Friday, June 4, 2010

Birding in Guyana Part 5: Trekking up Turtle Mountain

Friday, June 4, 2010
Pied lapwings look like killdeer in KISS makeup.

On our third day in Guyana, after a very warm night's sleep in our cabins at Iwokrama Eco Lodge, we headed out before dawn by boat to a landing from which we planned to hike up Turtle Mountain. As we were boarding the small watercraft at the lodge in the pre-dawn darkness, the birds were already active. On the lodge lawn a smattering of pied lapwings were scampering around, while orioles, tanagers, and caciques chattered and sang from the trees.

The birding along the river was good, and we added some new birds to the list, but our guides were eager for us to do our hiking in the relative cool of the early morning, so we did not linger over the large-billed terns and black skimmers we saw.
On the landing at the Turtle Mountain trailhead, watching the great jacamar.

Once on land, and the trail head to Turtle Mountain, we could not help ourselves. A great jacamar pair was making themselves obvious and we spent a half hour admiring them and getting everyone good scope-filling looks at this handsome bird.
Great jacamar.

Hiking up into the forest rising above the river, we were accompanied every step of the way by the screams of the perfectly named screaming piha. This bird was everywhere we went in the forests of Guyana. It seemed to warn the other birds of our approach. I began to wonder if I lived here in this drippingly humid rain forest, if I would eventually tune out the piha's screams, or if I would run screaming into the forest, driven mad by their ceaseless keening.

We climbed higher and the trail got rougher. Passing into ancient forest, we enjoyed our first close encounters with the giant trees of the Iwokrama reserve. Our guide explained about the uses of the various trees for building, weapon making, and medicine.
Wally Prince, one of our guides from Iwokrama and a forest giant.

Near the summit we had a run of birding that was dizzying. In quick succession we had great looks at the red-necked woodpecker (one of my most-wanted birds), black-tailed trogon, and flame-crested tanager (decent look but I'd welcome another one).
You might be a red-necked woodpecker if your entire head and neck are red and your chest is burnt orange.

Following this rush of birds, a small storm of fruits, branches, and poop began raining down from the canopy as a troop of black spider monkeys began encouraging us to leave their forest. they were crashing at high speed through the tree tops, but I managed to get one in the scope long enough to grab a photo.
Black spider monkey. Yes he's a male.

Just as the heat inside the forest was becoming oppressive and our feet were tiring, we came to the summit and the most welcome breeze I've ever felt. Walking along a small, rocky trail, we made our way to the overlook. What we saw before us was a truly rare thing: green forest stretching to distant mountains, with no evidence—not a single sign—of the hand of man. A river snaked through the green carpet and we learned that sometimes a timber boat passes or a local fishing boat. We noted with great joy that the forest was free of clear cuts or slash-and-burn openings of subsistence farming. The sky was innocent of jet contrails. The air was filled with the songs of birds, the mumblings of insects, the whisper of a breeze. Heaven.

The incredible view from Turtle Mountain.

We took this group photo there.

Our fam trip group atop Turtle Mountain: Kneeling in front Patrick Henry, second row back from left to right: Pelin Karaca, Wally Prince. Third row from left: Asaph Wilson, Andrew Haffenden, Tim Appleton. Back row: Bill Thompson III, Charlie Vogt, Eric Lindberg, Steve Banner, Karen Strauss.

And I just had to do my standard shout-out to my birding peeps in the Ohio Ornithological Society by showing the OOS colors at the Turtle Mountain overlook.

After lunching and cooling off with some cold water and fruit juice, it was time to begin the hot walk back down the mountain. Little did we know it, as we began the descent, we'd see even more amazing birds on the way down, but we'd pay for the privilege through the wrath of the weather gods.


On June 4, 2010 at 11:31 AM Rondeau Ric said...

That monkey shot is amazing Bill.

On June 4, 2010 at 11:43 AM Bill of the Birds said...

You mean the monkey-junk shot?

On June 4, 2010 at 11:26 PM Colene said...

Great photos! That monkey is fantastic. I am eagerly following these postings on your Guyana trip. We were there a couple of years back and it's so great reliving some of it. It's a bit of an adventure and a lot of great birding. Thanks.

On June 4, 2010 at 11:29 PM Bill of the Birds said...

Wow, thanks Colene! I have a few more posts to share—just need to find the time to write them.

On June 5, 2010 at 7:16 AM Julie Zickefoose said...

Girl spider monkeys have lookalike junk.
Science Chimp, over and out.