monalisa

Another Pantanal trip report - May 2017

84 posts in this topic

@monalisa - Wow what a scary transfer down the Transpantaneira.  That trip was bumpy enough in the dry season, so I can only imagine what it was like crossing all those bridges in the wet season.  Last Sept, they were replacing many of the wood bridges with either concrete or metal ones if I remember right....hopefully that made things a little better :D.

 

Unfortunately, any trip report where Southwild is involved is going to elicit some strong opinions.  These are definitely not aimed at you personally.  But, the owner of Southwild is making it a mission to bait animals at his lodges and that is not something I support.  He has another lodge in Brazil that baits the Maned Wolves there and rumor has it he is trying to do the same thing in Chile with Pumas now.  In the past, he did this with Jaguars in the Pantanal.  I don't feel that baiting has any place in conservation and it certainly shouldn't have any place in professional wildlife photography.  So, I have just decided not to support any lodges he owns and to make people aware of his practices so that they can make their own decisions.  There, enough said on that topic from me :).

 

I am looking forward to reading about the rest of your report, so keep it coming.

 

Alan

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Thank you all for posting about Southwild and commenting on it. I really need to think about this, because I am so torn about it. I know in life a lot of things are not black and white, and this one seems to be one of them. I don't think baiting is right, but...this is not baiting for hunting/hurting the animal. Although, it changes their behavior...

 

As I'm thinking of a future trip to the Pantanal, I need to figure out how I feel about this whole thing. I guess there are plenty of other lodges and guides to pick from in the area....

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51 minutes ago, Atdahl said:

any trip report where Southwild is involved is going to elicit some strong opinions.

 

@Atdahl Haha Alan I wish we had known of South Wild's reputation before! We actually booked them based solely on the amount of Tripadvisor stars and number of reviews. It was only afterwards that we'd started to read a lot of negative comments. To be 100% honest we wouldn't have gone with them if we had seen these first, but oh well. We made the best of a "bad" situation and ended up learning a lot along the way and gaining a much better understanding of the conservation issues in the Pantanal. Whether the method is right or wrong I can't say but it is an attempt at solving a very difficult problem which I personally have no answers for. I'd like to learn more about alternative solutions but I suspect this is the wrong forum thread :D 

All should be pleased to know that I didn't see any more baiting after the ocelots!! :)

 

@xyz99 There certainly are a lot of other companies to choose from. I'll be honest again and say that I would not use SW a second time. Not because of the baiting which perhaps other companies do behind the scenes without guests knowing, but because they can be the target of hatred which we unfortunately did get a sense of while we were there. Another interesting thing to note is that many guides in the Pantanal have worked for Charles at some point in the past but deny this fact simply because association can be toxic. Our guide Paulo has also since gone on to set up his own company. I am hoping for his sake that it puts an end to some of his problems. I can pass you his contact details if you like. He does custom tours so you can definitely request to avoid any baiting areas :) He is a genuine guy so I think he would be straight up with you.

 

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@monalisa, thanks for the generous offer. Yes, please send me Paulo's contact - I haven't started planning this trip yet, it's scheduled  for 2019, probably in the summer, because I think that's when the dry season is. Am I right? A vetted guide is worth a lot, and the fact that you liked him means a lot.

It's interesting how a company's reputation affects one way or another people who just briefly worked for it or used it.

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@monalisa

 

I love those photos of the capuchins. We saw them only twice at Barranco Alto, and both times they were very shy.  I certainly didn't come close to getting anything near the quality shots you did!

 

11 hours ago, monalisa said:

And you raise a good point about bird feeders. These are actually illegal in Brazil too. It's tough to know what to think. 

 

I've never heard this. Although our week at Barranco Alto was our only stop in the Pantanal last year, and they certainly don't bait or otherwise feed the wildlife there (although, actually, one day one of the hands did place a few large bunches of palm nuts out in the pasture between the lodge and the river that the hyacinth macaws attacked), eco lodges in the Mata Atlantica rainforest along the coast certainly feature bird feeders, both with seeds and fruits (including bananas and mango halves), not to mention many well-stocked hummingbird feeders. 

 

From a photographic standpoint, I'm not a fan of baited set-ups. It all just looks too staged. But if I stay at a lodge where they happen to have bird feeders, I won't lie and say that I've never taken advantage of the situation. I guess it's karma, though, that I've always been happier with my photos taken purely in the wild. 

 

Very glad to hear it that it stopped raining for you. I have to say that the lush green landscape made for an awfully spectacular setting for everything that you saw. Great report. Can't wait for more. 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

yes come to think of it, I don't think that is correct about bird feeders being illegal. As @Alexander33 noted, all the lodges in the Atlantic Forest have feeders and we went to several spots with hummingbird feeders as well. And Pouso Alegre in the Pantanal had a feeder, as did Pousada Rio Claro, also in the Pantanal.

Edited by janzin

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I’m enjoying reading your report, to my regret I’ve not been to the south and Barranco Alto but with this SouthWild Pantanal part I’m getting a strong feeling of déjà vu as this was very similar to the second part of my Brazil trip in August last year when I got decidedly wet albeit in the dry season, even your guide sounds familiar. The ocelot debate first really came up in my report of that trip as I was happy to discuss the issue as I had and still have reservations about it; I think you perhaps had a rather more pleasant experience because there were fewer people there.

 

@offshorebirder  At SouthWild the boatmen do throw fish for the great black and black-collared hawks but then this is done at some places in Africa e.g. Lake Naivasha with fish eagles and also in Australia with white-bellied sea eagles and I suspect in Scotland with the white-tailed sea eagles on some of the boat trips from the Isle of Mull. They do also at SouthWild throw fish for herons and egrets and this is something I’ve not seen or heard of elsewhere but it may happen and I also know that they do throw fish to the otters but I’ve not experienced this on either of my visits, perhaps just because we didn’t encounter otters while out in the boat. I only saw one otter on my first visit and none at all on my second. As to the baiting of jaguars in the past, as far as I am aware that was only ever an unproven allegation that doesn’t mean they weren’t doing it but they would claim that the accusations were false cooked up by their competitors to try and put them out of business. I don’t really want to have a whole new debate about this issue in someone else’s report, but I think it comes down to personal opinion as to what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Is putting out fruit to attract toucans and other birds really that different to using fish to attract hawks? and baiting in some form is something that goes on all over the world. Besides fish eagles/hawks, if you go to New Zealand for example you can go on a pelagic boat tour from Kaikoura with Albatross Encounter and they will put chum in the water to attract the birds and you’ll a mass of species of albatrosses etc that you would not see or not close up if they didn’t use bait. I think though for a lot of people there is a perhaps difference between feeding birds and baiting mammals. The one thing that surprised me on my first visit to Brazil was the almost complete lack of hummingbird feeders, my first experience of South America was birding in Ecuador and there every lodge has lots of feeders and you will even find feeders beside some trails, the serious photographers go to great lengths to make it look like the birds are feeding from natural flowers to get the perfect shot of a hummer its wings frozen as it hovers at the flower. At some of the lodges there are swarms of hummers of many different species, in Brazil you’re lucky to see more than a couple and doing well to get really good views. That’s enough about baiting and feeding wildlife I think if anyone wants to debate the subject further it would be better to start a new thread, I was happy to debate it in my report because it was a significant element of my trip because I went to the Wolf Camps. I think though it would be a little unfair on @monalisa to carry on a debate here.

 

I’m looking forward to reading about your experience on the Flotel, I’m hope I’m right that from what you’ve said you didn’t have any further rain, when you’re out on the rivers rain is not a pleasant experience.     

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@xyz99 I assume that your summer is June-August? If so, then yes this is when dry season is in the Pantanal. We went in the last week of May and were apparently very lucky with sightings. The fact there was no one around and we basically had the river to ourselves was a positive but we obviously did not get the memo on the right time to go! I'm so excited for you that you have a Pantanal trip on the horizon. I will need to live vicariously through your trip report when the time comes :D

 

@Alexander33 @janzin My apologies. I shouldn't have said bird feeders were illegal without verifying. Such a no-no in this world of false fact spreading, sorry!!! I was just relaying information that I had heard from people while I was over there. So I have just done some Googling, and I suspect where it comes from might be down to how one might interpret the terms "perseguição" and "utilização". I unfortunately don't know Brazilian Portuguese so I am relying on Google Translate here!!

 

From Law 5197/67

Art 7. The use, persecution, destruction, hunting or gathering of specimens of wild fauna, when consented to in the form of this Law, shall be considered hunting acts.

 

From Decree 6514/08

Art 24. Killing, pursue, hunt, catch, collect, use specimens of wild fauna, native or migratory route, without permission, license or authorization from the competent authority, or in violation of the obtained

 

I can see how "use" and "pursue" could be interpreted to encompass these types of ecotourism activities although I am certainly no lawyer and have no idea what the jurisdiction of these laws is.

 

There is also a specific resolution for jaguars I found but I do not know if there are similar rules for other wildlife:


From CONSEMA Resolution 85/11

Art 5. The feeding or feeding of jaguars or pumas in free life is prohibited to attract, increase the chance of observation or ensure their permanence in a certain locality.

 

I also vaguely recall reading something about ecotourism activities needing to be managed by the relevant state bodies, but I'm sure you all agree that I'd better stop before I go further down the rabbit hole!

 

 

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@inyathi I have just flicked back to your trip report and my gosh! We had the same guide! Did you like him?? I thought he was just the greatest. Every conversation with him was like an information download session. How he knew so much about every topic blew my mind. He schooled me on STDs in koalas!! I'm from Australia and never even heard anything about this. My husband was also extremely pleased to finally have someone to discuss martial arts with :lol:

 

Do you think you will go back to the Pantanal? Hopefully you can fit BA in there next time as it is well worth the visit. It's paradise!! :)

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3 hours ago, monalisa said:

@xyz99 I assume that your summer is June-August? If so, then yes this is when dry season is in the Pantanal. We went in the last week of May and were apparently very lucky with sightings. The fact there was no one around and we basically had the river to ourselves was a positive but we obviously did not get the memo on the right time to go! I'm so excited for you that you have a Pantanal trip on the horizon. I will need to live vicariously through your trip report when the time comes :D

 

 

Yes, our summer is June-August. Is this a good time to go to Pantanal, if the major priority is wildlife viewing? We can go anytime, and haven't really started the research...so we still have time to decide. You'll have to wait until 2019 ... and so do we :)

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The first thing I actually noticed around the flotel was the number of butterflies around. We don't really get them where I live so I was really excited to have them flutter around me and land on my clothing.

And butterflies are a good omen. I could sense our luck turning around!

 

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Three in one!!

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Butterfly vs ant showdown

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Now to the good bits!!

 

Our first boat outing was at 1:40pm that afternoon. Our expectations were very low at this point because a) there were no other tourists around b ) we had been reminded by everyone we met that we were very early in the season and the birds, otters, jaguars etc were not here yet. Paulo tried to reassure us that all the species were present already, just not in the large numbers you would typically get later in the season. He also said it was a good thing that there would not be other boats around. Within about 10 minutes of heading out we saw 3 giant river otters who swam over to us to check us out before quickly disappearing behind some reeds. I am not at giant-river-otter-photography-skill-level yet so sadly I didn't get any good photos of them then, but I figured at least I saw them and heard them whistle and carry on. What a thrill!

 

Not long after that, Manuel with his insane eagle eyes stopped us in front of a bunch of dense trees. Apparently a jaguar was sitting there. Where?!?? It took a good 20 seconds of Paulo pointing to and describing the location of the jaguar, even after the boat had stopped, for me to see it. Sure enough there under the brush I could see the unmistakable spotty fur of our very first jaguar!! It was 85% obscured by branches, I have no idea how anyone could have seen it. Lucky we had Manuel on our team!

 

Here is a screenshot from our video. Would you have seen this?? :lol:

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After a few minutes the jaguar emerged. Paulo hypothesised that this was a young jaguar because it was apparently nervous upon seeing us and retreated back into the forest. But not before we had a good look! :D We couldn't believe how our luck was turning around. We were both quite down in the dumps at first about arriving out of season, and my husband was upset with Charles the owner for not advising that there would be such a drastic difference in late May as opposed to the peak in June-August. Well we were buzzing after this!! :D

 

Anyway without further ado..... our first jaguar, all to ourselves, about 10 metres away!

 

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I think they are my new favourite cat :wub:

 

For the rest of the excursion we saw mainly birds but we were still on our otter and jaguar high. The river was notably pretty too. Perhaps more so than the Rio Negro and Pixaim. 

 

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He really is beautiful!

My current favorite cat is the leopard - we saw them in South Africa and fell in love. It will be hard to pick one if we get to see a jaguar, too. But one can have 2 favorite cats, right?

 

Paulo is really amazing, I would've never seen that jaguar hiding. Please send me his contact info when you get a chance. Thanks!

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Beautiful young jaguar, and that's a great shot!

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Great you saw a Jaguar straight away, and what a cool shot!

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As has been said already that’s a great jaguar shot and a very nice sighting, photographing giant otters at least while they’re hunting is a serious challenge for any photographer, predicting where they might pop up and getting a shot before they vanish again is not easy.  

 

Yes Paulos a really nice guy and a great guide I would certainly recommend his services to anyone visiting the Pantanal or anywhere else in Brazil where he guides.

 

At the moment I’m not sure if or when I will be heading back to the Pantanal but there are certainly some great places in Brazil that I’ve yet to visit like the Mata Atlantica and the northern Amazon that might well draw me back to the country, the trouble is it’s such a vast country and they’re not exactly close to the Pantanal. However the Wolf Camps in Piaui aren’t exactly close to the Pantanal either so my last trip had plenty of travel so I’m sure I could do it again. Although I did really quite well for mammals in the Pantanal and I’ve seen most of the birds so returning is not a big priority, but one species I’ve not seen that I’d quite like to score somewhere is pampas deer which obviously you saw a lot of at Barranco Alto,  the distribution map I’ve just looked at suggests that they should be found throughout the Pantanal but my impression is that they must be more common in the south. It would also be good to see some more peccaries as I’ve never seen a whole herd of them so certainly if I do return I’ll head for Barranco Alto I don’t think anyone here on Safaritalk has a bad word to say about the place.

 

In the meanwhile I hope you will shortly be showing us some more jaguars and otters. :)

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@xyz99 Of course! I'm a fan of all the spotty cats and find it hard to choose ^_^

 

@janzin Thank you! That means so much coming from someone of your calibre!

 

@michael-ibk Yes, it was the perfect antidote to all the rain and gloom!

 

@inyathi Oh yes, I think you would have to be very unlucky not to see pampas deer at BA! Also the terrain there seems to be much more forgiving of rain than any of the properties I saw in the north. 

More jaguars and otters are coming! I just have to keep prodding my husband to load his videos at the same time :lol: I'm hoping to get through this trip report as quick as I can so I can get started on the Botswana/Zambia leg!!

 

 

On our first full day at the flotel the morning looked very overcast and cloudy but we tried to stay positive. Soon after heading out we saw more giant river otters. This time there was a group of about 5 or 6 calling and whistling loudly together. It's times like these I'm glad for video!! It's difficult to explain their calls and general commotion in words. The otters swam fairly close to the boat too at times which was awesome.

 

Just listen to that noise!

 

 

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After this it felt like a long time of not seeing anything. We passed a fishing boat that pointed us in the direction of a jaguar they had seen in the same area as the one we had seen the day before. We didn't find any there though after searching thoroughly which was disheartening. Perhaps that jaguar we saw was meant to be our only jaguar?

 

As the morning wore on the sun began to burn away the clouds, giving way to bright blue sky. It turned out to be a lovely day. And in more ways than one! As we turned around a bend of Black Creek I spotted him (no pun intended!). It took a half second to register what I was looking at but clear as day there was a jaguar face staring straight back at me! His name was Geoff and he is apparently the current dominant male in the area having beaten the popular Mick Jaguar in the last season or so. Again we were the only ones at the sighting and we ended up hanging out alongside Geoff for a good 2 hours! We watched him walk around, sleep, mark his territory, take a drink and even swim! Apparently the boats normally observe a gentlemen's agreement to stay 20-25 metres away from jaguars to avoid boats getting in each other's way and overwhelming the animals but as we were the only ones there we anchored 10 metres away, maybe even a little less! There was a drastic difference in composure between Geoff and the jaguar from the previous day. Geoff was so confident in our presence often going to sleep with his back to us. I can't tell you what an absolute privilege it was to get to spend time with this magnificent animal and to get to see different behaviours - all on our own!! Perhaps late May wasn't such a horrible time to come after all :)

 

Geoff

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When he made his way down the bank there was a real "Will he or won't he?" moment. We all really wanted to see him go for a swim. When he hopped in I remember being so thrilled. I could hardly contain myself. He then proceeded to swim across the creek right in front of us!

 

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What a great morning it ended up being! We mainly saw birds and caiman on our afternoon excursion but we weren't disappointed. Our day had been pretty great. 

Something I wish we had gotten a video of was an anhinga dive bombing for fish. You would be floating down the river and have these random splashes around you. Anhingas were constantly dive bombing off branches, it was hilarious :lol:


Jabiru stork and caimans

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Anhinga

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Anhinga

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Southern caracara

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Limpkin

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Great black hawk

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Juvenile great black hawk

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Bats (the name escapes me now)
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The fireflies were spectacular this night. The trees along the river looked like they had Christmas lights. It was beautiful. We couldn't wait to see what our last day at the flotel had in store :)

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@monalisa

I love the otter video - having the sound makes such a difference! And what a wonderful jaguar sighting. Lovely photos throughout.

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Wow! Those bats look so cool! Great trip report! :) I am still  planning a return to the Pantanal , canastra and Caraça to look for maned wolf next year.  We will need to firm up dates soon as porto jofre lodge already has limited availability.  There may still be an opportunity for others to join me - please PM if interested. Details are on the seeking safari companions three in my signiature . Some details of the itinerary have changed though.

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What a fantastic day! The otters are adorable, and I've never heard them before. They are so chatty :)

Great jaguar sighting, too...and the landscapes (waterscapes?) really show the beauty of the area.

 

@kittykat23uk, when are you going? I'm asking, because I'm trying to get a sense of how early we need to book. It's only June (ok, July today) and you only find limited availability for next year??? We are planning a July-Aug 2019 trip, when should we be ready to book?

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Sorry - did not mean to criticize you personally @monalisa - I really appreciate your trip report and its candid nature.  That lets people researching their trips steer towards outfitters and lodges that are a better fit for them in the same area of the Pantanal.

 

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1 hour ago, xyz99 said:

What a fantastic day! The otters are adorable, and I've never heard them before. They are so chatty :)

Great jaguar sighting, too...and the landscapes (waterscapes?) really show the beauty of the area.

 

@kittykat23uk, when are you going? I'm asking, because I'm trying to get a sense of how early we need to book. It's only June (ok, July today) and you only find limited availability for next year??? We are planning a July-Aug 2019 trip, when should we be ready to book?

Sept or oct next year. But we are told August is already almost full up at Porto Jofre lodge. 

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Wow, I had no idea....our trip will be in 2019, so I guess we need to book early. Thanks!

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On our last full day at Porto Jofre there were mainly clear skies and we were feeling good about what we had seen so far. We had gotten a "good" jaguar sighting which is what we came for, so everything from here on out was going to be a nice bonus. Of course we still hoped for more :rolleyes:

 

Well within about a half hour we did get a quick glimpse of a jaguar walking along the river. It lasted maybe a minute and there was so much foliage that I never took a photo. But here is a screenshot from our video just to prove jaguar #3 existed! :lol: This was maybe 15 metres away. 

 

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We searched around for more jaguars on this morning boat trip but did not see any more. Instead we found a family of giant river otters! They came up onto the bank and started marking their territory by scratching and sliding, rolling around, rubbing their bodies on trees and vines, it was fun to watch. And again we were by ourselves so it was like a private otter show just for us!

 

We stayed with them for the rest of our allotted time just observing. We returned in the afternoon to the same area to find that they had just come back from a hunt and were sharing a fish in the water. We couldn't see them as they were obscured behind a large low-hanging tree but we could hear the poor fish being crunched and the otters making a general ruckus. They took about 15-20 minutes to finish eating before they decided to climb onto the bank for a nap. They stretched and rolled around. We couldn't have been happier with the variety of behaviours we saw from the otters.

 

Here is a video that includes footage from both the morning and afternoon. It's a bit long but well worth it I think! ^_^

 

 

I hope you're all not sick of otters at this point!

 

Marking their territory

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Rolling around

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Falling asleep on the job. You can see she's mama otter though so all is forgiven.

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Having a scratch

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This one is blurry but looks so cute! Otter kiss!!

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Grumpy pants

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Indignant

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What are you doing here??

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Time for a nap

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I love the one on top. It kept rolling over everyone else and wouldn't keep still :lol:

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That can't be comfy...

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Not sure I like this pillow

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By this point we were very very spoiled by having all of our sightings to ourselves so when another boat appeared at the tail end of this sighting I found myself a little disappointed. Unreasonable certainly, but I was not used to sharing! :lol: 

 

As an antidote to otter overload, here are some pictures of some of the scenery and birds we also saw.

 

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Toco toucan

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Cocoi heron

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Skimmers and terns

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Black vultures

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Caiman

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Lots and lots of egrets dotting the trees

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Common iguana

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Cocoi heron swallowing a fish

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On this afternoon outing we noticed more tourist boats. There were at least 3 others on the river that we passed which indicated to us that the season was beginning to pick up.

 

We were the second boat to arrive at this next jaguar sighting (out of an eventual 3). This one is perhaps aesthetically prettier than big brute Geoff. I actually don't recall if this one was male or female.

 

It posed politely for us, sat, stared and slept for the 45 minutes we stayed with it.

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Paulo told us he was honestly surprised to have seen this many jaguars in May. Lucky us :)

 

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There can never be too many Otters. Great sighting, really enjoyed that video. I am very impressed with the sightings you had at that time of the year.

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Great sightings - and I love your otters. It is good to see pictures of the river and birds as well - beautiful.

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