photos & text by Don Roberson


The Pantanal is a huge swamp in southwestern Brazil, extending into adjacent Bolivia and Paraguay. It floods each rainy season (Nov-April) but the waters abate in July-October. At this time the fish, caiman, and birds are all pushed into smaller and smaller wetlands (above; storks & egrets). These are adjacent to the single long road — the Transpantaneira, 150 km from Picone to Porto Jofre.

Rita and I had visited the Pantanal in August 1999, on the suggestion of Steve Bailey, on a trip with Paulo Boute that took in a Harpy Eagle nest in the Serra das Araras and then the Pantanal in Paulo's personal automobile (that's the car & Paulo, right). [We would run into Paulo and his current tours twice on this trip] Back in 1999 the bridges in the Pantanal were notoriously bad, and they got worse as one traveled south. There are 133 bridges, and a good many of them were quite precarious. One had to move boards to cross (right). We encountered cars and buses stuck on the bridges, some having fallen through holes.

Today, all 133 bridges are in great shape, reinforced to easily handle air-conditioned buses filled with tourists (second below). This is a lot better than 1999 because the water under each bridge is full of caiman (below).


Our schedule in the Pantanal was this:

  • 18 July: arrive in Cuiaba midday, after flying all night from San Francisco, changing planes in Sao Paulo. Drive to Pousada Rio Claro at km 43 on the Transpantaneira in the northern Pantanal. Nice lodge with feeders, a good trail along the river, and available boat rides
  • 19 July: Early morning walk along Rio Claro in riverine forest, bird along Transpantaneira mid-day, afternoon walk to overlook tower near Rio Claro
  • 20 July: Early morning boat ride on Rio Claro (Giant Otters!), then drive 100 km to Porto Jofre on Rio Cuiba at the south end of Transpantaneira, begin three days of boat rides on Rio Cuiba searching for Jaguar with afternoon boat
  • 21–22 July: Porto Jofre and Rio Cuiba and tributaries. Success with Jaguar on the morning of 22 July permitted afternoon birding in wooded spots in southern Pantanal, and a fine night drive. Overnights at the quite luxurious Hotel Porto Jofre with riverside rooms, good food, and small lake out back.
  • 23 July: Full day birding length of Transpantaneira, reaching Pousada Piuval late in afternoon (at km 10 the northernmost lodge along Transpantaneira). Night walk there for nightjars and potoo.
  • 24 July: Full day drive from Pantanal to Emas NP vicinity.

The Pantanal is a photographer's paradise — there are frame-filling shots of hawks, kingfishers, herons, caracaras, curassows, caimans, and capybaras abundantly available. I took over a thousand photos that I kept, and cannot even attempt to show a selection here. But I rather like this iconic shot (right) of an adult Jabiru on the nest with two chicks — and especially if you notice the adult Rufous Horneros on its oven-shaped nest down in the right bottom corner of the photo!

Or try this shot of a female Anhinga dealing with swallowing a fish by tossing it into the air at get a better grip (below).


A major cold front hit s. Brazil as we arrived, and we were birding 'tropical' forests in jackets the first few days (left; Rita in the foreground). The lodges had air conditioning (of no use when temps are in the 50s° F); none of the lodges had heaters.

On our first boat ride, Chris Tenney's pricey Zeiss binoculars fell into the river while Chris was photographing a flying hawk. Poor Marcelo had to strip and dive into the chilly water (right) .... but the bins were forever lost in the muck at river bottom.


Chris seemed to do fine without bins thereafter; he saw all his birds through the lens of his Pentax. We were all much more relaxed, though, when the weather warmed and after our big cat was seen! (below; L to R: Dan Singer, Marcelo Padua, Chris Tenney (no bins), Don Roberson; photo © R. Carratello).

All the lodges (often called "pousadas") had good food, plentiful bar, and bird feeders. The latter meant colorful birds like Saffron Finch and Red-capped Cardinal right at one's doorstep (right).

Since I can't show many photos, here are two of my favorites (below): a dueting pair of Donacobius — now classified in its own family (below left) — and my "most wanted bird" from the Pantanal, Great Rufous Woodcreeper (called in by Marcelo's tape for a very brief moment).


We spent much of three days and many hours cruising the Rio Cuiaba and tributaries, and saw lots of lovely forest and some beautiful river scenics (second below). We encountered Amazon Kingfisher (above left) and Ringed Kingfisher (above right) daily in good numbers. A few sandbars on the river were graced by Pied Plover (left).

And you can't say enough about a Neotropical trip that produces both Sunbittern (pair at Pousada Piuval, below left) and Sungrebe (along the southern Transpantaneira, below right).

At no other spot on earth have I managed to photograph so many of the species that we saw — only a very small selection are shown here. Our complete checklist for the Pantanal follows the scenic shot below.


TRIP LIST July 2008

Undulated Tinamou Crypturellus undulates: a few heard daily along rivers
Greater Rhea Rhea americana: up to 6/day along Transpantaneira
Chaco Chachalaca Ortalis canicollis: common
Chestnut-bellied Guan Penelope ochrogaster: a few daily at Rio Claro
Blue-throated Piping Guan Pipile cumanensis: common along Rio Cuiaba & tributaries
Bare-faced Curassow Crax fasciolata: rather common around lodges, where often tame
Horned Screamer Anhima cornuta: a couple on small pond halfway to Emas, far from Pantanal
Southern Screamer Chauna torquata: a few daily
White-faced Whistling Duck Dendrocygna viduata: one pond had 20
Black-bellied Whistling Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis: a few scattered
Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata: a few along Transpantaneira
Brazilian Teal Amazonetta brasiliensis: a pair along Transpantaneira
Neotropic Cormorant Phalacrocorax brasilianus: abundant
Anhinga Anhinga anhinga: common daily
Rufescent Tiger Heron Tigrisoma lineatum: remarkable common
Agami Heron Agamia agami: one imm seen roosting on Rio Claro
Boat-billed Heron Cochlearius cochlearius: a couple at dusk in northern Pantanal
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax: fairly common
Striated Heron Butorides striata: common daily
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis: common daily
Cocoi Heron Ardea cocoi: common daily along rivers
Great Egret Ardea alba: abundant
Capped Heron Pilherodius pileatus: a few pairs here and there
Whistling Heron Syrigma sibilatrix: a few scattered pairs
Little Blue Heron Egretta caerulea: 1 adult along Transpantaneira
Snowy Egret Egretta thula: abundant
Plumbeous Ibis Theristicus caerulescens: small numbers daily
Buff-necked Ibis Theristicus caudatus: a few daily
Green Ibis Mesembrinibis cayennensis: scattered individuals. scarce
Bare-faced Ibis Phimosus infuscatus: a few pairs
Roseate Spoonbill Platalea ajaja: common but patchy
Wood Stork Mycteria americana: abundant
Jabiru Jabiru mycteria: some daily, well distributed & conspicuous
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura: a few only
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture Cathartes burrovianus: common
Black Vulture Coragyps atratus: abundant
Snail Kite Rostrhamus sociabilis: common
Crane Hawk Geranospiza caerulescens: only 2, but one watching reading into a hole in a tree
Great Black Hawk Buteogallus urubitinga: a few daily
Savanna Hawk Buteogallus meridionalis: seen daily in small numbers
Black-collared Hawk Busarellus nigricollis: fairly common daily
Roadside Hawk Buteo magnirostris: common
Southern Caracara Caracara plancus: abundant
Yellow-headed Caracara Milvago chimachima: a few scattered
Laughing Falcon Herpetotheres cachinnans: just a couple along Transpantaneira
Bat Falcon Falco rufigularis: several at dusk, sometimes hunting bats, on two days
Aplomado Falcon Falco femoralis: scarce, only a couple
Red-legged Seriema Cariama cristata: one along northern Transpantaneira
Sunbittern Eurypyga helias: two at Rio Claro, three at Pousada Piuval
Sungrebe Heliornis fulica: one swimming at edge of Rio Claro; a male frequented a small pond in southern Pantanal
Gray-necked Wood Rail Aramides cajanea: common
Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinicus: a single imm along Transpantaneira
Limpkin Aramus guarauna: small numbers daily on Transpantaneira
Southern Lapwing Vanellus chilensis: common
Pied Plover Vanellus cayanus: a few on sandbars on Rio Cuiaba & tributaries
Wattled Jaçana Jacana jacana: common
Yellow-billed Tern Sternula superciliari: a few daily on Rio Cuiaba & tributaries
Large-billed Tern Phaetusa simplex: a few daily on Rio Cuiaba & tributaries
Black Skimmer Rynchops niger: a few daily on Rio Cuiaba & tributaries
Rock Pigeon Columba livia: non-native introduction — common in towns north of Picone
Picazuro Pigeon Patagioenas picazuro: common
Scaled Dove Scardafella squammata: a few in northern Pantanal
Ruddy Ground Dove Columbina talpacoti: common
Picui Ground Dove Columbina picui: a few in northern Pantanal
Long-tailed Ground Dove Uropelia campestris: three together at one spot, n. Pantanal
White-tipped Dove Leptotila verreauxi: common in woodlands
Hyacinth Macaw Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus: a few pairs most days; nest seen Rio Cuiaba
Yellow-collared Macaw Primolius auricollis: small numbers in southern Pantanal
Blue-crowned Parakeet Aratinga acuticaudata: common in southern Pantanal
Nanday Parakeet Nandayus nenday: a few pairs around Rio Claro
Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus: several local breeding colonies
Yellow-chevroned Parakeet Brotogeris chiriri: a few most days
Scaly-headed Parrot Pionus maximiliani: one pair at Rio Claro
Blue-fronted Amazon Amazona aestiva: widespread and common
Orange-winged Amazon Amazona amazonica: a few pairs scattered
Guira Cuckoo Guira guira: common
Smooth-billed Ani Crotophaga ani: very common
Striped Cuckoo Tapera naevia: one heard in southern Pantanal
Little Cuckoo Coccycua minuta: a few along Rio Cuiaba
Squirrel Cuckoo Piaya cayana: a few seen here and there
Tropical Screech-Owl Megascops choliba: one seen on entrance road to Rio Claro
Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus: a pair at nest site in southern Pantanal, a few others heard
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl Glaucidium brasilianum: a couple heard in woodlands
Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia: a few daily in field at Rio Claro
Great Potoo Nyctibius grandis: two seen at different spots at night
Common Potoo Nyctibius griseus: single seen on two nights, different sites
Band-tailed Nighthawk Nyctiprogne leucopyga: up to 100 at dusk in southern Pantanal
Nacunda Nighthawk Podager nacunda: common in southern Pantanal, some at day roosts at lake edge at Porto Jofre Hotel
Pauraque Nyctidromus albicollis: heard most nights, some seen
Spot-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus maculicaudus: one seen at night at Pousada Piuval
Scissor-tailed Nightjar Hydropsalis torquata: male in flight over southern Transpantaneira on one night drive; a half-dozen (males & females) seen at night at Pousada Piuval
White-tailed Goldenthroat Polytmus guainumbi: one in northern Pantanal
Glittering-throated Emerald Amazilia fimbriata: a few daily along Transpantaneira
Blue-crowned Trogon Trogon curucui: a couple of observations in riverine forests
American Pygmy Kingfisher Chloroceryle aenea: a pair called in with tape in a small woodlot in the southern Pantanal
Green Kingfisher Chloroceryle americana: a few daily
Amazon Kingfisher Chloroceryle amazona: common
Ringed Kingfisher Megaceryle torquata: common
Rufous-tailed Jacamar Galbula ruficauda: a few pairs in riverine woods
Chaco Puffbird Nystalus striatipectus: a male called in at dusk in woods at Pousada Piuval for great looks & photos
Black-fronted Nunbird Monasa nigrifrons: a few most days in riverine woods
Chestnut-eared Aracari Pteroglossus castanotis: patchy; most regular (15/trip) along Rio Cuiaba
Toco Toucan Ramphastos toco: small numbers daily
White-wedged Piculet Picumnus albosquamatus: one in woods at Pousada Piuval
White Woodpecker Melanerpes candidus: scarce in northern Pantanal
Little Woodpecker Veniliornis passerines: a very few but widespread, seen almost daily
Green-barred Woodpecker Colaptes melanochloros: one landed on the “Transpantaneira” arching entrance sign on our way out Campo Flicker Colaptes campestris: widespread but patchy in occurrence
Pale-crested Woodpecker Celeus lugubris: one in wood at Rio Claro, and a pair in south Pantanal
Cream-colored Woodpecker Celeus flavus: a pair called in along Rio Cuiaba
Crimson-crested Woodpecker Campephilus melanoleucos: a few scattered individuals
Pale-legged Hornero Furnarius leucopus: a few along rivers
Rufous Hornero Furnarius rufus: widespread and common
Cinereous-breasted Spinetail Synallaxis hypospodia: at least one seen well in southern Pantanal
White-lored Spinetail Synallaxis albilora: this local endemic was seen at several in marshy spots along the Transpantaneira; it was very useful that Marcelo knew the vocalizations
Rusty-backed Spinetail Cranioleuca vulpine: reasonably common in riparian thickets at river edges
Yellow-chinned Spinetail Certhiaxis cinnamomeus: widespread and common in marshy areas
Greater Thornbird Phacellodomus ruber: a few nesting at Porto Jofre Lodge
Great Rufous Woodcreeper Xiphocolaptes major: this ‘most wanted’ specialty was found in pairs at two sites in northern Pantanal, and head at another. Marcelo called birds in with tape for great views
Straight-billed Woodcreeper Dendroplex picus: one at Rio Claro was seen
Narrow-billed Woodcreeper Lepidocolaptes angustirostris: fairly common in riverine forest
Great Antshrike Taraba major: heard daily in northern Pantanal thickets
Barred Antshrike Thamnophilus doliatus: heard daily in southern Pantanal thickets
Plain Antvireo Dysithamnus mentalis: female seen at Rio Claro (others had more)
Large-billed Antwren Herpsilochmus longirostris: a pair in riverine forest at Rio Claro
Rusty-backed Antwren Formicivora rufa: a few seen in northern Pantanal
Mato Grosso Antbird Cercomacra melanaria: a pair inside riverine forest at Rio Claro
Yellow-bellied Elaenia Elaenia flavogaster: a single bird seen along the central Transpantaneira
Southern Beardless Tyrannulet Camptostoma obsoletum: a few daily in patchy woods
Plain Inezia (Tyrannulet) Inezia inornata: one seen (others heard) at Rio Claro
Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher Poecilotriccus latirostris: skittish, but a few seen in roadside thickets along the Transpantaneira Common Tody-Flycatcher Todirostrum cinereum: a few in wooded patches
Fuscous Flycatcher Cnemotriccus fuscatus: an understory bird seen in several woodlands
Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus: widespread and a few seen daily in open areas
Yellow-browed Tyrant Satrapa icterophrys: one in a marsh in southern Pantanal
White-rumped Monjita Xolmis velatus: a couple at Rio Claro around lodge
Black-backed Water Tyrant Fluvicola albiventer: a few daily in marshes along the Transpantaneira
White-headed Marsh Tyrant Arundinicola leucocephala: less common than the preceding, but a few here and there
Cattle Tyrant Machetornis rixosa: widespread in open habitats with cattle or capybara
Rusty-margined Flycatcher Myiozetetes cayanensis: widespread
Great Kiskadee Pitangus sulphuratus: widespread and common
Lesser Kiskadee Philohydor lector: common along river edges, usually low near the water
Boat-billed Flycatcher Megarynchus pitangua: a few in wooded habitats
Tropical Kingbird Tyrannus melancholicus: widespread and fairly common
Rufous Casiornis Casiornis rufus: a few around Rio Claro
Short-crested Flycatcher Myiarchus ferox: widespread in small numbers
Brown-crested Flycatcher Myiarchus tyrannulus: one at Pousada Piuval
White-eyed (Dull-cap) Attila Attila bolivianus: one seen well in riverine forest at Rio Claro
Rufous-browed Peppershrike Cyclarhis gujanensis: heard most days along rivers, a few seen
Purplish Jay Cyanocorax cyanomelas: flocks were erratic in riverine forests
White-winged Swallow Tachycineta albiventer: common and widespread
Gray-breasted Martin Progne chalybea: just a couple here and there
Southern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx ruficollis: common in southern Pantanal
Black-capped Donacobius Donacobius atricapilla: colonies found daily in marshes or river edge reeds
Thrush-like Wren Campylorhynchus turdinus: common around Rio Claro, a few elsewhere
Moustached Wren Thryothorus genibarbis: three at Rio Claro
Fawn-breasted Wren Thryothorus guarayanus: heard several spots, seen well once
(Southern) House Wren Troglodytes (aedon) musculus: one singing at Rio Claro
Masked Gnatcatcher Polioptila dumicola: a few encountered most days
Chalk-browed Mockingbird Mimus saturninus: one near Picone
Rufous-bellied Thrush Turdus rufiventris: a few at lodges along Transpantaneira
Pale-breasted Thrush Turdus leucomelas: one in wooded patch Transpantaneira
Yellowish Pipit Anthus lutescens: a few seen or heard in open fields
Yellow-billed Cardinal Paroaria capitata: very common and widespread, esp. at lodge feeders
Orange-headed Tanager Thlypopsis sordida: a pair at a small woodland edge in south Pantanal
Silver-beaked Tanager Ramphocelus carbo: common
Sayaca Tanager Thraupis sayaca: a few most days
Chestnut-vented Conebill Conirostrum speciosum: three at Rio Claro
Saffron Finch Sicalis flaveola: common and widespread, often at lodge feeders
Rusty-collared Seedeater Sporophila collaris: a few encountered on most days along Transpantaneira
Double-collared Seedeater Sporophila caerulescens: patchy but could be common
White-bellied Seedeater Sporophila leucoptera: two singles on widely separated days
Tawny-bellied Seedeater Sporophila hypoxantha: a very few in northern Pantanal
Yellow-bellied Seedeater Sporophila nigricollis : one bird with other seedeaters south of Picone
Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch Oryzoborus angolensis: a couple along central Transpantaneira
Red-crested Finch Coryphospingus cucullatus: small flock south of Picone were all we saw
Saffron-billed Sparrow Arremon flavirostris: one seen after much struggle near dusk inside woods at Pousada Piuval
Grayish Saltator Saltator coerulescens: a few most days, widespread but not common
Black-throated Saltator Saltator atricollis: a pair south of Picone
Chopi Blackbird Gnorimopsar chopi: in flocks in Picone area, but none seen farther south
Scarlet-headed Blackbird Amblyramphus holosericeus: local but one spot had a dozen
Unicolored Blackbird Agelasticus cyanopus: patchy and scattered
Baywing (Cowbird) Agelaioides badius: daily in northern Pantanal, often at feeders there
Screaming Cowbird Molothrus rufoaxillaris: one seen with cows in northern Pantanal
Giant Cowbird Molothrus oryzivorus: a few most days in open country with ranches
Shiny Cowbird Molothrus bonariensis: could be very common on ranches, but patchy
Epaulet Oriole Icterus cayanensis: a couple at Pousada Piuval
Orange-backed Troupial Icterus croconotus: singles daily along Transpantaneira
Yellow-rumped Cacique Cacicus cela: patchy in colonies along Transpantaneira
House Sparrow Passer domesticus: non-native introduction — common in Picone

Birds that were heard/seen by our guide only: Amazonian Motmot Momotus momota, Gray-crested Cacholote Pseudoseisura unirufa, Red-billed Scythebill Campylorhamphus trochilirostris, Band-tailed Antbird Hypocnemoides maculicauda, Forest Elaenia Myiopagis gaimardii, Tawny-crowned Pygmy Tyrant Euscarthmus meloryphus, Yellow-olive Flatbill Tolmomyias sulphurescens, Helmeted Manakin Antilophia galeata, Ashy-headed Greenlet Hylophilus pectoralis, Brown-chested Martin Progne tapera, Buff-breasted Wren Thryothorus leucotis, Flavescent Warbler Basileuterus flaveolus, Palm Tanager Thraupis palmarum, Solitary Cacique Cacicus solitarius, Crested Oropendola Psarocolius decumanus.

For mammals, see my Mammals two-page set. I am still sorting out our Herps (amphibians & reptiles) and Odes (dragonflies), although, obviously, the headline photo at the top is a Paraguayan Caiman Caiman yacare.

July-August 2010
page created 24 Aug 2010
© Don Roberson 2010