Venezuela: Casa Maria and Hato Piñero: A Relaxed and Easy Tour Feb 09—17, 2010

Posted by David Ascanio


David Ascanio

David Ascanio, a Venezuelan birder and naturalist, has spent over 35 years guiding birding tours throughout his native country, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, the...

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Our Casa Maria & Hato Piñero tour is the perfect combination for a "Relaxed and Easy" tour in the Neotropics. During our 9-day tour we saw more than 260 species of birds while visiting several habitats from cloud forest to savanna, wetlands, and grassland. And we did this by birding no more than three-and-a-half-hours in the mornings and only two to three hours in the afternoons.

Our first location, Casa Maria, is arguably the best lodge in the country. Here, a combination of an insect and moth-attracting light bulb, bird feeders, and an immense garden serve as home for several hummingbirds, tanagers, flycatchers, and night birds. In addition, we enjoyed great meals, superb desserts, and a 3-dimensional slide show given by one of the best entomologists in Venezuela. While in Casa Maria we visited large tracts of cloud forest and shade coffee and citrus plantations, and birded on easy-to-walk roads contiguous to the lodge.

After this superb experience in the northern mountains of Venezuela, we drove south to the northern plains, to Hato Piñero. This ranch is located in a region unique to the continent, occupying a third of Venezuela's territory. Here the landscape is dominated by flatlands with watercourses draining into the Orinoco River. Grasslands dominate the area while patches of tropical dry forest and gallery forest break up the homogeneity of the region. In this wildlife-rich area, large concentrations of birds can be seen, and a viable population of wild cats remains. As in previous years, we arranged an optional short night outing, and still saw most of what you expect to see on a "regular" birding tour.

This year was different from our previous Relaxed and Easy tours to these locations. Since November 2009, most of northern South America has been under the influence of the El Niño weather pattern, thus causing a severe drought in the entire country. In fact, in March we registered the hottest day in Venezuela for the last 103 years! I believe that is the reason why we reported fewer numbers of individuals per species at the ranch.

For the favorite bird species of the tour, there was a mosaic of preferences. While some participants highlighted the avifauna of the ranch, choosing King Vulture, Great Potoo, and Gray Pileated Finch, others thought that Scarlet Macaw, Long-billed Gnatwren, and Sunbittern deserved such honors. Surprisingly, the list was longer than expected and included Whistling Heron, Sooty-capped Hermit, White Hawk, Guira Tanager, Horned Screamer, Northern White-fringed Antwren, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Golden Tanager, Jabiru, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Burnished-buff Tanager, Ringed Kingfisher, and Stripe-backed Wren.

I hope that reviewing the birdlist for our tour brings back good memories of the time we shared. In an effort to clarify the continually changing taxonomy, I have added comments to each species when pertinent. Nevertheless, for an updated taxonomy of the birds of the Neotropical region, please visit the South American Classification Committee (SACC) at Also, to see videos taken of the birds of both locations, please visit the Internet Bird Collection at

I want to thank Gertrudis Gamarra, Desiree Starke, and Mario Garcia for sharing their knowledge and skills in locating the avifauna of Piñero, and Norbert Flauger for taking us into the wild areas surrounding Casa Maria and for a great slide show. And a big thank you to Gaby and her staff at Casa Maria for superb meals and unforgettable desserts!

I hope to see you again on another R&E tour in a bird-rich country in the Americas—maybe our Trinidad & Tobago tour, or the more strenuous Dominican Republic tour. Or, you may want to think about joining us on our easygoing Amazon Cruise or even on a short Puerto Rico tour.

Thank you for joining us. I look forward to seeing you again!