Birding Tour to Brazil's Pantanal
Sponsored by the Foundation for the Preservation of the Hyacinth Macaw
The Pantanal offers some of the finest birding in the world. From the unforgettable spectacle of thousands of waterfowl to the
wonderful Hyacinth Macaw, there are experiences to last a lifetime. Often compared to Africa’s Serengeti, this seasonally flooded
savanna hosts a wealth of wildlife that is easily seen. One of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours' most experienced and widely traveled
guides calls it "as birdy a spot as I have ever seen--everywhere you look, and at any time of day, there are birds!"
The Pantanal is a perfect getaway for individuals who are tired of the hassles of city life. One of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours' most experienced and widely traveled guides calls it "as birdy a spot as I have ever seen--everywhere you look, and at any time of day, there are birds!"
There are about 700 species of birds possible in the "greater Pantanal" with, perhaps, 350 possible in the southern Pantanal (about 200 is a reasonable expectation for this tour).
The Pantanal also offers some interesting mammals and reptiles. Capybara are numerous. Marsh Deer (endangered) are common. Coatimundi are often seen, sometimes in large groups. Giant anteaters are occasionally seen (two of four past trips). The rare and endangered Giant Otter has been seen on a prior trip. Cougar, Ocelot and Jaguar are present, but rarely seen. Yellow Caiman are very common and one of the world's largest snakes, the Anaconda, is always a possibility.
The price of this tour is $1,975 per person from Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. Included are all meals from arrival in Campo Grande through breakfast, the day of departure and transportation to/from the ranch.
Color study plates covering most species expected will be loaned to participants. Study tapes of vocalizations of some of the species expected will also be made available to those who desire to borrow them.
Not included: airfare to/from your city of departure and Campo Grande, baggage handling, alcoholic drinks, personal items, gratuities, departure taxes, visa fee, food before/after the ranch, food & lodging necessitated by unforeseen delays, charges for transportation of excess baggage.
The tour is designed to optimize the experience with economy of time and effort. It will include 2 part and 5 full days on a private ranch (fazenda) in the southern region of the Pantanal. It will begin with a Friday night flight from a gateway city to Sao Paulo, Brazil. The flight will arrive on Saturday morning. After clearing customs and immigration, we will board an in-country jet flight to Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul. Travel to the ranch will be by one of several modes (depending upon the number on the tour, water conditions, weather conditions, etc.)
The airline schedules and the mode of transportation will determine the time of arrival on the ranch. Typically, we have arrived in time to do a little bird watching before supper.
We will spend Sunday through Thursday exploring the 25,000 acres of one of the most unspoiled ranches in all of South America. On Friday morning we will begin the return process by retracing each of the previous steps. Fortunately, the flights to and from Brazil are at night, eliminating the need for overnight stays in major cities coming and going (this, of course, assumes that there are no delays in the process--and there usually are not). We should all arrive home by Saturday evening.
Having visited this ranch on four previous occasions, I feel that a five-day stay offers ample time to thoroughly explore the bird, mammal and reptilian life there as well as get the flavor of a working ranch on the famous Pantanal.
What to Expect
1.About 100 species of birds per day (of course, they will not all be new after the first day).
2.Basic accommodations with most rooms having two single beds and a bath.
3.Little, if any, electricity.
4.Food typical of Brazil (lots of beans, rice, veggies, beef, chicken, pork) with some attempts at copying American and European cooking.
5.Friendly people who try hard to please, but who do not speak English (how's your Portuguese?).
6.Limited towels and NO washcloths. Bring some extra towels and all of the washcloths you will need. The heat and humidity make you want to take 4 showers per day.
7.Real cowboys who make their own rope from rawhide and can ride like the wind.
8.Minimal problems with biting insects. A few small mosquitoes during low light periods and an occasional tick have been the rule on prior tours.
9.Lots of Yellow Caiman (crocodile-like reptiles endangered by trade in their skins).
10.Lots of Capybara-- the world's largest rodent (can you say 100-pound guinea pig?)
11.More water and waterfowl than you can imagine. One tour (March 1996) found extremely low water conditions with decreased numbers of waterfowl).
12.More heat and humidity than you would like to imagine.
Typical Day on the Ranch
The day starts early for the avid birder. The backyard of the ranch house is a magnet for birds on the move just before and after sunrise. Your leader will be in the backyard by 5 AM. One of the very special species that stops over is the incomparable Hyacinth Macaw, the world's largest parrot and one of the most endangered of birds. These beautiful creatures start to arrive before daylight. Often, they gather in a large leafless tree by family groups until 12 to 18 have arrived. Then, they move to the palm trees in the yard to eat the nuts that make up essentially all of their diet. Soon, other birds begin to move. If you can ignore the magnificent Hyacinth Macaws, you are likely to see Turquoise-fronted Parrots (Blue-fronted Amazons), Scaley-headed Parrots, Monk Parakeets and Blue-crowned Parakeets as they pay visits to the trees of the backyard. On all but one of our previous trips, we have had visits by the rare Yellow-faced Parrot and flybys of Blue & Yellow and Red & Green Macaws. All of these plus Yellow-collared Macaws, Peach-fronted Parakeets, White-eyed Parakeets and Canary-winged Parakeets have been seen in the yard on previous trips.
As you stand in the back yard, expect to see large flights of waterfowl on the move from their roosts. At time, hundreds, even thousands, may be seen from the yard. Other common "yard birds" include the Crested Caracara, the Chope Blackbird, the Crested Oropendola, the Guira Cuckoo and the Great Kiskadee. Several species of hummer will visit the yard if flowers are in bloom. Plumbious Ibis nest in tress in the backyard and Toco Toucans are always a yard possibility.
We will be called for breakfast, probably having to leave several interesting species for another morning.
After breakfast, we will explore an area of the ranch by jeep, pickup or, if the water is too high, by a tractor-pulled trailer. The options for transportation have varied from year-to-year and cannot be guaranteed. You will quickly learn the lay of the land. Much of the ranch is high ground with palm forest or low ground with either a pond, a natural grass pasture or halfway between the two. During high water times, there is little pasture and during low water times there are few ponds.
Expect to see several species of Ibis (Plumbious, Bare-faced, Green and Buff-necked), all three species of new world storks (the Jabaru is the Brazilian symbol of the Pantanal), Southern Screamers, Roseate Spoonbills, 10 or, possibly, 12 species of heron (including the Whistling, Rufrescent Tiger, Cocoi and Capped), several species of ducks (including all 3 Whistling, Brazilian and Muscovy) and raptors (especially Black-collared, Savanna, and Roadside Hawks and Snail Kites). Wattled Jacana are very common and Limkin are usually around.
All New World kingfishers except the Green & Rufous are present on the ranch. Of these, only the American Pigmy is hard to see (as it is most anywhere).
The Toco Toucan (the largest member of the toucan clan) is common on the ranch. Much less often seen are Chestnut-eared Aracari (two seen in four trips).
Among the Cracid species to watch for are the Bare-faced Curassow, the Chaco Chachalaca and the Blue-throated Piping-Guan. All three are seen on the ranch, but require a watchful eye and some luck.
As you can guess from earlier remarks, the parrot family is very well represent here, with 18 or 19 species the outside possibility. Typically, I have seen 14 to 15 per trip including 4 species of macaws (with a fifth seen in March 1996), 2 Amazon parrots, 1 or 2 Pionus species, and about 12 parakeets of several genera (Aratinga, Pyyhura, Brotogeris, Myiopsitta, Nandayus).
Greater Rheas are common and should be looked for in all large reaches of high ground.
The Red-legged Seriema is a large and interesting bird that occurs on the ranch, but can be hard to find. It is one of only two remaining species of a family which once represented the major predators of South America. Watch for these long-legged beauties as they search the ground for reptiles. They have been seen on all four previous trips to the ranch.
Among the cuckoos, watch for the Dark-billed and the always tough Pheasant. You will not have to strain to see the comical and great looking Guri Cuckoos, they are everywhere! Smooth-billed Anis are easily seen and the Greater Ani is around river-side habitat.
The nocturnal raptors are not well represented with only the Burrowing & Great Horned Owls being common and the Tropical Screech-owl and the Ferruginous Pigmy-owl less easily seen.
The Goatsuckers are represented by the Band-tailed and Nacunda Nighthawks, the Pauraque, the Little Nightjar and the Scissor-tailed Nightjar.
There are a number of hummers including the Planalto Hermit, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Black-throated Mango, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Gilded Hummingbird, Versicolored Emerald, Blue-tufted Starthroat and the Amethyst Woodstart. Look for them around the flowering plants in the front yard of the ranch house and any flowering tress we may encounter.
The woodcreepers are represented by 6 species, with the Red-billed Scythebill being the most impressive (it has been seen in the back yard of the ranch house). Among ovenbirds are the Rufous (common) and Pale-legged Horneros (uncommon), 6 Spinetails, 2 Thornbirds and 2 Foilage-gleaners.
Antbirds are not among the better represent groups, but Great, Barred and Slaty Antshrikes are around as are several Antwrens and the Grey and Mato Grosso Antbirds.
The tyrant flycatchers are well represented on the Pantanal and offer the usual identification challenges (at least for us mortals). Among those to watch for are the Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-tyrant, Pearly-vented Tody-tyant, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Bran-colored Flycatcher, Euler?s Flycatcher, Fuscous Flycatcher, Vermillion Flycatcher, Grey Monjita, White-rumped Monjita, Pied Water-tyrant, White-headed Marsh-tyrant, Lesser Kiskadee, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, etc., etc.
The Tityras are represented by the Black-tailed and Black-crowned.
There are two Jays available, the Purplish (common) and the Plush-crowned (uncommon).
Among the Icterids are the Crested Oropendola, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Golden-winged Cacique, Solitary Black Cacique, Epaulet Oriole, Troupial, Bay-winged, Shiny and Giant Cowbirds, as well as the Unicolored, Scarlet-headed and Chopi Blackbirds.
There are several each wood warblers, vireos, wrens, swallows, mocking birds (including my favorite, the Black-capped Donacobious), tanagers, sparrows, seedeaters, finches, grosbeaks and the like. In the red-headed cardinal group, the Yellow Billed and the Red-crested (river areas only) are present.
Noon sees us returning to the ranch house for lunch and a siesta. During midday, there will be no formal program. Those interested are free to look over the area near the ranch on foot. Several species of pigeons and doves frequent the yard and adjacent areas, including the Picazuro & Pale-vented Pigeons, Eared, White-tipped, Grey-fronted & Scaled Doves, Plain-breasted , Ruddy, Picui & Long-tailed Ground Doves. Yellow-billed Cardinals will occasionally visit the yard. Out back, the large trees are often visited by Crimson-crested and White Woodpeckers. Several nest sites have been within 200 yards of the house, including those of Hyacinth and Yellow-collared Macaws.
Alternate Morning Birding
The spectacle of waterfowl, parrots and savanna birds is hard to resist. It is easy to spend every day looking over different areas of the ranch, enjoying the large/showy birds that are easily seen. But, the avid birder will also want to spend some time in the forests and other habitats seeking out the smaller, more difficult birds. Among the targets here are the Squirrel Cuckoo, Blue-crowned Trogon, Rufous-tailed and Brown Jacamars, Rufous Cacholote, Rusty-fronted Pygmy-Tyrant, Yellow-billed Cardinal, Green-backed Becard, Hooded Tanager, Guira Tanager and the Chestnut-vented Conebill. Several of these will test our skills and we do not expect to see them all.
The afternoon birding time is shorter and less productive than the morning. Birds do not become active until near sunset. We won?t see many species in the short time we have before darkness. Those that we do see will be bathed in a late afternoon sun that intensifies their colors while the quietness of twilight works magic on one the last great wildernesses. Common sights in the late afternoons are family groups of Hyacinth Macaws gathering dried palm nuts from pastures and Yellow-collared Macaws flying to roost. With luck, we may see one on the several species of Tinnamous scurry for cover as we approach (Undulated, Small-billed, Tatupa and Red-winged are possible). Don't forget to scan the skies for the numerous water and water-edge birds flying to roost. And, don?t forget to take in that fabulous Pantanal sunset!
Watch for the Band-tailed Nighthawks and that B-29 that just flew by was the spectacular Nacunda Nighthawk.
We will attempt to spend a little time out after dark an evening or two. This will give us a chance of seeing some of the nightjars and, possibly, some other nocturnal birds and mammals. Capybara tend to graze at night, the crab-eating fox is more active after dark and we might just luck into a cat on the prowl.
A dentist, physician (ear, nose, throat) and Air Force officer, Bill Clark has had a life-long interest in nature and birds. He has made more than 30 trips to South and Central America with bird watching the primary or secondary goal. A self-taught expert on Neotropical parrots, he also has a special interest in ant following birds. As time has gone on, he has learned more and more about the various families of New World birds, but does not claim all-round expertise. Not an expert in vocalizations or identification of the smaller passerines, he will solicit help from tour members in these areas.
What to Bring
1.Extra towels, all the washcloths you will need, shampoo, any special bath/facial soaps.
2.Binoculars, camera, film (a spotting scope will be furnished).
3.Bird book(s)-- (Birds of Southwestern Brazil, Dunning's Photographic Guide to South American Land Birds).
4.Sun screen, insect repellant, a cap.
5.Any prescription or over the counter medicines you use (even if you typically use it only once a year); a spare pair or two of prescription glasses. Carry all essentials with you on flights. Baggage can get lost and will not be delivered to you on the ranch!
6.Flashlight (for finding items during the night and for getting things together in the early AM); alarm clock (mechanical or battery powered).
7.Enthusiasm for adventure.
I have taken no special precautions on previous trips and have observed that the locals seem quite healthy. However, you should consult your physician regarding precautions for travel in Brazil. No immunizations are required for entry into Brazil or re-entry into the US after travel to Brazil. Most authorities recommend that yellow fever immunizations be up to date (one injection is good for 10 years) for travel to remote areas in the tropics. Some may recommend using malaria prophylaxis. The Center for Disease Control can be consulted for specific recommendations (404/332-4559).
1.Dubs, B.: Birds of Southwestern Brazil, Betrona-Verlag, Switzerland, 1992. The only bird book covering the Pantanal. Gives you good information as to what is possible and basic natural history for each species. Poor plates. Relatively inexpensive.
2.Sick, H.: Birds in Brazil, the English translation of the classic book on Brazil's avifauna. Wonderful plates (just not enough coverage of the many species). Not specific for the Pantanal, but gives more in depth coverage of each species.
3.Ridgely, R.S. & Tudor, G.: The Birds of South America, Vols. I & II. Magnificent works of science and art. The ultimate coverage of the world's greatest avifauna. Only passerines covered in these first two vols. Too large for the field, but great for research and study. Must-haves for anyone serious about study of South American birds.
4. Dunning, J.: South American Land Birds--A Photographic Guide, Harrowood Books. Small enough to take with you. Covers most SA land birds with photos of many and range maps of all. Inexpensive.
Air travel to Brazil is expensive (it is a long way from the States!).
The tour is limited to 6 participants with one leader. The fee is $1,975. The deposit is $300 and is payable by check within 10 working days of making reservations. Full payment for the tour is due 80 days before the start of the tour. For cancellations made 80 days or more before the tour, the deposit minus $75 and all amounts paid toward the balance are refundable. For cancellations made between 80 and 60 days, the deposit is forfeited, but payments towards the balance are refunded. For cancellations made fewer than 60 days from departure, no refund is available. I advise purchasing trip cancellation insurance to protect you in the event of cancellations due to health problems or other emergencies. Contact your travel agent for an application.
A current Brazilian visa is required to enter Brazil. This must be obtained in advance from your nearest Brazilian Consulate. They apply the visa to your passport, which must be valid for 6 months AFTER your first entry into Brazil using that visa. The visa is good for multiple entries for five years (as of the spring of 1996--rules subject to change).
Contact your closest Brazilian Consulate for details (the rules may have recently changed). The fee was $10, the last time I got one. If your passport is getting close to the 6 month limit, you may get an early renewal from the State Department (usually via an office in a major post office in your area). You will not be allowed entry into Brazil without a valid visa.
Having toured the Neotropics more that 30 times, 9 of them professionally led by a major birding tour company, I have observed that participants (myself included) tend to get impatient, testy and hypercritical about halfway through a typical tour (usually those lasting 2 weeks or longer). It is easy to be critical of your tour leader and those who host you despite the fact that they are trying their best to serve you. The accommodations never measure up to our expectations and certainly do not approach the comforts of home. Food in a strange land is never quite what you expect and there are always unexpected inconveniences. Chronic fatigue is a natural occurrence during such a tour and probably is the major cause of discontent. The tour leader is bound to be stumped by some birds and misidentify some others (even the big boys do).
Please note that I am not John Rowlett, Kevin Zimmer, Bob Ridgely or the late Ted Parker. In fact, my birding skills may be several notches below yours. However, you may rest assured that I will do my homework, will give you my all and do everything in my power to make your trip a success. This ranch is so special that just being there with no expert help should make for one of life's greatest experiences with nature. Please, cut the ranch personnel and your tour leader some slack and let?s all have a wonderful time!!!
Note:All photos in this brochure and on our web site were taken by the tour leader. All photos of Hyacinth Macaws were taken on the ranch we will visit. The leader will take many photos on this trip and a selection will be made available at the cost of reprints.
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