“Guyana — isn’t that where all those people drank Kool-Aid at Jonestown? Why would you want to go there?”

“New birds, new habitat, new country, that’s why!”

Guyana is a very small country located on the northern bump or eastern shoulder of South America. Very close to the equator, this small country that used to be called British Guiana is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the north, Venezuela on the west, Brazil on the south and Suriname (Old Dutch Guiana) on the east.

British Guiana became Guyana in 1966 when it was granted political independence from Great Britain. An English-speaking nation, this fascinating country is home to more than 800 species of birds, 120 of which are endemics and can only be found in Guyana.

A country of rivers, Guyana boasts three main rivers — the Demerara, the Berbice and the Essequibo — and many smaller ones, which provide more than 600 miles of access to inland Guyana. A good deal of our birding and much of our transportation from one lodge to another was done on one of these magical rivers. We started in the capital city of Georgetown by visiting the Botanical Gardens. Where there are flowers and insects, there are birds, and we were not disappointed as we viewed parrot, macaw, and flycatcher and tanager species.

Next we flew inland to the vast savannahs. Low, flat and covered with grasses and low shrubs, this area also had patches of dry forest. We were staying at Diane McTurk’s Karanambu Ranch. Diane is famous for rehabilitating giant river otters, though at the time we were there no otters needed care. The ranch was a great base for bird watching and other natural history activities. We could have seen 500 bird species there, but with only three days our total was closer to 120.

One memorable night we traveled up river to an area where the giant Victoria Amazonica water lilies floated. We rafted up in our Jon boats, were served cocktails and as the sun went down the nightjars (lesser and band-tailed) flew around the boats and the water lilies opened. Speeding down the river after dark to return to the lodge was a bit nerve-wracking, but the experience was well worth it. Another day, while watching a giant anteater lope across the savannah, we had great views of several raptors including the white-tailed and savannah hawks.

We left the Karanmbu and traveled by river to an Amerindian lodge, also in the savannah, but ringed by forest-covered mountains. Birding there was good and our favorites were great potoo and Spix guans.

Next we traveled by road and boat to the unbelievable Iwokrama Reserve, where we stayed at their field station. Iwokrama is an incredible example to the world of how to combine conservation and sustainable and equitable use of a tropical rainforest. The reserve is close to 1 million acres in size and is home to the largest fresh water fish, the largest otter, the largest river turtle as well as the largest eagle, the harpy eagle. Half of those million acres are retained as a wilderness preserve.

Iwokrama Reserve strives to combine economic and social benefits from forest use for indigenous people. Their goal is to “combine traditional knowledge, science and business to develop ‘green,’ socially responsible and sustainable forest products and services.”

We stayed in cabins built of local timber and up on stilts next to the Essequibo River. The birding by land and river was great. One of my favorite birds in this area was the capuchinbird. A chestnut-colored bird about two feet tall, the capuchinbird is found in groups fairly high up in the trees near the river. They make a weird call that sounds like a cross between a cow and a calf.

The total number of bird species seen during our trip was 278 and we heard another 19. My favorite bird was a rufous-winged ground-cuckoo, which is a huge ground-dwelling cuckoo with a big red eye, a shaggy crest and a long reddish brown tail that resembles that of a pheasant more than a cuckoo.

Bird Sightings

Valentine’s Day is past, but Myron Garfinkle had an unusual Valentine. He looked out his window at Scrubby Neck on Feb. 14 and spotted what he thought was a large red-tailed hawk. When he trained his binoculars on the hawk, he discovered that it was not one but two red-tails and they were celebrating Valentine’s Day by making love. Yes, spring has sprung and birds are beginning their breeding activities.

Roy Riley reported the first red-winged blackbird of the season at his feeder off Watcha Path in Edgartown at 3 p.m. Feb. 16.

Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks continue to cruise around the Island. Dale Carter found a carcass of either a sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk next to her Chappaquiddick house on Feb. 12.

Hatsie Potter called to report that a juvenile Cooper’s hawk has been terrorizing the Pimpneymouse Farm barnyard. Last week the hawk did in four guinea hens. On the brighter side, the Potters have a barn owl back in residence. This is the first since the cold winter of 2005. The owl has been in and around the box since Feb. 9.

Laurie Walker and Katherine Colon birded Squibnocket and Blacksmith Valley in Chilmark on Feb. 16 and 19. Their best birds were Eastern bluebirds, horned grebes, purple sandpipers, hermit thrush (seen on Abel’s Hill) and ruddy ducks. They also spotted northern harriers, sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks.

Pansan Beattie called in to report from the edge of the state forest. She has a great feeder set up and has good numbers of downy and red-bellied woodpeckers as well as hairy woodpeckers and both species of nuthatches.

We had a call from Roy Riley that he spotted a blue-winged warbler at his feeder. This is very unlikely and so we need a photo and more details. Thanks.

Please keep the bird news coming in by calling 508-627-4922 and leaving your reports.