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Adventures of the White-Rumped Monjita in Pantanal South at Caiman and Ilha

Adventures of the White-Rumped Monjita in Pantanal South at Caiman and Ilha

Old Jul 16th, 2009, 06:11 PM
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Adventures of the White-Rumped Monjita in Pantanal South at Caiman and Ilha

White-Rumped Monjita: “Perches conspicuously on fence posts, trees and buildings in agricultural areas and open savanna, often near water. Within Brazil, most commonly found in The Pantanal. Little is known about its behavior.”

Unfortunately, I was unable to get a picture of this bird, but here is a Google image link to the White-Rumped Monjita. The first pages are family viewing but with rump in the title, who knows what lurks in the double digits.

http://tinyurl.com/n7nqr7

Dates of travel June 25 to July 5, 2009
7 nts <peru>Refúgio Ecológico Caiman</peru> & 3 nts <mediumseagreen>Refúgio da Ilha </mediumseagreen>that included one night drive at nearby San Francisco

What a great combination of habitats, scenery, wildlife, and accommodations provided bythis itinerary. I’ll put in a link to photos in the next post. Upcoming comparisons between North and South Pantanal will be in <purple>purple.</purple>

A WHOLE WEEK AT CAIMAN?
<peru>The recommended time is 4 nights, though 3 nights is available, but I requested a week. Ideally a 7-night stay is split between 2 of their 3 accommodations. That was my plan but renovations and insufficient guests to operate a second lodge prevented it.

Even though activities are repeated with a week's stay, a walk in the woods always produces something new. Splitting a stay means the walks would be done in different locations. Drives are never the same, even on the same roads. Once was enough for the horseback riding /canoe day for me, though. For most people 4 nights would be fine.
</peru>

JUNE/JULY CONDITIONS AND WHEN TO GO TO THE PANTANAL
The comments would apply to either North or South Pantanal.

There were virtually no rains during the Nov 08-March 09 wet and rainy seasons that preceded my visit so my experience may not be typical.

June is usually considered part of the vazante season, which is the transition from wet to dry, when the standing water starts to evaporate. July marks the official start of the dry season, when mammal viewing becomes easier. June 25-July 5 was the transition from the transition season, sort of like The Pantanal squared.

Temperatures this time of year tend to be hot, in the upper 80s or higher during the day, and cool at night. But cold fronts come through, bringing daytime temps down to the upper 60s or low 70s. I experienced two non-consecutive days of cool fronts along with hot, humid days.

Normally, there is little or no rain this time of year. But the changing weather patterns that deprived the Pantanal of wet season precipitation, brought a few light showers during my stay, which in turn brought massive mosquitoes—far more than I experienced during a rain-free August visit in 2007 to the North Pantanal.

When I asked guides and staff what their favorite time of year was for the Pantanal, answers included November when the first rains turn brown landscapes to green and April & May, near the end of the wet season. May and early June were cited for cooler, pleasant temperatures. When the guides talked about the most jaguars they had ever seen in a week or month, the recurring times were February and March. Whatever their favorite time of year, all agreed that the best mammal viewing was July-Oct with Sept usually being optimal.

July, the start of the dry season, has pros and cons. The pros are that the flowering trees begin to bloom, including the pink Piuva trees, the weather is not too hot yet, and mammal viewing in the dry season is good. But Brazilians generally have about a month of holiday in July resulting in higher prices and more visitors. August and September have blooming Tabebuia trees in shades of pink, purple, and yellow, good mammal viewing, and fewer crowds.

If you hope to see the unique phenomena of giant anteater mothers carrying babies on their backs, the guides stated that the best time for this was approximately June to early September. The explanation was that by the height of the dry season (into Sept and Oct) there would be more ants available for the young anteaters to seek out on their own four feet. It is also easier to see any mammals June through Oct than when the fields of the Pantanal are flooded and animals seek higher ground. Baby anteaters getting a ride on mom or even a glimpse of an adult anteater can never be guaranteed.

Some of the better bird watching is Sept to Nov when breeding takes place. Not only do the birds display their breeding plumage at this time, but the courtship activities take up a lot of energy. That means the whereabouts of the birds are more predictable because they are too tired to go very far.

From strictly an accommodations standpoint of when to go to South Pantanal if staying you are staying at Caiman, generally the main lodge is open year round and the other two accommodations (Baiazinha and Cordilheira) are open during the high season, which correlates closely to the dry season, with July being the busiest month due to Brazilians on holiday. Due to renovations at Main Lodge and the slow economy only Cordilheira was open for most of my stay.

I had a great time on my June 25 arrival in the Pantanal and also enjoyed a previous August trip. Next time, I want to visit in maybe early April to experience the wet season.

BOOKING
As a rule general Caiman Lodge is not more expensive when booked through an agent than when booked directly. My experience confirmed that. I used International Expeditions, the well-known nature company in Alabama, because originally I was hoping to join one of their group trips but the dates offered did not work for me so a private trip was recommended. I requested a week at Caiman and Charlie Weaver at IE suggested 3 nights at Refúgio da Ilha for a 10-night trip, all in the Pantanal.

In these tough times, I wanted to use a solid company and IE sends more people to Caiman than anyone else I believe, at least from the US. For pricing when you consider there was no penalty for using a credit card, it came out to be about the least expensive option for a very reputable company for Caiman. I did not do a price comparison for Ilha, but it seemed reasonable for the transfer and private guide.

All of the planning process went well, IE sent me a couple of booklets of helpful information on Brazil and the Pantanal, including a Caiman bird list, and everything was great once I got to the Pantanal The Caiman guides were fantastic, and my private guide for Ilha was too. At Refúgio da Ilha, if you do not speak Portuguese, you must bring your own guide who can interpret. That rule applies regardless of what company does the booking.

When I changed my original plans from a midday flight home to an evening flight home, I ended up with a free morning at Ilha. I was able to add a 6-hour final outing (that had some cool Neotropic Otter action) for no additional charge from the original quote.

The bargains for international flights that are part of the package deal for group departures with International Expeditions did not apply to my independent trip so I arranged my own air by phone directly through TAM, which was the lowest fare I could find anywhere. Since I was going only one place in Brazil, the TAM airpass was not needed, but it saved me money on my last trip when I had more stops.

I used the company suggested by IE for my Brazilian visa and liked the fact that Charlie Weaver notified the owner to be on the lookout for my application. A little extra attention when my passport is involved can’t hurt. Charlie also suggested I request a 5-year visa rather than the standard timeframe—they all cost the same. This will save a couple of hundred dollars of visa expense on a return trip, which I hope to make in the wet season.
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Old Jul 16th, 2009, 06:18 PM
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WHAT WOULD ART WOLFE DO?
During the planning process, I wasn’t privy to what famous wildlife photographer Art Wolfe would do or had done, but once I got there I discovered that one of my guides had worked for him with his Travels to the Edge series.

I was pleased we had a similar itinerary. Apparently Mr. Wolf had specific goals for the Pantanal that included the giant anteater and jaguars. To maximize his odds, he spent a couple of days at Caiman and at San Francisco Lodge. These are supposed to be the best two places in the South Pantanal for jaguar from what I learned. (One of the best places in the whole Pantanal to view the jaguars is Baiazinha Lodge in North Pantanal on the Paraguay River, not to be confused with Caiman’s Baiazinha. Baiazinha means little lake. It was along the Paraguay River, in and near the Taiama Jaguar Reserve, that I saw 7 jaguars in 4 days in August 2007, which was fortunate but not astounding for the region.)

While I did not stay at San Francisco, I went on a night spotlighting trip there from Refúgio da Ilha as part of my itinerary arranged by IE. It is at night that mammals such as the jaguar are most commonly seen in the rice fields of San Francisco, which attract a variety of rodents and marsh deer, and in turn their predators.

Anyway, in only 4 or 5 days total, Art Wolfe achieved his anteater and jaguar photography goal. Granted, he probably spent more hours in the field than the average visitor. The only jaguar I saw on this trip was unaware of the Art Wolf strategy and showed up on the road during my transfer. I outdid Art in giant anteaters, though, with 31.
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Old Jul 16th, 2009, 08:06 PM
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Hi Lynn,

what a wonderful start to your trip report. Very useful information on when to visit and your accommodation and booking experiences. Eagerly waiting for more...


Cheers,


Pol
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Old Jul 16th, 2009, 08:11 PM
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I cannot believe you will top the abundance of jaguars from your last Pantanal trip. So..shock me!
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Old Jul 17th, 2009, 05:21 AM
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Thanks for a great beginning. Now I can recognize two critters.
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Old Jul 17th, 2009, 07:58 AM
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You' ve been peeking at the White-Rumped Monjita, then, Marija.

<purple>
NORTH AND/OR SOUTH PANTANAL
My comments are based on only one 10-day visit to each location--the North in mid August of 2007 after a good wet season and the South in late June/early July of 2009 after a non-existent wet season. In the north I stayed at several locations along the Transpantaneira Highway & Baiazinha Lodge along the Paraguay River. In the South I stayed at Refúgio Ecológico Caiman & Refúgio da Ilha, which included a spotlighting night drive at Fazenda San Francisco.

Accommodations—The places I stayed along the Transpantaneria Hwy in the north cannot compare luxury-wise with Baiazinha on the Paraguay River in the north or Caiman and Ila in the South. But all were completely acceptable with good food and places I’d happily return.

Scenery—The picturesque waterways of the Salobra River at Ilha win the award, but all areas were pretty. The flowering trees that usually start blooming in July (some in late June) added to the attractiveness of any landscape.

Logistics, arrangements—If you can get to Campo Grande, Caiman takes care of the rest for an easy trip, especially for solo travel. At Ilha, you need your own guide unless you speak Portuguese. In the north, I needed a guide and an agent to plan for the entire trip. Group departures are not that common in the north so I designed my own group trip that others joined. In the north it is also important to arrange an open vehicle, which is not the typical form of transport. At Caiman and Ilha, open vehicles were provided. If you wanted to include Bonito for waterfalls and snorkeling, that is closer to the south.

Viewing conditions—I spent more time along the highway in the north. Of course on the Paraguay River everything was by boat. The viewing areas felt more private and removed from other traffic in the south. Caiman has such a huge area that it is very safari-like on drives with the only other traffic being employees, or maximum 3 other vehicles with guests. At Ilha we stayed mostly on their property or that of cooperating neighbors. The walks in both north and south were in secluded areas. In the north, which is closer to the Amazon, that presence was felt. The north just seemed lusher, greener, and less savanna-like. The wildlife activity seemed more concentrated in the north and more spread out in the south. I found the Pixiam River, near the Transp Hwy to have the most bird and caiman activity of any rivers, though it was not as charming as the Ilha waterways nor as jaguar-filled as the Paraguay.

Weather—Pretty much the same north or south. The Paraguay River was cooler, plus speeding around on a boat also cooled things off.

Weather websites
For South Pantanal, the city of Miranda is more accurate than Campo Grande. I was checking the Campo Grande weather before leaving home and as a result packed my waterproof socks, which were not needed in the Pantanal, but might have been handy for the downpours they had in Campo Grande.

http://weather.yahoo.com/Miranda-Bra.../forecast.html

For North Pantanal, I’d check Pocone and Cuiaba, depending on where you’ll be.

http://weather.yahoo.com/Pocone-Braz.../forecast.html
http://www.wunderground.com/global/stations/83361.html

Wildlife—In general every place I went was a great nature and wildlife destination.
~birds: I noted greater abundance, as in huge flocks, in the north. When counting species, I had 154 in the north but about half of that trip was mainly a jaguar hunt down a wide river. I had 161 species in the south. Caiman in the south, Jaguar Lodge along the Transpantaneira Hwy in the north, and a location near Baiazinha Lodge on the Paraguay River in the north all offered nice opportunities to see and photograph the Hyacinth Macaw. These birds were not seen much at Ilha.

~jaguars—If seeing them is a goal, then a place like Baiazinha Lodge along the Paraguay River in Pantanal North should be in the itinerary. Most other locations have rare jaguar sightings. Jaguar Lodge along the Transpantaneira Hwy in the north has a better record than the average ranch, though, maybe 25% of guests on a 2-3 day stay see one. San Francisco in the south is known for its mammal-rich night drives, including jaguars.

~ocelots—All just luck. I saw 3 in the north on the Transp Hwy and 4 in the south. The only ocelot picture was on the San Francisco night drive.

~anteaters—Again, just luck. But here I was extremely lucky with 31 sightings of the giant anteater in the south; 21 at Caiman and 10 at Ilha. In contrast I saw one giant anteater butt hanging out of the forest in the north. Well spotted on a night drive! I saw 1 lesser anteater in the north and 2 in the south.

~capybaras—Everytime I went to the Caiman properties of Baiazinha (not to be confused with the Baiazinha Lodge on the Paraguay River) or Main Lodge, there were herds of capybaras grazing out of the water. Refugio had one resident capybara that I noticed, but I saw only a couple on the boat outings. Whole families could be easily approached on the banks along the Paraguay River.

~crab eating foxes and raccoons—About the same in north or south, but Cordilheira, a Caiman property, offers good daytime viewing of the foxes who live in the area and are accustomed to human activity.

~coaties—About the same north or south, but Cordilheira has some relaxed troops for easier viewing.

~caiman—In keeping with my observations of abundance, I saw larger groups of them in the north.

~giant river otters—This is a species that is usually found at Ilha and a good place to go for giant river otters. Heavy flooding in the north of Brazil resulted in river conditions that made for one rare sighting during my stay. The less commonly seen Neotropic otter was around, though. I saw giant river otters on both of my Pixiam River trips in the north and in the Paraguay River in the north.

~snakes, lizards, tapirs, jagarundis, etc.—Any sightings at one place or another, especially in just a 10 day time frame, is an indication of good fortune more than suitable habitat.

The White-Rumped Monjita had a significant presence in both north and south locales, for the record.

An itinerary that included both north and south would be outstanding. If you could include wet and dry season travel that would be even more fantastic. It’s looking like a several month trip is the ideal and when you win the lottery give me a call and we’ll talk.
</purple>
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Old Jul 17th, 2009, 10:16 AM
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31 giant anteaters! \/ Looking forward to more and your pics!
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Old Jul 17th, 2009, 02:40 PM
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Thanks Leely, they are just about ready.

<purple>Oh yeah, the monkey action (howlers and brown capuchins) was pretty much the same in north and south, but I got lucky at Ilha in the south when a troop of capuchins came to say good-bye.</purple>
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Old Jul 17th, 2009, 04:06 PM
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This is so helpful Atravelynn, thanks for taking the time to share your experience, can't wait for the pictures!
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Old Jul 17th, 2009, 05:15 PM
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<red>Photos

Refúgio Ecológico Caiman –stay of 1 week - 125 photos
If taken on a drive, boat, or walk, that is stated
If taken while on the property of one of the lodges: Baiazinha, Cordilheira, Main; or at Sao Domingo, the corral, or community center, that is stated
http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLan...localeid=en_US


Refúgio da Ilha—stay of 3 nights – 75 photos
If taken on a drive, boat, or walk, that is stated
If taken on the Ilha property, it just says refugio
If taken at Fazenda San Francisco, where I went one evening for a night drive, it says San Francisco
http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLan...localeid=en_US

The number of photo ops presented without ever leaving the accommodations is impressive. If I had skipped an activity and hung out at the lodges during the prime animal activity hours of early morn and late afternoon, there’d probably be even more photos at right the lodge/ranch.


Vehicle used and all Accommodations – 32 photos
All are labeled, but are in no particular order
http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLan...localeid=en_US

</red>
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Old Jul 17th, 2009, 05:56 PM
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CAMPO GRANDE—ON THE MENU OR ON THE ITINERARY
When I told my mom I’d be flying into Campo Grande, she remarked that it sounded like something on the menu at Taco Bell. Granted, I used the American accent of Gran da instead of the Portuguese accent of Grandj.

Back when the Pantanal first landed on my radar screen a decade ago, I thought Campo Grande was kind of like a big (grande) base camp(o) from which excursions were made into the Pantanal.

In fact Campo Grande, which translates to Big Field, is a tree-filled city of 700,000 and I was treated to a tour by my guide, Fernanda, at the conclusion of the trip as we headed to the airport.

We saw the beginnings of a cultural and natural history museum that would make a stop in Campo Grande on the way to the Pantanal more enticing. I had considered an overnight there for a buffer day, but had trouble locating a place to stay, so I decided to head straight to Caiman on their shuttle service from the airport.

Fernanda mentioned that the Ibis Hotel, part of the international chain, is a good place to stay in Campo Grande for a reasonable price and a decent room. It has an airport shuttle.

To add the Blue and Yellow Macaw to your list, a stop at Campo Grande is a good idea. This species is not found in the Pantanal. We saw several flying overhead in the late afternoon.
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Old Jul 17th, 2009, 06:08 PM
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<peru>
CAMPO GRANDE TO CAIMAN TRANSFER VAN, AKA THE WILDLIE EXPRESS
It’s probably not always The Wildlife Express, but it was for me.

There is a midday and an early evening air-conditioned 4-hour van transfer to Caiman Lodge from the Campo Grande airport each Thursday and Sunday, allowing 3- or 4-night stays. Or you can stay a week like I did. The same shuttle takes you back to the airport at the end of your stay. It is included in the cost of your stay. It is also possible to fly there on a small plane.

If you arrive on a morning flight into Campo Grande, as I did, you’ll be greeted by a rep with a Caiman sign but then be prepared to wait at the airport until the next flight with guests comes in. This wait was the only occasion during my trip where the Brazilian currency, the Real, was needed to buy a bottle of water or a snack. There was no place to change money here and you could not pay in dollars and get reals back in change.

If you do a group departure, such as International Expeditions offers, your group is immediately transferred to Caiman upon arrival in Campo Grande and you don’t have to wait around for more people.

The roads are excellent but speeds are fast and harrowing passing is the norm, therefore I would want the midday and not the evening/night transfer if possible. Plus it is harder to see animals at night because the comfortable air conditioned van is not equipped with spotlighting equipment.

Transfer Sighting #1: Around 4:00 pm cruising along at about 110 km/h, I spied a giant anteater along the fence of a property well to the side of the highway. I shouted, “Giant anteater! Giant anteater! I just saw a giant anteater!” The four Brits who were transferring with me were fatigued from a day of travel and not that excited and the driver spoke no English. At the time I did not know <i>tamanduá</i> was the Portuguese word for anteater. So I had to do my celebratory anteater spotting dance alone in the back seat. I kept it subdued. One of the Brits asked me, “Did you get a picture?” She must have thought I had the photo genius of Art Wolfe to capture an image through tinted windows of a vehicle traveling 65 mph.

Transfer Sighting #2: We stopped for gas shortly after the anteater and flitting around the trees of the gas station was the Blue and Yellow Macaw. It is seen in Campo Grande but not the Pantanal.

Transfer Sighting #3: The last leg of the transfer was on a firm dirt road that passed many ranches as well as undeveloped land. Suddenly, about 50 meters in front of us, a jaguar was walking down the road toward us. It stopped and watched our approaching vehicle before moving into heavy brush on the side of the road. A guide later confirmed that is a classic jaguar move; they always stop a moment and look. I was able to use one of my few Portuguese phrases: <i>“Onça aqui!”</i> (Jaguar here!) Had anyone in the vehicle sneezed with excitement over the jaguar sighting, I could have added, <i>“Saúde.”</i> (Sao oo djee)

I noted the location by observing the next ranch we encountered (don’t recall the full name of the ranch but it had the word Horizonte in it) so I could report where we saw the cat.

The Caiman staff said that jaguars near that location are extremely rare. Typical, unpredictable jaguar behavior and similar to the only jaguar I saw on the Transpantaneira Highway two years ago. It was near the entrance to the Mato Grosso Best Western, where my guide had never encountered a jaguar and did not expect to see one. And at those prices, I doubt the jaguar will ever return! (Just kidding, I’m sure the Mato Grosso Best Western is reasonably priced at it was a great place to stay.)

Transfer Sighting #3: Not long after the jaguar, another spotted cat--this one much smaller--darted across the dirt road. It did not stop and look. We determined it was an ocelot. One of my guides said that in his 14 months at Caiman only once did he see a jaguar and an ocelot in one day.

Transfer Sighting #4: A giant anteater crossed the road.

Transfer Sighting #5: We were pulling into the Caiman Main Lodge area when a giant anteater came ambling along in the dusk. I frantically tried to open my dark tinted window, as the other guests had done at their seats, for a better view. One of the men even applied his brute force to the sliding window, but it wouldn’t budge.

Not knowing if this was my only chance for a good anteater sighting, I shouted, “My window won’t open! I want to see the anteater but it’s too dark through this glass! Let me out of here so I can see the anteater! This is terrible! The windows don’t open!” The driver did not understand my rantings and my vehicle-mates were without reaction, so we just drove on as I shouted one of my other few Portuguese words, <i>“Pare! Pare!”</i> It means Stop! Stop! but we didn’t.

Had I known I’d be privileged to see a total of 31 giant anteaters, I would have curtailed my distress. I would like to be able to write, “I saw 31 giant anteaters and have the photos to prove it,” but I actually have few photos of this species.

About half the sightings were at night which hinders the photography; many were at dusk with the animal moving around a lot, also hindering photography. Some were at a distance of a couple hundred meters and most of the animals were shy during the daylight hours. The first anteater was spotted while we were going 65 mph; one darted across the road during the transfer; one had the stuck tinted window problem; one was partially submerged taking a bath; a couple were at night when the vehicle could not be turned off if the spotlight was to maintain power, so taking photos was out; one was part of a cattle stampede; one visited us at night after we watched hundreds of parrots bed down for the night in the trees; one was annoyed by a Rhea (a big bird); and 3 were babies holding onto their mothers’ backs.

I know these excuses sound similar to forgetting to remove the lens cap and then being too frightened to focus when the alien spaceship lands in the backyard, resulting in scant photographic evidence.

So the difference between Art Wolfe and me is that he sees one giant anteater and makes a flippin’ documentary out of it marching around in the sunset. I see 31 and can barely manage a keeper photo. Another difference is that for most of the 31 giant anteaters I was able to observe and appreciate the behavior of these fascinating creatures with my naked eye or binocs for prolonged periods under circumstances that may not produce a picture, but do produce a lasting memory.

I thought I made a final gray-form jagarundi sighting in the headlights of the vehicle upon arrival at Caiman’s Cordliheira Lodge, but I was informed it was only a gray domestic house cat.

The combination of the turmoil of the missed anteater, 38 hours of non-stop travel, a dark back seat of the van, and my flashlight packed away, resulted in me hopping out of the vehicle, sans binoculars. <i>Obrigda</i> to the driver, who did a vehicle search before heading out, for finding my binoculars.
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Old Jul 17th, 2009, 08:09 PM
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Lynn: I think I had better start looking at the Pantanal as an upcoming destination. I had seen the Art Wolfe special and love the giant anteaters! Your slide show looks like you were at a zoo with the diverse amount of wildlife that you saw! Amazing. Thanks for sharing.
Pat
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Old Jul 18th, 2009, 02:29 PM
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Thanks so much, Lynn, for the photos and trip report. We checked out Art Wolfe's Pantanal DVD from the library. His shots are almost as good!
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Old Jul 18th, 2009, 07:52 PM
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Art Wolfe and his Pantanal episode are pretty popular, it looks like.

QUOTE OF THE TRIP
The guidebook, <u>Brazil Amazon & Pantanal</u> by David L. Pearson and Les Beletsky states: “If you have the great fortune to see…a Bared-faced Curassow in the Pantanal, count yourself among the lucky. It will be an indication that you are in pristine habitat, as these large, and unfortunately delicious, birds are easily hunted and thus rare in many areas.”

Finding pristine habitat in the more populated ranching country of South Pantanal (I had seen several pairs of curassows in North Pantanal) was a bit of a concern of mine before departing. But <peru>Caiman</peru> and <mediumseagreen>Ilha</mediumseagreen> provided the pristine habitat and the Bare-faced Curassows that go with it. <peru>In fact, a highlight for me was spotting a pair along the edges of the forest from my balcony at Cordilheira Lodge at Caiman. I had two more sightings at Caiman, one of which provided photo ops,</peru> and <mediumseagreen>one brief encounter with a male curassow on a canoe trip at Ilha.</mediumseagreen> These sightings mean undisturbed, well protected habitat does indeed exist in the South Pantanal and I was privileged to visit it.
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Old Jul 18th, 2009, 08:30 PM
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<peru>REFÚGIO ECOLÓGICAL CAIMAN ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS

<b>Main Lodge</b>
I initially requested not to stay at the 25-guest Main Lodge, thinking it would be too bustling with people and I’d see too little wildlife. Since it was being refurbished during my stay, Main Lodge was never an option anyway, but we stopped by a few times to find herds of grazing capybara, flocks of half a dozen Hyacinth Macaws, abundant birds, and an armadillo. Even when fully booked, I don’t think the comings and goings of the guests would disturb the animals that seemed to be oblivious to both me and the staff members that moved about.

We did a lovely sunset canoe trip from Main Lodge on the big lake and also witnessed some interesting ranching activities at the nearby corral, which were definitely not a tourist show. The traditional cultural aspect of ranching in the Pantanal was most easily observable from Main Lodge. Usually it is the Main Lodge that is open year-round so if that was the sole option on a future trip, I’d be happy to stay there.

Here’s another consideration regarding Main Lodge. The activities like horseback riding, some of the canoeing, and I think some of the walks depart from very near Main Lodge. As a result you are not spending much time using the vehicle as transport/safari to and from activities if you stay at Main Lodge. If less bouncing around on sometimes hot and dusty roads is appealing, then Main Lodge fits the bill. On the other hand, if you view every extra minute in the vehicle as increasing your odds of seeing something amazing, then Baiazinha at 9 kilometers away from the main lodge or Cordilheira at 13 kilometers may be more to your liking.

<b>Baiazinha (9 kms from Main Lodge) </b>
This is the smallest lodge with about 4 rooms accommodating 12. The interior looked nice with lots of deep blues and blacks for color and a view of the surroundings. I spent two afternoons there and found grazing herds of capybaras, integrated with 100 or so white lipped peccaries. Some Hyacinth Macaws hang out here and we saw Burrowing Owls, which often perched on the fence posts.

There is a tower you can easily climb for views of more expansive vistas. The lake view from the back deck is beautiful, especially in late afternoon with green islands and blue water dotted with caiman, capybara, and wading birds. You can canoe here too, but the lack of rain made that activity impossible while I was there. For anybody thinking they may prefer to opt out of some of the three daily activities that go on at Caiman, I think this would be the place to park yourself with your binocs.

<b>Cordilheira (13 kms from Main Lodge)</b>
The lodge is set in an open area surrounded by Cordilheira Forest from which howlers serenade most mornings. From about December through April and often into June or July, there is a pond in the open field between the lodge and the forest, so this location offers both an active waterhole and forest habitat. Without rains, the pond area was bone dry during my stay. There was an observation tower, but it was under repair so I was not able to use it.

This is the newest lodge, built in 1997 I believe, and in the last 5 years I was told the small creatures of the forest have come to accept it as part of their territory and are frequently seen on the premises. There was never an afternoon when I did not see coatis, agoutis, crab eating fox, or pampas deer on the grounds during siesta time—sometimes all of them. The relaxed demeanor of these creatures allowed for good observation and photo ops. The lovely Whistling Heron, a pair of Red Legged Seriemas, an occasional macaw or parrot, and the Bare-faced Curassows also made appearances. An ovenbird, the Rufous Hornero crafted its trademark oven-like nest on a branch that was easily viewed from the deck, or if you were feeling lazy, through the glass from the comfort of the air conditioned lounge. I even had a lone cow decide to graze under my balcony one day.

Up to 16 guests could be accommodated at Cordilheira. The lounge and dining area was bright, cheerful, and nicely decorated; but more importantly, offered a good view of the surrounding environs. There were many hammocks strung up in the shaded center of the grounds and there was a roofed open-sided comfortable lounge.

My room was great with its own hammock and deck chair on the balcony. I had Room #3. For the best views I think I’d rank the rooms, starting with the best as: #5, #4, #3, #6, #2, #1, but all those in the Cordilheira lodge had nice views. There were also two separate cottages adjacent to each other that I was told were “bigger rooms with bigger prices.” They seemed to have inferior views, though, even if the luxury within was greater.

All the lodges seemed to be very comfortable and beautifully designed with a big screen TV for DVDs, a nice stereo that played Brazilian music, air conditioning in the lounge and room units that could be individually controlled, plus a ceiling fan. Laundry service was available for a small fee.

The vehicles for each lodge are the same. Guests sit on comfortable seats in a horseshoe with the guide up front on a swivel seat. The field guide drives the truck, which is open for guests, but with canopy protection. The maximum capacity of 16 could occur if Cordilheira was booked to the max or if Main Lodge had 16 guests. It is rare to have that many at one time. We had 11 at most. I’ve included a photo of the vehicle.

The menus are the same at all lodges and the food was outstanding--three excellent meals a day with numerous choices of Brazilian cuisine and international dishes. Always some vegetarian choices such as salads, vegetables, usually a main dish, fruit, cheese, and desserts, with bread and soup in the evening. I think coffee and tea were available throughout the day. For the main meal at 7:00 pm, there were about 10 total items to choose from. The homemade potato chips were mini works of art and my favorite entrée was the eggplant, tomato, and cheese dish.

When I became the sole guest at the lodge, I insisted on reducing the immense variety of entrées, which still left meant lots of food. I thought it was interesting that the table was always set for three when my guide and I were the only ones eating. I was told it was done so we wouldn’t be lonely. Events that occurred later in my stay made me wonder if perhaps we were indeed being joined by a third diner, if in spirit only.
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Old Jul 18th, 2009, 08:48 PM
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<peru>THE MAGNETIZED ACTIVITY BOARD, THE GHOST &
THE AGITATED WHITE-RUMPED MONJITA

A prominently displayed <b>magnetized board</b> reminds you of what is happening each day by placing customized activity magnets in the proper time slots. With three daily activities such as walking, vehicle safari, canoeing, or horseback riding, covering about 8 hours each day, the visual cue of the artistic magnets helps keep things straight. These activities are pretty much a set program undertaken by everyone in the lodge and not a smorgasbord to choose from. You could always opt out and stay back at whatever lodge you were at and enjoy the resident wildlife. I spent time at all three lodges and was impressed with the bird and mammal activity in their vicinity if that was your choice.

For the practical joker who can plan ahead, I think it would be funny to bring a couple of your own refrigerator magnets and secretly stick them on the board randomly. Just be sure to pack the magnets far away from your camera. Such antics might end up being blamed on the <b>Caiman ghost.</b> There is more to come on this ghost.

In June and July buffet breakfast starts 6:30 am, the first activity begins at 7:00 am. Lunch is noon. Dinner is 7:00-7:30 pm. The other activities vary as to time.

On our first night we had a short PowerPoint orientation and welcome. When the presenter mentioned optional activities at additional cost, I became the <b>White-Rumped Monjita with very ruffled feathers</b> because I thought I might have to fork out more money after the fact to do what I had in mind. But rest assured there is no need to ruffle your feathers when you hear about the optional activities. The standard three outings each day are enough to see and do everything and will likely even necessitate a midday siesta.

The extra options offered may change with the seasons, but what was offered to us was: Hyacinth Macaw Project fieldwork, accompanying the Pantaneiro cowboys on horseback as they herd cattle, taking a boat ride, going on a bird walk with a guide and a scope. I might have done the Macaw Project but the field work component was not available during my stay. I didn’t get into costs of these, but for the boat ride to be feasible, you’d need about 4 or 5 people to participate.

At the Main Lodge when there are enough guests to warrant two vehicles and hence two schedules of activities, it might be possible to switch groups for the day if you preferred what the other group was doing over the plan for your own group. But that’s not a given. At Baiazinha and Cordilheira, there was just one plan for the day that you could join, decline and stay at the lodge, or book an alternate option at extra cost. The set activities are designed to show you the birds, mammals, and culture of the Pantanal and are well thought out. I enjoyed some of the activities more than others, but over a typical 3-night or 4-night stay, you really get immersed in the beauty of The Pantanal and all it has to offer.

Now, when it came to the specific activities of horseback riding and canoeing, which together comprised our “Adventure Day,” there were some built-in alternatives offered because not everyone is a horse fan or comfortable in a canoe. Instead of the horse ride, you could take the transfer vehicle to the river destination. The transfer was not a safari, but you might see something. You could wait along the river and rest in the shade or birdwatch until the riders arrived. For the river part of Adventure Day, you could choose the wide, sturdy, 3-person canoe to go down river, where the front and back seat occupants paddled and the person in the middle seat could photograph or just look. Or instead of the canoe, you could opt for a motorboat with canopy protection from the sun. The motorboat transfer was swift, making just a few stops at major birds like the Cocoi Heron or a sizeable, sunning caiman, while the canoe was a leisurely hour plus trip.
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Old Jul 20th, 2009, 04:09 AM
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Waiting for more! Thanks.
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Old Jul 20th, 2009, 10:09 AM
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Thanks for the photos, Lynn! You got some nice night time anteater shots (an day time ones too). I didn't know there were blond howlers. What kind of crab do the crab eating foxes eat? The coatis are very reddish there. Say "chaca chachalaca" three times. Holy flying capuchin! Nice ocelot. I didn't even manage a blurry pic in Belize.

I was concerned about group numbers at Caiman too but if it's not a busy time, it doesn't sound bad at all. And if you can see wildlife right from the accommodations that's another plus. I'm very fond of "game sits"
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Old Jul 20th, 2009, 11:15 AM
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Thanks for the comments.

The female howlers are blonde and the males are black. The juveniles tend toward the slight side.

That's actually a good question on the foxes because it was pretty dry where and crab-free where they were running around . I think they'll expand their palates to include mice and creepy crawlies.

Maybe the coatis are reddish because the soil is.
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