Guyana: Icterids

Here in the northern hemisphere, we tend sometimes to think of the icterids as a rather uniform group of black and blackish birds, the monotony relieved in most parts of the US and Canada by one or at best two species of orioles and a meadowlark.

This exclusively New World family really comes into its own in the tropics, though, where the icterids enchant with their bright plumages, species diversity, and fascinating social behaviors.

Caciques (two syllables, please!) are colonial nesters of forest and forest edge. In Guyana, the most widespread, or at least the most conspicuous, is the gorgeous Yellow-rumped Cacique, which its builds cities of pendant nests in isolated trees in open country.

The inhabitants of these colonies are bright black and yellow, with beautiful soft blue irides.

Oropendolas, blessed with one of the loveliest names of any bird, are even more outlandish, bigger, louder, flashier. Crested Oropendola is widespread in the American tropics.

Green Oropendola, every bit as bizarre as its name suggests, is a locally distributed bird of extreme northern South America, not easy to find but worth every moment of effort.

This one was being mobbed mercilessly by a pack of Rusty-margined Flycatchers, an indication perhaps of its omnivorous appetites.

The finest of all tropical blackbirds, though, is an open-country species.

This female-plumaged Red-breasted Meadowlark shows clearly that species’ intermediate position between the meadowlarks and the Agelaius blackbirds. The males are even lovelier, and they make any walk through the wet savannahs of Guyana memorable.

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Guyana: The Raptorfest Continues

From Rufous Crab-Hawks to Bat Falcons, Guyana’s raptors were startlingly conspicuous on my November visit. For some species, such as Black-collared Hawk or Snail Kite, we didn’t even have to leave Georgetown. Snail Kites were particularly abundant in the Botanical Gardens, dozens of them perched in the trees above the creek and ponds.

Still one of the rarest birds in the ABA Area, Snail Kites are apparently doing well in the heart of their tropical range, and recent records from south Texas and west Mexico give hope that one day, someday, here in Arizona….

According to historical rumor, King Vultures also used to occur in Florida; not much hope of their ever returning, though, as they have declined dramatically in the northern parts of their range. Though they remain apparently common in Guyana, with multiple individuals seen nearly every day of the trip this month, every sighting was a delight.

We made several short interior journeys by plane, and a couple of times we saw King Vultures soaring below us against the background of nearly unbroken forest.

Ever since I first saw its picture in Peterson and Chalif, decades ago, I had wanted to see White Hawk.

We encountered several over the forests near Iwokrama, and I found that the paintings don’t do this bird anything like justice. The birds we saw were all, as expected, of the nominate race albicollis, with a dramatically dark tail tipped white.

White hawks were far outnumbered by black ones, though, namely Great Black-Hawks. This bird was everywhere in wet habitats, and Guyana has plenty of wet habitats! We enjoyed repeated excellent views of adults, immatures, and juveniles, perched and in flight. This was a particularly brash juvenile, barely concerned as our boat passed beneath.

The photo is a little blurry, but I like the fact that the tail length is so obvious.

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Laughing Falcon

One of the many impressive things about my visit to Guyana was the raptor show. On my earlier trips to the tropics, I’d been disappointed to find all the warnings come true: raptors are much harder to see in the south than in North America and Europe. We lucked out this time, though, and Laughing Falcon was one of the birds of prey we saw, and heard, most frequently.

This is a lousy photo of a bird that flew in and perched for several minutes at the Shanklands Resort, a lovely little place above the Essequibo River. Such wonders as Green Ibis, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, and Barn Swallow distracted me from my intention to sneak up on this watchful beast for a better image, but even this blurry, distant shot shows the odd head shape of this beautiful raptor, with great puffy cheeks forming a sort of mane, particularly when the bird looks at you head on.

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Bat Falcon

Cool name, cool bird! To our delight, Bat Falcons proved common in just about any open habitat in Guyana, from riverside clearings to agricultural lands. These natty little blue-and-orange birds weren’t the least bit shy, either; every morning we were at Iwokrama, one picked off the bats returning to roost in the thatched roof of the dining area.

This individual gave us what were certainly the closest views we had of a perched bird, sunning and stretching on a nice blue-sky morning.

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