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A return to the Pantanal Sept. '22: The best-laid plans oft go awry....


janzin
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For my husband and I, as with many others, 2022 was a catch-up year for traveling. We had several trips already postponed from 2020 and 2021--but would they actually happen? Since we were still unsure, sometime in the fall of 2021 we decided on a bit of a whim to book a short trip back to the Pantanal for fall '22, as by then Brazil was open without COVID restrictions. And we had enough miles on American Airlines to get us to Sao Paulo for "free." And I can never get enough Big Cats :)

 

It seemed like a fairly easy trip to plan (ha!!)

 

Initially the plan was to spend time in both the northern Pantanal and the southern section. We'd heard so many great things about Barranco Alto from folks on ST and we really wanted to go somewhere which would be new. On our prior trip to the Pantanal we'd used Pantanal Jaguar Safaris and were very happy with them and our guide Andre. We contacted them to plan this trip as well... but it was a bit more complicated than we thought. Surprisingly, there were already limited open dates for Barranco Alto for anytime September-October, and we couldn't match them up with open dates for Andre to guide us. So we also contacted Pantanal Trackers, and the famous Julinho, whom many STer's have traveled with. He was able to give us dates that worked with Barranco Alto's dates, and in addition was substantially less expensive than Pantanal Jaguar Safaris, so rather reluctantly (because we really felt a loyalty to PJS) we booked with Julinho. 

 

The original plan was 7 nights in the north Pantanal followed by four nights at Barranco Alto. With a night in between for the transfer. We paid our deposits and figured that we work out how to transfer between the two a bit later. That was our first mistake! Transferring between north and south Pantanal turned out to be far more complicated--and far more expensive--than we'd thought. It also made our international flights way more complicated as we'd have to fly into Cuiaba and out from Campo Grande and all the timings were just nuts, with likely overnights on both ends.

 

In the end, once we got around to actually scoping out the logistics, we decided it was just too expensive, with too much travel time, and a bit crazy for just four nights. So reluctantly we cancelled our dates at Barranco Alto--losing our deposit. (Luckily we had not yet booked the international air.) The final itinerary was two nights at Pouso Alegre and five nights at Hotel Pantanal Norte, with Juliho as our guide and boatman.

 

At least that was the plan....!

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Edited by janzin
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@janzinI'm looking forward to hearing about your Pantanal adventure.

 

Happy New Year and happy travels for 2023.

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oh dear, your start doesn't sound so promising but hopefully they all worked out well in the end. 

looking forward to reading  more. 

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Ooh goody! a trip report from @janzinLooking forward to this

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9 hours ago, Kitsafari said:

oh dear, your start doesn't sound so promising but hopefully they all worked out well in the end. 

looking forward to reading  more. 

 

It did all work out in the end, but not exactly as we expected!

 

 

4 hours ago, Soukous said:

Ooh goody! a trip report from @janzinLooking forward to this

It will come slowly as I am still only halfway through the photos--a lot has gotten the way including the holidays! But I figured I'd better start with what I've got so far or I'd never get going :lol:

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Initially all went according to plan--our flights were on time and our luggage arrived too. We had booked a separate ticket from Sao Paulo to Cuiaba on GOL so we were sure to leave lots of connection time--over four hours--having experienced the chaos of Sao former member airport in the past. But all went smoothly, and Julinho was there to meet us in his newish Toyota Hilux pickup, which was comfortable and air-conditioned. Although we were a little leery of the three huge propane tanks he was carrying in the back under a tarp!

 

We headed off to our first stop, Pouso Alegre, with a brief stop at a local restaurant for lunch and another brief stop at a shop to pick up a big jug of water for use in the hotels and a whole lot of diet cokes. The shop facade seemed a little confused as to what animals are found in the Pantanal--at least in terms of big cats :rolleyes:

 

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We didn't stop too much along the way to the lodge as honestly we weren't seeing much that we wouldn't see elsewhere. We did stop briefly for this juvenile Tiger Heron--and his friend behind him.

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and a nicely posed Savannah Hawk

 

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Along the entrance road to the lodge we found a Tapir bathing.

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And Julinho knew exactly in which tree to find this Great Horned Owl in a nest, although the light was terrible by then.

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We got along well with Julinho, had some interesting conversations along the way, and were eager to get started birding, but after we checked into he said he'd leave us on our own until dinner. Okay, no problem, we can bird around the lodge by ourselves...we figured he had things to take care of.

Edited by janzin
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A BORING ASIDE UNLESS YOU ARE A PHOTOGRAPHER:

For photographers who are interested, I was using the Nikon Z9 (and at times the Nikon Z7ii) with either the 500PF or the 100-400Z lens. If you look at the EXIF data it is going to lie and say I was using the Nikon D850--this is because I need to edit the camera model in the EXIF so I can continue to use my older Nikon Studio programs with the new cameras. It's a long boring story but just wanted to clear that up.

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We'd been to Pouso Alegre twice before so knew our way around quite well. It does seem a little more run down than previously, and the weather had been really dry. So I didn't feel it was quite as birdy as other trips. But we started off wandering and found a few to photograph before it got too dark.

 

Blue-throated Piping Guans were fairly common but never easy to get close to. Hadn't gotten a photo of one on any previous trip.

 

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We spent quite a bit of time watching the antics of these Turquoise-fronted Parrots.

 

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They have a beautiful tail when spread so I spent time trying to catch it.

 

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And this one posed perfectly!

 

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A female Bare-faced Currassow with chick was hunting around under where the feeders are (feeders are only filled in the a.m.)

 

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Chick!

 

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Soon it was time for dinner. A quick side note about dinner here--you really need to scurry to be first in line at the buffet because they barely put out enough food for the number of people (the lodge was full, with a couple of small birding groups and others.) And once the bowls were empty they do not refill them! So if you come late you are out of luck! (I'd read this on TripAdvisor but didn't quite believe it until we experienced it.) The food is pretty good, but be quick!

 

Anyway, Julinho joined us at the dinner table but then came the first inkling that something was wrong. He didn't eat, said he wasn't hungry. Hmmm seemed odd for a big guy like him (and he'd eaten plenty at lunch.) Finally he told us that he was having a little trouble with his gallbladder but "not to worry, his doctor was sending some strong medicine that he'd pick up in the morning."

 

Uh-oh. :wacko:

 

Meantime, another bit of excitement was going on outside. We ran out to look, and the lodge owner had this lovely snake in a bucket.  Which they had just collected RIGHT OUTSIDE OUR ROOM. And, it is a Matto Grosso Painted Lancehead, definitely a quite venomous snake :o:o

 

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Well it was safely in it's bucket and all the guests were shooting photos so I joined in with my phone. Better photos to come the next morning when they released it.

 

Anyway the plan was to meet up very early at the feeders when the lodge put out fruit for the toucans etc.  We had high hopes for the next day!

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Well, sounds like a trip full of planned and unplanned excitement is coming our way.  Photos are outstanding as usual Janet.  Looking forward to seeing more.

 

Alan

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Yes, outstanding pictures right from the first Jaguar showstopper. Like your narrative as well.  Thanks, Janet!

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Great start. I’ve been looking forward to this report, as we are going back down there next year. Yikes on that snake, though!
 

7 hours ago, janzin said:

A quick side note about dinner here--you really need to scurry to be first in line at the buffet because they barely put out enough food for the number of people (the lodge was full, with a couple of small birding groups and others.) And once the bowls were empty they do not refill them! So if you come late you are out of luck! (I'd read this on TripAdvisor but didn't quite believe it until we experienced it.) The food is pretty good, but be quick!


I can vouch for the accuracy of this, as that was our experience as well.  Luckily, our guide had warned us in advance, so we were always right there as soon as the door opened!

 

Edited by Alexander33
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No matter what all went awry, you got a gorgeous jaguar shot!

 

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The next morning we headed out early to the "feeder watch." Feeders are filled with fruits at around 6 a.m. and breakfast served around 7 so we had about an hour at the feeders. The big draw for most is the possibility of Toucans and Aracaris.  The feeders are set up with some good perches so it is possible to get some shots that don't look like they are at the feeders.  It was early and the feeders at this time are mostly in the shade, so shutter speeds were somewhat slow...not so easy to get sharp photos (and I hadn't brought a tripod this trip.)

 

We did get rewarded with the Toco Toucans!

 

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And a good variety of other birds.

 

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A male Curassow appeared with the chick this morning. I think it was all the same little family that we saw the night before.

 

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And this Rufous-bellied Thrush (which looks a lot like our American Robin and is related) got a nice fruit that fell underneath.

 

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Sadly, no Aracaris appeared and in the end we saw none this trip at all, oddly!

 

After about an hour we went in to breakfast (get there fast!) We hadn't yet seen Julinho this morning...

 

Edited by janzin
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campsafari2015

Really beautiful photos so far. I am looking forward to hearing more about this trip! Love the lancehead, and happy they collected it safely (and hopefully relocated just as safely!).

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We went into breakfast and Julinho joined us after awhile. But he didn't look so good, and once again he ate nothing. We were starting to really worry :(  But, he said he'd gotten the new pain medicine (not exactly sure how it was delivered!) and was feeling better so after breakfast the plan was to walk the lodge road for more birds.

 

But before that happened, there was the releasing of the snake! Actually the lodge owner let the snake out right in front of the restaurant so that folks could photograph it. I wasn't sure this was so wise :o but since everyone else was doing it...some photographers even laying on the ground in front of it (!!) I joined in. But I didn't lay on the ground :)

 

It really is a lovely snake, catch that copper eye!

 

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After a bit of time with the snake (which was then put back in the bucket and taken far from the lodge to be re-released) we headed out with Juliho. But he was really lagging behind and after awhile we told him "go back and rest, we can bird the road on our own."  He seemed happy to hear this and promised to return after a bit and catch up to us with his vehicle.  It was also quite hot by then and we were running out of water, so he took our water bottles and promised to bring them back filled.  We figured he'd catch up with us soon (we weren't that far from the lodge at that point.)

 

So off he went and we birded the road on our own for quite awhile.

 

Some birds we found along the road:

 

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These Yellow-rumpedCaciques were busy at their nests.

 

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I think my favorite sighting was of this beautiful Crimson-crested Woodpecker, as woodpeckers are my favorite group of birds.

 

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Edited by janzin
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It was getting quite hot by now and still no sign of Julinho returning with the vehicle---and our water. We were getting a bit annoyed (and seriously dehydrated). We reached a small marsh which in the past I remembered was good for birds, and it did delight us with a few.

 

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Black-collared Hawks seem to always hang out here...I have a similar shot from my last trip from this exact spot.

 

_JZ9_1448a.jpg.2ad250cbd1fed0b6d2b4b6bc63b97c9f.jpg

 

But we decided at this point to turn back since we had quite a long walk back, with no water, and it was now almost 11 a.m. and very hot.

 

We walked back rather quickly and this is the only other photo I have from the walk back.  We also saw a beautiful Great Antshrike but no decent photo to show.

 

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Still no sign of Julinho.  In fact, it was only when we were within sight of the lodge that we finally saw him driving towards us.  At first I told him how upset we were that he'd left us out in the heat with no water, but his explanation was that he'd gone back to the lodge and become violently ill. :(  This was not looking good at all. In fact, at this point he told us he'd spoken to his doctor who told him that he needed to return to Cuiaba ASAP for gallbladder surgery. That it would be dangerous for him to put it off. It was pretty clear that he could not continue on with us.

 

Oh boy. What was going to happen to our highly anticipated trip with "the jaguar whisperer?" 

 

 

Edited by janzin
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Beautiful photos.

A very difficult situation with (and for) Julinho

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I realize this is a minor part of the story, but I’m curious who was catching (and re-catching) the snake? Was this a big deal, or just another day on the ranch?

 

Lovely bird photos, I’m going to have to do some studying before my trip next year since a lot of these birds are completely new to me!  Even if we’re not hardcore birders, it’s nice to have some idea of what we’re seeing.

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17 minutes ago, Zubbie15 said:

I realize this is a minor part of the story, but I’m curious who was catching (and re-catching) the snake? Was this a big deal, or just another day on the ranch?

 

 

 It seemed like just another day on the ranch :)  I didn't actually see them catch the snake but it was clearly the ranch or lodge workers who caught it. The lodge manager (who I think was also the owner) was the one who released it. Later on when we were walking the road we met up with him and another lodge guest and they were busy turning over logs and rocks looking for snakes and other herps. (The lodge guest was apparently very into reptiles.)

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Wonderful bird photos. I especially like the Donacobius, it's so characterful. 

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Even in a state of dehydration, your bird shots are marvelous.  Poor Julinho.  I am waiting to see how that all turns out.

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@janzinyour photography is superb. I am so glad I took the time to wander through your trip report, thanks for posting.

Hope you don't mind me asking what kit you use and some idea of settings? I would be very interested to know.

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Beautiful photos, as always. What a place Pantanal is. One day maybe, until then I will enjoy it through your lens.

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3 hours ago, AndrewB said:

@janzinyour photography is superb. I am so glad I took the time to wander through your trip report, thanks for posting.

Hope you don't mind me asking what kit you use and some idea of settings? I would be very interested to know.

 

The photos up to this point are all with the Nikon Z9 and the 500PF 5.6 lens. Later, from the jaguar boat, I also used the Nikon Z7ii with the 100-400Z lens (and sometimes I switched which lens was on which camera.) I specifically purchased the 100-400 for this trip and it turned out to be an excellent decision as sometimes the jaguars were just too close for the 500 prime!

 

As for settings, it's very variable, but the Exif should be available in each photo with an Exif reader in your browser.  I always use manual with Auto ISO; that is, setting the shutter speed and aperture and letting the ISO float.

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