Thursday 7 July 2016

Colombia - Day 11 (January 27, 2015): Canon del Rio Combeima, drive to SFF Otún Quimbaya

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


Another early morning (aren't they all?) and we were at our destination; a gravel road that descended into the forested slopes above Ibagué. There were several species found here that we were hoping to cross paths with. Our main target was the difficult Tolima Dove, but this was also a great locale for Yellow-headed Brush-Finch while Tolima Blossomcrown and Indigo-capped Hummingbird have also been sighted here in the past. All of the above four species are Colombian endemics.

Collared Inca at dawn - Cañón del Río Combeima, Tolima Province, Colombia

We were on site before dawn and quickly began the ascent up from the river towards the best birding areas further up the road. It did not take long before the steady incline caused the blood to pump quickly through my veins, shaking off any cobwebs from another night containing only 6 or so hours of sleep.

We quickly added both White-naped and our target Yellow-headed Brushfinch, while the surrounding forest came alive with the dawn chorus. An Andean Motmot on the road up ahead was our first of many for the trip. We focused on finding Tolima Doves, a difficult species that can sometimes be found on this particular road at dawn. At one point Dave saw a flyby Leptotila dove that may have been our target, but that was as close as we would get to our target species all day.

 Cañón del Río Combeima, Tolima Province, Colombia

It was another excellent morning of birding, filled with one lifer after another. In no particular order, some of the new species we encountered included Long-tailed Sylph, Green-fronted Lancebill, Sooty-headed and Whiskered Wrens, Smoke-colored Pewee, Pale-edged Flycatcher, and a number of new tanagers including stunners with enticing names such as Beryl-spangled, Saffron-crowned, Metallic-green, and Golden Tanager. An Indigo-capped Hummingbird was a nice find; it would end up being the only individual we would see on the trip. Occasionally we stopped to scan the distant river below us, and at one point were rewarded with a pair of Torrent Ducks, a species that somehow manages to survive in fast flowing rivers in South America. It was interesting to watch one disappear under the water's surface at a particular turbulent stretch of river, than pop up a few dozen meters away as if it was not a big deal.

Blue-necked Tanager - Cañón del Río Combeima, Tolima Province, Colombia

As a mid-morning snack we bought a bunch of passionfruits from one of the residents living alongside the road. This particular type is called the Sweet Granadilla, and is native to the Andes. It was my first time trying this delectable fruit that somewhat resembles frog eggs surrounded by an orange peel.

After trying my first, I determined that passionfruit was the perfect fruit. It is incredibly easy to eat (just crack 'er open and slurp up the contents), it is protected by a somewhat hard shell which protects the delicious insides, it leaves no sticky mess on your fingers, and it is the perfect combination of sweet and tart with a little bit of texture. Also, it costs less than a dollar for a bundle of them in Colombia!


Spinetails can be tricky bastards to photograph as they often skulk along vines and within the densest of shrubbery. This is a Pale-breasted Spinetail, one of two individuals we observed around their large stick nest. Pale-breasted Spinetails are one of the more widespread of the South American spinetails.

Pale-breasted Spinetail - Cañón del Río Combeima, Tolima Province, Colombia

This photo is not one point Dan and Dave were both photographing birds in the canopy above us.

David Bell (left) and Daniel Riley - Cañón del Río Combeima, Tolima Province, Colombia

Shortly after our passionfruit diversion, we were walking along when a lanky-looking hummingbird shot by us and began feeding at a nearby tree. It was a Booted Racket-tail! While fairly widespread in the Andes, Booted Racket-tails are famous due to the incredibly long outer tail feathers which consist of only the feather shafts, with an oval tuft at the very end so that the tail appears to have two rackets. These distinctive tail feathers are used in flight-displays to attract females. Unfortunately my photos are not much more than "record shots" but you can sort of see the rackets.

Booted Racket-tail - Cañón del Río Combeima, Tolima Province, Colombia

The guys scanning for birds across the valley:

birding at Cañón del Río Combeima, Tolima Province, Colombia

After several hours of walking and birding we decided to retrace our steps and slowly return back down the road, hoping to find a Tolima Dove (we did not) or any other new species along our return walk to the vehicle.

Swifts had begun flying by this time and we were happy to spot our first White-tipped Swifts along the numerous White-collared Swifts.

White-tipped Swift - Cañón del Río Combeima, Tolima Province, Colombia

I was surprised to see a small hummingbird stop briefly at a bunch of flowers hanging from a nearby tree, a hummingbird that was one of our main targets of the area: Tolima Blossomcrown!! I quickly got the other guys on it and we enjoyed watching it for a few seconds as it flitted among the flowers before continuing on its route. Once considered a single species, the Blossomcrown is a hummingbird endemic to Colombia. It was recently split into two species: the Santa Marta Blossomcrown native to the Santa Marta mountains of northern Colombia (we had found this species earlier), and the Tolima Blossomcrown, found in a small area of the east slope of the central Andes. We weren't really expecting to find it here as it is not too frequently reported so this was a big surprise for us, and made up for missing the Tolima Dove.

With our spirits high, we completed our hike back down towards the river and our waiting ride; William was fast asleep in his vehicle. I can't blame him, we were pushing him pretty hard with lots of driving and early mornings.

We spent an hour or so exploring the banks of the river, coming across a few new species including the distinctive Torrent Tyrannulet, a well-named specialist of fast-flowing rivers.

Río Combeima, Tolima Province, Colombia

Torrent Tyrannulet - Cañón del Río Combeima, Tolima Province, Colombia

Torrent Tyrannulet - Cañón del Río Combeima, Tolima Province, Colombia

Torrent Tyrannulet - Cañón del Río Combeima, Tolima Province, Colombia

By 11:00 AM we hit the road to make the long drive towards our next destination: Sanctuario de Fauna y Flora Otún Quimbaya. Here, a multitude of new species awaited us including Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Cauca Guan, Chestnut Wood-Quail and Multicolored Tanager. 

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