In previous trip reports, I have described birding experiences in Northeastern, North central, and Western Venezuela, as well as Junglaven, during 2003-2005. In an effort to target another couple of special species during a 'long weekend', I traveled west of Caracas to Maracay and Parque Nacional Henri Pittier, utilzing the services of Venezuelan Guide Pepe Clavijo (pepito1313ATyahoo.com). Pepe, who is probably best known for his work with Scallop-breasted Antpitta (both banding as a part of scientific research as well as finding additional sites for it, digiscoping it, and showing it to numerous birdwatchers and bird tour leaders) works with a Venezuelan birdwatching company called: BIRDING VENEZUELA Chacao - Caracas Tel. +58-212-2665766 / 2667467 / 2662445 Fax. +58-212-2667944 email: birdingvenezuelaATgmail.com .... http://www.birdingvenezuela.com (coming soon!) For more information on birding in Venezuela, see:- http://www.birdvenezuela.com
Logistics: ground transport and accommodations were all arranged by Birding Venezuela.
Day 1: 19 May: Maracay lies about 2 hours west of Caracas, and after a mid-day arrival, I ended up in Maracay with a couple of hours of afternoon daylight left. The main target bird of this trip, Golden-winged Sparrow, is a rather localized resident of central and western Venezuela, also reaching into NE Colombia (qualifying for what we semi-jokingly call a 'functional endemic' of Venezuela, since NE Colombia has been somewhat off-limits to birders for awhile). Golden-winged Sparrow can be quite unobtrusive and difficult to locate, and as such it is very rarely seen on commercial bird tours. We started off checking out an area at the Univesity of Central Venezuela at Maracay, where Pepe has seen this species several times previously, but the late afternoon was quiet, and we ended the day moderately optimistic about what our chances might be the next morning....
Day 2: 20 May: As one leaves Maracay and heads north, past El Limon, one almost immediately enters Parque Nacional Henri Pittier, which extends across a broad range of altitudes. Golden-winged Sparrow especially likes forested ravines, and when we reached 500 m altitude, we stopped at 7:25am to check out one such ravine. I headed up the ravine, which was not surprisingly the wrong direction, and soon Pepe called to me from down the ravine to say that he had found a pair. We ended up with excellent views of a pair that worked their way through fairly open vegetation at eye-level, and the birds gave chip notes, but did not sing. As they descended down into the ravine, I played a pre-recorded vocalization of their song, but they seemed uninterested and soon disappeared. This seems to be an excellent spot, since Pepe was able to show Golden-winged Sparrow here to a good friend of mine 3 months later, in August. Certainly the most stunningly plumaged of the Arremons...
After our early morning success, we decided to back-track towards Maracay and then head up to Choroni Rd., where Pepe had recently seen Rufous-shafted Woodstar, another bird that had eluded me on previous trips (we finally found one in Sept. 2005 at Yacambu). As we crested the pass and headed down the mountain, we stopped to listen to Chestnut-capped Antpittas calling, when, to our great surprise, Pepe heard a Scallop-breasted Antpitta calling close to the road. We were familiar with this species and had previously seen it in 2003 at Rancho Grande in Henri Pittier NP, where we had camped with Chris Sharpe of Birding Venezuela to look for this species. We had obtained recordings of it's vocalization, and Pepe had subsequently found additional sites for it at Rancho Grande, closer to the research station, that did not require camping. Since 2003, Pepe had shown the antpitta to a variety of bird tour leaders and birdwatching groups, but always on the Rancho Grande trails.
To the best of our knowledge, there had been no recent records of Scallop-breasted Antpitta on Choroni Rd (Hilty in Birds of Venezuela denotes a visual record by K. Zimmer there in the past), and we entered the forest and Pepe played a vocalizationon via minidisc. Within seconds, we had scope views of Scallop-breasted Antpitta, and Pepe was able to digiscope it, for what at the time were probably the first still photographs taken of a non-captive bird (Pepe and others had mist-netted the bird during Carlos Verea's previous extensive studies at Rancho Grande, published in Ornitología Neotropical 15: 225-235, 2004). Choroni Road represents a more accessible place for birders to view this bird, and Pepe has been able to show it to subsequent tour groups there. Other species of note on Choroni Rd: Caracas Tapaculo (heard), Schwartz's Antthrush (heard), White-necked Thrush, Ochre-breasted Brush-Finch.
Day 3: 21 May: Early am at Rancho Grande, Henri Pittier NP: Before heading back to the US, I had a couple of hours at Rancho Grande. Birds of note included Blood-eared Parakeet, Guttulated Foliage-gleaner (very vocal at this time of year), Short-tailed Antthrush (heard), Plain-backed Antpitta, and Black-hooded Thrush.
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