We’ll spend three days in Henri Pittier National Park searching for Venezuela’s endemic and near-endemic species, including the beautiful White-tipped Quetzal. Photo: David Fisher
While entirely encompassed by the tropics, Venezuela contains a wide cross-section of habitats from lowland Amazonian rainforest to barren, snow-capped Andean peaks. The country is readily divided into various ecological zones, and on our main tour we visit three of them: the High Andes of western Venezuela, the vast marshes and grasslands of the flat llanos, and the lush rainforests of the coastal mountain range in the north. Each zone has a very different avifauna, and consequently the bird list for this tour is a lengthy one.
For those on their first trip to South America, many of the families we encounter will be new, and coping with screamers, potoos, tapaculos, euphonias, and hemispinguses may at first seem daunting. But with the help of Venezuela’s excellent field guide, they quickly resolve into familiar groupings that start to make sense. Some, of course, are already familiar thanks to exposure on wildlife documentaries, and there can be few birdwatchers whose pulses don’t quicken at the thought of Sunbitterns, Hoatzins, macaws, hummingbirds, cocks-of-the-rock, and multicolored tanagers.
Perhaps we should add that Venezuela is a sophisticated, modern country, with a good road network, excellent hotels, and fine food.
This tour can be taken in conjunction with our tour Venezuela: The Tepuis and Imataca Forest Reserve.
Day 1: The tour starts this evening in Caracas, where we’ll spend the night in a hotel near the airport.
Day 2: We’ll catch an early morning flight to El Vigia at the base of the High Andes, and drive the western slope to Estancia La Bravera. En route we’ll stop to look for Pygmy Swift a localised species of the Maracaibo basin. Our delightful lodge high in the mountains contains a landscaped garden with many flowering bushes, and around the dinning room are many hummingbird feeders that draw in such colorful species as Lazuline Sabrewing and Orange-throated Sunangel, as well as Venezuelan rarities including Buff-tailed Coronet and Gorgeted Woodstar. Night at Estancia La Bravera.
Day 3: After breakfast we’ll visit the nearby La Azulita road on the western slope of the Andes. Here we’ll walk down through pristine rainforest, enjoying a good selection of Andean birds, probably including Swallow-tailed and Hook-billed Kites, Ruddy Pigeon, the endemic Rose-crowned Parakeet, Wedge-billed Hummingbird, Crested Quetzal, Masked Trogon, Andean Toucanet, Azara’s Spinetail, Variegated Bristle-Tyrant, Black-capped Tanager, and Moustached Brush-Finch. We also have a chance for the very local Black-mandibled Toucan here. After a late lunch with the hummingbirds back at our lodge, we’ll drive to Merida in the afternoon. Night in Merida.
Day 4: Today we’ll walk the lower part of the Pico Humboldt trail, which ascends to the high páramo zone far beyond the areas we’ll explore today. The lower part of the trail winds up through beautiful rainforest, where we’ll search for Andean Guan, Longuemare’s Sunangel, Golden-headed Quetzal, Rufous Spinetail, Chestnut-crowned and Gray-naped Antpittas, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Mountain Wren, Chestnut-bellied Thrush, and Russet-crowned Warbler. Night in Merida.
David exemplifies the best leadership in the business. I’ve now traveled with him to Argentina, Australia, Kenya, and Venezuela. His planning is flawless, and execution of the plan is as smooth as possible in sometimes difficult parts of the world. On this latest trip, I showed up with a last-minute foot injury that slowed me down and prevented me from participating in some hikes; nevertheless, David made certain I saw and enjoyed every bird within my reach, and I deeply appreciate his extra care and concern. There must be an echo in here: he’s the best, the best, the best….
Day 5: We’ll spend the day in the treeless páramo zone, a high-altitude world of rocky slopes covered with strange and unfamiliar-looking plants. Among the relatively few species living here are páramo specialties such as Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Bearded Helmetcrest, Paramo Pipit, Streak-backed Canastero, Bar-winged Cinclodes, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, and the local Ochre-browed Thistletail and Mérida Wren, both Venezuelan endemics. Night in Santo Domingo.
Day 6: We’ll make a gradual descent of the Santo Domingo Valley, stopping to look for Torrent Duck and White-capped Dipper in the fast-flowing mountain streams. Side roads provide access to fine patches of subtropical forest, and we’ll spend time looking for birds such as Red-headed Barbet, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Rusty-breasted Antpitta, and Cliff Flycatcher, and we’ll end the day watching displaying Andean Cocks-of-the-rock at Venezuela’s only known lek—surely one of the most impressive ornithological sights in the Andes. Night in Santo Domingo.
Day 7: We’ll spend the morning at higher elevations near our hotel, where we’ll search for species that inhabit the vegetation just below the tree-line such as Pearled Treerunner, Red-crested Cotinga, White-fronted Redstart, Gray-capped and Superciliaried Hemispingus, Blue-and-black Tanager, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, Blue-backed Conebill, and, with luck, the stunning Ocellated Tapaculo. Later we’ll descend to Barinas, where we’ll spend the night.
Day 8: Most of the morning will be taken up driving east through the llanos to a private ranch, Hato El Cedral, where we’ll spend two nights. Though it will be difficult to resist stopping to look at the flocks of brilliantly colored waterbirds in roadside pools along the way, fortunately all of these are even more numerous at the ranch. We’ll reach there in time for lunch and an afternoon drive in open-sided trucks that give superb views of the abundant wildlife. Night at Hato El Cedral.
Day 9: We’ll take a morning boat ride along channels that meander through dense aquatic vegetation teeming with birds, rated by many as one of the best waterbird spectacles anywhere in the world. Among the tens of thousands of waterbirds present will be all of the llanos’s many herons, egrets, ibis and ducks, as well as “rarities” such as Pinnated Bittern, Orinoco Goose, Sunbittern, Pied Plover, Hoatzin, and Greater Ani. This is the best place we know in the world for Zigzag Heron. and we’ll pull into a side creek to look for it and for Agami Heron and Yellow-knobbed Curassow. We’ll also keep our eyes peeled for American Pygmy and Green-and-rufous Kingfishers, and should also find Amazonian Black-Tyrant. We’ll venture out again in mid-afternoon to visit “jacamar drive,” where Rufous-tailed Jacamars nest, and we’ll search here for the endemic White-bearded Flycatcher. We’ll linger until dusk looking for Band-tailed Nighthawks over the nearby river, where Pink River Dolphins sometimes swim in the shallows. We’ll then drive back in the dark, looking for Common Potoo, a variety of nightjars, Savanna Fox, and, with luck, a Giant Anteater. Night at Hato El Cedral.
Day 10: We’ll spend another morning on the ranch looking for any species we missed the previous day. After lunch we’ll drive east to San Fernando de Apure, where we’ll spend the night. En route we’ll stop in some riverine forest to look for Pale-headed Jacamar and a variety of smaller woodland passerines. Night in San Fernando.
Day 11: We’ll leave early and enjoy a picnic breakfast along a side road just north of town, where we’ll look for Black-capped Donacobius and Orinocan Saltator; if we are very lucky, we may see Horned Screamer. We’ll then drive north through the llanos, stopping to look for any species that might have eluded us up to this point. On this drive a few years ago we saw 21 species of raptor! Farther north we’ll stop at a lake where several species, including Tricolored and Green Herons, reach the southern limit of their Venezuelan range. Night in Maracay.
Days 12-14: To the north of Maracay lies Henri Pittier National Park, the oldest national park in Venezuela and the one with the largest bird list: more than 500 species have been recorded within its boundaries. Encompassing habitats ranging from the dry lowlands around Maracay up through the tropical montane rainforests of the coastal range and then down to the dry cactus scrub on the coast, the park protects a wide range of flora and fauna, including many of Venezuela’s endemic birds.
We’ll visit Rancho Grande Biological Station, one of the sites where William Beebe studied migration during the first half of the last century. We’ll spend our first few hours on the roof of the station watching the feeders, which attract many species of multicolored tanagers, flocks of oropendolas, and hummingbirds including Long-tailed Sylphs and Violet-fronted Brilliants. The roof is also a great place for raptor-watching, and regular sightings of Solitary Eagle, White Hawk, and up to three species of hawk-eagle can be made. White-tipped Swifts nest in the building and zoom by low overhead, while all around the forest presses in, bringing mixed-species flocks past at eye-level for close encounters with such endemics as White-tipped Quetzal, Blood-eared Parakeet, and, if we are lucky, the endemic Handsome Fruiteater.
We’ll walk the trails behind the biological station in search of the more skulking species including Guttulated Foliage-gleaner, Gray-throated Leaftosser, Plain-backed and Chestnut-crowned Antpittas, Short-tailed Antthrush, Southern Nightingale-Wren, and Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch. The calls of Red Howler Monkeys resound through the forest, and sometimes we encounter them on our walks.
On another day we’ll start at the pass of the Choroni Road, looking for Black-throated Spinetail and Rufous-cheeked Tanager, both endemic to this coastal mountain range, and then walk downhill through fabulous pristine rainforest with fantastic views down into the Caribbean lowlands visible from every corner. En route we’ll enjoy a wide range of forest species, perhaps including Band-tailed Guan, Bronzy Inca, Booted Racket-tail, Collared Trogon, Groove-billed Toucanet, Streaked Tuftedcheek, and Golden-breasted Fruiteater, and if we are very lucky we might chance upon a Northern Helmeted-Curassow or even a Scallop-breasted Antpitta.
We’ll visit a cocoa and coffee plantation in the lowlands, where on a quiet shady trail beside a stream we’ll visit the lek site of Lance-tailed Manakin, and with luck, watch their bizarre antics as the males call, strut, and shuffle to impress any passing female. The loud songs of two new wrens—Rufous-breasted and Rufous-and-white—should greet us here, while Flavescent Warblers tick and hop through the undergrowth. If we are sharp-eyed we might spot a Moustached Puffbird, a pair of which live along the trail here but usually sit very quietly watching everything around them.
We’ll also drive down to the coast near El Playon, where we’ll walk through cactus-dominated scrubland that is home to a surprising variety of birds. In particular we’ll be looking for Buffy Hummingbird, Blue-tailed Emerald, Black-backed Antshrike, Northern White-fringed Antwren, several small flycatchers, Glaucous Tanager, Black-striped Sparrow, and Gray Pileated-Finch. Later, from the nearby sea-cliffs we’ll watch Magnificent Frigatebirds and Black Vultures soaring past at eye-level and see Brown Boobies roosting on rocky islands offshore. Nights in Maracay.
Day 15: We’ll leave early for Colonia Tovar, a 19th-century German colony that still retains its distinctive architectural style and culture, stopping en route for some roadside birding and a picnic breakfast. We’ll spend the morning walking a quiet road through beautiful montane rainforest, looking for local specialties such as Tyrian Metaltail, the endemic Black-throated Spinetail, Chestnut-crowned and Slate-crowned Antpittas, the endemic Caracas Tapaculo, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Mountain Elaenia, Black-crested Warbler, Bluish Flowerpiercer, and the unique Plushcap. Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths are common along this road, and we usually encounter at least one during our walk. We’ll then drive on to Caracas. Night in Caracas.
Day 16: The tour ends this morning in Caracas.
Updated: 10 April 2013
- 2014 Tour Price Not Yet Available
- (2013 Tour Price $5100)
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
* This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Please review the explanation of our Sunbird pricing here.
Maximum group size eight with one leader.