Venezuela - January 2012

Andes and Llanos Tour

Birding in the Llanos area

 

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Wednesday 25 January 2012

After another pre-dawn start we drove down the long straight road though the Llanos. Before the bridge over the Apure River the terrain was fairly uninteresting farmland but a stop at the bridge soon livened things up - in several ways. Almost immediately we found our target bird, a Pale-headed Jacamar almost overhead, then a Pied Plover by the river shore, and then, in the middle of the wide river we saw several moving lumps - Pink River Dolphins! At which point the military took an interest in us. There was a military site on the other side of the road and we had to face a rather ineffectual interrogation during which we were accused of spying on them, but after some aimless fingering of passports, we were sent on our way.

Now the terrain changed. For over 100 Kilometres the road was lined with large ponds and on almost all were water birds. On one were 11 Scarlet Ibises, 10 Bare-faced Ibises, 7 Great Egrets, 4 Snowy Egrets, 3 Cocoi Herons, 6 Wood Storks, 2 Roseate Spoonbills and a Jabiru (see above). Later Carlos spotted a Giant Anteater nosing its way through the vegetation. If this was just from the highway what would Hato Cedral be like? Well, we soon found out. We left the main road and drove along the 7 km of unsurfaced road to the ranch. Halfway there we came across a group of tourists who had just found a small (relatively, that is) anaconda. JR decided he wanted to get in on the action so we duly photographed him handling it. Shortly after we arrived at our destination. Here we said goodbye to Carlos who was to drive the Landcruiser back to Merida. We would be using the trucks and boats of Hato Cedral to get around and a taxi would collect us on the final day to take us to Barinas airport.

 

Birding in the Llanos area


Giant Anteater - A large and very odd looking creature.  This was a good spot from our driver Carlos, while on-route to Hato Cedral.  It's head is on the right hand side!!
 


Pale-headed Jacamar - We got good views of this scarce and rather localised bird before being asked to escort the local soldiers to their checkpoint!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orange-chinned Parakeet- We only saw this bird in the Llanos.  This bird was in the same tree as the Pale-headed Jacamar.
 

 

Hato Cedral is a group of low buildings set in a garden surrounded by farmland and water. The trees in the garden, we discovered later, hold a large ibis and egret roost. There was a Buff-necked Ibis nest almost over the swimming pool and in the next tree a roosting Great Horned Owl. At ground level were Red-capped Cardinals, Orange-fronted Yellow-finches, Yellow-chinned Spinebills, a Russet-throated Puffbird, Pied Water-tyrants, Stripe-backed Wrens and Venezuelan Troupials. In other words, the place was a birding paradise.

After a buffet lunch we had a siesta until 3pm, which was actually spent in exploring the garden, then we went for a drive in a truck.

Our driver/guide was Victor who had lived in the area all his life. The truck had bench seats in the middle facing outwards and a ladder up to the roof of the cab where it was possible to sit or stand facing forwards. There were solid bars to hang on to.

The first stop was for waders. We naturally had to sort out the various small brown waders feeding around the edge of a muddy pool but there were only two peeps - Least and Semipalmated Sandpiper. Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper and South American Snipe were also present. Above them, Large-billed Terns and Black Skimmers flew. Ringed, Amazon and Green Kingfishers were common. In distant trees was a group of Scarlet Macaws while on the track we encountered four Burrowing Owls guarding their nest holes and several very tame Yellow-headed Caracaras. As evening fell we encountered a pair of Savannah Foxes close to the track.

We retraced our route at dusk which soon became dark. We climbed on to the roof of the cab and Cecilia switched on the searchlight. Although shot-blasted by flying insects we found this an enjoyable and exhilarating ride. We picked up numerous Boat-billed Herons, which are apparently largely nocturnal, a Great Horned Owl, Band-tailed Nighthawks, White-tailed Nightjars and a Nacunda Nighthawk. But the arguable highlight was an anaconda stretched out across the track. Not a terribly big one, only a mere 4m or so! Although dinner was at 7pm and it was now 8pm there was still enough for four hungry souls.

 

Birding in The Llanos

The team :  Rob Andrews, Dave Ferguson, Victor, Jim Rose and Cecilia Herrera

 

Birds Seen in the Hato Cedral lodging area.

Great-horned Owl - Roosted three days in a row in trees above the swimming pool!

 

Buff-necked Ibis - One of a pair that were breeding in the grounds (just above the swimming pool and next to the tree with the roosting Great Horned Owl!).

 

 

 

 

 

Venezuelan Troupial - We were fortunate to see this species at close range visiting the feeding station and finishing off the previous evenings meal!  The national bird and you can see why.

 

Orange-fronted Yellow-finch - Common in and around the ranch area.

 

 

Bi-coloured Wren - This large Wren showed well in the trees in the lodging area.

 

 

 

Straight-billed Woodcreeper - Only a few seen during the trip.

 

 

Grey Seedeater - A few seen.

Russet-throated Puffbird - Not recorded elsewhere.

 


 

Scaled Dove - Several were seen close to the accommodation areas.

 


Red-crested Cardinal - Not uncommon in the Hato Cedral area.

 

 

Thursday 26 January 2012

After breakfast we discovered that, outside the restaurant,  the staff had filled a large bird table with scraps. On it were Red-crowned Woodpeckers, Yellow Orioles, a Troupial, Red-headed Cardinals and Orange-fronted Yellow-finches.

We were scheduled for two boat trips, again with Victor as driver. We climbed into the truck for the short drive to the boat. However the drive was lengthened by several stops for birds, the first of which happened within a few seconds when we watched the display of large wading birds just by the track. In the bushes were a small flock of Green-rumped Parrotlets and a Black-collared Hawk. A few minutes later we stopped again, this time for the endemic White-bearded Flycatcher which we found quite quickly. Also in the trees was a Plain-crested Elaenia. A nearby Orinoco Crocodile, lying by track, suggested that getting out of the truck to pat it on the head was not a good idea.

The boat was flat-bottomed, metal and had two bench seats. It could accommodate six clients, the boatman who sat at the back operating the outboard motor, and the guide who, in our case, sat cross-legged at the prow, eagle eyes on full alert.

The water was covered in water hyacinth but had navigation channels cut through the vegetation.  We set off across a large lake and within seconds we were surrounded by birds. Wattled Jacanas flew out of the hyacinths in their hundreds, wave after wave of them. Flocks of Bare-faced Ibises and White-headed and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flew overhead. 

We made our first stop in the middle of the lake. Here Victor had seen Azure Gallinules and within a few minutes we managed to see two.  We then entered the Matiyure River, tree-lined and rather beautiful. And in the trees were one of the birds we all wanted to see, Hoatzin, that strange, prehistoric and unique bird. There were several calling from the trees fringing the river and one accompanied a youngster. They seemed completely fearless, as did many of the birds we encountered in Hato Cedral, and we approached within just a few metres.

The next target bird required an exploration of a side creek. The motor was switched off and Victor began to punt us through the narrow channel. Kingfishers were everywhere but we were after something even more beautiful, and after ten minutes we found one - an Agami Heron, surely the most beautiful heron in the world.

We returned at a rather faster speed that hitherto. It was an exhilarating ride that involved more waves of jacanas and flocks of whistling-ducks and ibises. We were back in time for lunch.

At three o’clock were once more in the truck, this time to the Jobal area of the reserve. In the track-side bushes we managed to pick up a White-tailed Goldenthroat, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Plain Thornbird and Black-crested Antshrike. A small marsh produced Black-capped Donacobius and White-headed Marsh-tyrant.

The drive back was again in the night. This time all except DF stood up on the roof of the cab to avoid posterior ache. We added Pauraque to our list of nightbirds but the highlight was an Ocelot, first seen by RA but missed by DF who was sitting down. DF (who is writing this) feels there is a lesson there somewhere.

 

Birds Seen in the Wetland areas at Hato Cedral

Jim, Rob and Dave about to set off across the vast expanse of water.

 

 

Agami Heron  -Perhaps the star bird of the trip.  Located in a quiet backwater and with a silent approach with the boat being punted slowly forwards.

 

Click here to see a video clip of this stunning bird.

 

Agami Heron  - This photo shows the mottled shade that this Heron seems to prefer and which made photography more difficult.

 

Sunbittern - One of the star birds of the trip.  This individual approached us with a gentle whistling call while on a boat trip.  One of only two seen on the trip. 

 

Click here to see a video clip of this amazing threat posture.

2nd video click here

 

Sunbittern - This stunning display is actually an aggressive posture and was performed while running at other birds (and a Caiman!) that were threatening to take some food.

Hoatzin - An odd pre-historic looking bird.   The bird on the right is presumably carrying out a threat posture.  We saw over 20 birds in two days, all along the tree lined banks of the river.

 

Anhinga - Several of these strange birds were seen.

 

Cocoi Heron - It took about 10 minutes for this Cocoi Heron to catch and devour this Wattled Jacana.  A rather grim sight as the feet slowly disappeared down the Heron's throat!

Click here to see a video clip of this gruesome act!!!.

Pinnated Bittern - Apparently scarce during December and January.  This was the first bird seen by the local guide this year.

 

 

 

Grey-necked Wood-rail - This individual proved to be very tame and came to food provided by our guide, even though it was intended for more exotic species!

 

Green Ibis - In complete contrast to it's scarlet cousin.  Several were seen at Hato Cedral.

 

Scarlet Ibis - One of the most stunning birds seen.  Several flocks were seen.

Jabiru - Double figure counts of this huge bird. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wood Stork - Good numbers were seen on the grassy areas close to the lagoons.

Rufescent Tiger-Heron - 20-30 of these birds seen daily.


Capped Heron - The only one seen during the trip.

 

Roseate Spoonbill - Small numbers seen at Hato Cedral.

Orinoco Goose - Not uncommon and a few were seen with goslings.

Brazilian Teal - Small numbers seen.

 

Black-necked Stilt - Good numbers seen at Hato Cedral.

White-faced Whistling-Duck - 1000s of these in large flocks.

 

 

 

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck - 1000s of these in large flocks.  Those on the ground are only a small part of the flock!

 

Large-billed Tern - Well of 100 seen.
 

Black Skimmer - Good numbers of this species were seen, with excellent views of their unusual fishing technique.

 

Southern Lapwing - A common species in the Llanos.

 

Collared Plover - A few were seen alongside the water areas.

 

 

Least Sandpiper - Good light and close views enabled us to sort out the ID of this tiny wader.

Solitary Sandpiper -  Fairly common.

Ringed Kingfisher - This large kingfisher was not uncommon.

 

Amazon Kingfisher - Good numbers were seen on the two boat trips.

 

The Raptors at Hato Cedral

Lesser Yellow-headed were seen typically flying much lower that the far more numerous Black and Turkey Vultures

 Black Vultures - Extremely common in the Llanos, as were Turkey Vultures.  These birds were feeding on the carcase of a cow.

 

White-tailed Hawk - A pair seen at a next at Hato Cedral.

Crested Caracara - Common in the Llanos.

 

 

Great Black-hawk - Only seen twice during the trip.

 

Savannah Hawk - One of two seen during the trip, both at Hato Cedral.

 

Harris Hawk - Two birds seen over the lodging area at Hato Cedral were the only ones of the trip.

 

Black-collared Hawk - A few sightings of this smart raptor, often overlooking watery areas.


 

 

Friday 27 January 2012

This morning’s truck ride was to the riverine forest of the Caicara River which forms the northern boundary of the reserve. We first drove alongside the lake where, in the lakeside bushes, we found a roosting Lesser Nighthawk, a White-winged Becard , a Plain-crested Elaenia and a Brown-crested Flycatcher. Once into open savannah other birds began to appear: Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Great Black Hawk, Double-striped Thick-knee, Crested Bobwhite and a pair of White-tailed Hawks by their nest.

We parked the truck at the start of the trail through the forest and set off through the trees. The first new bird was a Rufous-tailed Jacamar and then this new habitat really increased the list: Straight-billed and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, Barred Antshrike, an elusive Jet Antbird which was eventually seen well, a Pale-tipped Inezia, two very smart Slate-headed Tody-flycatchers and an Ochre-lored Flatbill. A male Wire-tailed Manakin gave us a very brief view. Then Victor and Cecilia disappeared off the track to emerge a few minutes later grinning. They indicated that we should follow. A roosting owl? we speculated. But no - high in a large tree was a Great Potoo.

The track eventually came to the river and here we saw Hoatzins and a spectacular Cream-coloured Woodpecker. Red Howler Monkeys slept high on uncomfortable looking branches.

The afternoon boat trip began much as before but at a higher speed. We reached the Matiyure River quite quickly. We sailed down it slowly again marvelling at the incredibly profuse birdlife then stopped in a small bay. A couple of Yellow-knobbed Curassows lurked in the trees while on the shore were a couple of caimans, a Grey-necked Woodrail and a Yellow-headed Caracara. Victor then went piranha fishing and caught three in about twenty seconds. Then JR had a go and also caught one although it took a couple of attempts to get the technique right. The numbers of piranhas in the river didn’t bear thinking about. This was followed by a caiman leaping half out of the water after food proffered by Victor. The animal was so close that DF got splashed as it re-entered the water. This entertainment came to an abrupt stop when a Sunbittern appeared. It wandered calmly along the shoreline until it met a caiman when it backed off half opening its wings. And then it gave its threat display, opening its wings to show the two amazing orange sunspots that are designed to frighten its enemies. It repeated the performance to the caracara and then wandered off. None of us, including Cecelia, had seen this before.

Then the boat’s motor wouldn’t start. It took a fix using one of JR’s plastic ties that he - obviously - always carries with him. Once the motor was going we sailed across the river to punt our way down another creek. Here the target was the very elusive Zigzag Heron but we kept seeing Agamis - eight in all. We heard a distant Zigzag and Cecilia obtained an unsatisfactory view. As the sun set over the marshes we made a fast journey back to the centre and dinner that included two fried piranhas.

 

Other Birds at Hato Cedral

Pauraque - Several seen in flight on an after dark excursion.  This one conveniently stayed on the ground next to the track.

 


Great Potoo - Found high in a tree, at what is presumed to be a regular roost site.  It did wake up and look briefly at us.

Lesser Nighthawk - Seen from the back of the truck.  Surprised at been seen at it's daytime roost.


 

Double-striped Thick-knee - Seen close to the lodging area and at a few other places at Hato Cedral.

 

White-bearded Flycatcher -  Only seen near to the ranch at Hato Cedral.
 

White-winged Becard - Seen on our last day at Hato Cedral.

 

 

Northern Scrub-Flycatcher - A rather typical, hard to ID flycatcher!  The only one seen on the trip.

 

Brown-crested Flycatcher r - Looking remarkably similar to the bird on the left!  The only one seen on the trip.

 

Cream-coloured Woodpecker - Located close to the river at Hato Cedral.  The only one of the trip. 

Burrowing Owl - Several were nesting along the ranch tracks.

Glittering-throated Emerald - One of the few hummingbirds seen in the Llanos.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher - Seen regularly hunting over grassland.
 

Black-capped Donacobius - Several were seen in reedy areas at Hato Cedral..

 

Vermilion Flycatcher - A few seen at Hato Cedral.

 

 

 

Saturday 28 January 2012

We had a 12 o’clock flight to catch so we were, once again, away to an early start. Our taxi driver slowed down at one point saying that he had seen a Jaguar several times in this area, but we had no luck. The plane was on time and after a meal and a few beers with Cecilia in Caracas airport we flew home to a cold and grey London.

 

 

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