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Jag-You-Are!

July 22-25, Chapter Eight, Brazil/Argentina trip


This longish entry covers the remainder of the Pantanal section, including the thrilling encounter with Jaguars, a highlight of any trip to this area. You can see, from the statistical summary, that the number of life birds was greatly reduced in this section. This is expected as one nears the latter days of a long trip. But since we were in a new habitat (the Pantanal) it is in need of some explanation. First, the explorations here were mainly by boat, rather than by foot, which reduces the number of smaller species that can be located. Second, the way we used our time here privileged quality over quantity. I can still feel the warmth of slowly traveling through the water plants on the rivers and streams. Third, the cool birds here were often in the category of "charismatic megafauna" - big, easily visible, and supremely impressive birds (and mammals).

Our boatman; the moon as of July 22, 2022; sunrise on the Cuiabá River


The way to see a Jaguar is not by trampling all over their habitat. Their main food is the local reptilian, the abundant Yacare Caiman (Caiman yacare), pictured below.


The Jaguars hunt at the water's edge - and our quiet boats could get in close to the river banks. Our lodge was not the only one with boats, of course. So the "scene" at Jaguar sightings is rather like the mob of birders at a rare bird sighting. Since Jaguars are threatened animals, though, this is the best way to observe them. Each Jaguar in this area can be identified through photos because of the individuality of their spots. So the pictures we take, the observations we make, and our shared experiences help the scientists to document what is happening with each cat.


On our first morning at Porto Jofre, we headed out to search for the big cats. Porto Jofre is located along the Cuiabá River, downstream from where we first visited its shores (in the city of Cuiabá itself). It is a wide, beautiful river, and here it also serves as the border between the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. Along the way we saw some floating hotels; Rich recommended against them, painting a rather unattractive picture of their lack of amenities (including spotty electricity).

There are innumerable little riverine and creek by-ways - all of them teeming with birds and caimans (a.k.a. Cat Food). We headed to an area where a Jaguar had been seen by people on another boat, but by the time we reached there, it was gone. So we explored the by-ways and saw some great birds. Pictured below are Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius, 3 pictures); Wood Stork, Neotropic Cormorant, and Roseate Spoonbill in one tree; Black-capped Donacobius (Donacobius atricapilla); and Black-collared Hawk (Busarellus nigricollis).

We then received a call to hurry back - a Jaguar had been spotted! We went really fast - which I thought was fun, despite the presence of Caiman. We got there, and once again the cat was missing...except that it very soon reappeared. It then engaged in a typically felinic approach to a comfortable place - in this case a log - and settled in for a long stay. Ah! Kitty! Pussycat! Grimalkin! Felidae! O Gato (em português)!


So how many pictures of our Jaguar do you want? The cat sat with us for at least twenty minutes. I started to do an anatomical seminar on it with my camera. So here goes...I guess...just scroll through if you are more of a dog person or you get bored.

She emerges. She chooses the log. She notes the presence of people on boats - no danger to her. She crawls onto log. She relaxes in that way that cats, as pluperfect hunters, do, as much as if to say "I could eviscerate you, but the energy expenditure would interfere with my current pose." I was snapping these pictures and feeling my heart pumping simultaneously.


Once it was clear that she was settling in for a long stay, I started taking close-up pictures of various parts of her regally muscular body. There were some blood dots on her face - not sure if these were blood drops from a parasite or a recent meal. I think you can match the body part to the place on the Jaguar without captions.

After about ten minutes, the Jaguar decided to move. To the other side of the log, because this is basically a cat. It does cat things. Like make a big deal out of moving six feet, when it could rip the heart out of anything but just doesn't feel like it right now. Because the other side of the log is calling.

Having made this gargantuan effort, our powerful huntress decides to go to sleep. Because she is a cat.


Good night soft kitty! Thank you for sharing your magnificent self with we who are your unworthy worshippers!


We left her still sitting there.


Other things continued to happen. We had a brief glimpse of a Giant Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), a long look at a young Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) and our best look yet at Proboscis Bats (Rhynchonycteris naso). I include the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) because I have now seen Osprey in North America, Central America, South America, and Africa. It lives in Europe, Asia, and Australia, too. I enjoy seeing the cosmopolitan birds cosmopolitanically.

After lunch I took a walk along the pond and boardwalk in back of our room, just for fun. There were some of the giant water lilies (Genus Victoria) there, though Rich was uncertain if they were cultivated or naturally occurring. It was interesting seeing a plant so large that it was treated like dry land by many insects and birds.

We went back out on the water in the late afternoon. There was another Jaguar sighting, of a radio-tagged young male; we watched him briefly. We then went on into some other channels before heading home. We had a wonderful nighthawk show, and then some bats, but my camera couldn't capture these nocturnal animals. Time to sleep and dream of cats.


Top row: Vermilion Flycatcher; a Saddlebags dragonfly; our second Jaguar

Second row: Jaguar; Soldier Butterfly; Cocoi Heron hamming it up

Third row: Another shot of the histrionic Cocoi Heron; Blue-throated Piping-Guan getting minerals from a cliff face; Pied Lapwing

Bottom row: coming home; sunset; happy day for me!

After such an experience, you'd think the next day would feel pedestrian. But such was not to be the case! July23rd was marked by a genuine exciting rarity, another great mammal, and the best boat ride up my favorite tributary. This day was another metaphysical/physical high point of the trip.


Let me start with the humble. We birded near the grounds in the early morning, when land bird activity is at its height. Here we saw one of those birds that can be overlooked in the rush for charismatic megafauna - the Saffron-billed Sparrow (Arremon flavirostris). Sparrows are much less common in tropical zones than temperate ones generally, so seeing any sparrow was a sort of small-scale 'event'. And this bird is so appealingly demarcated in all its features!

Once on the boat, we went southwest, and spent the morning along a small tributary called Rio Negrinho, which, to my joy, meant we were birding in Mato Grosso do Sul! Another beautiful arbitrary geographic bounded area for which I can maintain a list! (If you don't know it, listen to Stephen Malkmus and the Jinks' song, "(Another Beautiful) Bike Lane").


Rio Negrinho was so much more than an arbitrary excursion into another Brazilian state. It became a journey into another world, a world grossly misrepresented by stereotypes of tropical jungle habitat as perpetually dangerous, filled with terror. Instead we were in a peaceful, placid land of vast diversity. It made a difference that Peggy and I were in the front seat this time, able to watch as the boat wended its way through water vegetation, as the insects would scatter and return, as caimans would shift their positions, as birds would fly above the canopy. I am grateful for the small favor of our regularly maintained rotation system (Peggy helped ensure the success of this ultimately informal arrangement).

Today's mammalian superstar was the Giant Otter. We had seen one briefly the previous day, but today the otter vocalized, and gave us some world-class looks. This is, indeed, a gigantically huge otter! They look more like small sea lions than otters from a distance.

Once we had turned onto Rio Negrinho, we were never without Kingfishers. There is more kingfisher variety here than in North America, though two of our species - Ringed and Green Kingfishers - also occur here. But my favorite of the new kingfishers was the Green-and-rufous Kingfisher (Chloroceryle inda). Do not laugh at the complex name, for in this case it is 100% descriptive. This is a flash-card bird. When it turns one way it appears green; another way it appears rufous. Take a look at my pictures to get a sense of the effect.


Another special bird here was the Orange-backed Troupial (Icterus croconotus). This was our only good look at this vivid large blackbird the entire trip. It looked like an Oriole on steroids (which, in the states, would get said Oriole suspended for 80 games...but I digress).

Then there was the constant presence of Caimans, including the Caiman who doubled as a butterfly perch. Poor guy; his eyes were nothing more than a well of minerals for hungry Julia-s! I include a picture of a slightly more ornery Caiman, just to warn butterflies with whom they are messing!