Colombia: The Central & Western Andes Jun 09—24, 2014

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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A year ago I summarized this trip as follows: curvy roads, landslides, massive road construction projects, 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. What else to add? This year even more species, and highlights that included Andean Condor, Tiny Hawk, a displaying Club-winged Manakin, a rare Yellow-headed Manakin, five species of mountain-tanagers, three species of Bangsia tanagers, Scarlet-and-white Tanagers, two dozen Red-ruffed Fruitcrows, Cauca Guans (once feared extinct), Chestnut-crested Cotingas, Andean Cocks-of-the rock, Red-bellied Grackles, and a morning with four species of antpittas.

Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer, a rare west Andean endemic.

Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer, a rare west Andean endemic.— Photo: Steve Hilty

We began the trip at Laguna de Sonso in the heart of the Cauca Valley and then next visited one of my favorite Colombian birding areas, the Anchicayá Valley and the area where I did my dissertation research almost 45 years ago. It proved to be, as always, one of the best birding days of the tour. Highlights included two pairs of Lanceolated Monklets, Scarlet-and-white Tanagers, Emerald Tanagers, and Golden-chested Tanager. The following day, in the mountains above the city of Cali, we enjoyed close studies of the endemic Multicolored Tanager and a productive visit to nearby hummingbird feeders. By our fourth day we were high on a mountaintop in the Western Andes in Tatamá National Park with magnificent scenery all around. This rich area brought endemic Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercers and Munchique Wood-Wrens (the wren, a species I discovered in the late 1970s, was described new to science in 2003). Our stay in the remote Tatamá region added many Chocó-Pacific birds including Velvet-purple Coronet, Purplish-mantled Tanager, Glistening-green Tanager, Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, Gold-ringed Tanager, and a cute Cloud-forest Screech-Owl.

Moving back across the Cauca Valley to the Central Andes, we spent two nights at the Otún-Quimbaya Reserve near the city of Pereira. This reserve is predominantly second growth and plantation woodland but holds an unusual assortment of rare species, among them Red-ruffed Fruitcrow and Cauca Guan. From Otún we moved northward to a new base in the city of Manizales. Our first destination there was the Río Blanco Forest Reserve, a watershed that provides the water for Manizales. Several antpitta feeding stations also are maintained here and rank among the best to be found anywhere. During our visit to three feeding sites we logged four species of antpittas including the endemic Brown-breasted Antpitta and the rare Bicolored Antpitta.

We also spent a day on nearby Nevado del Ruiz, an active volcano, adding the endemic Rufous-fronted Parakeet, endemic Buffy Helmetcrest, and a spectacular array of mountain-tanagers, as well as Black-backed Bush-Tanagers and a Golden-crowned Tanager. Leaving Manizales we recrossed the Cauca Valley once again, this time toward the picturesque Andean town of Jardín and one of Colombia’s richest coffee-growing areas in the Western Andes. Our focus at this site was the rare Yellow-eared Parrot, a species we managed to find even before sunrise the next morning while listening to a dawn chorus of Tawny-breasted Tinamous. This site also produced a remarkable list of other “glamour” species including Sword-billed Hummingbird, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Andean Cock-of-the-rock, and Hooded Mountain-Tanager.

We ended the trip by crossing the Río Cauca one last time and continuing on to the bustling city of Medellín, but not before adding the newly described Antioquia Wren en route. In Medellín we enjoyed a wonderful morning with flocks of endemic Red-bellied Grackles, and ultimately, also found a rare Yellow-headed Manakin, all before flying back to Bogotá, with heads spinning from the almost 400 species of birds recorded in two weeks of action-packed birding.