Thursday, May 20, 2010

Birding in Colombia!

Colombia is the country that holds the longest bird list in the world, due to its megadiversity of habitats and its location in the tropics near the equator. I finally accepted the invitation offered long time ago by Rafael Cortés and his son, Luis Francisco (you don't remember them?... the guys of the Banded Ground-Cuckoo!!), to join them in a birding trip last weekend to one of the premium birding sites in Colombia: Cerro Montezuma in Tatamá National Park. One of the rainiest areas of the world, the site is within the Risaralda department, which is next to El Choco and, of course, it holds many of those Choco endemics that we all dreamed about... so the list of targets was long, and my expectatives were high. After an eight-hours drive through great andean landscapes with just some short stops along the way (that highway was too much for this used-to-flat-terrain panamanian!) we arrived to Pereira to rest around midnight. Four hours later we were ready and heading to Pueblo Rico (Risaralda), stopping first to pick up two great birders that were going with us: Jaime Suárez and Sergio Ocampo. I was delighted with the landscapes along the route, specially when we finally spotted the majestic Cerro Tatamá in the distance. By then, I already saw my very first life bird of the trip: a Highland Motmot decidedly more uniform green but not as bigger than its lowlands cousins as I was expecting. In Pueblo Rico we were received by our host for the next two nights. Leopoldina (Pola) runs the Finca Montezuma, a nicely arranged place to accomodate birders and visitors of the park, close to the Vereda Montebello by the park limits. After having a "tinto" (black coffee) or an "agua aromática" (tea) we started to load a powerful jeep with our things. I added more birds to my growing list at the main plaza in Pueblo Rico, including Cattle Tyrant, Yellow-bellied Siskin and other lifer, my first Golden-faced Tyrannulet of the day. The bumpy one-hour drive from Pueblo Rico to Finca Montezuma produced, among others, a female Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. After picking up our rooms, we were ready to take advantage of the morning by walking the main road to the Cerro Montezuma, entering the National Park. Birds were everywhere and the weather was great for soaring raptors, including Barred and Roadside Hawks, Swallow-tailed Kites and both White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swifts. A Golden-crowned Flycatcher was hunting close to the town, catching a butterfly in front of us. There is a common bird... back in Panama you need to join an expedition to Alturas de Nique (Pirre, in Darien) to watch it. A Bar-crested Antshrike started to call and we finally saw an attractive female of this Near-Endemic species to Colombia. We quickly found a huge mixed flock by the road, attended by Emerald, Golden, Blue-necked, Golden-hooded, Rufous-throated, Scrub, Blue-gray and Palm Tanagers, Black-winged Saltator, White-winged Becard, Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Yellow-throated and Tricolored Brush-Finches, Black-billed and Pale-eyed Thrushes, a beautiful Ornate Flycatcher and a pair of Red-faced Spinetails carrying nesting material. From there, we found a more or less regular activity in the form of mixed flocks. Farther in the road we found other flock, this time with a pair of Red-headed Barbets, more Rufous-throated Tanagers, a male Masked Trogon singing, Tropical Parula, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant and Streaked Xenops. And farther ahead, other mixed flock kept us busy with Dusky-faced Tanagers, Dusky Bush-Tanagers with its bright yellow eyes and a shiny male Purple-bibbed Whitetip that perfomed a wonderful show to us. We saw its deep purple bib and even the white dot in the upper side of the tail that give the bird its name. Sergio and myself were the first to reach the bridge over the first river, where he immediately recognized the calls of a Crested Ant-Tanager, an ENDEMIC bird to Colombia! Rapidly we started searching for it, finding the cardinal-like bird after a few seconds... really handsome. My poor pic of the bird is for recording purposes only... after all it is an endemic don't you think? Right by the bridge, a White-tailed Hillstar was inspecting its domains and a Black Phoebe flying close to the rocks down in the river. We started to ascend while hearing Choco Tapaculo, Yellow-breasted Antpitta and Rufous-breasted Antthrush. During a break, admiring a butterfly that took residency on our guide and on Rafael, I got my life Andean Solitaire and a Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner. Then, while immerse within another mixed flock, our guide pointed out a bird, calling it a Chlorochrysa. I found the bird and when I focused my bins on it.. WOW, I was shocked: a male Multicoloured Tanager!!! What a gorgeous bird!, an ENDEMIC not expected by me at all. It just stayed for ten seconds, enough to see it very well and to have an adrenaline rush! A little after that, personnel of the finca brought us our lunch, which tasted like heaven after all those fascinating birds. We were approximately at 1500 meters above sea level, still low for most of the specialties we were looking for. In any case we planned to get all those the next day. Until then, we started to descend to the finca, finding Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Plumbeous Pigeon, Chestnut-headed Oropendola and Black-chested Jays among others birds previously recorded. Back in Finca Montezuma we took a deserved bath and Pola prepared us a gourmet dinner, accompanied with agua de panela + hierba buena + limoncillo... an exquisite kind of infusion or tea. With the darkness appeared a great variety of moths attracted by the dinning room light while we were making the day list and while discussing the plans for the next day. The list ended up with 101 species for the day, and I ended with 26 lifers, plus tons of life moths, including the wicked "Darth Vader" Moth (ta ta ta TA-tata TA-tata). Nothing bad for the first day don't you think?


  1. Great Columbian list, but what about the Panama 600?

  2. Jan Axel... estuviste en uno de los mejores pajariaderos de Colombia!... felicitaciones por todos esos lifers!!!

  3. Te imaginas Diego?, primer trip a Colombia y a tremendo lugar... muero por regresar!