Archive for the ‘Whistling Duck’ Tag

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.

 

 

 

Costa Rica part 6: Hacienda Solimar, Monteverde and San Gerado. 11/04 – 15/04 2017   Leave a comment

This post covers our time at the Hacienda Solimar in the dry north-west of Costa Rica, the ecotourist resort of Monteverde and the research station at San Gerado.

 

A common bird through much of Costa Rica but especially in the dry north-west was Great-tailed Grackle. The males are much larger than the females and the strange twisted tail feathers looks pretty impressive in flight.

 

Gnatcatchers were more common in these dry area. I find the nomenclature of the two species to be most confusing, this is a female Tropical Gnatcatcher and has pale lores, on the other hand White-lored Gnatcatcher has a dark line on the lores and is identified by the lack of white supercillium in the male or narrow one in the female. We saw a pair of each species together at one point – no wonder I get confused.

 

 

Yellow-naped Amazon was a great find and a life bird for me.

 

In due course we arrived at the lovely Hacienda Solimar where we were to stay for the night.

 

A working cattle ranch, but with areas dedicated to wildlife conservation, we were able to see substantial numbers of waterbirds during our stay.

 

Perhaps the most numerous bird was Black-bellied Whistling Duck ….

 

…. which rose in large numbers when the pair of local Peregrines appeared.

 

But the main prize was the huge Jabriru, the largest stork in the Americas. in the background are White Ibis and an immature Little Blue Heron.

 

Although this was a paradise for birds we were in a bit of a rush as the light had started to fade and we didn’t get out of the vehicle to scope up the wetlands.

 

Fortunately before the sun had set we had good views of a pair of Double-striped Thick-knees, a relative of out Stone Curlews.

 

Sunset over the Hacienda ….

 

…. and moonrise over the mountains.

 

The following morning we saw beautiful butterflies, flushed Spot-breasted Bobwhites ….

 

…. and watched Streak-backed Orioles building their nests.

 

In the dry forest and open pastures we found ….

 

…. Howler Monkeys,

 

…. Black-headed Trogon,

 

…. the huge Lineated Woodpecker and

 

…. another of those tricky Myiarchus flycatchers, this time Nutting’s Flycatcher,

 

…. and the striking Short-tailed Hawk.

 

Banded Wren showed well ….

 

…. and even did a little show jumping for us.

 

Hoffman’s Woodpecker is the common ‘pecker of the arid north-west ….

 

…. and we had more close up views of Lesson’s Motmot.

 

Ferruginous Pygmy-owl is a widespread and relatively common diurnal species and its call is often imitated by leaders in an attempt to drawn other species in.

 

On the other hand the diminutive Pacific Screech-owl is nocturnal but the guy at the guest house knew exactly where one was roosting.

 

The best bird of the morning was this lovely Lesser Ground Cuckoo which I flushed from the grass just yards from the bus as we were about to board. It flew to nearby trees and gave great views.

 

…. but the species of the day and mammal of the trip was this Northern Tamandua, a species of arboreal anteater that Hermann spotted from the moving bus! It slowly climbed down the bough ….

 

…. and then climbed up the main trunk until lost to view in the foliage.

 

After lunch we left the dry lowlands and headed up into the mountains and the ecotourist mecca of Monteverde. When I visited Monteverde in 1981 it was a 25 mile drive on a dirt road to a small Quaker community where there was a research station with basic accommodation and a small hostel. Now it is Costa Rica’s premier ecotourist resort with accommodation that caters for everyone from lethargic backpackers to the well-heeled.

 

As well as catering to birders, the area has several canopy walkways to allow the naturalist and the curious to get close to treetop wildlife, multiple zip-lines for  adrenaline junkies and a nice line in rainbows. East of the continental divide at 1500m  it is pretty wet, but to the west you can see the clouds billowing over and evaporating in the dry Pacific air. It was quite windy, especially in the vicinity of our hotel which was in an exposed location.

 

The area consists of at least three large areas of protected forest. On our first outing we scored birding gold with not just views, but photos as well, of the retiring Chiriqui Quail-dove.

 

Although we saw another Resplendant Quetzal (making it the third location of the trip) ….

 

… the highlight was the amazing Three-wattled Bellbird. To hear it’s incredibly loud song go to http://www.xeno-canto.org/331004

 

Can any other songbird open its mouth as wide as this?

 

A Coati trotting away down the track resulted in this unusual shot.

 

We were only one night at the nice hotel. Leaving most of our gear there the following day we hiked down a wide trail for a couple of hours to a research station at San Gerado on the Caribbean slope where we stayed for two nights. On arrival we had a stunning view of Volcan Arenal further to the east.

 

The accommodation was probably the most basic of the trip, but there were some nice compensations such as complete peace and quiet, a supply of wonderful moths to photograph ….

 

…. and a balcony with great views of Volcan Arenal. Alison is demonstrating how to get into a hammock without ending up on the floor, something I have yet to master.

 

It was a good job we saw Arenal on arrival as this was the view for most of our visit.

 

We had our fair share of mist and rain whilst at San Gerado ….

 

…. but it did clear enough to allow us to bird the nearby pastures and mature montane forest.

 

Our main target was the amazing Bare-necked Umbrellabird which used to lek in a tree some 45 minute walk from the lodge. Unfortunately this lek site has been abandoned since 2014 (although the tour information still says that you have a very good chance of seeing one here). We did see some great birds in the area though. In the pastures around the lodge was a colony of Montezuma’s Oropendolas (above) ….

 

…. and this was the only place on the entire trip where we saw the scarce Blue and Gold Tanager. Another goody was the riverine Sooty-faced Finch which after hours of searching numerous stream-beds was tracked down at a little river close to the lodge just minutes before departure.

 

Raptors included Black-hawk Eagle, the elusive Bicoloured Hawk (above) ….

 

…. and the ubiquitous Turkey Vultures that roosted adjacent to our rooms.

 

After two rather wet nights (and one rather wet day) at San Gerado it was time for the long slog back to Monteverde. I walked, but about half the group paid extra to be ferried on the back of a quadbike.

 

Back in Monteverde we returned to the hotel and visited some great hummingbird feeders nearby. This is a Violet Sabrewing.

 

…. male Green-crowned Brilliant,

 

…. but the chestnut-throated juvenile Green-crowned Brilliants are a trap for the unwary.

 

A male Purple-throated Mountain-gem shows off all it’s best bits.

 

A female Purple-throated Mountain-gem joins a Lesser Violetear at the feeder.

 

Magenta-throated Woodstar was a life bird ….

 

…. as was the diminutive Coppery-headed Emerald.

 

Although we had started to see a number of species of owl, we still were short of Bare-shanked Screech Owl that we had dipped on so spectacularly at Cerro de la Muerta. Pete suggested we go back to the start of the San Gerado track after dark where to everyone’s delight we scored with Mr Bare-shank (but I didn’t get any photos). Later at a restaurant near the hotel we met up with Robert Dean (left), an acquaintance of Pete’s and a Monteverde resident. Robert is the illustrator of the Helm Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Originally from the UK he once had an interesting career as a rock guitarist and was a member the 80’s band Japan.

 

The following morning we had wonderful views of Black-breasted Wood Quail but I got no decent photos in the gloom of the forest floor. So I’ll conclude this post with another photo of a female Purple-throated Mountain-gem.

 

From Monteverde we drove along the mountain ridge to Celeste Mountain Lodge to the north. This will be the subject of the next post.