Venezuela - February 2010

Harpy Eagle and Tepui Tour

Birding the Imataca Forest area

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Birds at Posada Taguapire

Saffron Finch - A small flock were seen feeding on the grass.

Palm Tanager - Regularly seen at the feeding station and elsewhere.

Blue-grey Tanager - A common species often seen on the feeding station.

Yellow Oriole - Only a few seen during the trip.

Silver-beaked Tanager - A very smart bird.  Not uncommon.  The photo does not do it justice.

Yellow-rumped Cacique - Only seen during our stay in the Imataca Forest area.

Mealy Parrot - Seen on four days during the trip.


Sunday 16 January 2011

After another early start, we drove along the same road as yesterday afternoon. From the vehicle we saw Red-throated and Black Caracaras, a pair of Crested Bobwhites, a pair of White-headed Marsh-tyrants, Red-breasted Blackbird, Ruddy Ground-dove and the rarer Plain-breasted Ground-dove. We never did see a Common Ground-dove. We turned off along a track that crossed an area of cleared forest. Clearance was obvious, a process that Cecilia calls “llanification” where forest becomes open damp grassland, the “llanos” of Venezuela. Given the riches that we were about to encounter in the true forest this process is a tragedy.

We were on our way to find a Harpy Eagle, the young bird that had featured in a BBC film and was still in the area although now 18 months old. We had with us Xavier, someone who knew this forest intimately and could almost be guaranteed to find Harpies. The bird was still based around the nest tree so we were fairly confident we would find the bird.

But first we had to get there. The track, rough but not too bad, suddenly entered a muddy patch and we were stuck. While we waited for Alberto and Xavier to extricate the vehicle we did some birding. Overhead were Greater Yellow-headed and King Vultures while below were Green Ibis, Black-collared Hawk, Long-tailed Tyrant,  Red-and-green Macaw, Paradise Jacamar and three woodpeckers: Crimson-crested, Lineated and Yellow-tufted. Swallow-winged Puffbirds were a feature. They sat on the very tops of dead trees where they made sudden flycatching forays. Their plump silhouettes were distinctive.

Eventually we were on our way and when we arrived at a small clearing with a small building we parked. It was a fairly short walk to the nest tree. On the way we encountered a small group of White-faced Capuchin Monkeys. As they crashed off through the trees we managed a brief view of their follower, a Black-faced Hawk which eats lizards disturbed by the monkeys.

Our target bird wasn’t there. Xavier disappeared down various tracks but found nothing. Our target bird wasn’t there so concern immediately set in. What if we dipped on the main focus of the trip! Meanwhile some of us climbed the 10 metre tower the BBC had built for their camera and scoured the surrounding forest. Again there was nothing although a nearby White-chinned Hummingbird was new. Then Xavier walked round the far side of the tree and a Harpy Eagle suddenly appeared.  It landed in the tree in full view. It was huge. The formidable bill and the enormous talons showed the power of the bird but the forward facing black eyes were surprising gentle. We spent a long time looking at and photographing this bird. After all, we probably would never see another one.

There were other birds too. The Ruddy Pigeons were fairly mundane but the male Rose-breasted Chat was colourful while the view of an Eastern Long-tailed Hermit was tantalisingly brief. A pair of Dusky Antbirds, like all birds whose names start with ant.. gave us the runaround until we eventually saw them.

We walked back to the vehicle and ate our lunch at the building. Entertainment was provided by a Black Nunbird that appeared on the far side of the clearing and a dog that seemed to like the smell of our food. Chocolate and coffee was produced here from the basic raw materials and we were provided with small mugs of very acceptable drinking chocolate.

On our return we got stuck again. More birding while the vehicle was extricated gave us a flock of Green Oropendolas and Purple and Violet Euphonias. But we had lost time and the sun was setting. We were now driving in the dark but this had the advantage of providing us with a few night birds: a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl on a gate and Spot-tailed Nightjar and Pauraque on the road.


Harpy Eagle




Harpy Eagle - The largest Eagle in the world and the star bird of the trip.  This individual featured in a BBC Natural World program in early 2010 as it was filmed hatching and up to a free flying state.  Eighteen months after hatching the youngster, now approaching adulthood, still returns to the nest tree and calls for food.  Even though it can hunt for itself the bird still relies on food from it's parents to some extent.  Apparently they return to the nest about once a week.

To view a video of the Harpy Eagle click here


Monday 17 January 2011

Another before dawn start prior to a day in the Imataca Forest, but before we got there we saw by the road a Rufescent Tiger-heron (the only one of the trip), a pair of Black-crowned Tityras and a Pearl Kite perched by its nest. We arrived at the bridge over the Rio Grande. On a wire over the river was a Ringed Kingfisher and later an Amazon Kingfisher followed by a Green Kingfisher. A walk alongside the river produced a McConnell’s Flycatcher and a White-necked Jacobin. Overhead flew a Short-tailed Hawk. We then continued along the track beyond the bridge. Jim almost immediately got onto a male White-crowned Manakin but nobody else saw it. Further on we came across a White-chested Emerald and a pair of Pied Puffbirds. The woodland here had a relatively open canopy and the upper level birds were comparatively easy to see. A pair of Paradise Jacamars sat on an exposed horizontal branch, a Black-necked Aracari sat high a tree, a Yellow-green Grosbeak was a little lower down while Violaceous and Purple-throated Euphonias, a Blue Dacnis, a Turquoise Tanager and Green and Purple Honeycreepers fed among a flowering tree. It was the lower level birds that gave us trouble. A Great Antshrike was fairly easy to see but a Slate-headed Tody-tyrant, responding to Cecilia’s recording, flew back and forth over the track but defied this observer’s eyes for some time. When we came to the closed canopy rainforest we heard, but did not see, White-tailed and Violaceous Trogons, Spotted and Thrush-like Antpittas. However we did see Wedge-billed and Buff-throated Woodcreepers.

In the afternoon we moved to a different area where we ventured into the rainforest along a narrow trail. It had clouded over and rain was imminent. There was a sudden rush of activity and we were in the middle of a feeding flock. Birds were above us, moving through the canopy at speed. We picked up the flock leader, Fulvous Shrike-tanager, Red-and-black Grosbeak and Yellow-olive Flatbill but it was very difficult trying to see the birds let alone identify them.

We had a bit of luck further on. A Black Curassow walked across the track and a little later we saw another high in a tree. A strange long-tailed lizard immobile on a tree trunk by a small stream attracted our attention. It was a Common Basilisk that only moved when Cecilia touched it and made her leap backwards about 10 feet!

It now began to rain and soon we were sheltering under our umbrellas. This was a real downpour but it was over in an hour and we were on our way to try for a very elusive bird. When Cecilia played the call we got an immediate response from the top of the slope. It was a Rufous-winged Ground Cuckoo. The bird came closer and we heard the bill-clicking then Rob and Jim had brief views from 15 metres. To give an idea of the difficulty of seeing this species, Cecilia has never seen one.

It was dark as we returned to our hotel. Another Spot-tailed Nightjar flew up from the road.


Birds in the Imataca Forest

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


Black Caracara - One of three seen during one days birding.  The only ones seen during our trip.


Yellow-headed Caracara - Fairly common. Seen on most days.





Red-throated Caracara - Only seen on two days in the Imataca Forest area.

Cayenne Jay - Good views obtained on one occasion when several birds were present.



Crimson-breasted Woodpecker

Blue-headed Parrot - One of the few seen well during the trip.  As with most Parrots, it did not perch close!


Amazon Kingfisher - Photographed at the Rio Grande from a convenient bridge.


Green Aracari - Only two sightings of this species and both in the Imataca Forest.



Smooth-billed Ani - Fairly common in the Imataca Forest area where there were open areas.


Rusty-margined Flycatcher - Only recorded on one day.


Brown-crested Flycatcher - Somewhat surprisingly, the only one seen during the trip.  Described as "Common and widespread" but maybe we were close to the edge of the range.



Paradise Jacamar - A very smart bird but hard to photograph at distance and in less than ideal light.  Only seen on two days, both in the Imataca Forest.  It range is restricted in Venezuela to the southern section and along the eastern edge of the country and described as locally common. 


Rose-breasted Chat - We were fortunate to come across this bird, close to where the Harpy Eagle was seen.  The range in Venezuela is the SE half of the country and is described as "Uncommon to fairly common and local.







Birds Seen on the road

Cinnamon Attila - A hard to find bird.  Cecilia picked it up on call but it took us some time to find the bird as it called from some tall trees some distance away.  The species has a limited range in Venezuela and it was not supposed to be where we were!


Southern Lapwing - At the same pool as the Sandpiper.  Too close for a clear shot.  Taken from the vehicle.

Capped Heron - Seen from the same place at the Cinnamon Attila.  Two birds were present but not easy to locate.

Plain-breasted Ground-dove - A party of about ten birds seen at a roadside stop.



Burrowing Owl - A chance sighting as we were moving between bases.  Initially seen on a building the bird moved to a lower post and posed for us.


Rufescent Tiger-Heron - Another photo taken from the vehicle.  It would have flown if we had got out.

Whistling Heron - Another drive by sighting.  One of only four seen.


Solitary Sandpiper  - Passing a small pool we stopped to view a pair of Southern Lapwing and also found this individual.


Red-breasted Blackbird - A very productive stop produced this and several other species.  More of a lowland species.

White-headed Marsh Tyrant - Photos taken from the vehicle.  Two of only three birds seen on the trip.

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