2016 Jaguars And Wildlife of Brazil's Pantanal Trip Report

By Paul Bannick on Nov 11, 2016

Brazil’s Pantanal quickly became one of my favorite places in the world to photograph wildlife. Jaguars, ocelots, macaws, toucans, and brilliantly-colored woodpeckers and songbirds—not to mention both nocturnal and diurnal owls—are all possibilities on most days.  Woodpeckers and owls are among my favorite birds to "shoot"—anywhere!
 
Each location we visit has its own main attraction with several options competing for your attention with lots of potential surprises. The action begins where the road ends—250 kilometers away from Cuiabá.  Roughly 150 of those kilometers are on the unpaved Transpantaneira highway, the only road into the northern Brazilian Pantanal.  At 80,000 square miles, the Pantanal is the largest contiguous wetlands in the world.  We visit during the dry season, which makes these wetlands more accessible and concentrates the rich biodiversity along the waterways, where we focus our lenses.
 
Our first lodge sits between a large oxbow lake and grassland intermittently dotted by termite mounds and an occasional sturdy tree.  Sunrise and sunset boat trips offer great opportunities to photograph hunting black-collared hawks, cocoi herons and four species of kingfishers!  It’s hard to rest once you hit land again as the grassy areas might yield ferruginous pygmy-owls in the trees, campo flickers at the termite mounds, and vermillion flycatchers sallying for insects near any water.  
 
Jaguars are the stars at our second stop and they did not disappoint!  On some speedboat rides they made multiple appearances and several times we sighted two cats traveling, resting and hunting together.  While jaguars were found on most days here, there were always other surprises, such as an unexpected appearance by an ocelot, a jaguar pouncing on a caiman, giant otters sliding out of their river bank dens, and gorgeous capped herons in courtship display.  With such wildlife density, we had the opportunity to photograph interactions between animals, such as when a caiman, capybara and jabiru all chose to rest on the same small island of sand, or when black vultures and black hawks competed for a carcass, or when gray hawks were mobbed by smaller birds. It was hard to not slow down after our early morning jaguar shoots as we walked by a tree we affectionately called the “magic tree” due to the amazing density of gorgeous birds it hosted—toco toucans, hyacinth macaws and rufous-tailed jacamars.  Nearby, the ghostly white woodpeckers, spikey crested guira cuckoos, buff-necked ibis and orange-backed troupials all competed for our attention.  Giant Victoria waterlilies glowed at sunrise as they hosted the herons and jacanas that used these convenient floats as hunting rafts.
 
Our final stop is the driest and perhaps the most diverse. The moment I stepped off our air-conditioned bus, the cacophony of calls of hyacinth macaws, toco toucans and green-barred woodpeckers sounded like an avian party.  The macaw activity centered around a historical nest that the beautiful birds seemed to keep watch over.  Following a drumming sound on a nearby palm tree yielded a crimson-crested woodpecker nest, while slightly longer jaunts brought pale-crested, green-barred and little woodpeckers.   Ferruginous pygmy owls could be heard at dawn and dusk and a short drive brought us eye to eye with the unusual orange-eyed race of great horned owls.  Side trips brought our lenses onto crab-eating foxes, tapirs, screech owls, bats and potoos.  Primate lovers could easily locate black-tailed marmosets, as well as howler and capuchin monkeys.
 
One of the biggest challenges on this trip was deciding between stellar photo opportunities and making sure to have enough hard drive space to back up all of the images before our shooting began again!

P.S. While I was slightly nervous about Zika before I left for Brazil, I only used insect repellant on the first of my 26 days in the Pantanal as a precaution.  Then realizing there were virtually no mosquitoes, my concern was gone and I never felt I needed to use it during the rest of my month in the Pantanal.
 
Click HERE for information on our 2017 Jaguars & Wildlife of Brazil's Pantanal tours