I was honoured to be invited by Diego Calderon, the best-known guide in Colombia, to talk about World Birding at the Festival de Aves in Medellin, the second largest city in Colombia. The festival was a joint event organised by the ornithological society SAO (Sociedad Antioqueña de Ornitología www.sao.org.co), a local university and Diego’s company Colombia Birding. It was aimed at: “a mixed audience (sciences students, professionals in science and non-science disciplines, amateur birdwatchers, students, and general public with any interest/fascination in birds). We want to bring very special lecturers to talk to us about a very exciting/passionate topic concerning birds they work in/with and in your case for a really exciting/inspirational talk about your travels all over the place.” Travel arrangements, lodging and food to be funded by their partner: Proexport http://www.festivaldelasavesmedellin.com/. The head of the festival was Jorjany M. Botero Orrego, Directora Ejecutiva (SAO).
A day-trip birding in the Cauca Valley near Medellin with Colombia Birding www.colombiabirding.com, led by José Castaño Hernández
I accepted the generous invitation and added another week on to the trip for personal birding. As I didn’t want to self-drive during that time, I investigated employing guides and with José CH’s help arranged to go with him on the first part of my trip and with Luis Eduardo Uruena, Director of Manakin Nature Tours, on the last four days. We used public transport for the first two long journeys, and a 4WD vehicle driven by José’s friend for the other two sites. I then travelled to Tunja, where Luis lives, via Bogota by coach, after which we used Luis’s own company 4WD vehicle. This all worked out well except that the journey to Bogota took too long – it would have been better to have pre-booked a flight. Some of the roads were rough but flat enough so that 4WD was not essential, except for the Munchique Wood-Wren road and the track in Las Tangaras reserve.
Having birded twice before in Colombia, I was happy with seeing 15 new species, including Sooty-capped Puffbird, Baudo Oropendola and three new hummers. There is a closer site for the Puffbird but it was deemed to be unsafe due to guerrilla activity. My only regret was that we missed Mountain Grackle despite two full mornings searching for it in the beautiful Oak forest along Onzaga Road, reputedly the best site in the country. That’s birding... We did lose some time due to rain but that is to be expected as this is the rainy season and not the best time to come.
Both José and Luis were excellent guides who I hope to use again. Diego was away leading a birding tour.
Nov 5: 08.30 arrive at Medellin via Bogota on Avianca, check into HBP hotel. 18.30 taxi with José Castaño to North Bus Station (Terminal del norte); coach to Turbo, alighting at Mutata at 02.30.
Nov 6: after a mere 3 hours in a simple hotel, take tricycle-taxi a few km along the road, collecting local guide to help search for the very localised Baudo Oropendola. One flew over and eventually another perched in a nearby tree. Drive back to bus station and continue to Turbo, using 3 vehicles, then cross the bay to Bocas del Atrato village in a hired boat. Look for Sooty-capped Puffbird in the mangroves – heard but only a poor flight view in the morning. 13.00 – 15.00 rest during heavy rain; return to mangroves when it stops, and soon have close view of a perched Puffbird! This is followed by an unexpected short view of a Chestnut Piculet, a bird I missed on both previous trips. Find a Sapphire-bellied or Sapphire-throated Hummingbird feeding on Inga flowers, a female unfortunately, so it was impossible to determine of which species. Boat back to the mainland, taxi to Turbo bus station, coach overnight to Medellin.
Nov 7: José’s friend Mauricio Escobar meets us in his 4WD and drives us, accompanied by Jose’s wife, to Rio Claro Reserve, arriving c.6 am. By chance we meet Pablo Florez with a British tour-group including my friends Richard and Sarah Thomas. Birding all morning gives us Magdalena Antbird, Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant, and Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner briefly. Only hear Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo, despite a lengthy attempt to see it. Return to Medellin 2 – 5pm; attend the spectacular SAO Gala at the Botanical Gardens, and return to HBP hotel.
Nov 8: morning finalising the details of my talk. Lengthy lunch break with American colleagues, followed by our presentations at the Botanical Gardens. Visit an impressive art exhibition with the artist, then enjoy a nice dinner at a quality restaurant.
Nov 9: join the Antioquia Wren trip in the Cauca Valley with 8 others, led by José. As well as the Wren, birds include Grey Piculet, Apical Flycatcher, Zone-tailed Hawk, Red-billed Scythbill, Moustached Puffbird and Ruby Topaz Hummingbird. Return to Medellin after a late lunch, then met by Mauricio and take his 4WD with José to Las Tangaras reserve, arriving in the dark – nice room and meal.
Nov 10: heavy rain in the night; drive up track before dawn and soon see a Colombian Screech-Owl but no response from Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl. Good view of male Crested Ant-Tanager; other birds include Alto Pisones and Narino Tapaculos, Club-winged Manakin, Fulvous-dotted Treerunner, Olive Finch and a good selection of tanagers etc. As rain starts again, we visit hummingbird feeders in the forest and see a range of Choco hummers including Velvet-Purple Coronet, Violet-tailed Sylph, Brown and Collared Incas, Greenish Puffleg and Fawn-breasted and Empress Brilliants. We return to the lodge where more feeders are active with smaller hummers. After a quick lunch, pay expensive bill and leave to climb the nearby rough road towards Urrao to look for Munchique Wood-Wren. This takes some finding, possibly because of the rain, but eventually one shows well. We return to Medellin, dropping Jose off at the Jardin junction so he could return to his farm in Jardin by public bus. I am taken to the bus station at 18.30 and book the 20.00 coach to Bogota (20 pounds). The journey is comfortable but longer than I expect as we don’t arrive till 08.30!
Nov 11: take the 09.00 bus to Tunja but hours pass before it leaves the city, waiting for passengers to fill it up. Arrive at Tunja at 12.30, met by Luis, as kindly arranged by José. We drive directly to Soata, have a quick meal, and then look for Niceforo Wren. No response from below the town where it is normally seen but a pair does reply above town, but cannot be seen. Night at Hotel Chicamocha Real, $15 a room.
Nov 12: The morning is devoted to looking for Mountain Grackle in the beautiful Oak forest along the Onzaga road. A number of good birds are seen including Rusty-faced Parrot,Collared Trogon, Red-hooded Tanager and Black-chested Jay, but no Grackles, We return to Soata, look for Niceforo Wren and Chestnut-bellied Hummer but only see Indigo-capped Hummer. After lunch, drive to the paramo 45 mins away, hoping for hummers but only see Tyrian Metaltail. Nice scenery but few birds. Try again for Niceforo Wren – some singing but still invisible.
Nov 13: 05.30 back to the Niceforo site; sightings at last after a tape duel. Up the Onzaga road again: Golden-bellied Starfrontlet, Orange-throated Sunangel, Gorgeted Woodstar, Capped Conebill and Moustached Brush-Finch, but still no Grackles. Meet a couple of birders who also failed yesterday afternoon. Drive back to Tunja, turning right just before the town to go to Rogitama reserve. Arrive 30min later, pay $10 entrance fee to Roberto, the friendly owner. Showery but soon see a few Black Inca, then one Short-tailed Emerald, the objective of the visit, but only one other hummer and a few flowerpiercers. Continue to Luis’s apartment in Tunja, where we are joined by his lovely wife Andrea. Visit an Avianca office to change my flights to 14th, which I’ve been trying to do all week – success at last by phoning their call-centre. Two hour journey to Bogota, long hunt through nightmare roads and traffic for the hostel previously used by a Luis client, eventually found. Luis and Andrea continue to a friend’s place, I eat pizza and go to bed in a sparsely occupied dorm.
Nov 14: 04.30 pick-up by Luis and Andrea from the hostel after a good night’s sleep. One hour drive to Sumapaz National Park – beautiful paramo at over 3000m, showery and cool. We come here to see Green-bearded Helmetcrest and Bronze-tailed Thornbill, as it’s said to be the best site for them at present, eventually seeing several Helmetcrests well but only one Thornbill, at the large lake. Other notable birds include Bogota Rail, Apolinar’s Wren, Plain-capped Ground-Tyrant, Many-striped Canastero, White-chinned Thistletail, Silvery-throated Spinetail, Tawny Antpitta and Red-crested Cotinga. Leave at noon, very slow drive to the airport due to heavy traffic – a concern to Luis as he has to leave greater Bogota before 3pm or he will have to park and wait till 7pm to move any further. My Avianca flight to London is delayed by over 4 hours so I am taken to the Sheraton Hotel near the airport and given a large room and good meal, along with a few other early birds for the flight. I am concerned that my arrival in London will be too late for me to get back to Sheffield on the night of 15th but the flight is 2 hours quicker than normal so I make it – full marks to Avianca.
A very rewarding experience, with many thanks to José, Luis, Jojany, Diego Calderon, Trevor Ellory, Jurgen Becker and especially the driving skills of Mauricio Escobar.
Highly recommended guides: Luis Eduardo Uruena – firstname.lastname@example.org
José Castaño Hernández
Pablo Florez email@example.com
Trevor Ellory Trevor_lotan@hotmail.com
Diego Calderon firstname.lastname@example.org
Highly recommended book: Birdwatching in Colombia, a site guide by Jurgen Beckers and Pablo Florez.
Great, Snowy and Cattle Egrets
Ruddy/Andean Duck - Sumapaz.
Sickle-winged Guan – Onzaga road.
Andean Guan – several heard, eg at Onzaga road.
Colombian Chachalaca – 1 hit the car near Las Tangaras, close to Ciudad Bolivar.
Crested Bobwhite – heard at Soata.
Brown Pelican - Bocas del Atrato
Neotropical Cormorant – 200+ at Bocas del Atrato.
Magnificent Frigatebird - Bocas del Atrato.
Striated Heron - Bocas del Atrato.
Turkey Vulture – fairly common.
American Black Vulture – abundant.
Osprey – 1 Cauca valley.
White-tailed Kite – scattered sightings.
Great Black Hawk – 1 Bocas del Atrato.
Savanna Hawk – roadside sightings in Antioquia.
Broad-winged Hawk – scattered sightings.
Roadside Hawk – fairly common.
Zone-tailed Hawk – 1 Cauca valley.
Yellow-headed Caracara - widespread sightings.
American Kestrel - scattered sightings.
Bogotá Rail – 1 Sumapaz.
Blackish Rail – 1 near Soata.
American Coot - Sumapaz.
Southern Lapwing – flock near Medellin airport.
Greater Yellowlegs – 2 at Sumapaz.
Ruddy Turnstone – few Turbo.
Laughing Gull – few Turbo.
Ruddy Ground-Dove - common.
Band-tailed Pigeon - seen widely in the highlands.
Plumbeous Pigeon - Las Tangaras.
Eared Dove - widespread.
Scarlet-fronted Parakeet - Cauca Valley.
Spectacled Parrotlet – scattered sightings.
Blue-headed Parrot – Rio Claro.
Rusty-faced Parrot – common at Onzaga road.
Mealy Parrot – few Onzaga road.
Squirrel Cuckoo - scattered sightings.
Smooth-billed Ani - common.
Striped Cuckoo – heard widely.
Tropical Screech-Owl – 1 Las Tangaras.
Colombian Screech-Owl – 1 Las Tangaras.
Common Pauraque – few Las Tangaras.
White-collared Swift - widespread sightings.
Rufous-breasted Hermit – 2 Rio Claro.
Green Hermit – Las Tangaras.
Tawny-bellied Hermit - Las Tangaras.
Sooty-capped Hermit – 1 Cauca valley.
Stripe-throated Hermit – 1 Cauca valley.
Brown Violetear – Las Tangaras.
Black-throated Mango – Rio Claro.
Ruby-topaz Hummingbird – 1 male at Cauca Valley.
Short-tailed Emerald – 1 Rogitama reserve.
Green-crowned Woodnymph - Las Tangaras.
Sapphire-bellied/throated Hummingbird – 1 Bocas del Atrato.
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird - scattered sightings.
Andean Emerald - Las Tangaras.
Steely-vented Hummingbird – Las Tangaras.
Indigo-capped Hummingbird – few Soata
White-vented Plumeleteer – Sumapaz and paramo near Soata.
Speckled Hummingbird - Las Tangaras.
Fawn-breasted Brilliant - Las Tangaras.
Empress Brilliant - Las Tangaras.
White-tailed Hillstar - Las Tangaras.
Buff-tailed Coronet - Rio Blanco.
Velvet-purple Coronet - Las Tangaras.
Shining Sunbeam – Sumapaz
Brown Inca - Las Tangaras.
Black Inca – few Rogitima.
Collared Inca – Las Tangaras
Golden-bellied Starfrontlet – 1 Onzaga road.
Longuemare's Sunangel - Onzaga Road
Greenish Puffleg - Las Tangaras.
Purple-bibbed Whitetip - Las Tangaras.
Booted Racket-tail - Las Tangaras.
Bronze-tailed Thornbill – 1 Sumapaz
Green-bearded Helmetcrest – few Sumapaz.
Tyrian Metaltail – several sites
Long-tailed Sylph – Rio Blanco.
Violet-tailed Sylph - Las Tangaras.
White-bellied Woodstar – Rio Blanco.
Purple-throated Woodstar - Las Tangaras.
Gorgeted Woodstar – 1 Onzaga road.
Golden-headed Quetzal - Las Tangaras.
Collared Trogon – Las Tangaras, Onzaga road.
Green Kingfisher – 1 Bocas del Atrato.
Moustached Puffbird – 1 Cauca Valley.
Sooty--capped Puffbird – Bocas del Atrato.
Toucan Barbet - heard at Las Tangaras.
Red-headed Barbet - Las Tangaras.
Grey-throated Toucanet – Cauca Valley.
Crimson-rumped Toucanet – Las Tangaras.
Collared Araçari – Las Tangaras.
Grayish Piculet – at nest hole in the Cauca Valley.
Chestnut Piculet – male at Bocas del Atrato.
Acorn Woodpecker – few Onzaga road.
Red-rumped Woodpecker – Rio Claro.
Beautiful Woodpecker – 2 Rio Claro.
Red-crowned Woodpecker - scattered sightings.
Golden-olive Woodpecker - Las Tangaras.
Crimson-mantled Woodpecker – Onzaga road.
Lineated Woodpecker – Cauca valley.
Many-striped Canastero – Sumapaz.
White-chinned Thistletail - Sumapaz.
Silvery-throated Spinetail – Sumapaz.
Azara's Spinetail – heard Rogitama.
Red-faced Spinetail - Las Tangaras.
Fulvous-dotted Treerunner - Las Tangaras.
Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner - Las Tangaras.
Lineated Foliage-gleaner - Las Tangaras.
Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner - Las Tangaras.
Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner – 1 Rio Claro.
Plain Xenops – Rio Claro.
Olive-backed Woodcreeper - Las Tangaras.
Red-billed Scythbill – 1 Cauca Valley
Barred Antshrike - Cauca Valley.
Checker-throated Antwren – Cauca Valley.
White-flanked Antwren – Rio Claro and Cauca valley
Chestnut-backed Antbird – Rio Claro.
Magdalena Antbird – Rio Claro.
Western Slaty Antshrike – Cauca Valley.
Chestnut-crowned Antpitta - heard on the paramo.
Yellow-breasted Antpitta – heard at Las Tangaras.
Tawny Antpitta - Sumapaz.
Alto Pisones Tapaculo - Las Tangaras.
Nariño Tapaculo - Las Tangaras.
Pale-bellied Tapaculo – heard at Sumapaz.
Black-capped Tyrannulet – Onzaga road.
Mountain Elaenia - Onzaga road.
White-throated Tyrannulet - several highland sites.
White-tailed Tyrannulet – Rio Blanco.
Golden-faced Tyrannulet - scattered sightings.
Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant – Rio Claro.
Slaty-capped Flycatcher - Las Tangaras
Ornate Flycatcher – Las Tangaras.
Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher - Cauca Valley.
Handsome Flycatcher - Las Tangaras.
Cinnamon Flycatcher - scattered sightings.
Smoke-coloured Pewee - 1 at Sumapaz
Vermilion Flycatcher – a few.
Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant - Las Tangaras.
Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant – a few sites in the Andes including Sumapaz.
Plain-capped Ground-Tyrant – Sumapaz.
Great Kiskadee - widespread.
Apical Flycatcher - Cauca Valley.
Streaked Flycatcher - Cauca valley.
Tropical Kingbird - Widespread.
Red-crested Cotinga – 2 Sumapaz.
Club-winged Manakin – displaying male at Las Tangaras.
Black-billed Peppershrike - Las Tangaras.
Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo – 2 heard at Rio Claro.
Red-eyed Vireo - scattered sightings.
Rufous-naped Greenlet - scattered sightings.
Black-chested Jay – Cauca Valley, Bogota, Onzaga road.
Green/Inca Jay - scattered sightings.
Blue-and-white Swallow - widespread sightings.
Brown-bellied Swallow - seen at several highland sites.
House Wren – common.
Sedge Wren - heard on the paramo.
Apolinar's Wren – common at Sumapaz.
Band-backed Wren – Rio Claro.
White-headed Wren - heard at Las Tangaras.
Antiquoia Wren – San Jeronimo, Cauca Valley.
Niceforo Wren – 1 seen, others heard Soata.
Bicoloured Wren – a few heard.
Speckle-breasted Wren - heard near Soata.
Bay Wren - Las Tangaras and Rio Claro.
Grey-breasted Wood-Wren – widespread.
Munchique Wood-Wren - Las Tangaras to Urrao road.
Chestnut-breasted Wren - heard at Las Tangaras.
Tropical Gnatcatcher - Cauca valley.
Andean Solitaire - heard at several sites.
Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush – Soata, heard at a few sites.
Black Solitaire - heard at Las Tangaras.
Clay-colored Thrush - Cauca valley.
Black-billed Thrush – 1 above the Cauca Valley.
Great Thrush – common.
Swainson’s Thrush – Cauca valley.
Tropical Mockingbird – a few in the lowlands.
Blackburnian Warbler – fairly common.
Bay-breasted Warbler – several, eg Cauca valley.
Caerulean Warbler – a few sites.
Black-and-White Warbler – Cauca valley and Onzaga road.
Canada Warbler – 1 Cauca valley.
Golden-crowned Warbler – 1 Cauca valley.
Tropical Parula - Las Tangaras.
American Redstart – 1 Cauca valley.
Slate-throated Whitestart – a few.
Golden-fronted Whitestart - scattered sightings.
Three-striped Warbler – 1 Cauca valley.
White-lined Tanager - scattered sightings.
Crimson-backed Tanager - Cauca Valley
Flame-rumped Tanager – Scattered sightings.
Blue-grey Tanager - widespread.
Palm Tanager – widespread.
Blue-capped Tanager - Las Tangaras.
Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager – a few sites in the Andes.
Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager – Las Tangaras, heard elsewhere in the Andes.
Glistening-green Tanager - Las Tangaras.
Scrub Tanager - scattered sightings.
Rufous-throated Tanager - Las Tangaras
Beryl-spangled Tanager - Las Tangaras.
Bay-headed Tanager - Las Tangaras
Saffron-crowned Tanager - Las Tangaras
Golden Tanager – Las Tangaras
Silver-throated Tanager – Las Tangaras
Capped Conebill – a few Onzaga road
Glossy Flowerpiercer – a few Sumapaz.
Indigo Flowerpiercer - Las Tangaras.
Bluish Flowerpiercer - Sumapaz
White-sided Flowerpiercer - scattered sightings.
Masked Flowerpiercer - Sumapaz
Bananaquit - scattered sightings.
Yellow-faced Grassquit – a few.
Rufous-collared Sparrow – widespread.
Plumbeous Sierra-Finch – near Soata.
Saffron Finch - scattered sightings.
Blue-black Grassquit - scattered sightings.
Plain-coloured Seedeater – 1 Soata.
Black-striped Sparrow - heard in the Cauca valley.
Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch - Las Tangaras.
Olive Finch – 1 Las Tangaras.
Pale-naped Brush-Finch - paramo near Soata.
Tricoloured Brush-Finch – Las Tangaras.
Common Bush-Tanager – Onzaga road.
Dusky Bush-Tanager – Las Tangaras
Slaty Brush-Finch – paramo near Soata.
Summer Tanager - Onzaga road.
Hepatic Tanager – scattered sightings.
Red-hooded Tanager – 6 Onzaga road.
Crested Ant-Tanager – 2 Las Tangaras.
Russet-backed Oropendola – Las Tangaras.
Crested Oropendola – Mutata.
Baudo Oropendola – 2 Mutata.
Yellow-backed Oriole – few scattered sightings.
Shiny Cowbird - scattered sightings.
Carib Grackle – 1 Soata.
Eastern Meadowlark – a few in the Andes.
Andean Siskin - Sumapaz.
Lesser Goldfinch – near Soata.
Orange-bellied Euphonia – Las Tangaras
Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia - Las Tangaras.
Short-tailed Emerald - Rogitama reserve
[Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird ?] – Bocas del Atrato
Bronze-tailed Thornbill - Sumapaz
Green-bearded Helmetcrest – Sumapaz
Colombian Screech-Owl – Las Tangaras
Sooty-capped Puffbird – Bocas del Atrato
Chestnut Piculet – Bocas del Atrato
Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner – Rio Claro
Magdalena Antbird – Rio Claro
Alto Pisiones Tapaculo – Las Tangaras
Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant – Rio Claro
Antiquoia Wren – San Jeronimo, Cauca Valley
Niceforo Wren – Soata
Munchique Wood-Wren – near pass on Las Tangaras to Urrao road
Crested Ant-Tanager – Las Tangaras
Baudo Oropendola – Mutata
4 MISSES: Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl – Las Tangaras
Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo – Rio Claro
Mountain Grackle - Onzaga road
Semi-collared Hawk – Las Tangaras but scarce.
“Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird at Bocas del Atrato, Antioquia, in April 2013 represents a significant range extension for this critically endangered Colombian endemic” Trevor Ellery. It could be that is what I saw – the female plumage of this rare species is unknown so is probably very similar to that of Sapphire-throated.