FLY LONDON-SÂO PAULO
Our birdwatching tour to Brazil and the Pantanal begins with an overnight flight from London Heathrow to Sâo Paulo, in southeast Brazil.
FLY SÂO PAULO-CUIABA & TRANSFER TO THE PANTANAL
Following an early morning arrival in Sâo Paulo we catch a two-hour Brazilian domestic flight northwest to Cuiaba, capital of the state of Mato Grosso - and gateway to the superb Pantanal!
From Cuiaba, we drive southwest along the Transpantaneira Road deep into the heart of the wetlands. If time permits, we may visit a small urban reserve for a nice introduction to the colourful and plentiful local birdlife: toucans, hummingbirds, tanagers and macaws await! Some species are more likely to be seen here than anywhere else on tour and these include Russet-Crowned Crake, Purple Gallinule, Pale-vented Pigeon, Plain-breasted Ground Dove, Red-bellied Macaw, Peach-fronted Parakeet, Black-throated Mango, Chotoy Spinetail and Thrush-like Wren. A small population of Pantanal Marmoset inhabit the surroundings.
We arrive in time for dinner at our lovely first lodge - Pousada Piuval - with wonderful birding right on its doorstep!
Situated in a peaceful location away from the Transpantaneira, the varied habitats surrounding our accommodation at Pousada Piuval hold an excellent variety of species. The highlight here should be our first Hyacinth Macaws... or ‘Big Blue’ as it is sometimes known! This spectacular bird - the world's largest parrot - breeds in large holes in trees and has benefitted from protection schemes. Strutting in the fields, we should find the impressive Greater Rhea and Plumbeous Ibis, while Toco Toucans and even Chestnut-bellied Guans frequent the trees about the lodge.
One of many delights (!?) here is that we may be woken by the most of exotic of alarm clocks - the raucous calls of the Hyacinth Macaw! But it'll be worth it, for an early morning walk will reward us with the sight of many waterbirds: cormorants, herons, storks and ibises, all taking advantage of the rich pickings left by the now retreating floods. Perhaps the most striking of all these birds is the enormous Jabiru, a familiar sight in the Pantanal.
Birds of prey are well represented throughout the Pantanal, with the ubiquitous Snail Kite and Black-collared Hawk being two of the most frequently seen raptors, perching by open water on the look out for snails and fish respectively. We should also see many storks and herons, including Snowy and Great Egrets, and even Southern Screamer - and with a little luck, we will locate a Sunbittern on a quiet pool. White Woodpeckers and Campo Flickers may perch on dead tree stumps, while deeper in the dry forest Rufous-tailed Jacamars and Blue-crowned Trogons add splashes of colour.
The most visible mammal here is the Capybara, the world's largest rodent, which occurs in good-sized family groups, browsing the lush wetland vegetation under the watchful gaze of numerous Caiman. In the drier countryside, fortunate observers might occasionally see the amazing Giant Anteater, loping across the fields as they feed on the termites which dot the landscape with their impressive mounds.
Birding opportunities abound near the lodge and Great Rufous Woodcreepers can often be found, but we'll also venture away during our stay here to explore the dry forest and gallery woodlands. The splendid Helmeted Manakin makes its home here, alongside Rufous Casornis and Planalto Slaty Antshrike. In the damper areas bordering the small pools and streams we can hope to find Mato Grosso Antbird and Yellow-chinned Spinetails, and as the afternoon draws on we'll likely hear the haunting song of the Undulated Tinamou - though they are tricky to see!
At dusk, we should find the inquisitive Crab-eating Fox as we search for Tropical Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl and Common Potoo. Three nights Pousada Piuval
PORTO JOFRE AREA
Bidding farewell to Pousada Puival, will head southwest 100kms or so today, to Porto Jofre at the end of the Transpantaneira, for a three-night stay. Travel is slow along this highway at the best of times, which will give us the opportunity to look out for some uncommon roadside birds - such as the beautiful Scarlet-headed Blackbird.
The dry grasslands we will pass through are the home to Giant Anteaters so we'll check anything that moves among the huge termite mounds! As we travel south, we are sure to see Marsh Deer and perhaps Black Howler Monkey in the trees bordering the Transpantaneira.
As we get closer to Porto Jofre, open wetland areas become more extensive and we will stop to admire the massed ranks of wetland birds - expect to see Limpkins, Maguari Storks, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and many more. The magnificent Hyacinth Macaw is also present and we'll pay an evening visit to a roosting area for the spectacular 'big blue'. As dusk settles over the Pantanal, huge Nacunda Nighthawks begin their evening forays.
We will spend our time at Porto Jofre covering a mix of habitats, either on foot or via short road journeys along the Transpantaneira. However, a particular focus of our time here will be to try and gain good sightings of South America's biggest - the Jaguar! This area has become one of the most reliable places on Earth to see this impressive feline and the famous Caiman-eating Jaguars were filmed by the BBC in this region.
Our boat trips will to some extent concentrate on seeing Jaguars, which retreats to the woodland along the rivers edge during the day and has a tendency to lie out near the waters’ edge. Of course, encounters with a Jaguar are far from guaranteed, even though the boatmen are primed with information on the most recent sightings, but there will be a good possibility of success.
Birds are also present on the Rio Cuiaba: Black Skimmers roost on the sandbars in the company of numerous Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, and Pied and Collared Plovers should be seen. Front-heavy Toco Toucans fly over and perch in the bare trees, and others we will listen and look out for include the excellent Red-billed Scythebill, Grey-chested Cacholote, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Blue-throated Piping-guan and wonderful Cream-coloured Woodpecker. Three nights Porto Jofre
TRANSPANTANEIRA TO CUIABA
We depart early from Porto Jofre today and retrace our steps to Cuiaba. Although mainly a travel day, it will also be fascinating as we pass along the full length of the Transpantaneira, stopping to stretch our legs or to check out anything that catches our eye. We might try a little playback to lure out any of those elusive spinetails, antshrikes, antwrens and flycatchers we might still be missing - and we'll hope to spot the lumbering hulk of a Giant Anteater as we go.
Arriving at our Cuiaba hotel this evening, we will no doubt be ready for dinner in this bustling Brazilian city. Night Cuiaba
CHAPADA DOS GUIMARAES
We leave Cuiaba early today and continue our journey northeast, travelling about 70 kms to our next, and very different destination: Chapada dos Guimaraes. We spend two nights here, on the edge of a huge escarpment overlooking Cuiaba and the plains to the south.
Chapada Dos Guimaraes lies on an ancient tectonic fault some 500 million years old. When the Andes cordilleras appeared on the west, the flat region of the Pantanal sank and the plateau (chapada) rose up. Water and wind erosion over millions of years has carved natural sculptures, canyons and caves into the cinnamon-buff sandstone cliffs. Rivers and streams have 'dug their way out', creating huge waterfalls typical of chapada scenery. At an elevation of around 800m (2600ft), this fascinating area experiences mild temperatures but it can be windy, especially in the evening.
From our hotel here we are well placed to explore the surrounding cerrado (savanna) and forest areas. Although initially appearing rather unprepossessing, being an arid and somewhat stunted looking habitat, the cerrado contains a wealth of localised bird species that will largely be new to us. Specialities to watch for include the delectable Horned Sungem, White-eared Puffbird, Curl-crested Jay, White-rumped and White-banded Tanagers and Black-faced Saltator. Streams running from the high plateau are surrounded by gallery forest, rich in birdlife with the likes of Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Blue-crowned Motmot, Fiery-capped and Band-tailed Manakins, Southern Antpipit and White-lined and Guira Tanagers among many treats in store.
As the day heats up, we will scan the sky for birds of prey such as the stately King Vulture, White Hawk and the graceful Swallow-tailed Kite. We should always be alert for macaws coasting over the cerrado, too: both Red-and-Green and Blue-winged Macaws are regularly seen near Chapada. Two nights Chapada dos Guimaraes
RETURN TO CUIABA
We have time to enjoy a further morning birding on the plateau around the town before we must reluctantly make our way back south to Cuiaba. We spend the night at a hotel convenient to the airport here, in readiness for our flight back to Sao Paulo tomorrow. Night Cuiaba
FLY CUIABA-SÂO PAULO AND ONWARD TO LONDON
Depending on flight schedules today, there may be time for a little early morning birding around Cuiaba. Returning to Cuiaba Airport, we catch a domestic flight back to Sâo Paulo and transfer to our onward overnight connection to London.
We arrive back at London Heathrow in the early afternoon, where our birdwatching tour to Brazil and the Pantanal concludes.