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Colombia Feb 2011 (1 Viewer)


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Having been hooked by Jonathan Newman's "Tale of Ten Tapaculos" and found a lot of useful information in there (in particular, cheers for the tip on the Yellow-Green Bush-Tanager Jonathan ;) ) I thought I would try and do my bit by posting a report on the trip I've just made. First the basics / a bit of background.

I went for more or less a month, and visited 6 of the Pro-Aves reserves, most of which I got to by public transport, only one I used a jeep for, as it cut the travelling time from probably about 10-12 hours down to 3 or 4.

I have been to Colombia several times in the last 13 years, it is pretty much my favourite country as the landscape is breathtaking, the people in general very helpful, polite and friendly, the food is pretty good (not just rice and beans!), and of course the birding is great. It also helps that my wife of the last 9 years is Colombian, so I have a good reason to keep going back. My spanish is fairly fluent on a conversational level, and it certainly helps to have a little basic spanish to get around by bus, as hardly anyone speaks English outside of the cities.

Most of my last few trips to the country have been mainly photographic ones, usually with groups, but this one was a pure birding one, on my own, whilst the wife and children were visiting her family in the far south of the country. I don't know if I will ever be able to wangle a month's birding pass again, but at least I enjoyed this one well enough!

Some comments are in order about the security situation. It is definitely a lot better now than it has been for a long time, and Pro-Aves will certainly advise you if they feel somewhere isn't safe to visit. They wouldnt want their clients being held to ransom by the guerillas, and there are places where it still isn't advisable to go, for example parts of the east and southwest of the country, but the six places I visited are currently classed as being safe to visit, and I never experienced any problems, nor have I ever (touch wood).

So the basic itinerary was:

Cerulean Warbler Reserve (RNA Reinita Cielo Azul)
Helmeted Curassow Reserve (RNA Pauxi Pauxi)
Blue-billed Curassow Reserve (RNA El Paujil)
Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve (RNA Arrierito Antioquia)
Dusky Starfrontlet Reserve (RNA Colibri del Sol)
Tanagers Reserve (RNA Las Tangaras)

I stayed at all of the reserves for between 3 and 5 nights, and I think this was about right, though I could have used another full day at the Piha Reserve as I only had 2 full days there.

There is a fair bit of useful information about all the reserves on the net, and I spent a good while over the couple or three months before the trip trawling other people's trip reports and patching as much information together as I could. Info was a little scarce on Pauxi Pauxi and the Tangaras reserves, but in general there is a fair bit of useful information out there. Also the "forest guards" are generally quite helpful and reasonably knowledgeable about the main birds, and a couple of them were pretty good on lots of the more regular stuff as well. The only thing is they don't speak English, and many of the birds are known only by the taxonomic name. Not a problem though if you've got the new field guide published by Pro-Aves...they all have a copy as well so will recognise what you want to see if you point at it. Talking of the new field guide, I think it is an excellent little book. Sure it tends to be a bit on the sparse side information wise, preferring to let the illustrations do much of the talking, but to have a good-to-reasonable picture in most cases, coupled with elevation info and a range map all on the same page was a godsend.

Robert Giles of Ecoturs (which is the part of Pro-Aves which organises tours / visits to the reserves) helped me with the itinerary, and was extremely helpful in general with travelling tips and also with some tips on birds. Trevor Ellory was also very helpful with travel tips.

We flew with Iberia from Heathrow via Madrid, having been lucky enough to find sub £500 flights for the first time in years. We stayed in the Hotel del Parque (170,000 pesos for four of us inc a basic breakfast) in Bogota the first night, then I saw the family off to Leticia the next day, and flew up to Bucaramanga with Avianca (roughly £50) for the first stage of the trip, the Cerulean Warbler Reserve.
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Stage 1 - Cerulean Warbler Reserve / RNA Reinita Cielo Azul

From Bucaramanga buses run from the terminal to San Vicente de Chucuri every few hours then you need to get a jeep from the town up the reserve. It is walkable, but its pretty steep and there are places you could take a wrong turn if you didn't know where you were going, so as the jeep driver Pro-Aves recommends only charged me 50,000 COP (under £20) it is worth doing that. Bus times to San Vicente: 4am, 9am, 12pm and 5pm. Price, i think it was about 26k COP, roughly £10. Normally the journey is just a few hours, but because of the very rainy "winter", the roads are in a very bad way, so my journey was estimated at 6 hours.

You could also get a bus there from Barrancabermeja, which is probably the quickest way at the moment. I ended up going to there from San Vicente when I was leaving the area to get to El Paujil, and it took about 4 1/2 hours. Bear in mind though that there is no swish bus terminal there as at Bucaramanga, the bus area seemed a bit dodgy and I was glad I wasnt arriving there in the dark.

Anyway, having arrived in Bucaramanga from Bogota by plane at around 3pm, I took a taxi to the bus terminal (I think this would normally be 30k or so, but I let the taxi driver run me around a couple of other places first, so it cost me a bit more) and got the 5pm bus.

All was going well until we got stuck in a landslide. Literally stuck, up to the axles, in mud. After a bit of faffing about trying to unstick it, we accepted the inevitable, and decided to walk across the landslide and wait for another bus to come from San Vicente. Luckily we were only about an hour away by this time, so it wouldnt be a long wait. The landslide hadn't quite finished, and as we made our way across in the dark, there were some very ominous noises from up above, and the odd stone was still rolling down. Happily we all made it across in one piece (if slightly muddier from the knees down) and waited on the far side to be picked up. I had bought a mobile phone in Bogota, so was able to warn the jeep driver of the delay, and happily he said no problem, give me another ring when you get here.

After a short while, most of us were picked up by a friend of one of the other passengers with a crew cab and taken into town. There the other jeep driver, the very helpful Luis Gonzales, picked me up well after midnight, and dropped me off at the Cerulean Warbler reserve. No-one was awake there, so he showed me an empty dormitory and suggested I crash out there.


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A trip report with a landslide on page two! Sounds like an adventure I'm looking forward to hearing more about.



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Having been hooked by Jonathan Newman's "Tale of Ten Tapaculos" and found a lot of useful information in there (in particular, cheers for the tip on the Yellow-Green Bush-Tanager Jonathan ;) ) I thought I would try and do my bit by posting a report on the trip I've just made.

Superb idea!.. thanks for sharing.. for sure you will keep us as tuned as Jonathan did some months ago..
keep posting!!


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I woke up the next morning, not at first light as it had been a long couple of days, but at least before 7. I had three full days and a morning here, so I planned to spend the first day around the plantations, the second and third days in the forest above, and the last morning back in the plantations. I basically spent the rest of the morning being shown around by Carlos, the forest guard. Notable birds seen during the morning included Indigo-capped Hummingbird and Turquoise Dacnis(-Tanager) (around the reserve buildings), White-mantled Barbet, a nice male Guira Tanager, Barred Hawk, Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird, Cerulean Warbler, Bar-crested Antshrike and Niceforo's Wren heard.

In the afternoon I took a hot and sweaty walk up to the start of the forest with one of the other guys working on the reserve, mainly as I wanted to see where the Gorgeted Wood-Quail feeder was. I knew that the Wood-Quail could be tricky, and sure enough there were a bunch of Belgians there who had been waiting a while without seeing them. I stayed a while, enjoying the hummingbirds (inc plenty of Black Incas) at the feeders there, then had a very brief look in the forest, before making my way back down (Rufous-bellied Nighthawk on the way). As Jonathan intimated in his report, going past the cows in the dark was a bit of a worry, as they were panicking a bit, but no harm was done to me or the cows, though I resolved not to go past them in the dark again if I could help it.

The next day I headed up to the forest again, intennding to spend the whole day up there and mainly hoping for White-crowned, Long-tailed and Upper Magdalena Tapaculos, White-bellied Antpitta, Highland Tinamou and anything else I could find. I had a quick look in at the Quail feeders, but the only thing seen was a Lined Quail-Dove or two. I didnt want to spend too long here, as the Quail were very unpredictable and just as likely to turn up in the afternoon, so I headed off. Birding was a little slow, though mammalian entertainment was provided by a Crab-eating Fox who was clearly keen to get past me on the path. One of the others guests on the reserve, a photographer, was behind me, and I think if it had just been one of us on our own, the fox may have plucked up the courage to go past, passing within a few yards, but with both of us there it eventually gave up and headed off the other way.

Anyway, during the morning I heard W B Antpitta once or twice, but couldnt get a response, and Highland Tinamous called occasionally, but not from anywhere that was likely to lead to a sighting. As for the Tapaculos, not a sniff. This was looking grim. Some nice birds were seen in the occasional flock, Flame-faced Tanager, Rufous-naped Greenlet, other bits and bobs. Just after midday, Carlos appeared with some lunch, then afterwards he birded back down the path with me. We managed to briefly see some very non-showy Parker's Antbirds (which the next day were in a much more cooperative mood), and heard the odd tapaculo call, but nothing doing on seeing any of the latter. We also managed to see Rufous-browed Tyrannulet in a canopy flock, but views were so poor that I definitely wouldnt have known what it was without being told. Not an ideal tick. However the best bird of the day was saved for the end, when we managed to get views of Recurve-billed Bushbird in a bit of private forest on the way back down.


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The next day, 2nd Feb, was my last full day on the reserve. Carlos was heading off to Minca to join a bunch of the other forest guards for a course, but he had equipped me with some extra recordings of the tapaculos, and information on where to look. I had a better day today in the forest, though the Wood-Quail, Tapaculos and Antpittas still weren't playing ball. I managed to get a couple of tarty ticks like Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Bluish Flowerpiercer, Pale-eyed Thrush, a Blackish Tapaculo showed very briefly, and I was happy to see a couple of the newly discovered race of Yellow-breasted Brush-Finch along the ridge. I spent the last hour or two of the day as I started, at the Wood-Quail feeders. It was not looking good for these, but eventually, just as I was about to leave, the greedy Lined-Quail Dove suddenly flew off and into view marched 5 Gorgeted Wood-Quail. Brilliant.

So that was it for the forest. I missed a few of the key birds here, the ones already mentioned plus Mountain Grackle, Yellow-throated Spadebill, Ash-browed Spinetail, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, but saw some other good ones, so overall I was fairly happy, and anyway, I am in Colombia often enough not to have to worry about missing stuff the first time around.

The next morning was my final morning on the reserve, and I spent it trying to get better views of Turquoise Dacnis, and looking for stuff in general in the plantations. I managed to see the TD well after a while, and interesting stuff in the plantations included Band-backed Wren, Yellow-legged Thrush, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Shining-green Hummingbird. Again Niceforo's Wren was heard but not seen.

So that was it for the Cerulean Warbler reserve.

Overall the place was very pleasant, the accomodation of a very good standard, the staff helpful. I was given more food than I could shake a stick at, to the point where I was having to turn it down (a rare thing for me) and I certainly look forward to going back to clear up on some of the missing specialities.


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Stage 2 - Helmeted Curassow Reserve / RNA Pauxi Pauxi

THe next stage of the trip - Pauxi Pauxi- was a shortish jeep ride away,about an hour and a half from San Vicente de Chucuri. The road is pretty rough in places, so a jeep is really the only way to get there. The same driver who is available to take people from the town up to the Cerulean Warbler reserve is also happy to take people to Pauxi Pauxi.

I hadn't been able to find much out about Pauxi Pauxi, so I was going there a bit blind. I had a rough idea there was an open area, and there was the forest, but as to what species could be found where, I had no idea, and as the forest guard himself was away on the course at Minca, I was just going to have to go along and see what I could find myself. At least one of the Pro-aves management team was going along to accompany me a bit, but it was her first visit too.

We got to the reserve with an hour or two of light left (seeing a group of three Crested Bobwhites on the way), and after dumping my gear, I had a little wander around the area nearby, which was a patchwork of bushes trees and open areas. There were the usual open country type things around, Tropical Mockingbird, Rusty-margined Fly, Red-crowned Woodpecker, also the "Yellow-tufted" version of Black-faced Dacnis was here. The best thing was a large flock of White-collared Swifts just before dusk (with a few White-tipped) hurtling down the hillside within a few metres of my head, wind whooshing through their wings. Not rare birds but very impressive nonetheless.

The next day (4th Feb) saw us up early for a 5.30 breakfast, and to head up to the forest. The jeep driver (Luis Gonzales) had stayed overnight - and took myself and the Pro-aves lady up to the forest to show us the paths. The terrain here is very steep, and being only about 900m ASL at the bottom, it is also fairly hot, so be prepared to do some sweating to get up to the higher bits.

I spent the whole day in the forest, mainly concentrating on the upper section. Some good birds were seen, the highlights for me being Channel-billed Toucan (one seen, though judging by the calls, well outnumbered by Chestnut-mandibled), Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo (fairly common here), Checker-throated Antwren, Striped and White-bibbed Manakin, Buff-fronted Foliage-Gleaner and Sooty Ant-Tanager. The latter species is quite common here, and easy to see, particularly in the lower part of the forest. The upper part of the forest became very very quiet after about 11, and didn't pick up again til about 3, but as it was such hard work to get there, I couldnt face going all the way down to come back up again, so I just waited it out up there.

I got back to the reserve about 6, very tired and thirsty but pleased to have seen particularly the Shrike-Vireo and the Ant-Tanagers.

The following day I decided to concentrate on the lower part of the forest. I spent the whole morning into the early afternoon here, and there was no noticeable drop in bird activity within the forest up until I left there around 1pm. Flocks were still in evidence. Main birds seen this morning for me were Dull-mantled Antbird, a female Plain Antvireo of the yellow bellied NE race, a brief Black-faced Antthrush, Speckled Tanager and Rufous Mourner. Excellent views of Sooty Ant-Tanager were obtained, plus Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo again.

After lunch, the forest guard's young son took Ana-Esperanza and I up the hill to the Saffron-crowned Parrot stakeout. This too was a very stiff climb, about 45 minutes - 1hr, depending on whether you have to avoid the scary one-horned bull, as insisted on by the worried lad! (we looked back down the hill to see a cow hand calmly walking around said scary bull). At the top, we were made welcome by the residents of the finca there with a welcome cool glass of homemade lemonade, and shown down to where four or five Saffron-crowned Parrots were perched. Nice! It turned out the guy who owned the finca was once the forest guard at the cerulean reserve, and knew his stuff about many of the local species. He mentioned that Beautiful Woodpecker was a certainty in the mornings around there, so I told him I would possibly come and bother him the next morning to show me them , which he was quite happy to do.

The following morning the jeep driver was scheduled to come and pick me up at 10. I decided rather than head all the way back up the hill for just one species, nice as it was, I would head back into the forest, and just hope that I would be able to see Beautiful Woodpecker at the next reserve, El Paujil, where I understood they were fairly frequent. I managed to see a small group of Immaculate Antbirds in the forest, a species which was not going to be at any of the other reserves I was scheduled to visit, so my decision was half-justified... Also Thick-billed Seed-Finch on the way back to the house was not something I had before in Colombia, so overall I was happy with the choice I had made, so far.

The jeep driver was there when I got back, so after packing, we headed off back to San Vicente, from where I dpearted on the bus to Barrancabermeja, from where I planed to bus to Puerto Boyaca, then onto Puerto Pinzon and the Blue-billed Curassow Reserve.

I had enjoyed my stay at Pauxi Pauxi, though I'm sure if Douglas the forest guard had been there I would have probably got more out of it. Overall though it was a nice reserve, the accomodation was basic but fine, the lady of the house again was certainly not going to let me go hungry and it was generally a nice scenic place to be. As mentioned, the terrain is quite steep there, so a reasonable level of agility / fitness is recommended. Though hot, there weren't many insects.
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No camera this time Eric...apart from a little bridge camera! I think my days of lugging a 600mm lens around are over now, for the time being at least. I can just imagine what fun it would have been lugging it up that hill, not to mention the slippery Lengerke Trail!

And thanks Jonathan and Patrick, good to know someone's tuning in! I am risking being accused of neglect by the wife sitting on the computer in the evening typing these up, :/


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Great stuff Robert and very interestinng for me as I'm planning to visit Colombia next year with the GF - who's from Bucaramanga. Great to find out the Pro Aves reserves are not so hard to reach. I have the field-guide, which seems excellent, but as nearly every species will be new to me on my first trip to S America, and my Spanish is still not that good, before I go I might need to brush up on my taxonomic names! Still, at least now I have learned the important difference between Pajaro and Pajero!


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Stage 3 - Blue-billed Curassow Reserve / RNA El Paujil

I left San Vicente on the bus to Barrancabermeja (Barranca to the locals) around 1pm...cost was about 16k COP I think. It was just over a four hour trip, and on a less bad road than that which I had come to the town on (which was still blocked by the landslide). I got to the "bus station" at Barranca just after 5. I was half toying with the idea of carrying on to Puerto Boyaca, but I decided that it would be safer to stay here the night and get an early bus the next day, rather than turn up in Puerto Boyaca, an unfamiliar town, late at night. The bus area at Barranca was a bit rough looking, and I just got into the first hotel I could find to save me sticking out like a sore thumb with my bags and stuff. I found one with A/C for 30k pesos, had a meal in the bus cafe downstairs then went to book the bus for the next day. I had a quick scout around for an alternative hotel, one a bit less grim, but no joy, so I settled for the original one, which wasn't as bad as it first seemed.

Next day I caught the 6am bus to Puerto Boyaca (26k COP or thereabouts) and got there about 10. You get dropped off on the main road at a restaurant, and there are nearly always taxis waiting there to take people into town (4k to the main square where the buses leave from). The taxi driver said the only times that taxis may not be there is on a weekend night, when there is more business in the town. The company that ran the 11am bus at least to Puerto Pinzon didn't appear to have an office round the edge of the square, there was just a (very attractive) girl sitting at a desk on the square, taking bookings right next to the bus.

I had left Pauxi Pauxi a day earlier than originally planned, and the Proaves office hadn't been able to get in touch with the forest guard to make sure my early arrival was going to be ok, but as luck would have it, he had just arrived back in Puerto Boyaca himself, returning from the course in Minca, and was already booked on the 11am bus to Puerto Pinzon! This was a great result, and Jose turned out to be a very affable bloke indeed. (The bus fare was 11k COP)

The trip to Puerto Pinzon was through some very strange scenery, lots and lots of small round hills, mostly grass covered. The odd marshy bit on the way held a few common waterbirds like Bare-faced Ibis, but Jose pointed out a Northern Screamer at the top of a bush as well, something I had been very much hoping to see, and also said he was happy to bring me back sometime over the next few days on the back of his motorbike to get better views.

At Puerto Pinzon, from what I had read you could either organise a jeep to the reserve, or a boat if the river was deep enough (it wasn't). In fact there are also a few lads on motorbikes who meet the buses and carry people around (mototaxis), and Jose and I enslited a couple of these to take us up to the reserve entrance (a bit too far to walk with heavy rucksacks in the heat of the day) then walked the rest of the way down to the centre.

The place itself was really nicely laid out, with a nice dining area with a handy hammock strung up, perfect for a bit of post-lunch garden-bird watching. The hummingbird feeders were dominated by White-necked Jacobins and White-vented Plumeleteers, but the odd Rufous-tailed and Blue-chested Hummingbird and Rufous-breasted Hermit made an appearance as well.

After lunch, I headed off for a wander around for the last few hours of the day. I crossed over the bridge to the riverside trail, which then went up a steep bit to Sendero Lomo Patico, and birded along here until dark. Almost the first bird seen was a brief Black-billed Flycatcher, a near-as-dammit endemic. I was happy to get another couple of Colombia ticks as well, Dusky-capped Flycatcher and Marbled Wood-Quail, a small covey of which I came across on the path. Other seen included Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Bay-breasted Warbler and other bits and bobs.

I made my way back to the cabins at dusk, and after dinner heard a Crested Owl calling distantly from the other side of the river.

Jose the forest guard joined me after dinner, and we talked about the possibility of seeing the curassow over the next few days. He rated my chances fairly highly, being on my own, plus I had four whole days to try and see it. Groups are a different matter however, due to the extra noise and the fact that often the first one or two people on the path are lucky, whilst those behind are not. But one obstacle which had been overcome now was the river...the reserve has obtained a flat bottomed boat with an outboard motor, so the river would now be passable in all states. Many people / groups had been frustrated previously by the river being too strong to cross on the precarious raft which they had previously had to rely on, and the path across the river is pretty ,uch the only place you are likely to see the bird.

So, I went to bed that night with high hopes of seeing the main target of the reserve, in fact, probably the main target of the whole trip.
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Jens Thalund

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This is just the kind'a thread I'm looking for, as I'm planning to go for 3-4 weeks in the autumn, and hoping to do as much as possible on public transport.
Can't wait to read more -



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This is just the kind'a thread I'm looking for, as I'm planning to go for 3-4 weeks in the autumn, and hoping to do as much as possible on public transport. Jens

Hi Jens, I recommend you contact Robert Giles ([email protected]) who is very helpful and great at setting up tours with "Ecoturs Colombia". He did a fantastic job organising my tour to Colombia last year.


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Thanks for the kind comments.

The next day started off very well, with a Vermiculated Screech-Owl low down beside the house before dawn. I ate some breakfast, then Jose and I headed across the river in search of the biggie...Blue-billed Curassow. A friend back in England had been here three times and not seen it...could it really be as easy as Jose was leading me to expect?

We headed up the path. It was quite steep and sweaty work in places, but we hadn't got too far when something large and black flew up from the path in front of us into a tree. And that was Blue-billed Curassow under the belt, simple as that. It was an immature male, and it stayed in the tree for about 5 minutes, allowing decent scope views, albeit partially obscured. I wasn't complaining though!

Once the bird disappeared, we carried on up the path (called El Compartido - the shared path) to see what else could be seen. Other main birds of the morning for me were Long-billed Hermit, White-mantled Barbet (great views), Half-collared Gnatwren, Rufous Mourner.

In the afternoon, Jose and I headed firstly along the riverside trail, then up to Lomo Sendero Patico, then down to the mirador. We got crippling views of Black-billed Flycatcher nr the bamboo along the river, plus other bits and bobs like Black-bellied Wren, White-shouldered Tanager, Yellow-backed Tanager, Black-striped Sparrow and a couple of woodpeckers I had been hoping for, Cinnamon and the much wanted Beautiful, a couple of which were on a fairly low tree by the side of the path on the way down to the mirador. The sun was behind us, lighting up these fantastic birds superbly. There hadn't been many times so far on this trip where I had keenly felt the lack of my camera gear, but this was one of them.

So that was the first day at El Paujil, and a cracker it had been. With the Curassow and B.Woodpecker seen, my next targets were a few antbirds which had not been in evidence so far, Bare-crowned and Chestnut-backed Antbirds and Black Antshrike. Hopes were high for the next day.


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Blue-billed Curassow under the belt....

FANTASTIC Robert - indeed a cracker! I hear that more and more birders are seeing this spectacular Curassow at the Paujil reserve. This is good news as it is a wonderful reserve to visit and pleased that more private lands were being added to the reserve by Proaves to save this species. I may have to return there!


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But one obstacle which had been overcome now was the river...the reserve has obtained a flat bottomed boat with an outboard motor, so the river would now be passable in all states. Many people / groups had been frustrated previously by the river being too strong to cross on the precarious raft which they had previously had to rely on, and the path across the river is pretty ,uch the only place you are likely to see the bird.

Good news! I found it very frustrating to spend several days on the wrong side of the river, waiting for the waters to slow enough to punt across. Of course, birds like Crested Owl and Black Antshrike take some of the pain away lol.

Good work with the Curassow - its a great bird!
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