Danish ornithological society




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BIRDWATCHING IN


VENEZUELA

NOV. - DEC. 1995


ERIK MØLGAARD, JESPER MEEDOM

&

STIG KJÆRGAARD RASMUSSEN.


DANISH ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY

BIRDLIFE - DENMARK




Drawings by Jon B. Andersen©


Publisher:


Danish Ornithological Society's Excursion Committee©

Vesterbrogade 140A

1620 Copenhagen

Denmark


Copies of this report can be purchased from :


Danish Ornithological Society's Bookshop

Vesterbrogade 140A

1620 Copenhagen

Denmark


Telephone +45 31 31 85 63

Fax +45 31 31 24 35



INTRODUCTION.


In November-December 1995, the excursions committee of the Copenhagen department of the Danish Ornithological Society (DOF) carried out its first tour to Venezuela.


The tour was designed to give the participants a good coverage of the most typical habitats and of the biodiversity of the country. We concentrated on four main areas: The northern coastal mountains, the Venezuelan Andes of the Merida mountains, the Llanos and finally the rainforest in the eastern part of the country, including the highlands of the Gucycaca shield.

The tour was organised as a 15 days tour with a 7 days extension. Most participants were with us on the entire tour.


The number of bird species recorded was satisfactory. The base tour ended at 487 species. With an additional 142 on the extension trip, the grand total was 629 species.


The time of the year was elected to minimize the amount of rain and we actually succeeded with that and had sunny and hot weather throughout the tour. Only a very few showers in the highlands were encountered.

The beautiful weather was probably the reason why bird-song was limited throughout the tour. This probably cost us quite a few species. My recommendation would be to go to Venezuela in February or March when song activity is reportedly higher.


The participants were:


Two weeks: Carl-Axel Henrichsen (CAH), Jon B. Andersen (JBA) and Torsten Gabel (TG).


Three weeks: Jytte & Olvar Læssøe (OLæ), Martin H. Nielsen (MHN), Marianne Krogh (MK), Torben Pallesen (TP), Ole Lemming (OLe), Stig K. Ras­mussen (SKR), Inger Ander­sen (IA), Meta Bis­choff (MB) and Jesper Meedom (JM).

The tour fee was DKK 18,100.- for the base package and an additional DKK 5,550.- for the optional extension, including all transportation, accommodations, full board, all drinks, cancellation insurance, "official" tips, cost of guides and tour leader as well as the usual DOF services.

The local currency is called Bolivar and the exchange rate in November 1995 was approx. 300-320 Bolivar for one dollar (DKK 5,60). Changing money is very difficult in the country and the airport is the best choice. Only a very few places accept travellers checks.


The practical arrangements were made through the Sociedad Conservacionista Audubon de Venezuela, Aptdo. 80.450 Caracas 1080. Fax: 58-2-910716. The Society's travel department had done an excellent job and their arrangement were perfect for hard birdwatchers. The Society also provided us with two local birdwatchers who were with us as local guides. Chris Shrape (CS) (the first two weeks) and David Ascanio (DA) (the last week). Both were very friendly and keen.


The extensive field notes of Stig K. Rasmussen and Jesper Meedom are the foundation of this report.

This report contains the following:


1. Summary of the journey 3


2. A personal diary 6


3. List of birds 20


4. List of mammals and reptiles 62


5. Bibliography 64


I wish to thank the following persons for their assistance in writing this report: Stig K. Rasmussen (initial field notes), Jesper Meedom (field notes and author of the diary) and Jon B. Andersen for all the drawings.


Finally, it should not be forgotten that the whole trip was characterised by good fellowship and pleasant being together. Again it is a pleasure to look back on a successful DOF tour!


Erik Mølgaard

Lyngborghave 6 1tv,

3460 Birkerød

Denmark.


SUMMARY OF THE JOURNEY.


10.11.95 -19.15 Copenhagen Airport.

20.15-23.00 Frankfurt Airport.


11.11.95 04.15-05.05 Caracas Airport.

07.15-14.45 Colonia Tovar (10E25'N, 67E19'W).

16.50- Maracay (10E17'N, 67E39'W).

17.20-18.00 Hotel Maracay.


12.11.95 -05.15 Maracay.

05.25-17.50 Henri Pittier N.P. (10E18-29'N, 67E35-50'W).

06.15-17.00 Rancho Grande.

18.00- Maracay.


13.11.95 -05.40 Maracay.

05.50-18.20 Henri Pittier N.P.

18.30- Maracay


14.11.95 -04.40 Maracay.

04.55-18.05 Henri Pittier N.P.

06.15-11.50 Turiamo road.

12.40-15.10 Cata beach.

15.30-17.00 Turiamo road.

18.20- Maracay.


15.11.95 -05.35 Maracay.

05.50-11.35 Henri Pittier N.P.

06.30-11.10 Rancho Grande.

11.50-12.20 Maracay.

14.30-16.45 Caracas Airport.

17.40- Merida (08E36'N, 71E08'W).


16.11.95 -05.40 Merida.

06.25-17.00 Sierra Nevada N.P.

06.25-17.00 Pico Humboldt trail (08E35'N, 71E05'W).

17.40- Merida.


17.11.95 -05.45 Merida

05.55-18.00 La Azulita road (08E35-42'N, 71E20-30'W).

06.15-06.45 La Chorrera de las Gonzalez.

08.05-10.40 Universidad de los Andes.

12.45-14.50 El Tao.

18.10- Merida.


18.11.95 -07.00 Merida.

10.20-12.00 Pico Aguila (08E48'N, 70E50'W)

12.25-14.10 Laguna Macubaji (08E47'N, 70E50'W).

14.30-16.15 Mifafy (08E48'N, 70E51'W).

16.45- Los Frailes.


19.11.95 -04.35 Los Frailes.

05.50-12.00 San Isidro Road (08E57'N, 70E32'W).

12.30-13.15 Primavera.

13.30-13.50 Santo Domingo.

14.25-15.45 Stops along Santo Domingo road.

15.55-17.30 Las Tabias (09E08'N, 70E40'W).

17.35- Los Frailes.


20.11.95 -07.30 Los Frailes.

07.35-10.35 Las Tabias.

12.00-14.45 La Soledad trail (08E51'N, 70E31'W).

15.00-15.30 Altamira road (08E50'N, 70E30'W).

15.50-17.25 Barragan River (08E48'N, 70E28'W).

18.00- Barinas.


21.11.95 -05.00 Barinas

08.10-08.25 Bruzual (Apure river).

09.45-10.05 Pte. de la Vargen.

11.15- Hato El Frio (07E45'N, 68E40'W).


22.11.95 All day Hato El Frio.


23.11.95 All day Hato El Frio.


24.11.95 All day Hato El Frio.


25.11.95 -09.30 Hato El Frio.

11.40-13.15 San Fernando de Apure.

13.55-16.20 Caracas Airport.


EXTENSION WEEK.


17.20-18.00 Puerto Ordaz.

20.15- El Palmar.


26.11.95 -04.30 El Palmar.

05.30-18.05 Imataca Forest Reserve (08E04'N, 61E35'W).

19.00- El Palmar.


27.11.95 -05.40 El Palmar.

06.30-11.50 Imataca Forest Reserve.

12.45-13.45 El Palmar.

18.20- Las Claritas (06E05'N, 60E40'W).

28.11.95 -13.50 Las Claritas.

06.25-10.50 Trail km 89.

13.50-18.10 La Escalera road (06E05-10'N, 60E40'W).

18.10- Las Claritas.


29.11.95 -05.20 Las Claritas.

05.20-18.40 La Escalera road.

06.15-09.00 km 111-112 (875 m).

09.50-10.40 km 123 (1355 m).

11.35-16.10 La Gran Sabana km 137-152 (1400 -1500 m).

16.15-17.35 km 135-134 (1300-1400 m).

18.40- Las Claritas.


30.11.95 -05.00 Las Claritas.

05.00-17.50 Escalera Road.

06.10-09.10 km 135-131.

09.30-12.30 km 124-122.

13.05-15.30 km 109-107.

15.45-17.30 km 99-91 (400-200 m).

17.50- Las Claritas.

19.45-21.00 San Isidro (km88).


01.12.95 -10.25 Las Claritas.

06.20-10.25 San Isidro (km88).

10.25-11.35 La Escalera Road.

11.35-13.10 Las Claritas.

16.35-16.40 Guasipati.

19.30- Puerto Ordaz.


02.12.95 -07.35 Puerto Ordaz.

09.15-09.45 Caracas Airport.

10.30-12.15 Universidad Simon Bolivar (Naiguata).

13.45-16.00 Caracas Airport.


03.12.95 06.00-08.30 Frankfurt Airport.

09.45- Copenhagen Airport.


A PERSONAL DIARY.


November 11th. We arrived at Caracas at four in the morning after a whole night's flight via Frankfurt. Here we met with Chris - our guide for the first two weeks - from the local ornithological society, Audubon de Venezuela. He was a nice fellow with a special interest in migratory birds and someti­mes he tried to make us look at a North American warbler while we were engaged in watching a Venezuelan speciality. Even at this time in the morning the airport swind­lers were importunate and Torsten (travelling overseas for the first time) had to pay 10$ to have his trunk carried a hundred meters.


We spent the first day around Colonia Tovar in the temperate forest of the coastal mountains. Our first stop was the "School Trail" at an altitude of 1950 meters, a track in high forest. Down the trail we had a fine male of Golden-breasted Fruiteater on a low branch just above us. Afterwards we tried the El Jalillo Road at an altitude of 2200 meters in a habitat of low bushes with patches of bamboo. We saw a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle flying out above our heads and a Black Hawk-Eagle soaring over the slopes. We had lunch in Colonia Tovar, a German colony founded in the emigra­tion age with many people succumbing to hardship followed by years of isolation and inbree­ding. Now, Colonia Tovar is a mountain resort for people escaping from the polluted air of Caracas in the weekends. The houses are half-timbered, and we were greeted in German at the restaurant where we had sausages and sauerkraut for lunch. Then we drove to Maracay where we stayed at Hotel Byblos.


November 12th. The coast of northern Venezuela is dominated by a mountain range. The Caribbean littoral zone is dry, but beyond it mountains rising more than 2000 meters are covered in mist forest. On the south side of the mountains the climate is more moist. The large cities as Caracas and Maracay lie inland. There may have been some agriculture previously, but nowadays it isn't worthwhile, and Venezuela is a very "urban" country - partly because of the oil money allowing the country to import food. The coastal range holds a fauna with many endemic species. The forest is frag­mented and under pres­sure, but back in 1937 Henry Pittier National Park was set up to preserve it. It stretches from above Maracay across the summit almost down to sea-level where cocoa plantations, fishing villages and tourist resorts take over. Two asphalt roads go through the park towards the sea, and these form the basis for birdwatching. Near the pass on the Ocumare road there is a bi­ological station, Rancho Grande. Constructed in the age of dictatorship it was originally intended to be a luxury hotel. It is a decaying concrete structure of a grandiose design with empty holes for windows in the middle of the jungle. Only a minor part of it is in use for the station. The entire roof is open to visitors. Here you can walk around in canopy height and watch for tree-top species. As today was weekend the roads through the park were cramped with visitors shouting, cheering, playing radio, throwing maroons and passing through in lines of age-old, huge cars consuming large quantities of gas (priced at 21 liters per dollar). So we left the roads to the visitors and con­centrated on the roof and the forest trails around Rancho Grande.


From the roof you can look into the bromelia-filled canopy of the garden trees and have a view of the forested slope with large rain-forest trees, some of them with yellowish flowers. The first morning we were occupied with new and colourful birds all the time. Males of Handsome Fruiteater and White-tipped Quetzal appeared and disappeared, a group of Blood-eared Parakeet settled in a tree, an Ornate Hawk-Eagle emerged from the forest and glide over the roof. The birds were fed on the terra­ce. The Groove-billed Toucanets occupied the feeders most of the day and ate so much water-melon that they could hardly move. There were also Golden Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager and Blue-winged Mountain-tanager, and at the hummingbird feeders Long-tailed Sylph and Violet-fronted Brilliant came in. In a Cecropia behind the building, a Brown-throated Tree-toed Sloth was spotted. It was quite active - again and again it seemed to spot a specially temp­ting leaf at the opposite end of the tree and climbed with deliberate and mechanical movements towards its target and hang by its hind feet while grabbing the leaf with its long arms. In the midday heat we tried some of the marked trails on the slope behind Rancho Grande. Here birds were more difficult to spot, but a lucky few glimp­sed a Guttulated Foliage-gleaner. Opposite the main road from Rancho Grande another track leads into the forest. The understory is very dense and the track narrow, so we didn't see much - except for Martin (at the head as we walked in single file) who saw a Venezue­lan Wood-Quail with chicks running on the trail. This is the place where Chris spends weeks banding North Ameri­can warblers which come through by the thou­sands when weather conditions are suitable. After a bright sunny morning the clouds gathered, and migrating Vaux's Swift and Black and Turkey Vultures passed by at low height. In a tree top, a family of Red Howler Monkey was eating leaves - the male watching us suspiciously. They have a hirsute beard and the face looks angry.


In the evening we went out for dinner in Maracay. Very close to the hotel, we were told, meaning a one hour drive in dense traffic. Festoons of lamps decorated the trees of the avenues for Christmas. Mural paintings, often showing landscapes and birds in gay colours, adorned the walls all over the town. The restaurant was guarded by an armed doorman, we were the only guests and each of us had a trencher full of sausages and meat served with manioc and maize-flour balls.


November 13th. Today we explored the Choroni Road, the other road crossing the coastal cordillera through Henry Pittier. The road is fine and in good condition as most roads are in Venezuela. In the early morning, we birded the scrub­lands at the entrance to the park. A Sooty-capped Hermit picked dead insects from the windscreen of our minibus and it took a detour into the car as well. At an altitude of 950 meters, forest with patches of bamboo is found; here we had a Long-tailed Antbird. We drove along the road and made stops to walk and were then picked up again by our driver. The pass on Choroni Road is at an altitude of 1550 meters and montane species can be seen. At the roadside on the very top we had nice views of understory birds such as Ochre-breasted Brush-finch and Black-chinned Spinetail and in a bird party down the road, Mou­stached Puffbird and the endemic Rufous-cheeked Tanager were seen. We ended at 750 meters on the dry side in an area with bunches of a 15 meters tall bamboo, where birds were quite active and singing despite the afternoon heat.


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