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Trip Report to Colombia by Sue Bryan
August 22nd – Sept 11th 2015
This was a birding holiday organised by Sunbird www.sunbirdtours.co.uk . Colombia was a country that Paul had always wanted to visit and as we had had a good experience with the guide Trevor Ellery in Venezuela last year, I was more than happy to go. With a species list of over 1900 species I was bound to see some new birds. Studying the list that Sunbird offered, I was hopeful of gaining 150+ new world ticks. We travelled with our friend John and soon learnt that Richard and Jan, two of the participants from our Venezuela trip would also be with us.
Guide Trevor Ellery
Aug 22nd London – Frankfurt – Bogota.
Aug 23rd Bogota – Chingaza NP, Oseervatoride Colibrius, Alarte.
Aug 24th Bogota - Parque la Florida – San Francisco – La Victoria and Bella Vista.
Aug 25th Bella Vista – Laguna del Hato – Libano.
Aug 26th Libano – Manizales.
Aug 27th Manizales – Rio Blanco.
Aug 28th Manizales – Los Nevados NP, Hotel Termales de Ruiz - Otun Quimbaya.
Aug 29th Otun Quimbaya – Las Tangaras.
Aug 30th Las Tangaras.
Aug 31st Las Tangaras – La Eme Ridge – El Siete – Jardin.
Sept 1st Jardin – Loro Orejiamarillo (Yellow-eared Parrot Reserve)
Sept 2nd– Jardin – Bolombolo – Medellin – Arrierito Antioqueno (Chestnut-capped Piha reserve).
Sept 3rd Arrierito Antioqueno (Chestnut-capped Piha reserve).
Sept 4th Arrierito Antioqueno (Chestnut-capped Piha reserve) – Medellin.
Sept 5th Medellin – Santa Marta and El Valle.
Sept 6th Santa Marta – Isla de Salamanca – El Dorado Lodge (Santa Marta Mountains).
Sept 7th Santa Marta Mountains.
Sept 8th Santa Marta Mountains.
Sept 9th Santa Marta Mountains – Minca Hotel – Guajira Peninsular Los Flamencos NP – Riohacha
Sept 10th Riohacha – Guajira – Bogota .........
Sept 11th ..... Frankfurt – London.
International flights to Bogota with Lufthansa (£820 return)
Internal flights Medellin – Santa Marta and Riohacha – Bogota with Avianca were included in the tour price.
As this was a ‘package tour’ (2x£3880 ) + flights (2x£820) with all accommodation and food provided I exchanged about £100 at Bogota airport using an ATM when I arrived for 500 000 Colombian Dollars. However I exchanged about £70 of this back again having spent very little as a drink was provided with every meal and water was available on all our transport throughout the tour. I only bought a few bottles of coke and lemon tea as a change from water and a few small presents.
Colombia has two wet seasons a year and we were there just before the start of one of them. It was cool in the mountains when were at very high altitude early in the morning but at lower elevations warm and sunny. On the Caribbean coastline it was very hot especially in desert areas. Habitat
In Colombia the Andes splits into three ranges (Eastern, Central and Western ranges) with the Santa Marta mountains being totally isolated near the Caribbean coast. The three ranges have montane humid forest and paramo of temperate climes. The montane slopes are humid sub-tropical forest. We also birded Llanos areas with gallery forest running alongside rivers. Near Riohacha we birded the Guajira peninsula which is desert and scrub.
After an hour’s delay Paul, John and I flew from Heathrow to Frankfurt where we had a connecting flight to Bogota. We were met by Diana and taxied to our hotel for the night.
Having met up with the rest of our group we set off with stand-in guide Diana as Trevor was still flying from the UK having been at Birdfair. We set off in 3 vehicles to Chingaza National Park. We had intermittent rain all day which made photography difficult. We soon started our list with familiar birds that Paul and I have seen in other South American countries but Silvery-throated Spinetail was new as was Golden-fronted Whitestart. Rufous-browed Conebill and Coppery-bellied Puffleg were all new for the world list.
By the time we reached the park we were up at 3222m high and looking for some high altitude species. We added Glowing Puffleg, Pale-bellied Tapaculo, Green-bearded Helmetcrest, Bronze-tailed Thornbill and Andean Siskin.
The rain was having an impact on our birding and we drove to a hummingbird lodge (Oseervatoride Colibrius) below the cloud-base. Here we spent some time taking photographs of birds on the feeders. Sword-billed Hummingbird was outrageous as was Black-tailed Trainbearer. We enjoyed views of Great Sapphirewing, Blue-throated Starfrontlet and White-bellied Woodstar.
Back at the hotel for an evening meal, we welcomed Trevor and bade goodbye to Diana who had been a fabulous guide for the day.
With Trevor now at the helm we set off in our bus to La Florida Park where the lagoon and surrounding trees added trip ticks, many of which Paul and I had seen before in our travels. However Bogota Rail and Apolinar’s Wren were new for us. We enjoyed views of Bare-faced Ibis, Spot-flanked Gallinule, Mountain Elaenia, Yellow-backed Oriole and Paul enjoyed the grip back of Noble Snipe, a species I had seen in Ecuador.
We motored on to San Francisco where we sat in a wonderful hummingbird garden (Jardin Encantado). Birds were buzzing all around us. Indigo-capped Hummingbird, Red-billed Emerald, Gorgetted Woodstar were all ticks but we enjoyed Black-throated Mango, Crowned Woodnymph and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird too as well as White-vented Plumeleteer.
We added some familiar birds at the garden too including Blue-grey Tanager, Saffron Finch, Bananaquit, Thick-billed Euphonia, Crimson-backed Tanager, Tropical Mockingbird and Ruddy Ground-Dove.
After we had had our fill we were back in the bus for a few hours until we reached La Victoria. Here Trevor taped out a few birds for us including Black-crowned Antshrike and Plain-brown Woodcreeper. We added Sooty Ant-Tanager, Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Yellow-headed Caracara, Black-billed Thrush, Collared Aricari and Fork-tailed Flycatcher. In the sky above us Grey-rumped Swift and White-collared Swift were flying around. As the hotel was relatively poor we ate out and several of us succumbed to diarrhoea, a common occurrence for those of us unaccustomed to a lot of exotic fruit juices (which are delicious)!!!
We were up at 5am and birded above La Victoria at the Bella Vista reserve. We walked up a track to an open area which was very birdy! Paul and I added lifers in the shape of White-mantled Barbet, White-bibbed Manakin, Spectacled Parrolet, Yellow-green Vireo, Sooty-headed Wren and Beautiful Woodpecker.
Bella Vista Reserve
After and hour and a half drive we arrived at Laguna del Hato where it was very hot. Here we welcomed the relief of walking alongside a river in the shade. The area was also full of birds which we all enjoyed looking at. A Buff-rumped Warbler caught our eye as a Rufous-tailed Jacamar sat close by. A Lineated Woodpecker did some damage to a nearby tree as we added Slate-headed Tody Flycatcher, Blue Ground-Dove, Rufous-capped Warbler and Jet Antbird. A Barred Puffbird posed well for all of us to take photographs.
Sue at Laguna del Hato
We were up at 5am and birded just above the town of Libano. It was very birdy and we added the endemic Yellow-headed Brush-Finch and watched a Streak-headed Woodcreeper catch a lizard.
Moustached Puffbird, Montane Foliage Gleaner, Black-headed Brush-Finch and Rufous-naped Greenlet, Bar-crested Antshrike and Yellow-throated Brush-Finch were all lifers for me.
Several of us stopped to admire a rather colourful insect at the side of the road as we made our way back to the bus after adding Black-winged Saltator, Golden Tanager, Slate-throated Whitestart, Slaty Spinetail, Lesser Goldfinch, Scrub Tanager and Acorn Woodpecker.
We drove back to the hotel to collect our bags before starting a long drive to Manizales. We stopped along the road for a meal at the restaurant that we had stopped at yesterday before arriving at our hotel.
We were up at 5am and drove to the Rio Blanco Reserve where we had breakfast. Hummingbird feeders were all around the balcony and we struggled to write in our notebooks, watch and take photographs all at the same time. Collared Inca, Wedge-billed Hummingbird, Buff-tailed Coronet, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Green Violetear, Bronzy Inca and Long-tailed Sylph all came to take the sugar-water. The ranger had a bucket of worms and we walked a short distance up the track and down a trail where some worms were put out. We settled down and waited. A Chestnut-crowned Antpitta came in straight away. It was too close for my lens and I had to shuffle back! A second Chestnut-crowned Antpitta came in and a bit later a Brown-banded Antpitta showed up too. We were all thrilled as cameras clicked away. Whilst all this was happening a pair of Green-and-Black Fruiteater kept us entertained.
After the birds had disappeared it was obvious that there were many birds to see. The forest was alive. We enjoyed several lifers in the shape of Golden-plumed Parakeet, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Slate-crowned Antpitta, Dusky Piha, Grass-green Tanager and Tyrannine Woodcreeper. A Golden-headed Quetzal added to the scene.
We walked a gravelled driveway where we continued to add birds. After lunch we walked down the track but it started to rain. Sharpe’s Wren Red-hooded Tanager, Bronze-winged Parrot, Barred Becard, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Black-capped Tanager, Speckled Hummingbird, Montane Woodcreeper and Black-collared Jay were all seen. There was a suggestion from the ranger that he knew of a spot for some other birds but John and I decided to return to the lodge to have a greater opportunity for some more photographs as the rain was getting harder. We stopped to admire a lone Spectacled Bear in a compound as we walked back to the lodge. Fortunately our decision was good as the rest of the group failed to see any new birds. After an evening meal we ventured out at dusk where we saw Sickle-winged Guan and White-throated Screech Owl in the dark.
We were up at 4.15am and drove for hour and a half to Nevado del Ruiz. We needed to be in position for dawn to see Rufous-fronted Parakeet leave their roost, which we did. Luckily I spotted one on the cliff face for us all to enjoy through the scope. However, I always suffer from altitude sickness and at 13 300 feet I was suffering. We continued on our way and soon a Tawny Antpitta ran on the road and I did my best to take a photo through the glass of the minibus front window.
Whilst eating our picnic breakfast we were aware of a hummingbird zipping around. A Buffy Helmetcrest was feeding from the flowers but it did not allow for close approach. We enjoyed views of Stout-billed Cinclodes, Sedge Wren, Andean Tit Spinetail and Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant. We wandered down the road birding as we went and admiring the scenery. Stopping to take photos one of our group turned round just in time to see that the volcano behind us had erupted. It was certainly a WOW moment! Back in 1985, 25 000 people had died in a mud-slide caused by the volcano erupting.
Nevado del Ruiz volcano erupting
Me just after the start of the eruption at Nevado del Ruiz volcano
As I have a great interest in volcanoes, I was thrilled to see this event and the memory will linger for a long time to come.
I was now beginning to feel quite ill with altitude sickness and was glad that we were beginning to descend. We stopped at a café where I had something to drink but it did nothing to revive me. We birded at Laguna Negra Nevada del Ruiz and watched Plain-coloured Seedeater, Black-backed Bush Tanager and Golden-crowned Tanager before making our way to a nearby hotel. Here I nearly fell out of the bus as I was now dizzy and in a confused state. I was worried. Trevor introduced me to a construction worker who pressed a pressure point on both my hands. It hurt so much that the pain shot up both arms and immediately relieved the pain in my head. I nearly fainted so he wobbled my head around and led me down raising my legs. Within ten minutes or so all my altitude sickness had disappeared, all the pain in my head had gone and I was able to continue birding. What an amazing man! Thank you so much.
Back on track I joined the rest of the group enjoying watching hummingbirds on the feeders as well as getting a drink. We watched Shining Sunbeam, Golden-breasted Puffleg, Rainbow-bearded Thornbill and Mountain Velvetbreast that were new for the trip as well as other hummingbirds that we had already seen.
It was a shame that we didn’t have time to enjoy the hot thermal swimming pool on site but we had to motor on. We lost height and drove on to Otun Quimbaya. En route we admired Pauraque, Torrent Duck, Torrent Tyrannulet and Cattle Tyrant. We also enjoyed views of Night Monkey.
A walk before breakfast around a designated trail at Otun Quimbaya produced a good list of birds including the sought after Cauca Guan. Lifers included Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Metallic-green Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, Variegated Bristle-Tyrant and Multi-coloured Tanager. We also added Flame-rumped Tanager, Tropical Parula, Fawn-breasted Tanager, Hepatic Tanager, White-winged Becard, Black Phoebe, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Flycatcher and Dusky-capped Flycatcher.
After breakfast we boarded the bus and set off for Las Tangaras, an eight hour drive stopping off for lunch and an ice-cream stop before our ascent over the Western Andes. I was in the back of the bus and we had a very bumpy ride as there was a lot of road construction to negotiate. All part of the fun! We admired the magnificent scenery as we travelled.
Eventually we arrived at the Pro Aves reserve of Las Tangaras set by the river. We had just enough daylight left to admire Steely-vented Hummingbird, Purple-throated Woodstar, Empress Brilliant, (Green) Crowned Woodnymph and Russet-backed Oropendula before eating an evening meal and retiring to bed for the night.
Las Tangaras lodge
We were up at 4am and taken in 2 jeeps up a rough track where we birded for several hours before starting a steep trail up to the top of a ridge. We watched Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Purplish-mantled Tanager, Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia, Choco (Tri-coloured) Brush-Finch, Indigo Flowerpiercer, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Rufous-throated Tanager, Handsome Flycatcher, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, White-headed Wren and Eastern Wood-Peewee.
The trail was steep and Sharon kindly lent me a walking pole. I found it very useful! Unfortunately we also encountered a patch of ants as we were all engaged watching birds and several of us had to de-clothe to be rid of them. A few amusing moments ensued!
John, Richard, Jan, Paul and Carolyn on the trail
Azara’s Spinetail, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Booted Racket-tail, Yellow-breasted Antwren, Black-and-Gold Tanager, Uniform Treehunter, Glistening-green Tanager, Toucan Barbet and Red-headed Barbet were all seen on our way. It was very birdy and we were soon adding more species many of which were lifers for me. These included; Red-bellied Grackle, Uniform Antshrike, Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Yellow-vented Woodpecker, Spotted Barbtail, Black-chinned Mountain Tanager and Olivaceous Piha. We had lunch at the top of the ridge which some poor chap carried all the way up for us!
We descended avoiding the patch of ants to a hummingbird feeding area. However we were in the clouds and this made photography very difficult to say the least!
More birds were added to the life list including Greenish Puffleg, Narino Tapaculo, Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, Velvet-purple Coronet and White-rumped Hillstar.
We all made it back to the jeeps in one piece down the steep descent where once back at Las Tangaras tea and bed were welcome.
Although we were up for dawn, the expected ant-tanager did not put in an appearance but we did see Brown Violetear and Golden-hooded Tanager. We boarded the jeeps once again to drive to the top of the reserve. We were now much later than yesterday and the birding was slow.
At La Eme we watched Pale-edged Flycatcher, Cinnamon Flycatcher, White-browed Spinetail, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Munchique Wren, White-throated Hawk and Olive-sided Flycatcher before returning to Las Tangaras to collect our bags and lunch.
After lunch we drove on to Jardin stopping near Ciudad Bolivar to admire a Bat Falcon.
Views of the Western Andes
Once at Jardin we walked down a steep track to a Cock-of-the-Rock lek. Here we all got out our cameras as many of the birds were oblivious to our presence as they lekked in front of us noisily.
We walked back up to the bus and admired several Flamed-rumped Tanagers feeding in roadside vegetation. Back onboard the bus after a bit of shopping in the town we were taken to a smart hotel where I made the most of the swimming pool and Jacuzzi on offer.
After rising at 4am we were taken up the rough track to the top where we watched the sun rise and the Yellow-eared Parrot leave their roost. On the way up though we saw a Tropical Screech-Owl perched on overhead wires. Getting up at dawn has its advantages as we also watched Rufous-bellied Nighthawk flying too. Speckled-faced Parrot were also seen before we made our way back down to where a local woman was feeding Antpittas with worms. We waited a while before a Rufous Antpitta made an appearance. She had also rescued a young Yellow-eared Parrot that had fallen out of a tree that had been felled with a nest in it. It was free to fly around her garden and hopefully return to the wild one day.
We enjoyed views of Rufous-crowned Tody-Tyrant and Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant as well as Northern Mountain Cacique, Mountain Toucan and Rufous Spinetail before I joined one of the jeeps that took me back to the hotel for an afternoon off. I enjoyed my swim in peace overlooking the wonderful scenery after attending to domestics. On group tours it is nice to have some time to one-self at times even though we were blessed with a lovely group.
We were up at 4am and jumped into the bus for a 90 minute drive so that we could bird the roadside above Bolombolo. As this was a main road we had to negotiate traffic but we saw some interesting new species for our list. We had a few lifers too in the shape of: Colombian Chacalaca, Greyish Piculet, Black-striped Sparrow, Apical Flycatcher, Antioquia Wren as well as trip ticks of Pale-breasted Spinetail, Clay-coloured Thrush, Mouse-coloured Tyrannulet, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Roadside Hawk and Piratic Flycatcher.
All too soon we had to be on our way through the Cauca Valley and on to Arrierito Antioqueno, The Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve. En route I saw a White-tailed Kite. It took the rest of the day to get there and we arrived just before dark. It gave us just enough time to look at the Hummingbird feeders and add Green-crowned Brilliant to our life-list. A Bay-headed Tanager and Andean Emerald posed nicely too.
Carolyn David Sharon and Paul
We had been pre-warned today was going to be the longest day on our feet with a 13 hour hike involving trekking up a steep trail. We were all up for it and once again I borrowed Sharon’s walking pole. We set off just after 5.30am. As it was going to be a long day up a steep trail I decided not to take my camera and pack as lightly as I could to help my shin-splints! We soon saw a few birds including: Inca Jay, Parker’s Antbird, Collared Trogon, White-crowned Manakin, Western Woodhaunter, Yellow-throated Bush-tanager, Olive-striped Flycatcher and Chestnut-crowned Gnateater. Nearing the top of the ridge Trevor spotted the Chestnut-capped Piha, the endangered endemic bird the reserve is named after.
Paul and I having a well-deserved rest
After a rest and lunch we made our way back down and elected to visit a waterfall where en-route we saw Scarlet-and-white Tanager, Golden-winged Manakin, Green-fronted Lancebill, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, Silver-throated Tanager and White-winged Tanager.