Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Trip report Cristalino Lodge and the Northern Pantanal

The following is an account of a trip that long-time friend (a colleague of my wife), Bill Birkhead and I took to Brazil from August 24th to September 6th, 2012.    Bill is a semi-retired vertebrate zoologist with a specialty in fishes and herps.    I’m an obsessed birder that also likes primates and big cats.   But we both like to observe all types of stuff in nature, so this itinerary suited us well.
The trip started at Hotel Amazonica in Alta Floresta.   It was a nice introduction to Brazil and our main target was the Harpy Eagle.    We were fortunate that the immature bird was still in the area (at its nest) and we got extended looks at the fully grown, but not yet fully molted individual.
Things really got cranking when we headed to the ‘nearby’ Cristalino lodge in the southern Amazon the next day.   We stayed there for 4 nights and we were primarily doing some hard-core birding, but we kept an eye out for anything else such as primate, snakes, etc.    We were fortunate to be paired up with Brad Davis as our guide.   He is a good as they come.   We had some great birds including Amazonian Umbrellabird, Blue-cheeked Jacamar, Curl-crested Aracari, Black-girdled Barbet, and a very rare for the region Paint-billed Crake.    Mammalian highlights included primates such as White-nosed Bearded Saki Monkeys, White-whiskered Spider Monkey, and Azara’s Night Monkey, as well as great looks at a Brazilian Tapir.  Bill was thrilled to see a Yellow-footed Tortoise come to a watering hole.
Cristalino is a great place with good facilities and a nice swimming area in the river to relax between outings.  The two 50-meter towers were great as well.   This lodge is highly recommended, especially if you like birding.

The  next part of the trip was spent in the northern Pantanal, switching more to ‘mammal mode’, although we were still looking for any vertebrates we could find!   Our guide was Jean Duval, a free-lance guide originally from Haiti that has been leading trips in the Pantanal for 15 years.   More of a general wildlife guide,  he was very good, very accommodating and a pleasure to be around.
We started off with 3 nights at Araras  Eco Lodge.   Great stuff around the property, which was crawling with Caiman, Coatis, Capybara, and many birds, including nesting Hyacinth Macaws.    The property has 3 towers for viewing.   The most productive is the largest tower, or more appropriately the board walk to it…Along this walk during our stay we had 1 Brazilian Tapir, 1 Southern Tamandua, 2 Giant Anteaters, a troop of Black Howler Monkeys, and several Brown Capuchins.   Other mammals in the area included 6 Crab-eating Fox and 3 Crab-eating Raccoons as well as several Marsh, Red Brocket, and Brown Brocket Deer.   We were lucky to be there on a Wednesday as well, as they do a barbeque once a week after a canoe trip on the Rio Claro.   Here we had great views of Black-tailed Marmosets and a Crab-eating Fox…and the food was good, too.    Araras is a great place for wildlife and a great staff…like Cristalino , highly recommended.
The next phase of the trip was mainly to find Jaguars.   So we headed south from Araras to stay at Hotel Porto Jofre for the next 4 nights.    We were lucky to watch an Ocelet walking down the road in broad daylight on the way down.   We also had many good birds, especially raptors and waterbirds.   Once in Porto Jofre, you set out in a boat and scan the banks of the rivers and tributaries all day and see what you  can find.    The hotel also has its own radio frequency for calling in Jaguar sightings…this helped!   The first day on the Cuiaba River got us 2 Jaguars , including a large male that was actively hunting.   We also saw several Giant Otters.    Day 2 unfortunately produced no Jaguars (I think only one group saw 1 that day).   But we had another Tapir and several more otters.   Day 3 was great…we had 6 Jaguars on the day, including a mother and 2 half-grown cubs (our boat driver spotted these), and a large male that sprawled out on a sandy bank that allowed great viewing…nice!     If you want Jaguars, come to Porto Jofre, namely in the dry season.   It’s that simple.
Our last night was spent at Pousada Rio Claro – this is located not too far south of Araras on the Transpantaneira.    Once we arrived from Porto Jofre, we had lunch and relaxed a couple of hours before taking an evening boat ride on the Rio Claro.   We saw plenty on the ride as we were entertained by Black-collared Hawks taking piranha out of the water, Giant Otters by the boat, a Jacare Caiman that jumped out of the water to take a fish off a stick, and great looks at an Agami Heron.    We also got nice looks at Band-tailed and Nacunda Nighthawks before got back to the dock.   A nice end to a great tour…
On this trip we saw nearly 400 species of birds and at least 30 species of mammals.  The Pantanal is especially good for photo opportunities as well…
Many thanks to John Willemsen of BNT for answering a million questions and organizing this for us!

Walt Chambers
Ellerslie, Georgia

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