We finally were at the base of the Pantepui region in southeastern Venezuela, after birding three days in and around El Palmar, and after our traveling day to Las Claritas the day before. Rafael Cortes and your blogger host were now guests of Henry Cleve at his lovely Barquilla de Fresa Inn, and very early he was taking us to La Escalera, the windy road that ascends all the way to La Gran Sabana, delimiting, in part, the huge Canaima National Park!
The Plateu Theory indicates that once, only one HUGE tepui existed: the Pantepui. Over millions of years, the erosion gave place to the table-top mountains known as tepuis, a process that still continues... so, La Escalera takes you along the forested slope of this ancient Pantepui all the way to the grassy plateu named now La Gran Sabana, that is the actual level reached by erosion!
We stopped at several sites along the road, including al the km 102 where a nice black-rock lookout (mirador) offers an excellent, overwhelming view of the surrounding forests and towards the tepuis beyond. This black-rock formation of Precambric origin, one of the most ancient formations in the Americas!
That day we flushed a Blackish Nightjar, but the star of the show wasn't a bird, but an amphibian: Henry found for us a beautiful (and deadly) Yellow-banded Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates leucomelas) for our delight.
At km 111, a mixed flock with Tepui Greenlets, Bananaquits, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Slate-throated Whitestart, Sharpbill, Slate-crowned Shrike-Vireo and Golden-olive Woodpecker, amon others kept us entertaining... a group of Olive-backed Tanagers and a Orange-bellied Manakin where apart of the flock... I only managed this creepy photo... but at least you can see why this manakin is named this way. Pitifully, I have no photo of the impressive males Guianan Cock-of-the-Rocks that repeatedly crossed the street, with one individual perching briefly close to us allowing a great view! Those birds look like fire balls when flying!
We started to hear the White Bellbirds from the middle part of La Escalera, and soon we were seeing several males perched exposed on top of tall trees making their bizarre, very loud calls. Higher up we saw the Bearded Bellbird too, but that male didn't allow photos. According to Henry, the long wattle of the male bellbird are part of its sexual attractive to females... can you imagine what would think a White Bellbird female about our resident species of bellbird in Panama (the Three-wattled Bellbird)?
In the higher part of La Escalera (around km 135), Henry found for us several Pantepui endemics, including Tepui Antwren, Fiery-shouldered Parakeet, McConnells -"Lema"- Flycatcher, Rose-collared Piha (a female), and amazing males Scarlet-horned Manakins... what a beauty!
We lunched at the monument to the pioneering soldier, in La Gran Sabana, after watching Black-faced and Burnished-buff Tanagers, accompanied by a Yellow-headed Caracara and a strange-looking Turkey Vulture
due to its partial albinism, because it was a leucistic bird (thanks J.C.)
It was an excellent day, full of lifers, pantepui endemics and astonishing landscapes... but it was only the first day, so stay tuned!
Rafael Cortes and Henry Cleve at km 124, La Escalera, Bolívar state.