Tuesday, 3 February 2015

(Almost) home from Colombia

After a whirlwind 17 days my time in Colombia is over. I'm currently sitting in an airport in Houston, TX with a few hours to spare so I thought I would provide a brief update from my phone.

My last update covered the week that Dan Riley, Steve Pike, Dan Wylie and I enjoyed in the north of Colombia, such as the Guajira Peninsula and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. 

On January 24 the four of us flew to Bogota to begin the next section of the trip, through the Andes. David Bell arrived late that night and Adam Timpf met us the following morning as we birded elfin forest in the mountains of Chingaza, just an hour outside of Bogota. Despite being so close to the city, Chingaza felt like a whole other world! We managed to cross paths with the endemic Brown-breasted Parakeet and Pale-bellied Tapaculo as well as our first few mixed flocks, many which were dominated by strikingly beautiful Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers.

Dan Wylie left for the airport the next morning, while Dan Riley, David Bell, Steve Pike and I began our nine day loop of all three Cordilleras of the Andes in Colombia. Adam also met up with us on numerous occasions as well throughout the trip - a pretty good group!

From left to right: Josh, Daniel, David, Adam (behind), Steve (front)

The Andes were absolutely stunning and the birding can be some of the best in the world. The loop we had planned was quite ambitious, and at times it meant much more time spent in the vehicle than out birding. That being said, because we covered so much ground we were able to find quite a few species found in the different cordilleras and valleys. Perhaps one of the biggest highlights for me was birding the famous Montezuma Road in the rainy west slope of the west Andes, where we stayed for two nights. The lodge is only accessible with a 4x4 with high clearance. Our driver's 4x4 was sufficient to get us to the lodge, though we had to hire a local driver from the town of Pueblo Rico to bring us to the top of the mountain. From which we made the 17 km trek back to the lodge, covering a wide range of elevations and habitats. We had one full day at Montezuma and an additional morning. In that time we found 8 Colombian endemics as well as 21 near endemic species. Some of the highlights included great looks at both Andean and Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owls, the Endangered Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer, the Critically Endangered Munchique Wood-wren, spectacular looks at both endemic Bangsia tanagers (Gold-ringed and Black-and-gold), three species of fruiteaters, and 17 species of hummingbirds including the spectacular Violet-tailed Sylph, Velvet-purple Coronet and Booted Racquet-Tail. We finally tracked down the endemic Parker's Antbird with minutes to spare on our last morning, and were then delayed for four hours as we were leaving since a large truck carrying a load of bricks had gotten stuck and broke its drive shaft on the narrow mountain road leading to the lodge. At least the delay gave us a bonus Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle! Unfortunately the delay also meant that we would miss the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek in Jardin that evening, which was a bit of a disappointment. I guess you could say that we were cock-blocked!

Montezuma Road

Rio Blanco in the central Andes was also a huge highlight near the end of the trip as it may be the best place in the world to see antpittas, a secretive group of birds which are sometimes heard but almost never seen. The guides at the lodges had "trained" up to 5 species to come in to take worms twice a day. We were treated to awesome views of Chestnut-crowned, Slaty-crowned, Bicolored and the endemic Brown-banded Antpittas, while also hearing Chestnut-naped (though it remained out of sight). Just spectacular! Here are a couple of iphone shots I took of the back of my camera...

Slaty-crowned Antipitta

Brown-banded Antpitta

Chestnut-crowned Antpitta

Bicolored Antpitta

We spent one night in Jardin, famous for the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek and as a reliable spot to see the Endangered and endemic Yellow-eared Parrot of which an estimated 212 mature individuals are left in the wild. Fortunately their numbers have been increasing through conservation efforts. This was our view at dawn. We ended up seeing 16 of them fly over, including two at very close range!

dawn near Jardin

One other highlight occurred yesterday as the five of us (Dave, Dan, Adam, Steve and I) visited the high elevation paramo in Parque Nacional Natural de Los Nevados in the central Andes. It was 3 degrees Celcius when we arrived and the temperature did not improve much throughout the morning! I was excited to see my first active volcano. At times up to four volcanoes can be seen from one location if the conditions are clear. 

Los Nevados

Los Nevados

Several bird species have evolved to survive in these relatively harsh conditions including the Buffy Helmetcrest, a hummingbird that is a Colombian endemic and that was high on our "most wanted" lists prior to the trip. Luckily we were entertained by several of them as they fed on tiny yellow flowers during the early morning hours. What a stunning bird!

Buffy Helmetcrest

This post is getting a little long so I'll leave it at that for now. Eventually I will be posting day-by-day recaps, though that may wait a little as I have another trip to plan for. I'm still waiting on one more checklist that Dave is going to share with me but I suspect the final species tally will be around 586 species, including 48 Colombian endemics (out of around 87). 


  1. What a fabulous trip! So many great birds, landscapes and memories. I look forward to reading more detailed accounts.

    1. Definitely - a trip I won't soon forget....finally started the photo editing process and I'll start making daily posts within the next week.

  2. Hey Josh: Thanks for sharing your photos and highlights. Looks like you enjoyed a combination of birds, stunning scenery, and the little adventures that make travel a journey rather than a destination. Lisa (David's Mom)

  3. Fun reading & pics! It’s so nice seeing the different kinds of vegetation in the Colombian habitats. Is the first photo of the other-worldly “elfin forest”? Those yellowish plants over the stone wall are neat...were they just growing there naturally?

    I made it to Bogota a long time ago, but my eyes didn’t see the way you guys do. Lucky for me I’m being retrained thanks to the best Nature photographers in the world. :) Cindy (Steve’s Mom)