Friday, July 8, 2011

Pantanal: Creatures and Landscapes

While the jaguars were a major highlight of our June trip to the Pantanal, the beautiful landscape, many other animals, and spending time with our friend/guide Ailton Lara contributed to making this a fantastic experience. 
Capybara (above) and Paraguayan caiman (below) abound in the Pantanal and are a large part of the jaguars' diet. The big family groups of capybara are adorable; we never got tired of seeing them.
It's been a while since we got to write about birds. So many exciting species in the Pantanal! Here are a few that we particularly liked. 
Burrowing owl on fencepost. We also got to
see a pair of great horned owls later in the trip.
Social grooming: guira cuckoos. We're suckers for big, social groups of birds.
And speaking of social grooming...hyacinth macaws! The world's largest (flying) parrot. And cutest?

Among the mammals we saw were red brocket and marsh deer, crab-eating fox, southern tamandua (anteater), and these giant river otters, snacking on delicious fish (catfish and piranha).

We felt really lucky to have seen so much wildlife. At the beginning of the trip, we saw a tapir (our favorite--more on those to come in our upcoming entry on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica). This one was wallowing chest-deep in broad daylight, but when we slowed to look at it, took off too quickly for a photo. On our way back to Cuiaba, we got a few more surprises. An ocelot--the first we've seen in the wild--ran across the road in front of us (also too rapidly for pictures). What a thrill. There was just one more animal we'd been craving a glimpse of, but it seemed like too much to hope for, given its rarity in this part of the Pantanal. We stopped at dusk by a field for some landscape photos. A few local people were passing, and we heard them say two magic words to our driver: "tamandua bandera." Lo and behold, there it was:
 The giant anteater. Every bit as unusual, shaggy, and fantastic as it looks, and more so. 

Above is a view of the Transpantaneira, the dirt highway through the northern Pantanal, with Ailton and Mike sitting on one of the many wooden bridges over the seasonally flooded land. The water levels were on their way down during our visit, but a high percentage of the land was still inundated.

Below, land that was decimated by a fire started by a rancher attempting to clear part of his land several years ago. It grew out of control, as fires often do, and blazed into the park, leaving few trees standing, and fewer living. 

Navigating through lillies at the mouth of the San Pedrinho River, where we saw the giant otters
and the pair of jaguars.
Us with Ailton. We highly recommend trips to the Pantanal with him and his company.

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