A GUYANA ADVENTURE - HARPY EAGLES & CAIMAN HOUSE (PART 4)
The harpy eagle
We were on a bird hunt. After an adventurous couple of days travelling further into Guyana, our journey continued with a boat ride up the Burro Burro River from Surama into the Iwokrama Reserve for a chance to spot one of the rarest birds in the world: the harpy eagle.
Travelling by boat was a fantastic alternative to driving or flying. I would recommend it to any adventurous traveller who wants to feel completely immersed in the jungle, with tropical birds flying overhead, Caiman creeping on the water’s edge and having to dodge rogue branches Mario-Kart style whilst the boat cruises along.
Back on ‘terra ferma’, we hiked through the rainforest before stopping next to a huge tree when Garey whispered: “Can you hear it?” Sure enough, through the tune of the rainforest, we could hear the distinct cry of the harpy eagle. Garey urged us forward and started pointing at a branch above our heads. I directed my binoculars upwards and two black beady eyes starred back at me through the lens. Our reward of the day and a moment I will remember for ever: a baby harpy eagle, still holding onto its fluffy white newborn coat.
Counted amongst one of the rarest bird sightings in the world, the harpy eagle is one of Guyana’s fiercest predators that feasts on sloths, monkeys and even ocelots (a type of small feline). The eagle attracts hundreds of eager twitchers every year who travel to Guyana with the hope of spotting this elusive bird. And there we were, standing just below its nest.
After admiring the stunning winged creature, it was time for us to climb into our little vessel and head back to Surama for our last meal at the lodge before continuing our journey south to our next destination: Caiman House and Yupukari.
Yupukari, Caiman House and the Caiman Project
We had heard a lot of stories about Caiman House and were excited to get there to explore it for ourselves. Located in the indigenous village of Yupukari sandwiched between the Kanuku and Pakaraima mountain ranges in the midst of the Essequibo and Amazon basins, Caiman House is a haven for conservationists. The guest house was built in 2007 to accommodate scientists, and eventually travellers, visiting the area to work on projects aimed at understanding and preserving local wildlife such as caiman, turtles and otters.
Getting there involved a short drive from Surama through the village of Annai before hopping onto a boat that would sail down the Rupununi River all the way to Caiman House.
The journey usually takes around three hours and as we floated down the river, Garey pointed out the different tropical birds flying above our heads whilst having a giggle at our improvised "sun-hats" to keep out the warm afternoon sun. During the journey, we spotted Savannah hawks, Amazon kingfishers, ospreys, green ibis, Cocoi herons as well as electric eels, turles and many fearsome-looking black caiman. Before long, the sun started to gently set over the water.
Our trip did take a slight unexpected turn when the captain had to pull off the river and announce that due to the low levels of the water, the boat was not travelling as fast as it should and our journey would be extended by a couple of hours. An unforeseen circumstance that those travelling in Guyana have to be prepared for. Soon after, and fortified by a yummy biscuit and a strong rum punch, and only mildly terrified by Garey pointing out the giant caiman footprints by our feet, we were ready to go again.
Luckily, the project leaders from Caiman House came to meet us to give us a demonstration of the work they are doing with caiman in the area. This involves capturing and tagging the animals to conduct detailed studies of the species, developing campaigns to resolve caiman / human conflicts and to further understand the history and biology of the creatures.
After a brief explanation of the project, which entailed the team capturing a caiman and pulling it onto a sand bank to take measurements and tag the animal, we continued on our way to Yupukari, shining our torches into the dark to spot the refelective caiman eyes staring back at us. By the time we arrived, we had counted over 50 pairs of eyes!
We received a warm welcome upon arrival at the village and dined on fresh fish from the river with one of Yupukari’s youngest former chiefs. As we ate our dinner, he explained that a maximum of 500 visitors per year were allowed to stay in the village - a restriction imposed by the village council as a means of controlling tourism in the area to avoid disturbing the community. Having travelled to other parts of the world where these kind of restrictions have not been put into place, I understood the importance of these rules for the village and was glad to hear about the carefully planned tourism managment.
He also explained that money made from the guest house goes towards funding local projects including a library for children, the caiman project and an otter conservation project.
The guest house is situated in the heart of the village and offers a window into the lives of the villagers living in this remote village in the south of Guyana. The guest house is basic but offers clean and comfortable beds, private showers and a couple of communal areas to relax in.
We drifted off to sleep that night with our heads filled with stories of the mighty black caiman.
For more information on Guyana as a tourism destination, please visit https://www.guyanatourism.com/.
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Part one of our Guyana adventure (Kaieteur Falls) is published here.
Part two of our Guyana adventure (Atta Rainforest) is published here.
Part three of our Guyana adventure (Surama) is published here.
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