Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago: Part 6 (Rock View Lodge, drive to Atta)

Introduction
January 25-27, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Karanambu Lodge
January 27, 2018 - Karanambu Lodge, boat cruise on the Rupununi River
January 28, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Rock View Lodge
January 29, 2018 - Rock View Lodge and surroundings
January 30, 2018 - Rock View Lodge, drive to Atta Lodge


----------

January 30, 2018

Laura awoke feeling much better which was excellent news after she had been out of commission for most of the previous day. We sipped on coffee and tea and ate cookies in the pre-dawn darkness as the Little Chachalacas fired up from around the lodge, signalling the beginning of another day. 

exploring near Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Within the first fifteen minutes of walking we had spotted two Toco Toucans, the first toucans of any kind for Laura! The toucans fed for a few minutes while we watched, and though they were a little distant the views were excellent. 

Toco Toucan - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

A few minutes later a pair of Red-and-Green Macaws screeched from somewhere unseen and a few seconds later they too appeared, though they were a little distant. An interesting white spot on a distant tree was revealed as a Laughing Falcon when I looked through my binoculars. 

Laughing Falcon - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

We returned to the Uncle Dennis Trail for a second day in a row. This is where Laura had turned back yesterday since even taking the first few steps was enough to instigate nausea. Fortunately, today she was up for it!

Uncle Dennis Trail near Rock View Lodge, Guyana (take #2)

We took our time, enjoying the sights and sounds. Laura was on constant herp patrol while Hendricks and I scanned the undergrowth and trees for movement. Occaionally Hendricks would teach us about some of the tree species and their utility with the Macushi people. 

Exploring the Uncle Dennis Trail near Rock View, Guyana (photo by Laura Bond)

We thoroughly enjoyed the walk. I only added one life bird (Violaceous Euphonia) but managed great views of a few other species, including this Sooty-capped Hermit that posed for us on a trail side branch. Laura found a few bats and lizards in a cave we passed, and we all enjoyed the breeze while standing at the lookoffs overlooking the savannah. 

Sooty-capped Hermit - Uncle Dennis Trail near Rock View Lodge, Guyana

We enjoyed another excellent breakfast upon our return, then packed up our bags and prepared to leave Rock View. Thomas, who had driven us to Karanambu, soon arrived to transport us to our next lodge, called Atta. We said our goodbyes to Colin, Hendricks and Andrica, while Laura had one last snuggle with Morty, Colin's cat. Then it was time to hit the road!

Laura and Morty - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

We rumbled along the gravel road, heading east towards the forest. We had had an enjoyable time in the savannah but I was ready to visit the impressive forests which Guyana is known for. Atta Lodge is located deep within the protected Iwokrama Forest. This forest is one of the most biodiverse on earth, and is especially known for its fish and bat diversity, while also containing habitat for over 500 bird species. As we drove along, the savannah suddenly transitioned to forest and before long we were surrounded on all sides by massive tropical trees. It felt like the road could be swallowed up by the forest. 

Unfortunately Laura's stomach was not agreeing with the bumpy roads. When we checked in at the entrance gate to the forest to give the forest rangers our passport information she was looking quite green. Somehow she managed to keep it together for the rest of the drive and with some relief we arrived at Atta Lodge. 

The heat and humidity was stifling as it was mid-day but even still, the Screaming Pihas were calling like crazy. Finally, we were deep within primary rainforest, with the sights, sounds, and smells to accompany us. 


We were given a quick briefing of the lodge and were introduced to Delon, who would be our private guide for our time at Atta. Like Hendricks at Rock View Lodge, Delon also was from the village of Annai. We were the only guests at the lodge for our first night, while another couple would be staying at the lodge during our second and third nights, but we pretty much had the place to ourselves. 

A brief note about guides during our Guyana trip. When I originally booked everything I was not aware that we would be getting our own private guide at each lodge we were staying at - I thought the "all inclusive" price including just lodging and meals. This was not necessarily a bad thing, as most of the guides we had were excellent, and we did not have to share them with anyone else. I did not know this at the time but at most of the lodges you had to be accompanied by a guide when going out on a trail - solo exploring was prohibited. Ostensibly this was for safety purposes but it was a little frustrating for me as much of the enjoyment I receive out of traveling comes through exploration and the moment of discovery. Being accompanied by a guide does not remove that aspect completely but it does diminish it a bit. Fortunately our guides were very flexible and willing to accompany us on hikes whenever we liked as opposed to just at the structured times set up by the lodges. 

Like I said however, most of our guides were excellent and by hiring a guide one is contributing to the local economy. Ecotourism is growing in Guyana and it is good to see more and more people becoming guides or otherwise working in the ecotourism industry. If the forests of the Guianan Shield become valuable due to the ecotourism benefits they provide, perhaps it will ensure that more of these forests will be protected. 

Though it was the stifling middle part of the day when we arrived at Atta, I was itching to go for a walk and Delon was happy to accompany me. Laura had a nap in the room to help the nausea from the car ride subside while Delon and I did a short circuit on one of the trails. 

Striped Forest Whiptail - Atta Lodge, Guyana

I think I added eight life birds during our walk, despite the forest being nearly silent at that time of day (except for the Screaming Pihas, of course!). A pair of Red-necked Woodpeckers (below) were impressive to watch, while I also saw a few specialties of the area including Guianan Warbling-Antbird, Tiny Tyrant-Manakin, Rufous-throated Antbird, Marail Guan and Caica Parrot.  We also found our first of many Striped Forest Whiptails. What a start to our time in the forest!

Red-necked Woodpecker - Atta Lodge, Guyana

Returning to my room I noticed a small hummingbird perched above some flowers just outside our door, which turned out to be a female Racket-tailed Coquette! This uncommon species is found in the northern Amazon basin and the males are adorned with spectacular tail feathers. The females are a little less extravagant but quite beautiful all the same. 

Racket-tailed Coquette - Atta Lodge, Guyana

Upon returning to the lodge, I grabbed my bird book and scope and found a nice bench to sit on outside of our room, with my scope trained at the distant treetops should a mixed flock move through. Laura joined me for a bit as well, feeling a little refreshed after her rest.

 Atta Lodge, Guyana

Among the birds that passed, I added four new ones, including several tanagers, a greenlet, and Black-eared Fairy (a type of hummingbird). The biggest highlight, however, was a pair of Spangled Cotingas! Delon first spotted them, as he was also scoping some of the treetops from near the main lodge building. While they were a little distant for good digiscoped photos, the views through the scope were incredible. The electric blue and purple of the male provided a pulse of colour in the canopy.

Spangled Cotinga - Atta Lodge, Guyana

That afternoon Laura and I met up with Delon around 4:00 PM for a walk through the forest to the Iwokrama Canopy Walkway, located a short distance from the lodge. We marveled at the massive trees and the sounds of the forest as we slowly walked along. Climbing the steps to the beginning of the canopy walkway was difficult for Laura and I in the oppressive heat and humidity, though Delon hardly broke a sweat.

Iwokrama Canopy Walkway, Guyana

Built with funds from the Canadian International Development Agency, the Iwokrama Canopy Walkway consists of several aluminum platforms connected with suspension bridge style walkways. It provides access to the middle and upper levels of the forest, and it is possible to scan over the treetops for miles from some of the platforms. By spending several hours on the canopy walkway, it is possible to see a wide range of species, some which are almost never seen when birding from the forest floor.

Marail Guan - Iwokrama Canopy Walkway, Guyana

For an hour and a half we stayed on the canopy walkway, marveling at the bird life while Guianan Red Howler Monkeys roared in the distance. Delon and I carefully scoped the distant treetops, hoping to pick up raptors or cotingas, and occasionally a small group of birds would pass through the canopy near where we were standing.

Black-eared Fairy - Iwokrama Canopy Walkway, Guyana


Four species of toucans, Guianan Woodcreeper, Waved Woodpeckers, Marail Guans, a half dozen species of parrots and parakeets, and several vocal Red-throated Caracaras were just a few of the many highlights of our time on the canopy walkway. I was quite happy with my decision to bring my scope and phone adapter to Guyana, as it enabled me to digiscope many species that were too distant for my camera and 300 mm lens.

Green Aracari pair - Iwokrama Canopy Walkway, Guyana

Red-throated Caracara - Iwokrama Canopy Walkway, Guyana

Afternoon was turning to evening and it was unfortunately time to head back to the lodge. Delon had one more bird species in mind before we called it a day, however. It turns out that White-winged Potoos are occasionally seen or heard along the entrance road to Atta Lodge, or along the main highway near here. This poorly known species is patchily distributed in northern Amazonia, and there are few places where this species is reliably encountered.

We walked down the entrance road around dusk and arrived at the road to begin our vigil. Delon played some tape for the bird as darkness fell, and we all strained our ears, hoping to pick out the distinctive descending whistle from the treetops, without any success. While we waited, we frequently scanned down the highway, hoping to see a Jaguar, or Ocelot cross the road and slip into the forest (wishful thinking perhaps, but it could happen!).

Eventually we admitted defeat and began heading back to the lodge for dinner. The potoo may have been a no-show but at least we heard some Guianan Puffbirds calling from deep within the forest wall next to the road. On the walk back Laura and I used our flashlights to scan the vegetation for herps, while Delon continued to scan for potoo eyeshine. Miraculously, he spotted one, and it was a White-winged!! I was ecstatic, and we set up the scopes to obtain a better look.

White-winged Potoo - Atta Lodge entrance road, Guyana

The potoo was on a dead snag way up in the canopy, and with the help of Delon's spotlight we were able to see the pertinent ID features in the scope, including the broad white patch on the wing coverts. For Laura's first ever potoo, it was a good one!

Completely satisfied with our first afternoon and evening at Atta, we walked back to the lodge to enjoy a delicious meal. Around 8 we retired to our room, where we enjoyed the open air shower. The cold water felt amazing while we stood under the stars, and before long we were in bed, exhausted after an excellent day in Guyana.

----------

Introduction
January 25-27, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Karanambu Lodge
January 27, 2018 - Karanambu Lodge, boat cruise on the Rupununi River
January 28, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Rock View Lodge
January 29, 2018 - Rock View Lodge and surroundings
January 30, 2018 - Rock View Lodge, drive to Atta Lodge

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Parking lot jaeger

Jaegers are some of my favourite birds that we see in southern Ontario. The falcons of the gull world, jaegers are well known for kleptoparasitism, and they frequently chase down gulls in an attempt to force the gull to give up whatever food item they are carrying or had just eaten. These arctic thieves are fast, powerful birds and it can be positively thrilling watching a high-speed attack by a Parasitic Jaeger on a Ring-billed Gull.

The three species of jaegers we are fortunate to occasionally see in southern Ontario include Parasitic (by far the most numerous) as well as Long-tailed and Pomarine. Due to migration routes, spring records of jaegers are quite scarce, yet every autumn, low numbers pass through the province, almost entirely sticking to large bodies of water such as the Great Lakes, on their way from their Arctic breeding grounds to their wintering areas on the open oceans. Van Wagner's Beach in Hamilton is a prime location to search for jaegers, due to its location at the west end of Lake Ontario. Migrant jaegers stop over on Lake Ontario in the autumn, and east winds can cause some individuals to drift to the west end of the lake where they are identified (or attempted to be identified) by patient birders straining through their scopes. 

Typical view of a distant Parastic Jaeger at Van Wagner's Beach (September 10, 2011)

Jaegers are a lot of fun for many birders due to the difficulties in identifying them. While adults in breeding plumage of each of the three species are fairly distinctive, the vast majority of jaegers that we see are young birds, often with confusing plumage. They take several years to reach maturity and to complicate matters, each of the three species can occur in several different morphs, along a continuum from light to dark. 

Long-tailed Jaeger is the earliest jaeger to appear in Ontario, with most records occurring from mid August to late September. It used to be an infrequent enough visitor to southern Ontario that it was on the Ontario Bird Record Committee's review lists for the province. But due to a function of a population increase, or simply more birders with better optics being aware of jaegers, sightings in southern Ontario are frequent enough that it was removed from the southern Ontario review list in 2007. Even still, usually a dozen or fewer individuals are seen in Ontario each year, with the vast majority of records coming from Van Wagner's Beach in Hamilton during north or east winds. These birds are usually only seen in flight as they pass by offshore. 

I was quite surprised to hear that an adult Long-tailed Jaeger was found at Van Wagner's Beach by Geri Shemilt on July 31, since the date was still rather early for a Long-tailed Jaeger in Ontario. Throughout the following week the bird was seen occasionally along the lakeshore, and on August 7, the bird was found sitting on shore at Confederation Park! Sightings continued throughout the day, and then again yesterday, August 8. For many of the sightings, the bird was on land, either on the shoreline or standing in the parking lot at Confederation Park. I temporarily pushed aside my work responsibilities and drove down to Hamilton yesterday morning. It is not often that one has a chance to observe a jaeger on land in southern Ontario, let alone an adult Long-tailed with full tail streamers! 

When I arrived the Long-tailed Jaeger was still at the parking lot of Confederation Park, waiting out the rain.

Long-tailed Jaeger - Confederation Park, Hamilton

Eventually it preened its feathers and took flight, circling around the parking lot several times before settling in on the far side of the lot. A few Ring-billed Gulls were scrounging for food among the McDonald's wrappers and other garbage, and the Long-tailed Jaeger joined right in. 

Long-tailed Jaeger - Confederation Park, Hamilton

Long-tailed Jaeger - Confederation Park, Hamilton

Long-tailed Jaeger - Confederation Park, Hamilton

 Eventually one of the young Ring-billed Gulls decided to let the jaeger know who was boss, and chased it off of the delicious scraps.

Long-tailed Jaeger and Ring-billed Gull - Confederation Park, Hamilton

Long-tailed Jaeger and Ring-billed Gull - Confederation Park, Hamilton

I continued to watch and photograph the jaeger over the better part of an hour, while also chatting with the handful of other birders that were present to take in the spectacle. All the while the Long-tailed Jaeger remained in the parking lot, walking around and acting just like a Ring-billed Gull, for the most part.

Long-tailed Jaeger - Confederation Park, Hamilton

Long-tailed Jaeger - Confederation Park, Hamilton

Occasionally it took flight to do a few circles of the parking lot. The lighting was tough and I was having troubles with my focusing but I eventually took a few distant photos of the bird in flight, showing off its long tail feathers.

Long-tailed Jaeger - Confederation Park, Hamilton

It was an unforgettable hour with a species that I don't have a chance to enjoy too often. The jaeger is still present today so hopefully many others are able to get down to Confederation Park or Van Wagner's Beach to observe this beaut!

Monday, 6 August 2018

Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago: Part 5 (Rock View Lodge and surroundings)

Introduction
January 25-27, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Karanambu Lodge
January 27, 2018 - Karanambu Lodge, boat cruise on the Rupununi River
January 28, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Rock View Lodge
January 29, 2018 - Rock View Lodge and surroundings
January 30, 2018 - Rock View Lodge, drive to Atta Lodge


----------

January 29, 2018

Our plan the next day was to meet Hendricks at 5:45 for a morning hike into the forested hills. Located only a fifteen minute walk from the lodge, Hendricks had cut a trail to provide access through the wooded terrain. Unfortunately, Laura woke up feeling very unwell, with a headache, nausea and an upset stomache. The cause was likely dehydration, instigated by the long walk in the sun during the previous afternoon. She was determined to explore the hills with Hendricks and I, and so she gingerly sipped water while we prepared for the walk. 

Orange-backed Troupial - near Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Sightings wise, the walk began excellently and we soon picked up several Finsch's Euphonias and an Orange-backed Troupial (above). Unfortunately for Laura, she was in no condition to hike and so she made the decision to head back to the lodge to rest and rehydrate. Poor girl!

Hendricks and I pressed on and spent the next hour and a half exploring the Uncle Dennis Trail, named after Dennis Franscipio who had helped establish Rock View Lodge with Colin. This trail cut through a forested hillside and was complete with several lookout points. Despite the time of year, birdsong was very much in evidence and we picked up a few new ones, including Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Black-tailed Tityra, White-browed Antbird, Sooty-capped Hermit and a heard-only Green-backed Trogon that just wouldn't show itself. Several viewpoints along the way provided sweeping panoramas of the landscape.

View from the Uncle Dennis Trail, near Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Several raptors were taking advantage of the morning thermals rising up along the side of the hill, including this White-tailed Hawk.

White-tailed Hawk - Uncle Dennis Trail, near Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Concluding our walk, we returned back to the lodge for breakfast as the heat of the day began to set in. Laura had been drinking water all morning and was feeling a little bit better but she wanted to take it easy for the rest of the day, understandably! We spent some time sitting by the pool and watching the various lava lizards perched on nearby rocks. 

Peters' Lava Lizard (Tropidurus hispidus) - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Some rustling in a bamboo revealed a Weeping Capuchin keeping an eye on us. Colin later mentioned that this capuchin arrived on his own several years ago and has never left, spending his days feasting on the wide variety of fruits grown at Rock View. Colin had named him Piccolo and he was a daily presence around the lodge.

Piccolo the Weeping Capuchin - Rock View Lodge, Guyana (photo by Laura Bond)

During the hot hours of the day we passed our time relaxing and watching the birds on the property. 

Burnished-buff Tanager - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Yellow-headed Caracara - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

White-tipped Dove - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Yellow Oriole - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Around mid-afternoon one of the ladies working at Rock View gave us a demonstration on how they roast cashews. I have to say the resulting roasted cashews were absolutely amazing...

Cashew roasting - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Cashew roasting - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Cashew roasting - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

At 4:00 PM I met back up with Hendricks for an afternoon/evening hike on the savannah. Laura wasn't quite 100% yet and decided that the prudent course of action would be to sit this one out. 

Burnished-buff Tanager - savannah near Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Our main quarry was Double-striped Thick-Knee once again. We completed a different circuit than the one we had walked the previous evening, but again the Thick-Knees stayed out of sight. Our first Red-and-Green Macaws of the trip were heard vocalizing from somewhere unseen, their incredibly far-carrying squawks almost terrifying. Eventually the pair came into view and flew almost directly overhead. 

Red-and-green Macaws - savannah near Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Several White-winged Swallows were perching on fenceposts in one area, allowing me to take a few photos from close range. 

White-winged Swallow - savannah near Rock View Lodge, Guyana

The biggest highlight of the walk for me was coming across two Toco Toucans as afternoon turned to evening. In recent years Toco Toucans have began to appear in Annai and the vicinity and they are now almost a daily feature at Rock View. While this species is widespread in the southern Amazon basin it is not observed by too many birders visiting Guyana. 

Another highlight was my first ever spider monkey - a Guiana Spider Monkey - in some trees on our walk back to the lodge. We also saw our first Gray and Plumbeous Seedeaters, Eastern Meadowlarks and Bat Falcon of the trip.

Plumbeous Seedeater - savannah near Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Eastern Meadowlark - savannah near Rock View Lodge, Guyana

We returned to the lodge around dusk and I was happy to see that Laura was feeling a little better, though she still had a ways to go. She had enjoyed her afternoon by sitting outside and journaling, while also observing Piccolo doing his thing. He was quite inquisitive and Laura was sure that if we had more time at the lodge that she would be able to befriend him! We enjoyed another excellent meal, though Laura's stomach could only handle some of the soup and rice. We turned in for bed around 9:00 PM once again. After long days in the Guyana sun it was becoming easier and easier to fall asleep by 9 or so.

----------

Introduction
January 25-27, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Karanambu Lodge
January 27, 2018 - Karanambu Lodge, boat cruise on the Rupununi River
January 28, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Rock View Lodge
January 29, 2018 - Rock View Lodge and surroundings
January 30, 2018 - Rock View Lodge, drive to Atta Lodge

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago: Part 4 (Rupununi savannah, Rock View Lodge)

Introduction
January 25-27, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Karanambu Lodge
January 27, 2018 - Karanambu Lodge, boat cruise on the Rupununi River
January 28, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Rock View Lodge
January 29, 2018 - Rock View Lodge and surroundings
January 30, 2018 - Rock View Lodge, drive to Atta Lodge

----------

January 28, 2018

Part of the appeal that the Rupununi savannah held for me were a number of bird species that can be difficult to see elsewhere in northern South America. Chief among these were two species of flycatchers: the Bearded Tachuri and Crested Doradito, both small, brownish flycatchers that are found in very specific open habitats. The Crested Doradito is particularly difficult to see in the northern part of their range. Colonies can be quite ephemeral, and overall the species is generally uncommon in the context of the greater savannah landscapes. I inquired with Manny about the possibilities of looking for these species and I was in luck - he had spots for both. 

Laura was interested in going for another cruise on the river so we decided to split up for the morning. I would join Manny in the truck in search of target birds, while Laura would join the others on another boat cruise. 

Roadside wetland - Rupununi savannah near Karanambu Lodge, Guyana

The Rupununi is more than just endless grassland. Wetlands large and small dot the landscape and provide crucial habitat for many species. As we bounded along scarcely-visible dirt tracks cut through the open landscape to reach the doradito spot, I marveled at the avian life visible in some of the wetlands which we would check on the way back. Storks, Muscovy Ducks, Limpkins and various wading birds were just some of the birds easily seen. 

While en route to the doradito location we passed our first Buff-necked Ibises feeding in a field. Such strange looking birds, and one I was hoping to study at a later point in the trip. Eventually we reached a wet depression of sorts, with different vegetation growing in the damper environment, though it barely stood out from the rest of the landscape. This, apparently, was the home of the doraditos!

Crested Doradito habitat - Rupununi savannah near Karanambu Lodge, Guyana

I was still strapping on my camera when Manny called over that he had one! I rushed over and over the next few minutes had good views of the little yellow flycatcher as it flitted through the grasses. It was very skulky and difficult to stay on or approach closely. Photos were a near impossibility and a few out of focus frames were all that I could manage.

Crested Doradito - Rupununi savannah near Karanambu Lodge, Guyana

Time was of the essence this morning. Not only were we racing the mid-morning sun which would shut down a lot of the bird activity, but we also had to leave Karanambu well before lunchtime to make our transfer to the next lodge, Rock View. I would have loved to stay with the doraditos but we had a few more places to explore.

Wood Storks - Rupununi savannah near Karanambu Lodge, Guyana

We headed back towards Karanambu and stopped at some of the wetlands. Storks of all three species were seen, including a group of Wood Storks (above), and several Maguari Storks (below).

Maguari Stork - Rupununi savannah near Karanambu Lodge, Guyana

Muscovy Duck is the only common waterfowl species in this part of Guyana, but the species can be downright abundant in the right habitat. We counted around 60 in one wetland. Of course all individuals were black with white wing patches, as opposed to the motley colours present on many farmed and domesticated Muscovy Ducks that are common back home.

Muscovy Ducks - Rupununi savannah near Karanambu Lodge, Guyana

We searched one wetland for our other main target species, the Bearded Tachuri. This small flycatcher specializes in finding habitat around the fringes of savannah wetlands and this was a place where Manny had seen them before. This part of the savannah had been burned recently and much of the vegetation next to the wetland had been razed to the ground, driving the Bearded Tachuris away temporarily. While none appeared, a White-headed Marsh-Tyrant allowed my close approach for photos.

White-headed Marsh-Tyrant - Rupununi savannah near Karanambu Lodge, Guyana

We admitted defeat and continued back along the dirt tracks. Passing another wetland, a lumpy brown shape materialized in the sparse grasses. A Pinnated Bittern! Manny stopped the truck and I fired a few photos out of the window just as the bird flushed. While this species also has a relatively large range throughout Central and South America, it is often found in low numbers, and its secretive habits ensure that it is rarely seen. Many facets of its natural history remain little-known.

Pinnated Bittern - Rupununi savannah near Karanambu Lodge, Guyana

The temperatures had increased while the resulting wind also made birding a little more difficult, as we arrived at one last wetland to check. Manny was not feeling too great at this point so he lay the seat back in the truck while I went off in search of the tachuri. I found some nice looking habitat around the edge of the wetland and soon spotted a small, tawny flycatcher sitting quietly in a bush. A touch of playback on my bluetooth speaker was enough to draw a pair of the charismatic birds to only a few feet away.

Bearded Tachuri - Rupununi savannah near Karanambu Lodge, Guyana

The Bearded Tachuri is patchily distributed in South America, with several populations having been extirpated. Currently the savannahs of the Guianan shield including the Rupununi are one of the strongholds of this Near-Threatened species. It can also be found in southern Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, though it is general scarce in these areas, and it also appears as an austral migrant to central-east Argentina.

Bearded Tachuri - Rupununi savannah near Karanambu Lodge, Guyana

Bearded Tachuri - Rupununi savannah near Karanambu Lodge, Guyana

I found another pair of Bearded Tachuris as I continued around the pond, eventually ending up at the dirt track where it was easy walking back to the truck. Manny, despite looking quite under the weather, was thrilled with my success. It had been an excellent morning in the savannah all thanks to Manny, who was willing to transport me around at the early hour despite feeling not well. Thank you!

Laura, meanwhile, also had an extremely enjoyable morning out on the river. They had taken the boat the other way down the river and enjoyed the peace and serenity of the area. They saw many of the same bird species from the previous day's trip, but in addition Laura noted Crane Hawk, Gray-necked Wood-Rail and Roadside Hawk (I was quite proud of her birding abilities!). They explored a small tributary off the river where the forest closed in around them, then docked the boat and walked through the forest to a different oxbow pond. Arapaima, among the world's largest freshwater fish, were seen and heard splashing, while caimans, kingfishers and herons were everywhere. A flock of 40-50 Anhingas cruised silently overhead. A check of an otter den failed to turn any up, but on the boat ride back to the lodge they found a youngster playing in the reeds.

Rupununi River, Guyana (photo by Laura Bond)

After breakfast we loaded into the pickup with Manny, Patty and Juha for a rough ride to our next lodge - Rock View, located near the town of Annai. Originally the plan had been to take the boat down the river to Ginep Landing, where we would meet our transport to Rock View, but the low water levels prevented that from happening. Unfortunately. Laura had a tough time dealing with the rough roads, despite taking Gravol. Finally we reached Ginep Landing, said goodbye to Patty and Manny, and hopped in the minibus that was waiting to transfer Laura, Juha and I to Rock View. We were now back on the "highway", but the gravel road with massive potholes did not provide any relief to Laura. The town of Annai couldn't come soon enough. It was a relief when we finally arrived at Rock View (#3 on the map, below) where our host, Colin, was waiting with a big smile on his face.


Rock View is an interesting place that Colin, an Englishmen, had built from the ground up. While formerly the grounds were open savannah, Colin had turned the place into an oasis complete with hundreds of species of trees and flowering plants. It had become a haven for wildlife taking advantage of the lush environs.

Rock View Lodge, Guyana (photo by Laura Bond)
It was great to meet Colin as well, since he (along with some of his staff) had helped arrange the trip for me. Nearly everyone who travels to Guyana on their own organizes everything through a company called Wilderness Explorers. They have corned the market of ecotourism in Guyana, and their website is always the first that comes up during any Google search. They also charge a ridiculous amount so I was content to book through one of the local lodges. Coordinating transport and accommodations in Guyana is not an easy thing to do on your own and I was more than happy to let Colin and his staff figure out the details for me. The total cost of our trip was around 60% of what it would have been, had I booked through Wilderness Explorers.

Rock View Lodge, Guyana (photo by Laura Bond)

Rock View Lodge, Guyana (photo by Laura Bond)

We enjoyed a delicious lunch with Juha and Colin, while Glittering-throated Emeralds stole nectar from the hummingbird feeder, a pair of Common Tody-Flycachers chased each other around in the flowering bushes, and Pale-breasted Thrushes lurked, mostly in the shadows. Juha was not staying for the night, as he was just here for lunch before getting picked up and taken to Rewa Ecolodge. It wouldn't be the last we would see of him, however!

Pale-breasted Thrush - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Pale-breasted Thrush - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

After lunch we met Hendricks, a local Macushi who grew up in the nearby village of Annai, and who had been working for Colin for a number of years. Hendricks would be our guide and we would have him all to ourselves - in fact we were the only ones staying at Rock View Lodge. Even during the high season, few people visit Guyana. Throughout the entire trip, we shared the various lodges with between only 0 and 4 people.

Hendricks, Laura and I took a quick tour of the grounds after lunch. Everything was green and luscious and it almost felt like we were in a botanical garden. There was even a swimming pool, though it too was very green. We climbed up steps carved into a large rock which led to a view of the airstrip and savannah sprawling in all directions, and enjoyed checking out the various Peters' Lava Lizards that were a prominent feature at the lodge. The afternoon was hot and sticky and few birds were seen, so we took a siesta for an hour or two.

Peters' Lava Lizard (Tropidurus hispidus) - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Laura and I met Hendricks at 3:30 PM and after some tea and cookies we headed out on foot to explore the savannah. Rock View Lodge is located on the outskirts of the village of Annai, giving a much different feel to the area when compared to the relatively isolated Karanambu Lodge we had just stayed at. Structures dotted the horizon and we passed several locals on bikes or on foot as explored the tracks that criss-crossed the area. That being said, there were still several bird species that I was hoping to connect with at Rock View, either because we missed them at Karanambu, or because they are simply easier to come across at Rock View. These included Toco Toucan, Finsch's Euphonia, Burrowing Owl, Red-and-green Macaw, Double-striped Thick-Knee, Orange-backed Troupial and several others.

Savannah near Rock View Lodge, Guyana


Laura exploring the savannah - Rock View Lodge, Guyana


The open savannah was still hot and humid as we departed the lodge on foot, but the sun was slowly inching lower in the sky, promising some relief as time passed by. Hendricks took us to a few locations where he sometimes sees Double-striped Thick-Knees, though despite lots of scanning we couldn't turn any up. We also struck out on Burrowing Owls. An area with a network of burrows was devoid of any owls. It appeared that the burrows had been destroyed; Hendricks theorized that perhaps the kids living in the nearby house may have been responsible.

Hendricks surveying the savannah - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters - Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Several Vermilion Flycatchers and Fork-tailed Flycatchers were easily found in the savannah. While a common sight in Guyana, it was still exciting to come across these species. Perhaps my brain was still in "Ontario-mode", where both flycatchers are rare vagrants.

Vermilion and Fork-tailed Flycatchers - savannah near Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Two Grassland Sparrows provided nice views alongside the path we were venturing on, while we also flushed a few Yellowish Pipits - my first.

Grassland Sparrow - savannah near Rock View Lodge, Guyana


Certainly the highlight of the walk occurred about half an hour before sunset. While we walked and periodically scanned for Double-striped Thick-Knees, Laura had her attention trained on the ground in case any slitherers happened on by. Suddenly she exclaimed "snake!" and we looked down to see this beautiful Lined Ground Snake (Lycopus lineatus).

Lined Ground Snake (Lygophus lineatus- savannah near Rock View Lodge, Guyana

We were thrilled with our inaugural snake of the trip, especially since a few days had already gone by without any snakes gracing us with their presence. The monkey was off our backs!

Laura with the Lined Ground Snake - savannah near Rock View Lodge, Guyana


Josh with the Lined Ground Snake - savannah near Rock View Lodge, Guyana


Eventually we circled back and made our to the lodge as the sun set behind us. Buff-necked Ibises roost in the palms at Rock View Lodge and two were feeding next to the airstrip as we arrived back.

Buff-necked Ibis - airstrip near Rock View Lodge, Guyana

Upon our return we enjoyed an excellent meal in the open-air dining loft at Rock View Lodge with Colin, complete with several stiff drinks fashioned from rum, lime juice and an aromatic bitter. By 9:00 PM we were in bed, exhausted after the long day and hours spent in the sun.

----------

Introduction
January 25-27, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Karanambu Lodge
January 27, 2018 - Karanambu Lodge, boat cruise on the Rupununi River
January 28, 2018 - Rupununi savannah, Rock View Lodge
January 29, 2018 - Rock View Lodge and surroundings
January 30, 2018 - Rock View Lodge, drive to Atta Lodge