Friday, April 16, 2010

Guyana Part 3: Botanical Gardens

Friday, April 16, 2010
Yellow-crowned (Amazon) parrot in the botanical gardens of Georgetown.

After a restful night's sleep in the air-conditioned comfort of the Hotel Pegasus in Georgetown, we staggered downstairs with all of our gear for our first full day of birding in Guyana.

And when I say "staggered downstairs" I mean it literally—at least for myself. The evening before I had gotten stuck in one of the hotel's two elevators for about 15 minutes, trying to descend from the fifth floor to the lobby. The doors closed, I pushed the L button and nothing happened. I pushed the button again—nada. I pushed the OPEN button. Nope. Within another three minutes I was trying to attract the attention of the hotel employee I'd seen cleaning the room opposite the elevators by pounding on the doors and screaming (politely) for help. She could not hear me. So I waited.

I figured someone would eventually notice that I was missing and would come looking. I purposely felt in my pocket for food, just in case. The granola bar I'd had with me since Ohio was some small comfort. After a period of minutes that seemed longer than it probably was, the elevator woke up and took me down to the lobby where exasperated looks from my fellow travelers greeted me.

Hence, on the following morning I (and all my gear) took the stairs.

Our morning destination was the Georgetown Botanical Gardens and Zoo, a place nearly everyone mentions when talking about birding in Guyana. The large trees of the gardens lure parrots, woodpeckers, toucans, and raptors while the various ponds and marshy areas host water birds. It's mostly open beneath the trees so it's easy to see the birds. And believe me there were birds in every direction we looked, including a distant peregrine falcon on a radio tower.

The central road through the botanical gardens.

We spent a few hours (but clearly not long enough) birding along the central road through the botanical gardens.

Great kiskadees screamed and whined from everywhere as they tussled with one another and hawked insects over the ponds.

Cinereous becard, male.

One of the first true life birds for me was the cinereous becard, a small pale gray bird with a stout bill and a black cap. I got a good look and a decent digiscope shot of the male.

Immature snail kite.

Snail kites are so numerous are Georgetown that we began saying things like "Oh it's just another snail kite..." This struck me as weird since it took me three special trips in the early 1990s to add this species to my life list in Florida. Of course once I saw one, the species no longer vexed me. No such worries in Georgetown, where every single citizen could add this species to their yard list every day of the year. Bad place to be a snail.

Little cuckoo.

Just as the morning was beginning to get noticeably hot (which starts as soon as the sun rises above the trees) we had a run of great birds, starting with a very cooperative pair of little cuckoos in the brush along a wet ditch. Such neat little cinnamon birds with bright yellow bills! I struggled to find a vantage point for my scope so I could get a photo. And once I got the scope on the birds, I nearly missed the shot because my exclamation of "Holy mackerel!" formed an instant line of people behind me wanting a scope look. When that happens I cannot hog the scope to get my shots, so we all got good scope views, AND I got my shot of one of the cuckoos just before it jumped back into deep cover.

Lemon-chested greenlet, gray-breasted martin, southern house wren, tropical gnatcatcher, white-lined, blue-gray, and palm tanagers, yellow oriole, limpkin, spotted sandpiper, wattled ja├žana, ruddy ground dove, pale-vented pigeon, golden-winged parakeet, smooth-billed ani, green kingfisher, and yellow-chinned spinetail are just some of the birds I remember seeing that morning in the botanical gardens.

Striated heron.

The photographers among us got their first truly cooperative subject: a striated heron that walked calmly just a few feet away from a collection of whirring, beeping, clicking lenses.

Black-collared hawk.

I worked on my camera's settings for digiscoping on a black-collared hawk perched on the far side of a pond. What a handsome bird!

Yellow-crowned parrots.

Parrots, macaws, and their ilk filled the morning air with raucous cries. Flocks zoomed by overhead. Our guides called out IDs but I confess I did not get good looks at all of them. We did get great looks at several yellow-crowned parrots (called yellow-crowned amazon in the field guide)

A quartet of lineated woodpeckers was trying to work out territorial boundaries in the large trees of the gardens, which gave us thoroughly pleasing looks.

Aside from its great birding, the botanical gardens is also famous for its tame pod of manatees in the lake. Grab an handful of grass from the lawn and waggle it in the water and a manatee or two will come up to eat it from your hand. One of our leaders, Kirk, demonstrated this for us, but the water was a bit too shallow for the large aquatic mammal to get all the way to shore. For a breathless account of a more exciting manatee encounter from this spot, slip over to Julie Zickefoose's blog post from fall of 2008.

Toco toucan.

The final bit of birding excitement from out botanical garden adventure happened when one of our target birds, the toco toucan swooped across the blue sky and landed atop a palm tree. Kiskadees swarmed and swooped at the toucan (they are well-known nest robbers) but the giant-billed bird just sat there and looked around. So did we, except that our attention was focused solely on the toucan.

This moment of birding reverie was broken with the soon to be all-too-familiar cry of "OK folks, back on the bus! We've gotta move out!" I could have spent an entire day in this park, and at the end of our tour two of our most avid photographers did just that in order to take advantage of the photo ops offered by the acclimated birds.

For now we were off to the small airport to fly to the interior of Guyana where more wonders surely waited.

Next post: Puddle Jumper Over Rainforest.


On April 16, 2010 at 5:09 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

Toco toucan!! Good grief! I could only liken that botanical garden to a walk-in aviary without walls. I've never seen a place so full of terrific photo ops for spectacular tropical birds. Well, maybe Asa Wright's notch! Nice shots.

On April 16, 2010 at 10:04 PM Anne said...

I really love all the great photos in this post. Glad you made it out of the elevator alive!

On April 19, 2010 at 6:14 PM Erik said...

I had a similar experience in Singapore a few years ago in the Botanic Gardens. Lots of good views of great birds.

On May 16, 2010 at 4:07 PM Anonymous said...

Thanks for the information. I love Guyana and it's Botanical Gardens are beautiful. My family is from Guyana, and we used to go there all the time.

Guyanese Girl

On May 16, 2010 at 4:11 PM Anonymous said...

I am Guyanese, but never have been to the Botanical Garden. After I read this information I will go next weekend!

P.S.) Love the pictures


On May 16, 2010 at 4:16 PM Anonymous said...

I, a fellow Guyanese citizen, am honored, that so many people have taken interest in my home country.
Thank you all for taking interest!!

By the way, SWEET PICS!


On May 16, 2010 at 4:20 PM Anonymous said...

Hey, it's Allona, and I love the awesome pictures you captured! You have inspired me to go to Guyana, and see the Botanical Gardens.
(I am going next weekend, and will bring back AWESOMER pictures.)

Sincerely Allona