The incredible Guianan Cock-of-the-rock is one of the premiere sights on our tour. Photo: Wilderness Explorers
Guyana is a neglected jewel of Neotropical birding. Long overshadowed by its better-known neighbours to the west and the south, this English-speaking country on the northeast coast of South America includes vast expanses of unbroken forest among its wide range of habitats. The sun rises relatively late here, just north of the equator, making it possible to take advantage of dawn birding without keeping extreme ‘birder’s hours’, and the country’s impressive system of rivers makes for easy travel by boat to many of the prime birding areas. This tour to South America’s best-kept secret is a fine introduction to the continent’s birds and a unique opportunity to enjoy the region’s many endemics, some of them recently split.
The Guyanan government is working closely with indigenous peoples to create a sustainable ecotourism economy in the country’s interior, and our use on this tour of indigenous guides and lodges in local communities contributes directly to that effort, an experiment in conservation on the grandest possible scale.
Day 1: The tour begins at 6 p.m. with a meeting in the lobby of our hotel in Georgetown, Guyana. Night in Georgetown.
Day 2: We’ll depart before dawn, heading east along the coast to the Abary River. This small river drains north into the Caribbean and has been protected for the purpose of coastal flood control. A small road adjacent to the river leads toward the coast, allowing access to a mosaic of mangroves, hardwood forest, marshlands, and open grassy areas. We’ll concentrate here on searching for several range-restricted Guianan Shield specialities such as the handsome Rufous Crab Hawk and the vibrant Blood-colored Woodpecker. Other interesting species in the area include Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, Bicolored Conebill, and an array of hummingbirds including Plain-bellied and White-chested Emeralds. After an almost full morning here we’ll backtrack toward Georgetown, spending the rest of the morning checking the expansive rice fields. Here an abundance of open-country birds fill the landscape. We should encounter large numbers of Snail Kites, Limpkins, Wattled Jacanas, and various ducks and herons, as well as an array of raptors including perhaps Long-winged Harrier or Pearl Kite.
After lunch we’ll stop along the coast to investigate the mangrove-lined mudflats exposed at low tide. Our chief target here among the throngs of waders and passing seabirds is the aptly named Scarlet Ibis. The intensity of this bird’s red plumage, especially set against a backdrop of Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons, should form an indelible memory of colour. If we have time, we’ll spend the remaining few hours of daylight on our first visit to the Georgetown Botanical Gardens to observe foraging West Indian Manatees and several species of parrot that tend to congregate in the late afternoon in the park’s open trees. Night in Georgetown.
Day 3: We’ll transfer early to the nearby airport at Ogle, where Red-breasted Blackbirds sing and Snail Kites patrol the marshes. We’ll fly past the Demerara and Essequibo Rivers and over hundreds of miles of unbroken tropical rainforest to land at Annai, where we’ll have our lunch.
We’ll take all afternoon to make the journey toward Iwokrama River Lodge, driving through the heart of the million-acre Iwokrama National Park. We’ll likely make numerous stops for roadside birding and, of course, the very real chance (however slight) of road-crossing mammals such as Tayra or even Jaguar! Night at Iwokrama River Lodge.
Day 4: The Iwokrama Rainforest is a vast wilderness of one million acres, established in 1996 as the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development and located in one of the last four untouched tropical forests of the world, the Guiana Shield of northeastern South America. This is a protected area with a difference: the full involvement of people. Iwokrama is exceptional among conservation organisations because it joins with local people in every aspect of its work, from research to business, ensuring local economic and social benefits from forest use and conservation. On our first morning we’ll bird along some of the trails close to the lodge. A pre-breakfast excursion to a nearby Capuchinbird lek should yield excellent views of these amazing cotingas as they call from the closed-canopy forest. After breakfast we’ll take some time to watch the river edge and the clearing around the lodge for perched aracaris and parrots (including Blue-headed, Caica, Dusky, Orange-winged, and Mealy Parrots, Red-and-green Macaw, and Painted Parakeet) before heading back onto the trails. Mixed flocks here can contain a host of species, from vocal Mouse-colored Antshrikes and Gray Antbirds to perched Black Nunbirds or more retiring species such as Brown-bellied Antwren or Ferruginous-backed Antbird. The calls of Tiny Tyrant-Manakin should reverberate down to us from the canopy and, with a little luck, we should also encounter groups of Gray-winged Trumpeters or Black Curassows foraging on the forest floor.
In the afternoon we’ll take a boat down the Essequibo River to a section of flooded várzea forest known as Stanley Lake. From the boat we’ll investigate a maze of small channels and oxbow lakes, winding through a palm-rich forest that is largely inaccessible on foot. Anhingas and Ospreys are numerous here, but we’ll concentrate on species such as Striped Woodcreeper, Green-and-rufous and American Pygmy Kingfishers, White-browed, Silvered, and Black-chinned Antbirds, Ringed and Cream-colored Woodpeckers, and Yellow-throated and Sulphury Flycatchers. The riverbanks of the main Essequibo channel are lined with superb forest and offer myriad perches for everything from Swallow-winged Puffbird to the (very) occasional Harpy Eagle. Night at Iwokrama River Lodge.
Day 5: Making another early start, we’ll embark once more on the Essequibo and explore the back of Indian House Island, where we’ll experience dawn on the river, perhaps accompanied by the songs of up to five species of tinamou and Marbled Wood-Quail. Band-rumped Swifts and Black-collared Swallows should ply the skies above the river channel, and Guianan Streaked-Antwren and Green Ibis could be lurking along the water’s edge. We’ll then enjoy a picnic breakfast farther downstream on the Essequibo and set off for the trail that leads to the crest of Turtle Mountain. This two-mile-long trail winds up to about 950 feet and, although steep in places, has handrails and steps to make the passage manageable. The open understory of the lower trail makes it easy to watch mixed-species flocks, and here we’ll seek out birds such as Red-and-black Grosbeak, Yellow-billed Jacamar, and Brown-bellied Antwren. Once the trail starts climbing, the character of the forest rapidly changes. Among the boulders and vine tangles we’ll look for mixed flocks containing Cinereous and Dusky-throated Antshrikes, Black-faced and Rufous-capped Antthrushes, and perhaps even Collared or Spotted Puffbird. Mixed-species flocks are common along the upper part of the trail, where the shorter tree canopy allows for better views of canopy tanager flocks. Here we might encounter birds such as Red-legged, Green, and Purple Honeycreepers or Spotted, Paradise, Bay-headed, and Opal-rumped Tanagers. The overlook at the crest allows for an incredible view of the forest, stretching to the horizon in all directions and punctuated only by the Essequibo River snaking its way north to the Caribbean. The cliffs below the viewpoint are often attended by a pair of Orange-breasted Falcons, and raptor-watching can be very productive here, with Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Plumbeous, Double-toothed, and Gray-headed Kites, Ornate and Black Hawk-Eagles, and Black-faced Hawk all possible.
We’ll return to the lodge for lunch and a siesta and then spend the remainder of the day further exploring the trail system around the lodge. In the evening we’ll take a short boat trip to look for Ladder-tailed Nightjar and perhaps potoos and caimans along the river’s edge. Night at Iwokrama River Lodge.
Day 6: This morning we’ll transfer to Atta Lodge. We’ll spend all morning birding the road that crosses the untouched Iwokrama Forest, and we’ll make frequent stops to investigate roadside flocks, perched raptors, and parrots (and perhaps a few cotingas) or whatever else strikes our interest. Roadside birding can be quite productive, and we should encounter Marail and Spix’s Guans, Plumbeous and Swallow-tailed Kites, and Pompadour Cotinga. We’ll make a special stop in an area of white sand forest known as the Mori Scrub, where we hope to encounter the local Black Manakin as well as Rufous-crowned Elaenia, Red-shouldered Tanager, Olivaceous Schiffornis, and Bronzy Jacamar.
After lunch at Atta Lodge (which boasts some of the finest rainforest cuisine imaginable) we’ll explore the lodge clearing and some nearby trails. We’ll look for the local race of Chestnut Woodpecker, the stunning and rare Crimson Fruitcrow, and Guianan Red Cotinga, all of which are regularly seen within a few hundred yards of the lodge. In the evening we’ll take a short walk into the forest to seek out White-winged Potoo. Night at Atta Rainforest Lodge.
Days 7–8: The forest around Atta Lodge is excellent for birds, but the major attraction here is the nearby Iwokrama Canopy Walkway. The 500-foot-long walkway has three platforms, the highest of which is about 100 feet above the ground. These will allow us to get great looks at a range of canopy species, many of which are difficult to see well from the forest floor. We’ll welcome the dawn chorus from the canopy walkway as Short-tailed Nighthawks settle in for the day, swifts take to the sky, White-throated and Channel-billed Toucans yodel, and Collared Forest-Falcons call. We can spend the mornings birdwatching from the middle and upper canopy on the walkway, where the flocks traveling past include Paradise Jacamar, Guianan Puffbird, Yellow-throated and Waved Woodpeckers, Todd’s and Spot-tailed Antwrens, Black-tailed and Black-crowned Tityras, and Dusky Purpletuft, or we can bird along the jungle trails, where antbird flocks can include White-plumed and Rufous-throated Antbirds, White-flanked and Long-winged Antwrens, and Cinereous and Dusky-throated Antshrikes. In the afternoons we’ll head out onto the trails or along the main road to further sample the forest’s diversity. As daytime draws to a close, we’ll watch for Blue-cheeked Parrots, which are often found in the late afternoon near the lodge as they move toward their evening roost sites. Nights at Atta Rainforest Lodge.
Day 9: After a brief morning’s outing along the main road, where we could encounter species such as Pied Puffbird, Rose-breasted Chat, and Blue-black Grosbeak and have a reasonable chance for the large and highly-ornamented Crimson Topaz, we’ll start our transfer to Surama Ecolodge. On the way, we’ll stop at the Cock-of-the-rock Trail. After an easy 20-minute walk we’ll hope to have our first view of lekking Guianan Cock-of-the-rocks. Watching these luminous orange balls of feathers display among the boulder-strewn forested hillside will surely be a highlight of the trip. This trail can be ideal for Gray-winged Trumpeter, Black Spider Monkey, and Ferruginous-backed Antbird as well. We’ll then continue on to Surama Ecolodge for lunch.
On arrival at Surama we’ll receive a welcome from a village councillor and settle into our accommodation. The pleasant community of Surama is set in five square miles of savannah and surrounded by the densely forested Pakaraima foothills. Surama’s inhabitants are mainly from the Macushi tribe and still observe many of the traditional practices of their forebears. Our accommodations will be in benabs (thatched sleeping shelters), and our meals will feature excellent local produce. There is great birding leading to the village and in the surrounding savannah, and we may see Pearl Kite, Great Potoo, White-tailed and Savannah Hawks, and Red-bellied Macaw during the drive to the lodge. For our first afternoon here we’ll likely explore the forest edge and open savannah looking for species such as Black, Crested, and Yellow-headed Caracaras, White-naped Xenopsaris, Golden-headed Manakin, Cayenne Jay, Green-tailed Jacamar, Scaled and Pale-vented Pigeons, Fulvous-crested Tanager, and Finsch’s Euphonia. As dusk falls, White-tailed Nightjar and Lesser and Least Nighthawks often appear around the lodge grounds. Night at Surama Ecolodge.
Day 10: For our full day at Surama we’ll concentrate on the forests around the Burro Burro River and on a brief boat trip down the creeks. There are several interesting species to be seen here, one of the undoubted specialities of the area being Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo. While this species is tough to find, the nearby forests are certainly among the better places in the Neotropics to look for it. Ant swarms are surprisingly common here and often have attendant antbirds and woodcreepers, including the hard-to-pin-down Rufous-throated Antbird and possibly the even scarcer Red-billed Woodcreeper. Boat trips along the Burro Burro are often productive for the spectacular Crimson Topaz, Blue-throated Piping-Guan, Ringed, Green-and-rufous, Amazon, Green, and American Pygmy Kingfishers, and perhaps even the cryptic Zigzag (very rare) and Agami (slightly less rare) Herons. Night at Surama Ecolodge.
Day 11: We’ll spend the first few hours of the morning birding the forest and savannah near Surama, with our exact destination dependent on what we’ve seen so far. We’ll then transfer to the Caiman House lodge, deep within the Rupununi savannah. Our drive will likely include stops for new birds like Jabiru, Maguari Stork, Buff-necked Ibis, or Crested Bobwhite. After a late lunch at Caiman House we’ll have a rest during the hot hours of the day before our afternoon outing around the lodge. Night at Caiman House.
Day 12: Our full day will be spent birding the savannah and river around Caiman House. Depending on the water conditions, we’ll probably take a boat ride on a nearby oxbow lake in search of Agami and Boat-billed Herons, Crestless Curassow, Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, Sunbittern, and various kingfishers and parrots. Target birds in the nearby savannah include the localized Bearded Tachuri and Crested Doradito. In the afternoon we’ll take a drive out to any wetter areas in the savannah, hoping for marsh birds like Pinnated Bittern, Black-bellied and White-faced Whistling-Ducks and a host of other species. Fork-tailed Flycatchers are common in the savannah, and we’ll likely have a chance to study several raptor species including Savannah, Black-collared, and White-tailed Hawks. After dinner, we’ll have an optional nighttime outing on the river. Black Caiman is common on this stretch of river, and we will search for several species of herons (including Capped), nightjars (including Band-tailed Nighthawk), and perhaps a Common Potoo. Night at Caiman House.
Day 13: We’ll have an early breakfast before departing for Lethem and our late-morning flight to Ogle. We’ll leave some time to stop on the way for any birds we might see. After arriving at Ogle, we’ll transfer to Cara Lodge for lunch. In the afternoon we’ll make a second visit to the Georgetown Botanical Gardens, concentrating on any species we may have missed, such as Black-capped Donacobius, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Black-crested Antshrike, White-bellied Piculet, or Ashy-headed Greenlet. We’ll also look for Festive Parrot, as a small number are often encountered around the park. If we’re lucky, we may find Red-shouldered and Blue-and-yellow Macaws, Mealy, Yellow-crowned, and Orange-winged Parrots, or perhaps even a Toco Toucan perched up in the sun. After a few hours we’ll head back to our Georgetown hotel. Night in Georgetown.
Day 14: The tour concludes this morning with a transfer to the airport for international flights home.
This tour is arranged by our American partner WINGS
Updated: 27 March 2017