Archive for the ‘Green-backed Trogon’ Tag

Guyana part two: central Guyanan gallery forests and savannahs: 26th February to 1st March 2020   Leave a comment

In the last post I detailed our journey around the Rupununi savanna and the gallery forest near the Brazilian border. In this second instalment I’m posting photos taken in the central part of Guyana especially around the Karanambu ranch and Rock View Lodge.

 

 

In this, the second post on my visit to Guyana we concentrate on the gallery forest and savannahs on the central part of the country.

 

We arrived at Karanambu ranch late in the day, the next morning our first target was a wonderful cotinga known as Capuchinbird (as the bald head reminded it’s discoverers of Capuchin monks). Two or three birds were present at a lek. They would puff themselves up and emit a bovine-like lowing to attract the ladies, hence an alternative English name is ‘calf-bird’. See below for recording on xeno-canto. I have seen this rare species once before in eastern Venezuela but it was as big a treat the second time as it was the first.

Recordings of Capuchinbird from xeno-canto

 

The ranch sits on the Rupununi River and quite a lot of our time here was spent on the river looking for specialities, especially the Crestless Currasow which is seldom seen anywhere else than here these days.

 

… Lesser Kiskadee, just one of a number of lookalike kiskadee species, but one that favours riverine habitats …

 

… Cocoi Heron, the South American equivalent of Great Blue Heron …

 

… and the powerful Black Caiman.

 

There were a number of raptors along the river, the impressive Great Black Hawk …

 

… the beautiful and elegant Swallow-tailed Kite (one of which has recently turned up in the Azores) …

 

… and a wintering bird from North America, an Osprey with lunch.

 

There are three species of stork in the Americas, Wood Stork which occurs in South & Central America plus the southernmost parts of the USA (see my account on my short visit to Florida prior to arriving in Guyana), Maguari Stork (see below) and perhaps the most impressive of all the enormous Jabiru (above).

 

Standing up to 1.5m tall, in South America it has a wingspan second only to the Andean Condor and some of the albatrosses seen offshore. It is the tallest and heaviest of the world’s 19 species of stork.

 

Drier areas held Green-tailed Jacamas.

 

Related to jacamas are the kingfishers. The New World has been rather short-changed when it comes to kingfishers with a mere six species over the two continents. I saw four species in Guyana, plus had a ‘heard only’ American Pygmy Kingfisher in Suriname and saw the more northerly Belted Kingfisher in Florida. This is a female Ringed Kingfisher, a super-sized version of Belted, and one of the world’s largest kingfishers.

 

The commonest kingfisher was Amazon. This, without the red band on the breast, is a female …

 

… whilst this stonker is the male

 

The size sequence of the six species (large to small) is Ringed, Belted, Amazon, Green-and-rufous, Green and American Pygmy. This is a female Green-and-rufous. Green Kingfishers were seen here but not photographed and one Pygmy was only seen, but only by a select few.

 

But our main target was the shy, rarely seen and elusive Crestless Curassow. This huge cracid has a wide range and has a IUCN status of ‘Near Threatened’ but Eustace said that it is seldom recorded away from Karanambu these days. Whether the IUCN threat level is now inaccurate or whether it has just become super-elusive elsewhere, I don’t know.

 

I have seen Giant River Otter on several South American trips but never in the numbers we encountered on this trip. We had already recorded half a dozen further south and then encountered up to 20 on at Karanambu. In addition there were some orphaned otters raised at the ranch for eventual release.

 

Nearly 2m long these are truly ‘giant otters’ and communicate with each other with a series of penetrating whistles.

 

Not everyone likes Giant River Otters and sometimes the adults are killed by fishermen and hunters. The late conservationist Diane McTurk used to take in orphaned otters at the lodge, something that still continues to this day.

 

This and the otter in the photo above are of these orphaned youngsters which will be released back into the wild in due course.

 

On our second afternoon we returned to the river, disembarked then walked through the forest to this secluded lagoon.

 

This Wattled Jacana was living up to its alternative name of ‘Lily-trotter’, running around on these giant Amazonian water lilies.

 

A Rufescent Tiger-heron stood guard …

 

… and Spectacled Caiman swam between the giant lily pads …

 

… and guess what, there were more Giant River Otters.

 

Also seen was the eponymous Tiny Tyrant-manakin, looking not only diminutive but also looking more like a tyrannulet than a manakin. In spite of 25 or so visits to the Neotropics I’m still in awe of those tour leaders who can take one glance at this type of minute sub-oscines and can recognise them immediately.

 

We returned down the river at dusk seeing good numbers of Band-tailed Nighthawks and huge numbers of Greater Fishing Bats.

 

Near the river we found this Common Potoo …

 

… we also went nightbirding in more open areas, illuminated by the inevitable savannah fires …

 

… but did reward us with great views of Least Nighthawk.

 

Other nocturnal denizens of the night (photographed at roost in the day) included Lesser Bulldog Bat …

 

… and the little Proboscis Bat.

 

We also spent time exploring the nearby savannah regions. Unfortunately it has become custom for the locals to burn the grassland in the belief that the new grass is more nutritious for the horses. Very occasional burning may prevent the grassland turning into scrub but at this frequency wildlife cannot prosper …

 

… especially when it leaves the ground looking like this.

 

Around some of the marshy areas we found White-headed Marsh Tyrant …

 

… the seldom seen White-naped Xenopsaris …

 

… but our main target was the rare and fast disappearing Crested Doradito, a bird whose name sounds more like a Mexican snack than a tyrant-flycatcher.

 

Although I’d seen it before (indeed I’d seen all of these four enigmatic tyrant-flycatchers before) my favourite was the evocatively named Bearded Tachuri, a tiny gem of a bird.

 

Its main range is from south-east Brazil south through the pampas of Paraguay and eastern Argentina but it does have an outpost in the llanos and savannahs of the north.

 

We also saw a few Maguari Storks, the Neotropical equivalent to the Old World White Stork.

 

But perhaps the highlight of the savannah marshes was these views of Pinnated Bittern. In the same genus as American Bittern, Australasian Bittern and our Eurasian (or Great) Bittern, it can be a tough bird to find. I must have spent 35 years looking for the gem in the Neotropics before finally coming across one in Costa Rica in 2017 so seeing six in Guyana, and getting such stunning views of this one as it tried to hide in very short reeds, was one of the highlights of the trip.

 

So it was goodbye to Karanambu and a return to dodgy bridges, potholes …

 

… and the never ending dust as we made our way north to Rock View Lodge.

 

We saw big flocks of Orange-winged Parrots on route …

 

Birds seen included Black-tailed Tityra …

 

… and Green-backed Trogon (although in my photos the back looks more blue than green).

 

Our next location was the Rock View Lodge at Annai, run by an eccentric Englishman called Colin. Our main target was a cock-of-the-rock lek but we also managed to see a lek of Long-tailed Hermit (hermits being one group of hummingbirds that have a communal display).

 

Even better was the seldom seen Guianan Red Cotinga. I was very lucky to see this on the old ‘Guianan trail’ in Venezuela in 1988, but it is a hard bird to see anywhere.

 

Our destination was this rocky outcrop where the gorgeous Guianan Cock-of-the Rock breeds, indeed we saw a female nesting on one of the rock ledges but due to poor light conditions the photos aren’t very good.

 

The same fortunately wasn’t true for the gorgeous males which were lekking in an area below the caves. There are two species of cock-of-the-rock, the deep red one in the Andes and this beautiful one on the Guianan Shield.

 

Like many of the key species on this trip I’d seen it before on my visits to eastern Venezuela but seeing them lekking was one of the trips highlights.

 

From here we continued on to to two more lodges further north before we ended the Guianan section of the tour back in the Georgetown area. That will be the subject of the next post.

Guyana part one: the southern savannahs: 22nd – 26th February 2020   Leave a comment

In the last post I explained how and why I stopped off for a few days in Florida on my way to Guyana in February 2020, here is the first of several posts on the Guyana part of the trip.

Although I had been to neighbouring Venezuela twice before, including its south-eastern border with Guyana, there were still plenty of new birds in Guyana for me including two particular goals, Sun Parakeet and Red Siskin. Although Birdquest had offered tours to Suriname before, now the first time they offered a trip there as an optional extension to Guyana, making this tour combination an irresistible attraction.

As the considerable avian attractions of Venezuela are now out of bounds to all but the most foolhardy of birders, then interest in Guyana, which shares many of its avian wonders, can only increase in the future.

 

I arrived in Guyana well after dark to find that the international airport was an hour’s drive south of Georgetown, so it was quite late when the taxi dropped me off a the hotel. Georgetown is situated by of the mouth of the Essequibo River, just under the ‘I’ in Wakenaam Island in the map above. Guyana was previously under French and then Dutch administration but the British took control in 1796, it gained independence from Britain in 1966. The capital Georgetown was named after King George III in 1812 and it is the only South American country where English is the national language. Initially we flew down to the Rupununi Savanna in the south-west, from here we drove slowly back to Georgetown over the next ten days.

 

Flying in from Miami we passed the Bahamas, an island group that I’ve never visited despite having a nice range of endemic birds (one for future perhaps).

 

As I said above, I arrived late that evening with time only for a quick chat with tour leader Eustace Barnes. The following morning I met the rest of the group and we departed for the nearby Ogle domestic airport where we caught a flight to Letham in the far south.

 

Here’s the view from the light aircraft as we left Georgetown with the Caribbean in the distance …

 

… and here the view of Letham and the Rupunui River as we came into land. On route we saw the large extent of rainforest and savannah that still exists in Guyana, as befits a country with the second lowest population in South America (about 790,000) however we did see a lot a clearing made by illegal gold miners who, as well as felling trees, use toxic chemicals like mercury to extract the gold.

 

Letham airport didn’t have much going for it, but soon we met our drivers and set of in three 4x4s to the 1700 square mile Dadanawa ranch tucked away in the vast expanses of the Rupununi.

 

With an avifauna not that dissimilar to the Venezuelan llanos we had plenty to see on route.

 

Eventually we arrived at the pleasant Wichabai lodge. These savannas can flood in the rainy season hence building it on stilts.

 

Of course we saw the ubiquitous Palm Tanager around the building …

 

.. but from the upper deck we saw Long-winged Harrier (above) and more importantly four Sharp-tailed Ibis, a declining species that I haven’t seen since my first trip to Venezuela in 1988! Unfortunately, although we got good scope views, they were too distant for photos.

 

Like the llanos, the Rupunui savannahs were excellent for raptors with species like the impressive Laughing Falcon …

 

… Savannah Hawk …

 

… Black-collared Hawk …

 

… and White-tailed Hawk.

 

So it was off early the next day, driving on rough tracks to a remote part of the ranch and a very good bird indeed.

 

Red Siskins were were once widespread across northern South America are now restricted to tiny areas of Venezuela and southern Guyana.

 

 

In captivity they can be made to mate with domestic canaries to produce red variants and so are in high demand for the pet bird trade. Relentless trapping has reduced the population to a few thousand but even at this highly protected site the current situation doesn’t bode well. Our leader Eustace has commented as follows: Unfortunately, aviculturists have not only discovered this population but also discovered a loop hole in the law regarding ‘natural resource’ exploitation in native communities. It goes like this – native people (as they live in tune with nature) are allowed to carry on using resources as they have done for countless millennia [including] controlled’ burns, taking fish, hunting and it seems, now trapping Red Siskins for pets! These are then sold to the avicultural community quite legally. Can you believe it?

 

Given their rarity I didn’t attempt a close approach so I’ve supplemented my photos with (an uncredited one) from Wikipedia.

 

The road back was equally bumpy …

 

… whilst negotiating the rocks we saw our first Great Black Hawk and then  noticed some Giant Otters in the river – but more about them in the next post.

 

… and after some lunch we departed and head off to our next stay at Manari.

 

Raptors seen on route included more Long-winged Harriers.

 

We went on a drive into the savannah that evening but for some reason had to use vehicles provided by the lodge, which were some of the worse I’ve ever been in, having to be pushed to start them and basically just falling apart.

 

We carried on the following day passing open savannah and gallery woodland.

 

We checked a number of spots along the Iring River, a tributary of the Rio Branco that forms the border between Brazil and Guyana (yes, that’s Brazil on the far bank). We found the localised Hoary-throated Spinetail but despite trying over and over again there was no sign of the Rio Branco Antbird which can only be seen along the banks of this one rive system.

 

Parrots were quite common and sightings of Red-and-green Macaws occurred regularly.

I guess this cyclist was used to seeing flocks of White-faced Whistling Ducks flying overhead …

 

… but we aren’t, so a stop at this small pool was in order.

 

This area has numerous wetlands and small lakes and we enjoyed the sight of many waterbirds including the enormous Jabiru (Stork).

 

I mentioned in the Florida write-up that this is no longer Northern Caracara. Although split from Southern Caracara for a few decades the split hasn’t stood up to scrutiny and the populations north and south of the Amazon rainforest have been reunited as Crested Caracara.

 

Among the great birds we saw that afternoon were this lovely Chestnut Woodpecker …

 

… Painted Parakeets …

 

.. and Double-striped Thick-knee – a close relative of the Stone Curlews we get in the UK.

 

With both birds facing in opposite directions you can see how the ‘double stripes’ formed by the supercillium and coronal stripe wrap around the head and almost meet on the nape.

 

That evening we stayed at Karasabani, this small village of indigenous Guyanans is the focal point of efforts to save the the endangered Sun Parakeet.

 

That said they weren’t all that welcoming. In spite of the fact that we had booked the whole guest house we found we were double booked. Eventually some sort of accommodation was sorted out for some of the group elsewhere.

 

It was a noisy and fairly uncomfortable night, with some unusual co-inhabitants, but well worth it for what we were to see the next day.

 

The next morning saw us birding along the road in the forest and it didn’t take long for us to find a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl.

 

Calling in the daytime and with a range from south Texas to Argentina, this is one of the most frequently encountered owls in the Neotropics.

 

Many other species were seen including Green-backed Trogon …

 

… and a species of puffbird known as Swallow-wing.

 

It didn’t take all that long before we came across of flock of the exquisitely beautiful Sun Parakeets.

 

Very popular with the pet trade Sun Parakeets (or Sun Conures) were once being trapped at the rate of 800,000 a year. There are now more in captivity than in the wild (from Wikipedia).

 

Once seen throughout the northern part of the Brazilian state of Roraima and southern Guyana, this species can now only be seen with any regularity in this tiny area around Karasabani, perhaps a couple of thousand wild birds survive.

 

From Karasabani we continued north to Karanambu ranch where we stayed for three nights, this and other areas in central and northen Guyana will be illustrated in the next post.