Yellow-eared Parrot is one of more than 70 Colombian endemics - many of them rare and endangered. Photo: ProAves
Colombia’s 440,000 square miles are the richest area for birds on the planet with more than 1,900 having been recorded, among them no fewer than 80 endemics. Although our adventure will provide ample opportunity to observe a large number of common species, this tour concentrates on reserves that protect the last remaining habitats of some of the most range-restricted, and in some cases, the most endangered birds in the world.
Colombia is in many ways the most European of all the South American countries, but we’ll be visiting parts of the country that are still quite wild, making some days of this tour rugged. There are long drives between some of our destinations, and we’ll be taking some of our meals in the field. This is a rigorous trip, but those willing to take on the challenge will find the rewards great.
All the areas we visit on this tour are safe, and have been thoroughly scouted in collaboration with scientists from the Colombian NGO ProAves.
Day 1: The tour begins at 6 pm in the lobby of our hotel in Bogotá. Night in Bogotá.
Day 2: We’ll depart early for a two hour drive to Bioandino on the edge of Chingaza National Park. There, amongst beautiful Andean scenery we’ll look for the endemic Brown-breasted Parakeet, near endemic Mattoral Tapaculo and Rufous-browed Conebill, and a host of high elevation and temperate forest species including Andean Guan, Andean Pygmy Owl, Bronze-tailed Thornbill, Blue-throated Starfrontlet, Rufous Antpitta, White-chinned Thistletail, Golden-fronted Redstart and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager. Time permitting we may make a late afternoon stop to visit our first hummingbird feeding station, where we may find Coppery-bellied Puffleg, Sword-billed Hummingbird, and both Green-tailed and Black-tailed Trainbairers. Night in Bogotá.
Day 3: After an early breakfast, we’ll spend a few hours in La Florida Park, a marsh and lake close to the international airport, searching for three endemics - Bogotá Rail, Apolinar’s Marsh-Wren and Silvery-throated Spinetail. Other specialities could include Spot-flanked Gallinule and Subtropical Doradito. We will then make a short stop at Chicaque Park where we hope to add the dazzling Golden-bellied Starfrontlet. Afterward, we will drop down into the hot Magdalena valley, crossing the Magdalena River as we head over to the central Andes. In the afternoon, a few roadside stops may produce the endemic Velvet-fronted Euphonia and possibly Apical Flycatcher. We are also sure to log a whole host of commoner lowland species before climbing up into the cooler temperatures of the Combeima Canyon, where we’ll spend the night in a pleasant country hotel.
Day 4: We will be up before dawn this morning for a forty-minute hike up to the small Ukuku Lodge, where we will station ourselves in the lounge to wait for the arrival of the endemic Tolima Doves that often visit the seeded lawn at dawn. Hopefully having seen this enigmatic species, we will then stake out some flowers in the garden in the hope of Tolima Blossomcrown. The gardens themselves can often be very birdy and along with a third endemic – Yellow-headed Brush finch – we also hope to enjoy a good selection of hummingbirds and tanagers at the various feeders. We will have breakfast at this lodge and then make a slow hike back to our hotel, with the possibility of Torrent Duck and Torrent Tyrannulet along the river. By mid-morning we will have packed our bags and will head north up the Magdalena Valley.
We’ll spend the afternoon in dry forest near Laguna del Hato where we hope to see the endemic Velvet-fronted Euphonia, both Jet and White-bellied Antbirds, Barred Puffbird, Rufous-tailed Jacamar and possibly Crested Bobwhite. In the late afternoon we’ll continue on to the town of La Victoria where we’ll spend the night.
Day 5: We’ll spend our morning in the forest above La Victoria looking for several endemics including Sooty Ant-Tanager, Beautiful Woodpecker, White-mantled Barbet, and Colombian Chachalaca. The forest holds many birds and we are sure to encounter a host of commoner species. Manakins are especially well-represented with the possibility of White-bearded, White-bibbed, Striped, and Golden-headed. We’ll also keep an eye out for the endemic White-footed Tamarin, a primate which is being intensively studied at this site. We’ll stay until late morning before driving over Colombia’s central cordillera and dropping down to the city of Manizales. We may make one or two birding stops along the way. Night in a country hotel just outside Manizales.
Day 6: Today we’ll visit the Rio Blanco reserve for a long but bird-filled day. We’ll arrive early and bird around the small lodge where we will look out for such species as Black-billed Mountain Toucan, Sickle-winged Guan, Dusky Piha and Black-collared Jay. About an hour after dawn we’ll be led by a local guide to special antpitta feeding stations where we hope to enjoy close up views of the endemic Brown-banded Antpitta and the impressive Chestnut-crowned Antpitta. We also have a good chance of seeing Bicolored, Chestnut-naped, and Slate-crowned Antpittas, all of which visit various feeding stations in the forest at various times throughout the year. We will spend much of the remainder of the day exploring the excellent network of trails. The mixed flocks at this site are often large and varied and we will hope to connect with several species of hemispingus, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Pearled Treerunner and many tanagers. This site is also rich in skulkers and we will be looking for several tapaculos and the elusive Masked Saltator. We’ll take lunch at the lodge and enjoy the spectacular hummingbird show at the feeders. We will then continue birding at the reserve all afternoon. We’ll have dinner here too and then do a spot of owling with targets including Rufous-banded Owl and White-throated Screech-Owl. We’ll then drop back down to our hotel in Manizales for the night.
Day 7: We’ll climb back out of the city to the high elevation Nevado del Ruiz National Park (13,000 feet). This will be our second chance to bird the paramo zone but as we are on a different cordillera we’ll hope for a slightly different mix of species including the endemic and very localized Rufous-fronted Parakeet. Flowering bushes attract a number of colourful hummingbirds including Viridian Metaltail, Golden-breasted Puffleg and Shining Sunbeam. On occasion, the nomadic Black-thighed Puffleg can be present in some numbers, but at other times it’s absent. In the forest patches we’ll look for Paramo Tapaculo, White-banded Tyrannulet, Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, and Black-backed Bush-Tanager. Tawny Antpittas are often very tame here and we’ll also search for the dazzling Buffy Helmetcrest. After lunch we’ll drive to Pereira and our lodge at Otun Quimbaya Ecological Reserve, near La Suiza, where we should have a little time for birding the garden. Night at Otun Quimbaya.
Day 8: We’ll have the entire morning to look for birds around Quimbaya Otun, following a beautiful track through good forest at 6,500 feet. The endemic Cauca Guan is reasonably common here, and we also have a chance of seeing the endemic Chestnut Wood-Quail and the elusive Wattled Guan. We’ll be on the lookout for the endemic Multicolored Tanager, as well as exciting mixed-species feeding flocks. Another attraction of this site is Red-ruffed Fruitcrow and we hope to obtain great views of this large and impressive cotinga. The afternoon will be taken up with the long drive to Las Tangaras Reserve in the Choco zone. Night at Las Tangaras Lodge.
Day 9: We’ll spend the whole day at the Las Tangaras Reserve birding down a gently sloping traffic-free road and hiking up one trail. We’ll be searching for mixed flocks that can be large and exciting. We should locate a key endemic the Black-and-gold Tanager which seems quite common at this site and we also hope to find the Black Solitaire along the trail. The flocks are often full of specialties; Buffy Tuftedcheek, Fulvous-dotted Treerunner, Glistening-green and Purplish-mantled Tanagers, Toucan Barbet and both Chestnut-breasted and Yellow-collared Chlorophonias for example. We may make occasional sorties into the understorey where we hope to find Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Nariño Tapaculo, Olive Finch, Choco (Tricolored) Brush-finch and Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant. On what will be a very full day we also hope to squeeze in a visit to the reserve’s hummingbird feeders where Violet-tailed Sylph, Velvet-purple Coronet, Brown Inca, Purple-bibbed Whitetip and White-tailed Hillstar are all possible. Night at Las Tangaras Lodge.
Day 10: We’ll visit the remote La Eme ridge looking particularly for Munchique Wood-Wren, Tanager Finch and Chestnut-crested Cotinga. This spectacular temperate forest also often holds mixed-species flocks and we expect to spend much of the morning here and will take a packed lunch. In the afternoon we’ll transfer to the pretty colonial town of Jardin arriving in time to visit the Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek situated on the edge of the town. The stunning males here are often remarkably tame and usually offer good photographic opportunities as well as fantastic views. Night in Jardin.
Day 11: We’ll need an early start for our dawn visit to the Yellow-eared Parrot roosting area. These endangered macaw-like parrots are now only found in Colombia having become extinct in other nearby countries and we’ll be looking for them in one of their few remaining strongholds. We’ll spend the rest of the day birding back down the road to Jardin. This will give us a second opportunity to look for Tanager Finch and Chestnut-crested Cotinga and we also expect to find many temperate forest birds. We’ll return to town in the late afternoon. Night in Jardin.
Day 12: Another early start today so as to spend the cool morning birding at low altitude in the Cauca valley. We’ll be looking for a number of endemics and specialities including Greyish Piculet, Apical Flycatcher, Antioquia Wren (a species only described in 2012) and Colombian (Speckle-breasted) Wren. We’ll leave in the late morning and spend the balance of the day driving to the Chestnut-capped Piha reserve. We hope to arrive with time for a little birding in the lodge garden where there are hummingbird and fruit feeders that draw in many birds from the surrounding countryside.
Day 13: The Piha reserve holds many special birds but we’ll have to hike up a narrow trail into the forest to see most of them. We’ll walk slowly birding all the way and will take a packed lunch for a full day in the field. Skulking species can include the endemic Stiles’s Tapaculo, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, and Streak-capped Treehunter. We’ll be scanning the canopy for the often unobtrusive Chestnut-capped Piha and keeping an ear out for noisy groups of Red-bellied Grackles. We hope to come across one or two of the large mixed-species flocks that roam through the forest and which can hold Multicolored Tanager, Brown-billed Scythebill and Rufous-browed Tyrannulet. We’ll return to the lodge in the late afternoon and in the evening try for night birds including Lyre-tailed Nightjar and possibly Tropical Screech-Owls, Mottled Owl or even Stygian Owl. Night at the Chestnut-capped Piha reserve lodge.
Day 14: We’ll have a second full morning at the Piha reserve. Our activities will largely be governed by what we saw on our first day. We have time for a second visit to the forest if required and can also bird along the road. We’ll be alert for further special birds including Moustached Puffbird, Lanceolated Monklet, Chestnut Wood-Quail, Parker’s and Magdalena Antbirds, Ornate Flycatcher and Black-winged Saltator. We’ll also have time to enjoy commoner species at the lodge’s fruit and hummingbird feeders before spending the afternoon driving back to Medellin. Night in Medellin.
Day 15: We will have an early flight to Riohacha on the north coast. In the afternoon we will be looking for birds in lowland desert habitats and the Los Flamencos Reserve, where specialties include Green-rumped Parrotlet, Buffy Hummingbird, White-whiskered Spinetail, Slender-billed Inezia, Vermilion Cardinal, Orinocan Saltator, Pileated Finch and Tocuyo Sparrow. In the evening we’ll visit coastal lagoons for a host of waders, gulls, terns and waterbirds and sometimes the odd surprise. Night in Riohacha.
Day 16: We’ll spend the morning at Los Flamencos, searching for any species we may have missed the day before, and then drive towards the spectacular Santa Marta mountains and our first endemics including Santa Marta Tapaculo and Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner. We’ll arrive at the El Dorado Lodge at dusk, a comfortable accommodation with a bird-filled garden where many endemics can be seen directly from the balcony. Night at El Dorado Lodge.
Days 17-18: We’ll devote two entire days to different elevations on the San Lorenzo Ridge of the Santa Marta mountains. On one day we’ll take our four-wheel-drive jeeps high up in search of endemics such as Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Woodstar, White-tailed Starfrontlet, Rusty-headed and Streak-capped Spinetails, Santa Marta Antpitta, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant, Santa Marta and White-lored Warblers, Yellow-crowned Redstart, Black-cheeked Mountain-Tanager, Santa Marta Brushfinch, and Hermit Wren. Other birds possible here include Black-fronted Wood-Quail, Lined Quail-Dove, White-rumped Hawk, White-tipped Quetzal and Golden-breasted Fruiteater. The area also has a still undescribed species of Megascops owl and last year one was roosting right next to one of the cabins. Nights at El Dorado Lodge.
Day 19: Leaving the lodge early we’ll descend from the mountains and spend time birding around the coffee plantations above the small town of Minca. Here we’ll be looking for Rosy-thrush Tanager, Scaled Piculet,both Rufous-breasted and Rufous-and-white Wrens, Santa Marta Antbird, Keel-billed Toucan and Golden-winged Sparrow. We should encounter a good variety of more widespread species and will try a site for the handsome Black-backed Antshrike. As the day heats up we’ll drive west of Santa Marta to Barranquilla. Night in Barranquilla.
Day 20: We’ll spend the last morning around Salamanca, looking for Chestnut-winged Chachalaca and Sappire-bellied Hummingbird. Other birds here may include Russet-throated Puffbird, and we’ll explore a mangrove reserve in search of Chestnut Piculet, Panama Flycatcher, and Bicolored Conebill. Birds are numerous in the coastal lowlands and we’ll see many species of herons, waders, and other waterbirds for the first time on the tour. In the late morning we will return to the hotel to shower and change before transferring to Barranquilla airport where the tour concludes.
Updated: 17 November 2020