On our trip to Colombia in 2011 we visited most of the ProAves reserves in the central part of the country. This time we concentrated on other sites around Bogota, Ibague, Pereira and Manizales before heading north for Santa Marta and Guajira. Our trip was organised by Jovani Florez R. who acted as driver and general guide for the whole trip, apart from the last two days. The only pre-paid bookings we made were for the ProAves accommodation at El Dorado. This allowed maximum flexibility. For the first two days we arranged for the guiding expertise of Trevor Ellery for finding the ‘specials’ we had missed previously at Chingaza National Park and La Florida. This proved very successful as Trevor found all our target species! The trip as a whole produced 95 lifers, only five short of our target!
We flew into Bogota from Madrid and out of Medellin to Quito. For the whole trip apart from the last two days, we used a 4WD double-cab Ssanyong pick-up. Most sites would not have been accessible without 4WD and indeed some needed low range as well! More information about the roads and sites is included in the narrative. It is fortunate that Tessa is fluent in Spanish because unlike some other countries in South America we found that almost no-one spoke much English.
For identification we used the new Pro Aves field guide as well as Hilty. Trip reports that were useful included Jon Hornbuckle (2010) Frank Lambert (2007) and Charles Hesse (2009).
7 June Arrive Bogota 3.40 pm Madrid, late pm La Florida Hotel Chico Imperial
8 Chingaza N.P. all day Hotel Chico Imperial
9 La Florida in the morning then drive to Ibague Hotel Ambala,Ibague
10 Canon del Rio Combeima, Clarita Botero, El Palmar Hotel Ambala,Ibague
11 Otun Quimbaya Reserve La Suiza
12 Otun Quimbaya Reserve La Suiza
13 Tatama National Park via Pueblo Rico Montezuma Lodge
14 Tatama National Park Montezuma Lodge
15 Tatama National Park Montezuma Lodge
16 Drive to Rio Blanco Rio Blanco Lodge
17 Rio Blanco Reserve Rio Blanco Lodge
18 Rio Blanco Reserve then Manizales late pm Hotel La Camelia
19 El Nevado del Ruiz am, drive to Aguachica Hotel Morrocoy
20 Aguachica to Minca visiting Valle Rd Minca Hotel
21 Drive to El Dorado Reserve, Santa Marta ProAves El Dorado
22 El Dorado – San Lorenzo Rd & towers ProAves El Dorado
23 El Dorado Reserve, Santa Marta ProAves El Dorado
24 El Dorado Reserve, Santa Marta ProAves El Dorado
25 El Dorado to Minca, Pozo Azul Road Minca Hotel
26 Minca area, Pozo Azul Road Minca Hotel
27 Minca to Los Flamencos Reserve, Guajira Guajira Premium Hotel, Riohacha
28 Riohacha to Santa Marta Hotel Sansiraka
29 Santa Marta to Barranquilla, Salamanca N.P. Hotel San Francisco
30 Flight from Barranquilla to Medellin Hacienda La Extremadura
1 July El Romero in the morning. LAN flight to Quito at 6.30 pm
Day 1: 7 June
Arrived by air from Madrid at 3.40 pm and were met by Trevor and Jovani and drove straight to La Florida. Here just before dusk we had excellent views of Bogota Rail. No luck with Apolinar’s Wren. Checked in for the next two nights at Chico Imperial Hotel.
Day 2: 8 June
Early start for Chingaza National Park coming in the back way to reach the Flame-winged Parakeet nesting area in good time. It was not too long before we had good views of a number of these rare parakeets. Continuing on up the road we stopped at a spot where Trevor had previously recorded Coppery-bellied Puffleg and we were fortunate one turned up! Reaching the locked gate we walked on up the road while waiting for someone to arrive with the key. Plenty of birds along here, including the local sub-species of Rufous Antpitta as well as Matorral Tapaculo. Once the gate was opened we continued to the park entrance to pay the entrance fees. After this we walked up behind the entrance gate buildings on to the paramo. The target here was Bronze-tailed Thornbill, and after about half an hour of watching the Espeletia plants, with lots of other hummers, one appeared close by! By this time the mist and rain had descended and we returned to Bogota in time for a quick visit to La Florida. This time we had fleeting views of Apolinar’s Wren. Returned to Chico Imperial for the night.
Day 3: 9 June
Another early start with Trevor to visit La Florida in search of Apolinar’s Wren. This time we had excellent views from the golf club end. Following this success we had breakfast in the golf club restaurant before dropping Trevor off home in Bogota and proceeding to Ibagué. After checking in at the Hotel Ambala, we headed for the Canon de Combeima, where we hoped for Blossomcrown at a known feeding site, a large flowering bush on the left before a bridge. We were unsuccessful in this quest, and after several hours of watching various other hummers visiting the relevant bushes, returned to Ibague for the night.
Day 4: 10 June
From first light until 9 am we birded the Clarito Botero road and were successful in finding a pair of Tolima Doves. Other notables included Yellow headed Brush-finch (common), Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Rufous-naped Greenlet and Whiskered Wren. After breakfast we drove north to El Palmar – an eco-tourist hacienda where Trevor had advised that Dwarf Cuckoo was a possibility. We could not find this cuckoo, but did see Cocoa Woodcreeper and the local race of Blue-crowned Motmot. Had lunch at El Palmar restaurant (expensive!) before returning to Ibague for the night.
Day 5: 11 June
In the morning drove from Ibague to the Otun-Quimbaya Reserve. This reserve is run by the Asociacion Comunitaria Yarumo Blanco (Yarumoblanco2009.hotmail.com) and has accommodation and restaurant adjacent to the forest. Most of the birding can be done along the quiet forest road. Two of our targets here were Cauca Guan and Black-billed Mountain Toucan and we saw both on the first afternoon along the road. Other notables were Red-ruffed Fruitcrow (common), Emerald Toucanet, Andean Solitaire, Variegated Bristle-Tyrant and Black-winged Saltator. In the evening we went out with Jovani in search of the Colombian Screech Owl, but only heard Tropical Screech Owl.
Day 6: 12 June
Both morning and afternoon spent along the road through the forest. Our other main target – Crested Ant-Tanager – remained elusive and we neither saw one nor elicited any response with tapes. Species noted included Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (a fine male), Flavescent Flycatcher, Multicoloured Tanager, Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulet, Bar-crested Antshrike, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Collared Trogon and White-capped Dipper. In the evening, with Jovani’s help, we finally taped in a Colombian Screech Owl quite close to the lodge and had good views of this bird.
Day 7: 13 June
Got going straight after breakfast, stopping along the road on the way out in the hope of luring in a Crested Ant Tanager, but nothing doing. Long and winding drive to Cerro Montezuma in the Tatama National Park. On the way in we saw two new seedeaters- Plumbeous Seedeater and Grey Seedeater. The last part of the road is quite challenging. We arrived in the rain to be greeted by the owner, Leopoldina and her family, of Montezuma Lodge, located just inside the National Park. Once installed in the very basic accommodation, we had lunch and discussed strategy for the next three days with Leopoldina. This afternoon she acted as guide (obligatory to have a guide) and we walked up the road from the lodge. Unfortunately, heavy rain made birding tricky, but we did locate Yellow-vented Woodpecker.
Day 8: 14 June
Following an early breakfast we drove to the top of the road, reaching 2525 m altitude, in the mist just after first light, accompanied by Yessenia, Leopoldina’s daughter as our guide for the day. It was not long before Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer was added to the tally. Descending to about 2400 m we located a mixed flock that contained Greater Scythebill. This hard to find species was feeding by probing the epiphytic mosses of the stunted trees. The same flock also contained another sought after species: Fulvous-dotted Treerunner! Another new species, Choco Brush-Finch was relatively common along the edges of the road. Following these early successes we spent the day birding our way down the road, but no more new species were forthcoming. Lunch was delivered by motorbike from the lodge. The forest along this road yielded many more interesting species: Munchique Wood-Wren, Rufous-headed Pygmy Tyrant, Handsome Flycatcher, Buffy Tuftedcheek, several hummers: Collared Inca, Tourmaline Sunangel, Velvet Purple Coronet and Empress Brilliant as well as a swag of tanagers including Gold-ringed Tanager, Purple-mantled Tanager, Grass-green Tanager, Blue-capped Tanager, Black-chested Mountain Tanager, Black-chinned Mountain Tanager, Dusky Bush Tanager. An exciting day!
Day 9: 15 June
Again we set off before first light, intent on birding the middle and lower stretches of the Cerro Montezuma road. Several Sickle-winged Guans were disturbed during their early morning foray on the road before we parked before the river crossing. Here as the sun rose we found a group of four Olive Finches feeding alongside the road. Flushed with success we followed this up with Black Solitaire, Alto Pisones Tapaculo and Yellow-collared Chlorophonia. The early morning peace was shattered briefly by a convoy of vehicles heading up to the top where there is a guard camp for the radio towers – reminding us that the other side of this range is currently a no-go area. At 1600 m the tape lured in several Bicolored Antvireo. Working our way up the road we added Chestnut-bellied Chlorophonia and Choco Tyrannulet before stopping for lunch delivered again by motorbike. Our meal was disturbed by a Rufous-breasted Antthrush calling nearby and glimpsed by Jovani! Moving back down the road we tried another path to the left and fortunately located another Rufous-breasted Antthrush which gave us short views. A smaller target, Black-throated Tody Tyrant was eventually coaxed out with the tape. Continuing our walk down the road the excitement was not over as a covey of Chestnut Wood-Quail crossed right in front of us! It was almost dark by the time we drove into the lodge grounds.
Day 10: 16 June
Said goodbye to Leopoldina and family after a good breakfast and drove to the Rio Blanco Reserve near Manizales. This reserve is owned by the water authority and carefully managed. The reserve manager Albeiro and his wife made us very welcome. Accommodation is in a small, beautifully maintained old building, comfortable and located close to the forest edge. Albeiro agreed to be our guide for the duration and after lunch we set off up the road. The mixed flocks here are very species rich and Albeiro’s local bird knowledge was invaluable. We soon added Masked Saltator to our list – a surprisingly shy and cryptic species. One of the main attractions here are the Antpitta feeding stations maintained by Albeiro. At the first of these we had great views of both Brown-banded and Chestnut- crowned Antpittas – the former a lifer.
Day 11: 17 June
Headed up the road with Albeiro after an early breakfast to visit the feeding stations. This time, as well as the Chestnut-naped, we were treated to stunning views of Slaty-crowned and Bicolored Antpittas. We were also hoping for Hooded Antpitta, which occasionally comes to the feeders but no luck. The local subspecies of Slaty-backed Nightingale Thrush also came to the feeding station. Continuing our walk along the road we had good views of Dusky Piha, but missed a Flammulated Treehunter that was calling in thick scrub close by. After lunch we walked down the road from the lodge and located Rusty-faced Parrot and after much searching, Red-hooded Tanager. The forest here is well-known for its owls and we spent much of the evening owling – we were successful in taping in and seeing a White-throated Screech Owl, but a Rufous-banded Owl calling in thick vegetation adjacent to the lodge refused to reveal itself!
Day 12: 18 June
In the morning we birded up the road with Albeiro. Nothing new but good views of Blackish and Spillman’s Tapaculos, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Plushcap and Bar-bellied Woodpecker. After lunch and a warm, Colombian style birthday celebration for Tessa, (gracias a todos!) we moved to the La Camelia Hotel (very good) in Manizales. Excellent dinner at Los Geranios restaurant close to the hotel.
Day 13: 19 June
Very early start to drive up to Las Brisas at the Volcano Nevado del Ruiz. As the volcano is currently very active and showering Manizales and district with ash, the National Parks office at Las Brisas (4600 m) was closed and the staff had been evacuated. There was however, no impediment to driving as far as the Park HQ. It was a beautiful morning and the wind was blowing away from us so the atmosphere was clear and the sky blue. We explored the Espelitia covered hillside behind the HQ buildings and were rewarded with excellent views of Bearded Helmetcrest – the main target of the morning. Several Tawny Antpittas were scurrying around the carpark and locked NP buildings – perhaps emboldened by the absence of people! Stout-billed Cinclodes were present along the stream just below the HQ. After hot coffee and croissants we set off for the long drive north and were lucky enough to see a flock of Rufous-fronted Parakeets on the way down – another sought after species!
The rest of the day was spent driving up the Magdelena Valley heading for Santa Marta. We stopped for lunch at a small village called El Burro and were surprised to find flocks of Carib Grackle – a new species for us and south of its reported range. Further north close to Aguachica we saw our first Brown-throated Parakeets in cattle country, the first of many of this common species in the north. We stopped the night at the Morrocoy Hotel in Aguachica (very good).
Day 14: 20 June
Continued our drive north to Santa Marta. By mid-day we reached the Valle Road turnoff, about 12 km from Santa Marta. Valle Road is a good site for Red-winged Chachalaca. We spent an hour or so searching the secondary forest along the edge of Valle Road, but it was the heat of the day and very quiet, so we drove on to Santa Marta for a late lunch at a seafood restaurant. We returned to Valle Road at about 4 pm and were lucky enough to find two different Red-winged Chachalacas.
Next we drove on to Minca, reaching the Hotel Minca (very good) just after dark. Following Jovani’s advice we decided to engage Marcos Torres, located at Hotel Minca, as a bird guide for the next two days on Santa Marta. This proved to be a good move as Marcos is an exceptional young birder with intimate local knowledge.
Day 15: 21 June
Our first day on Santa Marta. Set off at first light, stopping on the way up for Golden-winged Sparrow, Santa Marta Foliage Gleaner, Santa Marta Tapaculo and Colombian Brush Finch. We stopped at the Store, a good hummingbird site, bought some coffee, watched from the veranda for about an hour, saw Coppery Emerald and Yellow-legged Thrush. Moved on up to a track on the right side of the road that Marcos knew about. Down here we ran in to our old friend Edison Buenaño from Ecuador with a small tour group. Along this path we had good views of Blossomcrown and White-lored Warbler. Also, although not new for us, stunning views of Rusty-breasted Antpitta.
Reaching the comfortable and welcoming ProAves El Dorado lodge in time for lunch we soon logged Santa Marta Brush Finch, Santa Marta Antpitta, White-tailed Starfrontlet, Black-hooded Thrush and Santa Marta Woodstar in the garden. In the afternoon we followed the trail leading down below the lodge and found Grey-throated Leaftosser. Later, driving up the road a short way, we saw White-tipped Quetzal and after some difficulty, Golden-breasted Fruiteater. After dark we drove up a few km seeking Santa Marta Screech Owl, but despite responses to our tape we could not lure one into view.
Day 16: 22 June
Today we visited the higher elevations of the park. Set off in darkness on the very rough road – reaching the top (2600 m) near the last set of radio towers just after first light. Things were slow to start moving and we finished breakfast before the excitement started– our first new species was Santa Marta Mountain Tanager. This was quickly followed by Santa Marta Warbler in the bushes next to the parking spot as well as Yellow-fronted Whitestart. Walking along the level track at the top, Brown-rumped Tapaculo was next to fall, followed by a Santa Marta Bush Tyrant perched on the electricity wires. After Marcos heard Rusty-headed Spinetail, we lured it out with playback. In the same area the local subspecies of Rufous Antpitta, with its unique call, also gave us good views. Returning to the vehicle, we finally located a raucous flock of Santa Marta Parakeets, completing the list of target species for this area! Driving down we stopped at about 2200 m for Streak-capped Spinetail. By mid-afternoon we were back at El Dorado. Following Marcos’ advice at about 5.30 pm we staked out the compost heap from the viewing platform below the lodge – on time a covey of Black-fronted Wood-Quail appeared to forage on the heap. Sitting on the second floor veranda with a Club Colombia toasting the day we watched a mixed flock in the nearby trees including local race of Emerald Toucanet, Black-capped Tanager and Blue-naped Chlorophonia. This completed what had been an awesome birding day! Marcos left us to return to Minca.
Day 17: 23 June
Day spent on the trails leading from the lodge and on the road above the lodge. Weather was less kind today with intermittent rain. New species were Venezuelan Tyrannulet and Band-tailed Guan. Close on dark, the latter was located by Jovani who had wandered down the road from the lodge seeking better mobile phone reception! He was quick to summon us and we got excellent views of a pair of this fairly shy species before the light failed. Once again in the evening we were unsuccessful in luring out the Screech Owl, impeded by heavy rain.
Day 18: 24 June
Another day on the trails above and below the lodge. Only new species today was Lazuline Sabrewing which visited the feeders. Quite a lot of mist and rain, but still many birds.
Day 19: 25 June
Left the Reserve after breakfast to drive back to Hotel Minca. We birded our way down slowly, walking and driving. Our main target was Groove-billed Toucanet and we finally called a pair in with the tape just above the settlement that sells honey. Further down at Campano, another on our list, Black-headed Tanager obliged. We had a brief walk down the Poso Azul road but it was hot and quiet, so headed down to Hotel Minca. Here we located Cinereous Becard in the garden. Later on we followed the Telekom tower trail for the rest of the afternoon, but it was quiet with nothing new seen.
Day 20: 26 June
Early today we drove up to the Poso Azul road. Two to three hours here produced Scaled Piculet (in dry scrub close to the junction with the main road) and Golden-fronted Greenlet (near the flower farms). Other notables here were Blue Black Grosbeak and Stripe-throated Hermit (lek). Following this we drove down below Minca after about 10 am searching for Black-backed Antshrike in the remaining dry scrub along the road. They proved to be very responsive to the tape and we soon had close views of a pair. After lunch we returned to the area on the main road just above the junction with the Poso Azul road. Here Marcos reported having seen Santa Marta Sabrewing. After some patience we finally located one. This was followed by Pale-eyed Pygmy Tyrant in the canopy. This completed our tally for Minca. The next day we were to set off on the next leg of our trip to Guajira. Fortunately Marcos was available to join us again and his local knowledge was once more to prove invaluable.
Day 21: 27 June
Set off very early in order to get to the best site at Los Flamencos at first light. This turned out to be the most species-rich day of the trip. In the one area of lagoon and dry scrub we recorded the following new species – all before 11 am.: Scarlet Ibis, Venezuelan Flycatcher, White-whiskered Spinetail, Yellow Oriole, Tocuyo Sparrow, Chestnut Piculet, Glaucous Tanager, Bare-eyed Pigeon, Russet-throated Puffbird, Vermilion Cardinal, Scaled Dove, Slender-billed Tyrannulet and Green-rumped Parrotlet After this we drove down to the beach restaurant nearby and had a seafood lunch, followed by a couple of hours relaxing in hammocks. As the afternoon cooled off we drove to the old road that eventually leads back to the highway, but passes through the edge of the lagoon area. Here in the thick dry scrub interspersed with dried out fields we located Sapphire throated and Buffy Hummingbirds as well as Pied Water Tyrant and Orinoco Saltator. Continuing back on to the main highway we drove west looking for seeding grasses and grassquits. Finally found Black-faced Grassquit, and in the same area Marcos heard Trinidad Euphonia and it was quickly located and so we were able to add this to our list. To complete the day we drove to the Floro del Campo Road looking for Rufous-vented Chachalaca. After an hour or so and nothing doing a local youngster offered to show us where they roosted. Well, they weren’t roosting there, but as we were driving along, they were spotted in another area! An amazing day. Drove on to Riohacha to an overpriced hotel (Guajira Premium). Fortunately as we had seen all our target species we only had to stay the one night. Had celebratory dinner with Marcos and Jovani at a local street-side restaurant – our highly successful and enjoyable trip, spent in good company was coming to an end!
Day 22: 28 June
This was a travel day. We drove back to Santa Marta where we booked into the very pleasant Sansiraka Hotel. Jovani had to leave us here as he had to return to Bogota. He had arranged the remainder of our transport in the north with Virgilio Bravo, who picked us up in the morning and drove us for the remaining two days.
Day 23: 29 June
Virgilio was on time at 5.30 and we set off along the main highway to Barranquilla, across the Cienega Grande de Santa Marta – a large coastal lake system. After a quick stop for coffee and croissants we reached the Isla Salamanca National Park carpark area ($25 per person entrance fee for foreigners). Here we searched for Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird. Unsuccessful for the first hour we were finally alerted by one of the staff who had heard it calling in a nearby tree. It was very obliging, allowing close views. Other notables here were Bicolored Conebill, Black-crested Antshrike, Russet-throated Puffbird, Yellow Oriole and Band-backed Wren.
Driving on to Barranquilla, following phone discussions with Jovani and our wish to look for Red-legged Tinamou, Virgilio took us to the dry forest-scrub out in the University area. Here we walked a dirt road and at the invitation of a local farmer who recognised the tinamou call when we played it to him (knew the bird and occasionally ate them), we followed a path on his land through thick dry forest. Time of day was wrong, but it was a bird-rich area and would be worth visiting again.
After a late lunch at a local restaurant and following Virgilio’s advice we checked into the San Francisco Hotel (very good).
Day 24: 30 June
Spent most of the day flying from Barranquilla to Medellin via Bogota. Met in Medellin by Hector, (transport and accommodation in Medellin arranged by Jovani). A longish drive to the beautiful, reasonably priced and historic hotel – Hacienda Extremadura, (excellent in every way) located in La Doctora. This is close to La Romero forest, which we wanted to visit early the following morning in search of the bird that had eluded us at every site we looked for it on our trip the year before!
Day 25: 1 July
Drove up to La Romera above Medellin, seeking the Red-bellied Grackle. This time they were easily found. We saw a noisy, largish flock near the gum trees and platform at the side of the road on the uphill side of the gully. We even located a pair nesting in the gully. A fitting end to a great trip! Hector drove us to El Sebastian Forest on the way to the International airport. Here on a one hour walk we didn’t see anything new, but there were numerous birds - Long-tailed Antbird, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Plushcap and Golden and Slate-throated Whitestarts were notable. After a late long lunch at a local restaurant watching the football, we departed on the LAN flight to Quito at 6.30 pm.
Another superb trip. We saw about 400 species of which 95 were lifers. Once again, our driver, guide and friend, Jovani was outstanding, doing everything possible to make our trip enjoyable and successful, and this included spotting some of our target species! We are already planning another visit to more new areas of this most bird-rich country!