Brooklyn Bird Club
Long Pond Greenbelt
|Location: Colombia, 2013
Reported by: Joe Giunta
Our group consisted of Joe, Kathy, Edith, Alison, Mary and Sam. It was the first time that Happy Warblers LLC had sponsored a trip to Colombia. The trip was highly successful with a total of 266 species of birds being seen by most members of the group. At the end of the trip it was wished that we could have stayed longer and just enjoyed the wildlife, venues, food, and friendships that were made on the trip.
Feb. 5: Our American Airways flight, out of JFK Airport, took off right on schedule. We changed planes in Miami and arrived in Cali, Colombia, right on time. We were met at the airport by Daniel Uribe, our guide and Olegario, our driver. Both Daniel and Olegario would stay with us for the next 9 days. They drove us to Buga, a suburb of Cali and we would overnight at a colonial hotel.
Feb. 6: After an early breakfast we headed towards the El Vinculo Nature Reserve, just 10 minutes out of town. This was tropical dry forest and the only time we would experience this habitat. The first birds seen were Snail Kite, Buff-necked Ibis and Bare-faced Ibis and these were seen even before we reached the reserve. In the reserve we walked on a trail through a wooded area seeing Jet Antbird, Gray Piculet and Apical Flycatcher. The Apical Flycatcher is endemic to Colombia. The trail went up hill slightly and when we reached the top we had a nice view of the entire area. We also saw a number of tanagers: Guira, Scrub and Crimson-backed. One very tough bird to see was the Bar-crested Antshrike. We heard it many times but the viewing left something to be desired. North American migrants were represented by Black-and-white Warbler and American Redstart. We left this area and headed towards the Buga Marshes. The main marshes were very dry but a good number of perimeter ponds held good birds for us to see. These birds included: Limpkin, Kingfishers (Ringed, Amazon, Green) and numerous Vermilion Flycatchers. The Vermilion Flycatcher became a very common bird for us to the point where some would say “it’s just another Vermilion Flycatcher.” We also saw some of the desired ducks like Cinnamon Teal and Black-bellied Whistling Duck. After birding this area we headed north towards Pereira and Otun-Quimbaya Wildlife Sanctuary. This was about a three hour ride.
Feb. 7: We stayed on the grounds of the Otun-Quimbaya reserve. The preserve is about 1000 acres and was created in 1996 as a forest hydric reserve for the nearby towns. They had a nice lodge building with many rooms and a spacious cafeteria. A river ran through the property adding to diversity. Birding began at sunrise on the grounds of the reserve. We would see many tanager species right outside the lodge building. The tanagers included: Blue-necked, Black-capped, Fawn-breasted plus many common ones like Palm and Blue-gray. After breakfast we walked the main trail hearing and seeing Red-ruffed Fruitcrow. This was a highly desirable species to get as it is only found in a few locations in all of Colombia. Other special birds seen were: Emerald Toucanet, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Ashy-headed Tyrannulet and Azara’s Spintail. North American migrants were well represented with the following warblers well seen: Blackburnian, Black-and-white, Canada, Tennessee and Mourning. The number of Blackburnians was very impressive with a total of 32 seen during the entire Colombia birding trip. It was the most common song bird seen. After lunch we birded a different section of trails seeing different birds like Green Jay, Black Phoebe, Ringed Kingfisher and Golden-olive Woodpecker. These trails brought us close to the river. We had dinner at the lodge and went out owling. No owls this night.
Feb. 8: We were up early again birding the grounds near the lodge. In the morning we would take yet another set of trails on the property. This set was not so much forest but more open. We saw different birds. Our group recorded Bar-crested Antshrike, and Golden-faced Tyrannulet. All the while when we were on any trail we would hear in the background the calling of the Red-ruffed Fruitcrow. Also heard and seen was the Wattled Guan, a near-threatened species. For our entire time at Otun-Quimbaya the weather was at best damp with periods of rain and periods of sun. Our guide Daniel said that the weather has become somewhat unpredictable as rain was occurring during the dry season and dry conditions happening when it was the wet season.
We had lunch at Otun-Quimbaya and left for the city of Manizales, the Cameguadua Marsh and Rio Blanco. We made a few stops just outside of Otun-Quimbaya seeing the river from a different view. We picked up Torrent Tyrannulet and White-capped Dipper. We drove to Cameguadua Marsh in the city of Chinchina. I loved this place! We saw 63 different species in less than 2 hours. The reserve was set aside to preserve the water in the area for the nearby towns. We needed special permission and advance notification to be admitted. All our papers were in order and in we went. We saw Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Least Grebe and Cinnamon Teal. That was just for starters. Daniel picked out two Common Nighthawks perched low in a very accessible tree, great view. Other land birds seen were Streaked Saltator, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Laughing Gull (rare), Pale-breasted Spinetail and Mouse-colored Tyannulet, just to name a few. Of all the birds seen my favorite was the Blackish Rail, great scope view. We added to our list 5 species of heron, 4 ducks, 4 shorebirds and 8 flycatchers. Everywhere you looked you saw birds. We finally left this place, traveled through the city of Manizales, and arrived at our destination Rio Blanco. Dinner was at Rio Blanco.
Feb. 9: Rio Blanco was the most basic lodge we stayed at. Our group, small as it was, had to be roomed in two separate buildings. One more person and we probably would have had to have dinner in shifts. We were high up, 7000 feet, on the west side of the Central Andes. Sleeping was best done with long johns on. Rio Blanco was also created, like the reserves we visited, to preserve the water for the surrounding towns and communities. The reserve has been touted as one of the three top places to go birding in the world! It was my second time here and I knew that we would see great birds.
Our day started out with birding the large number of feeders, especially hummingbird feeders, around the main building. We saw Tourmaline Sunangel, Long –tailed Sylph, Collared Inca and Buff-tailed Coronet among the many hummingbirds present. After breakfast we walked up the trail to the “Antpitta Feeding Stations.” After many years, four (sometimes five) different species of antpittas had become used to going to a feeding station for a morning fix of earthworms. The person responsible for this was Albeiro. He managers the reserve and I believe personally knows these antpittas. He would whistle them in and then feed them earthworms. As birdwatchers we took this all in and had the best views as the antpittas were just feet away. We saw the following antpittas: Chestnut-crowned, Chestnut-naped, Brown-banded and Slate-crowned. After the feeding session we walked the trails looking for other species. Rio Blanco is also known for having a good number of Tapaculos. We were able to hear and see Ocellated Tapaculo and Spillman’s Tapaculo. These were really tough birds to see and we spent a good amount of time on each. Tanagers were well represented. We saw the following tanagers: Larimose Mountain Tanager, Grass-green (poor view), Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager and Capped Conebill. We had lunch at the lodge and went back to the trails for some more birding. Our group had good looks at Golden-headed Quetzal and Masked Trogon. We also saw two special woodpeckers. The Powerful Woodpecker was easily visible as it came very close to us. We had great looks at Crimson-mantled Woodpecker. Both of these birds are large and extremely colorful. We had dinner at the lodge and went out owling. No owls this night but we would try again tomorrow.
Feb. 10: We were up early, as usual, had breakfast and took the van towards Los Nevados National Park. The weather was cold and damp and we were headed towards an elevation of almost 14000 feet. There were birds at this venue that could be seen nowhere else. The drive was about 1.5 hours but because we made some stops along the way it took us a little longer. We drove past the tree line into the Paramo ecosystem and elfin forest. Some birds we saw along the way were Stout-billed Cinclodes and Pearled Treerunner. Our number one target bird was the Bearded Helmetcrest. At the very top of the mountain, in fog and mist, we nicely saw two males and one female Bearded Helmetcrests. Our mission complete we headed down from the cold and fog. As we drove down from the top a funny thing happened, the fog lifted and the sun came out. Better yet we ran into a feeding flock. Birds seen were Glossy Flowerpiercer, Black-crested Warbler, Golden-fronted Redstart and Blue-backed Conebill. Then, voted by some as the most beautiful bird on the trip, we saw about four Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers. They put on a great show. We had lunch along the way and headed towards Recinto del Pensam, a place well known for hummingbirds. The location was actually behind the Juan Valdez coffee headquarters. We saw 10 species of hummers including Bronzy Inca and Long-tailed Sylph. We went back to our lodge, had dinner and prepared for some nighttime birding.
We drove down to the town of Manizales and parked where the river enters the town. We waited until dark. At just the right time a Lyre-tailed Nightjar left its daytime roost and started to hunt for insects. We put the flashlight on the bird for a better view. It was a female with a short tail. We could not find the male with a long tail. We tried some owl calls but nothing happened. Our group headed back to the lodge and as we entered the lodge’s grounds we heard the calling of a Rufous-banded Owl. We know which tree the bird was in but couldn’t find it. After trying for 20 minutes we gave up on seeing the bird. When we left the bird was still calling.
Feb.11: Up at the usual time we again birded the trails of Rio Blanco. We were missing some species that can only be found at this location and we wanted to include them as part of our trip. We again made a stop at the antpitta feeding stations seeing nothing new. This day we saw great birds that we missed on our previous walk. First was the Plush-capped Finch. This bird is very beautiful and highly sought out by birders. Next we saw the White-capped Tanager. A flock of about 6 of them put on a great show real close to us. Next was my favorite bird of the entire trip. We were headed down the mountain when we heard something different. We ran over to see, and right in front of us was a beautiful Black-billed Mountain-Toucan. I had seen this bird on last year’s scouting trip and it was number one for me to get on this trip. And there it was, right in front of us, a fabulous view. We left Rio Blanco and headed to our last birding venue near the village of Jardin. We arrived at Jardin when it was dark. Dinner was in a local restaurant. Our hotel was very charming and located close to the center square of the village. Jardin was the prettiest town we stayed in and at some time in the future I would just like to walk its streets and visit its shops.
Feb. 12: We had two goals for the day: see the Yellow-eared Parrot and see the lek of the Andean Cock-of-the-rock. The weather in the morning was again a problem. Fog and rain surrounded us and we were headed to the mountain top where the conditions were even worse. We had to hire a special 4-wheel-drive vehicle to get us to the top of the mountain. I will say that the road was quite bumpy but our vehicle and driver were ready for the task. We were up very early because we wanted to be at the mountain top at dawn. We brought breakfast with us and had it while waiting for the parrots to appear. We did not get wet as there was a building at the top with an overhanging roof that we were able to take advantage of. Visibility was still poor.
The Yellow-eared Parrot is endangered. In 1999 there were only 81 individuals recorded in Colombia and none in Ecuador. Through the efforts of Fundacion Por Aves the population has expanded to about 1500, all in Colombia. We waited for the parrots and waited for the parrots. Nothing. While waiting we saw other birds. Through the mist and rain we saw Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager and Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager. Then in an instant two parrots flew over. No great view but that was our sighting of the parrots. On our way down the mountain we saw more birds. Plush-capped Finch and Mountain Elaenia were recorded. Getting closer to the village of Jardin the weather started to improve. In one particular tree we saw Russet-backed Oropendolas defending their nest from Giant Cowbirds. Unfortunately I think that the cowbirds won. Close by was an excellent view of an Emerald Toucanet. Colombia is known for coffee and we made a stop at a person’s house to have some Colombian coffee. It was excellent.
We got ready for our last birding venue. Within the village of Jardin there was a lek of the Andean Cock-of-rock. All we had to do was walk down three blocks to a private area where these birds would assemble and the males would perform a “song and dance” to impress a female. We went down the hill and first heard the birds and then had excellent looks. There were at least 10 males performing. The walk down and back up was a little tough but well worth the effort. We went back to our van and drove to Medellin. We had dinner near our hotel and got ready to return to NYC.
Feb. 13: Olegario picked us up at 6 am, took us to the airport and we were on our way back. Colombia is encouraging tourism. If you stay less than 60 days there is no exit tax. This was a nice way to end an extraordinary trip.
Little Blue Heron
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Species seen - 266