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News in brief: Monterey Bay, Scotland, Brazil’s Pantanal & the Azores

Humpback Whales, Monterey Bay, Peter Dunn

Humpback Whales, Monterey Bay by Peter Dunn

In Brazil's Pantanal …
The Pantanal has been described as an ‘aquatic Serengeti’, and instead of the African ’Big Five’, the Pantanal boasts the Brazilian ‘Big Six’: Jaguar, Giant Anteater, Giant River Otter, Capybara, caiman and tapir … not to mention a host of other wildlife including monkeys, foxes, agouti, coati and deer. Our mid-August 'Just Jaguars' tour recorded all of the above, and our group also watched an unfortunate Anaconda fighting for its life before succumbing to a Jaguar! It’s the sheer abundance of wildlife in Brazil’s premier wildlife-watching site that is staggering: masses of egrets, herons and storks plus bitterns, jacanas and Anhingas were seen in the wetland areas, while along the river’s edge our group saw families of Capybara and numerous caiman lazing on sandbanks. Many sightings of 5 individual Jaguars, plus Crab-eating foxes, Marsh Deer, Red and Brown Brocket Deer and various bats were among the mammalian highlights, while colourful Hyacinth Macaws, Toco Toucans and Chestnut-eared Aricaris, noisy Chacalacas, woodpeckers, hawks, vultures and haughty-looking Greater Rheas impressed the keen birdwatchers in the group.

In Monterey Bay ...
During late August, the BBC broadcast ‘Big Blue’ live - a fantastic 3-part show focusing exclusively on Monterey Bay, California. These three live programmes perfectly illustrated the reasons why Naturetrek has been coming to Monterey Bay for the last 10 years - the superb gathering of marine wildlife, including cetaceans, California Sea Lions and Sea Otters, that congregates each year off the western California coast. Participants on our ‘Monterey Bay’ tour each year have enjoyed this spectacular gathering of marine-life first hand, and this year was no exception. During our two tours this summer, in late August and early September (which ran at the same time as the BBC’s live broadcasts), the bay was alive with lunge-feeding Humpback Whales, fast-moving Long-beaked Common Dolphins and a party of marauding Orca. Sooty Shearwaters numbered in their thousands some days and this year there were more Pink-footed Shearwaters than usual - due to the truly vast shoals of anchovies that had entered the bay with the warm currents. The highlight on the water was undoubtedly the huge Blue Whale (which appeared live on the BBC on Sunday 30th August’s programme); the Naturetrek group’s boat was actually situated directly below the BBC’s helicopter - so we had a front seat view! In fact, both of our groups managed to see the whale! In addition to enjoying the wildlife out on the water, our groups also travel along the scenic ‘Big Sur’ route, where Northern Elephant Seals haul out on the beach at San Simeon. Both our groups also saw California Condor, as well as Sea Otters at Moss Landing and the distribution-restricted Yellow-billed Magpies in Carmel. All in all - another excellent season in Monterey Bay.

In the Azores ...
Highlights on our August 'Whales & Dolphins of the Azores' included over a dozen Sperm Whales, 2 Fin Whales, 7 rare Northern Bottlenose Whales and 4 Sowerby's Beaked Whales. The supporting cast included four species of dolphin swimming right alongside the boat - Bottlenose, Common, Atlantic Spotted and Risso's. Our group also enjoyed close views of 12+ Loggerhead Turtles, as well as Cory's and Great Shearwaters, and Common Terns. And, during a visit to some pools and marshy habitat in the hills they enjoyed seeing endemic Azorean Grayling butterflies and (North American) Citrine Forktail damselflies.

In Scotland ...
Both our ‘Scotland’s Mammals & Highlights of the Highlands’ tours in the Ardnamurchan Peninsula this August were hugely successful, with regular Otter sightings throughout both weeks. Two Otters were regularly seen feeding in Glenborrodale Bay, a 5-minute walk from our groups’ accommodation. Equally memorable were close views of Pine Martens - feeding right outside the sitting room window! The boat trips were enjoyed by all. Our first group travelled to the north coast of Mull and explored the scenic Loch Teacuis. The second boat trip ventured to the Isle of Muck; during an extraordinary day, our group had close views of a Basking Shark, a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins and two Minke Whales! The avian stars of this summer were undoubtedly the White-tailed Eagles, which put in several appearances, including 2 sub-adults displaying together and repeatedly talon-grappling, right over our group’s heads! Other birds of note included Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Black-throated Diver and both Short-eared and Barn Owls.