Cost not yet known (not including international airfare)
Single Room Supplement NYK (single rooms cannot be guaranteed at Junglaven Camp)
Allow £580 for flights if booked by Sunbird
Maximum group size: 8 with 1 leader; 14 with 2 leaders. The second named leader will only join the tour if there are more than 8 participants
Amazonas, the southernmost state of Venezuela is a vast wilderness, sparsely populated by humans where wildlife flourishes, much of it unaware of man’s presence on the planet. The extensive rainforests in this state were largely inaccessible to birdwatchers until the opening of Junglaven Jungle Lodge in 1990. Initially opened as a fishing camp, the lodge was built by a retired Venezuelan airline pilot – Captain Lorenzo Rodriguez – who still manages it today. Birdwatchers who visited the lodge quickly discovered that due to the lack of human inhabitants the adjacent forest still holds an intact avifauna with good numbers of the larger species such as curassows, guans and chachalacas, which have disappeared from many other areas due to hunting pressure. Better still, several groups of Gray-winged Trumpeters live in the forest and this is the best place we know in South America to see a member of this distinctive family.
The lodge is located on a seasonal ox-bow lake which in the wet season forms a tributary of the Ventuari River (itself a tributary of the Orinoco). Waterbirds are therefore also present around the lodge and highlights of our visits usually include Agami Heron, Sunbittern, and five species of kingfisher as well as Pink River Dolphin and Giant Otter. There are also extensive white-sand forests nearby with a number of local specialities such as Spotted Puffbird, Blackish-gray Antshrike, Cherrie’s Antwren, and Yellow-crested Manakin.
We’ll explore the area on foot, by motorised dug-out canoe, and in the lodge’s pick-up truck. The only road runs from the lodge through five miles of pristine terra firme rainforest, out past the old airstrip and eventually to the main Ventuari River. The track through the forest will be our main focus, but we’ll also explore the other habitats in the area in search of the many species to be found here.
We should mention that accommodation at the lodge is rather basic but adequate, with private facilities in each room and cold-water showers. Its remote location calls for access via private charter flights in small planes from the state capital of Puerto Ayacucho, and due to the uncertainty of such flights we’ll leave the lodge two days before the end of the tour and spend our final day in the cool, coastal mountain range around Colonia Tovar. Here, in complete contrast to the hot and humid Amazon, we’ll savour the cool mountain air as we walk slowly down a quiet back-road through montane rainforest where almost every species will be new for our list.
Sunbird has been running tours to Venezuela since 1987 and this will be David’s 17th tour there.
This tour can also be taken in combination with our Venezuela - The Tepuis tour or Venezuela: The Mountains and the llanos tour.
Day 1: The tour starts in London with a morning flight to Caracas, via Lisbon or Madrid. We’ll spend the night in a hotel near the airport.
Day 2: We’ll catch an early morning flight to Puerto Ayacucho and take a spectacular charter flight across vast tracts of untouched Amazonian rainforest. The landscape below us is far from flat however, and includes Tepui-like scenery with shear-sided escarpments and flat-topped mountains thousands of feet high. It’s an exhilarating ride to be sure, and a great start to the tour. We should arrive in time for lunch and for those too excited to rest initial birding around the lodge should reveal a bustling colony of Yellow-rumped Caciques attended by a Piratic Flycatcher or two, several colourful Yellow-tufted Woodpeckers, perhaps a group of Green Araçaris or a pair of Channel-billed Toucans, noisy Violaceous Jays, and diminutive White-lored Euphonias feeding in the fruiting cecropia trees. Once it has cooled down a little we’ll take a boat trip out onto the adjacent ‘Big Lagoon’ where highlights might include Black Caracara, the very local Crestless Curassow, Sunbittern, Band-tailed Nighthawk, up to five species of kingfisher, Olive Oropendola, and the remarkable Amazonian Umbrellabird. Night at Junglaven.
Day 3-6: As all our meals have to be taken at the lodge, we’ll follow a daily routine that will start with a pre-dawn breakfast, followed by a full morning out birding. We’ll return just after mid-day for lunch, then we’ll take a break in the heat of the day before venturing out again in mid to late afternoon. We’ll return at dusk and have a break, before enjoying dinner and then calling checklist. We’ll have a wide choice of locations to visit including the following.
On several mornings we’ll drive along the track through forest just as day is breaking. This is a good time to look for the Gray-winged Trumpeters on the track, especially in the areas where the lodge staff have placed drinking troughs aside the road. Black Curassows are also often to be found walking along the track in the early morning and we’ll hope for good views of both. We’ll emerge out onto a sandy savannah which is a great place to view the early morning flights of parrots as they commute from their roost sites to their feeding places. These include up to four species of macaw including the spectacular Red-and-green and Scarlet, and six or more species of parrot the fanciest perhaps being the colourful Orange-cheeked and the fast flying and noisy Black-headed. Scanning the distant tree tops we’ll quickly spot Swallow-winged Puffbirds which are numerous, but we’ll need to check each one carefully for a White-browed Purpletuft – a tiny cotinga that perches up high in the early mornings, but then often disappears into the forest to feed for the rest of the day. Toucans and araçaris are likely to be perched up high too, and who knows what else we might spot – highlights in the past have included Tiny Hawk, Spangled Cotinga, Sulphury Flycatcher, and Moriche Oriole.
On one day we’ll continue across the savannah to the Ventuari River and make a trip in a larger dug-out to a side tributary that leads to a large lagoon. En route we’ll check the sand bars for Pied Plovers, Black Skimmers, and Large and Yellow-billed Terns, while hawking over the water there may be White-banded and Black-collared Swallows. Along the banks Drab Water-Tyrants should be feeding and if any of the larger emergent trees are in flower parties of Common Piping-guans may be visible. At any point a group of Pink River Dolphins may approach the boat, making their presence known by breaking the surface gently and blowing softly. Once we reach the narrow tributary our focus will change to the bushes and the muddy water’s edge as we search for secretive Agami Herons, and colourful Green-and-rufous and American Pygmy Kingfishers. If the water levels are high enough we’ll continue through to the lagoon where hundreds of cormorants, storks, and egrets line the banks and where we have a good chance of encountering a group of Giant Otters. These curious creatures often sit up high in the water to look at any intruders and bark in indignation at being disturbed. There is always a chance of something even rarer on this seldom-visited backwater and on previous memorable occasions these have even included Jaguar and Harpy Eagle.
On another morning we’ll walk a trail through low-canopy white-sand forest where a number of local specialities can be found. Perhaps the most colourful of these are Spotted Puffbird and Yellow-crested Manakin which will be our main targets, but we’ll also search for Blackish-gray Antshrike, Cherrie’s Antwren, and Ochre-bellied Flycatcher several males of which form a loose lek along this trail.
In the main terra firme forest back near the lodge we’ll spend several mornings walking the track looking for solitary species and hoping to bump into flocks of various kinds. Amongst the former, various groups are well represented with three species of trogon including Black-tailed, four species of jacamar including Great and Paradise, several puffbirds and their allies including Rusty-breasted Nunlet and Black Nunbird, and ten or more woodpeckers including Cream-coloured, Scale-breasted and Red-necked. Other local specialities include Ruddy Spinetail, Amazonian Antshrike, and Pink-throated Becard. If we are lucky we might find an antswarm and if we do we’ll spend time watching the birds, watching the swarm. They are after the insects disturbed by the ants and should include obligate antswarm followers such as Rufous-throated Antbird and Plain-brown Woodcreeper – and if we are very lucky, Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo. Mixed species flocks in the forest are often led by Cinereous Antshrikes and include White-flanked and Grey Antwrens, a variety of woodcreepers, flycatchers including Ruddy-tailed, and various other hangers-on. The forest is also home to several rare raptors and we have twice seen Crested Eagle and Black-faced Hawk here, as well as Lined Forest-Falcon – all species that feed within the forest and seldom soar above it.
We’ll be sure not to ignore the birding possibilities around the lodge itself. In the early mornings and evenings the calls of Long-billed Woodcreepers ring out and a pair of this most spectacular of woodcreepers pass through the grounds. In the seasonally-flooded varzea forest adjacent to the lodge Black Manakins are regular and we have another chance for the local Cherrie’s Antwren. Amazonian Black Tyrants can be found here, Green-tailed Jacamars nest in arboreal termite mounds, and Black-chinned Antbirds feed in the undergrowth. Many species fly over in the early mornings and evenings and in the past these have included Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Amazonian Umbrellabird, and Pompadour Cotinga. To be honest almost any Amazonian species is possible here and every visit we add one or two new species to lodge’s continually growing list. Nights at Junglaven.
Day 7: After an early breakfast we’ll repeat the fabulous hour-long charter flight over untouched rainforest, back to Puerto Ayacucho where we’ll connect with a scheduled flight back to Caracas. After lunch near the airport we’ll drive west into the coastal mountain range. Our destination is Colonia Tovar, a 19th century German colony that still retains its distinctive architectural style and Germanic culture. We’ll spend the late afternoon birding the grounds of our hotel and surrounding areas, searching for flowering trees which may host several species of hummingbirds and tanager flocks. Night in Colonia Tovar.
Day 8: We’ll spend the morning walking a quiet road through beautiful montane rainforest looking for local specialities such as Tyrian Metaltail, the endemic Black-throated Spinetail, Chestnut-crowned and Slate-crowned Antpittas, the endemic Caracas Tapaculo, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Mountain Elaenia, Black-crested Warbler, Bluish Flowerpiercer and the unique Plushcap. Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths are common along this road and we usually encounter at least one during our walk. After a late lunch at our hotel we’ll drive back to Caracas. Those who wish can fly back to London at this point on a late afternoon flight. This will be via Lisbon or Madrid and will arrive in London around lunchtime on Day 9. However, this tour is designed to be taken in associated with our tour to the Tepuis, so those joining that trip will spend the night in a hotel near the airport.