22-23 January 1983. Guyana Trail. We spent two full days on the Guyana Trail. It was an easy to follow trail that ran over 20 kms into Guyana, and most days on it we encountered locals presumably going to/coming from Guyana. It was fairly flat for several kms after going over an initial hill, although it then started climbing again. We never went down it for more than 10-12 kms. It was superb, as were a couple of streams it crossed that I followed up or down for a few hundred metres. As with all primary forest it could be very slow at times and the temptation, usually resisted, was often to return to the forest edge and bird along the road for a quick species boost. Highlights were Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Black-faced and Violaceous Trogons, Black-necked Aracari, Guanian Toucanet, Channel-billed and Red-billed Toucans, Great Jacamar, Curve-billed Scythebill, Rufous-capped Ant-thrush, Spotted Antpitta, Helmetted Pigmy-Tyrant, Red-ruffed and Purple-throated Fruitcrows, Capuchinbird, a female Guanian Cock-of-the-Rock, Swallow-wing, Spangled and Pompadour Cotinga, White Bellbird, Golden-headed and White-crowned Manakins, Song Wren, Paradise and Spotted Tanagers and Slate-coloured Grosbeak.
|about the only thing on the Guyana Trail that I managed to photograph|
24-30 January 1983. La Escalera. We spent a superb week along the Escalera. We packed up and left Mr Jeffrey’s house at km 73 soon after dawn, walking/birding along the road for 3 kms until we got a lift to km 85 from where we walked to a roadside pool at km 87 where we found the hoped for Sungrebe and San Isidro (km 88) where there was a small shop. Here we stocked up with provisions but there was little choice so we bought almost their entire stock of rubbery long-life rolls and a bag full of rather bruised bananas. We then caught a bus heading to Santa Elena de Uairen (on the border with Brazil) as far as km 135 and the Gran Sabana, walking to km 140 were we camped. Birds seen included Sungrebe, Painted Parakeet, Black-headed Parrot, Red & Green Macaw, Tepui Goldenthroat and Golden-tufted Grackle.
|km 88 Sungrebe site|
|main road to Brazil across the Gran Sabana|
|open grasslands typical of the Gran Sabana|
|dark clouds over gallery woodland|
On 25th we slowly birded our way from km 140 back down to km 131. Mostly we slowly walked along the road with any side trails explored although the few we found quickly petered out. The road was being upgraded but was mainly dirt although there was very little traffic, usually only a handful of vehicles each day, so it wasn’t dusty. The lack of traffic was great as far as birding went with disturbance an absolute minimum (a wonderful contrast from the constantly passing vehicles birding the main road at Henri Pittier) but there were times when we would have appreciated more traffic as it was almost impossible getting a lift on the occasions that would have been helpful. The main disadvantage of the road repairs was that some of the km markers were missing or had been replaced which sometimes made it difficult following our information which made great use of them. At km 131 we found somewhere just away from the road to camp. Birds seen included Rose-collared Piha, Scarlet-horned and White-fronted Manakins, Rufous-brown Solitare, Brown-capped Whitestart, Wedge-tailed Grassfinch and Tepui Brush-Finch.
|grassland and distant tepuis|
|gallery forest and distant tepuis|
|Steve by the main road to Brazil|
|another Rufous-collared Sparrow|
On 27th we birded from km 127 back to 117, making sure we hid our bags every time we left the road, but also being on the road late morning in the hope the Army would offer us a similar pick-up lunch service, unfortunately they didn’t. By now our long-life rolls were getting decidedly stale. There was a good looking trail at km 125 but we found it to be almost birdless although a superb Roraiman Barbtail made our efforts on it worthwhile. Other new birds seen were Red-throated Caracara, Fiery-shouldered Parakeet, Rufous-breasted Sabrewing, Tufted Coquette, White-necked Jacobin, Tepui Spinetail, Cliff Flycatcher and Coroya Wren.
On 28th we were conscious that we might have dropped too low for some of the Escalera specialities, in particular Red-banded Fruiteater, and so retraced our steps back up the road. At km 120.5 we were fortunate to come across a pair of said fruiteaters by the road. They were superb and one of the birds of the trip for me. Buoyed by our success we turned around at km 121 and slowly birded back down to 101km where we got a lift to km 88 for more supplies of which we were running out. We then walked back up to km 97. Birds seen included Marail Guan, White Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle, Red & Green Macaw, Blackish Nightjar, Paradise Jacamar, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Red-banded Fruiteater (a superb pair at km 120.5) White Bellbird, male Guanian Cock-of-the Rock (km 102) and Scarlet-horned and White-fronted Manakins.
On 29th we slowly birded up the road from km 103 to km 111 and back down to km 107. Birds seen included Black Currassow (including excellent views of a male on the road), White and Short-tailed Hawks, Red & Green Macaw, Grey-breasted Sabrewing, Scale-backed Antbird, Roraiman Antwren, Rufous-capped Ant-thrush, Scaled Antpitta and Guanian Cock-of-the Rock (two males at km 107).
On 30th we slowly birded down the road from km 107 to km 98. We then got a lift back to the Guayana Trail at km 73. Birds seen included White Hawk, Blue-cheeked Parrot, Red & Green Macaw, Red-billed Toucan, Red-necked, Waved and Golden–collared Woodpeckers (the latter at km 73) and Guanian Cock-of-the Rock (a pair at km 106).
|approaching Piedra de la Virgin|
|Piedra de la Virgin at km 98. Her eyebrows and bow tie were impressive from this angle!|
03-06 February 1983. Rio Grande. We said goodbye to Mr Jeffries and after a short wait along the road caught a north-bound bus to Villa Lola. Here we got a lift to El Palmar, bought some more supplies and then walked for several hours into Rio Grande. It had rained heavily before we arrived and the approach road, which was actually tarmac, was rapidly drying out. This attracted frogs and a rather large snake doing raised stick impressions with its head up, presumably hoping one would pass within range. We were not convinced it wouldn’t have a go at us and lobbed a couple of sticks in its general direction to encourage it to move, something it appeared rather reluctant to do. The reserve appeared to be deserted and we found what looked like a side-less barn to sleep in. We spent two full days birding in the forest nearby but were somewhat hampered by not being able to get across the river to where the habitat looked better. Periodic heavy rain didn't help either. One of the most spectacular species we saw was a pair of smallish terrestrial antbirds with a rufous back, blue orbital skin and the male a distinctive black, white and buff patterned underparts. We couldn’t find anything in the field guide that looked remotely like them and were beginning to wonder if it might have wandered in from Guyana (not that far away) and be new for Venezuela. However seeing them again the next day we revisited the field guide, reading every antbird description and eventually found an exact match under Ferruginous-backed Antbird, the only antbird in the field guide that wasn’t illustrated. On our final day we had the morning around Rio Grande and then returned to the main road where we got a bus to Cuidad Guayana and Puerto de la Cruz where we arrived late evening. We fortunately found an overgrown vacant lot near the bus station which we were able to sneak into un-noticed. I slept surprisingly well despite the ground being hard and a bit uneven. Birds seen at Rio Grande included brilliant views of Variegated Tinamou, Crane Hawk, Golden-winged Parakeet, Striped Cuckoo, Black-eared Fairy (superb), White-necked Jacobin, Paradise and Green-tailed Jacamars, Black-necked and Green Aracaris, Red-billed Toucan, Black-tailed and Short-billed Leafscrapers, Great Antshrike, Steaked and Rufous-winged Antwrena, stunning Ferruginous-backed and White-browed Antbirds, Black-faced Ant-thrush, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Bright-rumped Atilla, Black-capped Becard, Black-tailed Tityra, Greyish Mourner and Golden-headed Manakin.
|Rain temporarily stopped play, Steve in our accommodation at Rio Grande|
|rather tame Orange-winged Parrots|
|Red-billed Toucans at Rio Grande|