Waking up at unearthly small hours of the morning and patiently keeping the head cocked up for hours towards the high canopies, eyes glued to the binoculars, are the biggest virtues of a true birder. Fortunately, in Guyana, there is no such rite of passage. The great Amazonian rainforest cover, vast network of rivers and miles of grasslands offer an opportunity to see exotic birds at any time in the day, and the year. After all, the country has over 900 species that are found all over the South American nation. Despite this, the Guyana is often overlooked as a top birding spot of the world. For those who know about its great treasures, it is a dream destination.
Guyana is one of the most exciting destinations for bird watching, giving serious and beginner level birders ample opportunities to spot little known or popular feathered friends like the Sun Parakeet, Rio Branco Antbird, Guianan Cock-of-the-rock, Scarlet Ibis, Guianan Red Cotinga, Capuchinbird, Crimson Fruitcrow, Grey-winged Trumpeter, Red Siskin and Harpy Eagle.
Best season for birding
May to early August and late December to January are the wettest months in Guyana. Torrential rains make access to deep interiors difficult. For birders, this is the time when narrow waterways become paths to reach far-flung nests via slim boats. Naturally, the balance dryer season is easy to get around in. Ornithological highlights can be found all over Guyana and many birding groups visit the nation during these months.
Where to go for bird sighting in Guyana
The Guianan topography can be split into four regions to help chalk out plans, depending on what kind of birds you want to see. The areas are low coastal plains, high forests, hilly sand and clay areas, and savannah in the heart of the country. Guyana is brimming with varied natural landscapes with dense rainforests, water bodies and grasslands for a variety of birds to find the apt habitation for themselves. The great part of birding in Guyana is that you have easy access to birding spots in almost all parts of the country, starting with the capital, Georgetown. Here are the top five birding locations of the country.
- Botanical Gardens, Georgetown: Out of Guyana’s 900-plus species of birds, more than 180 from 39 different families can be found in the city else. One has to head to the Botanical Gardens in the heart of Georgetown to see the neotropical bird species like Great Horned Owl, Wing-barred Seedeater, Green Ibis, Golden-spangled Piculet, White-bellied Piculet, Black-crested Antshrike and Spotted Tody-Flycatcher. It is recommended to hire a local birding guide so he can help you spot avian wonders like the Great, Snowy and Cattle Egret along with Pinnated Bittern, Black-capped Donacobius, Wattled Jacana, Tri-Colored and Little Blue Heron, and Black-crowned Night. There are several raptors that can be spotted here, including Peregrine Falcon, Snail and Gray Kite and Yellow-headed Caracara. Since the Demerara River flows through the city to spill into the sea, you can a number of species along its age – a day trip is best suited for this.
- Mahaica River: This location is less than an hour’s drive from the capital Georgetown. Small boats are used to navigate the tan coloured river, which wends through mangroves, rainforest and eventually the savannah. The area has recorded an impressive 150 species, headlined by the national bird, Hoatzin. The list includes others like the Black-capped Donacobius, Wing-barred Seedeater, Black Hawk-Eagle, Point-tailed Palmcreeper, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Moriche Oriole, Boat-billed Heron, Pied Water-Tyrant, Rufous Crab-Hawk, Tropical Kingbird, Silver-backed Antbird, and Great Black-Hawk.
Note: The national bird: Hoatzin
Also known as the Canje pheasant, the Hoatzin is the national bird of Guyana. The fowl like large bird with striking colours is found mainly in swamps and mangroves of the Amazon, where fruits and leaves are in plenty. River trips are usually the best way to see this bird, which evokes a lot of interest from birders.
- Abary River: Further along the Mahaica River, birders flock to another veritable destination called the Abary River. Here, birders can walk the mangrove forest to spot endemic and coastal species, like the Blood-coloured Woodpecker, White-bellied and White-barred Piculet, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, Guianan Gnatcatcher, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Great-billed Seed-Finch, Long-winged Harrier and Bicolored Conebill. The endangered Rufous Crab-Hawks also roam this region.
- Iwokrama Rainforest Reserve and around: The Iwokrama rainforest lies at the heart of the nation, and is dotted with atmospheric eco-lodges for access to the thick forests. Some of these are the Atta Rainforest Lodge, Surama Eco village and the Iwokrama River Lodge. The Atta Lodge features a Canopy Walk that runs 100 feet above the ground, neck to neck, with the tall rainforest. The swinging bridges end on four stable platforms from where you can see a range of birds – an impressive list of almost 500 species. Black Faced Hawk, Crestless curassow, Black curassow, Toucans, Blue cheeked Amazon parrot, Black throated Antshrike, Olive green tyrannulet, Dusky purpletuft, Crimson Fruitcrow, Guianan cock-of-the-rock and the Harpy eagle are some of the birds that will give you audience here.
- Rupununi Savannah – The avian diversity of the savannah is palpable. One would think that all the wonders in the birding world are homed in the rainforests, but there are plenty in the grasslands as well.
Top Tip: Canopy Walkway
There is no better way to see birds in their natural habitat than at eye level. So if they have occupied treetops and high canopies, the only way to get close is on the canopy walkway at Atta Lodge. The walkway runs 100 feet above the ground, neck to neck, with the tall rainforest in North Rupununi. The swinging bridges end on four stable platforms from where you can see a range of birds. Early evenings and mornings are the best times to go here. The walkway lies on the premises of Atta Lodge (about 1km) and can be accessed via easy steps. Enroute you can see native trees, birds, other small animals, and if lucky, even a sloth bear that frequently occupies trees close to the lodge.
Birding societies and organisations in the country
The best way to plan a birding trip to Guyana is by signing up for the birding tours organised by experts. They are familiar with on-ground essentials of the trip that you may not be able to figure out remotely – for example, there is little connectivity in the interiors, so making bookings is a challenge. Use seasoned companies like Wilderness Explorers, Wings Birding Tours, Rupununi Trails and South Rupununi Conservation Society to ensure that you are shown the most breathtaking parts of the country.
For a tryst with rare birds and their habitats, Guyana is one of the best, yet unexplored regions of the world. The environmental programmes and conservation work by local communities is sure to make it one of the top birding destinations for enthusiasts.