26 January - 13 February 1997
by Carol Schumacher
From January 26 - February 13 we sampled birds in each major Venezuela habitats (excluding eastern Ven) on an organised trip. Got out just before the American Airline strike. It took two long days of just travel from Hato Cedral to Winona (via San Fernando de Apure, Caracas, Miami, Mpls) and kept busy with paperwork.
Saw about 500 species of birds (my totals, not the group total) of which 311 were birds I'd never seen before. About 50 species of Tanagers and 57 species of Flycatchers. Venz is even better birding than Costa Rica.
Especially enjoyable was seeing the wintering grounds of the nesting birds of the Winona area that I've been priviledged to study summers past. Most Prothonotary Warblers winter in Venz as do Ceruleans. One dawn song morning, I glanced up at the Andean foothills and noticed habitat that looked like the goat prairies of SE MN. Then heard wintering Broad-winged Hawks "pee-tee," saw Cerulean Warblers stream-side, heard a Turkey-like sound when the Rufous-vented Chachalaca's started winding up. Heard, too, a chip note of N. (not L.) Waterthrush) at this location. Mentioned how similar this was to SE Mn and he asked how many Cercopia (sp) trees and Many-banded Aracaris were in SE MN... guess I wasn't in Kansas (or Minnesota) anymore.... -:)
Because of recent reports re roads Venezuela, I was somewhat concerned. Here is one place that traveling with a group has advantages... a bus and a good driver (especially one with mountain driving experience) is a plus. Throughout our trip I was grateful to not have to drive. Could devote all energy to birding.
With few exceptions the roads are paved and in good shape. Mountain roads are narrow and without guard rails. Most traffic on mountain roads is small sized farm trucks. On more major highways, large truck were everywhere...Venezuela doesn't have an extensive rail system so this is essential for their economy. Outside of major cities, local folks travel by bus. If I were fluent in the language, had lots of time and were a male, I'd consider traveling the country by bus.
There were two areas where roads were NOT in good condition:
1) the road from Bruzual to Cedral in the illanos have sections of pavement removed so there was constant need to slow to adjust to the uneven road and missing pavement
2) the road from Bonoco to Gauramacal is impassable without a very high clearance vehicle. The local folks used ONLY small 4 wheel drive Toyota trucks. Gauaramacal is beautiful habitat and worth the 4:15 am drive to experience it's marvelous dawn song.
All typos/errors are mine. The following is taken from my personal notes.
January 26 -- Travel day
We left Miami a couple hours late and with a pending an American Airlines strike February 15. Arrived in Caracas at dusk but saw a fabuluous night sky and mountain lights on our 2+ hour drive to Hotel Bergland at Colonia Tovar. Very good dinner and pleasant place to stay.
January 27 -- Colonia Tovar
We had our first of many dawn choruses and picnic breakfasts roadside. And each and every one was great! My first Venezuelan SEEN bird was a GLOSSY BLACK THRUSH followed by OCHRE-BREASTED BRUSH-FINCH, MOUNTAIN ELAENIA AND BROWN-CAPPED VIREOS. We had looks at a BLACK-THROATED SPINETAIL, singing BLACK-CRESTED WARBLERs, CARACAS TAPACULO, and the interesting STREAKED TUFTED CHEEKS that were poking around in the bromeliads. We had a small wave that included our first of many LONG-TAILED SYLPH...never get tired of that bird...our first Tanagers including BERYL SPANGLED, COMMON BUSH-TANAGER, BLACK-CAPPED MOUNTAIN, and a quick look at a FAWN-BREASTED TANAGER. The CHESTNUT-CROWNED ANTPITTA cooperated for a very nice look as did a MONTANE WOODCREEPER, and WHITE-THROATED FLYCATCHER, GRAY-BREASTED WOOD-WREN. A BLACK-HAWK EAGLE showing it's very long tail and STRONG-BILLED WOODCREEPER were two of the many other birds we were introduced to this fine morning.
After lunch we found SPARKLING AND GREEN VIOLTEARS (chasing and carrying on) on the hotel grounds but when called, went running for a LAZULINE SABERWING. wow. Make that WOW. The rest of the afternoon we drove to Maracay and had good birds at a stop or two enroute: TRINIDAD EUPHONIA, YELLOW ORIOLE, STREAK-HEADED WOODCREEPER, our first GRAYISH SALTATOR, YELLOW-BELLIED ELAENIA (I vote for this bird, too) and always singing and present, GREEN-FRONTED GREENLET.
January 28 -- Henri Pittier N.P.
Now I see why so many visit and why so many have fond memories of H.P. Dawn song was wonderful again and we heard LILAC-CROWNED PAROTLETTS (never did see), then heard and saw many birds. BLOOD-EARED PARROTS, ORANGE-BELLIED EUPHONIA, stunning CINNAMON FLYCATCHER, our first CERULEAN WARBLERS, "walk, walk" GROOVE-BILLED TOUCANETS, FULVOUS-HEADED TANAGERS and the outstanding GOLDEN TANAGERS with the brown breast bands. BUFF-BRONTED FOLAIGE GLEANERS were my first introductions to this genus and was the handsome HANDSOME FRUITEATERS to theirs. Nice looks.
We then went to the Biological Station and spotted two WHITE HAWKS hill side and found many colorful birds at the fruit feeders including BAY-HEADED, SPECKLED, BLUE-GRAY and WHITE-LINED TANAGERS and BLUE-WINGED MOUNTAIN TANAGERS sharing with (or vice versa) RUSSET-BACKED OROPENDOLA. In the WHITE-TIPPED SWIFTS tilting overhead, Steve noticed a LESSER SWALLOW-TAILED SWIFT that we were able to get on before they all tittered out of sight. We walked woods trails at Rancho Grande in two groups and we had our first looks at birds that would later become common to us: SLATE-THROATED REDSTARTS, GOLDEN-OLIVE WOODPECKERS, SCALED PICULETS (sounding like Downy Woodpeckers), RUFFOUS-BROWED PEPPERSHRIKES among GREEN JAYS, SLATY-CAPPED FLYCATCHERS AND BLACKBURNIAN WARBLERS....which were everywhere! Looking good, too.
Our drive back to Maracay got us our first look at Red Howler Monkeys, COPPERY-RUMPED HUMMINGBIRDS, a WHITE-TAILED HAWK, WHITE COLLARED SWIFTS, SILVER-BEAKED TANANGERS, and an out of place but magnficent none the less, MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD. The Howlers would be an almost daily sound.
Henri Pittier Roadside before dawn at Henri Pittier began another good day. BLACK-HEADED TANAGERS, RED-RUMPED WOODPECKERS, VENEZUELAN TRYANNULET, YELLOW-BELLIED SEEDEATERS were among other good birds of the morning. The show-off SOOTY-CAPPED HERMIT swooped around us and entered a whole in the "gutter" at the side of the road but no nest found. Our first RUFOUS-TAILED JACAMAR perched hillside and we got looks at the SLATY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, nifty SWALLOW TANAGERS, and familiar BROAD-WINGED HAWK, as well as BLUE DANCIS, BANAQUITS, and WHITE-VENTED PLUMETEER. As we headed down the more tropical side of the mountain we had a fabulous long look at the endemic GUTTALATED FOILAGE GLEANER.
Paint fumes were our guidepost. Well, actually crews were painting the concrete "guard rails" bright yellow and, in case you haven't noticed, there are lots of concrete barriers on the road's edge at H.P. The fumes followed us everywhere. But we didn't much care when we had good looks at a RUFOUS-BREASTED ANTWREN, cocking it's tail like a gnatcatcher. Throw in a TROPICAL PARULA for color, and a little more YELLOW with a FLAVESCENT WARBLER. One of my favorites.
And then the feeding flock: incredible wave. We counted 18 tanager species, 7 warbler species and 15 flycatchers! Included in the wave were OLIVACEOUS FLATBILL, PLAIN XENOPIS, ORANGE-CROWNED ORIOLE, GODLEN CROWNED WARBLER, COLLARED TROGAN, WHITE-NECKED PUFFBIRD, BAY-HEADED TANAGER, RUFOUS-BREASTED WREN, RUFOUS-TAILED JACAMAR. Twas quite a show. On the way back to Maracay, we saw CRESTED OROPENDOLA, RUDDY PIGEON, a BURNISHED BUFF TANAGER,PURPLE HONEYCREEPER, and the first (3 on the trip) ORNATE HAWK-EAGLE.
January 30 -- Henry Pittier N.P.
This day we took the narrow steep road up ... the sometimes one lane, hairpin curve road. A great night sky had us in awe again: what a show of stars. We found a BAND-WINGED NIGHTJAR before sunup, had singing VENEZUELAN WOOD-QUAIL so close I thought I could feel them, heard the RUFUOUS-TAILED ANTHRUSH giving it's gradually rising cuckoo, had great looks at BAND-TAILED GUAN and ANDEAN SOLITAIRE. GOLDEN-BREASTED FRUITEATERS, ORANGE-BREASTED BRUSH-FINCH, BLUE-NAPPED CHOLORPHONIA, and a GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER among many others held our attention. This is also where we saw the WHITE-TIPPED QUETZAL.
After a roadside lunch, I walked off by myself and found another feeding flock. Feast your eyes on these TANAGERS: GUIRA, RUFOUS-CHEEKED, BERYL-SPANGLED, GOLDEN, BLUE-CAPPED MTN, COMMON BUSH, SPECKELD, BURNISHED-BUFF, BAY-HEADED. Other birds in the flock were CINNAMON FLYCATCHER, THREE-STRIPED WARBLER, BLACK AND WHITE BECARD, OLIVACEOUS WOODCREEPER, and STREAKED TUFTEDCHEEKS. Hated to leave Henry Pittier.
In the afternoon, enroute to Chichiriviche, we stopped at a mangrove and saw a PROTHONOTARY WARBELR, BI-COLORED CONEBILL, BUFF-BREASTED WREN and saw many water birds like BARE-FACED IBIS, BROWN PELICANS, MAGNIFICANT FRIGATEBIRDS. We stopped at Morrocoy National Park and saw a few thousand GREATER FLAMINGO, a PINNATED BITTERN, BARE-EYED PIGEON, thousands of BLUE-WINGED TEAL, GRAY KINGBIRD, ORIOLE BLACKBIRD, SCARLET IBIS and herons galore. We saw WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAILS here.
January 31 -- The forests near Chichiirviche
Another day of exciting and new birds. At dawn song, we heard, then saw a RUSSET-THROATED PUFFBIRD, RUFOUS BROWED PEPPERSHRIKE (doing one of it's many variations), and the bow-bow YELLOW -CROWNED PARROTS. Along a road we had a good look at a PALE-LEGGED HORNERO and then loud, large and primitive HORNED SCREAMERS in flight. A distant BLACK_CAPPED DONACOBIOUS( we had much better and closer looks later). But close up was the showy RED-BREASTED BLACKBIRD, several VERMILLION FLYCATCHERS, and a pair of BAT FALCONS...nice scope looks at the latter in good light. CHESTNUT-FRONTED MACAWS were seen and RED AND GREEN MACAWS were seen silently flying "the other way". A LITTLE TINAMOUS sang in the woods and the PLAIN-FRONTED THRONBIRDS were busy building their impressive nests.
We had long looks at a STRIPED CUCKOO that sang it's clean, clear two-note whistle endlessly and we watched it raise and lower the black feathers at the crook of it's wings. Other birds of the morning were SOOTY-HEADED TYRANNULET, TROPICAL PEWEE, RUFOUS-BREASTED HERMIT, GLITTERING THROATED EMERALD, BLACK-THROATED MANGO, and FOREST ELAENIAS. The YELLOW-BREASTED FLYCATCHER with it's large head, larey eye ring, an yellow-wing bars caught my attention. We saw a BLACK-THROATED ANTHRUSH, SAFFRON FINCHES, CRIMSON-CRESTED WOODPECKJERS, ZONE-TAILED HAWK and RUFOUS AND WHITE WREN. We saw and heard a CINEROUS BECARD. After a picnic lunch, I wandered off by myself with my scope and to my hearts content looked at the BAT FALCONS again, a LAUGHING FALCON and my first YELLOW-RUMPED CACIQUE.
Next we drove to the desert area of Coro. At a few pond stops we found PIED WATER-TYRANT, CATTLY TYRANT, a pair of MASKED DUCKS, LEAST GREBES, BLACK-NECKED STILTS. Many CATTLE EGRETS, daily common (like BLACK and TURKEY VULTURES) birds.
We made a late afternoon stop and were wowed by a VERMILLION FLYCATCHER doing his butterfly display flight, a wonderful look at an elusive WHITE-BELLIED ANTBIRD, a WHITE- WISKERED SPINETAIL, a TOCUYO SPARROW, and finally looks at the magnificent ROSY-BREASTED ANT-TANAGER, lovely bird and lovely song. I became impressed again with the thousands of field hours and the skill that Steve had to have to hear nuances of sounds/songs /shapes that would become another spectacular bird.
Coro is an impressive old city with sand dunes and the Carribean at it's doorstep. Our hotel was a fine one with excellent food. The annual Miss Coro contest was held at the pool area our first night here. I'll never forget the shocked look on co-leader David's face when my roommate Francis (a young 75) told him that she was running for Miss Coro. Francis was a hoot!
February 1 -- The desert near Coro
The desert dawn was just the opening for a dazzling array of birds de jour which began with YELLOW-SHOULDERED PARROTS sounding off as they left their roost. A PEARL KITE perched undisturbed and near; no less than five FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWLS for the morning; a good look at the endemic SHORT-TAILED TODY FLYCATCHER, displaying BUFFY HUMMINGBIRDS, GLAUCOUS TANAGERS, and GREEN-RUMPED PARROTLETS.
Goats paraded up the road we walked...a motly crew they were. Desert flowers and plants that reminded me of Tuscon. A HARRIS HAWK was atop it's nest that held two immatures. TROUPIALS caught our attention, as did displaying BICOLORED WRENS and the lovely dueting ORINOCO SALTATORS. TROPCIAL GNATCATCHERs were everywhere. The large, dramatic VERMILLION CARDINAL, such a contrast to the subtle desert colors, drew our eyes to its color, again and again. Good study of a SLENDER-BILLED TYRANNULET with it's buzzy trill, long slim bill, white wing bars, and soft streaking on it's upper brest which seemd to soften it's look. BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS, SHORT-TAILED HAWKS, a few looks at BLUE-TAILED EMERALDS.
High on a hillside, as we walked a desert road, the color combinations in a bare tree of a male and female VERMILLION CARDINAL, several GREEN-RUMPED PARROTLETS, a pair of GLAUCOUS TANANGERS, and ORINOCAN SALTATORS was a rush of contrasts. And what a morning!
On a late afternoon ride to the mountains near Coro we experienced another habitat and saw BLACK-BACKED ANTSHRIKE, BLACK-CHESTED JAY, another look at the FLAVESCENT WARBLER, compared RUSTY-WINGED and SOCIAL FLYCATHCERS, closely observed a PEARLY-VENTED TODY-TYRANT during a long and out in the open perch. Nice bird. And very good looks at the orange speculum of ORANGE-WINGED PARROTS flying overhead in pairs, one pair after another, as they went toward their night roost. So enjoyed the habitats and birds near Coro.
February 2 -- Morning near Coro and drive to Barinas
An especially beautiful morning, cool, crisp....and a feeling we were part of and not spectators of this land. We stepped off the road and watched a young man skillfully ride his horse and herd cattle, that thundered over the hard clay surface. We saw our first CAPPED HERON, LINNEATED WOOPECKER, RUDDY-BREASTED SEEDEATERS, ORIOLE BLACKBIRDS saying sow-say, and PILEATED FINCH, it's red-crest concealed. At another stop, I was feeling out of cinch, missing even with much effort the frustrating Tawney-rumped Tyranulett. Our drive to Barinas was long so we charged ahead few with few stops.
My first glimpses of the high llanos of Portugesa were fascinating. My notes: Late afternoon drive toward Barinas with the Andes in the right view, the grasslands to the left, as we head south. Rather inspiring even though we're on a long straight 4 lane. Several groups of vultures overhead and many perched raptors. A rodeo with many cars parked as if it were a shopping center. Distant burning grass. Trees with huge yellow/orange flowers. Tall grasses, farm ponds, fence posts made from mis-shappen trees and straight trees, the fence posts actually growing where they were staked! Bright green grass tufts/clumps where there had been a burn. A tree loaded with Cattle Egrets. Huge umbrella-shaped trees from which Oropendula nests are suspended.
Large, raptor-sized nests in smallish trees deviod of leaves. Gigantic wasps' nests, equally large Thornbird nests. Scattered sapplings. A few herds of white cattle 20-50-several hundred. Stand alone palms, dead and alive. Parakeets in flocks of 10. Termite nests and dry/near-dry river beds covered with layers of rocks. Grasses(3-4' tall) on brushy hillsides. A flock of 100+ Cattle Egrets light from grassy field, as Franklin Gulls would in MN. Thronbird nests, everywhere. An old plam covered with vines, disguising the rings on the palm's trunk. A home or two along the road, some homes abandoned with a near banana plant as sentry. Doves flying away. Truck after truck of produce, especially melons. Families bathing under a bridge, with their pickup in the shallow water, too. Huge clouds of smoke in the distance. Hot dry air.
A boy on a horse. An Ani on a wire. Signs for CocoCola and Polar Cerversa. Tropical Kingbirds with orange breasts in the late afternoon, smoke filtered sun. A rising flock of Oriole Blackbirds. 20 Black Vultures in one "umbrella" tree. Small farm towns. A pig in a yard with chickens, of course.
The sun dropped behind the foothills as we began, now, to climb toward Barinas and the sweet coolness. The paired siloutte of a Chestnut-fronted Macaws.