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Sunbird – Itinerary

Brazil Photographic Tour: Pantanal Safari

Tuesday 24 September to Wednesday 2 October 2019
with Stuart Elsom as leader

Maximum group size: 8 with 1 leader

2019 Tour Price : £3,690

  • Single Room Supplement : £230
  • Plus flights estimated at : £980

There will be chances to get some good photos of the elusive Jaguar. Photo: Stuart Elsom

Catching a glimpse of a big cat in the wild is truly a lifetime experience, and the elusive Jaguar is probably the most sought-after member of the family. This cat is scattered throughout the Neotropics, but its stronghold is in the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland area. We’ll spend four full days here in the hope of catching some great views and images of this impressive predator, something that would have been unheard-of a few years ago. Our base on the Cuiabá River gives us the very best opportunity to see and photograph not only Jaguar but also a vast array of other stunning wildlife. 

The accompanying avifauna of the Pantanal is varied and abundant, offering a good contrast to the birds found in the Atlantic Rainforest on our Brazil Southeast Photographic Tour. Birds such as Amazon Kingfisher, Sungrebe, Southern Screamer, Pied Lapwing, and Blue-throated Piping Guan can all be seen from our motorized launches along the Cuiabá River. Most species are very approachable, and there will be excellent photographic opportunities. 

As charismatic and spectacular as the Jaguar is, the huge Harpy Eagle can be found in adjacent areas of Brazil’s Mato Grosso, and we’ll dedicate time to finding and photographing this magnificent raptor. 

Our photographic tours are designed for both beginners and more experienced photographers. They run to a more flexible itinerary than one of our straightforward birdwatching tours, and we do not try to obtain snaps of a long list of species but rather concentrate on obtaining stunning images of the wildlife we encounter. This may often mean we spend long periods with just a few subjects. 

All photographic tours are accompanied by Stuart Elsom LRPS, who was awarded a Royal Photographic Society Distinction in 2011. Stuart, who delivers training on nature photography and bird identification for the Royal Society of Biology, will be available throughout the tour to offer group or one-to-one instruction on all aspects of wildlife photography. 

Photographic Tours are also suitable for nonphotographers or for those who would like a more relaxed pace and less rigid itinerary. Some tours include evening sessions on photographic techniques or image critique workshops, which are of course optional. If you have questions about any aspect of our photographic tours, please contact the Sunbird Office, which can forward your query to Stuart. 

It is possible to do this tour back-to-back with our Brazil Southeast Photographic Tour.

Day 1: The tour begins with a flight from London to Cuiaba.

Day 2: On arrival at Cuiaba Airport we’ll meet our tour leader, local guide, and the participants continuing on from the Brazil Southeast Photographic Tour. We’ll then transfer to Serra das Araras, which is home to one of South America’s most magnificent birds, the powerful Harpy Eagle. This area is in the transition between the cerrado habitat, which is similar to the African savanna, and the imposing Amazon rainforest. As well as seeking out Harpy Eagle, we’ll be hoping for some memorable close encounters with many of the other special birds in the area. These could include Capped and Cocoi Herons, Southern Screamer, Dusky-headed Parakeet, Red-shouldered Macaw, and the hugely impressive Red-and-green Macaw, which squabble noisily and often tangle with each other mid-flight. 

Other species here include Gray-headed Kite, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Warbling Antbird, King Vulture, Purplish Jay, and Magpie Tanager. An evening spotlighting session will allow us to search for nocturnal species such as Pauraque, Austral and Tawny-bellied Screech-Owls, Ocellated Poorwill, and the superb Spectacled Owl, which often perches overhead and glares down at its gathered admirers below. Night in Serra das Araras.

Day 3: We’ll spend this morning in the domain of the Harpy Eagle, where we’ll also search for species we may have missed the previous afternoon. After lunch we’ll transfer to the Pantanal. Once our vehicle reaches the Pantanal floodplain, we’ll drive slowly, fully absorbing the wildlife along the road and making many stops when photographic opportunities present themselves. We hope to arrive at our lodge with time to devote to observing and photographing some of the local species, such as the huge Jabiru, vivid Roseate Spoonbill, American Wood Stork, Great Rufous, Straight-billed, and Narrow-billed Woodcreepers, Guira Cuckoo, Glittering-throated Emerald, Black-fronted Nunbird, Bat Falcon, Black-bellied Antwren, Planalto Slaty Antshrike, Saffron-billed Sparrow, and Blue-crowned Trogon. Night at a lodge in the Pantanal. 

Day 4: We’ll have an early breakfast and take a boat ride along the Pixaim River. Here the approachable and photogenic wildlife should present many photographic opportunities. All five species of South American kingfisher - Ringed, Amazon, Green, Green-and-rufous, and Pygmy - can be found here, along with Sungrebe and the beautiful Sunbittern. 

Giant River Otters and Black-collared Hawks along this stretch of river may also offer themselves up for the camera, and our time spent with these species is sure to be memorable: the playful otters will swim around the boats and show off, while the hawk will often take fish from the surface of the water nearby. Around the hotel we’ll find some spectacular birds too, such as Guira Cuckoo, Campo Flicker, and both Red-crested and Yellow-Billed Cardinals. We also hope to see White and Green-barred Woodpeckers, Crested Oropendola, Blue-fronted Parrot, Blue-throated Piping Guan, Scarlet-headed Blackbird, Rusty-collared Seedeater, Black-capped Donacobius, and a plethora of herons, egrets, storks, and ibis. After lunch we’ll begin the drive along the famous Transpantaneira Road, making various stops along the way. Toward the end of the day we’ll board our comfortable hotel boat for the night. 

Days 5-6: We’ll spend two full days exploring the Pantanal by motorboat. After breakfast we’ll have boat rides both upstream and downstream to search for Jaguars and other mammals such Giant River Otter, Capybara, and the rare Tapir, as well as interesting birds and reptiles. Early each morning we’ll spend time getting close to and photographing Jaguars. They are splendid beasts, and the excitement of seeing your first one prowling along a riverbank is hard to beat. We’ll usually have a break to return to the hotel boat for lunch and a short rest. 

Apart from the mammals, some of the target birds will include Crane Hawk, Black-Skimmer, Yellow and Large-billed Terns, Pied Lapwing, Collared Plover, Crested Oropendola, Yellow-rumped Cacique, and Red-billed Scythebill, just to mention a few. In the evenings both Band-tailed and Nacunda Nighthawks may be seen from the upper deck of our hotel boat as they sweep up moths and other nocturnal insects. 

Our last afternoon on the river will be spent farther downstream, where we’ll look for the mighty Hyacinth Macaw, the world’s largest parrot. Among the dry palms we’ll savour this imposing bird as it delicately peels and eats the palm fruits, using its enormous scythe-like bill to get at the fleshy nutrients. Its almost comical facial expression combined with the dexterous use of its oversized feet is very entertaining. Nights on the hotel boat.

Day 7: This morning we’ll leave the hotel boat and drive back along the Transpantaneira Road. There will be plenty of birds to look out for along the way, such as Band-tailed Antbird, Pale-legged Hornero, Rusty-backed Spinetail, Lesser Kiskadee, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Green-backed Becard, Lineated and Golden-green Woodpeckers, and Helmeted Manakin. Bright purple flowering trees along the road could hold a dazzling array of hummingbirds, including Ruby Topaz, Black-throated Mango, White-tailed Goldenthroat, and Cinnamon-throated Hermit, and we may also find Rufous-tailed Jacamar, White-lored and Cinereous-breasted Spinetails, Red-billed Scythebill, Flavescent Warbler, Moustached and Buff-bellied Wrens, Purplish Jay, and Orange-backed Troupial. 

Arriving at our lodge in the late afternoon, we’ll explore the adjacent grassland habitats before dinner. In the evening it may be possible to take a night safari to look for anteaters, Maned Wolf, and Crab-eating Fox, as well as Common Potoo, Pauraque, and Great Horned Owl. Night at a hotel in the Pantanal. 

Day 8: We’ll have an early start today to concentrate on finding the rare Giant Anteater at dawn. After feeding all night, it makes its way into the forest soon after daybreak, an extraordinary sight. Also possible here are Great Rufous Woodcreeper, Sunbittern, and Cream-colored Woodpecker, as well as hundreds of ibises flying overhead after leaving their roost. After breakfast we’ll leave the lodge and transfer back to Cuiabá Airport in time to connect with flights back to London where the tour ends on Day 9.


Updated: 15 September 2017