Sunday, September 11, 2011

Brazil (and Argentina) Highlights

Favorite Food: Pao de Queijo (cheese bread). Yum.

Favorite Restaurants: Rio’s kilo restaurants, where you pay by the weight.

Favorite Drink: Guarana soda.
Runner-up: Coconut water. Refreshing after three hours in the sun.

Best Bird: Blue-fronted piping guan, spotted on both the Brazilian and Argentine sides of Iguacu Falls.
Runners up: Hyacinth macaw, Toco toucan

Best Mammal: Ocelot.
Runner up: Golden lion tamarin.

Best beach: Copacabana, Rio

Best tour guide, Rio: Neyla Bontempo (her #1 ranking on Tripadvisor is well-deserved)

Best tour guide, Iguacu and Pantanal: Zapa (phenomenal enthusiasm for nature)

Best hotel: Hotel das Cataratas, Foz de Iguacu, Brazil (stunning location, beautiful hotel, tasty food)

Missed connections: Jaguar, Anaconda, Capped Heron, Rio’s Botanical Garden, Snorkeling with Dorado, Piranha (without snorkeling).

For photos of all sorts of Brazilian critters, see this slideshow.

The Pantanal After Dark

"You are already here."

Many animals become more active at night. So we spent three evenings in the back of our truck shining a spotlight along the roadside looking for gleaming eyes. Most of them were caiman eyes, but we did find other critters as well.

We were hoping for a jaguar, of course, but the only one we saw was in a sign warning guests not to walk around alone at night. (We also heard one calling, but it didn't reveal itself.)

The elusive Brazilian tapir.

Second on our list was the Pantanal's largest native resident, the tapir. One made a brief appearance on our final night. (As you can see, we are still working on our night photography.)
A crab-eating fox foraging.

Bambi (a pampas deer fawn)
Thumper (A Brazilian rabbit)

Much more common were crab-eating foxes (which outnumbered the crabs about 10:1),  deer, and rabbits.

This pauraque landed right in front our truck.

Night was also the best time to see nighthawks. These cryptically-feathered birds pretend to be leaves or tree limbs during the day. At night, they come out to hawk insects. Most common were pauraques, which we often spied resting on the ground or flying through the trees. We also saw one giant potoo which appeared as large as real hawk.

A burrowing owl at dusk.

Burrowing owls are easy to see during the day time, but one also posed for a nice photo just after it got dark.

Birds of Brazil

We saw and identified about 160 species of birds over 11 days. The vast majority appeared in the Pantanal, which is truly a birdwatcher's paradise.

We had trouble identifying species for certain types of birds, most notably hummingbirds. So this list is probably an undercount of what we saw.

Red-legged Seriema (film makers used these guys to figure out how the velociraptors in Jurassic Park would move)
Greater Rhea
Undulated Tinamou

Chaco Chachalaca
Blue-throated Piping Guan
Black-fronted Piping Guan (Iguacu, one of the stars of the trip)
Bare-faced Curassow

Magnificent Frigatebird (Rio, phenomenal numbers)
Neotropic Cormorant

Southern Screamer
Muscovy Duck
Brazilian Teal

Striated Heron
Boat-billed Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Rufescent Tiger Heron
Cattle Egret
Snowy Egret
Great Egret
Cocoi Heron
Whistling Heron

Buff-necked Ibis
Plubeous Ibis
Green Ibis
Bare-faced Ibis

Roseate Spoonbill
Wood Stork
Maguari Stork
Jabiru (symbol of the Pantanal)

Turkey Vulure
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
Black Vulture
Snail Kite
Crane Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Savannah Hawk
Black-collared Hawk
Great Black Hawk
Yellow-headed Caracara
Southern Crested Caracara

Gray-necked Wood Rail
Common Moorhen (Rio)
Wattled Jacana

Southern Lapwing (everywhere)
Collared Plover (Rio)
Solitary Sandpiper
Kelp Gull (Rio)
Brown Booby (Rio)
Black Skimmer

Feral Pigeon (Rio)
Eared Dove (Rio)
Picazuro Pigeon
Scaled Dove
Picui Ground Dove
Ruddy Ground Dove (everywhere)
White-tipped Dove

Hyacinth Macaw
Golden-collared Macaw
White-eyed Parakeet
Peach-fronted Parakeet
Monk Parakeet
Black-hooded Parakeet
Yellow-chevroned Parakeet
Blue-fronted Parrot
Perhaps others as well

Squirrel Cuckoo (Sao Paulo)
Smooth-billed Ani (North of Rio, Pantanal)
Guira Cuckoo

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Burrowing Owl
Great Potoo

White-collared Swift (Rio)
Great Dusky Swift (Iguacu)

Swallow-tailed Hummingbird (Rio, Iguacu)
Minute Hermit
Violet-capped Woodnymph
Probably other hummingbirds as well

Black-crowned Trogon
Ringed Kingfisher
Amazon Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Rufous-capped Motmot (Iguacu)
Rufous-tailed Jacamar (North of Rio)
Chestnut-eared Aracari
Red-breasted Toucan (Rio)
Toco Toucan (Iguacu, Pantanal; another star of the trip)

White-wedged Piculet
White-barred Piculet (Iguacu)
Yellow-fronted Woodpecker (Iguacu)
Little Woodpecker
Campo Flicker (Iguacu, Pantanal)
White Woodpecker
Pale-crested Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Crimson-crested Woodpecker

Olivaceous Woodcreeper
Red-billed Scythebill
Possibly other woodcreepers
Rufous Hornero
Great Antshrike

Vermillion Flycatcher
White-rumped Monjita
Cattle Tyrant
Masked Water Tyrant (Rio, North of Rio)
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee (everywhere)
Lesser Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird (Rio)
Crested Black Tyrant (Rio)
Southern Beardless-Tyranulet
Short-tailed Pygmy Tyrant
Fork-tailed Flycatcher (Campo Grande)

Plush-crested Jay (Iguacu, Pantanal)
Purplish Jay

Gray-breasted Martin (Iguacu, Pantanal)
Southern Rough-winged Swallow (North of Rio)
Blue and White Swallow (Rio)
Rufous-collared Sparrow (Rio, Iguacu)

Chalk-browed Mockingbird (North of Rio, Iguacu)
Black-capped Donacobius

Southern House Wren (everywhere)
Long-billed Wren (Rio)
Thrush-like Wren
Rufous-bellied Thrush
Pale-breasted Thrush (Iguacu)

Golden-Crowned Warbler (Iguacu, Sao Paulo)
Bananaquit (Rio, Pantanal)
Chestnut-vented Conebill
Blue Dacnis (Rio, North of Rio)
Violaceous Euphonia
Sayaca Tanager
Palm Tanager
Black-goggled Tanager
Silver-beaked Tanager
Yellow-billed Tanager
Red-crested Tanager
Green-headed Tanager (North of Rio)
White-Bellied Tanager (North of Rio)
Brazilian Tanager (North of Rio)
Ruby-crowned Tanager (North of Rio)

Grayish Saltator
Tawny-bellied Seedeater
Saffron Finch
House Sparrow (Sao Paulo, Pantanal)

Screaming Cowbird
Shiny Cowbird
Giant Cowbird
Chopi Blackbird (Iguacu, Pantanal)
Unicolored Blackbird
Orange-backed Troupial
Epaulet Oriole
Golden-winged Cacique
Solitary Cacique
Red-rumped Cacique (Iguacu, Pantanal)
Yellow-rumped Cacique
Crested Oropendola

For more Brazilian creatures, see this slideshow.

Mammals of Brazil

The Pantanal offered some of the best mammal viewing we've ever experienced. At least 22 species in three days. Add in two species of monkeys we saw elsewhere, and we racked up at least 24.


Ocelot (the highlight of the trip; came jogging through the forest about 10 one morning)
Crab-eating fox (also at Iguacu)
Giant river otter
Coati (South American; also at Iguacu)
Giant anteater
Yellow armadillo (six-banded)
Tapir (Brazilian)

Marsh deer
Pampas deer
Grey brocket deer (also at Iguacu)
Red brocket deer (also at Iguacu)

Brazilian rabbit (also at Iguacu)
Agouti (Azara's; also at Iguacu)
Collared peccary

White-lipped peccary

Feral pig

Howler monkey (Black and gold)
Capuchin (Brown; also at Christ the Redeemer in Rio)

Greater fishing bat

Lesser fishing bat
Bat flying in our bedroom (species unknown)
Other bats outside where they belong (perhaps fruit?)

Evidence of other critters
Jaguar tracks, calls, photos on camera traps
Puma track (maybe)


Golden-lion tamarins (at reserve north of Rio)
Common marmosets (Sugar Loaf, reserve north of Rio)

For more mammal photos from Brazil, see this slideshow.

Reptiles and Amphibians of Brazil

The Pantanal hosts the world's densest population of crocodilians. Yacare caimans are everywhere. But have no fear, these alligator cousins eat fish and the occasional capybara, not humans. Indeed, they are quite afraid of anything large that walks near them. Perhaps because they aren't the top of the food chain. Jaguars love a tasty caiman meal.

At dusk, the caimans are joined by frogs (species, anyone?). These guys would crawl all over the lodge. Posing quite the obstacle course as we tried (successfully, I think) to avoid squishing any.

Can a lizard be beautiful?

Yes. With the dry season coming to an end, the tegu lizards had shed their old skins and were looking sharp. About two feet long, these guys look like a cross between an iguana and a monitor lizard.

We didn't encounter any of the famous snakes. No anaconda, no fer-de-lance. But on our last night of spot-lighting, we did find this cat-eyed snake. The photo doesn't do it justice; quite a lovely creature.

Our final wildlife sighting in the Pantanal. A red-footed tortoise crossing the road. He was a shy fellow, so we had to take our guide's word for it that his feet are actually red.

Iguacu had reptiles too. Amazon lava lizards looked quite lovely perched above the fall.

Iguacu Falls

Or, if you prefer, Iguassu or Iguazu.

One of the three great falls in world (the others being Niagara and Victoria), Iguacu put on quite a show for us. Thanks to recent rains, the river was running about three times higher than average. That washed out one of the best vantage points on the Argentine side, but made for great viewing otherwise.

That's the Garganta Del Diablo -- the Devil's Throat -- off to the left.

  A view from the Argentine side

One of the nicest hotels we've ever experienced. The Hotel das Cataratas.

Classic Sights of Rio

We spent almost two weeks in Brazil recently, starting in Rio.

Rio's most famous landmark is Christ the Redeemer. Recently voted one of the seven new wonders of the world, it's perched above Rio. Sometimes he plays hide and seek in the clouds.

And sometimes it's crystal clear up on the mountain side.

Less famous, but equally photogenic is Sugar Loaf, so named because of it's alleged resemblance to a sugar loaf.

That's Copacabana beach in the far background. Beyond it lies Ipanema Beach, where we stayed.

Most impressive thing at each beach? The folks playing volleyball with their feet. "Foot volley" is quite the athletic endeavor.

Downtown, Rio has an unorthodox cathedral. Inspired in part by Mayan pyramids, the cathedral is essentially a cone. Inside, there are four beautiful stained glass windows and a wonderful statue of our favorite saint (Francis).

From the entrance, you can look across the street to the central bank and the headquarters of Petrobras. (Esther's joke: You might refer to the three buildings as the trinity.)

Across the bay (Rio turned out not to be a river), lies Niteroi. It's home to a modern art museum designed by Brazil's most famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer. On our visit, at least, the building was much better than the art inside.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

New Format

We just updated the blog format. The upside is that it looks nicer. The downside is that the layout of photos in older posts is a bit haphazard. Thanks for your patience.

Coming soon: Donald and Esther's trip to Brazil.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Alaska Highlights

Signature Quote:We are not going to die.” (Expedition leader Karl … as a pod of humpback whales suddenly turned onto a collision course with our skiff.)

National Geographic Moment I: Brown bears catching pink salmon below the falls at Pavlov’s Bay.

National Geographic Moment II: Bubble-netting humpback whales surrounding the skiff with their bubbles. Time to reverse.

Best Amphibian: The western toad, formerly known as the boreal toad. Green as moss, but even great camouflage doesn’t work if one hops across the trail.

Most Impressive Creature: The Dall’s Porpoise. Seriously. Brown bears, humpback whales, and 376 pound halibut are impressive creatures. But the Dall’s Porpoise is the fastest sea creature we have ever seen. Think torpedoes that sending up rooster tails of spray as they zoom by. So fast that no one on this adventure even got a photo of them.

Best Glacier: Dawes. A symphony of blues and whites in the rare Alaska sun. Very cooperative in calving, shooting, and sliding. A great kayak.

Worst Glacier:
McBride. It calved so much that we couldn’t get near it.

Best Book: John Muir, Travels in Alaska.

Missed Connections:
Orca, Kittlitz’s Murrelet, Moose, Black-tailed deer, Hoary Marmots, Mountain Goat.

Funniest Critters: A flock of juvenile Harlequin ducks, rendered nearly flightless by their molt, flapping across the surface.

Moment of Unexpected Levity: A 3-minute safety briefing to start a 2-minute bus ride.

Gem of a Store in the Morass that is Tourist Juneau: The enamel pin and zipper pull store of Bill Spears.

Best Warning:
At the Mt. Roberts trail head in the hills above Juneau (paraphrased): Keep dogs on leash. Unleashed dogs that run ahead on the trail, may come running back to their owners with a bear in pursuit.

Our Last Day of Adventure in Alaska

Thursday morning began with a hike through bear country in Idaho Bay. We didn't meet any of the furry critters, but we did find remarkable evidence of their presence.

Brown bear often step in the exact same spots year after year, following in the steps of their elders. You can see those tracks in the first photo.

Later in the morning, we headed to Dundas Bay for our longest kayak of the trip. We certainly needed the workout after eating so well on the boat.

This is a rare photo of Esther and Donald both paddling.

After a couple of miles (against the falling tide), we found about a dozen sea otters scattered across the water at the base of an island. The babies are quite large by this time of year, and some of the moms seemed a bit over-matched by their soon-to-be-independent pups.

Several harbor seals were also cruising the waters. As best as we could tell, this particular seal enjoyed sneaking up on mother sea otters and scaring them. A moment later, mama otter and her pup disappeared below the water in a cloud of spray.

Note: The first two photos are by other travelers on our expedition.