Black Solitaire, an elegant Chocó endemic. Photo: Fabrice Schmitt
The Chocó area of western Colombia and Ecuador encompasses the Pacific slope of both the Colombian West Andes and the main Andes. Most of the habitat here is characterized by wet forest, and with up to 630 inches of rain per year in some places, mostly falling from April to June and from October to December, it is perhaps the wettest place on earth. The Chocó has one of the world’s richest lowland biotas, with exceptional endemism in a wide range of taxa, including plants, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, and of course birds. For example, 10% of the 80,000 to 90,000 plant species recorded in the Neotropics have been found in the Chocó, and 25% of these are endemic to this narrow band of land. The Chocó also supports the largest number of range-restricted bird species of any area in the Americas, with more than 60 endemics.
We’ll look for birds at various elevations on the western slope of the Colombian Occidental Cordillera, from the brilliant white sand beaches near Bahía Solano to the highest part of the Montezuma Road at about 8500 feet, and we should find spectacular birds at every stop.
We’ll also visit several hummingbird feeding stations, many of them in our lodge gardens where we should have great views of as many as 30 species (50 species of hummingbirds are possible during the tour). In addition to the Chocó area, we’ll visit the dry Cauca Valley to look for species restricted to that habitat.
Our short trip should provide a snapshot of the wonderful Chocó region with its fantastic birding and extraordinary biodiversity.
Day 1: The tour begins at 6 pm in Medellín. Night in Medellín.
Day 2: We’ll fly this morning to Bahía Solano on Colombia’s Pacific coast, perhaps getting tantalizing glimpses of the extensive pristine tropical forest of the Western Cordillera, a habitat we’ll be exploring later in the trip. Once in Bahía Solano, we’ll drive to the nearby village of El Valle, likely making several stops on the way to look for Grey-headed Chachalaca, the pompous Pied Puffbird, the elegant Choco Toucan, and the stunning Black-tipped Cotinga. The mixed-species flocks here usually include Golden-hooded, Plain-colored, and Rufous-winged Tanagers, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Blue Dacnis, and Tawny-crested Tanager. We’ll settle into our comfortable hotel, situated just meters from a wonderful white sand beach and surrounded by birdy tropical forest. Night in El Valle.
Day 3: After a pre-dawn breakfast we’ll take a boat to Utria, one of the most beautiful Colombian national parks. Here the fabulous, untouched forest covering the coastal hills dives into the tropical waters with a line of white sand beaches separating the green forest from the emerald water. Even though the park doesn’t offer an extensive trail system, we have a good chance of finding the elusive Brown Wood-Rail, Blue-chested Hummingbird, White-tailed Trogon, the beautiful Cinnamon Woodpecker, the fancy Blue Cotinga, and even the uncommon Scarlet-thighed Dacnis. There is a slim chance of seeing the unique Broad-billed Sapayoa, a species recently placed in its own family, the Sapayoidae, and closely related to the Old World Broadbills.
Bird activity slows as the day’s heat rises, so we’ll have time to snorkel in the magical turquoise waters, whose fish diversity exceeds that of the birds ane we could spend days underwater trying to put a name to all of them! A large population of Humpback Whales uses the area to give birth, and we’ll probably see a few females with their recently born calves.
We’ll return to El Valle for lunch and a mid-day break before looking for more birds, including White-necked and White-whiskered Puffbirds, Red-lored Parrot, the rare Olive-backed Wood-Quail, Collared Aracari, Pacific Antwren, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Spot-crowned Antvireo, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, the recently split Choco Sirystes, and Orange-billed Sparrow among many others. Night in El Valle.
Day 4: We’ll have time for some early morning birding before flying back to Medellín. Once in Medellín, and depending on when we arrive, we may visit La Romera, a fine forested area of the Central Cordillera, or just relax in the garden of our excellent hotel. Night in Medellín.
Day 5: We’ll spend the morning at La Romera, where we have a good chance of finding the noisy Colombian endemic Red-bellied Grackle, as well as other species of the Central Cordillera such as Stile’s Tapaculo, Colombian Chachalaca, Greenish Puffleg, Bar-crested Antshrike, and Pale-naped Brushfinch. Later we’ll drive toward the dry Cauca Valley, a major biogeographical barrier separating the Western Cordillera from the Central Andes. A number of endemics and specialities, including Greyish Piculet, Apical Flycatcher, Antioquia Wren (a species only described in 2012), and Colombian (Speckle-breasted) Wren, are present in that dry valley. After birding these two very different locations, we’ll re-enter the Chocó area at mid-elevation in the Western Cordillera. Night at Las Tangaras Lodge.
Day 6: We’ll spend the whole day at Las Tangaras ProAves Reserve, birding down a gently sloping traffic-free road and hiking up one trail. We’ll be searching for mixed flocks that can be thrillingly large. We should be able to locate a key endemic, the Black-and-gold Tanager, which is usually quite common at this site, and we hope as well to find Black Solitaire somewhere along the trail. The flocks here are often full of specialities, such as Buffy Tufted-cheek, Fulvous-dotted Treerunner, Glistening-green and Purplish-mantled Tanagers, Toucan Barbet, and both Chestnut-breasted and Yellow-collared Chlorophonias. We may make the occasional foray into the understory, where we hope to find Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Nariño Tapaculo, Olive Finch, Choco (Tricolored) Brushfinch, and Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant. Although it will be a very full day, we might 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 7: We’ll visit the remote La Eme Ridge, looking particularly for Munchique Wood-Wren, Tanager Finch, Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, and Chestnut-crested Cotinga. This spectacular temperate forest also often holds mixed-species flocks, and we expect to spend much of the morning here. Botanists will be impressed by the diversity of orchids, as dozens of species can be found along the roadside. After lunch in the field we’ll continue on toward the village of Pueblo Rico and our lodge, situated at the base of the ornithologically famous Montezuma Road. Night at Montezuma Lodge.
Day 8: Located in the Western Cordillera, the Tatama National Park protects an extensive and almost inaccessible pristine forest. The landscape, dominated by Tatama Peak, is magnificent, and the list of endemics and restricted species from this site is phenomenal. We’ll have an entire day to bird the national park along the Montezuma Road. On the upper part of the road we’ll look for Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer and for the attractive Gold-ringed Tanager, known from only a very few places in Colombia’s Western Andes, as well as Toucan Barbet, Rufous Spinetail, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Handsome Flycatcher, the charming Tanager Finch, and Dusky Chlorospingus. Along the lower part of this road we hope to find Broad-billed Motmot, Red-faced Spinetail, Uniform Treehunter, Yellow-breasted Antwren, Zeledon’s Antbird, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, the recently described Tatama Tapaculo, the fancy Orange-breasted Fruiteater, the striking Black Solitaire, and mixed-species flocks that can include Black-and-gold Tanager, Black-chinned Mountain-tanager, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Flame-faced and Silver-throated Tanagers, and the stunning Chestnut-breasted and Yellow-collared Chlorophonias. In our lodge garden the feeders attract interesting hummingbirds such Empress Brilliant, Velvet-purple Coronet, White-tailed Hillstar, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, and Purple-throated Woodstar. Night at Montezuma Lodge.
Day 9: We’ll spend most of the morning along the lowest part of the Montezuma Road and then set off for the Cauca Valley and the city of Buga. In the afternoon we’ll visit the Sonso Lagoon, where we’ll be looking for waterbirds as well as open-country birds, possibly including a few Horned Screamers (there’s a very isolated population here) along with Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Snail Kite, Limpkin, Wattled Jacana, Striped and Dwarf Cuckoos, Jet Antbird, or the tiny and cute Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher. Night in Buga.
Day 10: We’ll have a full morning to explore a relict patch of dry forest near Buga, where we’ll search for Colombian endemics such Cauca Guan, Turquoise Dacnis, Greyish Piculet, and Apical Flycatcher. We also hope to find a few flocks, usually containing Guira, Metallic-green, Golden-naped, and Scrub Tanagers, and Black-winged Saltator. It’s also a place to look for the rare Yellow-headed Manakin and the ‘soon-to-be-split’ Colombian (Speckle-breasted) Wren.
After lunch we’ll drive toward the old road between Cali and Buenaventura on the west side of the Western Cordillera, also called the Anchicaya Road. On the way we’ll stop at a famous hummingbird feeding station that attracts amazing numbers of Booted Racquet-tail, Long-tailed Sylph, Buff-tailed Coronet, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, and Steely-vented Hummingbird. Even the rare Blue-headed Sapphire is sometimes seen here, and the well-named Multicolored Tanager is a regular in the garden. Night in El Queremal.
Days 11–12: We’ll spend two full days along the Anchicaya Road. No longer heavily trafficked, it has become one of the best birding roads in South America, allowing us to explore elevations from 5000 feet down to 1000 feet. We’ll have already seen many of the birds, hardly a hardship, but there will be a number of new species, including Golden-chested Tanager (our last Bangsia tanager), Baudo Guan, Lita Woodpecker, Lemon-spectacled, Scarlet-and-white, Blue-whiskered, and Grey-and-gold Tanagers, Scaled Fruiteater, Yellow-green Chlorospingus, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, and even Esmeraldas Antbird. It is also an excellent area to find lekking Tooth-billed Hummingbird or Club-winged Manakin. As often happens in the richest tropical forests, even with two full days birding we’ll never stop finding new species. We’ll conclude our tour with a farewell dinner in Cali. Nights in El Queremal and in Cali.
Day 13: The tour concludes this morning in Cali.
Updated: 17 November 2020