Saturday, 29 December 2018

Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago: Part 12 (Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Kaieteur Falls)

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 31, 2018 - First complete day at Atta Lodge
February 1, 2018 - Second complete day at Atta Lodge
February 2, 2018 - Cock-of-the-rock lek, drive to Surama Ecolodge
February 3, 2018 - First complete day at Surama Ecolodge
February 4, 2018 - Second complete day at Surama Ecolodge
February 5 and 6, 2018 - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Kaieteur Falls

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February 5, 2018

Our time in the Guyanese interior was coming to an end. Laura and I completed one final walk at Surama, enjoying the sights and sounds of the forest. We were going to miss this place! I managed one final lifer at Surama that morning - an Ocellated Crake calling from some grassland not far from the lodge. Try as I could, I was unable to get a visual, however. 

last hike at Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

Soon, our driver Thomas arrived and we headed off towards the direction of Lethem. Most of the day was spent in transit.We bumped along the dusty roads, watching the forest change into grassland. By early afternoon Thomas had dropped us off at the airport and we said our goodbyes. We killed some time by having lunch in town but eventually we got on the plane and took off, heading back to Georgetown. I had booked a hotel in town not far from the botanical gardens, and we hailed a taxi to take us there. That evening we went out for a nice dinner at a nearby restaurant and went to bed early. The next day would be a busy one with lots planned, including a visit of the iconic Kaieteur Falls. 


February 6, 2018

We woke early and headed down to the lobby as the sky slowly brightened and the kiskadees called from all around. With this being our last full day in Guyana I was keen on exploring some of the coastal forest east of Georgetown, where several range-restricted bird species resided - Blood-colored Woodpecker, White-bellied Piculet, and Rufous Crab-Hawk. Our guide in Surama, Stefano, had a buddy who lived in Georgetown who was willing to drive us around for the morning for a reasonable price (around 40$), whereas if we had booked a half-day tour with Wilderness Explorers, it would have cost us 183$ USD each (!!). It is incredible to think that so many birders/naturalists who visit Guyana book everything through Wilderness Explorers when the prices are that insanely high. 

The one drawback of arranging the transport through Stefano was that our ride never showed up. We had been pretty disappointed with Stefano's guiding abilities throughout our time at Surama and this was just the cherry on the top. We waited for an hour with no sign of his friend before we decided that we might as well explore the nearby botanical gardens on our own, instead.

We began by walking north to the coast to take a look at the seawall and mudflats. The tide was high during our visit which limited what birds were present, but we did see a good variety of species in a nearby canal, including photogenic Limpkins and Wattled Jacanas.  

Limpkin - Georgetown, Guyana

Wattled Jacana - Georgetown, Guyana

By mid-morning we arrived at the Georgetown Botanical Gardens. Located in the heart of the city, the botanical gardens are a green oasis that is a haven to a wide variety of wildlife. Few other people were in the gardens today, leaving us with all the birds. 

Ruddy Ground-Dove - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Violaceous Euphonia - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Straight-billed Woodcreeper - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Over the course of the morning I added eight life birds out of the nearly 60 species we encountered in the gardens. Several Festive Parrots were seen as they flew over, though the most common parrot species was Red-shouldered Macaw. Several large flocks were present throughout the morning and we even found a few nests. 

Red-shouldered Macaw - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Red-shouldered Macaw - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Red-shouldered Macaw - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

For some reason raptors are positively abundant around the botanical gardens; mostly Snail Kites, but also good numbers of Black-collared Hawks and singles of Roadside Hawk and Gray-lined Hawk. 

Snail Kite - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Black-collared Hawk - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Yellow-chinned Spinetail is the default spinetail at the gardens. While not a lifer (I had heard several along the Burro Burro River in Surama), it was great to have our first looks at this species. 

Yellow-chinned Spinetail - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Flycatchers were common throughout the park. Among the typical Great and Lesser Kiskadees and Tropical Kingbirds, we also enjoyed watching the antics of several Gray Kingbirds, a pair of Cinnamon Attilas and our first Short-crested Flycatcher, as well as several other more common species. 

Gray Kingbird - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Tropical Kingbird - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Great Kiskadee - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Short-crested Flycatcher - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Cinnamon Attila - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Lineated Woodpecker may be a common Neotropical species, but watching one work over a dead branch only a few meters from us was a treat. 

Lineated Woodpecker - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Meanwhile, a Bat Falcon surveyed the scene from a distant snag. 

Bat Falcon - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Of course birds were not the only attraction at the gardens. Laura and I always keep an eye out for herps and were rewarded with several sightings of impressive Gold Tegus. Spectacled Caimans were also present in some of the ponds.

Gold Tegu - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

Spectacled Caiman - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

White Peacock - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

By having our morning plans of birding the coastline east of Georgetown canceled, it effectively snuffed out our chances of seeing Rufous Crab-Hawk, but both Blood-coloured Woodpecker and White-bellied Piculet can be found in the botanical gardens. We had already been at the gardens for a couple of hours without any luck, so I was starting to lose optimism.

While birding near some wooded ponds along the north side of the gardens during the late morning we had a string of great bird sightings. First, an American Pygmy Kingfisher flew past, which was the last kingfisher species that I "needed" for the Americas. Later, a small flock of Turquoise Tanagers foraged in the trees above us. Then Laura made a great find with a Blood-colored Woodpecker which we watched for a few minutes until it flew out of sight! And finally, I heard a White-bellied Piculet call, which was very responsive to my playback and ended up perching right above our heads. 

Blood-coloured Woodpecker - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

White-bellied Piculet - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana

White-bellied Piculet - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Guyana
  
That afternoon we had tickets booked on a flight to Kaieteur Falls. Without a doubt Kaieteur is the biggest tourist attraction in Guyana, as it is the world's largest single-drop waterfall by volume of water. Adding to the allure is that the waterfall is found on the edge of the remote Kaieteur Plateau, being surrounded by mostly untouched forest. The easiest way to access the falls is to book a ticket on a chartered flight, since there is no road access. 

Our flight left around 1:00 PM and would take an hour or so to reach the tiny airstrip beside the waterfall. We would then have about two hours on the ground where one of the national park guides would take us to several viewpoints before getting back on the plane and flying back to Georgetown. 



We were really glad that we decided to book the trip as the waterfall was incredibly impressive. Back home Laura and I live in the city of Niagara Falls, and our house is only a 20 minute walk to the iconic waterfall that the city is named after. But Kaieteur Falls puts our hometown waterfall to shame. It is around four times the height of Niagara Falls, and is surrounded by beautiful forest as opposed to development and thousands of tourists. Quite a contrast, indeed!





I was also interested in doing the Kaieteur Falls trip from a naturalist's perspective since it would be our only chance to see this part of the country and the resulting species found here. Unfortunately our time on the ground was rather limited and we were forced to stick with the guide and the other tourists on our flight; about 10 of us in total. On a few occasions I paused briefly to look at a bird, only to get dirty looks from the guide and other tourists. Despite these restrictions I was able to see a few birds including my first Cliff Flycatcher and Plumbeous Euphonia. One of my main targets was Orange-breasted Falcon, which is a scarce species found throughout the Neotropics. A pair nests at Kaieteur though and is often seen by birding groups that visit here. We had no luck while at the first viewpoint, but got lucky at the second viewpoint and had one of the individuals flying around. Awesome!

Cliff Flycatcher - Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

By peering into some of the bromeliads beside the trail, Laura and I were able to find a few Golden Rocket Frogs. This species is only found on the Kaieteur plateau and is most easily seen at Kaieteur Falls. 

Golden Rocket Frog - Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

We also discovered this species, known as Leptodactylus rugosus, alongside the path. This species is found in western Guyana and central Venezuela, as well as possibly northwestern Brazil. I made sure to only take a few photos of this species in an attempt to avoid the scorn from the guide and the other tourists. 

Leptodactylus rugosum - Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

A well-known lek of Guianan Cock-of-the-Rocks is found near Kaieteur Falls. I was not expecting this to be a part of the tour, given the guide's reaction to me stopping to look at birds earlier, but to our pleasant surprise, he took our group over to see the cotingas. Four males performed on cue, bobbing and weaving to attract the attention of a waiting female. It really was an incredible experience, especially since the views were much better than at the lek near Atta Lodge a few days earlier. 

Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock - Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock - Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock - Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock - Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

Guianan Cock-of-the-Rocks - Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock - Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

Soon enough our time at Kaieteur Falls came to a close and we boarded our plane for the ride back to Georgetown. It had been a full but excellent day! In the morning we would be flying out of Guyana to begin the journey back home. But first we would have a few days in Trinidad and Tobago.

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February 5 and 6, 2018 - Georgetown Botanical Gardens, Kaieteur Falls

Friday, 21 December 2018

Eurasian Collared-Doves in Hamilton

On Tuesday I had plans to complete some arborist work in a residential neighbourhood in north Hamilton. Given the density of houses in this particular part of Hamilton, finding a rare bird species was certainly not on my radar! Around 3:55 PM I was nearly finished for the day and was about to catalog the last four trees on my route as the daylight slowly began to fade. Out of the corner of my eye I got on two doves in flight and I watched them disappear into a group of Norway Spruces located in one of the backyards. Despite not having binoculars and looking squarely at the doves for no more than two seconds, I was reasonably sure that they were Eurasian Collared-Doves. They appeared larger than the expected species, Mourning Dove, and I could clearly see the squared-off tail. I am pretty sure I saw a collar on their necks, but the looks were so brief and the light was poor so it was tough to say for sure. I waited for another five or ten minutes in the area but the doves never reappeared. Given the time of day, they were likely settling in for the night. Despite some uncertainly, I posted the sighting of the "probable" Eurasian Collared-Doves to Ontbirds and Hamiltonbirds.

Fortunately my hunch was correct and a group of birders were able to re-find the doves in the same area the next morning and confirm their identification as Eurasian Collared-Doves. Since the initial sighting, the doves have been seen frequently in the same general area. I originally spotted them in flight behind #528 Ferguson Avenue North, Hamilton. In recent days they have been seen in that general area as well as from nearby Wood Street. I obviously did not take any photos of the birds on Tuesday but Bob Curry has allowed me to post some of his photos that he took on Wednesday.

Eurasian Collared Dove - Ferguson Ave N, City of Hamilton, ON (photo taken by Bob Curry)

Eurasian Collared-Dove is a relatively recent arrival in North America, having first becoming established in  Florida in the 1980s. The species expanded northward and westward in the decades since, and now can be found in much of central and western North America; there are even resident populations in southern Alaska already. Their expansion into the northeastern states and southeastern Canada has been much slower, however. Ontario accepted its first record in 1993, while the province had a total of 36 OBRC-accepted records as of the end of 2017. In recent years there has been much speculation that the species would imminently become a regular part of our avifauna but it just has not happened yet. But with 19 of Ontario's 36 accepted records occurring in the last four years, perhaps this is changing.

This is the fourth record for the Hamilton Study Area, and second record for the City of Hamilton proper as far as I can discern. Previous records for the HSA include one seen in Burlington, Halton by John Keenleyside on June 24, 1998, a long-staying bird found by Stu Mackenzie at Vinemount, Hamilton from July 17 to September 1, 2007 and one found by George Naylor and Rhondda James at Caledonia, Haldimand on September 3, 2017. It will be interesting to follow the progress of these two birds to see if they will stick around and attempt to nest.

Eurasian Collared Dove (left) with Mourning Dove - Ferguson Ave N, City of Hamilton, ON (photo taken by Bob Curry)

Good luck to those that seek out these birds!

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago: Part 11 (second complete day at Surama)

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 31, 2018 - First complete day at Atta Lodge
February 1, 2018 - Second complete day at Atta Lodge
February 2, 2018 - Cock-of-the-rock lek, drive to Surama Ecolodge
February 3, 2018 - First complete day at Surama Ecolodge
February 4, 2018 - Second complete day at Surama Ecolodge


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February 4, 2018

Dendrobatidae is a family of frogs common referred to as Poison Dart Frogs. These frogs are often brightly colored, terrestrial, and difficult to find (with a few exceptions), making them a prized find among naturalists. One of the iconic species is called Dendrobates leucomelas, the Yellow-headed Poison Frog, and it can be found mostly in eastern Venezuela, Guyana, and parts of northern Brazil and eastern Colombia. Kenneth, one of the other guides at Surama, was obsessed with herps and knew the whereabouts of most species found in the general area. We inquired with him about our chances of spotting Dendrobates leucomelas and he was happy to provide instructions as to how to get to a reliable area for the species. Stefano arranged for a truck to pick us up before dawn to drop us off in the right area, and we would spend the rest of the morning walking throughout the forest on our way back to the lodge.

Dendrobates leucomelas habitat - forest near Surama Ecolodge

Stefano, Laura and I sat in the back of the truck as it rumbled over the very rough track. We were a little slow-moving this morning after all of the hiking the previous day, so taking the truck to the dart frog location was a good idea indeed!

The forest was a little bit different here, with a novel species assemblage and a number of giant boulders that looked like they had been strewn about. Almost immediately upon our arrival we heard several dart frogs vocalizing to each other. A short search later, and we had found a pair!

Yellow-headed Poison Frog (Dendrobates leucomelas) - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

Yellow-headed Poison Frog (Dendrobates leucomelas) - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

Dendrobates leucomelas is one of the largest species of dart frog, reaching up to 5 cm in length. This species is quite territorial and small groups will vigorously defend their territories against rivals. Their vocalizations which are emitted frequently consist of far-traveling, insect like trills. By following these calls we found another pair a short while later.

Photographing the Yellow-headed Poison Frog (Dendrobates leucomelas) - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

Yellow-headed Poison Frog (Dendrobates leucomelas) - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

Yellow-headed Poison Frog (Dendrobates leucomelas) - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

Happy with our great success, we had an extra spring in our step as we began the long trek back to the lodge, following the west bank of the Burro-Burro River. Even at this relatively early hour we were dripping with sweat; the humidity takes some getting used to in Guyana. We had hardly traveled more than a few hundred meters when I spotted a brilliant red, black and white serpentine shape on a trail-side shrub.

Aesculapian False Coral Snake (Erythrolamprus aesculapii- forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

Wow! This gorgeous snake appeared to be an Erythrolamprus aesculapii (Aesculapian False Coral Snake), the same species that we had encountered the previous afternoon. It lay completely still in the bush, likely waiting in ambush for an unfortunate lizard to wander past. The colours on this individual were absolutely spectacular.

Aesculapian False Coral Snake (Erythrolamprus aesculapii- forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

The rest of our walk back was relatively slow sightings wise but considering that we had observed numerous Yellow-headed Dart Frogs, and had also found another snake (our fifth in 24 hours!), it had been a successful morning. I did add two new bird species on the walk back - Gray-fronted Dove and a heard-only Black-chinned Antbird. I stopped to photograph this strange insect; it is called a Wax-tailed Planthopper (Pterodictya reticularis).

Wax-tailed Planthopper (Pterodictya reticularis) - Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

After several hours of hiking along the seldom-used trail we finally arrived back at the part of the Burro-Burro River familiar to us, due to our boat ride from the previous afternoon. There happened to be a shelter there and good thing, since the heavens opened and the rain poured for a good twenty minutes right around the time that we arrived. We wolfed down our remaining food and laid down on the picnic tables to rest for a few minutes while waiting out the rain. At this point we were all tired and hungry, our chigger bites had progressed, our water supplies were dwindling and we still had five kilometers to walk.

It was during this long walk back to the lodge once the rain had cleared when we experienced the highlight of the trip for myself, though it was also one of the more frustrating moments. With only a kilometer remaining before we reached the lodge, we were for the most part putting one foot in front of the other, eagerly awaiting lunch and water waiting for us back at the lodge. Stefano and I were walking next to each other, while Laura was a few meters behind us. Suddenly a huge black and yellow cat appeared on the trail no more than twenty-five meters in front of us. By the time that my brain registered what this animal was - a huge male Jaguar - it had crossed the path and slipped into the forest on the other side. I blurted out "Jaguar!" as quick as I could, and Stefano got on it before it disappeared, but Laura was walking directly behind us and we were blocking her view; the two seconds it took for Laura to look around us was all the time that the Jaguar needed to slip off of the trail into the dark forest. A bittersweet moment, for sure, and despite us waiting for a little while, the cat never reappeared. Despite my elation at viewing a male Jaguar along a forest trail, I could only imagine the pain that Laura was feeling over missing it - not through any fault of her own, just by circumstance. We will definitely have to return to the land of the Jaguar one day and rectify the situation!

We had a relaxing lunch and took a bit of a break for the afternoon. I purchased an hour of internet and got caught up on everything back home (including my beloved Leafs of course), while Laura relaxed in our room and did some packing. Around 4:00 PM we met with Stefano for a leisurely walk through the savannah. First we tried calling in Ocellated Crakes in the long grass (no luck), then we headed back to the dry forest where the Great Potoo had been seen roosting.

One of the side trails we took passed close to one of the dwellings. We were met by their guard-kitten and guard-trumpeter who came running out to see who we were. A little girl named Ana emerged from the dwelling to check up on what the fuss was about. She introduced us to Moore, the Gray-winged Trumpeter, as well as Timothy and Thomas, her two kittens. Needless to say our progress was impeded by this welcome distraction, and Laura made sure to befriend both Moore, and Timothy the kitten (who was actually female, Laura noted).

Making friends - Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

We poked around in the dry forest for a while hoping to spot the potoo but were met with little success. The clouds increased in size and soon a light rain fell. Laura and I were ready to call it quits but Stefano kept at it; his persistence paid off as he soon spotted the potoo! We all enjoyed the stellar looks at the bird that was likely not thrilled about the current rain situation.

Great Potoo - Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

We enjoyed our last dinner at Surama and said our goodbyes to the other guests, as well as to the guides that we had gotten to know in our three days here, especially Stefano and Kenneth. That evening Laura wrote in her journal and I culled photos, but neither of us lasted very long until our eyelids grew heavy. It had been another tiring but excellent day...

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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 31, 2018 - First complete day at Atta Lodge
February 1, 2018 - Second complete day at Atta Lodge
February 2, 2018 - Cock-of-the-rock lek, drive to Surama Ecolodge
February 3, 2018 - First complete day at Surama Ecolodge
February 4, 2018 - Second complete day at Surama Ecolodge

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago: Part 10 (first complete day at Surama)

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 31, 2018 - First complete day at Atta Lodge
February 1, 2018 - Second complete day at Atta Lodge
February 2, 2018 - Cock-of-the-rock lek, drive to Surama Ecolodge
February 3, 2018 - First complete day at Surama Ecolodge
February 4, 2018 - Second complete day at Surama Ecolodge


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February 3, 2018

The Harpy Eagle is one of the most impressive birds that is found in South America. Weighing up to 20 pounds with a two-meter plus wingspan, Harpy Eagles are adorned with a double crest of feathers on the top of their head, while they also possess massive talons. Harpy Eagles spend most of their time sitting quietly in the canopy of lowland rainforests in Central and South America, keeping a watchful eye out for sloths and primates, of which the huge talons assist with crushing the skulls of the unfortunate mammals. Harpy Eagles occur in very low densities in relatively undisturbed, mature forests sporadically in the Americas. They rarely soar above the forest and their natural history remains little-known because of the difficulty in viewing them. Much of the knowledge we have of the species comes from observations at nest sites as well as the few observations of individuals hunting.

It was one of these nest sites that we were planning on visiting first thing in the morning on February 3. Harpy Eagles are widespread in the forest of Guyana but because of their extremely low densities and habits they are a very difficult species to just happen upon. This particular nest had been well known for a number of years and the pair of eagles had successfully raised several young. This particular nest was occupied by a 22 month old chick who was making forays further and further afield so there would be no guarantee that it was home. We were certainly up for trying!

We rumbled along the dirt highway in the back of the lodge's truck, enjoying the cool breeze on our faces and feeling more awake with each passing minute. Thirty minutes passed before we pulled off the road, the truck backed into a narrow parking spot which signaled the beginning of the trail.


The walk to the nest was not long - perhaps two kilometers - but it took us over an hour since we were stopping occasionally to check out birds. It was tough going in this forest due to the sheer size of the trees. Some birds were calling from the canopy but good luck getting even a glimpse! Fortunately we encountered a few understorey and mid-level species as well, including three new ones for me - Ferruginous-backed and Common Scale-backed Antbirds, and Amazonian Motmot.

forest along the Harpy Eagle Trail near Surama, Guyana

We reached the nest tree shortly before 8 AM. The Tropical Cedar which housed the nest was one of the most impressive trees I had ever laid eyes on; certainly the largest I had seen in person. Rising well above the canopy it was easy to see why this was the preferred nesting tree for the eagles.

Harpy Eagle nesting tree

We scanned the nest from several different vantage points but nobody appeared to be home. We also tried playing some tapes, also without a response and so we kept waiting. Laura pulled this Bullet Ant off of her, which certainly caused an temporary increase in her heart rate. They say that the pain from a Bullet Ant bite feels similar to being shot or stabbed and it will last upwards of 24 hours.

Bullet Ant - Harpy Eagle trail near Surama, Guyana

An hour passed by. Stefano had packed with him a snack that consisted of bake (the doughy pastry I mentioned from our time in Atta) that had been stuffed with an omelette, along with a thermos full of sweetened lime juice. The food certainly took the edge off and gave us additional patience.

We tried playing the tape again. Almost instantly there was a response! Our eyes strained through the forest to try and gain a vantage point from where the calls were coming from. As soon as the Harpy responded, a nearby troupe of Howler Monkeys started making a racket. It was a pretty surreal moment, hearing the Harpy call, followed by a warning call from all of the Howler Monkeys. They clearly know that the Harpy Eagles do not mess around.

The eagle changed positions a few times, calling from various locations around us, but try as we might we were unable to sight it. While that was a slight letdown, just hearing the interaction between the eagle and the monkeys made it worthwhile.

Laura spotted a Black-faced Hawk while we were waiting for the Harpy, which hung around long enough for Stefano and I to enjoy it. I was thrilled with the find since Black-faced Hawk is relatively uncommon in northern Amazonia and it was a new one for me.

Black-faced Hawk - Harpy Eagle trail near Surama, Guyana

By 10 AM we finally gave up and began walking back to the truck. Along the way Laura and I paused frequently to investigate lizards, butterflies, or beetles in the undergrowth; invariably, Stefano immediately lost interest each time he realized that we were not looking at a bird. The one non-bird we were able to get him to look at was this Weeping Capuchin that passed by us in the treetops.

Weeping Capuchin - Harpy Eagle trail near Surama, Guyana

On our way back we quickly stopped at a spot where a Long-tailed Potoo roosts, but were unable to find it. We spotted this Great Black Hawk at a roadside stream on the way back but the biggest highlight was a Smooth-fronted Caiman (either Cuvier's Smooth-fronted Caiman or Schneider's Smooth-fronted Caiman)  that was near a tiny roadside creek. It unfortunately disappeared after a few seconds.

Great Black Hawk - highway near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

We made one more stop before driving back to the lodge for lunch. This particular part of dry forest was home to a Great Potoo which could often be found roosting in the area. We searched for half an hour without success, though I did find three more "lifers" including Pearl Kite, a species I've somehow managed to not encounter on my previous trips to the Neotropics.

We relaxed at the lodge and enjoyed lunch. Yuha had arrived (this was our fourth time seeing him!), as had an older couple from England, and the five of us enjoyed telling stories of our respective travels.


Later that afternoon we planned to meet up with Stefano and hike down to the Burro Burro River for an evening paddle. We invited Yuha to join us, he was game, and so we began walking down towards the forest, taking a trail that would eventually lead to the Burro Burro River. Joining us would be one of the local men from Surama (though I completely forgot what his name was); Stefano mentioned that he would help paddle the boat on the river.

Forest near the Burro Burro River, Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

We walked relatively briskly towards the river, hoping to make decent time along the 5 km route. We paused whenever we encountered birds or anything else of interest, though that was relatively fruitless over the first couple of kilometers. The "best" bird of the walk was the small group of Capuchinbirds, with males displaying from both sides of the path. Eventually we were able to see a few through our binoculars as well, but the audio is what was really worthwhile! Following the success with the single Capuchinbird at Atta Lodge, it was great to observe and hear the famed display as well. 

We had our eyes trained on the path in hopes of encountering anything serpentine, and Laura was the first to find success. A fast-moving, brownish snake glided off the trail, affording nothing but a few quick glimpses before it completed disappeared into the thick, trail-side vegetation. We identified it later using our field guides as a Northern Woodland Racer (Drymoluber dichrous). 

We continued on with a renewed sense of focus, following our brief encounter with the racer. Any rustlings heard in the undergrowth were heavily scrutinized, though most turned out to be Giant Amievas or Striped Forest Whiptails.

Giant Amieva (Amieva amieva) - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

Stefano suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and put his hands up to stop Laura and I as well. There was a snake on the trail! With a smile on his face, he slowly pointed towards the red, white and black patterning on the forest floor.

Aesculapian False Coral Snake (Erythrolamprus aesculapii) - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

We excitedly followed his gaze until we noticed the snake, lying motionless in the leaf litter. I was not sure what it was at the time, and with the possibility of it being a coral snake, we decided to not risk catching it. Later we were able to figure out that it is a Aesculapian False Coral Snake (Erythrolamprus aesculapii). This species preys on lizards and snakes and is uncommon but widespread in Amazonia.

Aesculapian False Coral Snake (Erythrolamprus aesculapii- forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

It quickly disappeared off the trail once it noticed our movement. We continued along the remaining kilometer or so of trail, arriving at the Burro Burro River with 90 minutes remaining until sunset.

Paddling along the Burro Burro River near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

Water levels were down along the river which limited our route as certain areas were not passable. The evening air was very still and bird song rang out clearly as we drifted by.


I spotted two large figures atop a Cecropia that was lining the watercourse. Piping Guans! We had heard one the previous evening but this was much better. The Blue-throated Piping-Guan is relatively common in Guyana though in other parts of its Amazonian range its numbers have declined, due to hunting and habitat loss. Piping-guans are almost entirely arboreal, spending much of their days in the treetops feeding on a variety of fruits.

Blue-throated Piping-Guan - Burro Burro River near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

Blue-throated Piping-Guan - Burro Burro River near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

A Paradise Jacamar posed in the sunlight once we had returned to dry land, while we also spotted a Cayenne Jay, Laura's first.

Paradise Jacamar - Burro Burro River near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

Cayenne Jay - Burro Burro River near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

The sun set as we walked back to the lodge, with the sounds of tinamous and insects accompanying us. In a few puddles we found several frogs; I caught one, much to the surprise of Stefano who thought I was crazy.

Leptodactylus guianensis - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

We reached the edge of the savannah about 45 minutes later. With the lodge in view only a few hundred meters from us, there was one more wildlife surprise in store. A small, dark serpentine shape ahead of me revealed itself as a blind snake, which I quickly caught before it could disappear in some vegetation.

Trilepida dimidiata - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

We were pretty excited as not only was this our third snake of the walk, but it was a super cool one at that! Blind snakes range throughout the tropics but little is known about most species due to their secretive nature and fossorial habits. On many species the eyes have been much reduced, they are able to sense changes in light but not much else.

I believe this one is Trilepida dimidiata, sometimes called the Dainty Blind Snake, based off a key to the herps of Guyana. I was not able to figure out much at all regarding its natural history when trying to research the species. While we were holding the snake, it would try to prick us with the end of the tail which was hardened into a point (though it was unable to draw blood). An interesting bit of self-defense but it makes sense considering it would be unable to bite most potential threats. That mouth is just too tiny.

Dainty Blind Snake (Trilepida dimidiata) - Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

We brought the blind snake back to the lodge as I was interested in showing it to Kenneth, one of the local guides who was a fountain of knowledge when it came to herps. Kenneth assisted me with many identifications during my time in Surama as he knew the area better than anyone.

We quickly wolfed down our dinner and prepared to head back out for a night hike, eager with anticipation on what we might see. While we had been a little frustrated with Stefano on the previous day, he certainly was a great help today. He had never done a night hike before at Surama but was up for it, even though it meant that he would not get home until late that night.

We targeted a creek bed that we had passed earlier in the day. Watercourses are hotspots for wildlife, particularly in the dry season, and while the creek bed was mostly dry but there were some occasional standing pools of water.

One of the first animals we encountered was a Gray Four-eyed Opossum (Philander opossum), its eye-shine easily visible in my headlight beam from several dozen meters away.

Gray Four-eyed Opossum - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

This tailless whip scorpion was an imposing sight on a nearby boulder due to its massive, 12 inch "legspan".

Tail-less Whip Scorpion sp. - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

Invertebrates seem to come out of the woodwork in the tropics at night and when the "big game" are not biting it is fun to marvel at the invert diversity. Massive cochroaches, spiders, crickets and millipedes were all commonly seen and we soon grew accustomed to the difference in eye-shine from a spider compared to a frog.

Unknown spider - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

Walking along the creek, my headlamp beam illuminated just what I was hoping to see. A snake, draped at waist height on an overhanging branch! I called Laura and Stefano over and we marveled at the reptile. Laura was thrilled to see a "draper", considering we had struck out on tree boas everywhere that we had visited to this point. While not a tree boa, the Banded Cat-eyed Snake was a fantastic find instead.

Banded Cat-eyed Snake - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

Cat-eyed Snakes patrol the low and mid levels of the forest at night, hunting primarily for lizards and frogs. Named due to their vertical pupils, Cat-eyed Snakes superficially resemble some species of venomous snakes. Stefano tried to stop me from picking it up but I convinced him that I was positive in its identification, having seen several Cat-eyed Snakes on previous trips.

Banded Cat-eyed Snake - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

It was pretty awesome sharing this experience with Laura and Stefano. We even managed to get him to hold the snake - the first time he had ever done that!

Stefano with the Banded Cat-eyed Snake - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

Soon after it was time to head back to the lodge. Our eyelids were getting heavier by the moment and we had an early start planned for the next day. On the way back we found a Kinkajou high in the trees, quite a few more impressive spiders, and a several other odds and ends. It had been a fantastic day with many great sightings. The next morning we had a plan to target a particularly interesting amphibian.

Unidentified spider - forest near Surama Ecolodge, Guyana

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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 31, 2018 - First complete day at Atta Lodge
February 1, 2018 - Second complete day at Atta Lodge
February 2, 2018 - Cock-of-the-rock lek, drive to Surama Ecolodge
February 3, 2018 - First complete day at Surama Ecolodge
February 4, 2018 - Second complete day at Surama Ecolodge