BRAZIL 2010: Pantanal – Mato Grosso Hotel & Pixaim River

Our last destination in the Pantanal centered around the Pixaim (pee-shy-eem) River, at Hotel Mato Grosso (above).  Located about half-way down the Transpantaneiro, our two nights at this location added many new species to our rapidly-expanding list.

The lodge hustled to serve a delicious buffet to two busloads of people, the most we’d seen in our whole trip.  I suspect the Hotel Mato Grosso is the end of the line for local day-trippers and tourists, offering great food, cold drinks, and rocking chairs to relax next to the river.  Even non-birders admired the activity just outside the reception area, where cut-fruit trays attracted Chestnut-eared Aracaris (above), Purplish Jays, Orange-backed Troupial, Silver-beaked Tanagers, Palm Tanagers, Grayish Saltators and Chalk-browed Mockingbirds.  Yellow-billed Cardinals, Saffron Finches, Giant, Shiny and Bay-winged Cowbirds crowded around tiered troughs filled with cornmeal.

Boat rides up the Pixaim River showcased the now-familiar assortment of Black-crowned Night-Herons, Rufescent Tiger Herons, Striated and Coqui Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, Neotropic Cormorants and Anhingas. Limpkins, Jacanas and Gray-breasted Wood-Rails (above) stalked along the banks. Ringed, Amazon and Green Kingfishers were numerous, and we saw one American Pygmy Kingfisher.

The Pixaim River is one of the best places to see a stunning Sunbittern (above), and we were not disappointed when it walked into view along a sandy bank, not far from a lovely Sungrebe.  Eduardo’s keen eyes spotted an Agami Heron, tucked deep in the shadows of shoreline foliage in the low light of early morning. As our eyes adjusted, we could see the bird’s very long bill, and the blue and burgundy sheen of his feathers. We also saw several secretive Boat-billed Herons hiding in the shadows, preferring to be active at night.  We got good looks at a Pale-crested Woodpecker along with a Straight-billed Woodcreeper.  A pair of Buff-breasted Wrens twittered nervously on the shrubs at water’s edge. A Greater Ani perched on a nearby twig, showing off his iridescent blue feathers, and a Golden-collared Macaw flew silently overhead.

A highlight of our boat ride was finding a group of 6 Giant Otters (above) frolicking in the river, splashing, rolling and lifting their heads high to grunt at us. We watched two of them mate half out of the water on a riverbank. They writhed together for a long time, the male underneath and the female rolling back towards him. 

We spent time exploring the dirt track that leads to the nearby Fazenda Santa Tereza, which, according to Eduardo, usually proves quite productive.  Indeed, we were pleased with the variety of birds especially after 11 am.  New finds included Yellow-bellied Eleania, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, the beautiful Chotoy Spinetail, White Woodpecker (above), Long-tailed Ground-Dove and Xenopsaris, a scarce sighting. We also got good looks at Rusty-backed Antwren, Lesser Kiskadee, female Helmeted Manakin, and Glittering Throated Emerald.

Suddenly we spotted a large gray animal crossing the road far in front of us – a bizarre looking South American Tapir (above)! This homely, cow-sized vegetarian is the largest terrestial animal in South America, but is not easy to find. We hurried to the place where it crossed, and were thrilled to see it standing in plain view in the adjacent field, giving us good, long looks.

On the grounds of the Santa Tereza, we got permission to climb a tall spiral staircase (above) standing starkly next to a white-weathered old tree.  On top of the tree, exposed to the ever-baking sun, was a giant nest of Jabiru Storks, which we ogled at eye-level.  Barely 100 feet away, it was an incredible experience to see two young birds stretch their wings and clack their bills, tended by their mother.

We took a walk down the dirt track that serves as an airstrip between the Mato Grosso and Santa Tereza properties, searching for wildlife in the surrounding grassy field.  Several Chestnut-bellied Seed Finches moved from one grass cluster to another – a species greatly threatened by the caged-bird trade due to his sweet-singing voice.  Several Grassland Sparrows hopped low in the grasses.

We enjoyed wonderful sightings of many species in the riverine habitat of the nearby gallery forest. Black Howler Monkeys roared in the distance, sounding eerily like raging hurricane-force winds. We admired the oft-heard Rusty-margined Flycatcher, as well as a pair of fast-moving Moustached Wrens.  Our list swelled with great looks at Flavescent Warblers, Barred Antshrike, Great Antshrike, Rufous-browed Pepper-shrike, Large-billed Antwrens, Plain Antvireos, Band-tailed Antbirds, Fuscous Flycatcher, and Rusty-fronted Tody Flycatcher.

While looking for a singing Tropical Parula, a male Helmeted Manakin (above) came in quietly, giving us good looks at this low-level, large-size manakin, with it’s red crest.  Eduardo was tooting like a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl when the real thing flew in! It kept up the calling, and soon the tree was shaking with the scoldings of many smaller birds who were upset with the owl’s presence. Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Ashy-headed Greenlet, White-bellied Seedeater, Plain Tyrannulet, Glittering throated Emerald, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Red-billed Cardinal and Masked Gnatcatcher were among the active protesters! The forest also hosted Blue-throated and Red-throated Piping Guans, Epaulet Oriole, Little Woodpecker, White-wedged Picculet and Mato Grosso Antbirds. A Rufous-tailed Jacamar sunned himself on a fence post, his brilliant green iridescent wings shining in the sun, while a squirming bug was trapped in the end of his long, thin bill. A lovely walk in the woods!

At one of the bridges along the Transpantaneira, a beautiful Blue-crowned Trogon flew into view and called from a high branch overlooking the marsh. Nearby, a Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant flitted in the bushes, his name far fancier than his appearance.

We made a special effort to search for nighthawks after dark, and were rewarded with great views of a Scissor-tailed Nighthawk.  His flight is relatively slow and straight, atypical of most nighthawks, making him easy to follow with the light. His long, forked tail feathers streamed out behind him as he circled the field, an unmistakable I.D. Band-tailed Nighthawks and Paraques called around us.  The Milky Way stretched across the sky where the Southern Cross shined brightly, ending another lovely day in Brazil.

all photos © adrian binns

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