Eastern Venezuela Trip Jan 2005


Drying wings On special request we organised for the first time a birding trip in E-Venezuela combined with the Henri Pittier NP.

But we weren't lucky with the weather. February 2005 in Venezuela shall be remembered as a very wet month. Floodings in the north even reached the international press.


7 Feb 2005
We picked up the group in the airport and drove straight to La Victoria, where it was more relaxed than at the busy coast, where carnaval started.

8 Feb 2005
Unloading our car We arrived early at our first birding spot. And we had straight away the wanted Rosy Thrush-tanager (Rhodinocichla rosea).
Perhaps the most special was a Yellow Grosbeak (Pheucticus chrysopeplus) never seen before at this spot in La Victoria.
After a nice pick-nick, we drove further to Rancho Grande, where we unloaded our gear.
It started raining. We had some time to walk on the trail behind the visitor centre. Lots of wind and rain.
Those that joined were lucky to run into an army ants group. We noted first the Black-faced Antthrushs (Formicarius analis) even walking towards us at just 3 meter.
Other birds were Grey-headed Tanagers (Eucometis penicillata) and of course Plain-brown Woodcreepers (Dendrocincla fuliginosa).

9 Feb 2005
Waking up in the fog. We decided to go a bit lower to the drier parts of the park, where it was indeed a tiny bit drier. It took a while to see the first Lance-tailed Manakin (Chiroxiphia lanceolata).
pm: Plenty of Glaucous Tanagers (Thraupis glaucocolpa) at a site near the coast. Together with some Common Black-hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus) flying over us.
A Cocoa Thrush (Turdus fumigatus) sung nicely on another stop.
We returned to our headquarters, where some Thai-Indonesion food made us forget a bit the rain.

Grey-headed Kite 10 Feb 2005
Waking up in the rain. A Violet-chested Hummingbird (E) (Sternoclyta cyanopectus) came to the feeders and we saw several male Long-tailed Sylphs (Aglaiocercus kingi).
In the afternoon we tried again escaping the rain by going to the dry south slope. A Grey-headed Kite (Leptodon cayanensis) flew over and could be seen well, we even digiscoped him.

11 Feb 2005
A long drive towards the east of the country. It didn't take long or we noticed that the road Caracas-Barcelona was blocked by floodings and we had to return.
We had to take a long detour through Guatopo NP. Some interesting stops. One delivered us immediately a nice male Golden-headed Manakin (Pipra erythrocephala).
We stopped for the last time and walked on a quiet road. A flowering tree in front of a house was full of Tufted Coquettes (Lophornis ornatus).
Eventually we arrive tired at our destination.

12 Feb 2005: Laguna Unare
Scarlet Ibises and Bahama Pintails The small strip between the coast and Laguna Unare is perfect for watching waterbirds. Lots of Scarlet Ibisses (Eudocimus ruber) and White-cheeked Pintails (Anas bahamensis), with some specials as a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.
In the afternoon we drove to the Sucre Peninsular, where we arranged everything for the next day.

13 Feb 2005
A local guide took us to Cerro Humo (Smoke-mountain). Unneccesarly to say that it was raining.
We started walking in the wet forest. A Slate-crowned Antpitta (Grallaricula nana) called closeby, but nobody could see him.
A pity that one of the participants turned back because of the rain. Just a minute later the rain stopped and suddenly bird activity rose.
Smoke mountain The first endemic came quickly. It was the beautiful Scissor-tailed Hummingbird (Hylonympha macrocerca).
A bit later a couple of endemic Whitestarts, the so-called Paria or Yellow-faced Whitestarts (Myioborus pariae) came very very close. Rob could even take excellent pictures.
And we even had a White-tipped Quetzal (Pharomachrus fulgidus).
Close to the top there was a White-tailed Sabrewing (E) (Campylopterus ensipennis) visiting a flowering bush.
It was bizarre but it took a while to find the missing endemic, the White-throated Barbtail (Premnoplex tatei).
It is normally the easiest to see. At last some had a quick view, then we all had a quick view, the third time a bit better view and the 4th time, everyone saw all the details.
Walking back I suddenly stopped for a bird just sitting 3 meters away. It was a Slate-crowned Antpitta (Grallaricula nana). He looked bigger than the ones in West-Venezuela or Colombia. Nearly the size of one of the smaller Grallaria Antpitta's.

At noon we were back at the car. We decided to walk further down. Meanwhile it started raining again.
Some saw a nice Black-eared Fairy (Heliothryx aurita).
Despite the rain it had been a good day.

14 Feb 2005
Entrance oilbird cave This day was mainly a driving day. Making a few stops, but with nothing special. The main goal was to be in time in Caripe to watch the Oilbirds (Steatornis caripensis) coming out the cave.
And indeed, just over 6 they came out. In the beginning a few, just flying around. Then a stream of thousands of birds were leaving the cave. Impressive!!

15 Feb 2005
We drove a bit higher a saw a big flock of endemic Venezuelan Parakeets (Pyrrhura emma).
Best birds were a couple of endemic Handsome Fruiteaters (Pipreola formosa). They were very closeby and just a few feet above the ground.
This subspecies is even more handsome than the ones in Rancho Grande.

16 Feb 2005
We left Maturin for our first day Caņo Colorado. We tried first some "Tierra firme" forest. But this was a bit disappointing: most was destroyed.
Blue-&-yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna) were common and every time they loudly flew over, the whole group stopped to watch it.

The Greater Yellow-headed Vulture In the afternoon we went to the varzea forest, adding White-chested Emerald (Amazilia chionopectus) (plenty), Cinnamon Attila (Attila cinnamomeus), Toucans, Red-billed and Channel-billed and Black-necked Arassari.
Velvet-fronted Grackles (Lampropsar tanagrinus) were also quite common.
A Greater Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes melambrotus) flew in a low tree above the trail.
It was nice to see him with the sunset, but to take a good picture, I had to take it from the other side. And he didn't mind that I walked just underneath him.

17 Feb 2005
Walking through varzea forest. We walked a long way into the varzea forest. On our way we had a Cream-coloured Woodpecker (Celeus flavus). They should be common here according Peter Boesman, but we only saw one. The Crimson-hooded Manakin (Pipra aureola) should also easy to see here, but we had none. On the other hand the Golden-headed Manakin (Pipra erythrocephala), which is apparently rare here, was seen a various places.
At a creek there were Green-&-rufous (Chloroceryle inda) and American Pygmy Kingfisher (C. aenea).
And at the edges of the creek a Silvered Antbird (Sclateria naevia) was looking nervously for food. A bit like a miniature Sunbittern.
But it was a White-tailed Trogon (Trogon viridis) that took all the attention.
It was on the way back that we heard and saw the endemic Black-dotted Piculet (Picumnus nigropunctatus), although views weren't great, just enough to recognize him.
Noisy Black-capped Donacobiuses (Donacobius atricapillus) could be heard from far and we made a special detour for them.
Other interesting birds on our walk back were Blue-chinned Sapphires (Chlorestes notatus) and another White-chested Emerald (Amazilia chionopectus).
Last bird was perhaps the best of this morning: a female Bearded Bellbird (Procnias averano) in a fruiting tree.
Nobody regretted it that we changed plans and stayed a day longer here at Caņo Colorado.
The afternoon we rested in Maturin.

The Cuyuni bridge 18 Feb 2005
We left early for another long drive. One towards the Guyanan lowlands.
We stopped at the famous (double) bridge over the Cuyuni river, with Green Aracaris (Pteroglossus viridis), Brown Jacamars (Brachygalba lugubris) and a Black Nunbird (Monasa atra).
We arrived around 5 pm at km 88.

19 Feb 2005
We left for the km 67 trail. It was a bit disappointing. Perhaps caused by the rain. Interesting birds were: our first Screaming Piha (Lipaugus vociferans), Black-tailed Trogon (Trogon melanurus), Golden-headed (Pipra erythrocephala) and White-crowned Manakin (Pipra pipra). The latter only seen by a few, but we had another chance in the afternoon, were everyone had him.
The most bizarre was an antbird that I called out. I had perfect views, but could not find out what it was. It looked most at a Caura Antbird (as well it's behavior and sound), but still there were some differnties and the Caura Antbird has never recorded here. It will remain a mystery.

The "Capuchin" trail
For most participants, the Capuchinbird (Perissocephalus tricolor) was the "wanted" bird for the trip. And I agree it is something special. Besides it isn't that easy to see.
We walked in and out the forest, saw a Cinereous Antshrike (Thamnomanes caesius) and then suddenly a group of Capuchinbirds appeared for us. A bit high in the trees, but we all saw the strange behavior with its sounds. What a bird!
Later we ran into a group of army ants. Lots of nice species: White-throated Manakin (Corapipo gutturalis), Guianan Streaked- (Myrmotherula surinamensis), Long-winged (Myrmotherula longipennis) and Grey Antwren (Myrmotherula menetriesii), Grey (Cercomacra cinerascens) and Dusky Antbird (C. tyrannina).

Above the road we saw a Paradise Jacamar (Galbula dea) and some Black-headed Parrots (Pionites melanocephala). Most were tired (I understand, it was a long day) and didn't want to walk back. On the way back a Blackish Nightjar (Caprimulgus nigrescens) was just sitting closeby on the ground.

20 Feb 2005
am: First day on the Escalera was planned as an introduction to this fantastic road. We stopped a various places and did as well a lot of walking. Rain spoiled a lot.
At one stop we had Grey-breasted Sabrewing (Campylopterus largipennis), Festive Coquette (Lophornis chalybeus) and Amethyst Woodstar (Calliphlox amethystina).
A bit higher we had some more good hummingbirds, such as Rufous-breasted Sabrewing (Campylopterus hyperythrus) and Velvet-browed Brilliant (Heliodoxa xanthogonys).
The Tepui Greenlet (Hylophilus sclateri) was common. I had one with red eyes!!
Golden-tufted Grackles (Macroagelaius imthurni) were common. They didn't mind the rain.
White Bellbird calling Between the showers, we had some mixed flocks with Paradise (Tangara chilensis) and Yellow-bellied Tanagers (Tangara xanthogastra). I think that nowhere you can see Paradise Tanagers as well as here on the Escalera. In the Amazonas it is difficult to see them that well (unless you are lucky to see them from a canopy tower.
Best bird was a calling White Bellbird (Procnias alba). I filmed it even through the scope.
The last forested km are usually good for the Scarlet-horned Manakin (Pipra cornuta), with some leks. But no luck for us.
We were ending the day at el Monumento. Strange to see here Brown Jacamars (Brachygalba lugubris). Tawny-headed Swallows (Stelgidopteryx fucata) were flying around.

21 Feb 2005
The best birds we hadn't seen yet, were the ones that occur on the higher parts of the Escalera.
Therefore we decided to go immediately to the top, just before El Monumento.
We discovered a Sharpbill (Oxyruncus cristatus), saw Chestnut-tipped Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus derbianus) and had a few Tepui Manakins (Pipra suavissima). With some regularity Fiery-shouldered Parakeets (Pyrrhura egregia) and Red-&-Green Macaws (Ara chloroptera) flew over.
But no sign of Scarlet-horned Manakin (Pipra cornuta).
The afternoon was spend at the lower parts (in desperate search of Guianan Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola rupicola)). And eventually we saw well a female, but no colourful males.
A Guianan Toucanet (Selenidera culik) was just sitting above the road.

22 Feb 2005
Probably you guested it: today back to the last km's of the Escalera, for another try for the species we missed. And even that it rained as the days before, the species we missed on the previous days, we saw today.
Mixed low flocks with nice Tepui Brush-finches (Atlapetes personatus), Golden-spangled Piculet (Picumnus exilis) (not seen by everyone) and some Tepui Spinetails (Cranioleuca demissa).
The latter weren't easy to see, but evently I think that everyone (who endured the rain) had them.
Masked Trogons (Trogon personatus) were eating in the same berry tree as the Sharpbill and the Pyrrhura's.
There were Black-capped Tyrannulets (Phyllomyias nigrocapillus) and at last .... some magical (male) Scarlet-horned Manakins (Pipra cornuta).
In the afternoon we saw them again, with some more Tepui Manakins (Pipra suavissima) as well.
A male singing Bearded Bellbird (Procnias averano) made the morning perfect. He was singing nearly at the same spot were we had the White Bellbird a few days before.
Poison Arrow-frogs We went to the first km's, as some still wanted to see the male Guianan Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola rupicola). Around the lek we saw them flying a few times across the road, but it was just "Tall" Rob who saw him perched.
While waiting a group of noisy Yellow-green Grosbeaks (Caryothraustes canadensis) were seen.
The sky cleared open and it was a good idea to go to the look-out at km 102.
Plenty of swifts here. Between the White-collared Swifts (Streptoprocne zonaris), we find easily some endemic Tepui Swifts (Cypseloides phelpsi). But there were some swifts that looked very much like Andean Swifts (Aeronautes andecolus).
The views over the tepuis were awesome at sunset just after the rain.
A couple of Cliff Flycatchers (Hirundinea ferruginea) were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on a branch and didn't mind our presence.
Someone yelled and when we ran to have a look, Rob pointed to a Poison-arrow Frog (Dendrobates leucomelas), jumping on the wet ground.
And then we found another one and another one. They were everywhere.
It was getting late and we had to go.

23 Feb 2005
We left early and made a stop at the Anacoco road.
New birds were Black-bellied Cuckoo (Piaya melanogaster), Scaled Pigeon (Columba speciosa) Pearl Kite (Gampsonyx swainsonii), White Hawk (Leucopternis albicollis), Helmeted Pygmy-tyrant (Lophotriccus galeatus), Black-throated Antbirds (Myrmeciza atrothorax), Painted Parakeets (Pyrrhura picta) and Blue-backed Manakins (Chiroxiphia pareola).
The booming sound of the Red-ruffed Fruitcrows (Pyroderus scutatus) could be heard at some places, but no-one of the group saw them.

Afternoon was spend driving towards El Palmar, with a stop at an interesting marsh. Plenty of herons, ibises, kingfishers, some waders and a White-tailed Hawk (Buteo albicaudatus).

24 Feb 2005
Red-rumped Caciques in the rain Morning was spend at the nest of a Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja). The young was already big and just came in the mornings to the nest (for food).
Apparently it preferred spending the night in another tree. We waited till 10 am in vain and gave up. The only birds we saw were some Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift (Panyptila cayennensis) and a White-tailed Trogon (Trogon viridis). This time taking much less attention then in Caņo Colorado.
We went for some walks into the Imataca forest, where trails are typically laid out in squares.
Also here it was abnormal silent. Only birds we saw were Tiny Tyrant-manakins (Tyranneutes virescens) (noisy and quiet common), White-throated (Corapipo gutturalis) and Tepui Manakin (Pipra suavissima), Eastern Long-tailed (Phaethornis superciliosus) and Reddish Hermits (P. ruber).

We drove further into the forest, stopping for a shower. While it rained, I did some digiscoping of a group of Red-rumped Caciques (Cacicus haemorrhous).
After the shower we saw Painted Parakeets (Pyrrhura picta) and 3 Black Caracara's (Daptrius ater).
A White-chinned Sapphire (Hylocharis cyanus) was drying its wings by spreading them open on a leaf.
Towards the late afternoon we drove back and made a stop near the Rio Grande.
Just out of the car or we had a small army ant group with a beautiful sound: Musician Wren (Cyphorhinus aradus)!!!
Perfect bird to end the day.

25 Feb 2005
Along the muddy road Another try for the Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja). This nest was lying 70 km!! within the forest. If you know that it was raining all the time and that the road was on clay, you could have imagined the slippery parties we had to go through. It was unbelievable to see how our local guide with his 4x4 with bold tyres could manages to get through all the mud.
Black Curassows (Crax alector) were often seen. At a certain moment a giant Puma (Puma concolor) crossed the road just in front of our jeep.
Even a bit later the 2 Rob's who were sitting in the first vehicule saw a Harpy flying over. Also just in front of the car.
At around 11 am we arrived at the hary nest and could see the 1 year old young pretty well.
It was yelling for food and looke down to us when we passed under the tree. In the same tree and just a few meter under the Harpy nest a couple of Red-&-Green Macaws (Ara chloroptera) had also their nest.
We didn't wait too long for our long drive back. We stopped for a Great Black-hawk (Buteogallus urubitinga), some King Vultures (Sarcoramphus papa) and a group of Red-throated Caracaras (Ibycter americanus).
We arrived at 3 pm at the Rio Grande. Always good for a quick stop.
This stop gave us: Great Tinamou (Tinamus major), Black Nunbird (Monasa atra), Cinereous Mourner (Laniocera hypopyrra) and Violaceous Euphonia (Euphonia violacea).
Imataca forest

26 Feb 2005
The original plan was the lower Caura area for the last 3 days. But we had given in already 2 days, so we decided to return to the Anacoco road for the remaining day. Otherwise the driving would have been too much.
In morning we made another quick visit to the Rio Grande, with again the strange Capuchinbird (Perissocephalus tricolor) and to the small marsh area, with American Pygmy Kingfisher (Chloroceryle aenea) and Capped Heron (Pilherodius pileatus) as most special birds.
And then the drive to the Anacoco road, where we arrived around 3 pm.
Band-rumped (Chaetura spinicauda) and Short-tailed Swift (Chaetura brachyura) were flying over the road.
Again a Black-bellied Cuckoo (Piaya melanogaster) and a group of Yellow-throated Flycatchers (Conopias parva). We saw Cinereous Mourner (Laniocera hypopyrra) again. But strange enough he was walking on the road, eating fallen berries !!!
This time we had some more luck with the Antbirds: Mouse-coloured Antshrike (Thamnophilus murinus), Eastern Slaty Antshrike (T. punctatus) and White-browed Antbird (Myrmoborus leucophrys) were seen.
A Ferruginous Pygmy-owl (Glaucidium brasilianum) was calling and came out (on special request).

27 Feb 2005
The Anacoco road At a first stop along the Anacoco road we added another antbird: Grey Antbird (Cercomacra cinerascens) and a bit later in its typical habitat: Blue-black Grosbeak (Cyanocompsa cyanoides).
At a crossing I discovered a small pool and some "noise". A Rufescent Tiger-heron (Tigrisoma lineatum) flew off and we added Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher (Myiobius barbatus) to the list.
We still had some minutes left over and tried the trail on the other side of the road.
Within a few minues we had a good mixed flock with White-lored Euphonia (Euphonia chrysopasta), Turquoise Tanager (Tangara mexicana), Greyish Mourner (Rhytipterna simplex), Masked Tityra (Tityra semifasciata) and Pink-throated Becard (Pachyramphus minor)!
At a place were I had seen Long-billed Gnatwren (Ramphocaenus melanurus) an hour before we tried to call him out. The discman had given up (no surprise after such a wet trip). So I tried it with my laptop. It worked well and a bit later the last tick of our trip was a fact.
The afternoon was spend driving northwards. We stayed in a friendly hotel.

28 Feb 2005
Drove to the airport of Puerta Ordaz, from where the participants had their flights to Caracas and then further on to Europe and the US.
We ended the trip with "just" 404 species seen, but I think that the participants never forget the special birds we saw and how we saw them and perhaps the most important: what we had to do (read: suffer) to see them.
I like to thank all participants: Paul, Jill, Rob, Rob and Bill for the good fun we had despite all the rain (only 5 out of 21 days without rain!).

Jurgen Beckers

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