GENERAL INFO & SITE ACCOUNTS
Wilma & Jos Wanten; Reuver, The Netherlands – e-mail:jos.birds(at)hetnet.nl
Anne-Marie Kuijpers & Roland Holz; Otterstadt, Germany – e-mail:buddi-houtje(at)web.de
This was our first visit to South America and hopefully not our last since the continent has a whole lot to offer in birds, nature as well as culture wise. We have future plans to visit other countries like Ecuador, Peru and Brazil but we would like to spend at least three weeks in either of these countries. Since Wilma and me had only 12 days available Suriname was a good option as an introduction to the continent. Roland and Anne-Marie stayed five days longer. Travel arrangements were made through Suriname Holidays www.surinameholidays.nl which is a Dutch internet tour-operator. Recently they expanded their travel program by offering bird-watching trips to Trinidad & Tobago. Future plans for also offering bird-watching trips to Suriname are into progress. They have a co-partnership with a local tour-operator called Blue Frog Travel located in Paramaribo. Through Suriname Holidays we arranged flights, airport transfers, hotel in Paramaribo and full board trips into the interior. We did a 4-day trip to Raleigh Falls, and a 3-day trip to Brownsberg Nature Reserve. The two remaining days with the four of us we arranged private bird-tours directly through Otte Ottema, and the last day we had together in Paramaribo was filled in by doing some bird watching in the Cultuurtuin. The additional days Roland and Anne-Marie had were filled in by doing a plantation tour with Blue Frog Travel, city and culture tours in Paramaribo and another day with Otte visiting Old Paramaribo and again Peperpot. They also accompanied Otte one morning during bird counts at Weg naar Zee. Otte Ottema is the only professional ornithologist in Suriname working for STINASU which is the Foundation for Nature Conservation in Suriname. If you are interested in private bird tours you can contact Otte at email@example.com or visit his website at www.planktonik.com/birdingsuriname/.
Information on bird watching in Surinam is limited in comparison to the more popular destinations in South America like Peru and Ecuador. We did not find any trip report on the web so it is to us the honour to publish the first one. Hopefully this report will encourage other birders around the globe to visit this beautiful country with its extensive pristine rainforests, great food and extremely friendly people. The best website about birds in Suriname is published by Jan Hein Ribot at www.webserv.nhl.nl/~ribot/. It contains photo galleries, distribution maps, checklists and information about the best birding sites. Other good birding info can be found at www.fatbirder.com/links_geo/america_south/suriname.html and www.camacdonald.com/birding/sasuriname. For general information of the conservation areas you can visit the STINASU site at www.stinasu.sr. More general info is available at www.2docstock.com/Suriname and at www.ecocam.com/nature/suriname. As a field guide we used “Birds of Venezuela” by Steven Hilty published in 2002. This is the best guide to use in the field since it describes more than 90% of the birds occurring in Suriname, although the plates of the waders in the book are not complete, and the raptors section is not ideal since it shows few colour plates of perching birds. Additionally we used “The Birds of Ecuador” by Ridgely & Greenfield and “All the Birds of Brazil” by Souza. We also bought two booklets published by Stinasu called “Coastal Birds of Suriname” by Arie Spaans and “Wild Birds of Paramaribo” by Otte Ottema. These two booklets provide some additional info about birding sites around Paramaribo and show plates of the common birds occurring. We bought these two booklets at “Vrienden van Stinasu” (home.planet.nl~spaan688/). They are also available at the Stinasu office in Paramaribo. For the first time Roland made sound recordings to attract birds in the field. He was really successful with it especially at Brownsberg. Sound recordings were taken from the “Birds of Venezuela” CD-ROM by Peter Boesman.
We would like to thank the following people for their contribution and for making our trip such a huge success:
v Wilma and Anne-Marie for being so patient, getting up early, accepting basic accommodations, etc.
v Otte Ottema for showing us a spectacular number of fantastic birds (especially Great Potoo) during the trips to Peperpot, Weg naar Zee and the savannah tour. The tours were perfectly organized and he was always punctually. He took care of a car with driver, enough drinks and food in a large icebox, a scope and he also used sound recordings to attract birds. Besides that he was great company and he really has a big heart concerning bird conservation in Suriname. Keep on doing this great job!!!!
v Suriname Holidays and Blue Frog Travel for arranging everything so well, and for the unforgettable trips into the interior (especially the Raleigh Falls trip). Although the accommodation at Brownsberg was a bit of a disappointment due to a double booking (apparently caused by Stinasu), they compensated this by arranging a terrific bird guide.
v Rabin, our bird guide at Brownsberg. Initially he was only available for two days, but he held to us until we left after 3 days. He was great company and his knowledge of bird sounds was amazing.
v Guus & Ada our fellow Dutch travellers during the Raleigh Falls trip. They were experienced travellers and besides that great people to talk with. Many thanks for providing the beautiful bird pictures of the Cock-of-the-Rock at the lek.
v The Surinamese people for being so friendly and helpful.
Suriname (which is a former Dutch colony) is located in the north-eastern part of South America between the two Guyana’s. It is about five times bigger than The Netherlands and has only 450,000 inhabitants. Paramaribo, which is the capitol, is rich with Dutch colonial architecture. Most people speak Dutch but English is also widely spoken. Suriname is becoming increasingly more popular as a eco-tourism destination and STINASU is working hard to promote this by building new tourist facilities in the protected areas. Most visitors require a visa which can be obtained at the Surinamese embassies in the Netherlands, Germany and the US. Visitors from other countries can obtain visas on arrival. Take medical precautions before arriving in the country. Hepatitis and malaria precautions are recommended especially if you travel into the interior. The unit of currency is the Surinamese Dollar (SRD). The exchange rate at the moment of our trip was SRD 2.70 for 1 US Dollar and SRD 3.30 for 1 Euro. The preferred foreign currencies were USD and Euro. Some hotels in Paramaribo also accepted Visa card or Traveller Cheques. Suriname is a safe and very pleasant country to travel in, the country is full of birds, the food is great and the people are very friendly and helpful. All these ingredients put together make Suriname a perfect destination for a bird-watching holiday. We were never hassled or bothered anywhere in the country!
Generally there are four direct flights per week from Amsterdam to Paramaribo operated by KLM. Flight tickets cost between € 650 and € 800 depending on the moment of booking and which seats are available. The international airport at Zanderij is located in the savannah zone some 45km south of Paramaribo. The transfer from the airport to the city takes about one hour. Other options are flying with Air France from Paris to Cayenne in French Guyana and travel overland to Paramaribo. Flights from the UK are possible from London via Trinidad to Paramaribo with BWIA Airlines. Miami and Atlanta are the main departure points for flights from the US. There are also flights from various Caribbean Islands, Brazil and the Guyana’s.
Most coastal roads in and around Paramaribo and the road to the airport are paved and of reasonable to good quality. Roads further into the interior are all unpaved and a 4WD car is highly recommended here especially in the rainy season. It is possible to rent cars but that is not cheap. Expect to pay between USD 70 and 100 per day depending on the type of car you want. Taxis in Paramaribo are reasonably priced. We paid about EURO 1.25 one way for a 2 to 3km drive to the Cultuurtuin. If you want to travel into the interior the best option is to arrange a full board tour through a tour operator as we did. Tours include transport (often a combination of car and boat or small airplane), a guide, lodging and meals. On most tours the meals and drinks are brought along from Paramaribo in large iceboxes, and you even will be accompanied by your own private cook.
We arrived in Suriname in the dry season which lasts from August to December. We virtually had no rain, and the temperature rose in the afternoon to a staggering 35 to 40 degrees Celsius. Travelling at the end of the dry season gives the advantage that you receive less rain, but this also means that there are few flowering and fruiting trees that attract birds. At Brownsberg which is located at an elevation of 500 metres temperatures were more pleasant at around 28 to 32 degrees Celsius and cooler night time temperatures.
ACCOMMODATIONS & FOOD
Paramaribo has several accommodations ranging from low budget guesthouses to deluxe hotels. During our stay at the coast we stayed in the Residence Inn located close to the city centre along the Suriname River. It is rated as a four star hotel with the luxury of spacious airconditioned rooms with TV and a mini-bar. The hotel has a nice garden with swimming pool and a pool bar/restaurant. We paid Euro 60 for a double room including a buffet breakfast. It was nice to have some luxury after staying in basic accommodations in the interior. But as said before there are cheaper options. As mentioned before accommodations in the interior are quite basic. During the Raleigh Falls trip we stayed in the Tamanua Lodge which is basically an open house with a large sleeping area with bunk beds including bedclothes and mosquito nets sleeping 16 people. In front is a covered terrace which functions as living/dining room. In the back is a kitchen equipped with stove and kitchenware. Bathrooms and toilets are connected to the house via a covered hallway. Although basic it was a very clean and pleasant place to stay. At Brownsberg on the other hand we were supposed to stay in a house with shared bathroom and toilet, but due to a double booking we had to stay in small smelly huts without any facilities. We were told that the huts are sometimes used by researchers, but that must have been a long … long time ago. After our first night here it turned out that our skin was full of wheals apparently caused by bedbugs. The discomfort and itching lasted for over 2 weeks. In general food quality and variety was reasonable to very good in most places. While most of the South American food consists of rice, beans and chicken, the Surinamese food is a mix of the Indonesian, Chinese and Indian kitchen often served with rice and/or noodles, fresh vegetables and deliciously spiced chicken, beef or fish. While staying in Paramaribo we had dinner in our hotel because our totally full schedule did not allow us time to go for dinner in town. We paid between 4 and 11 EURO for a main dish. We had our best meals at Raleigh Falls were our private cook Carmen did a great job by serving delicious meals. Most soft drinks consist of fruit juices and soft drinks like Coke, Sprite etc… The local Parbo beer was very good and available in small bottles of 300ml and large 1 litre bottles locally called Joggos. Prices for soft drinks ranged between Euro 0.80 and 1.50. The prices for a large Joggo ranged between Euro 3 and 4.50.
The coastline of Suriname has a series of large mudflats, swamps and mangroves. The area behind the coastline mainly consists of cultivated areas alternated with scrubs, freshwater marshes, small forest patches and old plantations.
Some 45km inland the savannah zone begins which crosses the country from east to west. It consists of savannah forests alternated with open white sand savannahs. The savannah belt is approximately 50km wide. With the exception of the Sipaliwini savannah in the far south near the Brazilian border, the rest of Suriname is covered with pristine lowland Amazonian rainforest with few open spaces. At some places the lowland forest is interrupted by granitic outcrops and table mountains with their own typical vegetation. These mountains are ranging in height between 250 to 1000m. Suriname has the highest percentage (about 80%) of unspoiled tropical forest left of all countries in the world. Hopefully the government and Stinasu can keep it this way.
Suriname has a rich and diverse bird life. This is mainly a result of the diversity of habitats and of course because large areas of the country are still unspoiled and uninhabited. The country has a lot to offer for birdwatchers, and a little bit more promotion would definitely attract more nature and bird lovers from all over the world to this beautiful country. Some 700 species of birds have been recorded in the country. During the 10 days we had together we saw more than 40% of all birds occurring (e.g. 285 species), which is high for such a short stay. The additional five days by Roland and Anne-Marie brought in another 19 new species, producing a final trip list of an amazing 304 species.
PARKS & CONSERVATION AREAS
Suriname counts 12 protected areas and another 2 proposed reserves which are all managed by STINASU. Of these Brownsberg Nature Park, The Central Suriname Nature Reserve (CSNR) and Galibi Nature Reserve are the most important. These three areas also have visitor facilities. STINASU has plans to built visitor facilities in other areas, and there are also plans to built more accommodations of higher standard in the most important reserves. For detailed information you can visit their website at www.stinasu.com. Besides having their own guides the STINASU also works together with local indigenous people who can guide visitors.
Peperpot is an old overgrown coffee- and cacao plantation which has not been used for over decades. It is located at the eastern side of the Suriname river only 6 to 7 km from Paramaribo. It can be approached from the city centre by crossing the huge bridge over the Suriname river. After the bridge you have to take the first road to the right. This road leads through a mixture of cultivated areas with marshes and small forest patches. After following this road for about 4km there is a track to the right with after about 50m a red/white barrier. This is the main entrance to the plantation. The main track turns to the right after about 100m leading through the completely overgrown plantation. We birded the main track over a length of about 2km and a small part of a narrow trail leading straight on at the spot were the main track bends to the right. Peperpot is an excellent place to find an array of Flycatchers, several Tanager species and Great Potoo. According to Otte Ottema Peperpot is the best site in Suriname to find the highly sought after Guyanese endemics: Blood-coloured Woodpecker and Arrowhead Piculet.
v Weg naar Zee
“Weg naar Zee” which is Dutch for “Road to the Sea” is located just 8 to 10 km northwest of Paramaribo. You can reach Weg naar Zee by taking the Kwattaweg leading west outside of the city. At 8km from the centre you turn right on the Henri Fernandesweg. This is just after you have passed the former plantation of Welgelegen, and just before you see a shop called Genade at the right hand side. This road runs through freshwater swamps and grasslands. At the sign Bedevaartsoord an unpaved road runs straight on to a Hindu temple while the paved road bends to the left here towards an open-air cremation site. At both sites you have excellent views across the large mudflats and mangroves. From the access road you can see various heron species, snail kites and other birds of freshwater swamps.
v Raleigh Falls, Fungu Island & Voltzberg
This site is located within The Central Suriname Nature Reserve (CSNR) in the middle of the rainforest along the Coppename river. To visit the area it is best to book an organized tour. To reach the area we first took the road to the International Airport at Zanderij. From here an unpaved and sometimes rough road leads to the small village of Witagron through beautiful savannah woodlands and forests. The drive of about 185km took five hours. The trip continues with a 3 hour boat trip over the Coppename river to Fungu Island. We stayed on Fungu Island and birded the area around the lodge and the airstrip which was an excellent spot for Macaws, Toucans, Guans and other large birds. From the other side of the river an 8km long trail through the forest leads to the Voltzberg which is a 240m high rocky outcrop in the middle of the forest. We returned back to Fungu Island the same day but if you want to do some serious birding around here it is recommended to stay at least one night at the research centre at the foot of the mountain. It is possible to climb the Voltzberg but we preferred to visit the Cock-of-the-Rock lek.
v Brownsberg Nature Reserve
This reserve is the only National Park in Suriname and the most popular nature destination. It is located on a 500m high forested mountain located 130km south of Paramaribo. It has unique habitats such as moss forests. It is also one of the prime bird-watching areas. It was fairly easy to find several species of antbirds and woodcreepers. Besides that the area holds specialties like grey-winged trumpeter, capuchin bird and white bellbird. The park’s bird list counts 350 species. From the top of the plateau you have magnificent views over the forest canopy and Brokopondo Lake in the back. The park has an extensive trail system. A trail-map is available at the parks office. The park can be approached by driving the paved road to Zanderij. From here take the unpaved and rough road towards Kraka. Turn right at the junction near Kraka on a better unpaved road towards the village of Brownsberg. From here it is another 13km climb to the park’s plateau. A 4WD car for the journey is recommended especially in the rainy season.
v Savannah Zone
The savannah zone holds a variety of habitats. Open white sand plains with scrubs alternate with small forest patches and sometimes with palm trees. At a few spots one can find small creeks surrounded by larger patches of forest. These creeks are sometimes used by the local people for swimming. Be advised to arrive early in the morning (best before dawn) since the period of high bird activity is quite short. The best spots for birding the savannah are the roads and tracks around the International airport at Zanderij. There is a partially paved track that runs all the way around the runway. The part of the track south of the runway was excellent for nightjars and nighthawks. From this track several sandy tracks lead to the right further south into the savannah. This area is called the Berlin Savannah. Be advised that these tracks are only driveable with a 4WD car. If you keep following the runway track you will end up on the north side of the runway. Here again sandy tracks lead into the Hanover Savannah to the north. The “main” road from the airport that eventually leads to Brownsberg is also good for birding. If you follow this road you can turn right after about 10km on a good unpaved road leading to the old little village of Berlin. Behind the village there is a creek. This is a fine spot to stay during the hot hours of the day. You can also do some bird watching in the forest on the opposite side of the creek. You will find a small cemetery at an open spot in the forest with great views of the canopy. The creek can be crossed by foot over a partially damaged wooden bridge.
This is a park about 2km from the city centre of Paramaribo. The best place to visit is the area around a man made lake surrounded by several trails. The park holds many old trees good for woodpeckers and also lots of flowering trees attracting hummingbirds. We were very much surprised about the large number of birds here. The park’s bird list counts about 140 species.
v Old Paramaribo
An area visited by Roland and Anne-Marie during their additional stay. It consists of a very thinly populated area north of Paramaribo with small patches of forest, swamps, agricultural fields, etc. Although bird-wise quite similar to Peperpot it produced a few new good birds. For further reading see additional daily accounts by Roland.
v Frederiksdorp Plantation
An area visited by Roland and Anne-Marie during the plantation tour. It is located north of Paramaribo by crossing the Commewijne River by boat. A Dutch guy who stayed there for two or three days reported to have over a hundred species in the area. Again for further reading see additional daily accounts.
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