November 27 - December 15, 2010
Indigo-capped Hummingbird. Endemic.
MAIN TOUR: 27 November – 10 December 2010
Day 1 - November 27
Day 2 - November 28
Heavy rains had deluged Colombia over the past several months causing landslides and other travel problems. This unfortunately caused other tour in lost days and endless delays. The big difference for us was that by using Colombia’s best local guide with all his connections, we were able to get to many sites others could not. It was ironic that our first day started out clear and sunny and the weather was warmer and drier than expected. Our first birding stop offered a noisy mixed flock which created a panic as we were getting out of the van. Diego called attention to our first endemic a group of Rufous-browed Conebills (Photo: Steve Bird), soon followed by Superciliaried Hemispingus, and Black Flowerpiercer. We walked and birded slowly along a quiet road which offered many avian delights including a Red-crested Cotinga perched atop a tree, several White-throated Tyrannulets, Black-capped Tyrannulet, Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Tyrian Metaltail, Masked Flowerpiercer, Golden-fronted Whitestart, and Brown-backed Chat Tyrant. We had excellent views of a Glowing Puffleg and a nearby Silvery-throated Spinetail called occasionally but did not show. Some Band-tailed Pigeons were flying around as the mist began to set in. We followed the sound of an owl until we got our sights on a nice Andean Pygmy Owl which perched out in the open for several minutes allowing excellent scope views. A large hummingbird was seen further up the hill and identified as a Great Sapphirewing. The roadside shrubs yielded Slaty Brush Finch, Blue-backed Conebill, Black-crested Warbler, and Sparkling and Green Violetear. A Crowned Chat Tyrant popped into view and sat perched in thick vegetation fairly close allowing close scrutiny of this usually difficult to see bird.
At the peak, we enjoyed a short coffee break and snacks but the birds beckoned us on and a superb adult Bronze-tailed Thornbill was eventually seen by all, later followed by a couple of immature birds. A band of handsome Rufous Wrens (Photo: Steve Bird) worked along the hillside and we had three species of Flowerpiercer here - Black, Masked, and White-sided.
We moved on to our next site which was a wetland area surrounded by farm fields. We squeezed through the fence and walked slowly and systematically toward the reeds in the hopes of spotting a Bogota Rail. In the open water of a small pond there were Spot-flanked Gallinule, Andean Teal, American Coot, Andean Duck, and Pied-billed Grebe. A few Eastern Meadowlarks were singing and showing well in the grasses. Suddenly, a Bogota Rail scurried across an open area not far from us and soon we had decent views of at least three of this Colombian endemic.
During lunch at a nearby restaurant, we kept watch on a large kettle of Black Vultures swirling over a distant hill. Across the road from the restaurant there was a large white flowering bush which was attracting Eastern Kingbirds, a Tropical Kingbird, and at least one Tropical Mockingbird to feed on the flowers. The hirundines flying in the distance were soon identified as Brown-bellied Swallows.
Our next birding site was inaccessible due to a landslide so an itinerary change took us back through Bogota. Along the way we picked up Great Egret, many Cattle Egrets, and our first White-tailed Kite. As we entered the city, a Peregrine Falcon was seen flying around some tall buildings. The sky had now turned pink and gray in the afternoon light which was fading fast. Rain began to fall as we arrived at La Florida Park (Photo: Gina Nichol). Diego convinced a ranger to let us access the marsh area where we saw Black-crowned Night Heron and a female Yellow-hooded Blackbird. An Apolinar’s Wren called in the distance and moved toward us in the fading light but did not offer tickable views. As darkness fell, we worked our way back to the van and returned to the hotel in Bogota. La Florida Park seems to be on a lot of itineraries as a place to look for the Apolinar’s Wren and Bogota Rail, but it should really only be a back-up site as it is over-taped and the birds are very difficult. Unfortunately, due to the landslide we had to use it as a backup. Fortunately, at least we got our Bogota Rails at an alternate site. Later in the evening, we enjoyed a nice dinner in a restaurant that was a short walk from the hotel, ending our first spectacular day in the world’s Number one country for birding – Viva Colombia!
Day 3 - November 29
We moved up the road in the bus and at the next stop we had our first Slate-throated Whitestart, Plain Antvireo, Brown-capped Vireo, and Southern House Wren. Mick made friends with a gorgeous butterfly that attached itself to his boot hitching a ride as we walked further on. Some Acorn Woodpeckers were seen high in a tall tree and a Golden-olive Woodpecker was heard calling. A Smoky Brown Woodpecker was then seen as was a female Black-capped Tanager. Suddenly an endemic Black Inca (Photo: Gina Nichol) caught our attention as it perched right out in the open on a branch over the road ahead. The bird sat for awhile and then fed on some red flowers. As we enjoyed a coffee break, the bird returned to the perch and the flowers much to the delight of the photographers in the group. As we finished our break, an Andean Toucanet appeared in the branches just above us.
We continued walking the road adding Canada Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush, and Streaked Saltator to our ever growing day list. Next up was a superb Moustached Puffbird that appeared on a close perch where we had to maneuver to get a good view through the thick brush. We enjoyed much better views of several Acorn Woodpeckers that came down and flitted around a line of fence posts giving us an entertaining show. Our next challenge was trying to get decent views of a skulky Speckle-breasted Wren (Colombian Wren) that moved up a thick, dark tangle.
We reached an open area that looked out over a glistening lake surrounded by trees. Scanning the trees, Gina found our main target, a superb male and also a not so stunning female Turquoise Dacnis, a species that it getting very difficult to find. We enjoyed distant but good scope views. We hoped to see the bird a little closer so continued to scan a tree full of tanagers which included – Bay-headed, Palm, Blue-gray, and Black-capped, all feeding on the tree’s fruits. An Osprey was seen flying over the lake and a perched Great Blue Heron was scoped across the far side. We also enjoyed the antics of a Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloth (Photo: Gina Nichol) which had worked its way out to the end of a tree branch and hung precariously as it stretched to reach the leaves on an adjacent tree.
We walked back down toward the van encountering another flock which included more of what we had already seen as well as Streak-necked Flycatcher and Mountain Elaenia. A bird working a high, thick tangle finally revealed itself as a male Uniform Antshrike.
We enjoyed lunch at a restaurant with a bird table stocked with bananas that attracted Blue-gray and Crimson-backed Tanagers, Thick-billed Euphonia, Black-billed Thrush, and Palm Tanager. Tropical Parula was also seen in the forest behind the feeder and there were several brilliant Saffron Finches on the ground near the restaurant. After lunch, we drive down the western slope of the eastern Andes into the Magdalena Valley. In the lowlands, the sky was a crystal clear blue and as we traveled we saw Bare-faced Ibis, Southern Lapwing, Great Egret, Roadside Hawk, and American Kestrel. At a comfort stop we picked up Vermilion Flycatcher and Eared Dove. We then crossed the Magdalena River and drove to our last stop of the day which was along a road next to some lowland fields. The trees along the road held Tropical Gnatcatcher and Yellow Warbler and there were Yellow-headed Caracaras and Blue-black Grassquits around. Three Crested Bobwhites appeared on verge and then disappeared just as quickly. A Pale-breasted Spinetail was highly elusive remaining just low enough in the grass to avoid showing well. Our accommodation for the night was in the bustling city of Ibague.
Day 4 - November 30
We enjoyed breakfast on the veranda (Photo: Gina Nichol) overlooking the river and were soon out on the road again looking at Golden Tanager, Scrub Tanager, and Hepatic Tanager. Looking down the bank, we found two Whiskered Wrens and as we walked up the other side we found two of our endemic targets - Yellow-throated Brush Finch and the much rarer and very restricted range Yellow-headed Brush Finch. An Olivaceous Piculet did not get its deserved attention having appeared while the endemics were on show. As we continued on we noted several Blue-and-White Swallows flying around and a few Yellow-faced Grassquits. Looking over a bank toward the river, there was a small tree of life which held Blue-capped Tanager, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Tropical Parula, Black-capped Tanager, and a couple of Golden-crowned Flycatchers. An Andean Emerald posed for a long time on a branch allowing good scope views and a Black-winged Saltator distracted us as it fed on a fruiting tree much closer.
We continued up the hill to 2100 meters picking up Green Jay, Common Bush Tanagers, Azara’s Spinetail, and a nice Speckled Hummingbird feeding on an orange flower. Two Colombian Chachalacas were seen and we had a fleeting glimpse of a Yellow-billed Cacique that emerged from the bamboo and crossed the road behind us. We moved on further, right up to the top of Nevada Tolima and looked out into some open fields where there were two Broad-winged Hawks perched on tree tops calling to each other. Around the car park, we found a Buff-tailed Coronet on a nest. Some stunning Blue-and-black Tanagers were seen as was a Beryl-spangled Tanager that had tucked itself into a tangle. A Saffron-crowned Tanager showed well as did a Streak-necked Flycatcher but the glamour bird of the day was a gorgeous Long-tailed Sylph that flew in and fed on some nearby flowers. Above us, a few White-tipped Swifts and Brown-bellied Swallows were noted.
We walked out into the fields and scanned the trees finding a few Tourmaline Sunangels. To our delight a couple of stunning Red-hooded Tanagers was seen in the trees on the next hill. We got good views and then walked over a stream and up a steep hill to an open area closer to where the birds were seen. The scenery was stunning and here we found Mountain Cacique, Lacrimose Mountain Tanager, two Rufous-breasted Chat Tyrants (Photo: Steve Bird) and got more views of Red-hooded Tanager – one of Steve’s birds of the trip. From here we crossed the Cauca Valley on our way to the city of Cartago putting us in position to bird the eastern slope of the western Andes the next day.
Day 5 - December 1
Continuing along the road we also had Golden-winged Warbler, a Rufous-breasted Flycatcher calling, Speckled Hummingbird, Violet-tailed Sylph, Broad-winged Hawk, Bronzy Inca, and an excellent endemic Munchique Wood-wren – differentiated from Gray-breasted by vocalization and streaks on the throat and a narrower supercilium. Our first Gold-ringed Tanager (Photo: Steve Bird) was a vision and we soon realized that this endemic was a common bird here and we saw at least a dozen or more by the end of the day. We stopped at a pump house along the road to see the Green-fronted Lancebill nests that were attached to it. There was one bird in attendance and it showed well, albeit briefly as it perched on a low branch behind the house. Also in the area were Velvet-purple Coronet, Purplish-mantled Tanager , Glistening Green Tanager , and Gray-breasted Wood Wren. A Tawny-bellied Hermit caught our attention as it flitted around a tangle below a fruiting tree. To our surprise, an Olivaceous Piha (Choco endemic) appeared in the tree and showed incredibly well. A few minutes later, a stunning Orange-breasted Fruiteater (Choco endemic) joined it on the fruiting tree. Wow – what a tree! Two Grass-green Tanagers drew our attention to the other side of the road and then panic ensued as we spotted a Fulvous-dotted Treerunner in the vegetation below. Several Dusky-headed Bush-Tanagers appeared and as if it wasn’t colorful enough, a striking Green-and-black Fruiteater appeared in the fruiting tree, beside the Orange-breasted and the Piha!
When we finished with this spectacle a Cinnamon Flycatcher showed well across the road. A Brown Inca was also seen (Choco endemic) and we had good views of a Nariño Tapaculo. Continuing on we had a group of Tricolored Brush Finches, and a female Empress Brilliant. We enjoyed a picnic lunch at the peak and then crossed over to the western slope of the western Andes into the Choco region. It started to rain but we pushed on earning good views of Velvet-purple Coronet, Pearled Treerunner, Buffy (Pacific) Tuftedcheek, more Purplish-mantled Tanagers, amazing views and photos of Fulvous-dotted Treerunner, Three-striped Warbler, and Slaty-backed Chat Tyrant. The rain got heavier and we decided to head back to El Cairo for the night enjoying a nice dinner and a look at the incredible moths that were being attracted to the restaurant and hotel lights.
Day 6 - December 2
During breakfast, we worked our way around to the back of the school which was quite birdy offering Velvet-purple Coronet, another Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia, Tricolored Brush Finch, and Gray-breasted Wood Wren. After breakfast, we birded along the road picking up Golden Tanager, more Black Solitaires (Photo: Steve Bird), Collared Trogon, and Brown Inca. Further down, we spent some time birding by a bridge and found Lemon-rumped Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Sickle-winged Guan, Rufous-throated Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, and a female Green Honeycreeper. There were a few White-tailed Hillstar around and a female Green-crowned Woodnymph. We marveled at the Leaf Cutter Ants carrying leaf parts in a steady stream along both sides of the bridge. We continued up the hill from the bridge stopping at one corner to see a Red-headed Barbet, a Dwarf Squirrel, Ornate Flycatcher, Streak-necked Flycatcher, and a female Golden-winged Manakin. All at once a Common Opossum emerged from the bank and began walking up the road ahead of us – seemingly unaware of the fact that we were there. We watched it saunter up the middle of the road, until we heard a huge Chiva coming. Diego ran up and coaxed it off the road rescuing it from a certain flattening!
Birding continued with another look at Munchique Wood Wren, a nice male Violet-tailed Sylph perched and then feeding on flowers, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, a Gray-rumped Swift that zoomed through quickly, Swallow-tailed Kites, Smoke-colored Pewee, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, and a female Yellow-bellied Seedeater. We then crossed paths with a dazzling Indigo Flowerpiercer (Photo: Steve Bird) showing stunning color and it was a delight to see this bird so closely and so well. A pair of Yellow-breasted Antwrens soon diverted attention from the blue beauty as this may be the only confirmed record of this species from Galapagos Road.
It began raining heavily so we decided to make our way back up to the peak. We reached an area where some motor bikes had stopped to assess a new landslide in the road but our Willy jeeps forged through getting us safely to the other side before the road became impassable. Up at the top, it was still raining heavily so we decided to continue on slogging through the deep mud that was getting deeper by the minute.
Down on the main road, we saw a line of vehicles waiting to pass the original landslide that we had walked across yesterday. We walked up to assess the situation and decided to cross it on foot to get to Lucas and our van waiting on the other side.
We were soon on our way back toward the Cauca Valley and the Central Andes. A roadside stop for a drink and rest break yielded several birds in the cow fields across the street including Vermilion Flycatcher, Southern Lapwing, Northern Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, Blue-headed Parrots, Black-throated Mango, and Blue-gray Tanager. Later on, we arrived at our accommodation just outside the Otun Quimbaya reserve in the foothills of the central Andes.
Day 7 - December 3
After lunch, we continued driving out the entrance road and in the agricultural areas we saw Yellow-faced Grassquit, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Roadside Hawk, and Saffron Finch. At one point, we could see the river from the road and noted two more Torrent Ducks on the rocks and a Spotted Sandpiper. We continued on to the city of Manizales, the main center for the production of Colombian coffee. We checked into the hotel and soon met up again to walk up to an area behind the hotel that contained hummingbird feeders. The feeders hosted Collared Inca, Buff-tailed Coronet, White-bellied Woodstar, Bronzy Inca, Long-tailed Sylph, Green Violetear, Sparkling Violetear, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, White-sided Flowerpiercer, and Steely-vented Hummingbird and as we watched this hive of activity cameras clicked merrily away. There was also a very wet Highland Motmot posing for photos. Beyond the feeders, Steve spotted an animal foraging on the ground. It turned out to be a very busy Mountain Coati (Photo: Steve Bird) digging holes in search of food. The Coati entertained us for several minutes seemingly unconcerned with our presence.
On our way back we checked the area by the chairlift (which brings visitors up from the town) and found Masked and Bluish Flowerpiercers. Three Great Blue Herons were seen perched on top of some evergreens and as it was getting dark we made our way back to the hotel. In the evening after dinner, we went out to check a spot for White-throated Screech Owl. The continued rain made it difficult to hear but a bird was calling nearby but never showed. There was also a Rufous-banded Owl heard calling a little further away.
Day 8 - December 4
During lunch, we enjoyed watching the feeders and the antics of many Buff-tailed Coronets (Photo: Gina Nichol), a few Tourmaline Sunangels, and a several Fawn-breasted Brilliants. Rain continued and we walked back up the hill picking up more birds including Streaked Xenops, Golden-fronted Redstart, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Black-capped Tyrannulet, Blue-capped Tanager, Smoky Bush Tyrant, and a superb Masked Saltator spotted by Roger. Diego relayed a story about Colombian jumping worms as we took another trail up to the right. As we entered a gated area, a Sickle-winged Guan was spotted moving in a tree, as we heard an Ocellated Tapaculo which eventually allowed varying views and glimpses through the thick bamboo. Much better were our views of a pair of Chestnut-capped Brush Finches out on the open path. We also saw Gray-breasted Wood Wren, another Dwarf Squirrel, Pale-edged Flycatcher, and got quick views of more Rusty-faced Parrots flying over.
Day 9 - December 5
We left Manizales and crossed the Cauca Valley en-route to Jardin in the western Andes. We drove along the raging, Cauca River and for the first time, witnessed the flooding that had been occurring over the past several weeks. A roadside stop for lunch yielded two perched Spectacled Parrotlets as well as Red-crowned Woodpecker, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, and Smooth-billed Ani. There were White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swifts flying around as well as a few Southern Rough-winged Swallows on a wire. A last check of the area before departing produced Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Streaked Flycatcher, and the ‘Chivi’ race of Red-eyed Vireo. The afternoon was spent on the road and at another stop we got Steely-vented Hummingbird, a female Black-throated Mango, better views of another ‘Chivi’ Vireo, and very quick views of the endemic Apical Flycatcher. Another stop at a gravel pit along the river found us Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Greenish Elaenia, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, and a Lesser Nighthawk perched on a tree branch in the sun. A Black-throated Mango had built a nest on a metal structure right in the middle of the gravel operation and as we watched a Ruddy Ground Dove perched nearby. Late in the afternoon we arrived at the charming town of Jardin. Our friend Jose was there to greet us and a festival of the Virgin Mary was in progress. We enjoyed dinner in the town square complete with fireworks and performing horses! Amazingly, the lights that lit the square and the cathedral at one end attracted thousands of moths which caught our attention as we made our way back to the hotel.
Day 10 - December 6
Day 11 - December 7
After a field breakfast, we birded the road and found an Andean Solitaire and a Yellow-backed Oriole. All at once Steve shouted “Red-bellied Grackle!” (Photo: Steve Bird) as eight birds arrived in a fruiting tree and gave a good, but quick show. When the grackles disappeared we moved down the road in their direction noting White-collared Swifts overhead as well as adding Golden-olive Woodpecker and getting better views of the Yellow-backed Oriole.
We moved on to another site on the other side of Jardin where we picked up Flame-rumped Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, and Red-crowned Woodpecker. Andy saw a male Andean Cock-of-the-rock fly above the hillside and disappear into a dark leaved tree and try as we might, the bird was not to be seen again. It started to rain so after a while, we headed back to town, packed up and departed the charming Jardin. We made another stop at the gravel pit where the Black-throated Mango was still on its nest. Here we picked up Tropical Gnatcatcher, Cinereous Becard, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, a Cattle Tyrant tending to a horse, Yellow Warblers, Amazon Kingfisher, and a Spotted Sandpiper. We had nice views of Vermilion Flycatcher which offered a bright contrast to the Mouse-colored Tyrannulet that was seen. Our lunch was taken at a roadside restaurant where a large Green Iguana was seen on the fence of an animal enclosure. A Southern Beardless Tyrannulet was seen here in the trees above the car park. After lunch, we revisited one of our spots for the endemic Apical Flycatcher (Photo: Steve Bird) which this time showed very well for us. We also saw Black-striped Sparrow, Bar-crested Antshrike, Squirrel Cuckoo, Streaked Flycatcher, a very close and showy Grayish Piculet found by Mick, and Scrub Tanager. We then drove on to Medellín for the night enjoying the incredible exhibition of lights for holiday festivities as we navigated the city traffic.
Day 12 - December 8
After an excellent lunch we set off for Rio Claro where we arrived in the afternoon and checked into our rooms. In the last hours of daylight we walked the road through the reserve adding Chestnut-backed Antbird, Cinnamon Woodpecker, and Fulvous-vented Euphonias going into grass nests in a bamboo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Golden-hooded Tanager, Orange-chinned Parakeets, two very nice Barred Puffbirds, and more White-mantled Barbets!
Day 13 - December 9
Diego heard a call from across the stream and we went over to investigate. In the forest, we were treated to great views of some showy Antioquia Bristle Tyrants (Photo: Steve Bird), a very restricted range endemic. The same area held White-bearded and Blue-crowned Manakin, Bright-rumped Attila, Plain Xenops, Black-bellied Wren, Cocoa Woodcreeper, several Slaty-winged Foliage-Gleaners, and Red-rumped Woodpecker.
As we entered the cave, a Rufous Motmot flew out and we spent some time trying to see the Oilbirds in the dark recesses. Gina trained the scope on the birds and with the help of a light we ended up with fair views of these secretive, nocturnal birds. We walked up a trail above the cave and found Olivaceous Woodcreeper, White-breasted Wood Wren, Acadian Flycatcher, and Plain-brown Woodcreeper. On the way out, we saw more Antioquia Bristle Tyrants and a Lesser Greenlet (a first in Colombia for Diego!). Back at the van, we found a Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift nesting on the building and Steve spotted a male Blue Cotinga in a bare tree on the hillside on the other side of the road.
After lunch, we departed for Victoria. Along the way we saw several birds from the bus including Gray-breasted Martin, Wattled Jacana, Ringed Kingfisher, and White-winged Swallows as we crossed the Magdalena River. Our last stop of the day was on a road that ran between some farm fields. Groove-billed Anis had now replaced the Smooth-billed, and in the fields were Red-breasted Blackbirds. A Capped Heron flew by in the distance and American Kestrels were perched on the power lines. Noisy Yellow-crowned Parrots flew around and a Velvet-fronted Euphonia was found in a close tree at the very end of the day. We were pleased to add this to our growing list of endemics. We arrived in Victoria where the town square was decorated with lighted features for Christmas. After dinner in town, we retired resting up for our last day in central Colombia.
Day 14 - December 10
We headed out of Victoria toward Bogota stopping for lunch along the road we had birded last night. The American Kestrels were flying around and Roadside Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, and Northern Caracara were seen. Some roadside trees yielded Yellow Warbler and Tropical Gnatcatcher and as we finished our picnic lunch, a Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture coursed low over the fields offering great views.
Outside Bogota we stopped at a bird-filled garden with several Hummingbird feeders and literally hundreds of birds. A quick count revealed at least 200 hummers buzzing around the feeders and perhaps 100 more in the surrounding trees and gardens. Most numerous was the endemic Indigo-capped Hummingbird (Photo: Gina Nichol) and there were Black-throated Mango, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Gorgeted Woodstar, White-bellied Woodstar, White-vented Plumeleteer, White-necked Jacobin, Green Hermit, Sparkling Violetear, and Violet-crowned Woodnymph. It was quite a spectacle and a fantastic way to finish up the main tour! We continued back to Bogota and enjoyed our last dinner with our good friend and excellent guide Diego.
SANTA MARTA TOUR: 11 December – 15 December 2010
We took our lunch at our favorite roadside tienda hoping for views of a Blossomcrown but no luck this time (but we did find this beauty later in the trip!). We were well entertained however with the eight or so Blue-naped Chlorophonias coming to the banana feeder. Some Green Violetears and a Violet-crowned Woodnymph visited the flowers in front of us and a flock of Pale-vented Pigeons flew over. Brian found a nice Black-headed Tanager that showed well just before we boarded the jeeps to continue up the bumpy road to the lodge. We arrived at the lodge and settled in for our two night stay.
Day 16 - December 12
Back at the lodge, the feeders were buzzing and the surrounding area offered some good birds. Both male and female Golden-breasted Fruiteaters were seen and the feeders offered up close and personal views of Blue-naped Chlorophonia, White-tailed Starfrontlet, Brown Violetear, Sparkling Violetear, Green Violetear, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, and a female Santa Marta Woodstar. A male Lazuline Sabrewing was a very good bird to see although most of the time it was perched in shadow. Some Red-billed Parrots flew over, too high to really see any features. We kept a vigil on the kitchen compost pile which eventually yielded Colombian Brush Finch (a recent split from Stripe-headed) and four Black-fronted Wood Quail (Photo: Steve Bird). Crested Oropendolas were seen and a Rufous-headed Spinetail showed well. We checked an area for Santa Marta Antpitta but no luck. Blue-capped Tanager and Streak-capped Spinetail were our consolation.
Day 17 - December 13
After breakfast, we bounced our way down toward Minca with birding stops that added Montane Foliage Gleaner, several Scaly-naped Parrots in a tree with some Venezuelan Red Howler Monkeys, and White-sided Flowerpiercer. At the garden at Palo Alto we had a male Santa Marta Woodstar perched atop a tall tree. There were some Crested Oropendolas and we had prolonged and amazing views of a gorgeous male Blossomcrown (Photo: Steve Bird) feeding on some flowers. Another spot yielded a pair of White-tipped Quetzals and a Santa Marta Foliage Gleaner remained elusive. Rusty-breasted Antpitta (Photo: Steve Bird) was much more cooperative eventually showing well, while further down we added Coppery Emerald, and enjoyed nice views of Golden-winged Sparrow and Streaked Saltator. We continued on to the coast and the Guajira Peninsula. A stop for fuel was quite productive adding several birds including Yellow Orioles, Killdeer and Scaled Doves.
In the late afternoon, we made a quick stop in a dry scrub area – well, normally dry except for the unusual torrential rains that had deluged the area. A Russet-throated Puffbird posed on a farm fence for us. Some Rufous-vented Chachalacas were calling in the distance and a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl was seen being mobbed by a Tropical Gnatcatcher.
Day 18 - December 14
By now we were soaking wet and wishing we had wellies. There were a few Carib Grackles on the road and when the rains subsided slightly, we went into the forest. A Red-billed Emerald was seen and a Dicksissel sat out singing in the rain. There were a few Brown-throated Parakeets flying around and we were able to get on some that were perched. A stunning Vermilion Cardinal added color to the otherwise drab morning and a Bicolored Wren showed well. Some Scaled Doves on the ground were virtually ignored and a group of Trinidad Euphonias perched in a tree got away quickly. A Tropical Mockingbird was seen just before a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl flew into a nearby tree being chased by a group of very annoyed Pileated Finches. There were lots of Buffy Hummingbirds around and a Wood Stork was seen flying over. The irony of the situation was a Pied Water Tyrant in the (not so) dry zone! Next up were White-fringed Antwren and Mouse-colored Tyrannulet and a White-whiskered Spinetail (Photo: Steve Bird) offered great views and was unofficially named Colombia’s best looking Spinetail.
The rains got heavier so we moved out to the beach where we could get under the cover of a Tiki Hut and watch the sea. There were several Cabot’s Terns (some authorities now splitting this from Sandwich Tern) and Royal Terns, Laughing Gulls, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and squadrons of Brown Pelicans. A Skua chasing a tern caused a great deal of excitement and was later identified by photos as a second year Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger) a rare visitor. As the rains let up we walked out on the beach and picked up Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, and Semipalmated Plover.
We decided to have an early lunch seeing another two adult Arctic Skuas further out at sea. By the time we finished eating the rain had let up so we walked around the immediate area adding Black Skimmer and Black-necked Stilt to our list. The nearby mudflats offered great views of Collared Plover and a Least Sandpiper. A closer look at some of the terns revealed a Gull-billed Tern amongst them.
Back to the forest, there were more Buffy Hummingbirds, Pale-eyed Pygmy Tyrant, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Slender-billed Inezia, Black-crested Antshrike, and Russet-throated Puffbird. A Ruby Topaz (Photo: Steve Bird) stunned us all as it fed on some flowers, and when the light caught it right the bird appeared to just burst into flames! We then walked a narrow, flooded trail and found Northern Waterthrush, several Prothonotary Warblers, White-whiskered Spinetail, and another Pale-eyed Pygmy Tyrant. We left Camarones and made another roadside stop near Perico where we found a very out of place Wattled Guan in a tree near the road. Again there were many Prothonotary Warblers as well as Northern Scrub Flycatcher and our prize, not one, but three near endemic Chestnut Piculets! In the same tree were Glaucous Tanagers and White-fringed Antwren and on the other side of the path we had Slate-headed Tody Flycatcher, Yellow Flycatcher and Scrub Greenlet. Back toward the van, we had Caribbean/Pale-legged Hornero and took some more record shots of the out of place Guan. Late in the day, we returned to flooded Santa Marta for the night. We passed by small villages and it seemed the mornings rain coming off the mountains had caused untold flooding with many villagers now taking up residence on the main road with what possessions they could salvage, as their houses were 4 to 5 feet underwater.
Day 19 - December 15
At Kangaroo Point, we had our last field breakfast and noted Spotted Sandpiper, Ringed Kingfisher, Collared Plover, Willet, Solitary Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Wilson’s Plover, and more Prothonotary Warblers. We moved to another part of the reserve and walked a trail beside the mangroves. In an open area we had a nice Sapphire-throated Hummingbird (Photo: Steve Bird) and from a boardwalk we had good views of two Bicolored Conebills. A Least Grebe was seen in a pond and we also had Straight-billed Woodcreeper and wonderful looks at another pair of Bicolored Wrens. Our drive back to Santa Marta was exciting to say the least as several strikes resulted in road blocks that threatened to make us miss our flight. But our fantastic driver navigated around it all and got us back to Santa Marta in plenty of time. We said goodbye to Waly at the airport and traveled on to Bogota and our connecting flights home.