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Drinking Rum Punch in the Rupununi


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Amazon Racer


After breakfast we walked a trail through the forest and almost immediately spotted a troop of Guianan or red-faced black spider monkeys. Monkeys can be quite difficult to see, because understandably they don’t like people very much, having been hunted for generations by the Amerindians, so they do tend to scarper the moment they see you. These spider monkeys close to the lodge are obviously pretty habituated, as I was able to get good views of them, it was very nice to be able to watch them, using their prehensile tails as a fifth limb. Often you only get glimpses of spider monkeys, as they rapidly disappear through the trees and if you do get a good view, it’s often because you’ve caught them unawares and arrived underneath without them noticing. You do have to be a little careful with these monkeys, because when they do spot you they will try to break off sticks and drop them on you and if that doesn’t work they may well urinate or defecate on you, so if you do see spider monkeys, it’s advisable to wear a hat and keep your mouth closed when looking up just in case.




Guianan or Red-faced Black Spider Monkey









Monkey ladder


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As the lodge dining room is completely open, there are lots of birds flying in and out all the time this Palm Tanager joined us for lunch.






After lunch and a siesta it was back out into the forest, our walk along the river got off to a good start, when I spotted this White-tailed Trogon, though getting any decent photos was a real challenge. Photographing birds in the rainforest is always difficult, often as in this case the bird or it could a squirrel, a monkey or some other arboreal animal, is against the sky which means any photos you take will likely be silhouettes. So you have to try and find an angle, that will give you some foliage behind your subject but this is not always possible, when moving to a new position, it’s easy to lose sight of your subject, find you no longer have a clear view or frighten it off. In this case the bird sat there for a good amount of time but despite trying every angle and take plenty of shots, the results were not great and I’ve had to make plenty of adjustments using Photoshop to make my bird look a bit more like the other White-tailed Trogon photos on the web. I’m sure a more competent photographer would have done a much better job.






The other major challenge is with autofocus. Just spotting a bird in the first place is quite difficult enough, after having a good look through binoculars, I try to fix its position and get the camera on it, I only use a 100-400mm lens and most birds are still pretty small at 400 and there is nearly always a leaf or twig in the way. Even when I think there isn’t and I think I’ve got a clear shot, often when I press the shutter the bird will suddenly disappear and a twig that I hadn’t noticed will pop into perfect focus. I’ve now got to try and get the lens focused back on a bird, that I can’t actually see anymore and may have already flown away. Sometimes even when the focusing point appears to be bang on the subject, it will just refuse to focus on the bird, instead constantly returning to the same damn twig, worst of all the bird will come into focus, but it won’t take the shot, either constantly focusing and refocusing wasting your batteries or taking the shot when it’s focused on the twig. Often you just have to give up on autofocus and resort to manual; quite often if I did get the autofocus to find the subject, I’d quickly switch to manual for fear that it would lose it again, before I could take more shots. I always like to have two cameras and for this trip I’d decided it was time to retire my aged Canon Eos 350D and buy something new I opted to get a 70D which has 19 focusing points sometimes the full autofocus was brilliant and would find the subject straight away and sometimes it just wouldn’t. Most of the time I resorted to using the centre focusing point, which may not always give the best composition, but should make life easier and in the rainforest you don’t often have time to worry about the composition, but even then it would sometimes struggle to focus on the subject. Of course, it maybe that I needed more practice with the camera to get to understand how the autofocus works, whatever the case it all adds to the fun.



Spix’s Guan in a Cecropia  tree

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Dinner at the lodge always starts at seven and the food usually meat or fish with rice, beans and other veg, is basic simple fare, but not bad and always accompanied with plenty of fruit juice and water. After dinner we went out on the river, for a short night boat trip, we saw a Blackish Nightjar, a few black caimans a couple of Amazonian Tree Boas and a tree frog, but sadly no mammals of any kind.



Amazonian Tree Boa



Blackish Nightjar

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Day 3


The lodge sits in a large grassy clearing, but there are some small trees and shrubs in amongst and some more trees along the river and then there is of course, the edge of the actual forest, that surrounds the lodge, so you can actually see really quite few birds, just in an around the lodge. So first thing in the morning, we decided to hang around the lodge, in the distance we spotted heading back towards the forest a red-rumped agouti, and then a good selection of birds including lots of parrots and parakeets, Channel-billed Toucans, Plumbeous Kites etc and more spider monkeys all without leaving the lodge grounds.



Red-rumped Agouti



Blue-headed Parrot

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After breakfast we walked down to the river and boarded a boat for the half hour boat ride to the start of the Turtle Mountain Trail, along the way we spotted a few good water birds, like Little Blue and Capped Herons and then in a tree in the distance, a magnificent King Vulture too far away to take decent photos, but nice to see all the same. Near the start of the trail not too far in from the river, is Turtle Mountain Camp this is a small group of three simple huts, with hooks for hammocks, a dinning hut and a couple of loos and showers, in a little clearing in the forest. If you want more of a jungle experience than at the lodge then it is possible to stay here, if you bring everything you need with you.






Walking palm


Walking palms are so called because they do actually walk or at least sort of, one tends to think of plants being rooted to the spot and not moving but not this palm, when the plant wants to move to get more sunlight it puts out a whole lot more roots on one side while shutting off the roots on the other side so that they die and rot way, thus the trunk can be slowly repositioned. At least this is what your guide may tell you, but I tend to think this may just be a bit of a myth.


As we carried on further along the trail, the familiar loud wolf whistle call of the Screaming Piha reverberated through the forest “wee wee wee whit weeyoo”, “whit weeyoo” this is the sound of the Amazon rainforest. You hear these birds absolutely everywhere you go in the Amazon, they’re extremely common, but you don’t often see them, even when one is calling very close, you really have to make an effort to actually find it. Their plumage is predominantly drab grey/green and except when they’re throwing their heads back to make their call, they’re usually just perched sitting still on a branch or vine making them very difficult to spot. This one was close enough that we were able to find it before too long.




Screaming Piha






Here's a link to a recording of a screaming piha from Iwokrama


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Purple Flower Iwokrama Forest in Guyana by inyathi, on Flickr


Soon the trail started to go up hill, it’s a little rough and pretty steep in places, but there are handrails where necessary, if you’re reasonably fit and your happy walking up and down hills, then you should have no difficulty getting to the top in good time, as it’s only 950ft (300m) at the top. It does help if you’ve had a chance to become acclimatised to the heat and humidity and you’re not carrying too much camera gear; however there are some benches half way up, where you can stop for a rest.



Rock & fig tree


Apart from how fit you are, how long it actually takes to reach the top depends on whether or not you’re birders, there are plenty of good birds to be seen or at least searched for on the way up, so it took us sometime.



Nice view, not much further to the top


Around midday we finally reached the end of the trail, at the top there was a very nice cool breeze and the views were truly spectacular, rainforest stretching for miles out to the river and well beyond.



Worth the effort



 A lot of rainforest







Essequibo River


Provided the weather is good. the viewpoint is an excellent place from which to spot with luck. a variety of hawks and other birds. like macaws and other parrots flying along below, we spotted a Great Black Hawk fly by and some Swallow-tailed Kites It’s also a good place from which to look for monkeys and in a tree just below us was a troop of Guianan Red Howler Monkeys, if you can get up onto a hill like this and look down on to the rainforest canopy you’ve a good chance of seeing these monkeys. because when they’re not feeding howlers like to climb into the highest branches to sun themselves. This behaviour makes them easy prey for their nemesis. South America’s largest raptor the Harpy Eagle . luckily for the howlers there were none flying around this day.




Guianan Red Howlers




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On the way back down, we found a few more good birds like the White-throated Manikin and then our local guide known as ‘Broads’ somehow spotted a tiny frog.










Back at the bottom we found a Marail Guan




followed by a much closer view of a howler monkey.






Essequibo River Iwokrama Forest in Guyana




After a successful morning we headed straight back to the lodge for a rather late lunch, during which it rained very hard for a short while. Lunch was followed by a slightly briefer than usual siesta.

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Silver-beaked Tanager another frequent visitor to the dining room




Swimming in the Essequibo is prohibited for good reason, while returning to my room one of the lodge’s residents arrived, Sankar the three-legged Black Caiman, as the world’s largest alligators these animals are more than capable of taking people, indeed careless Amerindian children are sometimes killed by Black Caiman.






I went down to the river for a closer look, hot though it might be, the sight of Sankar’s large head was enough to ensure, that I wasn’t tempted to break the rules and take a dip.




After our morning’s exercise tackling Turtle Mountain, we decided to take it easy spotting a few birds around the lodge, like this Moriche Oriole.




Otherwise we took a very brief walk up the road, to look for a Barred Forest Falcon that was calling, but were unable to find it, though we did spot a Guianan Puffbird.


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Day 4


Knowing that there was a fruiting fig tree alongside the road, we took an early morning walk up the road to take a look, although the light was not at all good, we did manage to find plenty of birds before deciding it was time to return for breakfast. After which I went back to my room to finish packing, after placing my bag at the top of the steps leading to my room, a young man came by and offered to take it, so I nodded and as he carried it off to the main building, I went back inside for one last check. Satisfied that there was nothing left in the room, I picked up my hand luggage and walked over to the main building and went up stairs to take a few last photos and then after a short while went down to where the lodge car was waiting. The lodge vehicle was a Toyota Hilux on reaching the car, I could see that the luggage had been placed in the open back and then covered over with a tarpaulin. Conveniently all the main lodges in this part of Guyana are reasonably close together so to do a trip like this you don’t actually need your own vehicle; each lodge will happily drive you on to the next one. Leaving Iwokrama at 08:30 meant we should probably get to our next accommodation in good time for lunch, depending on what we might happen to see along the way.


In the printed information that they provided in the rooms at the Lodge they proudly state that Iwokrama is the best place in the world to see jaguars according to Audubon Magazine in 2002, this may have been the case back then, but thanks to recent developments in the Pantanal in Brazil it certainly isn’t true anymore. The most they can really say at Iwokrama, is that you have a reasonably good chance of seeing a jaguar and if you do get lucky and spot one it will most likely be somewhere along the road, that we were now travelling along. I didn’t have high hopes of spotting one, but they are seen reasonably often, though I’m not sure whether a bit earlier in the morning is better or exactly which time of year is best. If you’re staying at Iwokrama, you can book a trip to specifically look for jaguars along this road.


While we weren’t lucky this Naturetrek tour was Guyana a Timeless Paradise


Remarkably this same wide laterite dirt road through the jungle, on which jaguars are frequently spotted is Guyana’s main north-south highway. Not long after we’d set off our driver suddenly stopped having spotted something, it wasn't a big cat but a bird, on the trunk of a Cecropia tree was a large red bird, the Crimson Fruit Crow one of the special birds of this area, that all birders hope to see.






We were then treated to the sight of two separate groups of Grey-winged Trumpeters these extraordinary rather bustard like birds, are another specialty of this area.






Followed by a Green Aracari




and then a Red-rumped Agouti crossing the road (no photo).



Guyana's main north/south highway


The reason this road is so great for wildlife, is because the forest comes right to the edge of the road and (at least according to the Bradt Guide) it only ever has about 40 vehicles driving along it, in a day. I was pleased with what we’d seen along just a short stretch of this road, even if it hadn’t included a jaguar but then I’d been so lucky with jaguars in Brazil, that I didn’t mind at all though an ocelot would have made for a nice alternative. Sadly this road may not remain such a great place for wildlife, for much longer; the road not only connects Georgetown to the south of Guyana, but also to north Brazil. Georgetown is a deep water port and is closer to most of northern Brazil than any of Brazil’s ports, so the Brazilian government are very keen to tarmac this road, so that they can start exporting goods from the north of Brazil through Georgetown. If this happens the road would be made even wider and inevitably the forest would have to be cut back on either side, to keep it away from the road and before long there would be large numbers of trucks thundering along. Roads through rainforests almost always bring undesirable people, at the moment there are signs at regular intervals along the road clearly stating no hunting, but I fear that once the tarmac has been laid people coming in from Brazil, will ignore the law and start hunting the wildlife. It may well also bring in illegal miners as well; whatever the case I can’t see the road remaining a great place to see jaguars, once it’s become a major highway.


Before too long the rainforest gives way to a narrow belt of dry scrub known as the Mori Scrub, this area is home to one or two special birds that favour this particular habitat, so we stopped and walked for a bit in the hope of finding them, with the trees being that much lower, there isn’t much shade on the road so it was very hot.




After taking a walk into the scrub we found the Black Manakin, but I wasn’t able to get any photos, though I did get some not very good shots of this White-crowned Manikin.




After only a very short distance, the vegetation reverts from scrub back to rainforest, not long after leaving the Mori Scrub, we reached the turn off for Atta Lodge the location of Iwokrama’s Canopy Walkway.

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After we’d jumped out of the car the luggage was unloaded, I stared at the small pile of bags in disbelief, "where’s my bag", I said, as it clearly wasn’t there and there were no bags left in the Hilux. After thinking about it, it soon became clear, what must have happened to my bag, unbeknownst to me some other guests had been leaving River Lodge at the same time as us and my bag had obviously been placed in their car by mistake. When I’d got into the car back at the Lodge, our luggage had already been covered with a tarpaulin, so I just assumed my bag was there without checking. Fortunately, the other car had been going to Surama Lodge, which is only a little bit further on and where we were headed next, Luke contacted Surama and suggested that they bring the bag back to the road junction and someone from Atta could collect it from there, so I should have my bag back that evening.


After a nice lunch eaten with the local guides unlike at River Lodge, we spent a relaxing afternoon around the Lodge, which is much smaller and more intimate than River Lodge; one of the guides showed me a dusky purpletuft one of the areas special birds and then these nice red & green macaws.



Red & Green Macaws



Iwokrama Forest’s canopy walkway was built by a Canadian company back in 2003, to really stand a good chance of seeing birds and maybe other wildlife up in the canopy you need to go up first thing in the morning, just after dawn or in the late afternoon staying until sunset, this means you ideally need to stay the night. So after the walkway was built a simple camp was put up, originally there was just a main building with hammocks and some communal bathrooms, but fortunately after a while, they decided to build some proper rooms with beds and ensuite bathrooms. Still quite basic but a lot more comfortable, than just a hammock. My one minor criticism is that they had put in two electric sockets above the head of the bed for plugging in bedside lights, however, the sockets were empty there were no lights and when your mosquito net was down it covered the sockets. As these were the only sockets in the room as far as I could see, I wanted to use them for recharging batteries, but in order to do so, I had to hitch up the mosquito net and leave it resting on the plug, potentially allowing mosquitoes and other insects to get in. Alternatively I suppose I could have tried to pull the net down in front of the bedside table, so that the table and my charger were outside the net, but then you’d need to hitch it all back up again to unplug your charger. The electrics are on a generator, this comes on in the evening, from six until about ten or eleven and then comes on again first thing in the morning and is otherwise off.


After tea and coffee we set off into the forest at about 16:00 and walked the fairly short trail up to the canopy walkway.



Luke in the rainforest


The nice thing about the walkway at Atta, is that it is built on the side of a hill, this means that instead of having to climb some hugely high tower, as you have to do with some walkways, here you just have to climb halfway up a moderately steep hill. This makes it much easier, if you’re not particularly good with heights, the path up hill is stepped and there are handrails so it’s not at all difficult, after going a short way along the side of the hill, you walk down in to a little shelter and then out on to the walkway.



Canopy walkway Atta Iwokrama Forest 


Keep looking forward, hold on to the ropes on either side of the bridge and walk until you reach the first tree platform, the bridges don’t sway too much as you’re only allowed on one at a time and because the platforms are built around trees, they really don’t sway at all when you move around. I much preferred being on this walkway than being up the canopy towers at Cristalino Lodge in Brazil, which swayed disconcertingly every time someone moved around and here we weren’t bothered at all, by sweat bees which proved a real nuisance in Brazil.








Being up in the canopy gives you a chance to see birds, that you would struggle to see from down on the ground and having based ourselves on the third platform from where you get the best views, we were soon spotting a good variety of species.




View from the canopy walkway 











After about an hour and a half the sun started to go down giving us one of the best sunsets of the trip, as the sun had dropped, we exited the canopy walkway and walked back down the hill.




Once we’d reached the bottom, Leon the main guide from Atta suggested that we wait for 5-10 minutes, taking Luke’s telescope he lined it up on the topmost point of a dead tree, by now it was already getting really quite dark. Suddenly, after just a few minutes someone exclaimed there it is, perched on the top of the tree sitting nicely in the telescope was a White-winged Potoo, another of the special birds that people come to Atta to see. Potoos are night birds and are very difficult to find during the daytime, they usually sit very upright and completely motionless on a tree branch, relying on their mottled plumage to provide perfect camouflage, rendering them almost invisible. The plumage of the common potoo in particular perfectly resembles lichen covered bark and when they’re perched they look like part of the tree. This dead tree at Atta is obviously a favourite perch for this bird so the guides know that it will be flying around at dusk and should come and land on this tree.


Rainforests are not always the most comfortable of environments and when you’re walking you inevitably get very sweaty so it’s always a relief to be able to have a shower and put on some nice clean dry clothes at the end of each day. So I was looking forward to being reunited with my bag, when I returned to my room, unfortunately instead of delivering my bag to the road junction as requested the driver had driven it all the way back to River Lodge instead for some reason. So I ended up having to borrow a clean shirt to avoid offending the other guests as the shirt I’d taken off, did smell just a little bit. Although my bag was now back at River Lodge, I was assured that someone would drive it over in the morning.


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@@inyathi, I have just looked at the pics so far; will read the tr in detail later...but after Africa --South America is our favorite place to go..Isn't it just bountiful?

and beautiful!

As well as the people. Just lovely.


Thanks for posting this. I intend to sit down this weekend and read EVERY word.


We go every year as well, but well below the North East. Maybe we will have to re-route next trip!

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Day 5


The early morning is really much the best time to be up in the canopy, so we set off first thing and headed back up to the walkway, it was a little slow at first and the light wasn’t great, as it took a while for the sun to come up over the hill. However, before too long we were seeing all sorts of woodcreepers , woodpeckers, honeycreepers, parakeets and other birds. From somewhere seemingly very close by, we could hear the hooting calls of a troop of spider monkeys, Leon attempted to start up a conversation with these monkeys, despite doing a very good imitation of their calls, they never came any closer, so we weren’t able to see them.


Although we saw plenty of birds I didn’t get any worthwhile photos though I did photograph this nice butterfly.





Traditional form of rainforest communication, whacking a tree root, message in this case "get the bacon on we're  coming home". :)


After a successful mornings birding. we returned to the lodge for breakfast at about 09:00, sometime after breakfast as we were preparing to set off on another walk in to the forest, Leon suddenly appeared from his room. excitedly announcing that while taking a shower. he’d spotted some saki monkeys, hastily grabbing my camera I followed Leon in to the edge of the forest and there moving through the trees was a troop of Guianan or White-faced Saki monkeys, inevitably they didn’t prove that easy to see or photograph. as they were moving quite fast through the trees. This really illustrates the extent to which wildlife viewing is all about luck, to have a troop of saki monkeys effectively arrive in camp was just amazing.




white-faced Saki Monkeys




Another short walk in the forest produced some red-throated caracaras and more trumpeters. on returning for lunch the day got even better. when my bag was finally returned to me.



Red-throated Caracara


13561388845_8cd7070a8a_o.jpg Atta Lodge


In the late afternoon we walked a short trail through the forest and out onto the main road, walking up the main road gave us great views of swallow-tailed kites and flock of little chachalacas. Walking some way along the road until we came to a bridge, over a little muddy river after stopping to admire this trogon, we scanned the river checking out all the fallen tree trunks and overhanging trees and bushes but saw nothing of any interest. Just the other side of the bridge however, we spotted a gorgeous scarlet macaw high up in a tree. Walking back, we took the road back up to the lodge, by this time it was dark, it would have been nice to round of a great day with some nocturnal wildlife, but it wasn’t to be and all we saw were a few bats flying around.



Swallow-tailed Kite




Little Chachalacas







White-tailed Trogon






Scarlet Macaw





Tropical Kingbird & Rusty-margined Flycatcher



Wax-tailed Plant Hopper

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Day 6


While enjoying early morning coffee and biscuits, we were interrupted by the arrival of a family of tame Black Currasows, there was very little light and they didn’t hang around, so I wasn’t able to get any good photos.



Black Currasow


Just after 06:00, we set off to walk back down to the road, but were quickly called back to see a Red Brocket Deer, that had just arrived in front of the lodge, the deer was clearly quite habituated, so I was able to get quite close however it was very dark in the forest so I decided to attach my flashgun, my intention was to at least try a few photos without flash first, but I forgot to check if my flash was turned off. Inevitably the deer didn’t like my flash very much and fairly quickly disappeared, so I was only able to take the one shot, at least I had been able to watch it for a little while first.



Red Brocket Deer


After that we carried on down to the road spotting a trogon on the way and plenty more birds on the road, our progress back up to the bridge was quite slow, finding again that there was nothing there we turned back, as by now it was getting very hot.




Swallow-tailed Kites





Black Nunbird



Green Honeycreeper



The lodge sightings board, there are great things to be seen at Atta if you're lucky


Following breakfast we packed up and left, after I’d checked that my bag really was in the back this time, as we made our way back to the road, we were stopped by a beautiful flock of Grey-winged Trumpeters.










Then it was back up the road to the bridge, when we got there, I could see that one of the guides from the lodge was down by the river with some other guests and it soon became apparent that they had found some otters. Scanning the fallen tree trunks that lay across the river I eventually spotted the distinctive head of a Giant Otter, that was swimming around the other side of one of the trees, every so often he would put his head up to have a look at us before disappearing again. Although there were undoubtedly more otters there, we weren’t able to see the rest of the family and this one clearly wasn’t intending to come any closer, still seeing a Giant Otter from a road bridge swimming around in a very narrow little river like this, was the last thing I’d expected.



Giant Otter


While on the bridge, one of the guides also pointed out some electric eels, that could occasional be seen swimming just below the surface.


These are all the photos I’ve uploaded so far, but day 6 will continue as and when I have time to upload more.


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Well, I don't have time to read all - for various reasoins my attention span is short right now - but I wanted to say how totally impressed I am so far. I will defintiely be back to enjoy this over a coffee, even though there is almost no chance that I will ever visit Guyana.

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It is fascinating to read about a country that gets little coverage

The waterfall was amazing - and I loved your red faced spider monkeys

Lots of good bird spotting - and am sure that what you say about luck with wildlife is true (though you increase your chances by going to the right places!)

I am glad you got your bag back.

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Day 6 Cont.


Our next destination was Surama Lodge, which lies in an area of savanna outside of the Iwokrama Forest, but we had a couple of stops to make along the way. Our first stop was at a trail that leads to a cock of the rock lek, the brightly orange males display to the duller coloured females at a lek, in the hope of securing a mate and if you know where one of these leks is, then you have a good chance of seeing the birds. The trail is not too long or difficult though it does go up hill a bit, along the way we caught a brief glimpse of some weeper or wedge-capped capuchins, but these monkeys quickly disappeared, we also had good views of spider monkeys even though they weren’t overly friendly and getting decent photos proved difficult.




After a while the trail went up hill and then through some huge rocks, at one point you have to bend down and walk through a cave/tunnel stopping to look at the bats on the way past. Once the other side we found somewhere to sit with a view down the hill and waited, before too long a male bird appeared, however, the tangle of vines and small trees made getting a good view difficult and try as I might I wasn’t able to take any photos.





Waiting for the Cock of the Rock




He didn’t stay too long, so rather than wait to see if he might return, we retraced our steps back to the car. Cock of the rocks are so called because they like to nest on the side of rocks, while it was nice to have seen another of these birds, I was very glad to have seen them so well back at Kaieteur Falls.



In the centre of this photo, the little dark patch is a Cock of the Rock's mud nest





 Spider Monkey


A few days later on we would pass by the local HQ of an oil company, that has been trying to carry out oil exploration in the area, they were at one point intending to put in a road through the forest to one of their exploration sites, that would have gone straight through this cock of the rock lek. Fortunately the residents of Surama Village, were able to stop this act of vandalism from going ahead, as the lek is an important money spinner for the village, after all these birds are so extraordinary that even non birders, may be tempted to try and see them.


We then drove on further along the road to the start of another trail, this one rather longer, but entirely flat leads to the nest tree of a pair of Harpy Eagles, having been unlucky when visiting a similar tree at Alta Floresta in Brazil, I hoped that this time I might get lucky and finally see one of these majestic birds.






Rainforest Tree


As in Brazil we hoped that the chick which had just recently fledged, would still be around but sadly when we reached the tree, we found that it wasn’t, while we waited by the tree our guide from Surama went for a walk around, but apart from a single wing feather, there was no sign that any of the eagles were around.



Harpy Eagle's nest




So we left to carry on our drive to the lodge, this nest had been our best shot at seeing a Harpy and I feared I would leave South America for a third time without seeing this most iconic of rainforest birds.

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It was only a fairly short drive on to Surama Lodge, after checking in and a chance to wash off some of the morning’s sweat, we were treated to a delicious lunch of curried labba with rice, once the various dishes of food had been placed on the table, we were informed that labba is what they call paca in Guyana, and is commonly eaten all over the country. The paca is a large nocturnal rodent, somewhat larger than an agouti with a beautiful chestnut, dark brown or black coat, covered in rows of white spots, the only one of these animals I’ve ever seen was at night at Cristalino Lodge in Brazil and it looked somewhat healthier than this one. Normally when travelling, if given the choice, I would never chose to eat bushmeat/game, unless I know it comes from a sustainable source, in this case there was no other choice except to go hungry and I presumed that as Surama Lodge is part of an eco-tourist project, that pacas are hunted sustainably and they are an agricultural pest. Also all of the food is bought from Surama Village and therefore benefits the community and in any case these animals should be plentiful back in the Iwokrama Forest, certainly where hunting is not permitted, so since I’m not a vegetarian I decided to tuck in. It is a running joke that all exotic meat tastes like chicken, well labba is a white meat and certainly some pieces did look exactly like chicken, other bits that had some fat on them looked perhaps more like pork. Certainly had I not known what I was eating, I might well have thought it was chicken, whatever the case it was tender and delicious.


In 1812 an English explorer and naturalist Charles Waterton passed through Surama, he was so taken with the area that he wrote “The finest Park that England boasts falls short of this delightful place”. On his travels through Guyana, Waterton was hoping to learn the secrets of the natural plant poison known as ‘wourali’, better known as curare which Macushi hunters used to coat the tips of their arrows. He was the first to bring Curare back to Britain, where because of its muscle relaxant properties, it would become a very useful medicine, until better alternatives were discovered.




The view from Surama Lodge to the Pakaraima Mountains









Yellow-rumped Cacique's Nests




Yellow-rumped Caciques







White-tipped Dove

Edited by inyathi
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Surama Eco-Lodge is a community lodge, run by the Makushi community of Surama Village, so that tourists don’t disturb village life the lodge is a little way outside the village, sited in an area of savanna with stunning views of the Pakaraima Mts. The lodge consists of a large open two storey main building, with a dining room down stairs and a bar library and relaxation area upstairs.




The rooms consist of four separate huts known as benabs and a larger cabin with four additional quite small rooms.






A proper benab is large communal Amerindian meeting house, that is usually thatched almost down to the ground, but now refers to almost any hut, normally but not always thatched. My room and ensuite bathroom in the cabin was pretty small and basic. Unlike at the other lodges, they don’t send someone to your room, to put your mosquito net down for you in the evening, when I tried to do this myself if I pulled the net tight to tuck it in at one end, it would come out at the other end. So when I got in to bed I found the net was almost lying on my head, not comfortable like this, I decided in the end not to use the net. I probably could have found a way around the problem, but I couldn’t be bothered messing around trying to sort out the net, there was no bedside light, so every time you wanted to turn the light on, you had to get out from under the net. Later I came to regret my decision to abandon the net, when I found myself lying awake in the middle of the night listening to mosquitoes whining around. All the other lodges had much larger straight sided nets of the kind that form a box around the bed, so I didn’t have this problem elsewhere. Surama was also the only lodge that did not have any electric sockets in the rooms, so if you need to charge anything, you have to hand it in to the office, this is only a minor inconvenience and didn’t bother me as I didn’t need to do any recharging.


After a relaxing afternoon, we decided to take it easy and postpone the scheduled river trip until the morning and just bird around the lodge and the immediate area, while sitting at the top of the stairs to the bar looking out at the forested Pakaraima Mts. just before sunset I saw more parrots flying around, than I have ever seen anywhere in the world. Red & Green Macaws, scarlet Macaws, Black-headed Parrots, Blue-headed Parrots, Orange-cheeked Parrots and Mealy Parrots all flying off to roost in the forest somewhere, the trapping of parrots for the pet trade is a big problem in parts of South America, including Guyana but clearly not at Surama, judging by the numbers I could see flying around. Aside from the food, the flocks of parrots are probably the one thing I’ll always remember at Surama.



As the sun started to drop, we took a short walk out on to the savanna to watch the sunset and look for nighthawks when the light started to go, several Lesser Nighthawks appeared hunting over the savanna.









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Pale-breasted Thrush




Day 7


After an early breakfast at 05:30, we set off on the long walk down to the Buro-Buro River, the walk follows the road through the savanna and then on into the forest, it’s almost entirely flat but a lot further than I’d expected. After spotting a good few birds along the way like the Guianan warbling antbird and the slightly more exciting blue-throated piping guan, amongst others, along with a red-rumped agouti we didn’t get to the river until around a quarter to eight.



Blue-throated Piping Guan


The Buro Buro River is a narrow little river that forms the boundary of the Iwokrama Forest, boating along the river was both beautiful and very peaceful, but not hugely productive wildlife wise, we did see some good birds but the only mammals were some proboscis bats on the underside of a fallen tree. I had hoped that some Giant Otters might put in an appearance or maybe a Tayra (a marten like carnivore) or even one of the cats, but it wasn’t to be, at one point we did see a track where a big bull tapir had emerged from the river and disappeared into the forest, but he was long gone.





Amazon Kingfisher



Boating on the Buro-Buro River









Proboscis Bats



Yellow-throated Woodpecker


Overall the river trip was very pleasant, but disappointing, but that’s often the way it is with wildlife, recently they have put up a basic hammock camp by the river, so that you can stay the night there which would allow you do boat the river much earlier at sunrise and again in the evening and maybe at night, this would give you a much better chance of seeing mammals. Rather than walk back, a car was waiting to pick us up, it was now almost ten o clock and had we walked, we would have ended up walking back through the savanna in the full heat of the midday sun.




The new hammock camp by the Buro-Buro River




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Normally visitors to Surama, as well as doing the river trip, climb nearby Surama Mountain at only 750ft it is not as high as Turtle Mt. however, the trail is apparently much more difficult near the top. You also have to walk a long way through the open savanna to get to the foot of the mountain, this means even if you go up early in the morning, by the time you get down again, you’ll likely have a very hot walk back to the lodge. It takes between 3 to 5 hrs to get up and back, how long really depends on whether you’re birding along the way or not, the views from the top should be spectacular. It wasn’t suggested that we should do this hike, and having not done the river trip the night before, we no longer had time in any case, according to our schedule the plan had been simply to go birding in the forest in search of the Rufous-winged Ground Cuckoo. This is a very hard to find bird, but the Surama area is one of the best places to look for it and the guides at Surama are supposed to be quite good at finding these birds, having not spotted one on our walk to the harpy’s nest it seemed likely, we’d missed our chance.


A pair of Palm Tanagers were nesting in the roof of the main building and would often fly in with beak fulls of mango to feed their chicks





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After lunch at midday, we relaxed for a while, as we were in no rush to reach our next destination, we finally left Surama at 2 o clock for Rock View Lodge.





On the way to Rock View


This lodge formerly a cattle ranch, sits at the northern end of Guyana’s vast Rupununi Savanna, the ranch was bought in 1992 by an Englishman Colin Edwards, who has run it ever since, as both a tourist lodge and working farm. The lodge has eight reasonably spacious rooms, with ensuite bathrooms and verandas with a sitting area and hammock for relaxing.



My veranda/stoep Rock View


The lodge has a large garden planted with mangos, carambolas (starfruit) and other fruiting trees, so there’s always plenty of fresh fruit, juices and homemade jams available along with fresh vegetables. In a corner of the garden at the back of the lodge, is a tiny little rocky hill covered in scrubby forest, that gives the lodge it’s name, although it’s only a tiny hill from the top you get a great view looking south way out across the open savanna to the distant Kanuku Mts.



After check-in we were immediately taken on a tour around the gardens, although it was still a pretty hot time of day, this was actually very interesting. We also spotted some nice birds on the way round including on the path behind the little hill, a covey of crested bobwhite quail.



Crested Bobwhite Quails feeding on cashew fruit



Burnished-buff Tanager


Conveniently for the lodge, the airstrip that serves the local community of Annai is just outside the back gate of the lodge, most guests actually come in by air because Rock View is close enough to most of the other lodges, that they can easily drive you to your next stop or pick up point. After a bit more birding in the garden, we walked out the back on to the airstrip and carried on into the savanna, spotting a beautiful red-breasted blackbird along the way, after finding an eastern meadow lark, we eventually spotted our real target three delightful little burrowing owls. Since we were on foot, I wasn’t able to get as close as I had in Brazil, but it was nice to see them all the same, having found our first owls of the trip, we then walked back enjoying the sunset as we went.





The Kanuku Mountains



Burrowing Owls
















I suggested way back at the beginning of this report, searching for El Dorado as a reason for visiting Guyana and asked, "El Dorado is not to be found in Guyana or is it?" Well the answer is yes, but it’s not a city of gold beside a lake, that’s just a myth, the real El Dorado is something much better, liquid gold that comes in a bottle. Guyana of course, is famous for producing sugar, after all the crystalline brown sugar known as Demerara, is named after the river that flows into the Atlantic at Georgetown. Since the abolition of slavery, sugarcane is no longer as important a crop as it once was, but plenty is still grown and where you find sugar cane, you find rum and Guyanese El Dorado rum is the best in the world. At least bottles of the really good stuff are, as is reflected in the price, here in the UK bottles of 15yr old, sell for over £40 a bottle and bottles of 21yr old for over £70 a bottle. The much more affordable 3yr old or 5yr old El Dorado mixed with plenty of lime and passion fruit juice makes for a very pleasant drink and is the perfect way to end the day, as the sun goes down over the Rupununi. Chatting to Colin about life and Guyana over a pre-dinner rum punch or two, followed by a delicious dinner en famille, is one of the definite highlights of staying at Rock View.

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Day 8


After early breakfast at 05:30, Colin’s son Vitor drove us along the main road stopping at various points, so that we could get out and bird the savanna/farmland, scrub and forest edge below the foothills of the Pakaraima Mts., alongside the road there are also several ponds that were dug out when the road was built, that are quite good for various water birds. Though it rained very briefly at one point, we had a successful mornings birding and picked up a good few species.



Savanna Hawk



Eastern Meadowlark




American Kestrel





American kestrel Being mobbed by a Fork-tailed Flycatcher




Fork-tailed Flycatcher






American Kestrel






Vermillion Flycatcher






Pakaraima Mts



Rainbow Whiptail



White-Fringed Antwren




Forest & savanna




Savanna Hawk

Edited by inyathi
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Tropical Mockingbird at Rock View Lodge


In the late afternoon, we did the same, driving the road in the opposite direction, picking up more species including several nighthawks, as we returned at dusk.



Green-tailed Jacamar



Common Tody-tyrant



Channel-billed Toucan


After dinner back in my room, I found this nice little visitor in my bathroom



Tree frog of some sort

Edited by inyathi
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Day 9


This morning we started with coffee and cookies at 05:45, after which accompanied by Rock View’s bird guide, we walked out along the Rock View drive back to the main road and over to the newly built phone mast on the other side, behind this is the start of the Uncle Dennis Nature Trail.



Pakaraima Mountains


Spotting more Bobwhite Quails, along with seedeaters and grassland sparrows and a nesting Yellow-bellied Elenia on the way there.



Yellow-bellied Elenia on nest



Guianan Gnatcatcher


From behind the mast, the path built of stone winds its way up a small forested moderately steep hill, to a number of different viewpoints and despite being fairly short, is good for seeing a variety of forest birds.



View over the North Rupununi Savannah


It seems wherever you are in the world, you can all ways tell when you reached a viewpoint, by the amount of litter strewn around the place, at the topmost viewpoint that looks out across the savanna, over the top of Rock View, there must have been at least half a dozen empty plastic drinks bottles and several plastic cups. Litter is one thing that really offends me, at least it is when I’ve made the effort to get to some really beautiful spot like this, only to find it’s a virtual rubbish tip, so I decided to climb down over some rocks and pick up all the rubbish I could see. I then realised that as I didn’t have a pack with me, I had no means of carrying the rubbish back, as birdwatching or photography would be impossible while carrying an armful of empty bottles, I contemplated just leaving it there in a pile, but that rather defeated the objective of picking it up. Just a short way back down the path, is a camp that had fallen in to disrepair despite not having been there that long, so I deposited the bottles and other litter there in an old oil drum, that was already being used as a litter bin. I’m not sure whether this rubbish will ever get collected by someone and taken away, but at least it was no longer despoiling the viewpoint, it seemed according to our guide that a group of school children had recently been up at the viewpoint and they’d obviously sat on the rocks drinking their water, sodas etc while admiring the view and had then just dropped the empty bottles on to the hillside below them, when they’d finished. I hoped that my minor good deed, would bring me good karma for the rest of the trip (not that I really believe in such things).



Eastern Slaty Antshrike


We then took another path from the camp, that goes around the side of the hill and out into an open area of rocks and grass on arriving out in the open, we heard the distinctive alarm snort/bark of an agouti as it ran off out of site. From this spot the view looking in a different direction, out at the forested hills/mountains and down the valley was spectacular and best of all there was no litter.




The Foothills of the Pakaraima Mountains










Although we could have walked a bit further, we needed to return to the lodge for breakfast so retraced our steps back down the hill.



Track to and from Rock View



Hills by Rock View

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Rock View dining room & bar









Not long after ten, we packed up and left Rock View, Vitor drove us out the back gate passed the airstrip and across the savanna, as we’d hoped we spotted the double-striped thick knee, a normally crepuscular savanna species best seen in this part of South America.




Double-striped Thicknee




One thing it’s vital to remember, when taking photos when you have a great view like this, of subject that posing nicely never just point and shoot, always check that you’ve got the camera on the right settings. One of the principal reasons I chose to buy an EOS 70D is because it has one feature that I have always wanted, one that I can’t understand, why it’s taken so long to introduce, a lock on the mode dial, so you can’t change the shooting mode by accident. Over the years I have lost countless photos because I haven’t realised in time, that I have accidentally changed the shooting mode, usually to Manual resulting in photos that more often than not are irretrievably over exposed. I tend to carry my main camera in a pouch on my belt and when I take it out to take a shot the mode dial gets turned, clearly plenty of other photographers have had the same problem, hence Canon’s decision to introduce a locking mechanism. I thought having this lock would mean problem solved, it certainly should, in this case though I had set the camera to TV to photograph the tree frog in my bathroom the night before and forgotten to turn it back to AV, this was entirely my fault and as a result my photos of these birds, are not as good as they should be, indeed many of my shots were out of focus because the shutter speed was just too slow to avoid camera shake, probably if it wasn’t for the Image Stabiliser I wouldn’t have got any worthwhile shots at all. I guess when I press the shutter, I need to make sure I pay a bit more attention to the numbers that come up in my viewfinder.

Edited by inyathi
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