Our first day will start off bright and early with a 4:00am departure to make the 2.5hr journey to Monterredondo east of Bogota. Here we will spend the better part of the day birding mid-elevation and temperate forests. This site is the type-locatity for the extremely restricted Colombian endemic Cundinamarca Antpitta. Even here they remain elusive though we will almost surely hear them at the very least. Luckily there are many other great birds to look for here such as Black-billed Mountain-toucan, the undescribed east Andean form of Rufous Antpitta (a sure split in the future), Pale-bellied Tapaculo, Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet and Ochre-breasted Brushfinch. Another Colombian endemic, the Brown-breasted Parakeet can also be found along the lower part of the road in the mixed forest/pasture. This area can hold some surprises and both Schwartz’ Antthrush and Greater Scythebill have been recorded here, two near-mythical species. In the late afternoon we will descend, making a stop on the lower part of this road for the near-endemic Green-bellied Hummingbird before continuing to drive about an hour further east to Villavicencio where we will spend the night.
Shortly before dawn we will depart for the Bosque Bavaria, a patch of excellent foothill forest on the edge of the city. Here we will bird our way up a dirt road getting our first taste of eastern foothill and Amazonian birdlife. Several Amazonian tanagers such as Turquoise, Masked and Paradise occur here and joining them in the mixed flocks could be Gilded Barbet, Yellow-browed Tody-flycatcher and a host of others. A few elusive hummingbirds that we will hope to come across include Grey-chinned and Sooty-capped Hermits and Blue-fronted Lancebill. This is a good site for White-chinned Jacamar and Yellow-billed Nunbird which both are usually found perched unobtrusively in the mid-story of the forest. In the late morning we will depart for our journey north to Santa Maria Boyaca. En route we will be passing through the edge of the more open savannah habitat typical of the Llanos to the east and might pick up open-country species like Whistling Heron, Sharp-tailed Ibis, Pearl Kite, Rufous-fronted Thornbird and Oriole Blackbird.
Santa Maria Boyacá sits in the upper foothills on the east slope of the Eastern Cordillera. This is a relatively new site, still not regularly visited by birders and no doubt still has many surprises in store. What is known is that this area hosts many foothill/middle elevation east slope specialties that are hard to access in Colombia, including the local and rare Spot-winged Parrotlet. We will be on the lookout for Black-billed Treehunter, Blue-rumped Manakin, Magpie Tanager and Bronze-green Euphonia. In the undergrowth we will hope to find Short-tailed Antthrush, White-browed Antbird, Spotted Nightingale Thrush and the stunning Pectoral Sparrow. If we missed any of our targets from the day before at Bosque Bavaria, we may have a second shot here as well.
We will have all morning to bird around Santa Maria before we depart after lunch for Bogota. We will focus on any target species that we may have missed and surely pick up many more new birds for the trip in the process. Several notable hummingbirds have been encountered here including Violet-fronted Brilliant, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Lazuline Sabrewing and Golden-tailed Sapphire. In the afternoon we will be traversing the highlands en route to Bogota where we will likely stop to look for the endemic Silvery-throated Spinetail.
A 5:30 departure from our hotel will see us at Parque La Florida shortly after dawn. Here we will be after 2 endemics, Bogota Rail and Apolinar’s Wren. If we failed to track down Silvery-throated Spinetail the previous afternoon we will have an outside chance of finding one here as well. This wetland also holds Noble Snipe, Spot-flanked Gallinule, Subtropical Doradito and lots of Yellow-hooded Blackbirds in addition to being a good spot for waders and waterfowl including (Andean) Ruddy Duck. After a couple hours we will make our way west out of the city stopping before lunch at Laguna Tabacal. The dry forest here holds Rusty-breasted Antpitta, Lance-tailed Manakin and (Colombian) Speckle-breasted Wren. After lunch we will briefly visit the spectacular hummingbird feeders at Jardin Encantado. Here we will see Indigo-capped Hummingbird and with luck, Gorgeted Woodstar and Ruby Topaz, amongst many more widespread species. The rest of the afternoon will be spent descending to the lowlands in the Magdalena Valley heading north then west to Rio Claro, an excellent reserve for lowland humid-forest specialties and a few Colombian Endemics.
This morning we will head out to a private trail a few minutes down the Hwy from the reserve itself. This path goes to Cueva del Condor (Condor Cave – a name that is not quite accurate!) where a colony of raucous Oilbirds occur. The trail itself can be in a variable state and at some points one is more or less just walking in the bed of the narrow stream that the track follows. Many specialties can be found along this trail including Beautiful Woodpecker, White-mantled Barbet, Grey-cheeked Nunlet, Pacific Antwren and Sooty Ant-tanager. This is perhaps the best site for the very local endemic, Antioquia Bristle-tyrant which was only described to science in the late 1980s. With luck we might also come across a Blue Cotinga or a pair of skulking Bare-crowned Antbirds. After lunch back at the Rio Claro lodge we will spend the afternoon birding the entrance road which can be quite productive and can hold virtually all the targets at Cueva del Condor. We will also be on the lookout for the wolf-whistling Barred Puffbird and, if we are lucky, some Saffron-headed Parrots – most likely seen commuting overhead. At night we will have the option of doing some owling with Tropical and “Choco” Vermiculated Screech-owls, Spectacled and Crested Owls possible.
We will have a few hours this morning to again bird the environs around Rio Claro with the option of birding the entrance road again and maybe a side trail or even making the 1hr drive to a colony of the very rare, near-endemic Black Oropendola. Recently this species has even been seen commuting over the reserve itself, suggesting that there may be a colony somewhere closer by. A few gorgeous manakins occur in these parts with White-bearded, Golden-headed and Striped all possible. The latter is usually first detected by its distinctive call – imagine a tiny kitten sneezing. Mixed species flocks can contain Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner, One-colored Becard and Scarlet-browed Tanager alongside more common species like Cocoa Woodcreeper and Golden-hooded and Plain-colored Tanagers. Around mid-morning we will travel south through the Magdalena lowlands stopping for lunch along the way. By early afternoon we will arrive at Laguna del Hato where we will get our first real taste of dry forest/scrub. Here we will be on the lookout for two more Colombian endemics, Apical Flycatcher and the beautiful Velvet-fronted Euphonia. Two dry forest antbirds also occur here, Jet and White-bellied and common dry/open forest birds like Spectacled Parrotlet, Spot-breasted Woodpecker and Crimson-backed Tanager are regular. In the late afternoon we will depart for the evening’s destination, Libano, about an hours drive away.
A full morning will be spent birding along the quiet roads and side tracks that pass through plantations and patches of foothill forest outside the small mountain town of Libano. This area holds a different suite of endemics, typical of the western slopes of the Magdalena Valley. These include Tolima Dove, Yellow-headed Brushfinch and a hummingbird, the Tolima Blossomcrown. While the Brushfinch is quite common the other two are unobtrusive and we will be fortunate to encounter them. Along any streams we pass we will look for Crested Ant-tanager, our first of a few opportunities for this more widespread endemic. Other range-restricted birds typical of these more fragmented habitats include the Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Cerulean Warbler and Black-headed Brushfinch. After an early lunch we will make the ~5hr drive over the central Andes to Santa Rosa de Cabal where we will spend the night.
Our second very early morning of the trip, we will depart at 4:30am by jeep up a mountain road that climbs up to near tree line where one of the world’s rarest birds occurs. The Fuertes’ Parrot (aka Indigo-winged Parrot) was thought extinct for over 90 years before its rediscovery. It is now estimated that around 300 of these birds persist in the wild and this is currently the best site to spot them. Also in this high elevation forest are several species at the northern most end of their range such as Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Grey-breasted Mountain-toucan and Bar-bellied Woodpecker. Several Antpittas occur here including Undulated, Slate-crowned and the near endemic Bicolored. Among the mixed flocks we will look out for White-capped and Golden-crowned Tanagers as well as Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager and Plushcap. By late morning we will descend to the hotel for lunch. We then have a 2hr transfer to the Otun Quimbaya Reserve, a superb private reserve of mid-elevation forest that warrants more than the day and a half that we will have to explore it. In our two evenings here we can do some owling for Tropical and Colombian Screech-owls as well as Mottled Owl.
With the whole day to devote to this reserve we will start with a morning walking up the gently sloping road. Here we will be on the lookout for the endemic Cauca Guan, like the Fuertes’ Parrots, these large gamebirds were thought extinct for many decades. This reserve is their primary stronghold and luckily they are plentiful here. Another common bird here, that is traditionally rare and local throughout its range, is the Red-ruffed Fruitcrow. These large birds can be heard giving their low moos and are frequently spotted at fruiting trees along the road. Andean Motmots and Collared Trogons are also commonly encountered and if we are fortunate, a covey of Chestnut Wood-quail could cross the road ahead of us. Flocks here can be a mixed blessing, with the canopy so high sorting through the many birds way above can be frustrating, however often mixed flocks can be found at forest edges where they drop lower and here we will be on the lookout for the stunning Multicolored Tanager as well as several flycatcher species including Rufous-breasted Flycatcher and Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulet. Calling from the undergrowth, both Chestnut-breasted Wren and Moustached Antpitta are not uncommon by voice. After lunch we may have the option, depending on the state of the road, of driving further up to bird the higher part of the road. Here one has a chance of spotting the incredibly rare Hooded Antpitta and Mountain Tapir (mammal) sightings have become not uncommon of late.
If we didn’t make it up to the higher parts of the road the afternoon before, we will drive up as far as we can make it to try to get a slightly different mix of species including Powerful Woodpecker, Golden-naped Tanager and the endemic Stiles’ Tapaculo. Otherwise we have the option of birding a couple trails near the lodge, or spending more time on the lower road. After an early lunch we will depart, keeping an eye out along the river for Torrent Duck. After passing through the city of Pereira we will carry one southward through the dry Cauca Valley to the city of Buga where we will pass the night.
Today we will visit two sites, Laguna de Sonso and the Yotoco Forest. Typical for the Cauca Valley, this area is predominately dry forest though the Laguna provides something different with many waders present as well as Horned Screamer, Snail Kite and possibly a Pinnated Bittern. Both Dwarf and Little Cuckoo are reported here with some regularity as well as two near-endemics, Bar-crested Antshrike and Cinereous Becard. At both sites, the diminutive Greyish Piculet is fairly common. The Yotoco forest is an underbirded reserve that holds many specialities including Turquoise Dacnis and Yellow-headed and White-bibbed Manakins. If we are fortunate, we might even find a Chestnut-crowed Gnateater skulking in the undergrowth. If we missed Apical Flycatcher and Multicolored Tanager earlier in the trip we stand a good chance of picking up both today. In the late afternoon we will make our way to our hotel in nearby Cali.
We will start our time in the Choco, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, with a visit to a privately owned farm (finca) west of Cali. Finca Alejandria is renowned as being one of the best places to view the local Blue-headed Sapphire where one or two individuals come regularly to the hummingbird feeders. We will lunch near the town of El Queremal at the locally run “El Descanso”. The feeder setups at both these sites will give us a brilliant taste of the avifauna of the Choco with over a dozen tanager species likely including Multicolored, Golden-naped and Saffron-crowned. Today we will be focussing on mainly the higher elevations above and near to El Queremal which will give us a chance to pick up many species that we won’t likely encounter lower such as Nariño Tapaculo, White-throated Quail-dove, Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia and if we’re particularly lucky, Scaled Fruiteater and White-chested Swift. We will finish the day at our hotel in El Queremal, our base for the remainder of the tour.
Today we will spend the full day birding one of the newest gold mines of Colombian birding. The Anchicaya Valley has long been known to hold a mouth-watering bird list but only in the past few years have birding groups been able to access the area that is serviced by the old road to Buenaventura. We will be departing around 4:00am to get to the lower reaches of the road for dawn. The lush rainforests here hold a plethora of sought-after species such as Baudo Guan, Purple Quail-dove, Rose-faced Parrot, Tooth-billed Hummingbird, Blue-tailed Trogon, Lita Woodpecker, Rufous-crowned Antpitta, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Sapayoa, White-headed Wren and Moss-backed and Golden-chested Tanagers, not to mention the near-mythical Banded Ground-cuckoo! To find even a few of these on one visit will be an accomplishment but this gives an idea of the fantastic selection on offer! More likely targets include mixed flock species like Toucan and Spot-crowned Barbets, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Blue-whiskered, Grey-and-gold and Lemon-spectacled Tanagers and Tricolored Brushfinch. Choco Toucans can be heard calling regularly as, occasionally, can the wolf-whistle of Barred Puffbirds. Meanwhile Olive Finch, Tatama (aka Alto de Pisones) Tapaculo and Esmeraldas and the rarer Stub-tailed Antbirds skulk in the dank undergrowth.
Our final day will see us birding the parts of the road nearer to El Queremal to look for species that we missed on the previous day and half. We will be focussing on mixed flocks, of which there is likely to be many. We will again have lunch at El Descanso after which we will pack up and make our return to Cali, with some birding en route. The tour will finish with an evening flight back to Bogota where we will spend our last night.