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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Venezuela: The Tepuis, Imataca Forest Reserve, and Orinoco Delta

2009 Tour Narrative

Our tour of eastern Venezuela started with a visit to the spectacular rapids on the Caroni River next to Parque Cachamay. Here we enjoyed a cross-section of waterbirds ranging from familiar species such as Great Egret and Osprey to more exotic Capped Herons and Ringed Kingfishers. We picked out a few Black-collared Swallow gliding among the plumes of spray between the giant boulders and eventually had good scope views of them perched. Later, east of El Palmar, we enjoyed a sample of the Neotropical delights to come as we watched parrots, trogons, aracaris, toucans, and multi-colored tanagers from the roadside.

Our main focus the next day was Harpy Eagle, and after driving southeast for an hour or more in three 4x4’s, we hiked in through patches of forest and farmland to an active nest, where we had brilliant views of a well-grown youngster. This bird was already sporting a crest on its head, and the only real signs of immaturity were the lack of a black breast band and its regular plaintive “feed-me” mewing. Well satisfied with our Harpy encounter, we then spent a pleasant day birding our way slowly back to El Palmar, enjoying such delights as Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Black-collared Hawk, Laughing and Bat Falcons, Striped Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Jacamar, Swallow-winged Puffbird, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, and one of the lowest-elevation sightings of Gray Antbird on record.

The following day we visited the Imataca Forest reserve east of the Rio Grande. This vast patch of Guyanan lowland rainforest has been selectively logged for many years, but still remains excellent for birds. We had a good morning, encountering such species as Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Gray-breasted Sabrewing, Crimson Topaz, Black Nunbird, Riverside Warbler, Mouse-colored Antshrike, Guyanan Streaked-Antwren, Dusky Antbird, and perhaps best of all, Ferruginous-backed Antbird. The heavens opened after lunch, and we finally retreated to the vehicles and birded between showers. Such is the richness of the tropical lowlands that we still picked up a few nice birds in the afternoon.

Heading south from El Palmar, we moved our base to Las Claritas for the rest of the tour. At the first stop during our repositioning day, Gray-headed Kites circled overhead while Black-crested Antshrikes and Northern White-fringed Antwrens sang from the bushes. Buff-breasted Wrens and a White-bellied Piculet showed well, but a White-bellied Antbird remained hidden in the bottom of a thick hedge. Farther on, some sharp spotting revealed two Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls in a hole in a dead tree, while nearby our only Great Black-Hawk of the tour circled high in the sky. Our final stop was along a track through beautiful rainforest, where we found a pair of the hoped-for Guyanan Slaty-Antshrikes and a nice variety of flycatchers and tanagers.

Based at Anaconda Camp in the small town of Las Claritas, we then made day trips out into the lowland rainforest and up the Escalara onto the Gran Sabana. The highlights were many and varied, and the following is just a selection that comes readily to mind: the excellent roosting Blackish Nightjar; the perched and preening Sooty-capped Hermit at the Rock of the Virgin; the Blue-fronted Lancebill feeding on red flowers; various Peacock Coquettes; the Brown Jacamars near the Soldier’s Monument; a fantastic flock with Ash-winged Antwrens, Wing-barred Piprites, Black-capped Becard, Sharpbill, and Yellow-green Grosbeaks; all the cotingas including Bearded and White Bellbirds, day-glow Guyanan Cock-of-the-rocks, bizarre lekking Capuchinbirds, and the distant male Pompadour Cotinga; the snazzy Scarlet-horned Manakins; and the gorgeous Paradise Tanagers.

It was hard on our final day to drag ourselves away from such a bird-rich area, but we had sampled a rich selection of lowland Guyanan species and many of the pan-Tepui endemics. We’d also enjoyed some fantastic picnic lunches and explored a remote part of the world visited by comparatively few people.

- David Fisher

Updated: April 2009