Tepuis - Well worth an excursion to see.
This holiday was arranged privately for four members of the Buckinghamshire Bird Club; Rob Andrews, Rose Collard, Dave Ferguson and Jim Rose. We organised the international flights and arranged for Venezuelian bird tour leader, Cecilia Herrera, to organise the tour within Venezuela including transport, accommodation and internal flights. The group saw 230 species and heard another 36. No attempt has been made to mention every species in the text but a full list can be found as a supplement.
The plan was to fly from Caracas to Puerto Ordaz which is 500 km to the east on the Rio Orinoco. We would then drive east for two hours to El Palmar which is near the Imataca Forest and home to Harpy Eagles. After three nights we would then drive south for five hours to the northern edge of Canaima National Park where we would stay for four nights. Here we hoped to find some of the endemics of this area of flat-topped mountains known as tepuis. On the final morning we would drive back to Puerto Ordaz, fly to Caracas and then back to Gatwick, arriving in the afternoon of the following day.
We flew from Gatwick to Caracas via Madrid with Air Europa. The aircraft were fairly new, the leg room was quite good and the food was reasonable. The flight from Caracas to Puerto Ordaz was with Aserca. Cecilia warned us that they were nearly always late and the two flights came up to this promise. The one hour flight was comfortable.
We stayed at three hotels. The first, the Posada el Hildago, was an overnight stop on the coast, 30 minutes drive from the airport. We had a good dinner and a comfortable night.
The second hotel was the Parador Taguapire at the edge of the town of El Palmar. We were housed in the new block whose rooms were simple but clean and insect-free. They had modern air-conditioning. The food was OK and the staff pleasant. The garden was mostly lawn but had two bird tables which were stocked with fruit and attracted several common tanagers, Venezuelan Troupial and Yellow-rumped Cacique. We stayed there for three nights.
The third hotel was the Barquilla de Fresa (www.strawberrybirds.com) just outside a horrible town called Las Claritas. Three of us were housed in the new two-room building in the grounds which has en-suite facilities. These included the endemic Venezuelan Toilet Frog. This interesting creature is green, inhabits toilet bowls, can jump up vertical walls and can disappear instantly. Their presence added a certain edge to proceedings. The fourth member of the group (me) was accommodated in the main block which did not have en-suite but as the shower and toilet rooms were only a few yards away it was not a problem. They also lacked frogs. The rooms were simple and had fans. It did not get unbearably hot and there were no mosquitoes. The large grounds consisted of a large lawn with scattered trees backed by forest. There was a trail through the forest which we did not explore due to a lack of time and the attraction of the hummingbird feeders. The forest held howler monkeys whose bellows added to the atmosphere in the evening. The meals were OK and the staff pleasant. Henry, the proprietor, was extremely helpful when his services were called upon.
We were provided with a long wheelbase Toyota Landcruiser. A 4x4 was essential to get to the Harpy Eagle site but the seating layout was not ideal. There were two bench seats along the sides which faced inwards. It was sometimes difficult to see birds without neck strain.
It rained heavily once for about an hour. One morning began misty with light rain. It was always warm (even if Cecilia did wear four layers some mornings!) and usually sunny.
There were no mosquito nets at any of the hotels but they were not needed. Although we did not see or hear many flying insects we all were bitten around the ankles, possibly by ants. We did not suffer any ill effects.
The rainforests of northern South America provide some of the hardest birding in the world. To get the most out of them you need a guide who is skilled, knowledgeable and hard-working. Cecilia Herrera had impressed us on a previous trip and we had no hesitation when she suggested this holiday. Her skill at identifying songs was amazing and she showed impressive patience with the half-blind, half-deaf superannuated birder who is writing this. She was also great fun. Organisationally, the holiday went like clockwork. The only error was providing lasagne for picnic lunch and forgetting the utensils! Though eating lasagne with fingers is not as difficult as it sounds.
Parador Taguapire - Our base in the Imataca Forest area. A good variety of birds visited the garden.
Rio Grande - A short break from forest birding. Three different species of Kingfisher seen here.
Barquilla de Fresa - Our base for four nights. We saw eight of the nine species of Hummingbirds that visit the feeders here.
View from the Tepui Watchpoint
Birding the La Escalera Road
Friday 14 January 2011
The holiday got off to a fraught start when, instead of a boarding time of 09.20, the board showed 10.40. As we only had 1 hour 10 minutes between flights at Madrid this would have killed off the holiday before it had started. Air Europa had no reps at the airport and the information desk knew nothing. Consternation reigned until, suddenly, the boarding time changed to 09.30. After boarding we were assured that the connecting flights would wait for us and after two uneventful flights we arrived at Caracas and saw through the crowds a waving Cecilia. We piled into our bus and drove for thirty minutes to our hotel on the coast. We had a pleasant meal then went to bed before our early start the following day.
Saturday 15 January 2011
Breakfast was at 05.00, the first of many early starts. We drove to the airport for the 07.30 flight to Puerto Ordaz which, for no obvious reason, was one hour late. After arriving at Puerto Ordaz we met up with our driver, Alberto, who put all our cases onto the roof rack. We set off on the two hour drive to El Palmar.
We passed through open country. During the drive we saw a Whistling Heron, Savanna Hawk, Neotropical Palm Swift, White-winged Swallow, Lesser Seed-finch and Eastern Meadowlark. Small ponds were common and most held Wattled Jacanas but at one pond we found three Southern Lapwings and a Solitary Sandpiper. We arrived at the hotel at 11.00, checked in, looked at the birds on the bird tables, which included Venezuelan Troupial and Yellow-rumped Cacique, had lunch and then drove to the Rio Grande area of the Imataca Forest where we spent the rest of the daylight hours.
Highlights were White-tailed Kite, a fast-flying flock of Green-rumped Parrotlets, Orange-winged and Mealy Parrots, Green Aracari and Cayenne Jay.
Report written by Dave Ferguson
Web site editing by Jim Rose
Photos by Jim Rose, Dave Ferguson, Rob Andrews and Rose Collard
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