Octavio Salles Photography

Photo Tours in Brazil

New blog and website!

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 2 de November de 2010

I have changed the address of this website and blog! Please click on the link below to be taken to the new blog.

www.octaviosalles.com.br/blog_english

I won’t be posting anything here anymore, so please update your bookmarks! RSS and e-mail subscription will have to be renewed at the new blog address too. Hope you like it and see you there!

 

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A common visit by an uncommon visitor

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 22 de October de 2010

Every year is the same. With the summer approaching and its calm, warm nights, I start to hear a strange and somewhat gosthly whistled song echoying through the calm neighbourhood I live in. For me, this is one of the “songs of summer”, much like warblers are to many north-americans. The song comes from one of the weirdest birds of all, the Potoo.

http://www.xeno-canto.org/embed.php?XC=16810&simple=1
Potoo song recorded by Richard C. Hoyer in Ceará State, Brazil.

During the day this bird remains motionless perched at a branch, trying to resemble a part of the branch itself, or a broken branch. Sometimes they do it so well that it’s hard to actually see the bird, even though you might be looking straight at it! They are active only at night, when they fly from fixed perches to capture large moths, aided by their huge mouths and large eyes, which shows they have excellent eyesight.

This week I found another daytime perch of a Potoo, just a hundred meters from home. I shot some pics, but the background is quite busy, so no great pics here. The bird was there for the last 3 days, he might still be there, I’m gonna check it out later.

A Common Potoo doing that hello there... look.

The eyelids of these birds are quite interesting. During the day they keep their eyes shut most of the time to help with their camouflage against predators. However, even with their eyes shut, they are still seeying everything that is happening around them. Their eyelids have two small peek-through openings. You can see it clearly on the photo below:

Common Potoo and it's peek-through eyelids.

There are 5 known species of potoos in Brazil, however, I and several ornithologists think there might be more just waiting to be discovered in the dense rainforests. Recently in the Pantanal I photographed the Great Potoo, a really huge bird.

A Great Potoo in its daytime perch.

To photograph potoos at night you must use an off camera flash. Someone holding the flash for you from a different angle than the lens, otherwise the light will reflect on the potoo’s eyes directly into the sensor, making it just a bright blown-up area.

Common Potoo photographed at night at Fazenda Barranco Alto in the Pantanal with a local guide holding the flash to the right.

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Tropical colors!

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 19 de October de 2010

When I guide birdwatchers in the Atlantic Rainforest often the most wanted birds are the LBB’s, or the little brown birds. Endemics like the Salvadori’s Antwren, Serra do Mar Tapaculo, Slaty Bristlefront, Brown-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant, etc. However when I guide photographers things are radically different. They all focus on the most attractive species, the colorful ones – not necessarily the most rare ones. Fortunately some of these species often visit fruit feeders at lodges and house yards in the forest, and so they become easier targets for our lenses.

The gorgeous male Violaceous Euphonia below was photographed during a recent tour to Ubatuba, in the Atlantic Rainforest. I love how their back plumage graduates from violet to a deep blue with the right light. And the contrast with the rich yellow from underneath is amazing. When shooting rainforest birds I also find it very important to pick the right background color – green in this case.

Violaceous Euphonia

This was shot with a Nikon D700, Nikkor 600mm f/4 AF-S lens on a banana feeder setup.

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Jaguar Photo Tour announcement

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 3 de October de 2010

Jaguars of Brazil Photo Tour
September 25 to October 04, 2011
Limited to 10 participants

Join me on this very special photo tour to photograph one of the most elusive big cats in the world, the jaguar. Our destination will be the incredibly wildlife-rich Northern Pantanal, at the Meeting of the Waters State Park, a place growing in popularity today as, hands down, the most dependable place on Earth to see a wild jaguar. As a matter of fact we will very probably encounter several of these almost mythical cats.

Most jaguars are found at rivers shores, either resting or hunting. During a recent scouting trip our only one boat on this trip found 7 jaguars in only 3 1/2 days, photographing 5 of them in different situations/scenery. The most time we spent on a cat was around 3 hours (!!) and we really only left because it was getting dark. Average time with a cat varies a lot, but I’d say an average of 30 minutes to an hour. So what that means? Bring lots of memory cards! LOL

The greatest difference from my photo tour to a few others you will find out there to the same region is, basically, the structure I use. I am a professional photographer and I know the needs of a photographer, but I am also a brazilian, with years of experience in the Pantanal and a naturalist guide. I don’t need a second local guide to tell me what I’m looking at. I know all the birds and the mammals. I am familiar with the environment and I know that there are options. Lets make it clear: all other photo tours are organized by outsiders, people who, despite having good intentions, have been here maybe a few times at best and they don’t know the language nor the options.

But I know there are better options than what they use, is just a matter of planning and knowing where to look. My accomodations are infinitely better – clean spacious rooms with air conditioning, hot private shower, free internet access, great food, cozy living rooms and dining area and even a pool for that midday heat relief. And, most importantly, my boats are years ahead of what they use. I mean, these are stable, 19′ center console boats with good inside space to set the tripods and shoot freely from both sides of the boat without the constant fear of over $15,000 worth of gear falling overboard. Also, we are having a max of 2 photographers per boat (plus a jaguar-experienced boat captain), not 3.

Like the competition, our boats also have radios to communicate of a jaguar sigthing to other boats of the group, thus increasing the odds of everyone, but unlike the competition our boats are equipped with very fast 115hp engines, which means all the difference between getting to the action quickly or spending precious time riding a small unstable boat just to arrive and see that the cat is gone.

But back to our subjects, there are also many other great things to photograph, like family groups of giant otters, the smaller neotropical otter, the huge Jabiru Stork, all 5 South American kingfishers, capybaras, tapir, many hawks, etc. During the first couple of days of the tour we are also staying at a lodge along the famous Transpantaneira road where we will be able to photograph Hyacinth Macaws, toucans, araçaris, parrots and will be on the lookout for a giant anteater. The lodge also has an observation tower right near some trees where tame howler monkeys hang out.

Trip cost: US$ 6,899 per person
Included: Domestic flights, accomodation on dbl occupancy, all meals, ground transport, boat and captain, unlimited boat fuel, park fees, internet access, photo instruction, fully hosted trip.
Not included: International flights, overweight luggage fees, most drinks, phone calls, laundry, tips, trip insurance.

Contact me through my website if you are interested in this trip.

Photo: Milton Stamado

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Jaguars!

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 28 de September de 2010

I first started my last Pantanal photo tour with a scouting trip in late August to Northern Pantanal, a place where Jaguar sightings are regular. For sure nowhere else on Earth you stand a better chance of seeying one. We (only one boat) actually saw 7 in 3 1/2 days! Pretty amazing huh? Seeying a Jaguar in the wild is a great thrill, I vividly remember when our boat captain pointed to one sitting on the bank of the Piquiri River, just 40 minutes from our start on the first morning. There he was, a big male Jaguar just sitting there, looking at us. My favorite photo of the session was the one below, with the big cat mad at us. Although it seems we were really close, we were actually a good distance away. This was shot with a 600mm from the boat, there’s a slight crop to it too.

The Jaguar is the third largest cat in the world (the largest in the Western Hemisphere). In the Pantanal they feed mainly on capybara, peccaries and caiman (a croc), but livestock from local ranchs also form an important part of their diet. Different from other big cats, which usually kill by suffocating, the jaguar uses its immensely powerful bite to actually instantly crush the skull and brains of their victims! It’s brutal.

It's pretty amazing how their color pattern mixes well with the environment. Its tricky to spot a jaguar from a distance, even if it's out in the open like this one.

I am now developing a photo tour specifically to photograph Jaguars next year. It will be a great itinerary, better than what you find out there.. I guarantee. Stay tuned!

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Back from the Pantanal!

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 23 de September de 2010

Hi guys, I am now back from my 2nd. tour this year to the Pantanal. It was exceptionally dry due to the La Ninã effect in the Pacific Ocean, so for that reason the Rio Negro was very low and some animals that are usually very abundant, like hawks, kingfishers and water birds, were less frequent than usual. But regardless of that we did get some very good shots. In Bonito we made some fantastic shots of the flying Red-and-green Macaws, once again proving that time spent there means several amazing shots.

I am just starting to go through my photos, but so far I really liked this… the motion blur adds life and speed to the image… and believe me, these macaws fly real fast! Where else on Earth do you have the realistic chance of photograhing scenes like this during a short stay? Next years trip is already online.

D700, Nikkor 600mm f/4, 1/80 @ f/10 - ISO 200

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Nocturnal predators

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 24 de August de 2010

If there’s one family of birds that I tend to clearly show more interest than in others (and believe me, that’s a big thing) are the owls. I love them. They all have a lot of character and they show it with facial expressions that we humans can relate to. They silently hunt in the darkness of night, which gives them a sort of mysterious aura.

In many parts of Brazil, and I’d guess in other countries too, owls are associated by more simple people of the interior to bad omen. No wonder you see owls in horror movies, cemetery scenes, etc. They carry that omen all over, even on some of their scientific names, like the Asio stygius, where stygius comes from Styx or River of Styx, a Greek mithological river of the underworld, hence hellish, infernal… “Oaths sworn by it were supremely binding and even the gods feared to break them“. The truth is that owls are only a bad omen to their prey! And humans certainly are NOT in their diet! All owls are carnivorous, feeding on a variety of live prey, from insects taken by the smaller species to fish, crustaceans, rodents and even big birds.

Owls are probably some of the most specialized predators on Earth. Here’s their main virtues:
1) Eyesight – all owls have excellent nocturnal eyesight. Because of the position of the eyes (forward facing), they have great binocular vision, meaning that they can tell distances very accurately. We have binocular vision too, not as precise as an owl, but we do. Do a test, close one eye with a hand and see how you instantly lose the ability to precisely tell the difference between close and far objects. Without it the world essentially becomes 2D, and that’s how non-predator animals see the world.

2) Hearing – owls have an amazing hearing. Experiments with the Barn Owl showed that they can perfectly hear, and locate, the slightest sound produced by a mouse softly walking on a grass field a hundred yards away.

3) Silent flight – special soft feather edging gives all owls an extremelly silent flight. Even the largest of owls makes no sound at all when flapping their broad wings. This helps them approach and attack their wary prey without being noticed.

4) Power – extremelly sharp nails and powerful claws can kill a prey instantly. Sharp beaks help in cutting the flesh.

I spent last weekend guiding a small group of birdwatchers at a private reserve I’m familiar with in the Atlantic Rainforest. On saturday it was a perfect night for owls: clear skies, no wind and a big moon. So as soon as it got dark I started hearing a couple Black-capped Screech-Owls singing. Their song is a level, slow trill up to 18 seconds long. While not particularly rare, this endemic to the Atlantic Rainforest is a difficult bird to photograph, because they always stay inside dense forest. This particular owl was singing just a few meters from me but I wasn’t being able to locate it. Finally after some time I found it, but just for a few seconds. I snapped the (bad) pic below and it flew away not to return again. It just lost interest in my playback.

Black-capped Screech-Owl, dark eyed variation

This night luck wasn’t exactly on my side, but a couple years ago, at the same reserve, I located and photographed an extremely rare species while guiding a couple north-american clients, the Buff-fronted Owl. Very few is known about this small owl and after this photo I never found or heard it again. Who knows, I might never find it again in my lifetime!

Buff-fronted Owl

But I keep on searchiing. My goal is to photograph all brazilian owl species (12 to go, a lot of work!) and then move on to other south american countries.

Posted in Bird photography, Trip reports | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Seed dispersers

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 19 de August de 2010

Seed dispersion in natural habitats has always been a topic of interest to me. Some of the relationships between fauna and plants is really interesting. For example take the huge Brazil Nut tree, native to the Amazon. The only animal capable of opening up its incredibly hard shells to reach the seeds inside is the small Agouti. Without them, the seeds would never reach the outside world and thus would never germinate. But the story starts with one specific kind of orchid that thrive only in healthy primary rainforests. This orchid produces a scent that a certain species of bee needs to use in order to attract females for reproduction. This bee is the only one that will visit the Brazil Nut flowers and thus pollinize it. So without the orchid there would be no bees, without the bees the tree would never accomplish reproduction and would never produce fruits and seeds. This is the reason why Brazil Nut trees planted in cities never fruit. They are too far from primary forest where there are bees and orchids.

But back to the small Agouti, once the hard shells fall explosively to the ground (you don’t want to stand below a fruiting Brazil Nut tree!), these rodents move in and start munching on the hard, inch thick shells. They reach the large seeds and eat a few but also bury some for later. Thankfully Agoutis don’t seem to have a good memory, because many seeds are buried and forgotten, germinating to maybe one day become the king of the rainforest. Agoutis do the same thing to disperse the seeds of the Acuri palm (the one it is feeding at the photo below). The Acuri is an extremelly important food item to macaws, specially the Hyacinth Macaw.

Azara's Agouti feeding on an Acuri palm fruit

Another extremelly important seed disperser, this time of smaller seeds, are the toucans and araçaris, such as this striking Chestnut-eared Araçari, a relatively common bird in the Pantanal and adjacent areas. Some of these seeds, such as those from the Açai palm (yes, the energetic drink) can only germinate after the pulp is digested by these birds and later the clean seed is regurgitated somewhere else far from the mother tree. Both photos here were made at the extensive garden and forest trails of the hotel we use in Bonito, during the first part of our Pantanal Tour.

Chestnut-eared Araçari

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Hyacinth Macaws

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 11 de August de 2010

The big Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) is, in my opinion, one of the most (if not THE most) beautiful parrots in the world. Seeying them flying in the wild for the first time is an experience you won’t forget. I remember when I saw my first ones, back in 1990 when I was only 10 years old, it was at the Paraguay River during a fishing trip.

Their native home range goes more or less from the Pantanal or nearby Bolivia all the way to southern Amazonia, passing through central Brazil. However, after many years of intensive bird collecting for the pet trade (a single bird can cost over US$ 20,000!), they have been almost extinct from central Brazil, with separate population in the NE (near Amazonia) and, especially, in the Pantanal. Pet trade collecting does not happen anymore in the Pantanal and so the bird is making a great comeback. In the Pantanal they are already common birds, frequent around the fazendas of the region. They are still considered an endangered species though. Estimates from 2003 say that are at least 5,000 birds in the Pantanal and 2,000 birds elsewhere. There may be more Hyacinth Macaws in captivity throughout the world.

Like other parrots, they often mate for life. Their nests are made in big natural tree holes, especially of the Manduvi tree, where 90% of their nests are found. The macaws may excavate the hole to make it bigger. The same hole may be used in another time by other species, like large owls, Muscovy Duck, hawks, toucans, etc.

They feed almost exclusively of very hard seeds, of the natives Acuri and Bocaiúva palms. These seeds (or small coconuts) are so hard that you will have a hard time trying to brake one with a hammer, but these guys can crack them very easily only using their powerful beaks.

I shot the short video below during our last photo tour to the Pantanal, at Fazenda Barranco Alto, a truly special place. The macaw’s nest is in a Manduvi tree. Also notice the huge Jabiru nest at the same tree!

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Pantanal Photo Tour – August 2011

Posted by campossallesfotografia on 4 de August de 2010

I am now officially announcing our next Pantanal photo tour for next year. This will be again at famous Fazenda Barranco Alto, a huge (and I mean it… 27,000 hectars!!) private property and private reserve located at the heart of Southern Pantanal, in one of the best areas of the country for varied wildlife, including Giant Anteater, Tapir, Marsh Deer, Giant River Otter and the occasional Jaguar or Puma. Birds abound too, with many nesting Hyacinth Macaws (largest parrot in the world!), Jabiru, Raptors, Kingfishers, Owls, you name it…

All of the guests who I have brought here fell immediately at home, as the resident staff is super friendly and you feel at home the minute you step out of the plane.

The group is for a maximum of only 8 photographers, which guarantees that we have the whole small lodge to ourselves and so all the boats and safari open vehicles 100% dedicated to us and our photography. To access the lodge’s private airstrip we are getting 2 chartered airplanes, which will leave us good space for extra baggage… you know what I mean, those “light” 500 and 600mm.

This time there will also be 2 leaders, to split us in groups and so better distribute activities. I will be one of course and the other will be my good friend and great photographer André Goldstein. He’s lived in the US for over 10 years and so speaks perfect english too.

Just like last year, we will finish our trip at a huge natural crater south of the Pantanal where gorgeous Red-and-green Macaws nest and fly around, providing amazing photo opportunities like the one below. August will be the peak of activity there, so we can expect a lot of birds flying (like every couple minutes or so).

To see more details please visit this link: http://www.octaviosalles.com.br/pantanal2011.html

Red-and-green Macaws playing in mid-air

Giant Anteater

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