GUYANA & SURINAME BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Note: This is the 2023 tour itinerary. Our 2022 tour differs somewhat; one night not two at Surama and a penultimate night at Rock View Lodge near Annai.
Guyana: Day 1 Our tour begins early this evening in Georgetown, where we spend two nights at a lovely colonial-era hotel. (An airport transfer will be provided.)
Guyana: Day 2 This morning we will head for Georgetown’s domestic Ogle airport and fly over the Demerara and Essequibo Rivers southwards over unbroken rainforest and savannas to the small town of Lethem in southwestern Guyana.
From Lethem, we shall then drive across open savannas and through gallery woodlands to our base for the night on the open savannas at Wichabai Ranch. Experiencing the tranquillity of one of the most remote places on the continent will be a significant aspect of our first mission; the search for the critically endangered Red Siskin. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Guyana: Day 3 Today, at dawn, we will be on-site to see Red Siskin and we will walk through an area of savanna that lies along the base of low-lying forested hills. We have an excellent chance of seeing this restricted-range and much sought-after little gem.
As well as Red Siskin, the Wachabai area is very good for a superb selection of savanna and wetland species including the restricted-range Finsch’s Euphonia and with luck the restricted-range Sharp-tailed Ibis.
More widespread species we are likely to see include Brazilian Teal, the huge Jabiru, Buff-necked Ibis, Cocoi Heron, Western Cattle, Great and Snowy Egrets, Turkey, Lesser Yellow-headed and Black Vultures, White-tailed and Snail Kites, the handsome Long-winged Harrier, the superb Black-collared Hawk, Savanna, Roadside, White-tailed, Grey-lined and Great Black Hawks, Little Chachalaca, Crested Bobwhite, Purple Gallinule, Limpkin, Southern Lapwing, Wattled Jacana, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, Pale-vented Pigeon, Common, Plain-breasted and Ruddy Ground Doves, White-tipped and Eared Doves, Smooth-billed Ani, Striped Cuckoo, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Short-tailed and Neotropical Palm Swifts, Black-throated Mango, Glittering-throated Emerald, Long-billed Starthroat, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, the splendid Toco Toucan, White-barred Piculet, Little Woodpecker, Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras, Laughing and Aplomado Falcons, American Kestrel, Orange-winged Amazon, Brown-throated Parakeet and Red-bellied and Red-shouldered Macaws.
Likely passerines include Rusty-winged Antwren, Barred and Black-crested Antshrikes, Lesser Elaenia, Southern Beardless and Mouse-colored Tyrannulets, Pale-eyed Pygmy Tyrant, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Vermilion, Piratic, Rusty-margined, Fork-tailed, Brown-crested and perhaps Variegated Flycatchers, Pied Water Tyrant, the smart White-headed Marsh Tyrant, Greater and Lesser Kiskadees, White-throated and Tropical Kingbirds, Chivi Vireo, White-winged, Southern Rough-winged and Barn Swallows, Grey-breasted Martin, Bicolored and House Wrens, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Tropical Mockingbird, Pale-breasted Thrush, Yellowish Pipit, Grassland Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, Red-breasted Blackbird, Yellow Oriole, Shiny Cowbird, Red, Blue-grey, Palm, Burnished-buff and Hooded Tanagers, Bananaquit, Grassland Yellow Finch, Wedge-tailed Grass Finch, Blue-black Grassquit and Plumbeous, Ruddy-breasted and perhaps Grey Seedeaters.
We have a first chance of seeing Giant Anteater in this area and Crab-eating Fox is also a possibility.
After lunch, we will retrace our steps to Lethem and then continue a short distance to Manari Ranch for a two nights stay. On the way we will again spend a good deal of time birding on the savannas, stopping in particular at a number of wetlands.
Guyana: Day 4 Today we will turn our attention to two rare birds with very restricted ranges; Hoary-throated Spinetail and Rio Branco Antbird. Both are only found in Guyana in gallery forests along the Takatu and Ireng rivers, where recent agricultural changes have seriously reduced the amount of available habitat for both birds. As a result, the spinetail is now classified as endangered, while the antbird is treated as near-threatened. Although the habitat needs of the antbird and spinetail are seemingly slightly different (the antbird prefers taller trees with vine tangles and the spinetail acacia dominated riparian woodlands), they can both be found along a comparatively short stretch of the Ireng River.
To reach suitable habitat, we will either drive or travel by boat to the junction of the Takatu and Ireng rivers. This is likely to take us at least a couple of hours in each direction and we should encounter species such as the restricted-range Olivaceous Saltator as well as White-faced and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Least and Pied-billed Grebes, Capped Heron, Pearl and Plumbeous Kites, Double-striped Thick-knee, Squirrel Cuckoo, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Pale-legged Hornero, Pale-tipped Inezia, Ochre-lored Flatbill, Flavescent Warbler and perhaps Zone-tailed Hawk, Fuscous Flycatcher and Chestnut-vented Conebill en route.
Guyana: Day 5 This morning we will depart very early in order to explore an area of marshlands and dry woodlands in the Karasabai area. Here our prime target will be the endangered, restricted-range Sun Parakeet. A few decades ago, this species was not uncommon across the Guianas. However, huge numbers were caught for the cage bird trade and the area around Karasabai is now believed to be the only place in Guyana where this species can still be found. Consequently, it is now regarded as highly endangered, although small flocks can often be seen here flying overhead.
As well as finding this spectacular psittacid, we should come across a number of other species while engaged in our search. These may well include Red-and-green Macaw, Slaty-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Spectacled Thrush, Orange-backed Troupial and Red-capped Cardinal. This area is isolated and has not been thoroughly explored by birders, so there is always the chance that we could make a noteworthy discovery.
Afterwards, we will head east to the Karanambu Ranch along the Rupununi River, where we will stay for three nights. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Guyana: Days 6-7 Around dawn we will make a special effort to locate one of the oddest-looking members of the cotingids, the restricted-range Capuchinbird. There is a lek close to our lodge and we plan to visit the display area to watch these odd-looking creatures.
Another of our targets whilst staying at Karanambu is the near-threatened, patchily-distributed Bearded Tachuri, a member of the flycatcher family which has declined markedly in recent years as it requires fairly undisturbed savannah grasslands. Another grassland species we will search for, provided road conditions permit, is the Crested Doradito, which also has a spotty distribution much reduced by habitat degradation. We have a good chance of finding both these grassland species.
We also intend to take one or more boat trips on the nearby Rupununi River to look for the splendid, restricted-range Crestless Curassow. This species has not been hunted on the ranch for many years and so these days we usually encounter some on our boat trips.
During our stay at Karanambu, we will also be looking for such species as the restricted-range White-bellied Piculet and the relatively restricted-range Red-legged Tinamou as well as Muscovy Duck, Wood and Maguari Storks, Green Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Striated and Little Blue Herons, Pinnated Bittern, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Western Osprey, Crane Hawk, the beautiful Sunbittern, Grey-cowled Wood Rail, the handsome Pied Plover, Ruddy Pigeon, Burrowing Owl, White-tailed Goldenthroat, Green-backed Trogon, American Pygmy, Green-and-rufous, Green, Amazon and Ringed Kingfishers, Green-tailed Jacamar, Spotted and Swallow-winged Puffbirds, Black Nunbird, Golden-spangled Piculet, Lineated and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, Yellow-crowned Amazon, Bat Falcon, Straight-billed, Striped and Buff-throated Woodcreepers, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Northern Slaty Antshrike, Black-chinned, White-browed and White-bellied Antbirds, Forest Elaenia, Boat-billed and Streaked Flycatchers, Greyish Mourner (easier to hear than see), Blue-backed Manakin, Ashy-headed Greenlet, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Buff-breasted Wren, Brown-chested Martin and Yellow-rumped Cacique.
Uncommon possibilities include Boat-billed Heron, the beautiful Agami Heron, Azure Gallinule, South American Snipe, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Sooty-capped Hermit, Collared Forest Falcon, Plain-crested Elaenia and Cinnamon Attila.
We may also see the odd-looking Giant Anteater during our stay, as this species is not uncommon around the lodge.
In the evening, we will head out into the savannas to look for nightbirds. Common Potoo, Nacunda, Least, Lesser and Band-tailed Nighthawks, Pauraque and White-tailed Nightjar are all rather likely.
A boat trip offers a good chance of seeing Giant Otters as there are several family groups in the area. Both Black and Spectacled Caiman also inhabit the river and several species of monkey, including Guianan Red Howler Monkey, White-faced Saki, Brown-bearded Saki and Squirrel Monkey, can be found in the riverside trees.
Guyana: Day 8 After a final morning’s birding we will leave Karanambu after lunch and travel to Surama Ecolodge on the edge of the rainforests, where we will spend two nights.
Guyana: Day 9 We shall explore the gallery forests and savannas near Surama, hoping to see the restricted-range Cayenne Jay as well as Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Swallow-tailed Kite, Yellow-tufted and Chestnut Woodpeckers, Painted Parakeet, Southern White-fringed Antwren, Guianan Warbling Antbird, Yellow-crowned Elaenia, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Screaming Piha, Tawny-crowned Greenlet and Giant Cowbird. White-collared Swifts might also put in an appearance.
The main focus of our attention will be a superb forest trail along which there is a regularly-used Harpy Eagle nest which is built in a huge emergent tree. The Harpy Eagle does not breed annually, however, owing to its almost unique, longer-than-a-year breeding cycle. So there are long periods when the nest is not occupied. The usual thing is to see a chick in the nest, whether young or well-grown. The adult birds only visit the nest occasionally, bringing food, once the chick can defend itself against most predators. Realistically, the chances of seeing a youngster at the nest are around 50% or less.
We also have our first chances for such restricted-range specialities as the rare Rufous-winged Ground Cuckoo, the shy Grey-winged Trumpeter, the gorgeous Crimson Topaz and the lovely Crimson Fruitcrow.
Other species we may well encounter include the restricted-range Brown-bellied and Rufous-bellied Antwrens as well as Plumbeous Pigeon, Rufous-throated Sapphire, Pale-throated Barbthroat, Great and Paradise Jacamars, Guianan Puffbird, Black-spotted Barbet, Green and Black-necked Aracaris, Channel-billed and White-throated Toucans, Golden-winged Parakeet, Caica and Blue-headed Parrots, Southern Mealy Amazon, Olivaceous, Wedge-billed and Chestnut-rumped Woodcreepers, White-flanked, Long-winged and Grey Antwrens, Dusky-throated, Cinereous and Mouse-colored Antshrikes, Dusky Antbird, Helmeted Pygmy Tyrant, Pompadour Cotinga, Lemon-chested and Buff-cheeked Greenlets, Green Oropendola, Red-rumped Cacique, Silver-beaked Tanager, Black-faced and Blue Dacnises and Purple, Red-legged and Green Honeycreepers.
Cinereous Tinamou, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Scaled Pigeon, Tawny-bellied Screech Owl and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift are also possible, and there is a slim chance for the rare and unusual Fiery-tailed Awlbill.
Guyana: Day 10 This morning we will make an excursion to a Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock lek. This involves a walk from Woowetta village through pristine rainforests rich in both bird and mammal life. We should be able to enjoy watching a number of spectacular males displaying and hear them calling at the lek.
The forest here is rich in forest species, many of which overlap with Surama, and in particular, it is a good area for the marvellous Guianan Red Cotinga, Rufous-breasted Hermit and White-crested Spadebill. Uncommon or rare possibilities in this area include Marbled Wood Quail, Black-throated Trogon, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Cinnamon-rumped Foliage-gleaner, Plain Xenops, Amazonian Antshrike, White-bearded Manakin and Whiskered Myobius.
We may also have time to check out a grassland area that sometimes holds the unusual White-naped Xenopsaris.
We then head northeastwards to Iwokrama River Lodge for an overnight stay. We will stop at an area of white-sand forest known as the Mori Scrub. This highly specialized forest type is important for the restricted-range Black Manakin, Rufous-crowned Elaenia and Yellow-throated Flycatcher, all of which we will look for.
Afterwards, we continue towards the Essequibo River, driving through some excellent forest where we are likely to find Black-headed Parrot and also Chestnut-bellied Seedeater by the roadside. There is even a slim but real chance of seeing a Jaguar in this area, especially late in the day, as there is a healthy population in the area.
Guyana: Day 11 After an early breakfast we take a boat up the Essequibo River to the Turtle Mountain Camp, from where we can walk an excellent trail through tall lowland rainforests to a low hill that gives spectacular views over the vast rainforests in the area and the winding Essequibo that eventually flows into the Atlantic.
The area is good for the lovely White Hawk, Black Caracara, Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, the lovely Blue-and-yellow Macaw, the relatively restricted-range Spotted Antpitta and Black-collared Swallow. More uncommon possibilities include the relatively restricted range Chapman’s Swift, Lilac-tailed Parrotlet, Buff-rumped Foliage-gleaner, Black-faced Antthrush, Wing-barred Piprites and Crested Oropendola. Even the rare Orange-breasted Falcon is seen here with some regularity!
This is an area where the shy Rufous-winged Ground Cuckoo has been regularly seen at army ant swarms, so it gives us our best hope of an encounter! If we find an ant swarm we have a good chance of seeing the striking White-plumed Antbird, the pretty, restricted-range Rufous-throated Antbird, Common Scale-backed Antbird and White-chinned Woodcreeper.
We will transfer later today to the famous Atta Rainforest Lodge for a three nights stay. We have another chance for a Jaguar encounter en route.
Guyana: Days 12-13 Although the forest around Atta Rainforest Lodge is excellent for birds, the major attraction here is a 505-feet (154-metre) long canopy walkway which is only about 800 yards (750m) from the lodge. The walkway has four platforms, the highest of which is over 100ft (30m) above the ground, and these will allow us to get great looks at a range of canopy species, many of which we would struggle to see well from the forest floor.
Amongst the likely highlights are the restricted-range Waved Woodpecker, Blue-cheeked Amazon (a Guianan near-endemic), Spot-tailed and Todd’s Antwrens and Dusky Purpletuft, as well as Ringed and Golden-collared Woodpeckers and Grey Antbird. The walkway is also an excellent place to look for various cotingas and tyrannids, including the wonderful, restricted-range Purple-breasted Cotinga, Spangled Cotingas, the superb, restricted-range Red-and-black Grosbeak and, with a lot of luck, the poorly known, restricted-range Olive-green Tyrannulet. If we are fortunate we will see the splendid but uncommon, restricted-range Blue-backed Tanager and also the elusive Fulvous Shrike-Tanager (the latter is often the sentinel of the canopy mixed-species flocks).
Another area where we will want to spend some time is the clearing around the lodge, as this is one of the best places to see another of Guyana’s specialities, the Crimson Fruitcrow, a species seen here on a regular basis as it often comes to feed in nearby trees.
The clearing is also a reliable site for the magnificent Black Curassow, as there is a family party that has become habituated to people and that regularly passes through the clearing, so we should easily add this special bird to the impressive list of species we are going to accumulate at Atta.
Other good, restricted-range birds at Atta include the handsome Black-faced Hawk, Marail Guan, Guianan Toucanet and Guianan Schiffornis. We also have further chances for both Crimson Topaz and Guianan Red Cotinga.
Two of our major targets will be the poorly known, relatively restricted-range White-winged and Rufous Potoos. Looking for these splendid birds will be one of our major priorities, but the Rufous Potoo can sometimes be missed.
Other species we may well encounter during our stay include the restricted-range Black-throated Antshrike, Ferruginous-backed Antbird and Golden-sided Euphonia as well as Great Tinamou, Spix’s Guan, Black-banded Owl, Band-rumped and Grey-rumped Swifts, Long-tailed and Reddish Hermits, White-chested Emerald, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Black-eared Fairy, Guianan Trogon, Pied Puffbird, Yellow-throated, Cream-colored and Red-necked Woodpeckers, Red-fan and Dusky Parrots, Scarlet Macaw, Guianan Woodcreeper, Ash-winged, Pygmy and Guianan Streaked Antwrens, the big but shy Fasciated Antshrike, Yellow-crowned, Guianan and White-lored Tyrannulets, Yellow-throated Flycatcher, Tiny Tyrant-Manakin, White-crowned and Golden-headed Manakins, Coraya Wren, Trilling Gnatwren, Epaulet Oriole, Flame-crested, Turquoise, Spotted, Bay-headed and Yellow-backed Tanagers, Black-faced Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper and Yellow-green Grosbeak.
We should also encounter some of the more uncommon, or at least harder to see, denizens of Atta, which include Variegated Tinamou, the adorable, restricted-range Tufted Coquette, the elusive, treetop-favouring, relatively restricted-range Racket-tailed Coquette, Black-tailed Trogon, Amazonian Motmot, Yellow-billed and Bronzy Jacamars, Long-tailed, Amazonian Barred and Strong-billed Woodcreepers, Thrush-like Antpitta, the diminutive Short-tailed Pygmy Tyrant, the fairly restricted-range Painted Tody-Flycatcher, Sulphury Flycatcher, the frequently heard but rarely seen Bright-rumped Attila, Pink-throated Becard, White-necked Thrush, the lovely Rose-breasted Chat and Fulvous-crested and Paradise Tanagers.
Quite apart from the profusion of birdlife there is also a good selection of mammals to be seen including Guianan Red Howler Monkey, Weeping Capuchin and Guianan Saki Monkey.
Guyana: Day 14 This morning we transfer to the Annai airstrip and take a flight back to Georgetown for an overnight stay.
After arrival, we will travel eastward from Georgetown to an area of good habitat where we will look for the Guianan-endemic Blood-colored Woodpecker and the handsome but restricted-range and patchily-distributed Rufous Crab Hawk (a species badly affected by the destruction of mangroves). The woodpecker is only known from a narrow coastal strip of the Guianas that runs eastward for around 300 miles (around 500km) from Guyana to French Guiana, so finding this species will be our top priority.
Closer to Georgetown, we will make a short stop at some mudflats where we are likely to find a range of waterbirds, including the spectacular Scarlet Ibis, Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Tricolored Heron, Semipalmated Plover, Hudsonian Whimbrel and perhaps Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelican, Royal Tern and Black Skimmer.
Other birds we should see in the Georgetown region include Plain-bellied Emerald, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, Northern Scrub Flycatcher, Carib Grackle, Northern Waterthrush, American Yellow Warbler and Wing-barred Seedeater. More uncommon possibilities include Little Cuckoo, Grey Kingbird and Bicolored Conebill.
Guyana: Day 15 Depending on flight schedules, we may have time for an early morning visit to the nearby botanical gardens in search of the restricted-range Festive Amazon (although the birds here, which are an isolated population in atypical habitat, may be escapes) and a few more additions such as Greater Ani, Black-capped Donacobius, Violaceous Euphonia and White-lined Tanager. The Guyana section of our Guyana & Suriname birding tour ends this morning at Georgetown. (An airport transfer will be provided.)
Suriname: Day 1 We will take a flight from Georgetown to Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, for an overnight stay. We may arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Suriname: Day 2 During our visit to Paramaribo we will pay a visit to a nice area of woodland where our prime target will be the tiny Arrowhead Piculet, an uncommon Guianan-endemic that is much easier to see in Suriname than anywhere else. We should also find the restricted-range Green-throated Mango and Crimson-hooded Manakin.
We will break our journey to Brownsberg in some savanna habitat not far from the town of Zanderij. The grassy white-sand plains, dotted with contorted dwarf trees and bushes, and the adjacent forest edge harbour the stunning Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Green-tailed Goldenthroat and restricted-range Saffron-crested Tyrant-Manakin. Other species we are likely to encounter in this part of Suriname include Black-faced and Red-shouldered Tanagers. We will also explore a stretch of riparian woodland where, with luck, we will encounter the uncommon, restricted-range Glossy-backed Becard.
Afterwards, we will continue to the Brownsberg and Saramacca River region for a four nights stay (with two nights being spent at the Brownsberg and two nights to the west at the Saramacca River). We will probably arrive in time to start our explorations late this afternoon.
Suriname: Days 3-5 The 14,800-acre (6000-hectare) Brownsberg Nature Park is situated in the district of Brokopondo, about 70 miles (115 km) south of Paramaribo, in the vicinity of the large Van Blommestein reservoir. The mountain is named after the unsuccessful, 19th century, American gold digger called John Brown. Later bauxite was mined in this part of Suriname, but earnings were thin, so in 1969 the Brownsberg Nature Reserve was created. Remains of these ill-fated mining activities are still scattered around the area. Our first lodge is situated on the 1640ft (500m) high Mazaroni plateau, a remnant of an enormous laterite crust, while our second lodge is situated further to the west in the Saramacca River area. The whole region is covered in luxuriant rainforest, low and dense in places, and lofty and rather open in others. Dirt tracks and walking trails offer easy access to the different forest types. Several rivers have eroded their twisted course through the area, creating some impressive waterfalls.
One of the big highlights of our visit to the Brownsberg will be our encounters with the enthralling and often very tame Grey-winged Trumpeters. These much-wanted birds have become extremely docile in this area and our cameras will go in overdrive as these cuties will perform only feet away.
A major speciality that we will be looking for is the impressive, very restricted-range Band-tailed Antshrike (a species restricted to Suriname, French Guyana and adjacent Brazil). The rare White-throated Pewee is only known from a handful of localities in northeastern Amazonia (from Suriname and French Guiana into adjacent Northeast Brazil) but is fairly regularly to be found in this area. We also have a chance for the uncommon, restricted-range Boat-billed Tody-Tyrant.
We will also have another opportunity to encounter the magnificent, localized and uncommon Blue-backed Tanager. This unique and colourful species occurs in low densities in the Guianas and is somewhat erratic, but this region is as good a place as any for finding this cracker. Both White-throated Manakin and the perplexing, restricted-range but lovely White-fronted Manakin favour the berries of the melastome bushes.
Other species we could encounter in this splendid part of Suriname include Slender-billed Kite, Foothill Screech Owl, Crested Owl, Short-tailed Nighthawk, Little Hermit, Green-tailed Goldenthroat, Brown Jacamar, Collared Puffbird, Golden-green and Golden-olive Woodpeckers, Lined Forest Falcon (uncommon), Plain-crowned and McConnell’s Spinetails, Rufous-tailed and Olive-backed Foliage-gleaners, the endearing Spot-backed Antbird, Blackish and Black-headed Antbirds, Double-banded Pygmy Tyrant, Todd’s Sirystes, Sepia-capped, McConnell’s, Dusky-chested and Social Flycatchers, Long-tailed Tyrant, the unique Sharpbill, Black-capped Becard, White-banded Swallow, White-breasted Wood Wren, Musician Wren, Collared Gnatwren, Pectoral Sparrow, White-lored Euphonia, Tropical Parula, Riverbank Warbler and Red-billed Pied Tanager. If we are really in luck we will come across the retiring Zigzag Heron.
Guianan Red Howler Monkeys are quite common here and will greet the dawn with their ear-splitting roars and with luck we will also find the serious-looking Brown Bearded Saki.
Suriname: Day 6 After spending much of the day in the Saramacca River region we will return to Zanderij, where our Suriname birding tour ends in the evening at the Paramaribo International Airport.