Birds, River Otters, and More

We saw much more than just jaguars on our boat trips on the Cuiabá River. We also saw plenty of birds, of course; more on those later. And lots of caimans, which are Central and South America’s version of the alligator. For those really into the nerdy details, the ones we saw in the Pantanal were spectacled caimans, while the ones we had seen back in the Atlantic Forest were broad-snouted caimans.

Occasionally we’d pass a capybara, or a family of capybaras, along the shore—capybaras are the world’s largest rodent, weighing up to 150 pounds or more, and they have a cuteness factor that’s hard to beat. They’re found only in Central and South America.

A cocoi heron with a fresh-caught catfish.

As for birds, well, they were everywhere. We saw the three main species of Pantanal kingfishers—Amazon, green, and ringed—and Ricardo got a glimpse of a green-and-rufous kingfisher, but our efforts to track it down were interrupted when the boat driver got word of a jaguar sighting. Wading birds were especially common; we saw many cocoi herons (they look vaguely similar to the great blue herons we see in North America), striated herons, and rufescent tiger herons, along with a capped heron. There were great egrets, too, but we pretty much ignored them because they’re so common in North America. Same with anhingas: We’d see one on a tree branch along the river and we’d just keep on going. Neotropic cormorants were too ubiquitous to get excited about, either. Read more

The Pantanal

Hyacinth macaws. (Click to enlarge.)

If you’re only vaguely familiar with the Pantanal region of Brazil, that’s understandable—it’s been a tourist destination for less than 15 years. Ricardo Casarin, the guide assigned to us for the Pantanal portion of the trip, told us that the region was originally known for its great sport-fishing, and then in about 2006, fishermen started reported seeing jaguars—jaguars!—along the river banks. There aren’t too many places where you can see those in the wild. Word spread, tourism grew, and today if you Google “Pantanal jaguar tours,” you’ll find plenty of tour operators eager to take you out on the rivers to find the big cats.

National Geographic has a good overview article on the Pantanal, which it calls “Brazil’s best-kept secret.” The Pantanal is an enormous wetland, 10 times the size of Florida’s Everglades. It floods in the rainy season, and most people visit in the dry season—roughly May through September—when it’s more marshy and more accessible. Plus, when the water recedes in the dry season, the wading birds and other wetlands species crowd into the water that remains, which makes the wildlife really concentrated and Read more


While I’m pretty pumped about hosting the Alumni Association’s trip to Antarctica next January, I’m also in the beginning stages of salivating over a vacation I’m planning for next July: to Brazil. I’m signed up for a photography trip to the Pantanal region with Glenn Bartley Nature Photography.

The Pantanal is a ginormous wetland area—like Florida’s Everglades, but 10 times bigger. And it’s teeming with wildlife, including caiman (similar to crocodiles), anteaters, monkeys, and giant river otters. You’re also almost guaranteed to see capybara—the world’s largest, and perhaps cutest, rodent:

Capybara. Photo by Dagget2.

The Pantanal is also one of the few places left where you can see jaguars—and, for many visitors, that’s the main draw.

Jaguar. Photo by Dagget2.

But what interests me most are the birds: hyacinth macaws, spot-billed toucanets, jabiru storks, several kinds of kingfishers, tanagers, and more. To spend the better part of two weeks photographing all of that is my idea of the perfect vacation.

To get an idea of the beauty of Brazil’s birds, Read more