Friday, 25 December 2009

Among Good People Once Again

A 'thousand' thanks to the many of you who sent your Christmas Wishes to me.
Have a Gud'n!

While Christmas was never going to be a great event for me this year, the saddening news of the death of a dear friend hasn't helped the situation. I heard from Julie (my eldest daughter) that Sam Fowler has lost his battle with leukemia. The name may not be familiar to many of you, but if you live in Dorset and love a good time Sam would have, unknowingly, touched you. The man who single-handed gave birth to the Steering Wheel Clubs in both Weymouth and Dorchester was much, much more than just a club owner. There must be a lot that I don't know about this giant of a man, but his reputation as a perfectionist in the jazz world is renowned. Having played Ronnie Scott's scores of times with such luminaries as Chris Barber, Humphrey Littleton et al his stories very much live with me today. My favorite among them was the night he nearly 'sacked' Pink Floyd! As the very first 'Live Band' Night Club in Great Britain, Sam through his many connections had managed to secure a gig bringing the worlds (now) most famous band to our town. Agreed it was the early days for them, but when Sid Barrett, Nick Mason, Richard Wright and Roger Waters started their usual chemically inspired antics Sam was having none of it. The ultimatum was, as they tried to prepare for the set in the dressing room, usually only known as the toilet, "10 minutes to get on stage or your on your Bike" (and I am not referring to the final track of the Piper's at the Gates of Dawn album). Further to Sam's great accomplishments, Swing in the Park, unarguably the highlight of any Dorchester year, will live on. How many young musicians did he bring on through this medium. This year alone he introduced us to the local youngsters forming the Brazilian Bongo Band, while old stagers The Crack (sorry Ricky I mean that metaphorically) once again delighted a huge crowd., and despite his 80 plus years he was still there directing operation complete with that cheeky smile. On a very personal level, there will be a huge void at a certain dinning table about 4 times a year without you Sam, but you sure as hell won't be forgotten as we celebrate you!!!!! My commiserations go to Camellia and family and of course Anne & Bob, who at this time I hope will take strength by remembering what a GREAT man Sam Fowler is. There will be one hell of - Amen.

On a much lighter note, I'm sure my lady will have no objections if I share some of her Christmas with you all.

Unopened, Ille sticking to the instructions from England - "Not to be Opened Until Christmas".

Relaxing in her Tallinn appartment before the party.

Ille surrounded by her presants and some of her art work.

The view from her window across Tallinn.

Almost as predicted, I arrived Quito at 18-30 and everything from there on in has come up roses. To start with Immigration and Customs were so laid back I almost asked them to fill out the forms which is just before I met Alvera the taxi lady. Good English was a great help as not only did she fix me with good value taxi and hotel, she when on to tell me something about the buses which will be running tomorrow. The taxi ride to the hotel was easily 6 miles and cost $6 (4 quid). As for the hotel, it is run by an Ecuadorian family who made me feel immediately like I was a member. Armando and Jenny are an extremely jolly couple as are 2 close friends plus Jack, a Frenchman, who is also a paying guest. The tariff is just $26 B&B so consider I've fallen pretty much on my feet. I have also been the buses to get me to the villages of Papallacta, Guango etc, which takes about 2 and a half hours, so think I'll do a reci tomorrow before going to stay for a couple of nights.

Armando, Me (unknow name) Jack and Jenny

Haven't got round to finding the names of the 2 right of picture, will update tomorrow.

Me and Jack

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Eve

It was 'raining' Santas' when I got up this morning.

My lift turned up at 12-15 yesterday, and not a dust covered, slightly shaky Land Cruiser but a new Jeep complete with Gia fittings (walnut interior trim, electric seats etc) but no better ride for all that. After lunch, 12-50 we made a start for Caracas making 2 coffee stops on the way, arriving at the airport at 19-30. Still amazed at the price of petrol here, the amigo who had no English, topped up the tank with 44 liters and it was my turn to by the drinks (coffee) which cost more than the 'bunkers'. Arriving at the Avianca desk,to make my play for a seat on tomorrows plane, there wasn't a soul to be seen. There last flight left at 18-30 and seemingly everyone had gone home. However, you have to persist in these matters and negotiating a labyrinth of corridors below stairs I finally found an English speaking Supervisor who was helpfulness itself. She photocopied my itinerary with a promise to pass it on to the day-shift so at least I'm not going in cold. All I have to do now is stick out the 8 and a quarter hours before 'check in' at 03-15 for the 06-15 flight of course I'll let you know how I get on.I have spent the ensuing hours getting the trip and Hato Pinero lists right up to date, which you will find at the foot of this post. I was lucky and picked up Blue Ground Dove, common but elusive during my stay, before we left the property and considered 147 an excellent total for just 3 days.

Totals from Hato Pinero

147 Species Recorded
28 'Lifers'
1 'Endemic'

Species Added to the Trip List


Total Trip List - 662 Total 'Lifers' - 455 Total Endemics - 52

Christmas Eve morning, and there's nowhere else I'd rather be. Having spent all night waiting for the Avianca check-in to open at 03-30, the initial reply was "the flight is full", but it was recommended that I return at05-00 to see if there had been any cancellations. This time the 'boyish charm' worked but included a bit of running around.Firstly, the flight paperwork had to be altered, at a charge, then there was departure tax, then immigration tax and so it went on. My impression of the airline thus far had been favorable, but patience was wearing a little thin but despite 6 different Queues I was going to fly to Quito. This was right on time at 06-15 and by 08-30 I arrived at my transfer destination, Bogota. That's when the fun really started but despite an extremely quick shuffle thru International Transfers and the fact that my aircraft was still on the stand, officialdom would not let me board. This now means a 9 hour wait for the next, and may result in me being stuck at the other end. Had I been on the earlier flight chances are, arriving before noon, that I would have got a bus from Quito to Papallacta - Guango my next 'freelance' birding destination. As it is arrival will be after 19-00, and what self respecting bus driver will want to be on the road at that time and date. Tomorrow is predictably the same, but 'never say die' I will leave no stone unturned. I hope by my next post to be able to report good fortune, a taxi may be a more expensive option. Avianca - least said the better - MERRY CHRISTMAS!

White-throated Tyrannulet

Two-banded Puffbird

White-tipped Quetzal

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

On the Road Again - Canned Heat

If I had just one local wish as I wait to return to Caracas this morning, it would be that my lift didn't turn up. Maybe I've labored the point a little but this place is 'Magica'! Last evening we went on yet another safari with many new things to see, not least of which was a magnificent Tortoise / Terrapin / Turtle, which I haven't been able to put a name to yet. In addition COLLARED PLOVER, SOLITARY SANDPIPER, GREY SEEDEATER, BAND-TAILED NIGHTHAWK* and SHORT-CRESTED FLYCATCHER* were all added to the list. As on previous evening drives we returned to base with the spotlight activated and again the afore mentioned Nightjars/hawks were present in their hundreds, there were 3 Great-horned Owls but unfortunately no 'hat trick' as far as Cats were concerned. Then came the highlight of the evening (if not the trip) as one of the Common Pauraques (the 'e' is pronounced) took off from underfoot, misjudged the height of the vehicle, hit a young girl in the face and landed (winded) in the lorry. I was quick to recover it and kept it until we got back to camp where it appeared no worse for wear, and after a photo-call returned to the wild.

Total Trip List - 662 Total 'Lifers' - 457 Total Endemics - 51

As yet unidentified Terrapin??

This amazing creature was about a meter long.

A short study of Common Pauraque

The food here has been sensational, and so there was no missing dinner when we returned, but soon after once again Mario was keen to get me out on another sortie, this time to find Spectacled and Tropical Screech Owls. To my mind he was a little over confident, almost tempting providence, and in the end we 'dipped' on both. However, he was not daunted by this and invited me on yet another mission early this morning in search of roosting Great Potoo, the result of which you can see below.

Great Potoo, unusual to have eyes open at roost.

Band-backed Wren

The 'endemic' White-bearded Flycatcher

I could only afford about a hour this morning to join the safari, but even then lots of new things joined the photograph list. The Wrens were particularly pleasing as thus far we had only had 'tickable' glimpses.

Black-collared Hawk

I had to have a bath at some stage and this cool pool seemed like just the place!

Roseate Spoonbill, not the most colourful specimen, but like Wood Stork, which I still haven't captured, this species seemed particularly intolerant of human activity.

Anhinga, dubbed the Snakebird as only its neck is visible when on the water.

Grey-breasted Wood Rail

Little Blue Heron

Tortoise, size can be gauged by the human hand holding it, about as big as a duck egg.

So, time to leave - boo hoo - but some fantastic memories and fine people. Unfortunately, I leave with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth as yesterday afternoon a light aircraft arrived carrying 4 of the brothers now managing this wonderful property. The landing was closely followed by the arrival of 2 jeeps full of government officials. Thus far, I had been told, the take over of the property had been just speculation but now Chavez's people were here mob handed and the reality was sinking in for the people employed here. It is only the rich and institutions that allow these kind of places to work and exist (where would our own castles, stately homes et al be without them) but this visitation seems lie the beginning of the end of Hato Pinero as I have been priviledged to know it. Mario particularly is distraught, having crought and guided people here for 15 years, but says this will not continue if the worst happens. I for one will be tightly crossing my fingers but sadly, it seems, it will not be enough.

For myself, I don't know quite how things are going to pan out but this afternoon I will be starting a 'Charm Offensive'. I have a ticket to Quito, Ecuador for the 5th January but am now 15 days ahead of the game, so I'll be at the mercy of the airport (Avianca the Colombia Airline) to change my ticket or not. This to me is all part of the great game of travelling independantly and look forward to the challenge. The good news for the readership is that you may get a break from my ramblings, so until I next get access Best Wishes to ALL!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A 'Must Visit' Destination!

Leo and I were out again before dawn today, and as published yesterday, in search of the elusive Sungrebe. According to my guide this beautifully marked waterfowl is becoming less and less common, and given its secretive nature chances were slim. We reach the much reduced river at 05-45 and almost immediately added a new bird to the list, a Limpkin. Our walk took us about 3Km into the forest but for much of the time the watercourse was obscured so difficult, if not down right impossible, for Grebe spotting. A second addition came as a diminutive Pygmy Kingfisher settled close by, but there was no sign of the Sungrebe, and by now we had to return to base for breakfast and to pick up the others.

Huto Pinero

Is a 200,000 hectare ranch, given over in the main to wildlife, but because of the vast natural grasslands of the the Yanos cattle play and important part in the economy of the property. It is still owned by the original family, and despite aggressive challenges from the Chaves Government to take over the running of the land (in the name of Socialism) there is strenuous moves afoot to maintain its present status. These days the elders sons of each of the 7 co-owners are responsible for the day to day management of the ranch, which employs 130 workers caring for 20,000 beef cows and 8,000 Buffalo which are kept mainly for milk production used to make a local specialised cheese.

My 3 Amigos - Mario, Thomas and Leo - along with David Ascanio and Thomas's son Danial these people have made this one of the most memorable stays I have had anywhere, Muchous Gracias Amigos!

There is accommodation for about 30 visitors in twin cabins in the well maintained hostel, and the price per day includes all your needs. The food is exquisite and all of ethnic origin, while the bar (beer, rum and various soft drinks) are also included. There are 2 daily safaris 08-00 to mid-day and 15-30 to 19-00 to coincide with dinner. As will be seen from this Blog over the last couple of days there is no shortage of wildlife, and you certainly don't have to be a 'bird watcher' to enjoy this fabulous place. In addition there are dozens of horses which can be hired, and so far I have been able to get an additional tour on request. The staff are all most curteous, nothing be too much trouble, and I would say for any family or dedicated wildlife party this is a Not to be Missed location.

The safari transport - plenty of space for everyone.

The Main Communal Quarters.

Within - the Lounge.

The Bar

The Main Corridor to Dining Room.

Aplomado Falcons (pre-copulation)

Taking off once the deed is done!

Lesser Kiskadee

A better shot of the magnificent Jabiru

Glittering-throated Emerald

Today's Additions


Total Trip List - 658
Total 'Lifers' - 455 Total Endemics - 51

Cool for Cats

Monday 21st December 2009

After all that rigmarole about posting on correct dated, I have missed the deadline for getting Monday's post under Monday's date, so let's hope I get it right tomorrow, or today if you're over there. Well, we managed to thwart the Osbourn's, as I have wrongly dubbed them, and set out at 05-30, just Leo and I in search of Sungrebe. That too was destined to fail as by some language difficulty he thought we were trying for 'forest species' else so we didn't end up at the river. However, we did get a few very good birds including Pale-eyed Pygmy Tyrant, Striped Woodcreeper and the endemic Bearded Flycatcher. We were back at base by 07-00 and after breakfast set out with the others (now much calmer than yesterday, probably having got over the initial holiday fervor) for another morning in the bush. As part of the morning we did walk the river but without being in contact with the Grebe, but did get some photos of Hoatzin, saw 2 of the secretive Red-legged Tinamou, plus 'ticking' Pale-tipped Inesia and Yellow-crowned Amazon.


Rufous-vented Chachalaca

The male partner of yesterday's Yellow-knobbed Curassow (including knob)

Yellow-crowned Amazon

Yellow-headed Caracara

Jabiru at the nest

Wattled Jacana

Common Black Hawk

Capped Heron

The remarkably beautiful and diminutive Pearl Kite

That excellent invention 'siesta' was most welcome after lunch, and a hours 'head down' was followed by some editing work on the photies, then out to meet the new arrivals who joined us this afternoon. They had already picked up on our finest moment yesterday and wanted 'first hand' accounts of the Jaguar and what of our prospects today (lightning striking twice - I doubt it). It was also great to see Thomas again who had driven me here in the first place, and Mario who was the driver on the Ascanio leg. Thomas had to return to Caracas, while Leo and Mario jockeyed for position as to who was going to take me, and what species I wanted. In the end, it will be Leo at 05-15 in search of Sungrebe and Mario after dark in search of Spectacled Owl.

Double-striped Thick-knee

Setting of at 16-00 the sun was still a little high but we did pick up a couple of Anhinga (Snakebird) and a 'lifer' by way of Lesser Kiskadee, but the best came as the light faded and the lights were turned on. The dirt roads we were travelling were littered with Common Paurque, Lesser & Band-tailed Nighthawk plus White-tailed Nightjars, seen that well the white outer tail-feathers on the former could be see quite clearly.. A Great Horned Owl put in a lingering appearance at point blank range, while 3 Great Potoo did likewise as 2 Double-striped Thick-knees were all but asking to be run over. Fishing Bats were also busy at most water courses, were we could see them catching their tiny prey, as thousands of birds returned to roost. The afore mentioned lightning did in fact strike, and at first we thought we had another Jaguar, but better still when this tiny cat emerged completely it was seen to be an Ocelot, what a find. I served aboard the Submarine 'Ocelot' in 1968 and many a day as 'casing sentry' (Quartermaster) gazed at her crest bearing an image of this small feline. Agreed, the videos are a little rough, but tell the story, hope you enjoy them!


Today's Trip Additions


Total Trip List - 652 Total 'Lifers' - 451 Total Endemics - 51

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Hato Pinero - Buenos Vista

I'm getting a little out of kilter with the dates, being 5 hours behind if I post before 19-00 local time the UK date is wrong, simply I want to post the day I am in and not UK time which is still on my lap-top! Sorted?

Thomas, a huge, jolly bloke, arrived at 05-58 and within, given it is Sunday, 15 minutes we were clear of Caracas and starting our 370 Km drive to Hato Pinero. For the most part we were on well maintained duel carriageway, but when we arrived at Terecay we left the main highway for what was more pot-hole than road. This only lasted about an hour until we met the sign saying Hato Pinero 22Km, and turned onto a dirt road that was easy to drive on.

Whistling Heron

The problem arrived when we had to leave the sanctuary of the A/C and venture into a 90F furnace, and after meeting the Warden, Leo and Housekeeper, Margaret I decided to brave the elements while my cabin was made ready. That lasted no time at all as the searing heat drove me back. However, I had already made images of Whistling Heron and Scarlet Macaw, both seen in the past, and scored my first 'lifer' with Buff-necked Ibis. There were good numbers of White-tailed deer within the ranch house garden, with Yellow-headed Caracara (a raptor) being the most common bird around, things had started well.

White-tailed Deer

Scarlet Macaw first seen in Guatamala in 2002.

Scarlet Macaws in flight, it is hoped better shots will follow.

By now I had met most of the other guests, a couple each from Austria and France and about 8 Venezuelan lads, all seemed surprised but happy that I am a dedicated 'birder'. The subject matter never changed, they were getting well into it and I was glad of such fellow company. Unfortunately, they were just leaving and when I emerged for the late afternoon open top lorry drive they had been replaced by quite a different bunch. One lad about 20 and accompanied by his mum and dad (that says something) was a little loud, but interested enough in the photography side of things as he had a video camera himself. Similarly, the GP was partly interested but extremely loud and need politely telling that quiet would be of great importance. One of the benefits (or otherwise) of this stay is that all drinks are included in the price and the younger fella was barely out of the car before he started tucking in. Now, just because this is an 'alcohol free' trip for me doesn't mean everyone else need comply, but the more he had the louder he became and the more he was determined to be my amigo! Before we left, he and I had a walk around the gardens where we found the Currasow pictured below, but 'chiefy' soon put that to flight. Great oportunity to bend his ear, which I did.

Yellow-knobbed Currasow (female) hope to get the male next, complete with knob!

Buff-necked Ibis the first 'lifer' at this site.

Before we left in the large, open-topped wagon Leo asked if the was anything I particularly wanted to see, so I asked him about availability of Hoatzin, Sun Grebe, Horned Screamer and Sunbittern all birds I had fantasized about as a boy and while watching them featured on various Attenborough's. All were certainly available, and with the exception of the Grebe seen that very day, I didn't have to wait long. Still within view of the ranch we stopped at a very shallow pool and there for a few seconds in full view the Bittern, what a beauty. It stayed long enough for the Doctor to finish his compulsive yell, cue another bollocking!

Sunbittern (retreating)

Venezuelan Caimen with a decent catch, possibly Orinoco Perch??

Horned Screamer (2 down, 2 to go)

To be fair, these people were townies and just out for a bit of fun and I'd managed to curb the shouting so we were all enjoying ourselves for different reasons. Then we came across a 'herd' of Capibari by a small lake, where the Caiman had just caught his tea, right place, right time, but they too were put to flight by the hoard as I had my own agenda trying to get close enough to photograph a Screamer. Partly successful, I returned to find a juvenile had been headed off from the pack, and was being pursued from both sides by the noisy photographers. It was plainly obvious what was about to happen as the Capibari had the choice of the humans or the Caimen. It took the later, and I watched helplessly as the Crocs closed in. The small mammal dived and eventually got out at the other side of the pool, but not without sustaining damage to its front left leg. I had a word with Leo, who in turn had a word with them but not much changed.

The hapless juvenile entering the water to escape the humans, I was thinking about following it!

White-headed Marsh Tyrant

Yellow-browed Sparrow - not at all obliging.

Back at the transport Leo had found a pair of Y-b Sparrows and I caught up by finding the Tyrant, both additions to the world list, before pushing on the the far east corner of the reserve. Here the first birds we encountered were a family party of the totally unusual Hoatzin, and all I can say is I hope to bring photographs later. Here also is another lake overflowing with Cattle and Great Egrets, Glossy, Bare-faced, Scarlet Ibis, a massive bonus by way of a single Sharp-tailed Ibis (another 'lifer'), Roseate Spoonbills, Wattled Jacana, Great Blue, Cocoi & Little Blue Herons plus White-faced and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. However, pride of place had to go to the 'big daddy' of them all a pair of enormous Jabiru and if seeing them at distance were not enough, they obligingly took off and flew right over our heads. Daylight was now rapidly fading, and as if to cap an already perfect afternoon, 'wildlife' wise, a six or seven foot Anaconda slowly slithered through the grass heading for the lake.

Brown-throated Parakeet

Sharp-tailed Ibis

On the way back to camp, in the gloom, headlights were left on full beam, while a hand held 'spot' also assisted in trying to find a Common Pauraque or White-tailed Nightjar, but what some of us got is what dreams and these type of trips are made of. From out of the bushes at the side of the road, and no more than 12 feet away strolled a full blown 'Jaguar'. The driver and Ranger in front said they had seen 2, but for yours truly this single, magnificent beast was more than enough - I don't want to go to bed tonight Mummy!

Trip Additions


Total Trip List - 639 Total 'Lifers' - 442 Total Endemics - 50