Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
This holiday was a fortnight’s all-inclusive courtesy of First Choice. They are an efficient tour operator with unusually comfortable aircraft.
The hotel was the Dunes which is on the Playa de la Cruz on the north-west coast of the island. The hotel was larger than expected, so large that they ran shuttle buses from our part of the hotel to reception. Of the hotels we saw it was probably the best for birding as it had several mangrove-fringed channels which held a small mixed egret and heron colony and - a surprise this - capybaras. The edges of the hotel were scrubby while to the south was a headland with a lighthouse, an excellent place for getting close to frigatebirds, pelicans and vultures.
The hotel - in common with all the others we saw - had a barrier at the entrance. The Dunes was not completely fenced but had security guards around the perimeter although they were not always there. This emphasis on security has a point: we were mugged on the Playa Zaragoza which is the beach next to our hotel. Three men attacked us and took my cameras and binoculars. The hotel and tour operator staff were very helpful but the police weren’t interested. This is the first time I have been attacked in 40 years of travelling. Either we were very unlucky or Margarita is an unusually dangerous place.
It rained almost every day, sometimes for most of the day. When it was cloudy the temperature was very comfortable, but when the sun was out the temperature rose to the high 20s. The summit of one of the mountains that could be seen from the hotel was permanently covered in cloud.
We hired a car from a neighbouring hotel because Fun Cars at our hotel had no cars available. Margarita Car Rental provided a well-used air-conditioned automatic Toyota Yaris for four days for 150,000 Bolivars a day. The map supplied was just adequate.
All the roads we drove on were tarmac but large potholes were a feature. The rain meant flooded roads which meant the potholes were hidden. Within towns there were traffic jams and erratic or non-existent signs. We usually became lost. Outside towns traffic was light.
Birds of Venezuela by Hilty is the standard publication. It is the size and weight of several bricks.
Restinga National Park. Easily found and accessed, but beyond the entrance the only mode of transport is boat. These can be hired for half or one hour periods. There is desert scrub alongside the road which can be accessed.
El Copey National Park. This can be accessed from the road between Asuncion and El Valle de Espirito Santo. It cannot be accessed from the road between Santa Ana and Asuncion. There is a sign in the middle of Asuncion but that could be difficult to find. It is accessed from the dual-carriageway W of Porlamar. Look for the sign ‘El Valle de Espirito Santo’.
Portochuelo. This is the summit between Santa Ana and Asuncion. There is a car park and a short path through woodland down to a village.
Punta Arenas. The furthest west you can go. A beach-front café, desert scrub and some sea-watching.
Brown Pelican Common
Brown Booby 50, Punta Arenas, 30/1/06; 2, Dunes Hotel, 31/1/06
Neotropic Cormorant Common
Magnificent Frigatebird Common
Great Blue Heron 1, Dunes Hotel, 31/1/06
Cocoi Heron 1,Dunes Hotel,28/1/06. According to Hilty has not been recorded in Margarita
Great Egret 1 - 2, Dunes Hotel
Snowy Egret c4, Dunes Hotel
Cattle Egret c40, Dunes Hotel
Tricolored Heron 2, Dunes Hotel
Black-crowned Night Heron c15, Dunes Hotel
Black Vulture Very common
Turkey Vulture 1 - 2 daily
Osprey 1, Restinga, 23/1/06; 6, Restinga, 30/1/06; 1 near airport, 2/2/06
Harris Hawk 1, Restinga, 23/1/06
Crested Caracara 1, Restinga, 23/1/06; 1, Dunes Hotel
White-tailed Hawk 1, Restinga, 30/1/06
Spotted Sandpiper 1, Dunes Hotel, 29/1/06
Royal Tern c6 singles
Feral Dove Common
Bare-eyed Pigeon 1, Dunes Hotel
Eared Dove Common Dunes Hotel
Common Ground-dove Common Dunes Hotel
Ruddy Ground-dove Common Dunes Hotel
Scaled Dove Common Dunes Hotel
White-tipped Dove Fairly common Dunes Hotel
Blue-crowned Parakeet 15, Restinga, 23/1/06
Green-rumped Parrotlet Flock of c15 birds, Dunes Hotel
Smooth-billed Ani 2, Lighthouse; 1, Dunes Hotel
Ruby-topaz 1, S of Manzanillo, 25/1/06
Blue-tailed Emerald 1, S of Manzanillo, 24/1/06
Buffy Hummingbird Fairly common in scrub
Straight-billed Woodcreeper 1, Dunes Hotel
Pale-breasted Spinetail Commonly heard in scrub - a flycatcher-like two-tone buzz. Seen twice.
White-fringed Antwren 2, Dunes Hotel
Cattle Tyrant 2, Dunes Hotel. According to Hilty has not been recorded on Margarita
Tropical Kingbird 1 - 2, Dunes Hotel; 1, Playa Zaragoza
Gray Kingbird 1, Hesperia Hotel
Scrub Greenlet Up to 5, Dunes Hotel
Gray-breasted Martin Common Lighthouse
Purple Martin 1, Lighthouse
Tropical Mockingbird Abundant. The most widespread passerine
Tropical Gnatcatcher Common Dunes Hotel
Black-and-white Warbler 1, Dunes Hotel
Carib Grackle Abundant. The most numerous passerine. Roost of 1000+ birds by the Dunes Hotel restaurant
Yellow Oriole 1-2 in many scrubby areas
Bananaquit 2, Dunes Hotel
Glaucous Tanager 2, Dunes Hotel
Vermilion Cardinal 1-2 in most scrubby areas
Black-faced Grassquit Very common
Saffron Finch 4+, Dunes Hotel