Monday, 23 September 2013

Southern Pantanal Fazenda San Fransico part 2

The main focus of my trip to the lodge was the mammal life, with particular focus on species I missed seeing or photographing before in the northern pantanal.

Jaguar scratch marks

The first sightings were the conspicuous capybara, that were common along all the waterways and rice field ditches.


The property has a good amount of dry savannah and termite mound filled ranch land that supports a healthy population of giant anteaters. The entrance track from the road to the lodge passes through an area of suitable habitat that appears to be a very reliable location to see this unique creature. I had 12 sightings of them almost all along this entrance track including 7 in one night. I even witnessed a female having to fight off an eager male who was trying to mate with her.

Giant anteaters

The wet grasslands and forest edges were reliable places to see the endangered marsh deer which appears to be common on this property. I saw several on most outings, but they were more common at night.

Marsh deer
One of my target mammals was the yellow (6 banded) armadillo, which favours dryer more open habitats. There was lots of evidence of armadillos around the farm, but determining which species were responsible was very difficult. I did however have great views of 2 yellow armadillos that came to feed on leftover grain under the bird feeders at night. One in particular was very bold, and on one occasion while it was hiding under an old car I even touched his back to see what its armour felt like. It did not notice which was not too much of a surprise as their armour plated skin is made from bone and it calmly carried on with its business.

Yellow armadillo

The night drives were fantastic and I had some close views of 5 different crab-eating foxes, including a pair that were hunting in an area of long grass close to the road.

Crab-eating fox

The night drive target was ocelot and over the course of the 3 nights I saw 5 different cats including a stand off between a large male and 2 crab-eating foxes, at first the ocelot chased the foxes then the tables turned and the ocelot retreated without any physical contact. I also saw a saw cat run across the road that frustratingly I could not fully identify or re-find.

I also had a great sighting of this spectacular old male during the day.


The fur around his head was turning grey because of his age, but it may have been exaggerated by the wounds on his face.

The reason for the high success rates in seeing ocelots and other carnivores at this site is most likely because of the high density of rodents using the drainage ditches adjacent to the rice fields and pastureland that has attracted the normally forest dwelling carnivores out to hunt these productive areas. The population of ocelot is particularly high on this property compared to others in the pantanal, where they have much larger territories.

Along the rivers there was well preserved gallery forest and here I found black howler and black-striped tufted capuchin troops.

Black-striped tufted capuchin

Black howler (female)

I also had 2 sightings of a group of the fantastic giant otters, which inhabit the larger waterways on the property, the sounds these enormous mustelids make has to be heard to be believed.

Giant otter

While on a boat ride along the smaller river mid-morning on one of the days I spotted this female jaguar sat on the riverbank for about 3 minutes before it slunk away into the forest. There are thought to be 8 jaguars resident on the Fazenda and their habit for using the larger waterways for hunting and resting means that there is always a chance of a sighting in these habitats.


The numbers of yacare caiman appeared to be much lower than in the northern pantanal, but the views I had were as close as ever.

Yacare caiman

I also had several sightings of the black and white Argentine tegu, which was only recently split from the golden tegu found further north. This species is the largest of its family and they fill a similar ecological niche to that of the monitor lizards of Africa, Asia and Australia.

Argentine black-and-white tegu

I again found several amphibians at night that require detailed study before identification can be made.


Southern Pantanal Fazenda San Fransico

Before leaving Brazil, I visited the lodge Fazenda San Fransico near Miranda, in Mato Grosso du Sul state.

The climate in this region is very different to the humid forests of Rio state and the temperature reached 38 degrees most days and was much drier. The state is famous for its cattle ranching which has sadly destroyed a lot of the natural habitats, but the Pantanal has most of its extent in this state and the abundance of wildlife is very high still.

I spent 3 nights at the family run working farm and lodge of Fazenda San Fransico. The land here has been used for rearing cattle breeds for meat for generations but more recently rice production has also been a key part of their income because of the suitable soils. Most recently the owners decided to open the farm to tourism as they have still preserved half of their land as the natural landscape of the pantanal.


The landscape of the southern pantanal is very similar to that of the north, and the Fazenda has a good percentage of gallery forest, wet and dry savannah, scrub, rivers, seasonal pools and agricultural land.

They run a popular lodge and offer their land for both tourism activities and scientific research. Most visitors to the lodge are coming as part of a package and the activities on offer include boat rides, piranha fishing, horse rides, jeep safaris, walking trails and night drives. The lodge is a popular destination for  big groups of day trip visitors arriving from Bonito and this could be a problem as it did hold up the daily activities and restricted the amount of wildlife viewing opportunities.

However the lodge was very pleasant with a friendly atmosphere and the wildlife watching potential was superb.

The birdlife was typical of the pantanal and many of the "classic" species were abundant but still in lower numbers than in the some areas of the north that I had visited.

Rufous-backed antwren

Some of the highlights included blue and yellow macaw, yellow-collared macaw, blue-fronted parrot, scaly-headed parrot, nanday parakeet, monk parakeet, yellow-cheveroned parakeet, toco toucans, greater rheas,  blue-fronted piping guan, bare-faced currasow, green-barred, white and little woodpeckers, narrow-billed woodpecker, buff-fronted, bare faced and plumbeous ibises, black-necked stilt, lesser yellowlegs, solitary sandpipers, maguari, wood and jabiru storks, osprey, bat and aplomado falcons, striped owls, sungrebe, white monjita, striped cuckoo, great antshrike, orange-backed troupial, epaulet oriole, rufous cacholote, rusty-collarded seedeater, rufous-backed antwren and nacunda nighthawk.
Blue and yellow macaw

Black-collared hawk

Buff-necked ibis

Greater rhea

Striped owl

White monjita

Fork-tailed flycatcher

Jabiru stork

Yellow-collared macaw

Iguazu falls Argentina

Due to an expired Brazilian tourist visa I made a day trip to Iguazu Falls National park.

The falls are listed as one of the 7 wonders of the world, and are the widest in the world with 275 separate falls stretching for 2.7 km as the Iguazu river divides, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.

The longest drop is an impressive 82 meters and the impressive Devils throat on the Argentinean side is one of the most impressive cascades of water anywhere in the world.

Iguazu falls

After enjoying the beauty of the falls I turned my attention to wildlife which was very prominent. The National park is 550km2 and protects an area of subtropical Atlantic forest, home to a large diversity of wildlife. The most conspicuous group is the butterflies that occur in flock abundance around the forest edge and cafes where they come down to feed on salts, minerals and sugars from leftover food. I am still working on the identification of many species.

The birdlife in the park is very rich and species such as black-fronted piping guan and harpy eagle have found refuge. One of the best spectacles for me was the hundreds of great dusky swifts swirling in a swarm around the Devils throat falls. They use the safety of falls to roost overnight and feed on the flying insects attracted to the moist air during the day.

Great dusky swifts

Plush-crested jays, toco toucans, gray-headed kite and gray-breasted martins were some of the other avian highlights.

Plush-crested jay

Some reptiles were quite easy to see in the park, such as broad-snouted caiman, Amazonian whiptail and still to be identified turtles.
Broad-snouted caiman

The most evident mammal was the South American coati which have become habituated to the presence of hoards of tourists and scavenge around the cafes, allowing superb views.


I found 6 troops plus a few lone males very easily along the trails and around the cafes.

Azara's agouti was a species I was cautiously hoping for and I found one feeding on fruit on the edge of the forest near to the start of the walkway out to the Devils throat.
Azara's agouti

Brown capuchin is abundant in the park and I found a pair of juveniles working their way along the higher trail that leads out to the falls from a different angle.

Brown capuchin

Brazilian cavy or guinea pig was easily seen grazing on the short sword of the lawns near to the main visitor centre and entrance. I found 5 here scattered around the lawns but always close to the edge of the scrub that bordered the lawns.

Brazilian cavies

Towards the end of the day I found a trail that lead from the entrance road towards pampas wetland and open forest. I did not see much, but found lots of tracks in wet mud, most were from coatis, but a small deer (possibly red brocket) species was clearly regularly using the track and a small cat species which I suspect was jaguarundi. The taxi driver I spoke to on the way back, out of the park said he sometimes sees mammals crossing the road near the park entrance including jaguar.