Jaguar Watching

After spending our first two days in the Pantanal roaming around grassy fields and wetlands, we moved on to Porto Jofre, where the southern end of the Transpantaneira Highway meets the Cuiabá River—and there we spent the better part of two days on boats on the river.

My room at Porto Jofre. Four beds to choose from!

Wikipedia describes Porto Jofre as a “settlement,” which I guess is a few notches below a town or village. In an earlier post, I explained that the area once was primarily a destination for sport-fishing, and then about 12 years ago fishermen started seeing jaguars along the river; today, the jaguars are the big attraction. We stayed in a place that apparently got its start as a fishing camp, as evidenced by the accommodations: Each room had a barracks-like collection of four single beds in a row.

The routine at Porto Jofre was pretty straightforward: Get up around 4:30 am, breakfast at 5, pull your gear together and head to the dock by 6:15, get into the boats and go. We’d spend most of the morning 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

Travel Day

We packed up and left Ecolodge Itororó around 6 o’clock on Sunday morning, July 8, and it wasn’t until late Monday afternoon that we were holding cameras in our hands again and photographing wildlife. It was only 36 hours or so, but it felt like forever.

The first part of our trip was clustered around the pins near the Atlantic coast; the second part, nearly 1,000 miles inland. (Click to enlarge.)

The Glenn Bartley workshop is somewhat distinctive among Brazil photo workshops, in that it offers four days of shooting in the Atlantic Forest followed by six days in the Pantanal. That was part of what appealed to me about the trip; many other trips focus entirely on the Pantanal. But Brazil is a big country, and getting from the Atlantic Forest to the Pantanal makes a travel day inevitable. You can see from the Google Map I created for myself for the trip that there’s a big gap between the two regions—they’re about 1,000 miles apart.

So a van picked us up at Itororó and drove us to the domestic airport in Rio de Janeiro, about two hours away. There, we took a GOL Airlines flight to Brasilia, and, after a layover, another GOL flight from Brasilia to Cuiabá—a city of nearly 600,000 people that is essentially the gateway to the Pantanal region.

Andy Foster, Glenn’s co-leader, was invaluable in many ways throughout the trip, and especially so as Read more

A Mountain Oasis

I’ve been on about a half-dozen nature photography trips so far, and I’ve stayed in a range of ecolodges; none of them has been what you would call fancy, but all have been perfectly adequate—as long as you bring a sense of flexibility and good humor. There was a memorable one in Peru where one wall of your bedroom was wide-open to the jungle, and you never knew what kind of critters might visit while you slept. And one in Ecuador where the hardware that was holding up the bathroom sink was so rusted that it broke, and the sink fell off the wall while I was using it.

Shortly after our arrival at Itororó.

Ecolodge Itororó—the lodge where the Glenn Bartley workshop portion of the Brazil trip started—was fairly basic and yet pretty sweet, in my view. From the small city of Nova Friburgo you take a paved road that turns into a dirt road and becomes increasingly steep and bumpy, until you reach an altitude of about 4,000 feet, where a few small buildings sit in a secluded area. That’s Itororó.

There’s a main cabin that consists of a small dining room and a kitchen; the sleeping rooms are in various buildings that have been Read more

Sooooo Many Tanagers

Rufous-headed tanager, Ecolodge Itororó.

One of the things I was really looking forward to in Brazil was the wide variety of tanagers. In the Eastern U.S. we have scarlet tanagers and summer tanagers, and that’s pretty much it. The Western states get western tanagers. But there actually are more than 240 species of tanagers, many of them amazingly colorful, and more than half of them live in South America.

We saw a few tanagers at REGUA lodge—palm tanagers, sayaca tanagers (or “sciatica tanagers,” as Elizabeth liked to call them), black-goggled tanagers, and burnished-buff tanagers, among others. Then we drove to Itororó ecolodge for the next four nights, and the first afternoon there brought a bonanza of tanagers and other birds. We arrived at Itororó at lunchtime, met the other workshop participants and the two leaders—Glenn Bartley and Andy Foster, ate lunch as a group, quickly put our bags in our rooms, and immediately set up our tripods to take photos at the lodge’s fruit feeders.

In North America, people attract birds to their backyards by putting out feeders with sunflower seeds, thistle seed, maybe some nuts, sometimes suet or peanut butter, and so on. In the tropics, birds are more attracted to fruit, so a lodge will typically put out a tray of bananas, papaya, and whatever other fruit is available. The birds at the Itororó fruit feeders that first afternoon were among the most memorable of the trip for me, with Read more

10 Online Resources for Nature Photographers

If you’re looking to get better at nature photography, there’s an amazing universe of internet resources available—many of them free. Case in point: I subscribe to a weekly e-newsletter from the respected photographer Art Wolfe, and about a week ago, the email carried an announcement of an upcoming online critique session he’s offering. Next Monday, Nov. 27, from 9 a.m. to noon Pacific time, he’ll be looking at user-submitted images and talking about what he thinks works in each one, what doesn’t, and how the image might be tweaked in Lightroom or Photoshop to maximize its potential. Anyone is welcome to watch, and he’s doing this for free.

(I won’t be able to watch it live, as I do have a day job! But I paid 19 bucks—very reasonable, in my mind—in order to watch it later on my own time. From the website, I can’t quite tell if that $19 “watch it later” option is still being offered, but you should take a look.)

I don’t know if I’ll submit an image in hopes that Art will critique it. It’s not required. And to me it doesn’t matter—I know I’ll get a lot out of it just by listening to him critique other people’s images. It’s a great way to learn.

It got me thinking about how many other internet resources are available for photographers who want to learn. Below are 10 of my favorites: 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