Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

Safari in the Pantanal!

The Lesser Rhea, South America's "Ostrich", is a fairly common bird in the Mato Grosso state in the region of the Pantanal 


Nothing beats the Pantanal for easy-to-see wildlife!  Definitely one of the best wildlife destinations I have ever visited, the Pantanal is a fascinating region that I explored for two weeks in the mid 1990's. 

During this trip, I spent time at various pousadas designing an expedition that I was hoping to market through La Selva Expeditions.  Although I was only able to send two clients to the Pantanal, the two weeks I spent there were sublime.



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Animals of South & Central America

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Here is the program I put together and participated in while I was in the region:



DAYS 1-3: ARARAS LODGE (3 Nights): Upon arrival, the group is transferred to the Araras Lodge, located near the famous Transpantaneira highway, where it will be possible to see the great variety of animal life of the region. Such fascinating animals as the spectacled caiman, river otters, giant anteaters, anacondas, black and green iguanas, capybaras, swamp deer, coatis and howler monkeys can often be seen form the edge of the road! Birds are incredibly prolific as well. It is possible to see the hyacinth and blue and yellow macaws, as well as wood storks, roseate spoonbills, and dozens of species of raptors. Parrots and parakeets are equally numerous. There will be hundreds of species to observe!  The Araras lodge is situated deep in the heart of the world famous Pantanal. This comfortable Pousada (Brazilian ranch) is perfect for trips even deeper into the wilderness. Activities at Araras Lodge include canoeing, horseback riding, photo-safaris, and nature walks and drives with expert local guides. Here, we will have many opportunities to sample the true wilderness of the Pantanal. All meals and accommodation will be taken at the lodge.

DAY 4: CHAPADA: We transfer to the mystic Guimares Tablelands that are of the same geologic era as the Andes. This 800 meter high formation provides sweeping views and is the source of much of the water that creates the Pantanal. This savanna-like ecosystem contains a wealth of new and different species of plants, animals and birds. Our accommodations will be at the comfortable Chapada Lodge.

DAYS 5-6: RIO MUTUM: Today we are transferred to another ecosystem within the vast Pantanal. We will spend two days in the beautiful Rio Mutum area investigating the lake-like environments, which are teeming with hundreds of species of birds, reptiles and mammals. We will explore the lives of jacares (caimans) and wood stork rookeries. This is a wilderness destination of a lifetime! We will be transported by motor boats to very distant regions of the Pantanal.

DAY 7: END OF TOUR: We will be transferred back to Cuiaba for our onward flight.




Pantanal is the largest interior wetland on the planet.  This forest gallery was seen along the north east sector of this massive ecosystem.  We would generally visit two to three pousadas while exploring the Pantanal.  Most of our transport was in the form of small boats!





The one exception to boat travel was the Transpantaneira, the only road leading to the heart of the Pantanal.  This amazing dirt track passes through amazing habitat that is interestingly very utilized by people.  Even with this being the case, wildlife was plentiful and very easy to spot in the cleared fields and forest edges along the road.  This 1962 VW van was actually made in 1996!  Evidently  Brazil was able to procure the old molds from many auto manufacturers and you can easily see such brand new "old" cars.



The world's largest rodent, the Capybara, was commonly seen in the Pantanal.  This one was seen during the early morning along the banks.  During the night walks and drives, we would see literally hundreds of these great rodents!




The Yacare or Spectacled Caimen were so thick along some parts of the Transpantaneira you could "walk across their backs"!  And this is not much of an exageration! Not known to be particularly dangerous to humans, the Yacare are still hunted heavily for their skin and meat.



We did see several Anacondas in the Pantanal.  This small one was a mere 2.5 meters and was seen along the side of the Transpantaneira in the early morning.





A female Black Howler (Alouatta caraya) seen playing in the forest near one of our pousadas.  There were two females this morning and they seemed to be very curious about me.









Two glorious sunsets over the Pantanal!




During the spring in the Pantanal these spectacular Piuva Roxa (Tabebuia heptphylla) are in full bloom and stands of spectacular pink flowers punctuate the green monotony of the expansive Pantanal forests.





Although I have yet to catch more than a very quick glimpse of a Jaguar in the Pantanal, we were able to see sign regularly in multiple locations.  This fresh track was directly behind the bungalow I was sleeping in!



The spectacular Toco Toucan is a wonderful forest bird seen regularly in the Pantanal.



We were able to visit Wood Stork rookeries in a couple locations in the Pantanal.  On one occasion, a very irresponsible guide allowed me to walk in to the interior of the rookery causing a mass exodus of the storks allowing their unprotected nests and chicks to be ravaged by waiting Crested Caracara waiting in the rookery for just such an opportunity.  I refuse to ever enter a rookery like that again.



No doubt one of the largest storks anywhere, the massive Jabiru Stork is common in the wetlands of the Pantanal.  Their strange neck in one of their most striking features.



The Southern American Darter or Anhinga is another perfectly adapted bird found commonly in the Pantanal.




Sharing rookery space with the Wood Storks, these Roseate Spoonbills were very easy to see up close in the Pantanal.



Blue and Yellow Macaws were another commonly seen bird in the region.  These two were seen hanging around one of the pousadas eating palm nuts one afternoon.  They were very approachable and seemed curious.




White-necked Herons are very common in the shallow wetlands of the Pantanal.







Another White-necked Heron hunting from high in the branches of a tree near a pond.




I think the most spectacular heron in the Pantanal is the Whistling Heron.  This one was fishing along the waterways of one of our more remote pousadas located deep in to the southeastern sector of the Pantanal.




This Rufescent Tiger Heron was seen sunning himself in the early morning light.



This immature Fasciated Tiger Heron (most likely ID) was concentrating very seriously on his prey.  Although we were making a bit of a noise, he did not miss a beat and was successful in catching his fish!




The increasingly rare Hyacinth Macaw was seen on only one occasion while in the region.  This mating pair was seen one morning in and around their nest in a tree cavity that was basically located in the grounds of one of our pousadas.



Although Snail Kites like this are endangered in the US, they are very common in the Pantanal.




These Collared Hawks were also commonly seen along the Transpantaneira.  One could easily note the territory size by noting the distance between these birds along the road.



This Dusky-legged Guan was a daily visitor to the pousada we stayed at along the Transpantaneira.  Looking for handouts no doubt...




This Spix's Guan (probably ID) was one of the meanest birds I have ever come across.  One day while I was attempting to feed him, he immediately jumped on my arm and rapidly climbed up my arm all the way to my shoulders!  And then he immediately jumped on top of my head and started to try to peck my eyes out!  I had to get pretty physical to just get him off my head!  Look at his pissed-off glare!  All the while the cowboys of the pousada laughed at the fight.



I have seen Great White Egrets on every continent except Antarctica!



We had a good look at this beautiful Pampas Deer Buck (Ozotoceros bezoarticus) along the Transpantaneira one morning.  We did get glimpses of others but this one stuck around long enough to catch an image.



A large Green Iguana seen along the banks of the Pantanal.




A huge Pantanal Toad puffed up to warn us away...

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