Suriname: Along the Tibiti River
by Brian O’Shea
For our final day in the field, we took a walk by the Tibiti River. Although there are no villages in this area now, and the roads through here are only a few years old, people have inhabited these forests for millenia. Here is a signpost from the past:
Just a tree trunk? Look again! This is an old balata tree, and the crisscrossed lines are old hatch marks made long ago by people harvesting the latex, which is similar to rubber. Anywhere you go in the Guiana Shield, no matter how far from a river, road, or village, you find these marked balata trees.
Getting to the river, we ran across another blast from the past, this time right under our feet:
These distinctive ruts mark a place where people once sharpened knives and tools. Rivers are the highways of the Guianas, and it’s not uncommon to find these old signs of human habitation along their banks, especially near waterfalls and good fishing spots. I can only imagine how long people have been coming to this spot!
Unfortunately, small-scale gold mining is a pervasive problem throughout the Guiana Shield. One creek, its waters normally almost black, is now muddy and laden with mercury from mining runoff upstream. This sad sight is ever more common in the Guianas.
Near a side channel of the river we found an underground chamber. We guessed it had been carved out by rainy-season floods. Never one to resist a good hole in the ground, I just had to check out what was in here, even though the sound and the smell gave me a pretty good idea:
It was Chiropteran chaos in there! I snapped this picture in the darkness:
Bats everywhere! I looked all around for other critters, hoping for a snake — instead I grabbed this guy from a crevice in the rocks:
This is Bufo guttatus, a big toad that’s pretty common in the Guianas. I wonder what he was eating down here — I bet all that bat guano attracts some mighty insects.
After going as far as I could, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the Tibiti. These are some of my favorite times in the Guianas, enjoying the afternoon sunlight along quiet blackwater rivers:
And to cap it off, we got a great digiscoped shot of this Guianan Puffbird at sunset:
Another great Suriname trip draws to a close, with a total of 36 vegetation plots, 6 bird transects, and zero wasp stings! Thanks for following along — see you on the next trip!