Colombia: The Central & Western Andes Jun 10—25, 2013

Posted by Steve Hilty

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Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty is the senior author of A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, and author of Birds of Venezuela, both by Princeton University Press, as well as the popular Birds of ...

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This trip was, once again, classic Colombia—curvy roads, landslides, massive road construction projects (with delays), tractor-trailer trucks, out-sized meals for carnivores, beautiful cloud forests, spectacular mountain scenery, rare parrots, hummingbirds, antpittas, colorful tanagers, mixed species flocks, and friendly people.

In many regards this trip was similar to our February 2012 trip. The itinerary differed only in the first three days. Otherwise, all areas were similar, but the results of the trips were quite similar. Even though there were two of us guiding in February, and I guided alone in June, our lists (subtracting the 15 or so February migrants) ended up nearly equal. The greater number of hummingbirds on this June trip may be due partly to the addition of more feeders (Cali and Jardín), but the February trip covered more geography (e.g. the middle Magdalena Valley and two additional sites in the Central Andes, whereas this June trip reaped an advantage in the Cali and Anchicayá areas).

We began with an early flight from Bogotá to Cali and some birding at nearby (well, an hour-and-a-half distant) Laguna de Sonso with a nonfunctioning playback speaker that forced a reroute through Cali to purchase a backup speaker, but we ended the day with great late afternoon birding along the Kilometer 18 road above Cali. On day 2 we went  for the brass ring (of sorts) with an early departure from our hotel for the long trip to the Anchicayá Valley, and it proved to be one of the most productive birding days of the tour and, as a bonus, we saw an Ocelot (twice) on the road at dawn.  Day 3 started with tanagers along the Kilometer 18 forest and a mid-morning visit to some highly productive hummingbird feeders (with a White-necked Jacobin that perched on my fingers!), a stop in the arid Dagua Valley, and finally a fun-filled drive through rush-hour traffic in the city of Pereira.

On day 4 we birded the Otún-Quimbaya Reserve, and enjoyed Torrent Ducks, Red-ruffed Fruitcrows, endemic Cauca Guans, and a rain-threatening afternoon. But the big show occurred after dark when we (accidentally) discovered a roosting Moustached Antpitta while owling. On day 5 we spent a pleasant morning chasing elusive Chestnut-breasted Wrens, then departed for a country guesthouse in Tatamá National Park in the heart of the Western Andes. The next day found us at the top of a mountain bristling with communication equipment and a dug-in military, and some of the most incredible mountain scenery imaginable, at which point we spent a few moments just enjoying this fabulous place. Then, over the course of the day, we descended some 4,000 feet over about a 14–16 kilometer distance, birding most of the way. This and Day 7 brought many exciting birds including a Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Purplish-mantled Tanagers, Glistening-green tanagers, Crested Ant-Tanagers, Yellow-collared Chlorophonias, Gold-ringed Tanagers, Toucan Barbets, and a very cute Cloud-forest Screech-Owl, among many others.

We departed on day 8 for Manizales, but not before spending some time enjoying the parade of birds at a fruit feeder and several hummingbird feeders during breakfast. Day 9 was punctuated by antpittas at feeding sites, and enough hummingbirds and mixed species flocks for even the most jaded birder. Day 10 took us up a long, winding forested valley near Manizales, and on Day 11 we drove up Nevado del Ruiz, reaching about 4,050 meters elevation at the park entrance. Despite some strong winds we were able to see almost all of the ultra high-elevation birds, although forests slightly lower were quiet because of the wind. We then departed Manizales at midday for a long drive northward to the lovely little city of Jardín and one of Colombia’s richest coffee-growing regions.

On Day 12 we climbed into jeep transport for yet another adventure into high, wet, montane forest, this time to search for the rare Yellow-eared Parrot, a tapaculo or two, a variety of tanagers, a very confiding Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, and excellent views of a rare Chestnut-crested Cotinga. We were also treated to our fourth set of hummingbird feeders of the trip and they were good ones—attracting Mountain Velvetbreasts, a Sword-billed Hummingbird, and a half-dozen other hummer species. Day 13 began with a boisterous Andean Cock-of-the-rock display, some birding in the dry lower Cauca Valley, and lunch at the Restaurante Mayoria before continuing on to Medellín.

Day 14 would find us looking at endemic Red-bellied Grackles and other species in a well-hidden park at the edge of Medellín. This was followed by lunch nearby and a late afternoon air flight back to Bogotá. Our heads were spinning with all the birds and travel we managed to shoehorn into 14 days of birding.

Trip statistics paint an interesting picture of the immense diversity of birds in the regions we visited on this trip: we recorded 41 species of hummingbirds (plus one or two unidentified); 15 furnariids (14 seen); 7 woodcreepers (6 seen); 11 antbirds (8 seen); 7 antpittas (5 seen); 6 tapaculos (5 seen); 3 chat-tyrants; 47 flycatchers (42 seen); 8 wrens; 4 jays; 7 thrushes (6 seen); and 13 Tangara tanagers; we also recorded remarkably few raptors, which reflects their lower diversity in the montane habitats we visited; our trip list totaled ca. 356 species, largely from montane habitats.