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Trip Report – December 2015

Green-bearded Helmetcrest

DAY 1: This was our first taste of Colombia birding (and Colombia traffic!) and we headed to Sumpaz National Park at 12,000 ft. It was extremely cold and although the birds were not numerous they were great and lifers included Green-bearded Helmetcrest, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Chestnut-winged Cincloides, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Apolinar’s Wren and a number of tanagers. Then it was across town (big mistake!) to Chicaque where we enjoyed a good lunch before walking the trails. This provided our first mixed flock of the trip and good views of Moustached Brushfinch, Supercilliated Hemispingus, Sharpes Wren, Black-capped Tyrannulet, Pale-bellied Tapaculo and more. Night in Bogota at Santa Fe Real.

Ruby-topaz Hummingbird

DAY 2: Started at La Florida (early before the crowds) Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Spot-flanked Gallinule, Bogota Rail and a surprising Sungrebe. Then a drive out to San Francisco and a wonderful visit to hummingbird heaven – The Enchanted Garden. Hundreds of hummers at dozens of feeders provided over a dozen species including the fabulous Ruby Topaz and Indigo Capped Hummingbird. What a treat!

A stop beside the road gave us Black Inca, Streaked Tuftedcheek, and Three-striped and Russet Crowned Warblers before continuing to El Tabacal lagoon – it was rather hot by this time so the activity was slowing but still had some good birds – Yellow-backed Oriole, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Colombian Wren and Rufous-browed Conebill were the highlights. Then a ridiculously long drive to Ibague. Night at the Estellar.

Golden-naped Tanager

DAY 3: The morning started at Combeima Canyon where our main targets were Colima Dove, Yellow-headed Brushfinch and Blossomcrown. We were not successful with the dove but the brushfinch showed up immediately and patience paid off with a brief glimpse of the Blossomcrown. It was a nice spot and produced a number of other species aswell – including 10 species of tanagers (the highlights of which were the Golden-naped, Blue-necked, Saffron-crowned and Swallow) along with Andean Motmot, Emerald Toucanet and 8 species of flycatcher. A stop at the botanical gardens on the way back to the hotel for lunch was not overly productive as the heat was quite intense so we decided to have lunch and then drive up to La Victoria.

A timely stop on the side of the road to La Victoria just before dusk produced an hours great birding – including Orange-chinned and Scarlet-fronted Parakeets, Yellow-crowned and Blue-crowned Parrot, Spectacled Parrotlets, Bare-faced Ibis, and many more – it was a lovely hour before we hit the truly hideous accommodation for the night – the Hotel Plaza Victoria – try to find a different option if you can!

Sooty Ant-tanager

DAY 4: We were very excited to leave the hotel and only had to drive 10 minutes to some great birding at Bella Vista Reserve. A fruiting tree gave as numerous species including our target the White-mantled Barbet and a walk in the forest provided lifers – Sooty Headed Wren and Sooty Ant-tanager, Beautiful Woodpecker, Pale-bellied Hermit, Antioquia Bristle-tyrant. We left late morning and drove on towards Rio Claro – a top on the road giving us Carib Grackle and Red-breasted Blackbird. We were extremely relieved to find tonight’s accommodation at Los Claros which was very nice which some great birding in the gardens– including Cattle Tyrant which was new for us.

DAY 5: We birded a private reserve next door to Los Claros first thing in the morning but it was quite quiet – only new bird was Colombian Chachalaca so we decide to head for the Oilbird Cave. What a great experience. The hike in offered some good birding (including amazing views of Barred Puffbird) and the cave itself was magical – despite the heat and the humidity it was well worth the effort and gave us a great day’s birding. Night at Los Claros.

Magdalena Antbird

DAY 6: Spent the morning in Rio Claro Reserve – which was very nice and quite productive. We were very focused on our target list and started with Magdelana Antbird before breakfast! It was already getting quite hot but we found a trail where we enjoyed several mixed flocks and added to our list of targets with Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner plus 2 life birds – Cinerous Becard and Russet-winged Schiffornis. Then moved on to drive across to Medellin. Great beer spot at Bogota Beer Company and night at the Cyan Suites.

DAY 7: Up to La Romera reserve with 3 very specific targets – Red Bellied Grackle, Stiles Tapaculo and Yellow-headed Manakin. We were prepared for a bit of a slog and our guide told us to be prepared because this was the only place to get them – but to our amazement with got all 3 in 7 minutes!!! Unbelievable – there was much celebration. That enabled us to set off for the next spot earlier than expected and we were on a roll because we got all of our next group of targets at a couple of stops along the way – Grayish Piculet, Antioquia Wren and Apical Flycatcher. Night in Jardin at the Valdivia Plaza.

Yellow-eared Parrot

DAY 8: A bumpy drive up to the Yellow-eared Parrot Reserve where we spent a very productive morning walking the road at various stops. It was a great day – starting with lifers, Yellow-eared Parrot, Golden-fronted Whitestart and Yellow-bellied Chat-tyrant – included Rufous Antpitta and Spillman’s Tapaculo and ending with the most impressive mixed flock we have ever seen –Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Flammulated Treehunter, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, Barred Fruiteater, Rufous Wren, White-capped Tanager, Oleaginous Hemispingus, Tanager Finch and a dozen more! Right beside the road – right in the open. Wow! After a lunch stop we headed to the Cock-of the rock lek which was impressive by both the number of birds and the fact that they were at eye level and very close. Another night at Valdivia Plaza.

DAY 9: Thought we would try one more time on the road to the Yellow-eared Parrot reserve but after yesterday it seemed rather quiet so we left our guide (Jose Castana) and drove on to Manizales– picking up our 2nd guide (also called Jose!) en route. Night at the Hotel El Recinto del Pensamiento.

Golden-breasted Puffleg

DAY 10: Up to 13,000’ today for the high paramo specialties. I find these heights rather challenging so I was hoping to enjoy quick success but that was not to be. Despite much searching the Rufous-fronted Parakeet was not to be found but we did get Buffy Helmetcrest, Rainbow-bearded Thorntail, Many-striped Canestero, Golden Plumed Parakeet, a surprising Crowned Chat-Tyrant and Black-backed Bush Tanager. Then a stop at the Hotel Termales Del Ruiz for lunch gave us time to enjoy their hummingbird feeders which added Mountain Avocetbill, Black-thighed Puffleg, Golden-breasted Puffleg, Buff-winged Starfrontlet and the always enjoyable Swordbilled Hummingbird. Night at the Hotel El Recinto del Pensamiento.

Slate-crowned Antpitta

DAY 11: Drove a short distance to Rio Blanco Reserve where we had breakfast before going for the birds that were being fed by the lodge managers. Started with Chestnut Woodquail before heading on for Brown-banded, Chestnut-crowned and Slate-crowned Antpittas. After lunch we worked very hard for a brief glimpse of an Ocellated Tapaculo and finished with Masked Saltator. Managed White-throated Screech-owl before dinner. In between we added more life birds –Buff-tailed Coronet, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Streak-headed Antbird, Ash-colored Tapaculo and Streak-necked Flycatcher. Night at Rio Blanco Reserve.

DAY 12: Thought we would try for the Bi-colored Antpitta that had eluded us yesterday. Patience paid off and after nearly 2 hours it turned up! After a little more birding we headed off to Otun-Quimbaya stopping for Torrent Duck on the way. Another long, slow drive with crap accommodation at the end!

Golden-bellied Warbler

DAY 13: Started very early and lucked out in a few minutes with Colombian Screech-owl. Then we started a wild-goose chase for the Hooded Antpitta – which we didn’t find! But did get a couple of new birds for the trip – Cauca Guan, Ashy-throated Chlorospingus, White-throated Quail-dove, Tawny-bellied Hermit, Red- headed Barbet, Black-banded Woodcreeper and Red-faced Spinetail. Then drove on to Tatama National Park and possibly the worst accommodation we have ever stayed in at Montezuma Lodge.

DAY 14-16: These days were all spent up at Tatama National Park. We walked many miles on the roads and, while the birding was good, it was hard work (definitely not dripping off the trees) and the terrible accommodation made it less than enjoyable. Over the 3 days we saw 100 species with 26 life birds – including Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia, Dusky & Yellow-throated Chlorospingus, Gold-ringed & Black-and-gold tanager, Golden-bellied Warbler, Blackish Rail and more. But we were happy to leave on the third day and very relieved when we arrive at our hotel in Buga – The Hotel Guadalajara.

Dwarf Cuckoo

DAY 17: An opportunity to enjoy breakfast by the pool before driving to Sonsa Lagoon. Sadly to say there has been a stunning amount of habitat destruction around the Lagoon so I am not sure how much longer this will be a hot spot but it still managed to deliver our targets. Little & Dwarf Cuckoos, Pied Water Tyrant and Yellow Oriole.

There is a beautiful Basilica in the town of Buga which is worth a visit. We popped in and then we were supposed to drive on to San Cipriano but the road was closed until the morning so we stopped at a nice spot on Calima Lake for the night –and thank goodness we did because when we saw the hotel we were supposed to stay at in San Cipriano and it would have been a serious challenge!!

Blue-whiskered Tanager

DAY 18: Drove to San Cipriano and enjoyed the ride into the village on a strange little railroad. But that was where the fun stopped. The village can only be described as a dump and, once again, the birds failed to ‘drip off the trees’ as we had been promised. Our life birds were Baudo Guan, Dusky Pigeon, Stub-tailed Antbird, Five-colored Barbet and Blue-whiskered Tanager. Admittedly we didn’t see them anywhere else on the trip but not sure it would have been worth it had we had to stay there! Night at St Eulalia B&B (heaven!)

DAY 19: A relaxing breakfast on the patio and then short ride to El18. We walked the road and visited a wonderful private house with feeders. It was an easy birding day and very fruitful – 6 life birds ( Grey-rumped Swift, Blue-headed Emerald, Uniform Antshrike, Whiskered Wren, Multicolored Tanager, Grey Seedeater) and amazing views of everything. Later in the afternoon we went to find a Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper that hangs around a small reserve before enjoying a lovely dinner with the owners of the B&B. Another night at St Eulalia.

Yellow-breasted Brush-Finch

DAY 20: Up to San Antonio for two species – Rusty Flowerpiercer and Yellow-breasted Brush-Finch – it was a nice walk and quite a productive area and we were really happy to get these two species before heading off to the airport for a flight to Baranquilla. When we arrive our driver took us straight to an amazing area for Chestnut-winged Chachalaca. Night at Hotel Baranquilla Plaza.

DAY 21: A really exciting start to our Santa Marta birding with a visit to Isla Salamanca – Chestnut Piculet, Sapphrie-bellied Hummingbird, Russet-throated Puffbird, Yellow-chinned Spinetail and Straight-billed Woodcreeper were all life birds for us. But then things got even better with a visit to a private property where we saw Northern Screamer(!), Bicolored Wren, Scaly Dove, Striped Wren & White-headed Marsh Tyrant – and all of this was before 9.30 am. Wow! The heat was building so we drove up to Minca for a lazy afternoon. Night at the Sierra Sound.

Whooping Motmot

DAY 22-24: A bit of birding around Minca (Pale-eyed Pygmy Tyrant was new) and then we started working our way up to El Dorado. The next 3 days were spent up here walking the roads and the trails and watching the feeders around the lodge. As with everywhere else in Colombia, there are a good number of species but it is hard work and they are not easy to find. Our guide was very good (we had a total of about 125 species with 37 life birds) and we were on a private tour but it would be a challenge if you were with a group!

It is hard to choose species highlights – but some of the lifers were Black-backed Thornbill, Golden-winged sparrow Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner, SM Tapaculo, SM Woodstar, SM Parakeet, SM Antbird, SM Antpitta, SM Screech Owl, SM Bush-Tyrant, SM Wood-wren, SM Warbler, SM Brush-finch, Whooping Momot, Scaled Piculet, and a crazy siting of a Slaty Finch on the road. Accommodation at El Dorado lodge.

Golden-breasted Fruiteater

DAY 25: Finished up birding at El Dorado and birded on the way down stopping for Golden-breasted Fruiteater, Coopman’s Tyrannutlet, Black-backed Antshrike . Then onto a complete dump at Los Angeles beach – what our guiding company was thinking with some of the accommodation they put us in on this trip is beyond me – and with the price he charged us we really felt ripped off by now!

DAY 26: Nice morning in Tayrona Park – which has quite a nice lodge – not amazing birding but quite easy and we did get 4 life birds – White-bellied Antbird, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Rufous-breasted Hermit and Orange–capped Oriole. It was quite hot by now so we headed onto Guijira dry forest and within 10 minutes there we 6 lifers – Blue-fronted Parakeet, Gloucous Tanager, Vermillion Cardinal, Pileated Finch, Lesson’s Seedfinch and Trinidad Euphonia. Night at Hotel Arimaca, Riohaca – another dump!

White-whiskered Spinetail

DAY 27: Wonderful morning at Los Flamencos park. The local guide really knew his stuff and we saw some really wonderful birds – the highlights being Orinocan Saltator and Tocuyo Sparrow but the Whislting Heron, Pale-legged Hornero, White-whiskered Spinetail, Scarlet Ibis, Bare-eyed Pigeon, and White-bellied Antbird and 5 other lifers were incredible. Lunch on the beach and drove upto Perija for our last couple of days. Night at Perija Thistletail Lodge.

DAY 28: Very early start in order to hit the paramo by the Venezualan border by dawn. Another very bumpy road but it was very beautiful but when we got there there were no birds! We worked hard for our targets – Streak-backed Canstero , Perija Thisteltail and Perija Metaltail – and were close to giving up when we found all three in one bush! The only new bird in the afternoon was Perija Tapaculo. Night at Perija Thistletail Lodge.

Streak-backed Canastero

DAY 29: Really all we were doing was heading to the airport but we still had a few stops on the way down from Perija which finished our trip with 3 life birds – Venezualan Tyrranulet, Fulvous Tanager and Rufous-shafted Woodstar.

General Notes: Despite what the marketing says, Colombia’s infrastructure is very poor and it makes this type of travelling quite challenging – with many long drives. The roads ( and traffic) are terrible and the accommodations in the birding areas are basic at best and totally appalling at times (as you will see below, many of the hotels have no websites). While the birds are good they are not ‘dripping off the trees’ as we were told – you have to really work at it. We thought our trip was way overpriced for what was delivered.


Hotel Santa Fe Real – Bogota
Estellar – Ibague
Hotel Victoria Plaza Real – La Victoria – no website
Los Colores – Rio Claro
Cyan Suites – Medellin – cannot locate on internet
Valdivia Plaza Hotel – Jardin
Hotel El Recinto del Pensamiento – Manizales
Rio Blanco Reserve
Park accommodation- Otun-Quimbaya
Montezuma Lodge – Tatama National Park
Hotel Guadalajara – Buga
Lake Calima
Hostal Santa Eulalia – near Cali
Hotel Barranguilla Plaza – Baranquilla
Sierra Sound Hotel – Minca
El Dorado Lodge – El Dorado
Playa Los Angeles
Hotel Arimaca – Riohacha
Perija Lodge – Perija

Guides & Resources

Guides: Colombia Birdwatch was the company that put this together for us – I would not recommend as it was very over priced.

Field Guides: the best one is Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia – Miles McMullan, Thomas Donegan

The Birds of Colombia by Steven Hilty and William Brown is a little out of date.

Lonely Planet Guide for places of interest.

Bird List