Birding in Amazonas State, Venezuela
In 2011 I have undertaken two expeditions to the Amazonas state of Venezuela starting and ending in the capital Puerto Ayacucho. In order to avoid the rapids and faster travel south, you first go by car to the port of Samariapo, about an hour drive from P.A.
First trip was 2-17/1 with the following intinerary:
P.A.- Gavilán Rd- Samariapo- San Fernando de Atabapo- Santa Barbara- Río Ventuari up to the Picua community in the Yapacana N.P.- then back to S.F.A. and down the Colombian border Río Atabapo- Río Temi- Yavita-Maroa to San Carlos de Río Negro. From here on Brazo Casiquiare to the Siapa river and back to S.C.R.N. Then back to P.A. the same way we came with a small incursion on Caño San Miguel close to Maroa (on the Guainia river) as well as some stops on river islands in the Orinoco and at Caño Grulla, halfway between S.F.A. and Samariapo.
We found the most interesting birding areas to be:
Gavilán Rd- starting close to Puerto Ayacucho on the road to Samariapo, mostly secondary forest and manioc plantations interspersed with terra firme and varzea forest along the Cataniapo river. Good birds here Pied Puffbird, Tiny Hawk, Green Aracari, Chestnut Woodpecker among others.
Caño Grulla -midway between Samariapo and S.F.A. Terra firme forest rich in lianas interspersed with creeks containing water year round. Sometimes very good birding with abundant mixed flocks, Pygmy Antwren, Speckled Spinetail, Velvet-fronted Grackle, Wire-tailed Manakin, Sunbittern, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Undulated Tinamou are some of the species we found here.
C.V.G. San Fernando de Atabapo- rubber plantation 4-5 km e of S.F.A. Before reaching the plantation birding is rewarding in low shrub and savanna-like forest. Just after C.V.G buildings there is a bridge through a palm groove, that yield some Mauritia palm specialist as well as other birds preferring a wet, dense habitat. 1-2 km after the C.V.G, it opens up on the right with slash-and-burn plantations and additionally a new set of birds. Here you find a high number of birdspecies due to the varied habitats, we found Pompadour Cotinga, Black Manakin, Silvered Antbird, White-lored Purpletuft, Amethyst Woodstar, Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Black-bellied Cuckoo, Cinereous Tinamou, Cherrie´s Antwren among others.
San Fernando de Atabapo- the former capital of Amazonas state is located at the junction of the rivers Orinoco, Atabapo and Guaviare and has a rather rewarding birding just around town. As migratory species tend to follow the rivers they seem to be attracted to the rather large area of low grass mixed with sand and rocks at the port. Here we found migrating waders on both trips such as Least Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper (Jan) and Buff-breasted Sandpiper (April). Sand-colored Nighthawk sometimes fly by at dusk. Chesnut-bellied Seedeater is fairly common near the port and at the stadium as well as Orange-fronted Yellow-Finch, which here has its most southern population in Venezuela. Black-billed Thrush is readily found at the Bolívar square.
Picua, Río Ventuari- a community of Piaroa indians on the S side, about 3 hours by motorboat up the river from the mouth. There is a trail going S from the community that first goes through terra firme and varzea, later stunted savanna-like forest and after 4-5 km you come to savanna. This trail is interesting as it goes through many different types of habitat and the stunted forest on white sandy soil with rich undergrowth (campina). Yapacana Antbird, White-naped Seedeater, Azure-naped Jay are some of the specialists.
San Carlos de Río Negro airstrip- for being on the outskirts of the town it offers a great variety of birds probably due to the mix of shrubbery along the borders of the airstrip and terra firme forest behind. With more time the Solano trail is supposed to be good but we did not have time to bird it. Spotted Puffbird, Citron-bellied Mourner, Russet-crowned Crake, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Yellow-throated Flycatcher, Fiery-tailed Awlbill were some birds found here.
The second trip took place 19/3-5/4 and this time our focus was W Amazonas, the triangle formed by Yavita-Victorino-Caño San Miguel. Travel itinerary was the following:
Samariapo-San Fernando de Atabapo- Río Atabapo- Río Temi- Yavita- Maroa- Victorino- Maroa- Pimichín- Caño San Miguel- Maroa- Yavita- Yavita Pimichín trail- Río Temi- Río Atacavi- Río Atabapo- Caño Caname- S.F.A.- Caño Grulla- Samariapo
Most interesting birding sites:
Victorino- a community of Curripaco indians on the Río Guainía just a few km from the Colombian landborder. The Guainía river is a border-river and not very wide so people go back and forth over the river for their daily activities. In Victorino we walked some trails going E from the community and through mixed habitat of secondary forest, slash-and-burn smallholdings, terra firme and campina forest. Here we found Ocellated Woodcreeper, Dusky-capped Greenlet, 4 species of Tinamous, Gray-bellied- Spot-backed- Scale-backed- and Spot-winged Antbird, White-naped Seedeater and Varzea Schiffornis. Also the area around the community offered some interesting species as Upland Sandpipers on the football field, Tree Swallow and Marbled Wood-quail(heard from the Colombian side)
Maroa airstrip- is located just to the E of town, on the road to Yavita. The airstrip is extremely long with forest on both sides but at both ends you find shrubby stunted savanna-like forest. Especially the shrubby border on the E end is good birding here we found Bronzy Jacamar, White-naped Seedeater, Rufous-crowned Elaenia, Cherrie´s Antwren, Black-bellied Thorntail and Azure-naped Jay nearby. Walking S on a trail from the W end is another good option that rewarded us with Gray-bellied Antbird and Pearly Antshrike. Other birds found on and around the airstrip was Upland Sandpiper, Red-shouldered Tanager, Black-billed Thrush, Orange-cheeked Parrot, and Golden-spangled Piculet. Chestnut-bellied Seedeater is common on the electric posts further towards town.
Caño San Miguel- entering this wide “caño” from the Guainía river we travelled som 2-3 hours with a 70H motorboat before we decided to camp at a site called Pavón. From there we explored another 2 hours up the river but honestly everything interesting we saw along Caño San Miguel was seen at or around the camp. The habitat is very monotonous with varzea or igapó along the banks of the river, in some places drier savanna-like habitat. From N side of the river at Pavón we also walked into palm-dominated terra firme forest but the trail vanish reasonably fast. So did the trail at El Pozo del Tigre, further up the river- it seems difficult to find well-maintained trail as there are almost no communities along this part of the river. The birding was subsequently done mostly along the river and birds of interest here were Crowned Slaty Flycatcher, Long-billed Woodcreeper, Tiny Hawk, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Amazonian Inezia, Cinnamon Attila, Varzea Schiffornis, Mouse-colored Tyrannulet (out of range), Cinereous Tinamou and Band-tailed Nighthawks in mass.
Pimichín-Yavita trail- first we went to the historically important Pimichín, that used to be a port connecting the Amazon and the Orinoco rivers, today just a nice flat rock for cooking and swimming in the river, located on the edge between savanna and terra firme forest. All remnants of houses are now covered by vegetation, and the road built from here to Yavita is now just a trail, in places hardly that, but very good for birding. For goods leaving the Amazones in the 18th and 19th century this was the natural export route from a european perspective, having british Trinidad&Tobago in mind as export destination. Instead of shipping products down the longer Amazon river they were shipped up the Río Negro to Pimichín and then on road to Yavita some 10 km away and from there down the Orinoco. For example Alexander Humboldt and Alfred Russell Wallace (explorers and naturalists in the 1800´s) saw the Pimichin-Yavita crossing as something like the Panama Canal.
Among interesting birds at Pimichín were White-naped Seedeater, Black-chinned Antbird, Sapphire-rumped Parrotlet, Barred-and White-throated Tinamou. Birding was good at Pimichín but even better along the trail to Yavita. We spent first one night at Pimichín and then one night along the trail. This was the species-richest area we visited (here you have enough species for a world-class birding lodge), and the only area where we actually saw some mammals, 2 capuchin-monkeys(Cebus apella), a squirrel, red-rumped agouti and a big noisy group of peccaries. Especially the mixed flocks along the trail were impressive, often including 3 sp of each woodpeckers, woodcreepers, and greenlets, plus sometimes both lower- and upper-story antbirds in the same flock moving through the forest. Other interesting birds along the trail were Reddish-winged Bare-eye, White-plumed Antbird, White-chested Puffbird, Yellow-billed Jacamar, Southern Nightingale-Wren ssp marginatus, Thrush-like Antpitta, Cinereous Mourner, Rufous-tailed Flatbill, Pavonine Quetzal, Nocturnal Curassow and 5 sp of Tinamou being Gray-legged Tinamou the rarest from a venezuelan perspective.
Complete species list from both trips here: