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.


Guyana: Close, Very Close!

If there is any mammal I am more eager to see than the giant anteater, it would have to be jaguar. Living and birding here in southeast Arizona, of course, I have a chance, remote as it is, every time I am out, and I was fortunate enough this past year to visit several areas where that most dramatic of wild cats is said to be common.

My early November trip to Guyana took us to several sites where the locals had seen jaguars occasionally, and we kept our eyes peeled for any sign of the king of the forest. On our way out from Iwokrama one day, our sharp-eyed driver spied drag marks across the road. We stopped to investigate, and a little bit of forensic reconstruction led us to an astonishing scene.

A giant armadillo, still bleeding and just a few feet away from the large mounded hole it had attempted to escape into. The locals decided that the jaguar, whose tracks were plainly visible on the roadside, had seized the armadillo and dragged it across the road, where it broke free and sought shelter in a hole; the cat managed to grab it again and dispatch it, leaving the carcass probably when we got out of the vehicles. The consensus was that the jaguar was still in the area, no doubt watching its cache–and thus watching us.

I thought for a moment that that last bit was added only for the frisson, a bit of spice thrown into the adventure for the tourists. But as we got back to the vehicles, there was an unpleasant aroma in the air, a musty, stale smell that I couldn’t place. “The jaguar,” our driver said, and off we drove. Close, very close!


Guyana: Mammal of the Year

Like so many other young readers of the last century, my imaginings of tropical grasslands were formed almost entirely by my readings of W.H. Hudson, whose Naturalist on the Rio Plata remains one of my favorite books. Hudson didn’t have a whole lot to say about birds (though the accounts of hunting Emus with bolos, are I suspect, still capturing the fantasies of elementary school boys around the world). But his experiences and encounters with the mammals of his adopted continent are classics.

A noon-time walk at Karanambu in November revealed large numbers of baked-clay pyramid sticking up from the sparsely grassed savannah floor: termites!

Hopes rose for the possibility of seeing one of my most-wanted mammals of all time, and the next morning the dream came true, when we jarred and jolted out in the ancient Land Rover to where a gaucho had discovered this amazing giant anteater.

The great creature came quite close to the horse, and then to us, moving at a speed certainly evolved for defense and not for feeding; termites don’t move nearly that fast, I’m sure!