The Venezuelan Andes

Looking for Bearded Helmetcrest in the paramo The Venezuelan Andes is the most northern part of the Andes. They are separated from the Colombian part by a wide gap. This makes that some of the high mountain birds evolved as endemics.
Within a short travel distance we can reach extreme different habitats.
From dry foothill forest to cloud forests, elfin forests, ferntree forests, mangroves, paramo (treeless highlands above 3500 m) and arid highlands. All can be reached within 2 hours travelling.
In a typical tour of 8 days, we go to 15 different sites and as many as 8 different eco-systems.
Consequently we see a variety of birds. In a week time a total of 300 species is possible.
Among them endemics - with typical names - as Mérida Flowerpiercer (Diglossa gloriosa), Mérida Wren (Cistothorus meridae), Rose-headed Parakeet (Pyrrhura rhodocephala), Ochre-browed Thistletail (Schizoeaca coryi), Grey-naped Antpitta (Grallaria griseonucha), Grey-capped (Hemispingus reyi) and Slaty-backed Hemispingus (H. goeringi), White-faced Whitestart (Myioborus albifacies).

Further there are specialities as Band-tailed Guan (Penelope argyrotis), Torrent Duck (Merganetta armata), Citron-throated Toucan (Ramphastos citreolaemus), Military Macaw (Ara militar), Bearded Helmetcrest (Oxypogon guerinii), Mérida Sunangel (Heliangelus (clarisse) spencei), Grey-throated Warbler (Basileuterus cinereicollis), Pavonine Cuckoo (Dromococcyx pavoninus), Narrow-tailed (Chlorostilbon stenura) and Short-tailed Emerald (C. poortmani), Rusty-faced Parrot (Hapalopsittaca amazonina), Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia (Chlorophonia pyrrhophrys), Mérida Tapaculo (Scytalopus meridanus), etc.

Steep road up to Aricagua

Henri Pittier NP (Venezuela)

Clouds climbing up the mountain in the morning This National Park is one of the most famous of South-America. It is situated in the middle of the Coastal range (highest point 2400 m) and lies mostly in the state Aragua.
Some say that this is the only real cloud forest in the world.
Air heats up during the day and these thermals create a coastal breeze. Wet sea air is been pushed up into the mountains and starts condensing into clouds and rain. This gives the forest its very wet aspect.
So while the forests at the bottom of the mountains are still very dry, the ones on the top are very wet.
The air gets blown over the top and starts to evaporate again. So this is why the south side of the mountains are also relative dry.
In the few days that we are here, we will visit all the different ecosystems.

The visitor centre is located near an important pass for migrating birds at an altitude of 1500 m asl. One estimates that app. 30% from all birds that migrate to South-America use this pass.
Already in 1937 this fact was noticed and the first National Park of Venezuela was established. The park became eventually 107.000 ha big.

The endemic Red-eared Parrot As a result of this diversity in ecosystems, there are also an enormous number of species found here: 570 (more than 5% of worlds total).
As these mountains are separated from the Andes, there are of course lots of endemics. To name a few:
Venezuelan Wood-quail (Odontophorus columbianus), Red-eared Parakeet (Pyrrhura hoematotis), Violet-chested Hummingbird (Sternoclyta cyanopectus), Venezuelan Bristle-tyrant (Phylloscartes venezuelanus), Rufous-lored Tyrannulet (Phylloscartes flaviventris), Handsome Fruiteater (Pipreola formosa), Guttulated Foliage-gleaner (Syndactyla guttulata), Scallop-breasted Antpitta (Grallaricula loricata), Rufous-cheeked Tanager (Tangara rufigenis) and some near-endemics (only shared with Colombia), such as White-tipped Quetzal (Pharomachrus fulgidus), Northern Helmeted Curassow (Pauxi pauxi) and Scalloped Antthrush (Chamaeza turdina).
Because the NP is already long established and well maintained, birds become used to the visitors and are not so shy anymore. At a hummingbird feeder sometimes hummers sit on your finger to drink. Also frequently Sloths, Howlers and Capuchin monkeys are seen.

Los Llanos (Venezuela)

Caiman behind Skimmers The Llanos, (literally "the plains") is a flat area with vast savannas stretching west from the Orinoco Delta to the Andes and south well into Colombia. It occupies nearly 1/3 of Venezuelan territory, which is some 300.000 km² or about the size of Germany.
Even though temperatures are relatively constant all year long, by contrast, rainfall is extremely seasonal. The wet season - from May to October - receives about 90 % of the annual 1500 mm-rain. In this period gigantic thunderstorms make the rivers overflow and transform the savannas into shallow seas.
In November the dry season starts. Rain becomes a rarity and the llanos dries up. Water retreats to the few tree-bordered rivers.
In February/March the area is at its driest and the mighty Apure river is at its lowest level. Wildlife congregate around the few waterholes that are left.
It is the time that wildlife can be easiliest seen and esp. in enormous quantities. The bird life is really spectacular. Big flocks of waterbirds colour the sky.
It seems impossible that this pale yellow and earth-coloured area is so luxuriant green in the wet season.

the llanos is very good for observing/filming wildlife Due to this extreme climate, the llanos is nearly treeless. It makes it very easy to observe or film wildlife.
The llaneros (inhabitants of the plains) are famous for being tough and resistant people.
They live mainly from cattle raising. Enormous ranches, the so-called hatos were built for this purpose.
Some of these ranches now have turned to ecotourism as well and you can visit already their own beautiful websites with plenty of pictures (Hato El Frio and Hato El Cedral).
During our Northern Venezuela tour we will stay mainly in Hato El Frio, a hato of 81.000 ha.
This hato is more authentic than the other hato's. You can watch the daily life of the Llanero cowboys.

Flora & Fauna
The near-endemic Pale-headed Jacamar The Llanos is a biodiverse region. It has three principal habitats: wetlands and rivers, gallery forests and dry savannas.
Around 350 species of bird and some 50 species of mammal are found in the llanos. Special birds of the region are White-bearded Flycatcher (the only endemic), Agami Heron, Yellow-knobbed Curassow, Pale-headed Jacamar, Scarlet Ibis and Horned Screamer.
Besides we can find capybaras, howler monkeys, pink (river) dolphins, anaconda, giant otter, giant anteater, savanna foxes, piranhas, iguanas, several species of turtles and many more.
To discover the real llanos we make excursions in special vehicles and in motorboats.

The Maracaibo Region (Venezuela)

View in the Perijas. The Maracaibo region harbours many species not be found in other parts of Venezuela. Of special interest are the dry scrub species such as Maracaibo Tody-Flycatcher, Chestnut Piculet, White-whiskered Spinetail, Slender-billed Inezia, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Vermillion Cardinal. Other specialities seen in a savannah-like environment are Northern Screamer, Red-&-Green Macaw and White-naped Xenopsaris. Greater Flamingos and lots of other waterfowl occur near the coast. Definite worth it.
Sometimes (see foto) we drive as well a bit into the wetter Perija mountains.
We have a local birding guide here who knows the special places.

Central Colombia

The central part of Colombia holds about 70 % of the countries endemics.
On the trip we make in the Central Andes we have chances of seeing about 26 of them.

The places we will visit are:

Near Ibaque (Eastern slope of the Central Andes) there are a few interesting areas. We focus here on 3 endemics:
  • Yellow-headed Brush-Finch (Atlapetes flaviceps) (common),
  • Tolima Dove (Leptotila conoveri) and
  • Blossomcrown (Anthocephala floriceps)!

    Bosque Yotoco
    A small reserve - holding Multicoloured Tanager - on the eastern slope of the Western Andes. We try to combine it with a visit to the marshes of Laguna de Sonso.

    Ucumari NP
    This is a spectacular National Park with one long trail along the Otun river between 1800 and 4000 m asl.

    Rio Blanco
    Another spectacular reserve in the Central Andes. It lies close to Manizales.

    Not exactly a reserve but a fantastic area. It is here that they have discovered Chestnut-capped Piha (Lipaugus weberi).

    Las Quinchas
    The Pro-Aves reserve gives us the best chance to see Blue-billed Curassow (Crax alberti).
    But harbours many other good species.
    Sooty Ant-Tanager (Habia gutturalis) is easiliest seen here.

    This small reserve of a friend of mine is the place to see Black Inca (Coeligena prunellei).
    Another endemic here is Scytalopus griseocollis.

    The altiplano of Bogota has 4 marsh endemics. The last days we will try for:
    Silvery-throated Spinetail (Synallaxis subpudica),
    Plain-flanked Crake (not a real endemic),
    Bogota Rail (Rallus semiplumbeus) and
    Apolinar's Wren (Cistothorus apolinari)!

    Blue-billed Curassow (Crax alberti)
    Cauca Guan (Penelope perspicax)
    Chestnut Wood-Quail (Odontophorus hyperythrus)
    Greyish Piculet (Picumnus granadensis)
    Beautiful Woodpecker (Melanerpes pulcher)
    White-mantled Barbet (Capito hypoleucus)
    Rufous-fronted Parakeet (Bolborhynchus ferrugineifrons)
    Blossomcrown (Anthocephala floriceps)
    Black Inca (Coeligena prunellei)
    Tolima Dove (Leptotila conoveri)
    Bogota Rail (Rallus semiplumbeus)
    Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant (Phylloscartes lanyoni)
    Apical Flycatcher (Myiarchus apicalis)
    Chestnut-capped Piha (Lipaugus weberi)
    Parker's Antbird (Cercomacra parkeri)
    Stiles Tapaculo (Scytalopus stilesi)
    Tapaculo species(Scytalopus griseocollis)
    Silvery-throated Spinetail (Synallaxis subpudica)
    Brown-banded Antpitta (Grallaria milleri)
    Apolinar's Wren (Cistothorus apolinari)
    Yellow-headed Brush-Finch (Atlapetes flaviceps)
    Sooty Ant-Tanager (Habia gutturalis)
    Crested Ant-Tanager (Habia cristata)
    Multicoloured Tanager (Chlorochrysa nitidissima)
    Turquoise Dacnis-tanager (Pseudodacnis hartlaubi)
    Red-bellied Grackle (Hypopyrrhus pyrohypogaster)


    Wattled Guan (Aburria aburri)
    Black-billed Mountain-Toucan (Andigena nigrirostris)
    Dwarf Cuckoo (Coccyzus pumilus)
    Golden-plumed Parakeet (Leptosittaca branickii)
    Saffron-headed Parrot (Pionopsitta pyrilia)
    Rusty-faced Parrot (Hapalopsittaca amazonina)
    Short-tailed Emerald (Chlorostilbon poortmani)
    Golden-bellied Starfrontlet (Coeligena bonapartei)
    Bearded Helmetcrest (Oxypogon guerinii)
    Mountain Avocetbill (Opisthoprora euryptera)
    Spot-flanked Gallinule (Gallinula melanops)
    Golden-breasted Fruiteater (Pipreola aureopectus)
    Dusky Piha (Lipaugus fuscocinereus)
    Red-ruffed Fruitcrow (Pyroderus scutatus)
    Bicoloured Antpitta (Grallaria rufocinerea)
    Moustached Antpitta (Grallaria alleni)
    Ocellated Tapaculo (Acropternis orthonyx)
    Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo (Vireolanius eximius)
    Slate-throated Gnatcatcher (Polioptila schistaceigula)
    White-eared Conebill (Conirostrum leucogenys)
    Red-hooded Tanager (Piranga rubriceps)
    Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia (Chlorophonia pyrrhophrys)
    Masked Saltator (Saltator cinctus)

    Santa Marta Region

    The Santa Marta area is an ideal place to see lots of species without too much travelling.
    An enormous diversity in relative short distance. There is caribean coast, dry forest, coastal mangroves, subtropical forest, deserts, etc..
    Therefore birding trips here are more relaxed and anywhere else.

    About 20 endemics (1/3 of the country) occur in this region.
    First of all there is the isolated mountain chain Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, with 16 endemics.
    About 12 can be found on the San Lorenzo ridge (2500 m asl). This ridge is separated from the rest of the mountains by a wide gap.

    Desert specialities
    Following near-endemics occur (only shared with N-Venezuela):
  • Chestnut Piculet (Picumnus cinnamomeus),
  • White-whiskered Spinetail (Synallaxis candei),
  • Two-banded Puffbird (Hypnelus ruficollis),
  • Buffy Hummingbird (Leucippus fallax),
  • Northern Scrub-flycatcher (Sublegatus arenarum),
  • Slender-billed Inezia (Inezia tenuirostris),
  • Pileated Finch (Coryphospingus pileatus),
  • Tocuyo Sparrow (Arremonops tocuyensis),
  • Vermilion Cardinal (Cardinalis phoeniceus),
  • Glaucous Tanager (Thraupis glaucocolpa).

    Tayrona & similar areas
  • Blue-knobbed Curassow (END) (Crax alberti),
  • Black-backed Antshrike (Sakesphorus melanonotus),
  • Royal Flycatcher (Onychorhynchus coronatus),

    Cuchillo San Lorenzo
    Following endemics occur here:
  • Santa Marta Parakeet (Pyrrhura viridicata),
  • White-tailed Starfrontlet (Coeligena phalerata),
  • Santa Marta Bush-tyrant (Myiotheretes pernix),
  • Santa Marta Antpitta (Grallaria bangsi),
  • Santa Marta Tapaculo (Sytalopus sanctaemartae ),
  • Rusty-headed Spinetail (Synallaxis fuscorufa),
  • Streak-capped Spinetail (Cranioleuca hellmayri),
  • Santa Marta Mountain-tanager (Anisognathus melanogenys),
  • Santa Marta Brush-finch (Atlapetes melanocephalus),
  • Santa Marta Warbler (Basileuterus basilicus),
  • White-lored Warbler (Basileuterus conspicillatus),
  • Yellow-crowned Whitestart (Myioborus flavivertex),
  • Blossomcrown (Anthocephala floriceps), (Endemic, but occurs as well in Central Colombia)

  • White-tipped Quetzal (Pharomachrus fulgidus) (near-endemic),
  • Black-fronted Wood-quail (END) (Odontophorus atrifrons) (near-endemic),

    Other areas
  • Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird (Lepidopyga lilliae) (endemic, mangroves),
  • Chestnut-winged Chachalaca (Ortalis garrula) (endemic).

    Top of Page