Venezuela
April 29 - May 7, 2000

Allen & Nancy Chartier

Trip Log
     General Information
     Day 1       Day 6
     Day 2       Day 7
     Day 3       Day 8
     Day 4       Day 9
     Day 5          
     
Species Accounts
TRIP LOG
This trip had been originally scheduled through Caligo Ventures for the first week in April to coincide with the bird banding operations at Henri Pittier N.P., since our group was a local group of banders and banding assistants. We found out when we arrived that the banding is conducted in March and October so we would be treated to a special demonstration. We couldnít get enough participants for the first week in April, so we had to reschedule. The first week was a Venezuelan holiday week anyway, and of course the week of April 15 wasnít very popular due to income tax being due. The following week was Easter and would be very busy at Henri Pittier. So, we were only left with an April 29 departure, which we found out upon arrival was a three-day Labor Day weekend, and our time at Henri Pittier was adversely affected anyway.
Day 1, Saturday, April 29, 2000
We met John, Joanna, and Mike at the airport at 5:00 a.m. After passing out a revised bird trip list and a revised flight itinerary, we took off from Detroit on-time at 6:45 a.m. We arrived in Miami and met our final participant, Sue, who had flown down a day early to take advantage of her frequent flyer miles.

Of course, there was the seemingly traditional delay departing Miami, and our flight to Caracas was delayed from a 10:55 a.m. departure to 12:20 p.m. The 727 on this flight had the smallest, and closest-spaced seats possible and we were relieved when we arrived in Caracas at 3:45 p.m. We met Gustavo Rodriguez (who we had birded with in Venezuela in 1992) and our driver Wilfredo (Willie). We packed the van and made the 2+ hour drive to Maracay, arriving at the very nice Italo Hotel at 6:30 p.m.

There was apparently a local sculptor in Maracay whose work we saw twice. One we dubbed "fat naked white guy on a swing" and the other "fat naked gray guy suspended by wire 100 feet above the ground". The figures were about double life size, and appeared to be some sort of rubber material.

Our welcome dinner consisted of the Venezuelan national dish, Papallon (pronounced "papa john"), and we reviewed the itinerary for the week. An unexpected additional member of our group was George Kaestner, one of the partners of Sima Aonda Travel, the operator that made our arrangements in Venezuela with Caligo.

Day 2, Sunday, April 30, 2000
We left the hotel at 5:45 a.m. for Henri Pittier National Park. As previously mentioned, we didnít know this was a 3-day holiday. The traffic picked up quickly, so we ducked in to the banding station a ways off the road. We were treated to in-hand close-up views of White-collared Swift (size 2 band!), female Long-tailed Sylph, male and female Golden-tailed Sapphire, a brooding male Golden-olive Woodpecker, 2nd year male Olive-striped Flycatcher, and a female Russet-backed Oropendola. Terrific!!

Dr. Ernesto Fernandez B., the president of Sociedad Cientifica Amigos del Parque Nacional Henri Pittier, gave us an overview, through Gustavoís interpretation, of the 12-year banding program conducted here at Portachuelo Pass. The pass is the lowest point in the coastal range in Venezuela, and is used by many migrants on their way north and south. Many resident birds also make daily migrations between the north and south slope of these mountains. Gustavo told us that one year (fall?) they banded 300 Blackpoll Warblers in one day, and counted 40,000! The banders here are still using the old USFWS keys along with the National Geograpic field guide. Our group agreed that we would send a copy of the new Pyle book, and a 12 inch wing ruler (much needed for the oropendola).

We then went to the Rancho Grande Research Station and watched the excellent feeders until breakfast at 8:00 a.m. It was difficult to go inside with such great activity at the feeders. After breakfast, we walked the trail behind the station, and ran into one good mixed species flock.

After lunch at the Research Station, we walked the grounds a bit more, then headed back down slope. There was only one pull off on the way that wasnít jammed with people and cars, and the traffic continued all day (including busses with horns that sounded like the Queen Mary). In Maracay, we found a city park that wasnít too crowded and did some city birding.

Not a bad first day, with 106 species total.

Day 3, Monday, May 1, 2000
A 5:00 a.m. departure with our destination the lowlands of the north slope of Henri Pittier N.P. It was foggy most of the way down, and rainy in spots. When we arrived at the Cumboto Road it had stopped raining and there were birds everywhere. We didnít know where to turn first until we figured out that half the birds were Red-eyed Vireos.

We had a picnic breakfast and lunch along this road while enjoying a relatively traffic-free day. After lunch we headed back through the terrible traffic to the Rancho Grande Research Station, which was closed due to heavy use. They opened up again especially for us, and we spent a while watching the feeders again. We then returned to Maracay around 4:30 p.m. and did our bird list before dinner. 121 species today.

Day 4, Tuesday, May 2, 2000
A 5:30 a.m. departure for the Choroni Road in Henri Pittier N.P. Upon arriving at the summit we were greeted by great birds, including a pair of Band-tailed Guans in a tree right next to the road, soon to be joined by about 15 Blood-eared Parakeets. Great views! We saw quite a bit in the abbreviated morning that we had, though the White-tipped Quetzals never showed themselves despite being heard calling quite nearby. The traffic wasnít too bad this morning, with only residual holiday traffic. Some of the busses sounded like a combination of a freight train horn and an Indy 500 race car!

After checking out of the hotel, and having lunch in a nearby restaurant, we made the long drive to Barinas. Willie shaved an hour off the 6-hour drive and we arrived at the Hotel Bristol at 5:15 p.m. We did our bird list before dinner, tallying 106 species, not bad for a travel day.

Day 5, Wednesday, May 3, 2000
A very early 4:15 a.m. departure this morning for the San Isidro Tunnel Road cloud forest, with our bags packed and in the back of the van. We arrived in the near-dark in order to make the 40-minute walk to the trail to a lek of the Andean Cock-of-the-rock before the birds arrived. A light mist greeted us, and we went down the very steep trail to the lek. We were very successful, with everyone eventually getting good looks at displaying males in full view, which were all around us, but often mostly hidden.

On returning back up the steep trail, it was raining harder, and few birds were to be seen. The next two birds we saw, Saffron-headed Parrot and Red-ruffed Fruitcrow (which was sitting next to a male cock-of-the rock in an open Cecropia tree across the valley) assured that this would be a quality bird day! Our elation was short-lived as we had to walk all the way back to the van in pouring rain, which let up briefly only once allowing us brief views of one mixed flock. We didnít see most of the common birds of this area, but did see a good selection of the rarities.

Once we got back to the van the rain mostly let up, which allowed us to see one more target bird, the Cliff Flycatchers at the rock quarry. We drive down slope to where it wasnít raining and had lunch. It was a well-chosen spot, as Gustavo found a really magnificent male Striped Manakin that posed right in the open for us, adding to our quality list for the day.

We then made the long drive (4+ hours) to the Hato el Cedral ranch with a couple of birding stops along the way. From Barinas to the Apure River we were in the high llanos, which doesnít flood in the rainy season like the low llanos, which began after crossing the bridge (under repair) over the Apure River. Once in Apure state across the river, birds were everywhere, in contrast to the morning, and we had to resist the temptation to stop every five minutes so that we could arrive at Hato el Cedral before dark. We drove the entrance road to the Matiyure Camp at the ranch in the last hour before sunset, and birded the road in front of the camp at dusk. In this brief time at Cedral, we had seen hundreds of Capybara and Spectacled Caiman. We did our bird lists at 7:30 p.m. with dinner quite late at 8:00 p.m. The rainy season was 4-weeks late in arriving, but during dinner it officially arrived with a rather intense downpour complete with lightning. It was a great day, especially so despite all the driving, as the bird list was 172 today!

Day 6, Thursday, May 4, 2000
After a 5:30 breakfast, we departed at 6:00 a.m. for a truck ride to the gallery forest adjacent to the Caicara River. We birded along the dikes on the way and near the forest, then took a trail into the forest in mid-morning. A Giant Anteater was non-bird highlight of the morning, as well as a Tamandua (Lesser Anteater) roosting in the crotch of a tree. We returned to the camp for lunch and a mid-day siesta as the temperatures were soaring.

A few of us braved the mid-day heat and walked some of the nearby dikes where a large female Anaconda had been found. She was probably 12-14 feet long, and nearly a foot in diameter. It rained briefly during our siesta.

We departed at 4:00 p.m. for an afternoon and night drive to one of the farthest portions of the ranch. Before sunset, thunderstorms caught up with us and we had to stop at a shelter at the far end of one of the dikes. It cleared up soon, and we continued on our way. Along the Caicara River, at a different point from this morning, we walked along the road a little. We soon saw our second Giant Anteater of the day (wow!) and a Savanna (Crab-eating) Fox., and soon the nightjars began calling and coming out of the gallery forest. At first, most were Band-tailed Nighthawks, with several very large Nacunda Nighthawks seen quite well too. John thought the latter looked like Southern Lapwings, and indeed their wings are nearly as large. The rain began again slowly as we continued on our way. At one point there were several hatchling Spectacled Caimans in the road, and we got hand-held views of one. The rain increased in intensity until it was raining quite steadily and hard, so we drove nearly straight back to the camp, cutting us short by nearly 45 minutes (we had planned to return by 9:00 p.m., but got back at 8:15). The rainy season has definitely arrived! Near the camp, we saw a couple of Boat-billed Herons including a strange nearly-complete albino individual.

We had dinner as soon as we got back to camp and dried off, and skipped a formal bird list session, though the days total was a very impressive 173 species.

Day 7, Friday, May 5, 2000
We departed at 6:15 a.m. for a drive to the entrance to the ranch, where a week before a large flock (400+) of Buff-breasted Sandpipers had been reported by some of the ranch staff. On the way, we were rewarded with excellent views of several Pinnated Bitterns and a surprise Stripe-backed Bittern. After much searching at the entrance, a couple of Buff-breasted Sandpipers were located. Two life birds for Gustavo today (the sandpiper and Stripe-backed Bittern), and additions to the Hato el Cedral list as well. On the ay back we stopped at a Mata ("islands" of trees). Nearby, in the roadside ditch, we saw the River Tyrannulet, which Nancy and I had seen here in 1992, but was not identified with certainty until a few years later.

We returned to the camp for breakfast at 8:30 a.m., then left right after for a drive to the the Matiyure River, which has its source on the ranch property. We walked one trail looking for Zigzag Heron (unsuccessful) and Yellow-knobbed Curassow (good views), and another where Jet Antbird had recently been discovered here.

We returned to the camp for lunch and a siesta until 4:00 p.m. when we rode in the truck back to the Matiyure River for a boat ride. We were thwarted in our attempt to get to the area where the Agami Heron was being seen the previous week due to the ever-lowering water levels. Even the recent rain wouldnít raise the river enough to allow us to get there.

We put in to shore at one point, hoping to be able to walk farther up the river along the beach. The route was blocked by trees, and a path through the woods wasnít clear nor safe. We had to wield sticks to fend off the many curious, but mostly not dangerous, Spectacled Caimans along the shore while recalling our sighting of a huge (4+ meter) Orinoco Crocodile just down the river a short distance. That one would be quite dangerous!

Almost immediately after turning back, it started to rain quite hard. We were totally soaked by the time we got on the truck and rode the several kilometers back to the camp; the rain didnít let up even for a minute! We had dinner around 7:30 p.m. and did our bird list for today and yesterday afterward. Our tally for the day was 150 species, and the total seen at Hato el Cedral was 184 species.

Day 8, Saturday, May 6, 2000
After a 6:00 a.m. breakfast we departed Hato el Cedral for the drive back to Barinas, with only a couple of quick stops on the way (one for yet another Giant Anteater, this one right next to the road!).

We arrived in Barinas three hours before our flight, which allowed us to check in and do a little more birding! Gustavo took us to a trail along the Rio Yura where he had seen Pale-headed Jacamar and Cinereous Becard on occasion, both of which we had only heard at Hato el Cedral. We heard another Cinereous Becard here, along with good views of Trinidad Euphonia, but no luck with the jacamar. We drove back to Barinas for lunch, then to the airport where we said goodbye to Willie who was headed for Merida.

Our 1:40 p.m. flight took off on-time and we arrived in Caracas at 2:40 p.m. By 3:30 we arrived at the Caracas Hilton and by 4:00 we were checked in (expensive hotels in Venezuela means slow service). We had a 6:30 farewell dinner, but didnít do a final bird list. Even though we werenít trying very hard today, we ended up with 108 species for the day.

Day 9, Sunday, May 7, 2000
We met in the hotel lobby for a 5:00 a.m. departure for the airport. Most didnít sleep well as the music continued until 4:30 a.m. on one side of the hotel (getting a room on a high floor on the pool side on Saturday night is essential).

Since there had been a couple of changes a couple of weeks prior to our departure, we were anticipating a little extra time for re-ticketing, but it took quite a bit longer than we expected. We also discovered that we may have been scammed by Venezuelan immigration when we entered the country. Our passports had been stamped as entering the country on April 10, not April 29. If we had extended our trip (as many travellers do) by 4 days, we would have to pay a $32 departure tax instead of $21. Somebody is making money somewhere.

We got through Customs & Immigration OK and our flight departed on-time. Customs & Immigration in Miami went without a hitch and we got to our gate for the Chicago flight as boarding was starting. We departed on-time and arrived in Chicago at 3:30 p.m. local time, on schedule despite being 20 minutes ahead (OíHare will do it every time!). We walked right onto the next flight as it was boarding. Weíll never plan an itinerary with this tight a schedule again, because if any little thing had gone wrong we would have missed one of our flights. We arrived home in Detroit at 6:15 p.m.