My biggest adventure of this year was to one of the greenest countries on earth. Suriname maintains one of the highest forest covers in any nation worldwide. More than 80 percent of this country is covered in tropical rainforests. Of this tropical rainforest 95% is still present.
Suriname is located in the American tropics (Neotropics), and part of the larger Amazon region (Amazonia). Suriname, between both Guianas, is part of the Guinana Shield, the northern half of the Amazonian Craton.
I will take you with me on an adventure to this little explored natural world. Dreams came true, but there will also be some serious notes.
Start of a journey
We went to Braamspunt to witness the world’s largest turtles. The Leatherback Sea Turtle Dermochelys coriacea can grow to to around 2 meter long and weigh up to a massive 900kg. During the ‘nesting season’, the female crawls onto the beach where she hatched as a baby many years before, and digs a hole in the sand. She then lays her eggs inside the hole, covers them with sand and head backs to the ocean. We had hoped to witness this event. The best time to do so is in May and June. In late July we were already late in the nesting season. Chances were slim and we did not witness a female laying her eggs on the beach.
When the eggs hatch (about two months later) the tiny baby turtles dig their way out of their nest and make it for the sea. On their way the hatchlings need to be careful of birds, snakes, crabs and other creatures. And those that do make it to the water face further threats from other predators, such as sharks and big fish, who await them in the waves. It is estimated that as few as one in a thousand may make it to adulthood.
In late July the chance to see hatchlings is bigger. We were lucky to witness this event! We saw hatchlings of both the Green Turtle Chelonia mydas and Leatherback Sea Turtle Dermochelys coriacea.
Most of the time I pursue making the best photo I can create at that very moment. With the Green Turtle it was already getting dark and all I could do, without using my flash (not allowed), was a long exposure on this fast moving hatchling. We encountered the Leatherback Sea Turtles when it was already pitch dark. Both species are vulnerable. Light can disorientate the hatchlings on their way to the sea. They follow the light to find the sea. Red light is much less harmful and we were only allowed to use red light to watch the hatchlings start their journey.
Their journey to adulthood have become harder for all sea turtle species because of human-caused threats like harvesting for consumption, illegal shell trade, commercial fishing, marine debris (like plastic), artificial lightning (buildings near the beaches), coastal armoring, beach erosion, beach activities, predation by invasive species (brought by humans), marine pollution, oil spills and climate change.
Meeting passionate people like our guide Daniël gives hope for the future. Nesting beaches, like Braamspunt, need to be protected from human-caused threats for the survival of these charismatic creatures.
Artificial lightning and beach erosion were very visible on Braamspunt.
At only two hours driving from the capital Paramaribo you are already in the pristine wilderness in the interior of Suriname.
From the Mazaroniplateau at 500 meter elevation there is an impressive view over the Brokopondo reservoir (lake). The Brokopondo reservoir was artificially created in 1964 as a water reservoir for generating hydroelectric dam Afobaka the benefit of the growing aluminum industry. The “Kapasi” lodge has the best and widest view over the lake. This lodge served as a nice basecamp from where we had explored the Brownsberg.
The first night-hike through the tropical rainforest of Suriname was an extremely moist hike. The conditions were perfect to find amphibians and reptiles. I will not get too specific about locations. People with bad intentions are also reading. They search the internet for specific locations to poach the animals for the pet industry.
The first treefrog was an Oophagus Slender-legged Treefrog Osteocephalus oophagus. From a distance it looks like “just” a brown treefrog, but when you look closely you can see the spectacular golden iris with fine lines of black. The eyes are exceptional!
When planning a trip like this I always have a short list of “target species” I want to photograph. The risk of making a list is that you can be very disappointed when you go home (or very happy). I don’t write the list down and I don’t tick species from my list, but finding a species of the list makes the moment unforgettable.
Extremely hard or impossible species to find never make it to the list. Also they do not need a place on a list to be special. I did find some species I had never expected to see, but I was also very successful in finding my “target species”.
One of my “target species” was the Tiger-striped Leaf Frog (Callimedusa tomopterna). This extremely photogenic frog is relatively common in the rainforests of Suriname. What a start!
Most of my photographs are portraits of animals. You have to spend a lot of time in the field to encounter, witness and photograph animal behaviour. Because behaviour is harder to encounter and easy to disturb, scenes like this have a higher level of difficulty.
I was lucky enough to witness this fascinating “cleanup crew” scene while walking through the basecamp. I saw a dead gecko laying on his back being demounted part by part by ants Ectatomma brunneum. After this shot I saw an ant walking away with a foot. It all looked creepy, but as a biologist I find this very interesting. It is “the circle of life” at work. No nutrients will go to waste.
All the ants were walking around and eating parts like they were having a big “dinner table” or working at a car graveyard.
Seeing any species of the Atelopus genus had been on my bucket list for a while. This genus of true toads is commonly known as harlequin toads or stubfoot toads.
The Atelopus genus have experienced huge population declines and extinctions caused by the amphibian chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). At some places, like Monteverde (Costa Rica), they were abundant thirty years ago and are now gone. At some places they are being rediscovered and at some other places they might be extinct. Hopefully this global problem will be solved before it is too late!
Suriname is not affected by Bd.. Hopefully it will stay like this!
Because Suriname is not affected I could finally see an Atelopus in the wild.
We found multiple individuals of Hoogmoed Harlequin Toad Atelopus hoogmoedi. This photogenic individual had a very contagious smile on the back of the head.
The Three-striped Poison Frog Ameerega trivittata was the next attractive frog. This cooperative frog gave us all the chance to take an in situ photograph. An “in situ photograph” is the most realistic photograph a photographer can make. In situ means no handling or posing to get the photograph, but documenting the scene how it was. When posing is not necessary, this is the most ethical way to photograph wildlife. Photographing in situ also feels more rewarding when I succeed.
All specimen of Three-striped Poison Frog we found in Suriname had only two green to yellow dorsa-lateral stripes from the snout to the hind legs. In other countries throughout their range they do have three dorsa-lateral stripes.
Watch your steps
Hiking in the rainforest is never without danger just like walking on the streets of a city is. When growing up in the city you learn to rules of traffic. Your parents teach you how to cross the streets. In the rainforest there are different rules. There are no traffic lights but stopping for a venomous snake is vital for your own survival. A vital rule is to watch every step you take, because you never know what lies at your next step.
This nearly undetectable Fer-de-Lance Bothrops atrox was basking on the right side of the trail. We were all looking left. I looked to the right side just before I wanted to take my next step. Because I was cautious I saw the snake in time.
The Fer-de-Lance was the most common snake species of our trip to Suriname. In total we found four specimen.
The colour pattern of the Fer-de-Lance is very variable but all snakes had one thing in common. They are very hard to see! A nearly undetectable Fer-de-Lance would never come to you to strike. If you come to them and stand on them, they probably will. Most Fer-de-Lances we had encountered were very docile, but you are always a guest in their forests.
The main diet of the Fer-de-Lance includes mostly small mammals and birds, but also frogs and lizards. Rainforests are disappearing rapidly, but the Fer-de-Lance is a highly adapted and widely distributed species with large and stable populations that thrive in human-modified environments (with a lot of rats).
Emerald of the rainforest
It became a common routine to stand still and look at something “not so special” one of us finds something extraordinary. At one of our night hikes we stopped to look at a frog (Pristimantis sp.). At that moment Yara saw an Emerald Tree Boa Corallus caninus hanging at more than 4 meters high in a tree, at the other side of the trail!
On our way back we “fished” the boa out of the tree to make better photographs. The snake was calm and posed perfectly. When we were done photographing the snake went back up by herself.
The Emerald Tree Boa is a non-venomous snake, but they have large front teeth pointing inwards. I was very careful, because I definitely did not want to get bitten! The diet of the Emerald Tree Boa consists primarily of small mammals, but they have been known to eat some smaller bird species as well as lizards and frogs.
The Emerald Tree Boa was a species I did not even dare to list as a “target species”. A beauty like this doesn’t even have to be listed to make someone happy to find it.
The beauty of this snake is widely recognized and makes the snake a commonly traded species for the pet market. A wild Emerald Tree Boa brings fresh new genes to the breeding business and makes it very salable. As I said before, this is the main reason I am very careful with providing detailed locations.
This natural world is nothing like a zoo
Seeing the photos might give the impression that the rainforest is like a giant zoo. I stare the leaf litter and trees for hours during long and heavy hikes. Most of the time dead leaves is everything I see on the ground. Sometimes it comes with a hidden surprise like a South American Common Toad Rhinella margaritifera or the Fer-de-Lance I mentioned before. The search makes every wildlife encounter more valuable.
Finding many fresh tracks of the jaguar on Brownsberg was unforgettable without even seeing this “ghost”. Finding this many tracks also illustrates how good the wilderness on Brownsberg is.
The last night we would go to a place on Brownsberg where we could find glassfrogs. Instead of searching for frogs we spent our time watching a spectacular thunderstorm. The power was out and we were sitting in the dark witnessing the spectacular lightning above the Brokopondo reservoir. The weather is something beyond our control and we just have to deal with what we get.
The next morning we got up very early to search for glassfrogs. We did not find any glassfrogs, but we did find another Tiger-striped Leaf Frog to photograph.
In my frog portraits I try to give the frogs more “personality” and show their cuteness. I also try to make use of anthropomorphism. This is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities (like frogs). I hope my efforts contribute to more people liking frogs. Popular animals are more likely to be protected. Every person I “convert” gives me a great feeling of reward.
Frogs and other amphibians absolutely need everybody’s protection. The latest global assessment indicated that 42.5% of amphibian species are in decline.
Frogs are an indicator of environmental health. We call them indicator species. Frogs make good indicator species because they live in two environments, land and water, and have thin skin that they sometimes breathe through. The thin skin can also absorb toxic chemicals, radiation, and diseases. If there are lots of frogs and other amphibians in a habitat, it means the ecosystem is healthy.
Besides telling us how healthy our environment is, they also eat a lot of mosquitoes who can make us very sick.
While we were leaving Brownsberg we saw a group of Saguinus midas above our heads. This species is commonly known as Golden-handed Tamarin, Midas Tamarin, Red-handed Tamarin and Yellow-handed Tamarin.
These small sized monkeys of the New World eat fruits, flowers, nectar, plant exudates (gums, saps, latex) and animal prey (including frogs, snails, lizards, spiders and insects). Tamarins live in extended family groups of between four and 15 individuals, but usually 2-8.
Surprisingly there are no major threats to this species. They are rarely hunted, but are a least preferred food species. Their tails are used for ornamentations, but otherwise it is the only species usually found in the immediate vicinity of villages where there is hunting.
This means Golden-handed Tamarins have a bright future in Suriname where hunting is very common and people visit Suriname to hunt (true story). One condition for this optimistic future is that not all trees will be cut down and shipped overseas by foreign companies.
Behind the camera
Creating a photograph is more than just aiming and pressing the shutter button. When having a photo opportunity I watch the scene first, and then look through my viewfinder to get the composition I want. Pressing the shutter button as the final touch makes it my photograph.
When using artificial lightning it is sometimes hard to get the flash from the right angle and make the composition at the same time. It is possible, but it takes more time and it is a lot harder to do. Having some extra hands to help me out is more than welcome.
I am not famous enough to have my own paid crew. I have friends, my girlfriend or a guide who have volunteered to help me get the photographs I wanted.
Some photographs were impossible to make without their help! Thank you Yara, Daphne, Daniël and on this trip Rawien.
island in an ocean of trees
After a very succesful stay on Brownsberg we went to the next place to explore. Fredberg is a small mountain further south in the interior of Suriname.
The basecamp of Fredberg is along a river with wildlife all around like a mother sloth with baby and many toucanets.
The Guianan Toucanet Selenidera piperivora was the prettiest toucanet of all. This colorful species is found in north-western Brazil, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela. Within their range, these toucans are quite common.
From our basecamp we made several expeditions. The hike to the Fredberg was very long and humid. During the climb on the Fredberg it started pouring with rain. The trail became a waterfall and filled my boots with water. The reward after these conditions was a breathtaking view over the rainforest. It was like we were on an island in an ocean of trees. The rainforest was evaporating the rains to close the water cycle.
We spent one night on the Fredberg sleeping in hammocks. At nightfall we hiked down looking for amphibians and reptiles. The habitats seemed perfect, but we were not very successful that night. We did find a tiny and colourful dwarf-gecko. The Rainbow Sun-Gecko Gonatodes humeralis occurs from Trinidad to all the way south in Bolivia.
An interesting fact about this gecko is that he had already dropped his tail (not by us). As a defense mechanism they will “drop” their tail when they feel threatened. The tail loss and movement distract potential predators and allows the gecko to get away while the predator is left with just the tail. The gecko will regrow a new tail but this new tail won’t look as beautiful as the original. Many other lizard species use this defense mechanism.
Waking up early the next morning on top of the Fredberg was gold (also literally). The view was spectacular. Rainforest all the way to the horizon without a single trace of human activity! This “mountain” is definitely a pearl in the middle of the rainforest of Suriname.
Never let your guards down. After watching one of the best sunrises I have ever seen, we found this sneaky Fer-de-Lance Bothrops atrox near the top. Don’t worry, the snake was relocated to a safe place.
The expedition to the waterfall was not very successful. I think it was one of the best, and most beautiful habitats I have ever seen. We slept there for only one night in a hammock under a roof sail. As soon it was dark it started to rain. The rain kept on pouring the whole night.
Finding wildlife and wildlife photography is my passion. I spend a lot of my hard earned money on trips and live off my passion. Being on the other side of the world, surrounded in this amazing environment and not being able to go out looking for wildlife is extremely frustrating. I might never return to this place and time is limited. The beauty of my passion is that without the lows there can be no highs.
Behind the camera
Sometimes this is what it looks like to be a photographer’s girlfriend. Most of the time the wonderful locations make up for the waiting. Without her patience (and sometimes of others) and help I am not able to make good photographs.
The heart of boven suriname
After spending some hours on a canoe (koriaal) on the Suriname river we reached a small green island in the heart of Boven Suriname. Apiapaati was our southernmost destination into the interior of Suriname. From there we did some exciting expeditions.
While traveling to Apiapaati we saw a lot of human activity at the shores of the Suriname river. Boven Suriname is home of the Marrons of Suriname. Marrons are descendants of West-African slaves who escaped slavery and started a free life in the jungle of Suriname. The Marrons live by their traditions with some modern accents. It felt like a beautiful piece of Africa in the middle of South America.
During our expeditions we crossed some Marron villages.
The Peters’ Lava Lizard (Tropidurus hispidus) was a very common sight on the granite tops of the small mountains rising above the rainforests of Suriname. We also found many of them on the Ananasberg (Pineapple mountain). The orange colour is not part of the lizard. The orange colour are mites on the skin of the lizard.
To see the highly anticipated Dyeing Poison Frog Dendrobates tinctorius, Okopipi in local language, we had to travel upstream from Apiapaati. It was very adventurous. At the first small waterfall we could change canoes easily. The second, and a little bit bigger waterfall, was different. We had to walk through the streaming water. It was sometimes slippery and you had to know where to walk. The friendly taxi boatsman helped me getting through. I was very anxious for my gear. I did not have a waterproof bag or case. This is something I have to solve for my next trip.
Once we passed the second waterfall the river was breathtaking with primary rainforest on both sides.
When we had arrived on the trail we found a Dyeing Poison Frog within minutes. The whole hike to the top of the Okoberg (“mountain”) was hard (especially with 15kg on my back), but definitely worth it.
The Dyeing Poison Frog is one of the largest species of poison frog, yet it only grows to be about two inches long. It is a species from the genus Dendrobates, which is less toxic than the Phyllobates genus (the most toxic genus of poison frogs, and the genus to which the golden dart frog and black-legged dart frog belong). The toxin still has some interesting effects, however. Not only is it used to poison the tips of arrows for hunting, but indigenous tribes of the Guiana Shield rub the skin of juvenile parrots with the frog, which causes their feathers to grow in different colors. And that explains the species’ common name.
The diet consists mainly of ants, termites, and other small insects and small spiders. Ants have high quantities of toxic compounds in their tissue. Upon consuming ants, frogs are provided with the precursors to skin toxins which become formed in the frog’s skin, thus making them unpalatable to predators. When the food source does not have these toxic compounds, the frog will lose this poisonous feature.
It is thought that the bright colours are warnings to other animals of their skin toxins and that they are not fit to eat (aposematic). The poison allows them to be diurnal unlike most other frogs that are nocturnal.
Right before a very steep climb down from the top of the Okoberg I looked around. At one moment a branch caught my eye. I saw a nightjar. When I looked again, I saw two! The climb had to wait a few minutes to photograph this pair of Blackish Nightjar Nyctipolus nigrescens, with a happy birder next to me. Unfortunately the moment was very short.
The coloration of the Blackish Nightjar is good camouflage against the preferred microhabitat of granite rock outcroppings in forest clearings and along trails. This preference means that the species is regularly encountered. This species is comparatively easier to find day roosting than many other nightjars in the Neotropics.
The Okoberg, and the river towards that mountain, was pure and pristine wilderness. Nobody lives at the shores of the river after the waterfall. Around Apiapaati it was different. The trails at the shores of the river were disturbed habitats and we did not find much during the night hikes. Still finding a Three-striped Poison Frog Ameerega trivittata perching on a leaf at night is something I appreciate a lot.
One of the other downsides of the human activity in this area is the scarcity of birds and monkeys. This is because of the hunting activities in this area. The Marrons are allowed to hunt because it is part of their tradition. We did hear a lot of shots and we also saw a lot of dead wildlife like monkeys, birds and even a dead puma.
Further away from the river the forest is probably a lot richer, because people just live around the shores of the Suriname River. A bit more upstream it was already a lot better.
One time we saw a stunning bird, and Daniël (birder), made some great photographs of the bird. A Marron lady in our canoe said: “You can not eat a photograph”. I would call this “cultural differences”. Our “Western way” of getting our food is also not very good for our planet (worse). I do respect their way of living. Living off the land is probably better for our planet. I just hope that with a growing population the pressure on the forest won’t be too high. I hope there will be some kind of management or regulation, especially for the sensitive/endangered species. The forest is not an infinite resource, but a finite.
After being away from “civilization” (no wifi) it is nice to have a stopover at a very relaxing place called Palulu Camping. This lovely place is located near Zanderij. Staying in a lodge with a good bed, a good shower, and having wifi available on the property was a good way to “relaunch” our adventure to the Central Suriname Nature Reserve. Finding great wildlife on the property like the Amazon Tree-Boa Corallus hortulanus was a huge bonus.
The Amazon Tree-Boa is a common snake throughout much of its range, persisting wherever trees remain. This arboreal Amazonian snake can also occur in disturbed areas and even in houses located next to forest patches. The Amazon Tree-Boa is not a dangerous snake for humans. It feeds mainly on mammals (including rodents and bats) and birds. The snake acts as a good biological “pest” control and therefore a very useful animal.
Another spectacular find on the property was the White-lined Leaf Frog Phyllomedusa vaillantii. “This frog looks worried” is the anthropomorphic (“humanising”) approach to look at this in situ photo. As I mentioned before this anthropomorphic approach can contribute to their protection.
This frog was the perfect subject for a portrait. Leaf frogs look very cute when they have their eyes wide open. This time the light came from above to create more “drama”. Now this frog looks almost intimidating. Don’t worry, it is still the same cute and “worried” frog.
Central Suriname Nature Reserve
The adventure was successful so far and we had one more week. We decided to go to another natural world in the in the Central Suriname Nature Reserve called the Raleighvallen Nature Preserve. Within this preserve there is a stunning mountain called Voltzberg.
On our way, on the road, we already found some interesting wildlife. This illustrates how wild Suriname is. While driving on the road you can already encounter hummingbird nests, sloths, lizards and snakes.
Behind the camera
One of the things we wanted was a close encounter with a sloth. Especially Yara wanted this! On our way to Raleighvallen Nature Preserve our driver suddenly stopped. There was a sloth on the road. We stepped out of the car to rescue the sloth off the road. We made some photos with this adorable animal before releasing him on the other side of the road.
The cuteness of sloths have downsides. A lot of sloths in the Amazon have their home torn down, are being slung in a bag and then forced to act as a photo prop for the rest of their life. For this reason you should never pay to make a selfie with a sloth.
Sloths depend totally on rainforests to survive. Sloths are threatened by habitat destruction and other human interference. Power lines are a huge problem for these sloths. If they grab a live wire during a storm, they may get electrocuted. Roads are also difficult to cross safely for these slow creatures. Too often, mothers are found hit by cars with their babies still clinging to them.
The basecamp for Raleighvallen and Voltzberg is on Fungu Island if you are a tourist. The rules for staying at the research center are very strict now after some “illegal parties”. The research center is located near the Voltzberg mountain and surrounded by magnificent forest. Fungu Island on the other hand is not very special. The forest on Fungu Island is disturbed forest, and therefore not very interesting.
The local guides were not really willing to do night tours to the interesting places. With some effort we had arranged a night tour on the last night.
On one of the nights we did not do a night walk, but a very interesting snaked payed us a visit. The Checker-bellied Snake Siphlophis cervinus is a snake found in Amazonian South America and Trinidad. Checker-bellied snakes are nocturnal animals in nature and can rarely be found during the day.
As I have mentioned before, we had one night tour to the better habitats. We went there by boat and had a few hours only. I had to hurry. Sloths are my spirit animal, so being in a hurry is not my best feature. This night that went particularly well. I had one of my best herping nights ever.
I found some interesting snakes during this hike. Snakes are fascinating creatures and always special to find.
There is a lot of disgust or hatred of snakes in this world. There are many negative portrayals of snakes in the media. There is a lot of focus on the “most deadly”, “most venomous” or “large constrictors swallowing humans” in the media. It is all very spectacular but it contributes to the fear of snakes. And the fear of these important contributors to ecosystems leads to a lot of unnecessary snake killing.
Snakes only defend themselves when they feel threatened like the Fer-de-Lance I have mentioned. When they start defending themselves they have most likely tried to escape. If you leave a snake alone they are harmless.
The Tawny Forest Racer Dendrophidion dendrophis, the first snake of this night hike, looks far from frightening. The snake is non-venomous and was docile while photographing. I hope this snakes contributes to a more positive image of snakes. The big eyes look adorable to me!
Good education for people living in places rich in snakes is the most important act of snake conservation. Being adorable and cute can also be very beneficial.
My photographic approach illustrated by one frog
To demonstrate my photographic approach I want to introduce you to this spectacular Demerara Falls Treefrog Boana cinerascens. This frog was the next treasure of this night of speedherping.
An eye reflection appeared in the beam of my headlight. As usual I walked towards the eye reflection to check it out. When I was close to the frog it appeared to be an Osteocephalus sp.. From the corner of my eye I saw something different. It was this spectacular Demerara Falls Treefrog.
When I find a frog this spectacular it is time to get my photographic gear out of my bag. Whenever possible I start trying to make an in situ photograph. As I have explained before this is the photo of how I have encountered the animal. When I succeed in making an interesting in situ photo it feels extremely rewarding. This kind of photography documents the natural behaviour of the frog. Most of the time that behaviour is just perching on a leaf, but it tells us more about the frog than a manipulated photograph.
This time I have created two in situ photos that are worth sharing with you.
When I do not succeed making an attractive in situ photo, or when a desired species escapes, I try to make a staged photograph. Another reason to make a staged photo is when I have a creative idea for a photograph.
From now on the photographs of the Demerara Falls Treefrog are staged. The frog was placed on the same plant as where we had encountered the frog. We did not relocate the frog to photograph it on a better location or during daytime. Staged photographs should be realistic. A nocturnal frog should be photographed at night on a plausible place. After we had put the frog on the edge of the leaf I positioned myself in a lower angle to get this portrait.
A special trait of this species I had to photograph is the translucent skin on the abdomen. Glass frogs also have this trait. I way to achieve this was to place the frog on a different place on the same plant.
Photographing the Demerara Falls Treefrog made this short hike already worth it, but there was more.
This could have been the night that I found a bushmaster and two-striped forest-pitviper in one night. We will never know.
Of course I am joking, but the conditions were perfect and I had a lot of luck. Finding a Pavonine Snail-Eater Dipsas pavonina is another spectacular example that illustrates the succes of this short night hike.
The Pavonine Snail-Eater is a molluscivorous snake. That means that the snake is specialized in feeding on molluscs like snails and slugs.
After a quick photo-session we made it to the boat in time.
Behind the camera
In Suriname we have spent a lot of time on the water to get where wanted to be. There are a few good roads, but to get further into the interior to for example Apiapaati and Fungu Island you will need a “koriaal” (canoe).
Also on location we have used the “koriaal” to get to the right spots to find wildlife.
Being on the water there is also a big chance to see wildlife. Rivers are an open space. This increases your chances to see species that live in the canopy, like howler monkeys and many bird species.
You can hear the Guyanan Red Howler (Alouatta macconnelli) from far away. You can hear them from 1-2 km away! Seeing them can be a lot more challenging. They are usually very high up in the trees with the chance of a lot of branches in the way.
On the boat returning to Zanderij we had encountered this troop out in the open. They were high up in a tree, but looked very cautious.
I personally like this photograph because there is so much happening in one frame.
Being on the last location near the airport means that the adventure had almost come to an end. We were back at Palulu Camping and we did not give up searching for fantastic wildlife.
During the first night hike we found another Amazon Tree-Boa Corallus hortulanus and White-lined Leaf Frog Phyllomedusa vaillantii on the property.
This time I have created a photograph with a walking White-lined Leaf Frog to show how slender the legs are. I was very lucky with this cooperative frog.
The Brown Vinesnake Oxybelis aeneus has an enormous range extending from South America through Mexico and into extreme south-central Arizona. I saw this species for the first time in Costa Rica in 2016 and now for the second time in Suriname. It is always great to find vinesnakes!
The Brown Vinesnake is primarily diurnal, but we found the snake at night on the property of Palulu Camping. It uses its mild venom, injected by grooved rear teeth, to subdue lizards which make up the bulk of its diet. An excellent climber, this snake spends a lot of time in trees and shrubs where it can be difficult to spot.
When captured or threatened it will often hold its mouth open widely exposing the dark lining of the oral cavity and throat. The only defensive display this specimen had was showing its tongue for multiple seconds.
The early bird meets the other early bird
We woke up early to get a ride by Donovan to the Savanna behind the airport. Waking up was surprisingly easy. We saw two Burrowing Owls Athene cunicularia on the fence of the airport. We started to sneak up to them carefully. They allowed us to come close enough to make some cute portraits.They, but especially the one on the photo, were not scared at all.
Burrowing owls can turn their neck 270 degrees. That sounds about right if you look at the photo.
Behind the camera
© Daphne Pos-Melenhorst
To get good bird photographs you need long lenses, hides, patience, sneaking skills, a dose of luck and more patience. Most of my bird photographs were created with a big dose of luck. The photo of the Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) is one of them. I was on location early in the morning and we were happy to see two owls. We did not expect to get this close to them and make multiple good photos. We started to sneak up to them, and we found out that one of them was not shy at all.
Everything was packed to go home, it was raining, but Yara found this tiny juvenile toad next to our lodge. What a big tiny surprise!
Amphibians (or reptiles) of this size fascinate me as much as spectacular big sized reptiles. Maybe the small sized fascinate me more, because they are so hard to find. Being this small, they still have all the organs like the bigger organisms.
To give you a sense of how small this Giant Toad Rhinella cf. marina was, we had photographed this frog on Yara’s’s finger.
After editing all of the photographs I can say this was a successful trip. We found something I had not expected like the Emerald Tree Boa Corallus caninus. We also found other very spectacular species like the Hoogmoed Harlequin Toad Atelopus hoogmoedi and Dyeing Poison Frog Dendrobates tinctorius. Besides all the amphibians and reptiles I believe I also made one of my best bird photographs with my portrait of the Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia.
Suriname is “the raw diamond of the Neotropics” when it comes to ecotourism. To have one of the best rainforest experiences in the world I can recommend Suriname. Wildlife is abundant on all places and most forests looked pristine. Don’t expect too much luxury, but a raw and wild adventure. The basecamp at Fredberg had the best accommodation of the interior by far.
Some places are accessible and affordable to visit in the interior. Domestic flights to places further into the interior like Sipaliwini Savanna, Tafelberg and Kabalebo are extremely expensive. Those locations are unfortunately out of reach. I have enough locations left to justify a next visit to Suriname. I will also add Mount Nassau and Bakhuis to the list.
Special thanks to Dick Lock of Herping Suriname for the planning and advice. Contact him of you also want to visit Suriname.
You can also book tours, like the tour to Braamspunt, via SUforyou.
I also want to thank Rawien Jairam, co-author of Amphibians of Suriname for his support during the trip.
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Feel free to ask me for information when you are planning your own adventure. You can find more about my techniques in the blog post about the gear I recommend and the blog post about flash photography.
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