Story Idea

GTA has created a selection of story ideas about birding in Guyana. They offer media ideas on the unique ways to present Guyana birding in articles. Check back often to view new additions to the list of stories.

Story Ideas Corner

With weights reaching 18 pounds, a wingspan of more than six feet, and a healthy diet of mammals including sloths and monkeys, the world’s largest eagle is often referred to as the “flying wolf.” Harpy Eagles are becoming increasingly rare in the wild, but Guyana still provides a refuge for this endangered species. In fact, Guyana’s relatively large population of Harpy Eagles caught the attention of National Geographic who filmed the documentary, Flight of the Harpy Eagle in Guyana.

The Red Siskin used to flourish in Venezuela and Columbia, but more than 150 years of trappings greatly diminished its population in the wild. In 2000, researchers from University of Kansas and Smithsonian discovered the Red Siskin in Guyana. A baseline study is now underway to estimate the size of the Red Siskin population. This discovery makes Guyana one of the few places left to have a chance at viewing this endangered bird species.

The Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock could easily be considered the face of Guyana; with the male’s brilliant orange colorings, complete with an attention-grabbing Mohawk, it’s no wonder it graces the covers of so many tourism brochures. But it also makes the cover because of Guyana’s healthy population of the birds. Guyana has several known Cock-of-the-Rock lek sites, giving birders a decent chance of seeing males competing for female attention. And while the brown colorings of the female aren’t as striking, watching the birds (who often build their nests in groups) interact is a rare experience indeed.

The Hoatzin is a strange primitive bird. The Hoatzin’s plump body and reddish-brown feathers may not appear antediluvian, but the bird’s blood-red eyes set in patches of bright blue skin and unruly crest of long feathers are throwbacks to another time. Hoatzins are also born with two prehistoric claws protruding from their wings, a characteristic that lead many to believe that it’s a direct link to the Archaeopteryx, the first known bird. It possesses other distinctive characteristics. It rarely flies, is a folivore and baby hoatzins have the ability to swim to avoid danger. Hoatzins are found along rivers and creeks, and are easily found because they often live in large groups and rarely stray far from their principal locals. Indeed, Guyana’s national bird is such a bizarre species that it was put in its own order, the Opisthocomidae.

Karanambu Ranch, once a bustling cattle ranch in the northern Rupununi Savannah, is now widely known for owner Diane McTurk’s work rehabilitating orphaned Giant River Otters. Her unique passion, which has garnered the attention of the BBC, Wild Things, Jeff Corwin, and National Geographic, offers an interesting backdrop to the plentiful birding opportunities. The nearby woodland patches are home to Spotted Puffbirds, Striped Woodcreepers, and Pale-bellied Tyrant-Manakins, and during the rainy season a wooded swamp fills with Boat-billed Herons and other water birds breeding in this natural nursery. Green Ibis, and several species of nightjars and raptors are also common around the ranch and along the Rupununi River, whose large population of Black Caiman adds an interesting twist to birding.

Dadanawa has a long, rich history that has included stints as both the world’s largest cattle ranch and virtual home base for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, one of television’s first wildlife shows. Today, visitors can combine some cattle rustling with their birding, although naturalists often find themselves too distracted by one of Guyana’s most diverse ecosystems to get around to helping the vaqueros. Located in the savannahs of southern Guyana, Dadanawa cradles the foothills of the Kanuku Mountains, a range that is home to 70 percent of Guyana’s known mammal species and more than 50 percent of Guyana’s avifauna; it has been declared by Conservation International to be one of the few remaining pristine Amazonian habitats. Exploring the ranch and vast surroundings by Land Rover, boat, and foot offers the possibility of seeing nest of Harpy Eagle and Jabiru Storks, roosting Yellow-crowned parrots, Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock leks, and the rare Red Siskin, a population of which was recently found in the forested mountains nearby.

Georgetown is a bustling capital city, but thanks to its location at the convergence of the Demerara River and Atlantic Ocean, the city is filled unique birding habitats. The Guyana Amazon Tropical Birding Society (GATBS), headquartered in Georgetown, has recorded more than 200 species from 39 families in the city. Flycatchers, Tanagers, Hummingbirds, and many migrating species such as Peregrine Falcons and Warblers can be found around the capital, but the true stars are the Blood-colored Woodpecker, which is endemic to the Guiana Shield, and Festive Parrot; both are regularly spotted in the Botanical Gardens. GATBS, through Guyana Feather Friends, offers tours in and around Georgetown where it is not uncommon to see 50 different bird species in three hours.

In 1989, the Government of Guyana gifted one million acres of primary growth rainforest to the world-a nature preserve to be used as a living laboratory for scientific research, eco-tourism, and tropical forest management. Iwokrama is home to more than 1,500 species of flora, 200 mammals, 500 birds, 420 fish, and 150 species of amphibians and reptiles. Drawn by over 500 bird species, birders can be found in boats floating down the great Essequibo River, whacking their way through thick jungle trails, or perching 100 feet in the air on the Canopy Walkway. They marvel at the large population of fruit-eating birds (cracids, cotingas, and parrots) and the chance of spotting a prized species, such as Harpy Eagle, Crimson Topaz, Hoatzin, and Crimson Fruitcrow. Along the way, they have the chance to see some of the world’s largest species: Black Caiman; Capybara (rodent); Arapaima (freshwater fish); Anaconda (snake); Giant Anteater; Giant River Otter; Giant River Turtle; and Jaguar (largest cat in Western Hemisphere).

Legend has it that Kai, a selfless Patamona Amerindian chief, sacrificed himself in an effort to appease the Great Spirit Makonaima and save his tribe from the vengeful Caribs; the marvelous act involved Kai paddling over the point where the Potaro River tumbles 741 feet into the gorge below. Today the site is better known as being the home to the world’s largest-single drop waterfall and Guyana’s prized Kaieteur National Park. The beauty of Kaieteur Falls is found in its impressive size and raw natural surroundings. The unusual conditions created by the falls support a fascinating microenvironment and an abundance of bird life. Included are the White-colored Swifts, or Makonaima Birds, which nest under the vast shield of rock hidden behind the curtain of falling water. At sunset thousands of swifts perform an acrobatic display of feeding before disappearing into the mysterious caves behind the falls-a scene beautifully captured in Werner Herzog’s Time magazine-award winning documentary The White Diamond. The beautiful but elusive Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock lingers around the waters of Kaieteur Falls too.

Amerindians, Guyana’s indigenous people, first settled in the area some 11,000 years ago. Today, there are nine Amerindian tribes in Guyana, and while Western influences are evident they haven’t overshadowed traditional Amerindian customs and folklore. By building eco-lodges in their villages and guiding birding tours, many Amerindian communities have recently found new ways of benefiting from their surroundings. Amerindian guides are incredibly in tune with nature and see and hear the jungle in a way that’s impossible for most Westerners. Their innate sense of direction will lead you through miles of unmapped jungle in search of the Red Siskin, Harpy Eagle or Cock of the Rock. Their eyes will likely be the first to discern the Amazon Umbrella Bird or Crimson Fruitcrow, and if you want to see macaws, hummingbirds, raptors, tanagers, or kingfishers, it will be their knowledge guiding you to the right area-and their stories and legends keeping you entertained along the way.

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