Day 6: Hunters and the hunted

Wednesday, 11th March 2020

We wanted to be on the Burro-Borro River before sunrise, but it has far too little water and so we have to make our way on foot into the forest. Wearing long trousers, full-length sleeves and a hat, we’re protected from mosquitos and the sun.

John David is our young guide this time. Suddenly he motions us to be quiet: there in the undergrowth is the Rufous-winged Ground Cuckoo on the hunt for insects. Luke is extremely excited and calls this observation the bird enthusiast’s ‘Holy Grail’, to ensure we really understand what’s happening. This brown bird with a long tail is very shy and there are bird watchers who visit Guyana just to see this creature. And we lucky people get to see it right next to us in the bushes and can observe it for almost an hour. As we continue, something suddenly flies out in front of us – a grey tinamou – and returns immediately to hide in the forest. 80 metres further on we hear rustling noises, scratching, wings beating. John rushes into the forest and finds the grey tinamou lying on the ground. Heavily injured, it quickly dies. Obviously, we’ve disturbed a bird of prey on the hunt. We continue walking and hide a camera close by, in the hope the hunter will soon perhaps return to its prey? And it does: when we fetch the camera we discover a young grey-bellied goshawk that shortly beforehand had been clutching the tinamou in its claws. Downer: the camera didn’t film the action.

We cross a bridge over a small, deep river bed, completely devoid of water. Everything is now very dry, but the rainy season will fill it with water and also flood parts of the forest. John digs a finger-long catfish out of the riverbed, pours water over it, to reactivate it. And whoosh! It jumps like a flash from the bridge and buries itself into the mud again.

The harpy

Near to a tall fruit-bearing palm tree, we are witnesses of an almost unbelievable scene. A small monkey crawls up the trunk, defends the tree with teeth bared to frighten off fellow monkeys and speedily stuffs itself with fruit after reaching the top. Suddenly we hear calls of alarm and the monkey takes a frightening dive downwards and disappears - a huge shadow flies over our heads. I’m speechless at first and try to grasp the situation, when John points up to one of the tall trees again. And yes, up there sits the harpy, one of the world’s largest birds of prey, watching us from above. What a sight!

Village of 300 people

After our tour of the forest, we visit the village of Surama with a population of about 300 Makushis. We take a look at artisan handicrafts (baskets, bows, jewelry) made by the inhabitants und enter our names in the primary-school guest book. We’re very surprised when after my question whether the children know where Germany is, a globe is quickly found and the country pointed out within seconds.

Research in the dark: Caiman-hunting

In the middle of the big wide savannah stands the caiman house and we arrive after a two-hour drive. Dusk is falling as we make our way to the river to watch a black caiman being caught and tagged. An extremely exciting undertaking, but after a 20-minute, unsuccessful boat ride in the black of night, I’m almost convinced that tonight the caimans are too clever to let themselves be caught and checked again. Nevertheless a catch is made – a slim, probably very hungry, male caiman measuring 1.89 cm and weighing 16 kilos has been caught in the noose.

He’s chipped, tagged and then returned into the water. Aim of the operation is to learn more about the animals’ lives and territory fidelity, as they pose a threat to humans during flooding in the rain season. For this reason, it’s important to understand more about their distribution and behaviour.