Venezuela - January 2012

Andes and Llanos Tour

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The Andes - The first part of our trip took us to the high Andes.  This photo was taken at over 4000 metres altitude.

 

The Llanos - The second part of the trip was a complete contrast to the Andes.  The low lying and flat area of the Llanos provided views such as this.

 

 

Introduction

This holiday was arranged privately for three members of the Buckinghamshire Bird Club: Rob Andrews, Dave Ferguson and Jim Rose. We organised the international flights while Cecilia Herrera, our leader on a similar holiday in 2011, organised the tour within Venezuela including the internal flights. The group saw 353 species and heard another 14. No attempt has been made to mention every species in the text but a full list can be found as a supplement.

The route
 

The plan was to fly from Caracas to El Vigia which is west of the western range of the Andes, the Sierra la Culata and drive to La Bravera guest house on the western flank of the sierra. After a night there we would overnight in the central valley north of Merida, then spend two nights at Los Frailes at 3300m in the eastern range, the Sierra Nevada. From there we would travel east to overnight near Barinas, then drive south-east for four hours to Hato Cedral in the low Llanos where we would spend three nights. On the final morning we would drive to Barinas, fly to Caracas and then back to Heathrow, arriving in the afternoon of the following day. Although we were living out of suitcases for our time in the Andes it enabled us to maximise the habitats visited and I doubt if the itinerary could have been improved given the time available.

Flights
We flew from Heathrow to Caracas via Madrid with Iberia. The aircraft were fairly new, the leg room was quite good but the food was mediocre. The flights to and from Caracas were with Laser and Avior. The one hour flights were comfortable and on time.

Hotels

We stayed at six hotels.

The Hotel Miramar in Catia la Mar, which is near the airport, is a modern 9-storey building with comfortable rooms and decent food. We saw Magnificent Frigatebirds from its front steps.

La Bravera (www.estancialabravera.com) is a charming inn at 2360m with a beautiful garden in the middle of cloud forest. It has four hummingbird feeders by the dining room. Ponchos are provided in the rooms as it can, and did, get cold.

The eating area at La Bravera, with Hummingbird feeders in the rear.

The gardens at La Bravera produced many birds

 

Fairly typical Andean scene on the edge of the cloud forest.

 

Posada Dona Rosa, our overnight stop north of Merida, is another pleasant inn, this time surrounded by fields where we found several species we didnít find anywhere else.

The courtyard at Posada Dona Rosa

Los Frailes ( www.venezuelatuya.com/hoteles/mostrarhoteleng.htm?64,Hotel_Los_Frailes ), where we spent two nights, is at 3300m and is on the site of a former monastery. It has nice grounds and is surrounded by stunning scenery. However we had mixed opinions on the hotel itself. DF (the writer) had an excellent room and no complaints at all but RA and JR, who were sharing, had a non-flushing toilet, a room that had not been serviced and hot water that was dark brown. The central heating, which could not be controlled in the room, just about removed the chill. However, the food was the best of the holiday.

Los Frailes - A view from above the accommodation area.  In the vegetation on the left we saw Merida Flowerpiecer and Golden-tailed Sapphire in the tree on the left.

The view from one of our balconies

The Paramo - High in the Andes (above 4000metres altitude).

 

We had an overnight stop at a rather anonymous motel outside Barinitas. For dinner, the writer had chips with his chicken which made a pleasant change from mashed potatoes or rice.

Hato Cedral ( www.elcedral.com ), where we stayed for three nights, has to be one of the least publicised major wildlife sites in the world. It is set in 50,000 ha of savannah, marsh, lakes and riverine forest. Birds are everywhere and in large numbers. The garden has roosting ibises and egrets and there was a Great Horned Owl roosting in a tree by the swimming pool. The rooms were spacious, the food, which was buffet style, was simple but well-cooked.

Hato Cedral - The gardens produce many birds that were not encountered elsewhere on the ranch.

 

The swimming pool area at Hato Cedral.  A Great Horned Owl is roosting high up in the tall tree.  A nice place to spend an hour in the heat of the early afternoon.

 

Hato Cedral - This vast expanse of water with floating plants was home to thousands of Herons, Egrets, Jacanas and Ducks.  Not to mention the Caiman, Crocodiles, Anacondas and Piranhas!!

 

 

Transport
Our driver, Carlos, was an experienced driver of birders. He provided an unobtrusive and efficient service. The vehicle was a Toyota Landcruiser Prado. We sat three across in the back seat which was reasonably comfortable.

Weather
On the first full day, when in cloud forest, it was often misty. On the other days it was sunny. The temperature varied with altitude, hot in the Llanos and cool in the high Andes. It did not rain.

Health
Sitting on the roof of a truck being driven at night (see later) we were shot-blasted with flying insects but they did not seem to be the biting sort. We met several ant swarms which had us jumping out of the way. We were all bitten around the ankles and elsewhere but there were no serious issues with them. We suffered slight altitude sickness which disappeared when we reached lower levels.

The leader
We have mentioned in our previous reports the abilities of our leader, Cecilia Herrera. She is a brilliant organiser of birding holidays, looks after her clients, can find birds where we canít, and has an amazing memory for bird calls. She is also very good fun.

 

Cecilia Herrera - Our excellent guide for the whole trip.

 

Thursday 19 January 2012

The flights to Madrid and then to Caracas were uneventful and punctual. Cecilia met us at the airport and escorted us to our taxi. The hotel in Catia del Mar was near the coast and we saw a group of eight Magnificent Frigatebirds cruising above the buildings. We had a good meal and an early night.

 

Friday 20 January 2012

We were driven to the airport for the 07.00 flight to El Vigia which was on time. We met up with our driver, Carlos, who put all our cases into the boot.  We set off into the mountains.

On our way out of the town we saw several Pygmy Palm-swifts but soon we were climbing and into intermittent mist. One of our first stops was by an erythrina tree whose orange flowers were attracting a great variety of birds. Hummingbirds seen were: Brown Violetear, Green Violetear, Black-throated Mango, Golden-tailed Sapphire and White-vented Plumeleteer. Tanagers seen were Fulvous-headed, Summer, Crimson-backed and Blue-necked plus Thick-billed and Orange-bellied Euphonias. But the rarest bird was one that had been seen by all of us Brits but not by Cecilia, a male Baltimore Oriole, a rare winter visitor to Venezuela. Also unexpected was a flyover Military Macaw, an endangered species. Emerald and Yellow-billed Toucanets, and Black-mandibled Toucan were other highlights.

Lots of bird photos on the following pages !!

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Trip Report written by Dave Ferguson
Web site editing by Jim Rose
Photos by Jim Rose, Dave Ferguson and Rob Andrews
 

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