I’ve always loved swallows, and increasingly I think of that group as an exemplary one for the purposes of “birder education”: the family Hirundinidae shows a good diversity in habits and behavior, and provides excellent illustrations of a variety of identification features, from plumage characters to flight habit. Name a topic birders are interested in, and the swallows provide an instructive example.
And besides that, they’re beautiful, as this White-winged Swallow shows.
The rivers of Guyana left this boy from the prairies, one who has ended up in the desert, with his mouth agape and his eyes disbelieving. Our boat travel along the Essequibo took us to several stretches where the river was 5 kilometers or more across, the opposite shore a green blur on the horizon; a few of the islands in the river, I was told, are larger than Bermuda.
Sandbars and beaches provided great habitat for a number of really fine birds. Our landing strip at beautiful Rock View Lodge hosted a Collared Plover, and Pied Lapwings, beautiful creatures that in appearance bridge the gap between the “ringed” plovers and the larger lapwings, were familiar and confiding all along the river.
Black Skimmers were very common, too, and with them we found the occasional Large-billed Tern, a bird I had long dreamed of seeing.
There was a mild sense of vindication when I finally saw my first of this species. Many of you will no doubt remember the Memorial Day Large-billed Tern at New Jersey’s Kearney Marsh. I don’t remember where I was the day that that bird arrived, but I do know that I was not at home, and so my phone rang off the hook all day–and I didn’t find out about the bird until hours after it had departed. A shame: now that I have seen the tern, I really wish I hadn’t had to wait so long!
If you ask me, any place with jacamars is mighty close to paradise!
I don’t like the term and I certainly don’t like the idea: there really are no “trash birds” if you’re a real birder. But in Guyana in November, Great Kiskadee, hardly a trash bird by any reckoning here in the US, nearly attained that status: not by virtue of its abundance, but by virtue of its less than virtuous behavior in the botanical gardens in Georgetown.
At first I thought, or at least hoped, that they were in search of insects attracted to the garbage, but no, they were happily cleaning out the styrofoam containers and greasy wrappers themselves.
(Notandum: Guyanans are extremely civilized people, and make conscientious use of public trash receptacles, which are then rifled overnight by feral dogs, to the obvious delight of the kiskadees.)
One of my favorite spots on our Guyana tour was the Atta Canopy Walkway, a series of sturdy platforms connected by stable walkways 100 feet above the forest floor. The view down was dizzying,
but the whole structure is supported by some tremendous rainforest giants. The duct tape inspired confidence, too.
But we weren’t there to be looking down or looking up, and the view out was as birdy was it was beautiful. Black-necked Aracaris fed from the tops of the trees.
Hummingbirds were not abundant, but they did include a couple of Black-eared Fairies, elegant monochrome hummingbirds stretched at both ends.
Hoping for the arrival of a very special target bird, we lingered until after sunset.
And just at darkfall we heard the strange, sad whistles of a White-winged Potoo. The bird fed around the platform and eventually perched not far away, where its wing patches showed bright in the beam of the flashlight, giving every one of us a lifer to end the day.