Mato Grosso, Brazil, October 2019

Just returned from eight days of birding (and mammaling?) in the Pantanal and Chapada regions of Mato Grosso, both adjacent to the city of Cuiabá. This is very close to the geometric center of the South American continent. Apparently there are some markers or monuments that capture this fact, but, as is often the case, we don’t bother seeking out such sites, because birds.

bch
Black-collared Hawk, seen everywhere

It was a bit involved getting there: Minneapolis to Dallas, then overnight (10 hours) Dallas to Sao Paulo, then a long (full day) wait in the airport, and then backtracking two hours to Cuiabá, which we flew over on the flight from Dallas. While we were at the Saó Paulo airport we wandered around outside for a bit, pushing our luggage on a cart, staring up into the scarce trees at Saffron Finches and House Wrens, of all things, while the locals looked at us as if we were from Mars.

caiman
Also seen everywhere are these small Caimans

Our guide Johnny picked us up Saturday morning and we then drove south to the Pantanal. Our first destination was the Aymara Lodge. This friendly and comfy hotel lies just inside the northern boundary of the Pantanal wetland and was good for various woodcreepers, among other birds.

btwc
Buff-throated Woodcreeper

I was also happy to see my first wild Coati there. My maternal grandfather actually had one of these as a pet in the late 4o’s (and she was named Suzy). Seems like a terrible idea.

coati
Poor nighttime photo of one of Suzy’s relatives

October in the Pantanal is hot; we experienced upwards of 40 C / 100 F. Unsurprisingly, not much wildlife is to be seen during midday, but at daybreak a host of otherwise invisible birds suddenly appear, such as this currasow:

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Female Bare-faced Currasow

Rainy season still being a few weeks away, the little bit of water that remains was very popular with birds and mammals alike. No surprise why this is the busy season, as the wildlife is fairly concentrated and easy to find.

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Marsh Deer at Aymara

No shortage of Greater Rheas here. We were treated to several, including a huge male tending his brood.

grhea
Male Greater Rhea taking care of a few chicks – the little grey blobs in front of him.

After two nights in the northern Pantanal, we went south to Porto Jofre, where the road ends at at the Cuiabá River. Only about 120 km, but it was a good four hours of dirt road and sketchy bridges.  We stayed at the Hotel Pantanal Norte.

river
On the Cuiabá River

Dozens of boats cruise this stretch of river, principally looking for big cats, but there is plenty of bird-life also.

cappedheron
Capped Heron

But even a couple of hardcore birders like us had to be awed by the felines patrolling the river.

jag1
One of six different Jaguars we saw over two days on the river

Also being cat-owners, we are quite familiar with facial expressions like this one:

jag3
When our cats get this look, it means: ‘Where is my food, human?”

Here is a nice prospective dinner for a hungry jaguar:

capy
Capybara and Wattled Jacanas – immature and adult
Another easy find in the Pantanal are the largest of the Macaws, the Hyacinth:

 

hymac
Hyacinth Macaws getting their Daily Allowance of minerals

Other denizens of the river include plenty of the bizarre Sunbitterns:

sunb
Sunbittern

… and the even stranger Great Potoo:

gpotoo
Great Potoo

Because of the extreme heat, the schedules here start nice and early, with breakfast at 5AM. I love hotels that keep birder’s hours.

tt
Toco Toucan
jnest
Jabiru nest
ff
Fuscous Flycatcher
bni
Buff-necked Ibis

After two full days on the river, we headed back north to the edge of the Pantanal, for a day at Pousada Piuval. Looking at the eBird lists while here I noticed that we just missed, by one day, a guide that I had hired for half a day many years ago in Miami. Odd.

bymac
Blue-and-yellow Macaw
capy2
Capybara with Giant Cowbird
ammot
Amazonian Motmot
ftfcs
Tree full of Fork-tailed Flycatchers

Finally we spent our last two nightsat Pousada do Parque in the Chapada dos Guimaraes, a national park north of Cuiabá which sits on the plateaus.

la
Lettered Aracari
gbe
Glittering-bellied Emerald
sbt
Small-billed Tinamou

Shortly before we headed back to Cuiabá for our final night in Mato Grosso, I got an unexpected email from Mark Smiles, our guide from the UAE. In another strange coincidence, he was just leaving Cuiabá on his way up to the national park that we were just departing. We probably passed each other on the freeway. How strange is that?

jag2
Time For Go To Bed!

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