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Trip Report:

Jaguars and the Wildlife of the Pantanal



This was our sixth year of doing this trip, where every other year we can only do one tour to this wonderful area. This was one of those years, but the trip, although short, was one of the best, if not the best, we’ve ever had. Our group saw a record twenty (20!) jaguars, and the sightings included an exciting interaction between two males; a charge in an unsuccessful hunt; a mating pair; and the longest, protracted posing sessions we’ve ever had with a cooperative jaguar. It was incredible.

jaguarWe stayed at three different lodges and a Flotel, a house boat, during our stay and the four locations provided a diverse offering. Although I hate to spend only a brief time at any location, and having to pack up again quickly, in a trip like this it is worth it. The subject matter available each morning was unique, yet possibly not compelling enough (if luck is with you) to warrant two nights at the first two lodges. Of course, given the time, I’d have loved to do just that.
We had probably the most successful mammal viewing and photography of diverse species we’ve ever had, photographing the following mammals: Jaguar; Ocelot; Crab-eating Fox; Crab-eating Raccoon; Giant Otter; Neotropical Otter; Howler Monkey; Brown Capuchin Monkey; Black-tailed Marmoset; Prehensile-tailed Porcupine; Capybara; Yellow Armadillo; and two Giant Anteaters – the first I’ve seen in the Northern Pantanal! We also had a great session with two Brazilian Tapirs, South America’s largest land mammal; and Marsh Deer, for a total of 15 species.
birdBirds were, of course, plentiful and diverse, and anyone who tried photographed at least thirty species. These included Black-collared Hawk, Greater Black Hawk, Savannah Hawk; Roadside Hawk; Southern Crested Caracara; Yellow-headed, Turkey, Black, and King Vultures; Ringed, Giant, Amazon, and Pigmy Kingfishers; White-necked, Rufescent Tiger, Black-crowned Night, Boat-billed, Little Blue, and Striated Herons; Neotropical Cormorants; Anhingas; Buff-necked, Green, Plumbeous, and Glossy Ibis; Great Horned Owl; Roseate Spoonbill; Jabiru and American Wood Storks; Great, Snowy, and Cattle Egrets; Hyacinth Macaws; Orange-winged and Blue-fronted Parrots; Monk Parakeets; and various woodpeckers, woodcreepers, songbirds, and more. You get the picture … or we did, at least.

skyOne of the interesting highlights as well was the night skies, as our return to our lodge coincided with a moonless sky, revealing the Milky Way Galaxy in all its splendor. We photographed the stars, framed by yupe’ trees or the stork tree, on two nights, capturing beautiful skies.
I set up Range IR camera traps on three nights, and on the last two nights I had success with a rarely seen and little photographed cat, the Ocelot. That was exciting, and proved worthwhile for hauling the flashes and gear.
This year I tried something different, using an 800mm here for the first time. I’ve always told people that this was too much lens for the river shooting that we do and that a 500mm would be perfect. However, since I bought an 800mm this year (after our Snow Leopard trip) I decided to try it, figuring that if it was a huge mistake I’d only be living with the mistake for one trip, ten days or so, and not several weeks of regret. As it turned out, I enjoyed using it and although I had brought it mainly for birds, it proved very useful this year for jaguars as well. If the jaguars were far, I’d use the 800, or if I wanted tight portraits, and if the jaguars were close or I wanted habitat shots, I’d switch to a 70-300mm lens.


jaguarFor equipment I used the 800mm for the jaguars, or the 70-300mm, as stated above. For further support, I used a Really Right Stuff long lens support system mounted to a Wimberley Gimbal head on a RRS leveling base and RRS TVC 34L truoid, Mary used her 500mm, often mounted on a monopod and a RRS MH-02Pro monopod head, or a Wimberley Gimbal Head on a RRS TVC 24L tripod, a slightly smaller and lighter tripod than the one I use. I used that same RRS MH-02 with indexing Pro Clamp monopod head for the star shot, above, since I did not bring a traditional ballhead, because of weight. If you ever buy a monopood head, get this one. There is an indexing screw-knob that allows the clamp to be rotated in 90 degree increments, providing a lot of freedom if you're using a short lens that does not have a lens collar. That's why it worked for the star shots on the tripod. Mary also used a 28-300mm zoom, and a 17-35mm, and I used a 16-35mm occasionally. I also used a camera converted to IR, thanks to my friend Tom W, mounted with a 24-105mm. We carried our gear in Gura Gear Bataflae bags, which are deep enough to hold a 500mm with a Mark IV camera mounted, or an 800mm, even with the hood, although it must be reversed.

We will be doing TWO trips next year, with an extension to the Southern Pantanal that I scouted out last year.On that extension, we’ll photograph Giant Anteaters, as well as Ocelots and birds not found in the north. If you’re interested, please contact our office immediately to be on our first alert list for registering!

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The following is the entire trip report, written daily.

August 27, Day 1. We arrived in Cuiabab without incident, meeting the group at the Sao Paulo airport for the few hour flight. In Cuiabab, the roads were torn up for the upcoming World Cub and Summer Olympics, so we walked to our restaurant while our bus took a circuitous route to reach the same destination a half hour later.
After a quick lunch, and no lengthy stops for souvenier shopping, we reached the Transpantaneria Gate by 5:15, and without the occasional assortment of birds that sometimes delays us, we headed on to our first lodge. On the way, we spotted the first Giant Anteater I’ve seen in the northern Pantanal, and Mary’s first one, ever. Our first view was poor, not much more than a bushy tail disappearing into a thicket, but as we resumed our drive the anteater reappeared, crossing a fairly open field where we had excellent views of the surprisingly light colored animal, marked by a vivid blaze of white marking a diagonal collar. That was a great omen, and we were even more excited when we spotted another on the road leading to our lodge.
agoutiLast year, while we had dinner we were distracted by some nocturnal Agoutis and Crab-eating Foxes visiting a feeder right outside the dining area. This year, nothing came in, and we had an uninterrupted meal and an early turn-in for bed. Under covers, too, as a southern front had moved in a few days earlier and the night was cold. I had set up a Range IR camera trap on a likely trail soon after we arrived, finished the setup in the dark, and hoping to catch some catch over night.


Top: Crab-eating Fox; Howler Monkey
Bottom: Green Tree Iguana female; Purple-fronted Parrot

coatiAugust 28, Day 2. I checked the camera trap immediately upon awakening but the camera caught only two back-end shots of a Crab-eating Raccoon. Back at the lodge, an entire troop of Coatimundis had invaded the forest, and as members of our group arrived everyone got shots. Periodically the coatis would run off for some unknown reason, but within minutes they would return. Agoutis, near Dik-dik sized rodents that resemble this small African antelope more closely than they do a squirrel, scampered in, hop-walking, and nuzzling into the undercover of fallen leaves for fruits or nuts. Bare-Faced Currasows, huge turkey-sized birds, strode in unafraid, the males making quiet, mewing peeping sounds. Male Currasows are a striking black and white bird, while the female is a vivid, patterned brown, and could easily be mistaken for a different species.
Several Parrots and Parakeets flew in, with one, the Turquoise-fronted Parrot easily identified by its call, a ‘ca-row, ca-row,’ while the Orange-winged Parrot (CHECK) call  sounds a bit like a peacock, although both interpretations require some imagination.  While we were photographing the coatis howlera distant, susurrus roar began, the morning wake-up call of Howler Monkeys. Cindy, Jeff, and I followed the sound and found a small family huddled at the top of a tall tree. Male Howlers are black, and females are a light tan, as were the two juveniles, one obviously her baby, that were cuddled in along side her. The male continued to call periodically, pursing his lips and roaring via an enlarged hyoid bone, a sound that some have confused with a jaguar’s roar. Eventually the monkeys moved off to a different perch, although a few others were still visible, but still and covered with limbs. Howlers eat leaves, and to digest this rather bland meal they will sit for hours. Most monkeys, with far more nutritious a diet, are quite active, but Howlers, like another leaf-eater, the African Colobus, are quite sedate.
After breakfast we took the game-viewing truck to the Pantanera road where we spent a few hours with the incredible numbers of Yacare Caimans piled in heaps along the road. Large-billed Terns flittered by, sometimes diving for fish, and cormorantMary caught a Neotropical Cormorant tossing a freshly-caught fish in the air, prepping for a head-first swallow. Roseate Spoonbills, Black-crowned Night Herons, and Wood Storks, all familiar US species, circled overhead in a clear sky, and mobs of Great and Snowy Egrets cluttered the surrounding low shrubs.
After lunch we headed to our next lodge, and en route Bill managed one distant, but still impressive, shot of an Ocelot crossing the road. This is the first Ocelot I’ve ever seen by day, and it unhurriedly sauntered across the road. Later, a Yellow or Six-banded Armadillo was spotted, in the distance and behind a gang of Wild Hogs, with ten little piglets in tow, crossing an open field. We spotted both Marsh and Brocket Deer several times, but the Brocket Deer were shy and we missed shots. A Savannah Hawk, a large, chestnut-shouldered Buteo, posed on a tree in great light, the best we’ve ever shot on a game drive by truck.
After checking in, we headed out to a waterhole where we hoped to find a Brazilian Tapir. When we arrived, one was already feeding in the shallows of the pond but tapirwe stopped prematurely, worried that our in-coming vehicle would flush it, and ruin the shots for three other people in a blind. Eventually we moved to a better spot but the tapir didn’t return, although another arrived, crossing an open, almost bare field, moving close enough that it was too much for a 500mm and neatly fitting a 300mm, before it reached the pond, stopping at several spots to feed. By then, however, the light was low and both Mary and I did video, getting more out of the last few minutes of the tapir encounter in this way.
We did a spot-lighting game drive back to camp but without anything noteworthy, just Paraqua Nightjars, Capybaras, and Caimans. We reached our lodge by 6:30PM, dined an hour later, and got an early turn in for a 5AM departure tomorrow to look for more Giant Anteaters. As it was, this was probably the most successful and productive first day in the Pantanal I’ve ever had.

macawAugust 29, Day 3. We left at 5AM for a spot-lighting game drive, hoping to find more giant anteaters. It was cold, and we were bundled up with everything we brought down in preparation for cold weather. Normally, temperatures here are in the 90s and 100s, and at dawn either tee-shirt weather or a long-sleeved shirt, but when a cold front blows in from the south it is frigid. Our participants generally heed our packing recommendations, and then wonder why they brought cold weather gear with the normal weather. However, we’ve had two cold fronts during our years, and the cold weather gear was worth any previous unnecessary inconvenience.
Although we did not see giant anteaters, we did see three more Brazilian Tapirs, a lone individual and a mother with a half-grown calf. Tapirs are odd-toed herbivores, Perissodactylas, the same group horses and rhinos belong to, and indeed, as we watched the mother and calf walking across the flats I was reminded most of a hornless rhino. Tapirs have a long proboscis, a flexible nose similar to what the first ancestral elephant’s snout must have resembled. Tapirs and elephants, however, are not related.
macawWe returned to our lodge by 6:30AM, about a half hour after sunrise. Hyacinth Macaws were flying about in a group of eight, and provided excellent shooting at two different trees. At the second, a pair perched on a dead branch with a clear blue sky behind them, making the perfect background for this frame-filling pair. At the other, a Crimson-crested Woodpecker and a pair of Orange-winged Parrots worked the holes further down the perch, while above, the blue parrots screeched on thin dead branches.
After breakfast Marcos led us to the roost of a Great Potoo, a huge nightjar that most resembles the stump of a broken limb. Yesterday, we were told, the bird wasn’t at its habitual perch but it was there today, in great light, and we had wonderful views and photos. In contrast to most potoos we’ve seen, this one actually moved, slightly rotating its head to follow our progress on the forest floor. Normally these birds freeze motionless, only moving after we pass.
On the way to the potoo we found a fairly accessible small band of Black-tailed marmosetsMarmosets, tiny monkeys hardly larger than a ground squirrel but with a long, coiling tail. Several had been drinking at a pond but all retreated to the trees, where one fed on Ypai’ flowers and another nearly ran over my foot as it ran by, climbing a vine where it was partially in view.
I spent a half hour or so speaking with a German girl who is doing her PhD studies on pumas here at this ranch. For her masters she was working on mammal diversity and ecotourism, but after seeing her first puma, who stopped and stared at her after being pushed from a nosey tourist group that looked for the cat in the woodlot it had retreated to, she was hooked. With only six Game Cameras she had captured four puma images in the last two weeks, and previously, in her other studies, she made some very interesting shots. She used infrared, rather than flash, and she believes that the glowing red panel of that light source intrigues the cats, who move in close to investigate.
Besides pumas, she has also captured Tayra, the arboreal South American weasel or marten; Ocelot; Giant Anteater, and most exciting of all, Giant Armadillo, a three foot long relic of the Age of Mammals. Marcos, our guide, has seen a Maned Wolf here, too, so the diversity in this area is great. On our walk I found a likely-looking spot for a camera trap on a future trip, provided we don’t have the punishing schedule we’re following this time!
kingfisherAfter lunch we headed to our third destination, the Pantanal Wildlife Center where, in most previous years, we spent our first two or three nights. With our new schedule we’re getting far more variety, although I have always enjoyed the shooting opportunities here. We did a fairly express run, not stopping for any shooting, and passing up some great views of Savannah Hawks and various waders. But we hoped to do a boat ride this afternoon, and the best light for that ends by 5PM, and at best we could only arrive by 3. We arrived at 3PM and while Mary unpacked I grabbed all of my remote equipment and raced into the bush where I prepared two Range IR setups for a shoot this evening. I made it back before 4PM when we headed out on the boat for Black-hawkcollared Hawk, Greater Black Hawk, and Ringed Kingfisher shooting, where the birds swooped or dove to the fish we tossed. We’ve been doing this for five years, and every time we do this it is as if we’ve never done it before as the two boatmen have their craft going in every direction, and fish are tossed in the wrong spot at least half the time. It is an exercise in frustration, but we did manage one go at the Black Hawk and two or three with the Black-collared, and a couple with the Ringed Kingfisher. Out of the many tries, some should be good, and we’ll have another chance when we return to this lodge after our jaguar camp.
Close to 5:45PM in the twilight gloom I headed out with Marcos to the forest where I focused the cameras and armed the remotes and flashes. Although there probably is little danger, it is comforting to have someone standing erect, like a human should, while I’m lying on my belly or on my hands and knees fiddling with flashes or focus. By 6:15PM I was finished, and after double-checking one camera for potential misfires, and tripping it satisfactorily, we headed back to camp, hopeful that we’ll catch something on the cameras overnight.
Prior to dinner Marcos gave an orientation program on the Pantanal area we’ll be visiting, including a short film clip of the jaguar fight we had last year. I gave an orientation on how the boat works, and the safety issues involved with keeping gear out of the water. Hopefully we’ll continue our good luck and no one will have an accident.

Clockwise from upper left: Black-collared Hawk; the uncommon Crane Hawk; Anhinga; White-necked Heron.

tocoAugust 30, Day 4. Marcos and I headed into the forest at 6:15AM to check and to collect the Range IR camera traps, but we had no shots. The camera and the flashes and Phottrix remotes were all working, which was gratifying, as last year I had misfires which resulted in my Lithium batteries draining. This year I’m using rechargeable batteries, so even if I’d had misfires I wouldn’t be going broke on batteries.
We left for Porto Joffre at 7:45AM, using an air-conditioned bus for the first time, instead of the open vehicle we’ve used in the past. It was extremely pleasant, and we arrived at the Cuiaba River around 11 for a 45 minute transfer up river to the Flotel, our home for the next five nights.
After lunch, after a short break, we left at 2:30PM for our first run, traveling up the Three Brothers River. We hadn’t gone far when we spotted boats ahead of us milling about, a sure sign that a jaguar had been spotted. Shortly after we saw it, moving through the brush, and we headed upriver to a spot where we hoped it would show. Minutes later it appeared, and laid down in the open along the steep bank. I jumped out of the boat and pulled it to shore, and several other boats joined us. Jeff was standing, looking to the distant jshoreline, not knowing that we were photographing a jaguar! Almost everyone got shots before it stood and disappeared into the undergrowth, and we stayed in position, expecting that it would stalk some Caimans on the sandy bank a short distance upriver. The cat didn’t appear.
Marcos, our guide, suggested we backtrack to the Black River, since only two hundred yards separated the two and the cat could have gone there. Doing so would require a ten minute race for us, and I worried that the cat might slowly be hunting, and we’d miss the shots by leaving. Another company’s boat did leave, and radioed that the cat was on that river. All of us raced to our new destination.
The Jaguar, a young male, was lying in the open on the edge of the river bank, and over the next three hours it shifted position, groomed, yawned, walked a short distance, and resumed the lying down, grooming, yawning walking sequence. Everyone was in a great position and I was happy to see that my 800, for posing shots at the normal working distance, worked well. For a moving cat I’d have too much lens, at least in some instances. At 5:15 the light was failing, and all we could really do was video, so we headed home, with the cat still posed beautifully in the open.
jaguarWe had almost reached the Cuiaba River when we found another Jaguar, a very dark spotted female with a radio collar. We had no light, but I wanted to see if it was a male so I got out the big lens, and tried raising the ISO for some shots. Our guide moved ahead of the cat and, at ISO 20000 and 32000 I actually got some decent shots, especially as the cat hunted and looked straight into the camera, its radio collar hidden by its head. We followed the cat for several shooting rounds, but the light was almost night and the mosquitos suddenly attacked in full force. We raced to the Flotel, happy with a spectacular first day.


Top: Yacare' Caiman; Capybara family
Top Middle: Large-billed Tern; Black Skimmers mating
Bottom Middle: Pied Lapwing (plover); Ringed Kingfisher
Bottom: Capybara swimming

August 31, Day 5. We left at 6:30AM, wearing just a light windbreaker, so the cold front must be passed. As I write this, at 1PM, our room presently has no air conditioning and it is sweltering, further confirmation that the heat is back.
Nearly everyone saw three Jaguars this morning, with the potential of having seen two more, as we just missed one of a mating pair and the young, or older cub, of another jaguar. Mary got a few shots of that cat and she looks heavily pregnant. All jaguarof the cats, however, were deeper into the forest or walking through thick cover, so the shooting was marginal at best, and I only bothered to shoot George, the two year old male we saw yesterday evening. We suspect that is the same cat as I saw last year, one of a pair of subadults still with their mother. Now, however, this male is not shy, although today it walked through the woods deep in the shade.
My boat spent the first few hours in the Black Lagoon, where we filmed a very cooperative White-necked Heron and a Black-collared Hawk. We made a few shots of an uncooperative Crane Hawk that continued to fly ahead of us as we neared. Crane Hawks look and act quite like the African Gymnogene, or Harrier-Hawk, as both birds hunt birds and reptiles by inserting a very flexible leg or foot into nest holes or crevices. In Africa, the gymnogene often raids weaver finch nests, and will hang from a nest, flapping furiously, as weavers dive-bomb and harass the predator. Crane Hawks eat lizards and frogs found on the ground as well, but their adaptations for crevice and hole hunting is identical to the African hawk.
capybaraWe had one fairly good opportunity with Capybaras, a family group comprised of five females and five cubs, probably of two litters. We beached our boat against the sand and the rodents stayed, but as we pushed off they retreated, swimming out in front of us. There the babies began to play, and the shooting might have been good but we were called for another jaguar sighting, George, that turned out to be very unproductive.
PM. We left at 3PM, a bit late but without any repercussions. We had just started our ride when we received a radio call that the two mating Jaguars were about, and we sped to the scene. When we arrived, the male jaguar was patrolling the shoreline, roaring a rhythmic err-err-err, quite guttural. After a few hundred yards our boatman and Marcos said he wanted to cross, and before we could even give him a passage he entered the water and began swimming, ending up going down current and finally emerging upon the other side. We followed, and eventually had some great shots as he walked along a sandy beach, pausing once to scent mark, before once again entering the water and crossing, this time to our side. I was on jaguarthe beach, along with some others, and we hustled back to the boat as the jaguar was now returning upriver, basically making a big circle. We waited for the female, only to find that the male crossed yet again, and this time both the male and female crossed the sand bar in front of us. We headed down stream, hoping for the two cats to pass, but they either paused or moved into the interior.
We headed on, passing the San Pedro, where Mary, earlier today, explored, only to find that the river was closed, choked by water hyacinths, after only a few hundred yards. We continued, and soon our boatman spotted a dark shape in a river-side tree. I thought at first it was a sloth, but there are none in the Pantanal, but a closer look revealed a very rare animal, a South American or Prehensile-tailed Porcupine! We fought the current for shots, and finally moved up river where we had a sun-lit view, and where, eventually, I climbed a bank to get a higher, and more leaf-free view.
jaguarMeanwhile, Mary had left the mating pair but headed downriver, intending upon checking the Black Lagoon for George, the two-year old jaguar. They found him, but he was on the Three Brothers River, sitting comfortably on a sand bar, completely in the open. They spent an hour with him before returning back to the Flotel, wondering all the while why we didn’t join them.
On our way back, our other three boats did encounter George, in the exact same spot, although by then we had to push our ISOs up to a very high number. Nonetheless, we all got shots and great views, and completed the afternoon with three jaguars, and six for the entire day (duplicates of the afternoon, however). To date, we’ve seen four different cats, which includes the radio-collared female.

caimanSeptember 1, Day 6. Most of our boats headed up the Three Brothers River while Mary, Sherry, and Pat headed to the Black Lagoon where they spent much of the morning photographing birds. Sherry was using her GoPro and as she stretched forward to film some baby Caimans the boat became unbalanced and her unsecured tripod, with a Nikon camera and 200-400mm lens, fell overboard. She retrieved it within seconds but probably too late to rescue the lens, and certainly too late for the camera.
Another guy, not in our group, arrived today and asked if anyone had a lens he could rent for on his first boat ride, at the PWC, he jumped into the boat and flipped his Nikon and 200-400mm into the drink. It took about ten minutes for him to find the equipment, now insurance salvage. Based upon his history with his gear, no one volunteered a rental.
We headed far up the Three Brothers River where we found a new male Jaguar that jaguarwas fairly shy. At one point, however, we waited in a clearing and the cat appeared, but the cat didn’t walk far before turning, and with head held quite high it ran across the opening, leaping over a meter high at the end to clear a bush. A few seconds later a Capybara crashed into the water and escaped. Our jaguar moved up river, flopping in an opening along the river bank where, among blocks of bank split and lying in the shallows, it made a beautiful scene.
At the Black Lagoon Mary’s boat was told of a Jaguar killing a Caimen at the intersection of the Piquiri River and Cuiaba Rivers, and they raced to the scene. They arrived while the jaguar was still dealing with a living caiman, although its throat was torn open. Unfortunately the jaguar was collared, probably via the Panthera Foundation, and although the shots were unique for us they were marred by the very conspicuous collar. She radioed for the rest of us but we were too far away to hear the transmission, and only as we headed back to the Flotel did we hear about the kill.
We raced to the scene and with Mary’s directions we found the female Jaguar attempting to drag the two meter caiman from the river bank and into the forest. jaguarShe wasn’t too successful, and our shooting was very compromised by thick branches, but as she disappeared through a thicket we moved, and had a much better opening for shooting. The cat, however, was uncomfortable with us and left the kill, and after a short wait we left so she could feed unmolested.
PM. We headed upriver again and my boat went into the lagoon where I tried some more GoPro videos of the caimans. This is proving to be very bad luck because in my third attempt Cindy’s tripod toppled overboard when she stood to photograph me working the video. She thought the entire rig, camera and 500mm were attached, but she wanted to retrieve the gear and went in, up to her neck, and with her feet and the oar operated by our boatman she recovered … only the tripod! She was ready to start diving when our boatman pointed to her seat, where all of her camera equipment was safely lying! She gave him several big kisses on the cheek!
We left the lagoon and hadn’t traveled too far when another company’s boat, just ahead of us, suddenly did a U-turn  and yelled that there was a jaguar downriver. jaguarWe followed, and apparently George, the jaguar, had been lying behind a log on the bank and now stepped into the open. There he remained the rest of the afternoon, and my boat, and Mark and Jocelyn, stayed with him, getting nice portraits but no other action.
The other two boats headed upriver, and Mary’s boat found the Giant Otters, finally, as their absence has been quite unique. They played and she got some nice portraits, especially of a one adult resting its head upon a log. Marcos’s boat did Capybara and GoPro shots, but this time without any accidents!

Several poses of McJaguar, the four or five year old male that is missing his right eye. He and another male courted a female in heat, and McJaguar repeatedly swam in the river or stalked in the shallows. On the beaches, McJaguar scent marked as he patrolled his territory.

September 2, Day 7. Last night at our evening meal everyone expressed a relative disinterest in more jaguars, having had ten sightings in two and a half days. George, the incredibly cooperative but rather static-posing two year old jaguar, has provided great shots but only portraits, and people were bored. Only two groups, so far, had had any type of luck with Giant Otters, including Mary’s boat last evening I a short encounter, and our bird shooting on the river has been slow, again monopolized by the time spent with the jaguars.
Accordingly, today we headed out, hoping not for jaguars but for otters, baby capybaras playing, birds, and the other Pantanal subjects. I was with Cindy and John, and our first stop was, the sand bar where, last evening, Cindy had her tripod go overboard. No terrible adventures today, and on the bar we tried photographing the Black Skimmers but they stayed distant. Two tiny Collared Plover chicks raced across the sand, so fast they reminded me of trying to photograph ants. chick
Occasionally they wandered into the territory of a South American Tern that would dive-bomb the chicks and sometimes the adults, driving the adults to flight until, sufficiently annoyed, an adult would take pursuit after a tern.
We headed upriver into otter country but we saw none, although we did quite well with various birds, including an incredibly tolerant Amazon Kingfisher that perched, teasing us that it was about to fish, when its mate flew in to a tree above, carrying a fish. The new bird was a female, and although the male flew up to beg she ignored him and eventually swallowed the fish herself. Heading back, a nice Roadside Hawk gave us a few shots on a good perch before flying off. Cooperative Anhingas, a swimming Capybara, a juvenile Black-crowned Nightheron with a fish, and a Caiman with a fish – almost too big to swallow but the caiman stayed motionless while we waited – were other subjects. We left the caiman, and when we returned it was gone, replaced by a larger caiman we suspect stole its fish.
Other boats did birds as well and did quite well, and Mark, Albert, and Jocelyn found the Giant Otters and got shots of the otter eating fish. Mary’s boat traveled everywhere and she did a great GoPro video sequence of a Caiman. Their boat shot a lot of landscapes, hawks, and birds, and for most boats it was a great morning, despite or perhaps because of having no jaguars!
PM. We prepared for rain as the sky was gray and heavy with humidity but except for a few drops we avoided the rain on our boat drive. The Flotel, however, had some rain, and as we arrived home the sky was nearly black, with cool breezes that may be foreshadowing another cold front. If so, our last two days will be interesting.
We headed to the Piquiri River to look for giant otters, and within 100 yards of where we had the collared female Jaguar yesterday in the late morning we had another collared Jaguar this afternoon, a huge male. It had a limp and walked slowly, flopping down on the sand beach once to roar. Unfortunately, with the beer key radio collar it was a terrible photo subject and when it disappeared into the undergrowth we had no regrets.
screamerA pair of Southern Screamers stalked like giant turkeys along the sand banks, a rare treat as we normally only see these birds when we're driving to Porto Jofre. We continued up the Piquiri and soon encountered a family of South American Otters, quite analogous to the North American River Otter. We followed them as they gave us fleeting glimpses, bobbing up occasionally and then tuck-diving, surfacing somewhere far ahead. I tried anticipating their progress and would have our boatman head towards a fallen tree or stump where I could quickly tie us secure, giving the boat a better platform in the fast current. At one location, a sandy bank looked like a possible otter slide and we parked there, and the otters visited, catching a fish at its base and feeding there. Interestingly, prior to surfacing with the fish I could see a huge amount of bubbles, reminding me of humpback whales bubble-net feeding, and I wonder if the bubbles here work similarly.
The otters continued on, finally stopping at a bank where they might have a den. Here they caught a reddish colored eel, and fed upon it in two locales that provided shots for almost everyone. The darkening skies had dropped the light level incredibly, and at 4:30PM I had raised my ISO to 8000 to have a sufficient shutter speed.
otterOtters are messy eaters, and often the air and water seems to be covered in confetti from fish parts and scales. Tiny fish are attracted to this chum and today the water almost boiled at times from the activity. Often, all of this small fish movement attracts small Kingfishers, and that happened this evening when an Amazon Pigmy Kingfisher dove in to the thick of it to grab a fish. Indeed, most of the Pigmy Kingfishers I’ve seen have been this way, and I suspect the bird normally perches on low branches inside, closer to the bank and therefor almost invisible from the river side.
Mary could see one of the otters digging, as if it was re-excavating a collapsed den, but we had no other evidence of this. Later, Mary stayed with a Yacare’ Caiman that we all had stopped at, as the caiman had a large fish in its jaws. The caiman seemed shy and the water was choppy so most of us moved on, but Mary stayed and did a very interesting video at the Caiman climbed onto a mud shelf and pulverized the fish, chomping and shaking its head violently, and eventually tearing the fish in two. It ate both pieces.
We continued upriver, hoping for Tapirs, which we’ve seen on this stretch in the past, but the rest of the boat ride was rather slow, with the exception of a large flock of Jabiru Storks feeding in a back channel. On one of the sandy spits we also saw a rare King Vulture, but the light was poor, it was against the sky, and far away, and if any shots were taken they won’t be exceptional.
While we did not see a jaguar this morning, one of the other boats based here did, a mating couple. Although all mating occurred in the forest the female and male were together on the beach and looked playful, but they retreated when boats got too close. Still, they did have a sighting I’m still lusting for – they had both jaguars lying on a fallen tree trunk in the river, a classic pose!



From Top: An infra-red view of the Pantanal and Capybaras;
the high-water mark on a feeder stream;
a Yacare' Caiman reflecting on its vulnerable position;
a Tropical Kingbird perched.

porcupineSeptember 3, Day 8. Just after dinner it began to rain, preceded by distant lightning from the southeast. We wondered if this was a fluke storm or another advancing cold front. Although it rained much of the night this morning started as normal, with clouds blocking the sun for the first hour or two of light, but patchy open skies surrounding us. As we motored up river we could smell smoke, or rather the smell of an old fire, of wet ashes, and we wondered if the lightning had triggered some grass fires that the rains later doused.
Our goal was to find the mating jaguars and we headed up the Three Brothers River fast. Fortunately nothing tempted us en route until we reached the Prehensile-tailed Porcupine. This lethargic rodent was in a better position, and I climbed onto the bank to check for a better angle on land. Sue stayed in the boat and shot a full-frame face, with its eyes wide open, while I was doing this, and made a beautiful image. I did get some shots, perhaps not as good, and carefully carried my gear back down the very slick bank, one at a time. I was coming down for the rope when a speedboat, that had raced by minutes earlier, zoomed back, swishing to a stop to tell us that there was a Jaguar up ahead. I started a slide about then, just as our boat floated out from the bank, but somehow I caught myself before I slid off the bank and into the river. The speed boat people waited, and guided us to the new Jaguar.
jaguarIt was a female, sitting beneath a tree on a high bank, and the first views were difficult, although I did manage a few shots as she sat and watched us. Females are often shy and this one stood and retreated deeper into the forest. We moved upriver, and found her two more times as she walked along, but after the second she disappeared. We heard a roar, and wondered if she had mated … I’m not sure.
We continued up river, travelling almost 11 miles from the Flotel to country I’ve never visited. We passed a nice fishing camp, one I had no idea existed, and moved about another half mile through beautiful forest before U-turning. About a half mile downriver from the fishing camp was the mating jaguars, but nothing was there.
We continued down river, stopping for some Capybaras. The several pups were nursing, and the shooting looked promising when we heard of another jaguar. We raced to the scene, a narrow canal with 14 other boats crammed in, and a sleeping male jaguar, Lightning. I missed my only chance for a record shot when it lifted to a brief alert pose – I was setting our anchor. We waited, but with the crowds and the extremely compromised views, I decided to leave and the rest of our boats soon followed. One boat from our Flotel stayed, and the jaguar, 45 minutes later, woke up and walked along the shoreline within 3 meters of their boat. Only three other boats were there, so it was a good experience.
We motored home in a rain. It was interesting to see what turned out to be the advancement of a southern cold front. After the storm last night, the morning skies were somewhat clear, although dark clouds hung on the horizon. As the morning progressed a breeze began, and it seemed a bit cooler, as if the air itself was cold. Later, the breeze turned into a wind, strong enough to create a bouncing chop to the river as we motored, and the air grew cold. The rain continued, and at 2PM, as we start our afternoon ride, it is pouring.
PM. Three people sat out the afternoon run because of the rain, which continued off and on to some degree throughout the afternoon. The hard rain tapered off shortly after we left the Flotel and by the time we reached the sandy lagoon the rain had almost stopped. Prior to that, we got on shore to photograph three Howler Monkeys, perched rather low in a large tree. We saw only females, with the closest with a large baby. Eventually they wandered off into a deeper forest.
At the lagoon we tried, rather unsuccessfully, to photograph flying Black Skimmers, stopping first for two Nunbirds that our boatman had spotted. I forgot I had a monopod today, which would have been far easier to use than periodically stepping around a tripod leg as I attempted to follow the birds. Others may have been more successful.
otterWe moved up river where Mary’s boat was already parked, photographing five Giant Otters playing in the overhanging branches of a recently fallen tree. Quite often two or three would get into a squabbling fight, all play, but generating an enormous amount of energy. At one point, one otter gave a low call and the others followed, but whatever the reason all soon returned, where they continued to play. We had received a jaguar call but ignored it until the light was just too ridiculous for trying to shoot more playing otters.
The Jaguar was George once again, lying curled up on top of a bank, in the open, just above a huge, very photogenic fallen tree. After shooting a few tight shots, I switched to a short zoom to shoot what I hope will be a classic jaguar in habitat type shot. I said to Jeff and Albert that this young cat might climb down the bank and investigate the tree, being curious when young, and several times it looked in that direction when a hornero hopped along the trunk. After 30 minutes or so, punctuated with licks and stretches, George stood up and wandered downstream. We pulled anchor and moved down to another opening, but George, instead, climbed out onto a very thin tree trunk to pose. One of our boats was still there and in the failing light got some nice shots, almost my dream shot, really, except the limb was narrow and the light was poor. Still, I’d have shot it!
George moved upstream and we followed him, quite surprised at how far he walked when he first disappeared. At first we wondered if we had a second male cat, but Marcos got a good binocular look, and it was George. Finally, he disappeared into the higher grasses and, nearly 6PM, we headed home in the gloom, blasted by cold air from this new South Atlantic Front. It had been an extremely productive afternoon, despite the rain and the failing light, and the lesson here is, never sit out a game drive!


September 4, Day 9. Our last boat ride, and a short one, as we needed to be back to the Flotel by 11AM for an early lunch, a boat transfer to Porto Jofre, and a nearly three hour bus ride back to PWC, where we’ll spend two nights. As it turned out, it was one of the most productive and exciting mornings we ever had in the Pantanal!

fog The rains had cleared out and the air was cool enough that the river steamed in fog. Pat, Sherry, and I headed up the Black River lagoon which was nearly invisible at times in the thick fog but provided ethereal ghostly landscapes of silhouetted trees and water plants as we boated towards the sun. Behind us, the light was merely muted and dull, but ahead, into the light, it was magic. As the light intensified we pulled ashore to photograph spider webs, there by the hundreds, festooned on reeds and tall grasses everywhere. While we were shooting we received a radio call that George the Jaguar was spotted. We raced out of the Black Lagoon and up river, finding George, as usual, curled contentedly high on a river bank.
Before this trip started, I had passed out a ‘Shooting Philosophy’ where I stressed that you can never have enough of a subject, that even if you think you do you just never know when an even better shot will develop. Many of our shooters had that feeling about George, and I suspect where ready to move on. Fortunately we did not, and while we shot George the boatmen spotted another Jaguar approaching.


As the new jaguar approached George sensed his approach and stood, facing in that direction. Several seconds later the new cat appeared, McJaguar with the missing eye. George snarled, baring his fangs, and so did McJaguar, and for a few seconds they were face to face, teeth bared. One of our boatman’s head was in the way and I missed several shots as I called to him to flatten, in enough time that I caught the subsequent action.
McJaguar circled the tree and twice George swatted out, but most of jagthe time he simply bared his teeth and twisted, in an obvious submissive pose. McJaguar, who is at least three or four years old, seemed impassive, barely snarling at all until he turned and walked into the brush. George left, too, heading upriver, climbing down onto a large sandbar where he walked and posed beautifully before disappearing in the grasses.
There was activity up ahead and Mary radioed that something was happening. My boatman, who speaks virtually no English, tried to offer us a choice, which I tried to decipher with my limited Portuguese and rudimentary Spanish. Our choice, go along with all of the other 11 boats up river, or stay with McJaguar who was now walking along the top of the river bank. We stayed with McJaguar.
Mary and the rest headed upriver where they encountered Lightning, walking on the bank and finally posed quite close on a sand bank. Four Giant Otters had been fishing and worked up river towards the Jaguar, spotting the cat and then bobbing high out of the water, screeching their annoyance. Lightning twitched his tail in annoyance and finally wandered into the forest, and the otters settled down. Later, another jaguar was briefly seen as well.
I followed McJaguar, who in the course of the morning walked about 1.5 miles or more as he hunted the river bank. He walked downriver, with his good eye facing out to the river’s edge, and I wondered if he walks upriver on the opposite side, to do the same thing. Regardless, although he has a mangled eye many of the shots hid this and looked quite good.
McJaguar was hunting, and several times Capybara or Caimans dashed into the water scores of yards ahead of him. I was amazed at how these potential prey items could detect the cat and flee, although the jaguar probably wasn’t doing much to mark his footfalls. We would see prey and move downriver to wait, knowing McJaguar would show up and hopefully hunt when he did so.
He did exactly that with three Capybaras sitting on a narrow sand bank. McJ spotted them from a distance, and for a few minutes I wasn’t really sure if I’d seen his back above the grasses. Then his head appeared, and he was watching the rodents. McJ disappeared, appearing closer to the river’s edge, a head poking through the grasses.
He began his stalk, now moving each paw slowly and delicately forward and down, and in this way he slinked down the bank to the river’s edge. One swath of vegetation with low lying stalks separated the cat from the capybara, and provided the cat with some cover.
jaguarThe distance was at least 70 feet, still too far for a chase I thought unless the capybaras grew careless. One always seemed alert, although at one time two were lying on their sides or upside down, attended by a cowbird that was hopping across them looking for insects. McJ didn’t move, not until all three capybara stood and turned to go down river. McJ charged then, bounding along through the shallow water, sending up bursts of spray, but the capybaras detected him almost at once and dashed into the shallows.

My field of view was too narrow through my lens to see them both, and only a froth of white water was left when McJ arrived, although it was obvious in his stride that he was pulling back, knowing he had missed.
Only four boats were here, all tied to the opposite side, but soon a total of 14 boats arrived, following McJ as he continued to move downriver. He presented some wonderful views, including one of my favorites as he entered the water in what looked like a stalk, looking directly into my lens. jagAnother time he stopped to assess a Caiman and charged, and Mary got a great running sequence as he ran over the sandy beach.
Unfortunately, though, McJ was not successful, possibly because some of the tourist boats were completely obnoxious, moving quite close to the cat even when he entered the water and, through all their activity, foiling and disturbing all of his potential prey. This was upsetting to see, and although I hate government imposed regulations I wished jagthat something could be agreed upon here with the tour boats. Towards the end of our time boats seemed to settle down and hug the opposite bank, but had that happened from the start everyone may have been treated to a hunt and kill.
Shortly after 11 we headed back to the Flotel, elated with our morning.


A swimming family of Capybara, the world's largest rodent, and a swimming Jaguar,
the world's most aquatic big cat.

Getting close to a Yacare' Caiman and a bird-in-habitat White-necked Heron.
Capybara baby nursing; Two Hyacinth Macaws grooming; and an IR landscape.

Yacare' Caiman, heads and tails, from one of the bridges near Porto Jofre.

PM. After a quick lunch we headed down river to Porto Jofre, then the bus trip back. En route, we stopped for the Great Horned Owls that nest in a roadside hammock – birds that usually are just poor sightings but today were in the open, and a huge concentration of Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, and Egrets. Twice we saw Southern Screamers with chicks, and we stopped to film Caiman and Jaguar tracks, fresh from treeyesterday’s heavy rains.
We arrived back at PWC in time for me to set up two Range IR camera traps in the forest, where I used three flashes mounted to inexpensive but quite effective Phottix Strato II wireles transmitters and receivers. My cameras were mounted on RRS TP243 ground pods. After dinner, Albert, Bill, and I did star shots, as there is no moon and the sky was clear. At the Jabiru Stork nest we had a great view of the Milky Way and, with the little ambient light from the buildings in the distance, the nest and tree were illuminated quite nicely. Marcos had gone out with us and found an unidentified species of snake, several frog species, and a huge, bird-eating Tarantula that lived in the crevice of a yupe’ tree.

September 5, Day 10.
I headed out to the forest at first light to check my two camera traps, and had Ocelots at both cameras. One had only three images while the other had about twelve, and they were two different individuals. I had framed to hopefully catch a tapir, so the framing was broad, but by cropping the images looked outstanding.
ocelotMeanwhile the group photographed around PWC, with some climbing the tower for the Jabiru Stork and others the birds around the feeders. I went up the tower for a few minutes, and although the Jabirus were doing little a pair of Southern Crested Caracaras flew in, much to the consternation of the Monk Parakeets living in the stork’s nest. The caracaras tossed their heads back and gave their rattling, guttural caw a few times, growling when other caracaras flew by. Unexpectedly, the male hopped onto the female and they mated, enthusiastically for several seconds, a long time for caracarabirds. I wasn’t paying attention at the time and didn’t notice that the male then perched to my left, and then sidled up to the female, leaning his head forward to be preened. I thought it was the female, and I assumed it was the female seeking affection and attention. It was the male, but either way, it was a wonderful example of affection and bonding, and I don’t think I’m putting a human spin on this. Parrots often ‘bond’ with only one pet owner, seeking that person’s attention and going neurotic when separated, pulling out feathers in stress and sometimes going bald.
Bill got an outstanding shot of a Glittering Bellied Emerald Hummingbird hovering at a feeder, and everyone shot the Troupials, the orioles on steroids, and tanagers. At 9 we headed back onto the river for another try at hawks and kingfishers, and we were fairly successful with Ringed Kingfishers. No greater black hawk appeared, and only a few Black-collared Hawks, but still the morning passed quickly. We had intended to motor down the river to its mouth, but it was too hot and people were anxious to get back.


kingfisherHowever, at our farthest point we had several Giant Otters that apparently are habituated and fed, and our guide tried enticing the otters to feed. One swam close to and circled our boat, but when he tossed a fish, a piranha, the otter checked it out and rejected it. The otter then swam away.
PM. I kept one Range IR system going throughout the morning and early afternoon, hoping for a day-moving jaguar or brocket deer but all I captured was a naturalist guide walking by. At 3:30 we entered the river once more, and this time had more activity with Ringed Kingfishers than anything else. One pair of Black-collared Hawks appeared and snatched fish.
kingfisherI left the boat at 4:45 to reset the camera traps and to prepare the evening participants’ portfolio, while Mary headed down river hoping to find an Agami Heron. We’d seen one of these slim-billed, iridescent blue herons several days earlier, before the flotel, but none appeared this afternoon. I reached the forest about 5:30, rearming the flashes with fresh batteries, and then taking a hike to give the setup time to be sure there would be no false firings. At 5:55 I turned around to check, and in the next several minutes the dusk dropped to near night time gloom. I didn’t have a flash light, and I was alone, and potential jaguar bait, but here I am. Marcos, and another guide from the lodge, were worried and had started hiking out to find me and we met en route, quite close to the lodge.

A Four-eyed Opossum caught with my Range IR camera trap. I've never seen this animal 'in the flesh' in Brazil, and that's part of the fun and excitement of using camera traps to record the unseen, unknown nocturnal world. We will be teaching these techniques in our Advanced Nature Photography Course in 2014, or via private One Day Sessions.

At dinner we did a wonderful portfolio of everyone’s work, followed by highlights, favorite subject and location, and favorite shots. It was a nice review. Cindy, Mark, Jeff, Pat, and Sherry joined me for some more star photography, before I returned to finish some business and to write up the day’s report.

ocelotSeptember 6, Day 11. We lost power during the night and Mary’s intended packing in the predawn was a bit compromised, lit by a flash light and head lamp. The power stayed off at least until we left. I left to check the Range IR system in the predawn, and was surprised to find that the first set up, the one where the previous night I had the most Ocelot shots, had nothing except a Gray-necked Wood Rail that was eating insects in front of the camera. The second set, however, was productive and I captured at least one, and possibly two Ocelots, at that trail.
We left at 8:15 for the long drive back to Cuiaba and our luck continued, as we had a great view of a Red-legged Seremia, the long-legged ecological equivalent to the African Secretarybird. Both are ground-dwelling predators that remind me of Velociraptors, both eat snakes and other small animals, and both are colored similarly. Three Greater Rheas were spotted as well, truly flightless ground-dwelling birds. We arrived at the airport by 11:30, with a 15 minute stop for shopping, and said good-bye to Marcos, our wonderful guide. Check in went smoothly and the group headed to Sao Paulo where we’d split, taking separate flights.

In 2014 we are planning on running our Advanced Nature Photography Course which will be primarily concerned with Mastering Flash, remote or camera triggering devices like the Range IR, and macro photography. Contact our office if you are interested.

We would love if everyone who did our Photo Safaris and Tours did one of our Digital Complete Nature Photo Courses to learn manual exposure, flash, workflow, and basic Photoshop and in-depth RAW conversion. We think everyone would get even more out of our trips if they truly were masters of the craft.

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