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Venezuela, November 2004,
Hato El Cedral
Santo Domingo Valley
Condor Centre at Mifafi
STATE OF ARAGUA
STATE OF AMAZONAS
This report details a 2½ weeks birding trip to Venezuela in November 2004. Vital Van Gorp, Luc Bekaert and the brothers Jos & Staf Elzermans accompanied me.
Venezuela is currently one of the most accessible countries of South America and holds a good proportion of the region's avifauna. Venezuela has everything a birder could want: a rich avifauna, a well-illustrated new guide, ample and diverse habitats and modern facilities. Venezuela is one of the countries with most bird species on Earth. Over 1380 species have been recorded making Venezuela the world’s sixth most bird species rich nation. Of these, 49 are found only in Venezuela and a further 117 have most of their distribution within Venezuela.
The people in Venezuela are in general both friendly and helpful, making for a pleasant and relatively hassle-free trip.
Venezuela is widely recognised as an ideal country in which to gain an introduction to the diverse and colourful birdlife of the South American continent, 'The Bird Continent'.
When you add to this the vast cloud forests, the endless savannah wetlands of the Llanos, the dramatic scenery of the high Andes, the good infrastructure of roads, the relative ease of accessibility to the various areas, the fine hotels and the excellent food, Venezuela becomes the obvious choice for a birding trip to the South American continent.
Vital and I had already visited Venezuela twice (1988 and 1994), but always regretted that we did not visit Hato El Cedral in the Llanos. So we decided to visit the Llanos a second time. Our trip encompassed some well-known sites in Venezuela.
We concentrated on four areas: the Llanos (Hato El Cedral), the Andes near Santo Domingo, a short visit to Colonia Tovar near the coast and our main target: Junglaven camp in the state of Amazonas.
FLIGHT AND VISA
We booked our flight from Brussels to Caracas for € 670 with Iberia. This flight took approximately 12 hours and went via Barcelona and Madrid. The flights were punctual and trouble free.
As with most South American countries you do not need a visa for Venezuela if you intend to stay no more than 90 days.
Domestic flights are pretty cheap in Venezuela between main cities and daily, saving a lot of driving time.
The flight (Air Venezuela) from Caracas – Puerto Ayacucho took about two hours. For domestic flights you have to pay a departure tax of US$10.
MONEY AND ACCOMMODATION
The unit of currency in Venezuela is the Bolivar. The exchange rate in November 2004 was about 2.500 Bs to the € and 2.000 Bs to the US$.
The main problem with the currency in Venezuela is that you end up with a hugh wad of money, as the notes do not come in large denomination notes. Also the shops in small villages sometimes cannot accept large denomination notes, as they do not have enough change.
One can easily change US Dollars and Euros everywhere in the cities, although this is unnecessary, because US dollars and Euros are accepted in every shop and restaurant. 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 pick pocketing is also a serious problem.
Hotel Santiago – Macuto (near airport) 75.000 Bs (double room)
Hotel Lido – Barinitas 40.000 Bs (double room)
Hotel Santo Domingo – Santo Domingo 30.000 Bs (double room)
Hotel Los Frailes – Santo Domingo 120.000 Bs (cabin 5 persons)
Hotel Bergland – Colonia Tovar 70.000 Bs (double room)
FOOD AND DRINK
Standards of accommodation, food and hygiene are high. Upset stomachs are a rare occurrence here, unlike in many Asian and African countries. Meals in Venezuela are relatively inexpensive, even at the capital's finest hotels. For the most part, meals are likely to average no more than $10 to $20 (US) per couple.
We frequently did our own breakfasts and lunches. Stay away from uncooked fruits and vegetables that you haven't peeled yourself, and don't use ice. It is best to avoid drinking the water unless you know it is boiled. Drink bottled drinks.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
With caution you should not anticipate any problems. During our drive through the country we had several encounters with roadblocks, but we experienced no problems from the police.
The usual tropical health problems present themselves on a trip to Venezuela, compounded by the possible joys of altitude sickness, which can be a three days horrible illness if unconditioned.
For vaccinations consult your own doctor for up to date advice. There is a small chance of malaria in the lowlands.
Be sure to get enough malaria tablets for your trip, and do take them.
It is advisable to take a good medical kit with you as you are sometimes along way away from the nearest largest town. Mosquitoes (Junglaven) and flies are sometimes a problem.
At Hato El Cedral and Junglaven were vicious microscopic itchy little buggers known as chiggers. These tiny mites raise welts, which itch like, well, like crazy. Chiggers attack wherever clothes fit tightly, such as around the belt line and sock tops, but also at other places of your body, no matter how private.
In Junglaven I found a large Tarantula in our “bathroom”, but we left this large spider alone and it kept the insects away.
Insect repellent is necessary here. Spray your socks and pant-legs liberally with an insect repellent before going afield and take a soapy bath upon returning.
Most people in Venezuela speak little or no English. A short study of names of food in Spanish before departure will be of benefit to the traveller. At gas stations sign language for a fill-up and reading the total on the pump works fine.
Asking for directions may be a nightmare if you don't understand Spanish.
Always carry a Spanish-English dictionary. With just a slight knowledge of the language you will make out with few problems.
Birders traditionally visit Venezuela during the November-April dry season. Certainly this is the time of year when dry weather is most likely even though, as global climate becomes ever less predictable, this rule is more and more frequently broken. Despite the dry season bias, the wet season offers extremely productive birding. Why? Firstly, activity tends to trail off at the end of the dry season, as there is simply not enough water about. The beginning of the rains (May-June) brings a burst of activity and many birds breed. In addition, one is more likely to discover unusual birds that visiting birders have simply not been here to see - such as austral migrants. The truth is that any time of the year can be good birding in Venezuela. European birders will often prefer the traditional dry season as it coincides with the northern winter and thus dozens of species of North American migrants are an added bonus.
Normally it is hot all year around, especially along the northern part of the coast. A hat is recommended in the mountains and necessary in the lowlands. The tropical sun is intense at altitude. At high altitudes conditions range from cool to decidedly cold. Required clothing: lightweight linens with a raincoat.
However the weather in Venezuela is unpredictable. At anytime of year at higher elevations, there may be rain, clouds and mist (Laguna Mucubaji). Downpours can occur everywhere in Venezuela, but especially in the tropical zone they can last for hours. An umbrella and rubber boots are very useful! The trails are sometimes very muddy (Junglaven – Laguna de Galápagos).
TRANSPORT, ROADS AND ALCABALAS
Quite a lot of the good birding localities cannot be reached easily by public transport, so it's best to hire a car if you can afford it. For car rental, you will need a major credit card, a passport and a valid driver's license. In Caracas taxis are abundant and cheap, usually running at a fixed price within certain boundaries. Venezuela car rental options are pretty limited and all the majors appear to offer the same poor service.
We hired two Hyundai Elantras in Caracas from Marguerita Car Rental. We paid Bs 1,400,000 per car for 11 days.
The petrol was very cheap! We paid only € 0, 05 (Bs 97) per litre.
During our drive through the country we had several encounters with security points (alcabalas), manned by armed soldiers. Stay calm and keep smiling. Always carry your passport. The main roads are usually well maintained and for these a normal car is fine. When driving in Venezuela, you have to be very careful. A lot of Venezuelan drive like madmen. We saw some terrible accidents.
BIRD SONGS & EQUIPMENT
A tape recorder and the tape of "Birds of Eastern Ecuador" by Peter H. English and Theodore A. Parker and "Voices of the New World Owls" by J.W. Hardy et al are quite useful for drawing in birds. With the help of the tape recorder we played the songs of a lot of birds. Often we recorded the song or call and played it back again.
A tape recorder is essential if you want to catch sight of secretive species like Antbirds, Antthrushes and Antpittas.
A good torch is a must. A telescope is useful at coastal sites and lakes and very useful for viewing canopy species especially from roadsides.
Clothing can be T-shirt and short anywhere, except in the high Andes where a sweater is more comfortable.
I have decided to follow the English names of James F. Clements (Birds of the World, A Check List, Fifth Edition, 2000, including updates May 2000 - December 2004).
Maps of Venezuela can be obtained at the airports or from bookshops in Caracas. The standard of the maps is not too high, and all the roads are not shown on them, but they do give you a bit of an idea as where to stay.
Usually I draw maps of important sites, but the birding areas are so well described in Mary Lou Goodwin’s “Birding in Venezuela”, the available reports (see references) and on the Internet that there is little point in giving exact locations for birds.
The following list of birds we saw frequently and if you spend any sort of time in the right habitats you will too:
Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Cocoi Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Striated Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Maguari Stork, Buff-necked Ibis, Bare-faced Ibis, White-faced Whistling-Duck, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Roadside Hawk, Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, Wattled Jacana, Black-necked Stilt, Pied Lapwing, Southern Lapwing, Spotted Sandpiper, Large-billed Tern, Black Skimmer, Eared Dove, Scaled Dove, Greater Ani, Ringed Kingfisher, Swallow-wing, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Tropical Mockingbird, Bananaquit, Silver-beaked Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Red-capped Cardinal, Red-breasted Blackbird, Carib Grackle.
The list of birds mentioned in the daily log, which follows, is purely taken at random from each day’s events highlighting some of the more interesting species. For a detailed report of species and numbers please refer to the systematic list at the end of this report.
BIRDBASE & BIRDAREA
I use this software to keep track of the birds I have seen and to make lists of any country, labelling endemics and birds previously seen in that country, outside it, or both. BirdArea can produce checklists of the birds of any country of Clements’ world birds.
Tur-V Special Tours CA
Edificio Mero Mari, piso 2, ofc 2-C,
entre las calles Jose Felix Rivas con calle Bolivar
Chacao - Caracas zona 1060Venezuela
Telephone 264-6466 / 4555 / 3312 / 7797
Once again I want to thank Mark van Beirs for his help and valuable advice in planning this trip.
James F. Clements. Birds of the World. A Check List, Fifth Edition.
John S. Dunning. South American Birds, a Photographic Aid to Identification.
Louise H. Emmons and Francois Feer. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals – A Field Guide.
Steven Hilty. Birds of Venezuela.
Mary Lou Goodwin. Birding in Venezuela.
Robert S. Ridgely and Guy Tudor. The Birds of South America, Volume I, The Oscine Passerines.
Robert S. Ridgely and Guy Tudor. The Birds of South America, Volume II, The Suboscine Passerines.
Nigel Wheatley. Where to watch birds in South America.
Simon Allen & Mike Catsis. Venezuela July – August 2002.
Danish Ornithological Society. Birdwatching in Venezuela, November – December 1995.
Jan Vermeulen. A Birding Trip to Venezuela. 25 August – 12 September 1988.
John Hornbuckle. Venezuela Birding Trip Report 19 January – 23 February 2001.
John van der Woude. Venezuela (Junglaven Amazonas, Henri Pittier, SE Falcon), 7 – 24 January 1994.
October 29 Chaam * Brussels * Barcelona * Caracas
October 30 Caracas * Maracay * Valencia * San Carlos * Acarigua * Guanare * Bruzual * Hato El Cedral
October 31 Hato El Cedral
November 1 Hato El Cedral
November 2 Hato El Cedral * The Llanos * Bruzual * Barinas * Barinitas
November 3 Barinitas * Rio Barragán * La Soledad Road * San Isidro Tunnel Road * Santo Domingo
November 4 Santo Domingo * La Soledad Road * San Isidro Tunnel Road * Santo Domingo
November 5 Santo Domingo * San Isidro Tunnel Road * Santo Domingo * Hotel Los Frailes
November 6 Hotel Los Frailes * Laguna Mucubaji * Condor Centre at Mifafi * Hotel Los Frailes
STATE OF ARAGUA
November 7 Hotel Los Frailes * Barinas * San Carlos * Valencia * Maracay * La Victoria * Colonia Tovar
November 8 Colonia Tovar * Caracas
STATE OF AMAZONAS
November 9 Caracas * Puerto Ayacucho * Junglaven
November 10 Junglaven
November 11 Junglaven
November 12 Junglaven
November 13 Junglaven
November 14 Junglaven * Puerto Ayacucho * Caracas
November 14/15 Caracas * Madrid * Brussels * Chaam
The notes are only information supplementary to Mary Lou Goodwin’s excellent “Birding in Venezuela”, the essential guide to the bird sites of Venezuela. For a detailed report of species and numbers please refer to the systematic list at the end of this report.
The Llanos (literally "the plains") are formed by vast grasslands with ribbons of forest along the creeks and rivers.
The Llanos is stretching west from the Orinoco Delta to the Andes and south well into Colombia. It occupies nearly 1/3 of Venezuelan territory, which is some 300.000 km² or about the size of Germany. It is an environment of harsh extremes, drought alternating with flood. The Llanos, is a flat area with vast savannahs. Even though temperatures are relatively constant all year long, by contrast, rainfall is extremely seasonal. The wet season - from May to October - receives about 90 % of the annual 1500 mm-rain. In this period gigantic thunderstorms make the rivers overflow and transform the savannahs into shallow seas. In November the dry season starts. Rain becomes a rarity and the Llanos dries up. Water retreats to the few tree-bordered rivers.
In February/March the area is at its driest and the
mighty Apure River is at its lowest level. Wildlife congregates around the
few waterholes that are left. It is the time that wildlife can be easiest
seen and especially in enormous quantities. The Llanos are Venezuela's greatest
repository of wildlife. The Llanos are sparsely populated. Most of the inhabitants
live from cattle raising. Enormous ranches, the so-called Hatos (some up to
800.000 ha) were built for this purpose.
Some of these ranches now have turned to ecotourism as well and you can visit already their own beautiful websites with plenty of pictures (Hato El Frio and Hato El Cedral).
You find more than 320 bird species and more than 50 mammals (includes the Capybara, the worlds largest rodent, Armadillos, Peccaries, Opossums, Tapirs, Ocelots). Also the Orinoco Cayman - threatened with extinction - lives here.
Species seen en route in the Llanos (Sabaneta – Bruzual – Mantecal):
Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Cocoi Heron, Great, Snowy & Cattle Egret, Little Blue Heron, Striated Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Wood Stork, Maguari Stork, Jabiru, Buff-necked Ibis, Bare-faced Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, White-faced Whistling-Duck, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Orinoco Goose, Black & Turkey Vulture, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, King Vulture, Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Crane Hawk, Great Black-Hawk, Savanna Hawk, Harris’ Hawk, Black-collared Hawk, Roadside Hawk, Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, American Kestrel, Hoatzin, Limpkin, Purple Gallinule, Azure Gallinule, Wattled Jacana, Black-necked Stilt, Double-striped Thick-knee, Pied Lapwing, Southern Lapwing, Spotted & Solitary Sandpiper, Large-billed Tern, Black Skimmer, Eared Dove, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Scaled Dove, White-tipped Dove, Scarlet Macaw, Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Yellow-crowned Parrot, Dwarf Cuckoo, Squirrel Cuckoo, Greater Ani, Smooth-billed Ani, Striped Cuckoo, Lesser Nighthawk, Black-throated Mango, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Glittering-throated Emerald, Ringed Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Pied Puffbird, Scaled Piculet, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Common Thornbird, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, White-fringed Antwren, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Forest Elaenia, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Pied Water-Tyrant, White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, Cattle Tyrant, Piratic Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, White-bearded Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Gray Kingbird, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Brown-chested Martin, White-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Stripe-backed Wren, Buff-breasted Wren, House Wren, Tropical Mockingbird, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Yellow Warbler, Bananaquit, Silver-beaked Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Blue-black Grassquit, Gray Seedeater, Saffron Finch, Orange-fronted Yellow-Finch, Red-capped Cardinal, Grayish Saltator, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Red-breasted Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Carib Grackle, Shiny Cowbird, Yellow Oriole, Venezuelan Troupial, Oriole Blackbird.
Other birds seen in 1988:
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Sharp-tailed Ibis, Short-tailed Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Long-winged Harrier, Pearl Kite, Military Macaw, Brown-throated Parakeet, Pale-bellied Hermit, Pale-headed Jacamar, Black-crowned Tityra, White-winged Becard, Lineated Woodpecker, Red-rumped Woodpecker, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Cream-coloured Woodpecker, Rusty-backed Spinetail, Lesser Kiskadee, Hooded Tanager, Chestnut-vented Conebill.
ATO EL CEDRAL
Accommodation: El Cedral is equipped with 25 comfortable air-conditioned cabins with ceiling fans and private bathrooms with hot water. Among the amenities are a swimming pool and a pleasant dining room where native and international food is available. Telephone and fax facilities are also available.
Hato El Cedral is a beautiful cattle ranch and an important tourist centre for the growing ecological and adventure tourism. It is located in the low plains of the Apure State in Venezuela, near the town of Mantecal.
Dikes have been used to improve the natural conditions of hydrological systems creating large water reserves to help sustain the abundant animal life and vegetation all year round. 140 km of roads inside the ranch makes it possible to visit the different sectors any time of the year.
A vast quantity of mammals and reptiles can be seen like Crab-eating Fox, Giant Anteaters, White-tailed Deer, Red Howler Monkeys, Pink Dolphins, Pumas and Jaguar. Among the reptiles most frequently seen are Crocodiles, Caimans and Anacondas or water snakes. The Capybaras -the largest rodent in the world - have a privileged place with a number that exceeds the 20,000.
Species seen here:
Pied-billed Grebe, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Whistling Heron, Cocoi Heron, Great, Snowy & Cattle Egret, Little Blue Heron, Striated Heron, Agami Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Wood Stork, Maguari Stork, Jabiru, Buff-necked Ibis, Bare-faced Ibis, Scarlet Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, White-faced Whistling-Duck, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Orinoco Goose, Brazilian Teal, Black & Turkey Vulture, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Osprey, Crane Hawk, Great Black-Hawk, Savanna Hawk, Harris’ Hawk, Black-collared Hawk, Roadside Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, American Kestrel, Aplomado Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Yellow-knobbed Curassow, Crested Bobwhite, Hoatzin, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Purple Gallinule, Azure Gallinule, Sunbittern, Wattled Jacana, Black-necked Stilt, Double-striped Thick-knee, Pied Lapwing, Southern Lapwing, Semipalmated Plover, Collared Plover, Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted & Solitary Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Gull-billed Tern, Yellow-billed Tern, Large-billed Tern, Black Skimmer, Pale-vented Pigeon, Ruddy Pigeon, Eared Dove, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Scaled Dove, Blue Ground-Dove, White-tipped Dove, Scarlet Macaw, Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Yellow-crowned Parrot, Dwarf Cuckoo, Squirrel Cuckoo, Greater Ani, Smooth-billed Ani, Striped Cuckoo, Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Burrowing Owl, Lesser Nighthawk, Nacunda Nighthawk, Band-tailed Nighthawk, Pauraque, Black-throated Mango, Glittering-throated Emerald, Ringed Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Two-banded Puffbird, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Common Thornbird, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Black-crested Antshrike, Barred Antshrike, Wire-tailed Manakin, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Forest Elaenia, Pale-tipped Tyrannulet, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-Olive Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Fuscous Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Vermilion Flycatcher, Amazonian Black-Tyrant, Pied Water-Tyrant, White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, Cattle Tyrant, Great Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, White-bearded Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Gray Kingbird, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Brown-chested Martin, White-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Yellowish Pipit, Black-capped Donacobius, Bicoloured Wren, Stripe-backed Wren, House Wren, Tropical Mockingbird, Long-billed Gnatwren, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Yellow Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Bananaquit, Silver-beaked Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Trinidad Euphonia, Burnished-buff Tanager, Blue-black Grassquit, Gray Seedeater, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch, Saffron Finch, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Orange-fronted Yellow-Finch, Red-capped Cardinal, Yellow-browed Sparrow, Grayish Saltator, Orinocan Saltator, Red-breasted Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Carib Grackle, Shiny Cowbird, Yellow Oriole, Venezuelan Troupial, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Oriole Blackbird.
The Venezuelan Andes is the most northern part of the Andes. They are separated from the Colombian part by a wide gap. This makes that some of the high mountain birds evolved as endemics. Within a short travel distance one can reach extreme different habitats. From dry foothill forest to cloud forests, elfin forests, ferntree forests, mangroves, paramo (treeless highlands above 3,500 m) and arid highlands. The road from Barinitas to Santo Domingo traverses the Santo Domingo Valley and offers the birder a good opportunity to see some very localized species, including seven endemics.
We visited the following sites:
SANTO DOMINGO VALLEY – RIO BARRAGÁN AREA
Accommodation: A hotel in Barinitas. We slept in Hotel Lido.
The first bridge, a few kilometres beyond the village of Barinitas en route to Santo Domingo spans the small Barragán River. We walked a short time along the little stream and in the vicinity of the stream.
Species seen here:
Roadside Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Yellow-headed Caracara, White-tipped Dove, Short-tailed Swift, Stripe-throated Hermit, Shining-green Hummingbird, Glittering-throated Emerald, Many-banded Aracari, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Wire-tailed Manakin, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Forest Elaenia, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Great Kiskadee, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher, Black-crowned Tityra, Bare-eyed Thrush, Pale-breasted Thrush, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Lesser Goldfinch, American Redstart, Bananaquit, White-shouldered Tanager, White-lined Tanager, Summer Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, Grayish Saltator, Buff-throated Saltator, Crested Oropendola.
SANTO DOMINGO VALLEY – LA SOLEDAD ROAD
Accommodation: A hotel in Santo Domingo. In 2004 we slept in Hotel Santo Domingo and in 1988 we booked a room in Hotel Moruco.
The first paved road in a hairpin bend on your left after leaving Barinitas. Opposite the road is a small restaurant on the right side of the road.
You can’t drive the road, because the road is too steep. The road passes through degraded forest, but is worth a look if time allows. Most of the birds seen along this road can also be seen at the San Isidro Tunnel Road.
Species seen here:
King Vulture, Gray Hawk, Roadside Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle, Band-tailed Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, White-collared Swift, Short-tailed Swift, Pale-bellied Hermit, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Glittering-throated Emerald, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Violet-fronted Hummingbird, Red-headed Barbet, Scaled Piculet, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Azara’s Spinetail, Crested Spinetail, Montane Woodcreeper, White-bearded Manakin, Greenish Elaenia, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Olive-striped Flycatcher, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Flavescent Flycatcher, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Blue-and-white Swallow, Whiskered Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren, Mountain Wren, Tropical Mockingbird, Chestnut-bellied Thrush, Bare-eyed Thrush, Pale-breasted Thrush, Yellow-legged Thrush, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Lesser Goldfinch, Blackburnian Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Slate-throated Redstart, Citrine Warbler, Bananaquit, Common Bush-Tanager, Guira Tanager, White-shouldered Tanager, White-lined Tanager, Hepatic Tanager, Summer Tanager, White-winged Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Speckled Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Burnished-buff Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Purple Honeycreeper, Blue-black Grassquit, Gray Seedeater, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, Buff-throated Saltator, Blue-black Grosbeak, Crested Oropendola.
Other birds seen in 1988:
Tiny Hawk, Scaled Piculet, Spotted Barbtail, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Blue Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Speckled Tanager.
SANTO DOMINGO VALLEY – THE SAN ISIDRO TUNNEL ROAD
Accommodation: A hotel in Santo Domingo. During this trip we slept in Hotel Santo Domingo and in 1988 we booked a room in Hotel Moruco.
The second paved (concrete) road on the left side of the road after leaving Barinitas. The entrance to this road leads to a quarry (look for the Cliff Flycatcher here). The kaolin mine is in operation every day, so big trucks often go up and down the road every day. Beyond the quarry the road continues. The San Isidro Tunnel Road is an easy-to-walk trail, which plays host to some of the most exciting birds in the Santo Domingo Valley. The road ends at a creek. You can descend along a steep track to see the only accessible lek of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock in Venezuela, although we did not have to go to the lek, because we saw a few males along the trail!
The large mixed species flocks here support a stunning array of Tanagers, Flycatchers and Thrushes.
Species seen here:
Black Vulture, Roadside Hawk, Band-tailed Guan, Band-tailed Pigeon, Lined Quail-Dove, Saffron-headed Parrot, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Stripe-throated Hermit, Blue-chinned Sapphire, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Red-headed Barbet, Scaled Piculet, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Plain Xenops, Slaty Antwren, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Golden-winged Manakin, Olive-striped Flycatcher, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Variegated Bristle-Tyrant, Venezuelan Tyrannulet, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Cliff Flycatcher, Smoke-coloured Pewee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Black-and-white Becard, Brown-chested Martin, Blue-and-white Swallow, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Spotted Nightingale-Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Chestnut-bellied Thrush, Black-hooded Thrush, Bare-eyed Thrush, Pale-breasted Thrush, Green Jay, Brown-capped Vireo, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Lesser Goldfinch, Blackburnian Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Slate-throated Redstart, Three-striped Warbler, Bananaquit, Guira Tanager, White-lined Tanager, Hepatic Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Thick-billed Euphonia, Golden-rumped Euphonia, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Golden Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Buff-throated Saltator, Yellow-backed Oriole, Crested Oropendola, Russet-backed Oropendola.
Other birds seen in 1988:
Violaceous Quail-Dove, Rose-headed Parakeet, Little Hermit, Wedge-billed Hummingbird, Golden-bellied Starfrontlet, Blue-and-black Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, Black-faced Tanager.
LAGUNA DE MUCUBAJI/HOTEL LOS FRAILES
Accommodation: Hotel Los Frailes (or Hotel Paso Real)
The beautiful paramo around Laguna Mucubaji supports a distinctive group of high-altitude bird species including the incomparable Bearded Helmetcrest , the endemic Ochre-browed Thistletail and Merida Wren, as well as Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Bar-winged Cinclodes, Andean Tit-Spinetail and Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant.
Species seen here:
Laguna de Mucubaji
Pied-billed Grebe, Neotropic Cormorant, Speckled Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Southern Lapwing, Wilson’s Snipe, Andean Snipe, Spotted Sandpiper, Tyrian Metaltail, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Ochre-browed Thistletail, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Paramo Pipit, Great Thrush, Andean Siskin, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, Paramo Seedeater, Rufous-collared Sparrow.
Hotel Los Frailes
Cattle Egret, Turkey Vulture, Plain-breasted Hawk, American Kestrel, Orange-throated Sunangel, Tyrian Metaltail, Ringed Kingfisher, Pearled Treerunner, White-throated Tyrannulet, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, Great Thrush, Blue-backed Conebill, Merida Flowerpiercer, Rufous-collared Sparrow.
Other birds seen during our trip in 1988:
Bearded Helmetcrest, Occelated Tapaculo, Bar-winged Cinclodes, Slaty Brush-Finch.
THE CONDOR CENTRE AT MIFAFI
En route from Santo Domingo – Merida you will meet 3 km after Laguna de Mucubaji a crossroad. Turn to the right and go up the mountain for approximately 5 km, where you will meet a small sign on your left indicating the Condor Centre.
Walk up the very bad mountain road for 750 metres until you reach the centre.
Birding around the centre can be rewarding for high Andean birds including Bearded Helmetcrest.
Species seen here:
“Andean Condor”, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Sparkling Violetear, Longuemare’s Sunangel, Bar-winged Cinclodes, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Brown-bellied Swallow, Paramo Pipit, Great Thrush, Merida Flowerpiercer, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, Plain-coloured Seedeater.
Accommodation: A hotel in Colonia Tovar. We slept in Hotel Bergland, but in 1988 we slept in Hotel Edelweiss.
Colonia Tovar is a tourist village located on the Humboldt Valley surrounded by mountains, about 60 kilometres west of Caracas. This unusual mountain town with typical Bavarian style was funded in 1843 by a group of German settlers.
Today, the village has great attraction because of its German style hotels and restaurants, offering typical dishes from the Bavarian cuisine, for its extraordinarily colourful landscapes and vernal climate. During weekends the Colonia Tovar gets crowded with tourists.
We only birded the Cortada de Maya Road. This (partially) concrete road is on the right side en route to La Victoria (approximately 8 kilometres from Hotel Bergland).
Species seen here (Cortada de Maya):
Black Vulture, Roadside Hawk, White-tipped Dove, Red-eared Parakeet, Lazuline Sabrewing, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Bronzy Inca, Tyrian Metaltail, Long-tailed Sylph, Groove-billed Toucanet, Black-throated Spinetail, Streaked Xenops, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Montane Woodcreeper, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Green-and-black Fruiteater, White-throated Tyrannulet, Cliff Swallow, Glossy-black Thrush, Green Jay, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-crested Warbler, Three-striped Warbler, Capped Conebill, Common Bush-Tanager, Blue-capped Tanager, Plush-capped Finch, Blue-black Grassquit, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Bluish Flowerpiercer, Ochre-breasted Brush-Finch, Rufous-collared Sparrow.
Other birds seen during our trip 1988:
Black Hawk-Eagle, White-tipped Quetzal, Collared Trogon, Scaled Piculet, Crested Spinetail, Plain Xenops, Plain-backed Antpitta, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Caracas (Paltry) Tyrannulet, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Purple Honeycreeper, Oleaginous Hemispingus.
Accommodation: Junglaven Campement.
Junglaven is a Fishing Camp (lodge) located on a branch of a river which, during dry season, becomes a greatly elongated lagoon which is separate from the main Ventuari River, in the Venezuelan state of Amazonas. The area is almost untouched, populated by just a few tribes of Amazonian Indians. This is the only well-established lodge in Venezuelan Amazonia and is visited by the likes of VENT, Sunbird and BirdQuest.
The accommodation in banda-type huts with cold showers is good, food and soft drink OK but not up, to Ecuadorian or Peruvian lodge standards and beer (cans) only available some of the time. Everything has to be flown in, very little is home-grown.
Junglaven affords a unique opportunity to birdwatch in lowland rainforest, and due to the lack of disturbance and absence of hunting, consequently still holds a number of species, which are difficult to see in other areas of Amazonia.
This is probably the most predictable place in the world for Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo.
Junglaven is a seasonally flooded varzea forest which transitions into primary lowland forest. The dirt road/track which connects the lodge to the Ventuari River passes through 10 km of lowland forest with slightly undulating topography---the birding here is excellent, as there are no vehicles on this road other than the Junglaven jeep which we used for transport. The road is especially good for Gray-winged Trumpeters. As the road approaches the Ventuari River, the habitat changes to white sand forest and savannah, which holds its own set of special birds, such as the localised Pale-bellied Mourner. Junglaven Lodge is owned by Captain Lorenzo Rodriguez, who himself was a pilot. He scheduled our flights to and from Junglaven to Puerto Ayacucho. Electricity is supplied by a generator that is on from about 5.00 am to mid-morning and from dusk to around 10.00 pm. Contact between the Lodge and the rest of the world is by radio.
To directly schedule a stay at the Junglaven Lodge is almost impossible. Hence, the widespread belief that Junglaven has closed. Tur-V Special Tours CA (Scarlet Perez) handled the booking process for us.
Originally we planned to visit Junglaven with 6 persons and had to pay US$ 943,-- per person (which includes flights from Caracas – Puerto Ayacucho – Junglaven and back to Caracas, local guide, meals and jeep/transportation).
Eventually we did the trip with 5 persons and had to pay US$1100,-- per person.
Nowadays the most regularly visited birding destination in Amazonas, Junglaven nonetheless had two additions to its bird list in store during our visit. We found Blue-and-yellow Macaw and White-bearded Manakin.
Species seen here:
Great Tinamou, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Capped Heron, Cocoi Heron, Striated Heron, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Osprey, Double-toothed Kite, Crane Hawk, Black-faced Hawk, Great Black-Hawk, Savannah Hawk, Black-collared Hawk, Roadside Hawk, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Black Caracara, Bat Falcon, Little Chachalaca, Spix's Guan, Blue-throated Piping-Guan, Black Curassow, Gray-winged Trumpeter, Sungrebe, Spotted Sandpiper, Black Skimmer, Pale-vented Pigeon, Ruddy Pigeon, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Blue-and-yellow Macaw, Scarlet Macaw, Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Brown-throated Parakeet, Maroon-tailed Parakeet, Black-headed Parrot, Orange-cheeked Parrot, Yellow-crowned Parrot, Orange-winged Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Greater Ani, Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo, Crested Owl, Band-tailed Nighthawk, Blackish Nightjar, Tepui Swift, White-collared Swift, Gray-rumped Swift, Short-tailed Swift, Eastern Long-tailed Hermit, Reddish Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Rufous-throated Sapphire, White-chinned Sapphire, White-tailed Goldenthroat, Green-tailed Goldenthroat, Long-billed Starthroat, White-tailed Trogon, Ringed Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Green-and-rufous Kingfisher,
American Pygmy Kingfisher, Green-tailed Jacamar, Bronzy Jacamar, Paradise Jacamar, Black Nunbird, Swallow-wing, Gilded Barbet, Green Aracari, Ivory-billed Aracari, Many-banded Aracari, Tawny-tufted Toucanet, White-throated Toucan, Golden-spangled Piculet, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Cream-coloured Woodpecker, Ringed Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Red-necked Woodpecker, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Slender-billed Xenops, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Long-billed Woodcreeper, Amazonian Barred-Woodcreeper, Black-banded Woodcreeper, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Black-crested Antshrike, Blackish-gray Antshrike, White-shouldered Antshrike, Amazonian Antshrike, Cinereous Antshrike, Pygmy Antwren, Cherrie’s Antwren, White-flanked Antwren, Warbling Antbird, Spot-winged Antbird, Immaculate Antbird, White-browed Purpletuft, Spangled Cotinga, Amazonian Umbrellabird, White-bearded Manakin, Black Manakin, Yellow-crested Manakin, Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin, Plain-crested Elaenia, McConnell's Flycatcher, Amazonian Tyrannulet, Helmeted Pygmy-Tyrant, Rufous-tailed Flatbill, White-crested Spadebill, Amazonian Black-Tyrant, Drab Water-Tyrant, Cinnamon Attila, Citron-bellied Attila, Cinereous Mourner, Grayish Mourner, Pale-bellied Mourner, Swainson’s Flycatcher, Lesser Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Black-tailed Tityra, Brown-chested Martin, White-winged Swallow, White-banded Swallow, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Swainson’s Thrush, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Violaceous Jay, Red-eyed Vireo, Gray-chested Greenlet, Brown-headed Greenlet, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Bananaquit, Rufous-crested Tanager, Red-shouldered Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Burnished-buff Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Short-billed Honeycreeper, Swallow-Tanager, Lined Seedeater, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, Grassland Sparrow, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Yellow-green Grosbeak, Blue-black Grosbeak, Moriche Oriole, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Amazonian Oropendola.
Friday 29 October
A long early morning flight to Venezuela with Iberia was a conventional enough start to our journey. We had a short respite in our trip with stopovers at Barcelona and Madrid and landed somewhat delayed at Simón Bolivar International Airport in Caracas at 16.45.
Graciela from Tur-V Special Tours was waiting for us and handed us the tickets for the flight to Puerto Ayacucho.
Having changed money (and become instant millionaires) we left the confines of the airport building and rented two cars in the nearby local airport at the Marguerita Rental-office. We then headed in the company of Graciela to the nearby small town of Macuto and booked rooms at the coastal Hotel Santiago. We said goodbye to Graciela and then had dinner at the beach of Macuto.
Saturday 30 October
After an early morning wake up call at 4.15 we departed southwards for our drive to Hato El Cedral. The long drive to Hato El Cedral, in the wet Llanos of the state of Apure, was rather unremarkable, except maybe the sight of a King Vulture in a large group of Black Vultures.
Then we hit the bridge at Bruzual and the start of the wet Llanos. After we passed through Bruzual there were so many waterbirds and raptors to observe as we travelled across the seemingly endless wet savannahs that stretched as far as the eye can see, that it was hard to control ourselves from stopping every few minutes. Roadside ponds and lakes were literally alive with Herons, Egrets, Ibises, Storks, Ducks and waders. Our first stops were all too hectic as we didn't have enough eyes to take it all in. Most of the species we would be able to study again at the Hato, but the Snail Kite got some extra attention, as it was absent there.
As we neared Hato El Cedral, the numbers of Spectacled Caimans increased, Capybaras were everywhere and a group of 75 amazing Jabirus were seen.
In the late afternoon we arrived at the locked entrance gate, the guard radioed the ranch and we were allowed in with permits, and then drove 7 km to the ranch. This last stretch consisted of a very muddy road and we met lots of Capybaras.
We arrived just in time for the afternoon excursion in an open van, which has been converted into a vehicle for safaris.
This gave us the opportunity to observe the abundance of wildlife present in the Llanos.
It included Savannah Foxes, White-tailed Deer, Capybaras, Caimans, Orinoco Crocodiles, Iguanas and Turtles. But it was the birds that we had mostly come to see and we were not disappointed. We saw a tremendous numbers of wetland species as well as several specialties such as the near-endemic Dwarf Cuckoo and White-bearded Flycatcher. The sheer numbers of Ibises, Herons and Whistling-Ducks were certainly impressive. Hato El Cedral reminded me of Hacienda El Cutal in Bolivia.
In the surrounding grasslands we found Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Bay-winged Hawk, Aplomado Falcon, Double-striped Thick-knee, Burrowing Owl and Red-breasted Blackbird.
Sunday 31 October
During the night we received quite a bit of rain, but we awoke to clear blue skies and somewhat lower temperatures.
Our chalets at El Cedral were situated in a patch of woodland surrounded by extensive grasslands and lakes.
The gardens held Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Bicoloured Wren, Stripe-backed Wren, Orange-fronted Yellow-Finch and the noisy Red Howler Monkeys. Orange-fronted Yellow-Finches and several Tanagers fed at the nearby feeder.
In the company of the Hato El Cedral guide Alejandro Nagy we made an early morning trip with the truck.
The flooded areas held vast flocks of Herons and Egrets (nine species), Whistling-Ducks, Storks and Ibises, Large-billed Terns and waders including Pied Lapwings and Collared Plovers.
Other highlights included our first Scarlet Ibises, Rufous-vented Chachalacas, Scarlet Macaws, Green and Amazon Kingfishers, White-bearded Flycatchers and Red-capped Cardinals.
Grassy areas held Burrowing Owls, Double-striped Thick-knees, Eastern Meadowlarks, Yellowish Pipits and Grassland Yellow-Finches.
Raptors were well represented, scanning for potential prey from tree tops and fence posts. Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Osprey, Crane Hawk, Savannah Hawk, Harris’ Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, Great Black-Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Crested Caracara and Peregrine Falcon were all seen this morning. It seemed more like the plains of Africa than South America.
Hereafter we made a stroll through the gallery forest adding the recently split Two-banded Puffbird, Black-throated Mango, Straight-billed Woodcreeper and Venezuelan Troupial to our list.
After a siesta and a dive in the swimming pool we made an afternoon trip by boat along the channels that meandered through dense aquatic vegetation teeming with birds before we reached the Matiyure River. Our first venture on the Matiyure River was fairly quiet, although we heard the Yellow-knobbed Curassow, saw prehistoric-looking Hoatzins, five species of Kingfishers, Wire-tailed Manakin and the localized Amazonian Black-Tyrant and lots of Spectacled Caimans provided enough entertainment. In the fading light we returned to the lodge and managed to spotlight many Lesser and Band-tailed Nighthawks and a Nacunda Nighthawk.
Monday 1 November
The next morning we made another boat ride to the Matiyure River. Victor again threw a piece of meat in the air and the Great Black-Hawk had no trouble at all catching the meat in mid-air. Before we reached the side creek we saw a secretive Sunbittern.
We again pulled into a side creek in the gallery forest and this time we had great looks of the beautiful Agami Heron and a Boat-billed Heron. The prize bird of the boat trip was a male Yellow-knobbed Curassow, which obligingly sat in nearby bushes overhanging the water and allowed quite close approach.
We ventured out again in mid-afternoon and made a long drive with the truck to another part of the ranch. Amongst the birds we encountered were Black-collared Hawk, Aplomado Falcon, Crested Bobwhite, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Barred Antshrike, Prothonotary Warbler, Trinidad Euphonia and Orinocan Saltator.
We lingered until dusk looking for Band-tailed Nighthawks and Pauraques over the nearby river. We then drove back to the ranch and suddenly our truck got stuck in the mud. The last 7 kilometres we had to walk to our chalets encountering numerous Capybaras on the road.
Tuesday 2 November
The next morning we said goodbye to Alejandro and Victor and reluctantly we tore ourselves away from this ornithological treasure chest and headed north through the Llanos to the Andes. En route we stopped a few times to look for any species that might have eluded us up to this point. Of course we stopped at the La Ye Bridge, where we added White-fringed Antwren to our trip list.
We made a long stop in the drier part of the Llanos and here Striped Cuckoo, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird and Piratic Flycatcher were amongst the additions to our list.
It was almost dark when we arrived at the edge of the Andean foothills in the small town of Barinitas and checked into Hotel Lido.
Wednesday 3 November
Early next morning we were on our way into the Andes. Our first stop was at the nearby Rio Barragán. A stroll in the vicinity of this river provided lots of ‘new’ birds amongst them Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Stripe-throated Hermit, Many-banded Aracari, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Bare-eyed Thrush, Crested Oropendola and many other birds.
Hereafter we drove further into the Santo Domingo Valley. The lower part of the valley had been much influenced by man. A mixture of second growth, plantation shade trees, cleared areas and disturbed forest provided a varied habitat for many forest edge species as well as visitors from less disturbed tropical forest nearby.
Our next stop was at La Soledad and we spent a few hours on the trail. This very disturbed forest gave us a whole new set of species such as Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Steely-vented Hummingbird, White-bearded Manakin, Crested Spinetail, Whiskered & Rufous-breasted Wren, Golden-fronted Greenlet and Speckled Tanager.
We had lunch at the La Soledad restaurant and then made the last climb to Santo Domingo where we booked rooms at the Santo Domingo Hotel.
In the late afternoon we returned to the Santo Domingo Valley and spent a few hours along the road to the San Isidro Tunnel. Many of the birds seen here were of course the same ones as found at La Soledad, but we saw a few ‘new’ birds. Most noteworthy of the birds we encountered here were Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Black-hooded Thrush, Green Jay, Brown-capped Vireo, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Bay-headed Tanager and Yellow-backed Oriole.
On the way back toward "home" we delighted three Torrent Ducks feeding in the swiftly flowing river without effort, although we did not find the White-capped Dippers.
Thursday 4 November
Next morning it was chilly, but it was sunny all day. We spent all day in the Santo Domingo Valley. In the early morning we headed to La Soledad and spent all morning on the trail.
Walking uphill, we came amongst others across Pale-bellied Hermit, Red-headed Barbet, Azara’s Spinetail, Flavescent Flycatcher, two Chestnut-bellied Thrushes, a bird I dipped in 1988, Guira Tanagers and Blue-black Grosbeaks.
Overhead a King Vulture and a Black Hawk-Eagle soared, while we also saw a raptor I still have not identified, although I was inclined to think it was a juvenile White-rumped Hawk. We spent quite some time searching at the place mentioned in Mary Goodwin’s book for the Red Siskins, but failed miserably.
After lunch at the restaurant (trucha con ajillo) we headed to the nearby San Isidro Road with its superb sub-tropical forests. We parked just before the quarry and immediately spotted a few Cliff Flycatchers in the quarry. We did not have to descend into the cleft to visit the lek, because we saw two stunning red and black males Andean Cock-of-the-Rock along the trail.
In a large flock here we managed to see Golden-olive Woodpecker, Plain Xenops, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Blackburnian, Cerulean and Black-and-white Warbler, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Bay-headed Tanager and Blue Dacnis, and, nearby, a crawl through the chigger infested forest, gave us eyeball to eyeball views of a Golden-winged Manakin.
Other species of note included Lined Quail-Dove, Slaty Wren and Spotted Nightingale-Thrush.
Then dark clouds gathered overhead and the first drops of rain started to fall and this wasn't too much fun and we returned to our hotel.
Friday 5 November
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 of course the Cliff Flycatchers en route, before picking up the old road on the other side.
We again heard the strange honking calls of the male Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks and again had good views of a male along the trail. Many of the birds here were the same as we saw yesterday, but inevitably we found a few new ones amongst them Band-tailed Guan, the near-endemic Saffron-headed Parrot, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Black-and-white Becard and Golden Tanager.
Hereafter we returned to our hotel and drove higher into the Andes to Hotel Los Frailes. It looked the same to me as so many years ago although there was a new hotel built next to Los Frailes. We settled into our comfortable hotel rooms overlooking the small valley. In the afternoon we started birding the grounds of the Hotel Los Frailes, focusing especially on an area at the entrance of the front garden. We clambered up onto the bank under some bushes, and found a relatively open area between the bushes down the slope below us, and waited to see what came along. This tactic proved extremely successful, and in the space of two hours or so, we added such species as Plain-breasted Hawk, Orange-throated Sunangel, Tyrian Metaltail, Ringed Kingfisher(!), Pearled Treerunner, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, Merida Flowerpiercer and Blue-backed Conebill, all of which gave excellent views.
Saturday 6 November
After breakfast, and having all acclimatised overnight to the higher altitude, we decided to make a visit to the high paramo area of Laguna Mucubaji. The day was crystal clear with glorious sunshine. A Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle greeted us as we entered the stunning paramo zone. Most of us felt the altitude but the birds kept us going. In Laguna Mucubaji swam Speckled and Blue-winged Teals. We spent all morning on the trails and the low vegetation in the vicinity of the lagoon, where we spotted furnarids such as Andean Tit-Spinetail and the endemic Ochre-browed Thistletail and more common species such as Brown-Backed Chat-Tyrant, Paramo Pipit, Andean Siskin and Plumbeous Sierra-Finch. In 1988 we had no trouble in finding the Bearded Helmetcrest, but this time we had no luck, sorry Luc.
We also flushed Andean and Wilson’s Snipe, which were the only ones of our trip.
At midday it got very misty and we had trouble finding our way back to Laguna Mucubaji. After a lunch in the restaurant we headed to the Condor Centre at Mifafi. Of course we visited the cages with the Condors while overhead Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles soared. Hereafter we made a stroll in the vicinity of the Condor Centre and the nearby low scrub produced Bar-winged Cinclodes, Plain-coloured Seedeater and we had good views of Longuemare’s Sunangel.
We retired to our delightful Andean hotel set in spectacular scenery well satisfied with the day.
Sunday 7 November
It was at last time to leave the coolness of the Andes. It was largely a travelling day and we arrived in the late afternoon in the unlikely-looking village of Colonia Tovar. Founded by German colonists, the place looked as if it was plucked from an alpine slope in southern Bayern and transferred to the higher reaches of the coastal cordillera in Venezuela! We booked rooms at Hotel Bergland in the centre of the village. Dumping our stuff in the hotel we spent the last hours of the day at Cortada de Maya, a partially paved road nowadays. Amongst the birds we encountered here were Blood-eared Parakeet, Lazuline Sabrewing, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Long-tailed Sylph, Groove-billed Toucanet, Black-crested Warbler, Bluish Flowerpiercer and Ochre-breasted Brush-Finch.
Dinner at Hotel Bergland was excellent with an ample supply of “German schnitzels”.
Monday 8 November
The next day we were up early and set off for the nearby Cortada de Maya. Despite the cold and decidedly damp weather we were richly rewarded with a number of new species including the endemic Black-throated Spinetail, Bronzy Inca, Streaked Xenops, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Montane Woodcreeper, a pair of striking Green-and-black Fruiteaters, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Capped Conebill and Plushcap Finch. However the absolute highlight of the day was the Chestnut-crowned Antpitta that performed so incredibly well for us.
In the late afternoon we headed to Caracas. At 17.00 hours we arrived in the capital and were unable to find our way out of town, again a real nightmare. At some point we decided to hire a taxi to get us out of town. 90 minutes later we were out of town and en route to Macuto, where we again booked rooms at the coastal Hotel Santiago.
Tuesday 9 November
Our last port of call was Junglaven in the state of Amazonas. Our 9.00 a.m. Air Venezuela flight was on time and in no time at all we had left the coast behind and were soaring over the stunning Venezuelan landscape. At 10.45 we arrived in a sunny Puerto Ayacucho, where a representative from Tur-V Special Tours was waiting for us.
We had to leave most of our luggage at the airport before we boarded the old six-passenger single-engine Cessna aircraft for our Wayumi flight to Junglaven - 45 minutes over stunning topography which included tepuiform mountains rising to 2.500 metres, with granite cliffs and expansive primary forest. Our plane landed right at the Junglaven airstrip, 12 km away from the camp, where we were met by the Junglavens Toyota pick-up jeep. We were transported in the back of the jeep to the remote rainforest lodge. Vital and I had a two-bedded cabin with a high thatched roof, which had a private bathroom with cold water shower and flush toilet. After lunch we ventured out on to the lagoon and the lodge clearing.
The lodge clearing was alive with birds, even in the heat of the day and a wealth of species here quickly expanded our list and highlights included Maroon-tailed Parakeet, Green-tailed & Paradise Jacamar, Black Nunbird, White-throated Toucan, Lesser Kiskadee and Black-tailed Tityra.
The last hours of the day we made a boat trip on the large lagoon. Amongst the birds encountered here were no less than 4 Sungrebes, Green Ibis and White-winged & White-banded Swallows. In failing light we saw many Band-tailed Nighthawks and Pauraques above the lagoon.
The Campement was a delightful place to stay with a very relaxing atmosphere and the Peacock Brass this afternoon caught in the lagoon tasted very well.
Wednesday 10 November
Next morning we were all keen to explore the tall terra firme forest. We spent all day along the seven km long jeep track and the understorey of the terra firme forest required intensive use of the tape-recorder, resulting in thrilling views of many Antbirds such as Blackish-gray Antshrike, White-shouldered Antshrike, Amazonian Antshrike, Spot-winged Antshrike, Cinereous Antshrike, White-flanked Antwren, Warbling & Spot-winged Antbird and the mint humbug-like Cherrie's Antwren.
Huge canopy flocks yielded such specialities as Brown-headed Greenlet and Amazonian Barred-Woodcreeper.
Blue-throated Piping-Guan, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Eastern Long-tailed Hermit, Ivory-billed Aracari, Chestnut-rumped Woodcreeper and Black Manakin were amongst many species all seen well. In the fading light when we headed back to the lodge Jos and Staf had good looks of a few Gray-winged Trumpeters, while the rest of us had only brief views of them.
A little disheartened I walked back to the lodge to enjoy a cool beer, followed by a relaxing dinner and a lively log call.
Thursday 11 November
The break of dawn found our group standing on the savannah edge and delivered another very localized speciality, the rather Myiarchus-like Pale-bellied Mourner and a group of Little Chachalacas.
In more open savannah we found such specialities as Green-tailed Goldenthroat and Red-shouldered Tanager, whilst clumps of Mauritia palms held Spangled Cotinga and Moriche Oriole. Overhead, Scarlet, Blue-and-yellow and Chestnut-fronted Macaws winged their way to their fruiting trees. Raptors were much in evidence too, with Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Black-collared and Savanna Hawks all showing well.
We also saw a few attractive White-bearded Manakins, which produced a curious cracking sound by snapping its wings when the birds become excited.
All afternoon was spent on the forest track. It was hard work in the afternoon heat but eventually we caught up with Spix’s Guan, Reddish Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Long-billed Starthroat, Green Aracari, Gilded Barbet, Helmeted Pygmy-Tyrant, Citron-bellied Attila, Gray-chested Greenlet and Short-billed Honeycreeper to name but a few.
Here we also found in an open area in the forest an obliging Blackish Nightjar which allowed a close approach in daylight.
The Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo proved elusive this day and although we heard its strange call we did not find the bird.
Mammals were in evidence, and amongst the monkeys seen were the very noisy Red Howler Monkeys and Brown Capuchin Monkeys and we also spotted a Savannah Fox on the track.
Friday 12 November
Next day we headed to some odd-looking seasonally flooded forest to the Laguna de Galápagos (Tortoise Lagoon). In this very different habitat we saw the elegant and very local Yellow-crested Manakin and McConnell’s Flycatcher.
I spent most of the morning alone on the main track in the terra firme forest and this paid off. I had good views of a number of rare, difficult and poorly known species such as, Black-faced Hawk, Tawny-tufted Toucanet, Ringed Woodpecker and Amazonian Tyrannulet. At the lodge clearing I also had good looks of a pair of White-browed Purpletufts in the top of a tree.
Of course when the others told me what they had seen this morning I really got sick: Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo and Gray-winged Trumpeter. The rest of the day our birding activities centred understandably on the main track in the terra firme forest. Amongst the more memorable birds seen were Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Slender-billed Xenops, Immaculate Antbird, Cinnamon Attila and Grayish Mourner.
We also had close encounters with a group of Brown Bearded Saki Monkeys. The monkey did not like our presence and they started throwing sticks at us.
Saturday 13 November
Again we were awakened by the loud calls of the pair of Long-billed Woodcreepers right above our cabin. In the morning we made a boat trip on the Ventuari and its tributary the Guayaje river. It provided world class birding in a relaxing setting. Not only did we encounter large numbers of waterbirds amongst them elegant Capped Herons, but we also saw all five South American Kingfishers and Drab Water-Tyrant. We were treated to fishing Ospreys and also obtained excellent views of the highly sought-after Amazonian Umbrellabird.
And of course the icing on the cake was provided by a wonderful encounter with the Pink River Dolphins and the Giant Otters. Seeing these magnificent beasts surfacing along the gently flowing waters of the Ventuari was an unforgettable sight.
All afternoon we spent on the main track in the forest and amongst the birds seen were amazingly co-operative Black Curassows, White-chinned Sapphire, White-tailed Trogon, Bronzy Jacamar, Golden-spangled Piculet, Pygmy Antwren and Rufous-crested Tanager.
On our last night, sitting outside in the warm air along the lagoon, we had time to reflect on all the birds we had seen here, and much more beside, as we watched the sun dip into the lagoon. Then came torrential rain and we had to take cover in our cabins.
Sunday/Saturday 14/15 November
It rained heavily all night and when we got up the
next morning Captain Lorenzo told us that our return flight to Puerto Ayacucho
had been delayed. It was still raining when we arrived at the airstrip and
we were all very relieved when suddenly a small plane dived out of the sky
and landed on the muddy strip, two hours later than planned.
All too soon our time at Junglaven ended and we began our journey back and as we boarded our plane, we all agreed that we had been treated to a great birding experience at Junglaven.
We said goodbye to Captain Lorenzo and we arrived in time at Puerto Ayacucho for our midday flight to Caracas and the evening flight bound for Madrid.
We identified 441 species during these 17 days. Yes, the chiggers and mosquitoes at Hato El Cedral and Junglaven did attack us, but nothing unbearable. We had some rain, but I think we all knew we could have had a lot more. Most of the rain fell during non-birding hours, so I can’t complain too much.
With such a vast bird list picking out my ten best birds of the trip is almost meaningless. Nevertheless, a few that come instantly to mind include Black-faced Hawk, Blue-throated Piping-Guan, Yellow-knobbed Curassow, Black Curassow, Sungrebe, Dwarf Cuckoo, Tawny-tufted Toucanet, Ringed Woodpecker, Amazonian Black-Tyrant and Citron-bellied Attila, a few of them endemics, but lifers all of course.
Chaam, 15 January 2005,
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Systematic List of Birds
Systematic List of Mammals