Birding trip NW Venezuela 7-14 March 2005
- general info (here)
- daily report
- photos of birding sites
John van der Woude - www.jvanderw.nl 
 
As a side trip of our stay at relatives on the Netherlands Antilles' Curacao (only 30 minutes flight from Caracas) we have been birding for 8 days in northwest Venezuela. This was our 5th trip to this highly varied tropical country, all from Curacao. 

We visited three altitudinal zones, from low to high: 1. Maracaibo basin lowlands: dry scrub and moist savanna near Maracaibo (Zulia state), 2. mid-elevation andean forests at Yacambú NP southwest of Barquisimeto (Lara state), and 3. high andean forest and paramo in Guaramacal NP at Bocono (Trujillo state). Only the latter site had we visited earlier (1998), but that was in the rain. Now we had splendid weather all the time. 

The aims of the trip were: seeing a great diversity of (forest) birds, getting some more lifers after the earlier trips to Venezuela and other southamerican countries, and trying out Maracaibo as a relatively new birding destination. For Yacambú we got birding and lodging info from Chris Sharpe, and for Maracaibo from Jurgen Beckers. For more general info about birding Yacambú and Guaramacal we used Goodwin's Birding in Venezuela.

Because of the flight connections at Caracas when coming from Curacao, our best option was flying to Maracaibo (the 2nd city of Venezuela) and also back from there. Travel in the Maracaibo basin is fast so we didn't bother too much about having to go back to Maracaibo again. This time we did not rent a car, but traveled by taxis and buses (mainly taxis). Bus fares are very low, but the private taxis cost us on average about 10 dollar or less per hour. The flights were with Aeropostal, currently the carrier with the most flights in Venezuela (and permitted to land in the USA, which is regarded as a quality proof). Phone number inside Venezuela (for reconfirmation) was 0800 2846 637.

This time we did not bring wellingtons, nor a scope, nor recording equipment, but I brought a minidisc with the sounds of target species plus a small speaker (which I use sparingly only). Our binoculars are 8x and 12x (Leica). This was the first time we used the superb new Birds of Venezuela field guide by Hilty (2003). I cannot stress enough how important this book is, especially because of the very detailed descriptions (similar species, voice, behavior, habitat, range, status). As a general map of Venezuela we used the 1:1400000 from Reise Know-How (2002, 8 euro), and I printed quite a few detailed regional sections from the map downloaded at www.gpsve.net. This site is mainly for GPS-aficionados and before the trip I also stored some important waypoints in my GPS-device (took them from those detailed maps). Also, Jurgen had given me two GPS-waypoints for the Maracaibo birding sites. Of course, for your convenience I also made new GPS-waypoints in the field.

We stayed at the following hotels:

1. Maracaibo: hotel Aeropuerto, email hotelaeropuerto@cantv.net, phone +58 (0)261 7875 881, fax +58 (0)261 7875 445, at GPS221. Good rate.

A very reasonable hotel with good restaurant and a delicious swimming pool. Motel-like, spacious, quiet, and safely enclosed. The hotel is not really close to the airport, but near the main road to the airport. Airport pickup possible.

Venicio is one of the hotel taxi drivers, and he also patiently drove us along the dirt roads west of Maracaibo (the Campo Boscan savanne area). His son Jendry is also a taxi driver (at a posh hotel), and he brought us to the dry scrub site of Cabimas and we continued with him all the way to Sanare (Yacambú).

2. Sanare (for Yacambú NP): lodge El Encanto (www.posadaelencanto.com) at c. 10 km SW of Sanare, phone +58 (0)253 4490 784 (and 639). A splendid place to be, with an enormous view across the valley (see photo), and a good restaurant. The restaurant (also called El Encanto) is at 4 km from the lodge back to Sanare but you will be brought to the restaurant whenever you like (breakfast is at the lodge itself). The owner of the lodge is Manuel, a former naval captain and he speaks English. The restaurant is owned by his sister. Manuel will arrange everything for you, like the drive (with his assistant José Alberto as driver) into the national park (with packed lunch), picking you up there again wherever and whenever you like, and finding a reasonably priced taxi for the drive to Bocono. He will also arrange airport pickup at Barquisimeto. Thoroughly recommended! By the way, the road from Sanare/El Encanto SW down to El Vigiadero (near El Tocuyo) has been improved so you can reach El Encanto from both sides.

3. Bocono (for Guaramacal NP): hotel Vega del Rio, phone +58 (0)272 6522 992 (or 493), at GPS232, at 1200 m altitude. In the northern outskirts of this provincial town, near the road to Trujillo, and about 1,5 km from the new bus station. A reasonable hotel with a quiet location and a reasonable restaurant. The arrangement (via the waiter) to have a 4WD car into the national park failed but then we found rather quickly another driver nearby. Staying more in the center of this town may have the advantage of finding a regular 4WD driver more easily (not sure about this). Taxi driver at the hotel ensures easy transport from and to the bus station. The bus connection to Maracaibo (via Valera) is frequent, about once per hour.


Birding sites:

1a. Campo Boscan. This llanos-type oil field west of Maracaibo (pointed out to me by Jurgen Beckers) holds a good variety of lowland bird species. There is dry savanna, wet savanna, woodlands and scrubs, and all birding can be done from the many dirt roads. See map for how to find this area, but do take enough time to find your way inside this area.  Most dirt roads are freely accessible, but the more interesting (southern) ones have gates (mostly of the oil company). We entered the gate at GPS216 by friendly asking the gatekeeper (and giving him a small tip when we left), but I am not sure if this will always work.

Some of the better species we got here were Dwarf Cuckoo, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Russet-throated Puffbird (single-banded type), White-naped Xenopsaris, Grey Pileated-Finch, King Vulture.  

1b. Cabimas. East of Maracaibo (so on the east side of Lake Maracaibo) is the town Cabimas, situated in an extensive dry scrub area. The dirt road/track we birded (see map) was on the east side of the main road to Barquisimeto, although Jurgen visited the area on the west side. This dirt track was very nice, and in the early morning hours we saw, during only 2 hours or so, several of the specialties here (see below). If you come here with a rental car, then you may want to drive the track for some distance (2WD passable, unless after rains maybe) and not leave it at the main road. Maybe you can also ask the friendly people who live at the start of the track, to keep an eye on your car. This is typically where a taxi is easier, also because it is only a short drive from Maracaibo.
The best species we got here were White-whiskered Spinetail and Maracaibo Tody-Flycatcher.  

2. Yacambú NP. It is Mary-Lou Goodwin who, in all the editions of her Birding in Venezuela, has insisted that birders should visit this rather unknown national park. You can reach it from the west side of the elongated mountain village Sanare, which is about 50 km SW of Barquisimeto. Birding is mainly along the quiet road that traverses this park, and also at the recreation area with a trail to a waterfall. Chris Sharpe had pointed out some good spots along the road (especially the last few km before and after the recreation area). We walked here during two visits, and also stayed quite a while at the recreation area itself.
Some of the species here were Blood-eared Parakeet,  Northern Helmeted Curassow, Merida Tapaculo, Barred Becard, Variegated Bristle-Tyrant.

3. Guaramacal NP. “One of the best birding roads in South America” (Hilty acc. to Goodwin) runs through this Andean national park all the way up from the outskirts of Bocono (at Laguna de los Cedros, 1700 m altitude) to the large telecommunications towers at the pass at about 2900 m altitude (the road then continues to the village La Vega de Guaramacal). A 4WD driver brought us to the pass and we walked back down to the laguna, where we got another paid drive down to Bocono from a local inhabitant. We could have been picked up halfway by the 4WD driver of that morning but we preferred to walk all the way down. How to get a 4WD to the pass? Find 4WD cars (often lined up in the central street of Bocono) and ask for a ride to the 'antenas' (pronounced antennas), these are the telecommunication towers at the pass. The antenas themselves are another 1 km from the pass upwards along a side track, but at the pass you will be glad to leave the car after the bumpy ride, and because you are already in the middle of great paramo habitat. We spent quite some time in the paramo (also a bit along that side road to the antenas) before heading down through the elfin forest, the upper Andean forest etc. The walk took us about 8 or 9 hours, including the birding of course. At 2 pm (after 6 hours) we were only halfway or so, because the upper part of the road has the most interesting birds.

Some of the better species we got here were Venezuelan Tyrannulet, Grey-naped Antpitta, Ocellated Tapaculo, Golden-tailed Starfrontlet, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Rose-crowned Parakeet, Green-and-Black Fruiteater, 5 species of flowerpiercer.

For more details of the birding sites, read the daily reports.

 
GPS-waypoints (in WGS84):

GPS213 N10°19'55,48" W072°01'06,05" 
GPS214 N10°19'51,45" W072°00'44,44" 
GPS215 N10°20'12,15" W072°00'31,10" 
GPS216 N10°21'08,69" W071°59'57,18" 
GPS217 N10°21'45,62" W071°59'35,27" 
GPS218 N10°23'07,15" W071°58'46,70"
GPS219 N10°25'28,57" W071°58'58,67"
GPS220 N10°29'09,85" W071°59'00,31"
GPS221 N10°37'32,35" W071°39'18,98"
GPS222 N10°30'56,95" W071°26'51,42"
GPS223 N10°30'59,50" W071°27'29,42"
GPS224 N09°42'55,06" W069°41'37,04"
GPS225 N09°42'09,65" W069°35'41,51"
GPS226 N09°42'24,81" W069°35'45,39"
GPS227 N09°14'19,02" W070°11'05,57"
GPS228 N09°14'11,12" W070°11'22,70"
GPS229 N09°14'48,16" W070°12'32,15"
GPS230 N09°15'03,40" W070°12'56,94"
GPS231 N09°15'09,15" W070°12'47,50"
GPS232 N09°15'07,61" W070°16'34,88"
GPS233 N10°25'28,32" W071°59'00,21"
GPS234 N12°04'41,68" W068°52'10,83"