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9 days in Colombia, March 2019

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Old Wednesday 27th March 2019, 14:40   #1
kb57
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9 days in Colombia, March 2019

I decided at relatively short notice to take myself off on a birding holiday while my partner was also away on a non-birding holiday in Cape Town with her friend. I picked one of the things on my birding 'bucket list' she was least bothered about sharing (experiencing a cock-of-the-rock lek), and asked Bird Forum for advice on the best place to see one. I'd already heard of the lek at Jardin, but hadn't fully appreciated it was possibly the best place to experience this species in the world, in terms of closeness of views (thanks @temmie for the advice!).
This was my first visit to South America; in fact, I'd only been to North America a couple of times during my non-birding years, picking up a few species in the course of hiking on trails and visiting parks and nature reserves. So I had no knowledge of the avifauna and no experience of visiting this part of the world. As both budget and dates were constrained, I couldn't have joined an organised tour if I'd wanted to - instead I organised travel and accommodation myself, and added on a couple of day tours by established local birders.
Before getting to the birding, I'll start with a few logistics

Flights
I booked return flights Newcastle - Amsterdam - Bogota direct on KLM - they offer the most convenient connections, with a daytime flight out and overnight flight back. I booked an extra legroom seat for the night flight, but saved money by booking 'light' tickets - hand baggage only.
I booked one internal flight from Bogota to Medellin's city airport (OAH) on Satena. Satena doesn't have such a good reputation compared to (e.g. Avianca), but OAH is way more convenient than the international airport (MED), being located next door to Terminal del Sur where the buses to Jardin depart

Accommodation
This was all booked before leaving, through Accor Hotels app for Bogota (Ibis Museo); Booking.com for Jardin (Fami-Hotel La Posada); direct with Canon de Rio Claro (via email) for the reserve accommodation there; and direct through Pro Aves for their El Paujil reserve. Correspondence with both of the reserves on emails was possible in English.

Transport
I looked at bus travel websites like Redbus and Rome to Rio to work out timetables, but not all bus companies use these. It's theoretically possible to book some buses online (e.g. the Medellin - Jardin bus), but they don't accept passports as ID (requiring a resident's 'cedula') so not possible from abroad. Looking at the websites for the bus terminals (e.g. Terminal del Sur / Norte in Medellin, main terminal in Bogota) gives a good idea of which company goes where, and even where their ticket office is located. In practice, it was always possible to turn up and buy a ticket for the next bus.
I used the Medellin Metro to get to Terminal Norte for the Rio Claro bus, which was great, while in Bogota I used the Cabify Easy Taxi app to book yellow taxi rides.

Language
All the Cloudbirders reports say Colombia is much better if you can speak Spanish...and it would've been! I started a Rosetta Stone course in Latin American Spanish about 4 weeks before I left, doing a couple of hours a day, and was able to converse freely with the locals...actually that's a slight exagerration, I learned to say things like 'the children are running', 'the apple is green', and could count up to 6. The latter in particular was a slight handicap as there are 4000 pesos to the GB pound. My lack of language skills didn't stop me getting around, but people are friendly, and it's true that a Spanish speaker would get so much more from the experience.

Safety and security
Although Colombia is known amongst birders for having over 1900 species, it is fair to say many view it less positively - my business partner's first reaction was to check our insurance policies! I never felt unsafe and didn't have any problems, but did take a few basic precautions. As a solo traveller, I thought it wise to register my travel plans (dates I'd be away, where I was visiting) - I'm an Irish citizen, so this was online at dfa.ie, but I expect other governments have a similar system. I didn't flash expensive optics around in urban areas, used a 'secure' backpack, used the taxi app in Bogota, carried a backup mobile phone, and separated my cash from my credit cards. On pharmacists advice I had a yellow fever vaccination - this isn't required in Colombia unless you're coming from an affected area, but I had the certificate if asked (I never was).

Luggage
After reading Noah Stryker's book about his world year list record, I thought if he could fit everything he needed for a year into a 40 litre backpack, I could similarly manage for 9 days - and I didn't need a laptop! I packed the essentials (Nikon D7200 / 300mm lens / 1.4x converter / second-hand Leica Ultravid bins) into a Pacsafe Venturesafe 40l backpack and regarded everything else as expendable. I made use of air sealed bags from Amazon (the sort you don't need to hoover!), used lightweight clothing, and washing flakes from Lifeventure. I used the 'All birds Colombia' iPhone app, but was pleased I took the McMullan book as well...although neither were perfect, as I'll come to later...in practice, I got everything down to under 9kg, well within my 12kg carry on allowance for KLM, and easy to carry around on my back from place to place.

Birding guides
Now for the important bit...I organised a day trip from Bogota by email with Oswaldo Cortes from Bogota Birding..his website explains the various options, I went for high-altitude one of Bioandina and La Calera hummingbird feeders. One of the top birders in Colombia I believe.
At Jardin, I wanted to visit the yellow-eared parrot site at Ventanas, above the town. I organised a day trip with Guillermo Nagy from Aramacao Tours - both the hotel and Doug Ellis at La Esperanza above Jardin (whom I corresponded with, hoped to visit, but didn't have time in the end) recommended him. Excellent birder with excellent local knowledge and contacts.

Next to follow: itinerary, and the birds!
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Old Wednesday 27th March 2019, 15:05   #2
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My itinerary:

Day 1: (March 10) Flight NCL-AMS-BOG, arriving mid-afternoon. 'White' taxi to the Ibis Museo, no time for birding before dark.

Day 2: All day birding tour to Bioandina Cloud Forest and Observatorio de Colibries with Bogota Birding.

Day 3: Early flight BOG-EOH, walk next door to Terminal del Sur, Rapido Ochoa bus to Jardin. Birding from bridge on edge of town, visit to cock-of-the-rock lek.

Day 4: All day guided birding with Aramacao Tours. Ventanas (Pro Aves yellow-eared parrot reserve) and over pass into Caldas province - antpitta feeding - then back to Jardin for riverside birding upstream from town.

Day 5: Early morning visit to bridge on edge of town, Rapido Ochoa bus to Ayura Metro station, Medellin. Metro to Caribe for Terminal del Norte. Transoriente bus to Rio Claro. Staking out Oilbird cave at dusk.

Day 6: Morning birding up Mulata Trail, Rio Claro reserve. Afternoon sleep to recover...another visit to the Oilbird cave.

Day 7: Morning birding on entrance road at Rio Claro. Transoriente minibus to Doradal; Coonorte bus to Puerto Boyaca; 'chiva' (actually a pickup truck) to Puerto Pinzon, walk to El Paujil. Blue-billed curassows.

Day 8: Early morning birding on trails at El Paujil, followed by long vantage point birding from tower, and more evening trail walking.

Day 9: Long travel day: motorbike to Puerto Pinzon, chiva (pickup truck) to Puerto Boyaca, Bolivariano minibus to Bogata, yellow taxi to hotel.

Day 10: Morning birding at the top of Monserrate funicular (Shining Sunbeam), followed by Bogota botanical gardens, before reaching airport mid-afternoon for overnight flight BOG-CTG-AMS-NCL

Last edited by kb57 : Thursday 28th March 2019 at 14:48.
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Old Wednesday 27th March 2019, 16:36   #3
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10 March: Journey to Bogota

After working late on Saturday night to finish a report, then finishing off my packing, I had a total of 2 hours sleep before driving to Newcastle airport in time for the 06:00 flight to Amsterdam. Amazingly all I seemed to have forgotten was my pencil, although I didn't have time to print out eBird checklists, or do the level of research I'd like to have done with a longer and less fraught lead-in.
I didn't have a long transfer at AMS, so I was grateful to just be carrying hand luggage - I've had the occasional bag which hasn't made the flight here, although to be fair they're usually very good.
I tried and mostly succeeded in staying awake on the long flight to Bogota, with the aim of having an early night and early start the next day. On arrival I looked in vain for the Claro SIM store (it's in domestic arrivals) for my spare phone, then gave up and booked a pay-in-advance white taxi from the desk outside the terminal to my hotel (a bit more expensive, but allegedly safer than yellow cabs).
On the way through the quiet Sunday streets of Bogota, I soon clocked Great Thrushes and Eared Doves feeding on lawns, with Feral Pigeons closer to the hotel.
The Ibis is like every other Ibis in the world, allowing me to ease into South America in familiar surroundings. It is located close to the eastern edge of the city, in what appears to be a safe part of town near the wooded Andean hills.
By the time I got settled in the hotel and phoned my partner to tell her I'd arrived safely, it was starting to get dark. I headed out to a shopping mall where I found a propellant pencil, but no SIM card, then back to the hotel for a meal and a beer before an early night. This was a bit different from your average Ibis, but in a good way - the food was very tasty, not the usual re-heated fare.

Note: I'm following convention in using bold for first trip sightings, but not indicating lifers...basically with the exception of 5 species (feral pigeon, eastern meadowlark, cattle egret, great egret and striated heron) everything was a 'lifer'! IOC English names and taxonomy.

Last edited by kb57 : Wednesday 27th March 2019 at 17:46.
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Old Wednesday 27th March 2019, 17:33   #4
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11 March: Bio-Andina Cloud Forest

After a good night's sleep, my strategy of staying more or less on UK time was working, and I made the appointed early (04:50) start. Oswaldo was waiting in reception for me, and introduced me to Francesco, the driver, who also had excellent English and was an interesting guy. They had a Dacia / Renault Duster 4x4, which was certainly necessary for the muddy and slippery tracks we were to negotiate that day.

At that time of day, we quickly left Bogota behind and started to climb out of the valley. Our first pre-dawn stop was in La Calera, where we breakfasted on cheese filled bread and scrambled egg, washed down with a hot chocolate. Back on the road, as darkness lifted two Black Vulture drifted across the road. We left the metalled surface after Guasca, climbing through pasture land to reach the cloud forest. Francesco drove on ahead, leaving us to start the birding. Great Thrush soon established itself as the default bird. The forest was initially rather quiet, aside from a calling Mountain Elaenia we couldn't get onto, and weather conditions wouldn't have been out of place in the English Lake District, with gentle drizzle and quite low temperatures. However things soon picked up, with hummingbirds visiting flowering shrubs, including Longuemare's Sunangel, Tyrian Metaltail and Sparkling Violetear. We heard Grey-breasted Wood Wren and eventually got good views within undergrowth at the side of the track, before scoring views of my second-ever Parulid warbler - Black-crested Warbler in short stature ('elfin'?) forest a little further up the track. I also discovered a new favourite bird...flowerpiercers...with Bluish Flowerpiercer and a female White-sided Flowerpiercer. Reaching the car, we had both Pale-naped and Slaty Brushfinch as well as White-throated Tyrannulet. We then had a tantalisingly close Rufous Antpitta in dense scrub, which Oswaldo had responding to tape, but which refused to show itself, before adding White-banded Tyrannulet. At some point I also managed views of Mountain Elaenia.
Moving on to taller stature forest, we again had a real good go at another skulker, Pale-bellied Tapaculo, which remained 'heard-only', before being distracted by the only feeding flock of the day - good views of Golden-fronted Whitestart, plus Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, Blackburnian Warbler and a brief view of a Cinnamon Flycatcher. At one point a passing milk tanker on the narrow track spattered us with mud, which didn't help my strategy of limited wardrobe options.
Next we came to a more open area where the forest was interspersed with cattle-grazed pasture land. We listed to calling Black-billed Mountain Toucan for ages, Oswaldo persisting admirably in worsening weather conditions, and finally getting quite distant and brief views, as well as Eastern Meadowlark in the pasture, and distant views of Andean Teal on a field pond. We thought we had another toucan, but it turned out to be the tape of another bird guide, with an American lady...we teamed up for a while to locate the toucan, eventually tracking it down for much better views. Heading off up the trail, I noticed one of the many great thrushes was actually a woodpecker - Powerful Woodpecker as it turned out, but unfortunately I couldn't get onto it when it landed, and in all honesty I didn't get a good enough view to add it to my list. More satisfying were close-up views of the endemic and range-restricted Flame-winged Parakeet (=brown-breasted), although my pictures in poor light weren't too great. We added Northern Mountain Cacique, before heading down the mountain, past the Andean Teal pond where I was able to get better views of what turned out to be the only waterfowl species of the trip. Another pond in the next field held a heron - Whistling Heron in fact, a really nice looking bird.

To follow: lunch, then hummingbirds!

Last edited by kb57 : Wednesday 27th March 2019 at 17:44.
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Old Wednesday 27th March 2019, 17:56   #5
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Great! Keep it coming!
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Old Wednesday 27th March 2019, 18:36   #6
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Yep, sense a good trip in the making here, looking forward to reading
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Old Thursday 28th March 2019, 13:56   #7
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11 March (continued): Observatorio de Colibries

Leaving the cloud forest, we drove over a high pass through dense fog into Paramo habitat. At my request, we stopped at the roadside so I could take a few photos and experience this very different habitat - although visibility was very poor.
I'd been impressed with Franceso's driving skills on our previous crossing of the pass - hairpin bends in fog are not easy - and as we overtook slow-moving trucks, he explained the Colombian truck drivers signals - flashing red indicator to the left means it's OK to overtake, then peeping the horn means thank you, while flashing lights is a sign of annoyance. Pretty much the opposite of UK (nearside indicate when OK to overtake, flash to say thanks and beep if annoyed...) so I was pleased I hadn't planned to drive this trip.

We met up with the other guide and the nice American lady at lunch, which was a restaurant near a reservoir just above the main road. Lunch was interrupted by a bird flying into a tree on the opposite side of the road - Crimson-mantled Woodpecker. The by now increasingly familiar Black Vultures were circling in the distance.

Observatorio de Colibries is located above La Calera, and accessed on dirt roads - would be fine for a non 4x4 here, although the roads seemed a little confusing. By now the sun had appeared, and this set the scene for a much more relaxed session of birding, sat on chairs on a lawn sipping coffee whilst surrounded by hummingbirds coming to feeders.

After ticking off the numerous, tiny, but very pugnacious White-bellied Woodstars Oswaldo ushered me away from the Rufous-collared Sparrow feeding young to focus my attention on the main action. Great views of Black Flowerpiercer (which I secretly appreciated at least as much as the hummers), and a sequence of ever more extravagant looking species visiting the feeders - Tyrian Metaltail, Blue-throated Starfrontlet, Sparkling Violetear, Copper-bellied Puffleg, Glowing Puffleg, Green-tailed and Black-tailed Trainbearers - culminating in the superb-looking Great Sapphirewing, and the species with the proportionately longest bill in the world, Sword-billed Hummingbird.

Heading back down to the city, Oswaldo and Franceso explained the smart apartments we were passing on the hillside could sell for $500,000, while the average monthly wage is closer to $250...
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Old Thursday 28th March 2019, 14:44   #8
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12 March - Bogota to Jardin

I arranged transport to the airport using the hotel's very reasonably priced transfer service at a ridiculously early hour, overcompensating for Bogota traffic which hadn't yet started to build up. In an attempt to circumvent Satena's 5kg carry-on limit, I was carrying my camera and had my binoculars and 'McMullan' stuffed into my jacket pockets. Sadly it failed..'your bag is too big'...it didn't cost me any more, but I boarded the plane carrying what felt like 10kg on my person.

The short flight to Olaya Herrera airport is quite exciting at the end, as you come into the valley low over a ridge, then do a bit of rooftop-skimming before touching down. We hadn't finished taxiing before I got my first 'lifer' of the day - a small flock of Bare-faced Ibis foraging in the grass at the side of the runway. I disembarked into a different climatic zone, wishing I could take my heavy jacket off, but was grateful I had my camera a few minutes later - walking from the arrivals building to baggage reclaim, I had a close-up view of Southern Lapwing on a patch of grass, together with Ruddy Ground-dove.

Luggage retrieved and repacked, I walked across to the bus station and bought a ticket to Jardin. Having time to kill before my 08:30 departure, I sat down in a sort of open atrium with a coffee and croissant, watching what I later learned are Southern Rough-winged Swallows which appeared to be nesting in the upper arrivals hall.

The 4-hour bus journey to Jardin was super-comfortable - Rapido Ochoa is apparently the recommended company of the couple that operate that route. I couldn't pin any of the roadside birds down to species, apart from Black Vulture.

In Jardin I made my way the short distance to Fami-Hotel La Posada, located in a corner of the main square not far from the big church. Nice hotel with a balcony, water cooler, hot water / teabags, WiFi, and en-suite bathroom. I washed my muddy jeans and hung them out to dry over the window, then headed out - straight into a thunderstorm. Sheltering in a tourist-oriented (but nice) cafe, I realised what else Jardin was renowned for - coffee!!

Once the rain had abated, I made my way down to the large yellow suspension bridge on the edge of town, above the lek site, which gave a good view at canopy height of the wooded stream valley. I stayed here a while, realising that my limited Neotropical knowledge was going to make ID a bit of challenge, and my camera an important tool. Species which became subsequently familiar were added to the list, including Tropical Kingbird, Blue-grey Tanager, Bananaquit and Palm Tanager, as well as species I only saw in Jardin, including a nice male Flame-rumped Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, a female Red-headed Barbet and a Squirrel Cuckoo. Some Nearctic migrants completed a satisfying if chastening session, including American Yellow Warbler, Summer Tanager and a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

I returned to the hotel to call my partner before it got too late in South Africa, noticing my jeans had disappeared from the window...maybe I should've been more cautious...no time to investigate though, as I needed to get back for the main event!

The Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek, I think it is fair to say, exceeded expectations. Sitting on a wooden bench built out over a forested slope, essentially in the owner's garden, you are not so much close to the lek as actually in it - at least 9 males strutting their stuff in front, to the side, above and behind you...and not a female in sight. I wondered what it would be like if a lady turned up, they were excited enough as it was!

I was last to leave the lek, walking up the path back to town as the light started to fade. Blue-and-white Swallows were hawking low overhead, then my attention was caught by a 'not-black-vulture' raptor drifting overhead down the valley. Dark underparts, broad wings...Broad-winged Hawk...another followed it a short while later.

I was ready for my meal and beer in 'Bon Appetit', a local (apparently Russian-owned) restaurant recommended by my hotel, followed by another early night. Despite the sound of people in the adjacent square, I slept well, looking forward to what would prove to be the apex of my trip, eclipsing even today's superb cock-of-the rock experience...

Next: I'll try and post some pics!
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Old Thursday 28th March 2019, 18:39   #9
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A few pics from the Bio-Andina / La Calera:
1) Black-billed Mountain Toucan
2) Flame-winged Parakeet
3) Whistling Heron (looking in the wrong direction!)
4) White-bellied Woodstar
5) Great Sapphirewing
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Old Friday 29th March 2019, 19:09   #10
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13 March: Jardin to Ventanas / Riosucio road
I met Guillermo from Aramacao Tours at 05:00 outside the hotel – Gabriel, the hotel owner, supplied the transport (a Mazda double-cab pickup truck) and did the driving. A quick coffee in the square yielded Black-billed Thrush in the trees in the square by the light of the street lamps.
The road out of Jardin is initially good quality, but after descending to a stream and climbing steeply it starts to deteriorate – maybe not needing a 4X4, but certainly the extra ground clearance was necessary.
The reflection of a bird’s eye on the road ahead alerted us to a Band-winged Nightjar – we stopped to watch as it flew off a short distance, settled again, and provided good views in truck headlights.
Reaching the cloud forest as the sky lightened, Guillermo and I left the truck to drive further up the track and started birding. Aside from the ubiquitous Great Thrushes, and Band-tailed Pigeon, most species were ‘heard-only’ at first: Rufous and Azara’s Spinetail, Spillman’s Tapaculo and Sepia-brown Wren (=Sharpe’s Wren). We did see Grey-browed Brushfinch and eventually got a good view of the wren, before adding the Western Andes subspecies of Golden-fronted Whitestart, and Blue-and-black Tanager.
We came tantalisingly close to visual contact with a nearby Rufous Antpitta, until a procession of taxi-jeeps and motorbikes heading up towards the pass disturbed it – this is a likely future ‘armchair twitch’ to my heard-only list; even I could tell the vocalisations are significantly different from the Eastern Andes population I also came close to (but no cigar…) two days previously.
Driving up to the pass, staff at the Pro Aves yellow-eared parrot reserve opened the gate and we walked up to their lodge as the first rays of the sun were falling on the surrounding forested hills. They have a number of hummingbird feeders, attracting a completely different mix of species to La Calera: Collared Inca were common, with Buff-tailed Coronet, Tourmaline Sunangel, and Lesser Violetear.
The main attraction then put in an appearance: a flypast of Yellow-eared Parrots, a near-endemic species with IUCN Endangered status. Some of them had landed a short distance from the pass, so we walked down and carefully made our way through low scrub to a viewpoint, where we had great views of a pair sitting near the top of a tree.
Driving down from the pass, we crossed a small stream to leave Antioquia province and enter Caldas. Trip reports say the forest is more degraded on this side, and it does open up with an increasing amount of pasture land as you descend, but it certainly shouldn’t be neglected in terms of its birds. We added Black Phoebe in one of the fields, before stopping at a roadside café for coffee. We sat on the terrace watching Blue-winged Swallows hawking for insects, with Purple-throated Woodstar, White-bellied Woodstar and Masked Flowerpiercer visiting nearby flowering shrubs. Northern Mountain Cacique remained ‘heard-only’ here.
The son of the lady who owns the café accompanied us on the next stage of the trip – a steep climb through pasture land then forest to a narrow ridge. He carried an old plastic container filled with soil and worms for the main attraction…which had to wait, as Guillermo heard a tapaculo calling in a gully just below the ridge. With some persistence, he coaxed it almost to the edge of the forest on the ridge, where we obtained excellent close-range views of Ocellated Tapaculo – but sadly I just missed out on a photo. Next up was a Chestnut-crested Cotinga , which we heard calling, and eventually located in a tree more or less above our heads. All this time the young lad was whistling and calling, and we were eventually rewarded by the sight of a Chestnut-naped Antpitta peering at us from the undergrowth. Things got better as it was coaxed out into plain sight to take a worm…then better still as two more appeared, including a bolder individual which was happy to hop into the open and approach us…soon we all had a go, and I literally had an antpitta hop onto my palm and take a worm. I’d come to Colombia to see the cock-of-the-rock lek, but Chestnut-naped Antpitta had just stolen the show!
After this experience it was time for a somewhat late breakfast – we returned to the café and drove a little further down from the pass, climbing a short but very steep hill (4x4 essential!) to our breakfast stop, Mirador El Roble – also owned by the same lady and her family as the café. This is located on a superb vantage point, with hummingbird feeders around the buildings attracting additional species including Long-tailed Sylph, Speckled Hummingbird and Fawn-breasted Brilliant, as well as Sparkling and Lesser Violetears. Being such a great viewpoint, raptors were bound to feature, although Northern Crested Caracara was the only new species for me. None of us got onto a small falcon carrying prey quickly enough – probably American Kestrel – and Guillermo had a brief and distant view of White-rumped Hawk over the forest. We were also treated to some large flocks of yellow-eared parrot flying past.
Heading back up the pass, we added Streak-throated Bush Tyrant on a wire over the pasture land. The previously blue sky changed quite quickly as rain moved in, becoming heavy by the time we reached the Pro Aves reserve. We elected not to return to the hummingbird feeders, but carried on further down through the cloud forest and hoping to take advantage of the period of higher bird activity after the rain eased off.
Stopping off at a number of points on our descent, we added Mountain Elaenia, excellent views of Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher and Cinnamon Flycatcher, a flyover but tickable White-capped Tanager, as well as getting to see Azara’s Spinetail. At one point whilst slowly driving down Guillermo heard a calling Lacrimose Mountain Tanager, which we managed to track down for good views. Leaving aside the IOC’s spelling of ‘lachrymose’, which is still making my teeth hurt, this episode more than anything illustrated the value of a knowledgeable bird guide in locations where you have little or no experience of the avifauna. Moving further downhill, we added a distant Red-crested Cotinga on a treetop, and Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant in their preferred habitat close to a small waterfall. Another roadside stop gave us Inca Jay, while Cattle Egret was added to the trip list now we were back in an agricultural landscape below the cloud forest.
I had one more ‘target’ species for the day, which Guillermo took me to at a turbulent riverside site just above Jardin, adding Carib Grackle on the way. For once I heard its call first and was able to make the ID, the similarity to its European cousin in voice (if not build and appearance) alerting us to the presence of White-capped Dipper, sharing its habitat with Torrent Tyrannulet. This puts dippers up with divers in my only needing one to complete the set, although I’d need to go to Argentina rather than Aberdeenshire to do so. We stopped at picnic tables by the river to have a very substantial and rather late lunch of arepas, rice, chicken and plantain, wrapped up in banana leaves. The avian action hadn’t finished though, the riverside woodland giving us Andean Motmot, female Flame-rumped Tanager, and the endemic Red-bellied Grackle.
After visiting a nearby cave with a huge bat roost (which I haven’t ID’d yet) we headed back into Jardin to go through the day’s list over a coffee.
As night fell, I sat in the square with a beer, doing my best to communicate with Gabriel’s aunt in my non-existent Spanish, while looking out unsuccessfully for the barn owl which roosts in the church and can sometimes be seen in the square. A superb day’s birding, I only wished I could’ve spent more time in Jardin…

Last edited by kb57 : Friday 29th March 2019 at 19:12.
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Old Sunday 31st March 2019, 17:07   #11
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14 March: Jardin to Cañon de Rio Claro
After packing my rucksack, I headed back to the yellow suspension bridge for a final session of Jardin birding. Originally I’d intended to revisit the cock-of-the-rock lek this morning, but I noticed they appeared to be just opening in the evenings at the moment.
On the way to the bridge I added Carib Grackle and Black-billed Thrush to the day list, getting much better views of the latter than I had in the dark the previous morning. A black cuckoo with a large bill was on a tin roof just before the bridge –Smooth-billed Ani…and a Tropical Kingbird was hawking for insects from more or less the same perch it had occupied two days ago. I renewed my acquaintance with Andean Cock-of-the-rock (a single male visible above the lek site), Blue-and-white Martins, and a male Flame-rumped Tanager, before getting a great close-up view of an Inca Jay, raising its crest in annoyance at another jay calling nearby. Before heading back to town, I added Streaked Flycatcher and a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, then 3 large, square-tailed and very dark swifts appeared overhead – possible Cypseloides species, but I failed to get a photograph (they were fast!) and therefore not possible for me to attempt an ID to species, and even the genus must remain speculative. Some parrots flying overhead in the distance also must remain unidentified. Back in the square, I got a good view of Red-crowned Woodpecker, just before a heavy shower forced me to run the short distance back to my hotel.
The mystery of the missing jeans had been solved – it’s not allowed to hang out washing in the square, so Gabriel’s aunt had taken them into the kitchen and kindly dried them for me…I almost forgot to ask for them before setting off for the 08:30 bus to Medellin. It was still raining heavily, but the wide eaves made for a largely dry walk to the bus stop. On this occasion I had bought a ticket the previous night for the bus, and was pleased I had, as it was full with quite a few western tourists – I was in seat 21 of 21, which is actually a single seat at the front of the bus.
As we crossed the Cauca river into the ‘comfort stop’ break at Bolombolo I added Neotropic Cormorant flying upriver, and I recognised Tropical Kingbirds as well as Black Vultures this time round. The journey back to Medellin was quicker than the outward leg – a new section of road with a tunnel had just been opened. The road into Medellin runs parallel to the main Metro Line A, and when the bus stopped at Ayurà station I saw I could speed my journey up further by getting off here, rather than at Terminal del Sur – I bought a single journey ticket, and got down to the platform just as a train was approaching. The one thing to remember is ticketing controls access but not egress – with a single journey (or your last journey) you need to feed the ticket into the barrier, which keeps it and allows you through – you don’t need a ticket to get off. Terminal del Norte is 11 stops away, next to Caribe station, and accessible via a pedestrian overpass.
I’d read the ‘Transoriente’ bus was the best way to get to Rio Claro; I quickly located the ticket office, and learned the next departure was in less than 15 minutes, so I was soon settled on board. The bus was a swift return to reality after the swish Metro journey, with sliding windows, a sort of tasselled sunshade above the windscreen, and a large video screen behind the driver. Instead of urban dwellers looking intently at their smartphones, I had two hours of Latin ballads, all of which were clearly well known to the lady in the seat in front of me, as she quietly sang along to each one. There seemed to be a number of recurring themes, which I won’t go into in detail as this is supposed to be a birding report; a common theme featured a young lady having a bath, assisted by their female servants, whilst waiting for their dashing lover to arrive, who promptly dumped them for another woman (who’d meanwhile turned up in a horse-drawn carriage).
With all this going on, it isn’t surprising that I didn’t add to the bird list, but I did have the presence of mind to remember to check progress using Maps.me, using a pin I’d dropped on co-ordinates from a Cloudbirders report to alert me when I was nearing Rio Claro. You do have to tell the driver you want to get off – no-one else left the bus there.
There is a gatehouse by the main road, but the reception and dining area at Rio Claro is about a further 1km on a surfaced road through the forest. After the well-ventilated bus journey from Medellin, it was like stepping into a humid hothouse. In the heat of the afternoon, I wasn’t going to tarry too long on the way to try and pick out birds in the dense forest, but did manage to see several Buff-rumped Warblers and get a good view of two Black-throated Trogons. Checking in at reception, I was told my top-floor room at El Refugio had a fruiting tree right outside, so I was eagerly anticipating a bird-fest as I sweated my way for a further 10 minutes or so along the riverside and up flights of steps. What he didn’t say was that there was a party of six guests of a certain age (i.e. my age and a bit older…) in the room next door enjoying the sound of their own voices, with yet more Latin music playing. The fruiting tree was devoid of bird life. It was a great view over the forest from the open end wall though, with limestone cliffs towering over the steep river valley.
After at least one cold shower, I headed off just before 6 for what was the main reason for my visit – the oilbird cave, a further 10 minute walk upriver from my room. The river was in spate after recent rains, so swimming the river and climbing into the cave on the fixed ropes would’ve been foolhardy in the extreme, but I was content in any case to await the action from the opposite shore. As the light faded, I saw what I reckon was Pied Water-Tyrant on the opposite bank…not many records from Rio Claro, but can’t see what else it could’ve been. Then first one, then two more large, tern-like nightjars flew upstream…although they are not on the eBird list for here, they have featured in other trip reports, and looked pretty unmistakeable, with pointed, black-tipped wings…so I’m sticking my neck out and saying they were Sand-coloured Nighthawks. Several smaller nightjars also flew silently upstream, low to the water and much closer to me, with no paler markings visible on the upperparts…essentially unidentifiable by me.
As it got darker, the screeching from the cave got louder, and the Oilbird action started…first a few came out, then more, swarming around the cave entrance before circling higher and heading off to find fruit. In all, I estimate several 100s came out of the cave – a great experience, although as I stood there on my own listening to the screams of the oilbirds, I have to say it’s good I’m not scared of the dark!

Last edited by kb57 : Sunday 31st March 2019 at 17:39.
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Old Wednesday 3rd April 2019, 15:28   #12
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15 March: Cañon de Rio Claro

I had a surprisingly good sleep under the mosquito net – the open-fronted room provided good ventilation and the temperature dropped to almost pleasant levels in the night, while the oldies’ convention next door had dispersed to their rooms at a relatively early hour.
I set out around 07:00 to walk the Mulata Trail, well described in trip reports – this involves walking back towards the entrance, then heading uphill just after a bridge over a small tributary stream. I called into the restaurant and asked them to fill my water bottle – the usual form here (and a slight criticism of Rio Claro) is to buy bottled water from the bar, which gets charged to your room. Not very sustainable, but as the bar was closed they complied with my request.
A hummingbird visiting flowering shrubs near the restaurant gave me my first new bird – Rufous-breasted Hermit. A little further along the access road I stopped to listen to what I was fairly certain was a calling toucan, but which I couldn’t get onto, getting distracted in the process by a couple of Golden-hooded Tanagers. I spotted a wren-like bird in undergrowth near the river – an antbird…I managed to get one photograph showing the wing markings, but its head wasn’t fully visible; however, I had seen a grey head with no visible paler patch round the eye, allowing later ID as a Magdalena Antbird. Further along the access road, a number of Dusky-faced Tanagers were foraging in the roadside vegetation, giving good views – although I had no idea what they were at the time, finding it hard to even get them to family – they reminded me of laughingthrushes! This wasn’t too surprising, as they weren’t just a new species, but a new family for me – Mitrospingidae.
The Mulata Trail starts as a steepish track up the left bank of the wooded tributary valley which leads past a house, soon narrowing to a mule trail (hence the name…). I saw more Buff-rumped Warblers, but failed to get a photo…fortunately I did get a picture of Grey-headed Tanager, but needed Bird Forum to confirm the ID, as I couldn’t seem to find it in either of my books. The trail heads down to a stream, which you have to walk along for a short distance – although I was wearing walking boots, after recent rains it was necessary to jump from a rock and cling onto tree roots at the edge for a section to avoid getting wet.
The trail then climbs steeply uphill on the opposite (right) bank of the stream. As I mentioned, I’d dropped pins on Maps.me for various GPS co-ordinates given in trip reports – one of these was for a golden-headed manakin lek, but I couldn’t hear or see any manakin action here or elsewhere on the trail. This was possibly due to my inexperience in this habitat or with this group – I’m sure it was pure luck when a small green ball with pinkish-red legs appeared at the side of the trail – Golden-headed Manakin female, one of the few identifiable female manakins. The guys were missing out!
The trail got steeper and muddier…I had to step aside at the top of a steep section for a man leading a couple of pack mules downhill. I was really finding the heat and humidity tough going – probably should have set off at first light when things were still a little cooler. Near the top of the trail, the forest opens out to an area previously described in trip reports as a ‘clearing’ – it certainly has more scattered trees, but now has dense secondary regrowth. A Roadside Hawk sat near the top of one of the larger trees, giving good views.
The final section of path up to the ridge at the edge of the forest was very muddy, but I decided to walk up, if only to see what lay beyond. I stopped on the ridge, enjoying the reduced humidity and slight breeze in the cattle-grazed pasture beyond. A Tropical Kingbird was hawking insects from a perch on the edge of the forest, and a large raptor which unfortunately must remain unidentified soared in the distance. I spotted what turned out to be Thick-billed Seed Finch in a bush within the pasture.
I headed back slowly into the humid forest; by now the sun was out, adding significantly to the heat and my discomfort. A Long-tailed Tyrant was perched high in one of the trees, and I got good views of a Cocoa Woodcreeper foraging on the trunk of another of the taller trees in the ‘clearing’. Another muleteer headed downhill with a couple of pack mules. No new species appeared until I was nearly down, when a small yellow flycatcher raised hopes of the endemic Antioquia bristle-tyrant, although the Bird Forum diagnosis of the photographs suggested Forest Elaenia. Another brief view of a rufous coloured, long-tailed bird flying into dense cover was inconclusive – at first I thought it was a foliage-gleaner, but now I realise it could have easily been another woodcreeper.
By the time I reached the stream section, I’d used up my water and was really feeling the heat – knowing my route along the stream made for easier navigation, but probably led to my not paying enough attention – walking along a large wet rock in the middle of the stream, my feet slipped away from me and I upended down on my back. My rucksack broke my fall and I was unhurt, but my camera, which was on a Peak Designs sling strap, took a heavy knock off the rock. The flash had popped up, but I was able to reset it, and a quick check confirmed nothing was amiss. I was pleased I hadn’t attempted to save weight further by borrowing my partner’s micro 4/3 system – I’m not confident it would have survived my fall intact.
The walk back to my accommodation seemed very long, especially the steps to the top floor of El Refugio...a welcome shower and change of clothes later, I headed back to the restaurant for a welcome lunch, and even more welcome bottles of water and cups of apple tea. The party from the rooms around me were having their lunch too, suitcases packed for departure – 4 ladies and 2 men, some walking with the aid of sticks – I admired the fact they’d got up and down from the most difficult to access rooms on the reserve!
I was looking forward to a session of relaxed vantage point birding from my now-quiet room, but by the time I got back I ended up falling asleep for most of the afternoon – it sounds a bit pathetic as the Mulata Trail is only around 1.9km long, but the heat and steep muddy trail had really taken it out of me.
That evening I headed back to the Oilbird cave, but timed my arrival for 18:25, when the first birds had started to emerge the previous day. The river levels had dropped, and the night was clear. There were a few others around this time, and I got chatting to a Spanish girl who’d been travelling in Mexico and Guatemala. Although I was a little late for decent views of nightjars, I again noted several small dark nightjar / nighthawks flying low upriver.
With clearer skies, we had better views of the oilbirds as they swarmed around the cave entrance then circled higher up the ravine. One thing I hadn’t noticed the previous night were the oilbirds circling and drinking from the river surface before heading up higher – whether this was because the river was in spate the night before, meaning they either didn’t do it or it was harder to see I don’t know, as you wouldn’t have been able to see where they were breaking the surface of the river so easily.
I guess today could be described as having ‘slow’ birding, with relatively few species added from a site with great potential and many records. My inexperience in this environment, lack of knowledge of calls (and it has to be said, lack of use of taping to bring birds in…), and poor coping with the heat and humidity made for challenging birding.
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Old Wednesday 3rd April 2019, 20:15   #13
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16 March – Rio Claro to El Paujil

I had a slower start to the day, and decided to remain in my room and do a bit of birding from the balcony before heading down to breakfast. A few frustrating views of flycatchers and something on the Banaquit-Kiskadee spectrum of yellow belly / black & white head didn’t make for a great start, then I got a great view of Cinnamon Woodpecker in the tree right outside my window.
I headed down for breakfast, birding along the way and adding Thick-billed Euphonia, Crimson-backed Tanager and more Golden-hooded Tanagers to the list – the first two I had seen earlier in the reserve, without getting a clear identifiable view. Chatting to a (non-birder) lady from Munich who was also leaving that morning (I was sounding her out for a possible taxi-share to Doradal), I was gutted to discover she’d had a toucan right outside her window on one of the lower level rooms in El Refugio. I needed to go back to my room and pack, so couldn’t take up her taxi share offer, and it was getting on for 10:00 in the morning as I made my way along the riverside and the access track, camera packed away for the journey.
Crossing the tributary stream at the start of the Mulata Trail, I met an English birder sat on the wall by the road, and got chatting. He’d been birding since first light, but had decided to pass on walking the trail, which his partner and their friend were now birding. He thought I must be mad to choose Colombia as my first Neotropical destination – why not ease myself in with Mexico or Costa Rica? I could see his point after my Rio Claro experience; my answer was, of course, that neither feature cock-of-the-rock leks! His partner was Michael Retter, who features in the Mexico section of the Biggest Twitch…I reflected on the fact I’d missed out by a day from tagging along on the Mulata Trail with a top Neotropical bird guide. Meanwhile, there was some bird activity on the slope opposite – Dusky-faced Tanager, Cocoa Woodcreeper, then an antbird came into plain sight – a check of his book (Hilty and Brown, I think) confirmed Chestnut-backed Antbird – the paler eye differentiating from Magdalena, although the mantle pattern looked very different to the illustrations in my books, Hilty & Brown providing a lot more sex / sub-specific plumage variations.
I’d already realised that every birder I met had better bird books than me…the illustrations in McMullen are artistic rather than optimised for ID; while the app is better in this respect, they look like they’ve been painted from museum specimens, and the raptors lack the all-important flight views. Best book I saw was the new Avifauna Colombiana - although the text was in Spanish, the illustrations were great, species names were in English, and the distribution maps were very clear, featuring greyed-in high ground to aid interpretation.
I wasn’t sure how the next phase of my journey was going to pan out – I planned to flag down the next eastbound bus, and get off at the next town – Doradal – where I hoped to catch a bus to Puerto Boyaca, hopefully in time for the 14:00 chiva to Puerto Pinzon. It worked perfectly – after about 5 minutes by the roadside a small Transoriente minibus stopped to let two people off – it was going to Puerto Triunfo, located beyond Doradal on the west bank of the Magdalena river. I jumped in for the relatively short journey to Doradal bus terminal.
At Doradal there was only one bus in the terminal – destination Puerto Boyaca! I had a slight problem as I couldn’t locate the ticket offices – they’re in the building next to the terminal, not the one where the buses pull in, and the bus was starting to fill up, but once I worked that out I was soon on my way. Some trip reports (and my directions from Pro Aves) have noted that you sometimes have to get off the bus on the Puerto Boyaca bypass and get a taxi into town, but this service was headed for the central square.
As soon as I got off, a guy started asking me something in Spanish…I worked out (correctly) he was asking me where I was going; when I said ‘Puerto Pinzon’ he led me to a street just off the main square, where a few ‘chivas’ and pickup trucks were parked. A lady sat at a small desk on the street sold me a ticket, and looked after my bag for me while I went to get a cold drink – Puerto Boyaca had 4G, so I was able to catch up with my partner in South Africa, after somewhat intermittent phone service in Rio Claro.
Puerto Boyaca was definitely not a tourist town, and seemed a lot poorer than Jardin, with fewer cars and many more motorbikes. As it was Saturday, it was very lively, with loud music in cafés and bars, and lots of people in the streets. I have to say though that people were helpful and it felt like a safe place.
I headed back to the chivas well before 2, squeezing into the back of a double-cab pickup truck with 5 other people and several sacks of animal feed. The roof racks above the rear canopy and cab were also full of produce – I had my rucksack on my knee, while the girl sat next to me was balancing a large cake box on hers. We left the surfaced road relatively soon for the track to Puerto Pinzon, passing through an open landscape with cattle-farming estancias – the topography was interesting, with lots of small hills and hollows, which in another latitude I’d have put down to glacial action. This would have all been covered in tropical forest of course, but was now grazed, with ponds and wetlands in the hollows providing water for grazing stock. Great Egrets were frequent in these areas; I also saw a Cocoi Heron, and thought I’d also seen a Snowy Egret, but couldn’t be sure. Cattle Egrets were numerous in drier areas, with bright yellow Saffron Finches by the roadside, and frequent Tropical Kingbirds. I was keeping a lookout for Northern Screamers, which I’d heard occurred around these pools, but didn’t have any luck.
The pickup was gradually unburdened of goods and passengers, stopping at the gates of estancias where people were waiting to collect the sacks of animal feed. After a couple of hours we reached Puerto Pinzon, with only a few people left on the truck, including the girl with the cake – someone was going to have a birthday celebration I think! Although this is really just a village along a dusty main street, it was pretty lively too, with even louder music emanating from a number of bars. I decided to walk to El Paujil – mototaxis are available – asking directions to make sure I was on the right road, although I’m fairly certain there is only one road leading south towards the reserve.
I added Orange-chinned Parakeet to the list on the edge of the village, as well as a lot more Saffron Finches, and set off on the ca. 1 hour walk to the reserve centre. I really felt the uphill sections in the heat, although objectively it wasn’t a difficult walk. There is a ladder stile by the reserve gate allowing access, but still a little way to go to the reserve buildings. I had some flyover parrots, but couldn’t get onto them quick enough for a positive ID – they may well have been Saffron-headed…by the time I reached the bungalows of the reserve centre I was hot, tired and thirsty. The warden’s wife showed me to my room in one of the bungalows, a simple room with twin beds – she’d turned the aircon on in anticipation of my arrival, and it felt like bliss to walk into the cold room. Things got even better when she showed me the dining area – an open sided, thatched building with a long table – she’d prepared a flask of coffee and there was a water cooler. Less fancy than El Refugio at Rio Claro (and as a Pro Aves reserve, more expensive), but I felt very welcome at El Paujil, where the basics were done very well - including a washing line, enabling me to wash and hang out my dirty clothes.
In terms of birds, a number of Greater Ani were making their presence felt, before the main attraction made their appearance – Blue-billed Curassows, a number of female birds and one young casually strutting through the reserve centre. I have read that some of these were hand-raised, so dubiously countable, although ‘wild’ birds join them, and the young bird was surely evidence of a self-sustaining population!
As night fell, I settled down to the first of what seemed like many nutritious and tasty home-cooked meals here – sat on my own at the long trestle table – perhaps a bit lonely, with a complete absence of mobile signal, but certainly well looked after in what seemed like a magical place.

Last edited by kb57 : Wednesday 3rd April 2019 at 20:17.
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Old Thursday 4th April 2019, 12:45   #14
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Really enjoying your report! Looking forward to any Cock of the Rock and antpitta pix.

Cheers
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Old Thursday 4th April 2019, 13:30   #15
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I'm also enjoying this a lot. Thanks for putting in the effort to share
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Old Thursday 4th April 2019, 14:28   #16
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I really appreciate the detail of your report; not only the birds, but the broader picture of your trip.
I have fond memories of my first arrival in South-America, and I can totally relive those memories through your experience.
I am secretly also a bit proud I convinced you to go there; you are a very good ambassador of Colombia, and also for independent birding with public transport.
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Old Thursday 4th April 2019, 18:27   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MKinHK View Post
Really enjoying your report! Looking forward to any Cock of the Rock and antpitta pix.

Cheers
Mike
Thanks, I appreciate your comments...I've been processing my pics and will add some soon...

Quote:
Originally Posted by viator View Post
I'm also enjoying this a lot. Thanks for putting in the effort to share
Thanks, appreciate the feedback

Quote:
Originally Posted by temmie View Post
I really appreciate the detail of your report; not only the birds, but the broader picture of your trip.
I have fond memories of my first arrival in South-America, and I can totally relive those memories through your experience.
I am secretly also a bit proud I convinced you to go there; you are a very good ambassador of Colombia, and also for independent birding with public transport.
Thanks - I think I made a good choice with your help, and appreciate your advice. Colombia is a great place to visit, I enjoyed all aspects of my trip and it's really not difficult to do with public transport.
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Old Monday 8th April 2019, 12:58   #18
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Some pics from the Medellin to Jardin leg of the trip

1) Southern Lapwing - Medellin (Olaya Herrera) airport
From the bridge in Jardin:
2) Female Red-headed Barbet
3) Male Flame-rumped Tanager
4) Inca Jay (taken 2 days later, looking a bit excited due to another jay nearby)
5) The yellow suspension bridge on the edge of town
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Old Monday 8th April 2019, 13:02   #19
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The main event - Jardin Cock-of-the-rock lek - pictures not helped by the fact that I'd inadvertently switched my camera from DX to 1.3x crop mode...in a location where frame-filling pics were possible anyway...these ones were ok though.
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Old Tuesday 9th April 2019, 19:35   #20
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Catching up with photos before I catch up with writing up the final three days...
these are from the day up at Ventanas, above Jardin with Guillermo and Gabriel.

1) Collared Inca at the Pro Aves hummingbird feeders
2) Masked Flowerpiercer at the coffee stop, Caldas province side of pass
3) Chestnut-crested Cotinga, unfortunately we were right underneath on a narrow ridge, with no room to step back for a better view!
4) Chestnut-naped Antpitta, a frame-filling view
5) Yellow-eared Parrot near the pass
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Old Tuesday 9th April 2019, 19:48   #21
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Some more pictures from Ventanas

1) The bold antpitta gets the worm!
2) Breakfast with a view - Mirador El Roble
3) Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher
4) Cinnamon Flycatcher
5) Lacrimose Mountain Tanager
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Old Wednesday 10th April 2019, 13:06   #22
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A few from Rio Claro

1) Dusky-faced Tanager
2) Magdalena Antbird - managing to avoid showing its most distinctive features
3) Grey-headed Tanager
4) Cocoa Woodcreeper
5) Cinnamon Woodpecker
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Old Wednesday 10th April 2019, 13:13   #23
kb57
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17 March – El Paujil

I’d arranged breakfast for 07:00, and took advantage of the relative cool of the morning to explore a few of the short trails near the reserve buildings beforehand – first the riverside, then a circuit of a pond located in the opposite direction, just off the main access track.
A group of Greater Ani were again one of the most obvious species around the reserve centre, but a close-up Grey-necked Wood Rail in the reserve garden was an unexpected treat…so unexpected it had legged it into the undergrowth before I managed to focus my camera. The riverside produced Black-chested Jay, but it was difficult to get clear views of them in the dense forest.
The pond trail does a circuit of a large pond with a wooded island in the middle; I disturbed a couple of Bare-necked Ibis which flew onto the island, before a Pauraque flushed from right next to me, perched briefly on a branch, plumage looking beautiful in the morning sun, before disappearing into the forest before I had a chance to aim my camera. I think this was the first time I’ve ever seen a daytime nightjar of any species. A groups of swifts then arrived over the pond, feeding for a while low over the water, the sunlight providing good dorsal-side views and confirming their identity as Band-rumped Swifts. I also added Fork-tailed Flycatcher to the list from this area, perched high up on a tree, while some Lesser Kiskadees were foraging low in bushes overhanging the water.
The curassows made another appearance as I returned for my substantial breakfast, one of them doing a swift about turn as it saw me, while the other two were unconcerned…good enough for me to tick then! They hung around for breakfast, allowing me to photograph an adult female feeding a young bird…surprising as I assumed they would be precocial – however, they weren’t around that lunchtime or evening, suggesting they aren’t always a nailed on certainty here if you just make a short visit.
I had thought of trying to ask the warden (who has little or no English) if it was safe to access the opposite bank of the river by the rather dilapidated suspension bridge – the opposite bank is supposed to be good for both Bare-headed Antbird and Beautiful Woodpecker, both of which I’d missed out on at Rio Claro. However, I was a bit wary of striking out alone in the rainforest after my Mulata Trail experience, and an extended vantage point session in the tower seemed like a more chilled way to spend the heat of the day, with the hope of adding some parrots to the list. This is located further down the entrance track from the pond, opposite the ‘Oro’ trail which goes uphill through secondary forest and scrub. I decided to explore a little way along this trail first, and was pleased I did, as a Collared Aracari more or less flew right past me, perching on a tree up ahead and giving distant but acceptable views.
The tower has a number of hummingbird feeders around its base, which attracted a different suite of species to those of more elevated locations – White-necked Jacobins were the most abundant, with Black-throated Mango and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird also present. I have to say I found hummingbird ID quite challenging, it was as if they were so far outside of my experience that I didn’t have any points of reference to compare…so there may have been other species too which I didn’t photograph.
The tower is located on a hillock, giving good views over the surrounding forest – this extends over the hills in three directions, with the fourth – in the direction of Puerto Pinzon – closer to the forest edge where it borders agricultural land. Bananaquits, Blue-grey Tanagers and Palm Tanagers were foraging in the trees around the tower, the latter consisting of a pair that appeared to be nesting nearby. Tyrant flycatchers were giving me ID problems, currently resolved in favour of Lesser Kiskadee and Rusty-margined Flycatcher by Bird Forum, although a putative Brown-crested Flycatcher will have to remain a Myiarchus sp. My attention was drawn by a loud call nearby which I first assumed must be emanating from dense cover, so it took me a little while to home in on the pair of Colombian Chachalacas out on an open branch, around the same level as the top of the tower. Their calls were echoed by three other pairs further away in the forest. Feeling pleased to have had such a good view of this endemic, as well as getting some decent photos, I stayed in the tower for the rest of the morning, trying my best to stay in the shade. I added Swallow Tanager, Thick-billed and female Fulvous-vented Euphonia to the list, and got good views of a pair of calling Red-crowned Woodpeckers, but the undoubted highlight was a flypast of two Blue-and-yellow Macaws – fairly distant but superb.
Eating my enormous lunch in the shade of the dining hut, I added more species around the garden – good views of White-tipped Dove, which I must admit I hadn’t paid much attention to until now, Buff-rumped Warbler, Scarlet-backed Tanager, and Cinnamon Becard - which provided close-up views, although just like the wood-rail, failed to stay around long enough for an in-focus shot. I noticed a pair of Streaked Flycatchers were nesting in a box next to the dining hut, then an unexpected Nearctic migrant then walked into view in the middle of the trail leading from the garden towards the riverside – Northern Waterthrush.
I spent some time in the dining hut catching up with my ID and writing notes, before returning to the tower for what I hoped would be a late-afternoon bird rush. This didn’t materialise, but the session wasn’t without interest. Flocks of cattle egrets, which had been flying over the river valley throughout the day, passed close to the tower, while an unidentified parakeet (not a parrot…) provided an all too brief view. Black-chested Jays were glimpsed frequently, but remained elusive. I ended up adding only two new species to the list – Plain-colored Tanager, which isn’t as plain as it sounds, and a fairly distant Turkey Vulture. However, I did finally get a Black-chested Jay out on an open branch and posing for a photo, as well as more distant views of Golden-hooded Tanager.
Deciding I needed to stretch my legs again before nightfall, I headed up the ‘Oro’ trail to see if I could get a little further. Coming upon a small pond, I was surprised to see a close-up Striated Heron - last seen by me in Chitwan, Nepal in 1989, I hadn’t realised they were so widespread. The trail petered out before reaching the ridge, with fallen branches blocking the way, and I realised I wasn’t going to see much in the dense undergrowth, so headed back to the reserve centre, feeling a little unlucky not to have seen at least one species of parrot here, if not Saffron-headed – although the macaws were some compensation!
During another three-course meal, I told the warden and his wife I’d need to leave early in the morning, as I planned to catch the 07:00 chiva from Puerto Pinzon, in order to give myself enough time to get to Bogotà. I reckoned I’d need to set off by 05:30 if I was going to walk it…however, he kindly offered to give me a lift up at 06:00 on his motorbike. I declined his wife’s offer of breakfast, saying I’d be happy just with a coffee, but this exemplified how well looked-after I felt here.

Last edited by kb57 : Wednesday 10th April 2019 at 13:50.
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Old Wednesday 10th April 2019, 13:18   #24
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18 March – El Paujil to Bogotà (travel day)

I was out before dawn in time to have a welcome coffee or two, setting off with some degree of trepidation on the back of the motorbike – I’ve never been a biker, and the last time I rode pillion was when I lived in NW London in the early ‘80s, and a friend gave me a lift back from a music concert in Camden Lock. At least I wasn’t drunk this time.
The ride out of the reserve and along the track to Puerto Pinzon was actually a lot of fun, as well as producing a close-up view of Crested Caracara which took off from a roadside fence. Another birder was just arriving at the reserve entrance as we left – he was parking what looked like a very small hire car at the trackside. This illustrated it was possible to get here without a 4x4, although with limited ground clearance, the chances of bottoming out on some of the rougher sections and having some explaining to do back at the hire car depot were significant.
Puerto Pinzon presented a very different face this morning, with a quiet main street, occupied by a small flock of Saffron Finches. The warden introduced me to the driver, and I bought a ticket to Puerto Boyaca in the pickup. Unlike Saturday’s shopping, the truck filled up with people on the Monday morning commute – eight of us plus a child in the back, and six more in the double cab. The luggage was all roped down on the roof, and we set off early – don’t arrive here at 5 minutes to 7! It was more of the same on the journey back – no Cocoi Heron this time though, but I did add a confirmed Snowy Egret – my only new trip species of the day (and a lifer). At one point two schoolgirl sisters jumped on the back, hanging on for 15 minutes or so on their way to school…then a farmhand jumped on for a short ride to an estancia. As we got closer to Puerto Boyaca, the previously bright morning grew increasingly gloomy, before turning into a heavy thunderstorm. Thankfully, the driver got out and sheeted down the luggage, and we drew the tarpaulin down over the framework, hanging onto the flapping ends to stop too much water and spray getting in.
I wasn’t sure about the timing or frequency of buses from Puerto Boyaca, but the driver indicated I should stay on to the centre, and dropped me in the main square, speaking to a lady from one of the bus companies. She took my bag, and sold me a ticket on the 09:30 departure to Bogota – the Bolivariano ‘Euro Van’ service – a large and surprisingly comfortable Mercedes minibus. I had ample time for breakfast in a nearby café before the journey, and was able to connect again with the outside world thanks to the town’s 4G service.
The bus journey was long, along the valley to Honda then up over the mountains. We stopped for lunch at a roadside café – two guys on the bus invited me to join them at their table, so I decided to have what they were having – soup with added extras (sweetcorn, a knuckle of beef, plantain, chicken’s foot…) and a coffee, all for 4000 pesos (£1.00).
The approach to Bogota was slow – I finally appreciated how bad the traffic was – but the queue for yellow taxis at the bus station was short, and I was soon on my way to the hotel. There are dire warnings on the web about the safety of yellow taxis, but there’s an office at the bus station where you book them and state where you want to go, and are handed a ticket with the driver’s registration number on it. This doesn’t mean he knows where it is however, and I ended up having to charge my now dead phone up on my power bank as we went in roughly the right direction, before I was able to direct him using a combination of the hotel website and Maps.me. Near the hotel we ran into a student demo, which made me recall the dfa.ie advice on avoiding political demonstrations! Fortunately it was peaceful, and as soon as I recognised the surroundings I got him to drop me off to walk the final section, which I didn’t think he’d be able to navigate as the streets were blocked. Taxis are relatively cheap, so the fact we’d had to go round in a few circles wasn’t really a problem.
It was a huge contrast being back in the city after El Paujil this morning, although I was happy to have made it back so smoothly – this last day’s journey from Puerto Boyaca had been the hardest to get details of on bus company websites. I was tired, so decided to stay in the hotel for my evening meal. Although I was flying back the following afternoon, the trip wasn’t quite over – I still had some plans for the following morning…

Last edited by kb57 : Wednesday 10th April 2019 at 19:18.
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Old Thursday 11th April 2019, 13:31   #25
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Some photos from El Paujil

1) Blue-billed Curassow female with young
2) Colombian Chachalaca pair
3) Black-throated Mango
4) Black-chested Jay
5) Striated Heron
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