by Terry Witt
As promised, here is the complete rundown on our recent trip to Colombia. I don't intend to print the entire list of sightings at the end, - I rarely read those myself in others' reports, but will try to hit all the highlights during the trip which might be of interest.
(E) = species endemic to Colombia
AA flight out of Miami to Bogota 2 hours late which put some us in bed at midnite and up again at 4 AM the next day to start our sleep deprivation early. We arrived at dawn at a patch of forest about 9000 feet elevation, and then a quick hike up the hill left all of us huffing and puffing. Half a day here yielded: Andean Pygmy-Owl (seen), Band-winged Nightjar (flushed off the trail, Blue-throated Starfrontlet, Glowing Puffleg, Silvery-throated Spinetail (E), Chestnut-crowned and Rufous Antpittas (heard only), many Mountain Elaenias, the white-faced color morph of Golden-fronted Whitestart (E), Rufous-browed Conebill (E), several Scarlet-bellied Mountain- Tanagers, Black-chested Mountain-Tanager for a lucky few, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Black-backed Grosbeak, Paramo and Band-tailed Seedeaters, Slaty Brush-finch, and flocks of Andean Siskins. Excellent views were had by all of Rufous-rumped Tapaculo, due to be a split from Paramo in the new (98) Clements revision (griseocollis).
Light rain chased us down the hill back to town and we fought our way through dense traffic across Bogota to the large marsh near the airport. The lake here added Spot-flanked Gallinule, large numbers of Andean Duck, Noble Snipe displaying at dusk, loads of Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, and our first disappointing try at Apolinar's Marsh Wren - one brief audio response only.
The following morning found us at a bit lower elevation at Laguna Pedro Paulo. Birds seen here included: Red-billed Emerald, a lone Black Inca (E), lovely Red-headed Barbets, Azara's Spinetail, Bar-crested Antshrike (E), Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Moustached Puffbird (seen briefly by some), excellent views of Rufous-naped Greenlet, loads of Blackburnian Warblers, Flame-faced, Scrub, Black-capped, and Golden Tanagers. We then descended to a lower area of coffee cultivation and found Speckle-breasted Wren, an out-of-range White-fronted Tyrannulet, and best of all, Turquoise Dacnis-Tanager (E). We had missed this at Pedro Paulo and our leader had never seen this bird at the lower elevation and it was a great save - perhaps Colombia's rarest endemic!
An early return to La Florida Marsh the next AM featured prolonged study of Bogota Rail (E), But Apolinar's Wren refused to show again with one brief song only :( Long drive north to Honda in the PM with birding stops on the East slope of the Eastern Andes: pair of Spectacled Parotlets at nest hole, White- bellied Antbird, Yellow Tyrranulet of the Magdalena Valley race, Velvet- fronted Euphonia (E), the all black race of Lesser Seed-Finch, 2 fortunate souls saw Indigo-capped Hummingbird (E).
AM spent in middle Magdalena Valley forest: Pale-bellied Hermit, a party of White-mantled Barbets (E), a pair of Golden-naped Woodpeckers (possible split from CA birds), frustrating glimpses of Dull-mantled Antbirds in poor light and mist, a cooperative pair of Antioquioa Bristle-Tyrants (E), Canada Warblers, great views of aroused Sooty Ant-Tanagers (E), Dusky-faced Tanagers, Orange-billed Sparrow, a visible Striped Cuckoo. The afternoon spent on a drive further north to Doradol. Our hotel is directly across the road from the former home of the late Pablo Escobar (drug lord gunned down by the Colombian army). A brief afternoon visit to the Rio Claro Reserve near the hotel yielded Citron-throated Toucan (E), heard by all, glimpsed by one only, and our only encounter.
Rio Claro the next AM was very kind with Black Antshrike (E), a small flock of Saffron-headed Parrots seen at length and close range, lifer for all including the leader, Purple-crowned Fairy, White-tailed Trogon, Barred Puffbird, Cocoa Woodcreeper (possible split from Buff-throated), "Pacific" Streaked Antwren, Chestnut--backed Antbird, Large-headed and Olivaceous Flatbills, One-colored Becard, Bay-breasted Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Plain-colored Tanager, Whiskered Puffbird, Lesser Greenlet. There is an easily accessible Oilbird colony nearby and the trail to the grotto featured Thrush-like Mourner, Brownish Flycatcher, Striped Manakin, Bicolored Antbird. The cave provided close studies of hundreds of Oilbirds who put on an unbelievable show.
A return the next AM to the same trail found: Immaculate Antbird, flyby Saffron-headed Parrots, Western Slaty-Antshrike, Southern Bentbill, Southern Nightengale Wren (heard only), Long-billed Hermit (posible split from, Long- tailed), Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant. In the afternoon, we made the long drive through the mountains to Pereira which was prolonged by problems with one vehicle,at high altitude.
From the large city of Pereira, we made our way early the next morning to Ucamari Regional Park. The park had been closed until just before our visit due to a prolonged drought associated with El Nino (isn't everything?). We had a great start at the lower elevation of the park with Cauca Guan (E), Wattled Guan, Pale-eyed Thrush(heard only), Pearled Treerunner, Chestnut-naped and Chestnut-crowned Antpittas(heard only), numerous good views of Red-ruffed Fruitcrows, Chestnut-breasted Wren seen by all, many Flame-rumped Tanagers, both Hooded and Yellow-bellied Siskins. The rare Moustached Antpitta was heard on this and a subsequent visit but seen by no-one. This was also to be our best shot at Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulet and we dipped out on both tries.
In the afternoon, we hiked up about 4 miles to the cabin at 7500 feet elevation where we would spend the next 3 nights. En route, we lucked into perched Golden-plumed Parakeets, and a party of 3 very tape responsive White-capped Tanagers. These birds appeared to be roosting each night in a huge eucalyptus tree in the cabin yard. At dusk several Rufous-bellied Nighthawks circled the clearing.
The next AM, birding in the cabin vicinity yielded: Andean Guan, Mountain Velvetbreast, many Tourmaline Sunangels, Masked Trogons, a resident pair of Highland Motmots (blue-crowned), lovely Crimson-mantled Woodpeckers, a male Powerful Woodpecker, a frustrating encounter with Bicolored Antpitta (E) glimpsed by one person only despite good tape response, Spillman's Tapaculo -split from Brown-rumped (heard only), Handsome Flycatcher seen in a canopy flock with Ashy-headed Tyrannulet which unfortunately escaped eveyone's view, several Barred Becards, Sharpe's Wren (split from Sepia-brown), Black-billed Peppershrike, our first all yellow faced Golden-fronted Redstarts, Saffron- crowned Tanager, Hooded Mountain-Tanager. Heavy rain in the PM hindered birding. The next day we were scheduled to ride horses 3000 feet up the mountain to 11000 feet elevation to search for 2 endemics - Black-thighed Puffleg, and Rufous-fronted Parakeet. We were all happy that we did not get caught on horseback in today's afternoon rain - little did we know!
Weather the next morning beautiful, and we managed to find the Puffleg near the trail as we ascended along with Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Shining Sunbeam, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, many beautiful Purple-backed Thornbills, Black- capped, White-throated and White-tailed Tyrannulets, Streak-throated Bush- Tyrant, Citrine Warblers, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanagers. We were at high altitude by noon and stopped for a picnic lunch, a bit cloudy now. I decided to skip lunch and the horse-ride down as well. I started to hike down with one other fellow, and in about 30 minutes, 2 of the Rufous-fronted Parakeets (E) landed in a tree right beside the trail near us and then disappeared never to be seen again. When the group riding the horses down passed on the trail, I said goodbye to my companion and soldiered on down the hill alone.
Soon there was a pouring rain which lasted about 90 minutes and totally drenched me and all my equipment. After the rain eased, over the next 2 hours, I added Stout-billed Cinclodes, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Pale-naped and Stripe-headed Brush-Finches, and Black-backed Bush Tanager. Hummingbirds were very active and many of the same species were seen again. The rain followed the horsemen all the way down the hill soaking everyone to the skin. Our last morning near the cabin found: Bronzy Inca, a female White-bellied Woodstar, finally good views of Brown-banded Antpitta (E), Rufous-crowned Tody-Tyrant, Dusky Piha, Slaty-backed Nightengale Thrush (heard only), Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager, Black- capped Hemispingus, Yellow-throated Brush-Finch. After lunch we made the walk back down to the vehicles and added along the way Golden-headed Quetzals, Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, Torrent Duck, and had another encounter with Powerful Woodpecker. The warm shower and soft bed back in Pereira was welcome.
Another visit to the lower portion of the park the next AM was notable for Black-winged Saltator, both guans (Cauca and Wattled), Spotted Barbtail, Orange-billed Nightengale Thrush (heard only), Ash-throated Bush-Tanagers. The PM drive to Cali was interrupted by a stop at a wetland en route which added to the trip list: Pearl Kite, Horned Screamer, numerous herons, egrets, and shorebirds, Neotropical Cormorant, Fulvous and Black-bellied Whistling- Ducks, excellent study of Dwarf Cuckoo responding to tape, Acorn and Crimson- crested Woodpeckers, Streak-headed Woodcreeper. I spotted a large Myiarchus flycatcher that I passed off as a Brown-crested. I learned that night at the compilation that I was looking at Apical Flycatcher (E),a most wanted bird for many of us. I felt fairly foolish. Luckily, we have another chance to see this species, or I would have felt even worse. A truck wreck blocking the road delayed progress on our drive and when we finally dragged into town, our inability to find the hotel made our arrival even later than usual.
Out of Cali the next AM we drove up to a pass over the Western Andes to a patch of remaining forest looking primarily for Multicolored Tanager (E). We saw: Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Red-faced Spinetail, Streak-capped Treehunter, great view of Uniform Antshrike, Tropical Parula, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Golden, Metallic-green, Blue-necked, Golden-naped, Scrub, Black-capped, Blue- grey, Palm, and Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers. At the last minute, 2 of the Multicolored Tanagers appeared for another late save! We then drove a few km to a private residence with hummingbird feeders.
Over the course of several hours there 15 species were seen including White-necked Jacobin (common), Brown Violetear, a pair of Black-throated Mangos, a few West Andean Emeralds (split from Blue-tailed), some beautiful Blue-headed Sapphires, many Andean Emeralds, Steely-vented Hummingbird (the most common hummer here), Rufous- tailed Hummingbird, a few Fawn-breasted Brilliants, Booted Racket-tail, at least one male Long-tailed Sylph, and a female Purple-throated Woodstar. Seen also by some were Long-billed Starthroat, Green Hermit, and Violet-crowned Woodnymph. The rest of the day was spent on the drive south to the good sized city of Popayan. We had our most elegant lodging here as the hotel is a converted Monastery with spacious, nicely appointed rooms, and a real sense of class. Would we ever see it in daylight?
We left the comfortable digs at the converted monastery-hotel and were off early in the AM for the 2 1/2 hour drive up the hill to Munchique National Park in the Eastern Andes. We arrived at park headquarters to a flurry of activity including a Grass-green Tanager seen before we even got out of the vehicles! Other birds present were Rufous-naped Brush-Finches, Band- tailed Pigeons, a very cooperative Rufous Antpitta, Citrine Warblers, and Plushcap Finch. We drove further along the road slowly with our leader hanging out the window listening for bird song and within a very short distance we screeched to a halt as he heard a pair of one of the park specialities - Tanager-Finch. The birds were relatively non-responsive to tape playback but continued to sing and crawl around a vine tangle right beside the road providing all of us with prolonged studies of this most desirable creature.
We continued birding along the road and added Collared Inca, Tyrian Metaltail, Striped Treehunter, Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, a pair of Green and Black Fruiteaters, a gaudy Purplish-mantled Tanager, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanagers, Dusky-bellied Bush- Tanagers, and a pair of Grey-breasted Wood-Wrens which have quite a different song in this area (sp novo?). A try for Narino Tapaculo was frustrating with only glimpses of a singing bird but Black-throated Tody-Tyrant was a consolation prize for most of the group huddled in a dense thicket. The rain today started at 1030 and we retreated to our cabin for lunch and accomplished little else the remainder of the day due to continued intermittent heavy downpour. The food at our candlelight dinner left a bit to be desired in quality, but the ambiance with 2 bottles of Chilean wine to share, and a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young tape playing was hard to beat.
We had planned to go owling the next morning, but plans went a bit awry as the rain continued until 0330 and we started later than planned. A cliffside along the road provided everyone with nice views of perched and flying Swallow- tailed Nightjars responding to taped calls. Part of the group decided to set up a watch at an area known to be frequented by Colorful Puffleg (E), while the rest of us slipped and slid down a steep and muddy trail. Seen on the hike were Tawny-bellied Hermit, Tourmaline Sunangels, Rufous Spinetail, Spotted Barbtail, Streak-capped Treehunter, Long-tailed Antbird, Yellow-breasted Antpitta (heard only), and a lovely Golden-crowned Tanager. The weather was spotty all morning with intervals of fog, mist and light rain and by lunchtime, we retreated back down the mountain, with birding stops which found Lineated Woodpecker, Slate-colored Seedeater, and Mountain Cacique. The Puffleg never put in an appearance. The good food, hot showers, and real style of our monastery-hotel were once again a welcome sight.
The next morning we set off for Purace National Park and some high altitude birding. The park headquarters are at 11000+feet elevation and after a shaky start which featured some uncooperative birds and a balky tape recorder, we rallied with killer views of Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, White-browed Spinetail, Golden-breasted Puffleg, a different race of Rufous Antpitta (possible split), Unicolored Tapaculo, Agile Tit-Tyrant, Blue-backed Conebill. The best birds seen were a pair of displaying Ocellated Tapaculos, real stunners. Biggest disappointment - 2 weak audio responses only from Crescent- faced Antpitta which our leader had expected to give a better show. The rain today came at 9 AM, and we had to double back to pick up some gear inadvertently left behind at the hotel. The drive across the Central Andes seemed to take forever as the road surface was terrible with car-eating potholes, but at least there was little traffic. Birding stops were mostly non-rewarding as our try for White-rimmed Brush-Finch went for naught and we finally limped into San Agustin well after dark.
The following morning, we retreated back up into the park and found Dusky- headed Brush Finch (E), fairly quickly and then had a really lucky stroke at the eastern park headquarters with a very vocal Bicolored Antpitta (E) seen well by all. Rain again at 8 AM today chased us back down to our hotel (does this sound like a recurent theme?) for checkout and the long drive north to Neiva. We first visited an interesting archaeological park in town which featured large stone carvings and a Colombian Chachalaca was spotted skulking in the woods (possible split from Speckled). At a stop for a picnic lunch near some flowering Inga trees, the area was loaded with birds including Shining-green Hummingbird, Black and Yellow-faced Grassquits, Brown Violetear, Yellow-backed Orioles, White-lined Tanagers, and Grassland Yellow-Finch. We stopped again, later in the afternoon at an open wooded field for our last try at Apical Flycatcher (E). We fanned out to cover more territory, and after about an hour we had seen Scarlet-fronted Parakeets, Bicolored Wren, Tawny- crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, a distinct race of Black-striped Sparrow, but no sign of the Myiarchus. I searched some distance from the rest of the group and with luck managed at last to find a pair of the Flycatchers and show them to all the rest of the group - vindication for my earlier foibles. Tomorrow: the return to Bogota for the flight north to Santa Marta and the last part of the trip.
Final installation: when last we left our hearty band of adventurers, we had reached the good-sized town of Neiva for an overnight. After staying in a rather nice hotel, we had a few hours birding an hours drive back south in the middle Magdalena Valley before the all day drive north to return to Bogota. Highlights were a distant view of Capped Heron, and brief look at White- cheeked Conebill (new for some). The main road back north was blocked by a recent landslide, but an alternate route was found and the subsequent evening flight north to Santa Marta was a bit late, but otherwise uneventful. We discovered the next day that a plane that had departed Bogota a few hours before us had crashed into a mountain with all passengers lost - an eerie feeling.
In Santa Marta, arriving late at night, we were lodged in a very nice beachside resort hotel; we hoped that we might see it in daylight! The next morning there, we departed early for a 3 hour drive east onto the Guajira peninsula. The habitat was quite arid although there were standing puddles present from our ever-accompanying rain. The special birds found there are also present in far-west Venezuela only, and we managed to add Vermillion Cardinal(a real stunner), flyby Roseate Spoonbill and Great-blue Heron, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Plumbeous Kite, Crested Bobwhite, numerous Bare-eyed Pigeons, Green-rumped Parrotlet, several Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls (heard), Buffy Hummingbird, Russet-throated Puffbird, White-whiskered Spinetail, Black- crested Antshrike, numerous Slender-billed Tyrannulets, Orinocan Saltator, excellent looks at Tocuyo Sparrow (new for most including our leader), Pileated Finch.
We had seen all the targets fairly easily and now had a frustrating search for the localised Chestnut Piculet in increasing heat; this turned out to be an eleventh hour success when a party of 3 were discovered in an acacia woodlot. Some members decide to return to the hotel for a well deserved rest while the remainder of us carried on to the humid lowland forest in Tayrona National Park. We first investigated a lek of Lance-tailed Manakins, then taped in a Jet Antbird. A Little Tinamou was calling from a nearby hillside, and we prevailed upon the leader to give it a try with a prerecorded tape that he had brought along. I had heard this exasperating little fellow on every neotropical trip ever taken and had never had even a glimpse of a feather. Most of the others had similar experiences. Unbelievably, the Tinamou walked right up and paraded by us in a small gully, nervously stopping in full view to pick up a seed and eat it while we watched in rapt attention. This was the bird of the trip for some.
The following day we worked our way slowly up the mountain to our cabin at 7500 feet elevation at San Lorenzo. Birding stops along the way were quite productive with Rosy Thrush-Tanager cornered in a dense shrub, Black-backed Antshrike, a squadron of Military Macaws flying by, Red-billed Parrot, Groove- billed Toucanet, Rusty-headed (E) and Streak-capped (E) Spinetails, Ruddy Foliage Gleaner (another candidate for future split), Rusty-breasted Antpitta, Santa Marta Tapaculo (E), seen by all walking through a culvert under the road at our feet, Brown-rumped Tapaculo (to be endemic in new taxonomy), Santa Marta Brush-Finch (E), White-lored Warbler (E), Santa Marta Mountain Tanager (E), Golden-winged Sparrow, Venezuela Tyrannulet. By afternoon, we were at the cabin and soon watching an hour of heavy rain fall for the umpty-umped time! We went to higher altitude later in the day and scored with Santa Marta Warbler (E), Yellow-crowned Whitestart (E), and distant views of Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant (E) which was seen better the next day.
Our last day in the mountains went quite well with Phoebe setting up watch for the White-tailed Starthroat (E), while the rest of us continued up the hill. We had nice luck with Santa Marta Rufous Antpitta (possible split), several views of White-rumped Hawk, Bat Falcon, Band-tailed Guans (heard only for the second day), White-tipped Quetzal, a very responsive and territorial Flammulated Treehunter, Golden-breasted Fruiteater, Paramo Seedeater. When we rejoined Phoebe , she had seen the hummingbird twice but it never returned for us. She had also seen Santa Parakeets (E), and after a few minutes several flew into a tree at close range and were scoped by all. Also seen there was a juvenile Hook-billed Kite perched quite near. Departing the Cabin at noon, we made a last ditch try at Santa Marta Antpitta (E), which was finally seen by a few, and most saw Lined Quail-Dove on the drive back to the beach. At another stop, a brief look at a female Maroon-chested Ground-Dove was had by some.
We had a little time the next morning, before our flight back to Bogota, and we had reserved this for a drive west to search for Chestnut-winged Chachalaca (E). We had a bit of a late start, and it took some time to finally spot a perched bird in some thorn-scrub habitat. I coaxed the leader to carry on farther west to Isla de Salamanca Park which was supposed to have a good population of Bicolored Conebills - we were quite short of time by now. When we arrived at the park, a family of the conebills were literally waiting in a tree in the parking lot, and as a last minute bonus, a Sapphire-throated Hummingbirs was spotted perched nearby for scope views - a new bird for all but one of us, and a great way to end the trip.
After more than the usual hassle checking out of the hotel, we winged our way back to Bogota, where the North American contingent spent the night before continuing homeward on the following day. The entire trip was a great sucess in every sense of the word with the only significant problem being the incessant rain which frequently limited our time in the field. I can't say enough good things about Paul Coopman's leadership, and I know that all of the other group members would agree. Hopefully, others will be able to enjoy visiting this wonderful and unfairly maligned country in the future.
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