Brazil Travel Diary - p 1 of 5

1 Sept 2012
Raucous and brash, few birds seem to have as much joie de vivre as those in the parrot family, including the Hyacinth Macaws shown here.  Just after dawn, this mated pair (?) lit in a dead tree behind the stables at Pousada Piuval in Mato Grosso state, Brazil.  Then came a round of horseplay which probably makes more sense to macaws than to humans watching it.

   Photographer friend Duncan Hill and I flew into the airport at Cuaiba yesterday.  Our rental Peugeot took us 120 km south to the pousada, part of a 7000-ha ranch at the entrance to the vast wetlands known as the Pantanal.





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Campo-Flicker.jpg (330195 bytes)     September marks the end of the dry season here.  The Pantanal grasslands are brown, parched by months without rain.   The weather is beguiling.  At dawn the air is cool and dry.  Then the sun rises quickly into a pale blue sky.  By 9.50 a.m., when I took this  photo of Campo Flicker on a termite mound where it had hollowed out a nest, the light was already flat and harsh.
   By noon the heat is an inferno, 100+ F.  The light is blinding.   Now comes a long wait until ~3.30 p.m., when we get another two hours of soft light for photography before sunset.  



    Later Duncan & I set out on the Transpantaneira, a 147-km dirt road that cuts through the northern half of the Pantanal.   Vehicles that we meet raise a vast plume of dust, so thick that one must slow or stop until it settles enought to see the road.
    In mid-afternoon, most birds have taken shelter in the shade.  Those who remained in the sun, like this Snail Kite, were panting from the intense heat.
   Everyone suffers.  The heat and dust saps me of energy and leaves me feverish.   When we arrived at Hotel Porto Jofre at the end of the Transpantaneira, I wanted only to sleep.  The Pantanal is a paradise for the bird photographer.  This is not how I wanted to start our photo shoot.

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Blk-Coll-Hawk-xy.jpg (279194 bytes) 2 Sept 2012
    After a wretched night, Gustavo, the ever-cheerful hotel manager, gives me his bottle of Tylenol.  It proves a godsend, dampening the fever.  I slept all morning; then, joined Duncan for an afternoon boat trip on the Rio Cuiaba, here over a quarter of a mile wide.
    Our boat is powered by a 20-hp motor and driven by Joao.  He guides us close to bird life along the shore, including this Black-collared Hawk.   Its oversized feet and talons are useful in catching fish, a staple of its diet.  
Every ecotourist here wants to see the endangered giant otters, which are not uncommon on side channels of the Cuiaba.  Families of six or so roam the river like wolfpacks, preying on fish. 
    Interesting they are, but to me the otters are repulsive.  They even look diabolical, one of the least appealing of all mammals. 
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Blk-Skimmer-soaring-xy.jpg (165829 bytes) One of the best places to photgraph birds is the sandy beaches along the Cuiaba.  Here we find Black Skimmer, doing just what it does along the ocean's beaches.  It loafs for much of the day, then rises up and glides out to the river.  There it skims along the surface, using its elongated lower beak to catch small fish.


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