on the page(s) referenced above were taken with a Nikon D2x camera using the 200-400mm f/4 VR lens. There's more information about the photographic aspects of the trip on the page here.
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There is more to come. At this point, all I have finished is a page of my highest-quality photos as well as a page with the rest of the photos, and there's a preliminary trip report below and a bird list.
After my successful trip last year, as soon as Ellyn saw the photos, she was determined to visit Brazil. Both last year and this we used the Pantanal Bird Club for guides. Both times the guide was very good, and I would recommend the club to anyone. For reference, the guide last year was Juan Mazar Barnett and this year it was Giuliano Bernardon. Here's a link to a list of all the Bird Club guides.
Ellyn and I repeated my trip to the Pantanal and Chapada dos Guimarães since those provided spectacular birding (the Pantanal, Ellyn says, is like "the Everglades on steroids"). But this year, instead of going to look for the Harpy Eagle, we went to Emas National Park.
Ellyn likes to watch the birds, but I'm at least equally interested in getting photos, so I carried about 40 pounds of photo gear along. For anyone seriously interested in photography, here is a page about my photographic techniques in Brazil this year.
This year our trip was taken in late September and early October; last year I went in early August. I guess you begin to press the start of the rainy season if you go as late as we did this year, but we had only one spectacular storm and it was on our way back at the end of the trip. But there was an unbelievable amount of water that dropped out of the sky!
We live near San Francisco, and our flight went first to Miami and then to São Paulo and we decided to spend a couple of days in Miami to avoid a hair-raisingly short transfer to an international flight. We figured we could mess around in the Everglades and eat fancy meals in the Art Deco district of Miami. We've done this before on other trips to Central and South America, but this year, just due to when we were there, the Everglades were a bust, bird-wise. The food in Miami was as good as ever, though.
From São Paulo we flew to Cuiabá with a stop in Campo Grande and the hotel where we stayed (the Diplomata) was four or five blocks from the airport. The Pantanal Bird Club suggested that hotel and arranged it for us. It's a nice place; not fancy but clean, with friendly staff, and a good breakfast. Oh, and internet access...
We speak Spanish fairly fluently but no Portuguese, and hoped that it would be of some use. It wasn't, except that it's not hard to get the gist of stuff that you read. But we got along fine, even by ourselves, and of course the guides were fluent in English. "Obrigado" -- "obrigada" if you're a woman -- (thank you) and "uma cerveja, por favor" (a beer, please) were sufficient for our needs.
If you're not a vegetarian, be sure to eat at least once at a "churrascaria" -- a place where waiters bring around various meats on skewers and carve off what you want on your plate. You're going to gain some weight anyway, so you might as well do it in style. There's a very good churrascaria right across the street and a bit to the right from the Diplomata hotel, but you can find them anywhere.
The Bird Club tours are limited to eight people, but there were only four in ours, and the other two were only with us for the first two-thirds of the trip -- they didn't go to Emas National Park with us. Last year with only four we had a nice van with the guide and a driver; this year it was more cramped: a car with our guide, Giuliano, as driver. That meant three in the back seat, and since we spotted a lot of birds as we were driving along, it was hard to take photos if I was in the middle of the back seat. It wasn't much of a problem, however, if all you wanted to do was get your binoculars locked on a bird. Almost always there was time to pile out of the car to get a better look.
Giuliano met us at the Hotel early in the morning and we drove down the Transpantaneira road into the Pantanal. What was totally mind-boggling for me and Ellyn was that there were hundreds of Jabirus. And of course we remembered just how much work it had been for us to see our first, many years ago, in Costa Rica.
But it really was "the Everglades on steroids": thousands of water birds, hawks, and so on. We saw some new stuff, of course, but mostly we were blown away by the density of the wildlife.
We got to Fazenda Santa Tereza (which is about half-way between the entry to the Pantanal and the end of the Transpanateira highway at Porto Jofre) and spent three nights there. Each day we did different things: a couple of river trips (where it's easy to see the Giant Otter in addition to lots of new birds), some hikes through various types of vegetation, and short to medium-length drives to other parts of the Pantanal. Then at night we'd go driving with searchlights looking for potoos, owls, nightjars, and mammals. At the end, we'd collapse into bed, only to start the next day at 5:30 am.
We ate all our meals at the Fazenda, and after three nights there, we drove back toward Cuiabá, stopping at another lodge for one night called Posada Piuval that's just outside the official Pantanal boundary. It's a nicer place than Fazenda Santa Tereza, but it only took a day to see most of the stuff nearby. There was a nice sunset boat ride there, and there were tinamous all over the place.
The next day was a long drive to Chapada dos Guimarães where we stayed for three nights. This was also the right amount of time, and we followed the same hectic schedule from early in the morning to late at night looking for birds in all sorts of different habitats. We were basically on top of a mesa all the time, so in addition to the birds, there were some spectacular views of cliffs, waterfalls, et cetera. The lodge we stayed at provided breakfast, but we had our other meals in restaurants in town.
The other couple returned to Cuiabá one day early as they were planning to bird in Alta Floresta, and from then on, there were only two of us with Giuliano, so traveling was much less cramped.
The original plan was to return to Cuiabá for one night, and then to drive to Emas National Park the next day, but since the other couple had already returned, it was a slightly shorter drive to go directly from Chapada dos Guimarães to Emas, and it avoided the return to Cuiabá so we just stayed in the same place for an additional night.
It is a long drive to Emas (about eight hours, but this included some stops along the way to look for birds, of course), and I'm really glad that there were only two passengers in the car.
The great thing about Emas is that so few people visit it. It is not near any large cities, and there is no way to stay in the park; we stayed in a little town about 20 kilometers away. With so few visitors, however, it was pretty easy to find the birds we were looking for. But we also spent a lot of time driving around at night looking for mammals (and nightjars/owls/potoos, of course) but we found not one, but two Giant Anteaters, a few Yellow Armadillos, a Striped Hog-nosed Skunk, and best of all, a Brazilian Tapir! We found lots of evidence of the Giant Armadillo, but unfortunately, didn't see the animal although it's apparently a likely thing to see, and we found some Jaguar tracks, but again, unfortunately, no Jaguar.
On our first day there, we found the Cone-billed Tanager, both male and female! We got a good look with binoculars, but unfortunately, neither of them came close enough for me to get a decent photo. That was the prize bird of the trip.
Here is an image of Ellyn and Giuliano in Emas national park (Click on it for a larger version). One of the most interesting aspects of the park is the termite mounds, upon one of which Giuliano is standing. There were plenty of termite mounds in other areas that we visited, but in Emas, there is a species of firefly that lays its eggs on the mounds and the larvae develop there in holes drilled into the relatively soft mound material.
If certain conditions (temperature, humidity, et cetera) are right then at night the larvae stick their heads out of the mounds at night, and their heads glow (like the fireflys) and the tiny lights attract adult termites which are grabbed and eaten by the termite larvae. It is amazing and somewhat bizarre to drive along and see mound after mound with dozens to hundreds of these tiny bright green dots on them.
In our first night in Emas, we saw them in all their glory. The second night the temperature was quite a bit lower, and all the mounds were completely black.
The final day there was a marathon session: we were in the park from early in the morning until 9 at night with only an hour for lunch at a sort of picnic area.
The drive back to Cuiabá was even longer, since we discovered that the main road was blocked by "squatters" and we had to add another 50 kilometers to avoid the roadblock. Not only that, but a lot of the additional distance was on a dirt road. Emas was fantastic, though, so it was well-worth the long drive.
I would love to see more of Brazil, and the Pantanal Bird Club provides trips to many other areas, so when we go, we'll probably go with them.
We did not return home immediately; we have a friend who lives in São Paulo who had been begging us to visit for years, so we finally got the opportunity, and spent three nights there. It is a huge city, the third-largest in the world, and the chaotic traffic was wildly different from the rest of the trip. We had a great time there, however, and probably put on a couple of more pounds in the fantastic restaurants.
Following each bird name is an indication of where we saw the bird. "P" is for Pantanal, "C" for Chapada dos Guimarães, and "E" for Emas National Park. Combinations of those letters indicate that the bird was seen at a combination of those locations.