Birding in the “birdiest” country in the world: Colombia, June 2019 – Maitreya
There are several countries which are very species-rich in terms of birds, but to me there is only one country that truly stands out— Colombia. Situated in North Western South America, it has three major biogeographic zones, the Andes, the Amazon and the Llanos. It also has other habitats, such as the arid coastal desert of the Guajira Peninsula. The sheer variety of zones has resulted in an astounding diversity of birds with lots of specialities such as hummingbirds, tanagers, guans, brush finches….the list goes on. This June, we decided to explore the Colombian Andes to see for ourselves just how bird rich this country is. Our aim was to see as many species as possible, with many specialities as our prime targets.
After landing in Bogota in the morning — we took a very early flight from New York — we met our guide, Jose Luna Solarte from Colombia Birdwatch. On the drive from the airport, Jose and I got down to discussing the species we could see, and the chances that we would see them. After a quick lunch, we reached our hotel in Bogota. We had a few hours to rest (I had a hot bath) and then we were off. Our very first destination was Cerro de la Montserrat, which translates into Monserrat hill. We soon took a small train , a funicular it was called, that went all the way to the top of the hill. The ride was just astounding— you climb almost vertically as the city of Bogota falls away. It is quite a change, from the crowded metropolis of Bogota all the way into the cool high altitude atmosphere of the hills. The elevation change means a change in habitat — some patches of cloud forest appear — and a different set of birds from the lower altitudes.
As soon as we reached the top of the hill, I spotted a hummingbird perched on a twig. It turned out to be a Shining Sunbeam, a common hummer of high altitude cloud forest or more accurately, Paramo Forest. First lifer- Tick! It was soon followed by a confiding Rufous Collared Sparrow (we would see hundreds of them on this trip!) and a Black Flowerpiercer busily working away at some flowers. The action built up as we reached a nearby church atop the hill: a lovely blue Masked Flowerpiercer displayed his red eyes and black face to us and several Brown Bellied Swallows showed off their expertise in hawking insects. Black Vultures circled in the greying skies above, even as a pair of lovely Scarlet Breasted Mountain Tanagers played in the undergrowth. Jose spotted a female Sword Billed Hummingbird and we all enjoyed views of this beauty with her enormous beak. We would see the male up close at a feeder later on in the trip but this female was a great find on our very first birding session. Pale-Naped Brush Finch, Black Crested Warbler Andean Siskin, White Throated Tyranullet and Glossy Flowerpiercer were the other highlights. We also spotted a Singing House Wren. It had started raining by then — rain would be our constant companion on the trip, but a largely benign one. At a cafe atop Monserrat, I also tasted my first empanada, warm and full of cheesy goodness.
As my parents were sadly determined to make this a birding ++ trip we spent the evening at the Botero Museum filled with paintings made by the Colombian Artist Fernando Botero. Thrilled with these sightings (though my parents were also excited about the paintings ) we retired to the hotel to rest ahead of some action packed birding the next day.
Birding around Bogota
The next day we headed out for Sumapaz, the largest protected area in the country. The elevation changed as we went higher; it got colder; and the trees of the city gave way to high altitude Paramo grassland-vegetation with scattered bromeliads and flowering bushes. As soon as we got down from the van, we spotted two ashy grey Plumbeous Sierra Finches perched on the wires, along with a few more on the ground. An American Coot swam in the waters of the lake nearby as we tried to spot the Critically Endangered Apolinar’s Wren, a Paramo speciality. It was bitterly cold with a powdery rain and chill winds adding to the misery but the birds didn’t seem to mind. In a few minutes we got a whole gang that too in full song. What a start to the morning.
Later we stumbled across a very brave Tawny Antpitta (it is the only Antpitta that is this bold), and a group of several Andean Teals followed by a Many Striped Canastero, mewing like a cat. Soon another target appeared, the enigmatic Green Bearded Helmetcrest Hummingbird which is a threatened inhabitant of the Paramo. This good fellow perched conveniently, showing off his beard to us. We would later see two more of these hummers. We accidentally flushed a Noble Snipe from a bush and soon after saw another pair perform their graceful display flight. There were birds all around. An Ovenbird, a Chestnut Winged Cinclodes appeared from behind a rock and a Bronze-Tailed Thorntail hovered around the flowers. A Black-Chested Eagle-Buzzard (what a name it has!) soared in the sky and another specialty, the rarely seen Red-Rumped Bush Tyrant, grey and red in colour, flew in and perched in the open. We also spotted an elusive Pale-Bellied Tapaculo that crept around like a mouse in the thick undergrowth, much like a wren-babbler, giving us good views of its grey and brown body.
After a quick breakfast we drove downhill slowly as we were still missing out on a very important speciality- Silvery-Throated Spinetail. Stops at likely patches of forest finally produced an individual that suddenly flew out from a bush followed by two more. With this endemic in the bag we drove down to the privately owned Chicaque Nature Reserve for some lower elevation birding. A hummingbird feeder by the lunch room is a must visit there; we saw, in rapid succession, Sparkling Violetear, Lesser Violetear, Golden Bellied Starfrontlet, White Sided Flowerpiercer and a very cooperative Collared Inca pair.
Some much needed lunch followed. All through our trip, the food was outstanding. I had some very nice soup to warm my bones, followed by some pasta.
Soon we decided to go for a short walk down into the forest and this proved very productive with a Tourmaline Sunangel, a Rufous Spinetail, a lovely perched Green and Black Fruiteater, a skulking Blackish Tapaculo, a very vocal Grey Breasted Wood Wren and a very confident Moustached Brush Finch all showing up nicely. A flock of lovely Blue and Black Tanagers was a nice addition along with two noisy Superciliared Hemispinguses. True to form, it began pouring soon after and we returned to the hotel just in time for a hot bath and some delicious Andean Food.
The next day saw us at the Bioandina Reserve and the birding started off with Rusty Margined Flycatchers perched on the wires. Later two Blue Capped Tanagers gave us brilliant views of their green bodies contrasting with their blue heads. Chestnut Collared, Grey Rumped and White Collared Swifts circled in the skies while a Bluish Flowerpiercer gave us brilliant views of his bluish plumage (we would later see many on this day). A Buff Breasted Mountain Tanager quickly appeared followed by a brazen Slaty Backed Chat Tyrant. Great thrushes perched everywhere as did Amethyst-Throated and Tourmaline Sunangels. A Streak Necked Flycatcher pecked at fruits from a tree (characteristic of its behaviour) and American Kestrels flew over the grassy patches. Golden Fronted Redstarts moved about in the canopy as did a White Banded Tyranullet. Soon a vocal pair of Black Billed Mountain Toucans followed and two Brown Backed Chat Tyrants played about. A vocal Eastern Meadowlark perched on a wire while we waited in vain for a Brown Breasted Parakeet which we only distantly heard. A Glowing Puffleg added to our Hummingbird list and we headed down looking for the Bogota Rail which we had dipped on the previous day. Soon afterwards we reached a patch of marshland and the walked out in the open thrice, but for a few seconds each time ; we all managed to get it on our bins. Thrilled, headed for lunch and afterwards came the best moment of the day— the hummingbird observatory. At the observatory we managed to get Red Crested Cotinga along with a host of hummers including Black-Tailed and Green-Tailed Trainbearers, White Bellied Woodstars, Great Sapphirewings, Sword-Billed Hummingbird, both sexes showing their deadly bills, Gorgeted and Coppery Bellied Pufflegs, Blue throated Starfrontlets, Tyrian Metal-Tails and Sparkling Violet-ears. A Streak Throated Bush Tyrant perched in the scope in the evening sunlight; soon after, we decided to head back to the hotel.
Off to Cali
The next day was our last morning in Bogota and we went to La Florida Park for some wetland specialties. A Black Phoebe was the first bird seen followed by several Bare-Faced Ibises and among them was a Sharp-tailed Ibis, a species which is usually encountered in the Llanos. Several Andean Ducks swam amongst a large flock of American Coots and later in the reeds we came face to face with the Subtriopical Doradito, a species of tyrant-flycatchers that lives in reed beds. A pair of Bogota Rails gave cracking views in flight and a female Southern Lapwing carefully guarded her nest with eggs.
Later in the afternoon we left chilly Bogota and flew into warm Cali where we were picked up by our driver, Uber (yes, that’s his name) . Our destination was the recently opened Araucana Lodge, owned by the Calonje family. It is a stunning lodge set within easy distance of some of SW Colombia’s best birding spots. Chris, who runs the place along with his sister Anna, was waiting to greet us, and after a quick check in, off we went birding in the grounds of the lodge. It was nothing less than a multi-course buffet; on offer were delicious glimpses of brilliant tanagers and a host of other species.
Within 30 minutes, we ticked off Steely-Vented Hummingbird, White-Necked Jacobin, Chivi Vireo, Andean Emerald, Fawn-Breasted Tanager, Flame Rumped Tanager, Bay-Headed Tanager, Blue Grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Black Winged Saltator, Greyish Piculet, Whiskered Wren, Thick-Billed and Golden Crowned Euphonia, Golden Faced Tyranullet, Montane Woodcreeper, Tropical Parula, Golden-Faced Tyrannulet, Green Hermit, Black Throated Mango, Brown Violetear, a pair of mega Parker’s Antbirds and a flying Short-Tailed Hawk. Another trail yielded Crimson-Rumped Toucanet, Slate-Throated Redstart, Southern Beardless Tyranullet and Chestnut-Capped Brushfinch – – all of these were full on views, many within 10 metres. Thrilled with these sightings we retired for the night, hoping for some more birding action at KM 18 tomorrow.
The highlight though was a female of the uncommon and rarely seen Multicoloured Tanager feeding away quietly at some fresh fruits. On the way back a furtive Narino Tapaculo and a Spotted Barbtail were added to our list. A quick break for lunch , and then off we went to the verdant San Antonio Cloud Forest. Southern Emerald Toucanet, Chestnut Breasted Chlorophonia, Dusky Chlorospingus appeared followed by our first Golden Olive Woodpecker which we finally found after a long search. We then decided to go back to KM 18 for some more birding, looking for one of the most elusive birds of this area- the Streak-Headed Antbird. Rainy weather made the going miserable but our perseverance paid off and the Antbird was finally seen well. KM 18 lived up to its reputation and we clocked nearly a 100 species that day. Thrilled we headed back for some much deserved rest at the lovely Araucana Lodge.The heat of San CiprianoThe next day saw us heading lower down to the humid rainforests of the San Cipriano Nature Reserve. The only way into San Cipriano is on the “Brujitas”, which are carts powered by bike engines that run on a disused railway line that leads into the town. It is quite an experience as the carts are open to the elements all round, and you hold on to the contraption for dear life as the green of the jungle whizzes past. The more adventurous like to sit right up front to enjoy the view from this totally ‘jugaad’ vehicle.
Scores of Blue Headed Pionus flew over our heads as we drove through the verdant rainforest, Columbia’s very own “Dehing-Patkai”. The brujitas take you to the edge of the town which is perched on the side of the San Cipriano river. As walked towards the reserve, we quickly ticked off Buff-Throated Saltator, Tawny-Crested Tanagers seen sweeping through the bushes in a wave, Black-Breasted Puffbird, Black-Capped Pygmy Tyrant sitting quietly near the river, a vocal Choco Toucan, Chestnut-Headed Oropendolas building their nests, Dusky Pigeon and a Blue-Whiskered Tanager even before entering the forest.
Once inside the reserve, birding started with a bang with a very obliging White-Whiskered Puffbird quietly perched on a tree, followed by a stunning male Golden Collared Manakin. Rustling sounded in the quiet of the morning and we we heard a haunting whistle coming from very close — it was a Little Tinamou! This bird had eluded us in KM 18 where we only heard it but this time we were luckier. Out popped the head first and then the whole bird just walked into view for some 2 odd seconds before another one too made an appearance. Awesome! We then moved further on to be greeted by a brilliant male Purple-Throated Fruitcrow (even the crows look good in Colombia!) who called from an open branch, revealing his purple throat feathers as he did so, followed by the even lovelier Golden Hooded Tanager. Yellow Throated and Choco Toucans screamed their heads off from every corner while Band-Rumped Swifts circled in the skies. We heard an elusive Stub-Tailed Antbird calling from the undergrowth and with Jose’s help we all managed to secure cracking views of this super skulker.
Despite its heat and oppressive humidity, San Cipriano is a beautiful rain forest within the Choco Darien bio-region. The San Cipriano river winds its way through the reserve and forms lovely shallow pools and beaches where you can swim. There was no time for all that for birders like us with just one morning in this forest which is bursting with specialities. We wound our way around several trails and beside one of the prettiest forest pools I have ever seen, we found a super rarity- the Sapayoa. This is a bird of dense lowland rainforests and has a very limited range from Panama to Colombia, along the Choco-Darien Forest Belt. We had brilliant views of an individual as it just perched on a bare twig very quietly. A Wedge-Billed Woodcreeper and Checker-throated Antwren were also seen close by.
After having picked up Sapayoa we were back on the main trail with just one main target to go- the Five Coloured Barbet, another speciality of the region. We soon picker up some action in a belt of tall trees where Fulvous Vented and Orange Bellied Euphonias moved about. Soon enough a shout of “Five-Coloured” had us looking at a male moving about in a tree. Not satisfied we waited for a bit longer and soon spotted him giving us a brilliant view of his side. As a bonus, we also found a three toed sloth hanging from the tree behind.
Delighted we moved on hoping for some more action. On the main trail we then found a Rufous Motmot perched on an open branch sitting very quietly while in the trees above Steely-Vented Hummingbird, Slate-Throated Gnatcatcher, Brown Capped Tyrannulet, White-Whiskered Hermit and Cinnamon Woodpecker added to the numbers. Later on we took a trail which has some good undergrowth and there we got three super skulkers in quick succession- Black-Crowned Antshrike singing loudly, a Tawny-Faced Gnatwren and then a very kind Spotted Antbird which was so unconcerned that it was even digiscoped! On the way back we decided to take a trail which led to an area where the Red-Capped Manakin is seen. This walk involved bending underneath a fallen log (and other gymnastics which were not appreciated by the parents) and then finally Jose pointed out a brilliant male Red-Capped Manakin with his red head contrasting with his black body.
Lunch was in a rustic shed by the river with fresh caught river fish on the menu. Not for me and mom, though and we enjoyed some very Indian-tasting lentils and rice. It started pouring at lunch time but as always in the tropics, the downpour cleared out in a bit. And then the birds put on quite a show— White Tailed Trogon, Black-Chested Jay, Spot Crowned Barbet, Long Tailed Tyrant, Yellow-Crowned Tyrannulet, and a Collared Aracari, all appeared in rapid succession. The rain seemed to have washed them squeaky clean and their feathers gleamed jewel-like in the bright sunshine after the rain as they dried off on tree tops all round.
The respite from rain proved short-lived and the downpour hit us with stinging force as we made the return journey on the brujitas. The open topped contraption didn’t seem so adventurous on the way back and it was a pack of soaking wet, bedraggled birders who drove back to Araucana.
Mom and dad crashed out but I was happy to bird that evening with Jose in the lodge grounds. Guira Tanager, Streaked Xenops, Blue Necked Tanager, Yellow Bellied Seedeater, Slaty Spinetail, Long Billed Starthroat, Yellow Olive Flycatcher, Crimson Backed Tanager were all seen that evening.La MingaThe next day we headed out to a patch of cloud forest near the La Minga Ecolodge which is close to Araucana. On the way we decided to stop at a stream where we could see another enigmatic species— the Sharp-Tailed Streamcreeper. The bird was spotted fairly easily, and we enjoyed great views of this stream loving skulker with white spots on his belly. Soon enough we were in superb cloud forest, reminiscent of Eaglenest in Arunachal, and we began ticking off Variegated Bristle-Tyrant, Three-Striped Warbler, Azara’s Spinetail, Collared Trogon, the super rare Crested Quetzal, Smoke-Coloured Pewee, Red-Faced and Azara’s Spinetails, in addition to another huge flock of Scarlet-Rumped Parakeets.
La Minga has artistically arranged feeders and it is easy to see large numbers of brilliantly hued tanagers as you lounge around in armchairs and hammocks on the verandah. In addition to Blue Grey, Palm, Blue-Winged Mountain, Saffron-Crowned, Black-Capped and Scrub Tanagers, we also got three Multicoloured Tanagers showing off their colours, and plenty of Bananaquits. Hummers were aplenty too- lot of White-Necked Jacobins, Andean Emeralds, Steely-Vented Hummingbirds, Rufous-Tailed Hummingbirds, Crowned Woodnymphs and Brown Violetears thronged the feeders. Soon a lovely pair of White-Winged Becards, followed by an elusive Tawny-Throated Leaftosser and a furtive Scale-Crested Pygmy Tyrant brought the curtains down on our time here in this cloud forest.
That afternoon we were in for a treat-we were going to see displaying Andean Cocks of the Rock in their lek. The bird is one of the most famous birds of the cloud forests of the Andes. It ranges from Colombia to Ecuador to Peru. It is a member of the cotinga family which includes Bellbirds and Umbrellabirds. This species travels singly or in pairs through the forest and covers large areas making it difficult to see. Fortunately the males have a habit of “lekking” which is nothing but hanging around a display site where the males come to attract females. Tropical Mockingbirds with their distinctive flight greeted us before we started the steep climb down the winding slope to the hillside where the lek was located. Along the way, a Black and White Seedeater, Lesser Goldfinch and Tree Swallow were spotted. The pig like snorts of the Cocks of the Rock could be heard as we neared the lek. The lek itself is a steep slope abutting a stream. We settled down and peered down through the trees and soon spotted a flash of the most vivid red; we could clearly see three lovely red males with their funny crests covering the bill almost completely. The birds were quite energetic and seen calling and flapping their wings frantically. The birds call and display (using wing flaps, jumps and snorts) through the late afternoon each day and it is quite a sight to see their blood red wings fly through the green. The female is rarely seen. A brilliant afternoon show. Another highlight was a group of rarely seen Crested Ant Tanagers, an uncommon Colombian endemic within 2 feet of the car!
To get to our final destination in Colombia, Anchicaya, we had to drive along the old road to the port of Buenaventura, which descends from the western Andes to the Pacific Ocean along the Anchicaya River watershed. The road takes you through many elevations and the birding is so diverse that that it inspired Steve Hilty to start work on Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia, the first ornithological field guide for South America. The road borders the Farallones National Park, winding first through Andean cloud forests, then through humid tropical forests before reaching the lowlands.
An hour out of Araucana, we stopped at a local cafe where we could get some breakfast. In addition to its delicious cheese empanadas, the cafe is also well known for its hummingbird feeders, where we saw a Rufous-Gaped Hillstar, an Empress Brilliant showing off his green colours as well as a Green Thorntail. Chestnut Wood Quail called from tantalisingly close-by but we failed to get a look. Later along the road nearby two Scaly-Naped Parrots flew over while a noisy Bay Wren came close giving us some outrageously good views. A Black Headed Brushfinch fed in the open while we watched while a juvenile Choco Tapaculo came close by to say hello.
Soon loud honking calls drew our attention to the stunning Toucan Barbets and we spent a few minutes admiring a pair of these enormous barbets singing their hearts out while dazzling us with their array of feathers. The Toucan Barbet (Semnornis Ramphastinus) is South America’s largest barbet and one of two members of the genus Semnornis. This is a resident of lower montane forests in South America and adjacent lowlands and is a dweller of the mid canopy where it feeds on fruits. It is aptly named— the grey, yellow and red plumage resembles that of Mountain-Toucans. It also has a very distinctive call, a distinctive series of honks which can be heard from a distance.
With one of the main targets done we headed further down to be greeted by Sooty-Headed Wren, Yellow Breasted Brushfinch, a calling Bar-Crested Antshrike, Ornate Flycatcher, Bay-Headed Tanager, Rufous Throated Tanagers feeding in the sunlight, three lovely Purplish Mantled Tanagers, Violet-Tailed Sylph, a sleeping Common Potoo, Tawny-Breasted Hermit, Ornate Flycatcher, Yellow-Throated Chlorospingus, and Glistening Green Tanager. Swallow Tailed Kites circled in the skies as we reached Anchicaya in the afternoon heat in time for a nice lunch and some rest before we hitting the birding track.
The Anchicaya watershed has several hydro-electric power stations, and a unique collaboration between the power company that runs these and a Colombian university now enables birders and wildlife enthusiasts to access this stunning region more easily. The power company has allowed the university to set up a research station to study birds, mammals and amphibians and part of this is a guest house unit which contains accommodation for visitors. The guest house revenue underwrites some of the costs of the research station. The facility is compact and only a few visitors from vetted tour agencies are allowed to book accommodation as this is still a high security installation. Visitor footprint is therefore very small and when we were there, we were the only people there in addition to the power company staff.
We spent our first afternoon in hot and humid Anchicaya by climbing on to the top of a nearby barracks whose gently sloping roof gave us sweeping views across the valley. As we slowly baked on the black painted roof, we admired several birds including a lovely male Blue Dacnis shining in the afternoon sun, Emerald Tanagers perched alongside the commoner Golden Hooded Tanagers, a pair of Purple Honeycreepers, a Scarlet and White Tanager, a White Lined Tanager, a Scarlet Browed Tanager, many Blue Grey and Palm Tanagers, a Tufted Flycatcher, White Collared Swift, Masked Tityra, Purple Crowned Fairy, Pacific Antwren, Southern Rough Winged Swallows and Grey Breasted Martins. A highlight of the afternoon was close views of a resplendent pair of Collared Aracaris, their black, yellow and red feathers gleaming jewel-like.
Late afternoon we descended from the rooftop and set out to explore a nearby area. A rarely seen Crimson Bellied Woodpecker was a great treat as was a Rufous Tailed Jacamar hawking insects. Taking a trail inside the forest we were greeted with Buff Rumped Warbler feeding on the road. What an evening that was! Double Toothed Kite, Western Woodhaunter, Baudo Guan and the Northern Schiffornis (one of the most difficult birds in the area, we were so glad to have got it early on!), Ochre Breasted Tanager, Cinnamon Becard, Collared Aracari, both Broad Billed and Rufous Motmots within meters of each other, all showed up in that last one hour of birding as we slowly walked a kilometre or two down the road! Thrilled with these sightings three of us decided to take a night walk which helped us get a Crested Owl calling. That marked the end of a fabulous day of birding, one of the best on the trip.
The next day started off with a bang with a flushed Fasciated Tiger Heron and seconds later as we got out of the car, an Antbird. We began discussing its identity but got distracted by Dusky Bush Tanagers moving rapidly in the bushes, followed by another Ochre Breasted Tanager and Choco Warbler. The antbird started calling again and later we soon had cracking views of the rarely seen Esmeraldas Antbird,a Choco near endemic! What a start to the morning! Later it was followed by a female Zeledon’s Antbird which also gave us great views. Soon after this start, Spot-Crowned Antvireo, Pacific Flatbill and Slaty-Capped Flycatcher were seen while Orange Billed Sparrows moved around in the bushes. A short stop for a field breakfast, and then the birding action continued. Highlights included a female Black-Throated Trogon (the male was seen a little later), Olive Striped Flycatcher and Yellow Margined Flycatcher, Tawny Crested Tanagers, Black Headed Tody Flycatcher, Spotted Woodcreeper, Scaly Breasted Wren, Orange Bellied Euphonia, Russet Antshrike, Plain Brown Woodcreeper, Russet Antshrike, Lemon Browed Flycatcher, and a lovely Slate Capped Shrike Vireo singing his heart out.
After lunch it was a complete washout with the rain making birding very difficult. We did manage to get the sought-after Lita Woodpecker, followed by Rufous Piha and a gang of inquisitive White Breasted Wrens near the lodge. A late evening walk near the lodge produced the mega Choco Poorwill literally few meters from us after it flew into view. This bird is a kind of nightjar which has a very onomatopoeic call- a loud Poor-Will! Thrilled we settled down to dinner and off to bed we went, eager to rest, as we had some unfinished business to complete the next day.
Up an hour before sunrise the next morning, we set out to get a glimpse of the Black and White Owl which we had missed the previous day. After walking on a trail behind the guest house, we soon had two of these owls in the light of the torch. This owl is a stunner- a black face contrasting with the white body and dark red eyes. Soon after our success we struck gold with a Black Headed Anthrush- one of Anchicaya’s most elusive birds- found feeding a few metres away from us on the road. A Northern Barred Woodcreeper was also seen feeding on some juicy insects while an Olive Crowned Yellowthroat moved in the undergrowth. Rose-Faced Parrots soon followed this great start.
On this, our last morning in Anchicaya we set off towards the smaller of the two dams that feed the power company’s turbines. We had attempted to do this section the previous day but had been defeated by the rain. But this day was much better with a lovely male Zeledon’s Antbird, Silvery Throated Tanagers seen on the trail up, all ‘capped’ by a pair of White Capped Dipper in the water below the dam. As we began to hike back, a short spell of hard rain produced a stream that we now had to ford. As we made it across, movements were seen in the trees nearby. What followed was the best mixed hunting flock of the trip. Among others, it included a pair of Yellow Collared Chlorophonia feeding in a tree, Grey Elania, Choco Toucan, Choco Trogon (300th lifer of the trip!), Plain Xenops, Ruddy Tailed Flycatcher and a fiery red Andean Cock of the Rock that flew across in front of us (how nice to see it out in the open). The flock also included a more rarely seen female Cock of the Rock. The final new bird on the drive back to the guest house was an awesome Laughing Falcon (so called due to its call, which sadly we didn’t hear) — an amazing finish to our stay at Anchicaya.
That afternoon we drove back to Araucana but there was another treat en route. A few kilometres away from the cafe where we had seen the Toucan Barbet, we stopped at an overgrown gully to look for the recently described Tatama Tapaculo. This bird though observed and recorded in the wild from 1992, has been described to science as recently as 2017. Its Latin name carries the name of a Colombian Biologist- Humberto Alvarez Lopez, who is labelled as “the dean of Colombian Ornithology”. We hadn’t been able to try for it on the way down to Anchicaya so it was our last chance to see the bird. A few minutes of scouting and the bird suddenly popped up on a rock, a black ball of feathers against the verdant undergrowth of the cloud forest, so close that no binoculars were needed to see it! What a way to end the day! Elated with the sighting we reached the lodge in time for a comfortable dinner and at long last, a much needed sleep-in the next morning
After a lazy start, I decided to leave the packing to the parents and go birding with Jose in the lodge grounds to try for Apical Flycatcher, which had been giving me the slip so far. We took an open trail and very soon enough we could hear a pair of these flycatchers calling in the bushes. Seconds later they gave us brilliant views in the open. Finally, we had seen one of the most sought after birds of the trip which is an uncommon Colombian endemic. Luck came calling again as we struck gold with an Orange Billed Nightingale Thrush singing in the open at point blank range (it doesn’t usually perform like this!). Later Plain Antvireo, Golden Crowned Warbler, and Ochre Bellied Flycatcher along with White Tipped Dove appeared making for a super morning to end a super trip.
What was the best bird of the trip? Too hard as there were so many lovely birds but here are my top 5 birds:
Five Coloured Barbet
Slate Capped Shrike Vireo