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Guyana's Savanna

Sunday, January 4, 2009

One of the things I hadn't expected to see in Guyana was grassland. I guess I thought it would all be Amazonian rainforest. I was stunned by the visual similarities between Guyana and South Africa, which I visited in 1994, when I was still shooting film. I couldn't get my head around Guyana being in South America when I saw vistas like these.
Guyana's savannas are natural, formed where the soil is too thin to support trees. Lightning helps maintain them. We had but a taste of the unique life these savannas support, so very different from the tall forest flora and fauna. There were dragonflies, for one thing, beautiful ones, and one blue one that must be among the smallest true dragonflies on the planet--less than an inch in total length.As a naturalist, it was a thrill to me to realize that I was looking at a life form that might be undescribed; endemic; that would set every nerve to tingling in my friends who study the Odonata--and to have no idea what I was looking at. I felt like a musicologist who had stumbled on a remote tribe who'd made instruments out of monkey skulls and shells, listening to music none of his colleagues had been privileged to hear.Who are you, elfin one? Does it matter to you?

The mystery continued in the plant kingdom. No idea what this is, even what family it occupies.
This one, I think, is in the pea family. Had to get down on my knees to see if it had a scent. Not at the moment.
This lovely thing was reminiscent of a Gaura. It also reminded me of Salvia greggii, or Autumn Sage, one of my favorite hummingbird flowers. Even the bee looked exotic.
This one, I know, is a melastome, a large tropical family easily identified by the parallel veins in their leaves, and the quilted look made by the cross-veins. I've seen a similar flower grown as a tropical ornamental in San Francisco.
Pull back, and see the landscape--are we in Africa?
A fork-tailed flycatcher says not. East coast birders will recognize it as a strangely frequent fall vagrant, which inexplicably flies up from South America, showing up along the coast from NJ to MA, just when it might freeze to death.
It was good to see this lovely bird at home. It's reminiscent of our scissor-tailed flycatcher, with none of the paradise pink on underwing and flank. Like a kingbird in a tux.
Near the airstrip where we landed, a pair of double-striped thick-knees stalked warily. Enormous relatives of plovers, they have a huge yellow eye with a heavy, weary-looking lid.
Savanna being hard to find in the Amazon basin, sparrows are hard to find. This plain little creature is the grassland sparrow.
It sits in a pepper tree and voices a buzzy song that might have been a Savannah sparrow's. We found all these treasures while ostensibly hunting for an endemic, a skulky little thing of wet open marshes. It's a flycatcher ally called the bearded tachuri. Tell someone you're hunting for a bearded tachuri and see what they think it might be. I somehow snagged a photo before he dove back down into the grass. I love getting photos, any images at all, of weird endemic life birds. But the nice thing about being casual about one's life list is that it's fine with you if you don't see the bearded tachuri. For me, it's all about enjoying the ride. And having probably the only blog on the Internet with "bearded tachuri" in the tagline. Heh. Ooh, that sounds like hubris. I'm sure there are other bloggers writing about tachuris. Somewhere.
In the marsh, we scared up a trio of muscovy ducks--the slender, wild progenitors of the pot-bellied, red-faced, hissing ogres we've made of them. I will say this--even fat Muscovy ducks retain their ability to fly, which is more than I can say for Pekins. Domestic Muscovy duck--photo lifted from Muscovies, in Guyana. It was so good to see them as they were meant to be.
At our feet, an elfin forest of sedges and grasses. I wondered how many decades--perhaps even centuries--old these tiny "trees" might be, their trunks built up with each season's growth.
And realized that beneath my feet, termites dwelt in a teeming Gotham, making covered tunnels from one pile of horse dung to the next.
In this metropolis of insects, there is one bad actor--one enormous, all-powerful villain, perhaps the strangest animal that walks the earth, one I had never dared dream I'd see in the wild. We will meet him tomorrow. (Picture Mr. Burns, rubbing his thin white hands together).

I do enjoy cobbling a cheesy serial out of my little travelogue. Cackle!

ZICK ALERT: Wren at The Nature Blog Network just posted an interview with moi at the Nature Blog Network Blog. If only for a couple of highly cute pictures of Chet Baker, and some thoughts on why we blog and what might come of it, please go check it out!


Oh, you're so funny, once again leaving us scratching our heads in wonder... I so admire your curiosity - at least you know what to look a scent from a pretty purple pea plant.

Wow, Julie, this savannah could also pass for parts of the Serengeti, although I think the mountains are a bit too high. It's so cool to see the seemingly endless array of species you guys display. I wonder if your hosts realize just how valuable your and Bill's blog posts are. They really are great advertisements for these locales...

I just finished watching the last installment of the Planet Earth series this afternoon. Your pictures from Guyana remind me of some of the scenes Planet Earth filmed in Africa. That series and your blog posts all give me a much greater appreciation of our natural world.
P.S. to anyone who hasn't seen the Planet Earth series, please try to see all of them--it's worth your time to see birds, wildlife and nature many of us will never get the chance to experience.

I love this post - overflowing with endemic goodies, elf-antine joy, mystery, intrigue and yes Africa, Africa, Africa (well the Rift Valley anyway). If there is a heaven on earth - for me it that Africa, golden grass, shady acacias and a lilac-breasted roller tweedling on the limb. Guyana just jumped a few more notches on the top ten list of places to travel! Pump that trip for all its worth - so far its gold, gold, gold.

Scorpions, ransacking raccoons and now what..... ???? :c) Loving it, every minute of it!

It's like going to the Saturday matinee to see the latest episode in the cliff hanger.
Gasp, does Hop-a-long really get smashed by the train?
Oh, how is he going to get out of this one?

The show was 010 cents and popcorn a nickle.

So, Rondeau, some things in life ARE free. Like this gripping travelogue. Although I occasionally dream how lovely it would be if everyone who reads it would send me a dime a day.

Is that bad of me?

"And realized that beneath my feet, termites dwelt in a teeming Gotham, making covered tunnels from one pile of horse dung to the next."

I don't know which knocks me out more, your writing or your artwork. No matter the medium, you always paint a vivid picture.

By the way, I ran into a man with a Boston yesterday outside Starbucks, and asked permission to say hello to his black and white boy (in a lovely winter coat). Permission granted, I told him (the dog) how fine he was, caressed his head and wiggling bod, and asked if he smelled the kitties. He snorted, which I took as a yes. I also told his Daddeh about you, Chet, and your blog. Viral marketing at its best.

Sometimes I see muscovy ducks on a restaurant menu in town and I wonder if they come from our local city pond, which is full of the beasts!

It's great to go along on your travels, kiddo.

Julie, wow! Fantastic pictures and descriptions. It looks like you were in Guyana in early 2009, and I was wondering how the economic crisis has impacted the country and its tourism? I am a pretty inexperienced traveler but this pristine country is really gripping me and I am thinking of spending around 10 solo days there over thanksgiving. There is surprisingly little info it seems out there about this hidden gem. Any tips?!

Thanks for the post its a pleasure reading.

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