We left for our second day in the Pantanal just before 6:30 a.m. As we left the dock, we encountered a gorgeous sunbittern hopping along the adjacent dock. The morning was slightly overcast albeit rather humid, but without the beating sun, it made for a cooler morning.
We took the usual route out of the little harbour and then headed north along the river before turning up one of the tributaries. It was just about 45 minutes into the ride when a call came in that a jaguar had been spotted on a sand dune. We reached the site within 5 minutes and immediately spotted the top of the head of the jaguar. Unfortunately, the rest of him was resting on the sand dune below the top of the dune. We sat and watched for a bit before the jaguar decided it was time to head off to the other side of the sand dune. Unfortunately, this was out of our viewing range. As the jaguar began to move, three other boats showed up. One boat was small enough to make it through the channel so the guide on the boat kept Herley informed about the jaguar’s movements.
We sat and waited and waited, but no jaguar. Eventually, we gave up and decided it was better to move on to another channel. We plodded along through the water for the next couple hours looking for any sign of movement. We passed a number of capybara, some giant river otters, and a number of cocoi heron, but no jaguar.
By now it was about just after 9:30 a.m. when a call came in that a male and female jaguar were in the bush mating a few kilometers away. Cesar reversed course and put the boat in high gear. At times I felt like I was on a motor bike heavily leaning to one side of the boat or the other as we rounded the curves on the river. We eventually reached the site about ten minutes later and we could barely make out the lazing jaguars through the heavy brush. However, the male almost immediately decided it was time to mate again. Unfortunately, they moved out of site and mated before beginning to slowly move along the river bank.
And then we finally lucked out. The male and female decided to lay down in small clearly allowing those on the five boats to get a really good look at the pair. Now the female was very alert, but the lazy good for nothing male wanted nothing more than to stretch out and sleep. So we waited and waited. Periodically, the female would lay down and then only minutes later lift her head to take a look at the male. After about a half an hour of up and down, the female appeared to be finally fed up with the male and got up walked over to the male took a downward (and entirely disgusted) look at him and then kept walking away. The male immediately woke up, sat up and then yawned and stretched. Good grief. He was acting like he just put in a an 80 our work week.
The male finally got a clue and got up and went after the female. A few minutes later, both appeared back in few. The male had corralled in the female into returning and minutes later the pair mated in the open clearing for all to see. When the male was done he let out a large growl, moved away from the female, stretched and laid down again. Good grief. Herley kept telling all of us that the male was a lazy good for nothing, and I was beginning to think he was right.
Now unfortunately the female had moved towards the backside of the little clearing so we could no longer see her so we were simply stuck with the stretched out, lazy male jaguar. At this point, Herley advised that the male would probably sleep for another half hour or so before mating again so we should probably move on, to which Richard and I both agreed.
So by now it was almost 10:30 and we were at least 45 minutes from the lodge so we started the trek back passing the little island of capybaras, lots of cocoi heron and the odd kingfisher. As we rounded the turn and passed the sandbar where we had seen the jaguar earlier in the morning, I made a pointing motion towards the sandbar to show where we had seen the jaguar earlier, and suddenly Cesar slowed the boat and made a u-turn. What the heck?
It turns out that as Richard and I were talking about the early morning jaguar, and I was pointing at the spot, Herley was looking ahead and noticed an outline in the bushes just past the sandbar so Cesar was slowing the boat and reversing so that Herley could take a look. And, sure enough there was a jaguar asleep under some bushes. Seriously? We had to have been at least 50 feet from the riverbank and going at a high rate of speed. How the hell did he spot that jaguar? Herley just laughed as we looked at him completely astonished at his remarkable eyesight.
Anyway, Cesar maneuvered the boat close to the embankment (far closer than we had ever been to we a jaguar) and by the time we stopped we were probably within fifteen feet of the jaguar. We stood in the boat to get a better look, and at one point the jaguar stretched, sat up, stared at us and then laid back down. It was clear this fella was going nowhere so after a few pictures we continued back to the lodge. And to add to the day, a toucan flew out of a tree as we neared the lodge. (Unfortunately, no picture as the toucan flew off before I could snap a shot. Still my elusive picture.)
After lunch, we headed back out in what was initially clearing skies, but by the time we were about a half hour from the lodge, the skies started to darken. Uh oh. We decided to ignore the clouds and press on. We passed a beautiful and quite rare white hawk which posed for us before taking off and doing a quick dive into the water and coming up with a fish. It was incredible to witness.
As we continued on, super eyes Herley spotted an iguana in the grasses above a sand dune. As we were snapping pictures, a call came in that a pregnant female jaguar was spotted under some trees so off we went to find the jaguar.
Less than 15 minutes later we were pulling up with 3 other boats to take a look at the sleeping female. And what was incredible was that the branches on the tree where the female was sleeping so camouflaged the jaguar that any mortal riding by on the river never would have seen her. Nevertheless, one of the miracle guides with eagle eyes spotted her and we were all the beneficiaries.
We watched the female sleep for a bit and then Herley suggested we move on to look for more active jaguars. If we got a radio signal from one of the guides that she was starting to move we could always come back.
So we continued on down a narrow channel spotting numerous birds including a pepquan (which was a new one for us), a black collared hawk, a tiger heron and an anhinga. As we made our way down the channel we hit a massive bump and heard a loud thud. Herley and Cesar were laughing. What the heck? Turns out we had just hit a caiman who was resurfacing. Yikes! Now while I did not see any carcass, it is hard to imagine anything, including a thick skinned caiman, surviving a hit and run in with a speed boat.
Anyway, at one point in the channel we had to use the boat to clear away floating beach grass and water hyacinth. Unfortunately, the trip down the channel did not result in any jaguar so we turned around and began the trip back amidst darkening skies.
About half way back up the channel, I spotted a massive 12 foot caiman sitting on a riverbank. Cesar slowed the boat and got a little too close for my liking to this massive caiman. And sure enough, the nasty beast began to move. Uh oh. Uh Cesar please put it this thing in gear.
So off we set again. Now I was becoming increasing worried about the darkening sky and the low rumbles I was hearing in the distance. We were riding in an aluminum boat on a water with what appeared to be a massive storm heading our way and we were at least 45 minutes from the lodge. I didn’t say anything, but was glad when we started to head back in the direction of the lodge past the friendly capybara.
As we motored on, a call came in that the female jaguar was on the move. We were about 5 minutes away so Cesar turned up the engines and off we sped. We arrived just in time to see the female moving along the sandy embankment, jump up into the deeper forest and then move through the forest. There were 5 boats and we all followed the jaguar pointing as we spotted her through the trees. At one point she ventured back to the embankment and appeared to want to come into the water but reversed course and headed back towards where she came from. The drivers kept the boats in place to give the jaguar space and sure enough, she came back out of the trees and we soon spotted her head bobbing in the water. We watched her swim across the river, walk along the embankment, jump up the little incline and disappear into the trees. Well that was entirely worth it.
At this point, it was about 4:45 and it was becoming increasingly dark not only because of the overcast skies, but because the sun was setting. We took one more little detour down a channel, laughed at the crazy statute like capybara (which seem to be everywhere) before finally heading towards the lodge.
Now at this point, the thunder was growing louder and I was absolutely convinced I was about to be electrocuted at any moment (NOT the way I want to go). My conviction was reinforced when I saw sheet lightening in the distance followed by a massive fork lightening that shot across the sky. I took one look at Richard and he and I just started laughing. What could we do? We were still about 30 minutes out. Cesar had the boat in top gear and as we passed each landmark, I was counting down the minutes as the thunder grew louder, and I saw yet an other flash of lightening. Now miraculously, there was not a single drop of rain despite the fact that the sky was as black as any sky I had seen.
We finally passed the last of the landmarks and I knew we were about 5 minutes out. We then rounded the last bend and I saw the lights of the dock. We took a sharp turn and I looked at Richard and said “We live for another day!” It took us about 10 minutes to walk back to the lodge from the dock and I no sooner got to my room than a massive thunder clap shook my room. One of the loudest I have ever heard. And by the time I went for a drink before dinner, the skies had opened up and a deluge was on us. Unfortunately, if the thunder storms persist tomorrow we will not be able to go out so it is wait and see time. Hopefully, I have not seen my last jaguar.