9 - 23 June 1996
by Jim Danzenbaker
The following is a much belated report of a June 9-23 visit to Venezuela with members of the Birmingham, Alabama Audubon Society. My apologies for any typos and the lack of latin names.
Here are a few general notes:
-is expensive. I rented a car for four days (prior to meeting the tour group) and spent US$250.00 for a bottom of the line turquoise four door Ford Fiesta. The good thing was, it didn't fall apart as the last one did!
-is very cheap. I was running the car on empty several times and it only took the equivalent of four US dollars to fill up the tank. I don't have the conversion rate so I can't calculate the exact charge.......but it was cheap.
* Road system:
-is fairly good. I had heard many horror stories of the Venezuelan road system going to pot but I actually found it to be better than my last visit in 1991. At least this time, one of the tires didn't get damaged by an all to close encounter with a killer pothole.
-can be difficult. When circumnavigating Caracas, be sure to pull over and track exactly where you want to go before you get into Caracas. Know the larger cities/sections of town which are in the direction you are heading and you will probably have no problem, I got lost once but miraculously found my way via my homing pigeon instincts.
-are so-so. I stayed in two motels while I was there before the tour and had no real complaints. However, make sure that the hotel doors are open early so that you can get out. The Hotel Campesino in the mountains northwest of Caracas was locked up until about 7am which precluded me from my early departure for birding.
-are quite friendly. From the airport personnel who explained the lost baggage procedure to the caretakers at Henri Pittier to the folks that I met on the roadside while birding, all seemed pleasant and helpful. However, that is not to say that all Venezuelans are like this. I'm sure there is a darker element and discretionary caution should be employed at all times.
Don't fly to Caracas on Sunday evening and expect to have an easy commute over the coastal hills into Caracas and points beyond. The airport is on the coast and, therefore, you will be joined by the rest of Caracas returning from a weekend at the beach. Additionally, there are many old cars on the Venezuelan roadways which are prone to frequent breakdowns especially when overloaded. Also, smog certificates are not required as evidenced by the thick clouds of smoke emanating from many an old and new car, bus, and truck.
And now for the actual trip.
The trip started on the wrong foot- a redeye from San Jose to Chicago and a connection to Miami which left 20 minutes late. Unfortunately, this 20 minutes would become very costly as it allowed me only 45 minutes to navigate through a bustling Miami airport on my way to the Servivensa ticket counter. When I arrived, I ran into my first major hurdle. The entrance way to the Servivensa ticket counter had already been closed off and was being guarded by an ex-Venezuelan body builder type. He said that the flight would leave in 40 minutes and "you are late, therefore, the counter is closed." I explained that my flight had been late. He said "you are late, therefore, the counter is closed." I said that I had just run through the airport to catch the flight. He said "you are late, therefore, the counter is closed." I mentioned that my baggage was already checked through on the flight and I don't want to lose it. He said "you are late, therefore, the counter is closed." I tried several Dale Carnegie type moves to convince him to let me through. He said "you are late, therefore, the counter is closed." I finally saw his point. Luckily, American Airlines had a flight leaving in a half hour. I got in line, got to the counter (entertainment was watching a full scale argument erupt into enough commotion to attract the police), explained what had happened and got on the plane with no problem at all with assurances that my bag would already be in Caracas..........right..........If you want a good view of the beautiful Caribbean coast of Venezuela, sit on the right side of the plane. It is beautiful.
Upon arrival at the Macuto airport, I confirmed what I already knew, I was there, my bag wasn't. I filled out the proper forms and picked up my rental car and proceeded to my revised destination. After all, birding would need to be done relatively close to the airport so a drive to Henri Pittier was out of the question. Far too quickly, darkness and accompanying fog settled in as I drove up the coastal cordillera towards the Hotel Campesino on the main road from Caracas to the tourist town of Colonia Tovar. The Hotel had plenty of room and was fairly comfortable at the equivalent of $12.00 a night. My first day's bird list was eight including such exotics as BLACK VULTURE and MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD.
My first real day of birding started slowly because of being trapped
inside the locked hotel. Much snoring could be heard but no other
signs of life. At 7:30, I was released and immediately hightailed
it down the road towards Colonia Tovar which is a little german style hamlet
nestled in the hills whose population expands tenfold on weekends.
Safely on the other side, my first real, albeit brief, birding stop produced
a group of BLUE-CAPPED TANAGERs and an excellent view of a calling CHESTNUT-CROWNED
ANTPITTA which was ten feet from the road. A most amazing view of
this large tail-less, long-legged ground dweller hopping through it's home
of low vegetation and bamboo. Also in the area were very large flying
insects that favored the bamboo although they did not fancy video cameras.
Several kilometers past Colina Tovar, I reached my destination, a paved
road leading north which I had visited in 1991. The following list
will give you an indication of the species variety and numbers seen along
this productive road over a four hour period:
|Magnificent Frigatebird 10||Tropical Kingbird 1|
|Snowy Egret 3||Golden-crowned Flycatcher 2|
|Great Egret 1||White-throated Tyrannulet 12|
|Black Vulture 150||Blue-and-white Swallow 15|
|Blue Ground Dove 1||Green Jay 8|
|Rock Dove 10||Yellow-legged Thrush 10|
|White-collared Swift 20||Crested Oropendola 3|
|swift (sp) 50||Yellow-billed Cacique 1|
|Long-tailed Sylph 1||Blusih Flowerpiercer 6|
|Golden-olive Woodpecker 1||Blue-capped Tanager 20|
|Olive-backed Woodcreeper 6||Beryl-spangled Tanager 15|
|Rufous Spinetail 15||Plush-capped Finch 1|
|Chestnut-crowned Antpitta 2 (10h)||Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch 1|
|Brown-rumped Tapaculo 1||Ochre-breasted Brush-Finch 5|
|Green-and-black Fruiteater 2 (6h)||Black-crested Warbler 10|
Afterwards, I returned to the airport via the most windy, inefficient road possible. Instead of a three hour journey back to Macuto (the airport), it took about 4.5 hours. However, upon arrival at the airport, I snatched my bag (after filling out more forms, showing passport - after all, it still had to go through customs), and was on my way. Unfortunately, since it was Sunday night, the drive up the mountain to Caracas was very slow and took much longer than expected. I arrived in Maracay at about 9:30 which was short of my planned destination of Rancho Grande in Parque Nacional Henri Pittier. The motel was cheap and comfortable though. A note: most all the hotels in Maracay are in the Las Delicias section of the city. Follow the signs and you will have no problem - miss a sign and you could drive around for hours looking for another hotel.
A very early departure allowed for travel with no traffic in the morning. Entry into the park started my long awaited schedule free birding. My first day was spent around Rancho Grande proper and the senderos above the biological station. To those who have never visited this avian heaven in the cloud forest, Rancho Grande is a four story structure built in a quarter moon shape. The top deck is open and is favored by most visiting birders and naturalists. There are several hummingbird feeders as well as trays of sugared fruits which attract a variety of brilliantly colored tanagers and other birds. The lower floors have several dilapidated offices and classrooms (this building was the hub for neotropical studies in the fifties but has fallen into extreme disrepair). On the first floor, the ongoing business of the biological station is conducted and its where the park guards and administrators are headquartered. The third level has a very active colony of WHITE-TIPPED SWIFTs who's high chattering cries emanate throughout the building. BLUE-AND-WHITE SWALLOWs nest in the bird boxes on the top level and a pair of beautiful CINNAMON FLYCATCHERs (voted the cutest bird of the trip) were nesting very near the swift colony on the third level.
There are a series of senderos (trails) which cut through the forested hillsides behind the building where one has a good chance of finding an army ant swarm with attendant woodcreepers, puffbirds, antwrens and Black-faced Antthrush. I feel these trails are the best place I know to see BLACK-FACED ANTTHRUSH without the use of a tape. I had several walk ahead of me on the trail completely oblivious to my presence. A walk up the main road from the station can yield a healthy variety of birds including HANDSOME FRUITEATER, SCALED PICULET, and COLLARED TROGON.
I was "found" by the caretaker who took my eight dollar equivalent cost for two nights accommodation. In this case, accommodation meant staying in one of the four dormitory rooMs. Each of the four rooms contained four bunk beds so the choice was wide open since I was the only one staying there. Luckily, when I arrived, a group of 15 Americans and their Venezuelan guide were just leaving after spending several nights at the station. One project that they were engaged in during their stay was whether hummers were attracted to certain colors when they fed. They had five hummer feeders set up in a row, each with a different colored piece of cardboard below the feeder. The results were inconclusive, the hummers didn't care about the colors, they cared about the food.
I spent the first day split between birding the grounds of Rancho Grande,
walking the main road and birding a bit of the rich Caribbean slope on
the other side of the summit which harbored a few different birds including
WHITE-NECKED PUFFBIRD. A flowering tree along the roadway provided prolonged
views of WHITE-VENTED PLUMELETEER, a myriad of WHITE-NECKED JACOBINs, and
several GREEN HONEYCREEPERS as well as another HANDSOME FRUITEATER which
perched on a nearby tree. The complete list of birds for the day follows:
|Black Vulture 4||Handsome Fruiteater 2|
|White Hawk 1||Chestnut-crowned Becard 1|
|White-tipped Dove 1||Black Phoebe 1|
|Blood-eared Parakeet 15||Golden-crowned Flycatcher 3|
|Scralet-fronted Parakeet 12||Cinnamon Flycatcher 6|
|Green-rumped Parrotlet 2||Smoke-colored Pewee 1|
|White-collared Swift 20||Blue-and-white Swallow 12|
|Gray-rumped Swift 85||Green Jay 12|
|White-tipped Swift 25||Gray-breasted Wood-wren h|
|Short-tailed Swift 10||Southern House Wren h|
|Violet-fronted Brilliant 1||Nightingale Wren h|
|hummingbird (sp) 1||Glossy Black Thrush 8|
|Collared Trogon 1||Pale-breasted Thrush 1|
|Moustached Puffbird 1||White-necked Thrush 6|
|Groove-billed Toucanet 6||Brown-capped Vireo 4|
|Golden-olive Woodpecker 3||Russet-backed Oropendola 8|
|Red-crowned Woodpecker 1||Slate-throated Redstart 6|
|Smoky-brown Woodpecker 1||Swallow Tanager 6|
|Linneated Woodpecker 1||Red-legged Honeycreeper 1|
|Plain-brown Woodcreeper 18||Speckled Tanager 6|
|Olivaceous Woodcreeper 2||Golden Tanager 10|
|Strong-billed Woodcreeper 1||Bay-headed Tanager 9|
|Crested Spinetail 3||Fawn-breasted Tanager 2|
|Buff-fronted Foliage-Gleaner 1||Orange-bellied Euphonia 4|
|Montaine Foliage-Gleaner 3||Blue-gray Tanager 4|
|Slaty Antwren 1||Palm Tanager 4|
|Plain Antwren 1||White-winged Tanager 1|
|Black-faced Antthrush 4||Gray-headed Tanager 5|
|Slate-crowned Antpitta 1||White-lined Tanager 2|
The next day and a half were spent in and around Rancho Grande which was very relaxing and schedule free. The weather was consistently ugly - very foggy and windy. The good thing was, once out of the wind, the birding was great because of the fog. New birds seen during the two days included:
I struck up a conversation with one of the caretakers and mentioned that I would be back the next day with a large group of birders. He looked at me as though I were crazy when I mentioned the group size. Oh well, it happens. On the Wednesday, I returned to the airport at Macuto. While wandering around the airport, I was found by Juan Carlos Mattheus, one of the other co-leaders who had flown in from Quito. We eventually met up with Armas Hill and one tour participant since the rest of the group had missed a flight. Overnight was in a real hotel on the beach near the airport. Birding the next day along the coast yielded humidity, YELLOW-HEADED PARROTS, humidity, CATTLE TYRANT, humidity, heat, CARIB GRACKLEs, heat, SOCIAL FLYCATCHERs, and humidity. Later, we met the group and made our way back to Maracay and Rancho Grande.
Rancho Grande is a completely different place on a sunny day. The BLOOD-EARED PARAKEETs were no longer screaming bombs hurdling through the forest but were real birds hanging up side down feeding on native fruits in a nearby tree. The SWALLOW TANAGERs nesting in the walls of the building suddenly gleamed turquoise and green in the sunlight and the GOLDEN TANAGERs coming to the sugared fruits at the feeding stations were truly golden. The sun empowered a BLACK HAWK-EAGLE to take wing overhead which allowed everyone to view the distinctive shape and hear its piercing call.
We enjoyed all this from the rooftop where we enjoyed a delicious snack of fresh fruit which we savored as the tanager parade continued. None of this escaped the watchful gaze of the GROOVE-BILLED TOUCANET which remained close to the feeding station guarding the sliced watermelons and mangos. Afternoon birding along the senderos yielded WHITE-TIPPED QUETZAL, PLAIN-BACKED ANTPITTA and SMOKY BROWN WOODPECKER to name just a few. We returned to the Hotel Byblos late in the afternoon in Maracay which is a halfway decent hotel with the slowest elevators I have ever encountered. However, the food was good. There are definite pros and cons to a room on a higher floor, the lower floors have less elevator time but more likelihood of being subjected to the "music" from the bar and the street. The upper rooms are quieter but the time spent getting there can be frustrating.
We departed early the next day but not before viewing TROPICAL GNATCATCHERs, FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHERs, GREAT KISKADEEs, FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHERs, and FORK-TAILED PALM-SWIFTs outside the hotel near the local zoo. Several hours later, we were back at the Macuto airport awaiting our flight to Canaima in the state of Bolivar in southern Venezuela. The three hour flight was enjoyable, the views spectacular, and the weather was decent. Words cannot describe the sight of tepuis rising from the lowland rain forests each covered with vegetation which harbors both discovered and undiscovered (maybe) species.
Landing in Canaima is arriving into a different world....gone are the smog laden skies, gone are the pesky traffic lights, gone are the sounds of blaring car horns, and gone are the highland tanagers! Canaima is a small town situated next to the Rio Carrao at a point where it undergoes about a 100 foot drop in elevation. The terminal at the airport is a large thatched structure which functions surprisingly well considering the amount of people that filter through each day in the eventual hopes of seeing Angel Falls, the area's major attraction. After lunch and a short rest, our group boarded motorized dugouts and chugged our way across the Rio......to an island in the middle of the river. An hour of birding yielded STRIPE-TAILED YELLOW-FINCH, FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL and BROWN-THROATED PARAKEET among others.
An evening stroll produced stunning RED-AND-GREEN MACAWs, LINEATED WOODPECKERs, BOAT-BILLED FLYCATCHERs, and ORANGE-WINGED PARROTs flying against the nearby hillsides. WHITE-WINGED SWALLOWs were attracted to the landing strip. Dinner back at the lodge was buffet style and was very good after a long walk in an equally long day. Afterwards, we watched a video of Venezuelan birds which allowed everyone to test their identification skills.
As I mentioned, the major attraction of Canaima is Angel Falls. The most popular way to view the falls is by boarding a DC9 and flying over the falls. Unfortunately, many folks don't see the falls since the area tends to be taken over by fog and low clouds most any time of the day. The flight was memorable to say the least. Of the 24 of us, 22 decided to take the flight. Luckily, there was a 22 passenger plane available. I realized as I hiked up (DC9s require an uphill hike to the front seats) that all seats were already filled. I ended up in a seat immediately behind and perpendicular to the cockpit so I could see everything that went on in the cockpit...fortunately or unfortunately. Picture if you will a cockpit control panel which vibrating uncontrollably, a leaky ceiling, a control panel fraught with ominously blinking red lights and an open side window and you get the picture. However, after taking flight, all anxieties were set aside as I enjoyed the wide open vistas enjoyed from the open window. Below were nothing but virgin forests on gently curving hillsides and tepuis, a free flowing river, and the occasional waterfall cascading down the side of a tepui. Unfortunately, fog claimed the view as we approached Angel Falls but we did possible glimpse it....or another very impressive waterfall. Although having not seen it, we were all thankful for the experience of this 45 minute flight. Our return to Canaima was filled with more breathtaking views etched into our minds and on film. Shortly after returning to Canaima and enjoying lunch, we left on our return flight to Caracas.
The flight from Canaima to Caracas to Merida was uneventful but the group did remain intact. Merida, a city nestled in the Venezuelan Andes, was a pleasant change from the heat and humidity of the lowlands although the airport terminal was a powerful reminder that we were not on the home front. Although a few minutes delayed, our departure from Merida was highlighted by BLUE-AND-WHITE SWALLOWs and a brief glimpse of a WHITE-CAPPED DIPPER seen by one member of our group. We overnighted at the Hacienda d'Escaguey, a quaint mountain retreat on a hillside overlooking a valley high in the Andes. the gardens were loaded with flowers which held many birds including SPARKING VIOLETEARs, LESSER GOLDFINCHes, SOUTHERN HOUSE WREN, MOUSTACHED BRUSH FINCH, GREAT THRUSH, and the abundant RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROW. The hacienda served very good food and was comfortable although I don't know the price. The next morning found us enjoying the crisp morning air, the twittering of CHESTNUT-COLLARED and WHITE-COLLARED SWIFTs overhead and the varied warbling of SLATE-THROATED REDSTART coming from the bushy hillsides. Further exploration of the grounds yielded RUSTY FLOWERPIERCER, GOLDEN-OLIVE WOODPECKER and both NARROW-TAILED and BLUE-TAILED EMERALDs, the former being identified by our hummingbird expert, Juan Carlos. We then started what, to me, was the most exciting part of the entire trip, the search for the BEARDED HELMETCREST or "Chlulta del Paramo" ("little goat of the Paramo"). On our way to 11,000 feet, we stopped for views of TORRENT TYRANNULET, BLACK-CHESTED BUZZARD EAGLE, the latter hanging on the air currents along a hillside much like our neighborhood Red-tailed Hawks (my apologies to those unfamiliar with Red-tails!).
Our first search for the Bearded Helmetcrest (a large brown and white hummingbird) took us up a steep slope which was peppered with speletia, a favorite flower of the helmetcrest. We were exhausted as we searched considering the elevation but the thought of seeing it kept up going. Several of us glimpsed the bird but it was not to our satisfaction. Several others wandered up the rock strewn road to where several Andean Condors were being raised in captivity. Although admiral, the report is that it was depressing seeing these birds confined to a small area. Around this spot were numerous BAR-WINGED CINCLODES and PARAMO SEEDEATERs. We eventually returned to the bus to continue our journey up to a high mountain pass which was interrupted by stops for PARAMO WREN, PLUMBEOUS SIERRA FINCH, ANDEAN TIT-SPINETAIL, STREAK-BACKED CANASTERO and many BAR-WINGED CINCLODES. The area at the summit yielded more BAR-WINGED CINCLODES, several PARAMO PIPITs, PARAMO SEEDEATERs, ANDEAN SISKINs, ANDEAN TIT-SPINETAIL and PLUMBEOUS SIERRA FINCHes. Luckily, the weather had turned sunny and the only thing stopping people was the 12,000 ft elevation and the copious amounts of diesel fumes spilling forth from the bus.
We then journeyed to another favored Helmetcrest spot. Soon after arriving at this magic location, we encountered a beautiful OCHRE-BROWED THISTLETAIL and glimpsed it as it darted between the tussocks of grass and low lying vegetation. However, the real excitement started when someone found the helmetcrest. Although high in the Andes, we had no problem racing to the spot where it was seen. We lined ourselves along the hillsides where the speletia, the white fluffy flower favored by the bird, was most abundant. With patience and sharp eyes, all saw the female helmetcrest as it perched/hovered in front of the flowers. The bird cooperated enough to be included in the Venezuela video. This period of joy was proceeded by a continued journey downslope to our hotel at the head of a long valley which cuts through the eastern slope of the Andes above the city of Barinas. Although the weather was deteriorating, it didn't stop us from birding the hotel grounds where GREAT THRUSHes, TYRIAN METALTAILs, BROWN-BELLIED SWALLOWs, and SPARKLING VIOLETEARs abounded. Several MERIDA FLOWERPIERCERs rounded out the show. After dinner, the evening's entertainment included spotlighting the grounds with a rewarding view of a BAND-WINGED NIGHTJAR.
The next morning brought wet weather in the form of low clouds, fog, and torrential rains. however, it didn't stop us from birding from the bus which included sightings of YELLOW-HEADED CARACARA, TORRENT DUCK, TORRENT TYRANNULET, and LEAST GREBE. A brief respite from the rain allowed us a short venture from the bus which included sightings of WHITE-CAPPED DIPPER, TORRENT TYRANNULETs and a surprise ANDEAN SOLITAIRE. A mid-afternoon stroll along a hummingbird rich trail yielded several great birds including ORANGE-THROATED SUNANGEL, SWORD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD, MASKED FLOWERPIERCER, PEARLED TREERUNNER and SLATY BRUSH FINCH as well as many RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROWs. Afterwards, birding the hacienda grounds brought BROWN-BACKED CHAT-TYRANT, STREAK-THROATED BUSH-TYRANT, and TYRIAN METALTAILs for all.
Clearing skies greeted us the following morning as we said our farewells to the hotel and started a long travel day. We headed down the valley to the bridge where we birded the previous day. When we arrived, we were greeted with bird activity which included WHITE-CAPPED DIPPER, SMALL-BILLED ELEANIA, YELLOW-BACKED ORIOLE, THICK-BILLED EUPHONIA, TORRENT TYRANNULET, BLUE-CAPPED TANAGER, GREEN JAY, and TORRENT DUCK. Further down the valley, we stopped and had GOLDEN-CROWNED FLYCATCHER, BLACK-FACED TANAGER, BLUE-NAPED CHLOROPHONIA, GRAY and ROADSIDE HAWK, HEPATIC TANAGER, and FORK-TAILED WOODNYMPH to name just a few. We left this spot thinking that our Andean birding was finished but we were in for one more treat which the bus driver had up his sleeve. At a bend in the road, a bend which looked like any other bend in the road, he pulled over and ran about 100 meters back up the road. I saw him look up at a spot under some overhanging vegetation along the roadside and then he quickly motioned us to follow him. As I approached and followed the line of his finger, A almost had a heart attack as I found myself face to face with a an adult male LYRE-TAILED NIGHTJAR! The Lyre-tailed Nightjar is a rather large nightjar which has a two foot long tail with a lyre shaped tip superficially resembling the tail of a motmot.
I quickly brought the others forward until everyone had excellent views of the bird. It was here that I heard the most memorable dialog of the entire trip. Asked one person "I see the tail, where's the bird?". The answer came "It's at the end of the tail"! This bird had originally been discovered by someone looking for roadside orchids. Imagine the surprise of seeing a Lyre-tailed Nightjar amidst the orchids! I don't know how long the bird had been roosting in this spot but anything over a day is remarkable since it is not more than five feet from the main road which feeds this part of the Andes with traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian. We boarded the bus and continued to the town of Barinas. After lunch and a water stop, we began our four hour journey to the magical destination called El Cedral.
El Cedral is a private ranch located in the llanos in the state of Apure in southwestern Venezuela. The llanos is a truly spectacular habitat filled with water birds of all kinds amidst flooded savannahs broken by stretches of riparian corridors. We passed flocks of WHISPERING IBIS, WHITE-FACED TREE DUCK, ROSEATE SPOONBILL, WHITE IBIS, WOOD STORK, and SCARLET IBIS which also contained a sprinkling of MAGUARI STORKs and JABIRUs. BLUE-BLACK GRASSQUITs and ORIOLE BLACKBIRDS darted in front of our bus as we trekked towards El Cedral. A beautiful SCARLET MACAW flew across the road and landed on an exposed limb of a dead tree in gorgeous evening light to the satisfaction of all on board. We finally arrived at the entrance gate to El Cedral much to everyone's relief after the confinement of the bus and the swerving on the roads to avoid some of the mammoth potholes. For those who have never been to El Cedral, it is a private ranch. No private vehicles are allowed inside and all transportation is done via wildlife viewing trucks or by boats.
As we waited for the truck at the entrance, we studied a nearby APLOMADO FALCON, BLACK-COLLARED HAWK and SAVANNAH HAWK and noticed the myriad of capybaras which would be constantly in view during our stay. Dusk turned to darkness as we endured the shock absorber free truck ride to the compound which we would call home for the next several days. We were met be Gabrielle, one of the guides on the ranch who accompanied our group during our stay. Room keys given out, we all relaxed and enjoyed a filling dinner and, for some, a small introduction to the history of El Cedral.
At dawn, we became aware of the paradise that we entered under the dark cloak of the previous night. BUFF-NECKED IBIS, RED-CAPPED CARDINAL, YELLOW ORIOLE, YELLOW-BROWED SPARROW and PLAIN-FRONTED THORNBIRDs were everywhere. RUSTY-MARGINED and SOCIAL FLYCATCHERs flitted in the trees as did the diminutive COMMON TODY FLYCATCHERs and the larger BICOLORED WRENS. SAVANNAH HAWKs, TURKEY VULTUREs and the occasional LESSER YELLOW-HEADED VULTURE flew overhead. SCALED and RUDDY GROUND DOVES were everywhere and this was viewed just on our walk to the dining hall! Afterwards, we headed out to the levees for our first taste of truck birding. RUFESCENT TIGER HERON, AZURE GALLINULE, and ORINOCO GEESE punctuated by sightings of the impressive WHITE-NECKED HERONs which are very similar to our Great Blue Heron or Gray Herons were vying for our attention. Additionally, YELLOW-THROATED SPINETAILs and RUDDY-BREASTED SEEDEATERs called from the bushy hillsides. Several WHISTLING HERONs were a highlight especially one which threw its head back and called as I videotaped it. Several folks spied DOUBLE-STRIPED THICK-KNEE but this species proved more elusive than my first visit in 1991. Many other birds were seen that day, too many to list here.
A boat trip along the Rio Orichuna allowed excellent views of SUNBITTERN, GREAT BLACK HAWK, thousands of FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHERs, RUFOUS-VENTED CHACHALACA, HOATZIN and AMAZON KINGFISHER as well as flocks of BAND-TAILED NIGHTHAWKs accompanying us on our ride back to the dock (in a torrential downpour). I found it unfortunate that, at times during this boat trip into pristine habitat, the boatmen actually threw bids of boneless chicken to the wildlife (Great-Black Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Crocodile) which approached us and fed fearlessly. This took the "wild and exotic" feel out of the trip. Afterwards, we enjoyed fine Venezuelan cuisine while reminiscing about the day's experiences.
An early morning wake up for a few folks who wanted to bird early along the Rio Caicara. We were rewarded with CRIMSON-CRESTED WOODPECKER, BARRED ANTSHRIKE, STRIPED CUCKOO (located by its distinctive two note whistle), PALE-VENTED and RUDDY PIGEON, two PARAGUAYAN or SOUTH AMERICAN SNIPE which flew intricate speed circles overhead and low over the savannah, and several more HOATZINs and WHISTLING HERONs. A covey of CRESTED BOBWHITE were seen along the levee as we trucked back to the compound and several BRAZILIAN DUCKs made an appearance.
Later that morning, we birded a grove of trees about a quarter mile from the compound and were rewarded with prolonged views of TROUPIAL, the national bird of Venezuela. This striking black, orange, and white member of the oriole family is interesting in that it uses other bird's nests as its own. However, it does raise its own young. This same grove of trees harbored several GREAT-HORNED OWLs, SPOT-BREASTED WOODPECKER, STRIPE-BACKED WRENs and YELLOW-BROWED TYRANTS which momentarily diverted our attention from the many nesting MAGUARI STORKs in the dead trees that surrounded the grove. We searched for a RUSSET-THROATED PUFFBIRD which a member of the group had found on the way to the grove without success. At the compound, we walked several hundred yards to an compound where anacondas were being studied. At least four of these very large and robust snakes were in fenced enclosures. It was depressing to see these masters of the jungle cooped up in a small area.
Our scheduled one hour lunch in the dining hall was extended as a torrential downpour lodged itself over the compound so we enjoyed the sights and sounds of rain for about two hours before it started to let up. For some odd reason, I decided to line up a late afternoon/early evening truck ride since it would be our last opportunity. The downpour which turned to light rain finally ended and we enjoyed some great birding including 20+ SCARLET MACAWs, a few GREEN IBIS, many BAND-TAILED NIGHTHAWKs, a COLLARED FOREST FALCON, DARK-BILLED CUCKOO, as well as the more common BLUE-GRAY TANAGERs, WHITE-HEADED MARSH-TYRANTs, PIED WATER-TYRANTs and SOCIAL FLYCATCHERs. Dinner was prepared as we entered the dining hall again. This, our last night at El Cedral, was concluded by a serenade by several of the truck drivers who played native instruments and sang songs which I could not understand. A fitting end to a delightful stay in a magnificent area.
The next morning started an uneventful travel day, the four hour bus ride to the town of San Fernando de Apure, an early plane departure (yes, I said early), and arrival into Caracas after stops in three towns. Our bus met us at the airport, drove us to the Hotel Avila (which sported vegetation to attract those last Venezuelan birds) which ended our Venezuelan adventure. The next morning saw our departure for Fort Lauderdale (yep, it should have been Miami and eventually was) and home.
The trip list was 297 which included heard only birds. All in all, Venezuela is a beautiful country to visit, many birds, mammals, orchids, and butterflies and enough land area that you will never tire of looking at the same wildlife over and over again.
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