Thursday 30 March 2017

GUYANA 2017: Iwokrama, Atta and Surama (23-30 March)

Continuing our excellent trip to Guyana Nick Preston, Matt Eade, Nick Gardner, Paul Hopkins, Stuart Reeds and I had arrived at Iwokrama River Lodge after dark, full of anticipation at the prospect of a week birding within the almost 1500 square miles of Iwokrama Forest ...

23 March. A dry day! We crossed the clearing to the start of the Bushmaster Trail as it was getting light although little had penetrated the thick forest. It was a good trail and we walked for about 10 minutes until we could hear strange noises emanating from the canopy, like a cross between a calf and a distant motor-boat. This was the Capuchinbird and their appearance was no less weird than the noise they made - hunched, bald headed and predominantly orange and when displaying with protruding undertail coverts! The lek was impressive, if rather high above the ground, with at least eight birds in the vicinity. After an hour most of the Capuchinbirds left the lekking area and we slowly wandered back, birding on the way seeing Tiny Tyrant Manakin and White-crested Spadebill. Back at the lodge we had a good breakfast then headed for the quay for a boat trip up the Essequibo River. We needed two boats and I was in the first which motored off direct to Turtle Mountain seeing nothing along the way. The other boat did rather better stopping to look at some roosting Ladder-tailed Nightjars on the way, rather frustrating that we hadn't although provided we returned in daylight we would do so on our return. We walked a short distance to a clearing where a pair of Golden-sided Euphonias were in residence and birded around there. We continued a short way along the trail up to Turtle Mountain seeing Guianan Puffbird before returning to the clearing for a lunch which had been brought upriver for us. We continued up to Turtle Mountain on a decent trail which was quite steep towards the end although an Orange-breasted Falcon visible in the top of a dead tree provided an excuse for a rest. The view from the top was superb, with unbroken rainforest as far as one could see. The Orange-breasted Falcon and her mate were visible from the viewpoint too. Nick G saw a male White-throated Manakin near the viewpoint but I'd not heard Ron mention it, my hearing seemed to be deteriorating. A return with Nick provided a decent view of a female but only fleeting glimpses of the male. Not being able to hear it calling didn't help. We left the viewpoint and returned down the trail trying hard for Red and Black Grosbeak. Ron heard one calling and we tried to follow it up. It always seemed to be one step ahead of us although the sharper members of the group managed views. Eventually thanks to Ron I got my bins on a male, it was brief and distant but fortunately is a very distinctive species. We were back on the river as the light started to go but made the Ladder-tailed Nightjar in time for reasonable views. Lots of fish-eating Greater Bulldog Bats were flying low over the river while a 'roosting' Emerald Tree Boa was impressive. After dinner Nick and I walked along the entrance road hoping an owl or a potoo might be calling but it was very quiet although part of that might have been down to my hearing.

Capuchinbird at lek, Iwokrama
images from ground level are unlikely to convey what a strange looking bird this is
a young Tome's Spiny Rat
Iwokrama River Lodge's main building was named after Ron's grandfather Fred. Matt birding from the upper floor.
Pied Plover in the clearing at Iwokrama River Lodge
I had hoped they might be more approachable
Three-toed Sloth seen on our journey to Turtle Mountain
one look at us and it was legging it up into the canopy
although legging it for a sloth gave me plenty of time for photo

Guianan Puffbird

Marail Guan
White-breasted Toucan
Orange-breasted Falcon from the trail up to Turtle Mountain
the same bird still on its perch from the Turtle Mountain viewpoint

pristine forest as far as the eye could see from the viewpoint

The Essequibo River just visible in the middle distance

the river is a bit closer here
back on the Essequibo River
female Ladder-tailed Nightjar roosting by the river
very poor image of a male Ladder-tailed Nightjar, the light was going fast by now and our boat was rather unstable
Emerald Tree Boa roosting over the river, its eye is just about visible below its tail tip in the middle of the coils

24 March. Nick and I were up at 04:20 and walking the road but nothing was heard and not just because the hearing in my 'good' right ear had deteriorated overnight. Both were now at about 30%. I was hopeful that it was wax but my left ear had gone overnight four years earlier so it was rather worrying. Breakfast was at 05:30 then we took boats to the opposite side of the Essequibo Ferry landing and walked north along the main road. This was presumably what we would have done on the day we travelled from Georgetown had we not been delayed due to the radiator being replaced. We birded the road for several hours seeing a good variety of birds without making any inroads on our real targets. Best sightings were 30+ Blue and Yellow Macaws, most in some fruiting trees around the ferry crossing, Pale-bellied Mourner, Bronzy Jacamar and Black-headed and Guianan Warbling Antbirds. We returned to the river and were ferried back to the lodge for lunch. We had three hours before our next excursion so I returned to the Bushmaster Trail, walking some of it with Nick and seeing 2 Capuchinbirds in the vicinity of their lek. I
 was sure the trail would lead to the entrance road and continued after Nick turned back but I ended up by the river. It seemed likely the trail returned along the river to the lodge but I retraced my steps preferring to be completely within the forest. Part way back a Grey-winged Trumpeter crossed the trail ahead of me. Initially I thought it was Nick's legs and I'd caught him up but it shook its wings showing a flash of gold before disappearing around a corner. We left the lodge at 16:30 and drove south on the main road for several kms where we birded to dusk but only really had Red-billed Woodcreeper to show for it, nice as it was. After dark we continued south for half an hour with Matt and Nick G spotlighting from the van's roof. They spotlighted two Common Potoos which were excellent but otherwise it was very quiet. We were back by 20:30 for a late meal. I was very tired and a little disappointed with four fairly uninspiring new birds when so many others of real quality were around. I was also still deaf with people talking to me sounding, when I could hear them, as if they were at the far end of a very long tunnel. Very isolating.

crossing the Essequibo. Paul, Nick and Stuart in the second boat narrowly avoid being mown down by the early ferry
Blue and Yellow Macaws, about 30 were feeding on berries by the river
brilliant birds - superb in flight and full of character when close 

Mining is important to Guyana, respect yourself as a miner ...
Swallow-winged Puffbird
Ron waiting for our boats to arrive, the ferry waiting for a vehicle or two to arrive
Matt relaxing after another hat full of lifers at Iwokrama
another unhelpful angle on a Capuchinbird with its beady eye on me

out of focus but giving a better impression of its weirdness
view of the Essequibo River from the Fred Allicock building, the water level appeared quite high
Red and Green Macaws on the edge of the clearing
we saw them in the same tree each day

25 March. Up at 06:00, I was still deaf but carefully inserting a thin plastic wire in my good ear was like tuning a radio and suddenly I could hear through it again. Presumably I'd got through compacted wax. I birded the Bushmaster Trail for an hour seeing the Capuchinbirds again but little else and then grabbed a fried egg sandwich as the others were finishing breakfast. We had swapped the van for two 4WD Landcruiser types with Ron driving one and Marissa the other. Matt, Nick G and I were with Marissa which made for entertaining travel although we started on a bench in the open back of her vehicle to give us improved visibility, as we were behind Ron, while the main road was transecting the forest. We packed and left Iwokrama soon after 07:00 stopping a couple of times on our way south seeing Waved Woodpecker and two pairs of Black Currasows by the road and me failing to see a Crimson Topaz by a bridge over a small river - only Ron saw it well. We then walked a wet in places trail through white-sand Mori scrub seeing a Jaguar pug print at the start and brilliant views of Bronzy Jacamar and a Guianan Schioffornis further on. We continuing south to the turning for Atta Rainforest Lodge, superbly situated a km from the main road in a small clearing. We arrived for lunch and were greeted with a damp towel and some delicious fruit juice, a nice touch. After lunch I wandered along the trail to the Canopy Walkway but saw little. I returned to the clearing at 15:30 having been told 16:00, half an hour before we were due to depart, was a good time for Dusky Purpletufts to visit the clearing to feed. I'd missed one by five minutes, it had come in at 15:00 but was disturbed by a pigeon. The resident Purple-throated Fruitcrows were little compensation. That rather set the tone of my time at Atta, superbly located as it was - very quiet on the trails and poor timing of my visited to the clearing. At 16:30 we left and walked down the entrance road. We arrived at the main road, a site for White-winged Potoo but had 40 minutes to wait. With a Crimson Topaz site less than a km away and late afternoon supposedly a good time for them to be active on the forest edge I legged it down the road. I had the luxury of having seen White-winged Potoo in Brazil and felt I'd just enough time to give the Topaz a go. I'd been there five minutes when Nick G arrived. My tape elicited no response but his louder one soon did with the bird flying in a perching up to call from some dead branches half way up in the tree. Views were OK through Nick's scope - it was an immature male. We quickly walked back to the entrance road arriving five minutes before the White-winged Potoo put in a brief appearance. Fortunately Ron had told us the branch it usually perched on and it did so on queue. We walked a section of the road looking for an unidentified nightjar type that Ron had seen a couple of times. We failed on the way out but were more successful on the return. It was an interesting looking large headed nightjar with a distinct pale collar. To me it seemed to best fit Rufous Nightjar. It turned its head in our direction when I played a Rufous Nightjar recording but that was hardly a resounding response. Matt had nearly trodden on a Fer-de-Lance, his leg brushed it as he walked by but was fortunately wearing Wellingtons. It was the most evil looking of the eight species of snake we saw on the trip.

birding the main Georgetown-Lethem Highway. Fortunately there was very little traffic on the section in Iwokrama Forest
Bronzy Jacamar in the white-sand Mori scrub

this one was very approachable
the trail to the Atta Canopy Walkway
the canopy walkway
I visited several times but disappointingly hardly saw anything from it
Fer-de-Lance on the road
Matt almost trod on it. Had he done so his Wellingtons could have been a life-saver. 
Tail-less Whip Scorpion. More than a foot across this was a very impressive beast although with no tail it had no sting

26 March. We were up at 05:00 to listen for owls but I heard none although unfortunately I was deaf again and a bit of fine tuning failed to make a difference. The clearing was good early on with female and immature male Guianan Red Cotingas visiting a fruiting tree, a Painted Tody Flycatcher and later two Dusky Purpletufts putting in an appearnace. I walked to and along the Canopy Walkway and with Nick walked the loop trail back to the clearing but it was effectively birdless, Nick flushing a small antbird from the ground. Back in the clearing I saw Matt who'd seen a small group of trumpeters on the pipeline 'trail'. I went to tell Nick but he'd vanished and wasn't in our room. He then appeared back in the clearing to say he'd seen ten trumpeters on the trail after being told of them by one of the staff, effectively sneaking off to do so without telling me, thanks pal. We then all walked around a trail back towards the main road cutting off on the loop trail with Ron. It started very well catching up with the/a trumpeter flock of which I saw at least six as they crossed the trail. Matt was with them and had some amazing photos and video. They are definitely one of my all time favourite South American birds. A superb Ferruginous-backed Anbird showed well on the loop trail, at the exact spot Nick had flushed something of its size earlier. I'd thought it a brilliant species when I saw a pair in Venezuela 34 years earlier but it was even better than I remembered, walking along a log a foot above the ground. After watching it for some time I felt it was being wound up a bit too much by playback and I wandered on a short distance. It was a couple of days later that I learnt that I had missed a Black-bellied Cuckoo at about this time. Rather frustrating. Further on Ron saw a feather he thought was probably from a Black-faced Hawk, Nick G played a recording and one flew in to see what was going on. Playback is brilliant when it works. I spent the rest of the day on the trails not seeing much although fortunately was around the clearing when Ron made a concerted effort to see an Amazonian Pygmy Owl which had occasionally been heard. Nick G's playback set it off again and after some diligent searching by Ron and local guide Dylan Ron brilliantly picked it up high in the canopy and we all had nice scope views. We drove a few kms up the road at dusk to another White-winged Potoo site Ron knew. Here as it was getting dark a Sunbittern flew past and landed further up the road. Another great bird. Two potoos responded to playback perching in exposed branched high up in the roadside trees. Nice to have prolonged views but yesterday's more brief encounter was much more satisfying. A good day with some excellent birds seen but very frustrating at times and not all due to my hearing difficulties.
Black Currasows visiting Atta for breakfast

no table manners
brilliant birds though

even better, and about as good as you can get in my opinion, were Grey-winged Trumpeters. These two on a trail at Atta were part of a large group of which I saw at least six. 
unfortunately they kept in cover with vital parts almost always hidden by leaves although the left hand bird shows the iridescent electric blue breast feathers
one of its long legs just about visible as is its golden shawl but its head is mostly hidden
my only image showing a head more or less clearly, although out of focus. All too quickly the encounter was over but I could have watched them all morning
Black-faced Hawk from a trail at Atta

Crimson Topaz site although it didn't perform for very long

27 March. Still deaf, I did a circuit before breakfast then drove to Cock-of-the-Rock trail where a short walk through decent forest to rocky outcrop where a male Cock-of-the-Rock was present. Only one male but it was on view almost the whole time so had my undivided attention. What amazing birds they are. We returned to Atta for lunch and after I spent 2.5 hours after walking the trails and seeing absolutely nothing, not helped by my hearing issues. Back in the clearing 10 minutes ahead of our scheduled departure I decided to wander back down the Canopy Walkway Trail for a few minutes in the hope of seeing some antwrens. I'd been gone less than 5 minutes when Nick shouted. At first I thought it was to tell me they were ready to go but they'd seen a Crimson Fruitcrow fly across the clearing, land briefly and then fly on - I had not learnt that it was best to stay in the clearing when I couldn't hear birds in the forest. It was now late afternoon and we drove 10-15kms back up the main road to an area of swamp forest where Ron had previously heard Rufous Potoo. We arrived before dusk to find our way in, the first problem being a 6ft ditch. We used the wooden plank seat from the back of our vehicle to make a bridge and I got over the ditch with only slightly wet feet. The ditch wasn’t deep so it was not an issue for Matt with Wellingtons. Ron found a narrow trail into the forest and waited for dark. A Rufous Potoo responded, not that I could hear it, and apparently came in but the trees were so tall and close together with no obvious branches to perch on that it wasn’t visible. It was also flew as soon as a light was anywhere near it and soon moved away. Disappointing and we rather wished we’d tried the previous evening rather than going for White-winged Potoo again.
tortoise by the trail
it was a big one

female Guianan Red Cotinga

it appeared to have a nest
Brown Vine Snake on the road

a fly living dangerously
I'm usually pleased not to see snakes on trips but those seen in Guyana were generally superb
male Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock
if Capuchinbird is weird this is completely outrageous

Cock-of-the Rock nest centre leftish, the others photographing bats
Black-tailed Trogon
birding on the main road- Paul, Matt, Stuart, Nick G and Marissa
Blue-headed Parrot

28 March. Up at 05:00 and in the clearing before dawn hearing nothing, but still deaf. After breakfast we tried for Thrush-like Antpitta and one responded but did not come in. As Matt was the only one of us not to have seen the species before we let him creep in with local guide Dylan which was successful. We left Atta and drove to Surama making a few stops on the way. Matt and I were on the bench again although some patch rain almost drove us inside. We arrived at Surama at noon. It was in an area of savanna which was initially disappointing although we were pleased to learn that there was good forest nearby.  After lunch we walked to the riverine forest where Ron had previously seen Red-winged Ground Cuckoo, perhaps the main target of the whole trip. After some speculative playback one responded briefly but moved away. We continued further and another bird responded. It was closer and not moving and Ron eventually spotted it low down in a small gap deep in the vegetation. None of us could get onto it, not having the right angle.  I crouched down and following Ron’s directions saw a dark shape, its head and top half, which concentrating hard on and keeping my bins still I saw move its head showing a flash of red facial skin. Hardly a view but sometimes you have to be happy with what you get. We walked part of the Burro Burro Trail seeing a Grey-winged Trumpeter and some Ruddy Quail-Doves but attempts to tape in a Red-legged Tinamou failed. We returned to the lodge at dusk and quickly walked down the road a short way to look for White-tailed Nightjar. Some torrential rain during and after dinner was the first we’d encountered since leaving the coast.
Matt practising for International Snake Rescue with a Green Vine Snake road casualty 
that it wasn't quite dead came as a bit of a surprise
Common Bird Snake catching a toad on the road
not sure Matt would have wanted ot handle this one
not easy to eat with an audience
it was carried off to somewhere more private and soon swallowed
juvenile Rufescent Tiger Heron
Savanna Hawk at Surama
Palm Tanager

29 March. We were into the forest at Surama at first light, returning to the area where we had encountered the ground cuckoo the previous day but there was no response. It had either moved away or wasn't interested. We returned for breakfast feeling rather dejected. After breakfast we drove to the Harpy Eagle trail, something I was very much looking forward to despite not being a big fan of raptors. Nick seemed very reluctant to leave the forest at Surama, the ground cuckoo being his most wanted bird by a long way, but he had seen Harpy before. We drove back to the main road and were heading north when Marissda suddenly stopped and turned around. It seemed Ron, who was behind us, had seen something and the suggestion was it was a Crimson Fruitcrow. We soon had them in sight but everyone standing around suggested nothing was in view. A male Crimson Fruitcrow had flown over the road but not landed in view. Drat and double drat, until Ron wandered off the road a short distance and found it high in a tree. It was hard to see much detail through bins but it was superb in the scope with a wacky crest made more so by appearing rather wet. One of the key species caught up with put me in a great mood and it only improved on the Harpy Eagle Trail with at least five Grey-winged Trumpeters crossing ahead of us then half way along a Long-tailed Potoo roosting on a regular cut off tree. Superb. Not so good was arriving at the Harpy Eagle tree and the young eagle not being in it. It had recently left the nest although was likely to still be in the immediate vicinity as the adults were still bringing food to the nest site for it. Ron and our local guide wandered off to look for it while we waited anxiously. After a short while Ron reappeared saying he'd heard a ground cuckoo and we hurried off after him. He led us back along the trail for a few minutes and then a short distance off it. He sat us down, wedged a bluetooth speaker into a tree 10-15m in front of us and started playing. Almost immediately a Rufous-winged Ground Cuckoo responded and ran in, almost too fast to follow. It circled us twice but often was moving fast or was stationary and obscured. Its mate came in too although I only saw them together once. A brilliant encounter and the highlight of the trip for pretty much everyone. Ron often asked if a bird we 'd seen was 'a lifer', if not 'best views ever'. After yesterday this was almost a lifer for me and most certainly was 'best views ever'. We returned to the Harpy tree and sat around a bit more until the local guide appeared not having been able to find the youngster. It took a bit of the gloss off an otherwise brilliant morning. I asked the guide if he had seen it on his previous visit a few days earlier but he hadn't. He said the adults usually called to attract it when one came in with food so Nick G tried playback. The youngster immediately flew in and landed out of sight in a nearby tree where Matt spotted it. It remained on view giving excellent scope views. We returned to Surama for lunch in very high spirits. The rest of the afternoon along the Burro Burro trail was largely forgettable. In the evening Marissa and Ron tipped some Hydrogen Peroxide into my ears which resulted in a very strange bubbling sensation and shifted some of the wax although a lot was left.

roosting Lesser Nighthawk at Surama
roadside Red-fan Parrots
Long-tailed Potoo along the Harpy Eagle Trail

we were being observed

Rufous-winged Ground Cuckoo, out of focus as it hurried past
when it stopped it usually did so from a rather obscured position
young Harpy Eagle

watching the Harpy Eagle, a brilliant end to a superb morning, possibly my best ever in South America
Paul, Ron, Stuart, Matt, both Nicks and me watching the bird or the camera 

main building and accommodation huts at Surama, note thatched rooves
open grassland at Surama
a more open section of the Burro Burro trail
Black-eared Fairy

30 March. Breakfast was at 06:00 then we walked the Burro Burro Trail. A pair of Finsch's Euphonias near the lodge was an early new bird but it was then fairly quiet until Ron found an immature Crested Eagle, the first to be recorded in the area. We continued seeing another Ferruginous-backed Antbird and Fasciated Antshrike and reached a clearing which held two Blue-throated Piping Guans, three Little Chachalacas and a Paradise Jacamar. A Black-chinned Antbird was taped out at a nearby river and a little later we were back at the original ground cuckoo site. After lunch Ron dropped Nick, Paul and me with a local guide at a nearby patch of woodland where a roosting Potoo had been seen the previous day. It was on the same perch and we also saw a Pauraque on a single egg on the forest floor, to call it a nest would be generous, and I finally caught up with a very nice Cream-coloured Woodpecker. Ron had driven off to confirm arrangements for the rest of our trip and the local guide took us back across country to the lodge, a journey of a mile rather than three by road. We walked back down to the grassland on the way to the Burro Burro Trail where Ocellated Crakes had been heard (not by me but I was still deaf). Nick G was on site using a borrowed machete to cut a ride across which he hoped to lure it to a bluetooth speaker. That was strategy one, it failed. Strategy two was to walk in a line towards a calling bird, me taking a lead from the others as to where it was. We succeeded in flushing an Ash-throated Crake but its much smaller cousin remained hidden. Strategy three was to surround a bird and close in on it. Even I heard this one so it must have been close. Another failure. Nick G then returned to the lodge to borrow a mirror which we placed in the ride, the idea being the bird came in to investigate the recording and saw its reflection as a rival. It didn't work either. Strategies five and six would have been combine harvester (we didn't have one) and box of matches (too extreme even for Nick G). We then walked to the entrance road and waited for dusk. At least 220 Orange-winged Amazons flew noisily over to roost. Very impressive, they were mostly in pairs or groups of pairs with the odd threesome. As it darkened 2 Least and 15 Lesser Nighthawks were flying around and nearer the lodge a White-tailed Nightjar. After dinner Marissa and Ron had another session with my ears and a lot of gunge came out of them. I was still deaf afterwards but felt they were improving and was reassured that they could still see some wax in them.

Crested Eagle from the Burro Burro Trail
Black Nunbird
Crimson-crested Woodpecker
Little Chachalacas
Blue-throated Piping Guan with pure white crest (compared to the darker crest of the Trinidad Piping Guans we had seen on our first day)
Pauraque on nest
if one could call an egg laid on some leaves a nest
roosting Great Potoo

it looked as if it had fur rather than feathers

Cream-coloured Woodpecker

forest patch at Surama
Nick and my hut at Surama - Cock-of-the-Rock decoration much appreciated
Nick G cutting a ride, the first of several failed strategies. Ocellated Crake 4 Birders 0 was the final score.