The next stop on my world tour of great birding sites is Hato la Aurora. I posted about this site a few months ago, so I won’t repeat all the detail – you can read about it here. Suffice it to say that the Llanos region of Colombia and Venezuela is a must-see for world birders. And why take just my word for it? The Colombian newspaper El Espectador recently rated the site as one of their seven top places to see birds in Colombia.
Hato la Aurora
Hato la Aurora is a vast cattle ranch in Colombia’s Llanos region that is managed to benefit wildlife. The Llanos is a flat, dry grassland plain in Colombia and Venezuela that drains into the Orinoco River. The flat terrain is dotted with ponds and wetlands, and the ponds and wetlands are heavily dotted with birds.
One of the best features of the Hato la Aurora experience is that to get there you have to traverse what Daniel Uribe Restrepo described as a birdy road. Master of the understatement he is! Over the course of the day we saw over 80 species of bird, and most of these in huge numbers. Seventeen life birds was a pretty good kickoff to our Llanos excursion, especially since the tally included close views of gorgeous birds such as the Scarlet Ibis and Rufescent Tiger-Heron (as well as the bizarre and non-gorgeous Hoatzin).
Ecolodge Juan Solito
We stayed at the Ecolodge Juan Solito, and I recommend it highly. The rooms were clean and comfortable, the staff members were friendly, and the food was excellent. We were able to connect to WiFi in the dining area, which was a bit of a surprise given how far off the beaten track we were.
It would be a pleasant place to stay for a few days and just chill out, but of course we went for the maximum birding option. Daniel had booked safaris on both days and we were out on the plains from pre-dawn to well after dark. We saw an amazing variety of birds and other wildlife (anacondas, for example). Our skilled and personable driver Giovanni happily took us wherever we wanted to go and that meant all over the large ranch.
I was unable to find a checklist for Hato la Aurora but the EBird overview for the site, which shows 339 species, is here.
How to get there
Well, that’s a good question. The nearest airport for intercity flights is Yopal, which is south of Paz de Ariporo. We started our drive in Paz de Ariporo, and it took about eight hours along a gravel road to get to the lodge – though that includes numerous stops to ogle birds along the way. When I look at Google Maps, though, I don’t see a route which actually connects with the lodge. Local knowledge is needed. As I recall there was only one turn in the road so a good set of instructions would probably suffice, and I’m sure the lodge would provide this. The entrance to the lodge is marked by a small and easily-missed sign but they sent someone to the gate to flag us down.
Key safety advice
The cattle on the ranch, over 20,000 head as I recall, are accompanied by large numbers of pesky insects. In the wetter season chiggers abound. When the plain starts to dry out ticks emerge to take over the duty of torturing cattle and birders.
After a horrifying introduction to chiggers in Kansas I have a morbid fear of the beasts. But I eventually adopted a cunning plan to defeat them, and it worked just as well in the Llanos as it did on the Midwest plains. We stopped at a farming town as we approached Paz de Ariporo and purchased sturdy rubber boots for the equivalent of about $13 Canadian. We also bought rolls of wide cellophane tape, the kind that movers use to seal boxes. Before entering the zone of operations each day we wound several layers of tape around the top of the boots and our trousers, sealing the gap which is the main point of entry for crawling insect devils.
This proved to be completely successful in keeping out the beasts. It looks a bit silly, but so does your flesh when it is covered with nasty suppurating chigger bites, so decide for yourself.
Hato la Aurora was an epic birding experience. I hope you get the chance to see for yourself!