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Jaguars and the Wildlife
of the Pantanal


In July and early August, 2023, we did two back-to-back visits to one of our all-time favorite locations, Brazil's Pantanal. As usual, our primary objective was to photograph Jaguars, and we did quite well (as usual) with this magnificient big cat, but as this portfolio will show, the Pantanal offers far more than 'just' Jaguars.


Scarlet-headed Blackbird - this is a species that, for good images,
has eluded us for years but we had luck on both photo tours this
year -- I think we finally found the secret to success!


Jacare Caimans are common, and I think one of the most
effective compositions is to get in close and low and to
use a wide angle lens to incorporate habitat.

Jaguar photography is so easy today that I no longer worry about keeping track of how many we see on a given trip, which generally ranges between 15 and 25 during a four or five day visit to 'Jaguar Land.' This year's trips were timed to maximize our chances of finding a mother Jaguar and young cubs, but in that we were unsuccessful. Getting that type of rare sighting is truly a matter of luck, illustrated by a photographer friend who, on his first trip to the Pantanal and on his first day in Jaguar Land, photographed a mother carrying a small cub swimming across a river where the family (two cubs) posed on the shoreline before disappearing into the jungle. We were far up a different river system that morning, but even had we been on the same river, chances were good we'd have been further upriver at the time of the sighting. You just never know! Of course, we're expecting more cubs in 2024 and we're hoping for the best!

Although we did not see cubs, we nevertheless had some incredible Jaguar sightings, including Jaguars resting in trees, swimming directly towards us, and multiple occasions when cats patrolled the river bank. In one memorable encounter, we were following a Jaguar when a small group of Giant Otters swam by, resulting in the Otters screaming their displeasure and teasing the Jaguar into chasing the otters into the river. Wisely, the cat remained on the bank, for these large otters have a definite advantage in the water and could easily drown, or severely injure, a jaguar that took chase.


A Giant Otter voices complaints as a Jaguar prowls
the riverbank. The Jaguar was wise enough not to
enter the river!

We had multiple encounters with Giant Otters as well, and on one of the photo tours we discovered a new location where the Otters were extremely tame and curious, and we expect we'll be visiting that location many times in the future.


Prehensile-tailed Porcupine - a real find!

We had great luck with other mammals as well, including Brazilian Tapirs swimming across a river at sunrise, a photo session with the rarely-seen Prehensile tailed Porcupine, and an extremely productive roosting site for Proboscis River Bats. Capybaras, the world's largest rodent, cooperated several times as various birds worked their fur as they sought out insects. At night, at one of our lodges we had several great sessions with Crab-eating Foxes and Ocelots. Years ago, in order to photograph Ocelots I'd either use camera traps or, once a bait station was established, I'd set up a bank of electronic flashes, but today powerful LED lights illuminate the area, making photography simple!


Brazilian Tapir; Capybara with Giant Cowbird and with Wattled jacana;
Crab-eating Fox at the Ocelot bait station.


Ocelot - once an almost impossible subject to photograph,
now very near a sure thing! Below, Giant Otter and River Bat.


Bird life never disappoints one in the Pantanal and we did exceptionally well with multiple species. It is not uncommon to photograph at least 50 different species of birds, and some photographers capture almost twice that number. The Jabiru Storks that nest at one of our lodges had eggs, and from the vantage of a nest-level platform photographers filmed adults as they flew in with sticks or courted on the growing nest site. Jabirus, the largest wading bird in the Western Hemisphere, are common and tame, and some of our favorite shots were closeups, at river level, of birds stalking the shoreline. Wattled Jacanas in some quiet backwaters were exceptionally tame as well, providing the opportunity to hold a camera low and capturing water-level close-ups as birds foraged just feet away from our boat.


Jabiru stork, above;
Below, first row: Jabiru Stork at sunrise; Wattled Jacana
Second row: Black Vulture riding a Caiman carcass;
Black-collared Hawk swooping for a fish;
Crane Hawk eating a frog


Although bird photography is always good, each trip is always a little different and this year was no exception, offering opportunities we've rarely had before. On one trip we had our best sighting and photos of the rare King Vulture, and on both trips the normally difficult-to-see Boat-billed Herons were a common sight. Neotropical Cormorants often captured catfish, and provided long minutes of challenge, and shooting, as the birds worked to swallow this dangerously spiny fish.


King Vultures, above;
Monk Parakeet; Sun Grebe, second row;
Boat-billed Heron; Neotropical Cormorant, third row


We've been doing this photo tour longer than anyone else -- that's a fact, as we were the only tour group the first year we visited, and one of only two or three tourist boats for the first few years afterwards. This experience paid off as several times, rather than 'reacting' to a potential sighting we were PROACTIVE and anticipated where a Jaguar would go, and we were in position for great photos when the cat arrived. Each photo tour provided such opportunities.


Writing this trip report over five months post-tour, I can't help but get excited over the potential and opportunities are next trips in 2024 will bring. We hope you'll join us!


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