Jaguars & Wildlife of Brazil's Pantanal 2015 Trip Report

By John Shaw on Nov 11, 2015

I was in Brazil most of September, leading two of the Van Os "Jaguars and Wildlife of the Pantanal" tours.  The Pantanal is the world's largest contiguous wetlands, roughly 80,000 square miles in size (that's 200,000 square kilometers for you metric folks).  About three-quarters of it is found in west-central Brazil, with the remainder in Bolivia and Paraguay.  Obviously our tours could not cover the entire Pantanal, but concentrated on one particular area along the Transpantaneira road within Brazil's Mato Grosso state, the one and only road that penetrates deep within the Pantanal.

On both tours we stayed at three locations:  a lodge situated on a large oxbow lake with nearby grasslands; a lodge complex at Porto Jofre, at the end of the Transpantaneira, located directly on the Rio Cuiabá (the location for jaguar photography); and a rustic backcountry lodge on a family owned farm in the drier grasslands.  At the first location we worked the oxbow from small boats for kingfishers, hawks, and jabiru storks.  Back at the lodge we set up perches around bird feeders for yellow-billed and red crested cardinals, parakeets, saffron finches, and other small birds.  At Porto Jofre we used fast speed boats to traverse the Rio Cuibá and its tributaries, the Rio Negro and the Tres Irmaos.  While we concentrated on finding jaguars along the river banks, we had many opportunities to photograph river otters, caiman, terns, herons, and a variety of small birds.  Noisy hyacinth macaws were easily found around the lodge, and a pond with giant water lilies yielded jacanas and striated herons as subjects. The third location offered the chance to work chestnut eared aracaris, toco toucans, and other birds, along with agoutis and numerous tegu lizards.
Some photographic highlights of the tours:  a tame vermillion flycatcher that returned to the same eye-level perch time and time again (for over 30 minutes of photography); an ocelot (only my second sighting ever in the wild) sitting high in a tree on the grounds of our Porto Jofre hotel; mating jaguars on the open bank of the Rio Negro, directly in front of our boat; a patoo perfectly camouflaged on a palm tree; following a jaguar stalking capabara; three species of kingfishers catching fish; and easily worked jabiru nests along the Transpantaneira.

The big difference between the two tours was the weather.  And what a difference that was!  My first tour started off with several days of high overcast perfect for photography, and then came the record heat wave.  Hot, hot, hot..with blazing cloudless blue skies.  This heat wave lasted for a week, and spilled over into the second tour (the hottest day of all was my second group's arrival day at Porto Jofre).  Two days later while out on the river we were hit with an afternoon tropical rain so heavy that you could hardly see.  Needless to say, by the time we managed to get back to the hotel we were thoroughly soaked, but all the camera gear stayed dry thanks to pack covers and plastic trash bags.  The storm broke the high heat, and temperatures reverted to the tropically warm normal.  But no matter the weather, both tours had numerous daily photo opportunities on a variety of subjects.

All in all, I can't wait to get back.