Posts tagged "SouthAmerica"

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Pantanal

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Pantanal

Once again we had an incredible time in Brazil’s Pantanal this year. Jaguars of course are the main target species and I always marvel at how it is possible to virtually guarantee exceptional jaguar sightings. I remember when our tour operator first started the jaguar tourism in the northern Pantanal. He called me in, as a photographer, to see if it was even possible to see (and photograph) these cats in the wild. We camped (there were no luxury floating hotels) and a driver and I plied the rivers, about a 1000 kms in a ten-day period. The results were exceptional and I saw 7 jaguars, two of them a mating pair and one in particular that lay on its back and watched us from a few meters for half an hour or so.

It was amazing. I had previously worked and lived in the Amazon rainforest and to see a jaguar – or even fresh tracks – was rare indeed. Once processed I took the images to the National Geographic Magazine in DC and showed them to the chief editor who was running a jaguar corridor story. They did not believe that my shots were of wild jaguars, let alone non-camera trapped, direct one-on-one images of the cats. Most previous jaguar images that the public had seen were taken in captive situations in the Belize zoo, or the military zoo in Manaus, Brazil. Finally convinced, after much back and forth, they published a suite of images in the article. Of course those shots have all been bettered but it remains a testament as to how well jaguars have been protected and valued by the locals in the Pantanal. I feel proud to have been there from the beginning and delight in seeing many of the same individuals from one year to the next.

This year was a personal record, not likely one that I will repeat, with 16 individual jaguars sighted on our trip. We watched, two cats interacting, one steal a fish from a heron, twice chasing caiman, swimming, stalking, relaxing, posing on logs and a host of antics from true quality sightings. Our largest feline in South America, it is, as Alan Rabinowitz said, truly an ‘indomitable beast’.

More personal records were set for one of our trips with an unprecedented 6 tapirs sighted and two giant anteaters! Giant river otters were often seen, hunting fish, scent marking and socializing, we were even present when a family of otters met two jaguars (just out of sight but very close by). The vocalizations were extreme and blood curdling!

Birds were of course as exceptional as ever and there were a host of other animals such as crab eating foxes, ocelot, peccaries, capybara, coatis, agoutis, caimen and anaconda.

Without doubt oil and gas revenues will be a blessing or a curse and need to be carefully applied and distributed for the sake of the wellbeing of the peoples and biodiversity. We remain attentive.

Quite simply the Pantanal is an outstanding wildlife destination! We have two trips in 2020 – one full and the other almost full plus a full trip in 2021 but might consider adding another. Please watch our website for updates. You may also like to read the many reviews on our website to see what others have said so far.

Ultimate Guyana Adventure

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Better late than never!

We have been a little reticent about posting blogs due to our major move from Ecuador to South Africa. Finally our container arrived and most things are now installed. We love it. Quite simply it is spectacular here in Betty’s Bay in the Western cape.

Earlier in the year we took two groups, once again to Guyana – that seldom talked about, English speaking country nestled in the north-east corner of South America between Brazil, Suriname and Venezuela. Why it is so often overlooked on people’s lists of a fabulous tropical/wildlife destination remains a mystery to us. The two trips were different, the first a more tried and tested Pete Oxford Expeditions trip and the second (a closed trip) was a hard hitting, short, intense look at key areas with some very important conservationists from the world stage.

Once again the country did not disappoint and wildlife was all we hoped it would be ranging from spectacular looks at giant anteaters, giant river otters, myriad birds, huge black caiman, a plethora of tree boas and the world’s largest spider, the Goliath bird eater.

Change is afoot in the country with massive oil and gas reserves recently discovered offshore. With production soon to begin Guyana is hailed by some as becoming the richest country per capita in the near future.

Today Guyana stands proud as one of the most pristine countries in the world with a massive tract of intact primary rainforest cover still standing. The FAO estimates 71% of total land area is forest with a further 17% cover of ‘other wooded land!”

Without doubt oil and gas revenues will be a blessing or a curse and need to be carefully applied and distributed for the sake of the wellbeing of the peoples and biodiversity. We remain attentive.

In the meantime, in April of 2020 we again have two trips planned. We have chosen to deviate from the norm and highlights will include actually staying overnight at the super-impressive Kaieteur Falls, which believe me is stunning and quite a privilege.

Apart from the savannas. We also plan a 4 night stay, in hammocks, under a permanent roof with good food in one of the very best wildlife areas. It is remote and very seldom visited. We hope to see harpy eagle close to camp as well as snorkel in the clear-water river! It is an adventure and not for the feint hearted. My best memories of the country have come from these areas!

Have a look at the two links:

https://www.peteoxfordexpeditions.com/guyana-adventure-2-13-april-2020/

https://www.peteoxfordexpeditions.com/guyana-adventure-16-27-april-2020/

Join us, if you dare!!

The Undiscovered Jewel – Guyana

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I have lived in Ecuador, South America for 32 years and have travelled the continent extensively. One destination that retains an inexplicable calling is Guyana.
Having published arguably the two most important coffee-table books on the country I have been privileged to have traveled its length and breadth by road, boat and helicopter. The continent’s only English-speaking country, Guyana is virtually pristine and rich in biodiversity including a ‘full house’ of the South American giants. An undiscovered jewel it is, with good reason, a firm favorite in our suite of expeditions.

Pete Oxford Expeditions is proud to jointly lead many trips with the Oceanic Society a USA based conservation NGO, the first in the states to be dedicated to ocean conservation. This was no exception and after assembling the group at Georgetown’s colonial Cara Lodge we headed out the following morning in our privately charted Cessna caravan aircraft to land at Guyana’s most iconic destination – Kaieteur Falls. This stunning waterfall, set in the wilds of a pristine forest is the world’s highest single-drop waterfall, several times higher than Niagara at 741 feet. With a choice of spectacular lookout points and no barriers whatsoever the experience transports the visitor back to an ageless time when Nature was still in charge. As if that was not enough, in the falls we absorbed ourselves in finding the endemic golden frogs at the base of the leaves of the humongous and omnipresent giant bromeliads.

Before returning to the aircraft we ducked into the forest to the well-known lek of one of the country’s most flamboyant birds. We easily spotted the gaudy, bright orange male Guyana Cock-of-the-Rock on his favorite perch. Obligingly he let each of us photograph him in his element offering various poses as we did so.

Taking off from the dirt strip at the falls the pilot offered both port and starboard sides an intimate aerial view of the Potaro River thundering over the escarpment as we turned north to Fairview and the Iwokrama forest. Checking in to the Iwokrama Lodge on the bank of the mighty Essequibo River our first call was to Sankar – a huge black caiman that has been hanging around the dock for many years. Portrait photography of this living dinosaur was spectacular as his prehistoric gaze stared down the barrel of the lens to be immortalized in an image.

Iwokrama has been well studied scientifically and is well known for its huge biodiversity. Many species are endemic to the Guyanan shield on which the lodge sits and are different from the main Amazon rainforest. This is of particular note to birdwatchers who ‘flock’ to the area for new ticks on their list.
On our boat ride on the river, using a spotlight we found many more caimen, some roosting birds including the very attractive capped heron and two tree boas hunting for food.
From Iwokrama we had elected to leave to our next destination – Atta Lodge and the Canopy walkway – via open truck at night along the ‘main road’. Although the dirt track is indeed the main artery connecting the coast to the interior and the Rupununi Savannas it travels in a virtual straight line through primary rain forest. It has become the best spot in Guyana to see jaguars. We had a good spotlight, drove slowly and had our eyes peeled. Although I’ve seen quite a few on this road before, this time we were not so lucky and the jags remained elusive.

At first light, we hiked the 500 meters from our lodge to the canopy walkway – a series of 3 platforms some 30 meters in the canopy. We spent the morning looking at the birds that came through and listened to the unmistakable, megaphonic, sounds of howler monkeys.
From Atta we were preparing to drive to a spot from where we could hike into the forest to hopefully find a harpy eagle – the most powerful eagle in the world. Camera packs were already loaded in the vehicle when, unbelievably, an adult harpy flew right into camp! A harpy in the hand, was definitely worth one in the bush so we stayed and marveled at the one that had come to us.
Our next stop was Rewa – an Amerindian owned and operated eco-lodge. Rewa is known for its healthy population of arapaima, another South American giant and one of the largest fresh water fish in the world. It was not always so, but once the community realized that the population of arapaima was dwindling they initiated a self-imposed moratorium on fishing these fish for 5 years until the population was seen to increase. Arapaima are territorial and obligate air-breathers, meaning that they periodically break the surface to gulp air. Individual fish can therefore be identified by size and sex to the trained eye. Hunting with bow and arrow the fishermen can then selectively take individual fish in a sustainable manner. Their entire project has been heralded as a conservation success and numbers are once again at a high level. We spent an afternoon at one of the well-known arapaima lakes, surrounded by giant water-lilies and waiting for the huge fish to break the surface, gulp and roll.

Boat trips on the river from Rewa also showed us several troops of monkeys, a plethora of herons, large-billed terns and black skimmers. Night walks produced many smaller animals and birds not least of which were a dozen or so pink-toed tarantulas!
Our last stop was to be the famed Karanambu lodge – home of the ‘otter lady’ the late Diane McTurk. A legend in her own lifetime Diane had dedicated the latter part of her life to rehabilitating giant otter orphans back to the wild. Steeped in tradition and the true spirit of pioneers Karanambu is a delight and worthy finale. Through a combination of walks and boat rides, we could secure great views of many bird species and of course giant otters. These, the longest otter species in the world, are highly endangered throughout most of their range with Guyana being one of the last strongholds of the species. Highly social animals they are very efficient predators and seem to be able to catch a good-sized fish any time they put their mind to it.
Perhaps the highlight of Karanambu however was our early morning sojourns by 4×4 out into the Rupununi savannas. With a local vaquero (cowboy) on horseback to guide us we always managed to get excellent views of one of the animal kingdom’s most bizarre denizens – the giant anteater. A strange animal indeed, somewhat laterally flattened the shaggy beast walks awkwardly on large claws that it uses to break open hard termite mounds whereupon it squats on its haunches to lap up the teeming insect with its long sticky tongue.

The camaraderie of a great group, lively meal time conversations and the wonder of new life-time experiences our 2018 Guyana trip lived up to expectations. I miss it already!

The Pantanal – A Journal Excerpt from Pete Oxford

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The best wildlife viewing in South America?

We are in the Pantanal, Brazil, a place very dear to us at Pete Oxford Expeditions. I was one of the first photographers to get a critical mass of professional wild jaguar images and one of the first, I believe, to have Pantanal jaguars grace the pages of National Geographic Magazine, including a pull out, double page spread and a front cover in some editions. Reneé too has been coming here for years and declares it her favorite place on the continent!

Today we returned from the river, nostalgically, along the raised Transpantaneira road towards Cuiaba. We had come primarily to watch jaguars, until fairly recently one of the hardest cats in South America to see in the wild. Everywhere other than the Pantanal the jaguar remains elusive and mostly nocturnal. We set out early every morning and from our comfortable speed boats we scour the river banks looking for the cats, training our eyes and binoculars on any little spot we think might be attractive to our quarry. We imagine ourselves in their spotted skin and ask ourselves where WE would be if we were a cat. As our eyes are trained and a visual search image develops the job becomes easier. Our success on this expedition however was unprecedented. In 9 ‘game drives’ in our speed boats, we saw 11 individual cats in 13 sightings. That’s an impressive average of nearly 1.5 jaguars per drive or about 3 per day! We watched a mother with two cubs, followed jaguars hunting at the river’s edge for kilometers, saw them leap into the water after caiman or just chill – watching us.

With heavy hearts we left our floating hotel, boarded our boat for the last time and made our way towards Porto Joffre. In a final goodbye we had an incredible sighting of a Brazilian tapir crossing the river in front of us! South America’s largest land mammal, a relative of the rhinoceros, the tapir seemed to not even notice us at all. We waited for it to reach dry land where it stopped for a drink before heading off into the bush.

Before we eventually made it to Cuiaba airport for our onward flight to our post extension at the spectacular Iquazu Falls we had some pretty cool subjects for our final 24 hours etched, back to back, on our memory cards! A tapir, hyacinth macaws, caracaras, a tamandua, crab-eating foxes, a caiman with an anaconda, an ocelot, hawks, kingfishers, owls, storks, herons, waders, capybaras and even a great potoo.

A fantastic way to leave this spectacular Brazilian wetland. Until the next time Pantanal and we can only hope we have another group that is as adventurous and fun as this one was. See you all soon for another Big Cat reunion!

Cheers,

Pete Oxford