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Tales from Brazil V – Winding up at Southwild

Southwild Pantanal Lodge.

Our last stop. It is located a little off the Transpantaneira, on the banks of the Pixaim River was in many ways the perfect place to wind up our trip. Especially after the adrenaline filled safaris looking for the magnificent cat that the jaguar is.

Quiet and seemingly cut off, we could walk around unhurriedly around its sprawling lands seeing different types of birds or go down and sit by the river to watch a kingfisher or a raptor swoop down or follow a heron as it stealthily  tracks its prey in the water or smile at the small little cardinals stealing a quick bath.

Quiet. Calm. Peaceful. Absolutely lovely.

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The Southwild had multiple stuff for us to do. Horseback riding. Walk down trails for birdwatching with a few howler monkeys and capuchin monkeys thrown in for variety. Boat rides to see both water birds and forest birds. Observation towers to watch birds and get some unique angles.

Alas, we were here for less than 24 hours. And, while many of us rued the fact that we were spending such a short time at a place that offered such wonderful opportunities, its so tough to squeeze in all the places that this wondrous country has to offer in just ten days !!

We were also here with a very specific objective – or two. Try to see the shy ocelot. Everything was a bonus. But, what lovely bonuses they were !

*****

Jabiru.

Meaning, ‘swollen neck’ in the Tupi Guarani language. Very appropriate, one might say. These pouches serve a rather useful purpose – Like other storks, this one too will intake a large mouthful of water, along with the fish, and it will keep the fish safe in the pouch while filtering out the water. Nature and its little tricks.

There was an observation tower that stood tall in reasonable proximity to a really tall tree on top of which was a nest. And that was the nest where the Jabiru storks have been coming in for years and right when we were visiting, the eggs had hatched !

So, it was to the observation tower that a couple of us headed off to as soon as we got off our vehicle.

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The Jabiru Stork. The pouch is looking a little more prominent here than it usually does


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The chicks ! If you look carefully there is a second one lying down. Its single eye can be seen through the cluster of twigs


*****

The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around the area around the lodge.

Such abundance ! We were back to seeing the amazingly richly coloured birds that this region possesses.

The brilliant orange troupial, the cardinals, the tanagers made a re-entry into our lives, scaled doves, swallows….boy, the birds were just everywhere !

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The orange troupial,..I could not get a single pic without any man made equipment making it into the frame 😦


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One normally ignores the doves. At least, I do. Saw this one wandering around, went down to ground level and got a rather nice shot. A scaled dove.


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The Kiskadee. With a titbit in its mouth. We saw them throughout our trip


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This swallow stretches luxuriously. One more day getting over.


The moment that I really loved was to watch a pair of cardinals take a series of leisurely dips in the waters.

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To dip or not to dip.


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Now, that water is just too tough to resist


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Aahhh….that felt good !!


*****

Soon, the light faded and we got ready for a guided walk into the wooded areas where we were clearly told we were not supposed to enter alone.

Phone lights blinking on and off, we walked in a quiet line, occasionally bumping into each other, with the occasional anxious query about the likelihood of snakes being voiced and we reached a small clearing.

Here, if we were lucky will be where the ocelot will appear.

Ocelots are about twice as large as a house cat. They are gorgeously sleek and that is the main reason why their numbers dwindled extremely worryingly – the insatiable demand of us humans for fur. They are largely nocturnal and that is the reason we were huddled together at this clearing at night. Rabbits, rodents, frogs form part of their diet and unlike most cats and like the more famous cat of the Pantanal, the ocelot isn’t averse to getting into the water and hence, fish is also part of its diet.

It so happened that we didn’t have to wait for long. An ocelot soon peeped at us. A furtive glance before it vanished. Then a braver step closer to the clearing. A quick dart and grab. Poof ! It vanishes.

And, thus it went. For a fairly long time. The clearing was rather generously lighted up so taking pics wasn’t a problem. And not for the first time did I wish for a even smaller lens than my 200-500 !! To get the entire cat in one frame was quite a challenge !

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Presenting…the ocelot ! A really skittish creature that will bolt at the slightest noise


What I completely failed to notice while busy clicking was the fact that this particular cat clearly had had quite a tangle with a porcupine and the results of that encounter were left on its face. There were a few quills still protruding from different parts of its face !!

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Notice the quill sticking out just above the nose ?


Wow !

*****

We just had a few hours to enjoy the next day. And then this trip to this magical country comes to a close.

But, boy, was I looking forward to the morning !

First of all, my good friends, the toucans were supposed to make a presence in the morning. And the usual place they show up had the most outstanding background that one could wish for !

And then, we were to go on the river where the highlight would be to watch various birds swoop down to catch fish. Its always a lovely photo-op !

But, first the toucans 🙂

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The toucans have this habit of tossing up their food before swallowing it and its rather nice to capture that


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Dreamy background. That is what first struck us when we saw them and the background didnt disappoint in the images


And the other denizens of the morning !

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Another dove, another ground level shot as this one goes walk-a-about


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This busy lil thing is the Saffron Finch ( male )


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The Sayaca Tanager, this one seemed rather grumpy this morning…hadnt seen this tanager earlier. If I believed in cloning, I would have gladly removed that branch on the right


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The Golden Hour….lovely light and the layout of the place gives some really awesome background


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The Orange troupial with a brilliant background…notice that offending green top at the bottom ? Ugh !


And soon we were on the boat. And even if the most awaited part of the ride, at least for me, was the birds swooping into take the fish, we went around the river and spied on some of its other occupants.

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This ornery looking gentleman was one of the first sightings. Looking faintly like some superhero ready to fly


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The Agami Heron. A brilliantly beautiful heron. The boatman took us a little deep into the foliage where this guy was busy looking for food. The light was really poor here


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The snail hawk. A rather fierce looking character. Could be because of those brilliant red eyes.


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And can we ever not have these kingfishers around us ? Not a chance. They are everywhere !


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Including sitting on the boats we were in


And, then came the…yes, finally. And I sorta screwed up. So, how it is done is that the boatman throws a fish from the lot that he is carrying while near a few raptors and a few kingfishers and then we aim for the spot where the dead fish is floating, wait for the bird to swoop down and simply go crazy clicking.

Easy, right ?

Well…got a few half decent pics but screwed up most of them. And by the time I got an idea of what I was doing wrong we were done.

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Gotcha ! A kingfisher scoops up the fish…


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…and triumphantly flies off with it


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Got a few nice clicks of the caracara also tasting success. But missed all the other raptors


Next time, I guess 🙂

And, in that slightly anti-climactic fashion, our memorable trip came to an end.

*****

The BTDT ( Been There Done That ) Tips :

Places to travel in Brazil :

You cannot cover all the places you want to in one trip. Not happening. Unless you are taking a few months off. So, best is to decide which places you want to go to, which is a function of what is it that you really want to see.

I must say that our trip was fabulously planned ( thanks Praveen !! ). We managed to squeeze in the maximum possible in the days available and tried to get a look at as many different aspects of wildlife as possible.

We saw the lovely, stunningly colourful birds of the Atlantic rainforest at Trilha dos Tucanos. Then, we made the right stop en route to Porto Joffre to see the lovely toucans, the aracari and other water birds before spending truly action packed days on the river at Pantanal ( North Pantanal, by the way ). Where it practically rained jaguars and when it wasn’t there were birds all around to satisfy even the greediest photographer ! And on our way back, we stopped to see the ocelot and all the other goodies that came as the bonus.

We flew in to Sao Paulo, did a roadtrip to the first place, then flew to Cuiaba for the second leg.

So, decide what you want to see, in discussion with the company that is organizing your trip and pick and choose. Try to avoid peanut buttering, try to ensure a decent amount of stay in the right places. Again, depending on what your preference of wildlife is J

Who to go with :

We did our first leg to Trilha dos Tucanos with Supreet Sahoo ( www.supreetsahoo.com ) who runs Tropical Phototours. Simply outstanding experience. He and Sergio were absolutely spot on with their planning and control of how our days were spent at Trilha. Of course, their intimate knowledge of the birds and their behaviour along with the fact that both of them are superb photographers themselves, was hugely helpful. I would recommend them without a moment’s hesitation.

The second leg, all the days to go to the Pantanal and back was with the wonderful Fabiano who runs Biodiverse Brazil Tours. (https://biodiversebraziltours.com ).

What can I say about Fabiano ? It was an awesome experience with him. Not only is he an absolutely fantastic naturalist but he knows so much about the culture, the history and background of places that we can pepper him with questions and get so much of knowledge about the country. And, yes, his knowledge of the birds and animals and their behaviour is practically encyclopaedic. Most importantly, he is thoroughly professional and knows when to be firm, when to be chilled out.

Another person I would highly recommend to anyone going to Brazil.

Food :

Well, if you have been reading my blogs, then you would know I am not the best person to talk about food :), so its broad generalities that you will get here !

For non vegetarians, it’s a dream place. You get lots of meat. And fish. For vegetarians, it’s a bit of a struggle. Rice and beans are there everywhere, so that’s one bit that’s taken care of. But that alone can get trying. Always a good idea to inform well in advance that you are vegetarians so that enough vegetables are procured for the salads. Of course, if you eat egg as most of the vegetarians in the group did, life becomes much easier. Else, as many Indians tend to do, it would be a good idea to take with you lots of packaged Indian food. Fabiano, having had first hand experience with a group of vegetarians had thoughtfully stocked up on a lot of yoghurt. Helps big time !!

And what made it even better for us was that Praveen was a cook par excellence and he loved to cook ! So, life really was quite easy on the food part. But if you are not so lucky, take a few packaged stuff with you.

Weather, clothes etc etc :

We went in August. That’s peak season since its from July that the water starts receding in the Pantanal and the jaguar sightings especially are really high.

At the Trilha dos Tucanos, the weather was lovely. It rained off and on, but the weather was brilliant. A trifle chilly in the morning but broadly pleasant. Take a rain jacket and rain covers for your gear as a necessary precaution if you are going there.

At the Pantanal, while it can be a little chilly in the morning and especially when you are speeding on the boat, it would be good to be a little layered up. The rest of the time it can be quite sunny. Always a good idea to have hats as a protection.

Rest of the clothes ? Try to wear light full sleeved shirts and full pants. Mainly as protection against the simply amazing number of mosquitoes and all the other bugs that are there, especially on the Pantanal.

Of course, it can just be a little precaution cos those miserable bugs just get to you regardless. I had taken with myself some repellent sprays and creams but none of them had any effect. They are everywhere.  ( If you zoom into many of my pics you would see them on many of the animals and birds ) Just check this pic of the jaguar in the water to get what I mean. Zoom in and there’s this guy sitting on the jag’s nose. And stayed put throughout the swim across the river.

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It might be a good idea to buy something local when you land there. We didn’t and we returned with some rather visible souvenirs especially on the wrists and the ankles. Its quite a nuisance to see one settle down on your hands just as you are focusing on a wonderful bird or a jaguar in front of you, but that’s the way it is.

All in all….Brazil is far away and it is one heck of a journey to get there ( and the jet lag is a real pain especially when I returned ) but…but its such an absolutely stunning place. There is so much to see and so much diversity. Just between the North and the South Pantanal, apparently there is a world of a difference !!

So, if you like wildlife, if you like photography, pack your bags.

You won’t regret it. Ever.

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