Northern Venezuela Trip 2004


It was the first time a Venezuela bird trip was organised for the Dutch Ecotourist Services. There were 5 participants.
The north of Venezuela has its dry season between the months December and March. This changes a bit from year to year but anyway the best period for birding. This year was unfortunately extremely dry.
Some areas, such as the Paramo and Henri Pittier NP were very poor in birds.
Another surprising fact was there were very few northern migrant birds.
The aim was to have good views of the birds, rather than a long list with short views. Especially because 2 participants were mainly interested in filming.
Nevertheless the end total was 440 species seen, something that was beyond the expectation. Among them 4 species of Macaws and 3 species of Quetzal.
The trip went through all the different habitats of the north of Venezuela.
Download here the Birdlist of the trip (PDF-file).


31 jan. 2004: arrival in Caracas. Accommodation nearby.

1 feb. 2004: We left very early (4 am), which was no problem as everyone still had the jet lag.
After 2 hours we came at our first stop. In the dry scrub we quickly had a Rosy Thrush-tanager (Rhodinocichla rosea) - a good bird to start. A bit later someone noticed a singing Orange-billed Nightingale-thrush (Catharus aurantiirostris).

After the picnic we drove further to Rancho Grande, the visitor centre of the Henri Pittier NP.
It was just ment as a slow start to get familiarised with the birds of the wet parts of the park. Nevertheless from the balcony we had a couple of endemic Handsome Fruiteaters (Pipreola formosa) at just 2 meters. Really beautiful.

2 feb. 2004: At the gates of the visitor centre landed a flock of endemic Red-eared Parakeets (Pyrrhura hoematotis).
Hummingbirds are best seen in good light. The endemic Violet-chested Hummingbird (Sternoclyta cyanopectus) came closeby and everyone could see its glittering violet chest.
Then further to the drier parts of the national park. We made a short stop for a Fasciated Tiger-heron (Tigrisoma fasciatum).
Near Cata beach we always find interesting birds. Also this time a Large-headed Flatbill (Ramphotrigon megacephala) surprised us.
At some mangroves we all stood in a wide circle around a Glaucous Tanager (Thraupis glaucocolpa).

3 feb. 2004: First thing in the morning was a good walk to the top of the highest peak nearby. First we saw Guttulated Foliage-gleaner (Syndactyla guttulata) (endemic) and a bit later our first Quetzal, the near-endemic White-tipped Quetzal (Pharomachrus fulgidus).
Another not so common bird was a Black-banded Woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes picumnus).
On the top no curassows were seen, but a Scalloped Antthrush (Chamaeza turdina) showed himself very briefly. A Plain-backed Antpitta (Grallaria haplonota) could only be heard.
Back in the visitor centre we could see Wheeping Capucins (Cebus olivaceus) in a distance.

In the afternoon we went again to the drier parts of the national park. First someone saw a Grison (Galictis vittata) and a bit later he walked near us across the street.
It took us a while before everyone could see well the male Lance-tailed Manakin (Chiroxiphia lanceolata).

4 feb. 2004: In the morning we planned a walk on a trail just before the village of Choroni. Usually good for many specialities such as White-bellied Antbird and Black-backed Antshrike. But we were disappointed. Not for today. A Bare-tailed Wooly Opossum (Caluromys philander) was still active in the top of the scrubs. A walk on another trail was also a bit disappointing. A Cocoa Thrush (Turdus fumigatus) was looking for food along a creek. And a few seconds later a Common Opossum (Didelphis marsupialis) crossed the path.
Is it a Mammal trip?

Click on the picture for the clip. The Choroni mountain pass at 1800 m is always ideal for mixed flocks. Again bad luck: this time because of rain and fog. But a bit lower we had more luck. Mixed flocks with Golden (Tangara arthus), Black-capped (T. heinei) and Speckled Tanagers (T. guttata) and even some Blue-naped Chlorophonia (Chlorophonia cyanea)!
A bit later again a White-tipped Quetzal (Pharomachrus fulgidus) and again a nice a flock of Red-eared Parakeets (Pyrrhura hoematotis).

5 feb. 2004: We still had a morning left in the Henri Pittier NP and we decided to check the southern side of the range.
At our second stop we could see a Ornate Hawk-eagle (Spizaetus ornatus) from only 60 m eating his prey. It took him 30 minutes. Cameras were working all the time. It is a beautiful bird and must be said one of the best moments of the trip.
Click on the picture for a avi-clip (10 Mb).

Then we started our long trip direction Los Llanos through the state of Guarico. A first stop at a small lagoon gave us already a small feeling of the llanos.
A Rufous-fronted Thornbird (Phacellodomus rufifrons) was sitting on top of his nest.
A second stop at a another lagoon gave us closeby views of washing birds in a fountain created by a broken tube. Someone saw a Pale-legged Hornero (Furnarius leucopus).
Along the road I spotted a Long-winged Harrier (Circus buffoni), but there was no possibility for a stop.
Accommodation in the city of San Fernando de Apure, the centre of the llanos.

6 feb. 2004: The real dry part of the llanos starts from San Fernando on. Many small lagoons full with shorebirds. We stopped a few times. At the entrance to Hato El Frio sat a Harris Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus).
Entering El Frio with a bit of luck: an Anaconda (Eunectes murinus) just crossed the road.
The first excursion through the hato gave us the usual birds such as these Black Skimmers (Rynchops niger) and Pied Plovers (Vanellus cayanus) (photo).

A Savannah Fox (Cerdocyon thous) ran through the savanna; a first encounter with the funny Burrowing Owls (Speotyto cunicularia) and an Aplomado Falcon posed closeby.

The sun was just gone or the big Nacunda Night-Hawks (Podager nacunda) were flying over our heads.

7 feb. 2004: After an early breakfast everyone was prepared for a first morning excursion.
Scarlet Macaws (Ara macao) landed in the trees at the visitor centre.
We stopped for a Orinoco Crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius) nest. We only saw the green eyes of the caring mother.
Arrived at the edge of the river Apure, the driver called in fishing Amazon River Dolphins (Inia geoffrensis).
Meanwhile I found Pale-headed Jacamars (Brachygalba goeringi), as well as Orinocan Saltators (Saltator orenocensis) in the same tree!

The afternoon excursion was special for seeing Whistling Herons (Syrigma sibilatrix)
and a lonely Horned Screamer (Anhima cornuta).

During the night excursion several Great Potoos (Nyctibius grandis) could be seen as well as some mammals: Common Opossum (Didelphis marsupialis), Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) and a Southern Tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla).

8 feb. 2004: Our last excursion in Hato El Frio. This morning was mainly spend in dry savanna.
interesting species were: White-tailed Goldenthroat (Polytmus guainumbi), Grassland Sparrow (Ammodramus humeralis), Grassland Yellow-finch (Sicalis luteola), and Wedge-tailed Grass-finch (Emberizoides herbicola). Before lunch Henco discovered Rufous-vented Chachalacas (Ortalis ruficauda) and a single Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias) near our lodge.
We left El Frio and started our trip towards the Andes. A stop at La Yé gave us Band-tailed Night-Hawk (Nyctiprogne leucopyga).

Click on the picture for a clip. 9 feb. 2004: Leaving at 6 am with a breakfast stop at 8 am near Barinas.
Across the road was a sugar cane field and a rice field with a nice road in between.
Definitely more than 500,000 Dickcissels (Spiza americana) flew above our heads between their dormitary (the sugar cane) and their table (the rice fields).
Click on the picture for a avi-clip (0.6 Mb).

On the way back another Grison (Galictis vittata) was seen. Normally only active at night, we suspect that they are active by day because of the lack of food in this dry period.
Rio Barrigan was an ideal place for a picknick. It gave us as well views of Violaceous Jay (Cyanocorax violaceus) and another Pale-headed Jacamar (Brachygalba goeringi).
From now on the road curved its way in the Andes. Just before our hotel we made our last stop. And we were lucky to see as well a couple of Torrent Ducks (Merganetta armata), posed nearby on the rocks, as well as our first White-capped Dippers (Cinclus leucocephalus).

10 feb. 2004: While we were watching a male Long-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus kingi) in la Soledad, suddenly 2 Saffron-headed Parrots (Pionopsitta pyrilia) came from behind and flew over our heads.
It would have been better if they sat down for a minute, but nevertheless everyone could admire the colours of these near-endemics.
Click on the picture to see the 600 Kb clip. Red-headed Barbet (Eubucco bourcierii) were apparently common today. We saw many.
A bit further I spotted a Spotted Nightingale-thrush (Catharus dryas). The bird went away before the others arrived.
The afternoon was dedicated to the San Isidro Tunnel Road. At the quarry there were (as always) Cliff Flycatcher (Hirundinea ferruginea) and a bit further a Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea).
Everyone saw Andean Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruviana), but only Henco who decended saw them best. He had a Red-ruffed Fruitcrow (Pyroderus scutatus) as a bonus.
When returning a male Booted Racket-tail (Ocreatus underwoodii) at just a few meters.

11 feb. 2004: Las Tapias is dwarf forest at an altitude of 2700 m asl. It was 2 years ago since I have been here and in the meantime they have cleared a lot.
Orange-throated Sunangel (Heliangelus mavors) was still there as well as Mérida Tapaculo (Scytalopus meridanus).
The paramo was this year very disappointing. It took us very long just to get glimpses of the endemic a Ochre-browed Thistletail (Schizoeaca coryi).

12 feb. 2004: The trip through the mountains towards Aricagua is perhaps one of the most difficult of the whole trip: small trails on dry rocks close to steep valleys. Landscape changes all the time; from stony deserts into wet cloud forest.
In the dry part we saw several Black-backed Grosbeaks (Pheucticus aureoventris) and in the cloud-forest: Golden-rumped Euphonia (Euphonia cyanocephala), Mountain Velvetbreast (Lafresnaya lafresnayi), the endemic Grey-capped Hemispingus (Hemispingus reyi) and Band-tailed Guans (Penelope argyrotis). Just to name a few. The latter (a near-endemic) wasn't shy and could be seen and filmed.
A bit higher we went into the bamboo. Habitat for Plushcaps (Catamblyrhynchus diadema), which we saw a few times.

13 feb. 2004: The whole day was spend in La Mucuy along the Pico Humboldt-trail. Following birds could be seen: Lined Quail-dove (Geotrygon linearis) posing on a branch, nesting Black-collared Jays (Cyanolyca armillata), several Merida Sunangels (Heliangelus spencei) and at last as well a Golden-headed Quetzal (Pharomachrus auriceps). One spot not only gave us Chestnut-crowned (Grallaria ruficapilla) but as well Slate-crowned Antpitta (Grallaricula nana).
Higher we saw several Green-&-black Fruiteaters (Pipreola riefferii), the rarely seen Yellow-billed Cacique (Amblycercus holosericeus) and Barred Forest-falcon (Micrastur ruficollis). On the way back there were many Andean Guans (Penelope montagnii).

14 feb. 2004: A trip to the west side of the Andes.
After a break at a lake (with Azara's Spinetail (Synallaxis azarae)) we went to the Carbonera road. Beautiful flocks of tanagers. Crested Quetzal (Pharomachrus antisianus) only called and was reserved for later.

In the afternoon we spend some time in farmland, among many Sooty-capped Hermits (Phaethornis augusti).

15 feb. 2004: The morning was spend in Limones. I often see here Citron-throated Toucan (Ramphastos citreolaemus). This time it could only be seen in flight.
A Military Macaw (Ara militaris) landed in a bare tree in beautiful sunlight. Further a Mealy Parrot (Amazona farinosa) above us, Magpie Tanagers (Cissopis leveriana) and a King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa).
The griseocollis subspecies of the Black-faced Antthrush (Formicarius analis) - which is definitely another species than the one we heard in Henri Pittier -, could only be heard.

After lunch we went to the parrots dormitory.
And also this year we didn't come for nothing. First there was silence, but around 5 pm macaws and parrots flew in a lot of noise.
We saw Military Macaw (Ara militaris), Chestnut-fronted Macaw (Ara severa), Bronze-winged Parrot (Pionus chalcopterus), Orange-winged Parrot (Amazona amazonica), Green-rumped Parrotlet (Forpus passerinus), Orange-chinned Parakeet (Brotogeris jugularis) and Red-lored Parrot (Amazona autumnalis) (see foto). For this last species it is a significant range extension. It has never been seen in the Venezuelan Andes before.
Other nice species were White-eared Conebill (Conirostrum leucogenys) and a Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis) right above us, seen thanks to our driver Ponciano.

16 feb. 2004: We spend the morning around Rio Zumbador.
Black-headed Tody-flycatcher (Todirostrum nigriceps), Great Antshrike (Taraba major) and Orange-crowned Oriole (Icterus auricapilus) were new for the trip.

In the afternoon was the classic boat trip in the Catatumbo mangrove planned.
At our arrival in Puerto Concha and during the lunch we saw Greater Ani (Crotophaga major).
The trip was worth it. First an encounter with a Slender-billed Kite (Rostrhamus hamatus) from just 5 meters. Everyone could clearly see the yellow eye and other details of the bird.
Further 5 Northern Screamers (Chauna chavaria) (near-endemics), Tucuxi Dolphins (Sotalia fluviatilis) and White-fronted Capuchins (Cebus albifrons).

17 feb. 2004: In the morning we went for better views of Citron-throated Toucan (Ramphastos citreolaemus) in Rio Frio. But no luck. A big group of Bronze-winged Parrots (Pionus chalcopterus), a Great Antshrike (Taraba major), Brown Violetears (Colibri delphinae) and a beautiful Golden-tailed Sapphire (Chrysuronia oenone) were seen. Latter was sitting 20 min in perfect sunlight (good for the filmers).
We drove further to Maracaibo and made some stops on the way. In Misoa we just had an hour and the only thing we saw was a Laughing Falcon. We drove further to our hotel, where our extra guide for the next days (Jose Gustavo) was waiting.

18 feb. 2004: We had our breakfast in the foothills of the Perija mountains. A flowering tree full of small hummers, such as Spangled Coquette!! (Lophornis stictolophus) and Blue-crowned Woodnymph (Thalurania colombica).
We hearded (beautiful sound) and saw Rufous-&-white Wren (Thryothorus rufalbus). A White Hawk (Leucopternis albicollis) flew several times above the canopy and our heads. Further Blue-black Grosbeaks, Violaceous Trogon (Trogon violaceous) and a rarely seen Black-&-White Hawk-Eagle (Spizastur melanoleucus).
Higher in the mountains at 1200 m asl we saw a Yellow-billed Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus (calorhynchus) sulcatus) and a clearly exhausted Black-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus). This species was new for both guides. After lunch we climbed higher to 1600 m. Here we saw as well Golden-headed (Pharomachrus auriceps) as Crested Quetzal (P. antisianus). Near the top (1800 m asl) the view was limited due to heavy clouds. But everyone still could identify Subtropical Caciques (Cacicus uropygialis).

19 feb. 2004: Again to the top and again the view was disturbed by clouds.
A Tapaculo (Scytalopus sp.) came very close. The sound was very different from other Tapaculos.
At last we could see Andean Solitaire (Myadestes ralloides) after only hearings during the trip.

We drove lower to get just under the clouds. Here a nice Scaled Fruiteater (Ampelioides tschudii) could be called in.
Further as well a Yellow-billed (Aulacorhynchus (calorhynchus) sulcatus) as a Crimson-rumped Toucanet (A. haematopygus).
The group made a split. One part saw White-rumped Hawk (Buteo leucorrhous), while the others had a female Wire-tailed Manakin (Pipra filicauda).

We left the mountains and went to Campo Boscan. Mixed monkey groups (White-fronted Capuchin, Cebus albifrons and Howler Monkeys) passed while we were eating.

One can call Campo Boscan as well a kind of mini-llanos. Similar habitat but with different species.
No Scarlet, but Red-&-green Macaws (Ara chloropterus) flew over. 5 Northern Screamers (Chauna chavaria) could be seen in a tree. (Better for filming than in the boat). A Dwarf Cuckoo (Coccyzus pumilus) came along.

In the dry bush we had another speciality: the near-endemic Chestnut Piculet (Picumnus cinnamomeus).
Suddenly there was as well a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl (Glaucidium brasilianum).

20 feb. 2004: There wasn't a lot of time left on this last day, but in the last hours we could see some really special birds. There were many endemic Maracaibo Tody-flycatcher (Todirostrum viridanum).
Further we had the near-endemics: White-whiskered Spinetail (Synallaxis candei), Northern Scrub-Flycatcher (Sublegatus arenarum), Slender-billed Inezia (Inezia tenuirostris) and Glaucous Tanager (Thraupis glaucocolpa).
A group of Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) was ideal for the last photo of the group.
At 10 am we returned to Maracaibo where participants said goodbye to both guides and the driver.

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