Daily report of birding trip NW Venezuela 7-14 March 2005
John van der Woude  -  www.jvanderw.nl 

See also the general info of this trip, and the photos.

Sunday 6 March 2005

Arrived at 19.30 h at La Chinita airport of Maracaibo. The driver from hotel Aeropuerto was a bit late, but we were soon at the hotel, and we arranged at the desk to have a taxi to the savanna area of Campo Boscan early the following morning.

Monday 7 March 2005

Venicio the hotel taxi driver (not the same as yesterday) was well in time and soon we were crossing the many dirt roads in the Campo Boscan area west of Maracaibo. We could not exactly find Jurgen Beckers' birding spot but found several other nice spots ourselves in this maze of dirt roads between drier and wetter savanna. We were here from 07.15 till 12.30 h and got among others (most species in the section GPS220-213, see map): several herons/egrets, Savanna Hawk, Hook-billed Kite in a tree, Pearl Kite, Scaled Dove, two macaws (probably Red&Green), Brown-throated Parakeet, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Striped Cuckoo (heard), Dwarf Cuckoo (twice), a few unidentified hummers, Russet-throated Puffbird on a valve in an oil pipe, Green and Ringed Kingfishers, several Red-crowned Woodpeckers, a Straight-billed Woodcreeper at its nest, Yellow-chinned Spinetail at the edge of standing water in a meadow, Caribbean Hornero (+nest), Northern Scrub-Flycatcher (lifer, range-restricted species; seen at short distance, at the last spot = GPS213), Common Tody-Flycatcher (on Hilty's maps not yet in this region; on 14 March we saw it here again, with a nest), Pied Water-Tyrant, Fork-tailed Flycatcher (twice a group), White-naped Xenopsaris (on a low branch at GPS213; on Hilty's maps not yet W of Maracaibo Lake, but was seen here by Jurgen Beckers as well), Bicolored Wren, Glaucous Tanager, Trinidad Euphonia, Saffron Finch, Yellow Oriole, Yellow-hooded Blackbird.

We spent the hot afternoon mainly at the hotel pool, in order to be prepared for more intensive birding the during rest of the week. If we had had a rental car, we would probably have gone out for some extra birding in the late afternoon. But Maracaibo is not an easy city to drive around I think, especially not since they were building a metro now.

Tuesday 8 March

At 06.00 h we left the hotel with Venicio's son Jendry, also a taxi driver. First we went to Jurgen Beckers' birding site near Cabimas at the other side of Lake Maracaibo (see map). Here we birded from 06.45 till 08.30 h along a dirt track amidst splendid dry scrub. We just slowly walked the track up and down, and had among others: Crested Bobwhite (several groups), Bare-faced Ibis (2 passing us, red bill&face visible), Crane Hawk in treetop, Scaled Dove, Brown-throated Parakeet, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Striped Cuckoo (seen, with 5-syllable song!), Ferruginous Pygmy-owl (twice), Black-throated Mango (female), Russet-throated Puffbird (see photo, the single-banded type here), Red-crowned Woodpecker, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, White-whiskered Spinetail (very close views of this beautiful lifer; taped out once we had spotted it), Caribbean Hornero, Black-crested Antshrike (male), Maracaibo Tody-Flycatcher (lifer, several very well seen), Vermillion Flycatcher, Yellow Oriole. We dipped Chestnut Piculet but there will be another chance for that in another year, at Coro or so.

At 08.30 h it was already fairly hot here, and we drove on (still with Jendry) towards Sanare. We could have changed taxis in a town halfway but got a reasonable fare for going to Sanare with him all the way.

And so we had a nice meal with him at the restaurant of El Encanto's lodge in the early afternoon, with a wide view from the terrace. We were brought to the lodge proper (4 km further on), and after having admired the wonderful room with an even wider view across the valley, we made a late afternoon stroll along the small roads above the lodge. We found a nice small weedy plateau (GPS224) and saw from there a roost (pre-roost?) of four Band-tailed Guans. Other species in these hilly fields with some small woods and ponds were among others: Capped Heron, Hook-billed Kite soaring together with a dark-phase Short-tailed Hawk (the latter stooped down after a few minutes), White-tailed Kite (several), Pied-billed Grebe, Pale-breasted Spinetail (several in the weedy field at the plateau), Lesser Kiskadee, Blue-and-white Swallow (a group), Bicolored Wren, Burnished-buff Tanager (probably roosting in the tree at the dilapidated barn at the plateau), and the uncommon Orange-crowned Oriole.

At the beginning of dusk we were at our room's balcony and saw the wonderful roost gathering of about 50 Lesser Goldfinch in a tree at only 20 meter from us.

Later in the evening, while having a drink at the terrace of the lodge, we saw a Barn Owl flying past the terrace, and heard Tropical Screech-owl in the side valley. Also did we hear there two nightjars calling 'chuck-will's wiDOW', which must be the Rufous Nightjar although Hilty does not mention it for southern Lara. At the spot, we checked the sound on the reference minidisc.

Wednesday 9 March

After breakfast at the lodge, Manuel's assistant José Alberto drove us with the lodge pickup into Yacambú NP, for the mid-elevation Andean forest. At 07.40 h he dropped us off at GPS225, which is about 13 km from Sanare, at a wide pull-off to the right, and about 0,5 -1 km before the little blue shrine  (GPS226) which is lower down the slope on the left of the road. This is all several km after the highest point in the quiet road through this all-forested NP. To find the pull-off, it may be best to drive on to the blue shrine and then drive back to the pull-off. During the ride we had heard Black-faced Antthrush. We chose to start at this spot (GPS225) because of the promising info Chris Sharpe had given for this forest section above the blue shrine. And indeed we had a nice start, with Blood-eared Parakeet (a group; Venezuelan endemic, rare outside the coastal cordillera, but seen in this NP before), Long-tailed Sylph, Booted Rackettail, Band-tailed Guan, Emerald Toucanet, Common Bush-Tanager (small flock). This was all at the pull-off, and just below it we heard a Northern Helmeted Curassow at maybe only 10 meter, but we got no views of it. Then Merida Tapaculo (lifer) started singing in the brush along the road (at the pull-off again), and when we finally saw it, we noted color rings: red + blue on the left leg, white + beige on the right leg.

At the blue shrine we had a small flock of Blackburnian Warbler (a few males and females), Barred Becard (a wish-list lifer; close view so barring visible plus the yellow etc.), Variegated Bristle-Tyrant (lifer, at only 6 m, so we saw the ochre-colored bold wing bars and the orange lower mandible) and Russet-backed Oropendola.

A bit further on we heard a few Golden-breasted Fruiteaters, Andean Solitaire and Lined Quail-Dove (at the spot checked on the reference minidisc), and we saw Black-capped and Golden Tanager. We slowly walked on down the slope in perfect weather and we saw Plain-brown and Montane Woodcreeper, a Variegated Bristle-Tyrant again (flicking its wing upwards like described in Hilty), and we witnessed a fight of Masked Trogons (2 males and 1 female). On we went for a male White-sided Flowerpiercer, a Bronzy Inca nearby, Montane Foliagegleaner, Golden-breasted Fruiteater (well seen now), White-winged Tanager, Slaty-capped Flycatcher (spotted wing bar + wing flicking + black bill), Beryl-spangled Tanager, and a mixed flock of American Redstart, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Bay-headed tanager and Fulvous-headed Tanager.

Around noon we had descended as far as the wide entrance (on the left) to the recreation area called El Blanquito (the 'small white blanket' because of the frequent mist here). The closed gate will be opened for you after calling (loud enough) the warden in the little house behind the gate. In the early morning, our driver José Alberto had already announced our [coming] to the gatekeeper.

We ate our prepared lunch in the shade of one of the buildings in this half-open recreation area, and then took the Cascada (waterfall) trail up from the most left-hand track in this area. In this moist forest we added Brown Tinamou, Southern Nightingale-Wren (at a level wooden walkway halfway the trail), Three-striped Warbler, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush (now seen after many heard today; seen singing at 4 m height; Hilty says: difficult to observe), Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch.

At 15.00 h we were picked up at this recreation area and half an hour later we were having another delicious meal at the Encanto restaurant, where Bicolored Wren came nearly at our terrace table. A flock of 100 White-collared Swifts flew straight past us, high in the air, possibly migrating.

At the lodge we saw the Lesser Goldfinches coming to roost again, and Eastern Meadowlark was singing in the pasture below our cottage.

Thursday 10 March

At 06.45 h we were at the El  Blanquito recreation area again. First we birded the open spaces in the center, and had Rufous-vented Chachalaca (small parties), Yellow-legged Thrush, Golden-olive Woodpecker (two displaying), Green Jay, Pale-breasted and Black-hooded Thrush and a pair of Swallow Tanager.

At 07.30 h we entered the Cascada trail again and had Booted Rackettail (nearby), Long-tailed Sylph, Three-striped Warbler (singing, with color rings, 1 blue), Howler Monkey (group heard), Slaty-capped Tyrannulet, a xenops (probably Plain), Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush (seen again!), Southern Nightingale-Wren (seen now! finally after so many years of only hearing it; same spot as yesterday). We met with a few entomologists from Barquisimeto university.

After a rest, we descended the Cascada trail at 09.30 h. Again we heard more birds than we saw them, but added nevertheless: Fawn-breasted and Speckled Tanager (in a flock), Grey-breasted Wood-Wren (seen right along the trail), Andean Solitaire (2 at eye level), Little Tinamou (heard), Beryl-spangled Tanager (in a fruiting tree), and a Band-tailed Guan a few m above our heads.

From 10.30 h we birded the open clearing of the recreation area again, and saw among others Short-tailed Hawk (light phase now), Slate-throated Whitestart, Yellow-backed Oriole, Blue-necked tanager, Smoke-colored Pewee, Stripe-breasted Spinetail (heard only, despite a long search).

Then we walked the main road further down a bit, and saw Red-headed Barbet, and Hook-billed Kite (sitting on a branch above the road). At the Y for the laguna (pond) to the right we had Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Plain Antvireo and Bay-headed Tanager. At the laguna was a Pied-billed Grebe, a pair of White-lined tanagers and inquisitive Oriole Blackbirds at the picnic tables, a great bird when seen so nearby. Its occurrence here, well above the normal altitudinal range, is indeed mentioned by Hilty.

From 12.30 h we walked back, up the park road, till we would meet José Alberto with his pickup car at about 15.00 h again (just anywhere he would find us along this very quiet road). Despite the midday hours we still had some nice birds: Fulvous-headed Tanager, Black-and-white Becard, Black-capped Tyrannulet, Collared Trogon female), Violet-fronted Brilliant (a pair at the side of the road).

Back at the lodge we saw, while sitting again at the attractive terrace, a Sooty-capped Hermit probing for insects along the walls etc. This is the so-called limpiacasa (house cleaner) because it often enters houses for catching spiders etc. and José Alberto told us they do so here too.  

Friday 11 March

It was hard to leave the peaceful lodge and the wonderful national park forest, but we had to  move on to the higher Andes of Bocono. Manuel (the lodge owner) had arranged a reasonable fare for the taxi drive to Bocono, including some time for stopping in a presumed birding site in dry habitat some 10 km along the road down to the West. We stopped here indeed but saw nothing worthwhile. So we better moved on to Bocono to have some birding time in the afternoon. The drive itself was very pleasant, 3 hours of impressive Andean valleys in a very comfortable, large and well-maintained Ford, with a cautious and nice driver (Pauxides Seguero; phone 0416 255 1445).

After checking in at hotel La Vega del Rio and having a meal at the hotel's restaurant, we arranged a ride with José Gregorio the waiter here to the Laguna de los Cedros recreation area, which is the start of the birding road up through the Guaramacal NP but also a nice birding area in itself. We birded here from 15.30 h and got, among others, Black Phoebe, Little Grebe, the compra-pan antpitta (heard; this is the nickname for Chestnut-crowned Antpitta; compra pan means buy bread and this it can sing all day long), Beryl-spangled Tanager, White-capped Dipper (at the tiny waterfall at the back of this recreation area), and Torrent Tyrannulet (at the lake itself).

Then we walked the mountain road up for about 600 m, till the mirador (viewpoint, overlooking the lake). On this stretch we had Orange-throated Sunangel (female), Glossy-black Thrush (2 males), Venezuelan Tyrannulet (lifer and near-endemic, nearby drinking from mossy stone hollow), Speckled Hummingbird, a few Mountain Elaenia, and Long-tailed Sylph.

Saturday 12 March

This was our day for the high-altitude Andean birding. Via the waiter of the hotel's restaurant we had arranged a 4WD taxi for the rough ride up the Guaramacal NP dirt road, but the driver didn't show up in the early morning (06.00 h). After 10 minutes we didn't want to wait any longer and with one of the guards we walked to a nearby weekly peasant market (interesting in itself!), and after some 20 minutes we found a 4WD driver willing to drive us to the ' antenas' (top of the Guaramacal road), for a reasonable fare. So at 08.10 h we stood at the paramo at the pass (GPS227), where it was still cold (12 degrees C; we had brought a jacket). In the beautiful, open paramo vegetation (see photo) we soon had Grey-naped Antpitta (three, and yet heard only alas, this lifer), Orange-throated Sunangel (male this time), Great Thrush, Tyrian Metaltail. During the slow drive upwards we had seen a Merida Flowerpiercer already in front of the car, and while walking down now into the upper elfin forest we added Glossy and Moustached Flowerpiercer. Here we also had the first of many Lacrimose Mountain-Tanagers, and heard Merida Tapaculo. Another nice bird was Slaty Brush-Finch.

Now (at GPS228) we had walked less than 1 km, and were deeper down into the bamboo-rich elfin forest. We heard two Ocellated Tapaculos (a bird with a very local occurrence, possibly in small colonies acc. to Hilty), and two Band-tailed Pigeons raced overhead. Here too we had a large mixed-species flock, consisting of at least Specatacled Whitestart, Black-capped Tyrannulet, White-throated Tyrannulet, Glossy Flowerpiercer, Masked Flowerpiercer, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, White-sided Flowerpiercer and Pearled Treerunner. Nearby were Golden-tailed Starfrontlet (female; endemic and lifer), Blue-and-black Tanager, and the star bird of our trip, Sword-billed Hummingbird! We had quite prolonged views of this unbelievable bird, because from where we stood we saw both the feeding bush as the perching bush. Normal views (in dry season) of this highly sought-after species are very short because you will not easily see both spots and the bird flies frequently to and fro between both.

The next species was also a good one, the endemic Rose-crowned Parakeet. We saw it flying just below us, so we could notice and the white wing patches, plus the red tail.

Then a large group of Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager crossed the road, but from now on(11.30 h) it was a bit quieter, mostly because the birds were less vocal. Then a large flock is welcome: White-browed Spinetail, Black-crowned Warbler, and the usual flowerpiercers, sunangel and starfrontlet.

At 12.30 h we were really lower (and we should be!) and when we sensed another large flock we used an Andean Pygmy-Owl tape to get them nearer: all the species again, plus Merida Flowerpiercer.

Lower again we had Golden-olive Woodpecker and Merida Tapaculo, and at 14.10 h we were at 2380 m altitude (GPS228) which we considered as halfway down from the pass to the laguna. Here we heard the first of about 6 Green-and-Black Fruiteaters. We really entered the 'lower upper' forest now, with Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, Golden-crowned Warbler, Slate-throated Whitestart, a male Green-and-Black Fruiteater (seen now), Blue-capped Tanager, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush. At GPS230 (only 3 satellites reception) we were in beautiful forest with less bamboo. At this spot is a small trail (10 m or so) to a water drip where we saw Variegated Bristle-Tyrant.

GPS231 was at the start (as seen from above) of the surfaced road, and this would be a good spot to be dropped off by a normal (2WD) taxi, for exploration of the lower forest. It was getting late now so we walked on more quickly, also because the bird activity was really low here and/or now.

Sunday 13 March

In contrast to our preferred day rhythm, we skipped birding in the morning and decided to use the morning for the travel back to Maracaibo, because we were not too sure about the bus connections in the afternoon. On hindsight, we could easily have had some early morning birding at the end of that surfaced road of yesterday afternoon. However, we felt the end of the trip nearing and we took it a bit easier now. Back at the hotel Aeropuerto in Maracaibo, we took a rest in the afternoon and enjoyed the swimming pool again.

This was typically a day that would have been different if we had had a rental car. We would have done not only that birding at the end of the surfaced road, but even have included some birding at the dry scrub area at Cabimas (see second day). Well, that would have been another hectic day then, although the bus drive was also a bit hectic because of the enormous noise from the sound boxes on the floor behind the driver!

Monday 14 March

A long morning (6.30 - 13.30 h) with hotel driver Venicio to the dry and wet savanna (llanos) west of Maracaibo, the so-called Campo Boscan area (see first day). We now went straight to GPS233, an S-bend in the long N-S road which starts at 4 km west of Km 40. In the dry forest here we had another lifer, the uncommon Grey Pileated-Finch, Black-crested Antshrike again, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Russet-throated Puffbird. Alas, no Vermillion Cardinal (also something for Coro in another year).

We then spent most of the time in the wetter savanna (llanos) S of the gate at GPS216 (see map). The systematic list here was: Anhinga, ibises, Little Grebe, Cocoi Heron, Great Egret, Little Blue Heron (whitish face), American Woodstork, Capped Heron, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, King Vulture (very high in the air), Grey Hawk (splendid close view), Harris Hawk (2 or 3), Savanna Hawk (a few, nearby), Black-collared Hawk, American Kestrel (c. 6, a few with prey), a large eagle-like raptor (blackish, with white upper part of upper tail; like Great Black-Hawk but without white in underside of tail), Southern Lapwing, Purple Gallinule, Wattled Jacana, Greater Yellowlegs (1), Lesser Yellowlegs (2), Solitary Sandpiper (3+3), Least Sandpiper (5), Scaled Dove, Brown-throated Parakeet, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Striped Cuckoo, two tentatively identified hummer species that should not occur here (Glittering-throated Emerald, the rather unmistakable male!; Rufous-tailed Hummingbird), Ringed and Green kingfisher (both 1), Red-crowned Woodpecker (2), Lineated Woodpecker (1), Straight-billed Woodcreeper (3), Yellow-bellied Elaenia (several), Common Tody-Flycatcher (twice; a hang nest with feeding parents - not bad for a species that is not yet mentioned for this part of Venezuela in Hilty 2003; see photo of nesting tree), several kiskadee-type flycatcher (sorry, we don't watch them very carefully anymore; one Great Kiskadee nest in pole along road in square bend at GPS213), Fork-tailed Flycatcher (flock and also stray ones, often skimming the water surface of standing water in pastures or small permanent pools), Tropical Mockingbird, Cattle Tyrant, Tropical Kingbird, Barn Swallow (2 migrating north), White-winged Swallow (1), Bicolored Wren (common in the larger trees), House Wren, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Blue-gray Tanager, Gray Seedeater, Blue-black Grassquit (males and females), Saffron Finch, Yellow Oriole, cowbirds, grackles. See also the list of 7 March when we had some important other species. Today it was much hotter, with more mosquitoes.

Even the late afternoon was too hot for an extra trip to e.g. the Cabimas site (see second day). If we had had an extra morning we would certainly have gone there.

Tuesday 15 March

One last ride with Venicio, to the airport this time. Flights from Maracaibo to Caracas (Maiquetia), and from this strongly overrated Maiquetia airport (with one of the highest departure taxes in the world; and yet the toilets were dirty and our departure gate changed 3 times without clear warnings) to Curacao, where we arrived at 13.30 h.