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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative


Kaieteur, Rainforest, Savannah, and Sun Parakeet and Red Siskin Specialties

2023 Narrative

In Brief

Guyana is one of those special countries that is never monotonous, never disappointing. With a small population and relatively undisturbed habitat, it feels like we’re really birding in the wilderness, and nature can go about its business around us. This tour certainly lived up to expectations, with great surprises alongside the “regular” cast of characters. We began on the coast with spectacular Hoatzin and specialties like Blood-colored Woodpecker and Rufous Crab Hawk, continued into the heart of the Iwokrama forest with Guianan Cock-of-the-rock, Capuchinbird, Pompadour Cotinga, and endless ant-things, and finished in the savannah where our eyes nearly melted from Sun Parakeets and Red Siskins. Back to Georgetown on the final day, with another boat trip that produced a country-first Audouin’s Gull! Wow…Guyana certainly deserves to be at the top of every birder’s must-visit list!

In Summary

Our tour started with an early wake-up and pre-dawn drive east of Georgetown, to the Mahaica River. Here, we were greeted by Long-winged Harriers flying over and Yellow Orioles in the trees, before enjoying a pleasant boat ride with plentiful Hoatzins along with Green-tailed Jacamar, deafeningly-close (but nearly invisible) Silvered Antbirds, and a selection of other common species. The drive back to Georgetown was enlivened by a stop in the mangroves, where Rufous Crab-Hawk and Scarlet Ibis performed brilliantly.

The afternoon at the Georgetown Botanical Gardens was very pleasant and we racked up a nice selection of birds. During our stroll we enjoyed many Gray Kingbirds, a trio of Amazona parrots side-by-side in the canopy (Festive, Yellow-crowned, and Orange-winged Parrots), a super cooperative Cinnamon Attila, Wing-barred Seedeaters, White-bellied Piculet, and a great eye-level Blood-colored Woodpecker. We ended the evening with the regular pair of Great Horned Owls before heading back to the Cara Lodge for dinner.

Our journey continued inland the next day with a chartered flight to Kaieteur, noted as the largest single-drop waterfall in the world *by volume* and spectacularly tall as well, at 741 feet. It’s incredibly impressive, and birding here is a secondary endeavor to the amazing scenery, but we still found time to enjoy a few birds…despite the heat, Rufous-crowned Elaenia performed on cue, and we picked out a couple White-tipped Swifts zipping around the falls. One of my favorites here is the adorable Golden Rocket Frog, hiding in the bromeliads at the edge of the plateau—a stunning little frog, endemic just to the Kaieteur area (a range of less than twenty square kilometers!) On the walk back to the airstrip, we enjoyed amazing views of the otherworldly Guianan Cock-of-the-rock (or Spaghetti-scapulared Flameball?!) before flying on to Iwokrama. 

Our time at the comfortable Iwokrama River Lodge was an excellent introduction to forest birding, with a dizzying array of ant-things on the Turtle Mountain Trail and plenty of more conspicuous birds around the lodge clearing and river. A clear highlight was a stunning Spotted Antpitta, which eventually cooperated for fifteen-minute scope views (!!!) and plenty of photos. The resident Capuchinbirds are always incredible; their bizarre chainsaw-like vocalizations were particularly memorable. Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns and a Capped Heron were seen along the river, Painted Parakeets and Orange-winged Parrots plus Channel-billed and White-throated Toucans posed at the edge of the clearing, and we picked through understory flocks with antshrikes (Fasciated, Dusky-throated, and Cinereous), antwrens (Brown-bellied, White-flanked, and Gray), and woodcreepers (Wedge-billed, Chestnut-rumped, and Buff-throated). And I can’t forget the most spectacular views of Ferruginous-backed Antbird strutting around just a few meters away!

On to Atta for three nights, perhaps my favorite spot on the entire tour. The lodge is situated in a small clearing within the forest, and birding the nearby trails and roadside is excellent. Highlights are too numerous to list: the male Rose-breasted Chat followed by a begging youngster was much appreciated; the antswarm with White-plumed and Rufous-throated Antbirds (plus Amazonian Barred Woodcreeper and Rufous-bellied Antwren) wasn’t too shabby either. And what about the unexpected Red-billed Pied-Tanager?! And a male Purple-breasted Cotinga perched along the road! And the Crimson Topaz! Plus Guianan and Pied Puffbirds, Great and Paradise Jacamars, Cream-colored and Waved Woodpeckers, White-winged and Long-tailed Potoo, Black-banded Owl…the list goes on and on. It was an action-packed few days, and we really rounded out our experience with so many great forest birds.

All too soon, it was time to bid farewell to Atta and its excellent birds, food, and staff, and head on towards Surama. Along the way, we stopped at a short trail to a Guianan Cock-of-the-rock lek, which held a few lazy males that eventually gave us a few peeks…but even a peek at this crazy species is better than nothing! And even more exciting was a pair of Wing-banded Antbirds along the trail…a great listen and some quick views added some adrenaline to our day.

Surama was our first taste of savannah birding, with a whole different suite of species to look for. We took a long walk on our first afternoon, with Fork-tailed Palm-Swifts overhead, White-tailed and Green-tailed Goldenthroats feeding in the flowering meadows, and Black-necked Aracaris bopping through the short trees. We ended up at a patch of seasonally flooded forest, where a Great Potoo on its day roost was enjoyed by all. The next morning, a long walk to the Burro-Burro River and back was quite productive in the forest and savannah, with excellent great views of Ferruginous-backed Antbird, White-crowned and Golden-headed Manakins, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, and Grassland Sparrow. The highlight of the day for some was a tantalizing and frustrating experience with Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo. We bushwhacked into the forest and slowly approached a singing individual, but it refused to reveal itself. It was a fun little adventure and just hearing the song coming from so close in the thickets was exhilarating!

We then continued deeper into the Rupununi savannah, heading to our base at Manari Ranch for the next few nights. Some local intel paid off bigtime along the way; a quick stop at a pond near Surama village produced a Zigzag Heron! A scarce and difficult-to-see Amazonian species, and even more difficult to see during the daytime…so our prolonged scope views were extra special.

Upon arrival at Manari, we took advantage of our first afternoon and headed straight for the banks of the Ireng River, where two extremely range-restricted species are found in the dense thickets: Hoary-throated Spinetail and Rio Branco Antbird. Some patience was necessary, but eventually both surrendered for excellent views…easier than ever! Phew. We made a quick stop on the way back for Least Nighthawks (and another quick stop when the lead vehicle got stuck in some mud…), eventually making it back to Manari for a good night of sleep before our next early morning…

The last few days of our tour were quite a whirlwind, with lots of driving to see a few key birds. We left early from Manari Ranch and headed north to the village of Karasabai, which is famous for its population of Sun Parakeet. This stunning bird has a global population of only a couple thousand, and this is one of the last accessible strongholds. Thankfully, with the help of our awesome local team (Jeremy and Asaf), it didn’t take too long before we were soaking in a flock of these gorgeous birds. Views in the scope were simply amazing, feeding and perched in the open atop various flowering trees. I don’t even like parrots very much, but Sun Parakeet is truly an exceptional bird…the colors are so bright, you almost need sunglasses! The rest of the day was spent picking up a few more savannah birds until we eventually ended up in Brazil for a lakeside lunch…complete with many Capybara among the Muscovy Ducks and Wattled Jacanas.

The next morning also started super early, and we were off on the bumpy dirt tracks to the village of Sand Creek for another very special bird…Red Siskin! Upon arrival, we enjoyed a nice picnic breakfast and scanned the hillsides for siskins. It took some patience, and eventually a flock came into the top of a bare tree…woohoo! We excitedly rushed over and enjoyed prolonged views of male and female siskins, plus a supporting cast of Burnished-buff Tanager, Southern White-fringed Antwren, Lesser Elaenia, Finsch’s Euphonia, and Hepatic Tanager. Awesome!

Our drive back included a brief stop in the town of Sand Creek, where we met with a few ranking villagers, town sheriff and deputy, who along with the villagers are working on conservation efforts for the Red Siskin.  They were excited and heartily welcomed our group!

We then had the rest of the day to check out the sprawling savannah and scrub, where highlights included Rufous-winged Antwren, White-bellied Antbird, Amazonian Scrub-Flycatcher, White-naped Xenopsaris, and even a Sharp-tailed Ibis at a little pond. We arrived at Wichabai Ranch for lunch and some downtime: perhaps the best meal of the trip, with incredible hosts Erin and Justin. A little bonus this time was an adorable rescued Capybara named Hydra; she strutted right up to us and appreciated lots of belly scratches! We topped off the day with amazing views of Bearded Tachuri before heading back towards Lethem. It was an exhausting day but very productive!

All too soon, we were ready to fly back to Georgetown and the Cara Lodge…but our fun wasn’t over yet. First, with just an hour of casual birding time before leaving Manari Ranch, Lisa (the ranch owner) informed us that one of the staff members had found a Giant Anteater! We raced down the road and quickly spotted this incredible beast trotting towards us. Wow. We had been hoping to see one for the last several days, and to see this in the nick of time was lucky indeed.

Because our flight to Georgetown was much earlier than normal, we arranged a boat trip on the Demerara River in the afternoon. Everything seemed as-expected at first, with nice birds like Rufous Crab-Hawk and Scarlet Ibis at the edge of the mangroves. Then all hell broke loose when Steve spotted a funny looking gull…which vanished for a few minutes…eventually reappearing atop a wooden post in the river. As the boat maneuvered into better light, we could see the red bill, grayish-olive legs…and it clicked that we were looking at an adult Audouin’s Gull! Wow…a first for Guyana, and perhaps the same individual that was first seen in Trinidad a few years ago?!

As if that weren’t enough, we then headed over to a massive waterbird roost, and enjoyed thousands of incoming waders (Cattle and Snowy Egrets, Little Blue and Tricolored Heron, Scarlet Ibis) as the sun set and torrential rains came in. What a spectacular way to end the tour! Guyana never fails to disappoint with its beautiful habitat, special birds, excellent local guides and lodge staff, and tasty food. Thank you all for such a fun and memorable tour, full of incredible birds and mammals. I look forward to traveling with all of you again!


Luke Seitz

Updated: January 2024