Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
This is a report on a private birding tour to north-west Venezuela from 7th to 21st January 2004. The tour was organised and led by Steve Elliott and Chris Sharpe and logistics were arranged by Chris’s company, Birding Venezuela (contact details appear at the end). Thanks go to Elias Rajbe and Scarlet Pérez at Birding Venezuela for making the ground arrangements so smoothly and providing excellent logistical support. We also thank Pepe Clavijo, one of Birdng Venezuela's top guides, for accompanying us on our first day: his enthusiasm and local insight were very welcome.
The report summarises daily events and includes details of the birds, mammals and reptiles recorded. The tour visited three ecological regions: the Henri Pittier National Park in the Central Coastal Cordillera near Maracay; the Mérida Andes including the Pico Humboldt Trail, the high páramo and the Santo Domingo Valley; and Hato El Cedral in the low llanos.
The trip took place in what is traditionally regarded as the dry season. Nevertheless, Venezuela was subject to heavy rainfall and extreme cold during the month prior to the trip. In the event, bird activity was depressed during the time we spent in the Central Coastal Cordillera and we consequently missed some obvious birds and were well down on numbers of individuals. However, although we missed out on some very common species, we also saw quite a number of rare birds, perhaps due to the odd weather.
Noteworthy species included:-
Southern Pochard – a female at Hato El Cedral on 19 January is one of two records for Hato Cedral, the last being in 1994 by Gustavo Rodríguez (David Ascanio, in litt.). The species is considered to be endangered in Venezuela (Venezuelan Red Data Book, 3rd ed., in press).
Semipalmated Plover – a bird found by Hato El Cedral guide, Alejandro Nagy. This is the most southerly (inland) record for Venezuela, and is a second record for Hato El Cedral (and Apure State). There is apparently one previous record for Hato El Cedral from 2004 (David Ascanio, in litt.). Other coastal shorebirds, like Ruddy Turnstone, are also regularly seen far inland in the llanos.
Belted Kingfisher – one on power-lines near Puerto Nutrias was a great inland record, well off the documented range.
Mérida Flowerpiercer – an extraordinary record was an adult at 1000m along the Soledad track, some 1500m below its lowest recorded altitude.
House Sparrow – two in the car park of the International Airport. The species was first recorded in Venezuela in 1996 and there are few subsequent records.
Common species we missed included: Common Ground-Dove, Greater Ani, Sooty-capped Hermit, Green Violetear, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Tropical Pewee, Pale-eyed Pygmy-tyrant, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-backed Conebill, Fulvous-headed Tanager, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Plain-coloured Seedeater
The total number of species seen was 494.
Daily itinerary with species recorded at each site
Friday 7th January 2005
Weather in Caracas: cooler than usual and humid.
We left Manchester in the early morning on an Air France flight to Paris. The connecting flight arrived in Caracas at 4.07pm. It took us a further hour and a half to collect our baggage, and meet with local trip leader Chris Sharpe and our driver José Diaz. After the air-conditioned plane and airport, the outside air was warm and humid. In the overcast afternoon light we picked out our first Venezuelan birds: Black Vultures, Carib Grackles, Magnificent Frigatebirds and – only recently recorded for Venezuela and still very rare – two House Sparrows. Our trip to Maracay was made slightly slower by unseasonal rain and heavy Friday evening traffic, and we arrived at Posada El Limón, after picking up Len along the way, at 8.30pm. After celebratory beers and a quick dinner most of us were glad to get some decent rest.
Saturday 8th January 2005
Weather: warm and humid with rain towards the end of the afternoon.
After a short night, a 4.30am breakfast allowed us to reach the Cumboto road by 6.30am for first light. Local birder Pepe Clavijo accompanied us. Dawn brought a bustle of bird activity with good views of some commoner birds. Parrots of various kinds were in evidence and Lilac-tailed Parakeets were seen flying high overhead. A pair of near-endemic Orange-crowned Orioles performed at the top of a bush. Two Crane Hawks lazily flapped around while a female Plain-breasted Hawk, a light-phase Short-tailed Hawk and a Hook-billed Kite flew over. Hummingbirds included Glittering-throated Emerald, White-necked Jacobin and White-vented Plumeleteer. Rufous-tailed Jacamars showed nicely and helped convince us that we were now far from the northern winter while Scaled Piculets typed out Morse code on small vine branches. After some effort, a pair of Black-backed Antshrikes was disentangled from the accompanying Black-cresteds. Our next challenge was to see Wire-tailed Manakins and we had to be content with females in the end, though male Lance-tailed Manakins proved easier. Unusual at this site were a couple of Yellow-knobbed Curassows crashing through the canopy.
As the heat rose we headed for the beach. A quick stop en route along the river secured us nice views of two adult and one immature Fasciated Tiger-Herons, a Venezuelan Flycatcher and Cocoa Thrushes. The coast had Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans aplenty as well as 60 nesting Brown Boobies and a few Royal Terns. Fuscous Flycatcher and Northern Scrub-Flycatcher were found in the xeric scrub, while Glaucous Tanagers and Red-billed Parrots were seen in dry forest. A last stop at the busy weekend beach produced Buffy Hummingbird, Streaked Saltator, Black-faced Grassquit and Grey Pileated-Finch.
Having left the beach early to avoid return traffic, we found ourselves with time in hand for an hour’s evening birding at the Central University campus for Russet-throated Puffbirds (split by some authors as Two-banded Puffbird), Neotropical Palm-Swifts and Summer Tanagers. Having squeezed out of the day every possible hour of birding, we did not complain when rain coaxed us back to our inn.
Sunday 9th January 2005
Weather: generally overcast until mid-afternoon; occasional light breeze. Fairly cold for this area.
After a 5.30am breakfast, we set off along the Ocumare road towards the Rancho Grande Biological Station. After the usual problems gaining access to the station, during which the group birded the entrance, we finally entered the legendary Station grounds. Russet-crowned Oropendolas were the first to greet us. As we left our optical equipment on the terrace, Lilac-tailed Parakeets flew over.
Our first couple of hours were spent on the circular forest walk called the Andy Field Trail. In the dark conditions we were fortunate to come across a Black-faced Antthrush that circled around us giving good views. Two Lined Quail-Doves walked ahead of us and a Plain-backed Antpitta hopped briefly across the trail; but, distracted by Black-hooded Thrushes, we tried in vain to find it again. A band of Slaty Antwrens and Plain Antvireos eventually yielded a pair of Venezuelan Antvireos, of which the female is the more striking. Next was a diminutive Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant.
Almost at the end of the trail, we ran into a large ant swarm which had attracted Strong-billed, Black-banded (the views of the five birds were good enough that we could plainly see the bars on this ill-marked Coastal Cordillera subspecies, seilerni) and Plain-brown Woodcreepers together with Grey-headed Tanagers. A Guttulated Foliage-gleaner in the understorey was the last bird on the trail.
Back on the terrace, Blood-eared Parakeets flew past while a male and female Violet-chested Hummingbird fed at the feeder we had filled. We spent a couple of hours simply soaking up the atmosphere. Distant looks at a pair of displaying Solitary Eagles were had by Richard. All in all though, activity was extremely low, perhaps because of the unseasonally cold conditions.
The Central University campus produced nothing new, though we did have scope views of a female Merlin in El Limón that flew ahead of the bus before perching.
Monday 10th January 2005
Weather: Dawned clear and cloudless. Clouds began to form from mid-morning and enveloped the pass and higher elevations by midday. Cool at first, becoming warm later.
Leaving at 5.15am, we reached the 1600m Choroní Summit at 6.00am – fifteen minutes before good birding light. Our first birds were two Band-winged Nightjars spotlighted on the bluff and at dawn a pair of Semicollared Nighthawks hawked around the Cecropia treetops. Groove-billed Toucanets and tanagers came to the fruit. Ochre-breasted Brush-Finches hopped about in the bracken.
Along the road down the north slope, Caracas Tapaculos and Schwartz’s Antthrushes were heard, but we were unable to lure them into view, though several views of the endemic Rufous-cheeked Tanager provided consolation. The morning proved to be hard going. However, our luck changed when a pair of Handsome Fruiteaters was found at fruiting trees in the company of Andean Solitaires. At the same spot a Southern Nightingale-Wren was taped out for prolonged views from 25 feet. Four Venezuelan Bristle-Tyrants and a male Venezuelan Antvireo were located a little further on before we stumbled upon a quiet female White-tipped Quetzal.
On our way back to Maracay we made a second stop at the pass, this time in mist. A female Wedge-billed Hummingbird worked roadside flowers while Golden-breasted Fruiteaters fed on fruit, but a singing Scalloped Antthrush once more refused to come out.
The south slope proved quiet as well, with just Grey Hawk and Burnished-buff Tanager new for us. Back at our inn, two of us opted to visit a local parrot roost where we had fantastic views of Orange-winged Parrots, Chestnut-fronted Macaws, a lone Scarlet-fronted Parakeet and – at dusk – a circling Bat Falcon.
Tuesday 11th January 2005
Weather: Dawned warm, humid and almost cloudless. The temperature rose rapidly and the sun was hot by midday. Partially cloudy in the afternoon.
We set off from the hotel at 5.15am and arrived at our first birding location along the road to the Rancho Grande Biological Station well before first light. In the darkness, we were able to elicit the response of a Foothill Screech-Owl by playing recordings of its song. Almost immediately the bird reacted by flying towards us, and we had no trouble locating it in the vine tangles where we were able to get truly cracking scope views of the huddled bird with its chestnut head, streaked breast and pale greenish bill. By the time we had finished it was too light for the singing Mottled Owl to come in.
As we reached the terrace of the Biological Station, we found several Russet-backed Oropendolas in the process of weaving their hanging nests from tree branches just a few feet away. Before coffee we had good looks at about 60 Vaux’s Swifts and some perched Red-billed Parrots. After a hearty breakfast, we were able to find a dainty Rufous-lored Tyrannulet from the terrace.
By early morning the sun had produced enough thermals to encourage out a Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle which soared above the ridge top. Shortly afterwards it was joined by a pair of displaying Black Hawk-Eagles which we were able to lure in overhead by imitating their calls. Other raptors included a Plain-breasted Hawk and a pair of copulating White Hawks.
For some, the rest of the morning was spent on the Andy Field Trail again. We were able to obtain good views of Grey-throated Leaftosser, Short-tailed Antthrush, Flavescent Warbler and a mixed bag of woodcreepers at an ant swarm. The activity transfixed us for a couple of hours. Ric had views of a puzzling flycatcher from the terrace that he deduced to be a White-fronted Tyrannulet – not a common bird in Venezuela, though this location is a reliable spot for it.
By midday we had to return to our inn to pack our bags for our flight to Mérida. The airline – Avior – had unfortunately miscalculated the weight of fuel and we had to leave behind some of our bags. With the Andes shrouded in cloud, the flight was exciting and we only just got in under the ceiling.
By late afternoon we checked into our inn, a charming colonial coffee hacienda at 1650m on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada range.
Wednesday 12th January 2005
Weather: The day began cool and almost cloudless. From mid-morning the temperature increased and clouds began to build up over the mountains. Rain 4.00-7.00pm.
We left the inn at 6.15am to drive to La Mucuy in the Sierra Nevada National Park to begin our first day of Andean birding. Our first birds were Wing-banded Tyrannulets and then a perched Blue-and-black Tanager. Half a dozen Moustached Brush-Finches quickly followed, together with Chestnut bellied Thrushes and a skulking Rufous Spinetail. An Azara’s Spinetail singing in exactly the same patch of scrub as the Rufous gave us excellent looks though. The call of a Unicoloured Tapaculo surprised us and we played with it for a while, though only Ivan got a real view. Mérida Sunangels fed on Eucalyptus while a host of boreal migrants, including a lovely Golden-winged Warbler, frequented the trees beside the clearing.
By midday an adult and an immature Black-and-chestnut Eagle began to soar. At low altitude they gave us spectacular views, particularly when joined by a White-rumped Hawk and then a Short-tailed.
Along the river we had close looks at half a dozen of the endemic White-fronted Whitestart and a pair of Blackish Chat-Tyrants – another Mérida endemic. After lunch we found a spot for both White-capped Dipper and Torrent Tyrannulet and excellent views were had by all. The rest of the day was spent familiarising ourselves with the commoner Andean birds, most of which are extremely beautiful.
Thursday 13th January 2005
Weather: Dawned cool, bright and cloudless. Morning sunny, clouding by mid-morning and becoming overcast by midday. Light rain from 6.30pm.
We left the inn and boarded the bus for the Pico Humboldt Trail at 5.45am. Cool weather greeted our arrival at the La Mucuy Recreation Area, despite the bright morning light and icy blue sky. We quickly headed up the trail into the temperate forest. Lined Quail-Doves walked along the trail ahead of us like dogs out for a walk, Mérida Sunangels gave repeated views but generally the forest was rather quiet except for the characteristic three-note “compra pan” whistle of the Chestnut-crowned Antpitta.
Quite high up the trail, fruiting trees provided good looks at a female Golden-headed Quetzal, a male Masked Trogon, several Green-and-Black Fruiteaters and a group of Rose-headed Parakeets perched at eye-level. Andean Guans were also found in the vicinity of the fruiting trees. We had to try hard for brief looks at Mérida Tapaculo in the undergrowth whilst understorey and canopy flocks proved to be sparse. Only a flock of Grey-capped Hemispingus broke the silence. Slate-crowned Antpitta proved elusive too and only one of us managed a decent look. We had rather more success with the endemic Grey-naped Antpitta a little higher up.
After turning around near the top of the first ascent, we saw very little. Noisy Black-collared Jays were an unexpected surprise, but otherwise the forest was quiet.
Back at our inn, we used the remaining light to find some commoner species like Striped Cuckoo, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and White-tailed Kite. However, nightfall brought richer fare: in the short time before dinner we were able to spotlight a pair of Rufous Nightjars, originally heard by Steve. Tropical Screech-Owls serenaded us to sleep, but curiously would not come in to tape.
Friday 14th January 2005
Weather: Dawned cool, bright and cloudless. Morning sunny, becoming partially cloudy by mid-morning.
We left the inn and boarded the bus for the Pico Humboldt Trail once more at 6.00am. Most of the group immediately headed up the trail into the temperate forest, whilst three stayed back in the clearing.
The first bird was Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush hopping out on bare roots on the trail ahead of us. Then a Unicoloured Tapaculo began to sing in the trailside undergrowth and, fortunately, it was dark enough for most of us to get a look at the blackish mouse-like bird. A couple of curves higher, a close singing Barred Forest-Falcon could not be located, but White-capped Parrots were found in the canopy above us.
The rest of the trail produced a similar selection of birds to yesterday and many of us caught up on birds we had only glimpsed previously. New were Superciliaried Hemispingus and a female Barred Becard. We also got excellent looks at perched Rose-crowned Parakeets.
After a nice lunch and some good coffee, we set off higher up into the Andes following the Chama River valley. A refuelling stop at the Apartaderos gas station gave us time to admire a couple of soaring Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles. A stop at the mountain lake, Laguna de Mucubají, produced Andean Teal (this subspecies, altipetens, is sometimes split as Mérida Speckled Teal) as well as three migrant Blue-winged Teal and a Pied-billed Grebe.
We reached the Hotel Los Frailes with an hour’s light in hand and capitalised on this by eventually finding a Mérida Wren. Lucky additions were a female Torrent Duck and a White-capped Dipper, both found by Glyn, and great views of Mérida Flowerpiercer.
Saturday 15th January 2005
Weather: The day began with partial cloud and became overcast by midday. Calm.
After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, we headed up to the páramos to look for Mérida endemics and high-altitude specialities. At our first stop we walked down a trail between two curves in the road where the Espeletias were a-rustle with bird activity. The birding began immediately when we flushed a pair of Andean Tit-Spinetails as we got out of the bus. After satisfying views, we turned our attention to a pair of Streak-backed Canasteros and Brown-backed Chat-Tyrants before setting off down the trail. The endemic Ochre-browed Thistletails were extremely cooperative and gave us prolonged views from fifteen feet. We flushed two Wilson’s Snipe from a wet area at the start of the trail – in flight, the dark barring on the underwing was clearly visible. A pair of Páramo Pipits was found in the same bog and scoped from 60 feet.
With most of the target birds in hand, the rest of the day was spent searching in vain for Bearded Helmetcrest, always a tough bird at this time of year. We did, however, get more great views of the páramo specialities as well as Torrent Duck and White-capped Dipper. An oddity was a Boat-billed Heron skeleton found by Steve at Hotel Los Frailes (and now deposited in the Phelps Ornithological Collection), proof of the role of the Santo Domingo Valley as a migration flyway.
Sunday 16th January 2005
Weather: Dawned mostly cloudy, becoming overcast by mid-morning. Rain by mid-afternoon. Cool.
A 4.45am departure had us to the San Isidro Tunnel Road for breakfast at 5.45am: an hour before first light. As we ate, five Band-winged Nightjars were spotlighted along the quarry walls. Carrying flashlights, we set off at a brisk walk to the head of the gorge. Noisy Band-tailed Guans moved clumsily through the pre-dawn canopy. At the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek, the screeches of the males told us that the ritual had already begun. Some even saw a male fly across the trail entrance. The peculiar sounds of the lekking birds below accompanied our descent of the steep trail. We were fortunate enough to find a group of at least six male Cocks-of-the-Rock at the lek and watched at leisure.
We emerged from the Cock-of-the-Rock lek onto the trail again ready for new birds. However, the trail had gone eerily quiet and not a bird moved or sang. We made two forays toward the head of the gorge without finding anything beyond both species of Oropendola. A brief moment of excitement was provided by a Red-ruffed Fruitcrow which flew across the trail and perched up for an instant but did not stop for long. On our way back, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finches all but eluded us, as did Immaculate Antbirds. The latter were coaxed into view briefly after enormous effort. We were not so fortunate with Rusty-breasted Antpitta.
By mid-morning an adult Black-and-chestnut Eagle began to circle majestically above us and remained in the sky for the rest of our visit. Beautiful Cliff Flycatchers were scoped and photographed along the quarry walls on our return to the bus and we continued to watch them as we tucked into our picnic lunch.
In the afternoon we headed back up the valley. At the Pueblo Llano Bridge, we found a male Torrent Duck, which performed well for us. A little higher up we encountered the near endemic Narrow-tailed Emerald and Black-and-white Seedeaters, the latter a rather local species. The afternoon’s birding concluded near the Hotel Moruco with a feast of hummingbirds on flowering Inga trees at eye-level. The visitors included Orange-throated Sunangel, the gorgeous endemic Golden Starfrontlet, a pair of Mountain Velvetbreasts and a female Gorgeted Woodstar as well as Glossy and Mérida Flowerpiercers. We watched agape for a good hour till rain finally sent us back to our hotel, despite a singing Ocellated Tapaculo.
Linda and Terry, who had stayed at the hotel, had found a pair of nesting Crimson-mantled Woodpeckers, a spectacularly plumaged high-Andean species.
Monday 17th January 2005
Weather: dawned overcast and remained so all day; mild in morning, but cool in afternoon.
Leaving Los Frailes at 7.45am, we set off for the Las Tapias trail just below the entrance to the hotel. On the way, we made a stop to pick up one of the nesting Crimson-mantled Woodpeckers that had been seen yesterday.
Lachrymose Mountain-Tanagers were the first birds to make their presence felt – in fact, we could not look into the Polylepis or Chusquea bamboo without seeing them. Spectacular views of these lovely high-Andean tanagers were had by all. Slaty Brush-Finches were also plentiful.
The stream held White-capped Dipper and Torrent Tyrannulet, which we had already had several looks at. A pair of Pearled Treerunners were engrossed in the moss-hung Polylepis. A single, very close Citrine Warbler was the only other addition before we decided to head down the Santo Domingo Valley to much lower altitudes.
It was midday by the time we arrived at La Soledad trail and we immediately tucked into a packed lunch. Dessert came in the form of a roosting female Lyre-tailed Nightjar picked out amongst the roadside scrub in an extraordinary feat of visual dexterity by eagle-eyed Dave. We were all able to enjoy prolonged scope views from minimum focus distance. Despite the heat, the birds were active along La Soledad trail. We had a variety of tanagers including Guira and Blue-necked as well as Sooty-headed and Golden-faced Tyrannulets. An striking record was an adult Mérida Flowerpiercer seen extremely well some 1500m below its lowest recorded altitude!
A half-hour stop along the Altamira road was very productive with Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Swallow Tanager and a pair of gorgeous Cerulean Warblers besides several commoner species.
Our last stop was the famous Río Barragán coffee plantation, which we reached at 4.00pm. After an initial slow start we picked up a variety of new birds including Bay-breasted Warblers, a perched Laughing Falcon, three Pale-headed Jacamars, a Capped Heron, two Many-banded Araçaris and a Yellow-tufted Woodpecker.
By 6.00pm we left the trail and headed for the Hotel Bristol for dinner, the log and some rest.
Tuesday 18th January 2005
Weather: hot and sunny all day; strong breeze at Hato El Cedral.
We left the hotel at 5.30am and headed south-west in the dark on our route to Hato El Cedral. Our first birds were three Barn Owls quartering over fields near the road. We stopped for breakfast in Dolores nearly two hours later.
A male Belted Kingfisher picked up by Richard on a cable just past Puerto Nutrias was an interesting record, well off the mapped range. Black-capped Donacobius broke the journey at a town pond in Bruzual. Further on we were lucky enough to have a Yellow-knobbed Curassow fly across the road immediately in front of the bus. After crossing the River Apure, a wildlife spectacle began to unfold outside the windows, but our leaders’ iron rule dictated that we push on to the ranch. However, brief stops brought us Hoatzins, Scarlet and Green Ibis, while a Horned Screamer was glimpsed by Chris and Richard as it flew across a lake.
Our entry to Hato El Cedral coincided with a meeting of ministers and we shared the lodge with an entourage and their armed guards. We hastily threw our bags into the rooms and sat down to lunch.
The afternoon excursion to the Río Caicara began at 3.30pm when our local guide, Victor, showed us a roosting Barn Owl and five Lesser Nighthawks right at the lodge. It began to look as if we would not get very far before nightfall when Dwarf Cuckoo, Double-striped Thick-knee and Orinoco Geese were seen before we even left the gate. Pools harboured a host of water birds from herons to ducks and ibis to shorebirds. The latter category included Pied Plover, Least and Solitary Sandpiper. Along the road we ran into several coveys of Crested Bobwhite. Savannah held Grassland and Yellow-browed Sparrows.
The river was alive with birds returning to roost. A Sunbittern was unwittingly flushed. As dusk fell, 30 Band-tailed and two Nacunda Nighthawks plied the river.
Other wildlife included innumerable Capybara and Spectacled Caiman, as well as four Savannah Foxes and a Llanos Long-nosed Armadillo. After dinner we ran through the log and turned in for a good night’s rest. The drive and half-day’s birding had added 71 new species to the list!
During the evening, as on all subsequent evenings, a group of local musicians serenaded us with harps, cuatro (Venezuelan four-stringed guitar) and maracas as we ate dinner.
Wednesday 19th January 2005
Weather: hot and sunny all day.
We left at 7.10am along the Jobal road which takes in flooded grassland, the Matiyure River and then open parkland. Our first new bird was a diminutive River Tyrannulet (reminiscent of Lesser Whitethroat for those from the Old World) right at the lodge. A look through the shorebirds produced South American Snipe and two Stilt Sandpipers in addition to species we had already seen. Two wintering Green Herons were readily separated from the resident Striated Herons. Four Yellowish Pipits were flushed from grassland while a Riverside Tyrant was located in waterside bushes. As we reached the river an Aplomado falcon shot over. In the parkland we had a pair of Venezuelan Troupials before coming across a pair of Horned Screamers which we were able to observe at our leisure from 100 metres. A White-tailed Goldenthroat briefly visited mistletoe flowers behind us. On the way back we picked up two soaring King Vultures, Whistling Herons, a smart Green Heron, our first Sharp-tailed Ibis and several Jabirus.
On our way in to lunch we found a Great Horned Owl on a nest in a palm tree a stone’s throw from the dining room. After lunch, some wandered in the heat of the day in the lodge compound. The “mad dogs” were rewarded with great views of endemic White-bearded Flycatchers, nesting Northern Scrub-Flycatchers, cheeky Bicoloured Wrens and a male Dickcissel that just dropped in for a drink.
We set off at 4.00pm for Mata de Caña. A showy Spot-breasted Woodpecker was the first bird. Then a flock of 12 Scarlet Macaws flew past and a Harris’s Hawk was spotted in a tree close by. A crevice in a tree held a family of Barn Owls and the truck gave us enough height to be able to see inside perfectly. At the far end of the clump of trees a pair of Aplomado Falcons were teed up in a dead snag 100m away. We scoped them as we drank some cold refreshments and the birds finally took flight, giving us excellent views. Our trip towards the gate in search of Pinnated Bittern was cut short when Victor spotted one in plain view within a couple of hundred metres of our last stop.
With an hour’s light left we sped to the start of the Caro Caro road in search of ducks. Thousands of White-faced and Black-bellied Whistling-Duck were there, together with the odd Blue-winged Teal and Brazilian Duck. The British contingent revelled in the prospect of combing through the waterfowl! A quick search revealed about ten Muscovy Duck and four Fulvous Whistling-Duck. But the prize was Richard’s find of a rare female Southern Pochard, a bird whose populations have decreased severely to the extent to which there are only a handful of recent sightings. A pair of Peregrines harried the wildfowl constantly, but we did not actually see a catch.
After dinner, we had a couple of hours’ night drive to the Río Caicara. The first night birds were a handful of Boat-billed Herons, surprised by the lights of the truck. The a few Pauraques flushed, one of which was spotlighted on the ground; through the scope its chestnut ear-patch was clearly seen. As we drove down the road a total of about eight South American Snipe flushed up from the road surface. The stars of the evening were two Spot-tailed Nightjars scoped from 20m. Every detail of these uncommon and often overlooked nightjars was seen; on the latter bird – a male – the broad white tip to the undertail glowed in the spotlighted. Right at the Río Caicara, a White-tailed Nightjar perched up briefly on a post concluding our night trip.
Thursday 20th January 2005
Weather: hot and sunny all day.
Setting off once again at 7.00am, we drove fairly quickly to the Río Caicara gallery forest. Nesting Rusrty-backed Spinetails entertained us for while. A female Peregrine shot low overhead in search of duck. Three near endemic Orinocan Saltators perched in the bush tops and gave us great looks as did White-bearded Flycatchers. A White-tailed Goldenthroat called in briefly too. Laughing Falcons were found on treetop perches.
The gallery forest itself was rather quiet, but we did get scope views of a male Amazonian Black-Tyrant from 20m. On our way back a flock of Red-breasted Blackbirds was the highlight. A look through the duck on the Caro Caro road produced nothing new, though numbers of Muscovy Duck were up to 40. A quick count revealed 500 White-faced and 6000 Black-bellied Whistling-Duck.
During their morning excursion, Linda and Terry, together with their guide Alejandro Nagy, had found a Semipalmated Plover, a very unusual record for the llanos.
At 3.00pm we left on our boat trip along the Río Matiyure. Two Azure Gallinules were flushed in the first stretch of Water Hyacinth and a Pinnated Bittern was surprised. A quick stop on terra firme produced a Jet Antbird which, however, did not show well. A male Blue Ground-Dove flew past at the same spot and an American Pygmy Kingfisher and a Fuscous Flycatcher were spotted in the waterside bushes.
Back on the boat, we eased into tree-lined creeks. Three gorgeous Grey-necked Wood-Rails were viewed from less than ten feet. Further along we encountered Sunbitterns, then turned into a side creek. Punting along without the motor we soon came across an adult Agami Heron which we approached to ten feet. A further four Agamis were found along the dark creek as well as two pairs of Amazonian Black-Tyrants.
On the main channel we waited for night to fall. Some 25 Band-tailed Nighthawks began to patrol the river well before last light. At dusk a Tropical Screech-Owl sang, but would not come in to tape. Only when it was completely dark did Common Potoos begin to sing from the depths of the gallery forest and, after some effort, one of them – or at least its eyeshine – was glimpsed. Commencing our return we were able to elicit the response of a Great Potoo. This time the bird was spotlighted in a riverside tree. With the spotlight (not to mention the group’s rear ends!) failing, this was the sighting that rounded off the night tour.
Friday 21st January 2005
Weather: hot and sunny all day.
Our last morning began with another early start. By 5.30am we had packed and left Hato El Cedral and were driving towards Barinas. At dawn we were in the middle of the llanos with wildfowl flying on all sides. We made very good time and arrived at Barinas in 4 ½ hours with time in hand for coffee, refreshments and lunch. The flight to Caracas took an hour and had us at the international airport with ample time for our Air France check-in.
Tour participants and acknowledgements
The tour participants were:-
Betty & Ric Zarwell
Linda Loundes & Terry McLeod
Glyn & Richard Taylor
Our driver was José Díaz. Our guides at Hato El Cedral were Victor (Junior) and Alejandro Nagy.
The tour was organised by Steve Elliott and Chris Sharpe with all in-country logistics handled by Birding Venezuela (thanks to Scarlet Pérez and Elías Rajbe):-
Edificio Meromary, Piso 3, Of. 3-C,
Entre las calles Jose Felix Rivas con calle Bolívar
Telf. +58-212-2665766 / 2667467 / 2662445
Email: birdingvenezuela AT gmail.com
Email: tanagerbirding AT yahoo.co.uk
http://www.birdingvenezuela.com (coming soon!)
For more information on birding in Venezuela, see:-
Birds and Birding in Venezuela: http://www.birdvenezuela.com
494 spp. - detailed PDF spreadsheet available on request.
Little Blue Heron
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
Great Black Hawk
Black-chested Buzzard Eagle
South American Snipe
Great Horned Owl
American Pygmy Kingfisher
Northern White-fringed Antwren
Southern Rough-winged Swallow