Our home away from home for a couple of days, while we survey the landscape for wildlife in the southern Pantanal of Brazil, north and west of São Paulo. This immense grassland, which floods almost completely during the rainy season, is home to an amazing diversity of birds and mammals, but also to hundreds of cattle ranches, which are not entirely compatible with the wildlife.
Driving down dirt roads, we made an exciting discovery around every corner.
I worked hard to get a clear shot of this Toko Toucan eating papaya. The next morning, they visited us at our open air breakfast table!
Toko Toucans, also known as Common Toucan, or just Toucan are popular attractions at zoos, and famous on cereal boxes. That big bill might be useful in radiating heat in this extremely warm environment. They do eat a lot of fruit, which they deftly manipulate with the tip of the bill, but also are known to help themselves to small birds, mammals, and any other delectable small wildlife that cross their paths.
A nest box right at our lodge, where a pair of Hyacinth Macaws have taken up residence.
Hyacinth Macaws are back from the brink of extinction in the Pantanal, thanks to a dedicated crew that have put up nest boxes. With their favorite nest trees disappearing as land is cleared, production of young from nest boxes has tripled the dwindling population to about 5000 birds in Brazil.
Coexistence of cattle and macaws is difficult when the cattle stomp on the fruits and young shoots of the Hyacinth Macaw’s favorite food, the fruits of the Acouri Palm. Protection of these trees, as well as provision of nest boxes are essential to the survival of this magnificent bird species.
Stopping along the road to photograph a rare bird, we almost missed the action occurring behind us across the road.
Two male Rheas (the large flightless bird of South America) are duking it out, pushing against each other breast to breast while beaking each other.
At last, one male chases the other off. Male Rheas maintain a territory, to which they attract a harem of females to lay eggs in a nest they construct. Males then incubate the eggs, and protect the newly hatched young chicks in a reversal of parental roles in this species.
We found a Tegu lizard crawling through the brush along side the road. They look like small Komodo dragons, but they are more closely related to Teiid lizards like whiptails.
Around another corner, we spied a safari vehicle stopped by some short grass and brush along the road. There had to be something unique to see there.
A rare find by sharp-eyed guides, a Southern Tamandua anteater.
This relatively small anteater digs around clumps of bushes and fallen trees for ant nests, which it excavates with strong front legs armed with some sharp toenails. They actually walk on the back of their front knuckles, like a chimpanzee or gorilla might.
All this and much more highlighted our first day in the Pantanal, and the sunset didn’t disappoint us either.
Sunset in the Southern Pantanal of Brazil