Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Suriname-One of the Best Songs Ever, November 14, 2011

Our goal for the day was to work very hard at finding some of the more difficult target birds, including the Guianan Red Cotinga, Red-and-black Grosbeak, Blue-backed Tanager and Capuchinbird for me. The birding at Brownsberg is physically pretty easy, at least where we were. The trails are relatively flat. The only mud we can across was on the road, and was easily walked around. (Of course during the rainy season it might be another story.) There was one trail, though, where a tree had fallen and hadn't been cleared yet. The forest is fairly open there and we could walk around, but it involved stepping up over some branches and rotting logs. I was having a little difficulty with my knees and hips for some reason, so I wasn't crazy about that trail, but it was where our targets were most often seen, so at least once a day, up and over I went.

The birds were just not active and responsive. Our friend, Willie Sekula, was in Peru at the same time and he said they had a similar experience.  As we walked we finally heard something that grabbed me. It was a sweet but discordant song, absolutely heart breaking in a way. A very well named Musician Wren was singing. These birds can be very difficult to see. They hide deep in the underbrush, rarely showing themselves. Sean played the song back and we were amazingly fortunate. A pair jumped up in the open, allowing us to get some decent photos. It was high fives all around! In case you are curious about this lovely song, here is a link to a Youtube video featuring a Musician Wren singing. The bird we heard actually put the bird on Youtube to shame.

Probably the biggest surprise of the morning was a Rufous-and-Green Kingfisher right in the middle of the woods. The only nearby water were the puddles on the road. It was totally incongruous. We then heard a mixed flock nearby. A Cinereous Antshrike called; they are many times the flock leader. We waited as the birds came nearer. Martin spotted a Hepatic Tanager. This form is sometimes called Blood-red Tanager, a name I much prefer. Then a bird right next to it caught his eye, a gorgeous Blue-backed Tanager! This was one of our main goal birds, a really tough bird to get. Unfortunately, he was too high in the tree tops to get photos.  We got another life bird, a Chestnut-rumped Woodcreeper. We only heard a number of birds in the flock, but it was still fabulous to get this kind of action.

We went back to the spot where we had heard White-fronted Manakins the day before. This time we were a lot luckier. A male came in very close. My photos are not fabulous, but they do show the heart shaped spot on the front. I also captured the beautiful blue rump patch. Martin commented that we were now cooking with gas. Then he had to explain exactly what that meant to Sean. A troop of Golden-handed Tamarins ran through the trees above us. It was a really wonderful morning!

When we returned to the cabin, I checked the stump for the Fer-de-lance. Sure enough, there he was. Other people staying at the lodge came by to take his picture. I was still really stoked about seeing him. After lunch we birded around the compound for a while. We watched a mother Tufted Coquette come in and feed two juveniles sitting in a bare tree. A small mixed flock flew in, with mostly honey creepers and dacnis. We did find a Guianan Tyrannulet in with them.

I went back to the cabin for a snack and stood on the porch for a while. The Long-tailed Hermits were still feeding in the flowers below. Some movement caught my eye. A Guianan Warbling- Antbird was popping in and out right next to the porch. Even though we had seen this bird before, I loved watching it. Antbirds could become my favorites.

Before dinner we drove down the main road again. A Pectoral Sparrow was calling. It wasn't a life bird, but they are really cool looking, so I tried very hard to see it. While I was looking for it, Martin found a puddle where antbirds were coming in to drink. There was probably an ant swarm nearby, as he and Sean heard a White-plumed Antbird, which is an ant swarm follower. We saw a few birds flying back and forth, and then they were gone.  Driving back we flushed a hawk. It was sitting on the ground, probably eating something. It flew up and landed in a tree a bit up the road. Originally, Martin thought it was a Black-faced Hawk. Sean said it was a Black-and-white Hawk Eagle. We got it in the scope and Sean was right. Daylight was fading, so we headed back for  our last dinner at Brownsberg.

Photos from the day-

Bird list for the day-

1 Great Tinamou -Heard
2 Black Vulture
3 Turkey Vulture
4 Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
5 King Vulture
6 Swallow-tailed Kite
7 Plumbeous Kite
8 Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle
9 Lined Forest-Falcon -Heard
10 Gray-winged Trumpeter
11 Ruddy Pigeon -Heard
12 Gray-fronted Dove
13 Blue-headed Parrot -Heard
14 Dusky Parrot -Heard
15 Squirrel Cuckoo
16 Long-tailed Hermit
17 Gray-breasted Sabrewing
18 Tufted Coquette
19 Fork-tailed Woodnymph
20 Black-eared Fairy
21 Green-and-rufous Kingfisher
22 White-throated Toucan
23 Channel-billed Toucan -Heard
24 Ringed Woodpecker -Heard
25 Lineated Woodpecker -Heard
26 Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
27 Chestnut-rumped Woodcreeper
28 Buff-throated Woodcreeper
29 Fasciated Antshrike
30 Mouse-colored Antshrike
31 Amazonian Antshrike
32 Cinereous Antshrike
33 Pygmy Antwren -Heard
34 Long-winged Antwren
35 Gray Antwren
36 Todd's Antwren -Heard
37 Gray Antbird
38 Guianan Warbling-Antbird
39 Spot-backed Antbird
40 Spotted Antpitta -Heard
41 Thrush-like Antpitta -Heard
42 Guianan Tyrannulet
43 White-fronted Manakin
44 Wing-barred Piprites -Heard
45 Thrush-like Schiffornis -Heard
46 Buff-cheeked Greenlet -Heard
47 Gray-breasted Martin
48 Coraya Wren- Heard
49 White-breasted Wood-Wren -Heard
50 Musician Wren
51 White-necked Thrush
52 Blue-backed Tanager
53 Bay-headed Tanager
54 Blue Dacnis
55 Purple Honeycreeper
56 Red-legged Honeycreeper
57 Pectoral Sparrow
58 Hepatic Tanager
59 Green Oropendola -Heard

Monday, November 28, 2011

Suriname-Monkeys! Ants! A SNAKE! November 13, 2011

 The Red Howlers, frogs and White-necked Thrush woke me again. I could only smile, as sleepy as I was. The previous mornings it had been a bit foggy when we got up. This morning was glorious; the view of the  sun rising over the lake from the porch was spectacular. We walked up the main road to a clearing with a dead tree where birds seemed to stop often as they fly from area to area.

A poison-dart frog was singing loudly. Sean located it and we watched this tiny frog inflate his throat, making his loud call. A gorgeous morpho butterfly actually landed, allowing me to take some really nice photos. Unfortunately, it was only the underside of the wing, but I was more than happy to get that. It is always a bit frustrating to see these huge iridescent blue butterflies come bounding down the trail without ever putting down. A flock of Painted Parakeets landed in the trees on the edge of the clearing, giving us the first life bird of the day.

We returned to eat breakfast and check out the "hummingbird tree", but I didn't see the Tufted Coquettes. After we ate our eggs, we drove back to the spots where we had "fished" for the Red Guianan Cotinga, the antshrikes and the Capuchin Bird. Again, there was no response. We did happen on a small flock and finally saw Buff-cheeked Greenlet, a small vireo, that says its name.  We heard some other birds, like Cinereous Mourner, Ferruginous-backed, Black-headed and Dusky Antbirds. It was a bit frustrating. We tried very hard for White-fronted Manakins, which we heard, but never saw.

I love butterflies, as you can tell if you have looked at my photos. Martin and I are always on the lookout for good bugs. We found a great one on this day. A gorgeous turquoise blue/green hairstreak perched on a leaf above our heads. I have never seen color like this on a bug. It was a bit distant, but we both managed to get a few reasonable shots. When we returned, Martin did some research. He contacted a couple of experts asking about it. It turns out it is a Evanus sponsa. It does not even have an English name. There are only a few photos of museum specimens known. We possibly took the first photos of a living one ever!

We added another monkey to our growing list, Golden-handed Tamarin. We had now seen four of the eight species of monkeys found in Suriname. Along with a Coati and a Tayra, a large weasel, we were accumulating a nice mammal list. Red-rumped Agoutis were also common. I always hope for a cat of some sort, but I never really expect to see one.

After lunch Martin and Sean went to the main overlook, while I returned to the cabin to get something to drink. I was always thirsty and craved cold Diet Coke. The cabin was set in a cut away of a steep hill. You could easily jump from the yard across to the roof, if you wanted. There were stone steps leading down to the porch. The three walls that were not up against the cut were surrounded by dense vegetation and trees. I almost always saw Long-tailed Hermits feeding in the flowers below the porch railing.

I climbed the steps back up to the yard and just as my head cleared the top I saw a group of three Black Currasows, large birds about the size of turkeys, with crazy, curled crests, on the trail in front of the cabin. I got off a few quick shot with my camera as they ran into the forest. Currasows can be quite shy, so I was very happy to get even lousy photos of them. I walked up to the overlook and told a Dutch couple, Roland and Daisy, who were there birding with a wonderful guide named Serrano and they hustled down to see if they could see them, too. (They did!)

Birding the overlook is a great way to spend the afternoon. There are benches to sit on, some shaded by a fruiting tree that gets all kinds of honey-creepers and woodpeckers. Below is thick forest, running far down the hill to the lake. The view of the tree tops allows you to see any birds perching up, or flocks moving through. Hawks, swifts and martins use the thermals, so there is always something to look at.  I was a little disappointed that I had missed a White Hawk, but it soon returned to a nearby tree to perch. Roland, Daisy and Serrano returned from their Currasow hunt and joined us. A large bird called and then flew by, an Ornate Hawk Eagle! (Martin's photo) It was great to see a King Vulture overhead.

I was sitting looking down at the trees below us, when I saw some movement. I scanned carefully and realized it was a family group of monkeys. I called them out, and Serrano said "What color?" When I replied gray he became very excited. They were Weeper Capuchins, which are the rarest monkeys found in Suriname. Everybody got looks at them as they worked their way through the trees. I got a really awful photo of one of their backs.  We now had five of the eight species!

A bit later in the afternoon Sean decided that we had been lazy enough. We chose to walk to another overlook past our cabin. We had started out for this one the day before, but got distracted by some tanagers and honey-creepers. This walk was a bit more up and down than anything else we had done, though not rough at all. I am rather slow, due to my fear of breaking another ankle. I was lagging about 50 feet behind Martin and Sean, walking up a hill. I was watching where I was stepping, as it was rocky and there were some exposed tree roots.

I noticed a rather wide column of ants moving along the trail. I got to the top of the hill and told Sean. They didn't look like the army ants we had seen in Brazil, but I still thought it was worth mentioning. Sean scrambled down the hill and was thrilled to discover that they were army ants! An ant swarm is the holy grail of tropical birding. All kind of birds follow these swarms. They are called "ant birds", but they do not actually eat the ants; they eat the things scrambling to get away from the ants. Unfortunately, this was not a large swarm, only a satellite column, but it still held promise.

Sean played a tape for Rufous-throated Antbird and one answered. It flew up the hill to where we were watching the ants and put on a bit of a show. I didn't get any photos, but Martin got this one: As you can see, its a bit crazy looking! Then Sean tried for White-plumed Antbird, another ant swarm specialist. Sean and Martin heard it call, but unfortunately, it was a bit shyer and never came out in the open.

We moved on to the overlook, where we saw more Golden-handed Tamarins. Swallow-tailed and Plumbeous Kites were circling. We found a Short-billed Honeycreeper in with the Purple and Red-leggeds.  A Spangled Cotinga was sitting high in a tree across from us. The view was the best one yet. All I could see was forest stretching out to the horizon. Suriname is covered with more rain forest, than any other country, about 80%. It was getting a bit late and I didn't relish climbing down the rocky slope in the dark, so I told Martin and Sean I was going to head back.

Earlier in the day,  Serrano and Roland told us about an encounter they had with a creature I had been aching to see in the tropics, a Fer-de-lance. This is one of the most venomous snakes in the world. I love reptiles; I wanted to be a herpetologist when I was a kid. I am always excited to get to see a new one, especially a poisonous one. I guess it is the adrenaline thrill. Anyway, I was keeping my eyes on the path coming down the same hill where I found the ants. I saw some movement, and there was a small brown and yellow snake wrapped up in a ball. I stopped and took a couple of photos. I had no idea what it was, but I was happy to see it. As I was approaching the cabin I ran into Serrano and Roland and told them about the ants. I also told them again how jealous I was of their snake.

Martin and Sean came back and I showed Sean the photos of my snake. It was some kind of whip snake,  a non-venomous one. We got ready and went up to dinner. Serrano and Roland came in and told me that when they passed me, they found another Fer-di-lance right off of the path where I had just walked. Auughh! I missed seeing one again! I did feel just a little uneasy knowing I was so close and might have stepped on it if I wasn't looking where I was going. I am not afraid of snakes, but I do respect them.

After dinner we decided to do a little after dark "hunting", with Serrano driving the van and Sean spot lighting. It is possible to see some amazing animals on the road, including Jaguars. Snakes are also sometimes seen crossing the road. Sean had once found an Emerald Tree Boa. We cruised around, but the only animals we saw were bats. We stopped at a clearing and looked at the stars, which were amazingly bright. Sean knows the constellations well. We decided to call it a day and head back.

Sean parked the van in front of the cabin, in the normal spot. We all got out and he was shining the spotlight so we could see. Then he called out, "Here is your Fer-de-lance!" There was a hollow stump between where we parked and the cabin. The snake was in the stump! I had stood next to that stump over and over again during our stay. I asked Sean if he thought it had been in there the whole time, and he said possibly. I think I was more excited about seeing the Fer-de-lance than anything I else we had seen that day.

Photos for the day:

Bird list for the day-
1 Great Tinamou-Heard
2 Black Curassow
3 Black Vulture
4 Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
5 King Vulture
6 Swallow-tailed Kite
7 Double-toothed Kite
8 Plumbeous Kite
9 White Hawk
10 Ornate Hawk-Eagle
11 Lined Forest-Falcon-Heard
12 Gray-winged Trumpeter
13 Ruddy Pigeon
14 Gray-fronted Dove
15 Painted Parakeet
16 Golden-winged Parakeet-Heard
17 Squirrel Cuckoo
18 Amazonian Pygmy-Owl-Heard
19 Chapman's Swift
20 Band-rumped Swift
21 Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
22 Long-tailed Hermit
23 White-necked Jacobin
24 White-chinned Sapphire
25 Black-eared Fairy
26 Green-backed Trogon-Heard
27 Green Aracari
28 Guianan Toucanet
29 Golden-collared Woodpecker
30 Golden-olive Woodpecker
31 Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
32 Buff-throated Woodcreeper
33 Mouse-colored Antshrike-Heard
34 Dusky Antbird-Heard
35 Black-headed Antbird-Heard
36 Ferruginous-backed Antbird-Heard
37 Rufous-throated Antbird
38 Thrush-like Antpitta-Heard
39 McConnell's Flycatcher
40 Spangled Cotinga
41 White-throated Manakin
42 White-fronted Manakin-Heard
43 Golden-headed Manakin
44 Cinereous Mourner-Heard
45 Lemon-chested Greenlet
46 Buff-cheeked Greenlet
47 Gray-breasted Martin
48 White-breasted Wood-Wren-Heard
49 White-necked Thrush
50 Bananaquit
51 Palm Tanager
52 Black-faced Dacnis
53 Blue Dacnis
54 Green Honeycreeper
55 Purple Honeycreeper
56 Red-legged Honeycreeper
57 Pectoral Sparrow-Heard
58 Hepatic Tanager
59 Green Oropendola-Heard
60 Short-billed Honeycreeper

Friday, November 25, 2011

Suriname-Its a Frog, November 12, 2011

Waking up at Brownsberg involves some amazing sounds. My alarm clock was the daily chorus of the Red Howlers. If someone was out in the forest and didn't know how these monkeys sound, they would probably be terrified. The grumbling roar a group makes can be felt almost as much as heard.

Then I would notice the frogs. There always was some kind of frog sounding off. It seemed like every time I heard a call and asked Sean what it was, he would reply, "A frog." I had no idea just how many sounds frogs can make. The first bird I usually heard was the squeaky sound of a White-necked Thrush. The early morning view of Lake Brokopondo with the sun rising over it, was memorable.

Breakfast wasn't until 8:30 AM, so we dressed and hit the trails near the compound. There were large puddles on the road, which were full of some of those frogs I mentioned. I could see a frog head sticking up out of the water. Then Martin pointed out that it was actually two frog heads, doing what frogs do in breeding season. We looked around and it looked like a frog orgy. There were coupled frogs all over the road and the puddle. There should be a lot of tadpoles in Brownsberg.  We then came across several Three-striped Poison Dart Frogs, including one with two tadpoles on its back. These frogs carry their tadpoles, instead of the young living in water.

We passed a group of stylishly dressed teenagers on the path. Sean explained that they were the winners of a TV competition, similar to our American Idol show. It was done with all high school students. A tour of Brownsberg was one of their prizes. These kids didn't look dressed for jungle hiking, some with jackets and wool scarves on, but they did look very hip. They appeared to be having a good time, skirting the deep puddles, laughing and talking. They turned left and we went right.

A small thicket held several birds. We found both Dusky and Black-headed Antbirds working deep in the brush. A Coraya Wren started singing. We had heard this bird in the past, but had never seen it. I played a clip of its call on my iPod and it popped out. It flew across the road right in front of me. Sean commented that he liked seeing me smile like that. We also got decent looks at both antbirds.

We moved further down the road, and Sean heard a Lined Forest Falcon calling close the road. We stopped and scanned, but the bird was buried deep in the foliage. He played a tape and the bird responded, but it didn't move. The teenagers came walking by talking and laughing. The bird became quiet and we decided to move on.  We stopped a bit further down the road to listen for another bird. Martin and I happened to glance behind us; the forest falcon flew up the road towards us, angling off
 into the trees just behind us.

Sean heard some different monkeys, White-faced Saki Monkeys. Of the eight species of monkeys in Suriname, this is one of the harder species to see. They came into view in the trees above us. These monkeys have the craziest tails I have ever seen on a monkey; they are huge! They almost look like a skunk tail, without a stripe. Sean said that Amerindians use the tails as dusters, after they eat the monkeys. I was really getting into the monkeys! We also heard Spider Monkeys, but never saw them. (By the way, I said we had Spider Monkeys on our first day in Suriname. They were actually Squirrel Monkeys! Sorry about that).

We returned for breakfast and enjoyed watching the Gray-winged Trumpeters eating the scraps that Rocky threw out for them in a small patch of woods next to the restaurant. Red-rumped Agoutis wandered among them. There was a flowering tree next to the restaurant, which we staked out for a little while. Martin spotted a Tufted Coquette. Coquettes, a type of tiny hummingbird, were one of my nemesis birds. There are a number of different kinds, some with crazy feather patterns in their gorgets and crowns. I have been in range of several different species, but have never seen one. I couldn't find the one Martin was looking at and then it flew. We worked a bit longer and finally, I had victory! A female came in and fed; not as flashy as the male, but I still felt a sense of relief.

Martin had a few targets that he wanted very badly, Guianan Red Cotinga, Red-and-black Grosbeak, Black-throated Antshrike and Band-tailed Antshrike. My most wanted bird was Capuchin Bird, a cotinga with one of the craziest calls ever. Sean had several locations where we had a good chance for these targets. The grosbeak was less predictable, but we were going to try. Of course these were not our only targets, but we did plan on putting some effort into them. We got into the van and drove to the first stop. Sean played his tape of the Capuchin Bird. There was a long time lek in the woods, close enough for them to hear the tape. Nothing, not a sniff. We moved down a bit and tried the antshrike tapes, same result. We walked a trail, only to find a tree fallen across it. We wiggled through the woods around it, and went on, hoping for the Guianan Red Cotinga. Again we batted zero. We did come across a small flock and added a few birds. We had plenty of time to try again, so we moved on.

We returned to our cabin, checking for the Tufted Coquette again. We heard a Ferruginous-backed Antbird calling in the woods next to where Sean parked the van. He tried a tape, but it didn't seem to care at all. We went up for lunch and met several people who were also staying there. They were all Dutch, but spoke English. Rocky's wife had put out some appliqu├ęd wrap skirts that some of the Maroon women had made. They were really lovely and I planned on buying at least one. We were a bit distracted by the birds, so I put it off.

There is a beautiful overlook in the main area of the compound. There is a fruiting tree just behind the benches, where you can sit and leisurely watch for flocks in the tree tops below you. This tree attracts a lot of birds, including a Waved Woodpecker. I am a huge fan of woodpeckers, so I was very excited when one flew in. I was even more excited when I actually got recognizable photos. This area was also great for watching raptors soaring. That day, Swallow-tailed Kites gracefully flew above and below us.

I returned to the cabin, where several Red Howlers were in a tall tree near the van. As I looked up at them I spotted a Green Aracari, a member of the Toucan family. Martin and Sean returned and we took the trail towards another lookout. We didn't go very far, when we discovered a fruiting tree. A Guianan Toucanet was chomping down. A mixed flock of dacnis, tanagers and honey creepers worked the tree. We decided that this tree was worth staying at for a while. It was getting a bit late, so we decided to go to the overlook another day, and headed back. After dinner I found a different gecko in the house, though the first one was still in the bathroom. The frogs were still calling.

Photos from the day-

1 Great Tinamou- Heard
2 Variegated Tinamou- Heard
3 Marail Guan
4 Marbled Wood-Quail- Heard
5 Swallow-tailed Kite
6 Lined Forest-Falcon
7 Gray-winged Trumpeter
8 Ruddy Pigeon
9 Gray-fronted Dove
10 Blue-headed Parrot
11 Dusky Parrot
12 Squirrel Cuckoo
13 Chapman's Swift
14 Long-tailed Hermit
15 Tufted Coquette
16 Fork-tailed Woodnymph
17 White-chinned Sapphire
18 Black-tailed Trogon- Heard
19 Green-backed Trogon- Heard
20 Green Aracari
21 Guianan Toucanet
22 Golden-olive Woodpecker
23 Waved Woodpecker
24 Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
25 Fasciated Antshrike- Heard
26 Mouse-colored Antshrike- Heard
27 Pygmy Antwren- Heard
28 Todd's Antwren-Heard
29 Dusky Antbird
30 Black-headed Antbird
31 Ferruginous-backed Antbird- Heard
32 Thrush-like Antpitta-Heard
33 Yellow-throated Flycatcher- Heard
34 Screaming Piha-Heard
35 Black-tailed Tityra
36 Buff-cheeked Greenlet- Heard
37 Gray-breasted Martin
38 Coraya Wren
39 White-breasted Wood-Wren- Heard
40 White-necked Thrush
41 Fulvous-crested Tanager
42 Bay-headed Tanager
43 Blue Dacnis
44 Green Honeycreeper
45 Purple Honeycreeper
46 Red-legged Honeycreeper
47 Slate-colored Grosbeak
48 Pectoral Sparrow
49 Hepatic Tanager
50 Finsch's Euphonia

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Suriname-Welcome to Brownsberg November 11, 2011

I woke up a bit earlier than expected on this day. The lights, which had gone out the night before, suddenly came back on, along with the air conditioning at about 3:00 AM. I turned the lights off and enjoyed the air until about 5:30 AM, when we arose to start out for the day. I kind of wished we had more time at Colakreek, as we didn't get to bird much at all, but we had a ways to go and quite a bit more to see.

We left the park in semi-darkness. Our first stop was on the road back to the main highway. A group of Variable Chachalacas were roosting right off of the shoulder. We pulled up just as they were starting their dawn chorus. This was a new chachalaca for us, which was great, but they are just as noisy as the ones in Texas. As soon as we got a good look, we left to look for quieter birds.

We made another stop right outside the airport, looking for Rufous-crowned Elaenia and the local subspecies of White-fringed Antwren. We walked into a brushy area and began our search. Martin and I both spotted a large bird flying over, a Pinnated Bittern, which was not at all expected there. The antwrens were very responsive to Sean's tape and jumped right now. It took a bit longer to find the Elaenia, but we were successful. Then we heard a Rufous-crowned Crake calling nearby. We worked very hard to see it, but the grass was very thick. Finally Martin saw it run across the trail next to him. I never did see the little so and so, but I was still happy. A few birds were feeding in the trees, and we added Red-shouldered Tanager to our list.

We then left and returned to Berlyn to look for the Glossy-backed Becard. I know I already mentioned it, but I really liked this spot! We didn't even get to the bridge when we started spotting birds. A McConnell's Flycatcher played hide and seek with us. Toucans called in the background. The Point-tailed Palmcreeper put on another show. It was tough, but we tore ourselves away and crossed over the bridge. We walked into the cemetery and I had to wonder if we would have a repeat of the day before.

We started scanning tree tops, and then we heard a call. There was the Glossy-backed Becard as high up as he could get, singing. My neck started aching from looking straight up. We were thrilled when the female joined him. I tried to get some photos, but the distance was too far to get anything recognizable. I still kept them, though, putting them in my bad pictures of great birds folder! I was able to get some photos of their nest, though they are not fabulous, either. As we walked out we watched a Guianan Warbling-Antbird hopping around in the foliage near the bridge. Our smiles were ear to ear.

After leaving Berlyn, we visited a spot that Sean had for Black Manakin and Saffron-crested Tyrant Manakin. I am a big fan of manakins. They are little birds, but their leking behavior is fascinating. If you have not seen it, check out this video of one species that "moonwalks" Disregard the silly woman. We pulled onto a sand road, which Sean had said was just a wide path not long ago. Unfortunately, huge dump trucks were now using it, hauling out sand. This did not help our quest. We didn't have a sniff of the Black Manakin and only heard the Saffron-crested Tyrant Manakin calling. We would have an opportunity to try again, after we finished at Brownsberg, so we climbed back in the van and got on our way.

The drive to Brownsberg Nature Pake was not that far, but the drive up from the main road is a tough one. There is no way you could do it without four wheel drive. It took us at least an hour and a half to reach the top. I felt a little bit bruised by the time we got there, though it was not the worst road I have traveled. We stopped along the way and had Swallow-tailed Kites soaring overhead. They were joined by some Plumbeous Kites. The view of the forest along the road just got better and better. The park is at an altitude of 500 meters, not that high, but high enough to be a bit cooler and provide some amazing views.

We pulled into the compound where we were staying. It is made up of several cabins, some open shelters for hammocks, a few educational buildings and Rocky's restaurant. We parked the van and got out.  Sean pointed out a flock of large birds wandering along the forest edge, Gray-winged Trumpeters! We had heard that they were fairly easy to get here, as Rocky was putting out food scraps in a wooded area, but this was ridiculous. They were no more afraid of us than chickens would be! When we had seen Dark-winged Trumpeters in Brazil we had to practically become invisible to even get a glance at them. These birds are absolutely beautiful, with a green and purple iridescence across the chest.

After checking in, we went to our cabin, which was awesome; not because of it being luxurious, which it was not by a long shot, but because of the view of Lake Brokopondo from the porch, and the surrounding trees and vegetation. It was worth the cold water showers. We unloaded our stuff and went back to Rocky's for lunch. Our first meal was really good, a barbecued chicken with cole slaw and rice. Sean said he could just live on rice, but I was a bigger fan of the chicken.  We finished up and went to start our first afternoon of birding. 

We went back to the cabin to get our gear. Sean pointed up to a tree right next to the back porch and said "Welcome to Brownsberg!" A troop of Red Howler Monkeys were sitting there giving us the once over. I must have taken 100 photos of them. I have never seen monkeys so well. The chief male was very impressive looking. Several of the youngsters were clambering around, hanging by the tails, and basically showing off. I was ecstatic! 

We could hear White-throated Thrush singing everywhere. I asked Sean what a whooping call was, which sounded similar to mot-mot, but very loud. He said "A frog." This became of a theme of this stay. Probably 75 percent of the times I asked what a call was, he would reply "Another frog." The calls varied to tiny chirps to almost pig like squeals. Brownsberg is definitely frog heaven. He told us we would see the frogs that whooped when we went to dinner. I wondered if they might be on our plate!

We did a bit of walking, picking up a few species here and there. Sean showed us some Poison Dart Frogs, which I always like to see. Then the sky became very threatening, so we headed back. As I arrived at the stairs down to our cabin, a big clap of thunder sounded. Just as it ended I heard one of my all time favorite bird calls, a Screaming Piha. I was really hoping to hear them at Brownsberg, but they didn't seem as vocal as the ones in Peru. It started pouring, so we went inside. 

There were some issues with water at the compound. We were told to be very careful and not waste any. My hair was feeling really grungy and I was aching to wash it. The rain was so heavy that it was like a torrent coming down off of the roof. I went inside, got my shampoo and proceeded to wash it in the run off. It felt so good! I also rinsed out a couple of shirts and some pants. I wasn't a Girl Scout for nothing.

Unfortunately we didn't get to do much more birding because of the rain. We went up to dinner, which was a great soup, and sure enough we did see the frogs. The storm had knocked out the power earlier, but it came back on. The cabin was not air conditioned. It also didn't have a key. Someone had taken off with it some time before. No one seemed at all concerned about this, except us. Sean assured us that theft had never been a problem. He was right, we never had any trouble at all the four days were were there. When we came back to the cabin, we were greeted by one last creature, a large gecko, who was making our bathroom his home. He had an injury on his back leg, which did heal while we were there, and he was missing a couple of toes. I was happy to share the room with him. The sleeping arrangements were a bit spartan, but I was tired enough to not care. The open window let so many wonderful night sounds in. I was in love with this place. 

Pictures from this day-

1 Great Tinamou -heard
2 Cinereous Tinamou -heard
3 Red-legged Tinamou -heard
4 Variable Chachalaca -heard
5 Pinnated Bittern
6 Cattle Egret
7 Black Vulture
8 Turkey Vulture
9 King Vulture
10 Swallow-tailed Kite
11 Plumbeous Kite
12 Roadside Hawk
13 Red-throated Caracara
14 Yellow-headed Caracara
15 Laughing Falcon
16 Bat Falcon
17 Russet-crowned Crake
18 Gray-winged Trumpeter
19 Solitary Sandpiper
20 Pale-vented Pigeon
21 Common Ground-Dove
22 Ruddy Ground-Dove
23 White-eyed Parakeet
24 Brown-throated Parakeet
25 Red-bellied Macaw
26 Orange-winged Parrot
27 Squirrel Cuckoo
28 Greater Ani
29 Smooth-billed Ani
30 Chapman's Swift
31 Short-tailed Swift
32 Fork-tailed Palm-Swift
33 Long-tailed Hermit
34 Ruby-topaz Hummingbird
35 Green-tailed Goldenthroat
36 Black-tailed Trogon
37 Green-backed Trogon
38 Ringed Kingfisher
39 Swallow-winged Puffbird
40 White-throated Toucan -heard
41 Channel-billed Toucan
42 Golden-collared Woodpecker
43 Point-tailed Palmcreeper
44 Buff-throated Woodcreeper
45 Barred Antshrike -heard
46 Northern Slaty-Antshrike
47 Pygmy Antwren -heard
48 White-fringed Antwren
49 Guianan Warbling-Antbird
50 Plain-crested Elaenia
51 Rufous-crowned Elaenia
52 McConnell's Flycatcher
53 Yellow-throated Flycatcher
54 Tropical Kingbird
55 Purple-throated Fruitcrow -heard
56 Screaming Piha -heard
57 Saffron-crested Tyrant-Manakin -heard
58 White-crowned Manakin
59 Golden-headed Manakin
60 Black-tailed Tityra
61 Glossy-backed Becard
62 Red-eyed Vireo
63 Gray-breasted Martin
64 White-winged Swallow
65 Pale-breasted Thrush
66 White-necked Thrush -heard
67 Tropical Mockingbird
68 Bananaquit
69 Black-faced Tanager
70 Red-shouldered Tanager
71 Silver-beaked Tanager
72 Blue-gray Tanager
73 Palm Tanager
74 Black-faced Dacnis
75 Green Honeycreeper
76 Purple Honeycreeper
77 Red-legged Honeycreeper
78 Slate-colored Grosbeak
79 Wing-barred Seedeater
80 Blue-black Grosbeak
81 Yellow-rumped Cacique
82 Crested Oropendola
83 Violaceous Euphonia

Monday, November 21, 2011

Suriname-Back to the Airport November 10, 2011

Sean picked us up at about 7:00 AM and we headed back the airport. No, this was not going to be our shortest trip ever; there is actually very good birding around the airport. Just south of Paramaribo is a belt of savanna with some gallery forest. The soil is white sand over red clay. We had birded a similar type of habitat in Brazil at Rio Azul. There are a number of birds adapted to this area that we were hoping to find. Unfortunately, traffic was heavy in the city, so we didn't get as early a start as we had hoped, but we were still confident.

There is a road that circles the outside of the runways of the airport. This can be a good spot to look for Giant Snipe, one of Martin's target birds. Unfortunately, it wasn't a good place on that day. We did see a Roadside Hawk, and Swallow-winged Puffbirds were common, perching in the trees along the road. A White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, a very sharp looking black and white bird, was sitting on the fence by the runway. A few White-winged Swallows were on the power lines. We walked in some tall grasses, looking for the snipe, but all we ended up with were chiggers. I was a bit amused that Sean got a little excited about an Eastern Meadowlark. Actually it is nice to see a common bird through someone else's eyes sometimes.

It was getting late in the morning, so we wandered over to the area where the restaurant we were going to eat lunch at is. We stopped at a creek with a small trail into the woods. Before we saw any birds we came across a rather odd scene. There were several baskets on the ground and pieces of colorful cloth. Streamers were hanging from some of the trees. The most peculiar thing was that some of the trees with wrapped with more of the cloths. Sean explained this was a site where an Obeah ritual had been done. Obeah is a religion similar to voodoo that is practiced by some in Suriname.

We heard a bird calling and then saw a Mouse-colored Antshrike fall across the creek. I was particularly thrilled when a Cream-colored Woodpecker flew in. I had seen this bird in Brazil, very briefly flying away through the woods and the day before I had gotten good looks at Peperpot. The best part of this bird was it perched in the open and I got some photos. The pictures aren't great, but it is always fun to photograph a bird you love.

It was lunch time, so we drove to the restaurant Sean had chosen, called Cotjie's Corner. It's a tiny place with a couple of tables on an open porch. Sean had called earlier to arrange our meal. The food was so good! The owner's wife, who was the cook, was so friendly. It was very pleasant. The yard had some habitat and we saw Silver-beaked, Palm and Blue-gray Tanagers working the trees. Brown-throated Parakeets came into the tree tops. I was very happy being there.

After we finished we drove to a nearby Amerindian village. We got out of the van and started looking for birds. I heard someone calling to us and saw a man standing in the doorway of one of the small houses. He seemed a bit upset. Sean was talking back to him in Sranan Tongo, the patois spoken all over Suriname, a mixture of Dutch, English, Portuguese and West African languages. Sean related the conversation and said the man was the head of the village and was not happy with us being there. I had my camera with a large lens and I think he was worried we were there to take photos of the village. I understood his concerns. They deserve their privacy and they should not feel like they are on exhibit. I never photograph people without their permission, particularly in the tropics.

We got back in the van and started to drive out. We turned the corner and stopped by a small pond. Sean heard a Sulphury Flycatcher. We started scanning and found it fairly quickly. I looked up and saw the head of the village walking towards us in a very determined manner. I thought "This is going to be trouble." We weren't in the village proper, but I guess we were still too close. He spoke to Sean and then Martin joined the conversation. He told the chief that he understood and that we were happy to leave the area. The chief said we should have asked before we came in and Martin agreed. Finally he said it was fine. The village welcomed us and we could stay. I did feel badly that we had intruded.

The next stop was one of my favorite places of the entire trip. The village of Berlyn sits on a black water creek. A wooden foot bridge crosses the creek, leading to the cemetery, which sits in an open area of a lovely woods. This cemetery is probably the best place in Suriname for Glossy-backed Becard. We started across the bridge, but were immediately distracted by the birds. A Point-tailed Palm Creeper flew in, a bird we had only seen poorly in Peru. A Long-tailed Woodcreeper was beating a caterpillar to death on the trunk of a tree. We were ecstatic to see a Black Nunbird perched up nicely. I picked out a very small manakin, sitting in the foliage. I pointed it out to Martin and he confirmed it was one of my most wanted birds, Tiny Tyrant Manakin. It wasn't exactly a "looker", but what a fabulous name! I had not really expected to see it, as it normally involved a rather difficult hike.When we were driving out, I saw a Squirrel Monkey sitting out in the open. I got a few photos, but they were taken through the car window, so they aren't great.

We tore ourselves away and walked though the woods to the cemetery. Sean played the call of the becard, but there was no response. This bird sits up very high, so we scanned the tree tops. Sean pointed out a nest in the tree he saw the becards in most often. Unfortunately, our birding Karma seemed to have run out. Sean said we would return in the morning, so maybe we would have better luck. We did have a White-winged Becard, but that was a poor second.

The afternoon thunder clouds started to roll in. Sean said we should go ahead and go to the place we were spending the night, Colakreek, a park with cabins. This is a very popular spot for family weekends. It is called Colakreek because the water is the color of cola, almost black. Even though the color of the water is very dark, it is very clean. Tannins from the trees and red clay cause the water to appear almost black. There can be some very good birds here. We pulled into the headquarters to check in and the sky opened up and it started to "chuck it down", as Martin would say.

The cabin was great. It had sliding doors that opened to reveal a kitchen, a bathroom and two bedrooms. The bedrooms were air conditioned, which made us very happy, as it was rather hot. We carried our stuff in, using a large umbrella to keep dry. Martin and I settled in, arranging our stuff in the small bedroom. I closed the windows and turned on the air conditioning. Within a few seconds the power went out and the cabin went dark. I said a few choice words and said we needed to look for the breaker box, figuring I blew a circuit breaker. We walked out of the room just as Sean came out of his. He said he was talking to his wife in Paramaribo and she said the power went out there at the same time. Wow, I had really done some damage! I asked Sean if power outages were common, and he said that they weren't, but there had been some recently.

The rain had slowed to a drizzle, so I kicked off my shoes and went out to walk on the sand roads. It felt so nice to be barefoot. Sean and Martin joined me and we started looking for birds. It was close to sunset, so there wasn't much to see. Sean took us to a spot along the creek, where we watched Red-bellied Macaws come in to roost. We walked  back to the cabin, opened the windows, and settled down for the night. It wasn't unbearably hot; the breeze was actually quite nice. During the night the lights came back on, waking me up. The air also came on, and the power didn't kick off again, so I guess I didn't cause the black out.

Here are my photos for the day-

1 Cattle Egret
2 Striated Heron
3 Black Vulture
4 Turkey Vulture
5 Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
6 Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
7 Swallow-tailed Kite
8 Snail Kite
9 Roadside Hawk
10 White-tailed Hawk
11 Ruddy Pigeon
12 Common Ground-Dove
13 White-tipped Dove
14 White-eyed Parakeet
15 Brown-throated Parakeet
16 Red-bellied Macaw
17 Golden-winged Parakeet
18 Squirrel Cuckoo
19 Greater Ani
20 Smooth-billed Ani
21 Common Pauraque
22 Band-rumped Swift
23 Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
24 Fork-tailed Palm-Swift
25 Green-tailed Goldenthroat
26 Guianan Trogon
27 Ringed Kingfisher
28 Amazon Kingfisher
29 Pied Puffbird
30 Black Nunbird
31 Swallow-winged Puffbird
32 White-throated Toucan
33 Golden-collared Woodpecker
34 Cream-colored Woodpecker
35 Point-tailed Palmcreeper
36 Long-tailed Woodcreeper
37 Black-crested Antshrike
38 Mouse-colored Antshrike
39 Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet
40 Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet
41 Forest Elaenia
42 Plain-crested Elaenia
43 Helmeted Pygmy-Tyrant
44 White-headed Marsh-Tyrant
45 Great Kiskadee
46 Boat-billed Flycatcher
47 Rusty-margined Flycatcher
48 Yellow-throated Flycatcher
49 Piratic Flycatcher
50 Variegated Flycatcher
51 Sulphury Flycatcher
52 Tropical Kingbird
53 Tiny Tyrant-Manakin
54 White-winged Becard
55 Ashy-headed Greenlet
56 Gray-breasted Martin
57 White-winged Swallow
58 Pale-breasted Thrush
59 Spectacled Thrush
60 Tropical Mockingbird
61 Bananaquit
62 Silver-beaked Tanager
63 Blue-gray Tanager
64 Palm Tanager
65 Wing-barred Seedeater
66 Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch
67 Eastern Meadowlark
68 Giant Cowbird
69 Yellow Oriole
70 Red-rumped Cacique
71 Yellow-rumped Cacique
72 Crested Oropendola

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Suriname-Even the City has Amazing Birds! November 9, 2011

Morning came a lot quicker than I wanted. In fact, it didn't seem like we had a night. Our flight had arrived after midnight. It took about 45 minutes to get to our hotel, the De Luifel. By the time we showered, (this hotel has amazing showers, by the way.) it was probably close to 2:00 AM.  Sean Dilrosun, our guide, suggested we not start too early. We decided on leaving the hotel at 7:30 AM, after we had breakfast.

Luckily, the anticipation generated enough adrenaline that we didn't feel too tired. Our first stop was the Paramaribo Botanical Gardens. When I hear the words botanical gardens I imagine a manicured place with planted flower beds, open trees and carefully tended lawns. Get this vision out of your mind; this garden is nothing like that. Sean explained that the government used this area to see what plants might grow well in Suriname. It is a wild tangle of large trees and under-story.  Some of the plantings are exotics, but the birds didn't seem to care one bit.

We parked the car and walked over to one of the more open areas. A large flowering tree sat off to one side.  Within a couple of minutes I spotted one of our main targets for Suriname, the only true endemic, Arrowhead Piculet. Piculets are tiny woodpeckers. They can be difficult to find, but this one was no problem at all. Sean played the call and the bird flew right in. I was able to get poor, but recognizable photos. Those of you who know me, know I have an aversion to the word "cute", but I have to admit this bird did fit that word well.

We turned our attention back to the flowering tree. Our other targets at this location included several hummingbirds. Green-throated Mangos are found there, but Black-throated Mangos are also there and are much more common. We picked through the birds, looking for a green throat. Martin saw one, but I still had not. (Maybe payback for the Crimson Topaz incident?) Finally he and Sean got me on one, so I was happy.  We wandered through the gardens and I found a Green-tailed Jacamar, a life bird for both of us. I had seen Cinnamon Attila before, but I had never noticed, until Sean pointed it out, that their call sounds suspiciously like they were saying something very rude. I have to say, I will probably never forget that call!

We finished up at the gardens and went searching for our next target, Rufous Crab-Hawk. We drove to a location on the Suriname River where Sean said we had a good chance to see one. Boy, was he right! We pulled up and walked out on a dock. Sean let loose a piercing whistle, imitating the hawk's call. Almost immediately the hawk soared over head and landed in a nearby palm. We got great looks. Then a different bird, a Black-collared Hawk, flew overhead, giving me another life bird. A Pied Water-Tyrant was hopping on eye level right next to the car when we got in. They are a really sharp bird, as black and white birds often are.

As we drove away, Martin and I said "Crested Caracara!", a bird we know very well from Texas. Sean said, "No, you mean Yellow-headed." We said, "No, we mean Crested!" He stopped the car and sure enough, they were Crested. He had never seen this species in that area before. The closest sighting he had had was quite a distance, near the border. He said his wife would be very happy if they stuck around, as they are her favorite bird.

We drove through downtown Paramaribo, which is a very interesting place. As we drove along the waterfront, Sean pointed out a ship wreck in the river, the remains of a German ship from World War II. The architecture of the city reflects it's Dutch roots. The largest wooden church in the world is there. Also, a large mosque is next to the city's  Synagogue. There are huge Hindu shrines throughout the city and countryside.

The people of Suriname appear to get along better than any place I have ever been. The population has a surprising mix of ethnicities. Before we left Martin had said it would be a little different in Suriname from other tropical countries we had visited. He is about as fair skinned as you can get. He thought he would blend in well in Suriname, with all the people of Dutch descent. Wrong! The largest ethnic group in the country is made up of what they call Hindustanis, that is people of Indian descent. There are also a large number of Indonesians. In the interior there are Amerindians and people referred to as Maroons, the descendants of escaped African slaves.  The only light skinned people we saw were tourists from the Netherlands.

We crossed over the very broad Suriname river to visit Peperpot Nature Park. First we stopped at a small Indonesian restaurant for lunch, which was really good. Sean knows good food and the places to find it!. We then drove to Peperpot, which was one of my favorite spots. The butterflies were fabulous. We got great looks at Black-crested Antshrike, which I had seen before, but was delighted to see again. Martin thought he had a Black-throated Blue Warbler, but Sean said they didn't get them in Suriname. Then he saw it again and realized it was a Hooded Tanager, which is marked very similarly to a Black-throated Blue. We found one of our main targets, Blood-colored Woodpecker, which Martin was able to photograph, but I wasn't so lucky.  Silver-beaked, Palm and Blue-and-gray Tanager seemed to be in every tree. The Cinnamon Atillas taunted us with their "F.U." calls.  A Violaceous Euphonia flew in just as we were getting ready to leave.

We packed up and headed back across river. Sean knew a location for Crimson-hooded Manakin, a bird we had dipped on at the botanic gardens. We walked into a wooded area next to a slow flowing creek. Sean pointed up and said "Spider Monkeys!" I looked up and could see their silhouettes crossing the canopy above us. He told us there are 8 species of monkeys in Suriname. I was really hoping to add at least a couple to my mammal list.  Right after the monkeys we heard the manakin. I got great looks and a poor picture, which will go into my "bad photos of great birds" folder.

We climbed back into the van and headed out towards the ocean. Martin badly wanted to see Long-winged Harrier, and this is where they can be found. Unfortunately, the sky looked rather threatening. We had some rain showers, which occurred almost every afternoon. There was no sign of the harrier, but we found a nice spot on the road to the shore where some shorebirds were feeding. The biggest surprise was a White-rumped Sandpiper, which should have been long gone. A couple of Yellow-hooded Blackbirds were flitting around. We drove down the road to the sea, which was a muddy brown. Sean explained that the mud flow from the Amazon river kept the water less than pristine. There are no good beaches in Suriname, unfortunately.

There was a large open shed next to the parking area, where there were three piles of burning charcoal about 6 feet long with a sheet of corrugated metal covering it. Sean explained they were cremating bodies. It was a bit unnerving. The water was right up to the wall in front of the road. He said that the water is quite shallow, and when the tide is out, there are huge mud flats. We didn't see a single tern or gull go by. We checked out the shorebirds again, and the rain started up again.

Sean knows a great roosting place for egrets and Snail Kites in a private housing development. We finished the day there, watching Snail Kites pour in from every direction. It was really impressive! Unfortunately, it was raining pretty hard, so we headed back to the hotel for dinner and another great shower! Seriously, that shower was the best part of the hotel!

Photos from the day-

Bird List-
1 Pinnated Bittern- heard
2 Great Egret
3 Snowy Egret
4 Little Blue Heron
5 Tricolored Heron
6 Cattle Egret
7 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
8 Black Vulture
9 Turkey Vulture
10 Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
11 Snail Kite
12 Black-collared Hawk
13 Rufous Crab Hawk
14 Roadside Hawk
15 Zone-tailed Hawk
16 Crested Caracara
17 Laughing Falcon
18 Bat Falcon
19 Semipalmated Plover
20 Wattled Jacana
21 Spotted Sandpiper
22 Solitary Sandpiper
23 Greater Yellowlegs
24 Semipalmated Sandpiper
25 Western Sandpiper
26 Least Sandpiper
27 White-rumped Sandpiper
28 Ruddy Ground-Dove
29 White-tipped Dove
30 Brown-throated Parakeet
31 Golden-winged Parakeet
32 Orange-winged Parrot
33 Striped Cuckoo
34 Greater Ani
35 Smooth-billed Ani
36 Short-tailed Swift
37 Fork-tailed Palm-Swift
38 Green-throated Mango
39 Black-throated Mango
40 Glittering-throated Emerald
41 Green-backed Trogon
42 Ringed Kingfisher
43 Green Kingfisher
44 Green-tailed Jacamar
45 Arrowhead Piculet
46 Blood-colored Woodpecker
47 Cream-colored Woodpecker
48 Pale-breasted Spinetail
49 Plain-crowned Spinetail
50 Yellow-chinned Spinetail- heard
51 Straight-billed Woodcreeper
52 Black-crested Antshrike
53 Blackish Antbird
54 Pied Water-Tyrant
55 Cinnamon Attila
56 Dusky-capped Flycatcher
57 Lesser Kiskadee
58 Great Kiskadee
59 Boat-billed Flycatcher
60 Rusty-margined Flycatcher
61 Piratic Flycatcher
62 Tropical Kingbird
63 Gray Kingbird
64 Crimson-hooded Manakin
65 Ashy-headed Greenlet
66 Gray-breasted Martin
67 Buff-breasted Wren
68 Tropical Gnatcatcher
69 Pale-breasted Thrush
70 Spectacled Thrush -heard
71 Tropical Mockingbird
72 Yellow Warbler
73 Bananaquit
74 Hooded Tanager
75 White-lined Tanager
76 Silver-beaked Tanager
77 Blue-gray Tanager
78 Palm Tanager
79 Blue-black Grassquit
80 Wing-barred Seedeater
81 Red-breasted Blackbird
82 Carib Grackle
83 Yellow-hooded Blackbird
84 Shiny Cowbird
85 Yellow Oriole
86 Yellow-rumped Cacique
87 Crested Oropendola
88 Violaceous Euphonia

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Suriname- Intro and the Layover in Curacao, November 8, 2011

Every time I told someone we are going to Suriname the reply was the same, "Suriname? Where is that?" Some people asked if it was in Africa, some asked if it was in Asia. Because of that, I thought I should begin this blog with a quick Geography lesson. Suriname is located in NE South America, between Guyana (remember Jim Jones?) and French Guyane. It is bordered by Brazil on the south. When I was a child I remember it being referred to as Dutch Guyana. It is a small county, just larger than the state of Georgia in the USA. There are about 500.000 people, most living in and around the capital of Paramaribo. It is not well known as a birding destination, yet, but it should be. About 80% of the country is covered by rain forest. I will include more facts in my upcoming blogs.

Getting to Suriname was a bit of a challenge. I had won some free tickets at work on American Airlines to anywhere in the lower 48 states, Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. We debated for quite some time about where to go. Finally, we decided to fly to Curacao and they go on to Paramaribo, as we could get some very inexpensive tickets from that point. Because of connection times, we had to spend a night and day in Curacao. Darn the luck!

We arrived in Curacao after sunset and headed for our hotel. The pizza in the hotel bar was decent. The cold shower before bed was not. (What the hell, Clarion?) We got up early, scarfed down some breakfast, and hit the island for a day of birding. The area around the hotel was quite lovely, with a lot of palms and flowers. The beach across the road was beautiful. The first bird we saw in the parking lot of the hotel was a Troupial. It was quickly joined by a Yellow Oriole trying to get into the trash cans.

Curacao is a bit limited as far as birds go. There are no endemic species, but there were a couple of birds we wanted to look for. Both Martin and I had never seen Ruby Topaz Hummingbird. Supposedly, it was very easy to see in the area where our hotel was, particularly on the grounds of the Marriott hotel and casino, next door. We headed over there and started our search. Almost immediately, we found a Blue-tailed Emerald Hummingbird, which is considered a bit rarer than the Topaz. We were feeling pretty confident, but as we walked the grounds, our confidence took a bit of a dive. We decided to head northwest up the island to Christofell National Park.

Curacao is not a huge place and roads are great. We did a detour to a viewing spot for American Flamingos, which were standing right where they were supposed to be. We added a few shorebirds, egrets and herons to our day list.  We were a bit surprised at how hilly the island is. The vegetation was mostly scrub and tall cactus. It looks like the air would be very dry. It wasn't. The humidity was rather oppressive.

We arrived at the park headquarters and asked about the best place to look for the Ruby Topaz. One of the park rangers was very helpful. He pointed out a tree that they hummingbirds particularly like, but he said they were not always easy to see. He suggested a trail to two small ponds, where we might also have a shot. We decided to try the trail first and headed out. 

We ran into another Blue-tailed Emerald almost immediately, along with a stunning Yellow Warbler. The warbler is a different sub-species than we get in Texas, sometimes called Golden Warbler. The streaking on the breast is heavier and it has a red cap on the top of the head. It is quite striking. A bit further down the trail we spotted a large hummingbird with a rusty tail. We couldn't see the front of it and it flew off very quickly. We struggled to figure out what it was. It looked all dark, probably due to the light, so we ruled out Ruby Topaz and thought it was one of the Amazilias, which is not supposed to be found on Curacao.

The ponds were quite small, but very birdy. A number of "our" warblers were around, including Northern Parula, Prothonatary Warblers and Northern Waterthrushes. Unfortunately, our target did not show. We headed back to the headquarters, got a couple of cold cokes and sandwiches and started watching the tree that the ranger pointed out. A hummingbird zipped by, heading up the hill. Martin got up to throw out our trash and look in the direction that the bird had flown. Just as he turned his back, I saw the male Ruby Topaz, flashing his golden throat. I called out, but before Martin could turn around, it was gone.

We kept assuring ourselves that it would return shortly. It didn't. We waited, sometimes less than patiently. I got up and circled several other flowering shrubs, but with no luck.  After what seemed an eternity, the bird returned, and we got decent looks. We realized that the bird we had seen on the path earlier, must have been a Ruby Topaz, after all. We had another cold coke in celebration and decided to drive a loop through another part of the park. It was already about 2:30 PM and the park closed at 4:00 PM.

The loop was not particularly filled with birds, but we did manage to find Crested Bobwhite, a new bird for me. There was a spectacular view off of the tip of the island. Time was getting short, so we kept moving, not wanting to get locked in when the park closed. We made a stop at the head of the orchid trail, where we discovered a female Ruby Topaz, building a nest! Unfortunately, she was deep in a thorn tree, and I was not able to get any photos.

We drove back to Willemstad and did a quick run through the waterfront area. What a lovely town it is! The architecture is beautiful.  The cruise ship, the Crown Princess, was in dock and we were both stunned at the massive size of it. We then headed back to the airport to return the rental car and catch our flight to Suriname.

Our flight went well, making a brief touch down in Trinidad. We had a little discussion about whether I can say I have been in Trinidad now, but decided it really doesn't count. Our guide, Sean Dilrosun, met us at the airport when our flight landed, just after midnight. We drove to Paramaribo, which took about 45 minutes and checked into our hotel.

Photos for the day-

Curacao Bird List-
1 Crested Bobwhite
2 American Flamingo
3 Magnificent Frigatebird
4 Great Egret
5 Snowy Egret
6 Little Blue Heron
7 Tricolored Heron
8 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
9 Osprey
10 White-tailed Hawk
11 Crested Caracara
12 American Kestrel
13 Merlin
14 Peregrine Falcon
15 Black-bellied Plover
16 Spotted Sandpiper
17 Least Sandpiper
18 White-rumped Sandpiper
19 Stilt Sandpiper
20 Common Tern
21 Rock Pigeon
22 Scaly-naped Pigeon
23 Bare-eyed Pigeon
24 Eared Dove
25 Common Ground-Dove
26 White-tipped Dove
27 Brown-throated Parakeet
28 Ruby-topaz Hummingbird
29 Blue-tailed Emerald
30 Brown-crested Flycatcher
31 Gray Kingbird
32 Red-eyed Vireo
33 Black-whiskered Vireo
34 Barn Swallow
35 Tropical Mockingbird
36 Yellow Warbler
37 Prothonotary Warbler
38 Northern Waterthrush
39 Bananaquit
40 Black-faced Grassquit
41 Saffron Finch
42 Rufous-collared Sparrow
43 Carib Grackle
44 Venezuelan Troupial
45 Yellow Oriole
46 House Sparrow