Archive for the ‘Sunbittern’ Tag

Guyana part three: the northern rainforest and the coastal region. 1st – 7th March 2020   Leave a comment

In this post I cover the final part of our visit to Guyana where we stopped at three lodges in the northern rainforest zone and then in the capital Georgetown.


This had been a great tour for raptors and as we left the savannah behind of course we encountered a new set of species. The familiar Black and Turkey Vultures were replaced with the much rarer and seldom seen Greater Yellow-headed Vulture …


… and the impressive King Vulture, both rainforest species.


We stayed overnight at Sumara lodge which was undergoing some reconstruction.


There was a Yellow-rumped Cacique colony in the clearing …


… and Ruddy Pigeons on the forest floor but the Harpy Eagles weren’t breeding this year so no amount of hiking in the forest could turn up one of the most sought after raptors in the world. We did however see a good range of cotingas, tyrannulets, tanagers and other forest species.


Then it was on to Atta Lodge, one of the best locations on the trip and definitely the best rainforest location of the trip. In the clearing around the lodge there were a group of Black Currasows wandering about like domestic turkeys and when I got to my chalet I found the shutters on both sides open and hummingbirds zipping through the room and over my bed to reach a hummingbird feeders just outside the window.


This Red-fan Parrot was extraordinarily tame and was presumably a rehabilitated bird.


… but there was no doubting the credentials of this Red-and-green Macaw.


Admittedly not the best of photos, but it was pleasing to see this pair of Paradise Jacamas …


… and the extraordinary antics of Spider Monkeys.


In a river bed we came across a pair of Sunbitterns …


… but the best sightings was this rare Black-faced hawk, a life bird for me …


… and the extraordinary Rufous Potoo, seen at a day time roost. There are seven species of Potoos, a nightbird related to the nightjars, all in the Neotropics. I have now seen six of the seven; the seventh Andean Potoo was a heard only in Ecuador. Rufous Potoo is probably the hardest of all to find. Common and White-winged Potoo were also seen on the trip, three species in one trip is almost an overdose of luck.


We also visited the canopy walkway …


… it was a a bit of squeeze getting everybody onto the platform.


Eustace wrote in his trip report: We then made a quick late afternoon visit to the afternoon visit to the canopy walkway where we worked through Todd’s and Spot-tailed Antwrens, Buff-cheeked and Lemon-chested Greenlets, Red-legged, Purple and Green Honeycreepers and a number of Flame-crested, Paradise, Bay-headed and Spotted Tanagers etc etc. We also found Green Aracari, our first Waved Woodpeckers and a pair of Golden-sided Euphonias. I should also report that we encountered no sweat bees. (The latter being an unwelcome visitor at many such canopy platforms).


But a lot of our time was spent in the clearing by the chalets. Here Denzel, Mike Karin and Eustace scan the treetops for cotingas. Purple-breasted Cotinga, Purple-throated Fruitcrow were regular, but the main targets, Dusky Purpletuft and Crimson Fruitcrow proved elusive. Some got a glimpse of the latter but it always disappeared before I could get anyone on to it.


Finally on the last morning the Crimson Fruitcrow stayed long enough for everyone to get views. I didn’t get a photo so I have used one by © Alan Lewis (no relation!) taken from the Surfbirds website.


For most of our time in the clearing we were accompanied by Black Curassows …


… certainly a lot tamer than their ‘crestless cousins’ that we saw earlier in the tour.


We travelled on to our next lodge at Iwokrama and stopped on route to admire some Blue-and-yellow Macaws.


These are some of the most beautiful of all macaws, indeed of all parrots …


… perhaps our familiarity of them at home from bird parks and zoos means they don’t get quite the recognition they deserve.


Iwokrama River Lodge is located by the Essequibo River. Our time here was divided between birding on the tracks and taking boat trips on the river.


One such boat trip took us to trail that led to Turtle Mountain (named after it’s resemblance to an upside down turtle shell, not because it had a surfeit of turtles on the summit).


On route we saw a flock of seven Capped Herons (together with a Cocoi Heron on the left), four on the bank …


… and three in the trees.


I’ve posted a number of photos of Great Black Hawk, which seemed unusually abundant on this tour, but this is the first photo I’ve posted of one in juvenile plumage.


The hike up to Turtle Mountain was a little arduous, but we saw some great birds like Spotted Antpitta, but the much sought after Rufous-winged Ground Cuckoo was a heard only.


Eustace at the lookout at Turtle Mountain. The main target was the rare Orange-breasted Falcon which we failed to see (but I have seen in in Peru with Eustace on a previous trip), we did see a White Hawk which was some compensation.


We also took a late afternoon boat trip in the opposite direction …


… arriving at some rapids where we found a feeding Large-billed Tern …


… a species with a wing pattern like a Sabine’s Gull.


A few minutes at the rapids …


… gave us views of common species like Great Egret …


… as well as the range restricted Black-collared Swallow. These two seem to be ignoring each other …


… but that was soon to change. Guess it was a case of making hay whilst the sun shines …


… which wasn’t going to be for long as there was a big storm approaching from down stream.


Fortunately the storm largely missed us and it was dry by the time we got back to the dock- where the biggest Black Caiman I’ve ever seen was hanging around in the hope of scraps.


The next day we crossed the Iwokrama River on a very dodgy ferry and started the long drive north to Georgetown.


Just over the other side we stopped at a site where we found some Grey-winged Trumpeters. There are three species of Trumpeter in the world, but this is the only one I’ve seen (although I did hear Dark-winged Trumpeter in Brazil).


The road north was unpaved and potholed and progress was slow. There have been plans to create a modern highway, which sounds great, but would open up the interior of Guyana to mining, logging and habitat destruction. I was worried that this guy had been in an accident until I saw his bike was parked on its stand. He was just having a kip on the roadside. Earlier in the trip there was a major dip on this same road when Eustace and one of the clients saw a large Jaguar on the side of the road. It might have stayed until the other two vehicles arrived but for the arrival of a motorbike coming in the opposite direction. So near yet so far. I’ve been to the best site in the world for Jaguars, the Pantanal in Brazil, but before Jaguar tourism was really sorted out and hence we dipped. I’ve always hoped since then that I would just chance on one – well maybe one day.


Eventually we entered the industrial heart of Guyana just to the south of Georgetown and returned to the hotel we stopped at for the first night.


Our time in Georgetown was divided between areas along the coast and Georgetown Botanical gardens (above). I like that the car on the right is parked on the lawn right under the ‘do not park on the lawn’ sign.


Our main target was the range-restricted Festive Amazon …


… and wild Red-fan Parrots (unlike the tame one at Atta) …


… and the little Blood-coloured Woodpecker, confined to coastal regions of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.


Open areas held Tropical Mockingbirds …


… and the widespread Great Kiskadee.


Whilst an overgrown ditch gave good views of juvenile Wattled Jacanas …


… and adults too …


… some showing off their vivid yellow underwings.


Other species included the strange Greater Ani …


… and the pretty Bat Flacon.


Along the coast we passed the small settlement of Glazier’s Lust, surprisingly the next settlement was called Rebecca’s Lust. I guess there is some sort of romantic story involved there!


Recent storms had piled the debris up along the shoreline …


… but in the few remaining coastal forest patches we found Common Tody-flycatcher …


… Black-crested Antshrike …


… and Pied Water Tyrant …


… and just like I did in Florida, Yellow-crowned Night Heron …


… and Limpkin.


Two New World waders that occasionally occur in the UK were seen side by side Solitary Sandpiper …


… and a summer plumaged Spotted Sandpiper (these are the ecological replacements of Green and Common Sandpiper respectively).


There were a few raptors as well, Grey-lined Hawk (a split from Grey Hawk of the southern USA and Mexico) …


… Black-collared Hawk …


… and most notably the rare, declining Rufous Crab Hawk which is only found along the coast from eastern Venezuela to northern Brazil.



Our final stop was a creek where Scarlet Ibis come into roost but we had to leave before dusk when the majority would arrive because we had to head to the airport and our flight to Suriname.



So then it was the hour-long journey back to the international airport and our short flight to Suriname, but this was not without it’s problems. I have carried a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate with me on trips for years but have never been asked to show it. Yellow Fever isn’t the problem it once was, indeed the closely related Dengue Fever is far more widespread worldwide. We were warned to bring Yellow Fever vaccination certificates with us but Eustace’s was out of date and they wouldn’t let him board the plane.

To try and convince them that his old certificate was OK (after three injections ten years apart, you are considered immune for life) he borrowed mine. I was caught between one official saying ‘get on the plane now its about to depart’ and another stopping me getting to the room ‘out back’ where they were quizzing Eustace. Eventually I got my certificate back, ran for the plane which took off the moment I was seated.

So we were heading to Suriname without our designated leader – what happened will be the subject of the next post.

Eustace did get a repeat vaccination and certificate in Georgetown and over the next few days made his way overland to Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname. He wrote the following in the trip report about his overland journey.

The entire trip, but perhaps especially the journey from the border to Paramaribo, could have been the subject of a Tarantino movie. It involved a minibus packed with fifteen or so Haitians, Venezuelans, an assortment of illegal Guyanans and me. Off we set, crammed in to a tiny van together with a Chestnut-bellied Seedeater in a cage lodged on the console between myself and the driver. Along the narrow uneven surface called Highway 1, the speed crept up to about 140km per hour, while the driver, using a couple of mobiles was arranging the next run. I got the impression business was good with Venezuelans and Haitians fleeing to Brazil. The Guyanans started kicking off, smoking joints and drinking a few beers adding to my discomfort. On arrival at the city limits, the various passengers were dropped off at their pre-arranged safe houses on the outskirts of the city. The stuff of novels!

This was one journey I was glad I didn’t have to make.

Costa Rica part 1: San Jose, Volcan Irazu and Rancho Naturalista. 31st March – 2nd April 2017   Leave a comment

This post is the first of several covering my recent trip to Costa Rica. Marketed by Birdquest as the ‘Ultimate Costa Rica tour’ it lived up to its name as I saw all but a handful of the life-birds that occur in this bird-rich country.

In 1981 I had made arrangements to visit the Middle East in late March but just a month or so before I found that the trip had been cancelled. With the leave already booked I looked around for an alternative. I found a tour to Costa Rica that went on the same dates, a little more expensive, but I raised the money by selling some of my photography gear. I didn’t even know where Costa Rica was, I had to look it up in the atlas, but that tour changed my life and opened my eyes to the wonders of tropical birding and as soon as I was earning enough to do so I went to the tropics every year.

With a previous visit to the country, three tours of Mexico and two each to Venezuela and Colombia you would think that I wouldn’t get many life birds on a return visit. However birding in the country has developed so well in the past 36 years that nearly all of the ‘goodies’ are staked out and I saw an astonishing 87 lifers. In fact Costa Rica, a tiny country little bigger than Ireland, has the best ecotourism industry in the world and is leader in the use of sustainable energy and resources. (as well as having the biggest bird list for any country of its size).

It was a highly enjoyable trip and I intend to share some of my many photos on the blog over the next few weeks.


I arrived in the capital San Jose just before midnight on 30th March and transferred to the hotel getting to bed by 0200. I spent much of the morning birding in the extensive gardens.


There were plenty of birds typical of the Central Valley in the gardens, such as these Rufous-backed Wrens.


The ubiquitous Tropical Flycatcher ….


…. Social Flycatcher ….


…. and Great Kiskadee.


Along with Greyish Saltator ….


…. and the beautiful and much scarcer Lesson’s Motmot.


The group gathered in the evening but had an early night as it was a 0300 departure the next day for the slopes of Irazu Volcano. Once there we had about an hour pre-dawn to try for nightbirds which proved to be most unsuccessful with nothing but a distant song of Dusky Nightjar to show for our efforts. However once it was light we had great views of ….


…. Sooty Thrush ….


… the perky Sooty-capped Chlorospingus (formerly Sooty-capped Bush-tanager) ….


…. and my first life bird of the trip – the exquisite Flame-throated Warbler.


The range of this beautiful bird is restricted to the mountains of central Costa Rica and Western Panama.


A hike down this slope failed to get us views of the rare and seldom seen Buffy-crowned Wood Partridge, but we continued to score with other montane goodies. We reached an altitude of 3600m that morning, it was cold at dawn but soon warmed up. Later we commenced our descent into the eastern flanks of the central mountain chain.


A short detour gave us wonderful views of Cabanis’s Ground Sparrow, a recent split from Mexico’s Prevost’s Ground Sparrow, but time was short and we couldn’t linger.


I keep wanting to call this beautiful bird Cannabis Ground Sparrow, but of course it is named after German ornithologist Jean Louis Cabanis and not some entry-level recreational drug.


The reason for our leader’s haste soon became clear, we arrived at our next destination, the pleasant Rancho Naturalista with about an hour of daylight remaining. We hurried to a lookout above some pools where a series of hummingbirds, including the exquisite (a word that I am in danger of over-using in this post) Snowcap. Of course in the gathering gloom I couldn’t get photos of rapidly moving hummers but I did capture a bathing Tawny-throated Leaftosser – a bird that is likely to be split in multiple species in the near future.


The following morning just before before dawn we had a look at the moth trap.


A stunning array of moths had been drawn to the light, including this huge hawk-moth in the centre of the photo.


Even whilst it was dark birds such as this Brown Jay (looking green not brown as the trap’s UV light has tinted my photos) came in snatch moths from the sheet.


This might have been rather unfortunate for the moths but it allowed us to see a range of species including the rare Tawny-chested Flycatcher.


Our time at Rancho Naturalista was all too short and after several hours on the trails and several life birds later we were on our way again. We paused on route for the tricky White-throated Flycatcher (my photos of this ’empid’ were rather poor) and the above Grey-crowned Yellowthroat in an area of rank grassland.


Now away from the high mountains and at mid altitude on the Caribbean slope we saw a number common open country birds such as this Groove-billed Ani ….


…. and the ubiquitous and rather ugly Turkey Vulture.


At a nearby river bed the first bird we laid eyes on was this immature Black-crowned Night Heron, but this wasn’t the reason for our visit.


Our local man had a pair of the wonderful Sunbittern staked out. Although I have seen this species on five previous trips, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so well or for so long.


The reason they were sticking around was that they had a nest with two well-grown young overhanging the river.


Also along the river were several Black Phoebes ….


One of the Sunbitterns seemed to take exception to the Phoebes occupying its bit of the river and opened its wings in a threat display. Pete, our tour leader, was better positioned to capture this moment and has an absolutely stunning photo of this event. If I can get a copy and with his consent I’ll post it here in due course.


From here we climbed back up the mountainous ridge that forms the backbone of Costa Rica and in deteriorating weather conditions headed for Cerro de la Muerta, literally the ‘road of death’. This will be the subject of the next post (when I’ve edited the photos that is).