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Colombia Mixed Trip

Updated: Feb 25

After a video call with our guest Cindy, she let us know about her interest in visit differents areas of the country in order to watch and photograph some birds listed in her wish list. After checking those birds we came up with a superb mix trip, including several spots in completely different areas of the country: Eastern Andes, the flooded savannas (Eastern plains or llanos)  the Santa Marta mountains and the dry forest at the Guajira península, such a mix!





Sunrise at the Eastern plains



The Eastern Andes:


The first portion of the trip took place in the Eastern Andes of Colombia. The Paramo, the high Andean forest and montane forests were our main ecosystems.



Cindy, shooting the Andean Teal



The first morning we visited Sumapaz Natural Park, the largest paramo in the world. The landscape is amazing and the birds there are very special, including range restricted, paramo specialties, endemics and near endemics. the morning was cold - 11.000 ft in elevation - but the landscape spectacular and the birds outstanding! Our birding session took place in a flat gravel road with plenty of bushes and small lakes which provide us with good views of many birds and many photo opportunities. Some of the best birds included: Green-bearded Helmetcrest, Many-striped Canastero, Plain-capped Ground-Tyrant, the recently split Boyaca Antpitta, the near endemic Rufous-browed Conebill among others. The Black-Chested Buzzard Eagle gave us a show. Both the adult and juvenile were flying around us several times during the morning.



Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle and Andean Teal



Our second and third day we traveled to areas near Chingaza Natural Park. This time not only in the paramo, but sub-paramo and high Andean forest. We had a really great time and outstanding birds in the high elevation and we were fortunate to find some of our main targets and enjoyed them! In the sub-paramo we found at least 3 times the Bronze-tailed Thornbill, a near endemic and restricted to the eastern Andes. We had frequent views of the Rufous-browed Conebill, the endemic Brown-breasted Parakeet and the beautiful Black-billed Mountain Toucan.


Rufous-browed Conebill, Pale-naped Brush-Finch and White-bellied Woodstar



But two birds stood out: the Muisca Antpitta and the Andean Potoo. The Antpitta is a recent split from the Rufous Antpita complex and was named after the indigenous group who inhabits the high plateau around Bogotá.




Muisca Antpitta




We found this bird in bamboo-like bushes and after a walk in a forest single track we were very fortunate to have a perfect sight of a very uncommon bird, the Andean Potoo! Its nesting site was on an open stick near the forest edge.



Andean Potoo



Late that morning we worked on a hummingbird feeder and we enjoyed nice views of: Blue-throated Starfronlet, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Glowing Puffleg, Longuemare´s Sunangel among many others!



Blue-throated Starfronlet.



We spent our last morning in a lower elevation spot west of Bogotá in the area of La Vega. We birded a place in the montane forest and lake. Birds were all over the area and we enjoyed beautiful views of plenty of them including some colorful tanagers and hummingbirds, including: the Rusty-breasted Antpitta, Bar-crested Antshrike, Long-billed Gnatwren, Speckle-breasted Wren, Bay-headed Tanager, Plain Antvireo, Blue-necked Tanager, the endemic Indigo-capped Hummingbird, Black-throated Mango among others.



Rusty-breasted Antpitta


Our andean portion of the trip finished with 112 bird species and some spectacular shots, getting ready for the flooded savannahs.

 



The Flooded Savannas, home of impressive birds and wildlife!


Locally known as the llanos, the eastern plains are home of a vast diversity of birds and wildlife and with no doubt the best place in Colombia for a safari. The main ecosystem is open seasonally flooded savanna, with riparian forest along the rivers. The over summer ponds and wetlands increase the chances for wildlife sightings and offer so many opportunities for a long list of bird species. We arrived to Hato La Aurora and we took a boat ride along the Ariporo river. Within a short time in the boat we had seen many of our target species, some of the best ones included the Orinoquia range restricted: Pale-headed Jacamar, Orinoco Goose, White-bearded Flycatcher and Sharp-tailed Ibis. We also spotted many other beautiful and amazing birds like the Sunbittern, Grey-headed Kite, Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Violaceous Jay, and Masked Cardinal among others.



Snowy Egret with Spectacled Caiman, Cindy shooting in the wetlands and the Orinoco Goose

 


One of the highlights this afternoon during the boat ride was the elusive Cresteless Curassow. We spotted three of them walking along the river inside the shade of the forest. We quickly moved near the area, turned off the engine and waited for them. They slowy came back along the river, jumped on some tree branches and played for us! Capybaras and Spectacled Caimans were all over the area!



Crestless Curassow



Our second and third morning we had our wildlife safari, departing after breakfast and driving through the reserve, increasing our chances for birds and other animals. We had successful days and we saw several species in the pastures, gallery forest and the wetlands. Some specialties included: Scarlet Ibis, Oriole Blackbird, Crane Hawk, Black-collared Hawk, Jabiru, thousands of Whistling Ducks, Brazillian Tem, Plain Thornbill, Buff-necked Ibis, Whistling Heron, Green Ibis and Pied Plover. One of the top birds during our safari ride was the shy Capped Heron. We saw this species a couple of times,  catching small insects in the wetlands and ponds. Another great sight was the impressive Orinoco Caiman, a critically endangered species with an estimated total population of no more than a 250 adults in the wild.



Orinoco Cayman, Double-stripe Thick-knee and Violaceous Jay


Some of the highlights of the afternoon safari was to have the Hoatzin and the Scarlet Ibis roosting at the very same spot near a creek. At the end of the day several species of Ibis come togheter to spend the night and we saw them flying in big numbers and gathering together near the Hoatzins.



Nacunda Nighthawk, Scarlet Ibis and Capped Heron



One of the mammals that we hope to spot was the Giant Anteater. So the last morning we spent some time riding around the savannas and we finally spotted one of these beauties peacefully visiting the termite nests in an open area.  Our time in the llanos - plains - was simply amazing. We were able to watch so many birds and enjoyed the wildlife in their natural setting and our time there brought our bird list to over 200 species and plenty of good shots!



Red-breasted Meadowlark (Blackbird), Cindy shooting in the llanos, Fork-tailed Flycatcher



The staff at La Aurora ranch was simply amazing, kind, open and wonderful people.




The Santa Marta Mountains and the Guajira peninsula


A short trip to the Santa Marta mountains and the dry forest in the Guajira peninsula  is not only the perfect way to end such a mixed trip to Colombia, but also those areas give us a chance for plenty of new birds including several endemics and range restricted species as well as fantastic Photo opportunities! We started with a real early morning call for a 5am flight from Bogota to Santa Marta.



Our view from the mountains of Santa Marta


Then we drove above the town of Minca in the slopes of the mountain. The montane forest here is home of several bird species including some endemics. The morning was loaded with good birds and we spent part of the morning in a small farm house with feeders in order to increase our photography chances; after an “arepa de huevo” (corn bread with fried egg) and good coffee, we got several good shots and views of: the Golden-winged Sparrow, Blue-black Grosbeak, Black-chested Jay, Crested Oropendola, Gray-headed Tanager among others. The big surprise was the Long-billed Starthroat in the flowers around and a couple of Grey-lined Hawk chasing each other in the sky.



Grey-headed Tanager, Golden-winged Sparrow and Grey-lined Hawk



During the afternoon we walked in the mid-elevation area and despite the low activity, we were able to find several birds in nesting sites: the Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Slate-throated Redstart, Scarlet-fronted Parakeet and Yellow-legged Thrush.



Long-billed Starthroat



After an early morning start, we drove all the way to the top of San Lorenzo Ridge, a well known place for several endemic species of Santa Marta. The beautiful views of the layers of mountains and the snowy peaks to the south and the Caribe to the north; such a landscape. We were just enjoying the landscape when we heard the voice of our driver calling us: Parakeets! We ran as fast as possible and we saw a small flock of about 6 Santa Marta Parakeets feeding. After enjoying the Parakeets we started to add other endemics: the Hermit Wood Wren, Black-cheeked (Santa Marta) Mountain Tanager, Santa Marta Brush-Finch, Streak-capped Spinetail, Rusty-headed Spinetail, Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager and beautiful views of the Southern Emerald Toucanet. Later in the day at a lower elevation we spotted three White-tipped Quetzals and the beautiful Golden-breasted Fruiteater!



Enjoying the views at San Lorenzo ridge in Santa Marta mountains



The Santa Marta lowlands at Tayrona National Park gave us an opportunity to spot the elusive Cotton-top Tamarins and the endemic White-faced Santa Marta Capuchin Monkeys. We not only had succes with both of them but also we were able to spot the Red-Howler Monkeys. The Tamarins gave us a show, apparently two groups were fighting for a piece of the territory. They were very active going back and forth and up and down in the forest and from time to time giving us great chances for photos.



Cotton-top Tamarin, White-faced Santa Marta Capuchin and Red-howler Monkey



In the morning while looking for the monkeys we found a Lance-tailed Manakin nest. A beautiful female was building a nest while males were singing in the back. Other good birds in the morning included: the Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Rufous and White Wren, Scrub Greenlet, and White-fringed Antwren. At the end of the morning we found a small group of the Capuchins feeding near the ground and we got plenty of nice shots of them there.



Lance-tailed Manakin building a nest



The last portion at the dry Forest in Guajira Peninsula was beyond excellent!!  We scavanged the area for beautiful sights on the gravel roads near Camarones village. The first sight was the range restricted Tocuyo Sparrow posing for us several minutes while singing. But right after that the activity kept us busy all the time. We got beautiful views of the Chestnut Piculet, Pale-tipped Inezia (Tyrannulet), Slender-billed Inezia (Tyrannulet), Tropical Gnatcatcher, Shinning-green Hummingbird, Black-crested Antshrike, White-fringed Antwren among others. The highlight of the morning was when a male Ruby Topaz appeared in front of us. The bright red and yellow colors contrasting with the dry forest was amazing!



Tocuyo Sparrow, Russet-throated Puffbird and Vermilion Cardinal


Two minutes later one of our top target birds, the White-whiskered Spinetail was literally posing for us while playing in a bush. Later in the morning we spotted the Vermilion Cardinal, Orinocan Saltator, Buffy Hummingbird, Black-faced Grassquit, Russet-throated Puffbird, Yellow Oriole and Pileated Finch, what a way to end a trip.


White-whiskered Spinetail


We ended this trip with a list of 300 bird species and we got photography records for over 90 species and now we have some spectacular memories of Colombia.




 

Full checklist:


 

Guide profile:


Alejandro Pinto.

Colombian biologist, profesional guide, birdwatcher since 2009, birding guide since 2011. Main interest: bird & wildlife photography. As a biologist his main interest was related to seed dispersal by birds in the Colombian Eastern plains. Eventually he moved south in Colombia to research the change of bird composition in the Orinoco-Amazon transition near the area of Guaviare. Alejandro has been guiding birdwatching tours full time since 2015. As a biologist and birder he has collaborated in writing academic journals and articles:

 

  • Birds of the Orinoquian region of Colombia: A review of its records.

  • Inventory, additions and biogeographical analysis of the birds of San Jose del Guaviare, Colombia.

  • A morphological data base for 606 Colombia bird species.

 

And books and other documents:

  • Tesoros Alados

  • Aves de Casanare (ft. Murray Cooper)

  • Colibries en Colombia (ft. Murray Cooper)

  • Aves de la isla Baru – Colombia

  • Expedicion Guaviare WWF.

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