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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

9 days in Colombia, March 2019 (1 Viewer)

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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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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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.
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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…
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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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More from El Paujil - Puerto Pinzon

1) The Parulid warbler that thinks its a pipit - Northern Waterthrush
2) The garden and accommodation block at the Pro Aves reserve centre
3) View across the forest from the tower
4) Rucksack getting loaded onto the pickup roof, Puerto Pinzon
5) The original curly perm - Blue-billed Curassow


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19 March: Bogota – flight to Amsterdam

My final day in Colombia started off cloudy and cool, but dry. I had decided to take the Monserrate funicular, which ascends a hill on the edge of the city, trying out my ‘Easy Taxi’ app for the first time for the relatively short yellow cab ride from my hotel.
I’d read safety warnings about this site, specifically the risk of getting robbed while walking up or down – it’s fine at weekends when it is busy, but then you probably don’t get to see too many birds. I reckoned, correctly, that riding the funicular up and down and staying at the top would be OK, but had decided to leave my camera behind in the hotel safe, putting my binoculars in my jacket pocket for the journey there.
The area just to the left as you exit the funicular station proved productive, along the Stations of the Cross which lead up to the hilltop church. There were flowering shrubs planted below the path, with mature forest beyond. The now-familiar Great Thrushes and Rufous-collared Sparrows were frequent, but I soon saw my main target for the site, Shining Sunbeam, as well as Glossy Flowerpiercer, one of which I watched doing its piercing thing at the base of an Abutilon flower. I walked up the steps to the church, and had a look back over the other side of the hill towards the city, then found a place for a coffee and cheese-filled bread for breakfast.
Some Brown-bellied Swallows spent a little time hawking for insects around the hilltop.
Wandering back down to the Stations of the Cross path, I came upon a small flock of Andean Siskins, before adding Sword-billed Hummingbird, Black Flowerpiercer, Blackburnian Warbler, and a very close-up view of Grey-browed Brushfinch. By now more people were arriving on the funicular, including a party of English-speaking tourists with a guide, who walked past my stake-out by the second Station of the Cross.
How much does it rain here?’ asked one
Well, it rains quite a lot in the Andes’ replied the guide
Where are the Andes?
We are in the Andes here – you’re at 3100m…
I exchanged a wry smile with another of their party.
Back at the funicular base, the taxi app got me back to the hotel with a short wait – I was getting the hang of the app; it tells you who is coming, where they are on a map, and approximately how long they’ll take to arrive - you just have to look out for their registration number, which is posted on the sides as well as the front of the taxi.
I did my final packing, taking my rucksack with me this time; it was approaching midday, but I decided I still had time to visit the botanical gardens, which was on the way to the airport from the Ibis, and caught another yellow taxi. By now, the weather had turned pleasantly warm and sunny.
You buy a ticket for the gardens at an office just outside, then hand it in as you go through the entrance gate. I could’ve got in free on an over 60s ticket, but it seemed a little unfair for a relatively rich Westerner to be avoiding the very modest entry charge. There’s a left luggage desk at the gate, so I left my bag behind, just taking my binoculars into the garden. Typically, as at Monserrate I got some good close views which would’ve made for decent photos, and felt like it would’ve also been safe enough here to carry my camera.
The gardens are well maintained, with a lake and woodland, and an area of paramo habitat on a low hill. Heading to the ‘paramo’ area, I added Common Gallinule round the lake, then got a good view of a Roadside Hawk in some taller trees. There were the usual Great Thrushes and Rufous-collared Sparrows, as well as some hummingbirds around. In the ‘paramo’ area I was trying to get onto a small finch when another birder appeared – a guy called Eduardo, from Spain. He knew Colombian birds well, and soon confirmed the finch as another siskin (Spinus) species, Lesser Goldfinch. He also confirmed that we were in the best place for my other target of the day, the near-endemic Rufous-browed Conebill, but unfortunately today it wasn’t to be. We did add a number of other species however, including Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Kingbird and Yellow-backed Oriole. There was also an Empidonax sp. flycatcher – according to Eduardo probably Alder, but not possible to be 100% sure here. Time was getting on and I realised I needed to get to the airport for my flight – however, acting on his tipoff, I returned to the lake for a closer look at an area near some reeds, adding the final species to my trip list – an immature Purple Gallinule.
I had about 10 minutes wait for my taxi to arrive, but still made it to the airport with time for some quick souvenir shopping before boarding my flight. Any hopes I had of adding to my list on a brief stopover in Cartagena were dashed by the fact my window was completely misted up, and we weren’t allowed off the plane, which soon took on extra passengers. It was dark when we lifted off again…my extra legroom seat by the window paid off, and I drifted off to sleep somewhere north of the Dominican Republic, waking for breakfast as we approached the south-west tip of Ireland.
Really enjoyed Colombia - although my trip list might not be that impressive, I saw all my main targets - Andean cock-of-the-rock, yellow-eared parrot, oilbird, and blue-billed curassow - although chestnut-naped antpitta undoubtedly stole the show!
Wow. I remember the road to El Paujil as being a long, dusty, and potholed dirt road. And we actually took a boat the last part of the way. Hard to imagine public transport to there.

But no owls visiting the dining hall?
Nice report & some good photos.

Thanks...my first trip report, so appreciate the comments!

Wow. I remember the road to El Paujil as being a long, dusty, and potholed dirt road. And we actually took a boat the last part of the way. Hard to imagine public transport to there.

But no owls visiting the dining hall?

It still is a dirt road - public transport is a Mazda 4x4 pickup; although mostly it would be fine to drive, some short sections are really badly potholed - I have no idea how the guy I saw as I was leaving had got a tiny Daihatsu hire car there without damaging the underside.

I don't think the river was high enough for a boat when I was there, it had steep exposed mud banks - the track from Puerto Pinzon was dry, so I just walked.

No owls in the dining hall I'm afraid (and the curassows only there for one of the two evenings I stayed)
I too very much enjoyed this trip report, in particular the fact that it gave an impression of independent travel in Colombia as well as the more birding-related parts. Thanks for taking the trouble to write it up.

Very interesting report.

I really appreciate you going into so much detail, there's very useful information here.

My wife and I are Colombians, and just started birding in January. So far we've been exploring the south west of the county (around where we live), and when we eventually explore the west-center region, the information you've provided here will prove helpful.

We are only just beginning, so we don't have your pro-birder skills, but armed with Ayerbe's Avifauna guide and some patience, we are enjoying the birds.
I too very much enjoyed this trip report, in particular the fact that it gave an impression of independent travel in Colombia as well as the more birding-related parts. Thanks for taking the trouble to write it up.

Thanks Andrea, really appreciate your comments.

Very interesting report.

I really appreciate you going into so much detail, there's very useful information here.

My wife and I are Colombians, and just started birding in January. So far we've been exploring the south west of the county (around where we live), and when we eventually explore the west-center region, the information you've provided here will prove helpful.

We are only just beginning, so we don't have your pro-birder skills, but armed with Ayerbe's Avifauna guide and some patience, we are enjoying the birds.

Really appreciate your comments, especially as you are Colombians! I wouldn't describe myself as having 'pro-birder' skills though, in fact I felt like a beginner again in Colombia! There are some really good birders in Colombia though - Guillermo Nagy has particularly good local knowledge of the Jardin area, and also guides at Las Tangaras.

You definitely have the best guidebook with Ayerbe's Avifauna - easily the best I saw of the available options.
Trip species list

Bird list exported from Scythebill with extra notes and species identified to genus or family only added.


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