Arjan's Biggest Year

In 2016 I will attempt the ultimate in global birding, to break the world record in birdwatching, this involves observing more than 6000 species in a single year!
Like my predecessor Noah Strycker I will count heard-only birds, but I will differentiate between heard-only- and seen species to make sure my list stays comparable.

During my 'Biggest Year' I will raise money for the groundbreaking Birdlife Preventing Extinctions Programme in a collaboration with Vogelbescherming Nederland and the Dutch Birding Association. This programme aims to prevent the extinction of all globally threatened bird species by applying an active, innovative and highly effective methodology.

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July 6 - 12: Suriname

19 juli 2016  ·  Arjan Dwarshuis  ·  10642 × bekeken


Last night I’d arrived in Suriname and after barely four hours of sleep it was time to wake up and commence with a potentially huge day. At the breakfast table I met the team for the next seven days in Suriname: Sean Dilrosum (my old friend and top Surinam bird guide), Fred Pansa (with extra-terrestrial sharp eyesight and owner of a legendary birding site named after him), Humberto Tan (Dutch television host turned hard-core birdwatcher) and my friend Michiel van den Bergh (Top world birder and director of the Biggest Year documentary). Today we were also joined by Anouk (Fred's girlfriend) and Gini (Sean's wife).

With the whole crew we left for Peperpot Plantage, as the name already suggest this an overgrown former plantation right on the outskirts of Paramaribo. The place is absolutely packed with birds including several Guianan Shield endemics. That is the great thing about Suriname, it is four times the size of the Netherlands but with only 500.000 inhabitants and 93% forest cover this is one of the birdiest countries in the world and one doesn’t have to travel far to find some mouth-watering species.

This was my first day birding in South America this year so new birds were everywhere. For Humberto this was his first time seeing mega mixed species flocks, skulking antbirds and canopy-dwelling tanagers, so he was almost succumbing to the enormous explosion of colour and sound that is the neotropical rainforest. Luckily we had Sean who skilfully sorted out all rarities on call. Painted Tody-tyrant, Spotted Puffbird, Amazonian Royal Flycatcher, Slender-billed Kite, Yellow-crowned Elaenia, Blood-coloured Woodpecker and of course the endemic Arrowhead Piculet were all found before 10 AM. Mammal watching was equally phenomenal with unbelievable views of three different Three-toed Sloths (of which a mother with tiny baby), a Collared Anteater and a Crab-eating Raccoon.

After a delicious roti lunch we went to visit a Crimson-hooded Manakin leg and a heronry with several stunning Boat-billed Herons and we drove to ‘Weg naar Zee’ for some open country species including the range-restricted Rufous Crab Hawk. Then we said goodbye to Anouk and Gini and with the five of us we headed for one of the most legendary birding sites of the Guianan Shield region (rounding up Bronzy Jacamar, Saffron-crested Tyrant-manakin, Olivaceous Schiffornis and Northern Slaty Antshrike).

Around 9 PM, when we finally sat down at the Brownsberg with a cold beer and a calling Spectacled Owl in the background, I counted a whopping 113 new species, making today the best day since day 1. Wow … 

Boat-billed Heron Cochlearius cochlearius (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Bronzy Jacamar Galbula leucogastra (Arjan Dwarshuis)


When you start a day with a pair of Lined Forest Falcons, a calling Collared Puffbird and frame-filling scope views of a male Black-throated Antshrike before sunrise, then you know you’re in for something special…

The Brownsberg is a unique protected area of primary forest situated on a 500 meter high plateau, which is absolutely teaming with wildlife. We were fortunate enough to spend three nights at this magical location. The forest here is spectacular and with fairly little effort you can find some spectacular species simply by walking across the lodge clearings or even while having diner at the lodge restaurant (which is basic, but nice). When you venture on the elaborate trail-system surrounding the lodge, the true prices of this forest can be found.

We had so many highlights that I could fill an entire page describing all of our fabulous encounters today, so here is a brief summary. We recorded over 75 new species for my year list. We saw a fantastic Slaty-backed Forest-falcon, multiple Red-and-black Grosbeaks, tame Grey-winged Trumpeters, Blue-backed Tanager, Black-spotted Barbet, White-fronted- and White-throated Mannakin, Guianan Toucanet, Green Aracari and many many more awesome birds.

When we woke up this morning Chiel was feeling a bit feverish, thinking that it might be a side-effect of the allergic reaction to the hundreds of chigger bites he had, we decided to continue birding (both Chiel’s and my own legs and especially my ankles are currently covered with hundreds of puss-filled blisters as a result to a heavy allergic reaction to chigger bites), little did we know there was a far more concerning reason for Michiel’s sudden flu symptoms…  

Anyway it was business as usual on the Brownsberg, but unlike yesterday we found several large mixed species flocks, one even containing about 40 different species(!). Imagine the whole forest coming to life, movements everywhere from the canopy to the undergrowth and bird calls coming from every direction. Paradise for a birdwatcher like me, but tough conditions for someone who is completely new to this game, like Humberto. It was here on the trails of Brownsberg that Humberto found his true hobby, birding. By the end of the morning he was picking up Antwrens in the canopy and racing from scope to scope to make sure he didn’t miss any tanager or euphonia. Awesome stuff and fantastic to see someone pick up on this game so fast.

Like yesterday birding was phenomenal and highlights were many. Personal favourites were a stunning perched Ornate Hawk-eagle, Rose-breasted Chat, the skulking Ferruginous-backed Antbird, Red-billed Pied-tanager, Lineated- and Black-banded Woodcreeper, Golden-collared-, Chestnut- and Ringed Woodpeckers, Golden-headed Manakin and of course the three different Sharpbills that we saw! 

When we woke up this morning Chiel was feeling worse, he was shivering even though it was 25 degrees Celsius. Something was seriously wrong with him, but since he’s tough as a nail he refused to stop birding and subsequently we headed off into the forest again like nothing was wrong. Like every day so far on the Brownsberg we saw some incredible species before breakfast, but it struck me that Chiel had to lay down even though we were looking at Short-billed Honeycreepers and Golden-sided euphonia feeding in the same tree. I opted the possibility that he had caught malaria when we were in Ghana two weeks ago since the symptoms all pointed in that direction. Damn, that might be the cause of Chiel’s illness…

Around noon we drove down from the Brownsberg to a small medical clinic to get Chiel’s blood tested for Malaria. When the results came in they were not lying, positive for MALARIA, the worse kind of malaria that is. There was no other option than to get my friend to a hospital in Paramaribo so we ordered a taxi and 15 minutes later it was an emotional goodbye. So long buddy and get yourself back on your feet man! (I have good news since just as I’m writing this, we received news that Chiel is receiving treatment and that he’s feeling better already).

So Sean, Fred, Humberto and I headed off to Fred’s Berg with the four of us thinking about our friend and hoping that he will be ok…

Rainbow over the rainforest (Arjan Dwarshuis)

July 10th HARPY!
Fred’s Berg is a unique location somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the heart of the Surinam rainforest. Fred Pansa found this place by accident from a plane, while staring out of his plane window he saw a forested hill surrounded by pristine rainforest and from the moment he laid eyes on it he became obsessed with ‘Fred’s Berg’. Starting from the Brownsweg he began to hack his way to the mountain with a machete and weeks later he found it, including lekking Guianan Cock-of-the-Rocks, Harpy’s and everything that’s great about the Upper Guianan Rainforest. Now, two years later, he is building an eco-lodge and a trail system and in a couple of months this magical place is ready to receive guests. We were fortunate enough to get a sneak preview with a two night stay. Imagine sleeping in hammocks in the middle of the jungle next to a pristine black water stream, a unique experience.

After having breakfast at the camp we drove to the start of the trail system with Fred sitting on the roof to scan the treetops. Suddenly he hammered on the roof and yelled ‘STOP’! I jumped out, looked to where he was pointing and there sat a huge adult female Harpy Eagle. I couldn’t believe my eyes, what a majestic beast. We watched the bird for over half an hour before it finally flew, making this one of the absolute top sightings of my year so far.

We spend the entire day walking along the excellent trail-system to three different Cock-of-the-rock leks, but this time of the year they are not active so despite our efforts we failed to find any of these beautiful birds. The quality of the birds we did see was so high that dipping the Cock-of-the-rock was soon forgotten. We saw Opal-rumped Tanager, Boat-billed Tody-tyrant, an antswarm with White-plumed- and Rufous-throated Antbirds, White-chested Puffbird and three species of Jacamar.

Back at Fred’s camp we had a well-deserved swim in the river and had dinner by torchlight with the sounds of the jungle surrounding us, magic…

Harpy Eagle Harpia harpyja (Arjan Dwarshuis)

White-plumed Antbird Pithys albifrons (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Humberto after 10 Km on the trail (Arjan Dwarshuis)

We had one more morning birding the trails of Fred’s Berg. Again no Cock-of-the-Rocks, but the constellation prize might have even been better, two stunning male Guianan Red Cotinga’s! These fiery red birds are just too good to be true so thanks Sean for finding them on their not so striking call.

Quality this morning was just of the chain and our Cotinga sighting was followed by a very showy male Band-tailed Antshrike, one of the most desired Guianan Shield endemics.

While we had breakfast at a clearing in the forest I was carefully scoping the canopy and with a coffee in one hand and scope in the other I found both a male Glossy-backed Becard and a pair of Dusky Purpletufts, two very difficult species and true Surinam specials.

To finish things off we found another ant swarm and this time, besides White-plumed- and Rufous-throated Antbirds, we found the rare Red-billed Woodcreeper. What a morning!

After one more swim back at the camp we packed our backs – while being briefly interrupted by a very showy Tiny Hawk feeding on a freshly caught bat! - and headed back to civilization. However Fred had one more surprise for us when he hammered on the roof and yelled ‘STOP’! for the second time in two days. This time there was a magnificent Black-and-white Hawk-eagle staring down at us from an exposed perch, wow!

Back in the northern savannah we checked in at our wonderful accommodation at Colakreek, just 10 minutes from the airport. Tomorrow we have one more day of birding in the northern savannah before I continue to Brazil! 

Humberto photographing Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Guianan Red Cotinga Phoenicircus carnifex (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle Spizaetus melanoleucus (Arjan Dwarshuis)

We had one last full day of birding in the northern savannah belt and white sand forests near Zanderij Airport in Suriname. Suriname is unique in the sense that very high quality birds can be found right in the vicinity of the international airport and Paramaribo city.

Our first birding site was ‘Kinderboerderij’, a nice stretch of secondary white sand forest with an interesting set of quality birds. During a relaxing two hour walk we found Spot-tailed Antwren, Black-throated Antbird, Pied Puffbird, Glossy-backed Becard, Cayenne Jay and the biggest surprise of all, a female Purple-breasted Cotinga, a first record for this area.

After our morning session we had lunched and went back to Collakreek for a siesta during the heat of the day, but around 4 PM we were back at the savannah surrounding Zanderij, this time finding the range restricted Rufous-crowned Elaenia and lekking Black Manakins.

After a fantastic local dinner it was time to say goodbye to Humberto – he was on an earlier flight back to the Netherlands – and we went for a last owling session before my midnight flight to Brazil. The owling session went ridiculously well and we managed to find both White-tailed- and Rufous Nightjar, multiple Common Pootoos and a very showy Tropical Screech-Owl. Best however was my very last bird in Suriname, a magnificent Black-banded Owl that showed at less than five meters distance! Amazing, what a finish.

Concluding remarks
Suriname was simply off the chain! The birding was spectacular, most roads were good, people were friendly and the forests were amongst the most pristine I’ve ever seen. Moreover it is cheap and the food is great. To me it is a mystery that this fantastic birding destination is not on top of every birders wish list, especially when you have guides like Sean Dilrosum and Fred Pansa.

In my opinion Fred’s Berg will grow to be one of the top Upper Guianan and maybe even neotropical birding destinations. I will surely come back here once the place is finished and I can recommend any birder reading this to do the same! You can reach Sean Dilrosum personally via +5978272021 and Fred Pansa via +5978948661 or via Facebook Fred Eco Tours Suriname.

I can also tell you that Michiel is doing much better, the treatment worked and it looks like they managed to cure his malaria. Good news, I hope you’re back on your feet as soon as possible!

Off to Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrazil!

Arjan Dwarshuis


Black Manakin Xenopipo atronitens (Arjan Dwarshuis)


Johan van 't Bosch  ·  20 juli 2016  10:47

Gaaf verhaal en vette soorten! Brengt goede herinneringen boven. Fred's berg klinkt ook erg goed. Nu veel succes in Brazilië en doe de groeten aan de jongens daar.

Vincent van der Spek  ·  20 juli 2016  14:18

Freds Berg betekent ook dat je geen interne vluchten meer hoeft te maken voor enkele soorten (zoals de rotshaan). Je kunt nu in een dag of 10 relatief eenvoudig en betaalbaar héél veel zien.

David Uit de Weerd  ·  20 juli 2016  20:02

Gaaf verslag, Arjan! Het is inderdaad een fantastisch land qua natuur en eten. Ik ga zeker nog een keer terug, vooral naar Peperpot en Freds Berg!! 

Steven Wytema  ·  22 juli 2016  09:01

Na Java en Bali (was ik 3 weken) begrijp ik nu weer hoe enorm veel leuker het is om een verslag te lezen als je zelf in een land bent geweest: echt indrukwekkend zo goed als Fred's Berg is, en hoe scherp Arjan en zn gidsen zijn! Ik kan me ook niet anders voorstellen dat met dergelijke hotspots Suriname inderdaad een populairdere vogelbestemming gaat worden de komende jaren!

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