Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The Up's and Down's of Travelling

Yesterday's List Additions and video footage.

BLACK & WHITE HAWK EAGLE*
MOTTLED OWL*
SCALE-CRESTED PYGMY-TYRANT*
WHITE-TIPPED SWIFT
WEDGE-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD*
RUFOUS-SHAFTED WOODSTAR*
STRIPE-THROATED HERMIT*
BUFF-FRONTED FOLIAGE-GLEANER*
VENEZUELAN ANTVIREO* (E)
BLACK-HEADED TANAGER*

Video clips by kind permission of David Ascanio

video
Blood-eared Parrot (this one's for you Dave)

video
Wire-tailed Manakin (note the 'wires')

Well, it had to happen at sometime during a 3 month trip and as I sit here in another hotel in Caracas I'm just hoping this is the last of the misfortune. After the mild disappointment of the Angel Falls being down to a trickle as a result of the unseasonal dry spell, I now find there isn't a seat available to or from the Guyana's for the next month. I found it very difficult, if not impossible to pre-book flights before leaving UK, but if I had this would have cramped my style in other directions. Remaining intrepid, there are other options one of which would be to fly to Quito, Ecuador in the next couple of days, but instead I have decided to seek out more birding before I leave Venezuela. There are a dozen possibilities, including the Amazon Basin, but I'm going to take a couple of days here to re-coup after25 days 'wall to wall' in the field. A chance to catch up on a few e-mails, have one morning lie in (just leave the alarm off and wake up when I do, I bet it's still 03-30) and visit the city park. Here there is a chance of a 'lifer' by way of Yellow-crowned Amazon plus possible photographs of Chestnut-fronted plus Blue-and-Yellow Macaws and Orange-winged Amazon (these are all Parrots). I am booked on a flight from Caracas to Quito (via Bogota) on the 5th January 2010 but may try to change this to an earlier date - see what the next few days hold.

Today was also my final day with David, who had changed our itinerary not only to cover more ground but also to give me an extra half day birding at no extra expense. This proved to be most beneficial as we once again set off at 04-00 to search out 2 'endemics' Black-throated Spinetail and the elusive Caracas Tapaculo. Before the trip Daragh had described the latter family (of which I was not familiar) as black mice on an even darker background. Since, I have seen a few and with the exception of Ocilated he is exactly right. Both favour new growth bamboo and as we approached the site both were in full voice. We agreed to try the Tapaculo first so carved a hole in the growth so we could kneel inside the canopy and await their arrival. David saw one 3 times without me getting a glimps, but at the next attempt I had both species together in my bins for about 10 seconds. A fantastic start to the day, but our luck was about to continue as an hour later we found no fewer than 4 other 'lifers' for me. After an excellent late breakfast at the Frieburg Hotel we started the journey back to the capital, stopping at David's favourite coffee shop en route. I am hoping in the next few days to write something of an overview of my travels so far, in hope that some of the information my benefit those who follow, but for now it's good night - and be good else He won't come to you next week!

Today's Additions

CARACAS TAPACULO*
BLACK-THROATED SPINETAIL*
VAUX'S SWIFT
WHITE-FRONTED TYRANNULET)
COPPER-RUMPED HUMMINGBIRD*
GREEN-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD*
ORANGE-CROWNED ORIOLE*

Me with Simon Bolivar, a bit of a hero hereabouts, at sunrise in the main square Colonia Tovar.

A few words about the smart little town of Colonia Tovar, taken from Wikipedia, the only decent looking habitation I have seen in this country.

Colonia Tovar is a sprawling town built on steep hillsides overlooking a most picturesque deep valley in the state of Aragua, NW Venezuela, 60 km west of Caraca, the town was named after Martín Tovar y Ponte who donated the land over 150 years ago, and was founded by Agostino Codazzi. The city is mainly known for its Germanic characteristics, culture, and a dessert called "golfiado", which is very similar to a cinnamon bun. Founded in 1843 by German settlers, the town remained isolated from the rest of the world until 1960, a factor that stunted any technological advances and permitted the inhabitants to keep their culture and traditions. The majority of its residents are descendants of Germans and have a Northern European appearance. The Alemannic dialect of German, known as Alemán Coloniero ("colony German"), is now nearly extinct.

Today, 6,000 people live in the village, up from 1,300 in 2003. Colonia Tovar, at about 2000 meters above sea level,has an annual average of 16 degrees Celsius (61 degrees Fahrenheit), and at night it can drop to around 5 °C. Due to the cool climate and pleasant surrounding countryside, it is now a popular week-end destination for many visitors from Caracas. Many houses are weekend retreats and second homes. There is a wide range of hotels, restaurants and tourist facilities, many of which are only open on the weekend. The enclave is also a popular day excursion for cruise ship tourists, who typically arrive by bus.


The town and surrounding mountainous countryside have a superficial resemblance to Southern Germany. The visitor will occasionally see Germanic oddities such as waitresses in traditional Bavarian dress hawking "torta selva negra" and the odd "D" plate on some cars but will be unlikely to find anyone who understands German fluently. Cost of living is higher here than elsewhere in Venezuela. The town depends mostly on tourism and peach agriculture. The surrounding cloud forests are protected by the Pico Codazzi Natural Monument, though some signs of deforestation are visible due to the high touristic demand from Caracas, and the extraction of tree fern, sold dry for growing orchids. As an interesting observation, most buildings in the area have steeply pitched roofs, a necessity in Germany to wardoff any dangerous build-up of snow, but of course, not at all needed in this tropical region, where snowfall is nonexistent. Whether this architectural style was an attempt by early 19th century settlers to replicate German architecture for the sake of nostalgia, or whether they just built the only way they knew, is a subject for discussion.

Green-tailed Hummingbird

Crested Oropendola

Orange-crowned Oriole

The ubiquitous Bananaquit (not exactly revered by birders, this smart little fella is everywhere and becomes a nuisance when trying to identify other small birds, especially Warblers. It's various morphs range from jet black to very pale and all forms, including the 'nominate' phase shown here).

video
This is White-fronted Tyrannulet, formally known as Rough-legged Tyrannulet, which has and still does baffle the scientists reference its classification. Originally thought to be a Cotinga, David started to dance a jig when we found this bird, which is singular in its Genus Achrochordopus (burmeisterii), so before I start sounding like I know something about it, suffice to say Signor Ascanio claims that this 'clip' is the first ever to be taken of this species.