Friday, March 23, 2012

Landing in eastern Venezuela!

After so many preparatives, finally, Rafael Cortes and your blogger host were heading to eastern Venezuela in search of those Guianan shield and Tepuis endemics. I have to say that it is not easy to get by your own into interior Venezuela, but somehow we managed the trip without incidents. We spend almost a full day flying from Bogota (Colombia) to Caracas and then to Puerto Ordaz, at the margins of the mighty Orinoco river. Puerto Ordaz is a HUGE city, with wide avenues, modern malls and all the facilities you need. We spend the night in downtown, with Carib Grackle as my only life bird for the day (watched at the airport near Caracas).
Very early the next day, we hired a taxi cab to ride us to the little town of El Palmar, the gate to the forests of the Sierra de Imataca. The average speed of our taxi was around 120 km/h, due to the excellent highways and little traffic on route. We left the main highway (that eventually reach La Gran Sabana and the Brazil border) just before the town of Utapa and took a windy paved road through pasture land with savanna-like habitat and many lagoons. Despite the velocity, we did saw some birds, including a flock of Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, many heron species and even a Black-collared Hawk.
At the main plaza, we asked for a local guide, Blas Chacare who works monitoring Harpy Eagle's nest and chicks (more about Blas and this project in another post). We didn't knew him in advance... Rafael only had some references by some colombian birders that met him before. Eventually, we reached Blas' house close to the main plaza, and after the corresponding introductions, Blas agreed to guide us the next three days and even offered to stay at his house, with his beautiful family. I already was counting my first life birds of the day: Green-rumped Parrotlets, Gray Seedeater, Orange-fronted Yellow-Finch, Pale-breasted Thrush, and so on... Of course, I didn't count the pet Spix's Guan they have in their backyard, but it was useful to familiarize with its jizz and size. In addition, the rice thrown to the guan was attracting Tropical Mockingbird, Ruddy Ground Doves, a Spectacled Thrush, and Palm, Blue-gray, White-lined and Silver-beaked Tanagers allowing decent photos.

Soon, we were on route to the forest of the Sierra de Imataca, entering through the bridge over the Rio Grande, more or less 45 minutes from El Palmar. The forest was impressive, but it was already a little late and hot, so we decided to follow Blas (and his son) inside the forest, walking narrow trails and sometimes making our own trail... Blas has an excellent sense of orientation and we crossed several mixed flocks with highlights like Black Nunbird, both Brown-bellied and Rufous-bellied Antwrens, a male Fulvous Shrike-Tanager (feeding VERY low!!!) and the bird of the day: a Ferruginous-backed Antbird that responded well to playback.

Before leaving the forest, we crossed a huge group of Collared Peccharies (surely more than 100 individuals, known as Báquiros), but they went away quite scared before we were able to check if a "baquirero" (Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo) was following them. We left the forest interior and started the return journey through the main road, finding some interesting hummingbirds in the way. The most colorful was a White-chinned Sapphire shining with the sun, but then Blas pointed me a tiny one perched atop the bushes that turned out to be a female Festive Coquette! I also managed to take a photo of a White-chested Emerald in the same spot, its all-black bill separates it from the very similar Versicolored Emerald (which we also saw).
We spend all the day out in the forest, and in the evening (back at Blas' place), we celebrate our first day of birding with a couple of beers. The plan the next morning was to visit one of the active nests of Harpy Eagle that Blas have been monitoring since a couple of weeks before... stay tuned!

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