Tag Archives: nature

Searching for sloths in the Atlantic Forest

After volunteering as a bird guide at Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA) in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for one month, I was asked by the World Land Trust to write a series of blogs about my experiences. This blog was published here first.

Driven by my desire to find and photograph a sloth, I took a route alongside the wetlands leading to one of the forest trails. But, as much as I tried to hurry, the wetlands proved to be full of distractions that couldn’t be overlooked: stunning Blue Dacnis fed on fruit trees as ridiculously bright-coloured Saffron Finches foraged on the ground below; a cloud of Cattle Egrets floated over their reflection in the water; and on the island a beached gang of Capybara kept a wary eye on a sunbathing Broad-snouted Caiman.

Broad-snouted Caiman & Capybara at REGUA, Brazil - Scott Guiver
Broad-snouted Caiman & Capybara at REGUA, Brazil – Scott Guiver

Masked Water Tyrants darted after insects at the water’s edge, a large Squirrel Cuckoo made me jump as it crashed out from a bush on my left, Jacanas and Gallinules tiptoed across lily pads, and three species of heron stood like statues in the shallows as a Green Kingfisher whizzed past. Unseen but certainly heard, a raucous soundtrack of Kiskadee, Red-rumped Cacique and mechanical sounding White-bearded Manakin filled the air. All the while, three species of Vulture and Southern-crested Caracaras patrolled the skies silently above.

Southern-crested Caracara at REGUA , Brazil - Scott Guiver
Southern-crested Caracara at REGUA , Brazil – Scott Guiver

I remember shaking my head as I tried to comprehend the sheer amount of life, how different it must have been before the wetlands and forest were restored. What was once a piece of farmland was now an oasis of life.

I had been told that no one had seen a sloth for a few days, and this made the challenge even more exciting; plus, I was now armed with the valuable nugget of information that sloths love Cecropia trees. The light dimmed as I headed from the open wetlands into the trees. From the darker reaches of the forest floor I trod lightly, my eyes scanning for snakes on the ground and up into the tops of Cecropia trees, hopeful for a sighting of the most delightful of stagnant furballs.

I stopped. A familiar instinct told me I wasn’t alone, something I’ve felt often enough to have learned to trust. I looked up and focused on a beautiful red Cecropia leaf set against the blue sky above. Slowly, I noticed two faces in the leaves that had gradually turned to look at me. A mother sloth with her contented looking youngster clinging to her underside. My emotions suitably stirred, I sat on the ground and watched them going unhurriedly about their business.

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Waking up in a wildlife paradise

After volunteering as a bird guide at Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA) in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for one month, I was asked by the World Land Trust to write a series of blogs about my experiences. This blog was published here first.

When I arrived at REGUA it was late evening, and in the darkness all I could perceive were the sounds of insects and amphibians filling the densely humid and sweetly scented air. I had that out-of-body kind of jetlag that meant I wasn’t really certain where I was, but was full of excitement that I would wake up somewhere completely new, somewhere incredibly special.

View of the wetlands at REGUA, Brazil - ©Scott Guiver
View of the wetlands at REGUA, Brazil – ©Scott Guiver

At 6.30am, the sun hadn’t yet risen above the surrounding mountains, but light had started to filter through the darkness, nature’s dimmer switch gradually revealing the sights and drawing out the sounds of a new day. I threw on my clothes, slung my binoculars around my neck, and emerged from my cabin to take in the scene. To the left I glimpsed water, and I could see something moving, a hairy blob with ripples. When my shaky hands lifted my bins, I beheld my first Capybara, and that was the moment that my month-long smile began.

Capybara relaxing at REGUA, Brazil - ©Scott Guiver
Capybara relaxing at REGUA, Brazil – ©Scott Guiver

As I panned right into the restored Atlantic Forest, my ears forced me to look up into the highest tree, where two Yellow-headed Caracara had announced their presence. With the darkness now quickly diffusing into light, three Southern Lapwings called from behind me in the paddock, and as I turned, raising my bins, four Picazuro Pigeons scattered into the air.

In the corner of my eye, I could see oddly shaped silhouettes atop a Cecropia tree that turned out to be a flock of diminutive Blue-winged Parrotlets. I lowered my bins and quite possibly took a breath before I noticed a Southern House Wren busying away under a tree and a White-Barred Piculet tapping away on the branches above. To say that I was like a kid in a sweetshop would be a grand understatement.

Yellow-headed Caracara at REGUA , Brazil - Scott Guiver
Yellow-headed Caracara at REGUA , Brazil – Scott Guiver

In search of the Griffon..and a blue thrush

Griffon Vulture - Scott Guiver

Griffon Vultures are quite massive, an adults wingspan can be anywhere between 7.5 and 9 feet (2.3 – 2.8 metres).  I am used to seeing these birds in nature documentaries on the plains of Africa but they are still here in Europe too, and that’s pretty cool. As they cruise the altitudes on impressive wings they seem to be masters of the sky, but life isn’t without it’s dangers being a Griffon, threats from poisoning and from wind turbines ensure that conservation measures are required.

Griffon Vulture - Scott Guiver

As I stepped on to the tarmac at Jerez airport , my skin suddenly wrapped in warmth, I looked up to admire the blue sky and incredibly I saw what I had come here to see. Filled with happiness and excitment I suffered from a rare infusion of over-confidence, I  let myself think that this was going to be easy!

The opportunity to have a little break in Andalusia  to see these gargantuan birds and hopefully photograph them was a very exciting prospect for me. But if there is a difficult path to an otherwise easy to reach destination I know which way I’ll go. There are public feeding stations for the Vultures and there are guidebooks telling you exactly where to find them, but where’s the fun in that!?

Griffon Vulture - Scott Guiver

I had a week to chill out, go birding and explore the beautiful Andalusian countryside and coastline. It was the end of May and the temperature was in the high twenties and low thirties, mosaics of flowers carpeted the meadows and graced the verges, it was a heavenly place to be.

I saw Griffon Vultures gliding on thermals everyday right across the region, every time that I was anywhere near a rocky outcrop I scanned with my binoculars hoping to find a nesting colony. On the penultimate day I started to worry a little bit, I’d seen some amazing birds but I hadn’t found a colony or got the photos of Vultures that I so badly wanted.

Griffon Vulture - Scott Guiver
Spot the Vulture!?

That evening I made my dinner early and scanned the Spanish equivalent of an ordnance survey map looking for the most likely place to find my colony. I decided that the contours near Bolonia looked good..and then I cheated..I googled it just to make sure, the prognosis looked good.

My alarm went at 4am the next morning, breakfast, shower, packed lunch made and out the door into the hire car and onto the deliciously empty motorway. The sunrise creating poetic scenes across the Andalusian countryside, it felt good to be up before the rest of the world.

On arrival at my destination I decided to head straight for the rocky outcrop on the highest peak, about half way up the mountain road I stopped and scanned. A tiny looking (see above photo) but perched Vulture bought some of my earlier confidence back! I kept my fingers crossed and drove the car as high as i could drive it then I got my gear together and started to walk. It was still early morning and thoughts of another bird that had captured my imagination popped into my head. Then right on cue as I answered the call of nature, whilst enjoying an amazing Spanish vista, a song echoed amongst the rocks. I knew what it was so I didn’t waste time doing up my fly and I peered out from behind a rock to see a resplendent Blue Rock Thrush sitting on the wires that went over the mountain and beyond.

Blue Rock Thrush - Scott Guiver

It turned it’s head and spotted a strange my man with his flies open and flew far off to the left, then something caught my eye over to the right, it was another one. Things were starting to get exciting. It was also starting to get quite hot, but there was no time to apply sunscreen or drink water, I wanted to get a shot of a Blue Rock Thrush on a rock! 

Blue Rock Thrush - Scott Guiver

I followed with camera ready as the thrush disappeared behind every available rock. There seemed to be a pattern, it would disappear behind a rock for ages making me believe that it had vanished completely then as soon as I lowered my camera it would perch on top of a rock for about a second then disappear again. I wised up and waited for my one second window of opportunity. With fingers twitching on the manual focus ring, arms attempting to steady with the weight of the lens, the bird perched, I focused and shot. It wasn’t the closest of views but it didn’t matter, I was well happy.

As I turned revelling in my success a bloody great Griffon Vulture soared straight above me, I reached for my camera faster than Billy the kid.

Griffon Vulture - Scott Guiver

It was joined by another..then another..Griffon central! I spent a good couple of hours giving myself neck-ache watching these beautiful and magnificent creatures. It was worth getting up at a ridiculously early hour for an experience that I’ll never forget.

Griffon Vulture - Scott Guiver

The Cadiz region of Andalusia is awesome for birding all year round but is particularly good at migration times in Spring and Autumn.

Accommodation – Villa in La Roche

I stayed here in La Roche near Conil de la Frontera for the duration of my stay. This villa is ideally located near the coast and is within easy reach of all the best birding spots including Doñana and also other areas of interest for tourists and birders alike. Prices are cheaper in Spring and Autumn. It has four bedrooms, spacious kitchen and lounge and of course your very own pool. It’s a great villa for group or family trips. I had it all to myself, it was an absolute luxury!


Birding Cadiz Province

Andalucia Bird Society

Birding in Andalusia


Lekking Ruff

As we drove north through Finland ,at questionable speeds, we agreed that a shouted command of “STOP!” would only be questionable after stopping. It was worth checking everything out.

It was a good plan that bought us better views of Moose, Rough-legged Buzzard, Hawk Owl and Capercaillie to name a few.

Hawk Owl - Scott Guiver
Receiving a seemingly scornful look from a Hawk Owl.

On this occasion, John, the driver of the leg of the journey that took us from the forested landscape of the middle and south of Finland to the alpine tundra looking landscape of the north, made the call. He must have done this silently in his head while his right foot reacted hard with the brake pedal as the rest of us lurched forwards. As the g-force of braking was holding our bodies in situ he managed to turn his head and announce calmly but with raised brow expression that there was a Ruff lek “right next to the bloody road!!”.

Ruff - Scott Guiver

The sharp eye and quick reactions of John afforded us amazing views of this awesome wader. Two exhausted looking males in all their magnificence lunged, jumped and postured in-between micro-naps as distant females looked on.

Ruff - Scott Guiver

As I lay half on the road , half on the side of the road ,sacrificing my legs to any oncoming vehicle , I was totally in awe of the efforts of the dark coloured male to retain his territory. I was so mesmerised by the drama before my eyes that I had to remind myself to photograph what I was watching.

Ruff - Scott Guiver

Every time the darker male decided to have a doze, his lighter maned counterpart strove to take advantage but was held at bay each time by superior jumps and lunges.

Ruff - Scott Guiver


Dr Ian Burfield

John Pilgrim

Kate Spink



Brown Bear - by Scott Guiver

I struggled giving this post a title. “Bear Hair”..”If you go down to the woods today on the Finnish/Russian border”..”Super sized Furry Animals”!?..is there really a rule that you have to give a post a title? I’m only writing to fill in the gaps between the photos anyway, I don’t know if anyone actually reads it.

Brown Bear - by Scott Guiver

So there we were driving along gravel tracks through a Finnish forest, the written directions that we were following went something like – turn left, take third right, second left, first right etc, etc..and the tracks all looked the same.

Brown Bear - by Scott Guiver

After a while of driving along tracks through the forest we managed to cross paths with the only other person in the forest, who kindly told us that we were going in the wrong direction and which way we should be going.
Brown Bear - by Scott Guiver

If for some unforgivable reason you hadn’t guessed, we were here to look for Eurasian Brown Bears(Ursus arctos). These bears are pretty big, they’re quite strong, they have big teeth, , but they do look very cuddly..yeah, probably not a good idea!

Brown Bear - by Scott Guiver

The plan was to meet up with our guide who would lead us on a 3k walk through the forest to a wooden hide. Our guide was a big lad who sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I had every faith that if we were attacked by a bear then this guy would take plenty
of time for the bear to eat, allowing the rest of us to make a run for it.

Brown Bear - by Scott Guiver

We stayed in the hide all evening and through the night. We watched as the bears ate, dozed and played. It was an incredible and captivating experience.

The bears all looked different and were easy to tell apart,  not only that , they seemed to have different personalities and mannerisms too.

The interactions and the apparent hierarchy played out like a bear soap opera before our eyes, it’s an episode that I will never forget.

Brown Bear - by Scott Guiver


Dr Ian Burfield

John Pilgrim

Kate Spink

Treading carefully.

Maybe I had a lot on my mind last year, I seemed to spend more time looking at the ground than I normally would, maybe years of wearing binoculars around my neck had caused it to weaken and refuse to carry the weight of my head anymore!? Who knows, but the upshot was that I noticed more of what was going on at ground level. This included many sightings of beautiful Grass Snakes, but with their powerful senses and my not so deft footsteps, they always seemed to be avoiding my camera lens by disappearing at great speed through dense undergrowth. But with great determination the voice in my sagging head made a vow to get some decent shots of this gorgeous snake in 2016.
So it was that just over a week ago signs of spring started to appear, including sunshine that had warmth to it. The excitement of the change in seasons in the northern hemisphere is at least doubled when the transition is from winter to spring, life and colour gradually emerge from the darkness. I can feel my senses starting to come out of hibernation without even realising that they’d gone into hibernation. A feast of life and interactions starts to build, sounds, colours and smells, as pheromones and endorphins
enter the atomosphere and get tangled up with text messages.


So it was time to rein in the excitement, lower the heart rate and tread like a modern day nature ninja on the little trodden path next to the sewage works.
As I turned off the lane and reached the start of the path…I saw that it was covered in dry leaves…..”shit!”. The path is about 50metres long, it took me about half an hour
to get three quarters of the way down it, but success, a grass snake stretched out in the sun!. As i reached round in ultra slow motion for my camera, the snake vanished and a dog
came belting down the path folllowed by two people. There was quite a lot of silent swearing going on at this point, but at least i knew that this was the spot.


Sunday the 3rd of April, the forecast is sunshine, nice one, time to go to the sewage works…as you do. This time I scanned the lane up and down before entering the path and I’d only taken two ninja like steps before my eyes met those of a large grass snake and in one slow fluid movement I reached for camera and crouched down. My model obliged and i retreated with stealth so not to disturb.
My smile was wide!


Friday the 8th of April, I have a day off work, the forecast is sunny spells, I can’t resist going back. So this time I get three quarters of the way down the path again and hope is dissipating, then, mouth drops open and heart stops.


A writhing mass of grass snakes (actually there were four) mating in the middle of the path.


The feeling of euphoria has to be controlled, for one I want to get some unblurred photos and two, I don’t want to put these beauties off of doing their thing, the next generation of grass snakes is at stake! I get my shots and again I retreat with stealth. This time I have a wider smile and I may have even skipped along the lane, alright I didn’t but I felt like it.


Anyone for a Steller’s?

Varangerfjord, Norway - Scott Guiver
An ominous looking view across Varangerfjord in arctic Norway

I probably should have written this post when memories of Fennoscandia weren’t quite so distant. But so it is that May 2015, or more relevantly , that individual days of May 2015 have blurred into one or the other, but what I do remember is that we all really wanted to see Steller’s Eider, badly! Infact, what we really wanted to see were those handsome males, a pretty special sea duck and sadly decreasing in numbers and listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. Alas, we knew that we were relying on a little bit of luck as it was late in the season, with the Steller’s typically spending the winter in our target area of Varanger in northern Norway before heading off to Siberia to breed.

Kittiwakes - Scott Guiver
Kittiwakes in the colony on Ekkeroy

Ekkerøy is a traditional fishing village on the northern shore of the Varangerfjord in Eastern Finnmark, Norway and this was to be our base while in northern Norway. On the map, Ekkerøy looks like a peninsular that is one big wave away from becoming an island.

Fish drying rack, Norway -Scott Guiver
Fish drying rack, Ekkeroy, Norway

For Eider of all sorts we would head for Vadsø and Vadsøya island. Word on the birding grapevine was that this was the place that would give us our best chance for Steller’s. But on arrival and after chatting to several birders it didn’t look good.

We walked to the shore closest to the open water of Varanger fjord, we scanned the water where there were hundreds common Eider, which is not a sight to be sniffed at. Finally when we’d accepted that this wasn’t going to be our crowning moment we noticed that one distant blob of brown Eider seemed to stand  out from the rest. They were notable by their behaviour, actually – formation…a tightly packed group which in every direction they turned they stayed close together , they even dived at the same time. There was a disbelieving spontaneous realisation that we had a group of female and/or immature male Steller’s Eider in our sights, glory, happiness..and hugs!

Steller's Eider - Scott Guiver
A tightly packed raft of Steller’s

Such is human nature we now felt more driven to find at least one resplendent male, they must have been there somewhere, surely.

We went to more sites, we found more brown Steller’s….more than we expected to find I think.

Steller's and Common Eider - Scott Guiver
Spot the odd one out!

Then there it was , on a sunny evening when the sun was to come closest to setting at 2am , the climax,  which for me anyway was felt as more of a relief than any outpouring of joy..well, maybe I did have a smile on my face and a twinkle in my eye for quite some time after. Cheers!

Steller's Eider - Scott Guiver
Male Steller’s Eider, a gem in the arctic

Steller's Eider - Scott Guiver

Trip members:

Scott Guiver

Dr Ian Burfield

John Pilgrim

Kate Spink