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Yellow-eared Parrot. An endangered Colombian endemic.  Photo by Steve Bird.COLOMBIA
The Next Birding Paradise
Fam Trip II Report

May 23 - June 4, 2009
by Gina Nichol

Thanks to the government of Colombia Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism, Sunrise Birding and Birdseekers had another opportunity to explore the birding possibilities in Colombia. With the help of ProExport, we we embarked on a whirlwind tour of several important birding locations in the western, central, and eastern Andes as well as the Santa Marta area in the north.  Below is a mini-report for this abbreviated trip.  A quick read should convince serious birders that they must bird Colombia!   We look forward to offering tours to this birding paradise!  More information coming this summer!

A life experience: Pictured are two of 75 endangered
Yellow-eared Parrots that came in to roost on a Wax Palm at dusk!

10-day tour: 381 species recorded
Full species list(pdf)>>        Fam Trip I report>>

ENDEMICS recorded (26):  
  • Beautiful Woodpecker
  • Black-and-gold Tanager
  • Blossoncrown
  • Chestnut Piculet
  • Chestnut Wood-Quail
  • Chestnut-winged Chachalaca
  • Crested Ant-Tanager
  • Flame-rumped Tanager
  • Gold-ringed Tanager
  • Munchique Wood-Wren
  • Rusty-headed Spinetail
  • Santa Marta Antpitta
  • Santa Marta Brush-Finch
  • Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant
  • Santa Marta Mountain-Tanager
  • Santa Marta Parakeet
  • Santa Marta Tapaculo
  • Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird
  • Sooty Ant-Tanager
  • Streak-capped Spinetail
  • Velvet-fronted Euphonia
  • White-lored Warbler
  • White-mantled Barbet
  • White-tailed Starfrontlet
  • Yellow-crowned Redstart
  • Yellow-tufted Dacnis

White-chinned Thistletail. Photo by Steve Bird.Sunday, 24-May-09: Bogotá, Chingaza to Magdalena Valley
Today we departed the hotel early and drove through Bogota to the eastern Andes and Chingaza National Park. We birded the entrance road to the park into the paramo habitat up to about 3000 meters. Highlights included excellent views of a White-chinned Thistletail, quick views of a Rufous Antpitta at Chingaza, Rufous-browed Conebill, and Mattoral Tapaculo.  After lunch we headed back across Bogota to the west side of the city driving toward the Magdalena Valley.  We stopped and walked up to a lookout over the valley with the Magdalena River in view.  While standing at the overlook, a very confiding Bar-crested Antshrike gave us a show. 

Other birds recorded in Chingaza area (for complete list see the Trip List): Pale-naped Brush Finch, Black-crested Warbler, Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, Black Flowerpiercer, Slaty-Brush Finch, Black-chested Mountain Tanager, Black-headed Hemispingus, Glowing Puffleg, Paramo Seedeater, Rufous Wren

Other birds recorded near overlook at Magdalena Valley (for complete list see the Trip List): Blue-tailed Emerald, Beautiful Woodpecker, Spectacled Parrotlet, Bar-crested Antshrike, Thick-billed Euphonia, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Blue-necked Tanager, Scrub Tanager, Black-billed Thrush

Monday, 25-May-09: Victoria
Tody Motmot.  Photo by Steve Bird.This morning we were up before dawn to drive toward the reserve at Victoria.  At dawn, a Crab-eating Fox crossed the road in front of us and soon we were roadside birding at the entrance of the reserve.  Some fruiting trees along the road held 30+ Swallow Tanagers, an amazing number.  Other highlights included a Rufous-breasted Hermit on a nest, three very confiding Sooty Ant-Tanagers, great views of White-mantled Barbets, excellent, prolonged views of Tody Motmot, incredibly close views of a Brown-eared Woolly Opossum, and a nice show by a male Striped Manakin as we were about to depart.

Other birds recorded around Victoria (for complete list see the Trip List): Saffron Finch, Collared Aracari, Long-tailed Tyrant, Thick-billed Seedeater, Crimson-backed Tanager, Yellow-backed Tanager, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Streaked Saltator, Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Golden-fronted Tyrannulet, Buff-throated Saltator, Colombian Chachalaca, Gray Seedeater, Beautiful Woodpecker, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Bar-crested Antshrike, Velvet-fronted Euphonia, White-fringed Antwren, Smooth-billed Ani, Greater Ani, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Gray-headed Tanager, White-bearded Manakin, Thick-billed Euphonia, Rusty-bellied Seedeater, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Yellow-bellied Elaenia

Red-ruffed Fruitcrow.  Photo by Steve Bird.Tuesday, 26-May-09: SFF Otun Quimbaya, travel To El Cairo
An early start got us to SFF Otun Quimbaya, a cloud forest reserve in the central Andes, a little after dawn.  As the sun lit the trees around the headquarter buildings, we ticked our first Red-ruffed Fruitcrows flying around and posing on the tree tops.  As we started to explore the area, we met up with Steve Hilty who was also scouting the area.  We walked the road and were particularly pleased with excellent views of Chestnut Wood-quail and Flame-rumped Tanagers.  A local guide took us on the river trail which produced a pair of Crested Ant Tanagers working the under story on the far bank. 

Other birds recorded at Otun Quimbaya (for complete list see the Trip List): Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Andean Siskin, Fawn-breasted Tanager, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Bronzy Inca, Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrant, Highland Motmot, Montane Foliage Gleaner, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Inca Jay, Golden Tanager, Metallic Green Tanager, Russet-crowned Warbler, Chestnut-breasted Wren, Torrent Duck, White-capped Dipper, Strong-billed Woodcreeper

After lunch, we headed across Cauca Valley toward the Western Andes catching several Bare-faced Ibis along the road.  In the afternoon we reached the coffee growing region and birded along the road leading to El Cairo.  Birds seen along the road included Bronze-winged Parrot, Golden-crowned Warbler, Black-throated Mango, White-winged Becard, and Short-tailed Hawk

Other birds recorded in the coffee region, western Andes (for complete list see the Trip List):
Squirrel Cuckoo, Green Hermit, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Black Phoebe, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Grayish Saltator, Fawn-breasted Tanager, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Streaked Flycatcher

Gold-ringed Tanager. Photo by Steve Bird.Wednesday, 27-May-09: Western Andes to Choco region
Before dawn, we boarded our Willys jeep and headed for Galapagos Road in the western Andes.  The road didn’t seem too bad at first but we soon realized why we needed the X-military vehicle to negotiate the bumps and deep ruts as we ascended into the mountains.  The amazing thing was the Chivas (colorful, traditional wooden buses) that were also negotiating the rough road.  In all the excitement we were at our birding spot in no time and taking in the delights of the western Andes.  It did not take long to see our first Gold-ringed Tanagers, gorgeous and confiding but almost too easy and common to appreciate.  Velvet-purple Coronets were everywhere and the most charming hummingbird was a Brown Inca tending to a very low nest with two naked chicks.  Amazingly close to the road, the nest shook when a Chiva railroaded past but bird soon returned to tend to her young ones.  Panic ensued when a Black-and-gold Tanager was spotted and we all managed excellent views of it.  The Munchique Wood-Wren, newly described to science in 2003, was a little more of a challenge but we persevered to make sure we could see the distinctive field marks that separate it from the Gray-breasted Wood Wrens also present.  A Purplish-mantled Tanager showed well and a Choco Tapaculo scuttled around our feet.  Amazing! 

Other birds recorded along Galapagos Road, western Andes (for complete list see the Trip List): Tricolored Brush Finch, Dusky Bush-Tanager, Narino Tapaculo, Tawny-bellied Hermit, Blue-capped Tanager, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Yellow-vented Woodpecker, Glistening Green Tanager, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Green-and-Black Fruiteater, Purple-throated Woodstar, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Uniform Treehunter, Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Violet-tailed Sylph, Empress Brilliant, Greenish Puffleg, Indigo Flowerpiercer, Uniform Antshrike, Black Solitaire, Rufous-throated Tanager, Yellow-breasted Antwren, Three-striped Warbler, Red-headed Barbet, Lemon-rumped Tanager, Ornate Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Golden-winged Manakin, Green-fronted Lancebill, White-tailed Hillstar

Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant.  Photo by Steve Bird.Thursday, 28-May-09: El Cairo, Transfer to Medellin
We spent the morning birding a mid- elevation section of Galapagos Road this time enjoying better views of the Munchique Wood-Wren.  A Moustached Antpitta called from the forest and we had our last looks at Gold-ringed Tanager.  A group of Crested Ant Tanagers were very active but soon disappeared into the brush under a tree where a Golden Tanager was foraging.  From here we made our way back to Pereida for our flight to Medellin. 

Other birds recorded along Galapagos Road, western Andes (for complete list see the Trip List): Orange-bellied Euphonia, Spotted Barbtail, White-capped Dipper, Yellow-throated Brush Finch, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Russet-crowned Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Uniform Treehunter, Streaked Saltator, Bay-headed Tanager, Metallic green Tanager, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Grass Green Tanager, Black-winged Saltator, Scrub Tanager, Yellow-throated Brush Finch

Friday, 29-May-09: Departure to Jardin, Birding Alto Ventanas

Another early departure got us to Jardin at 7000 feet in Colombia’s Antioquia department by breakfast time.  After breakfast in this delightful, colonial town, we ascended the slopes of the western Andes to bird along a road in Alto de Ventanas.  As soon as the vehicle stopped the birding was fast and furious as a flock moved through the trees above which included an eclectic mix of Three-striped Warbler, Montane Woodcreeper, Striped Xenops, gorgeous Blue-winged Mountain Tanagers, many Rufous-breasted Flycatchers, Saffron-headed Tanager, and a pair of Spot-breasted Woodpeckers.  Further up, a Chestnut-crested Cotinga was heard as it called in the fog and with patience we found a pair showing well in the treetops not far from the road.  We spent quite a bit of time quietly watching and photographing the birds when Chestnut-crested Cotinga on a nest.  Photo by Steve of them moved slowly into position on a nest!  Our local guide advised that this was likely the first ever recorded nest of Chestnut-crested Cotinga and we were thrilled to be part of the discovery! 

After lunch, we continued up the hill and panic ensued when a pair of Tanager Finch crossed quickly in front of us and then disappeared.  Our first Yellow-eared Parrots were seen flying in the distance at the top of the hill.  We traversed a farm field to see an active nest box of this rare bird on the side of a tall Wax Palm.  A group of three birds were tending the box (a pair and a “helper”) and we watched them perched and then flying from palm to palm marveling at excellent flight views.  As we began to head back to the road, more and more small flocks of parrots were evident.  We stopped on a hillside at eye level with the top of a palm and our local guide informed us that sometimes the birds come to roost in that tree.  Soon the flocks began to arrive at the palm and we watched in awe as at least 75 Yellow-eared Parrots arrived at the tree to roost for the night!  It was nothing short of incredible to see these birds from 50 yards away at eye level!  We spent more than an hour here until it was too dark to see anything more.  It was a life experience for all of us, even our guide who had never witnessed such a spectacle in his eight years of working on conservation projects with these birds!

Other birds recorded at Alto de Ventanas (for complete list see the Trip List): Speckled Hummingbird, Grass Green Tanager, Golden-headed Quetzal, Mountain Elaenia, Black-billed Mountain Toucan, Black-collared Jay, Golden-fronted Whitestart, Black-capped Tyrannulet, Barred Becard, Smoke-colored Pewee, Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, Gray-hooded Bush Tanager, Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Black-capped Hemispingus, Blackish Tapaculo, Emerald Toucanet, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Lacrimose Mountain Tanager, Black-billed Peppershrike, Rufous-capped Warbler, Tourmaline Sunangel, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Slaty Brush Finch, Golden-crowned Tanager, Pale-browed Spinetail, Spillman’s Tapaculo, Bluish Flowerpiercer, Scarlet-fronted Parakeet

Saturday, 30-May-09: Birding around Jardin, Transfer to Medellin for departure to Santa Marta
In the morning, we birding some agricultural areas outside Jardin. The flocks of Yellow-eared Parrots in the distance paled by comparison after our experience last night.  One area had a colony of Russet-backed Oropendolas nesting and we watched a Giant Cowbird attempting to parasitize the Oropendola nests.  Not far away a group of fifteen Red-bellied Grackles were actively feeding on flowers of an Erythrina tree.  The call of an Andean Cock-of-the-Rock was heard just before the bird flew across a small stream and disappeared into the undergrowth.  From here we made our way back to Medellin for our flight to Santa Marta noting a Rufous-collared Sparrow feeding young on a nest inside the Medellin airport! 

Other birds recorded around Jardin (for complete list see Trip List):
Beryl-spangled Tanager, Golden Tanager, Streaked Xenops, White-tailed Hawk, Sparkling Violetear, Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Tropical Kingbird, Chestnut-collared Swift, Bronzy Inca, Scrub Tanager, Yellow-throated Brush Finch, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Striped Treehunter, Lineated Foliage Gleaner, Andean Emerald, Streak-necked Flycatcher, Palm Tanager, Masked Flowerpiercer, Sooty-headed Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Elaenia

Sunday, 31-May-09: Transfer to Minca, ascend to San Lorenzo and El Dorado
This morning we were up and out at dawn to travel from Santa Marta to Minca and then up to the wonderful El Dorado Lodge.  Birding stops along the way yielded Pale-breasted Thrush, a pair of Lineated Woodpeckers, Stripe-billed Woodcreeper, a pair of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls, Black-chested Jay, and Western Long-tailed Hermit.  At the bridge in the middle of Minca village, we had cracking views of an Orange-crowned Oriole as a flurry of activity ensued with White-vented Plumeleteer, Streaked Flycatcher, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Social Flycatcher, Black-throated Saltator, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Black Phoebe, Panama Flycatcher and a Southern Beardless Tyrannulet that stumped us for awhile. 

Blue-naped Chlorophonia.  Photo by Steve Bird.We worked our way up the hill stopping in various areas and adding Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, a nice look at Golden-winged Sparrow, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, Buff-throated Saltator, Lesser Greenlet, Pale-naped Pygmy Tyrant, Blue-crowned Motmot, Rufous-capped Warbler, Tropical Pewee, and Red-crowned Woodpecker.  Another stop yielded our first Yellow-legged Thrush, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Broad-winged Hawk, Plumbeous Kite, Rufous-breasted Wren, Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush, Large-billed Seedfinch, and a pair of White-lined Tanagers.  We picked up the endemic Santa Marta Tapaculo and a Black-headed Tanager just before stopping for a cold drink at a roadside rest with Santa Marta Brush Finch coming to the bird feeders! 

We reached El Dorado Lodge and immediately checked out the gardens and feeders around the lodge.  Amazingly, the lodge feeders are visited by Blue-naped Chlorophonia and cameras clicked away at these striking birds.  Santa Marta Brush Finch visited the feeders as well and became a common bird for the rest of our time here.  Some Keel-billed Toucans were flying around but the feeders kept drawing our attention with visits from Andean Emerald, Green-crowned Woodnymph, Tyrian Metaltail, Green Violetear, Black-capped Tanager, and Black-headed Tanager.  When the fog lifted we had good views of the Crested Oropendolas nesting in a nearby Cecropia.

After lunch, we worked our way on foot further up the hill toward San Lorenzo.  Here we ticked our first White-lored Warblers and got good views of White-tipped Quetzal and varying views of the Santa Marta subspecies of Emerald Toucanet.  A Golden-breasted Fruiteater was less than cooperative but while we chased it, we picked up Montane Woodcreeper, Lineated Foliage gleaner, Scarlet-fronted Parakeet, Streak-necked Flycatcher, Blue-capped Tanager, Stripe-headed Brush Finch, and Masked Trogon.  During dinner, we enjoyed the antics of a Crab-eating Fox coming to scavenge the scraps under the lodge bird feeders. 

Santa Marta Antpitta.  Photo by Steve Bird.Monday, 1-June-09: San Lorenzo, then travel to La Guajira
After an early breakfast we ascended further up into the Santa Marta Mountains to San Lorenzo Experiment Station up to 8,000 feet.  On the way up Steve spotted a Sickle-winged Guan, the only one of the trip.  No sooner did we arrive at the station that our first Yellow-crowned Whitestarts were seen.  This endemic and the White-tailed Starfrontlet vied for our attention around the headquarter buildings and further up the road, we added Santa Marta Mountain Tanager, Santa Marta Tapaculo, Santa Marta Antpitta, Santa Marta Bush Tyrant, and a flock of seven Santa Marta Parakeets stopping briefly in a close tree!  This was endemic heaven!  Another highlight was a Montane Woodcreeper eating a scorpion.  On the way down from El Dorado we stopped again at the roadside rest and got quick views of a Blossomcrown visiting the flowers across the road. 

Other birds recorded above San Lorenzo (for complete list see Trip List): Blue-capped Tanager, Black-chinned Mountain Tanager, Tyrian Metaltail, Streak-headed Spinetail, White-throated Tyrannulet, Scarlet-fronted Parakeet, Black-throated Tody Tyrant, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Rusty-headed Spinetail, Yellow-browed Chat Tyrant, Black-capped Tyrannulet, Slaty-backed Nightingale Thrush

Tuesday, 02-Jun-09: Riohacha, Birding Camarones, Santa Marta, Bogota
Today we had a full day to explore the dry scrub and forest habitat near Riocacha bird our way west from the Guajira peninsula to Santa Marta.  And what a day it was!  As the sun came up we were birding the dry scrub just off the road.  Northern Caracara, Tropical Gnatcatcher, and Tropical Mockingbird were common and we quickly starting ticking the specialties of the area including Slender-billed Inezia, Vermillion Cardinal, Pileated Finch, and Bare-eyed Pigeon.  Our first Glaucous Tanager showed well as did Northern Scrub Tanager, White-whiskered Spinetail, Scaled Dove, and Carib Grackle.  A flock of Brown-throated Parakeets flew over as did a group of a dozen Scarlet Ibis with one bright adult.  A lone Roseate Spoonbill, a Wood Stork, and a Russet-throated Puffbird.  Photo by Steve Bird.White Ibis flew over and a squadron of Brown Pelicans appeared reminding us that we were close to the Caribbean Sea.  A Harris’s Hawk was perched on top of the scrub and we had great views of Green-rumped Parrotlet and Spectacled Parrotlet perched up as well.  A Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture that flew over was cause for excitement as it was the only one we had on the trip.  Other birds in the scrub included a nice pair of Trinidad Euphonias, Black-crested Antshrike, White-fringed Wren, and Orinoco Saltator.  A White-tailed Starfrontlet whizzed by and a Red-billed Emerald was seen. 

We moved on to a wetland area near SFF Los Flamencos which held American Flamingo, Reddish Egret, Great Egret, and Snowy Egret.  A single Willet flew by and a Caspian Tern was roosting on an exposed sandbar.  Just down the road we walked into another scrubby area and immediately found a Russet-throated Puffbird perched near the track.  We had more good views of White-whiskered Spinetail as well as Pale-eyed Pygmy Tyrant, and a quick fly over Yellow Oriole.  We then drove through the village of Camarones as we stopped the vehicle; a Dwarf Cuckoo was spotted on top of a bush. For the next few minutes, we repositioned for views of this cracking bird in the morning light.  We then walked into the scrub to an area which held Dwarf Cuckoo. Photo by Steve Bird.Bicolored Wren, Buff-breasted Wren, and offered more looks at Glaucous Tanager, Grayish Saltator, and Orinocan Saltator.  A wet area nearby held Wattled Jacana and Pied Water Tyrant.

The next area was a track between an air strip and banana plantation outside Camarones.  Here we studied the hummingbirds that were flitting around and picked up both Sapphire-bellied and Sapphire-throated Hummingbird.  Just above us was a Northern Scrub Flycatcher nest with chicks and there were Gray-breasted Martins flying around.  A little searching yielded a nice Chestnut Piculet.  Both adult and juvenile Savannah Hawks surveyed the open areas around the airstrip and a Pearl Kite inspected the grasslands from the far end of the runway.  As we drove further west, we checked the palm trees found some Blue-crowned Parakeets.  While watching those, we added Fork-tailed Flycatcher to our trip list.  A stop for lunch yielded Orange-chinned Parakeets behind the restaurant and after lunch we headed into the foothills of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta where it was a little cooler.  A roadside stop yielded Bicolored Wren, Cinereous Becard, and Red-crowned Woodpecker.

Black-backed Antshrike. Photo by Steve Bird.Later in the afternoon, we birded Tayrona National Park.  Here we added Scrub Greenlet, got better looks at Yellow Oriole and had another flock of Brown-throated Parakeets fly over.  Two Rufous-tailed Jacamars were seen just over the read and three very vocal Rufous-browed Peppershrikes seemed unfazed by our presence.  A Mouse-colored Tyrannulet was seen and a Yellow-breasted Flycatcher showed briefly but the start of the afternoon was a pair of Black-backed Antshrike that showed very well right by the road.  As the sun was setting we made our way back to Santa Marta for our flight out adding our two last species - Ringed Kingfisher and Clay-colored Thrush.

Colombia is truly the next birding paradise.  With more species than any other country in the world, Colombia has incredible birding prospects. Sunrise Birding, LLC has forged relationships with the country's top guides and will be offering both group tours and private, customized tours to this bird-filled country.  Watch this space! 

Special thanks goes to Juliana Gomez and Carlos Uchima of ProExport and the Colombian Government Trade Bureau for making these scouting trips possible!

For more information, contact Gina Nichol at 203.453.6724 or [email protected]