Friday, April 9, 2010

Mahaica River Boat Trip

Friday, April 9, 2010
Mere hours after landing, bleary-eyed from an all-night flight at Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Georgetown, Guyana I found myself stepping gingerly over some rotted wooden dock boards into an aluminum (or "al-you-min-ee-yum" as my British fellow travelers would say) pair of boats for a short afternoon boat trip on the Mahaica River.

The sun beat down on everything—living, barely living, clearly not living—equally and I felt that sort of dizzy-in-the-head sensation that comes from too much of anything hitting your body all at once. Soon the boats (really, two skiffs lashed together) or boat complex was moving through the cocoa water, but the oppressive heat was barely reduced, but it was reduced some, and that counted for something. Then, just as I was feeling the urge to rid myself suddenly of the remaining airplane food in my stomach....birds.

Rising from the thick mangrove-lined banks, a blizzard of white—cattle and snowy egrets fled downstream and brought the day to life. They caught our collective attention and a half-dozen cameras swung into action to capture the spectacle.
What had I brought with me as preconceived notions about Guyana, packed tightly in my brain just as surely as the clothes in my suitcase? I'd brought the comments of my wife, Julie, who'd visited 18 months earlier, and of a handful of friends who'd been here. Hot as the hinges of hell was the dominant notion. Buggy. Birdy as anywhere in the world. Basic. Hot. Birdy.

Snowy egret (left) and a breeding-plumage cattle egret (right)

I could deal with all the rest, as long as things were birdy. But this cloud of white wading birds fleeing before our boats with their 15 horsepower motors–they were all snowy and cattle egrets. When would we start seeing some real South American species?

Just as that rather greedy thought crossed my burbling brain, I saw that there was a bright red bird in the midst of the snow-white flocks. It was a young scarlet ibis. Then, as if my eye were suddenly gifted with the ability to see thing s other than white, I spied several other, darker birds as our guides called them out.
Great black hawk, adult..

Pied water-tyrant, great black hawk, and the national bird of Guyana, the taxonomic anomaly known as the hoatzin (pronounced "wat-sin.").

What a freaky bird the hoatzin is!

I tried my level best to capture a few images with my big camera rig, but the rocking, moving boat and the huge contrast between the milky afternoons sky and the dark shadowy leaves of the mangroves made the task difficult.

Each time a hoatzin would be perched in the open, the lenses would swing up and the bird, with uncanny timing, would amble off its perch and into deep cover.
The hoatzins were difficult to capture on camera.

Tropical kingbird and kiskadees made themselves known by vocalizing. Snail kites and swallow-tailed kites notched the sky with their dark forms. We heard more birds call than we saw. And our guides called out more birds than we saw. But we had dipped out toes into the vast river of birding in Guyana—a river massively larger than the one upon which we were currently navigating.

Finally, a relatively decent photo of a hoatzin.


On April 12, 2010 at 9:13 AM Anonymous said...

Whatever the classification - at first glance - that Hoatsin looks like a very quirky, pheasant-like version of a wild turkey.

On April 12, 2010 at 11:19 AM Julie Zickefoose said...

Relatively decent, indeed! I haven't seen a better spread-wing shot of a hoatzin. Ironic that a bird that can barely fly has such enormous wings. Yet it hasn't the pectoral musculature to work them very well! A living Archaeopteryx.
Very much looking forward to your Guyana series. My word verification: stifing. Can I buy an L?

On April 12, 2010 at 10:17 PM rmharvey said...

A friend just posted a video of a Hoatzin feeding, taken recently in Guyana.

On April 14, 2010 at 12:59 PM Colene said...

I love hoatzins! Great photos. I am really looking forward to the rest of your story. We visited Guyana in 2008 and found the birding great and the people very open and friendly. It seems that the government there really wants to put environmental policies in place that make it more of an eco-tourism destination. It sure helps to have people like you give it some good press.

On October 11, 2010 at 12:56 PM Laura Jonson said...

Thanks for share your trip.
Really good looking photos.

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