The states of Sucre and Monagas in Northeastern Venezuela are well known for having a number of endemic species and subspecies, and only one of the major bird tour companies runs tours to this area with any degree of frequency.
Our trip was designed to look for the local endemics, and we managed to see quite a few localized subspecies as well. I was accompanied on this trip by 2 excellent Venezuelan guides: Chris Sharpe (email: rodsha AT telcel.net.ve / cjsharpe AT cantv.net / chris AT birdvenezuela.com; website: http://www.birdvenezuela.com ) and Pepe Clavijo (email: pepito1313 AT yahoo.com).
Mar. 4: Arrive Caracas, drive to Maracay.
Mar. 5: Drive Maracay to La Vuelta Larga, Sucre
Mar. 6: Cerro Humo; late afternoon at La Vuelta Larga
Mar. 7: am La Vuelta Larga (Balneario Sabacal/Cano Ajies), pm to San Antonio, Monagas
Mar. 8: Turimiquire am, Caripe pm
Mar. 9: Caripe to Hato La Fe
Mar. 10: am Hato La Fe, pm to Caracas
Unfortunately, soon before my arrival, one of the main bridges linking Caracas to the east was damaged and closed, necessitating heading to Sucre/Paria peninsula via the llanos - it was a 12 hour drive from Maracay to La Vuelta Larga. Another option would have been flying, but since there were large numbers of people trying to fly to that area because of the road closure, flights were full and there was widespread overbooking of flights and significant delays. We decided to rent a car and at least be in control of the situation.
I rented a Hertz Toyota Corolla at US$95/day. Car rentals in Venezuela are unusually expensive, plus there is mandatory insurance that costs $17/day, etc. One compensation is that gasoline is incredibly cheap, and we usually paid US$1 or 1.50 to fill up our tank. Our philosophy, which turned out to work well, was to rent a simple car and then acquire local 4WD with driver as needed at the birding sites.
Logistical assistance was provided by: Birding Venezuela Tel. +58-212-2665766 / 2667467 Fax. +58-212-2667944 email: birdingvenezuela AT cantv.net Birding Venezuela: http://www.birdingvenezuela.com
1) Birding in Venezuela by Mary Lou Goodwin
2) Venezuela Birding Trip Report 19 Jan-23Feb 2001 by Jon Hornbuckle
Although Venezuela had experienced unseasonal heavy rains the weeks before, we had excellent weather the entire trip, and actually could have used some cloud cover mid-day in several areas!
Sites and birds:
1) La Vuelta Larga:
Located in southern Sucre, this inn (phone: 294-69052) has very nice accomodations and good food. (BYOB - they only had light beer, and are reported to sometimes have no beer...) Established by Claus Muller, La Vuelta Larga is an ecotourism inn and a working water buffalo ranch. His son Daniel is familiar with the birds of Paria, and he knows the sites well, including Cerro Humo. The $90/person fee includes lodging, food, 4-WD transportation, and Daniel's guiding services, and utilizing him made birding Cerro Humo logistically extremely easy. Mary Lou Goodwin's book covers the area well, including fairly comprehensive bird lists, and close to the ranch are lowland forest (Balneario Sabacal) and mangroves (Cano Ajies), giving a good selection of Delta Amacuro birds. Special birds of note for me were:
Little Hermit - the 'true' Little Hermit, after various other subspecies were split off. A specialist of the heliconias at Balneario Sabacal, where they were common (this was also the only place where mosquitos were quite common).
White-chested Emerald - also at B. Sabacal
Velvet-fronted Grackle - Pepe used a mini-disc to call in 2 extremely responsive birds in the Cano Ajies mangroves.
Cinnamon Attila - Cano Ajies
We also recorded Jet Antbird, Green and Rufous Kingfisher, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Silvered Antbird, and Red-billed Toucan at Cano Ajies. Rufous Crab-Hawk can be found if you go further out past the first mangrove section.
At Balneario Sabacal, we also saw Slender-billed Kite and Amazonian White-tailed Trogon. This is reported to be a good site for Crimson-hooded Manakin, but that wasn't on our 'hit list' for this trip.
At La Vuelta Larga itself, the ranch is a good site for the endemic Black-dotted Piculet.
2) Cerro Humo:
Easily accessed via Daniel's 4-WD, this site on the Paria peninsula is about 1 1/2 hours from La Vuelta Larga. We hiked past the ranger station at an elevation of 700m on a reasonably good trail. Bird activity in the early morning was excellent, with a large mixed flock that contained Venez. Flowerpiercer and Paria Whitestarts, but by 11 am, it was hot and sunny, with very few birds moving around. Birds of note included:
Venezuelan Parakeet - common, and easiliy scoped close to the ranger station.
White-tailed Sabrewing - we saw at least 10, with prolonged views of one feeding low above a patch of impatiens at the ranger station.
Scissor-tailed Hummingbird - a male and female of this impressive endemic were feeding on Heliconias.
Groove-billed Toucanet - an endemic subspecies
Stripe-breasted Spinetail - also an endemic subspecies
Golden-faced Tyrannulet - common.We failed to connect with Urich's Tyrannulet, which had been seen here just a few days before we arrived.
Handsome Fruiteater - a nice male of the endemic subspecies.
Cerulean Warbler - one male in the large flock
Paria Whitestart - 8.
Venezuelan Flowerpiercer - one male with the large flock
It is of note that we utilized the 'lower trail', and there is a higher trail that goes into forest where some people have recorded the White-throated Barbtail - we decided to try for this bird later in the trip at Turimiquire.
To get to sites for Gray-headed Warbler, one must access high elevation forest. The classic site is the Cerro Negro hike, but since that area is supposedly heavily deforested and requires a very long hike, we decided to utilize a site found by Dave Willis in the Turimiquire area. Utilizing a local 4-WD, which even had trouble getting up part of the road in dry weather, we accessed very nice forest at 1700m. Birds of note were:
Lilac-tailed Parrotlets (heard)
Red-billed Parrots (heard)
Venezuelan Sylph - excellent views of 4 males and one female as they foraged and perched mid- to high canopy.
White-throated Barbtail - we heard a couple of these at close range early in the morning, and they were very much excited by playback, but stayed low in dense roadside ferns. We decided to concentrate on the warbler, and when we returned to the area in mid-morning, it was hot, and the birds were completely unresponsive.
Slate-crowned Antpitta - 2 heard Caracas Tapaculos - actively calling
Glossy-black Thrush - common
Grey-headed Warbler - 4 were calling, and one tape-responsive individual came in and gave good looks, staying low to mid-story and preferring viney tangles. This localized endemic was probably the #1 bird on our hit list, and we had very nice looks at it.
4) Caripe Oilbird Cave:
This site is well-described in Mary Lou's book, but it is truly a special experience to hear these raucous birds and then see them exit and fly about...they began to exit the cave at 6:50pm. We were mildly chastised by the park guard for drinking a beer as we waited for them to exit - but 6:50 was a long time to wait to toast our success with Gray-headed Warbler earlier in the day!
Caripe has a nice variety of accomodations, and we chose to stay at Cabañas Bellerman in San Augustín - Andrés Gutiérrez (phone: 092 4148968)
5) Hato La Fe:
We decided to break up our return trip by spending a night at Hato La Fe, which has a nice selection of llanos landbirds and also has a boat ride for water birds. Yellow-knobbed Currasows were especially tame here.
Joseph Thompson, Los Angeles (joseph.c.thompson AT kp.org)