BIRDING AROUND THE WORLD

Subtitle

Venezuela: 19 January - 23 February 2001  

INTRODUCTION

I accepted an invitation to join 4 Hungarian friends, all of whom I knew to be good birders, on a five week tour of Venezuela. Although I had made two 10 day trips to Venezuela before, I had missed some key birds and not visited the Andes, Llanos, Junglaven or the Paria Peninsula. I had a hit list of some 100 species, with a hope of seeing 70+.

The tour was all overland, except Junglaven, in a minibus, with driver, and a Spanish-speaking organiser (euphemistically called a “birder-guide”), booked through the Internet. At $1700 (for 31 days) excluding Junglaven, this was more expensive than my previous trips but appeared to be a hassle-free plan and relatively cheap, compared to professional tours. This is not the place to discuss personalities, but suffice it to say that we parted company with our tour-organiser before the end and that I would strongly recommend that anyone using the Internet should insist on references and thoroughly check these out before making any commitments. Having said that, the trip was a success, recording about 800 species and giving me 75 lifers, with great views of Agami Heron, Harpy Eagle, Crestless Currasow, Collared Puffbird, Red-banded Fruiteater and 4 new antpittas. However, I did consider Junglaven to be overpriced for what it offered, although there were some good birds. Major dips were Zigzag Heron (again), Spotted Puffbird (for me only) and Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo.

TRANSPORT

We started in an old gas-guzzling minibus but soon had doubts about its capability and safety. After a wheel fell off on the 6th day, while driving at speed, we declined to use it again and caught a public bus for the major part of the jouney that day. Then 4 x 4 taxis were used successfully in the Andes for a few days, before a Toyota Landcruiser was chartered from Guamanchi Expeditions (geca@bolivar.funmrd.gov.ve) in Merida for the remainder of the trip. It was driven by the company’s boss John who wanted to find out about birding tours. He was a good, fast driver, English-speaking, helpful and knowledgeable, but was losing enthusiasm towards the end of the trip. I would certainly recommend his company for anyone who is not happy to use self-drive cars: the risk of delays through break-downs and robbery is greatly reduced. The vehicles hold 5 plus driver with plenty of room, and 6 or even 7 with less space, but are not overly comfortable as the main seats are along the sides, not across the vehicle as in a minibus. Luggage was on the roof, well-covered. The normal charge is $150 a day all-in (including petrol and driver’s costs). A 4 x 4 is not essential but is certainly quicker on some of the roads. An alternative is to hire a 4 x 4 taxi, eg in La Azulita for $40 for 1 day or $60 per day for long distance travel of several days.

REFERENCES

Site details are mostly well-covered, eg in

Where to watch birds in South America  N Wheatley (1994)

Venezuela: a birder's guide  D Sargeant (1994)

Birding in Venezuela  Mary Lou Goodwin (1995) – a new edition is in prep.

and trip reports by N Gardner (1989), G Speight (1989), J Vermeulen (1988 & 1994), Eddie Myers (1995) and E Molgaard (1995).

There are many trip reports on the Internet, although none I could find with much useful site information.

De Schauensee and Phelp’s fieldguide is still worthwhile, though badly in need of revision; Hilty and Brown’s Colombia guide is worth taking if weight is not an issue, as is the new Checklist of the birds of Northern South America by Rodner, Lentino and Restall (2000). The CDROM Birds of Venezuela by Peter Boesman is great for recordings, as well as having many excellent photos.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank the following for assistance:

Jurgen Beckers, Peter Boesman, Chris Sharpe, Brian Foster, Mary Lou Goodwin, Robin Restall, Pete Morris, Clem Rodner, John the driver, and Dave Willis. Most of all I must thank the Hungarians Zoltán Ecsedi, Prof. János Oláh, János Oláh Jun. and Tamás Zalai for their companionship, good humour throughout, impressive birding ability and wonderful salami.

GENERAL COMMENTS

The weather was hot and humid in the lowlands, as expected; cold early morning in the Andes but great later. Very little rain was experienced.

The only medication I used was deet in the lowlands and sunblock in the highlands. Malaria is rare, mainly occurring in the Amazonian region. Biting insects were rarely numerous but seemed to like Janos; chiggers can be encountered, the best deterrent being sulphur powder sprinkled on socks, trouser bottoms and around the waste. Walking boots were fine throughout, with no excessively muddy trails.

Currency was obtained at ATM cash machines, which worked at a most banks tried. You need a major bank Switch or Mastercard/ Visa credit card – my Sainsbury’s Bank and Nationwide cash cards were useless.

We stayed in “hotels” or hostels virtually throughout, generally cheap although I did not keep note of the prices as our “tour” was all-inclusive.

A scope was very helpful at times.

COMMENTS ON GUIDES from Chris J Sharpe (rodsha@telcel.net.ve).

There are three experienced, specialised bird guides in Venezuela. If you really want a specialised guide who knows the birds, you need to contact one of them. There is also a large number of new guides (often general tour guides) who can show you to sites, but not necessarily identify Myiarchus! In addition, there are some really excellent young birders who don't work professionally as guides, but whom might be coaxed into taking a day or two from work to bird with visitors. The best way to get guides is through Audubon or by contacting Mary Lou Goodwin (advocacy@telcel.net.ve) or myself.

ITINERARY

Jan   19            Arrive Caracas, drive to Mari, Pie del Cerro (below Colonia Tovar), via La Victoria; night at a holiday     cottage.

        20            07.00-10.00 dry scrub and woodland above Mari. Drive to Rancho Grande, Henri Pittier NP, via Maracay.

        21            Rancho Grande.

        22            Choroni Road a.m.; Rancho Grande and coffee plantations p.m.

        23            Turiamo Road a.m., Cata Beach and Ocumare, Rancho Grande p.m.

        24            Rancho Grande; 08.00-17.00 drive to Yacambu NP; night in dorm at HQ.

        25            Yacambu NP.

        26            Yacambu NP; 08.00-09.00 to quarry below Sanare for 1 hr, then to Barquisimeto where wheel dropped off. 13.00-18.45 El Vigia bus to Cano Zancurdo, pick-up to Olinda II, arriving 19.35; night at guide’s friend’s house. 

        27            06.30-10.00 Olinda II; 11.00-19.00 Universidad de los Andes forest and La Azulita road; night at Olinda II.

        28            Rio Frio a.m., Puerto Concha, Cienagas del Catatumbo NP/ Lago Maracaibo p.m.; 17.00-19.00 drive to Merida; night at Patty’s Posada.

        29            Pico Humboldt Trail; Patty’s Posada.

        30            Day on paramo, Sierra Nevada NP: Laguna Mucubaji, L. Negra, Pico Aguila and Mifafy; Patty’s Posada.

        31            Mifafy, Laguna Mucubaji – waterfall, San Isidro track; La Casa de Mis Viejos, Santo Domingo.

Feb    1            Laguna Mucubaji – waterfall, Los Frailes, Las Tabias, La Soledad track; Santo Domingo.

          2            San Isidro track and Rio Barragán a.m., drive to Bruzual, San Vicente Road p.m.; night at Hotel Bruzual.

          3            06.20-11.00 Rio Apure boat trip; drive through Llanos to La Ye and Univ. of Llanos station; night at Hotel El Pescador, Mantecal.

          4            07.00-14.00 Hato El Cedral; drive to Barruaca, nr San Fernando; night in motel.

          5            06.00-12.00 drive to Puerto Ayacucho; p.m. birding road 20km away.

          6            06.55-07.50 flight to Junglaven.

          7-9          Junglaven.

        10            08.30 flight to Pto Ayacucho; 10.30-16.00 drive to Maripa and on to Las Trincheras Camp, Caura Valley at 18.30.

        11            Caura Forest.

        12            06.30-09.30 Caura Forest; drive to El Palmar via Pto Bolivar and Pto Ordaz; Hostal Taquapire.

        13            Imataca Forest; Hostal Taquapire.

        14            06.10-09.30 Rio Grande; drive to Km 88 till 17.00; Capuchinbird lek; Hotel La Pilonera.

        15            La Escalera; La Pilonera.

        16            Guyana Trail, Km 73.

        17            La Escalera and Gran Sabana till dark.

        18            Km 87 track a.m., Escalara p.m.

        19            06.30-09.00 Km 67 trail. 09.30-18.00 drive to Maturin; Hotel Europa.

        20            Drive to west of Caripe and bad roads to Grey-headed Warbler site, then to Oilbird cave, Caripe; Hotel Barlos Chaimas.

        21            Drive to Irapa a.m., Cerro Humo p.m.; Hotel Maryoli, Irapa.

        22            06.45-09.30 Cerro Humo; drive to Pto Piritu west of Barcelona; Hotel Casava.

        23            06.45-11.30 drive to Caracas airport, with stop at Laguna de Ulnare. Flight To San Jose, Costa Rica.


NOTES ON LOCALITIES

Although the major birding areas are well-covered in the above references, the following notes may be useful.

Colonia Tovar

The dry woodland above La Victoria (below Colonia Tovar), at 950-1000m, held Rosy Thrush-Tanager and Green-tailed Emerald, birds not seen elsewhere.

Henri Pittier NP

We stayed at the field station/ abandoned hotel at Rancho Grande, which has no meals but you can cook in the kitchen if you bring your own food. There are a couple of restaurants down the road but they only open sporadically. Although there are lots of beds, it does get booked by school parties, so you can’t guarantee to get in – very convenient though. Bring papayas to put out on the bird table – gives great photo opportunities. A scope is very useful here as hummers feed high in trees - could not have identified Rufous-shafted Woodstar without one. Best birds for me were Moustached Puffbird, on the mountain trail, and Venezuelan Wood-Quail at 17.30 near the second stream crossing on the level pipeline trail.  Other good birds included Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Lined Quail-Dove, Variable Screech-Owl, Russet-throated Puffbird, Short-tailed Antthrush, Handsome Fruiteater and Rufous-lored Tyrannulet.

Much lower down towards the coast, Turiamo Road was full of birds, including White-eared Conebill, and the right fork (left goes to Turiamo) soon gave Black-backed and Black-crested Antshrikes and Lance-tailed Manakin.

The scrub at Cata Beach held a few different birds such as Buffy Hummingbird, while the lads scoped up Red-footed (8 juvs) and an adult Masked Booby well off-shore.

Yacambu NP (see Mary Lou Goodwin’s booklet)

This was a little off-route but an excellent site with hill forest and a laguna (El Blanquito) where we were able to see Rusty-flanked Crake at a distance. Head south from Barquisimeto to Sanare; as you start climbing there is a quarry on the right which holds Tocuyo Sparrow and Slender-billed Tyrannulet in the scrub – we saw them in the morning, not on the afternoon visit. It is 24 km from the pleasant town of Sanare to the NP centre where we were able to stay in dorm.s thanks to meeting the park chief on his motorbike en route to Sanare - a kitchen and hot showers! Best to try and pre-book as you are not officially allowed to stay without a booking. There is a good but expensive hotel in Sanare.

One reason we came was to look for Great Antpitta, which Dave Willis had rediscovered there in April 2000. We heard one calling late afternoon on the right of the road, just before a narrow trail on the right before the track to El Blanquito (at 1400m). It responded to the tape (copied from Peter Boesman’s CDROM) but would not come out from the thick undergrowth. The same thing happened the following morning, despite a vigil in the undergrowth. Did see Rusty-breasted Antpitta there the next morning. Then spent time on the lightly-traveled road around the pass (1800m) – Merida Tapaculo, White-rumped Hawk and Golden-breasted Fruiteater (at last!).

Helmeted Currasow is said to be not uncommon here, although we did not see it. DW was lucky enough to see a Great Antpitta flying to a nest in a tree (in April) not far from where we heard the bird. Well worth a few days.

Northwest lowlands

A boat trip from Puerto Concha on Lago Maracaibo, Cienagas del Catatumbo NP, was successful for Northern Screamer (which I missed in NE Colombia) and Slender-billed Kite, but no Pygmy Swifts (which do occur here).

The Rio Frio valley gave both Citron-throated and Black-mandibled Toucans, Shining-green Hummingbird and Golden-tailed Sapphire, but not Turquoise Cotinga (which fortunately I had seen on Pipeline Road, Panama). A tiny hummer could  have been Short-tailed Emerald but was not seen well enough.

Merida area

A lucky meal stop on the bus journey from Barquisimeto to El Vigia at Pollo Sabroso restaurant gave us Vermilion Cardinal in the nearby dry woodland and scrub.

In the forest above Olinda II, near La Azulita, we saw Military Macaw, Rose-headed Parakeet, Pavonine Cuckoo and a white-crowned tapaculo; Rusty-breasted Antpitta and Grey-throated Warbler were calling unseen, but we failed to find Crested Coquette in the coffee plantation (not helped by rain).

Higher up, the University of Andes forest and La Azulita road only gave Orange-throated Sunangel and Crested Quetzal of note.

Merida, with its fine squares, internet cafes, good climate (at 1640m) and friendly atmosphere, is a pleasant city. The star attraction is the famous Pico Humboldt Trail, accessed from Tabay. We only spent one, fairly hard, day on here, walking almost to the top (2220-3070m), as we saw everything we wanted except two endemics: the scarce Slaty-backed Hemispingus and the silent Grey-naped Antpitta. (it was calling in August, DW). Highlights were Merida Sunangel, Purple-backed Thornbill, Undulated Antpitta, White-fronted Redstart and Grey-capped Hemispingus (2515-2600m), and Rusty-faced Parrot, Golden Starfrontlet, White-browed Spinetail, Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia and Plushcap (2800-3000m). As well as the widespread Merida Tapaculo, the Scytalopus calling in the bamboo could have included griseicollis, the old Andean Tap., now called Rufous-rumped by Rodner et al. and Blackish by Clements.

An excellent trail through beautiful cloud forest, though missing the Grey-naped Antpitta was a disapointment. Chris Sharpe reports:

“I have frequently recorded them in January and February. You have to hike up about 45 minutes in the pre-dawn and wait for first light. Last time I did that (Jan) I heard five all around me. They can stop singing about an hour after dawn. However, I almost always hear them with groups (who don't get up there that early!) and I don't usually trawl for them, so you must have hit unusual conditions.”

A day on the paramo was rather frustrating as we did not find our main quarry till late on: Bearded Helmetcrest, Ochre-browed Thistletail and Merida Flowerpiercer, all just below the Condor reintroduction cage at Mifafy. The Helmetcrests, which are difficult to find at this time of year, mainly fed on the few flowering Eucalypts in the valley. We subsequently found Paramo Wren in the morning in Esbeletia plants just before the ruined house on the trail to the waterfall from Laguna Mucubaji.

At Santo Domingo we stayed in La Casa de Mis Viejos, probably the nicest hotel of the trip ( and Zoli and Tamas fluffed their opportunity with 2 of the nicest girls of the trip). We drove up the San Isidro track, parking just before the quarry, then walked a km or so to the Cock-of-the-Rock lek – good views of a few but not really photographable.

We failed to find Sword-billed Hummer at Los Frailes, above Santo Domingo, while the track at nearby Las Tabias gave good views of Orange-throated Sunangel, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker and Undulated Antpitta. Lower down, the La Soledad track was rewarding, after a lengthy walk through scrappy habitat, with Saffron-headed Parrot and Striped Manakin (for some).

The Llanos

First stop was Rio Barragán for Pale-headed Jacamar, but none was apparent so we tried the Hotel Lido at Baranitas, per Eddie Myers, and sure enough, there was a Jacamar perched up on a snag in the valley below the back of the hotel! Then a 2h 30m drive to the one-horse town of Bruzual. Late afternoon the road to San Vicente was very birdy, with many ibis and whistling-ducks, our first Pinnated Bittern, and Orinocan Saltator. The big bridge over Rio Apure at Bruzual at dusk gave the amazing sight of 100s of Band-tailed Nighthawks flying up and down the river, with a few Skimmers.

A morning boat trip on Rio Apure was pleasant going downstream, with fine views of Pied Lapwing and Collared Plovers displaying near their nests, but failed to give Horned Screamer for the lads. The journey back against the wind was rather slow and birdless. The drive through the Llanos to La Ye was unexceptional but but the University of Llanos station, reached by turning right to Los Modulos just before La Ye bridge then right again after a 30 min. drive, was an excellent wetland. Also saw one Giant Anteater and an anaconda on the road near here.

We had decided to visit Hato El Cedral, as it seemed to be the most popular ranch with the major tour companies and good for Yellow-knobbed Curassow and Agami and Zigzag Herons. We had to book and pre-pay for a day - $60? per person, arranged by our driver John via his Merida office. Arriving at the locked entrance gate at 07.00, the guard radioed the ranch and we were allowed in with permits, then drove 7 km to the ranch where we had a hearty breakfast. Orange-fronted Yellow-Finches fed at the nearby feeder. We took a flat-bottomed boat trip from 09.00-12.00 as scheduled, although in retrospect it would have been better to have skipped breakfast and gone out earlier as the wind rose later, spoiling birding. Numbers of waterbirds were spectacular and an Agami Heron seen well in a wooded channel. We did 2 walks in dry forest looking for the elusive currasow but the only notable sightings were an Amazonian Black-Tyrant and a perched Great Potoo. Late afternoon was said to be a better time for the currasow but we didn’t really have enough time to stay. I later found that the success rate is much higher at Hato Pinero: “you have to brake so as not to hit them” (CJS). The only consolation was, thanks to John, we were only charged for a half-day rather than the full day rate. We left at 14.00 and drove to Mantecal for a late lunch, then on to San Fernando, stopping at a reasonable hotel at Barruaca 7km before San Fernando. From here it took us 6 hours to drive to Pto Ayacucho, with 3 ferry crossings.

Amazonia

Pto Ayacucho is the gateway to Venezuelan Amazonia. We birding along the road 20km from the town: Green-tailed and Paradise Jacamars, White-lored Euphonia and Moriche Oriole but  nothing outstanding. There must be some good forest but there are few notable species listed for the area by Mary Lou in her draft revised site-guide. The reason to come here is to fly to Junglaven. This is the only well-established lodge in Venezuelan Amazonia and is visited by the likes of VENT and BirdQuest. The avifauna of the area is documented by Zimmer and Hilty in Studies of Neotropical Ornithology honoring Ted Parker (pp 865-886). There are a number of specialities, some overlap with Mitu in Colombia, but surprisingly few species for primary Amazonian forest. It is a costly excursion, one I would not have made had I not been with the others. In the event I only had 8 ticks in the 4 days, but it was a pleasant and relaxing interlude on an otherwise fairly hectic schedule. It would have been worthwhile had we seen Zigzag Heron, which we tried for 3 times without success (though we did have brilliant views of Agami and Sungrebe).

Basic costs are $140 airfare (6 seater Cessna) and $110 a day for full board excluding alcohol, with the possibility of a small discount. Boat excursions and jeep rides are free but you are instructed to tip the staff fairly generously before leaving. The accommodation in banda-type huts with warm showers is good, food and soft drink OK but not up to Ecuadorian lodge standards, and beer (cans) only available some of the time. Everything has to be flown in, very little is home-grown.

In our 4 full days we spent most time along the road through the terra firme forest, had 2 trips to Laguna Galapagos and adjacent varzea forest and savanna woodland, a boat trip every late afternoon, and spent time in the open woodland around the camp. On the last afternoon I visited Camani Camp beyond the airstrip and walked to the mirador overlooking the forest – an excellent viewpoint, good for raptor-watching - not that I saw any. Dave Sargeant’s map is basically correct, but the banana plantation is defunct and completely overgrown; car parking for L. Galapagos is at the edge of the woodland now and there is a new trail, Cameron, on the far side of Rio Ventuari, between Camani Camp and Rio Guayaje. We used the local guide Ishmael some of the time but didn’t find him to be any real advantage.

Highlights were

Camp: White-tailed and Rufous Nightjars, Cinereous Mourner, Spangled and Pompadour Cotingas, Plumbeous Euphonia, Moriche Oriole

Road: Black Curassow, Marbled Wood-Quail, Grey-winged Trumpeter (common), Crested Owl (heard only), Yellow-billed and Green-tailed Jacamars, Chestnut-rumped Woodcreeper, Stipple-throated Antwren, White-bellied Antbird, Rufous-capped Antthrush, Golden-headed and Black Manakins, Cinnamon Attila, Helmeted Pygmy-Tyrant, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Greyish Mourner

L. Galapagos: Blackish-grey Antshrike, Yellow-crested Manakin, Pale-bellied Mourner, Brown-headed and Grey-chested Greenlets, Giant Otter

Savanna woodland: Grey-bellied Hawk, Blue-throated Piping-Guan, Orange-cheeked Parrot, Spotted Puffbird (NOT seen by me), Tawny-tufted Toucanet (heard only!), Rufous-crowned Elaenia, Amazonian Black-Tyrant, Moriche Oriole

Big lagoon: Crestless Curassow (N end), Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, Long-billed Woodcreeper (S end), Blackish-grey and Spot-winged Antshrikes, Cherrie’s Antwren, Yellow-crested Manakin, White-lored Tyrannulet 

Rio Guayaje: 2 adult and 2 imm. Agami Herons, Sungrebe, Green-and-rufous Kingfisher.

Dips: Zigzag Heron, Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet, Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo, Crested Owl, Bronzy Jacamar, Brown-banded Puffbird, Tawny-tufted Toucanet, Dot-backed Antbird.

Caura Forest

We drove from Pto Ayacucho to Maripa in 5.5 hours, then after a poor chicken and rice at the gas station restaurant, drove through Caura Forest, with stops, to Las Trincheras Camp. This was a nice location overlooking the Caura River and the restaurant served the best steak and chips of the trip. However, it was pricey considering we had to sleep in hammocks in a communal building, noisy thanks to the village generator, and was an hour’s drive to the forest as the road was bad in places. Better to stay in Maripa, as I had predicted.

A day and a bit’s birding was rewarding but not long enough: Black-faced Hawk, Red-fan Parrot, male Tufted Coquette, Great Jacamar, Spot-tailed and Rufous-bellied Antwrens, White-plumed Antbird, Painted Tody-Flycatcher, Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant and Rose-breasted Chat; Janos even had a male  Black Manakin, a Junglaven speciality. We mainly birded along the road but one good trail was on the left 4.15km after the main fork, coming back towards Maripa – it was here we had the hawk perched up.

Rio Grande

We stayed at Hostal Taquapire (50,000 sucres for 3 rooms) at the far end of El Palmar. An American birder there was reading an old trip report and asked me if I knew the author – I said yes, it’s me! The following morning we took a guide (40K sucres, 60K in his vehicle) at 05.30 in our 4x4. Parking at the end of the track at 06.45, we walked for an hour to the Harpy nest observation spot, stopping en route for Ferruginous-backed Antbird. I waited for 90 mins, during which the young Harpy showed poorly, then left the others, having seen an adult at a similar site in 1993 (though for less than a minute) and spent much of the day along the trail – rather disappointing with only a perched Marbled Wood-Quail, Black-necked Aracari, Musician Wren and an antswarm with White-plumed and Rufous-throated Antbirds, of note.

I returned to the Harpy nest at 15.30 just after the female had arrived with a monkey! We were able to watch it perched and feeding the youngster for about 30 mins. In my absence the others had seen c.20 Trumpeters and tracked a calling Ground-Cuckoo without managing to see it. Crimson Topaz and Jaguarundi were seen on the way back to the hotel. Three hours near the river bridge the following morning were disappointing as we failed to locate the antswarm the Americans had had the previous day (with another invisible calling Ground-Cuckoo), although I did see a Dusky Purpletuft perched on a dead snag.

Canaima National Park

We drove from El Palmar to Km 70, after an abortive search for Horned Screamer which had been seen on a nearby laguna. We checked out the cheap cabañas, a good setting but as there was no water (have to wash in the river) we continued to Hotel La Pilonera at Km 88. Fortunately (in my view, though Andy would doubtless disagree), the all-night disco has disappeared so it is a decent place to stay now, with several restaurants and food-stalls nearby.

We spent 4 full days here - too short really – spending one on the lowland Guyana Trail and the rest on La Escalera and La Gran Sabana. This is a popular and well-documented area, so I will confine my comments to highlights and recent changes. There are 2 main Guyana Trails at Kms 67 and 73. We spent most time on 73, which we thought best, although only walked about 3 km as it was blocked by large tree falls. Not far along, we had a small antbird party with 2 calling Wing-banded Antbirds, and tried desperately for an hour to see them as the undergrowth was not very thick, but they were incredibly mobile or ventriloquists, only giving the briefest of views. A fruiting tree on the edge of a recent large clearing held Spangled and Pompadour Cotingas, while hummers in a red flowering tree included Grey-breasted Sabrewing and Gould’s Jewelfront. Eventually, a good flock was found, with Red-and-black Grosbeak, Tiny Tit-Manakin, Todd’s Antwren, Whiskered Flycatcher and, for some, 2 Capuchinbirds. Having missed the latter, I went back to look for them but they had moved away to lek, too far away. The others returned to Km 85 where Dusky Purpletuft was reputed to be – not in evidence but amply compensated by a rare Orange-breasted Falcon perched by the roadside. [This being one of my key bogey-birds, I tried for it on several later occasions, but unsuccessfully]. Moving on to the Km 87 Capuchinbird lek, now on the left hand side of the track just beyond the fork after 5 km, the others had good scope views, then tried a forest trail on the right, seeing Guianan Toucanet and Red-billed Woodcreeper. I had a miserable evening….. Fortunately, I managed to see the Capuchinbird and woodcreeper on a return visit, when we also saw Blackish Nightjar, Waved Woodpecker and Black-throated Antshrike. I heard a Guianan Red Cotinga (call like a loud Hawfinch or Cardinal) but could not see it (so you still have that on me Jan).  

On La Escalera we spent most time at Kms 111-112, 122-124 and near the top. There was a lot of traffic and helicopter noise, because a high voltage power line was being constructed right through to Brazil, to enable Venezuela to export surplus electricity. This has resulted in a swathe of deforestation and widening of the road in places, much to the irritaion of the local Indians who have been undoing the nuts and bolts holding up the big pylons as quickly as they have been erected, so there is now a military presence here to safeguard the pylons. Chris Sharpe sent me this comment:-

"I worked for several years in Canaima NP on a park strengthening project and have been working in the park on and off since 1988. I am familiar with the entire process of powerline approval and construction, having worked closely with governmental and non-governmental organisations since the beginning. According to official documents, the powerline aims to power mining activities within and around the park. Government documents make it clear that the export of energy to Brazil is only to pay for the infrastructure. Indeed, the powerline originally grew out of a commercial agreement between the Venezuelan government and Placer Dome to supply electricity to the latter's mining operation in Las Cristinas. There are currently proposals for mining along the El Paují road, to the north of the park and within the park. The Imataca Forest Reserve (which includes the Río Grande area) was opened to mining several years ago in a similar irregular and controversial process during the last governmental period.

The decree was written by miners, supported by key officials in the Ministry of the Environment and approved in a non-transparent, highly irregular manner. The powerline was approved in the same hurried, autocratic way with an Environmental Impact Assessment that made me laugh ("the powerline will be good for birds as birds often perch on cables!"); no approval by Congress and lack of consultation with communities. INPARQUES did very little as its successive Presidents (with one exception) were political figures who knew next-to-nothing about protected areas. UNESCO did disappointingly little to aid protection of this World Heritage Site. The indigenous people are still the only ones to have effectively fought against this project, with limited support from environmental NGOs. The Audubon Society, the indigenous people and several other organisations and people took out injunctions against the powerline, but these were ignored by the courts or thrown out on technicalities. In the end, the indigenous people are practically the only ones to have stood up for the conservation values of the area. That in itself is cause for some hope and makes the case of Canaima National Park quite unique: I don't know of another example in which the agency legally responsible for management stands aside and turns a blind eye while the local communities assume the role of protection.

As far as direct impacts go, several of my sites have now gone. The Curassows are no longer so easily seen along the Escalera and I have been finding shotgun cartridges along the opened trails. At one point I used to hear a lot of shotgun reports along the Escalera - miners hunting along the new access trails. There is a lot more litter around than previously. I hear that Barquilla de Fresa has lost a nice chunk of forest too. However, I am more worried about the indirect and long-term threats. INPARQUES has lost a lot of support from local communties and is very weak at the moment, having suffered a series of inept Presidents and been dismantled over the past few years. There are also a number of projects to open up various areas for mining. But I remain optimistic - common sense will prevail in the end. For general information, you might want to check out the new book: Ecological Guide to the Gran Sabana published by the Nature Conservancy or look at the web site http://www.venezuelavoyage.com/."

Km 102             (good mirador): White Bellbird, Lined Forest-Falcon heard calling at Km 105, but no White-throated Manakin

Km 111-112       Fiery-shouldered Parakeet, Green-bellied Hummer, Rufous-breasted Sabrewing, Peacock Coquette, Guianan Cock-of-the Rock, Sharpbill, Roraiman Antwren (at the nest), Tepui/White-fronted Manakin, Chapman’s Tyrannulet, Tepui Greenlet, Flutist and Coraya Wrens, Rufous-brown Solitaire, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, Fulvous Shrike-Tanager, but no Spotted Antpitta or Blue-backed Tanager.

Km 122:            Olive Mankin, Red-banded Fruiteater, Rose-collared Piha, Greater Flowerpiercer (only on 1 of the several occasions here), but no Streak-backed Antshrike, despite much trawling, or Ruddy Tody-Flycatcher (seen by me here in 1993).

Km 123             (short trail at end of short track to water pump, just past the check-point/Alcabar; there is also a nice narrow trail on the left in between here and the Alcabar – 30m north of a shelter): Collared Puffbird (tame and surprising, at this elevation), Roraiman Barbtail, McConnell’s Spinetail, White-throated Foliage-gleaner, Tepui Antpitta, Tepui Manakin, Roraiman Flycatcher, Tepui Redstart, Tepui Brushfinch, Olive-backed Tanager.

Km 128             Velvet-browed Brilliant, Golden-tufted Grackle

Km 133-134       Peacock Coquette, Amethyst Woodstar, Red-horned Manakin, Bearded Bellbird, Black-fronted Tyrannulet, Great Elaenia.

La Gran Sabana and El Monumento till dark: Caprimulgus sp. (Chris comments “Of course, it is most likely to be Blackish but are you sure it wasn't Canaiman? I have found new specimens of Canaiman at low elevation”), Red-shouldered Tanager, but no Giant Snipe, Tepui Goldenthroat or Tachuri.

Caripe

Drove to Maturin 09.30-18.00, then next day to Dave Willis’s site west of Caripe for Grey-headed Warbler, Venezuelan Sylph and singing (hidden) Caracas Tapaculo, but no Venezuelan Flowerpiercer (seen by DW). A struggle to find and to climb in the 4x4, walking the last 300m up the steep rough track to 1800m. In the afternoon drove down to the Oilbird cave, arriving at 17.30 – allowed in but without torches, so could only hear the birds. Then watched from the outside: bats came out first at dusk (taken by Bat Falcon and an accipiter), then Oilbirds flew in and out of cave entrance at deep dusk (18.50) before eventually leaving. Nice hotel near the petrol station at Caripe.

Paria Peninsula

Long drive to Irapa, not helped by an inadequate map: 3 doubles at hotel Maryoli 14,000Bol each. Reached cloud-covered Cerro de Humo at noon and birded in the rain till 17.30. Yellow-faced Redstart was easy on the Ridge Trail but White-throated Barbtail was tricky (not tape-responsive), keeping low, but eventually I had a good view. Tried the lower trail (left fork just above the water tank) for the Scissor-tailed hummer but only had other hummers, Stripe-breasted Spinetail and Rufous-breasted Wren. The others saw Slate-crowned Antpitta near the start of the lower trail but it did not respond to my tape, so I went back up the RidgeTrail with eventual success. The following morning at 07.30 we picked up the Ranger, who lives at the house at the base of the trails, and charged us 2000Bol each for entry plus same again for guiding. We went some 10 mins down the lower trail and waited at a flowering tree. White-tailed Sabrewings and Green Hermits fed on the red tubular flowers and eventually an imm. male Scissor-tail put in a brief appearance on nearby small orangey flowers a couple of times, followed by a female at 09.00. After coffee at the Ranger’s house, we set off on the long drive back to Caracas, with an unsuccessful stop at Dave Sargeant’s White-bellied Piculet and Crimson-hooded Manakin site. No time to visit Balneario Sabacual (see page 391 in Wheatley) which might have been a better bet – Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet is also possible here.

Our last stop was at the west end of the huge Laguna de Ulnare by the main road some 150 km east of Caracas, which held many waders and tern including “Cayenne.”

SPECIES LIST – see Appendix

Taxonomy, names and sequence follow Rodner, Lentino and Restall (2000) Checklist of the birds of Northern South America with names in brackets from Clements, JF (2001) Birds of the World: A Checklist, where they differ substantially.

Numbers quoted are daily maxima seen by me, with common names in italics the species seen by others in the party, not me. Common names in bold indicate a tick for me and in italics that it would have been a tick had I seen it! Common names in square brackets indicate heard only.

 

 

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