Venezuela: Casa Maria and Hato Pinero: A Relaxed and Easy Tour Feb 01—09, 2011

Posted by David Ascanio

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David Ascanio

David Ascanio, a Venezuelan birder and naturalist, has spent 33 years guiding birding tours throughout his native country, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, the Amaz...

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Where can you expect to see a roost of Scarlet Ibis, dozens of Yellow-knobbed Curassows, more than 13 species of passerines eating the moths attracted by a light bulb, Black-and-white Owl, 25 species of tyrant-flycatchers, hummingbirds, tanagers, woodpeckers, wrens, warblers, and the Venezuelan Troupial—and still bird at a very slow pace? Our Relaxed and Easy Casa María & Hato Piñero tour is the answer!

Rufescent Tiger-Heron and Scarlet Ibis

Rufescent Tiger-Heron and Scarlet Ibis— Photo: David Ascanio

On our first day those of you who arrived in Venezuela early in the morning joined me to bird Colonia Tovar. There, the diminutive Slaty-crowned Antpitta and the much larger Chestnut-crowned Antpitta danced around us while the endemic Caracas Tapaculo and Black-throated Spinetail were observed lurking out of the native bamboo. In the meantime, those who stayed at the hotel had views of Chestnut-fronted Macaws, Scarlet-fronted Parakeets, and a good array of tyrant-flycatchers.

The next day we drove to Casa Maria, near Bejuma in Carabobo. This little inn is without a doubt one of the best birding lodges in Venezuela. Here we enjoyed superb birding, incredible meals, delicious desserts, a 3D slide show, and amazing service. Prior to breakfast, we met at the insect-attracting light bulb to watch a feast of birds feeding on moths and other arthropods. Among the many species we observed were Black-banded Woodcreeper, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Boat-billed Flycatcher, and Crested Spinetail, as well as several colorful Thraupidae including Silver-beaked, White-lined, Gray-headed, Bay-headed, Blue-necked, and Burnished-buff tanagers. At night, a Black-and-white Owl was perched near the light bulb. While staying at Casa Maria, we also visited the cloud forest of La Neblina farm, as well as the entrance of the Palmichal Reserve. There we observed Painted Parakeet, White Hawk, Wire-tailed Manakin, Speckled Tanager, Rufous-and-white Wren, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, and Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle.

After a couple of mornings in Casa Maria and its surroundings, we left the Coastal Cordillera and moved south towards the vast and amazing plains of the Orinoco River. Our destination was the famed Hato Piñero, a 200,000-acre ranch that combines extensive cattle operations with habitat conservation. The ranch was founded more than 50 years ago by the Branger family, and concerns arose when it was sold less than a year ago to the government. Happily, I can report that the manager appointed by the government has not only preserved the natural habitats, but supports conservation, tourism, and research within the boundaries of the ranch. We hope it will continue that way!

Hato Piñero provided an impressive mix of birds, superb mammals, and one of the best tracts of dry forest anywhere in the Neotropics. Here we observed 10 species of egrets and herons, 7 species of ibises, and 19 species of birds of prey (out of the 22 species observed for the whole trip!). Furthermore, one night we had dinner near the dry forest with Orion, Taurus, and other constellations above us, while Jupiter and its satellites were enjoyed through the scope. During the drive back to the lodge we had amazing views of an ocelot, a pair of Great Potoos, a male Spectacled Owl, and two species of nightjars.

The sunrise bird chorus at Hato Piñero was truly memorable. Every morning we were welcomed by an Aplomado Falcon, or a Yellow-crowned Parrot, or a dozen Yellow-knobbed Curassows, while flycatchers, thornbirds, and macaws called from different directions like members of an orchestra rehearsing with their instruments. The evenings were a time of silence, with silhouettes of Scarlet Ibises, Jabiru, and Turkey Vultures flying to their roosting sites.

This tour has been our most popular destination in Venezuela for the last three years. I hope you have come away from this trip with an appreciation for my country's flora, fauna, and natural beauty, which I have loved since childhood.

I invite you to consider joining me on other tours where you can see amazing birds at a slow pace (our Amazon Cruise), or the endemic-rich islands of the Caribbean, the Lesser Antilles, or Puerto Rico.