Roadside Birding

A striated heron along the Transpantaneira Highway. Click to enlarge.

Most days on the Brazil trip started early. It wasn’t uncommon for breakfast to be served around 5 or 5:30 a.m. and for the day’s excursion to start around 6. That was pretty much our schedule on Wednesday morning, July 11, after two nights at our lodge near the northern end of the Transpantaneira Highway: bags outside our rooms at 5:15 am, breakfast at 5:30, and on the bus by 6:00. We’d be driving south that day to the end of the Transpantaneira Highway, to a place called Porto Jofre—but we also would be photographing along the way, and Glenn had a place in mind he wanted us to get to by first light.

As we drove, we saw dozens of termite mounds studding the fields, which surprised me—I thought that was only an Africa thing—and we were told there was a chance we’d see giant anteaters. (From Wikipedia, I learned that giant anteaters are classified in the same taxonomic order as sloths. Who knew?) But we had no luck in seeing any.

Probably less than half an hour after leaving the lodge, the bus stopped along the side of the “highway” (again, just a dirt road), near one of its many wooden bridges, at an area that seemed particularly loaded with birds and other wildlife. The idea was to spend a couple of hours just wandering up and down the road, photographing whatever wildlife seemed to present itself, until the daylight sun got too harsh for photography. Glenn said, “Let’s just enjoy this place,” and with that, 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