Pantanal Birds

Friday, 31 October 2014

There are so many birds in this part of Brazil that is hard to wrap the mind around it. 

Approximately 3,000 species of birds are found in South America. Researchers estimate that 1,600 of the species are found in Brazil and more than 650 of them are specifically found in the Pantanal. This place is a bird watchers’ paradise!

I have my favorites, of course. The kingfisher (we saw Amazon, Green, and Ringed) is an amazing bird that likes to be around water and goes fishing for its food. The blue-fronted parrot has a call that (to me) sounds like a cat. I was never able to snap a photo of it because they are usually flying or hiding behind leaves.

The larger birds in the Pantanal are impressive. These include the Jabaru Stork, Roadside Hawk, Black-Collared Hawk, Bare-faced Carrasow, Southern Screamer, and the Cara Cara.

We were able to snap shots of the rare Common Potoo and the Spotted Puffbird. The Common Potoo is nocturnal and has grey and brownish feathers that allow it to blend perfectly into a tree. The bird stands still in the fork of a tree with its eyes closed during the day, resembling a branch. If someone or something comes around the Potoo during the day, it will not move to take a look, instead, it will look out of the very corner of its eyes to see what’s there. Every time we came back to look for the Potoo, it was in the same position as the day before. Our guide thinks it has a nest in the tree with eggs or little ones. Common Potoos hunt insects at night and are often mistaken for owls. No one knows if the Potoo is actually a rare bird or if it is just so hard to see that people believe that it is rare. Can you find it in the photo below?

*Photos were taken by me.

The Elusive Jaguar

Thursday, 30 October 2014
It is quite rare to see a jaguar in the wild but during our time in the Pantanal, we had two jaguar sightings. The first night when we pulled up to the front lodge, two jaguars were standing on the dirt road, getting ready to cross over to a pond to drink. It was early evening and they moved quickly away. 

The third night in the Pantanal, we found a pair of jaguar (our guide thinks it was a mother and daughter) feeding on a cow carcass. They stayed out in the open (it was dark but we could observe them with a spot light) for about 30 minutes. Eventually a large group of peccary (pigs) chased them away. Our guide, Zapa, said that he has heard of peccary chasing jaguars away from a kill but he'd never witnessed it in the wild! 

Jaguars are part of the Panthera genus and are one of the largest members of the cat family. Males grow up to 250 pounds and females are a bit smaller. The cat is solitary but kittens stay with the mother for approximately two years, learning to hunt.

We had hoped to see jaguars but didn’t count on it because they are so elusive. Our group felt very lucky to have not one but two sightings of the beautiful beasts.

Swimming Piggies

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Cabybara is a pig-like aquatic rodent. They swim and nibble on flowers and grasses around wetlands. I thought they seemed very hippo-like in their movements. Cabybaras are the largest of the rodents and they are found only in South America. We saw several families of them in the Pantanal and they are so funny to watch. They do resemble huge rats but do not have tails or large front teeth that stick out like the Nutria found in Oregon.

Back to them being like hippos: they have webbed feet and can stay under water for five minutes at a time. They mate in water once a year and usually have about seven babies at a time. We were fortunate enough to see the babies and they look like little guinea pigs. Jaguar and caiman will prey on small Cabybara and if the babies are threatened, the family will attempt to move into the water and form a circle around their young. I didn't get any shots of them in the water but we did see them swim one evening when we took canoes out on a lake. 

Hyacinth Macaw: Majestic Blue Bird

Wednesday, 22 October 2014
The most impressive bird in the Pantanal, Brazil (in my humble opinion) is the Hyacinth macaw. It is the largest of the macaws and is a beautiful blue color with a ring of yellow skin around bright black eyes. The bird can weigh up to 1.5 kilograms and measures up to a meter in height.

 On our first morning in the Pantanal, while staying at the Caiman Ecological Refuge lodge, we found not one, not two, but three different Hyacinth nests with adults on the nest or near them. This is quite a feat considering these birds were endangered in the 90s. Because they are not afraid of humans, macaws are easily trapped and sold into captivity. People would pay a pretty penny for these birds in the U.S. and in Europe.

Deforestization also led to this species landing on the endangered list. Hyacinth macaws will only nest in the cavities of manduvi trees. Not all manduvi trees have cavities (they form when a branch falls off from wind, disease, or lightning) so not every manuduvi tree is available for nesting. This became a problem when most of the trees were felled in the macaw’s natural habitat to make more room for cattle.

In the 1980s Brazilian biologist Neiva Mana Ronaldo Guedes decided to do something about the Hyacinth macaws’ decline. Eventually after years of educating others and making sure enough of the birds had habitat, the numbers in the wild went from approximately 2,500 to now approximately 6,500.

Biologists still put wooden nesting boxes in manduvi trees in the Pantanal to encourage nesting when there are no natural cavities.

Hyacinth macaws mate for life and only take another mate if the first one dies. They do not choose a mate until the age of seven, and lay just two eggs per season. This is another contributing factor when it comes to hopes of building the population of the birds: their reproduction process is relatively slow. Add in the fact that macaw eggs and chicks are much sought after prey in the Pantanal, and you can see why researchers and biologists are in the wild even today attempting to protect them.

Hyacinth macaws only eat nuts from Bocaiuva trees and Acuri Palm trees and have a life span of 30 to 40 years. The mating pair shares equal duties when building a nest and caring for young. However, the female will sit on the nest 70% of the time and fly with a bent tail from sitting so long. That’s how researchers can identify the female from the male when they fly. 

It was amazing to observe these majestic birds in the wild. 

On the shelf: Tracks by Robyn Davidson

Thursday, 9 October 2014
After submitting the third draft of my dissertation proposal, I decided to give myself the freedom of reading a non-academic book. I chose Tracks by Robyn Davidson. Davidson wrote the memoir about her 1,700 miles journey through the Australian desert with four camels and a dog. She recounts her time learning to train and care for camels and talks extensively about the mental battle she fought with herself during the nine months she trekked alone through tough terrain.


Davidson completed the adventure in 1977 but the book was re-released after the story was made into a movie in 2013.


The story is interesting and poignant in its presentation of courage. At the end of the book, Davidson writes that she is shocked that so many people were in awe of her feat. She claimed that she had no more brave bones in her body than the next person but shared:

The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision.


Another book in this genre of women doing extraordinary things is Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. She treks along the Pacific Trail alone braving the weather and harsh conditional. I’ve always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail but I think it is so commercialized now that it would be hard to experience isolation and peace. There are likely few places left on earth where we can find the same conditions that Davison lived in.

When you walk on, sleep on, stand on, defecate on, wallow in, get covered in, and eat the dirt around you, and when there is no one to remind you what society’s rules are, and nothing to keep you linked to that society, you had better be prepared for some startling changes.

Davidson has also written other books including: Traveling Light and Dessert Places.