Guyana: The Unbittern

Not even Guyana, for all its avian riches, lets birders check off everything on their wish lists in a visit of just two weeks. Several of us had harbored great hopes for Sunbittern, that rainbow-winged shade-dweller of the jungle, but by our last day at Karanambu, it looked like we’d missed it for real.

Our last chance was to walk out towards the back savannah through a small patch of forest, where a slender creek wound its way and Sunbitterns had been seen in the past. So we did. No Sunbittern. After desperately scanning the wooded edges of the water, we continued on to open country, where we salved our wounds with other, more cooperative birds.

Our really last chance was the walk back to the lodge. This time, too, scanning the banks of the creek produced nothing. But the muddy path we’d taken was somehow different this time.

Tracks! The Sunbittern had crossed the path while we were out on the grasslands.

Ah well, one more reason to return to Guyana!


Guyana: Long-legged Waders

Herons and egrets are always a bonus on any trip to the Neotropics; two species in particular were among my favorites on my November visit to Guyana. Both are closely related to familiar North American species, both, though, stunning in their own distinctive ways.

Striated Heron is the southern counterpart of “our” Green Heron, and in fact the two have been considered conspecific at various times. Striated, which occurs in widely in both the Old World and New World tropics, differs from Green Heron in adult plumage by, most notably, the neck color: rich chestnut in Green, lovely dove-gray in Striated. The juveniles are much more similar, as I would discover to my dismay in Panama a few weeks later….

Cocoi Heron, known alternatively (and preferably, to my mind) as “White-necked Heron” is a large and gangly Ardea, a congener of such familiar northern species as Great Blue and Gray Herons. I’d never seen this species until my Guyana trip, and was delighted to find it common along the large rivers we visited. It is superficially similar to Great Blue, as expected, but the neck and bill are longer and the plumage, of course, much whiter, without the rufous highlights of its northern counterpart; notice, too, the lovely head pattern, with the black cap coming down low on the cheek setting off the whitish supraloral.

The photo shows a typical view of the bird half-concealed in the foliage; I don’t think I ever saw the entire bird at once except in flight!


Guyana: Storks

There’s something fascinatingly prehistoric about storks, and Guyana offers a good selection of these huge wading birds.

We did not find the ominously decreasing Maguari, but Wood Storks were common and readily found, looking like pterodactyls as they flew over us everywhere from urban parks to wilderness swamps.

(This picture is especially for Alex, who discovered and sketched a Wood Stork in Nebraska, of all places, last year!)

The other stork species, Jabiru, was, of course, much less common, but we managed to see this amazing bird on several days. The closest views were to be had early in the morning on the airstrip at Karanambu, where one or two could be found stalking through the grass in the fog when we arose.

Like King Vultures, Jabirus were easy to pick out from the small planes we took between destinations; but the most exciting views were of a pair on a nest.

Like the apparently reliable Crimson Fruitcrows just outside of Iwokrama, these birds could prove a real boon to ornithotourism in Guyana. Local guides take note!


Guyana: Cock-of-the-Rock

We had several opportunities to see another spectacular cotinga, the Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock. Not only is this one of the most startlingly colored birds in the world, but it inhabits some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere; even had we missed the bird, the short hike in to our first site, on the Prince Charles Trail, would have been well worth it.

Moss-clad rocks and shady clefts are this species’ preferred habitat; their fondness for rocks extends even to the placement of their well-camouflaged nests, a large mud jug on a vertical cave wall. This one had been inactive for some time, we were told, but seemed still quite usable.

And just around the corner we found a product of this nest, a bright male glowing in the low shady bushes, his strange crest curled forward to cover the bill.

Like the male we would see a couple of days later at Kaietur Falls, this bird remained silent, leaving us all good excuse to return during the lekking season.


Guyana: Fruitcrows

The very word “cotinga” evokes the tropics like no other. I haven’t seen a great number of species in this group, but those I have been fortunate enough to encounter have certainly made an impression, especially the large, colorful species known as fruitcrows.

Purple-throated Fruitcrow has a wide range in southern Central and South America, and for a trpoical bird, it’s fairly easy to see. I was interested to find them mostly fairly high in the trees in Guyana, while in Panama I’ve several times enjoyed them at eye level.

Clear out at the other end of the scale is the apparently rare, and certainly little known, Crimson Fruitcrow. Males such as this one certainly live up to the name; this is a big, bright bird. We eventually saw two, both males; the females are duller and probably even easier to overlook.

The males are said to have a parachuting display in which they rise 10 meters above the canopy. More significantly to Guyana’s burgeoning ornithotourism industry, they are also rumored to be creatures of habit, often using the same perch for long periods of time. If individuals like this turn out to be reliably findable by tours, the species will be a major draw to visiting birders from around the world.