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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Pousada Aguapé; a Brazilian wildlife extravaganza #2

This is the conclusion of an exploration of the wildlife wonders of the southern Pantanal, as encapsulated by the fazenda (a working cattle property) on which stands the comfortable lodge Pousada Aguapé. Last time we were too captivated by the wildlife activity in the lodge gardens to venture further afield, but there is good reason to do that too. So climb onto the high-backed truck, decked with seats, from the platform provided, and come and explore the property.
Our group boarding - please join us!
(Photo courtesy of Murray Delahoy - thanks Murray!)
We were there in September, normally towards the end of the dry season, but the rains came early last year so there was a lot of water around, and waterbirds had begun to scatter across the Pantanal, but they certainly weren't absent.
Views, above and below, of the ephemeral wetlands starting to fill.
I believe that the round-leafed plant in the foreground is one of the Pickerel Weeds (a name used
for various species of the genus Pontederia, family Pontederiaceae).
If so, this one is P. rotundifolia, one of the dominant water plants of the Pantanal.






The water was already almost up to (or over) the tracks in places; later most of the area, save only
higher ground, will disappear under at least a metre and a half of water for a few months.

The land is managed, seemingly very successfully, for both cattle and wildlife.
Probably needless to say I couldn't identify most of the plants, but here are a couple of significant ones that I had some success with, including another species of Pickerel Weed. 
Pontederia parviflora, which seems to favour more shallow water than P. rotundifolia.

Salvinia auriculata, a floating fern native to the Americas, which has become a pest of waterways
in some parts of the world. It is in the same family as Azolla, familiar in Australia.
And despite my earlier comments about relative scarcity of waterbirds, there were still enough to bring great satisfaction - here are some of the birds we encountered in the rising waters.
Wattled Jacana Jacana jacana, a common - and always welcome - sight pretty much throughout
South American wetlands east of the Andes. Its amazing toes, to spread its weight to enable it to
walk on floating leaves, aren't visible here, but...
... they have other uses, as shown in this somewhat blurry action shot. The smaller size of the male is
also clearly seen here; she is the dominant member of the pair and he is responsible for eggs and chicks.
Jabiru Jabiru mycteria with a very large lunch - amazingly, and after a struggle, it went down too!
Maguari Stork Ciconia maguari. This impressive bird is the only member of near-worldwide stork genus
that includes the familiar European White Stork C. ciconia. Although reasonably widespread it
was my first encounter with it.
Bare-faced Ibis Phimosus infuscatus, a bird whose range seems to be increasing with clearing of forests.
(This flock was actually outside of the fazenda, but part of the same system.)
Black-bellied Whistling Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis, a common and widespread - and very attractive -
duck which ranges north to southern North Amrerica. (It also features, out of focus, in the foreground of
the preceding photo.)
Brazilian Teal Amazonetta brasiliensis, another widespread species, and the only member of its genus;
despite the 'teal' part of the name it is not closely related to the main group of dabbling ducks.
And of course various small birds use the emergent wetland vegetation, but not the water itself.
White-headed Marsh Tyrant Arundinicola leucocephala; this lovely little tyrant flycatcher was perched up hunting insects
and tending the beautiful nest below, made of grass and lined with feathers, accessed by a side door.
It too is the only one of its genus.


Wedge-tailed Grassfinch Emberizoides herbicola; despite its name, it's really a tanager.
As I alluded to last time, tanager-associated taxonomy is a very tangled web indeed!
Smooth-billed Anis Crotophaga ani are familiar and highly gregarious non-parasitic cuckoos,
which cooperate in brooding and chick feeding, with several females laying in a nest.
They are often found near water, but are not restricted to watery habitats.
And of course birds aren't the only inhabitants of the wetlands.
Capybaras Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris are the world's biggest rodent, are supremely at home in the water, and are
seemingly ubiquitous in the Pantanal - above and below.


Male Marsh Deer Blastocerus dichotomus, South America's largest deer, reliant on swampy situations
where it wades for food in up to 60cm of water and swims strongly. It formerly had a huge range
in central South America, but that is now terribly fragmented by loss of wetlands.
Where the grasslands and open woodlands have not yet flooded, different animals can be found, including some of the most exciting from our point of view.


Greater Rhea Rhea americana, the largest of three (or larger of two, depending on who you ask)
rhea species in South America. Numbers are dwindling due to hunting and habitat loss, but they
are still a common sight - and not nervous of humans! - in the Pantanal.
Blue-crowned Parakeets Thectocercus acuticaudatus. These lovely - and it must be said engaging -
little parrots are in the Pantanal only found in the south-western woodlands.
Red Pileated Finch Coryphospingus cucullatus, common enough in its eastern South American range,
but still a delight for visitors like us.
Chotoy Spinetail Schoeniophylax phryganophilus.
The spinetails form a group of the ovenbirds, a large solely South American group of ancient passerines;
this one is limited to the south-east of South America.

Grey Monjita Xolmis cinereus, a tyrant flycatcher (the 'other' big group of uniquely South American
old passerines); there are three species of monjita at Pousada Aguapé.
Guira Cuckoo Guira guira (just in case you weren't sure of the name!).
Like the anis above, these are big sociable cuckoos, widely found in the south-east of the continent,
and often also lay eggs in shared nests, though they will also breed separately.
Long-tailed Ground Dove Uropelia campestris, limited to central-west Brazil and adjacent Bolivia;
one of several species of small ground-foraging doves in the Pantanal.
And of course with this richness of birds, there are predators and scavengers.
Roadside Hawk Rupornis magnirostris, a common hawk of a vast swathe of eastern South America, loitering with intent.

Immature Savanna Hawk Buteogallus meridionalis, testing its wings; probably not too much of
a threat yet, but later small mammals, birds, frogs, reptiles, eels and invertebrates, including crabs,
will all be at risk from it.

Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture Cathartes burrovianus, a constant sight in the Pantanal,
where it cleans up carcasses.
Pampas Deer Ozotoceros bezoarticus; I'd normally spare you such a poor photo, but this is an uncommon
and globally threatened species, and worth recording. Its once huge range has now contracted and mostly
comprises the Pantanal.
And a better photo, of a female, again courtesy of Murray Delahoy.
But one of the creatures we most wanted to see proved to be fairly common and accessible in the Pousada Aguapé grasslands and woodlands. What a thrill!
Giant Anteater Myrmecophaga tridactyla, an ancient South American I'd wanted to see in the wild since
being introduced to them in a black and white David Attenborough movie while a young schoolboy.
This was one of those moments that will endure for the rest of my life.
Lastly, there are the riverine forests and forested ridges, which don't usually flood and which support rich wildlife.
Collared Peccary Pecari tajacu. A distant shot of, unusually, a single animal, though they don't
form the vast herds that White-lipped Peccaries do. They used to be regarded as pigs,
but are now recognised as comprising their own family of just three (or perhaps four) species.

Amazonian Motmot Momotus momota; the motmots are a South American insect-eating group
close to the kingfishers. In Spanish they are often called el reloq, the clock, for the tail which
flicks from side to side like a pendulum. It seems that this is a message to watching predators
that 'I've seen you'.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar Galbula ruficauda; the lovely needle-billed jacamars are relatives of the woodpeckers,
aerial insect hunters, some 20 species found from Mexico to the South American tropics.
Black-crowned Tityra Tityra inquisitor; the tityras are mostly fruit-eaters which feed their young on insects
they now form their own family of some 45 species in the Neotropics, including mourners, becards,
royal flycatchers and purpletufts.

Blaze-winged Parakeet Pyrrhura devillei; a small parrot essentially restricted to the Pantanal.
Scaly-headed Parrot Pionus maximiliani, which has a wider distribution in the east of the continent.
Grey-crested Cachalote Pseudoseisura unirufa, another ovenbird, but one which is mostly restricted
to the Pantanal. As this photo might imply, I've found this attractive bird hard to photograph.

Narrow-billed Woodcreeper Lepidocolaptes angustirostri, yet another ovenbird, but this one
is a member of a large group of bark-probing insectivores. Like Australian treecreepers they
forage by spiralling up tree trunks (or fence posts!).

Red-billed Scythebill Campylorhamphus trochilirostris; I love this bird and that bill!
They too are woodcreepers, but obviously can probe more deeply than their relatives.
And let's finish with a couple of owls, always a highlight, whether we see them roosting by day or in a spotlight at night.
Ferruginous Pygmy Owls Glaucidium brasilianum, a small bird with a huge range from the southern US
to Argentina (despite the species name). They have a range of foods too, mostly insects but including rats
larger than themselves and birds such as hummingbirds which they ambush on the wing, having
studied their flight paths. They mostly feed in the evening and early morning but, as the last comment suggests,
also sometimes by day.

Spectacled Owl Pulsatrix perspicillata, an owl with anther very large distribution. It is much
larger than the pygmy owl, some ten times its weight. It takes mammals to the size of agoutis, skunks, opossums
and rabbits - and even a 4kg sloth! Bird prey includes doves, motmots and jays, and it's been known to
eat iguanas, frogs, bats and insects.
Well, it's been a long day in the truck, so time to drop you off home. Thanks for your company, and I hope you've been inspired to repeat the safari in a less virtual way!

NEXT POSTING THURSDAY 14 FEBRUARY
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4 comments:

Roman said...

Wow Ian, what an impressive place!
Pousada Aguapé looks to be one of the places I must visit if I ever make it to South America. I think you probably get to see more wildlife than you would see in the Amazonian rainforest in an equivalent period of time. I have added it to my bucket list.

Kath H said...

Thank you for a wonderful trip to Pousada Aguapé - glad to hear that cattle ranching can exist with such a diversity of wildlife.

Flabmeister said...

As you already realise, that is quite an astonishing array of nature. Thanks for sharing!

Ian Fraser said...

Apologies for the delay in this reply.
Roman, I don't think you should decide between the Pantanal and Amazonia - you need to see both! Amazonia is certainly richer in biodiversity (the most in the world in fact) but it's easier to see things in the Pantanal. You won't regret adding it to your list.
Kath, yes that aspect of it is certainly gratifying and instructive.
Martin, it certainly is - as I may have mentioned, I reckon it would be the greatest wildlife spectacle outside of Africa. And it's a pleasure to share it.