Venezuela - February 2010

Harpy Eagle and Tepui Tour

Birding in the Tepui area

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Tuesday 18 January 2011

Today we shifted base. We were to drive south for four hours to our next hotel, the oddly-named Barquilla de Fresa or Strawberry Ice-cream Cone Hotel, where we would be based for the remainder of the holiday.

Needless to say, we were up early. While we were waiting as our bags were being loaded onto the roof rack three Fork-tailed Flycatcher flew high north on migration. We turned south from the main road onto an unsurfaced road. By a small pond next to a building a Striated Heron lurked. On the building was a Burrowing Owl. Further on we stopped to view a small lake by the road. Here were the ubiquitous Wattled Jacanas, a Purple Gallinule, a Black-collared Hawk, a Yellow-hooded Blackbird and a pair of White-headed Marsh-tyrants.

We arrived at the hotel an hour before lunch which gave us time to check out the hummingbirds. There were three feeders, all busy. We were told nine species had been seen recently. We managed eight: Crimson Topaz, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Gray-breasted Sabrewing, White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Long-billed Starthroat, Rufous-breasted Hermit and Eastern Long-tailed Hermit. The missing hummer was White-chinned Sapphire. Only the hermits were not ever-present.

After lunch we drove through the busy, scruffy town of Las Claritas to the forest on the far side. We parked our vehicle in a small clearing and immediately saw swifts. We identified two species: Short-tailed and Band-rumped. We set off along a faint track. Through the dense forest we saw a Black-faced Hawk fly towards us and land in the branches above our heads.  On closer inspection we could see that it had a lizard in its talons (see photo below). After this lucky encounter we heard the extraordinary sound of lekking Capuchinbirds.  They sound a cross between a roaring lion and a chainsaw. They were easy to hear but not easy to see. Eventually we found one high in a tree and watched it inflate itself before releasing the amazing sound.

There was a interesting fuel situation in this area. Las Claritas was the only source of petrol in the region and there was a roaring trade in buying fuel at the only gas station (at 0.07 Bolivars per litre! 6 Bolivars to $1! Therefore about 130 litres for one UK pound!)) and reselling it to the gold miners that lived in the surrounding area. There was a queue of clapped out cars and the garage closed at 17.30. The army was there to make sure there was no trouble. Luckily tourists can jump the queue so we were able to fill up fairly quickly.


Birding at Barquilla de Fresa Lodge


Broad-winged Hawk - We were fortunate that this individual was perched in the grounds of Barquilla de Fresa when we returned one evening.  Despite dusk fast approaching it did not roost here.

Yellow Oriole - Only seen on two days during our trip.





See more birds at Barquilla de Fresa lodge

on the Hummers page - click here

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Today we were to drive from the 130m altitude of our hotel to the 1440m high plateau of La Gran Sabana via La Escalera, one of the more famous birding roads of Venezuela. Unfortunately it was misty and damp. After some climbing we stopped by a small area of low vegetation. There were some bushes with spikes of red flowers and on them we saw Brown Violet-ears, Olive-backed and Red-shouldered tanagers, Great Flowerpiercers and a rapidly moving small flock of Golden-tufted Mountain-grackles. A displaying Orange-bellied Manakin did vertical leaps from the ground, only appearing above the vegetation at the top of its jump. The bright blue rump was so brilliant in the gloom it seemed to generate its own light. A Tepui Brush-finch appeared quite close to us and a Black-billed Thrush hopped along the road.

The mist cleared, the rain stopped and the sun came out. We stopped by the Virgin Rock, a 15m high cliff face by the road and tried for Cliff Flycatcher. We failed on this but we did see a pair of Streak-backed Antshrikes. We drove on up the road, stopping and walking at intervals. The forest with thick along the road but we managed to pick up Tepui Spinetail, Olive Manakin, Scarlet-horned Manakin (briefly), Rufous-brown Solitaire, Yellow-legged Thrush, Tropical Parula and Slate-throated Whitestart. A fast moving group of colourful Paradise Tanagers gave brief but good views. We heard Coraya and Flutist Wrens and Tepui Foliage-gleaner but in spite of the efforts of Cecilia we did not see them.

Eventually we came to the top where the terrain opened out. We walked off the road along a damp track. A White Hawk circled overhead and we heard the distinctive call of a White Bellbird.  At our lunch stop a Smoke-coloured Pewee gave good views and a nearby tree gave sustenance to Black-faced, Speckled, Yellow-bellied and Bay-headed Tanagers along with the tepui form of Blue-naped Chlorophonia which has a blue patch on the belly.

Shortly after we had an excursion into the rainforest, where we managed good views of the rather attractive Roraiman Barbtail which behaved like a woodcreeper. Shortly after, as we were driving away from one of the many military check-points we encountered, Alberto spotted a male Guianan Cock-of-the-rock and we had brief views of this spectacular bird. Back at the hotel, as dusk arrived, a Broad-winged Hawk settled on the edge of the forest.


Birding in the Escalara area

Red-banded Fruiteater - female.  We were fortunate to see a pair of these attractive birds.  Unfortunately the male was less obliging to photography.  This species has a tiny range in Venezuela and Guyana, (restricted to the Tepui areas) and is described as a "difficult to locate, low density" species. 

Black-faced Hawk - We were very fortunate to see this bird.  While making our way to the Capuchinbird site we saw the bird fly towards us just below the canopy of the forest.  It landed above us and stayed long enough for us to digiscope it.  The photo shows that it was carrying a large lizard.  This species is described in the "Birds of Venezuela" as a genuine rarity, so we were indeed fortunate to see three of these birds and photograph two (see also photo below).

Capuchinbird - We followed the calls of this bird for sometime, making our way as quietly as possible through the forest.  We eventually located the bird "lekking" high above us.  It could only be seen from certain places due to the thick canopy.  The light was very poor and the above photo was the only useable photo out of about twenty taken.

To see a video clip of this bird click here.

Black-faced Hawk - A different individual to that above.  This bird was perched close to where a group of Capuchin Monkeys were feeding.

Black-billed Thrush - One of three birds seen, all on one day.  Described as "Uncommon" with a patchy range.

Paradise Tanager - One of the most stunning Tanagers seen but also one of the most difficult to photograph.  They were constantly on the move and only seen on a few occasions.



Tepui Brush-finch - A near endemic species although not uncommon in the Tepui area.

Red-and-green Macaw - Seen or heard on six days.  Rather vocal.

Yellow-bellied Tanager - Another very smart Tanager which we only saw in the Escalara area.





White-throated Toucan - Mainly restricted in Venezuela to the SE part.  A common resident which we saw or heard on seven days.

Green Honeycreeper - Always a pleasure to see this stunning bird.  This same bush contained several species including Purple Honeycreeper and Black-headed Tanager (right)


Black-headed Tanager - Not uncommon in the Escalara area.


Black-faced Tanager - Fairly common.

Chestnut-tipped Toucanet - The only "green" Toucanet seen S of the Orinoco.  However, our photo does not show the diagnostic Chestnut tip to the tail.  This bird is remarkably hard to see in amongst the green foliage.

Roraiman Barbtail - Rob did well to get any sort of photo of this elusive species.  Located in forest with thick understory by call.  There were two together and were the only ones located on the trip.  The species is described as "uncommon and hard-to find resident in wet and cluttered mossy forest".  Very true!  A near endemic with a very restricted range in Venezuela.

Pied Puffbird - This is one of a pair and the only ones seen during the trip.  In Venezuela, restricted to the SE half of the country.


Crimson-horned Manakin - A stunning bird but photographed from a distance.  Seen briefly close to the road on one day, we returned the following day which enable all members of the see this bird.


Olive-backed Tanager - A "Tepui" species and near endemic.  Not uncommon in range.



Wedge-billed Woodcreeper - Perhaps the most common Woodcreeper in the range.  Often heard but not seen.

Tepui Greenlet - Another species with a very limited range in Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil.  We were fortunate that this bird dropped down from the high canopy to allow these photos to be taken.

Golden-tufted Mountain-Grackle - A "Tepui" species with a very restricted range in Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil.  Two flocks seen during the time in the Escalara area.


White-lined Tanager - A common and widespread species, restricted to the N half of Venezuela.


Red-shouldered Tanager - Female - In Venezuela, restricted to the southern half of the country.

Red-shouldered Tanager - Male



Smoke-coloured Pewee - This species has a very scattered range in Venezuela.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Once more we ascended La Escalera. Our stop at the Virgin Rock immediately produced two hermits feeding on the roadside flowers: Sooty-capped and Roraiman. There was still no sign of the Cliff Flycatchers though. More persistent searching gave us Warbling Antbird while, at last, having heard trogons nearly every day, we saw a Masked. Moving on we heard and saw a Roraiman Antwren and later we found the male Scarlet-horned Manakin of yesterday in a more cooperative mood, a Roraiman Warbler and a Short-tailed Pygmy-tyrant.

Further up, while standing by the vehicle, a Bearded Bellbird flew over but only Rob saw it. The rest of us heard it but we couldn’t find it. Nearby, along a damp grassy track, we had some luck. Cecilia’s speculative playing of the Red-banded Fruiteater call immediately produced a pair. A few minutes later a pair of Rose-collared Pihas gave us brief views. These species are tepui endemics. On the same track we found a Velvet-browed Brilliant feeding on spikes of red flowers.     

We drove up to the plateau and had lunch by a river. Then, even though it was an hour’s drive and thus cutting into birding time, we decided to take the tepui lookout option. This turned out to be a good move. The view was completely clear, the tepuis were amazing, and we even got a few new birds: Tawny-headed Swallow and the pale isabellinus subspecies of American Kestrel. On the way back we stopped at the Kama waterfall and found a female Hooded Siskin.


Birding on route

Pearl Kite - A casual stop at the roadside for some other species, produced a breeding pair of Pearl Kites.  This species has a fairly widespread range in Venezuela but is described as "uncommon and somewhat local".

Savannah Hawk - Described as widespread and common.  We saw two individuals during the trip.


Black-collared Hawk - Just two sightings of this smart raptor.

Striated Heron - Just four seen during travels on one day.


American Kestrel - Surprisingly the only one seen on our travels.  This bird was seen hunting over the Gran Sabana and has the very pale plumage of the sub-species found in Venezuela.

White-winged Swallow - A common and widespread Swallow.


Tropical Mockingbird - Singles seen throughout the trip.


Crested Caracara - The most common of the Caracaras.  Seen daily.


Rufous-collared Sparrow - Surprisingly only seen on the Gran Sabana monument.


Friday 21 January 2011

We drove up La Escalera for the last time. At the Virgin Rock we once again found the two hermit species, further up we added Spot-tailed Antwren, White-shouldered Tanager, Tepui Greenlet, White-barred Piprites, McConnell’s Spinetail and one species we had heard several times but not seen, Coraya Wren. We also heard a Little Chachalaca which was our only chachalaca encounter of the trip. A Chestnut-tipped Toucanet proved difficult to see while the chestnut tip to the tail proved impossible to see - even in photographs! . Another Red-banded Fruiteater was a surprise.

We lunched again at the same place by the river then slowly retraced our steps. A walk in the forest produced our third Black-faced Hawk which gave us great views as it sat on a branch. Back by the road we saw two guans crashing through the trees but the views we got were not good enough to allow to determine whether they were Spix’s or Marail. Fulvous-crested Tanager was the 19th tanager of the trip. Almost the last bird we saw on La Escalera was one of the birds of the trip, a Guianan Toucanet which Cecilia had only seen once before.

We returned to Las Claritas, filled up will petrol for our long journey in the morning and returned to our hotel in the dark.


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