DAY 1 - Arrival in Bogota. We will meet for dinner in our upscale Hotel in the city where we spend the night.
DAY 2 - We begin this exciting itinerary with a 5am departure, in order to beat the infamous Bogota traffic, to the Chicaque Natural Park to the west of the capital. Here we will have breakfast and spend some time enjoying the hummingbird feeders where the stunning Golden-bellied Starfrontlet is fairly reliable. A couple hours birding around the parking area and entrance road to the park will give us our first taste of Andean avifauna and we should encounter some mixed-species flocks. In these we will be on the lookout for range-restricted species such as Rufous-browed Conebill and Moustached Brushfinch as well as more widespread species like Pearled Treerunner, Southern Emerald-toucanet and several species of tanagers.
Mid-morning will see us heading down into the arid and hot environs of the Magdalena Valley where we will have lunch. Afterward we will make our way to a quiet road near the town of Payende where we will spend some time birding the scrub forest for the endemic Velvet-fronted Euphonia and Apical Flycatcher. Here we can also encounter our first Spectacled Parrotlets and if we are lucky, White-bellied Antbird and Dwarf Cuckoo. After passing through the city of Ibague we will make our way up into the Cañon de Combeima on the eastern slopes of the Central Andes where we will be spending the night at a nice country hotel.
DAY 3 - Today will follow a similar pattern to the day before as we will again depart from our hotel around 5am to visit the nearby Ukuku Lodge. It is important to make the 20min walk into the lodge grounds at first light in order to give ourselves the best chance of seeing the rare endemic Tolima Dove. Another highly sought after endemic, a hummingbird this time; the Tolima Blossomcrown can also be spotted at the flowering shrubs around the lodge. We will have breakfast here and spend a couple hours birding the environs for Yellow-headed Brushfinch and others before we begin the long drive over the Central Andes.
We will aim to arrive at the Otun Quimbaya Sanctuary with an hour or two to bird in the late afternoon and we will, with any luck, pick up our first Torrent Ducks and Red-ruffed Fruitcrows along with the common Sickle-winged Guans and perhaps the rarer Wattled Guan. After dinner we will have the option of going out for some owls, including Rufescent (Colombian) Screech-owl. Night at Otun Quimbaya.
DAY 4 - After the long drive yesterday it will be nice to not be in the vehicle today. We will have all day to bird this excellent area on foot and we will spend the morning walking the first few km of the road that continues up past the lodge. The road is a gentle gradient and the birding can be very productive. It usually doesn’t take long to encounter our first Cauca Guan, a species presumed to be extinct not too long ago. Now a very healthy population resides in the sanctuary and they have even been found recently in several other sites within the Cauca Valley! Throughout the morning we will likely encounter Collared Trogons, Andean Motmots, Crimson-rumped Toucanet and several mixed species flocks. In these flocks we will be on the lookout for the jaw-dropping Multicolored Tanager, our first of many opportunities for this endemic. Fawn-breasted Tanager, Red-headed Barbet and several flycatchers including Ashy-headed Tyrannulet and the near-endemic Rufous-breasted Flycatcher also frequent these flocks. Meanwhile, in the understory we should hear the ethereal song of the Chestnut-breasted Wren and the rolling hoots of Moustached Antpitta, both species that can be very difficult to get a visual of.
In the afternoon we will walk a loop trail behind the lodge which is one of the better places to see Chestnut Wood-quail and Moustached Puffbird. Some time around the lodge grounds can also be very productive as the flowering shrubs can attract hummingbirds like White-throated Wedgebill and Western Emerald as well as Rusty Flowerpiercer. Night at Otun Quimbaya.
DAY 5 - We will depart early, around 5am, in jeeps for the upper part of the road where we will hope to find one of the most difficult of all Andean birds, the Hooded Antpitta. This tennis-ball of cuteness usually only calls around dawn and dusk and is easiest to find then. On the mammal front, Mountain Tapir has been seen regularly in this same area. Other birds we will hope to pick up at these slightly higher elevations include White-capped Tanager, White-naped Brushfinch and on the rivers, White-capped Dipper and Torrent Duck if we still need it.
At mid-morning we will transfer over to Manizales (3hours) with lunch en route. After checking in to our hotel we will drive up to higher elevations to a small private reserve called Hacienda el Bosque where a feeding station has been setup for another rare Antpitta, the Crescent-faced. This particular individual has been named “Lunita” (little moon) and has become somewhat of a celebrity in Colombia birding over the past couple years! While waiting for Lunita we may also spot Rufous Antpitta and Gray-breasted Mountain-toucan. Night in Manizales.
DAY 6 - By now we should be getting used to our routine of 5am departures and today we will be heading up to the high Paramo of the Los Nevados National Park. If the weather is clear we will get to enjoy some spectacular scenery including the nearby snow-capped peaks. We will hope to get lucky with the endemic Rufous-fronted Parakeet first thing in the morning before heading to the park entrance where Buffy Helmetcrest is reliably seen. Fog and near freezing temperatures are regular up here at close to 4000m so it is important to have warm clothes for this morning! Other high elevation species we could spot include Stout-billed Cinclodes, Andean Tit-spinetail and Tawny Antpitta. If the skies are clear we might even get lucky with a soaring Andean Condor! At slightly lower elevations we could encounter Paramo Tapaculo and if we are very lucky, Black-backed Bush-tanager or Masked Mountain-tanager.
We will have lunch at the nearby Termales del Ruiz Hotel which has hummingbird feeders that attract one of the most superb selection of species anywhere. Shining Sunbeams are perhaps the most common species with behemoth Great Sapphirewings and Sword-billed hummingbirds, the near-endemic Black-thighed Puffleg and the georgous Rainbow-bearded Thornbill all being regulars! Truly a mouth-watering cast!
When we can finally tear ourselves away from the hummingbirds we will head back down to Manizales and spend the remaining hours of the afternoon at the nearby Rio Blanco Reserve. Here there are several more Antpitta feeding stations and during this afternoon and our visit the following morning we will likely encounter at least 4 species – Chestnut-crowned, Brown-banded (endemic), Slaty-crowned and the difficult Bicolored Antpittas. Another set of hummingbird feeders here attract the ubiquitous Buff-tailed Coronet as well as beauties like Long-tailed Sylph and Tourmaline Sunangel. We will likely wait until it is getting dark to head back to the hotel as this will give us the opportunity to spot an incredible Lyre-tailed Nightjar along the way. Night in Manizales.
DAY 7 - Unless we fancy some owling we will have a more leisurely 5:30 departure for the nearby Rio Blanco reserve this morning. After breakfast at the reserve we will take in the Antpitta feeding stations then enjoy some birding along a fairly wide and level trail that winds through fantastic montane forest. This can be one of the best places in the country for mixed-species flocks and we will hope to run into one or two of these. Black-collared Jay, Dusky Piha, Powerful Woodpecker, Black-billed Mountain-toucan, Masked Saltator and Ocellated Tapaculo are just a few of the more sought after species we could encounter along with the more regular Hooded Mountain-tanager, Grass-green Tanager and Crimson-mantled Woodpecker.
Late morning we will depart for our next destination, the Montezuma Lodge (4.5hrs) at Tatama National Park, our first taste of the Choco bioregion on the very humid pacific slope of the West Andes. After arriving in Pueblo Rico we will transfer into pickup trucks as the road we will be birding on the next 1.5 days can be very poor indeed. We will make a couple birding stops en route to the lodge with Turquoise Dacnis one of the priorities. We will hope to arrive in time to enjoy the hummingbird feeders for a bit where Empress Brilliant, Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-throated Woodstar and several other species are regular. The lodge itself is perhaps the most basic we will be in on this trip but is clean and the hosts are very friendly and typically serve among the best meals of any of the lodges in the country.
DAY 8 - The Choco bioregion is one of the most biodiverse in the world and holds a host of regional endemics. Our full day here will start early with a 1.5hr drive up to the peak above the lodge where a couple of Colombian endemics can be found. These include Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer and Munchique Wood-wren, the latter a great songster. Both of these target birds only occur at the highest part of the road so we will spend a bit of time to get onto them before starting to work our way downhill. The rest of the day will be spent making our way slowly back down towards the lodge with a pack lunch brought up to us. This area can be hit or miss but on a good day is often teeming with flocks. The host of specialties we will be on the lookout for include two endemic Tanagers, Gold-ringed and Black-and-gold along with, Beautiful Jay, Orange-breasted Fruiteater and Black Solitaire. In the mixed flocks we will hope for Toucan Barbet, Glistening-green Tanager, Fulvous-dotted Treerunner and Indigo Flowerpiercers. If we are fortunate we might track down Could-forest Pygmy-owl and even the near-mythical Greater Scythebill. In the late afternoon we will likely drive down to the Rio Claro, not far from the lodge, where we might encounter a noisy group of Crested Ant-tanagers or a calling Plain-backed Antpitta. Night at Montezuma Lodge.
DAY 9 - Assuming we were able to get a full day in the day before (ie. did not get rained out and feel the need to bird some more along the road above the lodge) we will depart after an early breakfast for the community of Santa Cecilia (1.5hrs) at lower elevations. In this area we will have a very good chance of finding the beautiful and rare endemic Baudo Oropendola along with other lowland Choco species that we will have more opportunities for later in the coming days. After a couple hours here we will back-track to Pueblo Rico and continue on south towards Cali.
In the afternoon we will spend a couple hours birding the drier scrub/forest edge and wetlands of Laguna de Sonso. Here we will hope to spot Orange-crowned Euphonia, Dwarf cuckoo and the endemic Apical Flycatcher and Greyish Piculet. There is usually a roosting Common Potoo around as well and we will scan the tree branches for this incredibly well-camouflaged nocturnal species. In and around the wetlands we will spot several waterfowl species, perhaps including the scarce Comb Duck. Snail Kites and herons, egrets and ibis regularly pass overhead as do groups of Blue-headed Parrots and Scarlet-fronted Parakeets.
In the late afternoon we will arrive at our accommodations at the new Araucana Lodge in the mountains above Cali.
DAY 10 - This morning we will drive an hour down towards Buenaventura to visit the beautiful environs of San Cipriano. There is only one way to access the village; via the “Brujitas” (a motorbike-powered platform with seats on it) that will whisk us along the old railroad tracks. A very inventive mode of transport! Once in the village we will hope to spot the ghost-like Black-tipped Cotingas that come seasonally to fruiting trees in town. Passing out the far side of the village a level trail parallels the river and along here we will spend the morning looking for such special birds as Five-colored Barbet, Rose-faced Parrot and Sapayoa. Choco Toucans, Black-breasted Puffbird and many other beautiful birds will delight our senses while more dapper species like Stub-tailed Antbird and Berlepsch’s Tinamou lurk in the undergrowth.
After lunch and a bit of a rest back at the lodge we will depart mid-afternoon for the Km 18 forests and the famous feeders at the Finca Alejandria. At the hummingbird feeders here we will enjoy a similar array as at Montezuma but with the addition of the very range-restricted Blue-headed Sapphire. Meanwhile, banana feeders attract a multitude of tanagers including Golden-naped, Saffron-crowned and Multicolored, as well as Red-headed Barbets, Toucanets and in the gardens we may spot Golden-headed Quetzal. Birding along the road can be very productive with Scaled Antpitta, Colombian Chachalaca and mixed flock species such as Blue-winged Mountain-tanager (and more Multicoloreds!) being regular. Back to the Araucana Lodge for the night.
DAY 11 - Today we will be entering one of the most stunning birding areas in the country, the Anchicaya Valley. We will start at the “El Descanso” feeders, located behind an unassuming little roadside restaurant. Here we will hope to see the gaudy Toucan Barbet, tanager, an array of hummingbirds and the near-endemic Black-headed Brushfinch. We will spend the morning birding our way down to lower elevations where we will be on the lookout for mixed flocks that usually revolve around the abundant Tawny-crested and Dusky-faced Tanagers. Alongside these species we will hope to find less common ones like Slaty-capped Shrike-vireo and both Blue-whiskered and Rufous-throated Tanager.
After a packed lunch we will drive further along this little travelled dirt road in order to bird around “la cascada” (the waterfall). This area is great for foothill Choco specialties such as Tooth-billed Hummingbird, Lita Woodpecker, Blue-tailed Trogon and the sublime Scarlet-and-white and Golden-chested Tanagers. The many waterfalls and humid, moss-covered rainforest makes for a magical setting to witness these special birds. In the late afternoon we will backtrack to our accommodations for the night at the Anchicaya Nature Camp.
DAY 12 - The Anchicaya Nature Camp is a new operation started just a couple of years ago and is and the accommodations are located in the existing facility on the previously inaccessible (to birders) property owned by the local hydroelectric company. The newly implemented trails around the facility and entrance road pass through virgin forest and are home to a wealth of incredibly rare species. The area is the best in the country for such mythical birds as Banded Ground-cuckoo and Choco Woodpecker while Choco endemics like Baudo Guan and Purple Quail-dove are seen regularly. We will have all day to enjoy the superb birding here and pick through the many mixed flocks for species we have yet to see and further enjoy those we have! At night we can look for several species of owls including Choco Screech-owl, Spectacled and Crested Owls as well as Common Pauraque and Choco Poorwill. Night at Anchicaya Nature Camp.
DAY 13 - This will be mainly a travel day but we will fit in some birding along the way. Post-breakfast we will spend an hour or so birding the entrance road to the Ancicaya Nature Camp en route to the main road that will bring us back to Cali. After lunch at KM 18 where we often see the comical Acorn Woodpecker we will likely have a little bit of time to bird the environs here before heading to the Cali airport for our afternoon flight to Bogota. Night in Bogota.
DAY 14 - Depending on the time of our flight to Puerto Inirida we may have time for a stop in at Parque La Florida for a couple hours first thing. Here we will plan to pick out the endemic Bogota Rail and perhaps a Silvery-throated Spinetail or Rufous-browed Coniebill. On the lagoons will be many Andean Ducks and usually one or two Spot-flanked Gallinules.
After arriving in Puerto Inirida we will check in to the hotel, have lunch and spend the afternoon birding along the Caño Culebra trail, getting our first taste of a very different set of avifauna including Brown Jacamar, Black Manakin, Spotted Puffbird and the ubiquitous Swallow-winged Puffbird as well as the range-restricted Rufous-crowned Elaenia.
The habitat around Puerto Inirida is comprised of Varzea (seasonally flooded) and White Sands forest. The latter is a specialized forest type that is most prevalent in eastern Colombia and adjacent parts of Venezuela and Brazil and holds many specialties. In general, birding in Inirida is very productive and a list of over 250 species is possible during our time here. This diversity and quality of species has lead this to become one of the most recent great birding destinations in Colombia! We will also have good chances to spot mammals such as River Dolphin, Giant Otter and Collared Titi monkeys. The exact order of how we bird the Inirida environs will be determined based to some degree on how the weather plays out but the next three days will be something like the following. Note that being so far east the sunrises early so we will try to be out birding by 5:30am. The area is populated largely by local indigenous tribes with many small communities in the vicinity of Puerto Inirida. Night at hotel in Puerto Inirida.
DAY 15 - Today we will bird the White Sands forests of the Caño Carbon trail which holds one of the most sought after species of the Inirida area, the bizarre Capuchinbird! This trail is perhaps the best for many of the White Sands specialties and is also good for understory species such as antbirds with Imeri Warbling-Antbird, Pearly and Amazonian Antshrikes and Cherrie’s Antwren possible. Exposed perches could hold Bronzy and Paradise Jacamars as well as the rare Brown-banded Puffbird. Both Orinoco and Golden-spangled Piculets can be seen here along with Azure-naped Jay. Gilded Barbet and Spot-backed Antwrens are mixed-flock species we could also come across in this area. Overhead we will keep an eye out for Black-headed Parrots passing over.
After a traditional lunch prepared for us back at the indigenous Sabanitas community we will take a bit of a siesta (they have hammocks!) to wait out the hottest part of the day. Around 3:30 we will head back out to look for the extremely rare Yapacana Antbird along the entrance road. This species occurs in dense rejuvenating flooded saplings and can be a challenge to see well but we will give it our best shot! The rest of the afternoon will be spent along the entrance road where typically quite a few parrots, including a few species of macaws are common commuting overhead.
DAY 16 - We will start the morning birding the Matracas trail, a short boat ride from the city. Here we will get a good sample of the local targets with widespread Amazonian avifauna such as Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Black-fronted Nunbird, Blue-crowned Trogon, Varzea Schiffornis, Wire-tailed Manakin, Velvet-fronted Grackle and Olive Oropendola likely as we search for the more specialized species. These specialties include the beautiful Rose-breasted Chat, Collared Puffbird, Green-tailed Jacamar and Black-spotted Bare-eye (at antswarms) as well as the incredibly local Orinoco Softtail, one of the top targets for the area.
In the afternoon we will head a little north to the Guaviare River and a site called La Rompida, en route searching for river species such as Yellow-billed and Large-billed Terns, Yellow-chinned Spinetail and Drab Water-tyrant (aka Champagne-breasted Riverjewel!). The beautiful Festive Coquette, Little Cuckoo, White-eared Jacamar and Chestnut-capped Puffbird have also been seen at La Rompida and in the skies we may spot Slate-colored Hawk. Our main target though is mystery Antshrike, either a new species to science or a massive range extension of the Chestnut-backed Antshrike. As we prepare to disembark back down river to Inirida we could see Burrowing Owl and Ladder-tailed Nightjars in the grassy margins of the beach.
DAY 17 - A special day, today we make a 2 hour boat trip to the beautiful Mavicure Cerros (raised rock hills) to the south of the city. These Cerros are typical of the Guianan shield and provide for wonderful vistas out over the otherwise flat landscape. In this area we will be looking for Sand-colored Nighthawk and Black-collared Swallow (both along the river) as well as Golden-green Woodpecker, Plain-crested Elaenia, Brown-headed Greenlet, Spangled Cotinga, Amazonian Umbrellabird and Cliff Flycatcher. Orinoco Piculet, Yellow-throated Flycatcher and Plumbeous Euphonia are also possible in this area. At the Cerros themselves we may spot a distant soaring Orange-breasted Falcon which nest on the rock face high above.
In the afternoon we will likely visit a small tributary off the Inirida River called Caño Cunuben. Here we will encounter the bizarre Hoatzin and have a chance to find Sungrebe. In the riverside vegetation occur Red-capped Cardinal and Amazonian Tyrannulet.
DAY 18 - Our final morning of the trip will be spent birding the White Sand forests near the community of Caño Vitina. This is one of the best spots in the area for several White Sand specialists such as Green-tailed Goldenthroat, Yellow-crowned Manakin and White-naped Seedeater. Pompadour Cotinga is also regular here if we have yet to catch up with this stunning bird as is another beauty, the Spangled Cotinga. In the community itself, on our 2019 visit we found an obliging Green-and-rufous Kingfisher and the uncommon Yellow-throated Flycatcher.
After lunch back in town we will prepare for our afternoon flight back to Bogota.