Field Journal: Brazil Amazon & Pantanal Tours 2015
Posted by Giovanna Fasanelli
in Americas and Expeditions
Brazil: a country that shelters one third of all plant and animal species known to man, notwithstanding those innumerable discoveries merely awaiting scientific opportunity. Our team of fourteen set upon the task of uncovering as many of these biological treasures as possible in two weeks. We are just over half way through this ambitious Brazil wildlife expedition and the tally is impressively high.
Before leaving our hotel in Manaus, the former “Paris of the Tropics” during the rubber boom of the 1800’s, we had found two Pale-throated Three-toed Sloths, a pair of White-faced Saki monkeys and a family of the highly localized, highly endangered, utterly gargoyle-gorgeous Pied Tamarins, along with a cacophony of squawking, squeaking birds, all within the hotel grounds. We then flew 600 kilometers westwards along the milky Solimoes River which, after meeting with the mighty dark waters of the Rio Negro in Manaus, becomes known by the Brazilians as the Amazon. An hour long boat ride into the largest flooded forest reserve in Brazil placed us within reach of the bizarre and highly range-restricted white Bald Uakari monkey, for which the Mamiraua reserve was initially established. Using the keen canoeing and spotting skills of local guides, we headed off into the pristine tangle of vines, palms, kapok and fig trees, their roots entirely hidden by still, inky black waters. Guianan Brown Capuchins and Ecuadorean Squirrel Monkeys accompanied our explorations on many occasions, whilst a suite of specialized avian species set the background soundtrack. The shy Colombian Howler Monkey troops that surrounded our floating lodge did their best to remain hidden from plain view on all but a couple of occasions, though their collective territorial proclamations, which persisted from dawn to dusk, sent waves of continuous rumbling roars over the forest, keeping us all aware of the unique magic of this faraway wilderness. Our target of tracking the strange Uakari monkey was achieved twice, with everyone catching views of these devilishly shy primates, their shaggy white coats and scarlet faces running through the canopy like characters out of a James Cameron creation.
At night, a simple scan over the river with a headlamp revealed what looked like city lights dancing on the water’s surface. Both Spectacled Caimans and their much larger cousins, the Black Caimans were gathered in their dozens and a few nonchalant beasts floated quietly alongside the lodge, allowing us absurdly great views of these ancient reptiles. The frog, fish and bat life was equally enthralling, all enjoyed under a star- (and caipirinha!) filled sky. Our afternoon chasing the two cetacean specials of the Amazon yielded great success, if only in superb views of the enchanting Pink River Dolphins and their distant cousins, the Tucuxi, or Grey River Dolphin. Never have we spent so much time having so much fun taking really awful photographs of such conspicuous animals!!!
Soon enough we were making the journey southwards to the equally impressive, and even more biodiverse, terra firme forest of Cristalino in the state of Mato Grosso. Two full days of intensive wildlife adventures climbing the spectacular 180ft canopy towers, walking trails and carefully exploring the beautiful Cristalino River upon which the Cristalino Jungle Lodge is located, yielded a great bounty, indeed. After all was tallied, we amassed 11 mammal species and countless birds, as well as one stand-out reptile highlight – a 17ft Green Anaconda sleeping on a sandy beach. Seven Brazilian Tapirs were seen wallowing in the cool river waters, whilst Giant and Neotropical Otters were spotted swimming with synchronized grace along the river edges. A small troop of Red-handed Howlers were found eating salty soil from the shoreline to aid in the digestion of their cellulose-rich diet, whilst resident Capybaras enjoyed swimming at the same site as did we… right at the lodge dock! Swinging White-whispered Spider Monkeys spent an hour of family time by the birding tower, whilst nut-cracking capuchins fed busily in the trees around the lodge. After dinner Azara’s Night Monkeys sprung through these same trees, along with a shy, nocturnal member of the weasel family, the Kinkajou! Pairs of giant curassows ambled along the riverbanks, seeking relief from the heat, whilst pairs of Sunbitterns flashed their gorgeous, sun-burst wing patterns in flight. The late afternoon bird-bathing spectacle, observed from behind a grass blind within the forest, revealed cryptic forest species such as Bare-eyed and Xingu Scale-backed Antbirds, as well as the snazzy Snow-capped Manakin. The sight and sound of macaws flying free overhead filled the senses, whilst one waterbird or another kept pace with our boat as we patrolled up and down the waterway. We shook this habitat as hard as we could and were richly rewarded. Now, somewhat exhausted but thoroughly delighted with our haul of tropical treasures, we find ourselves flying ever southwards toward our next and final chapter: the mighty Pantanal. It is so exciting to know that we still have this justly famous wildlife mecca ahead of us!
To view the detailed Apex Brazil itinerary, visit our Brazil Amazon & Pantanal Tours page.