Venezuela: 19 Mar -4 Apr 1994
Section 1 - General information





This report is divided into two sections:

Section 1 - Introduction, logistics, itinerary and general information.
Section 2 - Birding sites.


This report covers all the major birding sites of northeastern, eastern, southeastern and southern Venezuela, and is based on two personal visits from 19 March - 4 April 1994 and 29 March - 14 April 1991. The repeated visit to several sites in 1994 was especially rewarding; allowing more detailed information, accurate maps and data to be compiled. Venezuela has become recently more and more visited as a birding destination - and with good reason. The spectacular list of birds - well over 1,300 - has resulted from a vast range of habitats from the rainforests of the Amazon basin through the rich wetlands of the llanos to the high mountains of the Andes. The infrastructure of the country is generally good, though roads in some areas are in need of improvement. Internal air transportation is of a good standard with flights serving all important provincial towns. Hotels, restaurants, petrol and all the other necessities for the birder are freely available. Due to the large size of the country, and the number of excellent birding areas available, no trip, other than a lengthy one, can expect to see a majority of the avifauna. Never-the-less, spectacular birding areas and birds can be seen even on relatively short visits.

Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Taxonomy and nomenclature follow Clements (1991).

Flights and Getting There

Caracas is served daily from Europe by several airlines. The airport departure tax at Caracas is US$10 per person. Domestic flights from Caracas, operate from the domestic terminal at the same airport, and is situated on the same level, just 300 metres from international arrivals.


Holders of British, American and most European passports do not require a visa. A Tourist Card, valid for a stay of up to 60 days, is issued on arrival, providing you show an air ticket out of the country. Extensions of 30 days, costing around $50, can be issued in Caracas, Ciudad Bolivar or Ciudad Guyana.


Spanish is the official language and, as almost no one speaks English, at least a rudimentary understanding of Spanish as essential. Even at places such as international car, and flight reservation desks at Caracas airport it is unlikely to find English spoken.


Although not as cheap as other countries in southern or central America, Venezuela can still be considered relatively inexpensive. The only exceptions which might be considered expensive are car hire and accommodation at "tourist" lodges in the llanos and the Amazon. The official currency is the Bolivar (B). As in most of South America it is important to take US$ cash and traveller's cheques. In 1994 the exchange rate was about B113 to the US$. Credit cards are well accepted. All of the large supermarkets where we shopped, and most of the hotels in which we stayed, accepted MasterCard or Visa. Petrol stations require cash. However in view of the very low price of petrol this is unlikely to be a problem. Although it is possible to use US$ in various places it is not recommended, as the rates offered will be less than those at the banks. As bank opening hours interfere with birding it is easiest to change enough money at the airport, though note that the airport exchange facilities are not 24 hour.

Travel and Getting Around

Roads and driving in Venezuela are similar to that of most of South America, though a particularly Venezuelan character seems to be occasional craters in otherwise excellent road surfaces. This can make for some hazardous driving as often these craters suddenly appear when driving at high speed. Roads in the eastern half of the country are in a considerably better condition than those in the rest of the country. These road conditions have lead to a plethora of wheel/tyre repair workshops (volcanizadoras), one or more of which can be handily found in almost every small village. No trip to Venezuela will pass without a visit to at least one of them. One of the nice things about motoring around Venezuela is the price of petrol - almost give-away. I can not remember the exact price, but it is so low as to be a negligible portion of trip expenses, especially with several people sharing expenses. Petrol stations are widely available. As the roads leading east and west from Caracas along the coast and through the northern Cordilleras are windy and heavily used by trucks, they make for slow and dangerous driving conditions. Allow plenty of time if traversing these routes - an average speed of only 50 km an hour is realistic. Road maps are a rarity, and although I bought a basic map on the first trip, I could not find one en-route during 1994. No doubt road maps are available in large book sellers in Caracas, but I strongly recommend buying a good map in Europe before departure.

Car Rental. Car hire is generally expensive, and the condition of those cars supplied questionable - especially in Caracas where vehicles seem to have high kilometres on the clock. Many previous trips, report significant problems with breakdowns and time lost due to repairs en-route (witness our own first trip). Cars hired out of Puerto Ordaz (Ciudad Guyana) appear to be of a much better quality. The most popular method of payment appears to be to pre-book in one's own country, which does give a certain come-back in the event of difficulties in Venezuela. However, even with pre-payment the price is always calculated locally (from US$ into Bolivar). Beware of local taxes which seem to appear out of nowhere in various calculations. On both occasions I used Budget car rental who offered the most reasonable deal at the time, though all the majors can be found at both Caracas and Puerto Ordaz.

Food. Small stores and supermarkets stock a variety of foods and bottled water, both imported and local. As might be expected, it is best to stock-up with provisions at major towns, as the more remote areas have poor selections of, often well-expired, foodstuffs. As in much of South America, evening meals tend to be heavily biased toward steak or chicken with rice or fried potatoes. Accommodation. Readily found in all areas. Recommended (or otherwise) accommodations are dealt with under the relevant birding sites. The airport at Caracas does not have an airport hotel on-site, but the Hotel Aeropuerto (about $25/double) is only a five minute taxi ride away. An alternative, popular with birders, is to take a 20 minute taxi ride to Macuto and stay at the newly opened Hidalgo Hotel ($38 double), or the well know Hotel Macuto (similar price). From here it is possible to walk or taxi to the Avila NP, which can be useful for productively filling time if waiting for a flight.

Climate and When to Go

Being such a large, and topographically varied country, local weather conditions vary considerably. The general pattern is a wet season from May to October with a drier period between. As a result, most birders favour visiting Venezuela between December and April, when travelling around is least likely to be hampered by rain. This period also has the added bonus of many northern migrants being present.


Primary References:

Altman, A., and Swift, B. (1993). Checklist of the Birds of South America. 3rd edition.

Clements, J. (1991) Birds of the World: A Checklist (Including Supplements 1 and 2). Ibis. Has been used as the primary taxonomic reference throughout.

Collar et. al. (1992). Threatened Birds of the Americas. The ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book. Smithsonian Institution Press.

Dunning, J.S. (1987. South America Birds. Harrowood. A photographic aid to identification. Useful.

Goodwin, M.L. (1990). Birding in Venezuela. 2nd edition. Sociedad Conservacionista Audobon de Venezuela. Provides a good overview of where and how to bird in Venezuela. Mostly lacks specific information and contains no site maps.

Hilty, S.L., and Brown, W.L. (1986). A Guide to the Birds of Columbia. Princeton. This field guide is extremely useful in Venezuela, and contains far superior text than de Schauensee's Birds of Venezuela.

Howard, R., and Moore, A. (1991). A complete checklist of the Birds of the World.

National Geographic Society. (1987). Field Guide to the Birds of North America (2nd ed). This, or a similar North American guide, is useful for northern migrants.

Ridgely, R.S., and Tudor, G. (1989). The Birds of South America. Vol 1. The Oscine Passerines.

Ridgely, R.S., and Tudor, G. (1994). The Birds of South America. Vol 2. The Oscine Passerines. Not available during my trips, but should now be taken.

Sargeant, D.E. (1994b) The Birds of Junglaven, available here.

Schauensee, R.M. de, and Phelps, W.H. (1979). A Guide to the Birds of Venezuela. The only field guide which deals comprehensively with the Birds of Venezuela. Now somewhat outdated, but still invaluable.

Trip reports:

Many unpublished notes and trip reports are circulating for Venezuela. The following are recommended.

Anderson, B. (1993). Bolivar Southeast Venezuela.
Bakker, T. (1991). Venezuela 23 Feb - 11 Apr and 14 - 16 July 1991.
Gardner, N. (1982). A Birder's Guide to Travel in Venezuela.
Gardner, N., and D. (1989). Birding in Venezuela.
Golley, M. (1991) Venezuela 23 Nov - 14 Dec 90.
Hornbuckle, J. (1993). Birding in Bolivar.
Pearman, M. Various. Undated notes and maps.
Whitehouse, S.M. (1984). Venezuela. A summary of Bird Species seen 18 Dec - 19 Feb 1984.

Commercial Tape Recordings:

Barlow, Jon C. (1990). Songs of the Vireos and Their Allies. ARA Records.
Hardy, J.W. (1990). Voices of the New World Crows & Their Allies. ARA Records.
Hardy, J.W. & Parker, T.A. III. (1985). Voices of the New World Thrushes. ARA Records.
Hardy, J.W. & Coffey, B.B. Jr. (1991). Voices of the Wrens. ARA Records.
Hardy, J.W., Coffey, B.B. Jr., & Reynard, G.B. (1990). Voices of the New World Owls. ARA Records.
Hardy, J.W., Coffey, B.B. Jr., & Reynard, G.B. (1989). Voices of the New World Nightjars. ARA Records.
Hardy, J.W., Parker, T.A. III, & Coffey, B.B. Jr. (1991) Voices of the Woodcreepers. ARA Records.
Hardy, J.W., Reynard, G.B. & Coffey, B.B. Jr. (1990). Voices of the New World Pigeons and Doves. ARA Records.
Hardy, J.W., Reynard G.B., & Coffey, B.B. Jr. (1990). Voices of the New World Cuckoos and Trogons. ARA Records.
Hardy, J.W., Viellard, J. & Stranek, R. (1993). Voices of the Tinamous. ARA Records.

Itinerary and Experiences

1994 Trip

19 March 94. VIASA flight from London to Caracas via Paris. Other than being an hour late in leaving London, and two and a half hours late in leaving Paris, the flight was very good, especially as the flight was only half full, and the amount of leg room was the best I have ever seen on an economy class flight. Arrived Caracas 19h30, and met Karl Overman, an American birder, who had just arrived from Miami ($99 Miami Caracas return!!). With my arriving over an hour late in Caracas we were unable to take the last internal flight of the day (18h30) to Puerto Ordaz, so we took a taxi ($20) to the Hidalgo Hotel ($38 double). This brand new Hotel is adjacent to the well know Hotel Macuto, and was excellent. Had a few beers in the sea food bar opposite the hotel.

20 March 94. Up at 04h30 and took a taxi to the airport ($15), with the idea of going stand by on first, 06h00, flight to Puerto Ordaz. Unfortunately, this being Sunday, the first flight was not until 11h30. Never the less, we were able to check in. Having now gotten rid of our baggage we decided to do some birding around the airport, so walked a short way west from the airport, crossed the main highway and investigated the scrubby hill-side beyond. This proved quite productive, and we spent a few hours here until about 10h00 when it became too hot for bird activity. After a quick Burger King breakfast in the airport we took the 11h30 AVENSA flight to Puerto Ordaz, which arrived on time at 12h30. When we collected our pre arranged car from Budget, the good news was that they didn't have the car we had requested, so gave us a free upgrade to a group E car (a Toyota Tracer), with only 46,000 km on the clock (amazing for Venezuela). The bad news was that the air conditioning was not working, and could not be fixed before tomorrow morning. We decided we could live without the a/c, so declined to bring the car back in the morning, and took off northward toward Caripe. With only a few birding stops en route we arrived at El Guacharo, and the Oilbird cave just after dark at 19h00, to see many Oilbird still swarming from their cave. Overnight in the Hotel Guacharo which was adequate, but we wouldn't recommend the food.

21 March 94. A pre-dawn departure, with Ferruginous Pygmy Owl calling from scrub below the hotel. Drove eastward on the road toward La Margarita and after some km started birding along the road in any forest patches we came across. Most of the day we worked the area between 10 and 12 km east of the Rio Colorado river crossing (c7 km east of Caripe). Best bird of the day was a female Venezuelan Flower piercer. We left the area at 15h00 and drove northward to Irapa in the Paria Peninsula. Overnight in the Maryoli Hotel ($18/double, and probably the only hotel in town), which was basic, clean and adequate, but without food. From here we drove around town trying to find a suitable eating establishment, and eventually settled for the "turista" place just on the right as we drove into town which can be recommend for its ice cold beers, and reasonable lighting for writing the daily log.

22 March 94. Took the dirt road up to Las Melenas. The condition of this road was nowhere near as bad as we had previously been led to believe, and we were able to get our two wheel drive up it easily. Maybe it would have been more difficult in the wet, but the steepest sections of the track have been concreted, so should remain passable in most weathers. We were a little concerned about the low cloud that could be seen on the way up, but this had disappeared by the time we reached Las Melenas, and the weather was reasonable the whole day. At the village we had a few difficulties deciding on which trail to take into the hills, due to none of the three maps we had being in agreement, nor accurately depicting the start of each trail. These have now been corrected. Even before we started the climb we saw White tailed Sabrewing in the coffee plantation around the village. The whole day was spent exploring the various trails, and after returning to the car by late afternoon we slowly worked our way back to Irapa with a few stops en route. All in all it had been an excellent day, and I would certainly have liked to have spent further time here, as with another good day it should have been possible to find the White-throated Barbtail. Dinner and overnight as yesterday.

23 March 94. Left Irapa pre dawn for the fairly long drive south to Rio Grande in Bolivar. We had a couple of short stops early en-route, and at the river crossing at Yaguaraparo discovered what could be a reliable stake out for Orange hooded Manakin and White bellied Piculet. Arrived at El Palmar at 16h00, checked into the Taguapire Hotel, asked for a guide to be arranged for the following day, and headed out eastward toward Campamento Rio Grande hoping to do a little birding around the river at Rio Grande. However, we ended up taking a wrong turn, so birded along the road near some flooded meadows somewhere to the south of Rio Grande. Dinner at the Taguapire, which held up its reputation for good food.

24 March 94. As the guide, having been arranged for 05h30, had not turned up by 06h15, we asked the owner to re arrange him for tomorrow, and headed off to Rio Grande. At the river we were disappointed to see a metal chain and padlock across the road, so we parked the car and prepared ourselves to bird inside without the car. After looking around the trees near the river (despite the very noisy generator) we walked past the chain and on to the camp, where we asked about bringing the car in. To our surprise they were very pleased to let us and the car in, and drove back to unlock the gate for us. We even had a free coffee. Once inside, we initially tried to drive along the track running behind the camp, but after a kilometre or so it looked decidedly dodgy, so we returned to drive along the main track toward the Imataca Forest Reserve and Sumagua camp. During the morning we drove about 15 km (as far as the Imataca sign) stopping regularly on the way, and picked up a few good birds. However, the first few kilometres of the road appears to be the best, as further on the forest has either been completely cleared, or consists only of replanted mono cultures. By midday it was very hot and birdless, so we returned to a new trail we had found earlier in the day and spent several hours along it in the heat of the day. Despite being only a few hundred metres long, it was very productive, with Ferruginous backed Antbird, Yellow-crowned Tyrant Manikin, and Great Jacamar. In the late afternoon we worked the road, returning to find the car had a flat tyre. On the return journey after dark, while trying a Tropical Screech Owl tape, we happened to hear an unidentified nightjar near the road. After taping a couple and obtaining good views of several at close range, both in flight and on the ground, they were easily identified as Spot tailed Nightjar, a species seemingly not recorded in this part of Venezuela previously (though known from western Venezuela, the Guianas and Brazil). Overnight again at the Taguapire. The owner informed us that he had arranged a guide for 05h00 the next morning. A noisy night with the awful, hotel cockerel just outside the window crowing all night.

25 March 94. Up at 04h30, not really believing that the guide would arrive by 05h00. We had almost given up hope of him arriving at all, and were just about to leave, when he turned up at 06h00. At Rio Grande we repeated yesterday's routine with the key, and then proceeded with the guide to drive down the track we had thought impassable the previous day. The drive was pretty hairy in places, on occasions requiring a run-up at some of the muddy pools in order to get the car through. After about 10 km we abandoned the car and walked down variously narrowing tracks until we arrived at a Harpy Eagle nest. By some incredible fortune, an adult was at the nest with the chick, where it remained for about 15 minutes. I must admit it was one of the most impressive birds I have ever seen. Returned with the guide ($28), checked out of the Taguapire, had the tyre repaired ($3) and departed El Palmar at about 11h00. We soon realised that there might be a problem with the car, as over 80 km/h there was considerable vibration through the steering column. After several stops we eventually traced the problem to mud stuck on the inside of the front wheels. Having cleared the mud we then had a fast drive in the heat to Las Claritas at the bottom of the Escalera, where we arrived at 16h00. All along the route we had been seeing heavily loaded 4x4 jeeps with Gran Sabana painted on the windows. We eventually discovered that half of Venezuela had decided to camp out on the Gran Sabana for Easter week, and over the next four days saw hundreds of vehicles ascending the Escalera. The first consequence of all these vehicles was that we had to spend 45 minutes sitting in the queue for petrol at Km 88. With the last hour of light we birded the Escalera between km 105 and 120, but the weather was damp, overcast and cool, resulting in little activity. However, a highlight was a male Cock of the Rock flying over the road. Overnight at the Anaconda Lodge ($25/double). After half an hour of waiting to be served in the restaurant, we gave up and dined at the excellent Pilonera restaurant.

26 March 94. It having rained most of the night we awoke to find low cloud and drizzle not at all promising for birding the Escalera. After looking at the Crimson Topaz lek with no luck, we started up the Escalera and tried to work the lower levels. However with the almost constant rain we saw few birds and gave up around 10h30 and returned to the lowlands to look for the Capuchinbird lek. At least here it was not raining, and although we heard a couple of Capuchinbird, there was little activity, so we decided to explore the forest around the lek as it looked vaguely interesting. After an hour, having seen few birds, we again tried to ascend the Escalera, with the same result of solid rain. The rain did however ease between 16h00 and 18h00, when we were able to explore the area around km 122, though saw few birds. Overnight and dinner as yesterday. It had been a disappointing day, with very few of even the common tepui endemics.

27 March 94. Even lower cloud greeted us this morning. First stop was the Capuchinbird lek, with several individuals seen flying around. By 07h00 we again started up the Escalera, but the rain was even worse than yesterday. However, we persisted, working the whole length of the Escalera throughout the day, constantly moving up and down the Escalera trying to dodge the downpours with little success. Another frustrating day. In the restaurant that evening we met a Canadian geologist working in the area. He invited us over to stay at their camp nearby, where they were cutting trails through virgin forest. This would have been an incredible opportunity if we would have had more time, but as we planned to leave the following day, and still had not seen many of the specialities of the area, we declined in favour of exploring the Escalera further.

28 March 94. Low cloud, but at least no rain. However, as we drove up the Escalera we broke through the cloud at km 120 to excellent weather at last! From 06h00 15h00 we birded the areas between km 121 and 140, having considerable success, especially along the short forest track with the alcabala water pipe, along which we saw Roraiman Barbtail, and Ruddy Tody Flycatcher. After, we had a quick celebratory meal at the restaurant Pilonera, and hit the road, arriving back at El Palmar and the Taguapire hotel at 21h30. Even at that early hour the hotel was shut-up, and we had to call-out to attract the attention of the owner who only seemed to want to let us in because we had stayed there the previous week, and had told him we would be returning. I don't think that it would be a good idea to arrive late on spec.

29 March 94. The last day for Karl. An early start to arrive at Rio Grande by dawn. Overcast and drizzling just for a change. We worked the open areas along the road, and then tried the two new trails we had found earlier in the week. However, due to the constant rain and poor light inside the forest, we gave up after an hour and returned to the road. By 10h00 we decided to cut our losses, and briefly tried the main riverside trail before leaving around 11h00 in the hope of finding some drier place en route to Puerto Ordaz. Once east of El Palmar, in more arid habitat, we stopped to repack our bags and explore some of the dry forest along the road, picking up a few common birds new for the trip. We under estimated the time it would take to drive back to the airport and only just made the flight. It didn't help that the airport is poorly signed, and at one point you arrive at a T junction at the end of a major highway with no directions! (Here we had to get out of the car and scan the sky for any planes which might be around). The 17h30 flight back to Caracas went on time, and we again stayed at the Hotel Hidalgo. We ate the end of the trip dinner in the seafood restaurant next to the hotel.

30 March 94. An 04h30 taxi to the airport, where Karl took the Miami flight, and myself the AVENSA 08h00 to Puerto Ayacucho in Amazonas state. The fact that Puerto Ayacucho is right on the Columbian border presumably accounts for the large military presence at the airport. Paranoia seemed to be the order of the day here. Both the police and army paratroopers were in full combat dress, and displayed some mean-looking fire-arms. My baggage was searched twice before I was allowed onto the small eight-seater 'air-taxi' which operates to the Camani airstrip 120 km to the south-east. Here I was met by the owner of Junglaven, Captain Lorenzo Rodriguez, who transported me the 12 km back to the camp in a dilapidated Toyota Land Cruiser. I was somewhat surprised that I was to be the only guest throughout my six days here. Junglaven is still not ornithologically well-known, a situation which will hopefully improve as news spreads about the incredibly species-rich forest/savanna mosaic which is found there. After a quick lunch, birded the forest along the first section of The Road which leads from the camp to the airfield. Despite the heat of the day, several bird parties were easily located, which held an amazing collection of birds. At 22h00, after dinner and the evening log, went spot-lighting. Both Tropical Screech Owl and Vermiculated Screech Owl responded, but were not attracted, to tape. Crashed out at midnight.

31 March 94. Up at 05h00 to try to see the Tropical Screech-Owl calling around the camp, but although close, they would not come into view. After breakfast I was dropped at the other end of The Road, and spent the morning walking the other half of the forest not covered yesterday. In the afternoon, worked the same half as yesterday, including the three noisy trails with deep leaf-litter. The main target species were Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo and Crestless Curassow, but neither were found, although excellent views were had of Great Tinamou, Little Tinamou and Variegated Tinamou, as well as a Grey-winged Trumpeter. Tropical Screech-Owl was attached to a tape just before dusk. The evening meal was Peacock Bass straight out of the river.

01 April 94. Took the jeep to the river, where I had to wait an hour for the small boat to be prepared. During that time I walked around the immediate area and found Yellow-crowned Manakin. The rest of the morning was spent in the boat along a shallow, narrow creek looking for Agami Heron, but dipped. Usually present, they appear to move away from the area during the height of the dry season. The early afternoon was again spent in the forest, and at 16h00 walked, with a guide, along the trail to the Galapagos Lagoon, which despite looking good, produced few species. On return to the car, heard an unfamiliar tinamou calling, which was taped, but not seen. On our return to the camp a good storm started, which brought one tree down straight through one of the, fortunately, unoccupied cabins. No owling that evening because of rain.

02 April 94. Up at 03h00 to investigate strange calls around the camp, but no sooner was I outside than it started raining again, so back to bed. Up at 05h00, and into the forest, where I managed to pin down one Vermiculated Screech-Owl to its tree, but it stubbornly remained in the canopy. At 06h30 took the jeep to again try the track to the Galapagos Lagoon, but we soon discovered a couple of trees had come down, effectively blocking the road, so walked the forest again the whole day. Very hot, and fewer birds in evidence than previously. At 17h30 returned to the camp to wait for the Band-tailed Nighthawk which reputedly appeared over the river at dusk. Was not disappointed, with at least ten feeding birds appearing before dusk. After, again worked the road for Vermiculated Screech-Owl, again heard only.

03 April 94. Awoke at 03h30 to find a tick had attached itself to my eyelid during the night. Fortunately it was not yet too embedded, and was fairly easily removed. Up at 05h00 and again into the forest. Other than the usual with the Screech-Owl, a Great Potoo was heard in the distance. Morning spent working the trail to Galapagos Lagoon, where the unfamiliar Tinamou was seen, and provisionally identified as Grey-legged Tinamou. Also saw a Giant Anteater along the track, and a large Alligator, well away from the water, which did not want to move from the track. During the afternoon again worked the forest, and another good downpour at 17h00 put an end to night birding.

04 April 94. Up at 05h00 for a final attempt at the Screech-Owl, but again only heard. Although the air-taxi was scheduled for 08h00, there was no chance of it arriving due to low cloud. While waiting at the Camani Camp, spent a couple of hours birding around the camp, and found a few new birds, including Undulated Tinamou. Arrived Puerto Ayacucho at 12h00, in time for 14h00 flight to Caracas, which was late, with the consequence that I only just made my international connection with VIASA to Madrid at 17h30. 05 April 94. I changed to Iberia to Amsterdam, my baggage changed to Iberia to Copenhagen, but eventually arrived three days later.

1991 Trip

29 Mar 91. Other than the 10h00 British Airways flight from Heathrow being two hours delayed due to wing flap problems, the 10 hour direct flight to Caracas passed well and arrived only one hour late. Having cleared customs and immigration easily we collected our pre-paid Ford Sierra 2.8 GL from Budget. As we rejected this first car due to faulty break lights, another, better (or so we thought) car was produced. We drove out of the airport at 19h30, through Caracas, and proceeded to our first night's stop at the Hotel Pipo in Maracay. This good, Venezuelan five-star hotel, is costly by Venezuelan standards at $40/double.

30 Mar 91. Up at 06h00 and drove straight into Henri Pittier National Park along the Choroni road. We spent the first two hours exploring the lower, dryer slopes where we picked up the first birds of the trip, including Groove-billed Toucanet. After a quick breakfast at the hotel we were on the road again by 09h00, for the long drive west to the Andes. After a few hours the car started making knocking noises, which gradually became worse and forced us to seek assistance in a service station in Acarigua. Being a Saturday afternoon, everywhere seemed closed, but we luckily found a mechanic hanging around at the station. On taking the car to his house we discovered one of the retaining bolts of the front break housing had dropped out, with the whole assembly now practically falling off! Finding a replacement bolt proved difficult, but after an hour's tour of local workshops we located a couple which fitted (on the floor of a carpenter's shop!). Having paid our friendly mechanic 500 B we proceeded on our way. As time was getting short we drove at speed (maybe too fast) and arrived at the San Isidro trail in the Santo Domingo Valley by 17h00. Our target here was the Cock-of-the-Rock lek, so without pausing to look at anything we walked the trail trying to locate it. After a couple of incorrect turns we eventually stumbled upon them, and saw at least 20 males flying all around us at close range - definitely one of the trip highlights. Overnight at the government Hotel Muraco above Santo Domingo - a nice place for only $10/night - where we bumped into another group of British birders.

31 Mar 91. A cold, dark start at 05h45. Several Band-winged Nightjar were heard calling from the hill behind the hotel, and one was seen at very close range on the road within the hotel grounds. We drove up the Santo Domingo Valley and into the paramo zone where our first birding concentrated on small pools reputed to have Andean Snipe. However, a thorough search produced little of note except for a very cold boot full of icy water for one of our group who had decided to investigate a pool a little too closely. Species of note in this highland zone included Bar-winged Cinclodes, Paramo Pipit, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch and Ochre-browed Thistletail - though we dipped on Bearded Helmetcrest which is reported to be common in the area earlier in the year. We back-tracked to Lake Macubagi for breakfast, and then explored the scrub beyond the lake where the only birds of note were Cordilleran Snipe seen by only one group member. Proceeded further down the valley to Los Frailles where as there were few birds in evidence, we stopped for lunch. After, returned to the river below Santo Domingo town in an attempt to find Torrent Duck, but had no luck in an hour and a half of searching. Thereafter an hour was spent around the Upper Santo Domingo bridge but again this produced nothing of note, so we worked the road higher up hoping for Ocellated Tapaculo (again dipped). The last hour of light was spent in the grounds of the Los Frailles Hotel.

01 Apr 91. Another early start to arrive at the La Solidad trail for first light. Two hours were spent walking the trail, and a good number of hummingbirds and tanagers were seen. We then departed to Hato Piñero. Due to the poor condition of many of the roads we again had a mad drive, arriving at 15h15, just in time for the 16h00 game viewing drive. We found Hato a pleasant place, but poorly organised, with no manager present and no one really expecting us. The evening drive was excellent, and we were fortunate to have a visiting researcher, who knew all the birds, leading the drive. Some good night birds seen including Grey Potoo, Great Potoo and Nacunda Nighthawk. Despite the excellent night birds we didn't feel that the $120 a night (absolutely everything included) was at all good value. Overnight at Hato.

02 Apr 91. An 06h30 start with a specially arranged drive to explore the dry forest around Laguna Grande. Best birds of the morning were Swallow-wing, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant and Russet-throated Puffbird. A flycatcher on a nest at point blank range caused the usual identification headaches, and was eventually put down as Mouse-coloured Tyrannulet, based on nest construction. We took a short pre-lunch walk to look for the local Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, which responded once to a tape, and then gave up - leaving us staring blankly into the tree. A big after-lunch debate on whether to stay another night was still unresolved on departure into the heat for an exploration of the river. Despite the heat there was plenty of activity and we spent a very productive two hours racking up some good species including Hoatzin, White-bearded Flycatcher, Straight-billed Woodcreeper and Rusty-backed Spinetail. Still debating what to do, our decision was made for us by the lack of overnight accommodation and no truck being available to take us for a special evening drive. Tried again, and this time scored on the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, before driving out and on our way to El Sombrero. En route we got some minor hassle from one of the alcabalas. In theory you are supposed to stop, but as we had already driven through at least 20 who had shown no interest in us what-so-ever we were getting blasé and only slowed down. Anyway we got hauled back and our passports and licences were thoroughly grilled. Fifteen minutes later, and in the dark, we were on our way again, but the poor headlights and deteriorating road surface made driving a real strain, and not surprisingly, eventually we hit a large pot-hole which burst the front tyre and damaged the wheel rim. Whilst changing the wheel a large logging truck stopped from which a rather agitated driver descended and told us quite graphically to get ourselves on our way as quick as possible as there were bandits in the area. We then discovered that the spare tyre was in poor condition and barely driveable, so we decided to turn back and drove on tender-hooks to San Carlos where we eventually found a room at the Hotel Rosie. The chap on the reception desk was very helpful and pointed us in the direction of Turkington's Garage for the next morning. 750 B for a three bed room, 250 B for lots of beers, and crashed out at 23h00. Trip moral was now very low in view of the distance still to drive and the conditions of the roads.

03 Apr 91. Turkington's Garage at 08h15 was the first stop. Here the buckled wheel was straightened by smashing it with a large hammer, and the breaks were checked (300 B). We then crossed town to Cauchos San Carlos where we purchased a new tyre and had the wheels balanced (2,300 B). By 10h00, after some breakfast, we were on our way again with our now A1-condition car (so we thought!). We made good time until bad roads toward El Tigre again slowed us up. Suddenly disaster struck - the front breaks made some juddering and grinding noises, and we ground to a halt on a fast stretch of narrow road with heavy lorries careening past. Luckily some very friendly locals stopped and helped us get the car off the road. They then proceeded to help us with the repair, where we again discovered that a bolt had dropped out of the break housing (the very one we had had checked that morning!). By some incredible good fortune we still had a spare bolt that we had picked up two days ago. Two hours later, after a couple of trips to a farm to borrow tools, some general banter and a bit of impromptu birding with our mechanics we very gratefully set off again having given our friends 500 B for their trouble. Toward dark we started to notice the ignition light glowing, and gradually realised we were suddenly running on the battery alone. With more that 40 km to the next town, we took some drastic measures, driving only on side lights, right up the back of a lorry so as to use its lights. We reached El Tigre just in time, and as we pulled into the first hotel, the lights, breaks and steering all failed. I, who had had the unfortunate task of the driving, was really sweating. Not a trick I would want to do again. The Hotel was the Bar/Restaurant Hawaii, and was a real pit. $3 for the room.

04 Apr 91. Luckily the battery had gathered some charge overnight, enabling us to drive around the corner to an auto-electrical workshop, where the alternator was stripped and reconditioned (500 B). We were by now beginning to realise why there were so many repair workshops in Venezuela. From here we motored almost non-stop on very good roads to Kilometro 88 at the bottom of the Escalera, covering 620 km in 8 hours. Checked into the Anaconda Lodge. From here we drove to the 'Piedra del Virgen', where the car performed a new trick - we had water boiling out of the radiator. Having topped up the radiator with the last of our mineral water we decided that the cap had not been properly tightened. By now we wanted to push the car over the side of the hill!

05 Apr 91. Dawn to dusk on the Escalera and Gran Sabana, where we kept one step ahead of the advancing rain by working our way up the escarpment slope. Unfortunately we hadn't realised that no food was available anywhere along the road, so were slightly hungry by the evening! An excellent day's relaxed birding, which after the hassle of the last week was very welcome. Discovered the excellent supermarket in town and stocked up for tomorrow's breakfast. Overnight at the Anaconda again.

06 Apr 91. Started the day along the Guyana trail. Birding in the forest was slow, and the Crested Eagle nest was deserted, but with the aid of the tape we managed to lure out Musician Wren. As we had been caught in heavy rain whilst returned to car we returned to base for a change of clothes and some lunch. The afternoon was spent along the road between Km 88 and km 60, where we found the rubbish dump quite productive. Knocking noises beneath the car had us inspecting the underside several times, but we could not locate the source. Night at the Anaconda.

07 Apr 91. The day spent repeating our earlier tactics of working our way up the escarpment during the day. At dawn we started at the small pond at km 90 and saw Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, American River Warbler and a pair of yellow flycatchers at a nest which were never identified. Another very productive day with some more of the area's specialities found, including Black-faced Tyrannulet, Pompadour Cotinga and Flutist Wren. Night at the Anaconda.

08 Apr 91. Started the day at the top, on the Gran Sabana where we tried for and dipped on Rufous-crowned Elaenia. Spent the morning slowly working our way down the escarpment arriving at the bank by 12h00, only to find that it had closed at 11h30. Checked out of the Anaconda, which we then had to pay in dollars at a poor exchange rate. Drove back up the escarpment to km 112 for half an hour to a site for the Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock that one of the road workmen had given us. Very good gen, with an excellent view across a small valley. Given enough time in the early morning we would probably have scored, but as we had to press-on we dipped. Dropped into the bank on our way out of town, but they didn't change money! Our Bolivar stock was now getting low. Motored toward Campamento Rio Grande stopping en-route at the pond 17 km south of Villa Lola. This was extremely good with amongst others; Azure Gallinule, and Pinnated Bittern. We arrived at the Taguapiri Hotel in El Palmar by 19h00, but couldn't check into the hotel as the owner was not at home. Ate at the El Palmar restaurant in town and wrote up notes before returning to the hotel where miraculously the rooms were ready despite the continued absence of the owner. One of the group accidentally locked himself out of his room, and as there were no spare keys had to spend the night dossing on a spare bed.

09 Apr 91. Anticipating a lost morning we were pleasantly surprised when we managed to break into the room by removing the security screen and with a long pole, open the door from the inside. Drove to Campamento Rio Grande where we asked one of the workmen directions to the Harpy Eagle site. The track to the Harpy site had overgrown, so we had to walk the last 5 km. Despite dipping on the eagle, we saw Black-bellied Cuckoo. From here we returned to the river and tried the River Trail. This was absolutely dead in the heat of the day, and after an hour we gave up. The knocking noise from beneath the car had been gradually getting worse, but we were still unable to trace it. From here we took a slow drive back to El Palmar where on the outskirts of town we watched the evening roosting flights of the parrots hoping for Red-shouldered Macaw. Night at the hotel again where the owner had now returned.

10 Apr 91. Back into Campamento Rio Grande for the morning where, working the open areas near the river produced Crane Hawk, Grey-headed Kite and Streaked Antwren. Proceeded onto Ciudad Guyana where we eventually found a Bank of Venezuela which was willing to change our dollars and then caught the ferry across the Orinoco. Both Large-billed Tern and Yellow-billed Tern were seen from the ferry. We continued north to Maturin where just south of the city we had several Pearl Kite and a pair of Long-winged Harrier quartering some fields next to the road. A brief stop at the El Guamo reservoir (south of Caripe) was good for Caribbean Coot and a general collection of waterside birds. By 17h00 we had arrived at Caripe, where we checked into the Saman Hotel (800 B/twin). From here we drove to the famous Oilbird cave and waited for their appearance. Some several thousand came out over a period of about 20 minutes, but views were not good as they only appear very late and the weather was cloudy. Despite this, their large size and number makes an impressive sight. Good food at the hotel.

11 Apr 91. Woken at 05h00 by a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl calling loudly just outside the window. First we drove back to the El Guamo reservoir for a couple of hours dawn birding, and then drove the scenic coastal route over the mountains via Barcelona to El Hatillo - and wished we hadn't. The road is torturous and it took until 15h00 to reach El Hatillo. Still, the car had held together even though the knocking sounds were worse. El Hatillo had numerous Yellow-billed Tern, plus we saw what would be good records for Venezuela of Black Tern and Gull-billed Tern. We then decided to take the road westward between the lagoon and sea which had recently been tarred. Not much was seen until we arrived at the western end where on the mud we had a nice collection of waders, terns and gulls including many Cayenne Tern, two Ring-billed Gull and a juvenile Arctic Skua. Then followed another murderous drive via Caracas to Maracay which we arrived at by 22h00 and checked into the Hotel Maracay (35$/twin).

12 Apr 91. Up at 06h00, and out along the Ocumare road into Henri Pittier National Park. On the first attempt at opening the boot the complete lock and barrel came out in my hand, which now meant that we couldn't lock the boot for the rest of the trip. Our first stop was the picnic area just past La Trilla on the Caribbean side to check the river for Fasciated Tiger-Heron. Despite initial pessimism, resulting from a couple of treks back and forth along the river failing to find Fasciated Tiger-Heron, it was eventually found feeding from boulders in mid-stream. From here we worked our way slowly up the hill and back to the hotel by 15h00 for lunch, which was followed by a couple of hours along the Choroni road. We had planned to do some night birding in the hotel grounds but were totally exhausted, so we called it a day and crashed out.

13 Apr 91. First light found us grovelling under the first road culvert below Rancho Grande seeking the elusive Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper. We found a very tame bird in the most disgusting place - nesting in amongst rubbish in the pipe and with a torch were able to obtain good views. From here we went straight to the Biological Station at Rancho Grande, and walked the trails on the hill behind. Using tape playback we found both Plain-backed Antpitta and Chestnut-crowned Ant-Thrush and also the endemic Guttulated Foliage-gleaner. From here we worked our way down the Caribbean slope and continued to the coast at Ocumare, where in the heat of the day we explored the coastal scrub. Glaucous Tanager and Scrub Flycatcher were found with little difficulty, but both Black-backed Antshrike and Buffy Hummingbird were dips. The early afternoon was spent working our way back toward Rancho Grande, but as the going was slow we decided to return to the hotel for a late lunch. Following a heavy downpour and an abortive hour of trying to reconfirm our return flights to the UK we decided to spend the last hour of light in the hotel gardens, adding Spot-breasted Woodpecker to the trip list. In the evening both Rufous Nightjar and Grey Potoo were calling near the hotel.

14 April 91. A spot of pre-dawn birding produced excellent views of a Crab-eating Fox, and a Tropical Screech-Owl was heard. Just on daybreak we saw Rufous Nightjar flying around and calling from trees of the golf course just behind the hotel. With the day off to a good start we drove up the Choroni road to the pass where the last few hours birding of the trip produced Rufous-tailed Ant-Thrush, Black-chinned Spinetail and Ornate Hawk-Eagle. Returned to the hotel and checked out by 14h30. The return drive to Caracas passed easily, and despite the ever present knocking the car made it without further problems. We never did find the cause and were probably glad we didn't!

Section 2 - Birding sites.