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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Guyana

2021 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, the first we’ve done in November, certainly lived up to expectations. Occasional rain and frequent clouds kept temperatures much more bearable than usual. We began with coastal specialties like Blood-colored Woodpecker and Rufous Crab Hawk, continued into the heart of the Iwokrama forest with Guianan Cock-of-the-rock, Pompadour Cotinga, and endless ant-things, and finished in the savannah where our eyes nearly melted from Sun Parakeets and Red Siskins. Guyana certainly deserves to be at the top of every birders must-visit list!

IN DETAIL: Our tour started with an early start and pre-dawn drive east of Georgetown, to the mangroves and scrub along the Abary River. Here, we enjoyed a pleasant first morning of birding, with our main targets cooperating brilliantly: Rufous Crab-Hawk perched in the scope while we ate breakfast, White-bellied Piculet flitted around on open branches, and Blood-colored Woodpecker shot in and showed off on a snag. We even watched an American Pygmy-Kingfisher, normally rather shy and quick, sitting still above a small pool of water for several minutes! The fairly open habitat makes for an easy introduction to many common species that we’d see various times throughout the tour, like Ruddy and Common Ground Dove, Orange-winged Parrot, Great Kiskadee, Savannah Hawk, and Yellow Oriole. Perhaps most unexpected was a wintering Prothonotary Warbler in the mangroves; scarce around here and the first one I’d seen in Guyana.

The afternoon at the Georgetown Botanical Gardens was especially pleasant as it’s not open to the public during covid-times, so we had a special reservation and wandered around on our own without throngs of loud picnickers and joggers. Very much appreciated was a family trio of Toco Toucans (harassing a Great Horned Owl!), along with an adorable pair of Pearl Kites, a Zone-tailed Hawk, good views of Festive Parrot in the scope, and Cinnamon Attila.

Our journey continued inland the next day with a chartered flight to Kaieteur, apparently 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 the too-bizarre-to-be-believed Guianan Cock-of-the-rock lek along with a few other specialties like Orange-breasted Falcon and Rufous-crowned Elaenia. 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!).

Our time at the comfortable Iwokrama River Lodge was hampered somewhat by heavy rains, but we did manage to get out onto the trails and roadside and see some wonderful birds. We started with displaying Capuchinbirds, which gave us some stress as they remained hidden in the canopy, but eventually surrendered for good scope views. A nearby patch of white sand forest produced a very showy pair of Bronzy Jacamar, a male Red-shouldered Tanager, and a surprising number of Scaled Pigeons, while a flowering tree just outside our cabins was good for several hummingbirds including Rufous-throated Sapphire and both White-tailed and Green-tailed Goldenthroats! Even the common birds here are stunning: Pied Lapwings frolic around on the lawn, Large-billed Terns and Black Skimmers zip over the river, Painted Parakeets and Orange-winged Parrots and Channel-billed Toucans pose at the edge of the clearing. Somewhat more difficult were our first understory flocks, which provided a healthy dose of challenge in the form of antshrikes (Fasciated, Mouse-colored, Dusky-throated, and Cinereous), antwrens (Brown-bellied, White-flanked, and Gray), and antbirds (Dusky and Gray).

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 that sat long enough for multiple scope views (!!!) is pretty hard to beat, but the antswarm with White-plumed and Rufous-throated Antbirds wasn’t too shabby either. And a male Blue-backed Tanager! What about the Guianan and Pied Puffbirds, Green-tailed, Great, and Paradise Jacamars, and the trio of Red-necked Woodpeckers right above us on the canopy walkway? Or the rare Long-tailed Woodcreeper that rocketed in, seemingly begging to get its photo taken?

I could go on and on…so I will! We ventured to a patch of white sand forest (via motorcycle!) and enjoyed male Golden-headed Manakins bouncing around just overhead, along with several species of cotingas (Spangled, Pompadour, and Purple-breasted) playing hide-and-seek in the canopy nearby. We did quite well on raptors, with White Hawk and Black Hawk-Eagle soaring high and several Double-toothed Kites displaying and calling over the lodge clearing, plus the star of the show, a Black-faced Hawk perched silently along a forest trail. The local White-winged Potoo sat still just long enough for everyone to see it in the scope. And how could I forget the friendly pair of Black Curassows that came right into the lodge restaurant, affectionately dubbed Curtis and Curt…ette?

All too soon, it was time to bid farewell to Atta and its excellent birds, food, and staff, and head on towards Surama. On the way, though, we made a stop at a small side trail to search for the enigmatic Rufous Potoo on its day roost. The short trail was promised to be “slightly squishy”…well, that was optimistic! With the caveat that “everything is optional”, we slogged on, eventually giving up trying to keep our feet dry and coming to terms with the fact that soggy socks are a worthwhile price to pay for the best potoo in the world! Thankfully, we reached the end of the trail and our incredible local guide, Dylan, quickly located the potoo. We enjoyed prolonged scope views and photographs of this bizarre beast as it swayed gently to mimic a dead leaf in the breeze. Mission accomplished!

Our time at Surama was wonderful, as well, with a mixture of savannah and forest keeping us plenty occupied. Two Great Potoos on their day roosts were enjoyed by all; slightly less memorable were studies of multiple elaenias (Plain-crested, Lesser, and Yellow-bellied). A long walk to the Burro-Burro River and back cleaned up several species of ant-things, including Amazonian and Northern Slaty-Antshrike and adorable Rufous-bellied Antwrens. Best of all, however, was a simply jaw-dropping experience with Ferruginous-backed Antbird, one of my favorites in Guyana. This stunning bird sat still long enough for everyone to enjoy scope views AND for me to take a digiscope video! That doesn’t happen every day!

Other goodies around Surama included a Crane Hawk being mobbed by White-throated Toucans, a flyover Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Cream-colored Woodpecker, Red-bellied, Red-and-green, and Scarlet Macaws, White-crowned Manakin, Sulphury Flycatcher, and Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch.

We then continued deeper into the Rupununi savannah; after a long boat ride we reached the Caiman House and the promise of plenty of new birds (and mammals!) Our full morning of birding here was simply epic, starting with a ridiculous experience with a Giant Anteater!!! Thanks to the efforts of Jasper, our local guide, this awesome animal trotted right past our group in full view. Wow! The highlights kept coming…repeated views of Crested Doradito, one of the major targets here, followed by day-roosting White-tailed Nightjars, a covey of Crested Bobwhites sitting on a rock, Least Nighthawk on the ground, Maguari Stork and Jabiru, a trio of Aplomado Falcons fighting in the sky above us, tons and tons of Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Red-breasted Meadowlarks flitting around the savannah…phew!

After lunch and a siesta, we took a pleasant canoe ride on a nearby oxbow lake, where after some effort most people were able to glimpse an Agami Heron in the shadows, along with a much more cooperative Boat-billed Heron and various other riverside birds like Amazon and Ringed Kingfisher, Striped Woodcreeper, and a Sunbittern at dusk.

The last few days of our tour were quite a whirlwind, with lots of driving to see a few key birds. From the Caiman House, we left early and headed northwest 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 noticed some flyover flocks. Eventually we were enjoying amazing scope views of these unbelievable birds, feeding and perched in the open atop various 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! Icing on the cake was an adult Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle perched nearby…and some White-bellied Piculets…and constant flyover Red-and-green Macaws…oh yeah, it wasn’t all about the Sun Parakeets!

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 had to abandon any idea of a relaxed breakfast, because Asaf heard some siskins calling from the nearby hillside! We excitedly rushed over and waited for a little while before a group of Red Siskins, at least six stunning males and a few females, perched up for prolonged scope views. A few even came closer to drink from a little creek! Awesome.

We then had the rest of the day to check out the sprawling savannah and scrub, where highlights included Rufous-winged Antwren, White-barred Piculet, Double-striped Thick-knee, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Amazonian Scrub-Flycatcher, and even a pair of Sharp-tailed Ibis and a White-naped Xenopsaris when we arrived at our lunch spot! Speaking of lunch, our meal at Wichabai Ranch was by far the best of the trip, with incredible hosts Erin and Justin. We topped off the day with a Bearded Tachuri and a pair of Point-tailed Palmcreepers on the way back to Lethem. It was an exhausting day but very productive!

Our final morning of birding took us to the back side of Manari Ranch, where two extremely range-restricted species are found in the dense thickets along the river: Hoary-throated Spinetail and Rio Branco Antbird. They made us work hard, but eventually both surrendered for excellent, if quick, views! Phew. A few other new species were seen here, such as Rufous-tailed Jacamar and Chestnut-vented Conebill, but before long it was time to race back through the savannah to catch our flight from Lethem to Georgetown.

All too soon, we were back at the Cara Lodge, enjoying a final dinner before departing. 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, mammals, and lots of laughs. I look forward to traveling with all of you again!

— Luke Seitz

Created: 07 December 2021