Venezuela (Junglaven Amazonas, Henri Pittier, SE Falcon), 7-24 Jan. 1997 
Birding trip report
John van der Woude  -  www.jvanderw.nl 

See also:
- species list
- sound recordings


Summary: After a few days in the Henri Pittier National Park in the coastal cordillera, we stayed nine days in the Junglaven camp in the Ventuari basin in the Amazonas jungle. Dazzled by all the birds seen at Junglaven we still managed to observe other birds at the surroundings of Finca Campo Lindo in SE Falcon (Northern Venezuela). We also did some birding in the Litoral East of Caracas airport. Below, after the logistics we describe the birding sites and give an annotated species list.

Logistics

After arrival at Maiquetia international airport of Caracas we drove the Budget rental car to Maracay, and were at the hotel Byblos just before sunset. A good hotel, especially on the higher floors, further away from the traffic, with a good restaurant too. It's a good base to explore the Choroni Road of Henri Pittier NP, with bakeries etc. nearby. For the other road (Ocumare) you have to traverse the Northern outskirts of Maracay, on broad avenues.
After a final visit to the Ocumare Road, we easily left Maracay along the Western side. In Macuto, East of the Maiquetia airport, we had the hotel Tojamar proposed and arranged by the Audubon of Venezuela, and the next morning we made a short visit to the Via Galipan on the mountain side of Macuto.

The flight from Caracas to Puerto Ayacucho (Amazonas) has an interesting stop at San Fernando de Apure (might be used as stopover for Llanos birds; this flight costs you two coupons anyway). In Pto. Ayacucho we were awaited by Seņor Marcos Braca, as arranged by the Junglaven travel operator. Marcos brought us to the nice, quiet and simple hotel called Siapa, near the "main street" of this sleepy town. In the afternoon he drove us to the Tobogan de la Selva area to the South, and the next morning he had to bring us to the airport, where we were seated with five other passengers in a tiny airplane. Now we understood why we had been asked not to bring much luggage. The flight above the unspoilt jungle for an hour or so was unforgettable. Photo above has Junglaven camp somewhere at the widened river lagoon.

At the airstrip in a savanna patch in the jungle (photo above), we were awaited by Captain Lorenzo with his old Landrover. Lorenzo, a former Avensa pilot, is the owner of the Junglaven jungle camp, and he has done the birders a great favour by meticulously cutting a narrow track for the 4WD through an excellent forest to a hidden lagoon, where the camp is. The camp, a collection of huts and bigger buildings, is pleasantly spacious and shady, with a fine view over the lagoon. Several families of native Indians (cooks, guides) live in the outer part of the camp, so it looks a bit like a small village.
The old Landrover was used to bring us to any point we would like to go birdwatching between the camp and the Ventuari river. At the Ventuari river they have some motor boats (dugouts and other) to go out on excursions further away, like to the falls at the border of this Ventuari river basin. At the camp is a dugout canoe (photo left) for going out on the lake for a short trip in between or in the evening. As we were the only guests nearly all the time, we had our private Indian guide, Amalo, for boat trips as well as for some of our walks along The Road. He has a sharp eye and ear. And he knows of footprints of course, like the jaguar print on the photo below.

   

The private hut you have there is lofty and very practical. The meals were good (often fish fresh from the lake), and Lorenzo often shared our table, with his amazing stories about Amazonas and his pilot career, and his play with the pet macaw (photo; it could fly and actually started nesting with a wild mate nearby).

The flight back was early enough to have a connection at Pto. Ayacucho back to Caracas. There we had a Budget car again for going to the state of Falcon, but in Maracay we first stayed in the hotel Byblos again and birded the Choroni road the next morning once more, before heading on to Finca Campo Lindo.

There we arrived at noon and had the first of the delicious meals. The Finca has a new guest house, and the owner Alfredo Tellez was our guide all the time, for excursions with his 4WD into the hills and the marshy areas. It is situated at the road from Moron to Coro, at Km 81. We stayed there for two nights and had four excursions. However, we have been informed recently by another birder that Alfredo has sold this wonderful place, and we don't know if it is a lodge yet, and if so, if it still is birder-friendly.
In the afternoon of the last day there, we drove on to the Litoral behind the airport of Caracas and had a rather modern and yet not expensive hotel some 10 km further then Macuto, on the mountain side of the coastal road, 50 m from the road. After some final birding in the morning near the university campus further down the coastal road we had the afternoon flight back home.

The arrangements for Finca Campo Lindo, hotel Byblos, the permits for Rancho Grande and the reservation for Hotel Tojamar in Macuto were made by the Audubon de Venezuela, fax +58 2 910716. They can also arrange the trip to Junglaven, but we did that directly with Junglaven C.A., fax (and phone) +58 2 918478 (or, alternatively, fax number 915083 of a neighbouring office).

 

Birding sites

Henri Pittier National Park has been described in several sources, so we limit ourselves here to describing the best spots of our visit. Outstanding was the Cumbre, the pass in the road (photo right) that traverses the coastal mountain towards Choroni. Also a bit lower down, on both sides, the birding was good. The first kms of the Choroni road up from Maracay has some quite different environment (drier forests, and more open spots), also good birding. Warning: this area at the base of this road, so near the outskirts of the city, has been the place of a robbery of a group of four birders some years ago. The other road that traverses the park, the one going to Ocumare, has some good spots (near big trees) before entering the Rancho Grande biological station. Here especially the area directly surrounding the station was good birding again (see also our 1994 report). Although we only had one afternoon at Puerto Ayacucho, we were impressed by the birding possibilities there. Some 20 or 30 km to the South is the 'picnic area' called Tobogan de la Selva, a huge, partly wet rock surface surrounded by forest patches. This was good birding in the hour or so we spent here. Also, going back from Tobogan to the main road would be good birding in the morning. Halfway was some savanna woodland, and close to the airport you cross a river with gallery forest.
The outstanding Junglaven area in Amazonas has quite an array of natural environments. The most famous is The Road, that is the 4WD track through the terra firme forest. A few circular trails go out from The Road, although we didn't use them much. The Road has the perfect width to be able to spot birds in the trees and yet not to catch too much light and hence develop 'green walls' besides the road. All of The Road forest is good, but the area near the Big Tree (photo left, 30 min. walking from the camp) is especially good. Quite different is the savanna area where the air strip is. In the savanna there are small forest patches ('savanna woodland'). Taking a side track through the savanna you will get to the so-called Galapagos Lagoon surrounded by a drier forest than along The Road.

Then, at the camp, there is the 'Big Lagoon' (photo above) a sort of widening in a small jungle river, surrounded by some varzea forest, and with an interesting tapering end to the left (Zigzag Heron there). Taking a boat from the 'harbour' at the Ventuari, the most interesting site is the nearby Guayaje tributary, a small river with many herons in lone trees. But we also made a long excursion to some waterfalls in the Piedras river at the border of the Ventuari basin, where the tepui upland starts. This excursion is generally not done by birders I believe, but yielded some interesting birds (like Guyanan Cock-of-the-Rock). It might be worthwhile for a 2-day trip, in order to be there in the early morning. Finally, close to the 'harbour' is a hill with a mirador (viewpoint shelter) overlooking the river and the jungle beyond.

In SE Falcon we visited several good birding areas, all within short distance from the Finca Campo Lindo: Morrocoy National Park with Chichiriviche and the wooded hill besides this park (photo above is from this hill), the Tacarigua dam area, the Cerro La Mision (wooded hill with clearings and small pastures along the 4WD track, it is a continuation of the Sierra de Sanare (photo below), and a Llanos-type farm of Alfredo (marshy spots, bushes, big lone trees). Also, the pond behind the guest house is good, with a perfect terrace with resting chairs. See however the note above about the recent status of the lodge.

In the Litoral, the coastal area with the airport of Caracas, we briefly visited the Via Galipan just South of about the centre of Macuto. It is a small dirt road leading into the dry bushy mountains, and the first 200 m was good birding and yet safe (this road leads into the not so safe Avila National Park). The other area we visited (in the morning) was the university campus some 10 or 15 km further down the road. This has some taller trees, in a park, with an interesting brook flowing along at the Eastern side, and a nice trail going into the drier hills at the backside of the campus (photo below).