Aerial View Redux: The birds and wildlife of Brazil

The tour of a lifetime: Brazil

Over the past 30 years, my friends and I have acquired a love and appreciation for the wildlife, natural beauty and residents of Central and South America, embarking on more than 15 tours there. But our most recent adventure was our first visit to Brazil, specifically the Pantanal region, a veritable Garden of Eden and the largest wetland in the world.

We were blown away. It truly was a trip of a lifetime.
Horned sungem/Judy Semroc

Tropical birds were our primary targets during the two-week tour, and our group of mostly Northeast Ohioans spotted 300 species. They included such dazzling rarities as zigzag and agami herons, dozens of jabiru storks, and greater rheas, a flightless bird similar to an ostrich, and South America’s largest bird, standing more than five and a half feet tall.

But equal sources of excitement were the wild beasts of Brazil: jaguars, tapirs, giant anteaters, giant otters, caimans, monkeys, anacondas, and numerous other mammals and reptiles.

Fortunately, the Pantanal was largely unaffected by the rash of wildfires that destroyed vast expanses of vegetation in the Amazon recently. During our time there, we saw no fires or whiffed a puff of smoke. But we sweated profusely, with daily temperatures of up to 100 degrees.

Band-tailed manakin/Luis Uruena
Our trip was in the dry season, a time when the region’s flooded fields, lakes and rivers are shrunken, concentrating multitudes of fish and other prey, attracting flocks of storks, herons, egrets, ibises, kingfishers, and raptors such as snail kites.

Led by our guides Miguel Castelino of Argentina, and Luis Uruena and Alejandro Pinto of Colombia, we typically were on the trail in time to watch the sun rise, and often still birding as the sun was setting.

Some days, we birded from river boats, allowing us to sneak up on jaguars hunting the banks for prey, primarily young caimans and capybaras, the world’s largest rodent.

Kingfishers – ringed, Amazon, green, green-and-rufous, and pygmy – chattered as we drifted by. Herons stalked the shallows for fish, and yellow anacondas escaped the scorching sun in creekside caverns excavated by catfish during the floods of the rainy season.

Greater rhea with chicks/Luis Uruena
Great black, crane, roadside, and black-collared hawks, plus caracaras, eyed us warily from safe perches overhead. Caimans drifted lazily within reach, diving at our approach. A rustling in the leaves alerted us to troops of monkeys – howlers, capuchins and marmosets.

Flocks of noisy, colorful parrots, parakeets and parrotlets gathered in the trees, dining on fruits and nuts. The most eye-popping of these were the hyacinth macaws, shockingly blue plumed birds and the largest of all the macaws, which included red-and-green, blue-and-yellow, golden-collared, and red-shouldered.

Gorgeous toco toucans, with their enormous orange-and-red bills, never failed to elicit oohs and aahs from our group. Turkey-like, forest-dwelling birds such as curassows, guans and squawking chachalacas crept through the underbrush, appearing then disappearing in the blink of an eye.

Cabybaras/Luis Uruena
Familiar raptors from home – great horned owls – were surprisingly common with at least 12 sightings, including four chicks. Other owls included burrowing, tropical screech and ferruginous pygmy.

Nearly every pond or puddle was teeming with water birds such as grey-necked wood rails, jacanas, limpkins, anhingas, sungrebes and sunbitterns, wood storks, roseate spoonbills, and on several exciting occasions, Southern screamers.

Every flowering tree or shrub was liable to host hummingbirds: glittering throated and glittering bellied emeralds, hermits, violet-ears, woodnymphs, and the stunning swallow-tailed and horned sungem.

Ferruginous pygmy owl/Luis Uruena
Night tours in open buggies with spotlights produced numerous sightings of nighthawks, nightjars and pauraques, as well as several giant and common potoos.

Most of our encounters with nocturnal tapirs and crab-eating foxes also came under the cover of darkness.

On the one-hour flight from Sao Paulo to Cuiaba, I met Barbara Costanzo, a friendly Brasilian who gave me a valuable introduction to Portuguese. Obrigado is “thank you.” Bom dia is “good day.” Boa noite is goodnight.

My travel partners were especially grateful, however, for Barbara’s recommendations for enjoying the best local beverage: cachaca, a tasty rum-like liquor distilled from sugar cane, and the primary ingredient of Brazil’s national drink, caipirinha – the perfect toast for celebrating the day’s successful sightings. Cheers! Jeff Wert, Larry Rosche, Judy Semroc, Brian Murphy, Nick and Suzanne Charles of Seattle, and Joe Comello and Susan Swain of Tucson.


  1. You got to see a Capybarra family?!?!? (my very favorite animal ...uh, rodent!) oh, Jim, these photos and your experience sounds amazing. You know who would have been out of his mind to get to see all these. :-) I'd love to go on one of your trips some day!!


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