Wednesday, 22 March 2017

GUYANA 2017: Georgetown and drive inland (20-22 March)

Our Guyana trip had started very well with two days of intensive but very enjoyable birding on Trinidad and Tobago where we were expertly taken around by long-time friend and ex-Sussex resident Martyn Kenefick. I'd seen eight new birds including long-wanted and much desired Red-billed Tropicbird but now it was time for the main trip. Note, a better illustrated account with more detailed species lists is at

20 March. Soon after 04:00 the proprietor of the Piarco Suites made the first of two runs to take the six of us (Nick Preston, Matt Eade, Nick Gardner, Paul Hopkins, Stuart Reeds and me) to the airport for our 06:10 flight to Georgetown. It was uneventful and we arrived at 07:10. After a short delay at Immigration we collected our bags, I declared my biscuits at Customs and were met by Ron Allicock's Georgetown fixer Francis at the airport. Today was an arrival day and Ron would be joining us that evening. Francis took us to a minibus that would be our transport for the early part of the trip and we were driven to the Status International Hotel in Georgetown. We were given rooms, Nick and mine smelled like a sewer and we quickly switched to another. Francis told us how to get to the Botanical Gardens, only 15-20 minutes walk away, and we left our bags and headed out at 09:15. On the way we saw Wing-barred Seedeater and by the entrance Festive Amazon and Yellow-chinned Spinetail - an encouraging start. I had heard stories of birders being mugged in the remoter parts of the gardens and we were told the same by one of the gardeners working there as we headed away from the more formal grounds. We stayed on the main track and stuck together. In open habitat this worked well for birding and we saw Zone-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Macaw, Yellow-crowned, Orange-winged and Mealy Amazons, White-bellied Piculet, Blood-coloured Woodpecker, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, a pair of unexpected Cinnamon Attilas, Red-eyed Vireo, Black-capped Donacobius, Yellow Warbler and Yellow Oriole. At about 12:45 and with little warning it started to rain heavily. The wet season was still a month away so this was something we were not expecting and not really prepared for - several umbrellas had been left in the hotel. The rain was so heavy is started coming through my umbrella while we were encroached upon by standing water, reminiscent of a flood in a Winnie-the-Poo story (it must have made quite an impression at the time for me to remember it 55 years later). We found some shelter under a tree for an hour or so before the rain started to ease off, being entertained at one stage by a passing local who was seemingly undertaking a long and heated conversation with an imaginary friend standing in the open in the pouring rain. At least it wasn't cold. We decided to head back having seen most of what we could expect too and once back at the Status International spent the rest of the day drying out. My deck shoes definitely turned out to be inappropriate footwear. 

sunrise over Trinidad through a dirty Caribbean Airlines window, the clouds should have been a warning it might be wet
Yellow-chinned Spinetail
Red-capped Cardinal

Festive Amazons outside Georgetown Botanical Gardens. There is some debate about these birds origins although over a dozen are often present
Red-shouldered Macaws

Macaws are often entertaining with their antics

Black-capped Donacobius
Blood-coloured Woodpecker, a near endemic and our main target in the Botanical Gardens

Cinnamon Attila, we were surprised to find a pair in the Botanical Gardens. Most welcome as it was a new bird for me, my 5th in Guyana
21 March. Ron met us with minibus and driver at five-ish and we got away at 05:20. -ish was an expression we'd come to know well, we soon adjusted to it and it was never a problem. We headed along the coast southwest of Georgetown towards Hope Beach but half-way there the radiator overheated and we had to stop to let it cool down and then top it up. This we did and it got us to Hope Beach but was clearly not right. It had also started raining heavily and the only shelter, of sorts, was a dirty wood and plastic roadside stall where freshly caught fish were cut up and sold and didn't appear to have been washed down in years. We watched a pair of Rufous Crab Hawks while someone Ron had called came to look at the radiator. A temporary fix was done with plans made to fit a new one in the morning, although it would cause a necessary delay. Being mobile again and with the rain easing off we headed on to the Mahaica River for a delayed breakfast at an Aunt of Ron's. It turned out he had relatives in many places but with Guyana's overall population of under 800,000 it was perhaps not surprising. We stopped in some paddyfields near our destination and after much effort some of us saw Grey-breasted Crake, my views being sadly untickable. After a bird breakfast, by now we were quite hungry, we had a boat ride on the Mahiaca River where Hoatzin was the main target. We also saw a male Green-throated Mango, something we'd failed to find in Caroni Swamp a few days earlier. We tried the paddyfields again, more successfully for me with a good, if somewhat brief, view of a rather colourful Grey-breasted Crake. Plain-crowned and Pale-breasted Spinetails were seen nearby, the former a new bird for me. We headed back to Hope Beach trying a couple of areas for Mangrove Rail with no success although I did see two more Rufous Crab Hawks and some Solitary Sandpipers along Hope Canal. Mangroves are not my favourite habitat, especially not those with hundreds of washed up plastic bottles underfoot. We returned to Georgetown with a couple of radiator stops arriving at 19:00. It had been a long but good day and a pizza and some superb Mango juice was much appreciated.
Rufous Crab Hawk drying out at Hope Beach, its primaries really needed it

dried out a bit and showing the wing patch
our breakfast stop
Mahiaca River
Green-tailed Jacamar
Black-collared Hawk along the Mahiaca River
Hoatzin eating leaves along the Mahiaca River
clumsy, uniquely primative and with a whacky crest, what more could you ask of a National bird?
Grey-breasted Crake, the rematch. Nick G attempting to retrieve the Bluetooth speaker that finally pulled the bird in. His difficulty demonstrated how thick the vegetation was. He eventually located it aurally.
heading into the mangroves for another abortive rail attempt
Rufous Crab Hawk in the mangroves
we were closer than the hawk was comfortable with

washed up plastic bottles at Hope Beach
Solitary Sandpiper at Hope Canal
22 March. A mainly travel day to Iwokrama but hopes of an early start were dashed by our radiator problems. Instead we had breakfast and left at 07:30, just in time to catch rush-hour traffic in Georgetown. Eventually free of the city and heading inland, on the only road to cross the country, we made good time, at least while the tarmac held out. We stopped outside a small village were Ron had arranged to meet a local ebirder who pointed out an Orange-breasted Falcon perched high up on a roadside pylon. This came as a pleasant surprise to us as it was a new bird all around, my only one for the day, although being very high up I though a nearby White-headed Marsh Tyrant was almost as good. We continued towards '58miles snatchet', a roadhouse/truck stop for a late lunch but about 30 minutes short of it we encountered a party of Grey-winged Trumpeters crossing the road ahead. We emergency-stopped and all piled out, not easy to do quickly when in the back as I was. I saw seven trumpeters flying low across the road, catching the last three on the ground briefly before they did so. Not great views, although any view of a trumpeter is worth having and Matt obtained a brilliantly evocative photo of one. We continued after lunch but were running late and still had a good way to go to Iwokrama so were not able to stop. We didn't know it but we had a ferry to cross before it stopped for the night. Some saw a pair of Black Currasows by the road but visibility from the back of the van wasn't great, and they were on the wrong side for me. Disappointing but we stood a very good chance of seeing more. Soon after dark we were stopped at a check post by a very officious individual and Ron had to argue our way through. It turned out we were approaching the Essequibo River, the third longest in South America we were to later learn, and might be too late for the last ferry but we got through and joined a large truck waiting by the river. The ferry arrived five minutes later, the truck then we reversed onto it and 10 minutes later were driving off the other side. It was then less than 10 minutes drive to Iwokrama River Lodge where we would be staying for the next three nights. We were shown to very nice accommodation and given a good meal. We were now in the heart of the Guyanian rain forest and couldn't wait to be birding in it in the morning.
Georgetown view from our balcony
Orange-breasted Falcon high on its pylon
Matt Eade's superb photo of a Grey-winged Trumpeter crossing the road north of '58mile snatchet' (see

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