Birding Brazil’s Pantanal

Mondo Verde
01.02.2020

The Pantanal, Brazil.
Photos by Bob Gress, Tour Leader.

 

Mondo Verde Expeditions
September 8-25, 2019.

 

Mary Burmester, Patty Marlett, Jim Marlett, Bradley Davis our birding guide, Kevin Groeneweg, Bob Gress, Neil Burmester, Karen Nonhof, Art Nonhof, and Sebastião our driver

 

The Pantanal’s main wildlife attractions are jaguars and birds. My last PhotoBlast featured jaguars along with information on the Pantanal wetlands. This Mondo Verde Expedition targeted the birds of the Pantanal and the Cerrado of Central Brazil. Our gateway to the area was the city of Cuiabá. The Pantanal lies south of Cuiabá and the Cerrado north and northeast. Among birders, this region is known as the place to go for non-Amazon specialties of wetlands and open country. Among all continents, South America is home to the largest diversity of birds, with Brazil alone totaling over 1,800 species. Our group list for this trip totaled 391 species. Our bird guide, Bradley Davis, is Canadian by birth, lives in Brazil, and guides throughout the country. He is excellent!

Anyone familiar with Brazil knows about the Amazon River and the Amazon rainforest. Few foreigners have heard of the Cerrado, but after the Amazon, the Cerrado encompasses Brazil’s largest biome of nearly 750,000 square miles. The Cerrado is one of the world’s most important savannas. Like our North American prairies, the majority of the original Cerrado (80%) has been converted to other uses with most converted to some form of agriculture. The Cerrado is biologically diverse with about 10,000 plant species, more than in the Amazon!

The Jardim da Amazonia Lodge (above) sits in a forest fragment north of Cuiabá and on the northwestern end of the Cerrado. The lodge sits on the shockingly clear waters of the Rio Claro. We stayed here 4 nights while exploring the grasslands, shrublands (below), and forests of this region.

Cerrado birds are varied and fascinating. Rufous-tailed Jacamars (top) are often found in pairs, are quiet and alert, perch on open branches and sallies out to catch insects in flycatcher-like behavior. Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrants (above) are one of the smallest birds on earth. Only 2.5 inches long, weighing about 4 grams, only a few hummingbirds are smaller. Its beak and head appear disproportionately large and its tail almost non-existent. Guira Cuckoos (below) are conspicuous in open country where they roam about in groups of up to 15-20 birds. They walk through the grasses preying on anything that moves. Yellow-rumped Caciques (bottom) are oriole relatives that nests in small colonies in similar sock-like hanging nests.

Among the larger birds living in the open country of the Cerrado are the Greater Rhea (above) and the Red-legged Seriema (below). Rheas are flightless, distant relatives of the Ostrich, and are the largest birds of South America. Large males may stand 5 ft. tall and weigh over 50 pounds. Seriemas are long-legged, three-foot tall birds, that roam large pastures searching for insects, rodents, lizards and snakes. They are distinctive in appearance with their long-feathered frontal crest and hooked bill.

The Campo Flicker (above) is a handsome bird! Like our flickers in North America, it spends a lot of time foraging on the ground, primarily for ants and termites. Campo refers to the grasslands within the Cerrado.

Around 3:30 p.m. on September 11, we headed a few miles up the road to Lagoa das Araras to watch macaws coming to roost at sunset. It was a spectacular evening shared with 25 bird species including 72 Blue-and-yellow Macaws (above) and 15 Red-bellied Macaws. The contrast between the noisy, raucous macaws and the peaceful colors of the sunset (below) were memorable!

From the Cerrado we headed south into the Pantanal. Many of the ecolodges in the Pantanal are also working ranches. Two of our lodges were Pousada Piuval (above) and Aymara Lodge (below). The lodges have great food, comfortable rooms, and great natural landscaping for birds and other wildlife.

The iconic, unofficial symbol of the Pantanal is the Hyacinth Macaw (above). It is the largest parrot in the world and feeds on palm seeds. After thousands had been trapped and sold as cage birds, the world population dropped to about 1,500 individuals. The Hyacinth Macaw Project, which began in the 1990s, is credited for the recovery of one of the world’s most spectacular birds.

Jabiru drinking (above)

The Jabiru is a large stork. It’s nearly as tall as the Greater Rhea with a wingspan second only to the Andean Condor. The Jabiru’s red, expandable neck is used much like a pelican’s pouch for dipping both fish and water before expelling the water. Its name comes from a native word meaning “swollen neck.”

Jabiru nest and chick (below)

The Pantanal is a mosaic of wetland habitats covering from 50,000 to 80,000 square miles. As the world’s largest wetland, we would expect it to host large numbers of wetland species and individuals. Storks, herons, cormorants, ibises, ducks, rails, shorebirds and kingfishers are all plentiful. Shown here are Buff-necked Ibis (top), Rufescent Tiger-Heron (above), Wattled Jacana (below), and Gray-cowled Wood-Rail (bottom).

The most common reptile in the Pantanal is the Yacare Caiman (above). At night, with a flashlight, the reflection of hundreds of eyes also reflect their abundance. One would think snakes would be abundant in a South American wetland. Yet they are not and finding one is a challenge. In the 2.5 weeks of our visit we were afield every day and saw only five snakes, three of them were Yellow Anacondas. This Yellow Anaconda (below) is hunting for a meal in holes in an eroded riverbank. Yellow Anacondas rarely reach lengths of 13 feet. Its relative, the Green Anaconda may reach lengths of nearly 20 feet.

Currasows and guans have long necks, long legs and long tails. Although showing no physical adaptations to wetlands, they readily take to the trees along the rivers that cross the Pantanal. They’re big and easily seen from boats. Seen here are a male Bare-faced Curassow (above), and a Blue-throated Piping-Guan (below).

This duo of birds is truly unique and taxonomically fascinating. All birds are grouped into families of species sharing common traits and anatomy. Nearly all birds have relatives and most have lots of relatives. The Sunbittern (above) is the only member of its family and has no close relatives. The Sungrebe (below) is the only member of its family in the New World and has only one other family member that lives in Asia and Africa.

The Toco Toucan (above) is a spectacular bird! It’s the most well-known and largest of the toucan species. It usually appears in pairs or groups and hops around large trees feeding on fruit and occasionally insects, reptiles and bird eggs. Unmistakable, spectacular, conspicuous and flamboyant all describe this amazing bird!

 

BirdsInFocus.com is a free website containing over 13,000 publication-quality bird photographs, representing over 2,400 species from 36 countries.

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