March 6 – Bogota, Parque La Florida and Chicaque Natural Park
As everyone had arrived at least one day early we tacked on a ¾ day of birding around Bogota. Diana Belcazar joined us as our local guide for the day and all enjoyed her company and knowledge of her home city in addition to her birding expertise. As some participants arrived late the night before we left the hotel at 8am, arriving at La Florida Park round 9am, which is not ideal for species like Bogota Rail. Still, near the hide overlooking the wetland we got brief looks for some at the endemic and skulky Silvery-throated Spinetail before settling down to scan the reedbeds and open water. A couple Spot-flanked Gallinues were scoped out on the water as were many Andean Ducks. Yellow-hooded Blackbirds were common in the reeds and walking back along the shore we managed several brief looks at Bogota Rail but unfortunately few of us got satisfactory views. Songbirds were surprisingly scarce though we did note an obliging Torrent Tyrannulet.
A one hour transfer had us at the misty parking lot at Chicaque Natural Park where we lunched and enjoyed a couple hummingbirds at the lone feeder they had up. Among the numerous Lesser Violetears we noted a couple Tourmaline Sunangels and the star of the show, a female Golden-bellied Sunangel. Walking the entrance road we started off with a small flock near the gate which held Blue-capped Tanagers, an Oleaginous Hemispingous and a brief Moustached Brushfinch (we would see another later on). Carrying on, we pulled out an obliging Gray-breasted Wood-wren and a Gray-browed Brushfinch before coming across another little flock. This had a Fawn-breasted Tanager and a couple Plushcaps though not everyone saw the latter.
March 7 – Flight to Pasto and transfer to Aves y Florez Lodge
Our first day of the tour proper was a travel day. We arrived nearly on time in Pasto and were leaving the airport around 10:00am. The drive to Junin and the Aves y Florez Lodge, our base for the next three nights, was a little longer than anticipated. This was mostly due to a landslide that kept us at bay for over an hour. After a late lunch in Ricaurte we did the final 45 minutes to the lodge, arriving in time to spend a couple hours enjoying the excellent feeders at the lodge. Here we met our local guide, Mauricio and reveled in Choco specialties like Empress Brilliant, White-whiskered Hermit and Rufous-throated Tanager alongside more widespread eye candy like Red-headed Barbet, Golden Tanager and Orange-billed Sparrow.
That night we enjoyed our first of several wonderful dinners.
March 8 – Rio Nambi Reserve, Bangsias Birdlodge and Barbacoas Road
We got an early start, arriving at the entrance to the nearby Rio Nambi Reserve in the half-dark. We wanted to get a little ways into the forest in the hopes of hearing Plumbeous Forest-Falcon which tend to call at first light. Alas, while we would enjoy the sounds of the forest waking up around us, the Forest-Falcon was not among the dawn chorus. Overall it was actually a slow couple hours of birding with little in the way of flocks. The new hummingbird feeders were sparsely attended but we did get some nice species like Brown Inca and Violet-tailed Sylph. Smoky-brown Woodpecker and Golden-bellied (Choco) Warbler were among the few birds we actually got looks. Meanwhile, species like Northern Schiffornis, Rufous-breasted Antthrush and Maroon-tailed Parakeet remained on our heard-only list. At the trailhead we encountered a bit of activity with our first Black-crowned Tityra and a Bran-colored Flycatcher of the “Mouse-colored” race.
For the latter part of the morning we drove a few minutes down the road to the Bangsias Birdlodge area (no actual bird lodge present). Here there is often quite good activity and we enjoyed several beautiful Moss-backed Tanagers, Tricolored (Choco) Brushfinch and Indigo Flowerpiercers. Fruiting mistletoe attracted a pair of Yellow-collared Chlorphonia which posed in the scope while we eventually connected with both of the stunning Scarlet-and-white and Glistening-green Tanagers. Hummingbirds were numerous with Velvet-purple Coronet, Green Thorntail and Purple-bibbed Whitetip new for our trip list. Overhead, we had a Barred Hawk circle low over us.
Back at the lodge we were delighted to have a Crimson-rumped Toucanet on the feeders over lunch. In the afternoon we drove a little further downslope, to a section of the Junin – Barbacoas road, a few km from Junin. Immediately upon getting out of the bus we noted a mixed flock at eye-level. One of the first birds we put our bins on was a Choco Vireo! This species is one that frequents tall canopies so getting eye-level looks is a privilege indeed! A short walk down the road provided us with excellent looks at two male Orange-breasted Fruiteaters, perched out on an open branch as well as a half dozen colourful Toucan Barbets! Black Solitaire was the next Choco specialty to make an appearance before we rounded out the birding with our first pair of Golden-collared Honeycreepers.
En route back to the lodge, a brief visit to the Bangsias Birdlodge was quiet but we did get nice looks at a perched Double-toothed Kite.
March 9 – Tumaco Area, Finca Maragricola and KM 42 (aka Pueblo Nuevo road)
After a just over two hour transfer (as opposed to the 1hr we were told by our local guide) we finally arrived at the entrance to the Finca Maragricola in the hot lowlands. Unfortunately, we had arranged for a sit down breakfast here which further delayed our birding so it wasn’t until 8:30 that we were walking the track through Cecropia-dominated secondary forest. The birding was already fairly slow as temperatures rise quickly here. A pair of White-necked Puffbirds excavating an old termite nest was a hit while common species like Red-rumped Woodpecker, Red-lored Parrots, Cinnamon Becard, White-browed Gnatcatcher, Blue-chested Hummingbird and Red-legged Honeycreeper were enjoyed. A skulky Chestnut-backed Antbird was seen by some.
Upon arriving at the shrimp ponds we noted several waterbirds. Among the abundant Black-bellied Whistling-ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Black-necked Stilts and assorted Herons and Egrets were a couple dozen Fulvous Whistling-ducks, several pairs of White-cheeked Pintail and single Cinnamon Teal and Glossy Ibis, the last two scarce species in this area. A pair of Pacific Parrotlets were expertly spotted by Mauricio roosting quietly in the middle of a small tree beside the track. Also here were a couple Chestnut-throated Seedeaters while later on we finally connected with a handsome Masked Water-tyrant. These latter three are all only to be found in Colombia in this southwestern most corner of the country. Unfortunately, the Rufous-headed Chachalacas and Pale-legged (Pacific) Horneros remained as heard only. A small detour down a side track gave us good views at a pair of Pacific Parrotlets.
After lunch we moved on to the nearby KM42 road (aka Pueblo Nuevo). Though the occasional dump trucks bringing sand from the river were an unwelcome disturbance the birding was surprisingly good given the time of day. The highlight was undoubtedly the four different Orange-fronted Barbets that we found, another regional specialty. The support cast included a confiding pair of Bay Wrens, piratic Flycatcher, Masked Tityra, Golden-hooded Tanagers and Green Honeycreeper. A Plumbeous Kite perched over the road was not fussed by our presence while a Hook-billed kite was a little more skittish moving between perches but still seen in the scope by the group.
A late afternoon stop at the La Nutria Reserve in the foothills was unproductive due to the hour and we missed the hoped for Golden-chested Tanager here. A few Scarlet-rumped Caciques were seen in flight to round out the day.
March 10 – La Planada Reserve, Finca El Bosque and transfer to Las Lajas
A mostly rainy morning severely hampered birding which was a shame as this was our one morning at middle-upper elevations of the pacific slope. After arriving at the La Planada Reserve around 7am we spent most of our hour here huddled under the roofed shelter at the “Mirador”. A short sojourn along the road failed to turn up anything, least of all the hoped for Hoary Puffleg.
We had arranged for breakfast and lunch at the nearby Finca El Bosque (a normally 45 minute drive from La Planada) so we called it quits on our rainy stop at La Planada. Shortly before arriving at the Finca, we were surprised to see that the road was blocked by a significant landslide. The 20 minute walk up from there was, fortunately, quite birdy and we came across our first Slaty-backed Chat-tyrant, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Smoke-colored Pewee, Red-faced Spintetail and a large flock of Band-tailed Pigeons.
After a very late (though tasty) breakfast we staked out the feeders in the hope of getting the star bird here, Plate-billed Mountain-toucan. While waiting we enjoyed regular visits from a troupe of stunning Blue-winged Mountain-tanagers. A Rufous-gaped Hillstar showed well a couple times at a nearby flowering banana plant. Overhead, among the vultures were Barred Hawk, Hook-billed and Swallow-tailed Kite. After lunch we still had no whiff of the Mountain-toucan so we started walking back down to the trucks. A small flock held Golden, Metallic-green and Beryl-spangled tanagers. Once at the trucks we spotted our first White-capped Dippers in the river. Back at the van we made the two and a half hour transfer to Las Lajas. A pit stop at a roadside gas station provided us with our first Yellow-billed Pintails and a fine male Black-tailed Trainbearer.
With a little daylight left after arriving at Las Lajas we took a quick walk down to the Santuario de Las Lajas (a church built into the side of the gorge). In the scrub hanging off the precipitous slopes we noted our first Black-backed Grosbeak and a pair of Tufted Tit-tyrants settling down to roost.
March 11 – Las Lajas and Laguna de la Cocha
We were joined this morning by local guide Wilson, who arrived at dawn from Pasto. He suggested we start the morning by the Potosi Bridge, which crosses over the gorge a bit past Las Lajas. This apparently is the most reliable spot for Giant Hummingbird and really the only place in Colombia where it can be found with any sort of regularity. As we looked for our main target we were pleased to pick up other high elevation species like Cinereous Conebill, Spectacled Whitestart, Streak-necked Bush-tyrant, Yellow-breasted Brushfinch and a somewhat skulky Rufous-chested Tanager. A short walk up the road finally got us a Giant Hummingbird, perched atop a shrub about 100m from us. After watching it in the scope for a couple minutes we got to appreciate just how big this species is when it buzzed right over us.
With the main target in the bag we had breakfast and then returned to the Sanctuario. Alan spotted a Fawn-breasted Tanager across the gorge and we enjoyed our first Torrent Ducks of the trip as well as the architectural splendor of the church as the backdrop to our birding.
En route to Laguna de la Cocha we were again pleased to get a new bird for the trip at our customary gas station pit stop. This time, a couple Carunculated Caracaras were spotted chasing their Crested cousin over a nearby hill.
It was raining quite hard as we ate lunch at Laguna de la Cocha but between showers we noted another Black-tailed Trainbearer, a black-crowned Night-heron and several Yellow-billed Pintails flying around.
Once checked in to the nearby Chalet Guamez Hotel we birded the grounds as we waited for our local guide, Fernando, to arrive. In the grounds we noted our first Andean Guans while the lakeshore held several Slate-colored Coots. With Fernando, we arranged for a quick boat ride to try to access more reed beds to look for Virginia (Ecuadorian) Rail, Subtropical Doradito and Andean Gull. Alas, while we would eventually connect with a close Andean Gull, the other two were no shows as we boated along the shoreline for the final hour before dusk.
March 12 – Paramo Bordoncillo and upper Via Nueva (new road) Sibundoy-Mocoa
After breakfast at Chalet Guamez we drove up the main highway to the Paramo Bordoncillo. The stretch of track up to the towers is less than a km but at 3100-3200m elevation it took us a few hours to cover. Plus, we took our time trying for the Chestnut-bellied Cotinga at the better vantage points. Bird activity remained light throughout the nearly 6 hours we spent here. The weather mostly cooperated with just some light drizzle early on. Glowing Puffleg and Rainbow-bearded Thornbill were among the few birds we laid our binoculars on as we ascended. Near the towers we finally found a bit of activity with Golden-crowned Tanager, Lacrimose Mountain Tanager, Pale-naped Brushfinch and Glossy Flowerpiercer noted. A brief White-chinned Thistletail showed for some as well. As we made our way back to the van we ran into another small flock made up of Brown-backed Chat-tyrant, Agile Tit-tyrants and best of all a trio of ultra-rare Masked Mountain-tanagers! Connecting with this rare species made up for us ultimately dipping on the Cotinga.
After lunch we birded with Fernando along the under-construction “Via Nueva” that will connect Sibundoy and Mocoa. For now, there is almost no traffic along what is constructed and we birded a couple forest patches. There wasn’t much in the way of birds about but we spotted a couple Sierran Elaenias, our first Blue-and-black Tanagers and a flyover Carunculated Caracara. Some spotted a Green-and-black Fruiteater in the mist and we heard a distant Ocellated Tapaculo.
Back in Sibundoy Fernando showed us the city plaza with its several wooden statues representative of local indigenous culture and history.
March 13 – Birding along road to Mocoa, Trampolin de las Aves
Driving the road between Sibundoy and Mocoa it is hard to believe that one is on the principal/only route connecting the eastern foothills and lowlands with the highlands and Pacific. The majority of the road is not paved and there is little traffic. Needless to say, this is to the benefit of the birding. We were joined by our local guide for the next few days, Edilson and we made several stops along the way, mostly focusing on the higher elevation montane forests. One of our first stops held a nice mixed species flock that included a pair of stunning Red-hooded Tanager, a brief Collared Inca and a hybrid Golden-fronted x Spectacled Redstart, typical of this overlap zone between the two “species”. On a section of river we spotted a pair of Torrent Ducks that we eventually saw had a downy chick in tow! While admiring the ducks a little understory flock came into view across the stream. Eventually, these came closer and we noted a few Short-billed Chlorospinguses, one of the day’s targets. Our first Deep-blue Flowerpiercer delighted us with its demonic orange eyes while we also spotted a Green-backed Hillstar and our first Three-striped Warbler.
Further on we got stellar looks at a pair of Crimson-mantled Woodpeckers. While enjoying these, a Black-billed Mountain-toucan came into view atop a nearby broken topped palm. Our first Saffron-crowned Tanagers of the trip were also spotted here. Our last stop before lunch held a few more goodies in the form of a Geoffroy’s Daggerbill, Rufous-crested Tanager and a duo of male Golden-winged Manakins flashing their brilliant wings as they chased each other. Unfortunately, the Yellow-throated Tanager here made just a very brief appearance and only the guides got a proper look at it. A pair of nest-building Flame-faced Tanagers were more obliging though and gave great, close views.
After one of our only disappointing meals of the trip we arrived at Filo del Hambre, the starting point of the descent down to the foothills at Mocoa. This stretch of road is colloquially referred to as the “Trampolin de la Muerte” (Trampolin of Death) but in the birding world it has taken on the moniker “Trampolin de las Aves” for the excellent birding along the way as it descends from ~2000m to 600m elevation. We dipped on the White-rimmed Brushfinch at Filo del Hambre and after only hearing Dusky Piha we cut our losses and started our descent. While we didn’t have too much time for birding we did enjoy some Grass-green Tanagers and a Sickle-winged Guan before arriving at the area where a lek of Andean Cock-of-the-Rock is visible across the valley. One of these flaming orange beauties flew over to our side for close views and the fruiting Cecropia trees nearby attracted several beautiful birds like Red-headed Barbet and Orange-eared and Golden Tanagers.
Arriving in the fading light at our hotel for the evening, some in the group took the opportunity for a quick dip in the pool before dinner.
March 14 – Puerto Asis, Playa Rica Ecological Trail
Our original plan for the morning had been to go to Finca El Escondite but apparently they were not open for tourism so we decided to make the rather long (2.5hour) drive to a site called Playa Rica, a short boat ride down the Putumayo River from the city of Puerto Asis. A pit stop at a gas station provided us with our first Scarlet-crowned Barbets as we entered the lowlands.
When we arrived at Playa Rica we were welcomed by a beautiful Chestnut Woodpecker along with Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper and a pair of White-eared Jacamars. After a quick breakfast we enjoyed a troupe of White-tailed Titi monkeys as we set out to walk the trail east from our docking point. While we ultimately dipped on a couple of our more difficult targets (Plum-throated Cotinga and Rufous-headed Woodpecker) we enjoyed many species typical of the Amazonian lowlands. Black-fronted Nunbirds, Scarlet-crowned Barbet, Turquoise Tanager, Lettered Aracari and White-banded Swallow were spotted along the way. Where we turned around we spied a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl that had a fledged young in tow. A few birds were attracted in by the soft calls of the adult and these included Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet and a female Yellow-bellied Dacnis. A Yellow-breasted Flycatcher calling in a patch of Guaduas was eventually tracked down and we were surprised to get split second views of an Undulated Tinamou rocketing overhead after being flushed by one of the local dogs!
After lunch we took a quick walk to the nearby school and here we got great looks at our first Amazonian Umbrellabird of the trip as well as a pair of Black-capped Donacobius!
Most of the afternoon was spent driving back to our hotel in Mocoa where the refreshing pool was enjoyed again.
March 15 – Vereda Campucana Trail and transfer to El Encanto Ecolodge
Our destination for this morning was just a half hour from the hotel. We arrived at the trailhead to Vereda Campucana around 6:30 and ate a quick field breakfast. There were a few birds about and we particularly enjoyed the Magpie Tanager and Speckled Chachalaca while an Ash-throated Crake called from the pasture nearby.
The first part of the trail passes through secondary habitats and plantations and here we enjoyed a group of Chestnut-eared Aracaris and a Lineated Woodpecker. Once in the forest proper the bird activity was pretty light. We played hide-and-seek with an uncooperative pair of Dusky Antbirds before we tracked down one of our top targets for the morning, a Black-streaked Puffbird. Around mid-morning we finally came across our first proper mixed flock which kept us entertained for a half hour or so. Red-headed and Gilded Barbets were enjoyed in all their finery while Speckled, Blue-headed and a couple Paradise Tanagers were not to be outshone. Neotropical migrants such as Canada Warbler and a beautiful male Cerulean Warbler were highlights for some as well. More subdued were species like Streaked Xenops, Russet Antshrike, Rufous-naped Greenlet, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet and Scaled Piculet were also noted. A Green-fronted Lancebill was briefly seen by some as well.
The bird of the morning though was an iridescent Coppery-chested Jacamar that showed up during a hiatus in the flock activity! As we walked back to the van we came across a troupe of Humboldt’s Squirrel Monkeys and heard a distant Black Tinamou.
After lunch back at the hotel we drove north over the low pass that leads into the upper Magdalena Valley where we were lodged at the delightful El Encanto Ecolodge. A quick roadside stop for some construction produced our first Rufous-tailed Tyrant, an often tricky species to track down.
Arriving shortly after dark at the El Encanto Ecolodge we were welcomed by the Molina Cruz family, some of the friendliest and kindest folks one is likely to meet anywhere. Michael, the son, and Luisa were our local guides for the following day and helped ensure we had a wonderful time at El Encanto.
March 16 – El Encanto Ecolodge and La Drymophila Reserve
We spent this morning at the new Drymophila Reserve, about a 45 minute truck drive from the lodge. This property has been developed over the past couple years by the folks at El Encanto and is now truly outstanding. Feeding stations attract White-bellied Antpitta, Schwartz’s Antthrush (!) and banana feeders bring in various tanagers, endemic Red-bellied Grackles, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Red-headed Barbets and more. Meanwhile, we noted 12 species of hummingbirds on their feeders! These included regular visits from the Tolima Blossomcrown, a typically tricky endemic, as well as a lone female Gorgeted Woodstar. We started the morning with a ~300m walk down the trail to the feeders. En route we got superb views of the range-restricted endemic East Andean Antbird. At the fruit/hummingbird feeders we enjoyed a coffee and, in addition to the above mentioned species, had a pair of Magpie Tanagers, a migrant Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and another endemic, the Dusky-headed Brushfinch.
After enjoying these we split up and went to the two feeding stations for the Antthrush/Antpitta. After a half hour a Schwartz’s Antthrush showed up, along the trail about 20m from us. While the other group had yet to see the Antpitta we decided that as it was more reliable we would quickly switch the groups in the hope that the Antthrush would return. Alas, as it turned out half the group saw both while the other saw neither…in the end it was evident we should not have split up but rather tried to squish everyone in each hide together (should have been just about manageable). Endemic Tolima Doves were common at each feeding station so everyone got to enjoy them to their heart’s content!
A late morning walk further down the trail provided us with views of a very fine Golden-winged Manakin at a lek.
Back at the lodge, we ate a delicious lunch and had a bit of a siesta before birding the grounds. The hummingbird feeders here attracted further new species for the trip in the form of Red-billed and Short-tailed Emeralds, Shining-green (the last three all near-endemics) and Indigo-capped (endemic) Hummingbirds and a Pale-bellied Hermit. Meanwhile, the banana feeders here were a hit with the Colombian Chachalacas and several species of tanager. Around the property we spotted Spectacled Parrotlet, Bar-crested Antshrike, White-winged Becard, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Cerulean Warbler and Rusty Flowerpiercer.
March 17 – La Riviera Reserve and San Agustin
In contrast to the excellent El Encanto Reserve, our morning at the La Riviera Reserve was a difficult and unrewarding experience despite being guided by the very knowledgeable Jorge Peña. A 45 minute drive from El Encanto this reserve holds outstanding, mature forest and a wealth of sought after target species. Unfortunately, being an as yet not very developed reserve, the trails were very muddy and in poor condition with one quite dicey stream crossing involved.
We started off in a light drizzle to try for Hooded Antpitta, arriving at the spot after about a 20 minute walk. The rain had picked up a little and we had no luck. Pressing on, we did encounter a couple canopy flocks but they were so high as to make views very poor. Around mid-morning the drizzle stopped and we were able to call in a Schwartz’s Antthrush that gave brief views for some in the group. As we were returning down the trail towards the entrance Jorge heard a fruiteater and we were able to call a male Black-chested Fruiteater (one of the targets here) in though it tended to remain high in the canopy and almost directly overhead. Eventually it appeared on some cecropia fruits at a more agreeable viewing angle but the views were brief.
We had a nice lunch at a nearby farmhouse where we had a couple good birds such as Acorn Woodpeckers, another Rufous-tailed Tyrant and a male Black-and-white Seedeater.
After lunch we made the 1.5 hour transfer to San Agustin where were spent the night in the beautiful Finca El Maco hotel. The grounds were very productive and we spent an hour birding before dusk getting good looks at many species seen previously but also our first Ash-browed Spinetail. A group of White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swifts spent some time foraging overhead.
March 18 – San Agustin Archeological Park and drive to Florencia
The main reason for our stop in San Agustin was actually to visit the Archeological Park which encompasses some of the most impressive and extensive ruins and stone sculptures in the neotropics. Before indulging in a great breakfast we had about an hour to kill as the park opened at 8am. Birding the hotel grounds we saw mostly the same species as the previous evening but some of us did get quick looks at an endemic Apical Flycatcher as well as an Olivaceous Piculet and a pair of stunning Blue-necked Tanagers.
At the Archeological Park we were joined by an English speaking local cultural guide named Juliana who was very knowledgeable and good company. Among the many incredible sculptures and tombs we saw a smattering of birds though admittedly, most of the time we were fully captivated by this amazing place. Our only Acadian Flycatchers of the trip as well as Smoky-brown Woodpecker and Green Jay were enjoyed. In the end we were disappointed to have to leave after our three hours in the park. After lunch in Pitalito we spent most of the afternoon driving down to the city of Florencia, in the Amazonian foothills. A brief roadside stop at a known site produced the expected Cliff Flycatcher pair. Arriving at our destination with light fading we just made it to the roost of a pair of Black-banded Owls in time to enjoy them before they left for their night’s activities.
March 19 – Florencia, Mirador los Tucanes/Via Antigua and Vereda San Carlos
We were joined during our time in Florencia by the excellent Jorge Muñoz of Caqueta Birding. Our full day in the area started off with a 5am departure to drive up the Via Antigua (old road to the Magdalena Valley). This road is mostly unpaved but in quite good condition and has almost no traffic with excellent habitat along much of it.
As we made our way up the Via Antigua in the dawn light we flushed up a Fasciated Tiger-heron that posed nicely for us at a small creek. Once fully light we made a quick stop as Jorge heard Paradise Tanager which we duly saw in the trees above the road. Carrying on, we spent the next couple hours birding a section of road called Mirador Los Tucanes which has excellent foothill/lower slope habitat and is good for mixed flocks.
Our first stop provided us with nice views of a group of Maroon-tailed Parakeets of the souancei subspecies and a Wattled Guan in the canopy. Some quality hummingbirds were here as well including a scarce Black-throated Brilliant that regularly returned to perch atop one of the roadside trees as well as a Violet-headed Hummingbird that unfortunately only Michael and Jorge spotted. A skulking White-crowned Tapaculo was briefly seen by some though it evaded most of us.
At our next stop, it wasn’t long before we were watching a nice mixed flock that held some goodies like Rufous-rumped and Yellow-breasted Antwrens and Tawny-breasted Flycatcher. Another little flock contained some beautiful Flame-faced Tanagers that entertained us for several minutes, while Andrew picked out a male Blue-rumped Manakin. A calling Yellow-throated Toucan was eventually picked out far down the opposite slope by Jorge.
Carrying on up the road we got to somewhat higher elevations but the birding slowed down. A large bird flying across the road materialized into a Red-ruffed Fruitcrow and a Metallic-green Tanager was picked out of a small mixed flock while a couple Long-tailed Tapaculos remained heard only. After hearing them for a while we finally spotted a troupe of Humboldt’s Woolly Monkeys in the canopy of the trees about 50m from us.
We descended down to the Mirador Los Tucanes area again for lunch at a local finca. While waiting for the food to be prepared we continued birding, getting some nice species like Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Green-fronted Lancebill, Wire-crested Thorntail and a spiffy Barred Becard. This was topped however by the appearance of a small group of brilliant Golden-eared Tanagers at some roadside fruits!
After lunch, we drove down to the main highway and took it uphill for about 20 minutes to Vereda San Carlos, a dirt track that leads to several farms and passes through forest patches with a few sought after birds. Alas, we arrived to fog and rain and though we tried we didn’t find much in the half hour we spent here. A little further down, at Mirador Las Tangaras, we were below the clouds and here we got looks at our first Many-banded Aracari of the trip along with a little group of four iridescent Swallow Tanagers.
March 20 – Laguna el Vaticano and flight to Bogota
On the outskirts of Florencia there is a private ranch property referred to as Laguna el Vaticano that allows birders to enter for a small fee. The area is extremely productive and despite having our birding bookended by torrential rain we racked up 70 species is less than two hours. Horned Screamers were spotted a couple times atop bushes on the far side of the wetland and their bizarre braying was a regular part of the soundscape. Another fan favourite, and equally bizarre, was the Hoatzin that lurked in the waterside foliage. Among the first birds we saw were a mixed group of Red-bellied and Chestnut-fronted Macaws perched in some nearby trees. In the shrubbery and riparian habitat we encountered such species as Little Cuckoo, Orange-fronted Plushcrown, Cream-colored Woodpecker, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, Dark-breasted Spinetail, Yellow-browed Tody-flycatcher, Cinnamon Attila and Golden-bellied Euphonia. A certain patch of bamboo held a trio of roosting Tropical Screech-owls and while watching them, a Solitary Black Cacique made an appearance.
After a very pleasant breakfast prepared by the family at the ranch, we made a dash through the wall of rain to the van where we arrived quite sodden. Our flight back to Bogota was delayed somewhat but after arriving at our hotel we had a late lunch and paid a visit to the excellent Gold Museum.
END OF MAIN TOUR, BEGIN INIRIDA EXTENSION
March 21 – Bogota, Parque Simon Bolivar and Flight to Inirida, Caño Culebra
As we had to wait until mid-day for our flight out to Puerto Inirida we decided to spend a bit of time at the Parque Simon Bolivar, a 10 minute drive from our hotel. While this city park doesn’t offer much in the way of natural habitat a few species of interest can be found and we were pleased to find a little flock of Rufous-browed Conebills alongside commoner species like Yellow-backed Oriole and Vermilion Flycatcher. Some migrants were in attendance including little groups of Scarlet Tanager and Tennessee Warbler.
Once in Puerto Inirida, we were met by the excellent local guide Daniel Camilo of Orinoco Nature Tours and two vehicles; one to take our luggage to the hotel and the other to transfer us to the nearby Caño Culebra trail. We had about an hour and a half of daylight and as we set off we noted a handsome Savannah Hawk perched nearby while a couple pairs of both Scarlet and Red-and-green Macaws flew over, much to Michael’s delight.
It wasn’t long before Daniel had us on our first white sands specialty in the form of a confiding Black Manakin on its favoured perch. The birding remained pretty quiet but we enjoyed some common species such as Muscovy Duck, Swallow-winged Puffbird and Red-legged Honeycreeper. As dusk descended we were thrilled to watch several Least Nighthawks start flying around us. Interestingly, Daniel informed us that the white sands taxon may be a cryptic species new to science based on vocal differences from the other form!
As dark descended we checked into the Fuente del Guainia Hotel for our first of four nights.
March 22 – Puerto Inirida, Comunidad Sabanitas and Curva de los Pepes
Probably the best White Sands forest in the area is accessed at the Sabanitas indigenous community and this was the destination of our first morning. Alas, rain delayed our start though we made the best of birding around the community itself. A pair of Sunbitterns was a delight to behold in all their splendour while Bare-necked Fruitcrow and Cinnamon Attila showed well.
When the rain abated we struck out and quickly got our binoculars on a cooperative Golden-spangled Piculet. This was followed shortly thereafter by Cherrie’s Antwren, Amazonian Tyrannulet, Yellow-crowned Manakin and Scale-breasted Woodpecker. A Wedge-tailed Grassfinch singing its heart out provided nice scope views. Shortly before our next bout of rain we picked up another white sand specialty, a pair of Plumbeous Euphonias.
We had another hour or so without rain and during this time we entered the forest and started looking for our top target, the bizarre Capuchinbird. Alas, we had yet to find any before we were once again the victims of a heavier rain shower that persisted for about 45 minutes. As it was now fairly late in the morning we decided to turn back. Just before exiting the forest we encountered a small mixed flock which held Spot-backed Antwren, Striped Woodcreeper, Black-capped Becard and Purple Honeycreeper. Here we also saw our first troupe of Collared (aka Yellow-handed or Black) Titi monkeys, including a mother carrying a young one. This was our 5th, and final primate species of the trip!
Back in the community we enjoyed a tasty traditional meal of fish and pounded yucca before returning to the hotel for a short siesta.
In the afternoon we spent a couple hours along one of the quiet roads outside the community. The site is named Curva de los Pepes and is white sand savannah and scrub. The main target here is White-naped Seedeater and according to Daniel they only sing early in the morning and later afternoon. While we waited we picked up some other local specialties such as Plain-crested Elaenia, Campina Thrush and Red-shouldered Tanager. More widespread species that were new for the trip included Barred Antshrike and Black-faced Tanager while we heard a couple Russet-crowned Crakes. At last, shortly after 5pm Daniel picked up the song of the seedeater and soon enough it flew into the bushes right beside the road to serenade us! It repeated this as we were leaving giving us a second opportunity at photos of this scarce species!
March 23 – Puerto Inirida, Matraca Trail and La Rompida
Today our transport to the birding sites was by boat. We arrived at the dock and made the 10 minute ride up the Rio Inirida to an excellent trail in the seasonally flooded Igapo forest. From the boat we spotted some Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, Black Skimmers and both White-winged and White-banded Swallows.
Once on the trail Daniel immediately heard Orinoco Softtail, an extremely range-restricted species and one of the top targets in Inirida. We were able to get looks at a pair foraging several times over the course of a few minutes as they moved through the mid-story with a couple Black-chinned Antbirds and Blackish-grey Antshrikes below them. Some eye-candy followed in the form of a pair of Cream-colored Woodpeckers, Blue-crowned and Green-backed Trogons as well as an iridescent Green-tailed Jacamar. While watching an eye-popping Wire-tailed Manakin we heard a Black-spotted Bare-eye call. We were able to attract it in but unfortunately, I was the only one to get looks at it as it briefly perched nearby before flying away, not to be seen again.
A much more obliging Dot-backed Antbird soon followed as did a troupe of Velvet-fronted Grackles. Mid-morning saw us finally come across a nice little canopy flock in which we noted several gorgeous Gilded Barbets, a Slate-colored Grosbeak and Gray-headed Tanager. Daniel again came up trumps calling out a singing Rose-breasted Chat and we were soon all mouths agape as a beautiful male flitted about above us. As the flock passed we called in a Long-billed Woodcreeper, one of five species of Woodcreepers we encountered this morning; the others being Buff-throated, Striped, Cinnamon-throated and a heard-only Strong-billed.
A roosting Great Potoo was a surprise as there are only a couple records for the area on eBird. Shortly before we were overtaken by rain we heard a Varzea Schiffornis but we couldn’t track it down. Once the rain stopped (we were grateful for purchasing umbrellas the day before!) we headed back to the boat, spotting a singing Hauxwell’s Thrush as we neared the river.
In the afternoon we again took the river, downstream this time and turning up the Guiania River to a site called La Rompida. Along the way we spotted a variety of waterbirds and upon arrival we enjoyed a couple Amazonian River Dolphins surfacing not far offshore. The main target for this site is the recently discovered population of an Antshrike that is only known from this small area. Rumour has it that rather than a new species it is in fact a very disjunct population of Chestnut-backed Antshrike, typically found over 1000km to the south. We got several views of both males and females and enjoyed other wonderful birds like White-eared and Green-tailed Jacamars, another Amazonian Umbrellabird, Spot-breasted Woodpecker and Orange-headed Tanager. More subtle species that were new for us included the “Campina’ form of Fuscous Flycatcher and both Rusty-backed and Plain-crowned Spinetails. An active nest of a Common Tody-flycatcher pair kept us entertained as well.
After consuming a very refreshing watermelon we boated back to town, racing an extraordinary and ominous band of cloud that appeared on the horizon and rapidly overtook us, thankfully not breaking over us as we feared. Several Sand-colored Nighthawks were seen over the river as dusk approached.
March 24 – Puerto Inirida, Sendero Flor de Inirida and Cerro de Mavecure
We started the morning back in the White Sands at the Flor de Inirida Trail which is known now as the most reliable spot for yet another specialty of the region, the Yapacana Antbird. As we piled out of the van we were greeted by a fine Bronzy Jacamar and a Green-tailed Goldenthroat, both glittering in the early morning light.
After a brief run-around we got superb looks at a male Yapacana Antbird and some got looks at the female as well. A Coraya Wren put in an appearance here as well. Moving on to the reserve buildings we could hear a Spotted Puffbird calling and we eventually got it in the scope in one of the trees at the edge of the clearing. A bit of time in the forest was not particularly productive but we did get a couple fine birds in the form of pairs of Red-necked Woodpecker and Imeri Warbling Antbird while some also got on a rather elusive Rufous-tailed Flatbill. An Ocellated Woodcreeper provided a good ID challenge, though it thankfully called back in response to our playback, confirming our sits identification.
Mid-morning we headed back to the pier for our trip downriver to the Cerros de Mavecure. Unfortunately, Avery had a stomach bug and had to sit out this trip. Everyone else went with Daniel, having a fairly uneventful hour and a half boat ride upstream to these spectacular granite mountains. After a lunch in the local indigenous community some time was spent on the beach at the base of the cerros. From here an Orange-breasted Falcon was scoped while closer by a pair of Pied Lapwings and many Black-collared Swallows entertained.
On the way back we stopped in at one of the small tributaries, Caño Cunuben. A little ways up the channel is a nest tree used by various Icterids such as Red-rumped Cacique, and Crested and Olive Oropendolas. A Bat Falcon was spotted atop a snag at the mouth of the channel en route back to town.
March 25 – Puerto Inirida, Caño Vitina and flight to Bogota
We had saved one of the trip highlights for our last day. A few weeks before our arrival a nest of Crested Eagle had been found about a 45 minute walk from this community. While we had to rush somewhat due to our mid-day flight we had time to pick up some nice birds along our walk in to the nest site. These included a very distant male Purple-breasted Cotinga that we got in the scope as well as several Pompadour Cotingas, our only Epaulet Oriole and close White-browed Purpletufts.
At the Crested Eagle nest we enjoyed the nearly-fledged young but alas, with only about 15 minutes to spend there we did not, unsurprisingly, have an adult pay a visit. A trio of Black-headed Parrots showed well in the scope and we also had more looks at Pomapdour Cotingas, several males of which flew by and landed in the trees a few hundred metres away. A lone Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet rocketed high overhead a couple times as well. As we got back to the community we enjoyed nice looks at Opal-rumped Tanagers and we had a tense few minutes as we waited for a Green-and-rufous Kingfisher to come back into sight after it had flushed off the wires ahead of us. Thankfully, it returned to the pond beside the trail and we all got fantastic looks at what would prove to be our final new bird of the tour proper!
After our flight back to Bogota we had a late lunch and paid a visit to the fantastic Gold Museum.
March 26 – Bogota, BioAndina Reserve
With a full day in Bogota to account for time to get our covid tests we decided to do some birding so hired a vehicle to take us the 2.5 hours to the BioAndina Reserve, passing through the paramo of Chingaza National Park en route. After finally arriving at the mix of pasture and forest that is the reserve and environs, we soon encountered a flock of the endemic Brown-breasted Parakeets. About 15 flew into a tree beside the road but unfortunately, light mist made visibility rather poor and they quickly flew off though we were able to appreciate their colourful wing pattern in flight.
As we got to the better forest we encountered the best flock of the entire trip. Around 20 species were in attendance and many of them came in at eye-level right beside the road, within 5-15 metres of us! These included several Mountain Caciques as well as Pearled Treerunner, Montane Woodcreeper, White-banded Tyrannulet, Black-eared Hemispingus, Citrine Warbler, Golden-faced Redstart, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, and Bluish and Masked Flowerpiercers. A crimson-mantled Woodpecker briefly joined the fun while a Streaked Tuftedcheek buried itself in the epiphytic bromeliads. After following this group for close to an hour we had to turn around.
Other nice birds encountered included several Amethyst-throated Sunangels, Andean Guans, Andean Teal and a Black-billed Mountain-toucan.
WRITTEN BY: Avery Bartels
PHOTOS: All by guide Avery Bartels (c), in the order they appear on the blog; Golden Tanager; Plumbeous Kite; Masked Mountain-Tanager; Torrent Ducks; Black-billed Mountain-Toucan; White-tailed Titi monkey; Coppery-chested Jacamar; San Agustin Archaeological Park; Tropical Screech-Owls; White-naped Seedeater; Dot-backed Antbird; Amazonian Umbrellabird; Yapacana Antbird; Egrets coming to roost at the Guainia River; Crested Eagle nest; Green-and-rufous Kingfisher.