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 south, this English-speaking country on the northeast coast of South America includes vast expanses of unbroken forest among its wide range of habitats. A wide diversity of parrots, cotingas, and antbirds will likely keep us occupied, as will a long list of other specialities such as Blood-colored Woodpecker and Sun Parakeet. The country’s impressive system of rivers makes for easy travel by boat to many of the prime birding areas. This tour to one of South America’s better-kept secrets is a fine introduction to the continent’s birds and an opportunity to experience the region’s many endemics (some of them recently split).
The Guyanese government is working closely with indigenous peoples to create a sustainable ecotourism economy in the country’s interior, and our use of indigenous guides and lodges in local communities on this tour contributes directly to that effort, an experiment in conservation on the grandest possible scale.
Day 1: The tour begins at 6 pm with a meeting in the lobby of our hotel in Georgetown. 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 specialties 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 mangrove-lined coastal mudflats. 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. Additionally, 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 and a siesta, we’ll spend the remaining few hours of daylight at the Georgetown Botanical Gardens to observe foraging West Indian Manatees as well as several species of parrot (including Festive) 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 Potaro Rivers and over hundreds of miles of unbroken tropical rainforest to land at Kaieteur Falls, one of the world’s tallest single-drop waterfalls at 741 feet. This spectacular waterfall is one of the scenic highlights of the tour; we’ll have ample opportunity to appreciate its grandeur from our plane and from the ground. We’ll have lunch at Kaieteur and explore the trails around the falls, looking for Guianan Cock-of-the-rock in the forest and perhaps even Orange-breasted Falcon cruising around the spectacular cliffs.
We’ll then continue to make the journey toward Iwokrama River Lodge, flying to a small airstrip at Fairview and driving the short distance to our lodge. After some time to settle into our rooms at Iwokrama, we’ll enjoy some birding on nearby trails (perhaps including for the bizarre Capuchinbird!) before dinner overlooking the pristine rainforest and river. 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 the trail to 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. With a little luck we could also encounter groups of Gray-winged Trumpeters or Black Curassows foraging on the forest floor on our hike back to the boats.
In the afternoon we’ll again take a boat down the Essequibo River, where we might see Anhingas, Ospreys, and Green Ibis along the riverbanks, Black-collared Swallows cavorting over the rocks and rapids, and parrots (possibly including Dusky and Red-fan) fly overhead. Night at Iwokrama River Lodge.
Day 5: We’ll have some time this morning to explore some other trails around Iwokrama before loading up and continuing over to Atta Lodge. Along the way, of course, we’ll keep our eyes open for roadside flocks, perched raptors, and parrots (and perhaps a few cotingas) or whatever else strikes our interest. Possibilities include 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.
Arriving at Atta Lodge for lunch, we’ll then have some time to settle into our rooms and keep an eye out for birds around the lodge clearing (including the rare Crimson Fruitcrow). Our afternoon will likely be spent birding along some trails near the lodge. Night at Atta Rainforest Lodge.
Days 6-7: We have two full days to explore the forest around Atta Lodge. The trails are excellent, and we’ll likely spend some time birding right around the lodge clearing. Another 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 could 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 may spend a couple hours birding from 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. Roadside birding nearby could provide us with views of parrots such as Red-fan or Blue-cheeked, along with Rose-breasted Chat or Ringed Woodpecker. At least one evening will be spent on the roadside hoping for a glimpse of the rare White-winged Potoo. Nights at Atta Rainforest Lodge.
Day 8: After a brief morning’s outing around Atta, where we could encounter species such as Pied Puffbird, Rose-breasted Chat, and Amazonian Grosbeak, we’ll start our transfer to Surama Ecolodge. On the way, we may stop at one or more trails for some additional birding time before heading to Surama: Gray-winged Trumpeter, Black Spider Monkey, and Ferruginous-backed Antbird are all targets. 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 accommodation 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 9: For our full day at Surama we’ll likely concentrate on the forests around the Burro Burro River and/or on a brief boat trip down the waterway. 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 very tough to find, the nearby forests are certainly among the better places in the Neotropics to look for it –but of course there are no guarantees! 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 and Ringed, Green-and-rufous, Amazon, Green, and American Pygmy Kingfishers. Night at Surama Ecolodge.
Day 10: We’ll spend the first few hours of the morning birding the forest and savannah near Surama, with our exact destination depending on what we’ve seen so far. We’ll then transfer to the Caiman House lodge, deep within the Rupununi savannah. We’ll drive about an hour to the banks of the Rupununi River, with possible stops along the way for Jabiru, Maguari Stork, Buff-necked Ibis, or Crested Bobwhite. We’ll then board motorized boats and continue on towards the Caiman House – this journey might take three hours or more, depending on water levels. We’ll take snacks with us to tide us over until a late lunch at Caiman House. After a post-lunch siesta, we’ll have an afternoon birding outing around the lodge. Night at Caiman House.
Day 11: Our full day here will be spent birding the savannah and river around Caiman House. Depending on the water conditions, we’ll likely 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, along with marsh birds such as Pinnated Bittern, Black-bellied and White-faced Whistling-Ducks, Jabiru, Maguari Stork, and a host of other species. Giant Anteater is another major target in the savannah. Fork-tailed Flycatchers will be common, and we’ll likely have a chance to study several raptor species including Savannah, Black-collared, and White-tailed Hawks. We’ll make sure to look for several species of nightjars, including Least, Band-tailed, and Nacunda Nighthawks and White-tailed Nightjar. Night at Caiman House.
Day 12: We’ll have a very early departure (04:00) from the Caiman House and head towards the village of Karasabai with a picnic breakfast. This drive will take two to three hours depending on the road conditions, and the reward at the end is a stunning one! We’ll spend our morning looking for the unbelievable Sun Parakeet, hopefully having plenty of time to search for and enjoy this wonderful species. We’ll then continue our drive to Manari Ranch, with some options for roadside stops, including at least one wetland that should hold plenty of Purple Gallinules, Wattled Jacanas, Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, and with lots of luck, perhaps even a Masked Duck. We’ll arrive at Manari Ranch for lunch and have an afternoon off in preparation for another very early start the following morning, with some optional birding around the lodge grounds. Night at Manari Ranch.
Day 13: We have another very early start this morning (03:30), this time on a long day trip further southeast to the vicinity of Dadanawa Ranch; at least a three-hour drive each way on bumpy dirt roads. Our primary goal today will be the rare and local Red Siskin, which may take some time and effort to find. We’ll be in excellent savannah habitat with patches of forest, and will likely see several other new species including Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Sooty-capped Hermit, Amazonian Scrub-Flycatcher, Pale-bellied Tyrant-Manakin, and Plumbeous Seedeater. We’ll have a delicious lunch at at Wichabai Ranch and make it back to our base at Manari Ranch in time for dinner. Night at Manari Ranch.
Day 14: Our main birding stop this morning will be at the Ireng River, which holds a few specialities that we won’t see elsewhere on the tour. With any luck, these will include Hoary-throated Spinetail and Rio Branco Antbird. It will be a fairly leisurely day compared to the previous two, with a relaxed lunch at Manari Ranch followed by a transfer to the airport in Lethem for our flight back to Georgetown. After arriving back at the Ogle airport in Georgetown, we’ll transfer to Cara Lodge for our farewell dinner. Night in Georgetown.
Day 15: The tour concludes this morning with a transfer to the airport for international flights home.
Updated: 21 April 2020