Added 3 September 2006
Day 9: Wednesday, June 14, 2006
With half a day of travel towards our next destination in the Amazon ahead of us that afternoon we stayed closer to home on Wednesday, largely covering areas we'd already been. That doesn't mean we didn't see new things though. Nor does it mean that we didn't have some excitement. This is definitely one of those days where I'm going to let the pictures tell most of the story.
If nothing else, I got that anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) picture I'd been wanting for days! (see photo at left)
Early on, we did a little piranha fishing. Fabricio started out, showing us the proper technique, which involves smacking either the bait or the pole itself on the surface of the water to make some noise. Apparently this imitates something falling into the water.
His first catch was a Traira (Snakehead fish) (Hoplias malabaricus), which looked like it could easily share the piranhas reputation, as it had some rather large canine-like teeth.
After trying to catch piranha, we found a strip of land and beached the boat to wander on shore a bit. There was a large congregation of birds that we were trying to get closer to on the other side. Unfortunately, our plan didn't work, but it was neat to explore the "high ground" of the Pantanal.
We found numerous jaguar tracks in the soft mud. So they can be found, even fairly close to Hotel Baizinha, and I started wondering if we might get lucky again. After wondering around a bit, we went back on the water and tried fishing for piranha in a different location. This time, Indio was successful. Piranha definitely have an impressive set of teeth!
After Indio caught one, Chuck tried his hand at catching one. The measure of his success is illustrated in the following pictures of plants and things. It was rather peaceful just floating, with no motor sounds to disturb the quiet. It was one of the few times when I got to look closely at the myriad of plants and small fish in the water. Add to that the spice of having a stellar opportunity to tease Chuck about his inability to catch a fish despite his initial bluster, and it was an altogether pleasant experience.
After Chuck decided he'd suffered through enough of my good-natured barbs, we moved on. We found huge areas that seemed completely covered in egrets and other birds. We zipped along amidst thousands of birds in some replication of paradise. I tried desperately to capture the amazement on "film" in what must some of the most difficult scenarios, birds in flight, and landscapes with thousands of birds. I feel as though I succeeded reasonably well at the first, but failed on the second. My pictures simply don't do justice to the sight of so many avian snowflakes that they'd make for a blizzard.
And of course, there were always the caiman (Caiman yacare). There's always something about top predators that is fascinating.
At one point in the morning, we were all intently watching a group of caimans, including some rather large ones, when I looked down in the water and noticed that there was an arraia (Potamotrygon motoro) (a freshwater stringray) right next to the boat! If related to the the stingrays found in the Amazon, they are more closely related to Pacific Ocean stingrays than Atlantic Ocean stingrays, as it is a relic of when the Amazon basin drained from east to west into the Pacific.
But the real excitement came as we caught our third, and largest, caiman. It was about seven feet long, nearly as large as any caiman we'd seen. Indio noosed it, somehow getting the rope around the body just in front of the hind legs, which left the dangerous mouth still free to roam. He needed some assistance, and Fabricio asked who wanted to help.
Figuring Chuck would jump at the chance, I held my tongue, though I desperately wanted to take part. When Chuck didn't pipe up, I stepped forward. Eventually, with minor assistance from me, Indio got the mouth roped shut and taken care of then got another rope around the back end. Together the two of us hoisted it onboard, with me now at the more dangerous end, that being the tail end. The very powerful tail can certainly inflict harm on anyone unlucky (perhaps foolish?) enough to get hit by it, so I stayed out of its potential path and kept a close eye on it. The caiman probably weighed a good 100 pounds or so. Once on board he was quite docile, except for one quick head jerk back towards me. This one, no one tried to pet though. Each of us knew that this was a different animal than the ones we'd caught the first day in the Pantanal. Releasing it was more of a challenge than catching it. The knots Indio had tied didn't want to release, so we ended up cutting one of them off. The caiman patiently waited for us to release it, and as the last knot was cut it flailed into the water, thrashing violently. It smacked the boat with its powerful tail. The loud sound of it was a not-so-gentle reminder of the power we'd had with us in the boat. Still, I never felt as though either we, nor any of the caiman were in any danger or pain. Overall, I was surprised by how everything we caught, both the caimans and the fish, struggled so little once caught.
The images below are links to videos of the capture. The left one is high resolution, the right one is low resolution. Both are large though.
After returning to Hotel Baizinha, we packed our things up an prepared to leave for the Amazon. I had a little time to spare, so wandered around the lodge.
Species list for the day (28 birds, 3 reptiles, 3 "fish"):
Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)
Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)
M White-faced Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna viduata)
Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata)
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
Cocoi Heron (Ardea cocoi)
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Rufescent Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma lineatum)
Bare-faced Ibis (Phimosus infuscatus)
Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja)
Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)
Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria)
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes burrovianus)
Black-collared Hawk (Busarellus nigricollis)
Crested Caracara (Polyborus plancus)
Pied Lapwing (Vanellus cayanus)
Southern Lapwing (Vanellus chilensis)
Large-billed Tern (Phaetusa simplex)
Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)
Red-and-green Macaw (Ara chloropterus)
White-eyed Parakeet (Aratinga leucophthalmus)
Amazon Kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona)
Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)
Sayaca Tanager (Thraupis sayaca)
Yellow-billed Cardinal (Paroaria capitata)
Yellow-rumped Cacique (Cacicus cela)
Pantanal Caiman (Caiman yacare)
Common Iguana (Iguana iguana )
Amazon Racerunner aka Green Ameiva (Ameiva ameiva)
Arraia (Freshwater Stingray) (Potamotrygon motoro)
Traira (Snakehead fish) (Hoplias malabaricus)