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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Guyana

2019 Narrative

IN BRIEF: Our slightly tweaked itinerary this year worked well – starting on the coast as usual with Blood-colored Woodpecker and Rufous Crab-Hawk, continuing inland for a load of cotingas (including the eye-burning Guianan Cock-of-the-rock, bizarre Capuchinbird, and rare Crimson Fruitcrow) and plenty not-so-eye-burning antbirds and antshrikes and antwrens, ending in the deep savannah for the tricky Crested Doradito and Bearded Tachuri among others (like Red Siskins!).And who could forget the young Harpy Eagle staring us down from its nest tree? Or the pair of Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoos running around us, eventually perching up on a clear branch for two minutes? Or, the clear winner of the bird-of-the-trip contest, the brain-melting Sun Parakeets in the scope for nearly an hour? Every time I visit Guyana, I’m repeatedly reminded why I love this country so much – and baffled why more people don’t visit it. Stunning habitat, amazing birds, and exceptional people all make for a very memorable tour.

IN DETAIL: After a successful single-day extension on the front end (with a peaceful boat ride on the Mahaica River to enjoy Hoatzins, among plenty of other birds including Long-winged Harrier and numerous Little Cuckoos), the main tour officially started on the 24th. We had an early departure from Georgetown and headed east to the Abary River, a well-known site that harbors several species that we wouldn’t see elsewhere on the tour. Unfortunately, a great deal of deforestation continues to happen here, but nonetheless we scored great views of Rufous Crab-Hawk, Blood-colored Woodpecker, and some surprisingly sneaky White-bellied Piculets along with more common species such as Pale-tipped Inezia. The afternoon was spent at the typically birdy Georgetown Botanical Gardens, where the local West Indian Manatees amused us with their anticsbefore we meandered down the road and scored scope views of plenty of parrots (including the Festive Parrots of dubious origin, plus Red-shouldered Macaw, a single Red-fan Parrot, and boatloads of Orange-winged Parrots).

Our charter flight to the interior first stopped at the spectacular Kaieteur Falls, one of the highest single-drop waterfalls in the world. The scenery was an obvious highlight here, but it was hard to ignore the Guianan Cock-of-the-rock lek, which held at least six individuals today. Not far behind in the highlight reel were several stunning Golden Rocket Frogs, endemic to this plateau. Rufous-crowned Elaenia showed well but failed to elicit as many gasps as I had hoped.

Our next several days were spent in the Iwokrama forest, with two nights at Iwokrama River Lodge followed by two nights at Atta Lodge. We had great fun exploring the forest by trail and boat, cleaning up most of our coveted targets along the way. The bizarre Capuchinbird performed well (eventually) on our first afternoon at Iwokrama, followed by views of Spotted Antpitta for some in the evening gloom. Our hike up Turtle Mountain gave us another taste of difficult forest birding, with glimpses of various ant-things (Amazonian Antshrike, Common Scale-backed Antbird, Black-chinned Antbird, Dusky-throated Antshrike) teaching us how to raise binoculars quickly! A perched Yellow-billed Jacamar and roosting Long-tailed Potoo were much more confiding.

One of the highlights of the tour came on our drive from Iwokrama to Atta, when, after enjoying a raucous party of Gray-winged Trumpeters in the road, we stopped at a seemingly random patch of forest. Our local guides, John and Kendrick, disappeared into the forest for a little while, but soon came out and informed us that the mega Rufous Potoo they found here last year was perched nicely on its day roost. Yay!! John had sent me a picture of this before the tour, and my fingers were crossed that it would stick around for us. Great success.

The local Crimson Fruitcrow at Atta continued its pattern of showing up at a very inopportune time – thankfully, six days into the tour, we were all friends enough so that various states of partially-clothed people were ignored in favor of this stunning and rare species. Other highlights during our time here included an active canopy flock with Ash-winged Antwren, Guianan Woodcreeper, Guianan Tyrannulet, Lemon-chested and Buff-cheeked Greenlets, and Golden-sided Euphonia, nest-building Cream-colored Woodpeckers, the absurdly cooperative Black Curassows plus surprise Marail Guans in the garden, and goodies along the entrance track and main road like Yellow-backed Tanager, Cayenne Jay, Pompadour Cotinga, Ferruginous-backed Antbird, and Rufous-bellied Antwren.

Our next destination was Surama Eco-Lodge, a community-run facility that straddles savannah and forest. On the way, we hiked the classic Harpy Eagle trail, but the adults were just starting to re-build the nest…perhaps visiting only once a day, or once a week? Who knows, but after a long wait, we decided to call it a miss and head onwards, enjoying an afternoon birding session near the lodge, with great views of Great Potoo, Striped Woodcreeper, and Finsch’s Euphonia among others.

Thankfully, we were able to arrange a visit to another Harpy nest the following morning, this one a two-hour boat ride down the Burro-Burro River. Many thanks to the Surama staff for making this happen! Once we arrived at the nest (which, thanks to a fallen tree blocking the river, took a bit of bushwhacking…), the one-year-old Harpy Eagle was perched conveniently in its nest tree. Wow! Extended scope views, photos, videos…an unforgettable experience with a truly stunning bird.

We departed Surama the next morning, but not without a brief jaunt into the forest after breakfast. It was our last chance to clean up some forest species, and in the back of my mind, I knew we hadn’t even sniffed a Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo yet, despite plenty of effort. Chances are always low with this secretive species, but I tried playing the tape once we made it a little ways into the forest, and bam….SNAP, SNAP, SNAP. Bill-snapping Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo! It took some work, some frustration, and plenty of very quick glimpses of blurry ghosts zipping around on the forest floor, but eventually this mega bird perched up clearly for at least two minutes. Wow!

A long boat transfer (improved greatly by delicious cookies and a beautiful Sunbittern) took us to the Caiman House, deep in the Rupununi savannah. Here, birdlife changed drastically from the forest we had been birding for the past week. Fork-tailed Flycatchers danced over the savannah, Double-striped Thick-knee showed well, and several species of elaenias were common. Nighthawks featured prominently, with excellent views of Band-tailed, Lesser, Least, and Nacunda. Our main targets fell quite easily during our full morning here, with a Giant Anteater closely followed by the hulking Pinnated Bittern, a super-cute Crested Doradito, and eventually a pair of Bearded Tachuri. Much less expected was a flushed Giant Snipe, which caused me to freak out a little bit – this was a bird I’d always wanted to see in Guyana! And it really is big!

The next two days featured a lot of driving and a lot of fantastic birds – some of the best of the whole trip. Departing Caiman House in the wee hours of the morning, we made our way northwest towards the village of Karasabai (with another Giant Anteater along the way). Here, we had an appointment with the local Sun Parakeets, a species that has declined drastically due to habitat loss and pressure from cage bird trade. It didn’t take much waiting before we had a group of eight birds perched in the scope. I don’t usually get too excited about parrots – call me jaded, but most of them are just green – but these Sun Parakeets are seriously mind-blowing. A completely unique combination of glowing yellow and red, plus emerald and cobalt on the wings…fantastic.

Mission accomplished, we turned south, stopping for lunch at the pleasant Manari Ranch (with their overly friendly Giant Otter) before bouncing further and further east over dirt roads towards Dadanawa Ranch. An evening vigil for Red Siskin was unsuccessful, but we enjoyed a filling dinner before catching some rest for the night. Up early again the next morning, we again loaded into the 4x4s for more bouncing along the tracks. Apparently it wasn’t hot and sunny enough for the Red Siskins to come in to drink from the water seep over a rock (a “stakeout location”), so after some waiting (and serious nerves starting to build…), our master guide Leroy found a pair feeding in the nearby woodland. We hightailed it over and after a tense half-hour, finally scored scope views of a pair of Red Siskins! Phew, big target in the bag…the Amazonian Scrub-Flycatcher nearby didn’t have quite the same effect.

As mid-day approached, it was time to turn back towards Lethem, with a delicious lunch and quick twitch of Sharp-tailed Ibis along the way. Our flight back to Georgetown was easy, and all too soon we were back at the Cara Lodge, enjoying a final dinner before heading our separate ways. It was a highly successful and fun tour – thanks for a great trip!

 

- Luke Seitz

 

Created: 20 February 2019