If on a map you bisect South America into equal halves, from various points, then where your lines cross is the Pantanal, ‘South America’s Wetland Jewel’, 210,000 sq km (half the size of California, and 20 times the size of the Everglades), average width 500 km, average altitude around 130 m, of seasonally flooded swampland. 70% of it lies in Brazil. Bolivia and Paraguay share the rest. The wet season is from November to March. The Pantanal’s low population lives mainly by cattle ranching. It is one of the most spectacular areas on earth for wildlife. Its main habitats are grassland (31%) two kinds of woodland, marshes, forest, and floating mats.
We were there, in the Mato Grosso, towards the end of the dry season. We expected temperatures to be in the high 20°s C in the day, and coolish evenings. In fact we experienced the high 30°s, with little relief later in the day. It was also humid, loved by various biting and stinging insects. No matter – it was all worth it. This is the first of perhaps 15 photo-blogs about the trip.
On Saturday 19th September, 24 hours after leaving home, after lunch, I found myself with 10 other wildlife tourists and two naturalist guides, Nick from the UK and Fiorella (Italian name, Peruvian nationality) at Poconé, transferring into this safari truck for a four-hour journey to our first lodge. How we welcomed the (albeit warm) breeze its open sides allowed, quite apart from the viewing opportunities they gave.
What an introduction to the area’s wildlife, as we travelled initially in cerrado woodland, then on the only road into (but piercing less than halfway across) the Pantanal, the 148 km Transpantaneira, with its 120 ‘bridges’ (dicey wooden same-level crossings of streams and ditches).
Those white blobs are metre-high termite mounds
A note on the names of birds. Birders were thrilled to see and or hear over 200 different bird species while we were there. I managed to learn the name of perhaps 20, and to photograph perhaps the same number, though these do not necessarily coincide. If I give no name here, it means I don’t know or have forgotten it. An ‘?’ means I am fairly sure, a ‘??’ means I think it might be. I shall hope perhaps to refine these over the coming weeks, but with a ten-day trip to cover, I prefer to get on with the account than spend hours at this stage trying to find them in my 2000+ page bird book. Any assistance with the task would be appreciated…
Now we saw more creatures of the waterways, crowded closer together as the swamps had all but dried out.
Rufescent tiger heron which has just taken a baby caiman
Chased off by parent caiman
A note on my photographs. I have preferred to use pictures which tell the story best rather than those which are technically the best. Moving and/or wobbly vehicles, (truck and boats), dust, haze, rain, misted lenses, very low light at dawn and dusk, made for difficult photographic conditions at times. Them’s my excuses anyway.
Our first Rhea
Capybara with Wattled jacanas, cooling off
Caiman lizard, about a metre long
Great egrets, Jabiru storks and possibly Snowy and/or Cattle egrets
Egrets with Caiman. These crocodilians are up to 7 feet long, not nearly as terrifying as their more well-known relatives, though it was these which used to be taken to make ‘crocodile’ goods etc.
We had turned off the Transpantaneira, and were but two or three kilometres from our first lodge, when the driver announced that we had a flat tyre. We were obliged to get off for a while, so went for a walk along the track. Exhausted as we were after all that travelling, we were pleased nevertheless to see creatures we might otherwise have missed.
Red brocket deer
Brown brocket deer
and several more birds. No-one was sorry though to climb back on the truck, shortly afterwards to arrive, at dusk, at the place where were to stay for the next two nights:
Despite our exhaustion we were persuaded by our naturalist guides to go for a night drive, where, ‘lamped’ by Fiorella, a Pauraque (nightjar)
and a crab eating fox were revealed to us,
along with a crab-eating racoon, of which I did not get a photo.
Bed was never more welcome.