An Update on Brazil’s Pantanal

Young female jaguar in Pantanal.

I’ve traveled to the Brazil’s Pantanal region several times to photograph jaguars, Toco toucans, giant anteaters, and other amazing wildlife. This part of the world reminds me to Tanzania. There’s wildlife at every turn and the photo opportunities are amazing.

During the summer of 2020 we started seeing news reports in the US about the horrible fires in the Pantanal. One especially heartbreaking photo showed a jaguar rescued from the flames in a rehab facility with bandaged paws.

Fellow photographers were sending me links to news reports. So I thought I’d send an email to Charles Munn, founder and owner of SouthWild. SouthWild is the tour company Strabo Photo Tour Collections uses to coordinate all my trips to Pantanal.

Here’s the update Charles Munn sent about the Pantanal:

The pantanal is half the size of California.
It is and always has been a fire-adapted ecosystem, designed to have periodic dry season fires, originally set by lightning prior to humans arriving 12,000 years ago, and then set every year or two or five by humans.
The plants and animals evolved with periodic, widespread fires, for perhaps 100,000 years.
The Pantanal had a longer, drier dry season this year than any time in the last 47 years.  The extra dry year and the fires set by some ranchers here and there have caused about 25% of the Pantanal to burn.  By early October, the fires were done and the first rains have started, thankfully.
“A report from 3 weeks ago from two naturalist guides at different times in different boats ..(the guides who have guided for SouthWild) said that they racked up 18 good Jaguar sightings in a week. That is a high or extra high number of sightings.   Yet another colleague had 11 Jaguar sightings in 2 days.  All of these Jaguar results involved NO assistance from radio calls from other boats, because the pandemic has reduced boats in Jaguarland to the point where there is no radio system this season.
There was a lot of fire in the heart of Jaguarland in August and September, but it is done now, and all of these Jaguar reports have come from AFTER the fires were over.
None of our lodges in the Pantanal has had its birding trails or lodges affected by the fires. There were some fires near SWP lodge, but the fire was kept out of the forests that we use for birding.
As tragic as the fires have been, they now are done, and it would appear that things will look pretty normal normal next year, that is assuming that rains that have started in Oct will intensify in Nov and continue for the normal rainy months of Dec, Jan, Feb, March.

Charles Munn

“One more detail I should make clear:
Most of Pantanal is …seasonally flooded (and then seasonally dried out) grasses..
not forest
for decades, perhaps millennia, the Three Brothers River in the heart of Jaguarland has a thin ribbon of forest along 80% of the riverbank, and just grasses along the remaining 20%.
where there is forest along the riverbank, it averages only 20 meters wide….almost nothing…..
and in many places it is only 10 meters wide
and then all the rest of the habitat behind this narrow gallery forest…for km and km…. is …grass…..
Therefore, the fires were worse this year than in decades, but the Pantanal is designed to survive and bounce back from fire.

Charles Munn

I hope Charles’s information adds to what you’ve read or seen in the US news. My hope is to one day return to the Pantanal and enjoy the fabulous photography and people in that area of the world.

My Photos From Pantanal if you’d like to take a look.

Norway Trip Recap

The Aurora from Lofoten Islands in Norway.

I had the pleasure in September of leading a photo tour to the Lofoten Islands of Norway for Strabo Photo Tour Collection.

Norway was amazing.  It’s a pretty easy flight over to Oslo.  Then you have to overnight in Oslo and take two flights up to Leknes.  It’s above the Arctic Circle so takes some time to get there.  Luckily, the Norwegians run a super-efficient air travel system and all the flights were right on time.  

The Oslo airport, by the way, is quiet.  There are large halls typical of any airport.  People are quiet with their voices in low tones.  Conveyor belts and people movers are quiet.  Overhead announcements are quiet.  It was so amazing.

The Lofoten Islands form a peninsula that goes out into the Norwegian Sea.  There’s a road system connecting the larger islands so travel is quick and efficient.  Our hotels were near Hamnoy, Leknes, and Svolvaer. All the hotels were rorbuer-style or styled like a fishing cottage community.  Little red houses clustered around the rocky shoreline.  Made for great photos.  The little fishing cottages had two bedrooms, a shared bathroom, with a living room and kitchen.  Very cozy as long as you don’t mind sharing a bathroom.  One hotel had two bedrooms in one house and each bedroom had a private bathroom.  That was my favorite arrangement because we had private bath but still shared a living room and kitchen.

During the day we tooled around the area photographing towering mountains over crystal clear water.  The little villages were usually filled with real fishing cottages with boats, nets, buoys, etc.  That meant we always had something to photograph from a grand landscape to tiny details.  We went to an old whaling village that’s now a UNESCO site.  Lots of neat stuff from the late 1800’s and early 1900s plus museums all in a tiny village setting.  I went nuts photographing the general store with all the old tins, advertisements, and cash register.  

At night we shot based on the aurora activity.  Our first night out was pretty good.  It was especially nice since we didn’t have to leave the rorbuer to shoot.  We just walked across the parking lot and stood on the rocky shoreline.  Everyone got great photos of the aurora that night and worked on their skills.  We had a visible aurora in the middle of the trip but activity wasn’t predicted until after 11:00pm.  Several people decided to stay back at the rorbuer but the rest of us loaded in the van and headed off to a wide, sandy beach.  We had great aurora activity and got to play with reflection of the lights in the ocean.  Our third chance at the aurora was our best night.  Predictions were for spectacular lights and they began right about twilight.  I saw them on my way to dinner and had ants in my pants the whole time we were eating.  After dinner we drove to a nearby beach and stayed for several hours.  It’s amazing how you don’t get tired when green lights are waving across the sky.  Our guides said it was one of the best nights they’ve seen.  We quit shooting about 2:00am and that was because batteries were dead and cards were full.

Temperature the entire trip were in the 30-degree to 70-degree range.  We had rain on our last day as we drove to the airport.  I wore my down coat as an outer layer almost all the time.  Longjohns as a base layer and then pants and a long-sleeved shirt as a middle layer.  I only wore gloves at night when we were shooting the aurora.  

Food was amazing.  I thought it would be gross things or super bland stuff.  The fish wasn’t fishy tasting.  The meat, pork, and lamp the others had looked really nice and tender.  We had plenty of root vegetables with familiar carrots and potatoes.  Breakfast was the basic European buffet of sliced meats, cheese, fruit, eggs, and breads.  The breads were all hardy, whole-grain that I added fresh butter and jam to.  The coffee was weak but we learned to make strong coffee in our rooms.  

Thanks to Christian Hoiberg for being such a great guide. Same to Odd-Are Hansen. He’s also an awesome Aurora Dancer. Check out this video on my Facebook page.