Sunday 12th January – Bogota
Our first Colombian birding experience took place at dawn at La Florida park in Bogota, not far from the international airport. Our key species here was the enigmatic Bogota Rail so we made a beeline for the area that these birds favour. They did not disappoint, with two birds showing well and another one heard. En route we notched up a couple of other park specialities in the form of Rufous-browed Conebill and Silvery-throated Spinetail.
The park lake proved productive for birds with Pied-billed Grebe, Andean Duck and American Coot on the water. Around the edges were Common and Spot-flanked Gallinules, Blue-winged Teal, Wilson's Snipe, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers and Black-crowned Night and Striated Herons. Bare-faced Ibises showed well, as did several Yellow-hooded Blackbirds. Wandering back through the park we had good views of a drumming Smoky-brown Woodpecker and a feeding White-bellied Woodstar, while boreal migrants included Summer Tanager and Blackburnian Warbler.
Later in the day we caught a flight to Riohacha, in the process seeing a spectacular sunset over the Santa Marta mountains which will be our destination in a couple of days' time.
Monday 13th January – Camarones area
First light saw us at the water's edge at Camarones, boarding a small traditional sailing boat. As we did so, Royal and Cabot's Terns and Laughing Gulls hovered just feet away from us, while out on the water was a big flock of Black Skimmers and many other birds including Sanderling, Roseate Spoonbill and a variety of waders and herons.
The boat ride was excellent, enabling us to take good looks at Reddish Egret, Scarlet Ibis and White-cheeked Pintail and culminating in the circumnavigation of a large flock of American Flamingos. American Oystercatcher and Tricolored Heron showed well on the way back.
Next we headed to the dry desert forest near the town, where walking a small circuit landed most of the area's special birds. We started with White-whiskered Spinetail and Russet-throated Puffbird. A Red-billed Scythebill called and Slender-billed Inezia and Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant performed well together. Pileated Finches darted here and there, two Tocuyo Sparrows showed well but briefly and Northern Scrub-Flycatcher eventually gave itself up.
Perhaps the main highlights were two birds with wacky crests – Vermilion Cardinal and Black-crested Antshrike. Several of the former showed brilliantly at a nearby garden feeding station that also held Yellow Oriole, Buffy Hummingbird, Orinocan and Greyish Saltators, White-tipped and Scaled Doves, Black-faced Grassquit, Bicoloured Wren and Green-rumpedParrotlet. An hour simply sped by!
After lunch in a beachside restaurant we headed along the coast and stopped in a patch of much more lush coastal forest, which produced a lot of great birds. Among them were Yellow-rumped Cacique, Trinidad Euphonia, Crimson-mantled Tanager and Streaked Flycatcher. Best of all was a family of Venezuelan Red Howler monkeys – mum, dad and baby – which showed beautifully, and a regal fly-past by eight Military Macaws which even at the guides high-fiving!
Tuesday 14th January – Tayrona NP and area around Minca
We arrived at the gates of Tayrona National Park at dawn. Flocks of Orange-chinned Parakeets flew over and a few birds perched in a dead tree, while a Yellow-crowned Night Heron posed high above us. We walked one of the trails, where one of the first birds seen was a Lance-tailed Manakin. Tanagers were much in evidence with Grey-headed, Crimson-backed, Palm and Blue-grey all showing, but all of these were put into the shade by a trio of stunning Red-legged Honeycreepers which posed at low level. The Great Crested Flycatcher in the canopy was tricky to pin down, but an eye-level Blackpoll Warbler was much more obliging. Retracing our steps we came across a beautiful group of Cottontop Tamarins which scolded us with their calls and posed for ages on a branch, plus Plain-brown Woodcreeper and White-bearded Manakin.
The next stop produced a family party of Buff-breasted Wrens, two more male Lance-tailed Manakins, displaying male White-chinned Sapphire, four Venezuelan Red Howlers and a long line of leaf-cutter ants.
Around late morning we left Tayrona and set off for our accommodation just beyond the town ofMinca, arriving at about lunchtime. The balconyhere was level with the treetops and proved to be a real hot-spot for birding, with warblers seen including Blackburnian, Tennessee, Rufous-capped, Golden-crowned, Black-and-white and American Redstart. Other new birdsat the same spot included Scarlet-fronted Parakeet, Scaled Piculet, Squirrel Cuckoo, Pale-breasted Thrush, Coopman'sTyrannulet and Yellow-green Vireo.
Later in the afternoon we took a walk along the road and notched up some more fine birds, including Crested Oropendola, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Pale-breasted Spinetail, White-lined Tanager, Social and Boat-billed Flycatchers and Red-billed Parrot.
Wednesday 15th January – Minca to El Dorado
The lodge balcony was perhaps even busier than yesterday at first light, with Lineated Woodpecker showing well, Keel-billed Toucan on the hillside, Olive-sided Flycatcher in the valley and Golden-winged Sparrows at close range. A walk along the track added Masked Tityra, plus Red-billed Parrots scouting for a nest site and Scarlet-fronted Parakeets.
We started the drive to El Dorado and made stops that produced Plumbeous Kite, Band-tailed Guan, Montane Woodcreeper and Golden breasted Fruiteater, but best of all was a garden that produced two local endemics – Santa Marta Woodstar and Santa Marta Blossomcrown – along with Black-headed Tanager, Blue-napedChlorophonia and Groove-billed Toucanet.
At El Dorado the hummingbird feeders were packed with Crowned Woodnymphs and Brown, Green and Sparkling Violetears, while a Santa Marta Brush-Finch also showed well. After lunch we found Black-fronted Wood-Quail in the garden and male White-tipped Quetzal at a nest hole just along the road, while back at the lodge we added White-lored Warbler and a real bonus in the form of a Black-and-chestnut Eagle which flew overhead. Two Santa Marta Toucanets were right outside the lodge door, while after dusk – and a stunning sunset over the Caribbean – we watched Band-winged Nightjar, Grey-handed Night Monkey and Kinkajou, and were then serenaded by the tremulous hoots of Santa Marta Screech-Owls to round off a fabulous day.
Santa Marta Brush-Finch
Thursday 16th January – El Dorado and high peaks
El Dorado is like Colombia's answer to Minsmere– its flagship ProAves reserve – but we left it before dawn this morning for a trip to the top of San Lorenzo peak in search of high-altitude specialties. We weren't disappointed, with views early on of Santa Marta Warbler, Rusty-headed and Streak-capped Spinetails and Santa Marta Mountain-Tanager. One or two pairs of Santa Marta Parakeets showed well, which was fantastic since visiting birders had reportedly failed to find them in the previous few days. Further exploration along the road produced Scaly-naped Amazon, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Tyrian Metaltail, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant and a singing Santa Marta Wood-Wren.
The highlight of the descent back down to the lodge was undoubtedly a Santa Marta Antpitta which after a lot of coaxing eventually showed brilliantly at a feeding station. Also added to the trip list were Band-tailed Pigeon, Golden-bellied Grosbeak, Mountain Velvetbreast and White-rumped Hawk.
Back at El Dorado we spent a bit of time watching the bird feeders, where an agouti joined the Band-tailed Guans and various hummers. Then we took a walk along one of the trails, reacquainting ourselves with yesterday's White-tipped Quetzal, Santa Marta Toucanets and Golden-breasted Fruiteaters (two pairs) and adding yet more birds to the tour list including Pale-eyed and Black-hooded Thrushes, singing Lined Quail-Dove, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Black-capped Tanager, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Brown-rumpedTapaculo (glimpsed!) and Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush (on the trail at dusk).
Santa Marta Warbler
Friday 17th January – El Dorado to Las Tangaras
The day began with us saying our goodbyes to those at El Dorado Lodge just after breakfast. The usual suspects such as Band-tailed Guan, Crowned Woodnymph and violetears were in evidence around the feeders. Today was essentially a travel day but we made a few stops en route to Santa Marta airport, in the process notching some interesting species such as Plumbeous Kite carrying nesting material, Crimson-mantled Tanager and a couple of pairs of Barred Antshrikes.
Close to Santa Marta we encountered lowland species such as Common Ground-Dove, Scaled Dove and Brown-throated Parakeet, while at the airport – set right on a beautiful Caribbean beach – an array of seabirds and shorebirds bade us farewell to this leg of the tour, and these included Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelican, Royal Tern, Laughing Gull, Snowy Egret, Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling. On the shore were Grey-breasted Martin, Bicoloured Wren and Carib and Great-tailed Grackles.
At Medellin we stopped for lunch and then drove to Las Tangaras reserve, noting a few birds such as Bare-faced Ibis and Social Flycatcher in the process. We arrivedat the lodge just after dusk.
Saturday 18th January – Las Tangaras
A good start to the day for Barry who loved the vintage Toyota Landcruiser which picked us up and took us into the hills above the lodge. An unexpected Baudo Guan, plus Masked Trogon and Red-bellied Grackles were seen on the way. On arrival a huge wave of birds was passing through and we quickly noted Golden and Rufous-throated Tanagers, Indigo Flowerpiercer, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Red-faced Spinetail, Orange-bellied Euphonia and Red-headed Barbet. Stars of the show were the Toucan Barbets and Black-and-gold Tanagers, both of which gave excellent views. Progress will slow in terms of distance covered as the birds just kept coming thick and fast, with Three-striped Warbler, Choco Tyrranulet, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Golden-winged Manakin building a nest, Sooty-headed Wren, Choco Brush-Finch, Lineated Woodpecker and Black-chinned and Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers next.
Rounding a hair pin, along the next stretch of road we came across Montane Woodcreeper, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Purplish-mantled, Glistening-green and Silver-throated Tanagers, Yellow-vented Woodpecker and Brown Inca. As the sun warmed the forest, raptors began thermalling and we picked out Barred Hawk and Ornate Hawk-Eagle from among the vultures. The recently described TatamaTapaculo called from close by and a flock of Crested Ant-Tanagers gave calls like squeaky children's toys. A superb morning was rounded off by a pair of Club-winged Manakins, with the male frequently performing its wing-snapping display.
Lunchtime at the lodge produced Flame-rumped Tanager, Black-billed Thrush, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Blue-necked Tanager and a superb Highland Motmot.
In the afternoon we returned uphill to the same starting point as in the morning and walked the road in the other direction. Species added to the list included some showy White-headed Wrens, Andean Solitaire and Greenish Puffleg– including a nest with two young. In a final flush near dusk we visited some hummingbird feeders which produced Velvet-purple and Buff-tailed Coronets, Empress Brilliant, White-booted Racket-tail and Rufus-gaped Hillstar.
Sunday 19th January – Las Tangaras
A cooler start to the day perhaps meant less frenzied bird activity in the forest compared to yesterday, but nevertheless we had some good sightings, including two Toucan Barbets, Golden, Silver-throated and Purplish-mantled Tanagers, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren and calling Chestnut Wood-Quail. We worked our way along the road, adding new species to the list such as Grey-throated Toucanet, Chestnut-collared Swift and Azara'sSpinetail, while Highland Motmot and Masked Trogon both showed well. Back at yesterday evening's hummingbird feeders we found another toucanet and a couple of Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonias, while hummers at the feeders were Brown Inca, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Purple-throated Hillstar, Empress Brilliant, Greenish Puffleg, Violet-tailed Sylph, White-booted Racket-tail, Rufous-gaped Hillstar and Velvet-purple Coronet, with the last three species proving particularly photogenic. Back on the road, an encounter with a pair of Choco Vireos was a brilliant way to end the morning.
We had lunch at the lodge while watching Red-bellied Grackle, Flame-rumped Tanager and Yellow-bellied Elaenia. In the afternoon we headed back to the forest, where we walked a trail. We didn't get far because the birding was so good. First of all was a mixed flock of Saffron-crowned, Golden, Hepatic and Palm Tanagers feasting on a fruit tree, while Plumbeous Pigeons and Masked Tityras joined the party. Smoky-brown and Golden-olive Woodpeckers were also seen here. Blue-headed Parrots and a Barred Hawk flew past. A pair of Buffy Tuftedcheeks fought for territorial rights over the palm trees with at least four White-headed Wrens and both Blue-winged and Black-chinned Mountain-Tanagers showed superbly. The day was rounded off with calling Ochre-breasted Antpitta and a pair of Ochre-breasted Tanagers as we returned to the jeep to head back to the lodge for dinner.
Monday 20th January – Las Tangaras to Jardin
Early morning jeeps took us to the higher reaches of the reserve. Despite low clouds – this is a cloud forest after all – we quickly scored two superb specialities of this area. These came in the form of Munchique Wood-Wren – with a pair of performing their beautiful songs right in front of us – and Tanager-finch – with three or four birds of this elusive species showing well. Black-capped Hemispingus also showed there and as we progressed down the hill we steadily added new birds to the trip list, including Lachrymose and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, Barred Parakeet and Masked Flowerpiercer.
Thunder was sounding with increasing frequency in the background and after a brief stop in the jeeps for coffee while a short shower passed we were soon back out birding. Golden-fronted Whitestarts shows ridiculously well and Smoke-coloured Pewee and Grey-hooded Bush-Tanager were in roadside bushes. A pair of Pearled Treerunners worked their way along the line of bushes that ran beside the road and Slaty Brush-Finches played hide-and-seek in the grass.
Three of the day’s highlight birds came in quick succession. A Black-billed Mountain Toucan perched on a tree across the valley, then another showed much more closely. Three Green-and-black Fruiteaters were very actively feeding on a berry bush. And two Chestnut-breasted Cotingas gave excellent views in a tree at eye-level. Tourmaline Sunangel, Grass-green Tanager and Sickle-winged Guan rounded off an exceptional morning's birding.
Back at the lodge the feeders were busy and we saw Silver-throated, White-lined and Blue-necked Tanagers in addition to the usual suspects, along with Russet-backed Oropendola, Southern Rough-winged Swallow and Black-winged Saltator. In the afternoon we made the journey to the beautiful old town of Jardin to spend the night.
Tuesday 21st January – Jardin to Manizales
One of the first birds seen today was Yellow-eared Parrot –a Colombian endemic and one of the key birds of the tour. A pair flew overhead at the ProAves reserve dedicated to this species near Jardin. More followed and we ended up seeing more than 40 in total. Also in this area were a pair of Red-crested Cotingas, Blue-and-black Tanagers, a couple of flocks of Grey-rumped Swiftlets and a singing Chestnut-naped Antpitta.
Back in Jardin we paid a visit to a small private reserve where two male Andean Cocks-of-the-rock showed exceptionally well at close range. Feeders here also attracted Colombian endemic Crested Ant-Tanagers and Red-bellied Grackles together with Scrub, Blue-necked, Blue-grey, Palm, Flame-rumped and Bay-headed Tanagers. A Grey-throated Toucanet looked on, Clay-coloured and Black-billed Thrushes had a stand-off, a pair of Bronze-winged Parrots flew over and several Western Emeralds patrolled the flowers.
We began the journey to Manizales late morning, pausing at a site where we saw at least two endemic Apical Flycatchers, plus Bay-breasted, Canada and Tennessee Warblers, Pale-vented Pigeon, Common Tody-Flycatcher and Thick-billed and Orange-bellied Euphonias. A pair of Bar-crested Antshrikes calling from within thick cover eventually showed themselves.
Wednesday 22nd January – Rio Blanco
It was an eventful start to the morning with heavy rain and our vehicle getting stuck in the mud just at the entrance to Rio Blanco reserve. Luckily we hitched a lift with another bus for the final couple of very steep miles and were in position in time to see the main event – the antpitta feeding. The first birds seen through the mist and drizzle included Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Grey-throated Toucanet, Shape's Wren, Black-eared Hemispingus and Beryl-spangled and Metallic-green Tanagers.
We walked down the hill, met the 'worm man' and took our seats in the antpitta ‘amphitheatre’. Chestnut-crowned Antpitta was waiting for us and put on a fantastic show for a good 20 minutes. The rain got heavier but our spirits were lifted by the discovery of a superb Stygian Owl roosting in a tree visible from one of the footpaths. Before long it was time for the second round of antpitta feeding and this time it was the turn of Slate-crowned Antpitta, which eventually showed very well albeit briefly for about a minute or so.
Next we proceeded to the main house at Rio Blanco, which is festooned with feeders and absolutely thronged with birds. Hummingbirds are a key feature here and visible straight away were Long-tailed Sylph, Tourmaline Sunangel, Buff-tailed Coronet, Speckled Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, White-bellied Woodstar and Sparkling and Green Violetears. Just around the corner on the veranda, banana feeders attracted Summer and Blue-capped Tanagers, Blue-winged and Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanagers, Chestnut-capped, Slaty and Grey-browed Brush-Finches, Masked and White-sided Flowerpiercers and Red-tailed and Andean Pygmy Squirrels. In the trees were Pale-edged Flycatcher and Sickle-winged Guan. Before a superb lunch at the lodge we made a short walk to secure views of our third antpitta of the morning – a Bicoloured Antpitta which showed briefly as it crossed the path.
In the afternoon the weather improved considerably and as a result flocks of birds were much more easy to find and study. On a walk along the upper ridge we located Rufous crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Rufous Wren, Pearled Treerunner, Streaked Xenops, Montane Woodcreeper, Barred Becard, Black-crested, Citrine and Canada Warblers, Golden-fronted Whitestart and Golden-faced and White-tailed Tyrranulets, while OcellatedTapaculo called from deep within a thicket. An attempt to lure a Brown-banded Antpitta resulted in the bird coming very close but refusing to reveal itself, although a ridiculously tame Green-and-black Fruiteater provided a rather splendid consolation.
In the lower elevations of the reserve we stopped by the river where we discovered a Black Phoebe, a pair of Torrent Tyrranulets and a superb pair off White-capped Dippers which gave the antpittas a run for their money in terms of best bird of the day.
As dusk fell we enjoyed extraordinary views of Lyre-tailed Nightjars flying above our heads and then one male perching very close above the road. Finally one or two Common Potoos showing themselves and giving their beautiful mysterious calls was an apt way to round off another brilliant day's birding.
Thursday 23rd January – Los Nevados
One of the many great things about birding in Colombia is that the species change drastically over relatively short distances according to mountain range and/or altitude. So today a 45-minute drive brought us to the elfin forest and paramo of Los Nevados, and a completely different suite of birds from yesterday.
Our first stop in a patch of elfin forest produced several Black-backed Bush-Tanagers, Golden-crowned Tanager, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager and Sedge Wren. A little further along the road, at Laguna Negra, we found Andean Teal, Andean Duck, Stout-billed Cinclodes, Plain-coloured Seedeater and best of all a pair of Andean Lapwings flying overhead and pitching down onto the hillside opposite. Gaining altitude a little we stopped to enjoy panoramic views down to Manizales far below and across to the active and dormant cones of the volcano. From here, scanning produced a pair of Andean Tit-Spinetails, three or four Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles and no less than three Andean Condors.
In the highest accessible area of paramo– at altitudes of more than 4,100 metres – we located Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, White-chinned Thistletail, Viridian Metaltail and Pale-naped Brush-Finch, whilea Buffy Helmetcrest zoomed past.
At lunchtime we descended to visit a superb garden at Termales which was filled with hummingbird feeders. Shining Sunbeam was by far the most common, with perhaps 25 birds present, while there were half a dozen each of Great Sapphirewing, Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Golden-breasted Puffleg and Buff-winged Starfrontlet, plus the occasional Tourmaline Sunangel, Mountain Velvetbreast and Black-thighedPuffleg. Many of the hummers were exceedingly tame and portable feeders meant that they would sit on your hand or even your head. Other birds here included Mountain Wren and Scarlet-bellied and Masked Mountain-Tanagers.After some further exploration we set off for Otun-Quimbaya late afternoon.
Friday 24th January – Otun-Quimbaya
A pair of Wattled Guans was the first sighting of the day, in the lodge garden before dawn. First thing we headed up to the higher elevations of the reserve, arriving to find several Sickle-winged Guans and a pair of displaying Sharp-shinned Hawks. In the forest were Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Russet-crowned Warbler, Common Bush-Tanager, Beryl-spangled and Metallic-green Tanagers and Glossy-black Thrush, while White-capped Dippers and Torrent Tyrranulets worked the rapids on the river.
Back in the forest we located several mixed flocks, and these included at least four Multicoloured Tanagers – one of our key targets – together with Crested Ant-Tanager, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Streaked Xenops, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, Lineated Foliage-gleaner and Pearled Treerunner. At least two pairs of Collared Trogons showed very well, a Pale-naped Brush-Finch crept around the base of a bush and a Chestnut-breasted Wren sang loudly and showed briefly.
Back at the lodge, after lunch a walk along the road produced several each of Cauca Guan and Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, plus a trio of Venezuelan Red Howlers, before increasingly frequent thunder and a heavy downpour stopped play.
Temporarily positioning ourselves on the restaurant veranda, the birding was so good that we ended up staying all afternoon. Species seen in addition to the permanently-on-show Cauca Guans included Crimson-rumped, Scrub, Blue-grey and Palm Tanagers, Lesser Goldfinch, male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Social Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Seedeater and Olive-backed Woodcreeper. At dusk a Short-tailed Nighthawk performed a couple of fly-pasts, while shortly after dark a Colombian Screech-Owl called from the adjacent forest.
Saturday 25th January – Otun-Quimbaya
Down by the river the day began with excellent views of a pair of Torrent Tyrranulets and three White-capped Dippers which were in a very excitable state and nearly crashed into us at one point! Nearby a Moustached Puffbird showed very well in a stand of bamboo right next to a pair of Plain Antvireos.
Back at the lodge an al fresco breakfast was enjoyed while watching Cauca Guans and Red-ruffed Fruitcrows, while Ringed Kingfisher and Yellow-headed Caracara flew overhead.
A walk along the trail produced lekking male Tawny-bellied Hermits, Russet-crowned, Canada and Blackburnian Warblers and Grey-throated Toucanet before all too soon it was time to collect our bags and head to the airport for the flight home.
All in all this was an excellent trip. There were so many birding highlights that it is impossible to mention them all, although some that immediately spring to mind are Chestnut-crowned and Slate-crowned Antpittas at Rio Blanco, the co-operative Bogota Rails at La Florida, vast flocks of American Flamingos at Los Flamencos, Military Macaws at Las Gaviotas, the Lyre-tailed Nightjar that posed beautifully at Rio Blanco, hummingbird gardens at Los Nevados, Rio Blanco, El Dorado and other locations, the fly-past by a Black-and chestnut Eagle at El Dorado, and Munchique Wood-Wrens singing their hearts out and Toucan Barbets showing off at Las Tangaras. In total we logged 461 bird species, including 30 Colombian endemics.
Special mention should also be made of the varied and stunning landscapes, the delicious food and the warmth and friendliness of the Colombian people, not least our drivers and our local guide, Felipe, who was responsible for finding many of the special birds.