13 February - 2 March 1999
by Joseph Brooks & Garry George
Rio Caura, Imataca Forest, the Escalera and Gran Sabana in Estado Bolivar Macuto near Caracas International Airport in Estado Miranda Henri Pittier National Park and Colonia Tovar in the Coastal Cordillera of Estado Aragua
BIRDS OF VENEZUELA, 1978, Meyer de Schauensee & Phelps
BIRDING IN VENEZUELA, 1997, Mary Lou Goodwin, published by Sociedad Conservacionista Audubon de Venezuela
BIRDS OF SOUTH AMERICA, 1994, Robert S. Ridgely & Guy Tudor
Trip Reports by Jon Hornbuckle, Allen & Nancy Chartier, Dennis Rogers, David Keating, Eagle-Eye Tours,Inc. led by Rob Williams & David Beadle, Extension to Henri Pittier led by David Beadle
This was our second trip to Venezuela. Our first was four years ago and was our first trip to South America. At that time we covered Hato Pinero in the llanos and Junglaven in Amazonas. Our extension to Henri Pittier at that time was cut short when we, along with local guide Gustavo Rodriguez, were robbed on a trail behind the Maracay Hotel and left tied hand and foot face down in a creek bed. I highly recommend Gustavo if you are going to Venezuela. He leads privately and with tours. His email is email@example.com. We couldn't work out our schedule with his.
So we booked quickly onto a tour offered by Eagle-Eye Tours, Inc. led by Rob Williams and David Beadle. The trip was strained and difficult and not what we were promised by Vic Smith, the owner of Eagle-Eye. Caveat emptor - buyer beware! For example, one conflict was that the other participants were not that interested in birds, talked on the trails, smoked cigarettes and threw the butts on the trails in the forests, ripped orchids out of the habitat and stuffed them in their pockets, and resisted efforts to leave early or stay out all day. The leaders catered to the other participants who are Eagle-Eye regulars. Other problems with Eagle-Eye and the leader won't be aired publicly but could be discussed privately by email. I would be extremely cautious of touring with Eagle-Eye in the future.
Despite the difficulties, we persevered and saw a lot of good birds, and were happy with all accomodations and locations, which are well covered in the many books and articles written about birding in Venezuela.
Birds are mentioned for the first sighting only and not thereafter CAPS is LIFER
Estado Miranda - Feb. 13, 1999
We flew American from Los Angeles during the pilot sick out and worried the entire time about our connections, but everything went smoothly. We were met at Caracas airport by Rob Williams and David Beadle. We stayed at Las Quince Letras in Macuto (011-5831-461-551), a well-known destination for tour groups near the airport rather than in Caracas.
The next morning we were greeted by Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla) and of course Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) circling above the water. From our hotel window and from the breakfast table we were greeted by more old friends Scaled Dove (Columbina squammata), Red-crowned Woodpecker (Melanerpes rubricapillus), Yellow-bellied Elaenia (Elaenia flavogaster), Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus), GLAUCOUS TANAGER (Thraupis glaucocolpa), Grayish Saltator (Saltator coerulescens) and Carib Grackle (Quiscalus lugubris) and the nine other participants on the tour.
Estado Bolivar - Rio Caura Area - Feb. 14-18, 1999
Back to the airport and a noon flight to Ciudad Bolivar where we were met by our 48 passenger bus and a reunion with Victor Contreras, a local tour operator in Venezuela who was with us when we were robbed in Maracay. We stopped for lunch of pollo asado across from a tree with a pair of noisy Orange-chinned Parakeets (Brotogeris jugularis) that got everyone's attention.
The drive to Rio Caura (a tributary of the Orinoco) area was about five hours with stops at bridges over two rivers: the wide Rio Arao where we saw Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus), Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), Band-tailed Pigeon (Columba fasciata), Common Ground-dove (Columbina passerina), Amazon Kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona), beautiful White-winged Swallow (Tachycineta albiventer) and Black-collared Swallow (Atticora melanoleuca) and most of the participants saw a Northern Waterthrush (Seirus noveboracensi); and the Rio Tiguero where we saw White-eyed Parakeet (Aratinga leucophthalmus), a roosting Band-tailed Nighthawk (Nyctiprogne leucopyga), CHAPMAN'S SWIFT (Chaetura chapmani), Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana), Amazonian Streaked Antwren (Myrmotherula surinamensis), Green-tailed Jacamar (Galbula galbula), and a pair of noisy Furnarids that took us quite a while to identify. We kept getting brief looks down on them as they flew over the river. They turned out to be Chestnut-crowned Foliage-gleaner (Automolus rufipileatus). We also had a noisy Buff-breasted Wren (Thryothorus leucotis) and our first of many looks at Red Howler Monkeys.
During all drives Snowy Egret (Atticora melanoleuca), Cocoi Heron (Ardea cocoi), Great Egret (Ardea alba), and especially Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) as well as Savanna Hawk (Buteogallus meridionalis) and Roadside Hawk (Buteo magnirostris) were common.
We arrived at the Campamento Caurama (http://www.escape.com.ve/caura.html , telephone 011582-977-0110 for reservations in Caracas, or even better reserve through Venezuela Audubon firstname.lastname@example.org) near Maripa late in the afternoon but stopped at the lagoons just outside the camp for White-faced and Black Bellied Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna viduata and autumnalis), BRAZILIAN TEAL (Amazonetta brasiliensis), Whistling Heron (Syrigma sibilatrix), Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea), Striated Heron (Butorides striatus), Wattled Jacana (Jacana jacana), Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria), Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia), Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus), Pied Lapwing (Vanellus cayanus) and Southern Lapwing (Vanellus chilensis).
Everyone broke their vows not to walk on the grass and got chiggers when a SOUTH AMERICAN SNIPE (Gallinago paraguaiae) was discovered. In the few trees near the ponds or on the ground we found Pale-vented Pigeon (Columba cayennensis), Eared Dove (Zenaida auriculata), Ruddy Ground-Dove (Columbina talpacoti), White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi), White-headed Marsh-tyrant (Arundinicola leucocephala), Burnished-buff Tanager (Tangara cayana), Orange-fronted Yellow-Finch (Sicalis columbiana), and flocks of Red-breasted Blackbird (Sturnella militaris) and a few Eastern Medowlarks (Sturnella magna). On to our rooms (simple) with individual plumbing (usually stopped up) and a look at a recently killed young Bushmaster (we were told it was a Bushmaster but I was not so sure) near the cabins before we discovered a BICOLORED WREN (Campylorhynchus griseus) building a nest in the courtyard between the cabins.
The next morning we entered the first forest of the trip, driving over one hour from Caurama to reach the edge of Caura Forest. We walked the main road in various locations which were especially good for parrots that flew over or were heard and then seen. In the afternoon we found a side trail off the main road 8 km North of the Cabello junction (described in Mary Lou Goodwin's book). On the trail, we played a tape David had obtained of the call of the Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo (Neomorphus rufipennis), not the bill clacking, the bird that three of us on the trip were obssessed with. Three minutes after playing the tape, a Cuckoo called back. Try as we might, it never came to us and we weren't aggressive enough to go into the brush to try and find it. We stood there like the innocents we are, hoping it might run around us. It didn't, but our appetite for Ground-Cuckoo had been sharpened.
During our three days in Caura Forest we DID see Scaled Pigeon (Columba speciosa), Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao), Red-and-Green Macaw (Ara chloropterus), PAINTED PARAKEET (Pyrrhura picta), CAICA PARROT (Pionopsitta caica), Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus menstruus), DUSKY PARROT (Pionus fuscus), amazing looks at RED-FAN PARROT (Deroptyus accipitrinus), Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana), Black-bellied Cuckoo (Piaya melanogaster), Common Potoo (Nyctibius griseus), Reddish Hermit (Phaethornis ruber), White-chested Emerald (Amazilia chionopectus), White-tailed Trogon (Trogon viridis), Great Jacamar (Jacamerops aureus) which we flushed from a nest in a termitorium beside the trail every time we went by, COLLARED PUFFBIRD (Bucco capensis) found by Rob about 100 yards off the trail, many Black Nunbird (Monasa atra), Swallow-wing (Chelidoptera tenebrosa), Black-spotted Barbet (Capito niger), Channel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos vitellinus), Red-billed Toucan (Ramphastos tucanus) which I still don't understand how is split to White-throated Toucan with the same Latin name, GOLDEN-SPANGLED PICULET (Picumnus exilis), Yellow-tufted Woodpecker (Melanerpes cruentatus), Little Woodpecker (Veniliornis passerinus), amazing looks at a RINGED WOODPECKER (Celeus torquatus), Crimson-crested Woodpecker (Campephilus melanoleucos), Plain-brown Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla fuliginosa), Olivaceous Woodcreeper (Sittasomus griseicapillus), the common Chestnut-rumped Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus pardalotus) and Buff-throated Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus guttatus), Lineated Woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes albolineatus), Fasciated Antshrike (Cymbilaimus lineatus), EASTERN SLATY ANTSHRIKE (Thamnophilus punctatus), very vocal Dusky-throated Antshrike (Thamnomanes ardesiacus) usually leading flocks with Cinereous Antshrike (Thamnomanes caesius) containing species including PYGMY ANTWREN (Myrmotherula brachyura), STIPPLE-THROATED ANTWREN (Myrmotherula haematonota), White-flanked Antwren (Myrmotherula axillaris), Slaty Antwren (Myrmotherula schisticolor), LONG-WINGED ANTWREN (Myrmotherula longipennis), Gray Antwren (Myrmotherula menetriesii), ASH-WINGED ANTWREN (Terenura spodioptila), Gray Antbird (Cercomacra cinerascens), Dusky Antbird (Cercomacra tyrannina), White-browed Antbird (Myrmoborus leucophrys) or Warbling Antbird (Hypocnemis cantator) in them.
A male CAURA ANTBIRD (Percnostola caurensis) with dark legs and a red eye was taped and called in and identified positively as different from Spot-winged Antbird (Percnostola leucostigma) which is sympatric but has pink legs and a dark eye and White-shouldered Antshrike which is larger and has a larger bill. Ridgely and Tudor's BIRDS OF SOUTH AMERICA was essential for this. Black-throated Antbird (Myrmeciza atrothorax) was common and calling frequently. We heard and finally found CINEREOUS MOURNER (Laniocera hypopyrra) high in the canopy, Screaming Piha (Lipaugus vociferans) were common and much appreciated. We found Golden-headed Manakin (Pipra erythrocephala), and a female FIERY-CAPPED MANAKIN (Machaeropterus pyrocephalus) gave herself away with her call beside the trail giving some of us a look and wishing there was a male.
Flycatchers were represented by Forest Elaenia (Myiopagis gaimardii), Rufous-tailed Flatbill (Ramphotrigon ruficauda), Olivaceous Flatbill (Rhynchocyclus olivaceus), Bright-rumped Attila (Attila spadiceus), Grayish Mourner (Rhytipterna simplex), Variegated Flycatcher (Empidonomus varius), Black-capped Becard (Pachyramphus marginatus). We also saw Violaceous Jay (Cyanocorax violaceus), LEMON-CHESTED GREENLET (Hylophilus thoracicus), BUFF-CHEEKED GREENLET (Hylophilus muscicapinus), White-breasted Wood-wren (Henicorhina leucosticta) heard and seen commonly. Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata) was the common N. American migrant, and everyone celebrated who saw the male or female ROSE-BREASTED CHAT (Granatellus pelzelni).
Common forest tanagers included Yellow-backed (Hemithraupis flavicollis), Flame-crested (Tachyphonus cristatus), White-shouldered (Tachyphonus luctuosus) and White-lined (Tachyphonus rufus). In flocks we found Purple-throated Euphonia (Euphonia chlorotica), Bay-headed Tanager (Tangara gyrola), with Black-faced Dacnis (Dacnis lineata), Blue Dacnis (Dacnis cayana), Green Honeycreeper (Chlorophanes spiza), Short-billed Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes nitidus). A few Slate-colored Grosbeak (Saltator grossus) were seen. OLIVE OROPENDOLA (Psarocolius bifasciatus) and Green Oropendola (Psarocolius viridis) were seen and heard frequently along with Yellow-rumped Cacique (Cacicus cela). At the end of the day a flock of LITTLE CHACHALACA (Ortalis motmot) were vocalizing high in the trees by the side of road and one was spotlit as it flew over. One afternoon all enjoyed long looks at a three-foot Fer-de-lance that moved off the trail to a log and coiled there ready to strike. Half the group had walked by the reptile without seeing it.
One day we hit the moriche palm groves 20 km. west of Maripa but didn't see much except a pair of Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus), Red-bellied Macaw (Ara manilata), Black-tailed Tityra (Tityra cayana), and Moriche Oriole (Icterus chrysocephalus).
West of a large bridge over the Rio Caura is a marsh and lagoons that were fairly productive with good looks in the scope of Capped Heron (Pilherodius pileatus), a stunning juvenile Rufescent Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma lineatum), Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca), Large-billed Tern (Phaetusa simplex), Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin), Red-capped Cardinal (Paroaria gularis), Stripe-backed Wren (Campylorhynchus nuchalis), Giant Cowbird (Scaphidura oryzivora) and one of our participants flushed a covey of Crested Bobwhite (Colinus cristatus), later seen by others on the side of the road on the way back to camp. We walked from the lagoons to the bridge, seeing FESTIVE PARROT (Amazona festiva), Yellow-crowned Parrot (Amazona ochrocephala), another pair of Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus), Black-tailed Tityra (Tityra cayana), Rufous-browed Peppershrike (Cyclarhis gujanensis).
A twenty-minute hike one morning to a moriche palm grove behind the camp yielded Yellow-billed Tern (Sterna superciliaris), Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), Bare-faced Ibis (Phimosus infuscatus), Green Ibis (Mesembrinibis cayennensis) and Buff-necked Ibis (Theristicus caudatus) flying across the marsh on the way, the unique Point-tailed Palmcreeper (Berlepschia rikeri), a pair of silent SULPHURY FLYCATCHER (Tyrannopsis sulphurea) and Oriole Blackbird (Gymnomystax mexicanus).
Late afternoons around the camp were good for identifying llanos species including Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes burrovianus) and King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) hovering in the distance, Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) flying over the marshes, migrant Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) in the grass near the cabins, flocks of Brown-throated Parakeet (Aratinga pertinax) coming to roost, hundreds of Lesser Nighthawk (Chordeiles acutipennis) flying at dusk (oddly, even on night drives returning from the forest we never saw any other species except Pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis)), Black-throated Mango (Anthracothorax nigricollis), Russet-throated Puffbird (Hypnelus ruficollis), flycatchers including Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus), Pied Water-Tyrant (Fluvicola pica), Cattle Tyrant (Machetornis rixosus), Short-crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus ferox), Fork-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus savana), Rusty-margined Flycatcher (Tyrannus savana), Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis), Lesser Kiskadee (Philohydor lictor), and Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus).
Others took a boat ride arranged by Caurama and added Orinoco Goose (neochen jubata) and Tufted Coquette (Lophornis omatus) to their lists, but since we had been to the llanos four years before we chose to spend that afternoon back in the forest where we once again did not see the mythic Cuckoo. Four days is plenty of time for this area.
El Palmar/Imataca Forest - Feb. 18-21, 1999
A five hour drive to El Palmar from Maripa was broken up by stops at a gas station where we searched for a Bearded Tachuri (Polystictus pectoralis) in the grass with no luck but found Blue-chinned Sapphire (Chlorestes notatus) that took us forever to identify. We also stopped at a bridge near Maripa and found a very local DUSKY-THROATED HERMIT (Phaethornis squalidus) one of the medium sized Hermits with no rufous on the back at all, as well as LESSER ELAENIA (Elaenia chiriquensis) and Black-collared Swallow (Atticora melanoleuca). We arrived in El Palmar in the rain, and found Posada Taguatire (0115888-811-196) where we would stay three nights in simple lodgings with very simple food. We ate dinner while Rob and Dave bargained with the two guides who were claiming to lead us to the Harpy Eagle the next morning.
In the morning, we took the bus as far as we could and then transferred in two groups to a four wheel drive vehicle owned by the guide to the Harpy. After a bumpy, muddy ride we were let out on a road that was cut to a clearing with a farm on it. We hiked to the farm stopping for good views in the scope of PEARL KITE (Gampsonyx swainsonii), BLACK-NECKED ARACARI (Pteroglossus aracari), Green Aracari (Pteroglossus viridis) and VIOLACEOUS EUPHONIA (Euphonia violacea) while we waited for the others. When all arrived, we hiked about thity minutes through muddy forest before we came to another clearing. At the far end of the clearing was forest. The guides kept pointing to one of the trees in the forest. As we hiked closer and set up scopes, we could make out the crest of a juvenile HARPY EAGLE (Harpia harpyja) standing next to a huge nest made of sticks and surrounded by bones, vertebrae of monkelys and/or sloths. We all took a look, and then ventured closer.
The Eagle obviously sensed us and spread its wings to hop to another branch where it perched just out of sight. With a little hiking and focusing, we finally had the entire juvenile Harpy Eagle in the scope and studied the feather patterning, the crests, the talons especially the large rear tallus. During the one hour view it rained and the Harpy's crest was slicked back allowing better views of the enormous beak and eyes. We watched it preen it's feathers back out. A major moment in the life of a bird watcher. Two Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis) perched in dead tree distracting us for a moment, and an active flock of RED-RUMPED CACIQUE (Cacicus haemorrhous) foraged near the nest. We waited for an adult Harpy Eagle but none came.
After lunch, the others toured a marsh near El Palmar but we wanted to check out the Rio Grande trail in the Imataca Forest for the Cuckoo. Unfortunately, the river had flooded and the trail was impassable after around a quarter of a mile, so we gave up and went back to the posada to await the others and celebrate the Harpy with some pretty bad champagne purchased locally.
The next day we climbed on the back of a truck for the ride to a trail into the Imataca Forest about 2 km past Rio Grande, and around 1 km past the lumber mill on the right. The ride in and out on the truck and the long walks down the wide, open road on the forest edge let us spot some decent birds like Greater Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes melambrotus), Gray-headed Kite (Leptodon cayanensis), Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus), Plumbeous Kite (Ictinia plumbea), White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus), Double-toothed Kite (Harpagus bidentatus), Green-rumped Parrotlet (Forpus passerinus), Dusky-billed Parrotlet (Forpus sclateri), Striped Cuckoo (Tapera naevia), White-collared Swift (Streptoprocne zonaris), SHORT-TAILED SWIFT (Chaetura brachyura), White-chinned Sapphire (Hylocharis cyanus), Paradise Jacamar (Galbula dea), Common Tody-Flycatcher (Todirostrum cinereum), House Wren (Troglodytes aedon), Magpie Tanager (Cissopis leveriana), Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch (Oryzoborus angolensis)Yellow-hooded Blackbird (Agelaius icterocephalus) and the most unusual sighting by me of a RUFOUS-TAILED ATTILA (Attila phoenicurus) which migrate from SE Brazil but are not usually found that far East.
It's a rare sighting but I don't know what else it could be after all the research I've done on it. I would appreciate hearing from anyone with any opinions or questions. The trails in the forest were laid out in a grid and we entered in the rain listening carefully and following the sounds. We found some of the same forest birds that were in Rio Caura but also some new species for us, especially antbirds. We found our only ant swarm of the trip there which we enjoyed for almost an hour.
Species we hadn't seen at Caura Forest included Green Aracari (Pteroglossus viridis), Red-billed Scythebill (Campylorhamphus trochilirostris), Barred Antshrike (Thamnophilus doliatus), male FERRUGINOUS-BACKED ANTBIRD (Myrmeciza ferruginea) walking on the ground like Wing-banded Antbird, RUFOUS-THROATED ANTBIRD (Gymnopithys rufigula) on the swarm, Rufous-capped Antthrush (Formicarius colma), WHITE-THROATED MANAKIN (Corapipo gutturalis), Ringed Antpipit (Corythopis torquata), White-necked Thrush (Turdus albicollis), NEOTROPICAL RIVER WARBLER (Basileuterus rivularis), Fulvous-crested Tanager (Tachyphonus surinamus), Yellow-green Grosbeak (Caryothraustes canadensis), and Crested Oropendola (Psarocolius decumanus). A large orange and black coral snake moved through the forest near the antswarm. We spent another hour on a Rufous-winged Ground Cuckoo that responded to our tape, but it stayed out of distance, again. Would we ever see this bird?
We ate lunch on the Rio Grande stopping only for a pair of GOLDEN-WINGED PARAKEETS (Brotogeris chrysopterus) that perched in a tree across the river. We tried the flooded trail again finding Gray-fronted Dove (Leptotila rufaxilla) on the nest and BLACK-CHINNED ANTBIRD (Hypocnemoides melanopogon) a first for the trip.
On our way out the next morning we took a while to indentify Mouse-colored Tyrannulet (Phaeomyias murina) seen in trees around the posada, stopped in some thick roadside forest where a White-bellied Antbird (Myrmeciza longipes) was called in but was hard to see. Some saw a White-bellied Piculet (Picumnus spilogaster) hiding in the vine tangle. The others took us to a marsh where they had been two days before to show us YELLOW-BREASTED CRAKE (Porzana flaviventer) foraging on water lettuce in the open. We also saw Least Grebe (Tachybaptus dominicus), Purple Gallinule (Porphyrula martinica), Long-tailed Tyrant (Colonia colonus), Masked Tityra (Tityra semifasciata), new for the trip. We stopped along the way to Las Claritas and added Grassland Sparrow (Ammodramus humeralis), Blue-black Grassquit (Volatinia jacarina) and Buff-throated Saltator (Saltator maximus) to the trip list.
On the drive we crossed a very long bridge over the Rio Cayuni. On the far side of the bridge, we stopped for a break and walked down to the bridge. We watched a White-tailed Trogon (Trogon viridis) at a termitorium and found a Red-eyed Vireo but of the chiri race (Vireo olivaceus) in the forest on the edge of the bridge. As we walked on the old bridge below the new bridge, we could see swallows including White-banded Swallow (Atticora fasciata). As we returned to the bus, we heard a booming in the forest. After much thought it was determined to be Black Currasow (Crax alector). Some of us went into the trail into the forest and instead of Currasow found a lek of Red-ruffed Fruitcrow (Pyroderus scutatus)! They were calling like Curassow! We stopped here on the way back as well to see them again.
Las Claritas/Escalera/Gran Sabana - Feb. 21-26, 1999
We arrived in the noisy, poor mining town of Las Claritas around lunchtime and after a roadside picnic went straight to the Capuchinbird lek on a mining road in town (well documented in all literature) where we heard then saw male CAPUCHINBIRD (Perissocephalus tricolor) leaning over and forcing it's strange call from it's body. We looked up at the bird in the canopy. There were two or three of them in the area. We also heard Variegated Tinamou (Crypturellus variegatus) which we heard often during the trip, but never saw it. We went from there to just outside of Las Claritas before the Escalera where we sat by the roadside almost until dark until male CRIMSON TOPAZ (Topaza pella) began showing up on the lek and calling. We got good looks at two of this amazing bird in the scope as they flew, perched and displayed for about an hour. Then we went to our "lodge" called Anaconda (011-58286-222-864) in the middle of Las Claritas. It was behind gates, had separate cabins with bathrooms, and it's own bar, pool table and restaurant, and parking. We unpacked, put up the mosquito netting (Las Claritas has plenty of malaria) and went to dinner.
The next two days we driving and walking the road known as the Escalera, the stairway to the Gran Sabana. We spent most of our time at the upper Escalera (km 117 - 122) and some time in lower Escalera (111 km - 113km). We stopped at the big rock/shrine of the Virgin at the beginning of the Escalera for the Cliff Flycatcher (Hirundinea ferruginea).
On our days on the Escalera we saw Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus), Spix's Guan (Penelope jacquacu) which we tried to make into a Marail Guan but failed, TEPUI SWIFT (Cypseloides phelpsi), Band-rumped Swfit (Chaetura spinicauda), Gray-rumped Swift (Chaetura cinereiventris), RUFOUS-BREASTED SABREWING (Campylopterus hyperythrus), Brown Violet-ear (Colibri delphinae) which were common, PEACOCK COQUETTE (Lophornis pavoninus), Fork-tailed Woodnymph (Thalurania furcata), Rufous-throated Sapphire (Hylocharis sapphirina), VELVET-BROWED BRILLIANT (Heliodoxa xanthogonys), Black-eared Fairy (Heliothryx aurita), Masked Trogon (Trogon personatus), Chestnut-tipped Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus derbianus), Golden-olive Woodpecker (Piculus rubiginosus), Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner (Automolus ochrolaemus), Streak-backed Antshrike (Thamnophilus insignis), female SPOT-TAILED ANTWREN (Herpsilochmus sticturus), RORAIMAN ANTWREN (Herpsilochmus roraimae), TEPUI ANTPITTA (Myrmothera simplex) seen by Joseph only just as Rob flushed it, ROSE-COLLARED PIHA (Lipaugus streptophorus), male GUIANAN COCK-OF-THE-ROCK (Rupicola rupicola) displaying above the road, WHITE BELLBIRD (Procnias alba) seen in the scope calling, male SCARLET-HORNED MANAKIN (Pipra cornuta) displaying on a branch like a Michael Jackson moonwalk, female TEPUI MANAKIN (Lepidothrix suavissima) in a fast feeding flock, OLIVE MANAKIN (Chloropipo uniformis) fairly common in Upper Escalera, Slender-footed Tyrannulet (Zimmerius gracilipes), Sierran Elaenia (Elaenia pallatangae), Smoke-colored Pewee (Contopus fumigatus), Dusky-capped Flycatcher (Myiarchus tuberculifer), YELLOW-LEGGED THRUSH (Platycichla flavipes), BLACK-HOODED THRUSH (Turdus olivater), Coraya Wren (Thryothorus coraya), Tropical Parula (Parula pitiayumi), Slate-throated Redstart (Myioborus miniatus) everywhere, TEPUI REDSTART (Myioborus castaneocapillus), Rufous-collared Sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis) the only location on the trip where we saw it!, TEPUI BRUSH-FINCH (Atlapetes personatus), Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola), OLIVE-BACKED TANAGER (Mitrospingus oleagineus), Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra), YELLOW-BELLIED TANAGER (Tangara xanthogastra) which was common, Spotted Tanager (Tangara punctata) and Purple Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes caeruleus). Most interesting was the three Tayra we saw crossing the road, one of the Guianan race, blond instead of black.
One morning we went up to km 140 in the beginning of the Gran Sabana. We drove back to km 131 then walked from there. In this different habitat we saw AMETHYST WOODSTAR (Calliphlox amethystina), coaxed a PALE-BREASTED SPINETAIL (Synallaxis albescens) out of the underbrush, saw a feeding BEARDED BELLBIRD (Procnias averano) close to the road, found BLACK-FACED TANAGER (Schistochlamys melanopis), male RED-SHOULDERED TANAGER (Tachyphonus phoenicius), BLACK-HEADED TANAGER (Tangara cyanoptera), and found a flock of melodious, nomadic GOLDEN-TUFTED GRACKLE (Macroagelaius imthurni) which we were able to put in the scope.
February 24th we arrived at the head of the Guyana Trail (km 67) at 5 a.m. and hiked all the way through to the river where most groups stop. We wanted to get into deep, unbroken forest by dawn. There were only four of us and we planned to spend all day in the forest. As dawn broke, we crossed over the log and began walking on a trail for a fantastic day of birding. Ahh, back in the forest. During the hike in and out we saw in addition to other forest birds we had seen on the trip, Plumbeous Pigeon (Columba plumbea), Black-headed Parrot (Pionites melanocephala), Racket-tailed Coquette (Discosura longicauda), Violaceous Trogon (Trogon violaceus), Wedge-billed Woodcreeper (Glyphorynchus spirurus), Black-banded Woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes picumnus), Rufous-tailed Foliage-gleaner (Philydor ruficaudatus), Plain Xenops (Xenops minutus), an enormous male BLACK-THROATED ANTSHRIKE (Frederickena viridis) flying around us with his crest raised, giving great views for a highlight of the trip, BROWN-BELLIED ANTWREN (Myrmotherula gutturalis).
Early on the hike we heard a SPOTTED ANTPITTA (Hylopezus macularius) and spent about one hour calling it in. It flew in a circle around us but we were surprised to find it perched about five feet off the ground when we finally saw it. We never heard another one the rest of the day so we deduced that the calling time is probably very limited and very early. A small flock of Purple-throated Fruitcrow (Querula purpurata) moved slowly away from us, calling the entire time at one location. We heard then saw a Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher (Terenotriccus erythrurus) without it's tail which caused us some excitement, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher (Myiobius sulphureipya), YELLOW-THROATED FLYCATCHER (Conopias parva), and Tawny-crowned Greenlet (Hylophilus ochraceiceps) were studied. I though I saw a MacConnell's Flycatcher (Mionectes macconnelli) with no wingbars but I decided it might have been a female Cinereous Antshrike.and no one else saw it.
We all saw around twelve singing RED-AND-BLACK GROSBEAK (Periporphyrus erythromelas) up close and far away during the day, including a male in full display with his tail cocked up in the air and a twig in his beak, a stunning sight each time we saw and heard them. We saw almost no one on the trail except a hunter and two young women with him. They spoke English to us, preferring that over Spanish, so we assumed they were from Guyana and perhaps we had crossed the border. We also ran into another family group of homo sapiens, a couple with their daughter who had a sting or bite on her leg that she kept covered with a tin cup. The male told us in English that he was the chief of a tribe and then asked for money. We explained that we weren't carrying any.
Better than the humans was the just born land tortoise we found on the trail with an umbilical cord still attached. This reptile must be really rare, so we helped it off the trail and hoped for the best. During the hike we came up out of the forest into a mountain top of volcanic rock that was like gravel. There were many dead snags pefect for Dusky Purpletuft (Iodopleura fusca) but we never saw one. We spent some time in a vine tangle searching for a TINY TYRANT-MANAKIN (Tyranneutes virescens) but only Joseph saw it before it disappeared. We hiked out at the end of the day and stopped at the part of the trail where my friends had seen a Rufous-winged Ground Cuckoo perched in a tree. No luck. In the clearing nearby I pished out a PECTORAL SPARROW (Arremon taciturnus) and we combed the canopy for anything new. We made our way out of the trail at dark and waited for the bus. A great day of birding in a great location.
Joseph and I opted to be dropped off at the Upper Escalera the next morning while the others went on further into the Gran Sabana to visit a jasper mine and a waterfall. I had missed the Roraiman Barbtail (Roraimia adusta) and the MacConnell's Spinetail (Synallaxis macconnelli) that the others had seen and it had been slow birding the last few days up there. We hid our sack lunches and made our way into the trail. Nothing new. When we came out dogs had eaten our lunch. My stomach was acting up. Now I was sorry that I hadn't gone with the others who were probably enjoying all kinds of rarities. You know, one of those days in birding.
We hitchiked back down to Las Claritas with the engineer who had designed the new power station that would send electricity through the new power lines along the Escalera (so that's why there were all these clearings and no bird activity) to Manaus, Brazil. We thanked him and had lunch at Anaconda. The manager took us back up in the vehicle at the end of the day and happily we found a fruiting tree and a RUFOUS-BROWN SOLITAIRE (Cichlopsis leucogenys). At last a bird. Then we heard Fruiteater, and with some hiking into the side of the road and the right position found one of the birds of the trip --a pair of RED-BANDED FRUITEATER (Pipreola whitelyi) - which we watched for quite a while. It made the day worth it. God works in mysterious ways. We went back to Anaconda happy and not the least bit envious of the Orange-breasted Falcon (Falco deiroleucus) and Red-shouldered Macaw (Ara nobilis) the others had seen.
The next morning we spent at the Capuchinbird Lek Road before breakfast. Three Marbled Wood-Quail (Odontophorus gujanensis) crossed the road in front of us. We finally got a good look at a BLUE-CHEEKED PARROT (Amazona dufresniana), Long-tailed Hermit (Phaethornis superciliosus), a WAVED WOODPECKER (Celeus undatus) was spotted by Rob high in a dead tree completing a full set of all the Venezuelan woodpeckers for us, CAYENNE JAY (Cyanocorax cayanus), and Opal-rumped Tanager (Tangara velia) as well as a few more Capuchinbirds flying away from us. Checkout time at the Anaconda was enlivened by the sight of a troop of Guianan Saki Monkeys behind the hotel who posed for us long enough to get our scopes on them. We left Las Claritas for the long drive to Puerto Ordaz and our hour flight back to Caracas, actually Macuto where we stayed before, stopping only at Henry's to buy T-shirts.
This area of Venezuela, well covered in the literature, is a fantastic area for birding but is suffering the habitat destruction of miners in Las Claritas and the electrical power lines along the Escalera. We wanted to spend more time exploring the areas around Las Claritas and could have spent more days here.
Henri Pittier National Park, Colonia Tovar - February 27 - March 2, 1999
Joseph, David and I picked up our rent-a-car with the help of the reservations we had made through Venezuela Audubon (email@example.com). Rental cars are a definite rip off in Venezuela (see Mary Lou Goodwin's chapter on rental cars in her book).
Early the next morning we drove to Maracay and checked into the Italo Hotel ($ 80/nt for a double) reserved through Audubon. After lunch, we drove straight up to Rancho Grande and spent the afternoon at the Research Station watching Tanagers and Hummingbirds, and seeing three or four feeding flocks on the Loop Trail and the Long Trail. Species seen that hadn't been seen before included Red-billed Parrot (Pionus sordidus), VIOLET-FRONTED BRILLIANT (Heliodoxa leadbeateri) and Wedge-tailed Hummingbird (Schistes geoffroyi) on the research station patio, Collared Trogon (Trogon collaris), SCALED PICULET (Picumnus squamulatus) in a flock, Strong-billed Woodcreeper (Xiphocolaptes promeropirhynchus) digging in a hole in a tree, Cocoa Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus susurrans), Montane Foliage-gleaner (Anabacerthia striaticollis), Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner (Philydor rufus), Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant (Phylloscartes ophthalmicus), endemic VENEZUELAN BRISTLE-TYRANT (Phylloscartes venezuelanus), endemic RUFOUS-LORED TYRANNULET (Phylloscartes flaviventris), Cinnamon Flycatcher (Pyrrhomyias cinnamomea), Golden-crowned Flycatcher (Myiodynastes chrysocephalus), Chestnut-crowned Becard (Pachyramphus castaneus), Brown-capped Vireo (Vireo leucophrys), Scrub Greenlet (Hylophilus flavipes), Pale-breasted Thrush (Turdus leucomelas), Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea), Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia), American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla), Golden-crowned Warbler (Basileuterus culicivorus), Three-striped Warbler (Basileuterus tristriatus), Fulvous-headed Tanager (Thlypopsis fulviceps), Blue-winged Mountain Tanager (Anisognathus somptuosus), Blue-naped Chlorophonia (Chlorophonia cyanea), Golden Tanager (Tangara arthus), Speckled Tanager (Tangara guttata), Swallow-Tanager (Tersina viridis) and Russet-backed Oropendola (Psarocolius angustifrons).
On the long trail to the summit we ran into Molly Pollock, an old friend of ours from Los Angeles who was there with a BirdQuest group. It was great to see her and we visited with her group at dinner at the hotel, sharing locations and sightings. After dinner we talked with Molly and met Chris Sharpe, co-leader of the tour for BirdQuest. We talked about Antpittas that we had seen in S. America, and in particular discussed the Great Antpitta of Venezuela (we had seen the Giant in Ecuador) and the relationship of the two species, and the Scallop-breasted Antpitta which we were hoping to see. The call is unknown and not on tape according to everyone I talked to prior to the trip. Very little is known about the bird. Chris has never seen it despite many trips. David, it turns out, HAD seen it on the ridge at Henri Pittier some years before. By accident. He heard it fly in and turned around and there it was looking at him. We all listened intently to his story and told our Antpitta stories. We made a promise to make an expedition to see Great and Scallop-breasted and Tachira Antpittas some day.
The restaurant on the R level of the hotel is really excellent, no more ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread as on the previous part of the trip. We finally relaxed from the tension of the previous two weeks.
The next morning the three of us gunned for new species and left the hotel at 5 a.m. stopping at an expresso/sandwich shop on the way for provisions. We stopped at a pullover where there is a waterfall on the way up to Rancho Grande and, in the dark, found a family of three SHARP-TAILED STREAMCREEPER (Lochmias nematura) with our flashlight in the stream below and in the pipe under the road. The juvenile seemed like it was roosting in a hole in the pipe. We played the tape for owls but no response. Black-and-White has been seen here, we had heard. We continued up and over passing Rancho Grande and found the cutoff to Turiamo Road just before Ocumare almost to the coast. We took this road until we found a driveway next to a bamboo grove across the road from the river and pulled into the driveway, leading to a banana plantation.
We parked and birded this very productive area which gave us good looks at Pale-bellied Hermit (Phaethornis anthophilus), Golden-tailed Sapphire (Chrysuronia oenone), White-vented Plumeteer (Chalybura buffonii), Rufous-tailed Jacamar (Galbula ruficauda), BLACK-BACKED ANTSHRIKE (Sakesphorus malanonotus), Rufous-winged Antwren (Herpsilochmus rufimarginatus), Wire-tailed Manakin (Pipra filicauda), Lance-tailed Manakin (Chiroxiphia lanceolata), and really good flycatchers including SLATY-HEADED TODY-FLYCATCHER (Poecilotriccus sylvia), White-fronted Tyrannulet (Phyllomyias zeledoni), Brown-capped Tyrannulet (Ornithion brunneicapillum), Yellow Tyrannulet (Capsiempis flaveola), endemic VENEZUELAN FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus venezuelensis) identified by call, Brown-crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus tyrannulus), Streaked Flycatcher (Myiodynastes maculatus), Cocoa Thrush (Turdus fumigatus), Bare-eyed Thrush (Turdus nudigenis), Rufous-and-white Wren (Thryothorus rufalbus), S. Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx ruficollis), Red-legged Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus) with other Honeycreepers and Dacnis and Streaked Saltator (Saltator striatipectus). We were interrupted by the sound of the alarm on the rental car but the possible burglars were scared away when we ran back to the car. As we headed back to the main road there was a loud commotion and a flock of around seventy SCARLET-FRONTED PARAKEET (Aratinga wagleri) came to a fruiting tree to feed.
We continued on the road to Ocumare to a road to a garbage dump in the dry coastal scrub mentioned in Mary Lou Goodwin's book. We parked and walked and new species that we saw included Red-rumped Woodpecker (Venilornis kirkii), Black-crested Antshrike (Sakesphorus canadensis), N. Scrub-Flycatcher (Sublegatus arenarum), Fuscous Flycatcher (Cnemotriccus fuscatus), Long-billed Gnatwren (Ramphocaenus melanurus), PILEATED FINCH (Coryphospingus pileatus) and Black-faced Grassquit (Tiaris biolor). We searched the coastal scrub for a location for Buffy Hummingbird but never found one. We enjoyed the views of the Caribbean Sea, and then headed back over the pass to Rancho Grande.
In the afternoon at Rancho Grande we hiked the long trail to the summit but it was blocked after around three kilometers by a treefall and it was difficult to continue up the slope. I grabbed a black armada palm and picked splinters out of my hand for the next three days. There and on the Loop Trail and at Rancho Grande at the end of the day we saw White-tipped Swift (Aeronautes motivagus), MOUSTACHED PUFFBIRD (Malacoptila mystacalis), Smoky-brown Woodpecker (Veniliornis fumigatus), Red-billed Scythebill (Campylorhamphus trochilirostris), and male endemic HANDSOME FRUITEATER (Pipreola formosa) from the back patio of Rancho Grande near the kitchen to add to our list.
The next morning we drove up to the pullout at the top of Choroni Road and in the mist luckily spotted a LINED QUAIL-DOVE (Geotrygon linearis) down the hill, six endemic Red-eared Parakeet (Pyrrhura hoematotis), Speckled Hummingbird (Adelomyia melanogenys), female WHITE-TIPPED QUETZAL (Pharomachrus fulgidus), called in a SHORT-TAILED ANTTHRUSH (Chamaeza campanisona) just below us to get decent looks at the white tip on the tail, heard Scalloped Antthrush (Chamaeza turdina) above us but could never get a good position on it, Golden-breasted Fruiteater (Pipreola aureopectus), White-throated Tyrannulet (Mecocerculus leucophrys), Flavescent Flycatcher (Myiophobus flavicans), Andean Solitaire (Myodestes ralloides), Glossy-black Thrush (Turdus serranus), Yellow-bellied Siskin (Carduelis xanthogastra), Blackburnian Warbler (Dendroica fusca), Ochre-breasted Brush-Finch (Atlapetes semirufus), Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch (Buarremon brunneinucha), Blue-capped Tanager (Thraupis cyanocephala), Orange-bellied Euphonia (Euphonia xanthogaster), Rufous-cheeked Tanager (Tangara rufigenis), Beryl-spangled Tanager (Tangara nigroviridis), Black-capped Tanager (Tanagara heinei) and Rusty Flower-piercer (Diglossa sittoides). We descended again to the scrub on the coast but only added Hepatic Tanager (Piranga flava) to our trip list.
A picnic lunch and then we drove around an hour to La Victoria where we took the road to Colonia Tovar and found the forest called "Corte de Maya" in Mary Lou Goodwin's book. On the way up the mountain, we stopped a couple of times and added a new lifer SOOTY-CAPPED HERMIT (Phaethornis augusti). In the misty, bamboo forest we found Sparkling Violet-ear (Colibri coruscans), Tyrian Metaltail (Metallura tyrianthina), endemic and responsive Black-throated Spinetail (Synallaxis castanea), Streaked Tuftedcheek (Pseudocolaptes boissoneautii), lots of endemic CARACAS TAPACULO (Scytalopus caracae) in one area running around on the ground at our feet in response to the tape, Green-and-black Fruiteater (Pipreola riefferii) our fourth species of Fruiteater of the trip, a quiet and beautiful Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant (Silvicultrix diadema) skulking slowly through the bamboo, Black-crested Warbler (Basileuterus nigrocristatus), Common Bush-Tanager (Chlorospingus ophthalmicus), Oleaginous Hemispingus (Hemispingus frontalis) and White-sided Flower-piercer (Diglossa albilatera). It was a worthwhile day trip and we were glad we took the time to go there.
Our last day we went back to Rancho Grande in hopes of seeing the species we had missed so far. At dawn, we took the outside trail to the summit and right at the beginning of the trail found three endemic VENEZUELAN WOOD-QUAIL (Odontophorus columbianus) feeding on the trail about twenty feet ahead of us. We watched them for about six minutes before they disappeared up the hill. An endemic early in the morning! We continued on that trail and found White Hawk (Leucopternis albicollis), Joseph saw a large raptor which could have been a Crested Eagle, flushed BAND-TAILED GUAN (Penelope argyrotis), found a male endemic VIOLET-CHESTED HUMMINGBIRD hanging on to the side of a heliconia flower dipping his long decurved bill down into the flower, Long-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus kingi), a male White-tipped Quetzal (Pharomachrus fulgidus) eating a small tree avocado in full sun, Crested Spinetail (Cranioleuca subscristata) in a flock, endemic GUTTULATED FOLIAGE-GLEANER (Syndactyla guttulata) out in the open at eye level, Plain Antvireo (Dysithamnus mentalis) in a lower story feeding flock on the Loop Trail, Black-faced Antthrush (Formicarius analis) who was calling a very long call that we realized had been fooling us into thinking there was a Scalloped Antthrush on the trail, heard Plain-Backed Antpitta (Grallaria haplonota) but didn't stop for it as we had seen it in Ecuador, Olive-striped Flycatcher (Mionectes olivaceus), Yellow-olive Flycatcher (Tolmomyias sulphurescens), Golden-fronted Greenlet (Hylophilus aurantiifrons), Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera), Stripe-headed Brush-Finch (Buarremon torquatus) and a stunning White-winged Tanager (Piranga leucoptera). A troop of Red Howlers came right above us and defecated and urinated from fifty feet up onto the trail next to us, breaking the silence of the morning and making us laugh.
We took our time driving down the mountain and stopped at erythrina trees in bloom. We set up the scope and looked for hummingbirds. We saw LAZULINE SABREWING (Campylopterus falcatus), Golden-tailed Sapphire (Chrysuronia oenone), COPPER-RUMPED HUMMINGBIRD (Amazilia tobaci) and White-vented Plumeteer (Chalybura buffoni) all in one busy tree.
We drove back to the Caracas International Airport and the chaos there. We turned in the rental vehicle and prepared ourselves for the shock of all the add-on fees that we had been warned about. We were glad we had taken the insurance as they found all kinds of "damage" that they said wasn't there when we took the car out. We had learned to always take the insurance.
It had been a great trip and we were safe and on our way to Miami, counting up birds we had seen. We had seen 450 species of birds in three weeks. And 110 new species on our fifth trip to South America.
As the palm spines on my hand healed, the chigger bites on our legs turned to small red scars, our skin dried and peeled while we dehydrated on the airplane on the way home we talked about when we could go on our next trip and what we might see.
Garry George Los Angeles,