We had originally intended to visit Venezuela in July 2003, but civic unrest resulting in a UK government advice warning not to travel meant we had to cancel our plans. By then, however, we had made contact with David Ascanio of Birding in Venezuela, agreed costs and received a draft itinerary, so when we decided to make another attempt at visiting this wonderful country in September 2004, most of the arrangements were already in place.
The trip proved well worth the wait, and definitely ranks as one of the best we have ever made. We saw a wonderful cross-section of Venezuelan habitats and scenery, enjoyed great food and nice hotels and thoroughly enjoyed our time with David and our driver Carlos. As for the birds, we recorded well over 400 species, many of them Venezuelan endemics and near-endemics, including some extremely rare and difficult species.
Highlights included such fantastic species as Scallop-breasted Antpitta, a bird so rare and little-known that David believes that only a few dozen other birders worldwide have seen this species. Other major successes included Helmeted Curassow, Plain-flanked Rail, Rusty-flanked Crake, Handsome Fruiteater, Great Antpitta, Mérida and Caracas Tapaculos, Rufous-cheeked Tanager and Tocuyo Sparrow. We cant wait to return to Venezuela to do some more birding!
We owe enormous thanks to all the team at Birding in Venezuela:
Our guide, David Ascanio, who was truly outstanding - without him we would probably have struggled to see a fraction of the species we saw. With my poor eyesight I am especially grateful for his unending patience and skills in putting me onto birds;
Our driver, Carlos Sanchez, who was superb, a great driver who was excellent company throughout the trip, and really added to our enjoyment;
Gioconda Motta in the office who dealt quickly and efficiently with the administration of our trip, and
David and Carlos families, for managing without them while they showed us around their fabulous country
Yet again, we had to run the gauntlet of airline ineptitude and inefficiency to actually go ahead with our trip. We initially booked our flights to Caracas with KLM, paying in full at the time of booking. Two months later we heard a rumour that this flight had been cancelled. We contacted KLM via the booking agent, Opodo, who confirmed this they also confirmed that they werent planning on informing us until August, which I find almost unbelievable given that we were flying on 4 September 2004!
We therefore rebooked with Lufthansa, again paying in full, on the assumption that we would soon obtain a full refund from KLM, given that we were not at fault. Stupid assumption - it took nearly three months to obtain our refund, and only then because, tiring of Opodos inactivity / lack of urgency, I contacted KLMs customer complaints department myself and made a fuss.
Sara and I eventually flew from London Heathrow (LHR) via Frankfurt (FRA) to Caracas (CCS) with Lufthansa. Clive and Eleanor flew from Edinburgh and we met up in Frankfurt. Incidentally, make sure you allow enough time for your connection at Frankfurt the terminals are quite far apart, and it took about half an hour for us to get from one to another.
Outwards: Depart LHR 04.09.04 06:30, arrive FRA 04.09.04 08:55
Depart FRA 04.09.04 10:20, arrive CCS 04.09.04 14:30
Return: Depart CCS 18.09.04 16:35, arrive FRA 19.09.04 08:15
Depart FRA 19.09.04 09:45, arrive LHR 19.09.04 10:25
Our airline problems werent quite over, however when in Mérida, David phoned Lufthansa to reconfirm our seats on the return flights from Caracas, and was surprised to find that Sara and I weren't on the flight! A couple of urgent calls and he thankfully managed to get us reinstated, but it was still a nasty scare. My contempt for airlines in general continues unabated!
Please note that Caracas Simón Bolívar International Airport is not actually located in Caracas, but in the coastal town of Maiquetía, 26 km away on the other side of the Coastal Cordillera. See the section on "Health, safety and annoyances" for more information on getting away from the airport.
You should also note that you may be asked to pay a departure tax when you check in on departure. We didnt really understand how this worked (and neither does David!) Sara and I (who booked through Opodo) were told that the tax had already been paid on our tickets, whereas Clive and Eleanor, who were on the same flight but who had booked through a different booking agency, were told they had to pay a fee of about GBP 10 each. Best keep some Bolivars in case you are required to pay this fee (there is a 24 hour exchange booth at the airport).
All ground arrangements were made through Birding in Venezuela, who organised a large and very comfortable minivan complete with driver. Carlos has been working with David for many years, is familiar with all the birding sites, and the eccentricities of visiting birders. He takes security very seriously, and made sure we and our gear were safe at all times.
Our route took us westwards from Caracas to Maracay, then north to Tucacas on the coast of Falcón state. From there we headed into the Andes at Sanare, then down to Barinas at the junction of the Andes and Llanos, before heading up to Santo Domingo and over the Andes to Mérida, from where we flew back to Caracas.
The roads were good smooth tar along the whole route we travelled, and I would have been happy to self-drive this route the roads were certainly much better than those I have driven on in Mexico and Jamaica, although David told us that not all the main Venezuelan birding sites have such good access, especially those in the south east of the country. There was certainly no need for 4WD on our route.
If you choose to self-drive, you should be aware that in the event of you having a road accident, you should under no circumstances move either vehicle until the police arrive, no matter how badly you may be blocking traffic. Failure to obtain a Traffic Police Accident Report before moving your vehicle will result in your insurance being invalidated.
Be careful of crazy local drivers, drunk drivers etc, especially after dark, and be aware that car-jacking is increasingly becoming a problem in Caracas, especially targeted at expensive 4x4s.
Our flight back from Mérida (MRD) to Caracas was with Santa Barbara Airlines (website - http://www.reservaciones.com/airlines/santabarbara.shtml). These were booked for us by Birding in Venezuela, so I dont know the cost, but the are currently selling similar tickets on-line for c. USD 130 certainly a better option than the long drive back to Caracas. The flight was very smooth and efficient, although David told us that he had booked us onto the early afternoon flight rather than the evening flight, as the latter is often cancelled because of fog.
We were extremely fortunate on this trip to secure the guiding services of David Ascanio, one of Venezuelas foremost ornithologists and bird guides. He is a hugely experienced field ornithologist, guiding both individuals and tour groups (VENT etc) not only in all areas of Venezuela but also in neighbouring countries - the Guianas, Trinidad & Tobago and northern Brazil. During his time in the field he has been heavily involved in the rediscovery of two species, Tepui Tinamou and Plain-flanked Rail, and has collected a huge amount of additional data, field observations and sound recordings in respect of other rare and endangered birds.
His fieldcraft and ability to get us onto the birds he found meant that we saw many many more birds than we could have hoped to have seen on our own. I was particularly impressed by his enthusiasm for trying to show us rare and difficult birds there was certainly no desire to pad out the list with easy birds at the expense of the difficult stuff. Given my terrible eyesight I would regularly wince when he announced that our next target would be a rail, tapaculo, antpitta, antthrush or some other megaskulker, but we would almost invariably succeed in seeing the bird.
In addition to his birding ability David, with the assistance of Carlos and Gioconda, also smoothly and efficiently took care of all the ground arrangements, being especially attentive to our comfort and safety. He speaks excellent English, and was very happy to discuss with us other aspects of Venezuelan life sport, culture, politics, economics etc, which made the sometimes long drives much more enjoyable.
In summary, I cannot recommend David highly enough as a guide and ground agent, and look forward eagerly to having the opportunity to bird with him again before very long. To contact David, see e-mail addresses at the top of this report.
Costs & Money
The local currency is the Bolivar (VEB) and the official exchange rate at the time of our visit was GBP 1 = VEB 3,320, but with a rapidly falling exchange rate this has already risen to GBP 1 = VEB 3,725 by December 2004. However, the situation is more complex than this - there are currently extremely strict restrictions in place on the ownership of foreign currency and this has created a flourishing black market for foreign exchange, with US Dollars (USD) in especially high demand. This is in stark contrast to the section in my 2001 version of the Lonely Planet guide to Venezuela, which states "There is no black market for currency" clearly things have changed considerably since that edition was written.
It is therefore possible to obtain as much as 15% over the official exchange rate from such sources. However, great care should be taken before entering into such transactions, and I would recommend against changing money with total strangers there is a serious risk that you will be robbed or defrauded. You should also avoid changing too much money, as you may have difficulty in changing back any excess Bolivars at the end of your trip. I usually ensure that I take cash USD in small bills, and change them as and when I need to, and this approach worked especially well in Venezuela.
Credit cards are widely accepted, and there are many ATM machines in the main towns. However, we were strongly warned against using these unless totally avoidable. Credit card fraud is rife, and cloning of credit and debit cards is also a major problem. At the same time, you should avoid carrying large sums in cash in major towns and cities as petty crime such as mugging and pickpocketing is also a serious problem see "Health, safety and annoyances"
Our arrangement with Birding in Venezuela was on a fully inclusive basis we paid them a total of USD 2,020 per person, which covered all guiding, road and air transportation, accommodation, food and soft drinks.
Venezuela probably has the cheapest petrol anywhere in the world during our visit a litre of petrol cost c. VEB 70 c. GBP 0.02!! Food and accommodation was also very cheap by European standards. We didnt pay for the rooms directly, so I am not sure of the exact cost, but double rooms in both the Hotel Moruco (Santo Domingo) and Hotel Bristol (Barinas) are currently (Dec 04) being advertised on the internet for c. VEB 35,000 (GBP 10), which is superb value. Restaurant meals were also very reasonably priced, and a good meal could usually be had for USD 5 10 per head.
The total cost of the trip is estimated at GBP 3,325 for 2 people (GBP 1,662 each), made up as follows:
International flights - GBP 980
Ground arrangements (incl. guiding) - GBP 2,245
Fuel & incidentals (est.) -GBP 100
Accommodation and food
We stayed at the following places:
Hotel Byblos, Avenida Las Delicias, Maracay. Tel +58 (0) 243 242 0311, fax +58 (0) 243 242 0068, e-mail email@example.com Comfortable 3-star hotel, ideally situated for trips to Henri Pittier N.P.
Hotel Byblos, Maracay
Hotel Byblos, Maracay
Posada La Arboleda, near Tucacas. Tel +58 (0) 259 881 5027 or +58 (0) 484 5252, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org This is a lovely farm turned lodge, catering for birders and other naturalists, a few kilometres inland from the coastal town of Tucacas, in the extreme south east of Falcón state. It even has a small open-air swimming pool!
Posada La Arboleda, Tucacas
Posada El Cerrito, Calle Providencia Sector El Cerrito, Sanare. Tel +58 (0) 414 550 4077, e-mail email@example.com I really liked this place comfortable and rustic, with rooms set around a paved courtyard. Government-owned
Posada El Cerrito, Sanare
Hotel Bristol, Avenida 23 de enero, Barinas. Tel +58 (0) 273 532 1425, fax +58 (0) 273 552 0229, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Unfortunately, our budget for this trip couldnt stretch to staying at one of the famous expensive Llanos ranches (Hato Piñero, Hato El Cedral etc). However, this very comfortable and modern hotel in the town of Barinas proved to be a very good base for exploring an excellent birding road south east to and beyond the town of San Silvestre.
Hotel Bristol, Barinas
Hotel Moruco, Santo Domingo. Tel +58 (0) 274 898 8155, fax +58 (0) 274 898 8225, website http://www.venaventours.com/hotelmoruco/ Lovely government-owned lodge, above the village of Santo Domingo. Beautifully set out, fantastic setting could have stayed here for a month!
Hotel Moruco, Santo Domingo
Hotel Belensate, Urbanización La Hacienda, Mérida. Tel +58 (0) 74 266 3722, fax +58 (0) 74 266 1255, e-mail email@example.com, website http://www.hotelbelensate.com/ More expensive than the other places we stayed, at c. VEB 70,000 per double room per night, but worth the extra cost. The hotel is a converted sugarcane farmhouse, with rooms set in a series of small courtyards, around a central area with bar, terrace and large open air swimming pool.
Hotel Belensate, Mérida
Hotel La Floresta, Avenida Ávila Sur, Plaza Altamira, Caracas. Tel +58 (0) 212 263 1955, fax +58 (0) 212 267 7519, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Very comfortable hotel in east central Caracas, in a "safe" part of the city. I even felt comfortable wandering around after dark in this area.
Minimal. We passed through a few roadblocks, but were just waved through. Keep your passport with you at all times, as you may be required to show it at checkpoints, especially at the entrance to Henri Pittier National Park, which are manned by police looking for smugglers
I found the climate very comfortable throughout, although some of the others found it a little cold at times David and Carlos obviously preferred the weather warmer! We had some rain just about every day during the first week, although it was drier in the Andes. This was rarely a problem, however, and the only time it rained heavily was on the morning of 8.9.04 when a hurricane passed along the central and eastern Venezuelan coast. This temporarily disrupted our birding, but for no more than a few hours, and it quickly cleared.
The biggest weather-related problem was that the Venezuelan authorities, concerned about possible loss of life due to the approaching hurricane, restricted access to all beaches on 8.9.04 preventing our planned visit to Morrocoy National Park to look for Plain-flanked Rail. This was obviously pretty worrying as this is the stronghold of that species, but David once again came up with the goods, and managed to find us this bird at nearby Chichiriviche.
Health, safety & annoyances
Before visiting we made sure we were up to date with the usual jabs tetanus, polio, typhoid, yellow fever, hepatitis, meningitis and diphtheria. A valid Yellow Fever Certificate is currently required for entry into Venezuela.
Malaria is present in parts of Venezuela, but is restricted to rural areas, primarily in the states of Amazonas, Bolivar and Delta Amacuro, with a lower risk in parts of Apure, Barinas, Sucre and Táchira. We decided not to take anti-malarial prophylactics we would only be spending a short period of time in Barinas state, north of the area normally affected by this disease, and furthermore the strain of malaria occurring in this area, Plasmodium vivax, is relatively mild. I usually suffer annoying side-effects from anti-malarials such as sickness and headaches, and I therefore decided to take my chances given the relatively low risk, and concentrate instead on not getting bitten.
There were plenty of biting insects around in some places, although insect repellent kept most of them at bay. I did, however, get comprehensively bitten by chiggers while wandering around the lawns at Posada La Arboleda my first chiggers experience, and not one Im eager to repeat in a hurry the bites itched so badly that they prevented me sleeping some nights. These are at their worst in grassy areas with livestock, and we religiously avoided walking through such areas subsequently!
The road from Santo Domingo to Mérida through the Mucubaji Pass and Páramo de Águila area reaches an altitude of 4,000 metres, and there is therefore a risk of altitude sickness (soroche) this can happen anywhere above 2,500 metres, but becomes a major risk above 3,500 metres. Just because youve never suffered from it previously means nothing you could still suffer the next time you ascend to this kind of altitude. Furthermore, the problem is worse at night, because your oxygen intake decreases further while you sleep.
Consequently, it is important to acclimatise before spending any time at this height, especially an overnight stay. Ascend slowly, dont smoke, drink plenty of water, but avoid alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine. If you start feeling ill, descend a few hundred metres until the symptoms start to clear up. Dont try to overcome the problem by taking medication it might cure the symptoms, but not the cause.
There is a nice hotel at Las Tapias, down from Mucubaji Lagoon, but David told us that tour groups who stayed there in the past after driving straight from Barinas often suffered from altitude sickness. Consequently the best approach is probably to stay at least one night at the superb Hotel Moruco at Santo Domingo before venturing higher. We spent some time birding this area, and suffered no side effects, despite Eleanor and Sara having experienced altitude sickness at just 3,000 metres in Chile.
See http://www.high-altitude-medicine.com/AMS.html - avoid for an excellent summary of the risks of Altitude Sickness.
Our main concerns from a health and safety viewpoint were, sadly, human-related. Street crime such as mugging, often armed, is high and on the rise, and you should be very careful in urban areas even in daylight. We avoided walking around in such places wherever possible, and completely avoided it after dark. Dress down, and avoid displays of wealth we kept our binoculars, cameras etc hidden when booking into hotels and avoid using mobile phones on the street. If you choose to stay the night in Caracas itself, try to pick a hotel in the safer districts of Chacao, La Castellana or Altamira.
You should be especially careful when arriving at Caracas airport, as attacks and scams on tourists are a big problem. Be especially wary of taking taxis from the airport as attacks by taxi drivers (bogus and genuine) are common. A fleet of official black Ford Explorer taxis operate from outside the arrivals area, and are generally considered the safest option of getting away from the airport, but the UK Foreign Office website details one attack on a tourist by the driver of one of these vehicles.
Your best bet would be to hire a car at the airport, or arrange to be met here, perhaps in conjunction with the hotel where you will be staying the first night. However, even then you should be very careful. David told us that a new scam is for thieves to copy the names from the cards held up by such representatives in the arrival area, take the tourists away by taxi, and then mug them. We actually met a German tourist in Mérida who had suffered exactly this experience, and lost all his documents, money, luggage etc. David provided us with a password in advance, and requested that we ask him to confirm this on meeting a very sensible precaution.
Finally, it is important to appreciate that the political situation in Venezuela has been extremely volatile in recent years, and this may affect your travel plans, although the atmosphere seems to have calmed down since the August 2004 presidential indictment referendum. You will see political graffiti absolutely everywhere across the country. Street demonstrations have been a major problem in recent years, and often turned violent with several deaths. You should avoid such demonstrations at all costs, and be aware of the disruptions that could occur as a result of these.
You should certainly not be put off visiting Venezuela by what may appear to be a long list of security issues we had a fantastic time here, and cant wait to return, but it is always sensible to take basic safety precautions, here probably more than many other countries. The bulk of these problems seem to be most prevalent in the large cities, which of course are usually avoided by birders.
Before travelling, check out the UK Foreign Office website - http://www.fco.gov.uk - invaluable for pre-trip planning, and should be monitored regularly in the lead up to a trip. It is also possible, via this website, to subscribe to a free e-mail update service which keeps you informed of developments as they occur
Birds of Venezuela Steven Hilty. Published by Helm ISBN 0-7136-6418-5. Superb book.
Where to watch birds in South America Nigel Wheatley. Published by Helm - ISBN 0-7136-390-1. Very good background info, which encouraged me to consider Venezuela in the first place
Venezuela - Lonely Planet Krzysztof Dydyski ISBN 1-86450-219-3
Kevin Healeys Travel Map of Venezuela International Travel Maps - 1:1,750,000. ISBN 0921463596
Sites visited were as follows:
Arrive Caracas. Drive to Maracay
Henri Pittier National Park (Rancho Grande including the Andy Field Trail) Late afternoon birding around Maracay
Henri Pittier National Park (Choroni Road) Museum Trail at La Sabaneta, (La Fundacion) Choroni
Henri Pittier National Park (Rancho Grande, including Pico Guacamayo Trail) Drive to Tucacas Posada La Arboleda, Tucacas
Posada La Arboleda, Tucacas
Cerro La Misión
Drive to Sanare via San Pablo MarshSanare
Yacambú Scrub area north of Sanare
Yacambú (Santa Crucita Lagoon)
Baragua (old road from Barquisimeto towards Maracaibo)
Yacambú Drive to Barinas via Quibor & Acarigua
Road south east from San Silvestre, Hato Santa Maria
Drive to Santo Domingo via Altamira
San Isidro Quarry
Presa del Complejo
Páramo de Águila
Hotel Moruco, Santo Domingo
Drive to Mérida
La Pedregosa (outskirts of Mérida)
Pico Humboldt Trail, La Mucuy
Flight to Caracas
Details of these sites are given in the Daily Account section.
Saturday 4 September 2004
Having arrived on time and got through the airport without any hold-ups, we quickly met up with David and Carlos, and were soon on our way to Maracay. This is a 2.5 hour drive, so there was no time to stop for birding en route, but the views of the forested Cordillera de la Costa along the way gave us a taste of the birding to come at Henri Pittier N.P. tomorrow.
As we arrived in Maracay we did some birding from the van, picking up some of the commoner open-country species, the best of which was a CATTLE TYRANT and a fly-by FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER. Eleanor also saw a small flock of YELLOW-HOODED BLACKBIRDS as we approached the city, but the rest of us didnt manage to get on to them, which was a shame as we didnt see this species elsewhere.
Today we would be birding the Henri Pittier National Park, one of the most famous birding sites in South America, and a place I have wanted to visit for years. There are two roads leading into the park from Maracay, both climbing the Cordillera de la Costa before descending the northerly slope to the Caribbean. The Rancho Grande Road heads out of Maracay to the north west and passes Rancho Grande Biological Station (on your right), before turning north in the village of Aporite and reaching the coast at El Playón, where it goes east along the coast as far as the village of Cuyagua. The second route, known as the Choroni Road, heads almost directly northwards from Maracay, before descending to the small seaside town of Choroni.
We left Maracay before dawn and arrived at Rancho Grande by first light. There is a small pull-off and picnic area on the left at the entrance to the biological research station, where we started birding while Carlos set up breakfast. Over the course of a couple of hours birding, mixed with a stand-up breakfast, we built up an excellent list of species without moving from this one spot RED-CROWNED and GOLDEN-OLIVE WOODPECKERS, GROOVE-BILLED TOUCANET, CRESTED SPINETAIL, BUFF-FRONTED FOLIAGE-GLEANER, MONTANE WOODCREEPER, OLIVACEOUS WOODCREEPER, CHESTNUT-CROWNED BECARD, CINNAMON FLYCATCHER, OLIVE-STRIPED FLYCATCHER, SLATY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, RUFOUS-LORED TYRANNULET, SMOKE-COLORED PEWEE, GREEN HONEYCREEPER, ORANGE-BELLIED EUPHONIA, FULVOUS-HEADED TANAGER, GOLDEN TANAGER, FAWN-BREASTED TANAGER, BLUE-WINGED MOUNTAIN-TANAGER, PALM TANAGER, BAY-HEADED TANAGER, SPECKLED TANAGER, BLUE-GRAY TANAGERS, BROWN-CAPPED VIREO, SLATE-THROATED REDSTART and BANANAQUIT Most of the birds were seen in small feeding flocks as they fed in the canopy of nearby trees and bushes Cecropia trees seemed especially attractive to tanagers and other species.
Activity eventually quietened down somewhat, but the station had not yet opened, so having finished breakfast we spent some time birding the other side of the road just down from the entrance gate, seeing YELLOW-BELLIED SEEDEATER, LONG-TAILED SYLPH, YELLOW-OLIVE FLYCATCHER and WHITE-FRONTED TYRANNULET in roadside vegetation, and an OSPREY overhead. David heard a Handsome Fruiteater calling nearby, but we were unable to locate it.
The gates should have opened by now, so David walked up to the station to fetch the key, and we drove up to the main building. As we arrived a number of the endemic BLOOD-EARED PARAKEETS flew into some nearby trees and gave very good views, while WHITE-TIPPED DOVES and YELLOW-BELLIED SEEADEATERS fed on the ground. The station building is a multi-storey affair, with a flat roof, from which you can scan the canopy.
Bird feeders stocked with fruit attracted a good range of birds for fantastic close-up views and excellent photo opportunities species seen here included GROOVE-BILLED TOUCANET, ORANGE-BELLIED EUPHONIA, GOLDEN TANAGER, SPECKLED TANAGER and BLUE-GRAY TANAGER. GOLDEN-CROWNED FLYCATCHER and BOAT-BILLED FLYCATCHER were seen in nearby trees while a small group of RED-BILLED PARROTS flew noisily over.
From the station we set out to walk the Andy Field Trail, a loop trail a couple of miles long through excellent forest. Walking slowly along the trail produced PALE-BREASTED THRUSH, WHITE-TIPPED QUETZAL and SMOKY-BROWN WOODPECKER, before we came across our first mixed-species feeding flock. Despite it being a fairly narrow trail, the viewing was reasonably good, and we enjoyed good views of COCOA and STRONG-BILLED WOODCREEPERS, MONTANE FOLIAGE-GLEANER and STREAKED XENOPS.
A further mixed flock of COMMON BUSH-TANAGERS and THREE-STRIPED WARBLERS were also seen, before we found another Venezuelan endemic, a stunning male HANDSOME FRUITEATER perched out in full view above the trail, followed by a female bird further along. An OLIVACEOUS WOODCREEPER was seen nearby, then David heard a BLACK-FACED ANTTHRUSH calling nearby. We crouched down to scan a patch of forest floor while David got to work with his i-pod, but the bird refused to come into view. A NORTHERN SHORT-TAILED ANTTHRUSH proved to be much more co-operative, however, and approached quite close giving good views.
As we continued our ascent a pair of GRAY SKUNKS ran across the trail, before we came across yet another endemic species, a GUTTULATED FOLIAGE-GLEANER, in the company of a RED-BILLED SCYTHEBILL, while a VENEZUELAN WOOD-QUAIL called in the distance.
As the trail started to descend we saw more GROOVE-BILLED TOUCANETS and a GRAY-BREASTED WOOD-WREN, before coming across a family group of three HANDSOME FRUITEATERS this can be a difficult species to find, so we were very lucky to see as many as we did.
Back at the biological station a further stint at the bird feeders added several new species. VIOLET-FRONTED BRILLIANT and VIOLET-CHESTED HUMMINGBIRD came to sugar water, while WHITE-LINED TANAGER, SILVER-BEAKED TANAGER, BAY-HEADED TANAGER, PALE-BREASTED THRUSH, BANANAQUITS and BUFF-THROATED SALTATOR found the papaya particularly appealing. A RUFOUS-LORED TYRANNULET, our second of the morning, was found in a small tree on the way back to the main road this can be a tricky species to find so we were very fortunate to see two of these endemic birds in a morning.
On reaching the road we turned left and walked for a way downhill back towards Maracay, scanning the roadside vegetation. A flowering bush attracted WEDGE-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD and LONG-TAILED SYLPH, a MOUSTACHED PUFFBIRD perched on a bare branch was a good find, and a YELLOW-BACKED ORIOLE flew into a roadside tree. RED-EYED VIREO and BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER were seen before a SHORT-TAILED HAWK glided overhead.
Returning towards the picnic area a mixed species flock produced a number of new species GOLDEN-CROWNED WARBLER, STRIPE-BREASTED SPINETAIL, FOREST ELAENIA, GOLDEN-FRONTED GREENLET and STREAKED SALTATOR, with COMMON TODY-FLYCATCHER added further along.
It was now mid-afternoon, and we decided to return in the direction of Maracay. A brief stop at the entrance gate added STREAKED FLYCATCHER to the list, but an annoying barking dog put paid to any real birding here, so we pressed on to Maracay.
Some roadside birding in town proved quite productive CARIB GRACKLES were seen much better than yesterdays birds, and a group of large trees set back from the roadside produced an ORIOLE BLACKBIRD and an ORANGE WINGED PARROT with FORK-TAILED PALM-SWIFTS hawking overhead. SAFFRON FINCHES, SHINY COWBIRDS and SMOOTH-BILLED ANIS were seen in an adjacent grassy area, before a small flock of BROWN-THROATED PARAKEETS flew in to join the parrot. With no more than perhaps an hour of daylight remaining it started to rain heavily so we decided to beat a retreat to the hotel, stopping at a supermarket en route to buy tomorrows lunch.
Today we tried the eastern road into Henri Pittier N.P., known as the Choroni Road, and with it still dark we arrived at a pull-off and picnic area on the right hand side of the road near Pico Palmarito, in the hope of finding some nightjars. We wandered off down the road, spotlighting the trees and bushes, but with no luck. Some monkeys were starting to move around, and when we heard some strange noises from a tree above our heads, we swung the spotlight up hoping to get a look at some of these. To our surprise, the spotlight landed on a fantastic HELMETED CURASSOW, which stayed put and gave outstanding views we had not even considered the possibility of seeing such a rare and elusive bird! What a start to the day!
Back at the van, some birds hawking overhead proved to be SHORT-TAILED NIGHTHAWKS, and as it started getting light we picked out the first GLOSSY-BLACK THRUSHES feeding in the roadside Cecropias. A GOLDEN-BREASTED FRUITEATER called nearby, but couldnt be tracked down, while a few WHITE-COLLARED SWIFTS flew overhead.
We enjoyed a quick breakfast as it got light, then spent some time working the Cecropias, finding GROOVE-BILLED TOUCANET, BLUE-CAPPED TANAGER, MONTANE FOLIAGE-GLEANER, BLUE-WINGED MOUNTAIN-TANAGER, GOLDEN TANAGER, BERYL-SPANGLED TANAGER, GOLDEN-OLIVE WOODPECKER, INCA JAY, YELLOW-BELLIED SISKIN, COMMON BUSH-TANAGER and MONTANE WOODCREEPER.
We then walked down the road for a while, birding the roadside vegetation, recording SPECKLED HUMMINGBIRD, BAND-TAILED PIGEON, GOLDEN-TAILED SAPPHIRE, THREE-STRIPED WARBLER, LONG-TAILED SYLPH, COLLARED TROGON and MOUSTACHED PUFFBIRD. A GOLDEN-BREASTED FRUITEATER was eventually tracked down, and BROWN-THROATED PARAKEETS, BLOOD-EARED PARAKEETS, RED-BILLED PARROTS and VAUXS SWIFTS flew past.
David heard a SCHWARTZS ANTTHRUSH calling from a little way down the slope, so we walked into the jungle to try to track it down. It took a while of standing very still and quietly, but we eventually enjoyed superb views of a pair of these birds feeding quietly on the ground. Back on the road we found VIOLET-FRONTED BRILLIANT, BOOTED RACKET-TAIL and VIOLET-CHESTED HUMMINGBIRD among numerous GOLDEN-TAILED SAPPHIRES around a group of fruiting bushes.
A small group of the fantastically named OLEAGINOUS HEMISPINGUS were found, followed by CHESTNUT-CAPPED BRUSH-FINCH, COMMON BUSH-TANAGER, THREE-STRIPED WARBLER and SLATY-THROATED REDSTART. An ANDEAN SOLITAIRE in a roadside tree was a very good find I still have vivid memories of chasing these birds for hours through foggy Ecuadorian rainforest before eventually getting a decent view.
SMOKY-BROWN WOODPECKER, COLLARED TROGON, BUFF-THROATED FOLIAGE-GLEANER and WHITE-NECKED THRUSH were also added, as well as a second ANDEAN SOLITAIRE before it was time to move on.
Having crossed the top of the Cordillera de la Costa we descended the northerly slope, arriving at a small village called La Fundacion. Here we located an area called La Sabaneta near the river, where a trail called the Museum Trail led across the river (BLACK PHOEBES) and through some good lowland forest.
It wasnt long before we were adding new species to our list several RUFOUS-BREASTED WRENS skulked around in the thick vegetation, but were eventually seen, while RUFOUS-AND-WHITE WREN, HOUSE WREN, YELLOW-OLIVE FLYCATCHER, PLAIN ANTVIREO and FLAVESCENT WARBLER were much more obliging. Further stops along the trail produced WHITE-VENTED PLUMELETEER, FOREST ELAENIA, PLAIN-BROWN WOODCREEPER, WHITE-LINED TANAGER, STREAKED SALTATOR, TROPICAL PARULA and PURPLE HONEYCREEPER.
A RUFOUS-TAILED JACAMAR perched over our heads, and SILVER-BEAKED TANAGERS, BARRED ANTSHRIKE, THICK-BILLED EUPHONIA and another FLAVESCENT WARBLER were seen before we heard on of our main target birds at this site, a LANCE-TAILED MANAKIN. David got to work with thee tape, but the bird proved were unobliging, calling back from thick cover, before whizzing over our heads at great speed, and disappearing into more undergrowth. We eventually accepted that we would have to be happy with these flight views for now, and wandered back along the trail.
By now it had started getting very hot, and bird activity had died down somewhat, but we managed to add a few new birds. A brief scramble up a steep slope produced SCALED PICULET, PALE-EYED PYGMY-TYRANT, more views of the RUFOUS-TAILED JACAMAR and good views of RUFOUS-WINGED ANTWREN, while David and Clive also managed to see a GUIRA TANAGER. Back on the trail we added SOUTHERN BEARDLESS TYRANNULET, SOCIAL FLYCATCHER and a noisy flock of CRESTED OROPENDOLAS before arriving back at the car ready for lunch.
From here we continued northwards to the seaside town of Choroni, where we were greeted by MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS overhead. We parked along the beach access road, and wandered off into a camping area among dry scrubby woodland on the right hand side of this road. First up here were a flock of GREEN-RUMPED PARROTLETS, followed by SOCIAL FLYCATCHER and a COPPER-RUMPED HUMMINGBIRD. One of our main targets here was the range-restricted GLAUCOUS TANAGER and it wasnt long before we found one in the top of a nearby palm tree, although views were a little distant. Other birds seen in this area included STREAK-HEADED WOODCREEPER, BANANAQUIT, and CATTLE TYRANT.
Sara had wandered down to the beach to look around, so we followed after her, getting good views of CARIB GRACKLES, SCALED DOVE and TROPICAL GNATCATCHER en route, and BROWN PELICAN and ROYAL TERN on and over the sea. Having enjoyed a cold drink, we returned to the van to return to Maracay, but as we skirted an area of sea front, David spotted a BROWN BOOBY flying past over the sea. We jumped out of the van, and before long another flew past, giving good views, while SPOTTED SANDPIPER and COMMON SAND-MARTIN were also seen nearby.
Passing back through the mountains we still had time for a couple of brief roadside stops when we saw something interesting, which proved to be quite productive. In this way we added SHORT-TAILED HAWK, BLUE-TAILED EMERALD, BURNISHED-BUFF TANAGER, LESSER ELAENIA, SOUTHERN BEARDLESS TURANNULET, LESSER GOLDFINCH, SILVER-BEAKED TANAGER and BAY-HEADED TANAGER before we finally ran out of time.
Choroni Green-rumped Parrotlet, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Scaled Dove, Spotted Sandpiper, Royal Tern, Brown Booby, Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Cattle Tyrant, Social Flycatcher, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Common Sand-Martin, Bananaquit, Glaucous Tanager, Carib Grackle
Tuesday 7 September 2004
This morning we started again at Rancho Grande trying to find a few species that had eluded us thus far. We started before dawn again trying to tape in a FOOTHILL SCREECH-OWL sadly, although one called back fairly close, it wouldnt come into view. Having enjoyed good news of a WHITE-NECKED THRUSH, we started trying to call into sight a GREY-THROATED LEAFTOSSER that was calling nearby. It took a tough scramble up a steep muddy slope to get into a good location, but the bird obliged very quickly, and was soon followed by a SOUTHERN NIGHTINGALE-WREN.
Our other main target along this road this morning was the endemic Rufous-cheeked Tanager, so we set off along the road northwards to try to find some of these birds. Both GROOVE-BILLED TOUCANETS and BLOOD-EARED PARAKEETS were much in evidence this morning, while a WHITE-TIPPED QUETZAL gave good views, and MARBLE-FACED BRISTLE-TYRANT and SLATY ANTWREN were new for the trip. More WHITE-NECKED THRUSHES and a GREY-BREASTED WOOD-WREN were also seen, before we turned around and headed back towards the car.
Suddenly a small group of birds were seen feeding in a roadside tree, and to our delight they proved to be RUFOUS-CHEEKED TANAGERS, a lovely bird that gave excellent views. VAUXS SWIFTS and GREY-RUMPED SWIFTS were both seen feeding low overhead on the way back to the van, where we drove up to the Rancho Grande Biological Station. Birds around the feeder here were very much as yesterday, with GREEN HONEYCREEPER, RED-CROWNED WOODPECKER, PALM TANAGER, BLUE-WINGED MOUNTAIN-TANAGER, ORANGE-BELLIED EUPHONIA, BAY-HEADED TANAGER and BLUE-GREY TANAGER all seen here.
A Red Howler Monkey gave fantastic views sitting on a bare branch of a tree behind the station, before clambering down to join the rest of his group, while a few WHITE-TIPPED SWIFTS flew in and out of their nests beneath the eaves of the building, although it was difficult to get good views of these birds.
From the station, we set out the climb the Pico Guacamayo Trail, in the hope of finding a SCALLOP-BREASTED ANTPITTA. This is an extremely rare and localised bird, endemic to a handful of sites in Northern Venezuela. Hilty describes it as "rare or possibly quite local, few records and certainly not often seen" and states that its voice is "unknown". David believes that no more than perhaps a few dozen birders have seen this bird to date, but earlier a colleague of his, Carlos Verea, made the first ever recording and rediscovered the species after many years of search by many scientists. In late 2003 David found a second pair, which is much more accessible than the ones seen by Mr.Verea, and since then he has succeeded in showing the bird to six small groups of overseas birders.
We therefore set off in optimistic but apprehensive mood, having been warned by David that we faced a tiring and difficult walk to get to the best area. He certainly wasnt exaggerating it had rained heavily the night before, and the narrow trail was in very poor condition steep, extremely slippery with lots of tree roots and crumbling edges, often obscured by overhanging vegetation, and with many treefalls. At one point the trail gave way beneath my foot, and I slipped over the edge, saving myself by grabbing hold of some vines and hauling myself back up, and in another spot the zig-zagging trail was made totally impassable by a huge tree fall, and we had to clamber up the slope, hauling ourselves up hand over hand using overhead vines to find the trail again. Eleanor was finding it especially tough going, as she had hurt her hand before starting the trip, and couldnt grip anything with it.
We made a couple of birding stops along the way, enjoying fabulous views of a group of BAND-TAILED GUANS, and seeing some SLATE-THROATED REDSTARTS, but it was mostly as much as we could do to just keep climbing. I remember, at one rest stop, asking David how far we had come, hoping we would say half way, or at least a third of the way. He just looked at us sympathetically, and then told us that we had come perhaps 10% of the way!
Eventually after perhaps an hour and a half of climbing, we reached the right area, and having got our breath back and cooled down somewhat, we got into position. David explained that he would play a brief burst of the tape, the bird would probably come in for one brief look at us, and then disappear and not return. This was therefore a one-shot deal, and we needed to remain totally still and quiet throughout if we were to have a chance of seeing the bird.
He hit the tape, and a few seconds later there it was, a fantastic SCALLOP-BREASTED ANTPITTA perched on a small branch perhaps 5 metres away from us. It stayed put for maybe 20 seconds, flew down and past us, worked its way around in a circle, and disappeared back the way it had come, not to be seen again.
What a moment!! This is what these trips are all about for me the slog, the sweat and the effort, all gloriously repaid by a magical sighting such as this. Its always nice to see good birds straight after getting out of the car, but somehow the more effort that you have to put in, the more satisfaction you get from finally seeing the bird. Had David explained to us exactly how tough the trail would be, I doubt very much if we would have gone ahead with the climb I will be forever grateful that he did not, as I would not have missed this for the world!
Absolutely elated, we quietly left the area, and worked our way back down the mountain, which suddenly didnt seem anything like as bad as it had on the way up. We were running very late, due to the poor state of the trail, and so didnt make any birding stops on the way back down, other than briefly for a VIOLET-HEADED HUMMINGBIRD that unfortunately only David and I saw.
By the time we arrived back at Maracay, it was nearly 14:00, having told Sara we would be back for her by 12:00. She wasnt exactly pleased at our lateness, but shes used to my abysmal timekeeping by now, so took it in good spirits, although frustratingly she didnt seem to want to listen to a blow by blow account of our morning, nor was she terribly impressed by the pictures of the antpitta in the book I just cant understand non-birders sometimes!!
Our destination tonight was a farm, near the town of Tucacas in the south east of Falcón state, and the drive took as along the seashore at Boca de Aroa, where we saw some common shorebirds. By the time we arrived at the Posada La Arboleda it was early evening, but we had time for some brief birding around the lodge, seeing YELLOW-BELLIED ELAENIA, YELLOW-HEADED CARACARA, CRESTED CARACARA, ORIOLE BLACKBIRD AND ORANGE-CROWNED ORIOLE.
There was a huge visible migration of FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHERS going on, with hundreds of birds streaming overhead. A RUSSET-THROATED PUFFBIRD was calling behind the cabins, but couldnt be seen, while CHESTNUT-FRONTED MACAW, TRINIDAD EUPHONIA and YELLOW-CROWNED PARROT were also seen. A couple of calling WHISTLING HERONS eventually flew into sight, although by now the light was very poor, and an excellent day ended with a number of LESSER NIGHTHAWKS hawking overhead.
Posada La Arboleda, Tucacas h Russet-throated Puffbird, Greater Ani, h Chestnut-fronted Macaw, h Yellow-crowned Parrot, Lesser Nighthawk, Pale-vented Pigeon, Southern Lapwing, Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, Whistling Heron, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Brown-chested Martin, h Trinidad Euphonia, Orange-crowned Oriole, Oriole Blackbird
Wednesday 8 September 2004
This morning we started birding at Cerro Chichiriviche in the Morrocoy National Park, along the road which heads east from the main Tucacas Coro road towards Morrocoy. We parked on the right, where a wide track heads off left into some scrub. The first bird we saw after we got out of the van was a CARIBBEAN HORNERO, although it was flighty and only showed briefly. This was swiftly followed by SCRUB GREENLET and BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT before we finally got good views of LANCE-TAILED MANAKIN, all the more satisfying after the frustration at La Sabaneta.
We walked back westwards along the road, adding the first of several NORTHERN WHITE-FRINGED ANTWRENS and BLUE GRAY TANAGERS, as well as getting excellent views of a GLAUCOUS TANAGER, showing much better than the bird at Choroni. Some YELLOW-CROWNED PARROTS flew over, while other birds seen along this stretch of road included ROADSIDE HAWK, BROWN-CHESTED MARTINS, CRESTED OROPENDOLAS, WHITE-LINED TANAGER, GREAT KISKADEE, SILVER-BEAKER TANAGER and RUSTY-MARGINED FLYCATCHER.
On the way back, we added LESSONS SEEDEATER and FUSCOUS FLYCATCHER, and finally got a look at some of the RUFOUS-VENTED CHACHALACA that had been calling raucously ever since we got out of the van. We next staked out a patch of bushes that David has previously found to be a good spot for BLACK-BACKED ANTSHRIKE, and soon found the bird, as well as BLUE-TAILED EMERALD, while David also saw a PALE-BELLIED HERMIT that unfortunately eluded the rest of us.
From here we walked up the side track, which climbed steeply at first, before levelling out at the top. Several COMMON GROUND DOVES flushed from the path ahead of us, and we also saw RUFOUS-TAILED JACAMAR, SAFFRON FINCH and AMERICAN REDSTART. David continued our masterclass on small featureless flycatchers, adding SOUTHERN BEARDLESS TYRANNULET, MOUSE-COLOURED TYRANNULET and NORTHERN SCRUB-FLYCATCHER to the list, as well as BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER and TROPICAL GNATCATCHER.
A pair of excellent BLACK-CRESTED ANTSHRIKES flew in and showed well, and STREAKED SALTATOR, PLAIN THORNBIRD and STRAIGHT-BILLED WOODCREEPERS put in an appearance. A WHITE-BELLIED ANTBIRD proved rather more elusive, but was eventually tracked down and showed well and a CARIBBEAN HORNERO finally performed, first perched in a bare tree, and then flying over our heads to land on the track.
Some heavy clouds had now rolled in, and with heavy rain looming we beat a retreat back to the van, stopping briefly twice for RUFOUS-BREASTED WREN and BLACK-STRIPED SPARROW, and arriving back at the van just as the heavens opened. A hurricane had been brushing the coast of Venezuela for the past 24 hours, and while the centre of the storm was far to the east, over Isla de Margarita, rainstorms were reaching as far west as Tucacas. It clearly wasnt going to stop raining for a while, so we started driving back westwards as far as the park entrance. A brief stop here added a group of stunning SCARLET IBIS to our list, as well as VERMILION FLYCATCHER. Most excitingly, a PLAIN-FLANKED RAIL was heard calling from the mangroves on the other side of the lagoon, but it was too far away for us to have any realistic chance of seeing it.
A very wet and bedraggled-looking COMMON BLACK-HAWK was seen in a dead tree, and a further along we came across a mixed feeding flock of wading birds including TRICOLORED HERON, REDDISH EGRET, WILLET, SPOTTED SANDPIPER, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, LESSER YELLOWLEGS and GREY PLOVER. NEOTROPIC CORMORANT, HUDSONIAN WHIMBREL and SNOWY EGRETS were also seen here, while a small group of WHITE-WINGED SWALLOWS perched on the fenceline, and some COLLARED PLOVERS fed along the nearby shoreline.
We made a couple of stops in the rain at the edge of the mangroves hoping for Plain-flanked Rail, but with no luck, so we made our way back to the Morrocoy N.P.. By the time we got there the rain had stopped, so we drove down to the park entrance intending to look for Plain-flanked Rail, but to our concern we were told that public access to the park was not being permitted as the government was concerned about the effects of the encroaching hurricane on public safety. This was a major blow, as this area is probably the most reliable for this rare endemic species, but we would have to try again later.
We therefore decided to return to the lodge for a rest and to sit out the midday heat, but as we turned off the road towards the farm, we stopped briefly to investigate some ponds on both sides of the road. The best bird seen here was a PIED WATER-TYRANT, while we also added RINGED KINGFISHER, SOLITARY SANDPIPER, WATTLED JACANA, AMERICAN PURPLE GALLINULE, OSPREY and GREAT EGRET to our trip list.
When we got back to the lodge, we spent some time wandering around the grounds, picking up some nice birds such as PIED WATER-TYRANT, WHITE-TIPPED DOVE, RUSSET-THROATED PUFFBIRD, BLACK-CROWNED TITYRA, GREYISH SALTATOR and RUDDY GROUND-DOVE. We also saw a strange woodcreeper that looked like a Black-banded Woodcreeper, but we didnt really see it well enough to be sure, and a large raptor glided over but disappeared into the trees before we could identify it. In hindsight, this little walk was probably a bad idea, as I managed to pick up a whole load of chiggers which drove me crazy over the next couple of weeks I was extremely wary of walking around in grass thereafter!!
By now it was late morning and it had got pretty hot, so Eleanor decided to join Sara in relaxing on the terrace, while David got down to some work. Clive and I decided that we fancied some more birding, however, so we wandered slowly back along the farm entrance road. We hadnt really expected to see much at all at this time of day, but it turned out to be a very productive walk. First bird we found was the raptor that had glided over earlier, as it perched in a trackside tree, and it proved to be a CRANE HAWK.
Arriving at the end of the track we turned and walked the short distance to the tar road, seeing BANANAQUIT, STRAIGHT-BILLED WOODCREEPER, ORIOLE BLACKBIRD and a flock of GREEN-RUMPED PARROTLETS on the way. This road was a little busy, however, so we returned past the farm entrance road where we found a flock of HOODED TANAGERS feeding actively in a small tree, and giving great views.
We continued along this main track, which was tree-lined but ran between open pasture, and added BLUE-GREY TANAGERS, PLAIN THORNBIRD and TROPICAL MOCKINGBIRD, before a strange bird flew across the track, and landed in small tree. Fortunately, it gave excellent views and was soon identified as a DWARF CUCKOO. When we got back to the farm David told us that this was possibly a first record of this species for Falcón state, which appears to be confirmed by the data and distribution maps in Hilty fortunately the views it gave were superb, and there was no possibility of a mistaken identification.
Several GROOVE-BILLED ANIS were feeding in the fields, and a BARE-EYED DOVE flew by showing its distinctive white wing crescents, while SMALL-BILLED ELAENIA and RUFOUS-BROWED PEPPERSHRIKE were seen in trackside bushes. We then came across another flock of birds that we initially thought were more Hooded Tanagers, but they were too small, and we eventually realised that they were WHITE-EARED CONEBILLS.
The track eventually passed a couple of small overgrown ponds a BARE-FACED IBIS was perched up on a post, a PIED WATER-TYRANT flitted around, and STRIATED HERON, AMERICAN PURPLE GALLINULE and WATTLED JACANA were also seen here.
Heading back towards the farm, we added some extra birds to our list - COMMON TODY-FLYCATCHER, GREYISH SALTATOR, GREY KINGBIRD, YELLOW ORIOLE, YELLOW-BELLIED ELAENIA, BARRED ANTSHRIKE and CARIBBEAN HORNERO, as well as a SAVANNA HAWK perched on a fence line, and arrived back in time for lunch.
Mid-afternoon, we returned again to Morrocoy N.P. hoping to look for Plain-flanked Rails, accompanied this time not just by Sara, who fancied a trip out, but also by a young Venezuelan kid who was a keen birder, and his mother. Frustratingly, they still weren't permitting access to the lagoons this was getting serious as we would leaving the Morrocoy area tomorrow morning, and we would have no other chances of finding this bird.
We therefore decided to visit the northern side of the Morrocoy N.P., reached by driving north from Tucacas, past the Morrocoy road, and then turning right (east) along the northern edge of the Golfete de Cuare towards the seaside village of Chichiriviche. A stop at a viewing tower along this road was quite productive, producing hundreds of AMERICAN FLAMINGO, as well as BROWN PELICAN, SCARLET IBIS, GREAT BLUE HERON and MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD. The highlight for me, however, were a number of LARGE-BILLED TERNS, including one that flew past very close, giving great views of its wing pattern and huge bill very satisfying having dipped this one in Ecuador.
Further along, we made a roadside stop on finding a large group of shorebirds, which included WESTERN SANDPIPER, LEAST SANDPIPER, COLLARED PLOVER, SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER and BLACK-WINGED STILTS, as well as REDDISH EGRET and both SCARLET and WHITE IBIS, while both BARE-EYED DOVE and ZONE-TAILED HAWK flew over.
With time getting on we made a number of brief stops in the mangroves to play back the tape for Plain-flanked Rail, but saw only one flock of BICOLORED CONEBILLS. We eventually arrived in the town of Chichiriviche, and turned right into an area of mangroves for one last try for the rail. The habitat looked terrible here, with a great deal of rubbish around the place, some dumped into the mangroves, and the water looked filthy, but we tried the tape anyway. A bird responded immediately, and very soon, the Venezuelan kid saw something moving among the dense mangrove roots.
David, Clive and Eleanor quickly managed to get onto the bird everyone except me! I just couldnt get onto it at all, not even movement, which was incredibly frustrating as the bird made its way across in front of us, and disappeared from sight. It continued calling, but didnt seem to want to put in a return appearance. I was gutted at missing such a rare and difficult bird, especially with daylight fading fast, but luckily David wasnt ready to give up yet. Deciding that this bird wasnt likely to reappear, we walked about 100 metres further along, settled in position on a pile of rubble, and tried again.
Once more, a bird called immediately, and walked across in front of us, but thankfully this time I managed to get onto it quite early, and got excellent views of the PLAIN-FLANKED RAIL creeping unobtrusively among the mangrove roots. This was a dark-phased bird, and so looked very different from the illustration in Hilty it also showed some white markings on the side of the neck, which David believes is a result of inbreeding in what is a very small world population of this bird.
The exhilaration I experienced yesterday on seeing the Scallop-breasted Antpitta was repeated, but this time mixed in with a huge dose of relief I had really thought I was going to dip this one, but Davids experience and professionalism saw me right. BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT and YELLOW-HEADED CARACARA were also seen here before darkness fell and we made our way happily back to the farm.
We would spend this morning birding at a site called Cerro La Misión, not far from Tucacas before heading south into the Andes. As usual, first light saw us in the field watching our first birds of the day, including WATTLED JACANA, SOUTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW and some YELLOW-RUMPED CACIQUES. The habitat here is open farmland with scattered trees, and we started birding around a small farm at the side of the road. TROPICAL PEWEE and STRIPE-BACKED WREN were added to our list, before a small group of RED-AND-GREEN MACAWS flew past and a KING VULTURE glided by against a distant hill.
A drumming woodpecker was tracked down and identified as a CRIMSON-CRESTED WOODPECKER, while CINEREOUS BECARD was seen alongside a couple of hummingbirds WHITE-VENTED PLUMELETEER and GLITTERING-THROATED EMERALD. RED-RUMPED WOODPECKER and BLACK-TAILED TITYRA were also seen, before we decided to walk a little way along the road to see what else we could find.
Walking slowly and scanning the trees ahead proved a good strategy, with us seeing a host of new birds - TROPICAL GNATCATCHER, SMALL-BILLED ELAENIA, TROPICAL PARULA, BLUE-GRAY TANAGER, GREY SEEDEATER, PLAIN THORNBIRD, SOOTY-HEADED TYRANNULET, STREAK-HEADED WOODCREEPER, RUSTY-MARGINED FLYCATCHER, SQUIRREL CUCKOO, AMERICAN REDSTART, YELLOW-BELLIED ELAENIA, PALM TANAGER, GREEN-RUMPED PARROTLET and TRINIDAD EUPHONIA.
We eventually arrived back at the van, and with it being late morning, we returned slowly back down the track towards Tucacas, seeing SAVANNA HAWK and EASTERN MEADOWLARK from the vehicle. We hadnt got far however before David spotted a pair of DOUBLE-STRIPED THICK-KNEES in a roadside field, and we got out again for a good look.
Some YELLOW-CROWNED PARROTS flew overhead and YELLOW WARBLER and another CRIMSON-CRESTED WOODPECKER were seen in trees over our heads. Another stop and a short walk a little further along added LESSER KISKADEE, COMMON TODY FLYCATCHER, GREY-BREASTED MARTIN and SLATY-HEADED TODY-FLYCATCHER to our list, followed by a LIMPKIN and a group of HOODED TANAGERS, which Eleanor was especially pleased to see, having missed them yesterday.
A final stop near the end of the track added RUSSET-THROATED PUFFBIRD and GREYISH SALTATOR, and a pair of GREY-NECKED WOOD-RAILS dashed into the road in front of the van, then back into the roadside vegetation. We returned to Tucacas, where David and I were dropped off to visit a cybercafe, while the others returned to the farm to collect Sara and check out. While we waited for them to return, we got great views of a CATTLE TYRANT as it fed on bugs along a nearby windowsill, as well as several CARIB GRACKLES and SHINY COWBIRDS.
When the others returned we returned south along the shore of Boca de Aroa, then turned inland to head west towards Barquisimeto. We soon turned off this road, however, to go northwards to visit San Pablo Marsh, a key location for the endangered endemic Rusty-flanked Crake. Unfortunately, as we arrived at the best location for this bird, we could see a group of men washing their truck using water from the lake surely they would have scared away the birds.
We spent a little time in the area, seeing YELLOW-HEADED CARACARA, BLACK-CAPPED DONACOBIUS and WATTLED JACANA, but while we heard one RUSTY-FLANKED CRAKE calling, it was some distance away and didnt seem inclined to come closer, so we eventually decided to press on. Before we left, however, we managed to find a superb HORNED SCREAMER, and got good scope views, and also added GREY KINGBIRD, WATTLED JACANA, LEAST GREBE and WOOD STORK. Retracing our steps, we made one final stop as we left the marsh to watch a nice BAT FALCON in a nearby tree.
We continued west to Barquisimeto and turned south towards the Andean town of Sanare, stopping once in the hills south of Sanare to watch a WHITE-TAILED HAWK that glided by. We eventually arrived in Sanare late afternoon, with just enough daylight left to enjoy the LESSER GOLDFINCHES, TROPICAL MOCKINGBIRD and flocks of BLUE-AND-WHITE SWALLOWS around our hotel, before darkness fell.
Boca de Aroa - Spotted Sandpiper, Tricolored Heron, Great Egret, Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird
San Pablo Marsh Horned Screamer, Green Kingfisher, h Rusty-flanked Crake, Wattled Jacana, Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, Bat Falcon, Least Grebe, Striated Heron, Wood Stork, Grey Kingbird, Black-capped Donacobius
Every day in Venezuela seemed to bring its own critical target bird, and today was no exception we would start the day in Yacambú National Park looking for the endemic Great Antpitta. This is a very shy and elusive bird, and we arrived at dawn to stake out a favourite area of the park. It didnt take long before s bird started calling right by the roadside, but despite strenuous efforts by David it stayed just out of sight in thick forest, despite coming as close to us as a few metres on one occasion. SMOKY-BROWN WOODPECKER and YELLOW-BILLED TOUCANET provided some compensation, but we would have just one more opportunity tomorrow morning to try again for the antpitta.
Given that we would now need to spend tomorrow morning at this location, there followed some rapid reconsideration of our options, and we decided to head into the scrub area north of Sanare to try to look for some of our other target birds. First bird targeted was TOCUYO SPARROW - a short walk into some thorn scrub soon produced a calling bird, and it didnt take long for us to get excellent views of a pair of these smart birds, as well as YELLOW-BACKED ORIOLE.
Back at the roadside, and a much easier and shorter walk along a wide sandy path followed by some Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl impersonations produced a good flock of birds centred on some tall bushes. Standing and waiting produced a whole series of new birds PILEATED FINCH, ULTRAMARINE GROSBEAK, PEARLY-VENTED TODY-TYRANT, SOUTHERN BEARDLESS TYRANNULET, MOUSE-COLOURED TYRANNULET and SCRUB GREENLET.
We walked about a kilometre down this path, but didn't add much in the midday heat, however when we got back to the road David heard a ROSY THRUSH-TANAGER singing nearby. We scrambled down a small slope, and scanned the bushes below, soon adding a pair of these very smart birds, as well as a NORTHERN WHITE-FRINGED ANTWREN.
It was now lunchtime, so we returned to Sanare to collect Sara from the hotel. Having watched a BICOLORED WREN in a field next to the hotel, we drove back up into Yacambú NP, to have a picnic on the shore of Santa Crucita Lagoon. This was another reliable spot for Rusty-flanked Crake, so while Sara, Carlos and David set up lunch the rest of us set to scanning the reedy edges of the lagoon. CARIBBEAN COOT, COMMON MOORHEN, WATTLED JACANA and GREY-NECKED WOOD-RAILS produced false alarms, before I saw a small bird emerging from a patch of reeds. A quick look in the scope, and there it was a cracking RUSTY-FLANKED CRAKE, which was soon joined by another, and gave very good views for a few minutes before retreating to the cover of the reeds.
OLIVACEOUS CORMORANT and ORIOLE BLACKBIRD were seen while we ate lunch, and a STEELY-VENTED HUMMINGBIRD visited a nearby tree. Having finished lunch we took a short stroll along the road which surrounds the lake adding a number of species these started with LONG-TAILED ANTBIRD, and was followed by AMERICAN REDSTART, BLOOD-EARED PARAKEET, CRESTED SPINETAIL, FULVOUS-HEADED TANAGER, BLUE-NECKED TANAGER, WHITE-WINGED TANAGER, SCALE-CRESTED PYGMY-TYRANT, MASKED TROGON, TRINIDAD EUPHONIA and RUSSET-BACKED OROPENDOLA.
With the clock ticking on, and with temperatures having hopefully cooled at lower elevations, we drove north again, this time to Barquisimeto, then along the old road from there towards Maracaibo, through an area of semi-desert known as Baragua. It was still hot down here, and birding was initially slow, although we did manage to add TAWNY-CRESTED PYGMY-TYRANT, GREEN-RUMPED PARROTLET and HARRISS HAWK. A little further along, a red bird flashed by in front of the van, prompting some rapid braking and equally rapid piling out of the vehicle, to get good views of a VERMILION CARDINAL perched nearby.
From here the birding pace picked up very rapidly David soon found a small group of PALE-HEADED JACAMARS and a very smart WHITE-WHISKERED SPINETAIL. He also got brief views of a BUFFY HUMMINGBIRD that whizzed by, but the rest of us didnt get onto it. With daylight fading, we enjoyed views of YELLOW ORIOLE, EARED DOVE and WHITE-TIPPED DOVE, before finding another target bird, a cracking TROUPIAL. With darkness falling, a group of LESSER NIGHTHAWKS hawked overhead as we drove back to Sanare.
Yacambú Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Yellow-billed Toucanet, h Great Antpitta
Baragua h Crested Bobwhite, Pale-headed Jacamar, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Buffy Hummingbird (DA only), h Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Lesser Nighthawk, Eared Dove, Scaled Dove, Common Ground-Dove, White-tipped Dove, Harriss Hawk, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, White-whiskered Spinetail, Vermilion Cardinal, Yellow Oriole, Troupial
Saturday 11 September 2004
When we had arrived at the Great Antpitta stakeout at Yacambú at dawn yesterday, one bird was already singing in a roadside tree, but then moved away into the forest. We therefore decided to get there a little earlier this morning, in order to get into position in case to chose the same song perch. It was therefore still almost dark when we arrived, and it wasnt long before a bird started singing from trees on the other side of the road.
A short but anxious wait followed, until a GREAT ANTPITTA suddenly appeared for a split-second on a bare branch by the side of the road, flew down equally briefly onto a patch of bare ground, then flew across the road and disappeared in the same direction that the bird had been heard yesterday. We got just the very briefest of views, in very poor light, but with a species this rare you have to take what you can get, and we were satisfied to have got even this glimpse of such a difficult bird.
Electing not to go chasing into the forest after the bird we instead strolled slowly down the road as the light steadily improved. A SLATY-BACKED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH sang from the forest but could not be seen, while tanagers were much in evidence SAFFRON-CROWNED TANAGER was new, and we also saw COMMON BUSH-TANAGER, GOLDEN TANAGER and BERYL-SPANGLED TANAGER here.
Other birds seen on this short walk included SPECKLED HUMMINGBIRD, BLACK-CAPPED TYRANNULET, RUSSET-BACKED OROPENDOLA, GOLDEN-WINGED MANAKIN, WHITE-THROATED TYRANNULET, BROWN-CAPPED VIREO and BRONZY INCA, as well as side-by-side ANDEAN EMERALD TOUCANET and YELLOW-BILLED TOUCANET.
We returned to our Sanare hotel mid-morning, again seeing BICOLORED WREN in the field next door, checked out, and started on the drive towards Barinas where we would stay for the next 2 nights. We still needed a few desert scrub species, however, so we made a short stop in a suitable patch of scrub near Quibor. A short walk produced the hoped-for ORINOCAN SALTATOR, as well as FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL, SOUTHERN BEARDLESS TYRANNULET, TROPICAL MOCKINGBIRD and BICOLORED WREN. Sadly, there was no sign of our other target birds (Buffy Hummingbird or Slender-billed Tyrannulet), and it was now getting very hot, so we decided to press on.
We continued down to Barquisimeto, where we enjoyed an excellent lunch, then turned south to Araure, then south east through Guanare towards Barinas. Late afternoon, we made a final birding stop for the day in an area of fields with trees at Acarigua, on the edge of the Llanos, with our main target bird the endemic White-bearded Flycatcher.
A pool of rainwater in the middle of a farm track was proving very attractive to birds, and we added LINED SEEDEATER and YELLOW-BROWED SPARROW to our list, as well as a number of EARED DOVES, SCALED DOVES, COMMON GROUND-DOVES, RUDDY GROUND-DOVES and SAFFRON FINCHES, before being distracted by a YELLOW-CHINNED SPINETAIL in the hedgerow.
David then heard a couple of WHITE-BEARDED FLYCATCHERS calling from a tall tree, and we soon got great views of these birds. Better was to come, however we had also added AMERICAN PURPLE GALLINULE, RED-CROWNED WOODPECKER, PLAIN THORNBIRD, LESSER GOLDFINCH, TROUPIAL and COCOA THRUSH when David got us onto a GOLDEN-WINGED SPARROW, a difficult and much sought-after species, which showed very well. We finished off here with a STRIPE-BACKED WREN, before returning to the vehicle to complete our journey to Barinas.
Yacambú h Grey-fronted Dove, Andean Emerald Toucanet, Yellow-billed Toucanet, Speckled Hummingbird, Bronzy Inca, Black-capped Tyrannulet, White-throated Tyrannulet, Golden-winged Manakin, Great Antpitta, Brown-capped Vireo, h Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, h Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, Common Bush-Tanager, Golden Tanager, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Russet-backed Oropendola
Sanare - Bicolored Wren, Blue-and-white Swallow
A change of scenery today as we headed into the Llanos for the day. Unfortunately, neither our budget nor our timetable would permit a stay in one of the expensive ecolodges such as Hato Piñero or Hato El Cedral, so we instead concentrated on the road down through Sal Silvestre and into the High Llanos beyond, including a visit to a new ranch, Hato Santa Maria.
It was drizzling lightly when we arrived here at dawn, and we enjoyed views of perched HARRISS HAWK and WHITE-TAILED HAWK, while Carlos prepared breakfast. Some YELLOW-CROWNED PARROTS flew over, followed by small groups of SCARLET IBIS, CHESTNUT-FRONTED MACAWS, YELLOW-RUMPED CACIQUES and BARE-FACED IBISES. A small walk up the road resulted in a GREEN IBIS perched in a tree, as well as COMMON TODY-FLYCATCHER, SMALL-BILLED ELAENIA, NORTHERN SCRUB-FLYCATCHER and RUDDY GROUND-DOVE.
A couple of WHISTLING HERONS flew in and landed nearby giving excellent views. Also in the open fields were SMOOTH-BILLED ANIS and EASTERN MEADOWLARKS, with TROUPIAL, GREYISH SALTATOR, ORIOLE BLACKBIRD and EARED DOVE also in the area, and a WHITE-TAILED KITE hovered overhead.
A short drive and another walk later and we added YELLOW-BROWED SPARROW and LINED SEEDEATER to the list, before finding a PLAIN-BREASTED GROUND-DOVE was also identified among the more common RUDDY GROUND-DOVES, and a small flock of colourful RED-BREASTED BLACKBIRDS perched on a fence line.
Our raptor list continued to grow, with AMERICAN KESTREL, SAVANNA HAWK and ROADSIDE HAWK added, with BLUE-BLACK GRASSQUIT, WHITE-COLLARED SWIFT, WHITE-WINGED BECARD and a flock of ORANGE-CHINNED PARAKEETS also seen. We had now reached the entrance road to Hato Santa Maria, and we birded the area adding SQUIRREL CUCKOO and BARE-EYED THRUSH while David was still trying by mobile phone to arrange access for us to this ranch.
They wanted to charge us quite a hefty fee for entry to the area, but David eventually persuaded them to let us in for nothing as he would also be scouting the area as a possible venue to bring future birding trips, possibly involving an overnight stay.
Having checked that the road was also passable after recent heavy rains, we set off for the ranch. Our first stop was in an area with some standing water near the road, where a group of GREATER ANIS were perched on a fenceline. We mooched around the area for a while adding PALE-VENTED PIGEON, DWARF CUCKOO, RED-CROWNED WOODPECKER, RUSSET-THROATED PUFFBIRD, YELLOW-CHINNED SPINETAIL, SAFFRON FINCH, STRIPED WOODCREEPER and PLAIN THORNBIRD before a small group of HOATZIN showed up and gave great views an outstanding bird.
The road then passed between some open wet fields with water-filled ditches running on both sides of the road. This area was good for PIED WATER-TYRANTS with several seen, although no White-vented Marsh-Tyrant yet. A patch of tall grass produced both GREY SEEDEATER and a flock of RUDDY-BREASTED SEEDEATER, as well as SMALL-BILLED ELAENIA and NORTHERN SCRUB-FLYCATCHER in adjacent bushes and SOUTHERN LAPWING in the fields.
A CAPPED HERON flew over the road and landed in the middle of a small side track, and a BUFF-NECKED IBIS was scoped in a nearby field. A little further along we crossed a small stream, which produced an AMAZON KINGFISHER, with a KING VULTURE perched on a nearby palm tree and GREY KINGBIRD on the fence line.
A series of roadside ponds was good for waterbirds, with both WHITE-FACED WHISTLING-DUCK and BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK, as well as COCOI HERON, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON and WATTLED JACANA. Also here were our first CAPYBARAS, which we watched for some time grazing and swimming across the ponds, as well as a few CAYMANS.
As we approached the ranch house we saw GREY SEEDEATER and YELLOW-CHINNED SPINETAIL in scrub, a few HORNED SCREAMERS in the fields, STRIATED HERON and the first of a series of RUFESCENT TIGER-HERONS this bird was especially common along the last kilometre to the ranch house, with three or four birds seen.
Arriving at the ranch house, we parked up, and David made our introductions to the owners, who graciously gave us a tour of the facilities. A RED-CAPPED CARDINAL fed on the ground near the parking area, and a walk around the grounds produced a small group of SHARP-TAILED IBISES in some tall trees near the house. We eventually bid our farewells to these kind people and returned back down the entrance road birds seen were much as on the way in, although HOUSE WREN and LESSER YELLOW-HEADED VULTURE were new.
Arriving back at San Silvestre, we paused at a flowering bush to watch a GLITTERING-THROATED EMERALD, and the drive out of town towards Barinas finally produced a WHITE-VENTED MARSH-TYRANT, as well as both LAUGHING FALCON and APLOMADO FALCON.
We made our way back to Barinas, making one last stop near the village of Torunos, where we took a brief walk along a farm track, where we found some YELLOW-RUMPED CACIQUES and a LINEATED WOODPECKER, before heading off for the hotel after a full day in the field.
We made an early start from Barinas today, heading up into the Andes towards the village of Santo Domingo. Before we got there, however, we took a detour along the road towards Calderas, making a stop near a small group of houses in the hills near the village of Altamira. The change in altitude immediately became apparent as we recorded a number of new species a WHITE-BROWED ANTBIRD was chased down, and some time birding the roadside produced RUFOUS-BREASTED WREN, CRESTED OROPENDOLA and THICK-BILLED EUPHONIA.
A strange becard confused us for a while before David decided that it was a CHESTNUT-CROWNED BECARD, and this was swiftly followed by a small group of SWALLOW TANAGERS, always nice birds. Some further time birding here produced some great birds - RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPER, WHITE-BEARDED HERMIT, BANANAQUIT, SILVER-BEAKED TANAGER, GOLDEN-TAILED SAPPHIRE, BLACK-THROATED MANGO, YELLOW-BELLIED ELAENIA, PALE-BREASTED SPINETAIL, WHITE-LINED TANAGER and GREY SEEDEATER, as well as the more widespread LESSER GOLDFINCH, SAFFRON FINCH and SCALED DOVE.
We drove downhill for a while to an area where the forest was thicker, adding BAY-HEADED TANAGER, BLUE-NECKED TANAGER, PALE-BREASTED THRUSH, WHITE-VENTED PLUMELETEER, STREAKED FLYCATCHER, RED-EYED VIREO, BROWN-CAPPED VIREO and a superb WHITE-RUFFED MANAKIN, with WHITE-COLLARED SWIFT and BLUE-HEADED PARROT overhead.
A little further along, Eleanor took a nasty fall on a slimy patch of concrete, so we decided to pack in the birding for now and proceed to Santo Domingo. Arriving at this Andean village, we stopped where the road crosses the river just south of town, and quickly found a TORRENT TYRANNULET followed by a pair of superb TORRENT DUCKS, as well as a MOUNTAIN ELAENIA in some nearby bushes.
Having enjoyed such great views of these birds, we continued to our hotel, the superb Hotel Moruco at an altitude of 2,250 metres, where we would stay for the next two nights. We spent some time relaxing around the hotel, enjoying the BLACK PHOEBES, RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROWS and BROWN-BELLIED SWALLOWS, and ate lunch, before deciding to make a brief visit to the higher altitude area at Laguna Mucubaji.
This area is at an altitude of c. 3,650 metres, and as Eleanor and Sara had a few problems at this sort of altitude in Chile, they decided to stay behind and acclimatise overnight, while David, Clive and I set out for some more birding. The páramo scenery around the lagoon was stunning and ideal for hiking, although the high altitude meant that we had to take it easy. It didnt take long to find a few ANDEAN TEAL of the subspecies altipetens an race endemic to this part of Venezuela and adjacent Colombia which is a possible split (Mérida Teal), so high on our want list. GREAT THRUSH, PLUMBEOUS SIERRA-FINCH, OLIVACEOUS CORMORANT, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, BROWN-BACKED CHAT-TYRANT, SOUTHERN LAPWING and CLIFF SWALLOW were added on, over and around the lagoon, before we started our descent back towards Santo Domingo.
We stopped en route at a roadside hotel, the Hotel Los Frailes, near the village of Las Tapias, and birded the garden for a while. Birding was pretty slow, and initially we added only SPARKING VIOLETEAR and TYRIAN METALTAIL to our list, although GREAT THRUSHES were everywhere. We walked a short way down the entrance road, and took the side road up the hill, but added only BLUE-BACKED CONEBILL here a Mérida Tapaculo was calling but couldnt be enticed into view.
We drove back to the main road, but stopped again a few hundred metres downhill at a pull-off on the left, and from here walked down the side trail. This walk added WHITE-SIDED FLOWERPIERCER, BAND-TAILED PIGEON, BLUE-BLACK GRASSQUIT, YELLOW-BELLIED SEEDEATER and eventually MÉRIDA TAPACULO, while a CHESTNUT-CROWNED ANTPITTA called nearby but too far away to see. Back at the car a PLAIN-BREASTED HAWK was seen flying along a nearby hillside and landing in a tree.
We returned back to the hotel, but as we went through the village of Las Tapias, David spotted some bird activity in a group of roadside bushes, so we pulled over for a look. This proved to be a very good move, as there was a superb mixed feeding flock moving through the vegetation, and we quickly found some very sought-after species including GREY-CAPPED HEMISPINGUS, WHITE-FRONTED REDSTART, ORANGE-THROATED SUNANGEL, LACRIMOSE MOUNTAIN-TANAGER, SUPERCILIARIED HEMISPINGUS, BLUISH FLOWERPIERCER, as well as STEELY-VENTED HUMMINGBIRD.
We started this morning by dropping in altitude down the road to Barinas, then turning right to San Isidro Quarry. We arrived at dawn, before work commenced, and made our way across the slope through the quarry workings, watching CLIFF FLYCATCHER en route, before picking up the old road on the other side. We hadnt walked far along this track before David found one of the birds of the trip, a BLACK-BILLED MOUNTAIN-TOUCAN. This is a very uncommon and localised bird in Venezuela, and was actually a lifer for David, which puts it into context somewhat!
GREY-RUMPED SWIFTS flew low overhead and THREE-STRIPED WARBLER were seen before we stumbled across a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, a bird Ive missed on previous trips to North America, and which was therefore very satisfying. A little further along, we heard the sound of ANDEAN COCK-OF-THE ROCKS calling, and were soon enjoying excellent views of these special birds. RED-RUFFED FRUITCROWS were also present, as well as RUSSET-BACKED OROPENDOLAS and SUBTROPICAL CACIQUES, and we spent some time watching these excellent birds as they fed in tall fruiting trees all around us.
Walking back towards the van, a LINED QUAIL-DOVE flushed from the side of the track and a SPECKLED HUMMINGBIRD was seen briefly, before we came across a pair of male GOLDEN-WINGED MANAKINS displaying back to back on a small branch fantastic little birds. RED-HEADED BARBET, BAND-TAILED PIGEON and ANDEAN EMERALD TOUCANET were also seen before we arrived back at the quarry, where work had now started, but nobody seemed to mind us walking back through the area to return to our vehicle.
David had expected it to take far longer for us to find our main target birds here, so we now had a little spare time on our hands. We returned towards Santo Domingo, turning right where there is a sign to Presa Del Complejo dam, parking in the car park at the end, and walking out along the path to the viewpoint overlooking the dam. A fly-past BLUE-AND-BLACK TANAGER was the best bird here, with WHISKERED WREN also heard, and back at the main road we got very good views of a STREAK-THROATED BUSH-TYRANT.
Another stop at the river near Santo Domingo, a little further downstream than where we saw the Torrent Ducks produced WHITE-BACKED DIPPER and AZARAS SPINETAIL, before we returned to the hotel for lunch.
After lunch, and having all acclimatised overnight to the higher altitude, we decided to make a visit to the high páramo area of Páramo de Águila with a short but select list of target birds to search for. The first stop we made proved to be inspired the first bird we found was a MÉRIDA FLOWERPIERCER, swiftly followed by PÁRAMO PIPIT, BROWN-BACKED CHAT-TYRANT, PLAIN-COLOURED SEEDEATER, BAR-WINGED CINCLODES, BEARDED HELMETCREST and a pair of MÉRIDA WRENS. Unfortunately, I couldnt get onto a pair of ANDEAN SISKINS that proved quite flighty, but in the space of perhaps 30 minutes we had already found the majority of our targets.
We pressed on to the top of the pass, where we stopped for a comfort break and some great photo opportunities in the brilliant sunshine. While we wandered around here, David found us an ANDEAN TIT-SPINETAIL in the low vegetation. We drove a little further down the other side of the pass, making a brief stop near a small pond that held a pair of ANDEAN TEAL, and the nearby low scrub produced OCHRE-BROWED THISTLETAIL. Just one target bird left, and the very next stop duly produced the hoped-for STREAK-BACKED CANASTERO, shortly before the light started to fade.
There is something very special about this sort of high-altitude birding, especially when you are fortunate enough to enjoy such stunning weather, and this afternoon ranks as one of my favourite experiences of the whole trip.
We started this morning birding the grounds of the Hotel Moruco, focusing especially on a ravine at the southern boundary of the front garden (on the left hand side, looking down towards the main road). We clambered up onto the bank under some bushes, and found a relatively open area between the trees down the slope below us, and waited to see what came along.
This tactic proved extremely successful, and in the space of an hour or so, we added such superb species as CHESTNUT-CROWNED ANTPITTA, BLACK-CRESTED WARBLER, MÉRIDA TAPACULO, WHISKERED WREN, CHESNUT-CAPPED BRUSH-FINCH and SLATY NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH, all of which gave excellent views much easier than trying to chase these species through thick scrub! EASTERN MEADOWLARK, SPARKLING VIOLETEAR and WHITE-TAILED KITE were also seen in the gardens as well as the more common birds seen previously such as BROWN-BELLIED SWALLOW.
Having eaten breakfast, we found ourselves at something of a loose end. The original plan had been to bird the páramo this morning, but we had been so successful yesterday afternoon that we decided instead to press on to Mérida. We made brief stops at Hotel Los Frailes, again seeing only TYRIAN METALTAIL and SPARKLING VIOLETEAR, and at Mucubaji Lagoon to enjoy the visible migration of hirundines coming over the pass, and add PURPLE MARTIN to our trip list.
From there, we pressed on non-stop to Mérida, arriving at our lovely hotel late morning, and spending some time relaxing in the grounds. Mid afternoon David suggested some more birding, and we visited the suburb of La Pedregosa, where we found a road that led right up into the mountains and into good forest, although David explained that there was very much more development along this road than he had found previously. It appeared to be a very affluent part of the city, with a number of large new houses built in previously forested areas.
We took a narrow muddy track into forest, seeing THREE-STRIPED WARBLER, RUSSET-CROWNED WARBLER and OLEAGINOUS HEMISPINGUS, but little else, so returned to the road, where we saw BLACK-CAPPED TYRANNULET. We walked back down the road, slowly followed by Carlos in the van, finding a number of birds including RUSTY FLOWERPIERCER, BANANAQUIT, BLACK-CAPPED TANAGER, BLACK-HEADED TANAGER, AZARAS SPINETAIL, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER and GOLDEN-RUMPED EUPHONIA before the light finally faded.
David had today arranged for someone to show Sara around Mérida for the day while the rest of us birded the world famous Pico Humboldt Trail, near La Mucuy. It was extremely cold while we ate breakfast at the trailhead, accompanied by a group of INCA JAYS, but it soon warmed up as we climbed the very steep first part of the trail, and it wasnt long before we were shedding layers.
The first bird seen along the trail was a very good one, a MÉRIDA SUNANGEL, which gave close-up views, and was followed shortly afterwards by a GOLDEN-FRONTED STARFRONTLET. In the same area we flushed a BARRED FOREST-FALCON, although getting a decent look at it proved to be a frustrating business, and we eventually had to settle for a number of flight views as it dashed overhead.
A small group of WHITE-HEADED PARROTS and a few BAND-TAILED GUANS were seen as we continued the climb, and a call David didnt recognise eventually proved to be BLACK-COLLARED JAYS. COLLARED INCA and MONTANE WOODCREEPER were seen, before we came across our first group of the endemic WHITE-FRONTED REDSTARTS, very charismatic birds, which proved to be quite common along this trail.
These were followed by a MASKED FLOWERPIERCER, BAND-TAILED PIGEON, RUFOUS SPINETAIL, BLUE-CAPPED TANAGER, BERYL-SPANGLED TANAGER, THREE-STRIPED WARBLER and RUSSET-CROWNED WARBLER, but a GREEN-AND-BLACK FRUITEATER proved to be far less obliging, giving only very poor views. Shortly afterwards, however, we flushed a GOLDEN-HEADED QUETZAL which was much more co-operative and showed beautifully for some time, before moving on.
We also added SAFFRON-HEADED PARROT to the list, before deciding it was time to turn around and head back. We found this trail pretty tough going, possibly because it came at the end of a fairly strenuous trip, and we hadnt even got close to the area recommended as best by Wheatley.
On the way back down we added SPECKLED HUMMINGBIRD, SUPERCILIARIED HEMISPINGUS and COMMON BUSH-TANAGER to our list, the latter species looking very different from those seen in the Cordillera de la Costa. One of the birds we had been looking for along this trail was the endemic GREY-NAPED ANTPITTA, and although we heard a few both on the way up and back down, we were unsuccessful at persuading one to show itself. We did however manage to get views of a calling SLATE-CROWNED ANTPITTA, although Clive and I were a little frustrated, having scrambled down a steep slope to try to see this bird, when it flew up and landed just a few feet from Eleanor who had decided to stay up on the path!
Further along David and I got good views of a CHESTNUT-BELLIED THRUSH, but unfortunately it had disappeared by the time Clive and Eleanor caught up with us. ANDEAN EMERALD TOUCANET was also seen on the way down, before we eventually arrived back at the van with legs aching badly from the steep descent. Carlos had prepared a superb late picnic lunch for us, and after eating we enjoyed good views of BLACK PHOEBE, RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROW and BLUE-NECKED TANAGER around the picnic area.
From here we returned to Mérida, where we met up with Sara who had enjoyed an excellent days sightseeing around the city in the company of her guide, Pedro, including a trip to the top of Pico Espejo on the worlds longest and highest cable car ride (the teleférico). Both Sara and Eleanor were now ready for some shopping, so we set off for a large indoor market for a while before returning to the hotel to relax.
We had a morning available for birding today, before taking an early afternoon flight back to Caracas. We decided to target the endemic Rose-headed Parakeet, so we drove south west out of Mérida, then turned north west a little way down the western slope of the Andes to the village of San Eusebio. David had just told us that we were now in the right area for these birds, when he suddenly spotted a large group of parakeets in the top of a large tree. Carlos duly slammed on the brakes, we all piled out (me in my bare feet as I hadnt had time to put on my boots!), and enjoyed excellent views of a flock of ROSE-HEADED PARAKEETS. Juts 15 minutes after first light and we had already bagged our main target bird!
We parked up and set off for a leisurely stroll along the road. We found a BRONZY INCA, before finally getting good views of a VENEZUELAN TYRANNULET, a bird that had constantly eluded us over the last two weeks. A surprisingly smart bird, and well worth the wait. Birding was a little slow this morning, and although we also added ORANGE-BELLIED EUPHONIA, BAND-TAILED GUAN and HOOK-BILLED KITE, not much else was seen until just before we were due to head back to Mérida, we came across a good mixed feeding flock.
We enjoyed good views of MONTANE FOLIAGE-GLEANER, VARIEGATED BRISTLE-TYRANT, MONTANE WOODCREEPER, WHITE-WINGED TANAGER and STREAKED XENOPS, but prize of the bunch was a pair of BARRED BECARDS, a species that had eluded me on a previous trip to Ecuador, and which was a very welcome sighting.
Time to return to our hotel for lunch, during which we added RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD, then over to the airport where we bid Carlos a fond farewell before taking an uneventful and efficient flight back to Caracas, and a transfer to our hotel for our last night in Venezuela.
Hotel Belensate, Mérida - Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Saturday 18 September 2004
Our last morning was to be spent at El Ávila, in the Cordillera de la Costa north-east of Caracas. David was targeting two localised endemic species, Black-throated Spinetail and Caracas Tapaculo, but the first bird seen on arrival was a very nice OCHRE-BREASTED BRUSH-FINCH feeding around a picnic table.
We added BLACK-CAPPED TANAGER and AMERICAN REDSTART before a small flock of spinetails flew across the road and showed well in the scrub on the other BLACK-THROATED SPINETAILS! One down and one to go, and we felt lucky, so we scrambled down a nearby slope, found a suitable open clearing, and tried the CARACAS TAPACULO tape. A bird responded almost immediately, flew in, and gave excellent views as it almost walked over our feet very nice.
We birded the road and tracks for a couple of hours more, adding GLOSSY-BLACK THRUSH, THREE-STRIPED WARBLER, COMMON BUSH-TANAGER, WHITE-THROATED TYRANNULET, SPECKLED HUMMINGBIRD, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, DOUBLE-TOOTHED KITE and GREEN VIOLET-EAR, but we were all pretty tired by now, and found the steep roads hard going. The last potential lifer was a PALE-EDGED FLYCATCHER that called from down the slope, but unfortunately didnt show, before it was time to pack away the bins for another trip, and head for the airport. Definitely one of the best trips we have ever done, and are all eager to return to Venezuela for some more birding in David and Carloss company very soon.
El Ávila h Golden-olive Woodpecker, Green Violet-ear, Speckled Hummingbird, Double-toothed Kite, White-throated Tyrannulet, h Pale-edged Flycatcher, Black-throated Spinetail, h Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Caracas Tapaculo, Glossy-black Thrush, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Ochre-breasted Brush-Finch, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Three-striped Warbler, Common Bush-Tanager, Black-capped Tanager.
The letter 'h' denotes that the bird was heard but not seen.