Friday, June 24, 2011

Jaguars of the Pantanal

What an excellent trip to the Pantanal we just had. Thank you all for your sound advice encouraging us to go. We'll need to post a few entries about it because there were *so many animals*--we'll start with some of the best. While staying at the Pantanal Jaguar Camp in Porto Jofre, Brazil, on a tour with our friend/guide Ailton Lara, we were able to see not one, but 4.5 jaguars in five days.

This male jaguar was our first and most frequently seen (on three days for us). Our first look at him was through some foliage, but he soon came out onto the riverbank to relax.

We felt extremely privileged to spend time observing him. Eventually he wandered into the foliage and we headed up the river to look for more wildlife. 

On a small, beautiful river, we saw a female jaguar sunning herself on a bank. She got up and walked along the forest edge, and we then saw a second head pop up: her mate! Ailton explained to us that when jaguars are breeding, they spend about a week, maybe a little more, together, mating, resting, and not much else. 

After laying around for a while, the female would get playful and roll over on her back with purring/growling. Then, she'd get up and walk by the male, and they'd kind of try to bite each other. He'd get the message and follow--and then it was all over in about 10 seconds, with some yowling, swiping of paws and biting. He would jump away and she'd roll over onto her back or side again, and then they'd both rest for a while. This happened at least three times while we watched...and we heard more after they went deeper into the forest. Here are a few close-ups of the female.

Over the next few days, we saw the lone male again, along with a brief sighting of another male jaguar--this one was blind in one eye. Photos of him didn't turn out so well. And then, there was our .5 jaguar the morning we were leaving: it was sitting on a river bank just a short boat trip from the camp. Ailton spotted it, and Mike was able to catch a glimpse of it before it headed for the forest, but only for a brief moment. No photos of that one. Instead, here are a few more of the male we'd first seen.

Highly recommended for anyone who likes seeing rare wild cats in their natural habitat. Next post: other fantastic wildlife from our trip, including the one we'd wanted to see about as much as the jaguar...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Quetzals and Kinkajous

What's this cute thing? Read on and find out.
If you stay long enough in Costa Rica as a tourist (three months for most visas), you take a mandatory vacation out of the country for at least 72 hours to renew your visa. Most people choose either Panama or Nicaragua, and Bocas del Toro in Panama seems to be the most popular spot. Being budget-conscious and curious about the mountainous Pacific side of Panama, we opted for the Chiriqui province. We had an excellent time, saw plenty of birds, and the scenery was beautiful.

We spent our first two nights in a very comfortable guest lodge, Hostal Elvita, in Cerro Punta. The family who runs it is incredibly nice, and we had a fun game of Monopoly with one of the girls.
Part of the garden at Hostal Elvita.
Cerro Punta is full of beautiful flowers.
Above and below, other landscapes in Cerro Punta.

It was cloudy or raining much of the time (5 meters per year of rain in this region!), which contributed to the lush colors of the countryside. Most of the region is deforested due to agriculture or cattle ranching, but the agriculture is small-scale for the most part rather than huge monoculture farms.
Sr. Lucinio Serrano Morales, 89, who still runs his agricultural
business in Cerro Punta down the road from here
View from the road in Guadalupe
The cloud forest attracts some tourism (mostly birders in search of the resplendent quetzal), so hopefully that is helping with forest conservation efforts. This part of Panama also hosts part of the binational Parque Internacional La Amistad (spanning into Costa Rica), which we visited on one of our mornings. We didn't see the quetzals there, but the next morning, we took a guided tour to the area between La Amistad and Volcan Baru and saw three, including this male at and near his nest, feeding a chick that was too small/far to photograph.
We enjoyed that area so much that we decided to stay in one of the cabins there, belonging to Los Quetzales lodge. What a neat building! Two stories, circular structure, spiral staircase, gaslights, and overall fantastic atmosphere. The photo doesn't do it justice.
While we were there, we also got a nighttime visit from an animal we've always wanted to see: the kinkajou. Two kinkajous, in fact. One of which is featured at the top of this entry.
If they seem too close to us and our cabin, it's because they are. Unfortunately, some guests feed the kinkajous at night (we didn't--they came because they thought there might be food around). We were still guiltily glad to get such a good look at them. They're possibly the cutest mammals we've ever seen.

Another neat thing about the Chiriqui province: loads of hummingbirds wherever there are feeders. The feeders at our cabin were constantly full of fighting, zipping, sipping hummingbirds of at least 5 species including Violet sabrewing (bully of the group), White-throated mountain gem, Magnificent hummingbird, Green violet-ear, Magenta-throated woodstar, and more (only several of which are shown here).

We're back in Costa Rica now, and from the results of our poll, it looks like food and continued posts about wildlife are the top preferences. We'll post on food soon, but all the neat things we should have photographed, like traditional Bribri meals, unfortunately didn't occur to us at the time, so it might be a little more text-heavy.