One of Our All-Time Favorite Tours!
Trip Details and Price
Each trip of the Jaguars and Wildlife of the Pantanal Photo Tour and Safari is
limited to 10 participants.
Price includes lodging with double occupancy, all meals, and drinks
on the jaguar-shooting boats.
Price does not include lodging prior to official trip dates or transportation/flights to/from Brazil
August 27-September 6, 2013
Check out our book Jaguars and the Wildlife of the Pantanal
A jaguar at the conclusion of a tooth-baring yawn.
Read on for
Our Photo Safari
Cooperation and Expectations
Our Specific Locations
Birds and Wildlife
Trip Details and Prices
Until recently and for many, the photographic equivalent of the Holy Grail for the Western Hemisphere was the jaguar, the world's third largest cat. Images of jaguars were rare, and the locations where they were filmed were varied and without guarantee. All of that has changed.
Today, at our base location in the Pantanal, jaguar sightings are almost a certainty. I never guarantee any natural event but the statistics for our site are so impressive that the owner of the operation practically guarantees that one will see a jaguar over the course of a few days. In fact, the average is about a jaguar a day!
Although our objective is to find and photograph jaguars, the Pantanal offers an incredible variety of subject matter. Indeed, the Pantanal's wildlife is more accessible than virtually anywhere else in Central or South America. In addition to jaguars we'll have a good chance of encountering giant otters, cabybaras, caimens, hyacinth macaws, jabiru storks, various hawks and kingfishers and innumerable songbirds. On our last tour, our group shot over 70 different species of birds. There is, in short, a huge amount of subjects to shoot!
We'll be doing one photo tour in 2013.
The jaguar, the Western Hemisphere's largest cat, and the other wildlife and birds of the Pantanal of Brazil offers some of the most exciting and rewarding photography of all of the various photo tours and safaris that we offer. This is an exciting, rewarding shoot, filled with diversity and almost continuous shooting.
Background information: A few years ago, a British photography magazine interviewed me and, towards the end of our talk, I was asked what goals I still had ahead. I answered that I hoped to some day have a chance to photograph jaguars. Putting that wish into words may have perhaps solidified my efforts to find a great location for jaguar photography, and in 2008 I found just that and did an exploratory trip with two friends. We were wildly successful, and hence this tour that we've developed. Our scouting report tells that whole story.
The jaguar is the Western Hemisphere's largest cat, and the world's third largest cat. The jaguars living in the Pantanal of Brazil, the location of our photo safari, are the largest of these cats, with males often weighing 250 pounds or more. Ranging from extreme southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico south through Central America and South America east of the Andes to northern Argentina, the jaguar is a successful but elusive cat that is found in deserts, jungles, pampas, and scattered woodlands. It is rarely seen.
Except in the Pantanal, one of the world's largest wetlands, where jaguars are commonly seen along the river banks. On our scouting trip, where we had 6 days to hunt for jaguars, we missed seeing one on three different days! That might not seem so noteworthy until you consider that we also saw jaguars on three other days, for a total of 7 different jaguar sightings, and where we photographed all but one of those cats! In other words, with just a bit more luck, we'd have had jaguars every day we were on site!
Even more amazing, when we went to our next stop we met other tourists that saw 5 different jaguars in two days in that vicinity! The area, it would seem, is thick with cats!
Check out our 2010 Portfolio, too, in order
to get a great idea about the subjects you are likely to
photograph on this incredible tour.
For an even better idea of the bird photography,
check out the portfolio of one of our participants,
Rich Miller, who has an outstanding collection.
Our Photo Safari
We'll be visiting three locations in the northern division of this vast wetland, the Pantanal, near to the end of the dry season when wildlife is concentrated in the remaining wetlands and along the permanent river courses. For more on these locations, please read on, after our subheading on Cooperation.
At some of our locations we'll be land and boat-based, where we'll be staying at wildlife lodges. At the lodges we'll be photographing a variety of wild life including brown capuchin monkeys, Jabiru storks, tuco toucans, parakeets, caimens, howler monkeys, common potoos, and a variety of other birds, including kingfishers, hawks, herons, and other water birds. On our first Photo Tour our group photographed at least 62 different species of birds, as well as at least 9 species of mammals.
We'll be photographing some of these species from land - on the grounds of the lodges, or from vehicles as we drive the ranch or Pantanal roads, while others may be filmed from boats. Howler monkeys and Jabiru storks can be photographed from the ground, but there is also an elevated platform where one can photograph both from an eye-level, treetop perspective. This may require climbing stairs or a ladder, depending upon the subject and setup.
Our boats can sit 8, but we'll have 3 photographers and a boatman, and perhaps a guide in the back, so you'll have plenty of room for shooting. Cabybaras are the world's largest rodent, a giant deer-like beaver, and are common, and favorite jaguar foods. We conduct an annual 'Best Cabybara Photo' contest because getting a great shot of this big animal is challenging!
Most of the jaguar photography will occur from our skiffs, 9 passenger boats where we'll have three photographers per boat. The procedure for finding and photographing jaguars entails cruising the shorelines of the major rivers and the side channels, where jaguars may be resting, hunting, or lying about in the brush or under a tree. Scout boats are always out on the river searching, and when a jaguar is spotted our boats will be alerted and we'll head to the jaguar. In many ways this is similar to our methodology used in Kenya when we find a leopard, where our other vehicles are called in when one is spotted.
Cooperation and Expectations
We realize that everyone doing this trip wants, first and foremost, to see and photograph a jaguar. Meeting that expectation is our foremost goal, but we are at the mercy of luck and the whim of nature. Here are a couple of things to bear in mind if you are considering doing this safari.
1. Almost everyone who visits the jaguar reserve where we'll be spending the majority of our time sees jaguars - the camp's success rate is about 90%.
2. Photographing a jaguar is another matter! Jaguars typically visit the river banks and shorelines mid-day, to drink or to wait for prey, and are most visible then, so we'll have good light in our favor. We have done extraordinarily well on all the trips we've done for Pantanal, and we expect that success to continue, but perhaps we were lucky.
3. However, we conducted our trip with the 'hope' of simply seeing a jaguar, and with the goal of having a great photographic trip regardless of whether or not we saw a jaguar. There are so many other species of birds, mammals, and reptile to photograph that the jaguar, in truth, should simply be the icing on the cake. Working with that philosophy, we have had great and extremely successful trips. For ANYONE DOING THIS TRIP, you must have that same philosophy!
4. Patience is mandatory. On our first scouting trip, one day we sat for several hours, first in the shade, then in the hot sun, while we waited, and hoped, that a jaguar family would come to the water to drink. They did, but it certainly required patience.
5. Jaguar and much of our bird photography at the jaguar station will be from boats, and photographers have to cooperate with one another for shooting. Fortunately each boat is captained by a Brazilian guide who will do his best to ensure that everyone gets into a good position, but there will be times when the lead photographer - in the front of the boat - gets a shot that others will miss. Generally, boats move in at an angle to insure that everyone has an angle. The photographer in the front often ends up OUT of position when a boat moves in, as the image size becomes too large, or you are within the minimum focusing distance. Mary and I will always have the lead position so that we can direct our boats for everyone's best advantage. Whomever takes that position in the boats we're not in will have to assume that responsibility, too.
6. We'll survey our group as to exactly how we'll search for jaguars. The camp recommends that all of a group's boats stay together, insuring that everyone sees a jaguar if one is spotted. In that way, no one misses out and everyone is happy.
However, that also cuts down by as much as 66% the spotting opportunities we could have if we split. I say as much as 66% because there may be one or two scouting boats searching as well, but you'll get my point. Personally, I'd prefer that we separate so that our searching web increases, and by doing so every boat will have far better chances at quality photography of the other species we'll be encountering. On our Photo Tour we worked in this way, and everyone got to every jaguar that was worth photographing. More importantly, the group also shot a host of other subjects, and the diversity and uniqueness of the shoot was enhanced by having our boats spread out and independently searching.
7. Participants must realize that the Pantanal is not a zoo and you and those in your boat could miss seeing a jaguar. Going back to item 6, we'll discuss this in detail on site, giving the pros and cons, so that the group can make a decision. If we all stay together, everyone succeeds, or fails. If we separate, everyone might succeed -- if a jaguar stays where it was spotted, but at least one or more boat would have a chance at success. I offer this, here, to think about as you consider joining us on this safari.
Our Specific Locations
The Pantanal, the world's largest wetland, can be divided into two sections - North and South, and each section requires a different entranceway and are not connected by road. We'll be concentrating our time in the northern section of the Pantanal where we'll be visiting three different locations to stay and to photograph.
The exact sequence in which we visit these three sites varies by the tour, but the following description will nonetheless give you an idea of what to expect.
At our first location we'll do an over-night where, at dusk or dawn, we may photograph howler monkeys in the treetops or atop the tall observation tower where the monkeys often roost. Last year, the monkeys did not appear, but from the vantage of the tower I photographed flying wood storks, roseate spoonbills, white-necked herons, various egrets, greater black hawks, and crested caracaras.
A long boardwalk extends across the wetland, and along this trail I saw an ocelot (a spotted cat about the size of a bobcat), and filmed large spectacled caimens, chaco chachalacas, snail kites, hyacinth macaws, kiskadee flycatchers, and cabybaras.
At our second location we'll divide our time between boat trips for riverine species and independent sojourns on land for terrestrial birds and mammals. On the river we've had great luck photographing eagle-like black-collared hawks and greater black hawks swooping down for fish, yellow-headed caracaras, three species of kingfisher, and various wading birds including the striking sunbittern.
On land, this location is truly special, having a spiral staircase tower where one can photograph the Western Hemispere's largest wading bird, the gigantic, black-headed Jabiru Stork at its nest. From the tower one can actually look down into the nest, and frame-filling shots of the nest are done with a 300mm lens! Larger telephotos can be used for tight shots of an adult or the young, but a 70-200mm zoom may be even more useful to capture the adults in flight as they return to the nest.
One of the world's most cryptic birds, the common potoo, has roosted in the same tree for years and from the ground, or, as happened last year, from a scaffold erected nearby, one can photograph this bird that mimics a stump quite easily. On the well-traveled track and trail that leads to the potoo we discovered fresh jaguar tracks last year, and I know I'll have a remote trail camera set up next time to try to catch a jaguar or ocelot as it wanders the trails at night.
This second location has a wide variety of very tame birds, including hyacinth macaws, toco toucans, chestnut-eared aracaris, crested caracaras, woodpeckers, woodcreepers, cardinals, jacanas, whistling herons, cormorants, yellow-fronted parrots and parakeets, and more.
Brown capuchin monkeys are tame here, but on our tour last year we either ran out of time or picked the wrong area and missed photographing this monkey. At night, on a night game drive we've had horned owls, ocelots, marsh deer, caimen, boat-billed herons, and various nightjars. The lodge maintains several feeders where the toucans and cardinals and several other species visit, including the Glittering-throated Emerald Hummingbird and the oriole-like, and blazingly colored Troupial.
The majority of our time, however, will be at our special jaguar camp where we'll cruise the rivers looking for jaguars and other species. In addition to jaguars we may have great luck with giant otters, as we did on our last tour but missed on our scouting trip, cabybaras, caimens, four different kingfishers, sunbitterns, hawks and kites, jacanas, flycatchers, and more. In camp, which is usually limited only to some time after lunch before an afternoon return to the river, I've photographed brown capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, toco toucans, black-fronted nunbirds, blue-throated piping-guans, and various tanagers.
Between these locations one could see or photograph at least nine species of mammals and at least 50 species of birds, and, I'd guess, closer to 75 species of birds if you concentrated on doing so. Additionally, there are toads and treefrogs, and some lizards and, of course, large caimens.
Birds and Wildlife
As stated above, there are scores of birds and many mammals and reptiles.The mammals we've seen on the last few trips include the following:
jaguar, ocelot, South American river or neotropical otter, giant otter,
agouti, cabybara, coatimundi, crab-eating fox,
brown capuchin monkey, howler monkey, marmoset, Brazilian tapir,
red brocket deer, marsh deer, various bats.
Additionally, we could see or photograph the following mammals:
Nine-banded armadillo, common opossum, giant anteater, southern tamandua
The birds are truly too numerous to list completely, however here's a partial
list of species we've seen on both the scouting and photo tour trips:
Neotropical cormorant, anhinga, yellow-billed tern, large-billed tern, black skimmer,
boat-billed heron, three egret species, cocoi heron, whistling heron, rufescent tiger-heron, capped heron, Jabiru stork, Maguari stork, plumbeous ibis, bare-faced ibis,
southern screamer, greater rhea, wattled jacana, gray-necked wood-rail,
wattled jacana, sunbittern, sungrebe, pied lapwing, chaco chachalaca,
bare-faced curassow, blue-throated piping guan, undulated tinamou,
black vulture, lesser yellow-headed vulture, snail kite,
black-collared hawk, savanna hawk, greater black hawk, crested caracara,
yellow-headed caracara, hyacinth macaw, canary winged parakeet,
three parrot species, squirrel cuckoo, smooth-billed ani, guira cuckoo,
horned owl, pauraque, common potoo, various swallows and martins,
glittering-throated emerald hummingbird, blue-crowned trogon,
four kingfishers, rufous-tailed jacamar, black-fronted nunbird,
toco toucan, chestnut-eared aracari, white woodpecker,
lineated woodpecker, campo flicker, narrow-billed woodcreeper,
pale-legged hornero, two antshrikes, six flycatchers,
purplish jay, donacobius, four tanagers, troupial, scarlet-headed blackbird,
yellow-rumped cacique, grayish saltator, red capped and red-crested
cardinals, and saffron yellow-finch.
Reptiles and amphibians include:
spectacled caimen, yellow anaconda, green iguana, golden tegu,
caimen lizard, and various treefrogs, frogs, and toads.
Brazil Extension Photo Tour - Maned Wolf (& others)
Not offered in 2013.
See our Trip Report for 2012
Prior to our first Pantanal Photo Tour we'll be scouting out an entirely new destination in central Brazil to photograph South America's largest canine, the long-legged and endangered Maned Wolf.
Our quest is a virtual guarantee, as the Maned Wolves here are completely habituated. Additionally, we'll also be photographing large numbers of Hyacinth Macaws, the largest of parrots, and we should get flight shots of red-and-green macaws, and other birds.
The area also has an unusual group of Brown Capuchin Monkeys called the 'Einstein Monkeys.' These monkeys have learned to use igneous rocks to smash open hard palm nuts, a very rare example of using a tool to accomplish an end. Few mammals have learned to use tools, and those few that do include humans, sea otters (who use rocks to bang open abalone and shell fish), and chimpanzees (who use slender twigs or grasses to fish out termites).
At the bird feeders at the lodge we may also photograph the amazing-looking Tufted-eared Marmoset, a small primate that's a bit larger than a stocky squirrel.
This is a scouting trip, so I don't know all the species of birds or mammal that we may find. However, the owner of the property also owns two of the locations we visit in the Pantanal, and he's done an incredible job of setting up his camps and lodges for photography, erecting scaffolds and towers for great shooting. He'll be doing the same for two months in April and May prior to our visit and I'm sure his statements of 'mind-blowing' will be quite accurate.
We're expecting to limit this extension to only four participants (unless everyone wants to join us and there is room), so if you are interested in this do not hesitate to contact us immediately. If we can only take four, it will obviously be the first four that contact us!
Exact details on our travel arrangements will be forwarded to those registered for this Pre-Trip Scouting expedition, as we'll be flying in to Brasiia to start this adventure.