Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Part 3 Birding Guyana: Flying to the Interior

Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Buff-necked ibis.

I like to start off my BOTB blog posts with a bird photograph if at all possible. So I am inserting this image of a buff-necked ibis here, even though it is out of order in the time line of this post. I believe the buff-necked ibis might be the second most beautiful ibis in the New World, right behind the scarlet ibis. Good thing there is not a Scarlett Johannson ibis, or that might take the crown. Now, where were we...

Oh yes! Guyana.

After a lovely (too short) morning of birding in the botanical gardens in Georgetown, we were herded to the small, in-town airport for a flight to the interior of Guyana. Because we were taking a small 12-seat plane on this flight, weight was an important factor. We had been warned about this in advance by our hosts and leaders, but that didn't stop us—well it didn't stop me—from bringing far too much stuff. We were weighed by our trip leaders at the hotel. Then weighed again at the airport. I won the avoirdupois prize as the heaviest traveler. Fully one-third of my things—mostly stuff I would not need immediately—was sent by bus overland, along with extras from my fellow travelers.

We were all caught between the pull of wanting to have all of our camera and birding gear with us, along with the proper clothing and footwear, and the necessity of packing the absolute minimum. We also had to send one of our leaders on the land bus. That alone saved us more than 300 pounds of humanity (sorry, just kidding Michael).

Negotiating the payload for our flight. Michael (black backpack, no hair) drew the short straw and had to ride the overnight chicken bus to Iwokrama.

Onto the plane we went and in moments we were in the air flying away from Georgetown. Below us stretched miles of housing, then the houses were replaced by a ring of cane fields.
Some of the cane fields were being burned off and we could see and smell the smoke rising from the earth.
Then we were away from all signs of human habitation and civilization. Below us lay unbroken rain forest, a vast carpet of green. It was a sight that did the heart some good. This is why we were here—to experience what is perhaps the last vast expanse of undisturbed rain forest in South America.
The Guyana rain forest from the air.

Our destination, the Annai landing strip, hove into sight. While flying we'd seen a few birds—turkey and black vultures mostly, with two distant king vultures for added spice. I strained my eyes hoping to catch sight of a harpy eagle perched on one of the emergent snags jutting above the forest canopy, but was unsuccessful.
The Annai landing strip is a dirt road next to Rock View Lodge, one of the largest eco-lodges in Guyana. Stepping from the plane we felt our knees buckle in the mid-day heat. Soon cold drinks and a nice lunch at Rock View Lodge helped revive us.

Dr. Steve Banner struggles to find just the right angle for a photo of the welcome sign while leader Kirk Smock looks on in wonder.

The plane! The plane! The plane we came in on.

After lunch we began birding the grounds. Palm and blue-gray tanagers were common. A white-necked thrush was building a nest under the thatched canopy of a benab. I caught a fleeting glimpse of a burnish-buff tanager in a fruiting tree. A horse corral held a number of southern lapwings and the aforementioned buff-necked ibis. I had the feeling that this place would be much birdier early in the morning.

Leon gives us the run-down at Rock View Lodge.

Leon, a guide at Rock View Lodge, gave us a tour of the grounds and facilities, which included very nice guest rooms, a bar and general store, a huge vegetable garden, and the stony promontory from which the lodge derives its name. I would have been content to stay right on that overlook for the rest of the day, conducting a Big Sit, perhaps with a run to the store for some munchies and a frosty cold beer, but our leaders needed to get us on the move. This would become a theme of the trip.

We boarded several 4x4 trucks and headed down a long, straight, red-clay road. Destination Iwokrama, a field station and eco-lodge owned and operated by the Makushi people in the heart of the vast Iwokrama Forest. If one were to drive directly, I suspect this trip would have taken about two hours. We birders found so much to look at that we stretched the drive until well after dark. Arriving at Iwokrama, we hauled our luggage to our rooms, splashed our faces with water and reconvened at the main building for a late dinner. By the time we finished eating and had a brief orientation meeting, I was so tired my eyes were crossing.

Everyone hurried back to their cabins to get ready for bed before the generator was switched off. This was our first night sleeping without air-conditioning under the very necessary mosquito netting. I tried to recall the life birds I'd seen that day but did not get far before dropping into slumberland.

At each stop we made, new tropical delights were discovered.

In my next post, I'll share some of the special sightings from the road to Iwokrama.


On April 29, 2010 at 3:18 PM Anonymous said...

Cool stuff BOTB. Hope you'll share more.