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A Report from

Isla de Margarita, Venezuela, 2nd - 16th March 2005,

Alan Miller

Buffy Hummingbird
Burrowing Owl
Tropical Mockingbird

A wonderful first encounter with South American birds seeing Buffy Hummingbird, Vermilion Cardinal, Yellow Oriole, Tropical Mockingbird, Tropical Knatcatcher, Magnificent Frigatebird and many more species from our hotel room.

Having just returned two weeks earlier from an intensive birding trip to Northern India, this was an opportunity for Anne and I to relax, take in the local culture, and do some birding to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.

The Venezuelan island of Margarita lies 14 miles north of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean Sea. We found it to be very much part of, and heavily reliant upon, Venezuela. It is Spanish a speaking island, and Latin-American rather than Caribbean in culture.

We travelled on a package trip with Eclipse Holidays, part of the First Choice Group, staying at the all-inclusive LTI Costa Caribe Beach Hotel. The flight was 10 hours and direct from the UK. Time on Margarita is GMT -4 hours. The local currency is the Bolivar but the US$ is widely accepted. Bolivares cannot be exchanged outside Venezuela and at current rates we got 1.8 US$ to the £ sterling and then 2,150 Bolivares to the US$.

The Costa Caribe Beach Hotel is located on the north side and towards the east of the island. It is a stand-alone complex surrounded by low hills with no houses in sight. The village of Altagracia lies a mile or so to the east and Playa Caribe a mile to the west. The habitation in the hotel grounds is lush with many flowering shrubs and bushes. The area surrounding is sandy scrub covered with bushes and cacti. To the east there are also some wet areas. The hotel has it's own beach frontage.

The weather on Margarita is fairly constant year round. It had rained earlier in the year leaving everything lush. March is one of the driest months and it stayed so for our fortnight. The daytime temperatures reached the high 80's whilst at night it didn't drop below 74 degrees. Dawn was just before 6.30am and dusk just after 6.30pm. We found the best times for birding were early morning and late afternoon as the noon temperatures were oppressive.

Whilst carrying out research I was unable to locate any books detailing birding sites, nor  much information on the internet. I established that the only suitable identification guide was The Birds of Venezuela by Steven Hilty published by Christopher Helm. At £40 and weighing almost 4 lbs it isn't really a pocket guide and some plates left a little to be desired, however the range maps and text were superb and specifically included Margarita helping me create a checklist and identify many new birds. About half the possible species are also found in North America, especially some of the waders, herons and warblers, so I also carried the Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America by David Sibley, also published by Helm.

Birds seen at the hotel and within a 200 yard radius landside included Tropical Mockingbird, Tropical Knatcatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Gray Kingbird, Vermillion Cardinal, Yellow Oriole, Glaucous Tanager, Burrowing Owl, Buffy Hummingbird and Lesser Nighthawk. The sea opposite the hotel beach was very productive with rafts of Brown Pelican, together with Brown Booby, Neotropic Cormorant, MagnificentFrigatebird and Royal Tern. A rocky outcrop off the beach held a pair of American Oystercatcher. There had been some dumping in the scrub surrounding the hotel so the area was rich with Black Vultures, the highest count on the ground being 200 birds. In flight and against the hills species included Northern Crested-Caracara, Turkey Vulture and Gray-breasted Martin.

Common Ground-Dove
Vermilion Cardinal
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

During our first week at the hotel we met a Canadian birding couple, Peter and Janet Wilshaw together with their son, Ben. A couple of birding outings were enjoyed in their company.

We hired a car for two days through an agency at the hotel. Fun Cars provided an automatic Suzuki Sidekick 4x4 for $90US all in. I've not come across a more laid-back hire car company. Although the vehicle had over 100,000 miles on the clock it was absolutely fine, and with petrol the equivalent of 10 pence a gallon - yes 10 pence a gallon - well! Most of the cars and pick-ups on the island were very old American gas-guzzlers, many dropping to bits. The driving can be erratic at times but when you take into account that no-one hurries and every-one has a relaxed, tolerant attitude, we didn't encounter any problems.

On our after-dinner walks through the grounds we had heard a nightjar churring in the wet scrub just to the east of the hotel. Whilst we had the car we drove into the scrub one evening and managed to locate Lesser Nighthawk in the car headlights.

Island locations


A large mangrove lagoon to the west between the main island and the Macanao peninsular. It is a national park with a 500 Bolivares (15 pence) entry fee. The attraction is the boat trips through the mangroves. Trips last 30 minutes or an hour. An hours trip costs 35,000 Bolivares (£10.50p) for the boat and driver. Most people are taken through the mangroves to the beach but after explaining we wanted to see the birds we stayed on the water. There were good numbers of Osprey, Great Blue Heron, Neotropic Cormorant and Brown Pelican. We saw one Northern Crested-Caracara but the stars were two male Bicoloured Conebills which came down to the boat when the driver killed the engine.

Macanao Peninsular

A large dry arid area to the west of Restinga.It was extremely hot with little shade. The area around the bridge from Restinga to the peninsular is supposed to be good for birds but we were hampered as there were roadworks on the bridge and nearby. The main area where we saw new birds was on the northern side between the bridge and the turning to San Francisco. We added Brown-throated Parakeet and American Kestrel.


A small fishing village on the north-east corner of the island. We stopped about 11am to look down on the village and were treated to an hours spectacle. A fishing net had been strung out in a big loop from the beach stretching 150 yards out into the bay by 30 yards wide. As it was reeled-in the trapped fish were concentrated in a smaller and smaller area. In the final stages it was a frenzy of activity with 200 Brown Pelicans, 40 Magnificent Frigatebirds and 6 Brown Boobies pitting their wits against a team of 40 fishermen.

Mirador El Portochuela

Situated on the road between Santa Ana and La Asuncion, the Mirador looks down onto a green, lush valley and is bordered by large bushed. In two visits to the Mirador birds included Northern White-sided Antwren, Scaled Antpitta, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Blue-tailed Emerald and Glaucous Tanager.


Located to the west of Manzanillo, there is a large lagoon at Zaragoza. On two visits birds included Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Great Blue Egret, Tricolored Heron, Solitary Sandpiper and Gray Plover.


Located between the village of Altagracia and our hotel is another large lagoon on which there was Osprey, Caribbean Coot, Yellow-crowned Night Heron and Neotropic Cormorant.

Laguna de Los Martires

Taking the coast road from our hotel towards Juan Griego you pass through Playa la Galera. Opposite the beach cafes is Hotel Costa Caribe and behind the hotel is a massive lagoon stretching to Juan Griego. Whilst viewing from behind the hotel we could see lots of birds at the far side so we followed the road round keeping the sea on our right and the lagoon on our left. As we reached Juan Griego we took the first left, Calle La Laguna. The road twists and turns through houses and eventually comes to a big walled cemetery. The road becomes a track after the cemetery but we turned left, followed the wall along, through a gate and found ourselves in the Water Treatment Works (no birding trip is complete without a visit to the sewage plant!) We parked in the small car park next to the office which backed onto the lagoon. The staff were very friendly and when asked if we could watch the birds they were happy for us to wander around. On the lagoon birds included Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Little Blue Heron, Great Egret and White-cheeked Pintail. At one point we looked around to see 126 Black-crowned Night-Heron fly in and land in the trees next to us. At 5pm time was called as the staff left and the gate closed.

All in all, it was an excellent introduction to a new birding area.

For more details contact ''

Systematic List of sightings

This systematic list follows the order used by Hilty in The Birds of Venezuela, which follows the American Ornithologists' Union's Checklist.

HC = High Count

Red-footed Booby Sula sula  
4 from hotel beach on 12th

Brown Booby    Sula leucogaster   
Regularly from hotel. HC 6.
6 at Manzanillo on 10th

Brown Pelican   Pelecanus occidentalis 
Regularly from hotel. HC 50.
200 at Manzanillo on 10th

Neotropic Cormorant  Phalacrocorax brasilianus
Widespread around water

Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens 
Daily from hotel. HC 38.
40 at Manzanillo on 10th

White-cheeked Pintail  Anas bahamensis 
7 at Laguna Martires on 10th

Great Blue Heron   Ardea herodias
1 at Zaragoza on 8th
6 Restinga,2 Martires on 9th
1 at Altagracia on 12th

Great Egret Ardea alba 
Regular on lagoons
HC 30 at Martires on 10th

Snowy Egret Egretta thula  
1 4th to 8th off hotel beach
2 at Martires on 9th

Little Blue Heron    Egretta caerulea  
2 at Laguna Martires on 10th

Tricolored Heron    Egretta tricolor    
2 at Zaragoza on 10th

Cattle Egret  Bubulcus ibis   
2 at Playa El Agua on 10th

Black-crowned Night-Heron    Nycticorax nycticorax     
126 at Laguna Martires on 10th

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  Nyctanassa violacea 
Regular at Altagracia HC 3
1 at Zaragoza on 8th
1 at Martires on 10th

Black Vulture    Coragyps atratus 
Regular and abundant
HC 150 around hotel on 9th

Turkey Vulture Cathares aura 
Seen regularly in 1's & 2's
HC 6 around Macanao on 9th

Osprey Pandion haliaetus
1 at Altagracia on 8th
8 at Restinga on 9th

Northern Crested-Caracara Caracara cheriway   
6 around Macanao on 9th
1 near hotel on 11, 15 & 16th

American Kestrel    Falco sparverius  
1 at Macanao on 9th

Merlin  Falco columbaris 
1 over hotel scrub on 14th

Peregrine Falcon     Falco peregrinus  
1 Altagracia to hotel on 8th

Moorhen   Gallinula chloropus  
2 hotel east scrub pool 14th

Caribbean Coot Fulica caribaea    
6 at Altagracia on 8th

Gray Plover  Pluvialis squatarola  
1 at Zaragoza on 10th

American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliates
2 off hotel beach on 4th & 8th

Black-necked Stilt  Himantopus mexicanus
2 at Macanao on 9th

Solitary Sandpiper  Tringa solitaria    
2 at Zaragoza on 8th

Willet    Catoptrophorus semipalmatus
1 at Restinga & Macanao 9th

Royal Tern Sterna maxima
Daily off hotel beach HC 40

Feral Pigeon Columba livia (feral) 
A few around habitations

Scaled Dove Scardafella squammata    
Daily at hotel scrub HC 8

Common Ground-Dove  Columbina passerina
Common HC 20 around hotel

Ruddy Ground-Dove   Columbina talpacoti 
1 at hotel east scrub on 15th

Brown-throated Parakeet    Aratinga pertinax
7 at Macanao on 9th

Smooth-billed Ani   Crotophaga ani    
Regular around hotel HC 7

Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia    
2 hotel east scrub on 14&15th

Lesser Nighthawk   Chordeiles acutipennis 
1 hotel east scrub on 10th

Blue-tailed Emerald     Chlorostibon mellisugus   
1 at Portochuelo on 8th

Buffy Hummingbird Leucippus fallax   
Regular around hotel HC 4

Pale-breasted Spinetail Synallaxis albescens  
1 in hotel scrub on 6,11&12th
1 at Portochuelo on 8th

Barred Antshrike    Thamnophilus doliatus 
1 at Portochuelo on 8th

Northern White-fringed Antwren  Formicivora intermedia 
1 at Portchuelo on 8th
1 hotel west scrub on 11th

Tropical Kingbird   Tyrannus melancholicus    
1 in hotel scrub on 3rd & 15th  
1 at Zaragoza on 8th
1 at Manzanillo on 10th

Gray Kingbird   Tyrannus dominicensis 
1 at Altagracia on 8th

Gray-breasted Martin  Progne chalybea  
Daily at hotel in flight HC 30

Tropical Gnatcatcher   Polioptila plumbea    
Common at hotel scrub HC7

Tropical Mockingbird  Mimus gilvus   
Widespread & abundant

Bananaquit Coereba floveola 
Regular at hotel HC 3
1 at Portochuelo on 8th & 10th
1 at Altagracia on 8th

Bicoloured Conebill     Conirostrum bicolour
2 at Restinga on 9th

Glaucous Tanager   Thraupis glaucocolpa
1 or 2 regular in hotel scrub
2 at Portochuelo on 10th

Vermilion Cardinal  Cardinalis phoeniceus
2 pairs regularly hotel scrub

Black-faced Grassquit Tiaris bicolour
Widespread & abundant

Carib Grackle    Quiscalus lugubris
Widespread & abundant

Yellow Oriole    Icterus nigrogularis      
Regular around hotel HC 4
2 at Portochuelo on 10th

Other sightings

Unfortunately we do not have South American identification guides for other than birds. Daily around the hotel we saw small lizards and much larger Iguanas. Also dragonflies and butterflies were in abundance with Monarch sp. and Brimstone sp. seen daily.

Iguana sp.


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