JAGUARS OF BRAZIL'S PANTANAL

Thursday 30th July - Sunday 9th August 2015

MIKE WATSON

Jaguar - it would have been unthinkable 20 years ago that they would be as easy to see as they are today! (Mike Watson).

Jaguar - it would have been unthinkable 20 years ago that they would be as easy to see as they are today! (Mike Watson).

If we had to compile a list of top photography destinations, in terms of number of subjects and ease of shooting them, then Brazil’s Pantanal would be in the top five. The Pantanal also has a reputation of being South America’s best wildlife photography destination and it certainly lived up to this billing during our inaugural Wild Images visit to this amazing region. With a tour title including the word ‘Jaguars’ there was a high expectation of what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful of all the big cats and happily we were rewarded with 11 encounters over our five days on the Rio Cuiabá and its tributaries involving at least seven different cats, three of these being the same mating pair. Naturally some of these events were not ideally photogenic, being either partly obscured by vegetation or in harsh light but some of them were just right. Most were lounging around on the riverbank but we were also able to watch some hunting behavior, including swimming as well as mating and fighting too! We were all delighted with this outcome although by local standards this was still an average return owing to the high water levels in the Pantanal this year. Unbelievably it is usually even better than this!

Whilst en route to Port Jofre or scouring the riverbanks from there we enjoyed a profusion of other fabulous creatures. Close behind Jaguars in popularity were the 5 (five!) Giant Anteaters we saw in the northern part of Pantanal. These prehistoric-looking creatures have very poor eyesight and encounters can sometimes be very close, as two of ours were, although it is worth reminding ourselves that these ostensibly peaceful animals have been known to kill people with their incredibly powerful bear-like claws. Other highlights as voted for by participants were the five encounters with family parties of Giant Otters, the ‘beauty of the shadows’ Agami Heron and the outrageous outsized parrot Hyacinth Macaw. The Pantanal is simply fantastic!

We saw a good variety of mammals, 22 species in total, although not all were within range of our DSLRs, including: Brazilian Porcupine; Capybara (the world’s largest rodent); Ocelot; Crab-eating Raccoon; Crab-eating Fox; Tayra; Neotropical River Otter; South American Coati; Black Howler Monkey and two Brazilian Tapirs. Birds were very visible and obvious and the more photographable included such impressive species as: Greater Rhea; Chestnut-bellied Guan; Blue-throated and Black-fronted Piping Guans; Bare-faced Curassow; Brazilian Teal; Maguari Stork; the mighty Jabiru; Boat-billed (18!) and Capped Herons; Sunbittern (5 – unusually scarce this year); Sungrebe (6); Black Skimmer; Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns; Nacunda and Band-tailed Nighthawks; Spot-tailed Nightjars; at least one million kingfishers including American Pygmy, Green, Amazon and Ringed; Rufous-tailed Jacamar; Black-fronted Nunbird; Chestnut-eared Araçari; Toco Toucan; Campo Flicker; Bat Falcon; Nanday Parakeet; Giant Antshrike; Black-backed Water Tyrant; Purplish Jay; White-winged Swallow; Black-capped Donacobious; Orange-backed Troupial; Scarlet-headed Blackbird and Silver-beaked Tanager to name just a few.

Reptiles (very near bird relatives!) were also very impressive, including: Paraguay Caiman Lizard; Black-and-white Tegu and Green Iguana of note. For landscape enthusiasts every fiery sunrise and sunset held something of interest but particularly the two or three with some cloud cover. At this time of year the landscape of the Pantanal turns yellow with the candle-like flowers of Cambará trees adding colour to backgrounds. In addition, the old wooden bridges, watery margins and tree-lined riverbanks made great subjects.

Giant Anteater - amazing that a creature such as this should come second in the 'mammal of the trip' contest! It would take something like a Jaguar to beat it (Mike Watson).

Giant Anteater - amazing that a creature such as this should come second in the 'mammal of the trip' contest! It would take something like a Jaguar to beat it (Mike Watson).

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