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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative


2022 Narrative

Another fantastic tour to Colombia! Visiting the three cordilleras, crossing both the Magdalena and Cauca valleys, birding from sea level to 15,000 feet elevation, and even adding a few days in the isolated Santa Marta and Guajira Peninsula, we had an amazing overview of the Colombian avifauna. It’s hard to pick the best birds of the trip amongst hundreds of wonderful species, but here follow some of the best sightings of the tour: a Buffy Helmetcrest seen very close in the beautiful paramo of the Nevados del Ruiz NP; having the well named Shining Sunbeam coming to perch on your hand to feed on a tiny feeder; the ultra-lovely Striolated Manakin seen so well at La Victoria; Pancho, the Chestnut-crowned Antpitta waiting for his worms at Rio Blanco; the unique experience of feeding by hand a Chestnut-naped Antpitta near Jardin; a Barred Forest-Falcon on the roadside in the Sierra Nevada who offered prolonged scope views; and the adorable Dwarf Cuckoo seen so well during our very last morning!

Besides these very memorable sightings, we also had fantastic views of Yellow-eared Parrot, Brown-banded Antpitta, White-tipped Quetzal, Gray-capped Cuckoo, Santa Marta Warbler, Tanager Finch, Scarlet-and-white Tanager, both Blossomcrowns, Bogota Rail, White-whiskered Spinetail, Chestnut Piculet, and so many more! We also visited more than 10 different hummingbird feeding stations and saw no less than 56 species of these fascinating birds! Obviously, besides the incredible diversity of birds, we were amazed by the incredible diversity of flowers, orchids, grasshoppers, butterflies, moths, etc. Colombia is definitely THE biodiversity country!

We spent our first day in the surroundings of Chingaza National Park near Bogota. Located to the northeast of the Colombian capital, the park’s 75,000+ hectares protect several glacier lakes and provide more than 80% of Bogota’s potable water. The park also protects extensive and pristine cloud forest and paramo habitat, home to a wonderful bird community! Leaving the hotel very early (and this will be the rule for most of the tour) we reached the BioAndina reserve, near Chingaza, at 6:30 for a field breakfast. During our early drive we found two Andean Guans on the roadside just before entering the reserve; first bird of the trip! Still before breakfast, we stopped at a small pond where we found a pair of Andean teal and two lovely Whistling Herons.

We finally reached the reserve and a nice patch of cloud forest, where we had our breakfast during which a small group of Slaty Brushfinches came close while a Pale-naped Brushfinch was singing nearby. We birded along a large track crossing the reserve and enjoyed some mixed species flocks including White-banded and White-throated Tyrannulet, Yellow-fronted (Golden-fronted) Redstart (of the ‘white-faced’ ornatus subspecies), Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, Mountain Woodcreeper, Pearled Treerunner and Masked Flowerpiercer. Jovani, our driver, spotted a beautiful male Green-and-black Fruiteater that we all saw well. And a few minutes later a small group of Brown-breasted Parakeets landed atop some close trees but sadly didn’t stay very long.

Following our way along the main track we heard two Muisca Antpitta (a recent split from Rufous Antpitta) from a large patch of chusquea bamboo. We all entered this patch of bamboo, from where we had a great view of these antpittas, that came quickly to the tape! Stunning views of these skulkers. Unfortunately, the Pale-bellied Tapaculos we heard didn’t behave as well, and they stayed on the heard list. Another great sight of this morning was a pair of Black-billed Mountain-Toucan that was calling and displaying from a close tree. Great view and photo opportunity! Now, the most surprising sighting of the day was definitely the immature Boat-billed Heron found in the canopy of the trees, far from any wetlands and at an unexpected elevation for this species! It was hard to leave this very birdy place, but we also wanted to prospect some paramo on the way back to La Escalera. Doing a stop in this beautiful habitat, with plenty of blooming Espeletia, we had great views of a stunning White-chinned Thistletail, several Glossy Flowerpiercers, and a group of Andean Siskin.

After a lunch at a nice restaurant near La Escalera, where we all enjoyed a tasty Ajiaco (a local specialty; chicken and vegetable soup, served with avocado, rice, capers and sour cream) we stopped at a hummingbird garden where amongst the numerous Sparkling Violetears, we found two Black-tailed Trainbearers, a few White-bellied Woodstars, a pair of Tyrian Metaltails, and the impressive Sword-billed Hummingbird. Beside hummingbirds, we also found a Silvery-throated Spinetail, a family of Red-crested Cotingas and a beautiful Black-backed Grosbeak. What a fantastic way to end that first day!

After a relaxing night at our Bogota hotel, we left early to avoid the traffic jam, and birded La Florida Park. On the main pond, we found 100+ Bare-faced Ibis, American Coots, Andean Duck, at least five Striated Herons, a few Pied-billed Grebes, and got great views of both Spot-flanked and Purple Gallinules. A few male Yellow-hooded Blackbirds were singing and displaying on the top of the reeds. This park is protecting some nice wetlands and reedbeds where a small population of Bogota Rail subsists. After some patient waiting and a bit of playback, a pair of this endangered rail came out in the open for a while, offering a fantastic show! Having a long travel day to Ibague, we didn’t stay much longer at La Florida and started our drive towards Chicaque. Once there, we enjoyed a cup of coffee in front of the hummingbird feeders, having great views on Lesser and Sparkling Violetears, a Tourmaline Sunangel and a Collared Inca. Leaving this place, we found a large flock including Rufous-browed and Capped Conebills, Blue-capped Tanager, Blue-and-black Tanager, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Common Chlorospingus, and a stunning Pearled Treerunner.

We then started our drive down into the Magdalena valley, enjoying the amazing landscapes and changes in habitat, passing from Cloud Montane Forest to dry lowland forest and shrubland. Before arriving in Ibague, we made a stop in some dry semi-open forest, where we quickly found a pair of Velvet-fronted Euphonia, as well as a few Spectacled Parrotlet, Gray Seedeater, Common Tody-Flycatcher and a lovely Red-billed Emerald. In a nearby field, we also found a group of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and a dozen Southern Lapwings, a Crested Caracara and flocks of Saffron Finches. To end this travel day, we arrived at our lovely resort near Ibague, surrounded by stunning landscapes, for a nice dinner and quiet night.

The next day started very well, finding two Mottled Owls in the hotel grounds! We then spent the morning at the lovely Ukuku Lodge, getting there after a 2km walk that we started at dawn. During the walk we had a fantastic view of a male Torrent Duck, actually running upriver while we were crossing the river on a large bridge! We had a great view of the snow-capped Tolima peak in the morning light, and the overall surroundings were absolutely stunning. As soon as we arrived at the lodge, the owner oriented us to a hide where we had excellent view on the very shy and endemic Tolima Dove. The fruit feeders also attracted many birds including Blue-gray, Palm, Crimson-backed and ScrubTanagers, Thick-billed Euphonia, Andean Motmot, Black-billed Thrush, Yellow-backed Oriole, Buff-throated and Black-winged Saltator, while Buff-tailed Coronet, Indigo-capped Hummingbird and Fawn-breasted Brilliant were visiting the hummingbird feeders. It was hard to leave the garden for the breakfast table, but fortunately it was a delicious breakfast, with homemade bread and raspberry jam, and excellent coffee.

After breakfast we stayed in the garden, continuously finding new birds, such as Golden-green Woodpecker, Green Hermit, Slaty Spinetail, the endemic Yellow-headed Brushfinch, White-tipped Swift, Olivaceous Piculet, Speckle-faced Parrot, Bar-crested Antshrike or Bay-headed (Bay-and-blue) Tanager. A Peregrine Falcon, a rare species in Colombia, also flew over the garden. After a long wait in front of blooming shrubs, we also found the sought-after Tolima Blossomcrown! A male of this recently split species made two visits to the garden, and after having great looks at this Colombian endemic, we started the walk back to the hotel for check-out and to start our drive towards our next stop, La Victoria.

After two hours’ drive and a lunch on the way, we stopped at El Hato. Birding in the shade of the trees along a river, we started with a great scope view of a lovely Barred Puffbird who perched for a while atop a tree. The bird activity was great and we quickly found a pair of Northern White-fringed Antwren, a Barred Antshrike and two responsive Jet Antbird. No less than four Rufous-tailed Jacamar were also seen together perched on the same branch. Atop a tall tree we found two Blue-headed Parrots perched side-by-side with two Pale-vented Pigeon, while two Yellow-crowned Parrot were more inconspicuous and stayed in the cover of the trees. In the nearby agricultural fields, we found a nice flock of Red-breasted Meadowlarks, two Yellow Orioles, a few Fork-tailed and Vermilion Flycatchers, a Savanna Hawk and 20+ Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures flying over the field. In these fields we also had excellent views of a few groups of Crested Bobwhite. Just before leaving El Hato, we heard a White-bellied Antbird singing from the understory of a patch of forest, so we decided so we decided to leave the main track and enter the forest. After a bit of playback and some waiting, the bird came close and offered fantastic views! An excellent way to end this beautiful day!

We spent most of the next morning at La Victoria, accompanied by Arturo Parra a local enthusiastic birder. Arriving at the reserve after dawn, we quickly found a group of four White-mantled Barbets, one of the ‘specialties’ of the reserve. A large flock was also seen well for a while, and a Golden-faced Tyrannulet was flycatching in the coffee plantation. Once in the forest, new species never stopped appearing: Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Black-crowned Antshrike, Orange-billed Sparrow, White-vented Plumeleteer, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Plain-brown Woodcreeper and more. One of the best surprises of the morning was a pair of Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant heard and seen very well for a while! We also had a long scope view of the sublime Western Striped Manakin, and a bit later found no less than two lovely White-bibbed Manakin! A nice flock brought us Yellow-tufted and Blue Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Swallow Tanager and a pair of the smart Yellow-backed Tanagers. We also had several encounters with Sooty Ant-Tanager, including a pair very responsive to the tape that gave us unforgettable views! This reserve is really a fantastic place, and we would have all enjoyed staying longer.

On the way back to La Victoria we stopped in some open fields where we enjoyed great views of a group of Band-backed Wren, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Blue-black Grassquit and a lovely Collared Araçari preening atop a short tree. A Short-tailed Hawk and a Black Hawk-eagle were also soaring high in the sky. After our check-out and a lunch in Mariquita, at a restaurant also selling beautiful home-made handicrafts, we drove all afternoon to reach our fancy hotel near Manizales.

We departed by night to the Rio Blanco Reserve, protecting about 5,000ha of Cloud Forest between 2,100 and 3,700 m elevation. After meeting Miguel Lopez, the local guide who would help us find some of the birds here, we had our breakfast at the headquarters of the reserve. What a luxury to stand with a cup of coffee in front of feeders attracting Buff-tailed Coronet, Long-tailed Sylph, Tourmaline Sunangel, Speckled Hummingbird, Collared and Bronzy Inca, while the fruit feeders were attracting Blue-winged and Buff-breasted Mountain-tanager as well as Slaty Finch. The flowering trees and bushes in the garden were visited by many White-sided and Masked Flowerpiercers, and a White-throated Daggerbill was also seen feeding on some hallucinogenic flowers without showing any side effect. The activity at the Antpitta feeding station was fantastic as we had stunning looks at Bicolored, Chestnut-crowned and Brown-banded Antpittas and a pair of Gray-browed Brushfinch. What a show to see these elusive birds coming out in the open to get their worms!

Our birding day at Rio Blanco will be remembered as one of the best birding days of the trip. We had amazing flocks that included Blue-and-black Tanager, Golden-fronted Redstart (the ‘yellow-faced’ chrysops subspecies), Barred Becard, Pearled Treerunner, Black-capped and Northern Black-eared Hemispingus, Montane and Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Sharpe’s and Mountain Wren, Flavescent Flycatcher, Russet-crowned Warbler, Grey-hooded Bush-tanager, and Grass-green Tanager. Between the flocks, we also found an incredible list of rare and stunning species such as Sickle-winged Guan, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Black-collared Jay, Streak-headed Antbird, Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, a pair of the beautiful Slaty-backed Chat-tyrant, Plushcap, and even two beautiful Masked Saltators! We also spent some time looking for the elusive tapaculos, and saw Blackish and Ash-colored Tapaculo, while Spillman’s stayed on the heard list. Our local guide even knew an active nest of Mountain Cacique where we had excellent views of this uncommon species. And to end this fantastic day we had a great sighting of three White-capped Tanagers, and just after that, we found a lovely Andean Pygmy-Owl being mobbed by Metallic-green Tanager and Common Chlorospingus!Hard to choose the ‘best bird of the day’ with such an impressive list!

We spent the first part of our next morning at Hacienda El Bosque, a lovely place close to the Nevados del Ruiz where we spent the rest of the day. After a breakfast at Hacienda El Bosque, we visited the various feeding stations enjoying excellent views of Andean Guans, Gray-browed Brushfinches, Masked Flowerpiercers, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Shinning Sunbeam, Tourmaline Sunangel or Tyrian Metaltail. On a blooming tree we also had great views on Purple-backed Thornbill. Now, the most incredible sight of the morning was to see two Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan coming to feed on grapefruits. These toucans gave us an amazing show together with Juan Martin (the owner of this lodge), almost coming to take their fruits in his hands.

After a nice start at Hacienda El Bosque, we drove to the paramo of Nevado del Ruiz National Park. We made our way to our highest point of the day, at 4,400 m elevation (14,500 feet), finding there a pair of Andean Tit-spinetails, a few Northern Plumbeous Sierra-finches and the most-wanted Buffy Helmetcrest that we watched for a while on very close bushes, offering great views and photographic opportunity. Making a few stops in the paramo, we also found a few Grass (Paramo) Wrens, Viridian Metaltail, Stout-billed Cinclodes, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant and Plain-colored Seedeater. A Paramo Tapaculo also gave us an amazing show, standing in the open for a while offering excellent views to the whole group! Another great attraction of the day was surely the hummingbird feeders at the hot springs of Teermales del Ruiz, attracting a nice variety of hummingbirds: Golden-breasted Puffleg, Great Sapphirewing, Shining Sunbeam, all coming to feed in our hands! What a fun and unforgettable way to watch hummingbirds! It was hard to leave such a wonderful place, but we had to move on to our next destination, Otun Quimbaya.

We started our drive to the reserve by night, to be there at dawn. During the drive, we found a Gray-cowled Wood-Rail foraging the roadside and had great views of that one! Once at the end of the road, we had our field breakfast and then started to walk all the way back down finding regular flocks including Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, Marble-faced Bristle-tyrant, Slate-throated Redstart, Ashy-throated and Common Chlorospingus, Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulet, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Montane Woodcreeper and the well named Beautiful Tanager. We also had excellent looks at a large group of Cauca Guans and two Red-ruffed Fruitcrows. A Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant also showed well.

After this birdy morning it was now time to start our drive to Las Tangaras reserve. We were expecting a long drive, but not so long… on our way, we learned that a protest had been blocking the road since the previous day! Thousands of people were blocked on the road and had to spend the night in their cars waiting for the protesters to reach an agreement with the authorities. We hesitated for a while to change our plan and to hire 4x4 jeeps to shortcut through the mountains and travel straight to Jardin, but luckily, we got the news that the protest was over and it was possible to get through again. Unfortunately, there were still some roadblocks on the way, and priority was given (with reason) to the thousands of vehicles that were stopped for so long, adding delay on delay… Finally, after some long waits and bumpy roads, we arrived at Las Tangaras lodge at 23:30.

After a short night at our comfortable lodge, we began our birding day with a beautiful view of the forested slope of the western cordillera. We found several flocks, including Black-chinned and Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers, the sparkling Glistening-green Tanager, Red-headed Barbet, Rufous-rumped and Yellow-breasted Antwrens, Purplish-mantled Tanager, Black-and-gold Tanager, Choco (Tricolored) Brushfinch, Sharpe’s Wren, Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, Rufous-throated Tanager and so many more! We also had excellent views of a large group of 10 Red-bellied Grackles and a responsive Tatama Tapaculo!

We spent part of the morning on a nice trail through the pristine forest protected by ProAves (Colombian NGO leader in bird and nature conservation), along which we found a fantastic flock with Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Crested Ant-Tanager, Uniform Antshrike, Yellow-vented Woodpecker, and numerous tanagers. Along this trail we also had fantastic looks at several Olivaceous Pihas, a lovely male Orange-throated Tanager, a Moustached Puffbird and three Toucan Barbets! We had a great picnic sitting in front of several feeders attracting Empress Brilliant, Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Greenish Puffleg, Brown Inca, Purple-throated Woodstar, Rufous-gaped Hillstar and perhaps the most beautiful hummingbird in the world: the stunning Velvet-purple Coronet! After lunch, we walked back along the road, finding a few new birds as well as several kinds of orchids and amazing butterflies. Back at the lodge at the end of the afternoon, we enjoyed a beer/juice watching hummingbirds at the feeders and found Red-crowned and Red-rumped Woodpeckers, Golden-hooded and Silver-throated Tanagers, and Red-faced Spinetail in the garden.

We spent the following morning visiting ‘La M’, another site protected by ProAves. The first birds we found were three very cooperative Munchique Wood-Wrens, interested by the tape and coming in just one meter from us to sing on exposed branches. What a loud song for such a small bird! A Spillmann’s Tapaculo was very responsive too and offered great views. We then walked down the road through beautiful forest, almost untouched as far as one can see, finding several great birds such as Yellow-bellied Chat-tyrant, a pair of Citrine (Richardson’s) Warbler and a superb Black-billed Mountain-Toucan calling atop a tree close to the road. To conclude our morning here we had a great view of a pair of the sought-after Tanager Finch, star species of the reserve. We then returned to the lodge for a nice lunch in front of the feeders attracting Steely-vented Hummingbird, Andean Emerald, and Brown Violetear as well as Scrub Tanagers, Black-winged Saltator, Orange-bellied Euphonia and Sickle-winged Guan. Sadly, we had to leave this wonderful lodge for our next destination, Jardin. On our way we stopped at a known day roost for Spectacled Owl, which we found after about 15 min of scanning some impressive trees covered in hanging lichen. We arrived in Jardin in the afternoon, in time to visit a nearby Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek where 20+ males were displaying and fighting actively. For sure if a female came, she could not resist such beautiful birds and colorful display! A group of Red-bellied Grackles visited the feeders, and two Tropical Screech-Owls were roosting in some huge bamboos. In was now time to check-in our comfortable hotel in the outskirts of Jardin.

The next day we had an early drive to Peñas Blancas in the mountains above Jardin. The weather wasn’t great and it was already foggy and rainy during our drive. Fortunately, once we arrived, we did not have to wait very long to see our first flock of Yellow-eared Parrots, the key species of the nearby ProAves Reserve. About 50 birds were feeding on some fruiting trees just at the roadside, giving us amazing views of this Endangered species, whose world population is estimated at less than 1,500 individuals! We then headed to ‘Mirador El Roble’ where Doña Lucia and her son Martin prepared us a delicious breakfast in front of feeders attracting Acorn Woodpecker, Mountain Velvetbreast, Long-tailed Sylph and Buff-tailed Coronet. Between two rain showers we found the time to hike up a trail in the forest, leading to an antpitta feeding station. The hike was steep and muddy, but we were rewarded with very close views of two Chami Antpitta, and the whole group even had the opportunity to feed a Chestnut-naped Antpitta by hand! What an unforgettable experience! But the rain started again, spoiling our morning birding. After a cup of coffee and homemade yogurt at Doña Lucia’s place, we had no other option than to drive back to the hotel. The drive back was actually quite impressive, as it rained so much that sometimes the road transformed itself into a river! After our lunch and a break at the hotel, we planned to do some birding nearby, but again the rain spoiled our plan. So, we headed back to the Cock-of-the-rock lek, where protected by the roof, we were able to watch the display of the numerous males, and also found Clay-colored Thrush, Andean Motmot and a family of Crested Ant-Tanager coming to the feeders. We then had some time in the lovely city of Jardin for some shopping and to have a drink on the picturesque main square, followed by an excellent pizza downtown.

Leaving Jardin by night, we had breakfast on the way, near the little town of Bolombolo followed by two hours birding in a patch of dry forest in the Cauca valley. We soon heard an Antioquia Wren but unfortunately it never came in the open. We also found the endemic Grayish Piculet, a few Streaked Flycatchers, a group of Golden-crowned Warbler and the cute Slaty-headed Tody-Flycatcher. We continued onward to Medellín, and then towards the Chestnut-capped Piha reserve, making a few stops along the way for lunch, stretching our legs, and a bit of birding. During these stops we found the wonderful Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo, the melodious Black-bellied Wren, a group of Bronze-winged Parrots and even a Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch singing atop a small bush. We arrived at our charming lodge in the evening, enjoying a nice dinner and a quiet night.

We started the next day birding the trail at the Arrierito or ‘Chestnut-capped Piha’ reserve, another area protected by the Colombian NGO ProAves. We had a wonderful morning hiking all the way up to the ridge, finding on the way some nice flocks including numerous Yellow-throated Chlorospingus, a few Silver-throated Tanager, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Slaty Antwren, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, and a pair of the stunning Scarlet-and-white Tanager! We also had Streak-capped Treehunter, Central American (Striped) Woodhaunter, Parker’s Antbird, White-crowned Manakin and two Moustached Puffbird along this birdy trail. Finally, after a long search, a most-wanted Chestnut-capped Piha appeared and offered fantastic and prolonged views!

Back at the lodge we enjoyed the feeders attracting Green-crowned Brilliant, Green Hermit, Purple-throated Woodstar and Andean Emerald, as well as Black-winged Saltator, the endemic Black-headed Brushfinch, Red-headed Barbet and even a group of ten Colombian Chachalacas! In the afternoon, we spent some time along the road and at a little wetland above the lodge where we added White-thighed Swallow and two Wattled Guan to the impressive day list!

While some had a late breakfast and a relaxed morning in the lodge garden, the others went back out on the trails of the reserve. The ones staying at the lodge were rewarded with fantastic views and pictures of colorful species coming to the feeders, while the others had excellent looks at a White-crowned Tapaculo performing well in the open, a pair of Tawny-throated Leaftossers seen well, four Green-fronted Lancebills chasing each other near a beautiful waterfall, and two more Chestnut-capped Piha. It was now time to head back to the lodge for an early lunch. On our drive back towards Medellin we made several stops at known stakeouts finding a few more interesting species such as Magdalena Antbird, Black-bellied Wren, Sepia-capped Flycatcher or Yellow-backed Tanager!

We had another travel day, flying in the morning from Medellin to Riohacha in the far north of the country. After arriving in Riohacha and meeting our local guide Johny and our driver Diaman, we drove to the little village of Camarones for a lunch of excellent local fish and seafood. Even though it was very hot, the birding activity was excellent in the surroundings of the village. We first birded some dry scrubland, and we soon found some great ‘Guajira specialties’ such as Chestnut Piculet, Slender-billed Tyrannulet, Bare-eyed Pigeon, White-whiskered Spinetail (definitely the most beautiful spinetail!), a few Northern White-fringed Antwrens and Streak-fronted (Black-crested Antshrike), three singing Orinocan Saltators, Russet-throated Puffbird and Straight-billed Woodcreeper. In a nearby field, we also found no less than 25+ Double-striped Thick-knees and a beautiful Aplomado Falcon! To end the day, we went to a coastal lagoon, where we found plenty of waterbirds such as 250+ American Flamingoes, Willet, Short-billed Dowitcher American Oystercatchers, one Reddish Egret, a few Roseate Spoonbills, Royal and Caspian Terns, 50+ Black Skimmers and a few White Ibises. We even spotted two Glaucous Tanagers and the recently split Olivaceous Saltator! It was now time to head back to our hotel and to a nice restaurant for an excellent diner of local cuisine!

We had a long journey to reach our next destination, El Dorado in the Santa Marta mountains, but we found plenty of time for some excellent birding. We first birded another scrubland area near Camarones to look for the last local specialties. One of the first birds of the day were a few Chestnut-vented Chachalacas, followed by Bicolored Wren, Groove-billed Ani, Caribbean (Pale-legged) Hornero, Ochre-lored (Yellow-breasted) Flycatcher and a small group of Orange-chinned Parakeets. We also had a prolonged scope view of a Striped Cuckoo, and a Tocuyo Sparrow was singing but never came close. We then headed to Camarones for a breakfast at Johny’s house, where we also found a female Ruby-topaz Hummingbird! After breakfast, we visited some coastal semi-desertic shrubland where we soon found a ‘beautiful’ Buffy Hummingbird, a stunning male Vermilion Cardinal followed by a female, a Brown-crested Flycatcher and a few Black-faced Grassquits. At another stakeout near Camarones, we also found a cooperative Pale-tipped Tyrannulet and had fantastic views of a pair of Red-billed Scythebill. After some searching, we also had excellent looks at the usually difficult to see Gray-capped Cuckoo, actively singing after the recent rains!

We arrived in Minca for lunch, which we enjoyed in front of plenty of hummingbird feeders. This time the White-necked Jacobin and Steely-vented Hummingbird were the more numerous, and between those we found a few White-vented Plumeleteers. On our way to the lodge, we stopped at the ‘Mountain Houses’, a new lodge recently built by Pedro Sanabria, one of our drivers. In the garden of this lodge, we found two Santa Marta Woodstars visiting the feeders, as well as the superb Black-headed Tanager, a few Yellow-backed Orioles and even two Red-billed Parrot perched on some dead trees. A Santa Marta Blossomcrown was also visiting flowering bushes. A stunning place that deserves to be visited again!

We finally arrived at El Dorado Lodge just before dusk and after a difficult check-in we finally sat for a nice dinner. With two full days at El Dorado Lodge, we had plenty of time to explore the various elevations of the ProAves reserve, and to find most of the local endemics. Unfortunately, we had heavy rain both afternoons, limiting our birding to the mornings, but even then, we found most of the local specialties! We spent our first morning mostly below and around the lodge, finding plenty of fantastic birds such as White-lored Warbler, Santa Marta Brushfinch, Streak-capped Spinetail, Masked Trogon, Bay-and-green (Bay-headed) Tanager, Black-banded Woodcreeper, Montane Foliage-gleaners, Santa Marta (Southern) Emerald-Toucanet, Black-hooded Thrush. We also saw a beautiful male Santa Marta Woodstar perched for a while and showing sometimes his sparkling gorget. And a Santa Marta Tapaculo gave us an amazing show, coming in just a meter away, in the open! To end our first fantastic day here we also found a beautiful male of White-tipped Quetzal almost in the lodge garden!

On our second day we visited the San Lorenzo Ridge at higher elevation, finding an all-new set of species. We started very well as we found a Santa Marta Screech-Owl during a stop on the way up. Once arrived at our spot for our field breakfast, with amazing views of the Sierra Nevada cordillera, we rapidly found a group of Santa Marta Parakeets perched atop a eucalyptus tree. Birding along the ridge, we found the both beautiful Santa Marta and Yellow-crowned Warblers, a few Santa Marta (Tyrian) Metaltails, Black-cheeked Mountain-tanager and Hermit Wood-Wren! A Sierra Nevada Antpitta also showed well, leaving the dense chusquea understory for a few seconds! On our way back to the lodge, we stopped at a Santa Marta Antpitta feeding station, where unfortunately the antpitta wasn’t hungry this day and never appeared. But while we were waiting for the antpitta we enjoyed a great view of a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle. We spent the afternoon at the lodge, where between heavy rain showers we found Sierra Nevada Brushfinches and Band-tailed Guans coming to the feeders.

We set out early on our way back down to Minca, having a breakfast on the fantastic terrace of Pedro’s new place. During breakfast we had fly-by of several groups of Barred Parakeets, and also enjoyed the birds coming to the feeders. After breakfast we made a few stops to bird the shade-grown coffee plantation on our way to Minca, finding a few Chestnut-capped Warblers, a Whooping Motmot, a Keel-billed Toucan, a few Santa Marta Antbird and Foliage-gleaners, a lovely Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush singing in the understory, a melodious Rufous-and-white Wren, and a few Blackburnian warblers recently arrived on their wintering grounds. A Scaled Piculet also showed very well, and one of the most beautiful species of the morning was probably the stunning Golden-winged Sparrow seen on the roadside. After our lunch in Minca in front of the busy hummingbird feeders, we headed towards Barranquilla, but sadly with no time to scan the flocks of shorebirds and gulls seen from the bus on the coastal mudflats. We visited the mangroves of the Isla Salamanca NP where we found a few Bicolored Conebills, two Panama Flycatchers, a Green Heron, a Green-and-gold Woodpecker, 15+ Prothonotary Warblers and no less than three Pied Puffbirds! In no time we reached our comfortable hotel in Barranquilla for a succulent farewell dinner.

On the last morning around Barranquilla, our first stop was to bird the grounds of the Universidad del Norte where we found a Chestnut-winged Chachalaca, our last Colombian endemic! We then drove to a nearby wetlands where we found more than 60 species in just one and a half hours of birding, adding White-faced Whistling-duck, Snail Kite, Stripe-backed Wren, Brown-throated Parakeet, Shinning-green Hummingbird and White-headed Marsh-Tyrant to our already impressive trip list. We even found the lovely Dwarf Cuckoo perched atop a small tree; what a fantastic way to end this tour! It was finally time to return to our hotel to finish packing and then to drive to the airport for our flights home, with the hope of coming back to Colombia someday soon! 

-          Fabrice Schmitt

Created: 23 September 2022