Venezuela: Casa Maria and Hato Pinero: A Relaxed & Easy Tour Jan 30—Feb 07, 2015
Posted by David Ascanio
Our Casa Maria and Hato Piñero tour provided an incomparable mix of birds, mammals, and habitats unique to the Neotropics. This year we started in a different way: with views of Blue-and-yellow and Chestnut-fronted macaws flying over the valley of Caracas. We also enjoyed Orange-winged and Yellow-crowned parrots in flight, as well as the Rose-ringed Parakeet (introduced from Asia) commuting to the roosting site.
Yellow-knobbed Curassow— Photo: David Ascanio
After a morning filled with macaws, parrots, and a beautiful blue sky, we drove to the famed Casa Maria. This lodge is a naturalist’s paradise, given their efforts to turn what was once bare land into a dynamic set of ponds, streams, forest, and lots of birds! Our first morning found us in front of the light bulb where woodcreepers, tanagers, thrushes, warblers, oropendolas, and tyrant flycatchers joined the feast to devour the different sized moths attracted to the light during the previous night. Later, we drove to the Palmichal reserve where we enjoyed more tanagers (Speckled Tanager was a favorite!), euphonias, tyrant flycatchers, and a wonderful patch of cloud forest. In Palmichal we also explored the forest floor and saw a Black-faced Antthrush tossing leaves in search of arthropods.
Although it is hard to pick a favorite location around Casa Maria, I believe the forest edge along the road between Palmichal to Casa Maria was the most productive birding track for the first part of the tour. Every patch of forest gave us amazing birds, from Rufous-and-white Wren to the diminutive but well-dressed Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher. We also experienced Army Ants with some of their specialists including the active Gray-headed Tanager and the uniform Plain-brown Woodcreeper. Other swarm attendants were Cocoa and Black-banded woodcreepers.
In Casa Maria we also admired Norbert’s capacity to turn every corner of his property into a magical nature site. From ponds to bugs and birds, this lodge is a must for the Neotropical traveler. Indeed, Norbert’s passion for making his own world reminded me of the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a title that I adapted for what he has done in Casa Maria: Norbert Flauger and the Nature Factory.
From the hilly terrain surrounding Casa Maria we continued south to the plains (locally named Llanos) in the state of Cojedes. As we left the mountains behind, we crossed Cambrian hills (locally named Galeras) and vast grasslands. In the late afternoon we reached Hato Piñero, a government-owned ranch. Back to the time when it was privately owned, the Branger family had banned hunting since its conception, and the current administration has followed those rules.
Hato Piñero was a contrasting biome. Despite being in the plains (thus suggesting a fairly homogeneous landscape), the presence of the Cambrian hills (Galeras) has allowed for a narrow but interesting band of dry scrub growing contiguous to large tracks of dry forest. Also, these hills are home to patches of Curatella trees (highly resistant to fire) and annual grasses. There is also gallery forest (running alongside rivers) and wetlands varying in size from borrow pits to large lagoons.
At Hato Piñero we enjoyed views of wildlife the way it was 50 years ago when this land was depleted of human presence. To put it simply: Hato Piñero has the largest population of Yellow-knobbed Curassow. Here, they wander around (we saw maybe more than 100 individuals!), along with Capybaras, foxes, rabbits, and deer. Adding to this are Scarlet Ibis and pairs of Scarlet Macaws, along with the unique Sunbittern and the always-suspicious Blue Ground-Dove. You have to experience this to believe it!
On our last day we visited the open grasslands south of the lodge. Along with the sunrise, pairs of Whistling Herons and Red-breasted Blackbirds flew across the enormous orange ball welcoming the day. It was certainly a unique moment.
I want to thank you for joining me in my beloved Venezuela. We need to emphasize that with your participation you have made a big and important contribution to preserve Hato Piñero’s natural habitats.