And this is....... "Nessi" – a young beautiful fully grown female Jaguar and an offspring of Ruth, We spotted Nessi late in the evening that day while returning back to our houseboat which was anchored in the Piquiri river and she was pretty close to where we were stationed. Nessi was a gorgeous jaguar, her eyes spoke volumes, she looked right into my camera, kept giving different poses and was very calm and relaxed for all the time we spent with her, This sighting special as she was the 5th Jaguar sighting of that day.
Our Guide Fabiano told that Nessi was last spotted in June 2016 and this was her first sight of this season and we were fortunate in a way. On this occasion we spotted Nessi suddenly pop out the dense bushes, sit over a wooden tree log & wait for the prey to show underneath, so that she could jump from the top into the river & get her prey, but to her luck she couldn't spot one and hence decide to head back into the dense vegetation of Pantanal after posing for us for sometime.
There’s a strong belief that wild cats hunt after dusk but that hasn’t been the case here in Pantanal with Jaguars, we spotted so many different jaguars stalking and hunting during broad day light, especially the caimans sun bask during mid-day when sun is at its peak, we even noticed the capybara the favorite meal of jaguar, basking in the open sandbanks during the same time. So one can easily conclude that the advantage for jaguars and best time to hunt is during mid-day.
Pantanal is indeed a very unparalleled world as I often say & words fall short to describe the beauty of this world's largest wetlands as it can only be experienced, If all goes well & as planned, I wish to make another visit to the Pantanal again in July/Aug of 2018 with my bunch of friends who wish to explore this part of the world which just doesn't stop luring me and pulls me back with its blue skies, the white sand banks where you hope the Jaguar showed up, the thick vegetation on both sides of the river, Jaguars around you as your friends, cursing from dawn to dusk in radio equipped speed boats with unlimited photo opportunities which becomes memories for a lifetime 😊
Toco Toucan | Neeraj Bantia Photography
The Pantanal in Brazil offers exceptional opportunities to observe not just jaguars but various exotic birds and I was looking forward for an encounter with the Toco Toucan and this was one of the highlights of our Brazil Trip.
Being a hardcore Cat lover, I can now confess the toco toucans made me fall in love with birds & the birder in me was born 😊 Whether you are a birder or not, the chance to see the Toco Toucans, is special as they are one of the bird “ambassadors” of Brazil
The habitat along the Transpantaneira road is just perfect for observing and photographing these birds as it is relatively open, The Toco Toucans are regular visitors here and were seen in our lodge, I photographed this one from right outside my room.
The Toco is the largest of the toucans, They have a very interesting and photogenic method to feed due to their large beaks. They pick their food with the tip of the beak and then toss it in the air and tilt their head back to swallow it. They have a perfect aim every time and are surprisingly graceful and dextrous. I never got tired of photographing these stunning birds!
The largest toucan in the world, the toco toucan has a striking plumage with a mainly black body, a white throat, chest and red under tail coverts. What appears to be a blue iris is actually thin blue skin around the eye. This blue skin is surrounded by another ring of bare, orange skin.
The most noticeable feature however is, The toco toucan’s bill is one-third of its length, Its huge bill which is yellowish orange, tending to deeper reddish orange on its lower sections, a black base and large spot on the tip.
The tongue is nearly as long as the bill and very flat, The toco toucan eats fruit using its bill to pluck them from trees, but also insects, frogs, small reptiles, small birds and their eggs and nestlings. The long bill is useful for reaching things that otherwise would be out of reach. It is typically seen in pairs or small groups. A research has also shown that bill can modify blood flow and thereby regulate heat distribution in this bird, Thus.. the toco toucan uses its bill as a thermal radiator responsible for between 30 and 60% of heat loss.
There are 20 species of Toco Toucans in South America, these toco toucans are usually found in northern and eastern Bolivia, extreme south eastern Peru, northern Argentina, eastern and central Paraguay, eastern and southern Brazil.
The average life span of the toco in the wild is upto 20 years
In Estrella's playground | Brazil Diaries
The world calls her "Estrella" which translates into Star, but I call her "Pagli"
Every time I head into the woods with my camera, I am caught between playing the role of a voyeur and a documenter - a window into the world where black, white and grey come together in a dance which has me unraveling the magic through the viewfinder.
It's not easy for me, or for that matter any wildlife photographer, because you get wrapped up in a parallel universe that unfolds itself and takes you away from the now. You need to pull yourself from the moment and become the documenter. And it's that fraction of a second - where an image is framed and captured - one that mirrors you.
The story begins
Day 1 in Pantanal with 2 jaguar sighting and day 2 gave way into a dawn where we spotted and documented our 3rd jaguar. With the gentle rays bringing the canvas of jewel tone flora and fauna alive, we continued our cruise down the Cuiaba river. The meandering river both worked as a lullaby to my city-weary- nerves and also pumped in the adrenaline - the search for the legendary animals in a land which is their playground.
A story waiting to be unraveled...
Over my years into the wild, my learning has been that whilst nature has this immense power to lull you, the jungle and the law of the land also hone your senses.
I could sense a story waiting to be unleashed.
The crisp air crackled in anticipation. Pin drop silence. The senses honed to the slightest noise and movement. The only sound was of the forest. The palpable silence was occasionally broken by our guide's whisper directing us to a bird or a flora (a lifer). The landscape was virgin. The players were my first. And every act that unfolded held the power to etch itself into my being.
As part of any wildlife tour, the guides are in constant touch with each other. Their camaraderie is infectious as they effortlessly bring us into their world of sightings and banter. And whilst the vista slowly engulfed me into its realm, the crackle of the radio broke the spell. There was a jaguar in the area. And we were 20- 25 minutes away from it.
Whilst the boat steered towards the direction, I remember, for a moment or two forgetting to breath. The often asked question, "Would I get a chance to enter the world of the lord of the wetlands?" played the trump card. "Would we be on time to see the feline work its charm? What is the story that awaited? Could we do justice to the story?" The questions unleashed itself with a fury. The onslaught continued till I found my boat come to a standstill.
For today, the card played in my favour.
Because, before I knew it, I was in the presence of the greatest show of my lifetime in the jungle. The saying goes - when an animal looks into your eyes, it goes beyond all the layers. It looks into your soul. You are stripped bare. At that moment, it's just you and the mystical being.
The Drama Unfolds
When my eyes found Estrella, she was sitting at the end of the sand banks staring into the open blue skies. The world called her Estrella - a star. But for me, she was my own Pagli... She waited like a long lost friend. She saw our boat. She didn’t balk. But walked around the entire sand bank - welcoming me into her world. Her playground.
What played in her mind... I wondered !!!
The pathway into her world came alive through my viewfinder. Slowly reeling me in, she flaunted her moves - her calculated stalk and chase. Nothing distracted her from her orchestra. Singularly, she played to a music that was privy to her.
Rolling on the sand banks, there was nothing shy about her. This was her home and she was in an indulgent mood.
Bold yet coy, she was a feline who possessed every trait of a woman who was confident in her skin. Coming up to the river to drink water, she teased. She oscillated between a yawn for now, a low growl whilst her eyes seared through my soul and playful in the next. For today, the wooden log was her toy.
The greatest show played for a good 30 odd minutes - with every scene played straight out- of -the- box. The whirr of the camera never stopped. It was a moment, where, it was just us - in her playground and playing by her rules.
And in a blink of an eye, she bounded into the bushes.
If I didn’t have the images to go back to, I would have thought this was a mirage - a thirst of a documenter in search for a good story. But this tale stands true. Estrella - my Pagli exists.
Dazed and inching back into reality, I asked our guide, Fabiano, "You said it's a 20-25min boat ride to the Jaguar sighting when you got the radio call. But we reached in less than 10mins." To which, he laughed and said, "My friend... this sighting was not in the menu. The stars aligned themselves for the greatest show of the wetlands. Now, let's head to the actual place from where we got the radio call and that's a 15min boat ride again."
20 jaguar sightings in 4 days. A record, sayid our guide. I smiled. My story begins with Estrella. In her playground of no boundaries.
About the Pantanal
The Pantanal is an unparalleled universe. The biodiversity makes this land a birder's paradise and undoubtedly the best place on the planet to spot a jaguar in the wild. The nail biting adventures, the chilly early mornings, hot & humid afternoons, pleasant evenings and the stunning landscapes create narratives which must be experienced. The entire experience is simply "Electrifying".
If ever I was a writer, I wouldn't write this experience as a chapter in the book, but it would be the book itself. The land finds itself wrapped around my being. And, like the saying goes - You pick up a book so that you never stop reading. Pantanal to me, is a book that I can't put down.
Full screen view recommended
Lights.... Camera..... "Jaguar"
Jaguars are the third-largest cat in the world after tigers and lions, but the largest in the Americas, These cats are notoriously tough to spot in the wild, Extending from the Amazon, the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland. Bigger than England, it stretches across two Brazilian states and parts of neighboring countries Bolivia and Paraguay. A lattice of waterways swells and recedes with the seasons, giving way to vast savannahs and thick gallery forests lining the banks. The Pantanal is wild and remote, most parts can only be accessed by tiring, bone-jangling drives along dirt tracks.
And...... This is "Estrela" which means "Star". An offspring of Sussana, the famous Onça (Jaguar) from pantanal. Fondly named by Wildlife filmmakers, photographers, researchers & local guides
Estrela is now a sub adult & estimated to be around 2yrs old, She has recently got separated from her mother Sussana.... This Gorgeous female did true justice to her name, we were fortunate to spot her on the Sandbank, Estrela was seen in playful mood, it was treat to our eyes to spend so much time documenting her, to watch her roll over the sand, chase around nothing, drink water, swim in the river and absolutely not bothered by our presence, During the summer the low water levels makes a lovely open sandy beach and these Rosette cats simply love sun basking as the early morning & late evening are pretty cold during this time of the year in Pantanal.
Image best enjoyed while viewed in full screen 😊
The Dance of the Ocelot | Brazil Diaries
There are journeys and destinations, There are some which you hear as whispered lores and some that is up there for grabs, Some we absorb whilst some threads itself into our being, But some addresses imprint themselves into our soul, You become one with the story…and all because the address engulfs you into the lore which is as old as nature herself.
As an observer of nature and the stories it unleashes, my recent trip into Brazil was an unparalleled journey – not just on a personal level because the land teaches you go beyond yourself, but also, as a visual story-teller, you are thrown curve balls every step of the way. Your stories are challenged – the angles, the lights, the play of shadow and the animals who play the hero – some shy, some bold, some angry and some fierce to fit into your frame. You are pushed to your limits, There are days when you simply sit back and marvel at what you witness and then there are split- second moments, when everything falls into place to make a frame, which speaks a thousand words, And the frame is not boxed. It is meant to simply suck you into its vortex from the minute you lay eyes on it and you live the tale. And that, is what I try…
Our Brazilian trip started from Cuiaba, which followed to Chapada. Honestly, I am not a birder. My eye hasn’t been trained to capture the fliers, But the canvas which unfolds in this magical land – where the jewel tone birds in unimaginable hues dance to the first rays of the sun and stay unrestrained and bold till they kiss the last rays goodbye lingered on. The documentor in me was drawn to the magic of the Macaws, Humming birds and species that were lifers (seen for the first time) for me. It’s effortless to get intertwined in their world of no boundaries. There is a method in their play. It’s not just the colour and the drama that spins a web, but a story that goes beyond that and you, as a voyeur are part of it.
If Chapada was entry-way into paradise, I knew that a parallel universe awaited me, Every day was a discovery. Never was there a moment, where I could shrug my shoulder and say – “Been there done that…” because this land does not spin that tale.
It whispers secrets which hold you captivated. The canvas it unfolds holds sights that could actually transport you into a different era. The only noise against the canvas of silence is the cacophony of the birds, the whisper of the wind and the buzz of the insects. The Amazonian forest is alive and the vibe is infectious.
My tribe moved on to Transpantaneria road which is a link between the small town called of Poconé and the place of Porto Jofre where the road ends. This 147 km long dirt road – I wouldn’t call it a road but a crocodilian slalom course, which crosses no less than 122 wooden bridges and has around 17 lodges. Rich in biodiversity & wildlife, your bucket list for the vast wetlands can be easily ticked off.
I had read about the Ocelot - very similar to a Leopard Cub otherwise known as the Dwarf leopard or the Painted leopard (the dark rosettes, along with spots and stripes which is its distinctive markings on its fur). The cat thrives in South America. It is, beyond words, one of the chief attractions in the lodge of Transpanteria road. I knew it was a rare find. But then, as a story-teller, you look for the layers and the rarest of the rare stories. You sift diamond through coal. And I hoped for a visual treat with the Jaguatirica.
Once we checked into our lodge, our birding sessions brought us up close and personal with Toco Toucans, Jaibru Storks, Herons, branched family of kingfishers. They had the power to take me away from the now. The only pull back into the real world was when our guide said, “Be ready at sharp 7. If lady luck smiles, we may find the Ocelot.”
The Ocelot is nocturnal and begins its activities during twilight. But when the grey skies loom large, it can be spotted even during the day. Solitary by nature, it preys on armadillos, rabbits, rodents, opossums, insects, reptiles, fish and small birds. So this is what I had gleaned from my research. But, being here, in a land where I was part of the jungle and it’s lore and searching for a being which is mystical – the equations change. Textbook information takes a back-seat. Your senses are on high alert. Would we be lucky… or would our frames go home empty was a question which did find it's way into my being, but my eyes still searched.
As we began our short walk into a flood-lit arena which is around 300 meters from the Lodge, we were cautioned to mind our foot as we walked beside the river bank we didn't want step onto a capybara, snake or even a caiman by any chance. There were hushed tales around an ocelot family, which was a resident of this area. But our guide also slipped it in, “Lady luck smiles on those whom she favors. Chances are that 5 out of 10 nights, the ocelot makes its way to the bank.” Our eyes searched – encompassing the land. Every crack of the twig had us turning our lights to search for the beyond. The air stilled. Almost like she didn’t want anything to disturb us from our search. And, for today, we caught a glimpse of two red eyes ahead. We hurried up to the spot and shone our lights into the woods. “Ocelot” was whispered.
The sighting was woven to my exacting standards. The ocelot stood there – beckoning us to enter its world and capture it. Bold and in its playground, it knew that it was the leader who hummed the tune for us to follow. Over the frames, I captured, I waited for one where it would give me an essence of its being – a phantom-like lovely shy & nocturnal cat that it was. I wanted a frame which would weave a visual poetry around simplicity and sensuality in a single breath. Bold and graceful, the frame captured one that lingered on for me. Because this is how I wanted my story to begin with the Ocelot. A dance from land to the tree, a pose to an odd curve ball – the light played truant. The shadows ruled roost. I tried…
About the Ocelot:
Ocelots have a raspy tongue, which can successfully remove every piece of meat from a bone. They are known to swim efficiently, these solitary cats live single in territories that are scent-marked by urine spraying and forming dung piles, Almost thrice the size of an average house cat, the ocelot is a sleek animal with a gorgeous dappled coat.