Archive for the ‘Long-tailed Hermit’ Tag

Suriname: 7th – 12th March 2020   Leave a comment

A major hitch occurred in our otherwise successful Guyana and Suriname tour when tour leader Eustace Barnes was denied boarding to the flight from Georgetown in Guyana to Paramaribo in Suriname due to the fact that his Yellow Fever certificate wasn’t in order (for further details see part 3 of my Guyana blog posts). Fortunately for the group local tour leader Sean (pronounced ‘seen’ not ‘shorn’) Dilrosun was there to meet us at the airport.

The role of a second bird tour leader can vary, sometimes they are excellent birders on a par with the advertised leaders but with the advantage of up-to-date local knowledge, but sometimes they have a more administrative role ensuring that complex local arrangements run smoothly. Fortunately Sean was in the former category. That’s not to say the tour wouldn’t be better with Eustace along, two expert birders leading a tour is bound to be better than one, but the trip extension was a great success thanks to Sean’s local knowledge and skill in finding the local birds.

One area that did cause minor difficulties was that Sean didn’t have a copy of the BirdQuest Guyana/Suriname checklist and the birds on list that he used were in a different sequence to ours. In the end I supervised the checklist sessions (not that easy when one of the participants was very hard of hearing) and I wrote an account of the extension for Eustace (which unfortunately had to be severely edited due to space considerations) before the final report was published.

The flight didn’t arrive until 2300 but in true Birdquest style we stopped to see if we could spotlight a Striped Owl near the airport. No luck there, but Little Tinamou, Common Potoo and Paraque were heard, not the usual species that you record on the run between the airport and the first hotel!

Paramaribo is a fair way from the international airport so it was well after 0100 when we got to bed, indeed our ‘goodnights’ and ‘good mornings’ almost overlapped. We set off early, but not bright, to a forested area near the city where we soon scored with Suriname’s only endemic bird, Arrowhead Piculet, which we saw without difficulty.

 

 

Suriname’s only endemic, Arrowhead Piculet, is a diminutive woodpecker. As it was high above me I failed to get a decent shot and so have used one taken by my friend Martin Reid see www.martinreid.com

 

Even more impressive was the ‘drop dead-gorgeous’ male Crimson-hooded Manakin seen nearby and the Mangos (hummingbirds) in the tall trees were examined until we were sure that the males had green throats rather than black ones. Photo by Nich Athanas from GrrlScientist hosted by the Guardian

 

Our Suriname tour guide – Sean Dilrosun

 

Moving on, we stopped briefly to admire a roadside Slender-billed Kite, thanking a local family for letting use their garden to get the best photo angle …

 

Our next stop was an area of white sand forest, a low woodland growing on nutrient poor soil. On route we passed the perimeter of the airfield where we saw a White-tailed Hawk drop onto prey …

 

as well as the widespread (southern USA to Argentina) Burrowing Owl …

 

This one was probably keeping its eye on the White-tailed Hawk.

 

As well as some passerine targets we found a roosting Lesser Nighthawk …

 

… and the lovely Tropical Screech-owl in both the grey …

 

… and rufous phases.

 

We continued on to the town of Brownsweg where we swopped buses to this rugged four-wheel drive variety complete with reinforced roll bars.

 

We were heading for the Brownsberg reserve where because of a recent drought had completely run out of water so we had to bring enough for cooking, washing and loo flushing!

 

We slowly climbed up the the reserve birding on route.

 

We had driven down from Paramaribo to Brownsweg and then taken the dirt road south-east to the elevated reserve of Brownsberg at the north-west corner of Brokopondo Reservoir, the largest area of fresh water in the country. After two nights here we descended back down to Brownsweg and drove south on the highway and then west to a location in the lowland rainforest known as Fred’s Place where we stayed for a further two nights.

 

The accommodation at Brownsberg was pretty basic especially as we had to take turns to ‘shower’ using a bucket and a ladle but the views over the reservoir at dawn were spectacular.

 

Around the lodge where a number of Red Howler Monkeys …

 

… the adult males in particular were impressive.

 

Less impressive but far rarer and far more elusive where the White-faced Saki Monkeys. However as they were so retiring, keeping to the shadows, it was hard to get a decent photo.

 

In part three of the Guyana write up I posted a poor photo of the elusive Grey-winged Trumpeter …

 

… here in Brownsberg a group have been habituated at a feeding station allowing for excellent views …

 

… they even bring their chicks along with them. Note how the light catches the iridescent feathers on their breasts.

 

Among the many other ‘golden’ goodies at the site were – Golden-headed Manakin …

 

… and Golden-green Woodpecker.

 

Although only seen in deep cover we had a great listen to the song of the Musician Wren, one of the best songsters in the world. Click on the link below to hear recordings on Xeno-canto.

Song of Musician Wren from Xeno-canto

 

Another mega was the beautiful Collared Puffbird, a lifer for me and I think all of the group (photo by ‘thibaudaronson’ via Wiki Commons).

 

Another treat was seeing Lined Forest-falcon. Forest-falcons are a group of seven elusive falcons of dense neotropical forests that seldom show well and seldom if ever appear above the canopy. I had previously seen this species in Venezuela but it was a particular target for one participant who had repeatedly dipped on it in the past. It took some time but we eventually got great views. (Photo by Tony Castro via Wiki Commons).

 

But one of the best of all was the beautiful Crested Owl, found at its daytime roost. I have seen this bird before in Colombia but only at night so it was great to study every nuance of the plumage.

 

There are 256 species of owls in the world. Many are small lookalike scops or pygmy owls that are best separated by voice, some are medium-sized Strix and Ninox owls and then of course there’s the big eagle-owls and ‘megas’ like Great Grey and Snowy of the far north. But I challenge anyone to find a more impressive owl than Crested.

 

This snake shot across our path but as yet I’ve been unable to find anyone who can identify it for me. Can any ‘herpers’ out there help?

 

After a final morning’s birding at Brownsberg we descended to the main road and headed south …

 

… turning off westwards onto this dirt road for the long drive to ‘Fred’s Place’.

 

Fred, an indigenous Suramimese, once saw a remote inselberg from a plane. He was able to locate the site on the ground after days of trekking through virgin forest. He obtained permission to build a lodge beside the river which now caters for naturalists and trekkers. The accommodation consists of a series of huts along the bank with a central cooking and dining area. It was a lovely place to stay and much comfortable than Brownsberg.

 

We could watch Long-tailed Hermits and other hummers whilst eating our meals.

 

Among the many birds we saw was this White Hawk …

 

… White-throated Toucan …

 

… Channel-billed Toucan …

 

… and this Paradise Jacama swallowing its prey.

 

Two other Jacama species posed for photos, Yellow-billed …

 

… and Brown.

 

Another of those Neotropical ‘near-passerine’ Families are the Puffbirds. Some members of the puffbird Family like the Collared Puffbird above can be hard to see but these Black Nunbirds certainly weren’t.

 

Another conspicuous bird (in its choice of perch – if not in its numbers) is Long-tailed Tyrant which was seen occasionally on dead snags along the roads.

 

There weren’t as many cotinga species in Suriname as in Guyana but we did get good views of Purple-throated Cotingas but unfortunately not the elusive Dusky Purpletuft.

 

We came across this stand in the forest, was it a strangely located beverage stand? Apparently drinks are left by locals as a gift to the spirits of the forest.

 

There was good birding to be had along the river as well.

 

Sean took us to a spot near the lodge where the tiny and very elusive Zig-zag Heron occurs, we got some reasonable views but no photos.

 

Damp areas where good for the delightful (yet poisonous) poison-arrow frogs.

 

On one part of the river we found a colony of White-banded Swallows …

 

… here are two adults and a juvenile.

 

But the most exciting moment occurred on our last morning, setting off on yet another failed Dusky Purpletuft search we came across this Harpy Eagle sat in a tree. This is (well at at least the females are) the largest of all the eagles, adapted to snatch monkeys and sloths out of the trees. The legs are so powerful that the tarsus is as thick as a man’s wrist.

 

It was only there for a few seconds but I managed to get this flight shot. Most encounters are of birds at known nests and just coming across a one randomly by a trail is a rare event indeed.

 

So that was it, we left Joe’s place and returned to Paramaribo for the overnight flight to Amsterdam and then onto Heathrow. I had been away for nearly a month and the world had changed in that time.

What had been a problem in just one city in China when I left had become an epidemic in Europe and now we were flying back to it. I was quite shocked that we had (quite rightly) our temperatures checked before we left Paramaribo but not on arrival at Amsterdam or Heathrow.

Of course from mid March 2020 until now I’ve not been able to go anywhere and indeed I’ve spent the last 450+ nights sleeping at home. During periods of relaxation of lockdown rules I’ve been able to do some birding outside the immediate area, but there’s been no UK holidays, let alone foreign ones and of course there have been no additions to my life list.

I can’t complain, Coronavirus has affected me far less than many people who have had to endure real tragedy and hardship but I’m really looking forward birding in some remote location once again.

So my blog is now up to date apart from perhaps posting photos of a few of things I’ve seen in the last year. In addition there are a few foreign trip over the last decade where I’ve either only posted a summary or not posted anything at all. I’ll probably start sorting out some photos from those.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.