Last month i was very fortunate to have visited the biggest wetland in the world in Brazil, the Pantanal ! Actually this wetland is in the tri-junction of three countries: Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. Estimates of it’s size vary between an astounding 1,40,000 to 2,10,000 Sq Kms! In contrast the other best known wetland, the Okavango, extends to a maximum size of only 15,000 Sq kms!
The Pantanal is a mosaic of many distinct habitat types apart from the wetlands….this includes forests, seasonally flooded grasslands and permanent lakes and rivers. Such varied habitats harbour a rich diversity of wildlife including an incredible bird-life of over 600 species!
The diversity of Pantanal is truly amazing! There were Yacare Caimans everywhere! Some dense congregations we saw, at night, had about 300 of them in a small lake and it’s immediate surroundings! Their eye-shine in the darkness of the night is an unforgettable sight…like seeing stars in the water!
The bird-life was stunning both in diversity and in density! Look at this soaring Jabiru Stork…an impressive sized bird, with a 2.5 metre wing-span and an inflatable throat-sac which fills with blood and turns scarlet, when the bird is excited!
The nest of the Jabiru stork is a huge collection of branches and twigs…but still not big enough for both the parents to be on it at the same time! We saw the male and the female taking turns to land on the nest!
The star birds were the Hyacinth Macaws…which happen to be the largest Macaws in the world, with a length of about one metre!
It’s a real beauty…with cobalt-blue plumage offset by bright yellow skin around eye and bill. It’s beauty is one of the main reason for trapping it for pet trade and today we have only about 6000 birds left in this area…making it a rare sighting for a visitor.
Here’s a Hyacinth Macaw feeding on it’s preferred hard fruit of ‘acuri’ palm…since the Pantanal is a good habitat for these palm trees, it also harbours about three-fourth of the entire population of this incredible Macaws, whose raucous calls fill the air much before you can sight the bird!
The many raptors included some specialists like this Snail Kite:
And this impressive Southern or Crested Caracara:
The nest of an Oven Bird…the Rufous Hornero:
There were many scavengers too….like these Black Vultures:
The colourful birds of Pantanal include the stunning Toco Toucans! I could not believe my eyes when i first saw this brightly coloured bird with such a massive bill!
And Toucanets or small-sized Toucans….the diminutive Chestnut-eared Aracari!
The largest bird in the Southern hemisphere, the flightless Greater Rhea:
There were rare birds too…like this globally threatened Chestnut-bellied Guan…i just got a fleeting glimpse of this beauty, one early morning and managed this grainy image!
The early mornings were resounding with raucous calling of the Chaco Chacalaca! Their pre-dawn songs can reverberate for a distance of over 2 kms!
There were some interesting families like Woodcreepers…this one is a strange looking Red-billed Scythebill!
This is an impressive Viper…the endemic Mato Grosso Lancehead (Bothrops mattogrossensis)…locally known as the Jarara and very much feared, as it is responsible for most deaths by snake-bite. It’s a real beauty and we were very lucky to see it during the day….
The beautiful Pantanal Swamp Turtle…i believe getting getting rare to see because of hunting….
The best way to explore the wetlands is by horse-back…for the first time i went on a horse-back safari!
Most large trees had so many birds and their nests on them:
The common prey of Jaguar and the largest rodent in the world, the Capybara:
There were tracks everywhere..Capybara tracks:
Anaconda track?! We were so Excited to see this track! In fact, on another occasion, we missed one narrowly…as a local farmer waved to us excitedly and by the time we got there walking….we missed a ‘big snake’….some Cabybaras close by rushed out of the swampy ground…indicating the movement of the ‘anaconda’ !!
Track of a Tapir…a shy and a nocturnal animal…
The Transpantenera….a ‘highway’ which cuts across the Pantanal and gives access to the many ranches converted to lodges along it’s length of about 140 kms…
Notice the Oven bird nest on the arch!
The animal i was really hoping to see was the Giant Anteater…and we went on early morning safaris starting at 4 am and several night safaris…of course, this is also Jaguar country…but this was not the season and i did not want to chase it…i was very happy with the birds…saw 140 new species in 2 days! And the tantalising possibility of seeing a Giant Anteater and the Anaconda was exciting enough for my first visit to this incredible land, the Pantanal!!