Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Guyana's Emerald Forest

With over 80% of its rainforest intact, Guyana holds splendid riches for travelers who wish to explore those towering forests. After first journeying there on a "fam" tour, I return as soon as possible for more in-depth scouting with Alan and our friends, Noel Snyder and Jim Shiflett.

With the Brazilian Shield, the ancient Guianan Shield forms the primeval geological heart of South America. There we find the iconic Neotropical birds––toucans, macaws, parrots, cotingas, antbirds, cocks-of-the-rock, hummingbirds.

Let's look at just one spot: Atta Rainforest Lodge, deep in the Iwokrama Forest. The Iwokrama's protected lowland tropical rainforest is renowned for its spectacular biodiversity. Jaguars roam the forest by-ways, and monkeys chitter overhead. Giant River Otters roll in the small stream channels, beneath the slender, leafy perches of brilliant Green-tailed Jacamars and Crimson Topaz hummingbirds.

Green-tailed Jacamar (Photo by Narca)

By day the four of us roam the forest trails with our local guides, Ron Allicock and Archer, both Macushi Indians, and both deeply attuned to every nuance of this wilderness. Huge Red-necked Woodpeckers (the cousin of our Ivory-bill) are abundant and conspicuous. We find one nest, and Noel stations himself nearby to photograph this spectacular woodpecker as it makes forays to and from the nest cavity.

Red-necked Woodpecker at nest in a termite-shrouded tree
(Photo by Noel Snyder)

Soon we become aware of antbird activity and of busy columns of army ants. Then we find the advancing front of this army, as well as a vantage point for watching the phenomenon. First a trickle of scouts reaches the new region, and every small animal in the vicinity begins to flee. Soon the main army arrives, and the leaf litter boils with literally tens of thousands of foraging ants.

Birds are quick to snap up an easy meal among the fleeing insects. Antbirds and Gray-winged Trumpeters patrol the lower regions; woodcreepers grab insects from a few feet higher up. Even insects that fly all the way into the canopy may find toucans or other birds hungry for a meal. I once watched a Barred Forest Falcon in Belize, as it perched a few feet off the ground, intent on finding a meal in the midst of the commotion.

Gray-winged Trumpeter (Photo by Alan Craig)

Standing (carefully!) at the advancing front of an army ant swarm is a memorable, remarkable experience of Rainforest––and an experience that Guyana regularly grants to visitors. I look forward to returning in November with our Naturalist Journeys group. (You're invited!)

Ron Allicock, our local Guyana guide
(Photo by Noel Snyder)


  1. Sounds like a wonderful place. Thanks for sharing this information. I think I will spend some time researching this area for a possible trip.

  2. It is wonderful, Alan! So is its next-door neighbor, Suriname. (Although we don't currently have a trip to that country, I'm considering it.) We'll probably run a tour to Guyana again next year as well. Guyana is a more difficult country for independent travelers, because rental cars are few and can only be driven in the capitol city. Suriname is easier in that respect.