Saturday, February 26, 2011

Diane McTurk & Her Orphaned Giant River Otters

Giant waterlilies, old jeeps, and terrific birding aside, the heart and soul of Karanambu is Diane McTurk.  And, her heart and soul belong to her beloved Giant River Otters.

Diane (pronounced  DEE-ann) spent her childhood at Karanambu, the cattle ranch established by her father, Tiny McTurk.  As she related, she "ran naked in paradise".  Like most British Colonial children of the time, she was sent to school in England.  In the mid-1970s, she returned to Guyana full-time, took over Karanambu with the intent to earn enough money to keep the ranch operational by inviting tourists to come stay. 

Shortly after, Diane began rescuing, raising and rehabilitating orphaned otters.  Some have been released into their wild river habitat.  The ones that were not have found excellent homes in zoos in the US and elsewhere.

These are the two 1 year olds, currently in residence.  Visit Andrea & Salvadore's blog (link below) to read about the raising of these two cuties.

The Giant River Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis)  is found only in the rivers and creeks of the Amazon, Orinoco and LaPlata river systems in South America.  It is the world's largest otter reaching 1.8 m in length.    

They have webbed feet and water-repellent fur.  Their nostrils and ears close tightly when in the water. 

They swim by flexing their long bodies and propelling with their tails.

Each animal eats 3-4 kg of food per day. 

Red-bellied Piranha.  mmmmmm ummmmm good...

Sharp teeth!   They like to bite toes.

This young fellow is one of the fishermen and caretakers of the otters.  He's been out fishing for their supper. 

The small reddish ones are Red-bellied Piranha.  The larger are Butterfly Peacock Bass (Chichla orinocensis)

The Giant River Otters are highly endangered due to hunting and habitat loss.  They are the rarest otters in the world, with only a few thousand left in the wild.

Diane McTurk - a very beautiful and inspiring woman.

The Karanambu Trust:
Andrea & Salvadore's blog:
Dr. Lucy's blog:
Otter facts from:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blogger's Block

My blogging enthusiasm and inspiration seems to be at a low ebb at the moment.  I have two blog posts on 'hold' because I can't seem to conjure up the words to fit a little story line I want - goodness knows, I more or less comment on photos - this shouldn't be all that hard to do!   

Hopefully I will get my head sorted out in another day or two.  I have a few distractions at the moment, plus I am so tired of winter.  Every year I find it a little harder to deal with the snow, the cold, the parkas & boots, the cold, the snow - am I repeating myself?  

I will get it together soon, though. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

GBBC Interruption - Hedwig

This weekend is The Great Backyard Bird Count - another entertaining but rather mis-named birding event in that one's counts aren't limited at all to 'the backyard'.  (Note:  the photo of the robin on the GBBC link above was taken my friend Nick Saunders, Saskatoon, SK). 

Yesterday it was cold and snowy so I stayed home to watch and record the progression of bird species around my yard.  Today I decided to go for a drive around my usual country birding route.  That didn't produce as much as I hoped.  I was really wanting to find some owls - specifically Snowy and Great Horned.  

I dipped on the GHOWs but finally found this Snowy Owl  Bubo scandiacus, an adult female, I think, some 50-60 kms away along #18 Hwy near the farm where I grew up.  Always fun to drive around the old stomping grounds.

Harry Potter's owl, Hedwig, was a Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl is the provincial bird of Quebec.

Beautiful bird.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Blue-backed Manakin

I've been chattering away here about everything other than birds pretty much. 

One of the great many bird species we saw while at Karanambu was the Blue-backed Manakin.  We saw some that afternoon before going to see the waterlilies.  And we saw several again the next day.  There's a grove of trees out on the savanna where these wonderful little birds lek and maybe nest, too. 

Here's Mike Smith's photo of a Blue-backed Manakin  Chiroxiphia pareola.

Note:  Mike was not in Guyana with us.  Some of us met Mike & Dot, (from the U.K.)  at Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad.  They went on to Tobago, as did our Martin & Marilynn.  But not me - I went home to Cold Canada after Trinidad.  Tsk.  Well, anyway, Mike got this great photo in Tobago. 

While the Blue-backed Manakins of Guyana and Tobago are pretty much the same tells us
The race endemic to Tobago, C. p. atlantica is larger and has more extensive red on the crown and blue on the back; it may be a separate species.
The thing about manakins, besides being incredibly tiny, handsome little birds, is that the males of all species perform some very unique mating dances.  This is the description of the Blue-backed Manakin's ritual dance - from Wikipedia :
The male Blue-backed Manakin has a fascinating breeding display, unusual in that it is cooperative rather than competitive. Two males perch next to each other on a bare stick and jump up and down alternately, giving a buzzing call. When a female approaches, the perched bird moves backwards under the jumping bird, so the two perform a vertical circling movement. Groups of up to eight birds may perform together, with a different stick for each pair of displaying males. 
The females raise the chicks all by themselves, which is unusual in the bird world......The males are left with the onerous task of practicing mating rituals. And it seems these birds have gone farther than most in their efforts to appear more appealing.
For more info on this bird species, go to 

And, here's a YouTube video of several males performing for an attentive female (I think she looks a little bewildered by it all).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Jeeps of Karanambu

I have a very soft spot in my heart for ancient vehicles still in use - and this scenario usually plays out at a farm or ranch.  I grew up on a farm here in Saskatchewan.  We had an old truck.  It belonged to my dad's Uncle Tom (who was, by far, my favourite person in all the world).

Uncle Tom's truck was an International Harvester circa 1930, I suppose.  Who knows what the original colour was - it was a matte purple by my generation. 

There was a starter on the floor, and a long stick shift; the green leather seats were worn and cracked.  Everything rattled; talking to any one in the truck was impossible while hurtling down a field road.  

My sister and I, most of our cousins, and even a few of my friends learned to drive in Uncle Tom's truck.

So,  when I saw the jeeps at Karanambu, it was love at first sight. 

I pulled a butt muscle while out birding so I got to ride in the front seat!  I really didn't step off that log wrongly on purpose.  As you can see, the steering wheel is on the righthand side.  Guyana, formerly British Guyana, drives on the right, as does Trinidad.   Correction:  drives on the left side of the road, with rightside steering wheel/controls in the vehicle

This is the older jeep, getting a bit of work done.  Both vehicles are needed especially during the long rainy season when the lodge and living quarters become an island.  One jeep is kept on each side of the water.  

And just because my bro-in-law would want to know this, (Morning, Gene) in both Guyana and Trinidad, the vehicles are all Japanese-made.  Nissan seemed to be the most popular, with Toyota in second spot.  Many Mazdas and Suzukis, too.  I asked one of my drivers in Trinidad about this.  He said used vehicles are brought over from Japan - where they also drive on that side of the road.  (Such a good thing I wasn't required to do any of the driving anywhere!)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Giant Waterlillies

Late in the afternoon, the first day we were at Karanambu, we did a bit of birding as we walked down to the river (Rupununi).  Then, we climbed into boats for a slow cruise upstream to Buffalo Pond to see the Giant Waterlilies opening.  The pond is accessed  via a tiny stream. 

This place is stunning.  Lily pads cover almost the entire surface of this small, shallow oxbow lake.  The air is filled with a light, sweet, fragrance of the lilies.  

It's a quiet place.  We drifted through the lily pads.  Our guide picked this bud for our boat to sit beside to watch open as dusk moved in.    The flowers take about 45 minutes to fully open.

The Giant Waterlily   Victoria amazonica  is found in ponds and oxbow lakes in the Amazon Basin, the Guianas and the Pantanal of Brazil. 

The pads grow to 2 to 2.5 meters across.  The flowers, when fully open, are about the size of dinner plates. 

There were other things going on at Buffalo Pond.  In fact, the place was quietly busy with several species of heron (Capped, Striated, Boat-billed, Black-crowned Night-) and egrets (Snowy, Great, Cocoi). 

Wood Storks flew over.  One landed at the top of a distant tree and stayed there as the sunset progressed to darkness. 

Black-collared and Great Black Hawks lurked in the trees at the water's edge. 

There were also 4-5 Giant River Otters popping their heads up beside distant lily pads.  Our guide Kenneth pointed out their den in the bank at the root of a big tree.  We didn't see them slip in there for the night, though.  

Wattled Jacanas (Jacana jacana) were the predominant marsh bird at the pond.  This is a male, who was quite agitated that our boat continued to hang around his nest as darkness fell.  He wanted to sit on the eggs, but was leary of us so near.  (Jacana males incubate the eggs and raise the chicks).  David Attenborough calls this bird the Lily Trotter.

The life cycle of these lilies is interesting.  The first evening the flower opens, it is white and is a female flower exuding a strong, sweet fragrance that attracts beetles.  The flower stays open all night and closes by morning, trapping some beetles inside the tightly closed petals.  The second evening, the flower re-opens,  transformed into a pink, scentless male flower.  The formerly trapped beetles are released, now coated with pollen, to go visit a newly opening female flower, etc. etc.  The flower closes up after the second night and sinks to the pond bottom to develop and germinate a new seed.

Okay, so I don't know how to use my camera settings well enough to get a decent low-light shot.  Maybe Martin has one he'll send me - if so, I'll throw it in here later.

Watch a giant waterlily open (twice) and hear David Attenborough talk about the life cycle of this beautiful plant (from his series The Private Life of Plants).  This vid is about 4 minutes long. 

There was a downside to this lovely evening.  I was sneakily attacked by some type of no-see-ums as we sat on the lake (so was Martin).  I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt.  My arms were a mass of itching, stinging, swelling pustules by the time we got back to the lodge.  The itching would continue for the entire trip.  There's always something, isn't there.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

At Karanambu

Some photos of the buildings around Karanambu Ranch

The gathering place: dining room, lounge, library. 

Marilynn on her way to check out the Red-capped Cardinals at the feeders

Lucy & Richard near their cabin

My abode

See that orange cat?  Well, he's very, very old and has been in a lot of fights over the years.  Anyone surprised that I spent an hour or so petting and scratching his head? 

One of the original ranch buildings

Satelite dish and solar panels

Staff housing, the laundry drying in the breeze,

Ah, late afternoon rum punch!  Marilynn & I, doing some reading.  Diane is pouring drinks.

Life is good at Karanambu

The two photos I'm in are courtesy of Martin.  Tks.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Going to Karanambu

After Arrowpoint we headed back through Georgetown to the old airport, Ogle International,

And after a suitable amount of time, we climbed into this airplane

Packed in like sardines, that's the aisle between Clif and I

One of Martin's photos, thanks.
 We're Up

A view of residential Georgetown, the Atlantic Ocean and a haze of smog

Rice paddies and whatever else.  The Dutch settled this area first - and we all know how much they like to build canals.  They are needed here, as Georgetown is a meter or so below sea level.  A seawall protects the city (unless in a terrific high tide, which happened earlier in 2010 - the seawall is being raised, work was going on when we were there).

A mining operation leaving a nasty scar on the landscape.  Guyana has gold and bauxite.  This one is likely gold.

The interior is a glorious, vast pristine forest.  There's a single flowering tree down there.

A savanna-type landscape below, I wonder if we're getting close to Karanambu?

Yes, that looks like a landing strip.

It is.

We are here.  Elaine is happy and Roy is making sure his camera gear gets off the plane.

Martin is watching the plane take off again.  That's Jerry, one of the ranch staff

And here's our ride.  That's a circa 1956 Jeep.  There's another even older one at the ranch.  (Note the Hoatzin painted on the plane's tail)

Karanambu Savanna

Visit the Karanambu website at
The Karanambu Trust website at
And Andrea & Salvadore's blog which is also listed on the right side of my blog under Blogs and Interesting Sites