Friday 1 July 2016

Colombia - Day 10 (January 26, 2015): Laguna de Pedro Palo, Payande area

January 17, 2015 - Isla de Salamanca, Minca, El Dorado lodge
January 18, 2015 - Cuchilla de San Lorenzo, El Dorado lodge
January 19, 2015 - Cuchilla de San Lorenzo, El Dorado lodge
January 20 and 21, 2015 - El Dorado lodge to Minca
January 22, 2015 - Minca, drive to La Guajira Desert
January 23, 2015 - La Guajira Desert
January 24, 2015 - PNN Tayrona, fly to Andes
January 25, 2015 - Bogotá area: PNN Chingaza, Siecha wetlands
January 26, 2015 - Laguna de Pedro Palo, Payande area
January 27, 2015 - Cañón del Río Combeima, SFF Otún Quimbaya
January 28, 2015 - SFF Otún Quimbaya, drive to Montezuma Road
January 29, 2015 - Montezuma Road
January 30, 2015 - Montezuma Road, drive to Jardín
January 31, 2015 - Jardín area, Cauca Valley
February 1, 2015 - Reserva Ecológica Río Blanco
February 2, 2015 - Páramo del Ruiz near PNN Los Nevados


Driving anywhere in the mountains of Colombia often takes a lot longer than what it would appear to from looking at a map. Even though Laguna Pedro Palo is only 40 km from where we were staying in Bogota as the toucan flies, it is at least a 2.5 hour drive on windy roads through the mountains. Dan Wylie had left for the airport during the night, while Adam Timpf also continued on his way, planning on meeting back up with us in Ibague the following night. That left Dan Riley, David Bell, Steve Pike, and myself as los cuatro amigos.

Laguna Pedro Palo is famous among visiting birders as it is a fairly reliable spot for two birds endemic to Colombia - Black Inca (a hummingbird) and Turquoise Dacnis (a honeycreeper). An abundance of other birds can be found here, including a nice mix of wetland, open country and forest edge species.

Laguna Pedro Palo, Cundinamarca Province, Colombia

We arrived shortly after sunrise and began staking out an observation tower, from which it was possible to scan the lake as well as the forest edge behind us. Mixed flocks began appearing throughout the next hour or so as the sun illuminated the trees, and we hoped that we would have luck with Turquoise Dacnis mixed in with the other species.

Blue-necked Tanager - Laguna Pedro Palo, Cundinamarca Province, Colombia

After a few brief sightings of possible Turquoise Dacnis, we were finally able to get on the real deal! While a little distant, it provided great scope looks as it perched quietly in the sun for a few minutes. We ended up seeing two separate pairs of the dacnis over the course of the hour.

Turquoise Dacnis - Laguna Pedro Palo, Cundinamarca Province, Colombia

Next up was a search for Black Inca. Flowering trees were hard to find but eventually we found a nice spot to stake out. Here we had a brief visit of a Black Inca which I was able to get on and confirm as our target species, while Dave also had a decent look at the bird. Unfortunately it left before everyone could get a definitive look and we would not have any other sightings.

not a Black Inca - Laguna Pedro Palo, Cundinamarca Province, Colombia

We enjoyed a leisurely morning along the varied habitats surrounding the lake. A variety of tanagers were seen including Fawn-breasted, Black-capped, Flame-faced, and the near-endemic Scrub Tanager among a few more widespread species.

The Flame-faced is certainly one of the more spectacular tanagers in my opinion - unfortunately my heavily cropped, backlit photos do not due it justice. Google it - you won't be disappointed! It kind of reminds me of a cross between a Western Tanager and Blackburnian Warbler.

Flame-faced Tanager - Laguna Pedro Palo, Cundinamarca Province, Colombia

Waterbirds included a flock of Bare-faced Ibis, an American Coot, and a large group of Cattle Egrets that appeared to be roosting along the edge of the lake. As the morning wore on the ibises and egrets dispersed to the surrounding fields to feed.

Cattle Egrets - Laguna Pedro Palo, Cundinamarca Province, Colombia

We continued along a road away from the lake that led through a few nice parcels of forest before opening up again in a cleared pasture area.

The birding along the forest edges was phenomenal and we enjoyed several mixed flocks containing some new species for us. Rufous-browed Peppershrike, White-winged Becard and Smoky-brown Woodpecker were all highlights. A big surprise for us was the appearance of a pair of Silvery-throated Spinetails that quietly creeped up some vines at the edge of the mixed flock. This Colombian endemic is easier to find around Bogota, and it was a species I had resigned to not having a chance at on this trip.

It was tough to keep up with the flurry of activity at times. Quite a few species were only seen by a couple members of our group before either disappearing, or being overshadowed moments after discovery by the appearance of another new species to us.

female Crowned Woodnymph - Laguna Pedro Palo, Cundinamarca Province, Colombia

Golden-faced Tyrannulet - Laguna Pedro Palo, Cundinamarca Province, Colombia

A couple of cows kept an eye on us, no doubt wondering what the heck the group of bipeds was doing.

cattle staredown - Laguna Pedro Palo, Cundinamarca Province, Colombia

cattle staredown - Laguna Pedro Palo, Cundinamarca Province, Colombia 

With close to 80 species on the morning we reluctantly pulled away from this productive area, as we had a lot of ground to cover before arriving at our next birding stop.

Finally descending out of the foothills of the eastern Andes, the road mercifully straightened out as we headed across the hot, dry Magdalena Valley. We were delayed some time due to an accident on the road ahead of us shortly after stopping for lunch, but luckily this only cost us a half hour or so.

Our destination was an area of scrubby dry forest near the town of Payandé, a spot that Dave had heard about as being somewhat reliable for a few Colombian endemics - Apical Flycatcher and Velvet-fronted Euphonia.

Driving across the Magdalena Valley

With the late afternoon sun beating down on us upon arrival, conditions were not ideal for finding birds. However with a bit of effort we were able to tease out a good variety including several of our target species.

The uncontested highlight came about as we were chasing after a pair of Pileated Finches - a different subspecies than the ones we had seen a few days earlier in La Guajira. I believe it was Dave who spotted the flycatcher and the rest of us came running. The Apical Flycatcher is a drab Myiarchus flycatcher and is not much to look at, but endemic and exciting all the same. The white edging to the tail tip is a diagnostic field mark.

Apical Flycatcher  - dry forest outside Payandé, Tolima Province, Colombia

Bird song was still present, though a bit muted compared to what it would have been like at sunrise. Pheasant Cuckoo, Barred Antshrike, White-fringed Antwren and Mouse-colored Tyrannulet were some of the species representative of this habitat type. A Gray-necked Wood-Rail quickly darted across the road, and our first Swainson's Hawks of the trip were observed soaring with the Black Vultures.

We located a very accommodating pair of Rufous-tailed Jacamars. Not only were they extremely photogenic, but it was also quite interesting to watch the male displaying to the female.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar pair - dry forest outside Payandé, Tolima Province, Colombia

Rufous-tailed Jacamar - dry forest outside Payandé, Tolima Province, Colombia

Rufous-tailed Jacamar - dry forest outside Payandé, Tolima Province, Colombia

Rufous-tailed Jacamar - dry forest outside Payandé, Tolima Province, Colombia

Despite our best efforts the Velvet-fronted Euphonias refused to reveal themselves, but we were happy to have found one out of our two main targets during the heat of the afternoon. A few fly-by Speckle-faced Parrots provided one final life bird for the day.

We headed to the City of Ibagué, where after reconnecting with Adam Timpf we crashed for the night. The following morning we would bird the forested foothills above Ibagué where we were hoping to find a few more endemics as well as a new suite of birds found in the Central Andes. 

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