The Ultimate In Birding Tours

South America (and its islands)

WESTERN VENEZUELA – Specialities of the Coastal Cordillera, the dry northwest, the Andes and the Llanos

Friday 17th January – Tuesday 4th February 2025

Leaders: Trevor Ellery and a local bird guide

19 Days Group Size Limit 7
Saturday 17th January – Wednesday 4th February 2026

Leaders: Trevor Ellery and a local bird guide

19 Days Group Size Limit 7

WESTERN VENEZUELA BIRDING TOUR: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Western Venezuela birding tours offer a compelling experience. The region is a key area to visit for a Neotropical enthusiast, no matter how well-travelled, for this part of the country has many species which are either endemic or only shared with neighbouring regions of Colombia, as well as a large number of species of broader distribution in the Neotropics.

We have been operating Venezuela birding tours for over three decades and this special tour is designed to be the most comprehensive birding journey through Western Venezuela available, producing numerous specialities.

The vast tropical and temperate forests, the endless savanna wetlands of the Llanos and the high mountains that form the northernmost ranges of the Andes all add to Western Venezuela’s remarkable diversity. Venezuela’s comparatively well-developed road system, a superb field guide and a general lack of tourists make exploration here a pleasure and enable us to unlock the country’s avian treasure chest.

We start our journey in the Cordillera de la Costa Central, a mountain chain on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast. Here amongst the varied forest types at El Avila and in the superb Henri Pittier National Park we will first appreciate the pleasures of Venezuelan birding.

Birdlife here is rich and diverse, including a considerable number of endemics and near-endemics. Pure endemics include the noisy Venezuelan Wood Quail,  Blood-eared Parakeet, the Venezuelan form of the Painted Parakeet (a potential split), Black-throated Spinetail, Guttulate Foliage-gleaner, Scallop-breasted Antpitta, Rufous-lored Tyrannulet, Venezuelan Bristle Tyrant, Caracas Tapaculo, the spectacular Handsome Fruiteater, the uncommon Caracas Brushhfinch and Rufous-cheeked Tanager. Near-endemics include Violet-chested Hummingbird, Rufous-shafted Woodstar, the superb White-tipped Quetzal, Groove-billed Toucanet and Crested Spinetail.

From here we will travel into the arid zone of northwestern Venezuela, home to some very special birds including such endemics and near-endemics as the endemic Plain-flanked Rail, ‘Maracaibo’ Antshrike and Maracaibo Tody-Flycatcher and near-endemic Bare-eyed Pigeon, Yellow-shouldered Amazon, Buffy Hummingbird,  Black-backed Antshrike, Slender-billed Inezia and Vermilion Cardinal. Some bird-rich lagoons along the way hold Scarlet Ibis and American Flamingo.

Reaching the northern base of the Andes, we shall visit Yacambú National Park, where a peaceful pond holds the endemic Rusty-flanked Crake while surrounding montane forests will offer a first introduction to the rich Andean avifauna, including the endemic Merida Tapaculo. There are even chances for the near-endemic Helmeted Curassow and the endemic Great Antpitta. In drier habitat, we may find the endemic Green-tailed Emerald and the near-endemic Tocuyo Sparrow.

Bird speciation has occurred more rapidly in the Andes than anywhere else on earth as the progressive uplift of these magnificent mountains has isolated one tract of forest from another. During our stay here we will explore a wide variety of montane forest habitats.

From Yacambú, we will make our way further along the Andes, where among the verdant lowlands and foothills around La Azulita we shall seek out such specialities as the endemic Rose-crowned Parakeet and Green Inca, the near-endemic Pygmy Palm Swift and Orange-throated Sunangel and such range-restricted specialities as Saffron-headed Parrot, Citron-throated Toucan and Grey-throated Warbler.

During our Andean exploits around Mérida we will encounter a marvellous selection of species including some interesting endemics. Here we will want to find such endemics as Merida Sunangel, Golden-tailed Starfrontlet, Grey-naped Antpitta, Blackish Chat-Tyrant, White-fronted Whitestart, Merida Flowerpiercer and Grey-capped Hemispingus, as well as many other exciting birds.

Reaching our highest altitudes of the journey, we will also explore the alpine paramo zone of the Andes with its dramatic scenery and attendant bird specialities. Here we will be wanting to track down such endemics as the beautiful White-bearded Helmetcrest, Ochre-browed Thistletail, Rufous-browed Chat-Tyrant and Merida Wren. From here it is all downhill to the base of the mountains, where the near-endemic Pale-headed Jacamar will be the biggest draw before we leave the Andes behind.

From the Andes, in striking contrast, we head out into the Llanos, a wetland area of international importance teeming with waterbirds of many kinds and a superb collection of raptors.

Visiting this extraordinary area of savanna and wetlands at the famous Hato El Cedral will be a fitting climax to a marvellous adventure as we admire huge Jabirus and attractive Orinoco Geese, observe no fewer than seven species of ibis and explore jungle creeks in search of secretive Agami and Zigzag Herons, near-endemic Yellow-knobbed Curassows and extraordinary Sunbitterns and Hoatzins, all the while enjoying the sights of great numbers of waterbirds, lazing capybaras and quietly lurking caimans!

As keen birders, we shall also want to search the grassland and riverine woodland for specialities such as the range-restricted Todd’s Nightjar, White-bearded Flycatcher, Dwarf Cuckoo, Venezuelan Troupial and Orinocan Saltator, as well as localized species of wider distribution including River Tyrannulet, Amazonian Black Tyrant and Riverside Tyrant.

By the time we finish our Venezuelan adventure, we will have seen a huge number of bird species and most importantly a fantastic suite of endemics, near-endemics and other range-restricted specialities.

Birdquest has operated Western Venezuela birding tours since 1988.

This tour can be taken together with EASTERN VENEZUELA

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are of good to simple standard. Sometimes we have no choice but to use establishments at the simpler end of the scale where hot water supplies can be erratic. The range of foodstuffs available in Venezuela is limited at the present time. Road transport is by minibus/passenger van or small coach and roads are variable in quality.

Walking: The walking effort during our Western Venezuela birding tour is mostly easy, sometimes moderate.

Climate: Generally warm or hot, dry and sunny at lower altitudes, but cool in upland areas (and even cold in the high Andes). Overcast weather is quite regular and there will be some rain at times. It will be fairly humid in the lowlands.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Western Venezuela birding tour are quite good.

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Afternoon tour start at Caracas (Simon Bolivar) International Airport. Transfer to nearby El Avila National Park.
  • Day 2: El Avila National Park, then transfer to Maracay.
  • Days 3-5: Henri Pittier National Park. Overnights at Maracay.
  • Day 6: Transfer to Coro.
  • Day 7: Coro area, then transfer to Sanare.
  • Day 8: Yacambú National Park. Overnight Sanare.
  • Day 9: Transfer to La Azulita.
  • Day 10: La Azulita area then transfer to Mérida.
  • Days 11-12: Mérida area.
  • Day 13: Transfer to Santo Domingo valley via the paramo.
  • Day 14: Santo Domingo valley or return to the paramo if need be.
  • Day 15: Transfer to Hato El Cedral in the Llanos.
  • Days 16-17: Exploring the Venezuelan Llanos at Hato El Cedral.
  • Day 18: Hato El Cedral, then drive to Calabozo.
  • Day 19: Return to Caracas (Simon Bolivar) International Airport for early afternoon tour end.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)


2025: provisional £5340, $6850, €6230, AUD10340. Caracas/Caracas.
2026: provisional £5490, $7050, €6410, AUD10640. Caracas/Caracas.

Single Supplement: 2025: £450, $580, €520, AUD870.
Single Supplement: 2026: £460, $600, €540, AUD900.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

WESTERN VENEZUELA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Western Venezuela: Day 1  The tour begins in the late afternoon at the Caracas (Simon Bolivar) International Airport at Maiquetía, from where we will drive up into the nearby coastal cordillera to El Avila National Park for an overnight stay.

Western Venezuela: Day 2  Today we will explore the subtropical forests of the coastal cordillera at El Avila.

The specialities of this area include two localized endemics; Black-throated Spinetail and Caracas Tapaculo commonly vocalize from dense bamboo thickets and are straightforward to observe. In addition, the endemic Venezuelan form of the Painted Parakeet is a potential split and is regularly to be found at El Avila.

We will also have our first chance for the diminutive and sometimes hard-to-find Rufous-shafted Woodstar, only found in Venezuela and some remote parts of Colombia.

Another coastal cordillera endemic is the uncommon Caracas Brushfinch. You can put in a lot of effort at El Avila or elsewhere in the coastal cordillera and still fail to find this one, as they seem to get seen at a location and then vanish for months, but we will hope to get lucky.

More widespread species that we are likely to encounter for the first time include Montane Woodcreeper, White-throated Tyrannulet, Mountain Elaenia, Brown-capped Vireo, Blue-and-white Swallow, Glossy-black Thrush, Black-crested Warbler, Slate-throated Whitestart, Blue-capped and Beryl-spangled Tanagers, Common Bush Tanager, Bluish and White-sided Flowerpiercers and Rufous-collared Sparrow.

After spending much of the day at El Avila, we will drive westwards to Maracay for a four nights stay.

Typical roadside species along the way include Black and Turkey Vultures, Tropical Kingbird and Carib Grackle.

Western Venezuela: Days 3-5  As the dawn mists weave through giant tree ferns, the haunting roar of the Red Howler Monkey greets our arrival in Henri Pittier National Park. Over 500 species of birds have been recorded within this remarkable 250,000-acre (100,000-hectare) park, which lies between the city of Maracay and the Caribbean coast. Straddling the Cordillera de la Costa Central, a wide range of forest types occur within the park boundary. Inland from the dry coastal fringe, the northern slopes are clad in wet tropical evergreen forest, turning to cloudforest around the summits, whilst dry deciduous woodland occupies the southern flanks. It is this floristic variety which results in such a diverse avifauna.

Two roads bisect the park, allowing access to the major habitats.

As the sun penetrates the forest canopy, flocks of multi-coloured parakeets and tanagers begin their feeding rounds and the aptly-named foliage-gleaners peruse the epiphytes which clothe many of the trees. Iridescent hummingbirds, with such evocative names as White-vented Plumeleteer, Violet-fronted Brilliant and Long-tailed Sylph, flit from flower to flower too fast for the eye to follow.

Fruiting trees lure in such gaudy gems as the near-endemic White-tipped Quetzal, Collared Trogon, the near-endemic Groove-billed Toucanet, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Buff-throated Saltator, the bold Rusty-backed Oropendola, Green Honeycreeper and White-lined, Silver-beaked, Blue-grey, Palm, Golden and Bay-headed Tanagers.

Noisy White-tipped Swifts pass over us, garrulous flocks of endemic Blood-eared Parakeets speed through the canopy and high overhead we may see tiny Lilac-tailed Parrotlets commuting between feeding areas.

Inside the forest, Grey-throated Leaftossers, Short-tailed and Black-faced Antthrushes and shy Plain-backed Antpittas search the leaf litter for tasty bits of protein, and with perseveranceWhite-streaked A we may see all of these shy terrestrial birds. Mixed flocks of insectivorous understorey species typically contain Plain Antvireo, Slaty Antwren, Slaty-capped Flycatcher and Three-striped Warbler, and we will diligently sort through them in search of two inconspicuous endemics; Guttulate Foliage-gleaner and the tucuyensis form of the White-streaked Antvireo which is sometimes split as Venezuelan Antvireo.

Loud wailing calls may well betray the presence of the reclusive Venezuelan Wood Quail, although we will count ourselves fortunate if we see this well-camouflaged and secretive endemic.

Canopy flocks make their round too, and amidst the flurry of activity, we will try to pin down, among others, the endemic Rufous-lored Tyrannulet, the endemic Venezuelan Bristle Tyrant, the near-endemic Crested Spinetail, Montane and Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaners, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Black-and-white and Chestnut-crowned Becards, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Cerulean and Black-and-white Warblers, Tropical Parula and Orange-bellied Euphonia.

Among the other species we may well see in Henri Pittier, or in more open habitats nearby, are the lovely endemic Handsome Fruiteater (the name says it all), the endemic Venezuelan Tyrannulet and the near-endemic Voiolet-chested Hummingbird, as well as the range-restricted Venezuelan Flycatcher, Golden-breasted Fruiteater and Ochre-breasted Brushfinch.

In the highest parts of the park, we will look for two more skulkers, the cute endemic Scallop-breasted Antpitta and the sneaky Schwartz’s (or Scallop-breasted) Antthrush, as well as the endemic Rufous-cheeked Tanager.

A pre-dawn owling session could turn up Foothill Screech Owl.

More widespread species include Fasciated Tiger Heron, Short-tailed Hawk, the strangely-shaped but beautiful White Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle, Solitary Eagle (uncommon), Band-tailed Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, Scarlet-fronted Parakeet, Blue-headed and Red-billed Parrots, Squirrel Cuckoo, White-collared and Vaux’s Swifts, Pale-bellied, Sooty-capped and Stripe-throated Hermits, White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Blue-tailed Emerald, Copper-rumped and Speckled Hummingbirds, Bronzy Inca, the stolid Two-banded Puffbird, Moustached Puffbird, Scaled Piculet and Golden-olive, Lineated and Smoky-brown Woodpeckers.

Passerines include Plain Xenops, Plain-brown, Olivaceous, Strong-billed, Black-banded and Cocoa Woodcreepers, the extraordinary Red-billed Scythebill, Smoke-coloured Pewee, Olive-striped, Cinnamon, Dusky-capped, Boat-billed, Social and Golden-crowned Flycatchers, Great Kiskadee, Masked Tityra, the gaudy Lance-tailed Manakin, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Red-eyed Vireo, Inca Jay, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Long-billed Gnatwren, Whiskered, Rufous-breasted, Buff-breasted, Rufous-and-white and House Wrens, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Southern Nightingale-Wren, Andean Solitaire, Black-hooded, Pale-breasted and White-necked Thrushes, American Redstart, Golden-crowned Warbler, Bananaquit, White-winged, Fawn-breasted, Black-headed, Burnished-buff and Speckled Tanagers, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Thick-billed Euphonia, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Swallow Tanager, Streaked Saltator, Blue-black Grassquit, Yellow-rumped Cacique and Crested Oropendola.

Western Venezuela: Day 6  Today we will travel northwestwards to the town of Coro for an overnight stay.

En route, we shall visit a narrow strip of mangroves where we have an excellent chance of encountering the rare and little-known endemic Plain-flanked Rail, as well as Mangrove Rail, the smart Golden Warbler and the inquisitive Bicoloured Conebill.

Overhead, Magnificent Frigatebirds survey the scene, while other birds we may well find in this area include Brown Pelican, Common Black-Hawk, Eared Dove, Ringed Kingfisher, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Brown-crested Flycatcher, White-winged Swallow, Grey-breasted Martin, Northern Waterthrush and Yellow-bellied Seedeater.

Close to Chichiriviche, we will investigate the throngs of waterbirds lining the lagoons along the causeway which bisects Morrocoy National Park, for the most symbolic species of the area are the blood-red Scarlet Ibis and the graceful American Flamingo. We should also come across a wide range of other birds such as Neotropic Cormorant, Little Blue, Tricoloured and Striated Herons, Great, Snowy, Reddish and Western Cattle Egrets, Bare-faced Ibis, Blue-winged Teal, Osprey, Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras, American Kestrel, Purple Gallinule, Wattled Jacana, Southern Lapwing, Black-necked Stilt, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted and Least Sandpipers, Laughing Gull, Orange-winged Parrot, Striped Cuckoo, Tropical Mockingbird, Eastern Meadowlark, and Yellow-hooded and Red-breasted Blackbirds.

Driving further to the west, we enter increasingly arid habitats, a stop in which may produce Southern Beardless and Mouse-coloured Tyrannulets, Northern Scrub Flycatcher, the inconspicuous Tawny-crowned Pygmy Tyrant, Scrub Greenlet, Tropical Gnatcatcher and Glaucous Tanager.

Next, we shall climb into some coastal hills where tangled woodland provides shelter to such interesting birds as the near-endemic Black-backed Antshrike, the smart Northern White-fringed Antwren, the vociferous White-bellied Antbird, Yellow Warbler and Black-striped Sparrow.

During the afternoon, we will reach Coro, and in the surrounding cactus-studded landscape we will want to witness the evening roosting flight of the small, endangered and near-endemic Yellow-shouldered Amazon (only found very locally in northern Venezuela and on the island of Bonaire). We will also have our first opportunity to find other dry-country specialities of northwestern Venezuela.

Western Venezuela: Day 7  Coro is situated in the heart of the semi-arid zone that includes most of northwestern Venezuela. The city was founded as early as 1527 and still has many beautiful old colonial buildings.

This dry region is characterized by scrubby xerophytic vegetation and in places the scenery becomes decidedly desert-like. This morning we will be searching the dry habitats in the Coro region for a number of special birds that are either endemic to northern Venezuela or else shared only with northeastern Colombia. These include Buffy Hummingbird, Russet-throated Puffbird, the unusually colourful White-whiskered Spinetail, the pulchellus form of the Black-crested Antshrike (sometimes split as Maracaibo Antshrike), Slender-billed Inezia, the endemic Maracaibo Tody-Flycatcher and Vermilion Cardinal.

We may well also encounter Bare-eyed Pigeon, Bicoloured Wren, Trinidad Euphonia, the smart Orinocan Saltator, Black-faced Grassquit and the near-endemic Venezuelan Troupial (Venezuela’s national bird), all species of not much wider distribution. Even the rare, range-restricted and endangered Red Siskin gets recorded in this region on occasion.

More widespread are Common Ground Dove, Brown-throated Parakeet, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Barred Antshrike, Greyish Saltator, Grey Pileated Finch and Yellow Oriole.

Afterwards, we will head south towards Barquisimeto and then climb into the northernmost outliers of the Andes for a two nights stay in a cosy posada near the little town of Sanare.

In the late afternoon, we will take a look at some dry scrub which is one of the most accessible spots for trying to find the localized, uncommon and near-endemic Tocuyo Sparrow, while another special bird inhabiting the tangled growth is the beautiful but shy Rosy Thrush-Tanager. Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant is quite common here and we shall check roadside flowers for the endemic Green-tailed Emerald.

Western Venezuela: Day 8  The verdant forests of beautiful Yacambú National Park are home to many of the birds we will already have seen in the coastal cordillera, in addition to a number of typical Andean birds which here are found near the northeastern limit of their distribution.

In the bromeliad-laden subtropical forests, Band-tailed Guans, Red-headed Barbets and White-throated Toucanets gorge themselves on fruiting trees, mixed canopy flocks include such multi-hued gems as Saffron-crowned and Black-capped Tanagers.

In the understorey, we will hear the vibrant trills of the endemic Merida Tapaculo, a secretive and mouse-like denizen of the forest floor (but we should eventually get everybody to see this vocal little bird). There is even a chance of seeing the endangered and restricted-range Helmeted Curassow (males of which utter their deep booming sounds from far inside the woods). We have a good chance of hearing the seldom-observed Great Antpitta, but seeing one is much more hit or miss.

Other species we may well find here include Rufous-vented Chachalaca, White-rumped and Broad-winged Hawks, Ruddy Pigeon, the flashy Masked Trogon, the branch-hugging Pearled Treerunner, Blue-lored Antbird, Tennessee Warbler and perhaps Highland Hepatic Tanager.

Highland and Grey Tinamous may be heard but are typically hard to spot, while we truly would need a lot of luck to encounter the rare and seldom-seen Violaceous Quail-Dove.

We shall descend to lower elevations where the forest-fringed lagoon of El Blanquito holds Least Grebe and Caribbean Coot. From the lake’s fringes, we will hear the churring calls of the endemic Rusty-flanked Crake and we shall make a persistent effort to see this secretive little bird.

Other species found along the lake edge include Lesser Kiskadee and Rusty-margined Flycatcher, and in nearby woodland, we will look for Steely-vented Hummingbird, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, the restricted-range Klages’s Antbird, the secretive Rusty-breasted Antpitta, Blackburnian Warbler, the restricted-range Fulvous-headed Tanager and Yellow-bellied Siskin.

Western Venezuela: Day 9  Today we will head for La Azulita, situated in the Andean foothills not far from Lake Maracaibo, where we will stay overnight at a pleasant lodge with very ‘birdy’ gardens.

As we reach the western base of the Mérida Andes we will stop to look for the tiny, near-endemic Pygmy Palm Swift, restricted to the huge Maracaibo basin, while afterwards, we will visit a river valley where cacao and coffee plantations still hold large trees that act as a magnet to a variety of birdlife. We will watch these trees and the nearby forested slopes for two large frugivores, the yelping Black-mandibled Toucan and the croaking, tange-restricted Citron-throated Toucan. We shall also listen for the arresting calls of the mind-boggling Black-chested Jay. If we are fortunate a swift-flying flock of rare, multi-hued, range-restricted Saffron-headed Parrots will hurtle by or land in a fruiting tree.

Other birds we may well encounter in the area include Roadside Hawk, Bat Falcon, Pale-vented Pigeon, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Grey-rumped and Short-tailed Swifts, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Yellow-billed Toucanet (sometimes split from Groove-billed), Collared Aracari, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Bran-coloured, Streaked and Piratic Flycatchers, Cinnamon Becard, Bare-eyed and Black-billed Thrushes, White-eared Conebill, Crimson-backed Tanager, Shiny Cowbird and Yellow-backed Oriole.

Around La Azulita, we can go out after dark to look for Rufescent Screech Owl and Rufous-banded Owl.

Western Venezuela: Day 10  We shall concentrate our efforts today on several tracts of forest on the road that winds up the western slope of the Mérida Andes above La Azulita. Remnant woodland patches at lower elevations hold the hard-to-come-by, range-restricted Grey-throated Warbler, otherwise only found in adjacent Colombia.

More widespread birds include Black Phoebe, Golden-winged Manakin, Mourning Warbler, Yellow-legged and Chestnut-bellied Thrushes, Summer, Blue-necked and Magpie Tanagers, Golden-rumped Euphonia and Lesser Goldfinch.

Higher up the road, patches of humid cloudforest have other interesting species in store, and here we hope to find the endemic Rose-crowned Parakeet, as well as Hook-billed Kite, Wedge-billed Hummingbird, Booted Racket-tail, Azara’s Spinetail, the restricted-range Spectacled Tyrannulet, Variegated Bristle-Tyrant, Blue-and-black Tanager and Moustached Brushfinch.

The hummingbird feeders at our lodge are visited by such gems as the range-restricted Orange-throated Sunangel and the endemic Green Inca, as well as Buff-tailed Coronet, while Lined Quail-Doves often forage between the ornamental bushes.

Later in the day, we will continue to the Mérida region for a three nights stay.

Western Venezuela: Days 11-12  Mérida is perched high in the Venezuelan Andes, which here rise to around 16,400ft (5000m) and provide a spectacular backdrop of mountain scenery to our birding over the next few days. We shall concentrate our efforts on several marvellous areas, including the temperate forests on the lower flanks of the Sierra Nevada National Park.

During our visit, we are sure to encounter some busy mixed feeding flocks and typical constituents include two endemics, the smart White-fronted Whitestart and the restless Grey-capped Hemispingus, as well as White-banded Tyrannulet, the lovely Barred Fruiteater, Blue-backed Conebill, Superciliaried Hemispingus and Lacrimose Mountain Tanager.

Dense stands of Chusquea bamboo hold the stunning Ocellated Tapaculo and the more modestly clad White-browed Spinetail skulks in the same microhabitat, while at stream crossings we will be on the lookout for the endemic Blackish Chat-Tyrant. Showy flowers attract the endemic Merida Sunangel and Golden-tailed Starfrontlet as well as Tyrian Metaltail and the uncommon endemic Merida Flowerpiercer.

Amongst the many other interesting species we could well encounter in this exciting area are Andean Guan, White-capped Parrot, Sparkling Violetear, the magnificent Golden-headed Quetzal, Rufous Spinetail, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Barred Becard, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Black-capped Tyrannulet (here of a distinctive brown-capped race), Black-collared Jay, the fidgety Mountain Wren, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Russet-crowned Warbler, Oleaginous Hemispingus, Masked and Glossy Flowerpiercers and Slaty Brushfinch.

Amongst the denizens of these mountain forests are the common Chestnut-crowned Antpitta (whose piercing three-note whistle will soon be a familiar sound), the endemic Grey-naped Antpitta and the diminutive Slaty-crowned Antpitta, and no doubt a significant part of our time will be spent trying to see these secretive forest floor dwellers. (Indeed, it is possible that the endemic north Venezuelan forms of the latter could be treated as a separate species in future.)

Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager is also a shy bird, while Lined Quail-Doves sometimes strut along the trail, so we will have another chance here for this attractive bird.

More uncommon species of interest include Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia and Plushcap, while there is also a very slim chance of an encounter with the rare endemic Slaty-backed Hemispingus.

In the more open, cut-over habitats outside the national park we may see Chestnut-collared Swift and, if we are fortunate, the near-endemic Short-tailed Emerald.

Western Venezuela: Day 13  After leaving the Mérida area, we will head northeast along the Trans-Andean highway which reaches its highest point near Pico de Aguila in the Paramo de Mucuchíes. Here at the impressive altitude of around 4000m (13,124ft), providing it is clear, we shall enjoy outstanding views of the glacier-crowned Pico Bolivar and the backbone of the Venezuelan Andes in the distance, the jagged rock face of Pico Aguila itself and, far below, most of the upper Santo Domingo valley.

The stunted growth of the alpine paramo is dominated by luxuriant patches of Espeletia or ‘frailejon’, an important component of the habitat of the beautiful endemic White-bearded Helmetcrest. Easier to find are three other endemics: Ochre-browed Thistletail, Rufous-browed Chat-Tyrant and Merida (or Paramo) Wren, and one often comes across the restricted-range Andean Siskin.

More widespread Andean birds include Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, Streak-backed Canastero, Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, Brown-bellied Swallow, Great Thrush, Paramo Pipit and Plumbeous Sierra Finch.

Later, we shall descend to the Santo Domingo valley for a two nights stay, stopping at the sparkling Laguna Mucubají to look for Merida Teal (sometimes split from Andean Teal).

Western Venezuela: Day 14  This morning we will return to the paramo if we need to, as weather conditions in the area can sometimes be problematic, but if we have already encountered all the main specialities we will have the option to explore the Santo Domingo valley for the whole day rather than just the afternoon.

In the upper part of the valley are some fine areas of subtropical forest. Here a rich green tapestry of foliage is broken only by a magnificent red or yellow crown where a tree has burst into flower. These are always worth a second look as the flowering trees attract hummingbirds, whilst fruiting trees attract mixed flocks of tyrant-flycatchers, thrushes and tanagers.

Along the rapidly tumbling river, we are likely to find Torrent Ducks, marvelling at their ability to swim against even the strongest of currents, a White-capped Dipper bobbing on top of a boulder and the perky little Torrent Tyrannulet. At dawn or dusk, we should hear the piercing whistles of the Band-winged Nightjar, which should not be hard to locate.

Rarer denizens of the area include Black-and-chestnut Eagle, the secretive Pavonine Cuckoo and Grey-chinned Hermit.

A highlight, assuming a second visit to the paramo is not needed, will undoubtedly be a visit to the famous Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek which was first discovered here decades ago. We will arrive before dawn and will make our way through the forest until we reach a steep path which will lead us down to the edge of the lek. Here we will marvel at the antics of the gorgeous, glowing orange males and the incredible sounds uttered during their displays, only occasionally interrupted by a furtive visit by the drably-cloaked females.

The strange Cliff Flycatcher (which often announces its presence with a twittering whistle as it circles swallow-like while hunting insects) can also be found in the same area.

Western Venezuela: Day 15  We will set out early today so that we can be in the lower foothills before the day warms up. This area has been much influenced by man. A mixture of second-growth, coffee plantations with tall shade trees, cleared areas and both disturbed and primary forest provide a varied habitat for many forest and edge species.

Much the most important target in this area is the near-endemic Pale-headed Jacamar, which we have a good chance of encountering.

Other birds found in the area include Plumbeous Kite (uncommon), Blue Ground Dove, Blue-chinned Sapphire, Gartered Trogon, Many-banded Aracari, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Stripe-backed Wren, Blue Dacnis, Guira and White-shouldered Tanagers, and Orange-crowned Oriole. We may also come across the attractive White-bearded Manakin, lekking males of which produce loud ‘firecracker’ sounds by snapping their wings. Marbled Wood Quail occurs in the area but is both shy and rare, while we can only dream of seeing the endangered Red Siskin.

Afterwards, we will drive far out into the famous Llanos of Venezuela for a three nights stay at Hato El Cedral, an extensive area of ranchland. The change in scenery is profound as we leave the Andes behind and first pass through dry woodland before emerging into the wide open, seasonally-flooded plains of the Llanos, punctuated only by patches of gallery woodland along the watercourses and clumps of Mauritia palms. After we reach the edge of the Llanos there will be so many waterbirds and raptors to observe as we travel across the seemingly endless wet savannas that stretch as far as the eye can see that it will be hard to control ourselves from stopping too often.

During the drive, we will keep a lookout for Pearl Kite, Snail Kite and Limpkin. We should arrive at Hato El Cedral in time for some initial exploration.

Western Venezuela: Days 16-17  The Llanos are a veritable birder’s paradise – a vast, bird-rich wetland to rival any in the world. Here the llaneros (plains cowboys) tend their herds on the lush savannas, watched from poolsides by basking caimans and hordes of Capybaras – the world’s largest rodents.

Our prime avian targets at Hato El Cedral include the lovely Orinoco Goose, the spectacular, near-endemic Yellow-knobbed Curassow and the range-restricted White-bearded Flycatcher.

Raptors are well represented, scanning for potential prey from tree tops and fence posts. Lesser Yellow-headed and King Vultures, White-tailed Kite, Crane, Savanna, White-tailed and Black-collared Hawks, Great Black Hawk, Laughing Falcon and Aplomado Falcon should all be seen.

Herons, egrets, and ibises throng the marshes, dominated by the enormous Jabiru which stands two metres high. The spectacular Sunbittern inhabits the quieter channels, pools and glades of the gallery forest. In this marvellous habitat, we will search for the shy Agami Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, the prehistoric-looking Boat-billed Heron, the near-endemic Yellow-knobbed Curassow, the huge Scarlet Macaw, Green-and-rufous and American Pygmy Kingfishers, Amazonian Black Tyrant, and the prehistoric-looking Hoatzins, which sit and hiss as one passes! Even the reclusive but delightful Zigzag Heron inhabits the narrow forest creeks, although we will be fortunate if we find one.

In some more accessible gallery forest, we should come across a number of typical woodland birds such as Glittering-throated Emerald, Spot-breasted and Red-rumped Woodpeckers, Black-crested Antshrike, Pale-tipped Inezia, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Rusty-backed Spinetail and Fuscous Flycatcher. Among taller trees, we may well find a party of the spectacular Cream-coloured Woodpeckers, while at the water’s edge, we will keep a lookout for Grey-necked Wood Rail.

More isolated patches of woodland provide shelter to the aptly named Dwarf Cuckoo, Great Horned Owl, Lesser Nighthawk, Short-crested Flycatcher and the endemic White-bearded Flycatcher, while along shrubby edges of drainage channels, we will look for the spritely River Tyrannulet and the unobtrusive Riverside Tyrant.

As we explore more open country we should come across many other species that inhabit this avian paradise, such as Anhinga, Cocoi and Capped Herons, Black-bellied, White-faced and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Orinoco Goose, Muscovy Duck, Brazilian Teal, Whistling Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, the splendid Pinnated Bittern, Buff-necked, Sharp-tailed, Green, White and Glossy Ibises, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood and Maguari Storks, Crested Bobwhite, Azure Gallinule, Pied and Collared Plovers, Solitary Sandpiper, South American Snipe, Double-striped Thick-knee, Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, Black Skimmer, Plain-breasted Ground Dove, Burrowing Owl, White-tailed Goldenthroat, Amazon and Green Kingfishers, Pale-breasted and Yellow-chinned Spinetails, Pied Water Tyrant, the striking White-headed Marsh Tyrant, Grey Kingbird, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Black-capped Donacobius, Brown-chested Martin, Yellowish Pipit, Masked Yellowthroat, Red-capped Cardinal, Grey and Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters, Orange-fronted and Grassland Yellow Finches and Yellow-browed and Grassland Sparrows.

Bulldog Bats share the twilight with Band-tailed Nighthawks (and sometimes Nacunda Nighthawks), whilst a nocturnal excursion could turn up the vociferous Pauraque and perhaps the range-restricted Todd’s Nightjar and Common and Great Potoos.

Mammals are well represented in the Llanos and we may encounter Common (or Southern) Opossum, Common Zorro (or Crab-eating Fox), Red Howler Monkey, White-tailed Deer and perhaps the splendid Giant Anteater.

Spectacled Caimans lurk everywhere, huge Green Iguanas watch the scene as they sun themselves on exposed branches, and we could even encounter the amazing Green Anaconda, the largest snake in the New World.

Western Venezuela: Day 18  After some final birding in the Llanos we will drive to Calabozo for an overnight stay.

Western Venezuela: Day 19  Our tour ends early this afternoon at the Caracas (Simon Bolivar) International Airport at Maiquetía.

WESTERN VENEZUELA TOUR REPORT 2012

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