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 only recently opened up to tourists, thanks primarily to the paving of a road to Brazil. Running south, parallel to the border with Guyana, the road passes through vast tracts of lowland Guianan rainforest before climbing up five thousand feet through a rainforest-covered escarpment known as the Escalera (staircase). It then continues through the rolling grasslands and “lost world” plateaus of the Tepuis, which form the magnificent landscape of the Gran Sabana. This is one of the best and most dramatic birding roads in South America, offering a wide selection of species, many confined to this stunning region that overlaps the borders of Venezuela, Guyana, and Brazil — the pan-Tepui endemics.
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 our chances of seeing a wild Harpy are good.
We’ll round out the tour with a full day in the Orinoco Delta, where we’ll take a boat ride to search for such rare birds as Delta Amacuro Softtail and Rio Orinoco Spinetail.
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 we’ll have the chance for some local birding within the hotel grounds. Night in Caracas.
Day 3: We’ll catch an early flight to Puerto Ordaz. Shortly after landing we’ll visit the impressive 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 among the cascades. We’ll also see a variety of waterbirds, perhaps including the lovely Capped Heron. We’ll then drive to El Palmar, probably stopping for roadside birdwatching en route. Night in El Palmar.
Days 4-5: We’ll spend two days in the remote Imataca Forest Reserve, which we’ll access using 4x4 jeeps. Although it has been selectively logged, much of the forest is still largely intact and 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 perhaps the best place in the world to see this extraordinary 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, Black Nunbird, Black-spotted Barbet, White-throated Toucan, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Cayenne Jay, and Green Oropendola.
We also hope to find an antswarm, which are fairly common here. If we’re successful, we’ll stand quietly and watch the birds - Rufous-throated Antbird and sometimes the stunning White-plumed as well as various woodcreepers and foliage-gleaners - which come in to feed on the insects disturbed by the ants. We’ll also search for local specialities such as Rose-breasted Chat and Ferruginous-backed Antbird. Nights in El Palmar.
Day 6: We’ll drive south through open ranchland reminiscent of the llanos in central Venezuela. Along the way we’ll stop at various roadside pools that hold a good selection of wetland-associated birds, including Horned Screamer, 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 time on the Escalera should provide repeated views of the striking scenery of the Gran Sabana, rolling grasslands mixed with valleys that are filled with rainforest. On clear days, distant flat-topped mountains known as the Tepuis may form a spectacular backdrop to our birding. Along the lightly travelled road we’ll look for pan-Tepui endemics such as Fiery-shouldered Parakeet, Tepui Swift, Velvet-browed Brilliant, Rufous-breasted Sabrewing, Roraiman Barbtail, Streak-backed Antshrike, Olive, Scarlet-horned, and Orange-bellied Manakins, Tepui Greenlet, Tepui Whitestart, Roraiman Warbler, Rufous-brown Solitaire, Ruddy Tody-Flycatcher, Red-shouldered Tanager, Tepui Brush-Finch, and Golden-tufted Mountain-Grackle.
The area is famous for cotingas, and we expect to see brilliant-orange Guianan Cocks-of-the-rock near a lek as well as showy White and Bearded Bellbirds, whose loud calls ring out across the slopes. Other exciting possibilities include Red-banded Fruiteater (also a pan-Tepui endemic), Screaming and Rose-collared Pihas, Pompadour and Spangled Cotingas, and Purple-throated Fruitcrow. Nights in Las Claritas.
Day 11: We’ll drive from El Palmar to Puerto Ordaz and continue north to the Orinoco Delta in Tucupita. Along the road we’ll have magnificent views of the Orinoco River and will notice the remarkable difference in vegetation on the northern side. Birds we may encounter 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. Travelling by boat, we’ll focus our search on rare and recently described birds such as Delta Amacuro Softtail and Rio Orinoco Spinetail. We’ll also look for the enigmatic Black-chested Tyrant, and we should encounter riverine forest species such as Black-crested Antshrike, Stripe-backed Wren, and Rusty-backed Spinetail. On our return we’ll stop at 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 various seedeaters. In the afternoon we’ll drive back to Puerto Ordaz to take an evening flight to Caracas. Night near the airport.
Day 14: We’ll spend the 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: 05 June 2018