Colombia Again Mar-Apr 2024

Published by Jim McConnell (jomdsh AT

Participants: James McConnell, David McConnell, Deborah Hansen


When I was planning the next birding trip, I considered several countries that would be completely new to me. However, I found it hard to beat the sheer value of Colombia in terms of number of birds possible coupled together with adventure. This was even the case despite having already been there before. My brother, my wife, and I have been very blessed during the past few years to visit parts of Colombia, a strikingly beautiful country, and a relatively close neighbor to the US after all. The country seemed less accessible in the old days, when I was a child, due to scenarios of cartel violence and political unrest. These days, it generally hails as safer, although the media still notes issues of concern. Nevertheless, childhood dreams of visiting its jungles, cloud forests, and so forth have actually been possible, with assistance from the eco tourism industry. As always, I want to thank the Lord for the happy times spent in the country, which have unfolded as part of our few weeks of yearly vacation time, away from our regular work-a-day lives.
We had our eyes on a couple of sites new to us, namely San Cipriano in the Choco lowlands, and, on the other side of the country, Inirida, a place still laden with miles of wild Amazon jungle (technically a part of the northern Orinco drainage). In addition, we added a day or two around Bogota, and less than a day around Km 18 (Dona Dora, La Florida, and San Felipe) above Cali. It was kind of an eclectic trip, really, that did require a couple internal flights.
We contacted Pablo Flores of Multicolor Birding Colombia to set up the trip and he did a fine job of providing the itinerary, good birding guides, and logistics. In San Cipriano, he used a local birding guide named Never Murillo, who was extremely motivated and knowledgeable, going so far as to track down sleeping crakes in the jungle at night, and not even giving up during our last hour at the location, spotting Tiny Hawk on the community train ride back. Also at San Cipriano, meals were delicious and the local people were quite friendly. At Km 18, Daniel Munoz Buitrago helped us identify birds at three relatively connected locations. This was a slightly higher elevation than San Cipriano but stunning birds were still everywhere, particularly around established bird feeders. In the east of the country, at Inirida, Brian Barrera was our guide. He works for Orinoco Nature Tours, which is basically a birding tours company, along with Daniel Camilo Orjuela, another good birder. We thoroughly enjoyed Brian, who was always in control of the complete birding experience (and by that I mean generally hard core birding combined with great meals). He knows his turf quite well (which spanned parts of 4 large river systems) and he consistently continued to hunt down wanted birds at quite a range of locations, birding by foot and by boat. A particular thrill were final efforts for Pale-bellied Mourner and Collared Puffbird, both of which showed off fabulously. The entire time spent in Inirida with Brian was a stunning panoply of great birds, not to mention memorable adventures. Lastly, we birded a day around Bogota with Camilo Orjuela Barrera. He was a superb bird guide, who would have been perfect for a lengthy trip, but even on our one day with him we saw quite a few memorable species. All in all, I found myself thinking: It's amazing the number of great experiences you can have in just two weeks.
Logistically, we had to fill out a quick Colombian Check-mig form online to show on our international flights to and from the US. Another necessity was a cap with neck shade to protect from the sun, and also a light weight long sleeve shirt and long pants due to some mosquitos. At Inirida, even light weight gloves and neck gaiter were well worth it because of mosquitos. We got by at all locations with regular hiking boots. Also, I used a 3 and a half liter water container in my small backpack, although the guides were great about providing liquids and snacks at appropriate intervals. Because I was so covered up in lightweight garments, I didn't use insect repellent, though other group members did, and I also only used sunscreen on my nose a few times, again due to being well-clothed otherwise.
Of course, birds were not the only animals encountered, and we did finish with some enjoyable observations highlighting the general diversity of life. For example, a seldom-seen Tayra was observed running along the jungle branches at Inirida. I would describe it as an arboreal weasel dog (so scientific). Also, several Giant River Otters were fun, as were some Orinoco River Dophins. The coolest lizard was a confiding Bocourt's Dwarf-Iguana at San Cipirano, but other neat lizards were also seen, like Yellow-headed Gecko. A stick insect at Inirida was noteworthy as well. You get the idea, and plenty of frogs, glass frogs, toads, snakes. A species of wild jungle rat was interesting too. My wife took a picture of a beautiful butterfly and it turned out to be possibly the first live photo ever of the species: Neruda godmani. A butterfly expert thought that the only 2 previous photos were posed instead.
I'll mention a few avian highlights prior to presenting the full list of birds.
Collared Puffbird - perfect close views quite close to the Rio Inirida itself, upstream from Inirida town at the Ceiba Community
Sapayoa - a much-wanted bird, seen calling at close range at its nest over a stream at San Cipriano
Jabiru - point blank views of a pair on an islet in the middle of the Rio Orinoco
Capuchinbird - seen making its weird mooing noise, that sounds like a cow, at Comunidad Sabanitas
Berlepsch's Tinamou - out in the open only a couple meters from us at San Cipriano
Five-colored Barbet - great views of a pair at San Cipriano
Butterfly Coquete - a male showed off beautifully at the Inirida Antshrike finca
Uniform Crake - two seen sleeping together inside the jungle at night (San Cipriano)
Tiny Hawk - our guide stopped the community train, and had us get out of it, to look at this bird at point blank range
Rio Orinoco Spinetail - a newly described species on a river island in the Rio Orinoco, seen by few persons as of yet
Long-billed Woodcreeper - a pair foraging together at Matraca was unforgetable, as they are exceptional-looking
Brown-breasted Parakeet - endemic to a small part of the Andes in Colombia, we had spectacular views of a couple flocks feeding in trees along Via Guasca - Sueva
Choco Poorwill - seen calling at San Cipriano
Black-eared Fairy - We were finally in its range, rather than that of its more familiar cousin, which was also seen, but earlier in the trip
Choco Elainia - calling by the restaurant at the edge of San Cipriano town, we tracked it down for views
Varzea Schiffornis - this and Cinnamon Attila were both in varsea habitat on the same day, and both were a lovely cinnamon color
Blue-throated Piping Guan - several seen hanging out on a river island close to a bunch of calling Amazonian Umbrellabirds
Chestnut Quail - a charismatic family of these were at a feeder at La Florida
Band-tailed Nightjar - tranquil dusk on the Inirida River saw dozens of these gliding over the water beside our boat for quite a spectacle
Gray-and-gold Tanager - a beautiful pair of these at San Cipriano and one at Dona Dora
Orinoco Softtail - this and Speckled Spinetail were local specialties
Inirida Antshrike - quite vocal and fairly common as well, at a finca along the Rio Guaviare
Upland Sandpiper - a pair of these seen on a river island in the Rio Orinoco, where perhaps they were resting in migration
Orinoco Goose - a bit rare at the location we were at, and a lifer for us
Orange-breasted Falcon - diving about near its nest hole in the side of a massive monolith (Mavaecure) above the jungle
Gray-breasted Crake - in my opinion, all crakes are good, and all species we recorded near Inirida were seen well, including this species as well as Ash-throated and Russet-crowned
Choco Screech-owl - day roosting at eye level in the jungle
Tooth-billed Hummingbird - hanging out a its favorite clump of flowers close to the village of San Cipriano
Scaled Pigeon - seen in the scope at both San Cipriano and at Inirida
Lita Woodpecker - a pair of these at close range at San Cipriano
Semiplumbeous Hawk - very close long views inside the woods at a former nest site
Yapacana Antbird - they make a strange noise but they did come in close for viewing
Muscovy Duck - due to hunting pressure it seems quite rare in much of Latin America, but they were somewhat common around Inirida and yet completely wild; they are still hunted there but perhaps the abundance of jungle helps
Pacific Flatbill - about 3 seen individually at San Cipriano