Jack and I decided to go on a birding tour of Guyana with the hopes of seeing the Harpy Eagle. A blog of our trip will be presented in two parts since I have a lot of photos. This is part 1 (the first week, of our two week trip).
Guyana is located in South America. The country is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Venezuela, Suriname, and Brazil. The population is approximately 750,000 – about the size of Alaska’s population. About half of their population lives in Georgetown (similar to half of Alaska’s population living in Anchorage). Their road system is similar to ours in Alaska – limited, and much of it non-paved. The climate is tropical and they have two seasons: dry and wet. And when its wet, it is really wet. Okay so that is where the similarities end. Many of the major rivers flood during the wet season and people resort to traveling by boat, rather than cars in the outlying communities. And Georgetown itself is located below sea level.
12 February, 2019
We started our Guyana adventure today with a 4:30 a.m. shuttle to catch a flight out of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, with a final destination “today” of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We took a super shuttle from our friends’ home in Apache Junction to the airport. The shuttle arrived at 4:20 a.m. but I get pre-trip jitters and have been up since 2:45 a.m. Needless to say, I am tired. But maybe there is a bright side since Guyana’s time zone is 3 hours ahead. We can acclimate to the time change better. At least I hope so.
The flight from Phoenix to Florida had a stop-over in Houston (where we changed planes) was uneventful except for the turbulent departure from Phoenix, and we were barely off the ground. In Houston, we didn’t board our flight until an hour past the departure time. They claimed a light bulb in the entry needed to be replaced. Now why that should take so long I’m not sure. When we departed the plane, the pilot and co-pilot were overheard talking in the gangway about how a panel popped off, screws and all, when they arrived in Houston. No mention was made of a light bulb needing to be replaced. Maybe Southwest Airlines didn’t want to scare us?
Tomorrow we have to catch a shuttle from our hotel in Fort Lauderdale (we are staying at the Quality Inn and Suites – a so, so hotel) to the Miami International Airport where we will catch our flight to Georgetown – I know, strange flight arrangements and a hassle to shuttle to and from Miami. We make a stop in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. If I had been home when making plane reservations for Guyana, I would have checked into a longer lay-over in Trinidad for some birding. The Asa Wright Center is supposed to be a fabulous place for birds. Oh well, maybe another time – so many countries, so many birds, so little time.
13 February 2019
We woke to a torrential downpour and roaring thunder in Fort Lauderdale so we were worried about our shuttle making it on time to pick us up and get us to the Miami International Airport for our flight to Guyana. Luckily the weather calmed down by the time our shuttle van arrived and we were deposited at the Miami International Airport around noon for our 2:30 p.m. flight. We checked in right away, then headed to the TSA screening area where we slowly crept through the line to the screeners. This TSA station serves around nine different airlines and only one screening station was open. So it was crazy busy. Luckily we had plenty of time to make our flight.
We flew to Guyana on Caribbean Airlines, a new airline for us. The flight attendants seemed much more security conscience (seat belts fastened, window coverings up, clear under-seat area, table trays upright, kids in a separate seat belt, etc.) than what you see when flying on other airlines in the U.S. I was impressed. The flight wasn’t entirely full, and most people got off in Port of Spain, Trinidad. So we were surprised when we were told to make our way to our seats (we couldn’t exit the plane) because the flight from Port of Spain to Georgetown airport was full.
I hate when someone larger than me sits in the seat next to me and decides to take up half of my space. I shouldn’t be penalized for being small, yet I always am when I fly. The person next to me on the leg from Port of Spain to Georgetown was a large woman with a child on her lap. I was fortunate that the child went to sleep right away, but I still had to lean off to the side to have breathing space – luckily I was in an aisle seat. I almost felt claustrophobic. The only really negative thing that happened on our flight was I dropped my glasses on the floor and then stepped on them, breaking the thread/twine that holds the lens in place. I will try to get them fixed in Georgetown. Luckily I brought a spare pair of eyeglasses — I need them for long distances, including birding.
We got to the international airport near Georgetown Guyana around 10:30 p.m. and went through Immigration and Customs with no problems. Okay I did try to give the immigration officer Jack’s passport instead of my own, but she was nice about it – they never seem so smile, but she cracked a small one.
Our driver was waiting for us outside and took us to our lodging in Georgetown, which is located about an hour away from the airport. Not sure what the distance is, but a Florida driver could probably make it from the airport to our hotel in half that time. I felt safe with our driver. Maybe it was the road conditions that resulted in low speeds.
We made it to the hotel about 11:30 p.m., checked in, and then I tried to go to sleep. I was so tired. Jack fell asleep pretty easily. I think I took about almost two hours to go to sleep, and we had a 6:15 a.m. walk up call.
14 February 2019
Happy Valentine’s Day! We reluctantly got up at 6:15 a.m. to make a 7:00 a.m. breakfast and a 7:30 a.m. departure to the Botanical Gardens in Georgetown. It wasn’t far to the botanical gardens where we spent about five hours birding. There are a lot of great birds there, if you just wait for them to fly by or fly into the trees. Many of the local birds are beginning to build nests, so we got to see the males in breeding plumage and to contrast them with the females- where there is a difference, of course. And there was a fair amount of copulation happening too.
I saw a total of 46 different birds. Not as many as I expected, but was told we had a good day. I missed a few of the birds seen by others. That is always to be expected. Our tour doesn’t official start until tonight, but our local guide agreed to spend the morning with us and provide transportation.
Some of the birds here are familiar birds, like the Great Kiskadee, which we see a lot of when in Texas, the House Wren (southern version), and Black-crowned Night-Heron. But we had a lot of new birds as well – parrots and tanagers, for example.
We came back for lunch and then a little relaxation time, which for me means working on my blog and downloading photos. There are eight people on our tour, plus Ken Wilson, owner of Talon Tours (our bird tour company). I think all but two people had cameras and of those with cameras, only three had the big, expensive cameras. The rest of us have smaller digital zoom cameras like mine. I wish more people did. Those big cameras can get in the way of birding at times.
15 February 2019
Four-thirty a.m. came too early. The first night we were in room 202. The rest of our stay we were moved to room 110, which is located just off the restaurant area. Last night the hotel had a special Valentine’s day celebration – dinner, music…. So, at 10:00 p.m. I put in my ear plugs to drown out the loud music so I could get some sleep. Since I didn’t get much sleep the night before, I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Thankfully. The Valentine music was romantic classics so easy listening and no live music, dancing, or heavy drinkers.
We began our tour with a 5:00 a.m. departure, made a quick stop for breakfast (of sorts, kind of a quick food place), then went to a place called “Bounty Farm”. Supposedly Talon Tours is the only bird tour company with access to this place for birding. Supposedly. I think anyone that uses our local guide – Ron Allicock – probably has access to this site for birding.
We birded the grounds (area behind the chicken factory and chicken cages). The area is a mix of different fruit trees, unique trees, and varied wet habitat all within a nicely groomed landscape so open and easy walking and good birding. The highlight for both our tour guide and local guide was the presence of three Slender-billed Kites. They were very excited because they had never seen this bird on previous trips. My favorite bird was the Chestnut Woodpecker. Here is a link if you want to see what this bird looks like: https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/chewoo2/overview. The bird was behind some vegetation making a photograph problematic.
After the farm we headed to a spot alongside the road, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Point-tailed Palmcreeper. The bird, if it was around, stayed hidden. We did get a good look at two Black-capped Danocobius. One person in our group, David, was really hoping to see this bird (life bird for him) so he was a happy birder. The bird is quite striking (see photo) so I was happy to see it again. Jack and I first saw this bird in Eucador in 2008.
After a quick stop for lunch, we headed back to the Botanical Gardens with the goal of spotting the Festive Parrot, which often show up there in the late-afternoon. We were there for around an hour or so, when two of the parrots started calling and we rushed to to spotted location. We got decent looks of them flying, where you could really see their red rump – a good mark for identifying the bird. They also landed on a nearby tree, briefly of course, so we got good views then as well. With that success, we proceeded back to our hotel for dinner and to go over our species list for the day.
I was tired, but unfortunately our room is just off the restaurant so we hear all the noise of the people working and eating there. Finally, around 10:30 p.m. I called the front desk asking them if they would tell a noisy group of people to keep the noise level down. I’m not sure if they went out and asked them to keep it down or not because the noise level continued (talking and laughing – it carries far in the large room), so I went out and asked them to keep it down. They finally came to their senses (maybe my shouting at them helped) and either left or kept the noise to a minimum. I finally got to sleep, although sleep was fitful. And we have another early day tomorrow – another 5:00 a.m. departure.
16 February 2019
Getting up at 4:30 a.m. for a second day in a row with little sleep makes for a cranky Shell. We loaded into a van and made our way towards the Suriname border. We stopped briefly along the highway to look for a Rufous Crab Hawk and found several. Great markings on this bird. Kind of reminds me of the Harris’s Hawk.
We eventually turned off the main highway and worked our way to a boat landing on the Mahaica River, were we got into a boat and motored along (slowly) searching for birds – primarily the Hoatzin. This bird looks prehistoric. The birds weren’t very cooperative (like they were for us when we saw them in Ecuador and Peru). When we finally saw them they were partially hidden by the vegetation. Always nice to see the bird again – one of Jack’s favorites – even if the views were partial and brief. I always like being on the river. We had some great views of the Long-winged Harrier and Little Cuckoo. There were at least five species of hummingbirds observed – both along the river and at boat Captain’s house and yard.
The road we took to catch the boat actually had some good birding as well. We had the Pied Water Tyrant and the Red-breasted Meadowlark – think a large Vermillion Flycatcher. The Carib Grackle was present, but not in large numbers like we’ve seen Great-tailed Grackles in the United States. But the Carib Grackle is a new bird for me (Life bird).
We made a quick stop at Hope Canal, an entrance to the Atlantic Ocean. This place was busy with Fisherman repairing their boats, with other people just hanging out. And domestic goats were everywhere. We stopped here to check out the mud flats, but unfortunately we came at the wrong time. We should have stopped here on our way to the river. I think the reason we didn’t stop here first was because the local guide wanted to make sure we got on the river at a decent time to see the Hoatzins. My favorite bird at Hope Canal was the Scarlet Ibis. We had four ibis fly over and their coloring against the gray sky was spectacular. Hard to miss those birds. We also got to see two Magnificent Frigatebirds.
We got back to our hotel at a decent time, then were told to have our bags packed quickly as they are being driven to our next destination for arrival tomorrow. Tomorrow, we are taking a charter flight to see the Kaieteur Falls and then will fly on to our lodge at Sumara. Jack’s looking forward to seeing the falls, although the poor guy has caught a head cold. Luckily I don’t think we have quite the same early morning wake-up call as the past two days.
17 February 2019
Today we checked out of our hotel and caught a commercial flight to Kaieteur Falls (part of Kaieteur National Park). The flight was about 1.5 hours and I got to ride in the co-pilot’s seat. That was a new experience for me. Luckily the pilot didn’t need my assistance.
We spent two hours at the national park/falls looking for birds, specifically the Guianan Cock-of-the Rock. We found several of these birds, all in trees. Hard to miss the bright orange color. These are the weirdest looking birds to me. All orange except for a few black splashes on their wings and head.
We hiked to the falls, which were quiet magnificent. These falls are the highest “single-drop” waterfall in the world at 780 feet, over three times as tall as Niagara Falls. Quite impressive. Beautiful. While at the falls proper, we did see several birds, but most notably was the Orange-breasted Falcon in search of food – some of the many swifts flying around.
At the end of our two hours we hopped back on to the plane and off we went to Sumara Ecolodge where we will spend the next three nights. We got to the lodge around 1:30 p.m., and proceeded to have a late lunch. We had the rest of the afternoon off before meeting up again around 4:00 p.m. Jack, who isn’t feeling well, went to our room to rest. I went out into the hot sun to look for birds and I was able to add a few new birds to my list.
In the late afternoon, our group went out birding. The target bird this afternoon was the Great Potoo. We found two of these birds (a pair) as part of our forest walk. The potoo feeds at night so during the day they roost (they look like a statue) and are easily photographed if you can find the bird. It takes a lot of noise to flush these birds. I know, because our group was making a lot of noise, despite the admonishment of our local bird guide. We then spent some time birding until nightfall. Shortly before dusk we had our first “sundowner”. This is where the locals bring out the El Dorado (Guyana product) Rum. They even gave each of us a short glass with the Guyana flag on the side.
But we weren’t done birding yet. Our goal at dusk was to spot nighthawks and nightjars. We found both the Least and Lesser Nighthawks. Both great finds. Then it was back to the barn, so to speak, for dinner and going over our checklists (a daily event).
With birding tours, the guides always handouts a checklist of what birds might be seen on the tour. Then they go over the checklist each night to mark what birds were seen and/or heard.
By the time we finished dinner and gone over our checklist, we were ready to turn the lights out and go to bed with scheduled 5:00 a.m. breakfast.
18 February 2019
We woke today to an open window. I thought Jack opened it and he thought I did. Hmmmm. We still have a resident frog in our bathroom.
Today was the day to see the “trip bird” – the Harpy Eagle. We hiked on the “Harpy Trail” for 30 minutes to check out a nest site. The Harpy’s has been seen bringing in nest material to this site in preparation for nesting. Yup, you guessed it. A no-show. What a disappointment. We had so wanted to see the bird. Don’t know if we will have any other chances, but I sure hope so. A couple who are also at the lodge saw the Harpy Eagle yesterday. As Jack likes to say – Timing is Everything. And it sure is. One birder on our tour said he has hiked different trails three times to see a Harpy Eagle and no Harpy. Another birder said he has taken photos of Harpy nests twice now, and no Harpy. I hope our luck changes.
We birded from around 6:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., getting about 35 species, of which most were new birds for the trip. I think my favorite was the Great Jacamar. When the light hit the bird just right, the green on its head and the blue in its tail just shined. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.
From 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. was quiet time. Time to rest and relax as it is hot outside, even though you can hear the birds from our cabana.
At 4:30 p.m. we headed to “Heaven Savannah” to look for grassland species, finding lots of flycatchers, seedeaters (e.g., Ruddy-breasted), and the White-naped Xenopsaris. After getting our fill of grassland species, we headed into the forest to look for owls. We were successful in calling in the Spectacled Owl. We didn’t spend much time on the owl. Who (no pun intended) likes to have a bright light shining in their eyes? Then it was back to the lodge for dinner and completing our species list of the day.
19 February 2019
Today was our second try for the Harpy Eagle. Our adventure took us down a forest road (one-mile drive and then two miles of walking) and a river boat trip on the Burro Burro River. Once we were on the two-mile trail we birded along the way. You never know when and where you might find a Harpy Eagle. You listen for agitated Howler Monkeys or Scarlet Macaws, although the Scarlet Macaws always sound agitated to me. We did hear both, but our guide suspects they might have been agitated by a Crested Eagle, an eagle similar to the Harpy Eagle. So why the agitation? Well Harpy Eagles like to eat monkeys and large birds.
We got to the river, which is low this year. The trip took us awhile (several hours) because we had to dodge large trees that had fallen over or down into the water, and dodge overhanging branches and leaves. We had two boats. A couple of times the boats (one or both) would get hung up (high centered) on a large tree trunk that was mostly submerged under water. The trip down river was beautiful despite the obstacles. We did see a caiman (think alligator) resting on a log, and we flushed a Capybara. This is a large rodent looking mammal.
We finally made our destination and walked a narrow, windy trail to an area where we could look across the river and see a very large tree. In this tree was a Harpy Eagle nest which has had an active juvenile hanging around. There was no bird on the nest when we arrived so we proceeded to ‘stake-out’ the nest hoping a Harpy would fly in. Our wait was rewarded with the appearance of an immature (8month-old) Harpy Eagle! Woohoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We all got great views and hopefully great photographs. After watching the bird for about 30-45 minutes, we returned to our boat and our trip up river. For me, the river trip didn’t produce many birds because Jack and I were in the second boat going down river to the Harpy nest. Most of the birds were flushed by the first boat. And coming back we were in the first boat, but the forest was much more quiet, except for the numerous Kingfishers (Ringed and Amazonian) along the river.
This is our last night at Surama Eco-lodge so the staff fixed us a nice barbeque dinner.
20 February 2019
Another early morning departure (6:00 a.m.). We said good-bye to our hosts at Surama Eco-Lodge and proceeded to bird our way to Atta Rainforest Lodge, located about 30 minutes from Surama. We birded along the way until we reached the Harpy Eagle Trail (our first search site). The Harpy Eagle nest is located within the forest about a 30-minute walk from the road. While we birded the road, our drivers went to the nest to see if the eagles had landed (I know, sorry). The excited word back was that a Harpy was present so off we went, in a rush, to check out the bird. When we arrived we saw the female. She was sitting in the open, but pretty high up in a tree. She left and flew to the nest tree (which is one big honking tree) and we continued our view. Suddenly a male came flying into a nearby tree and we got lots of looks of him as well. Just not as good. So three Harpy Eagles for this trip. Woohoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Score. Jack and I did our happy dance.
We got to Atta Rainforest Ledge around 12:00 p.m., quickly settled into our rooms (nice), and then went to have a delicious meal. Yum!!! Then we had a few hours to just rest and relax.
We did some afternoon birding beginning around 4:30 p.m. Walking the road near the lodge, we got to see ever so brief glimpses of the Coraya Wren. A bird I really wanted to see. I’m glad I got a decent 5-second look at the bird. I sure hope we see it again. About a half-hour after we started birding the rains came and quieted down the forest. We stayed out in hopes of see the Long-tailed Potoo fly in, but the bird had other plans. We ended the evening with a very good meal and completing our bird checklist for the day.
When we do our evening checklist, it surprises (or maybe no some much) me that I only seem to get half the birds as the rest of the group, or at least Swampy (aka David 2) or Victoria. He knows the calls for the birds, unlike me. Shoot, sometimes I’m lucky to even know the names of the birds we see. Victoria likewise is a good birder – she is really good at spotting birds.
21- February 2019
It rained much of the night and into the morning. The plans were to get up at 5:00 a.m., and begin birding by 6:00 a.m. Our plans got delayed a little with us starting out around an hour later. We went to the canopy walk/tower, consisting of three-interconnected towers. While we were on tower number two, we were told to leave the tower and proceed to tower number 3 as the wires holding up the gangway between tower #1 and tower #2 were hanging by a thread. So our birding sightings on the canopy tower consisted of three birds total: a Guinian Puffbird, and two White-necked Toucans.
From the tower we birded a forest trail for several hours, not finding much although the Grey-rumped Trumpeter, a rather large, beautiful bird, was sighted briefly. I would love to have better and longer views of this bird. We did see and hear the Screaming Piha regularly. These birds sings all day long. This song/call is one you don’t forget. I think I will make it a ringtone on my phone.
We had a nice break after lunch, then around 2:00 p.m. we headed out on the road to a spot where our local bird guide had previously located a Rufous Potoo in the nearby forest. Off we went. We hiked on a trail for a short distance, and there was the Potoo, sitting quietly for us. These birds roost during the day and hunt at night. The bird is not common for this area so always a pleasure to see a rare bird.
After we hiked back out to the vehicles we birded the road, finding some great parrots, macaws, tanagers, and raptors. My favorite parrot is the Red-fan Parrot. This bird fans its crest, although I wasn’t able to capture the beauty on my camera. We also had a couple of small Bat Falcon. Right now is the breeding season in Guyana so we are seeing a lot of birds already paired up, copulating, and building nests. Fun to watch all the activity.
Next up – Week Two. Until then …