The Imataca Forest in Eastern Venezuela is one the most reliable places in the Neotropics to see Harpy Eagle. Photo: David Fisher
Eastern Venezuela is a remote region that has only recently been opened up to tourists, primarily due to the paving of a road to Brazil that runs south parallel to the border with Guyana. This passes through vast tracts of lowland Guianan rainforest, before climbing up five thousand feet through a rainforest-covered escarpment where it is known as the Escalera (staircase). It then continues through the rolling grasslands which form the magnificent landscape of the Gran Sabana. This is one of the most exciting birding roads in South America along which a wide selection of species can be seen, many of which are confined to this dramatic region that overlaps the borders of Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil – the pan-Tepui endemics. Most of our tour will concentrate on finding as many of these endemics as possible, as well as enjoying one of the widest variety of cotingas available anywhere in the Neotropics, including Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock, Pompadour Cotinga, and two species of bellbird, and the bizarre Capuchinbird.
However, before all that we’ll spend three nights close to the Imataca Forest Reserve, world famous for its healthy population of Harpy Eagle, one of the world’s most spectacular raptors. Local guides stake out active nests each year, and seeing a wild Harpy is often the highlight of the tour for many participants.
We should mention that in this remote part of Venezuela tourist hotels do not exist. Our accommodation in the Tepuis area will be clean and functional but fairly basic.
Day 1: The tour starts with a flight from London to Caracas.
Day 2: Arriving this morning we’ll transfer to the our hotel where there will be the chance for some local birding in the hotel grounds. Night in Caracas.
Day 3: This morning we’ll catch an early flight to Ciudad Guyana, and shortly after landing will visit the magnificent rapids on the Caroni River, close to where it joins the Orinoco, to look for Black-collared Swallow, a local speciality that nests in rocks amongst the cascades. We’ll also see a variety of waterbirds here perhaps including the beautiful Capped Heron. We’ll then drive to El Palmar, stopping for some pleasant roadside birdwatching en route. Night in El Palmar.
Days 4-5: We’ll spend two days birdwatching in the Imataca Forest Reserve. Although it is being selectively logged much of the forest here is still largely intact. The avifauna is amazingly rich, as evidenced by the presence of one of the most sought-after birds in South America - Harpy Eagle. The Imataca Forest is probably the best place in the world to see this magnificent raptor and we’ll devote most of one day to the search. In the process we can expect to see a host of other birds such as Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Red-throated Caracara, Painted Parakeet, Paradise Jacamar, Black Nunbird, White-throated Toucan, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker and Cayenne Jay.
We’ll also hope to find an antswarm which seem to be fairly common in this forest, and we’ll stand quietly and watch the birds which come in to feed on the insects disturbed by the ants. Here these usually include the stunning White-plumed and Rufous-throated Antbirds as well as various woodcreepers and foliage-gleaners. We’ll also search for local specialities such as Crimson Topaz and Ferruginous-backed Antbird. Nights in El Palmar.
Day 6: This morning we’ll drive south through open ranchland reminiscent of the llanos in central Venezuela. We’ll stop at various roadside pools that hold a good selection of wetland-associated birds including Sunbittern, Purple Gallinule, Black-collared Hawk, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, and Yellow-hooded Blackbird. In the afternoon we’ll walk a side road through tall rainforest and scan the treetops from a clearing where in previous years we have seen a variety of raptors, parrots, toucans, aracaris, and cotingas. Night in Las Claritas.
Days 7-10: We’ll have four days to explore the Escalera and the nearby Guianan lowland forest. Our days on the Escalera should provide repeated views of the striking scenery of the Tepuis. These flat-topped mountains rise steeply from dense forest or from the rolling grasslands of the Gran Sabana. Their characteristic silhouettes create an unforgettable effect of immensity and remoteness. Along the lightly travelled road we’ll look for such pan-Tepui endemics as Fiery-shouldered Parakeet, Tepui Swift, Velvet-browed Brilliant, Roraiman Barbtail, Streak-backed Antshrike, Scarlet-horned and Orange-bellied Manakins, Rufous-brown Solitaire, Ruddy Tody-Flycatcher, and Golden-tufted Mountain-Grackle.
The area is famous for cotingas and other spectacular possibilities include flashy Pompadour and Spangled Cotingas, brilliant orange Guianan Cocks-of-the-Rock, and noisy White and Bearded Bellbirds. We’ll also walk a rainforest trail that offers an entirely different selection of birds including Blackish Nightjar, Eastern Long-tailed Hermit, Tiny Tyrant-Manakin, Screaming Piha, and White-browed Antbird to name just a few. Nights in Las Claritas.
Day 11: Today we’ll drive from El Palmar to Puerto Ordaz and continue north to the Orinoco Delta in Tucupita. Along the road we’ll enjoy magnificent views of the Orinoco river and will notice the remarkable difference in vegetation on the northern side. Birds we may encounter along the road include Aplomado Falcon, White-tailed Hawk and Crested Caracara. Night in Tucupita.
Day 12: Our full day in the Orinoco Delta will take us to the newest ornithological frontier in Venezuela. Today will be a day of quality rather than quantity when it comes to the birds. We’ll take a boat ride and focus our search on rare and recently described birds such as the Delta Amacuro Softtail and Rio Orinoco Spinetail. We’ll also look for the enigmatic Black-chested Tyrant and will be exposed to riverine forest species such as the Black-crested Antshrike, Stripe-backed Wren and Rusty-backed Spinetail. On our return, we’ll stop in river islands where an, as yet undescribed, wagtail-tyrant and other river island specialists are found. Night in Tucupita.
Day 13: We’ll start the day in patches of swamp forest where we’ll look for the uncommon Slender-billed Kite as well as the bizarre Hoatzin, the endemic Black-dotted Piculet, and seedeaters. In the afternoon, we’ll drive back to Puerto Ordaz to take the evening flight to Caracas. Night near the airport.
Day 14: We’ll spend a morning birding in the nearby coastal mountain range where many species will be new for the tour and where we will have a chance of such Venezuelan endemics as Blood-eared Parakeet, Black-throated Spinetail and Caracas Tapaculo. After lunch, we’ll catch an afternoon flight to London where the tour ends on Day 15.
Updated: 25 July 2017