Brazil: The Pantanal & Amazon - Birding Tour
The Pantanal, the name given to the vast wetlands of southwest Brazil and eastern Bolivia, is famous for congregations of massive numbers of birds and mammals. We will stay at some delightful lodges and be spoiled by the easy birding. This tour is timed for the end of the dry season, when birds are often concentrated in the few remaining wet areas, and mosquito numbers are at their lowest. The low river levels also make it easier to spot Jaguars on the sandy banks, and we’ll devote a day searching for this alluring creature. The northern Pantanal is easily combined with a trip to the southern Amazon, where the birding is a little more challenging, although the rewards are perhaps greater; the Cristalino Jungle Lodge has its own private reserve with a mind-boggling bird list of nearly 600 species. This itinerary includes looking for Jaguars deep in the Pantanal, offering a very real chance to see the most magnificent mammal in the new world.
10 - 24 June ($8290; single supplement: $910)
17 June - 1 July ($8690; single supplement: $1020)
Links up with Brazil: Atlantic Forest Highlights. If you join both tours, Tropical Birding will pay for your flight between Cuiabá and Sao Paulo.
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 15 Days
Starting City: Cuiabá
Ending City: Cuiabá
Physical Difficulty: Easy
Focus: Birding, Wildlife
Group size: 8 + 1 Leader
Day 1: Cuiabá
The tour begins this evening in Cuiabá, the capital of the state of Mato Grosso. Our hotel is near the airport and has a free airport shuttle.
Day 2: Chapada dos Guimarães
We’ll start early and drive about 1h23m northeast of the city to a scenic escarpment. The scrubby cerrado (savanna) may not look like much, but it can be surprisingly good for birds such as White-banded and White-rumped Tanagers, White-eared Puffbird, Coal-crested Finch, Black-throated Saltator, and Chapada Flycatchers. Hummers can sometimes be common here depending on the number of plants in flower, and there is a chance to find the handsome Horned Sungem. We’ll also try for Collared Crescentchest, but this skulker can often be quite difficult to find. As the morning heats up, we’ll seek shade in the tall gallery forest lower down in the valley. It has a totally different set of birds such as Planalto Slaty-Antshrike, Band-tailed Manakin, Black-fronted Nunbird, Saffron-billed Sparrow, Moustached Wren, and sometimes even the gaudy Frilled Coquette. After an opulent lunch at a restaurant with an unforgettable view, we’ll bird near a magnificent escarpment offering great views and a chance for Red-and-green Macaw, King Vulture, Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Helmeted Manakin, and sometimes even the very rare Orange-breasted Falcon. We overnight in Chapada dos Guimarães.
Day 3: Chapada to Cristalino Jungle Lodge
After a few more hours birding in the Chapada, we return to Cuiabá and catch a midday flight to the town of Alta Floresta. From here, we travel in a vehicle for another hour, and time permitting we will stop at a palm grove to look for Point-tailed Palmcreeper. Once we reach the dock at the edge of the river, we’ll board a motorboat and head up the Cristalino River to Cristalino Jungle Lodge, our home for the next five nights. Cristalino Jungle Lodge has quickly gained the reputation as being the finest lodge in the southern Amazon, with comfortable rooms, great food and service, and terrific birding.
Days 4-7: Cristalino Jungle Lodge
With four full days to explore the area, we’ll have the chance to visit most of the best birding sites. Dawn on one of the sturdy 160 ft. (50 m) high canopy towers is an unforgettable experience. The great views over the treetops gives us a good chance of seeing canopy species like Red-necked, Lettered, and Curl-crested Aracaris, Gould’s Toucanet, Black-girdled Barbet, Tooth-billed Wren, Pompadour and Spangled Cotingas, Ringed, Scaly-breasted, and Cream-colored Woodpeckers, and Red-fan and Kawall’s Parrot, among many others. Later in the morning, the towers give a great chance to see raptors as they ride the thermals over the forest. White-browed Hawk, Double-toothed and Gray-headed Kites, several species of Hawk-Eagle, are possible, and if we are very lucky we could even see a Crested or Harpy Eagle. A notable feature of the Cristalino area are the scattered rocky outcrops that rise above the surrounding forest. We’ll spend a morning on one of these “serras”, looking for a number of localized species that prefer this habitat, such as Natterer’s Slaty-Antshrike, Spotted Puffbird, White-fringed Antwren, and Fiery-tailed Awlbill. The more open nature of this habitat also makes it a good place to look for Brown-banded Puffbird, several species of parrots and parakeets, and hummingbirds. Birding the terra firme forest trails is challenging, but a vast array of birds live there, so a significant amount of time will be spent searching for the many antbirds, foliage-gleaners, woodcreepers, woodpeckers, puffbirds, flycatchers, and countless others that skulk in the dark corners of the forest. Some of our targets include Dark-winged Trumpeter, Bare-eyed Antbird, Cryptic Forest-Falcon, Para Foliage-gleaner, Red-necked Woodpecker, Amazonian Pygmy-Owl, Snow-capped Manakin, Blue-cheeked Jacamar, Alta Floresta Antpitta, Cinnamon-crested and White-crested Spadebills, White-eyed Antwren, and Rufous-necked Puffbird. Some of the trails pass through patches of dense bamboo, which harbor a different selection of birds like like Manu and Striated Antbirds, Amazonian Antshrike, Rose-breasted Chat, Dusky-cheeked Foliage-gleaner, Large-headed and Dusky-tailed Flatbill, and a distinctive race of Dot-winged Antwren. The seasonally flooded forest on the edge of the Cristalino River is mostly dry this time of year, making it easier to access good sites for Flame-crested Manakin, Glossy Antshrike, and Bronzy Jacamar. Cruising the river is a relaxing way to spend the hotter parts of the day, and is the best way to see such species as Razor-billed and Bare-faced Curassows, Amazonian Umbrellabird, several species of macaw, as well as mammals like Giant Otter and Brazilian Tapir. This is truly one of the top birding spots in the world and there will be plenty to keep us busy for every minute.
Day 8: Cristalino to the Pantanal
After some final birding, we drive back to Alta Floresta for lunch, then fly back to Cuiabá in the afternoon. After collecting our luggage, we’ll drive about two hours to the start of the famous Transpantaneira, or Pantanal Highway. We’ll spend the first two nights at one of several lodges along the northern part of the Transpantaneira.
Day 9: Northern Pantanal
This area has some of the most impressive birding anywhere on the planet, with huge numbers of birds seen and daily lists reaching astronomical numbers, some of the highest of any of our tours. The reason why it’s so great is the easy access to a wide variety of habitats, including rivers, wetlands, flooded pastures, gallery forest, and dry scrub. Some of the main highlights are the huge Hyacinth Macaws (seen daily), Greater Rhea, Bare-faced Curassow, Chestnut-bellied Guan, up to four ibises, the hulking Southern Screamer, Jabiru, Maguari Stork, Nacunda Nighthawk Black-collared Hawk, White Woodpecker, Gray-crested Cacholote, Great Rufous Woodcreeper, Mato Grosso Antbird, White-lored Spinetail, and Red-crested Cardinal.
Day 10: Northern Pantanal to the Pixaim River
We have another full morning to bird either around the lodge or along the Transpantaneira. Some birds we may target include the magnificent Scarlet-hooded Blackbird, Rusty-collared Seedeater, Chotoy Spinetail, Suiriri Flycatcher, and others. After lunch, we drive two hours south, deeper into the Pantanal. We’ll stay two nights at a lodge on the edge of the sluggish Pixaim River, where boat trips on the river are not only fun but also a very relaxing way to see Boat-billed Heron, Sungrebe, Blue-throated Piping-Guan, Black-collared Hawk, up to five species of kingfisher, Giant Otter, and more; if water level is low enough, we may also encounter an Agami Heron. As darkness nears, Band-tailed Nighthawks appear to hunt insects over the river. Spotlighting in the evening might get us Spot-tailed Nightjar, Pauraque, and maybe a mammal or two.
Day 11: Pixaim River
We’ll spend the early morning birding near the lodge, where feeders often bring in Chestnut-eared Aracari, Solitary Black Cacique, Silver-beaked Tanager, Grayish Saltator, Grayish Baywing, and Yellow-billed Cardinal, and then head into the gallery forest. The open nature of the forest makes it relatively easy to see many birds, and Band-tailed Antbird, Rusty-backed Spinetail, Buff-breasted Wren, Large-billed Antwren, Golden-green Woodpecker, Helmeted Manakin, and more can usually be seen without too much difficulty. A Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl imitation can often bring in large mobbing hordes of passerines, like Flavescent Warbler, Ashy-headed Greenlet, Stripe-necked Tody-Tyrant, and others. After a mid-day break, we’ll have another boat trip on the river.
Day 12: Pixaim River to Porto Jofre
After breakfast, we’ll board our van and drive south towards the end of the Pantanal Highway. We’ll make several stops along the way to search for the gorgeous Scarlet-headed Blackbird,