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.


  1. Oh my that first shot of the egrets? on thos water lilies in that light is absolutely terrific. Wish I could have been there. I did see some wood storks though on our recent trip to Florida. ;)

  2. Thanks, TB! It was a beautiful sight and experience. Wood storks are always good.

  3. Hi Kathy,

    I was searching for pics of Rufous Crab Hawks and found your blog. Nice one!

    Just returned from Suriname two days ago, so it's great to see some familiar birds and landscapes from one of the other Guyana's!

    I'm still working on this blog, but here are some photos from Suriname: http://babbler.blog.com

    Thanks for sharing yours!


  4. Welcome Vincent, and thanks. I'll be checking out your blog immediately. I loved Guyana and wondered about the birding et al in Suriname.