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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Colombia: Andean Endemics

2011 Narrative

This was our second visit to the world’s most ornithologically diverse country, and once again it was filled with avian gems. We recorded around 600 species including 46 endemics and a mouthwatering list of specialties. The superabundance of species present in Colombia is a direct result of its complex topography, which packs a huge range of habitats into a relatively rather small area. Not only did we enjoy spectacular birds but we enjoyed spectacular scenery. We criss-crossed the country taking in the high Paramos of the eastern and central Andes, the dripping cloud forest of the west slope Choco, the dry Cauca and humid Magdalena valleys, the Caribbean region with its mix of lush marshes and palm-fringed beaches, the isolated Santa Marta Mountains, and finally the arid scrub and semi desert of the Guajira peninsula.

We had been warned in the tour description that this would be a fairly demanding tour – and indeed it was. Colombia is a very big country and as described there were some long drives, many on fairly narrow mountainous roads through the Andes. And there were lots of hikes, some fairly long and many up-hill, again due to the Andes. In one place the accommodation was fairly basic and we had to get used to the occasional cold shower. But the food was good throughout and the people we met were, without exception, very friendly and helpful.

And in each of these special places we found some truly memorable birds. Highlights included the confiding Bearded Helmetcrests that showed so well on the windswept Paramo. The ten species of Antpitta, which included fantastic close up views of four species visiting worm feeders. Add a very handsome Striped Owl roosting in a reedbed near Bogota followed by great looks at both White-throated and Colombian Screech-owl during nocturnal excursion in the atmospheric Andean forests. Our first visit to the Colombian Choco where in a single morning we found the iconic Black-and-Gold and Gold-Ringed Tanagers, gaudy Crested Ant-Tanagers, the yet to be formally described Alto Pisonus Tapaculo and three Chestnut Wood-Quail. The same morning’s backup cast included a single Choco Vireo ranging high in the canopy, a stunning male Orange-breasted Fruiteater and fantastic flocks dripping with Choco specialities including Fulvous-dotted Treerunner, Indigo Flowerpiercer and Uniform Treehunter

We finished that morning’s birding with a visit to some hummingbird feeders. These were to feature throughout the trip and helped us amass a total of 50 species of hummingbird, including several endemics. In the Choco we enjoyed Velvet-Purple Coronet and White-tailed Hillstar, near Bogota it was endemic Indigo-capped hummingbirds and the diminutive Gorgeted Woodstar, in the Santa Marta Mountains another endemic the White-tailed Starfrontlet plus the scarce Lazuline Sabrewing. Everywhere we went we found hummingbirds and often in good numbers.

Bogota didn’t disappoint with its bird-filled Paramo and great looks at specialities such as Bogota Rail, Apolinar’s Wren and displaying Noble Snipe in the marshes. The Central Andes provided us with myriad highlights. The emblematic Yellow-eared Parrots, the flock of 21 Red-bellied Grackles found during a short roadside stop, the near tame Red-ruffed Fruitcrows, the obliging Cauca Guans, the skulking Masked Saltator, and the spectacular lek of Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks just a few minutes’ walk from our hotel. Then, we spent a morning birding in the hot, dry, Cauca valley, where we found some incredibly noisy Colombian Chachalacas, a diminutive Greyish Piculet and a pair of somber but localized Apical Flycatchers. The afternoon of the same day found us making a bumpy climb up to a remote, mist-shrouded, mountain pass. We were rewarded with close up views of the recently described Munchique Wood-Wren and the always enigmatic Tanger Finch.

As we neared the end of the tour we visited the endemic rich Santa Marta Mountains. Species bearing the name of this mountain range include a Parakeet, a Warbler, an Antpitta and a Brushfinch. We saw all of these, plus specialities such as the nearly tame Black-fronted Woodquails, localized White-tipped Quetzal and the attractive Golden-winged Sparrow and Black backed Antshrike.

We finished the tour in the desert of the Guajira peninsula. This provided a very memorable last morning’s birding. Dazzling Vermilion Cardinals perched atop the cacti, stunning White-whiskered Spinetails skulked in the scrub, and a pair of obliging Tocoyu Sparrows gave fantastic close up views. With good looks at Buffy Hummingbird, Orinocan Saltator, Green-rumped Parrotlet and Bare-eyed Pigeon, we continued to maintain the high quality birding which had been a feature throughout the tour.   Trevor Ellery

Updated: November 2011