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GUYANA – Part 7: Hood of the Friar

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Jan 20, 2009 | by Kevin Loughlin

Brown Capuchin monkeyDuring our exploration of Guyana we came across two very different species, each with Capuchin in their name. The word capuchin derives from a group of friars named the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, an offshoot from the Franciscans, who wore brown robes with large hoods covering their heads. When explorers reached the Americas in the 15th century they found small monkeys who resembled these monks and named them capuchins.

Capuchin monkeys are a very long-lived primate often considered one of the smartest as well. The White-faced or White-headed Capuchin monkey, found from Costa Rica into northern South America is a probably best known for its roles in TV shows and movies.

Friends had Marcel the monkey on the show for a season. However, it “didn’t work out.” It seems that all the other capuchin actors were filming Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman, and the monkey Friends got was not so friendly! The movie Outbreak follows a White-faced Capuchin as it carries a deadly Ebola-like virus from its “home” in Africa to the USA. See a problem with that scenario? They don’t live in Africa! Hollywood needed a smart, easily trainable monkey to fit the role. “No one will know.” Right.

The Guyana species, pictured above, is the Brown or Tufted Capuchin (Cebus apella). We were amazed to see them running across the savanna more like the baboons of Africa. It was a very unexpected scene of which I was happy to get a few fair images.
CapuchinbirdThe Capuchinbird or Calfbird (Perissocephalus tricolor) was a lifer for me. Our first search in mid-afternoon in a small gallery forest at Karanambu Ranch netted us nothing. Our local guide told us we would never see one without playing tapes. No thanks, I’d rather use knowledge and birding skills. We knew we would have another opportunity to search elsewhere, and I had confidence we would see one.
Our time came while at Iwokrama. We learned that the Capuchinbird would lek for a short period early in the morning. Okay. We also learned that there was a lek near the lodge. Perfect. Our plan was in place for the following morning.
As the sun peeked over the trees we entered the dark forest. Many birds could be heard but few could be seen in the dark, misty jungle. We were focused on our target. We wanted to get into place with as little noise as possible before our birds began singing… or rather, calling. Their “song” is an unmistakeable “mmooOOooo”… winning them their “Calfbird” moniker.
We found our spot and got comfortable. Other birds and even a couple of large moths attracted our attention. Patience. They’ll be here. One of our guides reached for his iPod. I stopped him and asked him to put it away, it was not necessary. I received an surprised, but agreeable look. Most birders who come here prefer to use tapes to “get the bird.” We waited… patiently.
MmmooOOooo… There it was! Nearly above our heads. MmmooOOOooo… This time it, or rather they, were above our heads. Singing, bowing, singing. We photographed. MmmooOOooo… another jumped into my view, bowed and sang. “Got it!” Okay, not a great shot, but definitely recognizable. I want to go back… I will go back to try again!
Photos shot with Canon 40D and Sigma 50-500 EX zoom.

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