Saturday, March 19, 2011

Iwokrama Forest

Driving north from the Rupununi savanna, we were soon in a chain of low foothills. Passing through these, we entered the lowland rainforest again, this time entering the million or so acres of land that make up the Iwokrama Forest reserve. This is a spectacular reserve, crammed with everything you see on TV when they show you rainforest! Iwokrama is probably the best place in the world to see Jaguars in the wild - something we didn't manage on our whistle-stop familiarisation tour, but something I hope to see if I can get back there with a group. Our first stop was at the Atta Rainforest Lodge, a fabulous little place set in a forest clearing with Black Curassows wandering around on the lawn! Having checked into our rooms and got a few things sorted, we headed for the canopy walkway, a spectacular set of gantries and platforms that take you 90' up into the rainforest canopy for fabulous views and some good birding. It was dark by the time we got back to the lodge, but we'd all had plenty of rum and beers so no-one worried too much about what might be lurking out there as we found our way back along the trail!

Next morning saw us heading for the nearby main road to get a clear view of the trees and all the birds that were waking to a new dawn. Macaws, toucans and plenty of tanagers bustled everywhere we looked and an amazing purple and white Pompadour Cotinga added to the burgeoning list of cotingas we had been building. Guianan Toucanet, Long-tailed Tyrant, Black-eared Fairy, White-tailed Trogon, Black-necked Aracari, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Purple-throated Fruitcrow - the birds just kept coming. I took a short walk into the rainforest edge by the lodge at one point too and was soon greeted by a nice selection of antbirds, including Rufous-bellied and White-flanked Antwrens and a singing Guianan Warbling Antbird. We continued our journey north to the Iwokrama field station and a two-day stay at the river lodge. This was pretty luxurious we reckoned and a great place to feel like we were getting back to civilization (not necessarily a good thing!). The drive took us right through Iwokrama Forest and we made a good number of birding stops on the way. One of our best finds was a party of 11 Grey-winged Trumpeters feeding along the edge of the road. The river lodge gave us yet more spectacular birding in prime rainforest habitats, as well as some nice riverine habitats. Before heading back towards the coast, we visited the local butterfly farm. These farms are initiatives set up to provide employment for local people, whilst ensuring that the butterflies are not collected from the wild. Unfortunately, though intentions are good, certainly the latter objective is not met as it was clear from the guided tour we had that the butterflies are replenished regularly from the wild when disease or parasite problems cause the farm to fail. Given that the butterflies are only being farmed to supply similar facilities in the Western world (which are clearly themselves not sell-sustaining) it doesn't seem to me to be the best way to be treating these amazing creatures...

Anyway, here's some photos from Iwokrama..

Black Spider Monkeys are common in Iwokrama and we saw several troups during our stay. Like most wild monkeys, they're wary of Humans (can say I blame them!) so it's tough to get good, close pictures of them.

Another Black Spider Monkey gives us the eye - nice toupe!

The main route through Iwokrama Forest is the same dirt road to the coast that we had been travelling along on and off since we left Lethem.

Monkeys seem to be relatively common in Iwokrama and we were soon seeing several different species - this one is a Weeping Capuchin, which was busy having a light lunch of cecropia fruits.

Atta Rainforest Lodge proved to be a great place to see the impressive Black Currasow. These birds are about the size of a female Wild Turkey and, though they are truly wild birds, they seem to become habituated to humans fairly readily - as long as they're not shot for dinner!

Our main reason for visiting Atta Rainforest Lodge was to see the cleverly-designed canopy walkway that they have there. The walkway sits 90 feet up in the forest canopy and is designed such that not a single screw, bolt or nail is put into a tree to keep it in place. It relies entirely on cross-supports that pull against each other and hold it all in place. Apparently, the whole structure is checked every six months to allow for any growth in the tree girth and prevent it from cutting into the trunks. Oh and the incentive to go out there? That red cool box you can see on the platform has the beers in it!!

The ever-intrepid Megan strides out along the swaying walkway!

You can't have a good trip without a good guide and our main man on this trip was Wally Prince - a real gem, nice guy, great birder!

More of our group - yes, we all made it across to the cool box...

...and settled down to watch the sun set while the parrots flew off to their night roosts - awesome!

At Iwokrama River Lodge, the wide, open lawns beside the river have become favourite feeding sites for the wonderful little Pied Lapwings that breed on sandbars in the rivers throughout the country.

Another bird attracted to easy pickings around the lodge - Yellow-headed Caracara.

A boat trip to a bar across the river (yes, a bar with beers, not a sandbar!) gave us an opportunity to look for night wildlife on the way back. A Blackish Nightjar was our birding prize, but closer encounters were had of a number of reptiles and amphibians, including Schneider's Dwarf Caiman. Above is an eyeball to eyeball view of a Black Caiman that we found lurking at the edge of the river.

Most mornings started relatively cool, with whisps of mist drifting through the trees as the day slowly warmed after dawn.

If nothing else, the butterfly farm gave us a chance to photograph some of the flighty butterflies we had seen but not photographed in the murky depths of the rainforest. This is one of the Owl Butterflies - Caligo idomeneus.

Perhaps strangely from this shot, this blue, black and white butterfly is called a Red Cracker - but it is actually red underneath.

Our plane awaits! Having spent many years at the whim of international airline companies and international airports, it is pretty nice to be able to drive up to your plane, load your own bag on (knowing it hasn't been treated like a piece of junk by a couldn't-care-less baggage handler) and take off just as soon as your settled in and comfy!

Next post - the AWESOME Kaieteur Falls!!