Central Colombia - 21 September - 14 October 2011

Published by Stephen Blaber (sblaber AT hotmail.com)

Participants: Steve Blaber, Tessa Blaber



After many birding trips to Ecuador and Peru the time had finally come to tackle Colombia. As the first of what we hope will be many trips to Colombia we confined ourselves to the central and northern Andean regions, leaving other areas for subsequent trips. As with our previous trips to Ecuador, ground transport, general arrangements and accommodation bookings were faultlessly arranged by Jane Lyons (Mindo Bird Tours) – thanks so much once again Jane. We stayed mainly at the very well run Pro-Aves reserves and cannot recommend them too highly. A big thank you to all the Pro-Aves Staff at the different reserves for looking after us so well. Thanks also to our driver Jorge Jovani Florez R. for all his help and understanding and for his encyclopaedic knowledge of birding sites, restaurants and all things Colombian!

We flew into Bogota from Santiago and out of Medellin to Santiago (via Lima). For the whole trip we used a 4WD double-cab Ssanyong pick-up. Most sites would not have been accessible without 4WD and indeed some needed low range as well! More information about the roads and sites is included in the narrative. It is fortunate that Tessa is fluent in Spanish because unlike some other countries in South America we found that almost no-one spoke much English, although most wanted to learn it – perhaps a symptom of, until recently, their relative isolation from overseas visitors.

For identification we used the new Pro Aves field guide as well as Hilty. Trip reports that were useful included Jon Hornbuckle (2010) Frank Lambert (2007) and Charles Hesse (2009).


Day 1, 20 Sept - Arrived Bogotá 2245. Hotel Chico Imperial.
Day 2, 21 Sept - Birding highlands near Bogotá. Hotel Chico Imperial.
Day 3, 22 Sept – Bogota wetlands and drive to Ibague, stopping at dry forest site (Payande) in late afternoon. Hotel Ambala, Ibague.
Day 4, 23 Sept- Fuertes´ Parrot site. Hotel Ambala, Ibague.
Day 5, 24 Sept - Morning birding Clarito Botero above Ibague. Birding stop at Finca El Palmar at km 22, then to El Paujil Reserve.
Day 6, 25 Sept - El Paujil.
Day 7, 26 Sept - El Paujil
Day 8, 27 Sept - Birding El Paujil am. Drive to Recurve-billed Bushbird Reserve. Hotel Plaza Real in Ocaña.
Day 9, 28 Sept - Birding Recurve-billed Bushbird Reserve. Hotel Plaza Real in Ocaña
Day 10, 29 Sept - Drive to Cerulean Warbler Reserve.
Day 11, 30 Sept - Cerulean Warbler Reserve.
Day 12, 1 Oct - Cerulean Warbler Reserve.
Day 13, 2 Oct – Drive to Pauxi Pauxi (Helmeted Curassow Reserve).
Day 14, 3 Oct - Birding at Helmeted Curassow
Day 15, 4 Oct - Drive to Cisneros. Hosteria Brisas del Nus.
Day 16, 5 Oct - Drive to RNA Arrierito Antioqueño .
Day 17, 6 Oct - RNA Arrierito Antioqueño.
Day 18, 7 Oct - RNA Arrierito Antioqueño
Day 19, 8 Oct - Leave for Las Tangaras.
Day 20, 9 Oct - All day Las Tangaras.
Day 21, 10 Oct - Birding on back road from Carmen del Atra to Urrao, en route to Dusky Starfrontlet Reserve
Day 22, 11 Oct - Dusky Starfrontlet reserve.
Day 23, 12 Oct - Drive to Jardin. Birding at Rio San Juan en route, Hotel Valdivia Plaza Jardin
Day 24, 13 Oct - Birding Yellow-eared Parrot Reserve. Hotel Valdivia Plaza in Jardin.
Day 25, 14 Oct - Birding La Romera near Medellin, drive to International Airport, Medellin. Fly out from Medellin at 1825.


Day 1 - 20 September

Arrived by air from Santiago late in the evening and we were met by our driver Jovani and driven to the Hotel Chico Imperial.

Day 2 - 21 September

Diana Balcazar met us at 0500 to accompany us to Chingaza National Park. On the way up we stopped at first light at about 2800 m and birded forest patches alongside the road. Here it did not take too long to find the first four new species: Glowing Puffleg, Golden-fronted Whitestart, Rufous-browed Conebill and Silvery-throated Spinetail. Continuing on we stopped at about 3000 m to listen for the Matorral Tapaculo – which duly obliged and with the aid of the tape was lured out. At the park entrance gate we found Andean Siskin. We proceeded to the Water Company offices to obtain a key to the gate to the road where Flame-winged Parakeet occurs. We reached the site without any problems, but unfortunately the weather closed in and despite searching in continuous rain, we could not locate any of the parakeets. Leaving this area we drove up to 4000 m and the paramo, but again the weather was unkind and we saw few birds. Returned to Bogota, stopping in the city to change money at a big shopping centre.

Day 3 - 22 September

Another early start with Diana to visit La Florida in search of Bogota Rail and Apolinar’s Wren. Despite searching from both sides of the marshes, from the river side and from the golf club, we were unsuccessful. The rails called a couple of times, but were otherwise not in evidence. We were fortunate however, to find Sub-tropical Doradito on both sides of the marshes. At about 1100 we dropped Diana in the city and proceeded to Ibagué. En route we stopped at Payandé and birded the dry forest from 1445 to 1730. Jovani knew the best area and in a well-developed area of forest we found Olivaceous Piculet, White-bellied Antbird, Apical Flycatcher and Colombian Chachalaca. Barred Antshrikes were common in this area.

Day 4 - 23 September

We made an early start to get up to the Fuertes Parrot Reserve. After some delays on the highway we eventually reached the road to the reserve. We made several stops for mixed flocks between 2000 and 2700 m in forest patches and roadside vegetation. The new species for us here was Yellow-headed Brush-Finch, but other species seen included Oleaginous, Black-eared and Black-headed Hemispingus, Montane and Tyrannine Woodcreepers, Streaked Xenops, Smoky-Brown and Crimson-Mantled Woodpeckers, Green Jays, Rufous-crowned Tody Flycatcher, Ash-headed Tyrannulet and in the bamboo Long-tailed Antbird. We reached the base of the track up to the parrot site at about 0930. A half hour uphill walk brought us to the treed area where Pro Aves have installed nest boxes for the parrots. It was not long before we had good views of the parrots at 3333 m. The only other notable species seen in the area was Brown-backed Chat Tyrant. Returning to the vehicle we drove a short way back down the road to the montane forest area. Here Bicoloured Antpittas were calling and the tape lured them into close view! We stayed in this area for a while, having lunch and birding, but no more exciting species! Returned in the afternoon to our hotel in Ibagué.

Day 5 - 24 September

Set out in the dark to drive up to Clarito Botero above Ibagué. The road was very rough and washed away in places, but Jovani got us up there at first light. After waiting for a spectacular thunderstorm to pass we birded the road between 1700 and 1850 m. Sunshine after the storm brought out the birds and new species seen were Bar-crested Antshrike, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Scarlet Tanager, White-naped Brush-Finch, Crimson-backed Tanager and Rufous-crested Tanager.

Leaving Ibagué by mid-morning we headed north for El Paujil. We stopped for an hour or so at El Palmar Resort at km 22, a site that Jovani knew to be good for several species. Down in the valley here we found Velvet-fronted Euphonia and Black-chested Jay, and around the gardens Spectacled Parrotlets were much in evidence.

Later in the afternoon on the long and winding dirt road to El Paujil, we stopped at marshes for Northern Screamer and near a ranch to watch groups of Blue & Yellow Macaws. We reached El Paujil while it was still just light. The road in was a challenge and obviously not passable in the wet! We were met on arrival by Jose and Marta and soon comfortably installed in the lodge inside the forest above the river.

Day 6 - 25 September

In the morning we walked the Lomo Patoco trail, returning via the trail along the river. New birds included Pale-bellied Hermit, Great-billed Seedfinch, Panama Flycatcher, Blue-chested Hummingbird and White-vented Plumeleteer. Along the river we found Black-billed Flycatcher and Antioquia Bristle-tyrant. In the afternoon we re-visited the Lomo Patoco and spent time at the Mirador. Plenty of birds but nothing new.

Day 7 - 26 September

We were fortunate to secure the services of Jose today and he took us on the trail across the river, primarily in search of the Blue-billed Curassow. A long walk brought us to the key area and Jose located the shy Curassows. A brief flight view! Other new species on this trail were Sooty Ant-tanager, Beautiful Woodpecker, Southern Bentbill and White-naped Barbet. Additional interesting species included Rufous Motmot, Great Tinamou, Olivaceous Flatbill, Golden-headed Manakin and Western Slaty Antshrike. We returned to the camp for a late lunch. New species seen around the camp were Cinnamon Woodpecker and Shining-green Hummingbird.

Later in the afternoon Jose took us to the river area on the road into the reserve and with the aid of the tape we secured Black Anshrike and Black-bellied Wren before spending time at the mirador at dusk.

One highlight of our stay at El Paujil was looking at photos on student Luis’ laptop of animals recorded by remote cameras.

Day 8 - 27 September

After a brief early morning walk we left El Paujil for the long drive to Ocaña. Primarily a travel day. Reached our hotel in Ocaña in the late afternoon.

Day 9 - 28 September

An early start and a relatively short drive brought us to the Recurve-billed Bushbird Reserve. We met up with Jose Carmito the Pro Aves guard who accompanied us up the dirt road into the reserve. He showed us where he had last seen the Bushbird and with the aid of the tape we soon had one singing. It took much patience however, before we obtained good views of this elusive species. This was a pleasant place to bird along the road in the reserve and we saw the following new species: Chestnut-bellied Thrush, Moustached Brush-Finch, Indigo-capped Hummingbird, Gorgetted Woodstar and Speckled Tanager. We returned to Ocaña for lunch but were back in the Reserve by two o’clock. We saw little extra in the afternoon, although we did hear Stripe-breasted Spinetail calling at the start of the dirt road into the Reserve.

Day 10 - 29 September

We returned to the entrance area at first light and eventually obtained good views of the Stripe-breasted Spinetail as well as Grey-throated Warbler. After breakfast we departed for San Vicente de Chucuri and the Cerulean Warbler (Reinita Azul) Reserve. The road to San Vicente was very bad and it took most of the day to get there, travelling through large areas of country decimated by oil exploration activities and numerous oil wells and pipelines. Leaving San Vicente on a rough dirt road we reached the Reserve in the mid-afternoon and were greeted by Carlos and Luz who made us very welcome. We were soon installed in the comfortable new Pro Aves accommodation. Late in the afternoon Carlos took us to the hummingbird feeders a km or two below the lodge among the cocoa/coffee plantations where we saw the rare Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird, as well as one of the first Cerulean Warblers of the season. Other new species seen around the garden of the lodge were Bicoloured Wren, Orange-crowned Oriole and Greenish Puffleg.

Day 11 - 30 September

All day on the ridge trail with Carlos. We left the lodge at first light and climbed the 150 year-old mostly stone-paved Lengerke trail up to the Reserve forest. It took just over one hour to reach the forest. A left turn once inside the forest brought us to the hummingbird feeders and a hide for viewing the wood-quail feeding area (1625 m asl). We were very lucky because shortly after arriving at the hide a group of four Gorgeted Wood-Quail arrived at the feeding area giving us stunning views. Almost as exciting were a pair of Lined Quail-Dove which seemed to vie for space with the Wood-Quail. The hummingbird feeders gave us extra close views of Black Inca. Other species in that area included Crested Quetzal and Ruddy Quail-Dove. Returning to the Lengerke trail we found Golden-winged Warbler at the junction. Continuing up the steep and often slippery trail we located Parker’s Antbird, Yellow-throated Spadebill and Rufous-naped Greenlet. Higher up at 1966 m a pair of Pale-eyed Thrushes was new, in a mixed group containing Glossy Black Thrush and Andean Solitaire. Rufous-browed Tyrannulet was found among the mixed flocks. For much of the walk in the forest we had heard White-bellied Antpitta calling, but it was not until quite late that we had good views using the tape. The weather became threatening in the afternoon and the mist descended. We reached the lodge just as the storm began!

Day 12 - 1 October

Before breakfast Carlos helped us find Turquiose Dacnis in a large tree near the lodge. After breakfast he took us down to the plantations in search of Nicefero’s Wren. This proved quite elusive, but we eventually tracked it down on a path going down to the school. A search along the road for Yellow-browed Shrike Vireo was unsuccessful. The afternoon was spent exploring the track and forest that goes up behind the lodge. Nothing exceptional was noted.

Day 13 - 2 October

On our way out early in the morning, accompanied by Carlos, we stopped just below the school to look for Yellow-browed Shrike Vireo. This time with great success. The trees were alive with tanagers and migratory warblers as well as several quite confiding Yellow-browed Shrike Vireos. We were wise to leave in good time for Pauxi Pauxi (Helmeted Curassow Reserve), for although it was no great distance, the road to the reserve was challenging! The Pro Aves facilities at Pauxi Pauxi were much more basic than at the other reserves, but adequate and the food excellent. We were made very welcome by Modesto and his wife who looked after us for our stay. Modesto took us on a walk later in the afternoon through some cleared areas and then into the forest on a new trail. This was steep and slippery, but went into some nice forest. There were few birds around although Sooty Ant-tanager seemed common.

Day 14 - 3 October

Visit to the ridge and Mirador with Modesto (0500 – 1400). Taking food with us we set out on this quite challenging hike up the mountain. It rained heavily on the way up, but the weather cleared when we got to the mirador and the views were great. Several surprises came our way, including a magnificent Solitary Eagle which soared past the mirador and a pair of Bronze-green Euphonias. Black mandibled Toucans called below us. As we moved along the ridge we found a mixed flock which contained Slaty-winged Foliage Gleaner. By late morning the rain returned so we headed back to the lodge.

Later in the afternoon Modesto took us along the ridge trail that runs through farmland and forest patches, approximately parallel to the main range. This was the site for Saffron-headed Parrot. We did not find them at the ‘usual’ site but did see a flock of about 15 flying close by.

Day 15 - 4 October

Largely a travel day. We left Pauxi Pauxi quite early to travel to Cisneros en route to the Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve (Antioqueno Arrierito). We stopped overnight at Cisneros in the Hosteria Brisas del Nus and did little birding apart from the garden of the hotel.

Day 16 - 5 October

Arrived at the well set-up Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve at about 10 am. Mostly good tar roads on the way except for the last 14 km of good dirt. As with all the other Pro Aves Reserves we were made most welcome. After watching the large arrays of hummingbird feeders for a while we walked along the road through the reserve for a couple of hours. Quite a few mixed flocks but nothing exceptional. In the afternoon the Pro Aves guard, Jose, took us out on the Motmot trail and while we were trying to attract tapaculos with the tape, he spotted a Chestnut-capped Piha in a Cecropia tree, a real bonus! Returning to the road we found Stiles’s Tapaculo close to the lodge. After dark at about 6.30 pm we drove down the road a short way to a site where Jovani had previously seen Lyre-tailed Nightjar. The relevant tape did not produce this species, but did strongly attract a Band-winged Nightjar!

Antioqueno Arrierito Reserve was the only place where we crossed paths with other birders – a group of four from the UK plus Carl Downing (local expatriot guide).

Day 17 - 6 October

All morning on the ridge trail with Jose. Along the top we found Multicoloured and Purplish-mantled Tanagers, Moustached Puffbird and White-crowned Tapaculo. On the slopes the mixed flocks contained many species. New for us was Variegated Bristle-Tyrant, but other species included Red-headed Barbet, Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager, Pale-edged Flycatcher and a variety of other tanagers. On the walk back to the lodge we saw hundreds of migrating Buteos which unfortunately were circling too high to identify. The sheer number was a memorable sight.

After lunch back at the lodge, Jose located another of our target species, Sooty-headed Wren, near the water tank on the road.

Late in the afternoon we walked to the lagoon area about 2 km past the reserve. This former gold mining area has just been taken over by Pro Aves and a large, derelict building overlooking the swamp is a reminder of a less eco friendly past. We had both Russet-crowned and White-throated Crakes calling but could not get them to show themselves!

Day 18 - 7 October

Another morning on the ridge trail with Jose. Among the mixed flocks we finally found Indigo Flowerpiercer as well as Yellow-throated Antwren. Also two more good sitings of Chestnut-capped Piha. A pair of Green-fronted Lancebills were found nesting under the waterfall (end of waterfall trail).

In the afternoon we returned to the lagoon area with Jose, but despite their calling close by, we did not get to see the rails! However, a pair of Black-faced Tanagers appeared and gave us good views, while White-naped Brush-Finches foraged on the bushy slopes.

Much time was spent along the road looking for Red-bellied Grackles, but to no avail.

Day 19 - 8 October

Left the Reserve early en route for Medellin and Las Tangares. We stopped at a shopping centre in Medellin at about 9 am to change money. Jovani then took us up to La Romera above Medellin where the forest patches are usually a guaranteed site for Red-bellied Grackles. Again no sign of them! Proceeding out of Medellin we stopped at Quebrada El Cardal, another Red-bellied Grackle site, again nothing! Although the stream did have a nice pair of White-capped Dippers. We stopped for a late lunch at a very nice restaurant La Mayoria at San Juan. A good site for Greyish Piculet in a quarry near here was visited but to no avail. After driving through heavy rain and along a bad road we eventually reached the Pro Aves lodge for Las Tangares Reserve in the early evening.

Day 20 - 9 October

The Pro Aves lodge is near the junction of the road that goes up to the Las Tangares Reserve. It was about a 45 minute drive up to the reserve on a sometimes difficult track, with the ever present danger of landslips. We only had one day for Las Tangares so we drove up to arrive at first light with the Pro Aves forest guard Hubernay, who knew his birds very well. It was a long walk to the top of the ridge (1900 m) where we stopped for breakfast. A magnificent morning, almost cloudless and lots of birds. At the ridge top we found Glistening Green Tanager and Orange-breasted Fruiteater. Hubernay located a Black Solitaire calling, but it slipped out of view just as we raised our binoculars and did not reappear. Climbing up further, the forest produced Black and Gold Tanagers and excellent views of Narino Tapaculo. Continuing to the high point at 2010 m we finally got good views of several Gold-ringed Tanagers. On the way back to the ridge top we located a furtive group of Chestnut-breasted Wrens, but had good views. On the way down from the ridge, Choco Vireo was found, but the Alto de Pisones Tapaculo would not show itself, despite calling close by and the judicious use of tapes. Lower down, Fulvous-breasted Flatbill was seen, and in the pastures with isolated stands of palms, White-headed Wrens were quite common!

Day 21 - 10 October

Persistent heavy rain for much of the night continuing into the morning made birding around the lodge difficult. We were unable to find Crested Ant-tanager which is apparently quite easy in the garden, although we did see Flame-rumped Tanagers. We left at about 7 am but were held up on the way to Carmen del Atra by a landslip. We had to wait for the JCB to clear the blockage before proceeding on the back road over the mountains to Urrao. This road is bad in places, but after the silver mine passes through some magnificent montane forest – home to Munchique Wood-Wren of which we obtained brief views. There were also good mixed tanager flocks (including Purplish-mantled and Black and Gold) in this area as well as Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. After lunch in Urrao – the closest we’ve ever seen to a spaghetti-western town – we drove to the end of the dirt road that serves as a pick-up point for Colibri del Sol Reserve. Here, Reinaldo, the Pro Aves guard’s father met us (the guard being away at a Pro Aves meeting at the time) with three horses – one for the luggage and one each for us – Reinaldo came on foot! A two hour quite rough and often steep and slippery ride, initially through pastures and then forest, brought us to the lodge at about 2800 m. Here we were made welcome by Flor who looked after us for the next couple of days. For what was left of the day we watched the feeders and forest edge around the lodge.

Day 22 - 11 October

The first priority at first light was to visit the Antpitta feeding site 300 m across the river. Reinaldo took us there, armed with a bucket of worms. It did not take long for a pair of Fenwick’s Antpitta to put in an appearance and provide us with great views.

After much discussion with Reinaldo and Flor we elected to use the horses to get to higher forest and the paramo. This was a wise decision because the steep slopes and altitude would have probably prevented us reaching the high areas. As it was we had to leave the horses at about 3200 m and climbed the rest of the way on foot. The hummingbird feeders are located in the cloud forest and it was not long after we sat in the adjacent shelter that we were enjoying stellar views of Dusky Starfrontlet. Reinaldo had brought fresh supplies of sugar water for the feeders and was almost mobbed by a variety of hungry hummers!

After enjoying a rest while watching the hummingbirds we decided it was time to continue the climb. A huge effort has been made to facilitate access to the paramo by building a ‘staircase’. However the steepness, the slipperiness of the wooden struts, the mud and the altitude still meant reaching the wonderful paramo was no walk in the park. We finally made it to the paramo at 3500 m. Fortunately it did not take too long to find Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer and as the mist and rain descended we decided to follow suit. We met Flor near the feeders. She had walked up carrying our cooked lunch!! After having lunch at the shelter by the feeders, we started the descent. Flor had gone ahead and collected the horses as we elected to walk down. The mist and rain cleared lower down and allowed some birding. We saw Paramillo Tapaculo in the forest. Other notables included Stripe-headed Brush-Finch, Slaty Brush-Finch, Blue-backed Conebill and Mountain Elaenia.

Day 23 - 12 October

We elected to walk down from the lodge to the road-head. Flor showed us the way through the first part of the forest and then bade us farewell. Near the end of the reserve we came across a party of Black-collared Jays and Mountain Caciques, both new for us. Much of the rest of the way down was in rain. Reinaldo caught up with us with the horses and we were at the road before 11 am. Jovani arrived on time and we set off for the next site. We stopped for lunch at La Mayoria and then tried again for the Greyish Piculet at the quarry near the junction of the Rio Cauca and Rio San Juan – this time we were successful with Jovani spotting a piculet just as we were climbing into the vehicle! The bird was quite low down and views were great. The next stop was in Jardin where we put up at the comfortable Valdivia Plaza Hotel – our base for the Loro Orejiamarillo (Yellow-eared Parrot) Reserve.

Day 24 - 13 October

Another early start for the one hour drive to the Reserve. Jovani took us to the nest box area and it was not long before we had several excellent views of flocks of Yellow-eared Parrots. After breakfast next to the Pro Aves HQ, Jovani took us along the ridge path that starts behind the HQ. The highlight of this walk was unbelievably close views of a pair of Chestnut-naped Antpittas. We had heard them calling and the tape brought them right in. Numerous other birds were seen on this walk including Barred Fruiteater, Black-collared Jay, Mountain Cacique, Rufous Wren, White-browed Spinetail and Plushcap. We were lucky as the weather was superb until about lunch time when the clouds and mist descended. We returned to Jardin to pack for our departure the following day.

Day 25 - 14 October

Mostly a travel day to get to Medellin. We stopped at Quebrada El Cardal before Medellin to look for Red-bellied Grackles but once again none were seen. Before going to the airport we headed up to La Romera once again in search of these elusive birds – again nada! The absence of this species from its usual haunts throughout the trip was strange and is at the top of the ‘to see’ list for our next trip! Next we headed for the International Airport which is some 45 minutes outside Medellin to catch our flight to Lima and beyond.

Concluding comments

A superb trip. We saw about 400 species of which 104 were lifers. Colombia was a very friendly place and relatively safe, certainly in the areas we visited. All Pro Aves forest guards were outstanding – hard working, good company and knowledgeable. Our driver Jovani was also outstanding, doing everything possible to make our trip enjoyable and successful, and this included spotting some of our target species! We are already planning our next visit!