The 2019 Colombia itinerary was designed to complement the previous two tours which had focused on the hotspots in the western and central Andes as well as sites within a few hours drive of Bogota. To that end on this tour we focussed on the north coast with a stop at the north end of the eastern Andes to kick off the tour. After completing the northern circuit we went for something completely different: a flight out to the northern Amazon basin at Puerto Inirida, near the border with Venezuela and just 30km from the mighty Orinoco River! Here we finished the tour with four days of birding the White Sand Forest, a habitat that is localized in the northern Amazon basin but quite common in this area. This unique habitat has many species that are endemic to it that are highly sought after by world birders. In this area we spent a fair bit of time on the river which provided us with an incredible encounter with a pod of Amazon River Dolphins as well as a passing Giant River Otter! The tour was our most diverse Colombia itinerary so far in terms species as we totalled 590 species over the 16 days, of which ~530 were seen by the group.
March 22 – After meeting up in Bogota the evening before the tour started with a mid-morning flight to Bucaramanga from where the group of 8 Canadians plus guide Avery Bartels piled into three pickups for the 3hr journey to the Cerulean Warbler Reserve near San Vicente de Chucuri. After about an hour we stopped at a restaurant overlooking a reservoir where we enjoyed some nice birding from the balcony. While waiting for our food to arrive we found our first Colombian endemic, an obliging Apical Flycatcher. A
Great Black Hawk was perched nearby while a Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture soared in the distance. Around the restaurant there was plenty of bird activity and we had our first Spectacled Parrotlets, Crimson-backed Tanagers and Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters.
After passing through San Vicente we climbed up the steep dirt track to the lodge. En route we made two stops in the plantations where we picked up a couple more endemics in Colombian Chachalaca and a skulky Niceforo’s Wren. A fine male Yellow-backed Tanager was one of the first birds we saw while a pair of Bar-crested Antshrikes showed up as we were looking for the wren. Forest Elaenia, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet and Slate-headed Tody-flycatcher were among several flycatcher species seen. At the lodge we had time to check out the Hummingbird feeders briefly before dark and pick up our final endemic of the day, the common Indigo-capped Hummingbird.
March 23 – After a lot of rain over night our plans to climb up to the reserve proper were foiled by continuing showers that lasted until around 9am. We decided to stick around the lodge and bird the plantations instead which ended up being a good plan as we had fog and more rain again until around 2:30pm when it finally cleared up. As we waited out the rain under the shelter of the covered balcony post-breakfast we got scope views
on a few occasions of up to four of the endemic Turquoise Dacnises! We also got nice views of Collared Aracari, Rufous-naped Greenlet, Yellow-legged Thrush and Orange-crowned Oriole. The hummingbird and banana feeders also provided us with ample photography. A short walk down the road from the lodge produced a roosting Common Potoo and our first Yellow-tailed Orioles along with a surprise pair of White-fringed Antwrens. A Yellow-browed Shrike-vireo sang once but could not be located.
After lunch we decided to walk a trail behind the lodge that lead up to a new set of hummingbird feeders that the forest guard had recently put out where he had found a Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird. This is one of the hardest endemics in this region and we were fortunate that we got prolonged views of it as it came to the feeder and perched in the tree overhead for over half an hour! Activity around the feeders was good as well and we had many migrants such as Bay-breasted, Canada, Blackburnian, Tennessee and Black-and-white Warblers. As we made our way back to the lodge Avery got a very quick look at a male Golden-winged Warbler that unfortunately disappeared before the group could get on it. Fortunately, a nearby family of Yellow-backed Orioles were more confiding. After dinner we heard a Tropical Screech-owl calling in the
distance though it was too far away to be coaxed in.
March 24 – At 6am we embarked on the 1.5km walk up to the reserve proper. The weather was clear and it was a beautiful, and fairly birdy, hike up. Unfortunately it took a lot longer than anticipated and we did not arrive at the hummingbird/wood-quail feeders at the reserve entrance until 9:30. As we climbed up we enjoyed near constant bird activity including wide-spread open country species such as Pale-breasted Spinetail, Bran-colored Flycatcher and Fork-tailed Flycatcher as well as a couple soaring Aplomado Falcons. There were also a few surprises in store for us as a pair of Apical Flycatcher greeted us at the beginning of the trail and partway up we ran into a confiding Masked Yellowthroat. The most interesting find of the morning though was an Ash-throated Crake calling from the pasture. This species is widespread in Amazonian
lowlands but only rarely wanders to this side of Andes.
At the feeders in the forest we enjoyed prolonged views at the superb Black Incas along with a supporting cast of Andean Emeralds, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Booted Racket-tails and a lone male Long-tailed Sylph. A covey of the endemic Gorgeted Wood-quail responded from nearby to a burst of playback but did not come into the feeder as hoped for. A few hours mid-day along the forest trail was quite quiet but we did come across a couple Collared Trogons, Ornate Flycatcher, and a skulky White-bellied Antpitta that only allowed for the briefest of glimpses. A canopy flock produced Speckled and Golden Tanagers as well as a lone White-winged Tanager for Ken.
Before heading back down to the lodge in the mid-afternoon (after a delicious lunch brought up to us by Douglas, the forest guard) we made another stop in at the feeders. A pair of Chestnut-capped Brushfinches were at the seed and a Moustached Puffbird perched stolidly nearby. This would be our first of 8 species of Puffbird on this trip!
As we made our way back down to the lodge a distant Recurve-billed Bushbird called
from the slopes opposite the trail.
March 25 – After breakfast we piled back into our trucks to make the transfer to Bucaramanga for our late-morning flight to Barranquilla via Bogota. A few stops en route produced a Barred Puffbird, expertly spotted by Joyce as it gave it’s wolf-whistle, Olivaceous Piculet (our first of 5 Piculet species!) and Gray-headed Tanager.
By 3:45 we were at the University grounds on the outskirts of Barranquilla where we enjoyed some nice birds in the dry coastal heat. No sooner had we hopped out of our vehicles than we were looking at a troop of endemic Chestnut-winged Chachalacas
moving about in the tops of the desert scrub. After getting our fill we wandered down to a flowering tree that held another endemic, a gorgeous male Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird who put on a nice show for us, foraging and perching for extended views. This was followed by Whooping Motmot, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Yellow Oriole and another target, the Chestnut Piculet.
March 26 – Heading east of Barranquilla at first light we made our way to the mangroves of Isla Salamanca National Park. Here we spent a very productive 1.5hrs. Bicolored Conebill and Panama Flycatcher foraged in the mangroves themselves along with a migrant Prothonotary Warbler. At the water’s edge we spied a few Pied Water-tyrants and a Yellow-chinned Spinetail along with both Green and Striated
Herons. The best was yet to come though as a stunning female Golden-green Woodpecker posed nicely for us before a flock of nearly 20 Bronzed Cowbirds (of the endemic “Bronzed-brown” form, often split from the widespread form) were spotted perched in the mangrove ahead of us. This endemic bird is severely threatened and this represents the highest number noted in ebird!
After a field breakfast back at the van we backtracked a bit to the Km 4 road, a birding site that passes through fields and wetland habitats with some adjacent scrub. Here we found one of our targets, Stripe-backed Wren, to be common while a flock of 7 Turquoise-winged Parrotlets, another tricky endemic (!), allowed us extended scope views as they preened nearby. Moving on we encountered our first Scaled Doves, Snail Kites and Russet-throated Puffbirds. A Crane Hawk flew over and a few very large Iguanas were spotted. At a small wetland we turned around though not before noting a fine male White-headed Marsh-tyrant, Limpkin and several calling migrant Soras.
Driving east along the Cienega causeway we made a couple stops for waders though the very dry conditions meant that there was nothing like the usual numbers. A lone Gull-billed Tern and a few dozen Royal Terns were present along with a smattering of Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers, both Yellowlegs , Least Sandpiper and Black-necked Stilt.
After lunch at the Hotel Minca in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
we enjoyed the hummingbird feeders being frequented by White-necked Jacobin, Steely-vented Hummingbird and White-vented Plumeleteer along with singles of Pale-bellied Hermit and Brown Violetear. We then started the extraordinarily bumpy journey up to the El Dorado Lodge. Along the way we made several birding stops seeing roosting Black-and-white Owl, Groove-billed Toucanet, Rufous-and-white Wren and a Rusty Flowerpiercer. The endemics were proving extremely difficult, something we would find to be the case throughout the next two days. Fortunately, a wonderful male Santa Marta Blossomcrown showed for several minutes at the tienda making up for our dip on the Santa Marta Antbird. As dusk set in we finally arrived at our accommodations for the next two nights, the El Dorado Lodge.
At 5am we piled into our pickups and drove up to the San Lorenzo ridge, spotting a Band-winged Nightjar en route. Unfortunately we were denied the spectacular view of the Sierra Nevada at sunrise by haze/cloud that enshrouded the distant peaks but we soon forgot about that as the birding started the minute we stepped out of the vehicles. A tame Santa Marta Brushfinch hopped about at our feet while another group who arrived before us had a pair of shy Santa Marta Warblers lined up in the bamboo at the roadside. We soon added Black-cheeked (aka Santa Marta) Mountain-tanager and a pair of Plushcaps buzzed through as we had our breakfast and waited
for the Santa Marta Parakeets to show up at their favoured Eucalyptus nearby. Alas, the parakeets never showed (only Avery heard one calling very distantly) so we started birding our way up the road where the birds were sparse but we enjoyed nice looks at our first White-tipped Quetzal. Some small flocks eventually materialized and we got to enjoy Rusty-headed and Streak-capped Spinetails, the latter nest-building, along with several Yellow-crowned Whitestarts. Paramo Seedeater, Yellow-bellied Chat-tyrant, “Santa Marta” Emerald Toucanet and Hermit Wood-wren (a recently split endemic) one by one came into our binocular views though an impromptu-calling Brown-rumped Tapaculo was only seen briefly by Joan. At mid-morning an immature Black-and-chestnut Eagle was spotted before we started descending towards the lodge, en route spending some time birding above the San Lorenzo research station. Here we were after one of the trickiest endemics, the Santa Marta Bush-tyrant which
unfortunately was only heard. Nearby several Tyrian Metaltails were seen foraging on the bromeliads and Gisele spotted a perched White-rumped Hawk that allowed us superb views.
Back at the lodge for lunch and some relaxed birding in the gardens we caught up with the many hummingbirds at the feeders. Blue-naped Chlorophonias and a Band-tailed Guan enjoyed the bananas while Sierra Nevada Brushfinches and the resident Red-tailed Squirrels fed at the grain feeders.
Mid-afternoon saw us off on the Mirador trail to pick up some of the mid-elevation specialties. After noting our first White-lored Warblers near the compost it was predictably quiet as we started off into the forest. Eventually we came across a bit of activity including a pair of Golden-breasted Fruiteaters, spotted high in the trees. A Masked Trogon appeared to be nesting a little further on and on the way back to the lodge we came across several Black-hooded Thrushes and an obliging Gray-throated Leaftosser in a dry streambed.
After dinner we were treated to a couple mammals coming into a canopy banana feeder outside the lodge with both Night Monkeys and a Kinkajou present.
March 28 – With a few higher elevation specialties still missing we decided to drive upslope again for the morning though we didn’t go all the way to the ridge. We started a bit earlier to give ourselves a chance to try for Santa Marta Screech-owl near the research station before first light. However, we didn’t have to wait that long as one flew through the headlights of the front vehicle about 20mins after leaving the lodge. We piled out and spent a frustrating 15 minutes trying to spot it as it called back at us but would not come into view.
After daylight broke we started birding where we had heard the Bush-tyrant the day before but alas, it was not to be as we didn’t even hear it. We enjoyed further views of many of the birds we had seen the day before as we wandered back down towards the research station. Sickle-winged Guan, a migrant Sharp-shinned Hawk and Strong-billed Woodcreeper were new for the trip. At 9am we arrived at the research station to witness the feeding of the Santa Marta Antpitta and it was a
matter of seconds after the worms were put out that we were watching this shy denizen of the Sierra Nevada as it hastily gorged itself before hopping off into the undergrowth.
As we would be departing after lunch for the lower elevation of Minca we spent a couple hours pre-lunch birding in the gardens around the lodge again. This proved productive as we found a Slaty-backed Nightingale-thrush and “Bangs’” Grey-breasted Wood-wren on the compost heap and Ken briefly had the Black-fronted Wood-quail at the grain feeder. Our diligence at the hummingbird feeders finally paid off as a male Lazuline Sabrewing and female White-tailed Starfrontlet put in several appearances.
After lunch we began the long haul down the mountainside making several birding
stops en route. These were quite productive and we enjoyed cracking views of Santa Marta Tapaculo and Rusty-breasted Antpitta before we were denied views of a shy Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner calling from the shrubbery below us. A female Coppery Emerald was visiting the flowers at the Ecotienda when we arrived. Further down we again had no luck with the Santa Marta Antbird but did see our first Black-headed Tanager before finishing the drive down to the Hotel Minca.
March 29 – We started the morning below the Hotel Minca at a little side road that passes opposite to some slopes where Military Macaws roost. Sure enough, we could hear them as we walked down to the viewpoint and we were able to scope them for a while before they all flew off to forage. Here we enjoyed great looks at Whooping Motmots, Black-chested Jays, a troop of Keel-billed Toucans and a migrant Yellow-throated Vireo way up at the top of a bare tree. After breakfast back at the hotel we drove above Minca where we birded a couple little side roads. Here we saw a Rufous-tailed Jacamars, Pale-eyed Pygmy-tyrants and both Black-striped and Golden-winged Sparrows in the undergrowth though we could not call in a vocal Rosy Thrush-tanager. An adult King Vulture soared overhead and a little while later
so did a group of four graceful Swallow-tailed Kites.
After an early lunch we packed up and started the drive northeast to the Guajira Desert near Riohacha. Mid-afternoon saw us arriving at the toll booth that more or less marks the beginning of the Guajira. The toll booth itself was so birdy we ended up spending 20 minutes there picking up our first Green-rumped Parrotlets, Glaucous Tanagers and Black-crested Antshrike. At a side road just past the tollbooth we met our local guide, Jhonis of Tocuyo Birding who led us down a birdy path in search of one of the top targets of the region, Tocuyo Sparrow. Although we only caught one brief glimpse of the bird we found many other new birds for the trip such as Rufous-vented
Chachalacas, Buff-breasted Wren and many flyover Bare-eyed Pigeons. A surprise was a very confiding adult Bicolored Hawk that we watched for several minutes as it perched up at the top of a bare tree. Back near the vehicles a flowering tree had at least one Sapphire-throated Hummingbird at it.
As we neared Riohacha and dusk was setting in we stopped at a dry pasture where we saw 20 Double-striped Thick-knees loafing about.
March 30 – Birding the Guajira desert is always a pleasure as activity is usually steady and the dry scrub affords good views of the birds. Today was no exception and we met Jhonis at Camarones from where he took us along a meandering set of trails that culminated at a Wayuu (the local indigenous group) community. As we were eating our field breakfast at the vehicles Johnis picked out our first of several female
Vermilion Cardinals. Shortly after starting our walk we arrived at a watering hole and here we found a nice little pocket of activity including our first Pileated Finches, Black-faced Grassquit, White-whiskered Spinetail and Slender-billed Inezia (Tyrannutet). A Pearly-vented Tody-tyrant was not terribly confiding and only some in the group got on it. A Harris’ Hawk provided a brief distraction before our first Russet-throated Puffbird of the day was spotted. Carrying on we eventually all got on some scurrying Crested Bobwhites. A small flowering bush briefly held a Buffy Hummingbird but a singing Orinocan Saltator immediately tempted us away. Unfortunately we would not end up seeing the Saltator despite hearing it again as well as at our next birding stop. After a couple hours of fine birding several in the group bought hand-made bags in the Wayuu community, of which a beautiful selection were put on display at the makeshift tienda.
Heading west we spent an hour and a half birding the Cari Cari road, alas this back-up spot for Tocuyo Sparrow proved barren but we enjoyed some other nice birds, especially once we arrived at a series of wetlands and ponds. Here we got nice scope views of a Dwarf Cuckoo along with a couple Pearl Kites, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher and many waterbirds such as Glossy Ibis, a Great Blue Heron and a few flocks of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.
As we had a long drive ahead of us to get to the Perija Mountains for the night we had to depart at 10:30. After lunch en route we finally arrived at the foot of the mountains around 4pm. We had time for one birding stop as we ascended and here we saw a couple leking Lazuline Sabrewings and got our first glimpse at Yellow-breasted (Black-fronted) Brushfinch though not the hoped for Perija Brushfinch. After a long haul up the bumpy road we at last arrived at the lodge at 7:15pm.
March 31 – As dawn arrived at the lodge we enjoyed the multitude of Amethyst-throated Sunangels at the hummingbird feeders as well as a brief Lachrimos Mountain-tanager before driving up to the Paramo. Once above tree line our patience was rewarded with superb views of a couple Perija Thistletails and brief looks at a female Perija Metailtail. Most of the group eventually got on Streak-backed Canastero that was picked out on two separate occasions by Gwen! Driving back
down a little ways those in the second vehicle got looks at a male Perija Metaltail perched beside the road. We then had a frustrating experience trying to spot a furtive Perija Antpitta, which circled around us but only provided fleeting glimpses in the undergrowth. Golden-headed Quetzals and Emerald Toucanets provided a splash of color and a Rufous-breasted Chat-tyrant was briefly spotted before we returned to the lodge for lunch.
In the afternoon we walked down the road from the lodge, coaxing a Perija Tapaculo into view along with a rather uncooperative Gray-breasted Wood-wren (of the endemic manastrae subspecies). We eventually got decent looks at Rufous Spinetail, another endemic subspecies and potential future split, as a few were encountered foraging in the bamboo and tangles at the roadside.
Disappointingly, the weather remained overcast and at times misty so we did not have favourable conditions to spot a soaring Andean Condor, this being one of the most reliable spots for this species in Colombia.
A brief owling jaunt below the lodge after dinner bore no fruit though Avery did hear a very distant White-throated Screech-owl as we walked back up to the lodge and a Band-winged Nightjar was heard by some.
April 1 – After breakfast we started the long drive back down the mountain. We made several birding stops en route seeing some excellent bird as we went. On one of our first stops we found a pair of delightful Rufous-crowned Tody-flycatchers, certainly one of the showiest flycatchers. A little further down we ran into a Yellow-throated Toucan, foraging in a fruiting tree. Much to our shock, through an opening
in the canopy a large bird soaring overhead turned into a juvenile Brown Pelican of all things! Not what one expects at over 2000m in the mountains, though as the Pelican flies we were not THAT far from the coast.
Our drivers knew the spots for a couple of the remaining targets and in quick order Luis, who was the most knowledgeable about birds, showed us Perija Burshfinch and a very obliging Klage’s Antbird. While much of the bamboo in the area was seeding the only semi-bamboo specialist we saw were a pair of Dull-colored Grassquits. Unfortunately it was not the season for flowering Guama trees so we dipped on the Rufous-shafted Woodstar that I had seen at a tree by the roadside on my 2015 visit.
As we neared the bottom of the road we made one last stop to try for Golden-winged Sparrow as not everyone had seen it near Minca. We were not disappointed as one posed for us at just a few metres distance, a striking bird to finish our time in the north with!
After a late lunch at the Valledupar airport we flew back to Bogota where we spent the night.
April 2 – Traffic en route to La Florida Park was exceptionally bad, even for Bogota and we did not arrive until 7:15. Fortunately, our abbreviated time here was not a hindrance. Once through the gate we birded our way out to the blind that looks out over the reed beds at one end of the lake. After 15 minutes we were treated to a nice display from a confiding Bogota Rail that walked out in the open and remained there for 30 seconds or so before meandering back into the reeds. As we walked back towards the parking lot a Silvery-throated Spinetail surprised us by calling behind us. In short order we were able to get looks at it perched up near the top of the nearby shrubs. Songbirds seemed unusually scarce though a group of Andean Siskins feeding in the grasses showed well. At the last minute we finally spotted a Spot-flanked Gallinule lurking along the near shore where we had just walked from. Back in the vehicle we transferred to the airport for our flight to Puerto Inirida and the final leg of the tour.
Puerto Inirida is the newest hotspot for birding in Colombia and it did not disappoint! Our local guide, the excellent Daniel Camilo Orjuela met us at the airport and after checking in to our beautiful hotel we had lunch at a local restaurant that, despite its unassuming visage, served up perhaps the best food of the trip. Mid-afternoon saw us at the nearby Caño Culebra trail (about 15 minutes from town)
where we started off with a primate, a single Collared Titi watching us from the forest beside the trail. Activity was light at first in the mid-afternoon heat but several Swallow-winged Puffbirds were perched out atop bare snags and Daniel soon picked out a pair of Red-shouldered Tanagers for us. After a bit of Playback we got excellent views of a Spotted Puffbird that was followed by our first White Sands specialty, a fine male Black Manakin. A migrant Variegated Flycatcher was a nice surprise as were 2 Broad-winged Hawks circling overhead. Daniel picked out a Rufous-crowned Elaenia that posed well in the scope and our only Amazonian Antshrike of the trip soon followed. As it came time to return to the vehicles we spotted a pair of flycatching Brown Jacamars. Back at the vehicles dusk was setting in and we were treated to a few Least Nighthawks hawking insects overhead.
April 3 – Our first full day in Puerto Inirida was much anticipated and it did not disappoint. Our destination for the day was the Sabanitas community, a 20 minute drive from our hotel. In the community itself we caught up with our first Bare-necked Fruitcrow before heading out along the Caño Carbon trail. This area is all excellent White Sands forest and holds many of the specialties of this localized habitat. The trail starts in cleared scrub before passing through a short section of forest, another clearing then more contiguous forest.
At the first forest patch we got nice looks at Orinoco Piculet and a pair of Cherrie’s Antwrens. On the far side of the next clearing we had a fantastic half hour as the specialties came rolling through. A Golden-spangled Piculet kicked things off before Daniel got us on an Azure-naped Jay. This was followed by a sunning Purplish Jacamar and before we could finish properly admiring it he had a Pale-bellied Mourner lined up for us! Scanning a little further back to the distant treetops we were able to scope White-tipped Purpletuft and a very distant male Pompadour Cotinga. To round off this whirlwind of great birds a Tiny Hawk was spotted perched out in the bare branches of a tree 100m or so away. The rest of the trail was well forested and we ran into a couple small canopy flocks were we found our Spot-backed Antwrens along with more widespread birds like Gilded Barbet and Ivory-
billed Aracari and singles of the scarce Yellow-throated Woodpecker and Black-bellied Cuckoo. In the understory we had a showy Imeri Warbling-Antbird as well as a Brown-winged Schiffornis. We had been hoping for the bizarre Capuchinbird along this trail but did not get a whiff of one, the only disappointment on an otherwise superb day. As we walked back to the community for lunch we added Paradise Jacamar, White-crowned Manakin and Daniel’s persistence was rewarded with scope views for the group of a tiny Dwarf-tyrant-manakin to go along with another miniscule creature, the Short-tailed Pygmy-tyrant that we had spotted earlier. This
latter is the smallest songbird in the world at only 2.5 inches!
Back in Sabanitas we were treated to a local lunch of fish and several variations of yucca prepared by one of the indigenous women in the community. After relaxing for a bit (some of us took advantage of the hammocks that were strung up for us!) we walked a little ways along the entrance road to a small side trail that led into a patch of very dense low secondary scrub that was flooded once we had advanced 50m or so. This unique habitat is home to the Yapacana Antbird, a species known from just a few isolated locations near the confluence of eastern Colombia, northwest Brazil and southern Venezuela. The habitat was not conducive to getting good looks at anything more than a metre away but we ended up getting on a male of this very rare bird.
The rest of the afternoon was spent along the road where we found several new additions to the trip including Swainson’s Flycatcher and Black Caracara. Parrots were well represented flying over and we had a couple trios of Black-headed Parrot as well as three species of Macaw – Blue-and-Yellow, Scarlet and Red-and-Green.
April 4 – For the first time since arriving in Puerto Inirida we were on the water today, transported down the Inirida River to the Matraca trail, about 15 minutes downstream from town. Daniel had a comfortable boat with cushioned seated and a plastic roof to provide shade lined up for us. In contrast to our birding up to this point, this morning we were in seasonally flooded Varzea forest (dry at this season) which held a different selection of species than the White Sands forest.
A male Amazonian Black Tyrant greeted us as we disembarked but activity was light for the first hour or so. During this time we came across our first Blackish-gray Antshrikes, Black-chinned Antbirds and a pair a Pink-throated Becards building their nest. A singing Cocoa Thrush came in to Daniel’s tape but remained elusive, never perching within sight. Up ahead some soft churring caught Daniel’s attention, “Orinoco Softtail!” he exclaimed. We were soon watching three of these extremely
range restricted furnariids chasing each other about the undergrowth coming within a couple metres of us! Another obliging furnariid was a Cinnamon-rumped Foliage-gleaner that entertained us with its head weaving display as it gave its seemingly never-ending trill from an open perch in the understory.
At a small clearing a calling Ferruginous Pygmy-owl attracted in a whole entourage of birds including our first Golden-bellied Euphonias, Yellow-bellied Dacnis and another White-tipped Purpletuft. Several hummingbirds were in attendance, including both White-chinned and the rarer Rufous-throated Sapphires (we would also add Blue-chinned Sapphire at a flowering bush shortly afterwards!). Nearby a White-necked Puffbird and Blue-crowned Trogon showed nicely. Carrying on we got scope views of a pair of Orange-cheeked Parrots feeding quietly in the canopy, a fine Ringed Woodpecker and a female Green-tailed Jacamar perched together on a hanging vine with her young.
Again Daniel picked out a special bird singing behind us so we back-tracked a bit and soon could hear the repeated phrases of a Rose-breasted Chat singing overhead. Unfortunately only Avery got on the bird before it disappeared, not to be heard from again. By now it was late morning and it was time for us to turn around. The birds weren’t finished with us yet though and we were delighted to see a superb Collared Puffbird on a small side trail. Speckled Spinetail, Helmeted Pygmy-tyrant and a flock
of Velvet-fronted Grackles rounded out an excellent morning of birding!
In the afternoon we were back in the boat heading north from town along the Inirida river, then west on the Guaviare to a site called La Rompida. En route we enjoyed waterbirds such as Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, White-winged Swallows and good numbers of herons and egrets. La Rompida is the site for another local specialty. A couple years ago a mystery Antshrike was discovered in the Inirida area, on which genetic work is currently being undertaken to determine if it is a new species or a disjunct population of Chestnut-backed Antshrike (not otherwise known from Colombia). Recently, Daniel found a population at this site, where they apparently are quite common.
We started with a family of Collared Plovers and a lone Pied Plover on the shore followed by a quick jaunt to the grassy margins at the back of the beach where we spotted a couple roosting Ladder-tailed Nightjars along with a Burrowing Owl. Carrying on we soon had the bizarre White-eared Jacamar lined up in the scope and our first Amazonian Umbrellabird in a fruiting tree. After crossing a small stream, either via a precarious bridge or (more sensibly!) in a small dugout canoe, we walked along the margin of it to where Daniel got us on a very obliging male of the mystery Antshrike. In the same area we also enjoyed a pair of Rusty-backed Spinetails, a Little Cuckoo and our 9th, and final, Puffbird species of the trip, the diminutive Chestnut-capped Puffbird. The day concluded with sunset and watermelon on the beach while Black Skimmers and a mixed martin flock that included migrant Purple and Brown-chested Martins commuted along the river.
April 5 – This was a day with long periods spent on the water but we started with a short trip across the river to the El Paujil trail. Like the Matraca trail yesterday, this was an area of Varzea and held many of the same birds as well as several new ones. We started with a pair of Amazonian Streaked-antwrens in the scrub of a nearly dry streambed before a Cream-colored Woodpecker flew in overhead. We then played hide-and-seek with a responsive Varzea Schiffornis that eventually was seen by everyone as it darted about the understory. At a small clearing Daniel got us on a confiding Blue-throated Piping-guan in a nearby tree. Here we also scoped a Long-billed Woodcreeper and eventually got on a calling Cinnamon Attila.
Arriving at a small stream we called in a pair of Dot-backed Antwrens. Daniel then heard a Rose-breasted Chat calling again in the distance so we rushed over to it but it had gone silent and, frustratingly, we were not able to relocate it. We did get some consolation in the form of a Yellow-crowned Elaenia that posed for several minutes
just 5m from us. This species was only recently confirmed to occur in Colombia but seems not uncommon in the area. One of the main reasons for birding this trail was that Wire-tailed Manakins lek nearby and while we did not see any lekking, we did get to enjoy a superb male on a couple occasions. Here we also got quick looks at a foraging Black-throated Hermit.
Mid-morning saw us back in the boat and zipping south down the Inirida River en route to the Cerros de Mavicure, bare granite mountains (after a fashion) that are typical of the Guianan shield. Along the way we saw many Muscovy Ducks and stopped for a Bat Falcon that was perched atop a snag. As we reached the base of the impressive cerros we pulled in to the dock at the indigenous village of El Remanso. Here we enjoyed another nice lunch before boating down a further 5 minutes to a beach with a fine view of the rounded peaks. The cerros result in a narrowing of the river which created some rapids and this in turned provided habitat for Black-
collared Swallows that were nesting in the boulders alongside the beach. A Capped Heron was spotted across the river, our only one of the trip. Daniel has documented nesting of Orange-breasted Falcon on the cerros and sure enough, he spotted one circling way up by the top of one of the cerros.
It was mid-day and the birding was slow so, having enjoyed the impressive landscape, we headed back towards town. As we neared civilization we pulled in to a small side stream called Caño Cunuben where Daniel assured us there would be Hoatzin. Sure enough there was a large group of them in the riverside shrubbery. Lost in the excitement of these prehistoric-looking birds was an Amazonian Tyrannulet that was only seen by Daniel and Avery. Once we had had our fill we turned our attention to an oropendola colony in a tree right over the river. Here we noted a few Olive Oropendolas among the many Crested. We were hoping for Sungrebe but we had to make do with our only Slate-colored Hawk, Red-capped Cardinals and Thrush-like Wrens of the trip.
This evening Daniel had arranged a treat for us, an indigenous dance performance put on by a local professor and three generations of his family! It included several local, hand-crafted instruments and impressive body paint.
April 6 – Our last morning of birding for this tour saw us return to the White Sands forest at the Caño Vitina community. En route we stopped off at a spot where Daniel regularly has White-naped Seedeater. Unfortunately, though it was heard singing in the distance we would dip on this white sands specialty. In the area we did spot several Plain-crested Elaenias as well as both Black-faced and Burnished-buff Tanagers. A couple calling Russet-crowned Crakes prompted us to take on the near-futile task of trying to see one in the dense roadside vegetation (Daniel and Ken got glimpses).
At the Caño Vitina community we were treated to a splendid Green-and-rufous Kingfisher at the bridge right in the village. Shortly afterwards we spied a female Spangled Cotinga in a bare tree. A single Yellow-green Grosbeak and Black-eared Fairy briefly came through while at a small pond we finally all got on a Green-tailed Goldenthroat. A flyover female Pompadour Cotinga prompted us to return to scanning the distant treetops and we eventually all got scope views of a male Pompadour as well as a male Spangled Cotinga. Our last order of business was to try for Yellow-crowned Manakin at a little forest patch, one of the final White Sands specialties we were missing. However, despite hearing one calling from the forest we were not able to locate it and we had to make do with a consolation White-eyed Tody-tyrant. A vocal Yellow-throated Flycatcher perched beside the track as we
arrived at the community was a pleasant finish to a sweltering, though productive morning.
One final treat was awaiting us as we drove back to our hotel – a majestic Maguari Stork at a small wetland beside the road! Back at the hotel we had an early lunch and packed our bags in preparation for the flight back to Bogota. Once in the capital we had our final group dinner though the majority of us would do some post tour birding the following day before our evening flights home.
By Avery Bartels