BRAZIL 2010: Pantanal – Piuval (Part 1)

It is only a short distance along the Transpantaneira dirt road to the Pousada Piuval (above), so-named for the Piuva trees which had just finished their brilliant pink blossoms. The rustic lodge was compactly located amid the sprawling fazenda – horses, cattle and peoes being the mainstay of the pantaneiro lifestyle.

The dry, sparse open habitat held roaming family groups of Greater Rheas and pairs of long-legged Red-legged Seriemas (above), South America’s versions of Africa’s ostriches and secretary birds, respectively, striding through the golden savannah.  Savannah Hawks and Southern Carcacaras scoured the skies; pairs of Buff-necked Ibis prodded their way methodically through the short grass; and noisy groups of Guira Cuckoos glided from place to place feeding on insects. Watering holes attracted Wattled Jacanas, Great Egrets, Whistling Herons and Southern Lapwings which flocked together in the shade of a tree during the daytime heat.

Many species stayed around the lodge, even in the hot, mid-day hours.  Pairs of Rufous Horneros stalked the grounds like ovenbirds, greeting each other noisily, and Thrush-like Wren, Rufous-bellied Thrush, Cattle Tyrant, Saffron Finches, Ruddy Ground Doves all hung about quite close to our rooms, unconcerned with people coming and going.  As expected, Great Kiskadees were abundant.  Two stunningly beautiful birds, Campo Flicker (above) and Red-crested Cardinal were often seen feeding on the lawn.  Yellow-chevroned and Peach-fronted Parakeets squawked noisily from the trees adjacent to the swimming pool, joined by Sayaca Tanagers, Crested Oropendolas and Purplish Jays.  Mixed flocks of blackbirds included Smooth-billed Ani, Chopi Blackbird, Giant Cowbird, Shiny Cowbird and many Bay-winged Cowbirds roamed between the cattle pens and manicured grounds.

Each morning we took advantage of the refreshingly cool temperatures and were out birding by 6 am – daybreak. A morning walk of the grounds showed a nice diversity, including the eye-catching Chestnut-eared Aracari, Green-barred Woodpecker, and Narrow-billed Woodcreeper.  Exploring a lovely bit of dry forest not far from the lodge, we found a very obliging Ferruginous Pygmy-owl peering at us from his exposed perch on a limb. A pair of Great Antshrikes moved through the shrubs, chattering all the while. We also saw Linneated Woodpecker, Aplomado Falcon, and our first of many Black-fronted Nunbirds (above). Eduardo was thrilled to find a Blue-crowned Parakeet, not a common sight in the Pantanal. Several Toco Toucans perched high in the trees, their outrageous orange bills gleaming in the morning sun.

Eduardo had brought us to one location specifically to see a family of rare Hyacinth Macaws at their nest hole (above).  The Pantanal is the key region to see these magnificent birds, especially at the Pousada Piuval. Amid their ear-splitting shrieks and calls, we took many photographs of these noisy one-metre long birds, the largest of all the macaws, as they flew around and shuttled between branches.  They were nesting next to a grove of Acuri Palm trees, whose nuts are a much favored food for Hyacinth Macaws.

Following breakfast, in spite of the heat, we explored the wooded areas, driving down dusty tracks through palms and weathered trees. We enjoyed a pocket of activity down a freshly-cut firebreak, including Bananaquit, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Chestnut-vented Conebills, and two flyby Golden-collared Macaws. The big prize here was Black-bellied Antwren, another Pantanal specialty, which we saw well. We found our first two hummingbirds: Glittering-throated Emerald and Fork-tailed Woodnymph.  Eduardo brought the vehicle to a stop when he heard the high-pitched squeal of the Black-tailed Marmoset, which is restricted to the Pantanal. We located this diminutive arboreal monkey sprawled in the shade on a densely-foliated tree with its long tail dangling from a thick branch.

A pair of Short-crested Flycatchers caught our attention, followed by the endemic Planalto Slaty-Antshrike, bobbing it’s tail at eye level in the shrubbery, Barred Antshrike, Rusty-backed Antwren (above), Rufous Casiornis, Masked Gnatcatchers, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Epaulet Oriole and the miniscule White-wedged Piculet.

We spotted a Nine-banded Armadillo (above) running at full speed through the savannah. We got out of the vehicle and hurried towards it. When it got to within 20 feet of us it looked up, saw us, did a complete turn and scurried away!  In the heat of the day a three hour afternoon break was much appreciated, with a dip in the pool and relaxing nap on the porch hammock!

all photos © adrian binns

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