Our Colombian tour is designed specially to see as many species as possible within a two-week period, with an emphasis in particular on Colombian endemics and special birds such as antpittas. Visiting the dry and lush forests on the Caribbean coast, the endemism hot-spot of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and the different slopes and altitudes of the different ranges of the Andes ensures that good numbers of new species keep coming every day right up until the end of the tour.
Sunday 7th January: Bogota
The tour got off to a flying start with excellent views of a pair of endemic Bogota Rails feeding a well-grown young in Parque La Florida, barely a stone’s throw from the city’s international airport. Other highlights on and around the lake in the park included several Spot-flanked and Common Gallinules,Black-crowned Night-Herons, American Coots of the yellow-billed local race, and dozens of Bare-faced Ibis, Andean Ducks and Blue-winged Teal.
Displaying Yellow-hooded Blackbirds put on a good show, as did a pair of Torrent Tyrannulets, while White-tailed Kite and Roadside Hawk hunted over the marsh. Walking back through the woodland section of the park we came across Sparkling Violetear and White-bellied Woodstar hummingbirds, Summer Tanagers, Andean Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch and three Smoky-brown Woodpeckers having a territorial dispute. The highlights, though, were two specialities – Silvery-throated Spinetail and Rufous-browed Conebill, which both gave great views, albeit after a game of hide-and-seek with the former.
In the afternoon we took an internal flight and relocated to Riohacha on the Caribbean coast, where a walk along the beach produced flocks of Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns. Great-tailed Grackles foraged on the shoreline and White-winged Swallows and Grey-breasted Martins hunted for insects over the beach and promenade. A Peregrine Falcon dashing between the buildings of the town was an unexpected sight, as was a Roseate Spoonbill cruising above a beach packed with hundreds of bank-holiday revellers. The day ended with a massive roost of thousands of Carib Grackles in the trees along the seafront with the backdrop of a spectacular Caribbean sunset.
Monday 8th January: Camarones area
A dawn start in the dry forest near Camarones produced instant results for some of the local specialities, with a pair of Vermilion Cardinals with punk hairdos among the first birds to show themselves as the sun peeked over the horizon, followed shortly after by several Chestnut Piculets and Pileated Finches and a pair of White-whiskered Spinetails. Flocks of Brown-throated Parakeets and Bare-eyed Pigeons passed overhead, while an adult Crested Bobwhite with two young crossed the road and a Rufous-vented Chachalaca called in the distance. Further additions to the list came thick and fast, including a pair of Black-crested Antshrikes (with crests to rival the cardinals), Red-billed Emerald,White-fringed Antwren, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher and Yellow-breasted Flycatcher.
Breakfast in Camarones town was taken between stops for a flock of Black and Turkey Vultures and Crested Caracaras fighting over a meal, a noisy group of Blue-crowned Parakeets and a flock of six Glaucous Tanagers. Next we headed to an eco-lodge with excellent feeders that attracted the likes of OrinocanSaltator, Scaled and White-tipped Doves and Buffy Hummingbird. Two or three Russet-throated Puffbirdsshowed extremely well, as did a scavenging Crested Caracara. Then a stroll through the desert-like scrub resulted in great views of a pair of Burrowing Owls beside their nest hole.
In the afternoon a boat trip from Playa de Camarones took us out onto the estuary and brought us into the realm of Wood Storks, Reddish Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills,Tricoloured Herons and Caspian Terns, while a couple of Ospreys were perched up scanning for a meal. At the furthest point we came across a handful of Scarlet Ibis and a small flock of American Flamingos. As we disembarked the boat, a huge flock of birds roosting close to the dock included hundreds of Royal Terns and Laughing Gulls, plus about 50 Black Skimmers and 30 Sanderlings. A flock of Spectacled Parrotlets showed well as they fed in trees beside an adjacent restaurant.
Heading west along the coast, a stop at an area of lush forest produced Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, Trinidad Euphonia and Bright-rumped Attila, while Blue-headed Parrots passed overhead and Colombian Red Howler monkeys serenaded us with their other-worldly cries.
Tuesday 9th January: around Tayrona NP
The morning began with exploration of an area of forest along the banks of the Don Diego river. A pair of Barred Antshrikes was vocal early on and gave excellent views. Flycatchers featured strongly as the sun rose with Golden-crowned, Panama and Streaked Flycatchers all seen, while Blue-headed Parrots passed overhead and Orange-chinned Parakeets prospected for nest sites.A family of Colombian Red Howelers put on a fine show.
Tanagers were also much in evidence with good numbers of Crimson-backed and Blue-grey, together with two or three Grey-headed. One clump of trees was much to the liking of wintering Nearctic warblers and produced several bright yellowProthonotary Warblersthat almost seemed to glow, plus Bay-breasted and Yellow Warblers and a Northern Waterthrush.
Perhaps the stars of the show were the hermit hummingbirds. A Rufous-throated Hermit held territory at extremely close range, then initiated a Return of the Jedi-style chase through the forest when a rival (or possibly a mate?) suddenly appeared. Just metres away were several Pale-bellied Hermits also giving great views, including one that was gleaning lichen from a tree trunk to build its nest. Other ‘hummers’encountered here included White-chinned Sapphire,Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and White-necked Jacobin.A walk along a short trail was extremely productive and resulted in views of Collared Araçari, Lineated Woodpecker andBlack-headed Tody-Flycatcher, all topped by a fly-past from an adult King Vulture.
Retracing our steps we found that more denizens of the forest had awoken and this was evidenced by a remarkable mixed flock passing through a small area that included Blue Dacnis, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Yellow-crowned Tyrranulet, Thick-billed Euphonia, Scrub Greenlet, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, various tanagers and warblers, Grey Seedeater and Brown-crested and Social Flycatchers to name just a few.Eventually we had to tear ourselves away, but not before close encounters with a pair of Rufous-tailed Jacamars and a Yellow-tailed Oriole.
Along the coast, closer to Tayrona National Park, exploration of another forest trail was equally productive. A couple of Lance-tailed Manakins showed superbly straight away, as did a pair each of Yellow-olive Flycatchers and Orange-crowned Orioles. A little further along came a spectacular pair of Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, female Blue-black Grosbeak, Crested Oropendola and Cocoa Woodcreeper.
After lunch we began our ascent of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, stopping just beyond Minca, where a mixed flock included Golden-fronted Greenlet, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, American Redstart, Pale-breasted Thrush and Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher. Nearby, a wander around our the grounds of our accommodation prior to sunset resulted in great views of White-vented Plumeleteer, Whooping Motmot and Bay-headed Tanagers on the feeders, while in the surrounding forest were Rufous-capped Warbler, Giant and Shiny Cowbirds and Red-fronted Parakeet. We wandered past a drying coffee crop to a Mirador which offered spectacular views of the setting sun to round off a remarkable day’s birding.
Wednesday 10th January: Minca to El Dorado
The bird feeders at the lodge provided early morning entertainment. White-vented Plumeleteers and White-necked Jacobins hovered inches from our faces. A steady stream of tanagers came and went, including White-lined, Swallow, Crimson-backed, Palmand Blue-grey. Other interesting sightings included Black-chested Jay, Tennessee Warbler, Social Flycatcher, Whooping Motmot, Rufous-capped Warbler, Smooth-billed Ani,Thick-billed Euphoniaand flocks of Scarlet-fronted Parakeets leaving their roost. The star of the show, though, was an absolutely immaculate Golden-winged Sparrow that popped up near the feeders a couple of times.
After a fine breakfast on the balcony we had a walk around the property, soon encountering a mixed flock where the action was hectic. This included Tennessee, Black-and-white, Blackburnian and Golden-crowned Warblers, American Redstart, White-shouldered Tanager and Coopmans’s and Mouse-coloured Tyrranulets. A group of Crimson-crested Woodpeckers put on a fine show and this was followed by a brief appearance by four Collared Araçaris.
We set off for El Dorado lodge, stopping en route at a feeder station which produced Santa Marta Brush-Finch, Crowned Woodnymph, Lesser, Sparklingand Brown Violetears, Rusty and White-sided Flowerpiercers, White-lined Tanager and two juvenile Scarlet-fronted Parakeets at a nest hole.
Following lunch at El Dorado, where the feeders produced Santa Marta Mountain-Tanager and Blue-napedChlorophonia, we walked a trail, finding Rusty-headed Spinetail, Yellow-crowned and Slate-throated Whitestarts. One particularly productive area of woodland edge held a group of Black-capped Tanagers, a pair of Cinnamon Flycatchers of the Santa Marta race, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Band-tailed Guans and a Keel-billed Toucan.
The day was rounded off with Sierra Nevada Brush-Finch and many more guans at the feeders as we watched a spectacular sunset over the distant Caribbean Sea.
Thursday 11th January: El Dorado and high peaks
Santa Marta Brush-Finch
Santa Marta Antpitta
A close encounter with a Santa Marta Screech-Owl was a superb start to the day. One of these rare and elusive restricted-range endemics was singing right beside the road as we made our way up to the higher parts of the mountain,and we watched it illuminated in the torchlight, while another two were heard nearby.
At the top of the mountain, along the road at San Lorenzo peak,confiding Yellow-crowned Redstarts were quickly in evidence, as were Rusty-headed and Streak-capped Spinetails and Santa Marta Warblers. Scaly-napedParrots screeched overhead and other finds included White-throated Tyrannulet, Mountain Elaenia, TyrianMetaltail and Band-tailed Pigeon.On the way back down the mountain we stopped at a feeding station where not one but two Santa Marta Antpittas gave exceptional views, then at the roadside close to El Dorado where Red-billed Parrot and White-lored Warbler were new birds for the trip.
Back at the lodge the feeders held Blue-napedChlorophonia, Band-tailed Guan, three violetear species, Crowned Woodnymph and a Santa Marta Woodstar that seemed to buzz like a bumblebee. In the forests nearby other good finds included three or four each of Golden-breasted Fruiteater and White-tipped Quetzal, while a Bicoloured Hawk paused briefly and a Keel-billed Toucan performed well.
Friday 12th January: El Dorado to Las Tangaras
Santa Marta Woodstar
A dawn start from El Doradolodge gave us brief views of a White-tipped Quetzal flashing through the forest with a soundscape that included calling Golden-breasted Fruiteater and Colombian Red Howler monkey.
Feeders further down the mountain were a hive of activity with all the usual hummingbird suspects, plus really close views of a pair of Santa Marta Woodstars. A Blue-capped Tanager was new for the tour, Blue-napedChlorophonias gave superb views and both Santa Marta Tapaculo and Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush called from deep cover.The remainder of the journey to Santa Marta airport reacquainted us with the likes of Orange-chinned Parakeet, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird and Royal Tern.
Following our flight to Medellin, a lunch stop on the outskirts of the city at a restaurant with bird feeders proved highly productive with Blue-necked, Flame-rumped, Palm and Blue-grey Tanagers, Greyish Saltator, Bananaquit, Black-billed Thrush and Great Kiskadee noted. Acorn Woodpeckers cavorted above our heads and a flock of Bare-faced Ibis was in theadjacent meadow.
The drive to Las Tangaras reserve was broken by a couple of birding stops. The first produced fantastic views of the endemic Greyish Piculet, plus Golden-collared Manakin, Mouse-coloured Tyrannulet, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Golden-crowned and Bay-breasted Warblers and a singing Antioquia Wren, while Roadside and Broad-winged Hawks, Crested Caracara and a flock of White-collared Swifts passed overhead. Close to dusk, a second stop in the town centre of Ciudad Bolivar offered absolutely astonishing views of a Spectacled Owl, rounding off the day in fine style.
Saturday 13th January: Las Tangaras
Aiming to reach our destination at dawn we set off early and were rewarded with two Common Pauraques on the road. We arrived at a ridge on the Las Tangaras reserve and were immediately met by a big wave of birds. Tanagers featured heavily with good sightings of the localised endemic Black-and-gold Tanager, plus Purplish-mantled, Glistening-green, Golden and Silver-throated Tanagers and Black-chinned and Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers. Other birds seen here included Red-faced Spinetail, Violet-tailed Sylph, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Golden-crowned Manakin, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Choco Vireo and a Tawny-bellied Hermit working a circuit of flowers.
A walk along a short trail added further new species for the tour, including White-headed Wren, Pacific Tuftedcheek and Choco Brush-Finch, while Swallow-tailed Kite and White-tailed Hawk patrolled overhead. Our final destination – an area of dense woodland – produced another flurry of new birds, including wing-snapping Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrants, Canada Warbler, Streak-necked flycatcher, Tawny-crowned Tanager, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch and Green-and-black Fruiteater.Later in the morning a walk along the nearby road produced Three-striped Warbler, Brown Inca, a flock of Yellow-collared Chlorophonias and singing TatamaTapaculo and Uniform Antshrike.
Back at the lodge, lunch overlooking the bird feeders was very productive for birds and highlights included both Lemon-rumped and Flame-rumped Tanagers, a pair of Black-winged Saltators and much hummingbird activitywith the highlight being superb views of Purple-throated Woodstars. A walk around the property produced a lovely surprise in the form of a Fasciated Tiger-Heron, plus Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner and Smoky-brown Woodpecker.
In the afternoon we visited a set of hummingbird feeders which were truly exceptional and held no fewer than 12 species including many White-booted Racket-tails, Empress Brilliants, Purple-bibbed White-tips and Velvet-purple Coronets, plus singles of Fawn-breasted Brilliant and Rufous-gaped Hillstar. A pair of Toucan Barbets showed well and Golden-headed Quetzal was heard. A male Masked Trogon showed at point-blank range beside the nearby road, a flock of Russet-backed Oropendolas passed through and we ended the day watching a Sickle-winged Guan sizing up the feeders at the lodge.
Sunday 14th January: Las Tangaras
Six pauraques were seen along the road as we ascended to the Las Tangaras forest. We stopped at the same spot as yesterday morning, and while we had many of the same species, including Black-and-gold, Glistening-green and Golden Tanagers, there were also a significant number of additions. Among these were Rufous-throated Tanager, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Yellow-vented Woodpecker, several Ornate Flycatchers and MontaneWoodcreeper.
Following a hearty breakfast at one of the roadside shelters we then walked the road along the ridge. Interesting finds included immature and adult male Golden-winged Manakins, a glimpse of an Andean Solitaire, a pair of Handsome Flycatchers, Chestnut-breasted and Yellow-collared Chlorophonias and a very obliging Laughing Falcon, while a Sharp-shinned Hawk stooped overhead and a White-tailed Hawk passed by more sedately. A Uniform Antshrike showed itself while two more remained hidden.
A real flurry of activity towards the end of the walk saw us watching, in quick succession, a pair of Red-headed Barbets, flocks of Choco Brush-Finches, Red-faced Spinetails and Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaners, plus singles of Scaly-throated and Montane Foliage-gleaners and Montane and Wedge-billed Woodcreepers and one or two Spot-crowned Antvireos. Other interesting finds here included several Pacific Dwarf Squirrels and outrageously colourful monkey grasshoppers.A return visit to yesterday’s hilltop hummingbird feeders revealed further fantastic views of most of the same species, plus three extremely obliging Toucan Barbets.
The birding didn’t stop during a lunch and rest break back at the lodge. In addition to the usual suspects at the feeders seen yesterday we added Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Eastern Wood-Pewee, two Northern Waterthrushes and a pair of White-capped Dippers.
Heading back out to the forest we quickly came across a Pale-naped Brush-Finch and a mixed flock that includedMontaneWoodcreeper and Rufous-rumpedAntwren. We were very lucky when a flock of about 30 of the rare and endangered Yellow-eared Parrots passed high overhead, while a Rufous-gaped Hillstar holding territory put on quite a show. As the sun set, a close view of a Highland Motmot perched on a road sign was a final highlight of another action-packed day.
Monday 15th January: Las Tangaras to Jardin
It was a slightly longer drive this morning to reach a different area of cloud forest, where we arrived at dawn in search of a very different suite of birds. A Highland Motmot hunting insects by the light of a street lamp and a couple of pauraques enlivened the journey. Great Thrushes began the dawn chorus, followed shortly after by Russet-crowned Warblers and a pair of RufousSpinetails which eventually showed well. With the clear sky and high elevation, conditions were cold at first – perhaps too cold for the birds to really get active. However, after a fine breakfast and a warming mug of coffee the Munchique Wood-Wrens started to pipe up with their beautiful melodious songs. We had excellent views of two pairs of this restricted-range Colombian endemic and heard many more during the course of the morning.
Conditions quickly went from very cold to perhaps a little too hot as soon as the sun peaked over the horizon, resulting in relatively low levels of bird activity, although during a walk along the road we did find Yellow-bellied and Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrants, Blue-and-blackand Blue-capped Tanagers, Masked Flowerpiercer, Tourmaline Sunangel and Slaty Brush-Finch. Just when we were starting to think that this would not be our day things suddenly picked up in impressive style. Firstly a mixed flock passed through which contained Purplish-mantle Tanager, Collared Inca, SuperciliariedHemispingus, Pearled Treerunner and Yellow-vented Woodpecker.
Then a real highlight appeared in the form of three Tanager-Finches. One bird in particular showed really well, repeatedly popping up like a jack-in-the-box from behind a fern leaf to pick berries from a bush. Pleased with our morning’s work, we were about to get in the jeep and leave when I casually stated: “Now wejust need a mountain-toucan as the icing on the ca...”And unbelievably, in mid-sentence one of these diminutive toucans began calling from very close by! Moments later we had superb views of a pair of Black-billed Mountain Toucans to round off a superb morning.
Back at the lodge, during lunch we enjoyed final looks at the various hummingbirds, tanagers and other species on the feeders, as well as a Black-and-white Warbler climbing up a tree trunk and yesterday’s pair of White-capped Dippers back on the banks of the river.
In the afternoon we drove to Jardin and headed straight for the famous Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek on the outskirts of town. The birds put on a magnificent show with perhaps as many as 30 males screeching and dancing around in the trees, with some barely more than an arm’s length away. This is surely one of the most incredible sights in the bird world and we felt privileged to have spent two hours witnessing it. Other highlights here included a pair of endemic Red-bellied Grackles, Mourning Warbler, a pair of Pale-vented Pigeons and a Golden Tanager to conclude what had been an absolutely astonishing day’s birding.
Tuesday 16th January: Jardin to Manizales
Heading straight for the Yellow-eared Parrot reserve this morning, this key endemic was one of the first birds encountered today, with several more seen and heard over the course of the morning. A singing Chestnut-napedAntpitta was also noted early on. Further into the reserve several Glossy-black Thrushes were singing, with a couple of birds glimpsed. Buff-breasted and Lachrymose Mountain-Tanagers were hanging out in the same tree and other sightings included Blue-and-black Tanager, Streak-headed Antbird, Mountain Elaenia and Azara’sSpinetail.
Moving on to have breakfast in a nearby eco-lodge, the excellent food was trumped by the wildlife-watching experience. The hummingbird feeders were abuzz with action and species seen were Collared Inca, Speckled Hummingbird, White-bellied Woodstar, Mountain Velvetbreast, Long-tailed Sylph, Tourmaline Sunangel, Lesser Violetear and Buff-tailed Coronet. Other feeders offered fruit and seed and attracted Grey-browed Brush-Finch and Acorn Woodpecker, while White-sided Flowerpiercer worked the flowers on the verandah and a Masked Flowerpiercer foraged at arm’s length and even ventured inside the house.
On the wall outside the lodge was a stunning photo of an Oncilla– a spotted wild cat that resembles a mini Jaguar. Our jaws hit the floor when the subject of the image ambled onto a log beside the balcony and posed for photos. Apparently this carnivore had been stealing the owners’ chickens when it first arrived on the scene, but they had started feeding it to help protect their poultry flock, so it was nowvery unwary around humans. They told us that this magnificent cat disappears into the forest for two or three weeks at a time so we were exceptionally lucky to have this encounter.
Later in the morning we birded along the nearby road. A productive area with a circulating mixed flock produced Grey-hooded Bush-Tanager, Blue-capped Tanager, Yellow-bellied Antwren, Pearled Treerunner and MontaneWoodcreeper. Some incredible pale blue and white morpho butterflies flashed like blue emergency vehicle lights as they flew along the road.
We returned to the lodge for lunch, enjoying more views of many of the birds seen earlier, plus some ultra-confiding Slaty Brush-Finches, distant White-collared Swifts and close views of both Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras. Later in the afternoon we made the journey to Manizales, in preparation for the next few days birding around the city.
Wednesday 17th January: Rio Blanco
Antpittas were the key focus today during our visit to the Rio Blanco reserve. We spent the morning going from one antpitta feeding station to another, accompanied by the ‘antpitta man’, Carlos Mario, who has spent many years training the birds to respond to his calls. First up was the notoriously shy Bicoloured Antpitta, which we heard but which remained resolutely hidden in the forest. We had better luck with the Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, with a confiding pair giving excellent views, while ‘Raul’, the tame Green-and-black Fruiteater, did his best to steal the show.
Progressing to the top of the hill the next arena was home to the diminutive Slate-crowned Antpitta, which again was very obliging, coming back several times and posing for photos. Finally, descending back close to the lodge building the fourth antpittaspecies of the morning was Brown-banded Antpitta. This Colombian endemic initially played hard to get but then gave excellent views for a prolonged period.
Other highlights at Rio Blanco included a group of four White-capped Tanagers as we arrived, which were noisily mobbing a Roadside Hawk. Two Sickle-winged Guans showed well and an Andean Guan was exceptionally close and could be seen by peering through a fine curtain of vegetation. Hummingbirds around the lodge included Buff-tailed Coronet, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Long-tailed Sylph, Speckled Hummingbird, Sparkling and Lesser Violetears, White-bellied Woodstar and Collared Inca.
On the track running along the highest ridge we came across Mountain Wren and tanager flocks that included Blue-and-black and Beryl-spangled Tanagers and Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager. Other interesting species were Pale-edged and Cinnamon Flycatchers and a Black-billed Mountain-Toucan that whizzed across the road.
Later on we encountered a couple of Green Jays and the scarce and elusive Masked Saltator, but the unusually warm, sunny and rather breezy weather – a result of El Niño – seemed to reduce the level of bird activity to below what was expected. We retreated to our hotel in Manizales where a stroll around the extensive grounds proved more productive and highlights included Northern Waterthrush, a pair of Saffron Finches, Streaked Xenops, a family of Acorn Woodpeckers, many White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swifts passing overhead and great views of a Grey-throated Toucanet.
Thursday 18th January: Hacienda El Bosque and Los Nevados
The day began with breakfast in the superb new visitor centre at Hacienda El Bosque, which offers spectacular views of the mountains looking down towards Manizales. With full bellies our morning consisted of a three-course birding extravaganza, comprising three feeding stations that attracted some very special species. First up was a walk down a steep valley to a wooded valley bottom which held Equatorial Antpitta. With the site’s resident ‘antpitta whisperer’ on hand it took only a matter of minutes before our quarry was showing brilliantly well. Other highlights here included an adult Grey-browed Brush-Finch feeding a youngster, Blue winged Mountain-Tanager and Black-crested Warbler.
It was just a short walk back up the hill to the next stop, which consisted of a feeding station for Crescent-faced Antpitta. This one required a little more work from our expert finder, but while we waited we were able to enjoy amazing views of Shining Sunbeam, Blue-and-black Tanager, Masked Flowerpiercer, Slaty Brush-Finch and a pair of Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrants. Eventually the Crescent-faced Antpittashowed superbly at a range of no more than 20 feet, in the process becoming one of the best birds of the entire trip.
To complete the morning trio we relocated a short distance along the ridge to a third feeding station. Here we were quickly acquainted with the almost unbelievable Sword-billed Hummingbird, which repeatedly came to feeders, sometimes at barely more than arm’s length. The same feeders also attracted Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Tourmaline Sunangel, White-bellied Woodstar, Sparkling Violetear, TyrianMetaltail and Mountain Velvetbreast. Eventually, aftera lot of hard graft by our local expert, the star of the show arrived– a Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan posed right in front of us as it fed on fruit from the feeder – making it the second time in four days that a mountain-toucan has turned up late and stolen the show.
Following lunch at Bosque we headed towards the high peaks of Los Nevados. At Laguna Negra there were two Andean Duck, plus a pair each of Stout-billed Cinclodes and Eastern Meadowlark and several Plumbeous Sierra-Finches. Higher up the mountain, at altitudes of more than 4,000 metres, we added White-browed Spinetail, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Pale-naped Brush-Finch and a calling Tawny Antpitta to the list. Best of all, though, was Buffy Helmetcrest – the area’s iconic high-altitude speciality hummingbird – with one or two males showing superbly at close range. Another memorable day was rounded off by a trio of Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles soaring around above our heads.
Friday 19th January: Los Nevados to Pereira
After breakfast we headed back up to Los Nevados, stopping on the lower slopes to search the stunted areas of elfin forest. Birds seen here included Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Black Flowerpiercer, Band-tailed Seedeater, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch and Stout-billed Cinclodes. Laguna Negra held a solitary Andean Duck, while White-browed Spinetail, Andean Tit-Spinetail and Many-striped Canastero showed on the paramo.
Just at a moment when everything seemed to have gone rather quiet bird-wise, the silence was shattered by my cry of “CONDOR”. An adult male Andean Condor flew fairly low over our heads and I suspect that it may have heard my yell because it promptly doubled back on itself for a second look. The people in the cafe across the road certainly heard me because the whole place emptied out in seconds and a tourist twitch of the condor ensued. As the bird flew along a mountainside and became more distant it was harried away by a Swainson’sHawk. What a memorable birding moment!
Next stop was Termales del Ruiz, where it took us some time to get inside the building due to the distraction of Lachrymose Mountain-Tanagers and Golden-crowned Tanagers in the forest by the entrance. Upon emerging onto the terrace we were immediately absorbed into yet another unforgettable birding experience – Colombia has so many – this time with hummingbirds. Great Sapphirewing, Shining Sunbeam, Golden-breasted Puffleg, Viridian Metaltail and Buff-winged Starfrontlet all came and perched on our fingers to take nectar from the hand-held feeders. Equally stunning were the Hooded and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers that came down to feed on fruit, while other birds seen included Glossy and Masked Flowerpiercers, Brown-bellied Swallow and White-throated Tyrannulet. The star of the show, though, was a beautiful Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, which flashed its technicolour throat patch as it fed on flowers above the path.
In the afternoon we relocated to near Pereira, where a short walk from our hotel resulted in sightings of a pair each of Torrent Duck, White-capped Dipper and Spotted Sandpiper, Yellow-faced Grassquit, and several each of Swainson’sThrush and Black Phoebe.
Saturday 20th January: Otun-Quimbaya
We began the day at dawn at the end of the road into the Otun-Quimbaya reserve, in an area known as El Cedral. Here, at a clearing, a pair of very vocal Smoke-coloured Pewees signalled the start of the dawn chorus, along with several Andean Solitaires and Social Flycatchers. Sickle-billed Guan and Highland Motmot both showed well and a mobile tanager flock contained Golden, Beryl-spangled, Blue-grey, Hepatic and PalmTanagers. A Strong-billed Woodcreepergave excellent views as it foraged low on trunks and branches.
As we walked back along the road a pair of Roadside Hawks were very conspicuous, in contrast to a pair of endemic Cauca Guans, which were hard to spot among the foliage but showed well once they had been located. Other birds seen here included RufousSpinetail, MontaneWoodcreeper, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Plain Xenops and Speckled Hummingbird.
Several Bronze-winged Parrots flew overhead. A mixed flock of Nearctic warblers included Canada, Blackburnian and a fine male Cerulean, while Russet-crowned and Three-striped Warblers, Tropical Parula and Slate-throated Whitestart were among their South American counterparts. Fresh Puma tracks in a muddy creek showed that this impressive predator was somewhere close by.
As we approached the Otun-Quimbayavisitor centre a Red-ruffed Fruitcrow dashed across our path and perched up in a roadside tree for a couple of minutes. This was eclipsed, however, by stunning views of a pair of Green Jays that lingered uncharacteristically long and allowed close study of their plumage including the incredible tufts of indigo feathers on their faces.
All to soon it was time to head for the airport in Pereira, to fly to Bogota and then catch our flights onward to the UK.This brought to a close an incredible two-week tour. In total we logged 429 bird species, including 25 Colombian endemics, nine species of antpitta – with six of them seen very well – and a staggering 43 species of hummingbirds. The highlights were almost too many to remember, but stunning views of many antpitta species, in particular the Crescent-faced, lekking Andean Cocks-of-the-rock, a Sword-billed Hummingbird at little more than arm’s length, a close fly-past by an Andean Condor, Buffy Helmetcresthummingbirds zipping around on the paramo, stunning views of two species of mountain-toucan, and encounters with restricted-range gems such as Munchique Wood-Wren, Tanager-finch, Yellow-crowned Whitestart and Black-and-gold Tanager will all be high on the list. And of course an honourable mention must go to the unbelievable views of Oncilla.
As always the scenery was stunning, the food was delicious and the Colombian people were wonderfully friendly and welcoming. Huge thanks are due to our Colombian birding guides, in particular Hugo and Victor, for making the tour such a success.
Sunset at El Dorado lodge