Thursday, 6 April 2017

GUYANA 2017: Caiman House, Kasabari and Dadanawa (31 March-6 April)

The third and final blog posting of a superb trip to Guyana with Nick Preston, Matt Eade, Nick Gardner, Paul Hopkins and Stuard Reeds. Ron and Marissa Allicock guided us admirably and we had a lot of fun along the way as well as seeing all our main target species. Thanks to everyone for making it all so successful.

31 March. We were up for breakfast at 06:00, with my hearing much improved, but by the time we realised it was to be at 06:30 it was too late for a final visit to the forest. We packed and left to drive to Caiman House. We returned to the main road stopping for a False Coral Snake on the way and turned south. We made a final stop in the forest but soon left it behind and entered the open savanna where we would spend most of the rest of the trip. It was very flat and much drier with dusty roads and views of distant hills. At one point we stopped near a lightly wooded hillside and saw White-throated Kingbird and Plumbeous Seedeater, two of our remaining targets. Ron took the opportunity to check his radiator which the vehicle was indicating was faulty. It seemed OK but we made another precautionary stop by a river picking up our other savanna target – Pale-tipped Inezia. In reality the name of this flycatcher was the best thing about it. We continued on to Caiman House arriving at 14:00 for a late lunch. It was situated in a sprawling village with limited birding possibilities so I had a shower to remove a layer of dust in my hair that had turned me blond. I then deleted a few photos and generally sorted myself out. At 16:30 we left and walked to the river through some dry gallery forest. Here Ron’s imitating a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl’s calls attracted an excellent bird flock that included his first ever Veery and Greenish Elaenia and nice views of Ochre-lored Flatbill and Blue-backed Manakin. We continued seeing a White-bellied Antbird nearby, but not the hoped for Spotted Puffbird for which this was a good area. We continued to the Rurupuni River and sat on the riverbank until dusk with a brief distraction from two Striped Woodcreepers which initially gave me the run around.  At least six Band-tailed Nighthawks were flying over the river at dusk and some Green Ibis flew over although I only heard them. We walked back to Caiman House by a more direct route.
our hut
thatched roofs were replacement five years or so, ours was probably due too if the number of mice living there were anything to go by
False Coral Snake on our way from Surama to the main road
It was very docile, presumably not having warmed up yet, but Ron was a lot closer than I would have been comfortable with as I'm not sure we knew it was a False Coral Snake at this stage
False Coral Snake and admirers - Stuart, Matt, Paul, Ron, Nick, Marissa and Nick G on the Surama Road
impressive snake
radiator cooling stop in the savanna
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Buff-necked Ibis


Red-breasted Blackbird

Grey Seedeater
Great Kiskadee




1 April. We left Caiman House just as it was getting light at 05:30 to drive to an area of open grassland where Crested Doraditos had been found in recent years. Marissa had sent out a man on a motorbike to look for Giant Anteaters for us although they were by no means guaranteed. The idea was if he saw any he’d phone and we’d rush over. How that would work in practise we were not sure but fortunately it was not put to the test as we saw a Giant Anteater on a hillside dotted with small bushes. It was some distance away and soon disappeared over a ridge so we headed after it. We walked a mile or so but didn’t see it again although flushing two Least Nighthawks and seeing two roosting White-tailed Nightjars and a Bicoloured Wren made it worthwhile. We continued on to the doradito site stopping when Matt spotted another Giant Anteater on the way. This one was a little closer but remained in view for some time so was altogether more satisfactory. Being flat the grassland where the doraditos were was rather exposed to a significant breeze. We walked the whole area, through little spiky bushes, without success and were halfway back and beginning to worry when Ron saw a pair. They gave reasonable views as did a female Bearded Tachuri. We walked further on to a wetland area although it wasn’t particularly wet and rather birdless. Unbeknown to us Ron and Marissa by the vehicles saw us flush a Pinnated Bittern, our main quarry, without us seeing it. We returned to Caiman House for lunch and a couple hours of down time some of which I spent listening to music in a hammock. I had considered returning to the gallery forest but wasn’t absolutely sure where it was and it was unlikely to be too productive in the head of the day. At 15:00 we walked back to the Rurupuni River and prepared for a boat trip. Here things went a bit pear-shaped. We’d not done a river trip the previous afternoon partly as Ron wanted to wait for a boat that we could all go in and we’d rather assumed one had been arranged. It was not to be so we divided into two boats and set off without a clear plan. That would have been fine if we’d a means of communication (having radios had worked well between vehicles when we were called back for the Crimson Fruitcrow). We meandered up river seeing Black and Spectacled Caimen, an Orange-breasted Falcon, several pairs of Pied Plovers and one of Black Skimmers but I dipped on a River Otter which because of a bend in the river showed better for the other boat. We arrived at our destination, an area where Crestless Currasows sometimes came down to drink, at 17:00 to be told the best time for them was the hour before. It was therefore unclear why we’d dawdled on the river rather than motoring straight there. We disembarked and tried some speculative playback but to no avail. Disappointing to say the least. We came back in the dark with our boat in the lead and the other soon out of sight. We were spotlighting and saw a Sunbittern and a lot of bats but little else. Halfway back Ron gave up with the spotlight and gave it to boatman which we took to mean it was game over. It was for us so we were very disappointed to learn the other boat had seen three Boat-billed and a Capped Heron. They’d flashed their torches but we were too far ahead/looking in the wrong direction to notice. The Rurupuni River boat trip was the biggest disappointment of the trip, more so as the reports I had mentioned seeing several Agami Herons and Sungrebes although my failure to see either was most likely due to it being the dry season rather me being in the wrong boat! We were back at 20:00 and after a meal Marissa and Ron had another session with my ears which felt almost back to normal as a result.
Double-striped Thick-knee


Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Matt first saw this Giant Anteater, it one ambled away allowing much better views than the earlier one we had seen






Red-bellied Macaws




Crested Bobwhite, just before a door of the car ahead was opened completely blocking our view ...
Southern Lapwings
boating on the Rurupuni
Black Caiman
this was a big one
Spectacled Caiman
Black Skimmers


2 April. We left Caiman House at 06:00 to drive to Karasabai to look for the endangered Sun Parakeet. It was mostly flat open country with a couple of wetlands where we stopped. At the first we saw a distant Pinnated Bittern, or one’s head and neck. I was pleased to have seen one before. At the next Ron found a distant Azure Gallinule, again it gave just head and neck views through the scope before disappearing into cover. I wasn’t sure my views were good enough to identify it, certainly a very unsatisfactory encounter.  We arrived at Karasabi at midday. We were staying a night at the rather basic Government Guest House and a decent lunch was set out waiting for us. After lunch it was a 25 minute drive to a dry valley which was home to about 30 Sun Parakeets. We had a parakeet guide, Marissa’s Uncle Ali with us to take us to the areas they were feeding on or roosting at. At least that was the plan. Part way down the valley, and before we could get at all anxious, Marissa spotted some parakeets feeding in trees by the road. Three were visible from the car and we carefully piled out so as not to disturb them. We had excellent views while Marissa radioed ahead to Ron. They returned and had them on view for a couple of minutes before six birds flew off, we’d not noticed the other three which had probably been out of sight. An early success of the major/only target for the area was most welcome but we were all keen to have more views of such a stunning species. We continued down the road with Ali showing us good areas to look but to no avail. We then stood on a viewpoint slightly above the road waiting for birds to fly past to roost but none had done so by 18:00 when, with the light fading, we left. As guides go Ali wasn’t up there amongst the best. Some in the front vehicle saw a Giant Anteater but it immediately ran off into cover and disappeared while a Least Nighthawk was seen over the airfield at dusk.
Pale-breasted Thrush at Caiman House
Caiman House accommodation block
preparing to leave Caiman House
Jabirus on a small marsh
White-headed Marsh-Tyrant
Crested Caracara on a bad hair day
Stuart, Paul and Nick waiting to leave Karasabai to look for ...
Sun Parakeet
I've seen birds with as many or more colours but I can not think of one where they are arranged as in a rainbow 
red(ish) forehead, orange face, yellow mantle, green coverts and dark blue flight feathers


Green Aracari, quite dull in comparison


looking for more parakeets
we didn't find any making our first encounter all the more special
3 April. We left Karasabai Guest House at 06:00 and returned to the dry valley we had been in the previous afternoon in the hope of seeing more parakeets. We birded it until after 09:00 but to no avail. At least not for us, Ron while driving saw a distant flock that perched but were immediately flushed by a raptor and flew off. We returned for breakfast, packed and departed for a bumpy ride to Manari Ranch near Lethem. An impromptu stop to look for Amazonian Scrub Flycatcher was unsuccessful (they all were, perhaps easier in the wet?) but I did flush a Great Horned Owl in the process. We drove past the gallinule wetland but didn’t stop as I’d hoped we might. We were probably a bit short of time as we arrived at Manari Ranch at 14:00 where a late lunch was waiting for us. I’d dusty blond hair again and had a shower and washed out some clothes. Nick and I then walked to the river seeing a pair of Lowland Hepatic Tanagers. We then went to the airstrip (all ranches had them) for dusk in the hope of nighthawks. We had excellent views of Least Nighthawk then, as we were walking back at last light (at 06:25), a much larger Nacunda Nighthawk flew low across in front of us. It was my first day in Guyana without a new bird although a second crack at Azure Gallinule, if we’d stopped, was the only real possibility. Tomorrow we were twitching the Red List Red Siskin with locals Leroy and Asaf.
Brown-throated Parakeet at Karasabai, not the parakeet we were after
Laughing Falcon
we assumed this was a White-bellied Piculet despite the barring extending right down its flanks. That and the range maps in the Birds of Northern South America perhaps are more suggestive of White-barred although piculets are known to hybridise
leaving Karasabai


White-tailed Hawk




Crested Caracara


female Lowland Hepatic Tanager at Manari Ranch


female American Kestrel
Vermilion Flycatcher

Manari Ranch airstrip, Nick waiting for nighthawks
Matt was doing the same at the other end
4 April. In full twitching mode we departed at 03:00 in Leroy and Asaf’s 4WDs for the 3.5 hour drive to Dadanawa Ranch. Ron was with us by Marissa understandably gave it a miss. The dirt road soon degenerated into very rough tracks and we crossed gullies, streams and a river to get to a valley where the siskins had recently been found. The more traditional site, which we would visit if necessary, was another 90 minutes drive further on. Leroy and Asaf seemed to relish driving on what were to us extremely challenging tracks but for them it was a doddle compared to the wet season. We reached an open valley and were taken down a track through a patch of woodland to some lightly cultivated areas where cassava was being grown. Here several Red Siskins flew over but all I saw were silhouettes. Very frustrating but patience was rewarded with birds perching first briefly and then for longer periods. Most birds we saw were males suggesting breeding was underway and females were on nests, although we did see several more subtly plumaged females too. A Ferruginous Pygmy Owl put in an appearance, in response to playback intended to attract the siskins, and we saw Red-shouldered Macaws and Dusky Parrots. After a couple of hours we drove to a more open area where we had better views of four male Red Siskins. One kept flying into the tree above when Asaf imitated Ferruginous Pygmy Owl calls and shortly after he noticed a nest from which a female flew out explaining the birds concern. We drove to the ranch where we had lunch then it was along bumpy ride back, broken by a pair of Sharp-tailed Ibis Matt spotted with some Buff-necked in a small marsh, several unsuccessful Amazonian Scrub Flycatcher stops and a Yellow-tailed Cribo crossing the track. We arrived back at Manari Ranch just before dusk and hurried to the airfield seeing Least and Lesser Nighthawks but the Nacunda didn’t appear for us again. We had been in two minds about including the Red Siskin twitch on our itinerary, Nick having seen them in Venezuela many years earlier might have had something to do with that, but it had been well worth it.
one of the Red Siskin clearings
male Red Siskins
they did not disappoint






Red Siskin nest
Sharp-tailed and Buff Necked Ibis
Sharp-tailed Ibis
Matt in his customary position, riding shotgun in Leroy's 4WD
Dadanawa Ranch
Nick G keeping an eye on the water level as we cross a river
me doing likewise
Yellow-tailed Crebo was here, note track size compared to bootprint
we followed it 100m to this tree. If it had been after me Usain Bolt might have had some competition
the Yellow-tailed Cribo is large, fast and preys on other snakes
distant mountains

5 April.
Another early start with Leroy and Asaf. We had breakfast at 04:30 and left the ranch at 05:00 to drive to the Iring River which formed the border with Brazil. It was still dark when we encountered our final snake of the trip, a superb looking Red-tailed Boa. Certainly my best ever trip for snakes and the first when I’ve appreciated seeing them rather than them freaking me out. Soon after dawn we reached a slightly higher area where Leroy had previously seen roosting Nacunda Nighthawks. We didn’t have to walk far to flush one and while trying for better views saw several others. An excellent start to the day. We arrived at a strip of riverine forest and soon a Rio Branco Antbird was responding from a rather thick and impenetrable patch of vegetation. A Crestless Currasow was heard briefly but was rather ignored as we concentrated on the antbird although it wasn’t moving and after a while became silent. We tried approaching from a different direction but had no response at all. We tried nearby for the other speciality of the area, Hoary-throated Spinetail and a pair soon came in to tape. We returned to the antbird and this time it responded and a male slowly came in giving most of us good views. We then tried to follow up the Currasows but the trail had gone cold although we were shown an area where they had dust-bathed. Returning to the car Nick flushed a Great Horned Owl but that was about it. We returned to Manari Ranch at 12:00 for lunch, packed, sad goodbye to Leroy and Asef and were driven to the airport where we check-in at 14:30 for our 16:30 flight. We said sad farewells to Ron and Marissa who were driving back to Surama then Georgetown. They had been brilliant guides and had done us proud making the trip highly successful and very enjoyable. Check-in involved us being weighed with hand baggage so we could be allocated seats to balance the plane, a 19 seat Beechcraft 1900D as it turned out. We were not asked if we preferred window or aisle as all seats were both window and aisle. Our main bags were also weighted, with an excess due if over 20 lbs causing some anxiety. I had given Ron my new Venezuela Field Guide, probably the first copy to make it to Guyana, eaten most of my biscuits and left some old clothes behind. I’d thought of leaving my Gentleman’s Stool as some of the stitching was loose but felt Megan could probably repair it if it came home.  In the event several of us were under and most of those over were let off. The Beechcraft came in – very appropriate tail pattern - and we left on time, arriving back in Georgetown an hour later. Ron’s man Francis was there to meet us and we were ferried back to the Status International Hotel and a very welcome pizza.
Red-tailed Boa crossing the road before dawn
until Matt quickly headed it off
this very attractive snake was the last one we saw on a trip
a trip that made me completely rethink my previous negative feelings about snakes
recently found Nacunda Nighthawk roosting area
Nacunda Nighthawk
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl near the Brazilian Border
across the river was Brazil
Hoary-throated Spinetail
Manari Ranch
Group photo: Nick G, Paul, Nick, me, Stuart, Matt and Ron (photo taken by Marissa)
Guyana Airways Beechcraft 1900D on Letem runway, note the Sun Parakeet tail
the departure building was the other side of the main road





unloading at Georgetown showing Red Siskin on the opposite side of the tail
6 April. We grabbed some breakfast at 06:00 and departed 20 minutes later with Francis and friend taking us to the airport. We checked in at 07:20 for our flight to Port of Spain three hours later. As expected we were unable to check our bags right through to Gatwick. We left on time and landed in Port of Spain just over an hour later. The queue at immigration was less than five minutes and our bags were soon delivered. We walked round to departure but the machines wouldn’t allow us to check-in on-line. We had five and a half hours before our BA flight departed, two and a half before earliest check-in. Nick G was keen to revisit Caroni Swamp in the hope of finding Mangrove Rail. He found a taxi driver prepared to take us there and wait for 90 minutes for $65. Matt and I decided to go too as it was less than half an hour away and we'd be back in good time. I wasn't very confident but there was always a chance and it sounded better than sitting around the airport. We arrived in 25 minutes and spent an hour and a half on the approach road we'd birded with Martyn and Graham three weeks earlier. In the heat of the day little was moving and we had no response from any rails. Matt saw a Northern Waterthrush and we all saw Masked Cardinal, something we had missed with Martyn, and a few Scarlet Ibis. It took a little longer to return but we did so on time, rejoined the others and checked in. News of a Blue Rock Thrush at Beachy Head was a bit of a downer for Matt and me as it didn't seem likely it would stay overnight but Matt arranged for his dad to meet us at Gatwick and take us there if it did. The BA flight back to Gatwick was fine and I managed to sleep for parts of it but we arrived to the news that the Blue Rock Thrush had gone. It had been a brilliant trip and I'd like to thank Nick, Nick G, Matt, Stuart and Paul for their excellent company and understanding during the period when I had to keep asking what they were saying. Ron and Marissa for putting on such an enjoyable trip and finding us all of our main targets and Martyn and Graham for starting us off so well in Trinidad and Tobago.

Scarlet Ibis at Caroni Swamp


Spotted Sandpiper
Little Blue Heron




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