Tuesday 31 March 2020

Colombia Endemic Cleanup: The Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve

Driving from the Cerulean Warbler Reserve to the Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve took a lot longer than I had anticipated. Part of that was due to driver error. I elected to take the road heading west out of San Vicente de Chucurí, a road which quickly deteriorated to the point that I was worried the rental car would not make it through. But it did (again, without any flat tires!), though almost three hours had passed before I was back on a paved road. In hindsight I should have taken the same road out that I had driven into San Vicente on - heading north out of town - since it would have saved me an hour or two in the end. Oh well - that's what I get for relying on Google Maps.

I found a roadside hotel near Puerto Araujo to spend the night - only 30,000 pesos (around $10 CAD), with an excellent and cheap restaurant next door. For thirteen dollars I had a room and a delicious meal. Ah, Colombia!

In the morning I hit the road, heading west towards Medellín. Following a few errands (groceries and lunch), I turned north to head towards Anorí, driving the last couple of hours during the hottest part of the day. It was already after 3 PM when I finally rolled up to the area near Reserva Natural de las Aves Arrierito Antioqueño - the Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve. Since I had gained some elevation, the temperatures were quite reasonable as I exited the car.

Roadside wetland near RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

I thought about entering the actual reserve but instead, chose to only explore the roadside near a wetland complex a few kilometres past the lodge (pictured above). This wetland can be a good location to search for a variety of rail species, including Blackish Rail, Russet-crowned Crake and White-throated Crake. 

It felt great to stretch my legs and look at some birds after a long day cooped up in the car. And birds, there were many. Within a few minutes I was listening to a Russet-crowned Crake and a pair of Blackish Rails (my first of this species). Scrub Tanagers and Black-winged Saltators skulked in the roadside shrubbery, various swifts coursed overhead and Pale-breasted and Azara's Spinetails called incessantly from somewhere along the wetland's shrubbery edges. My first Bran-coloured Flycatcher for Colombia posed in a close tree.

I soon spotted one of the Blackish Rails, its frequent vocalizations making it easy to locate. 

Blackish Rail - wetland near RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

Blackish Rail - wetland near RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

While I was watching the rail, a Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch perched on one of the sedges protruding from the wetland but I had scarcely trained my binoculars on it when the bird flew away from me, diving back down into the vegetation. This was another new species for me, and a long overdue one at that.

I paid attention to the swifts since they were flying lower and lower in the sky, lit up by the evening sun. With some effort, I captured a few Gray-rumped Swifts well enough with my camera.

Gray-rumped Swift - wetland near RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

Gray-rumped Swift - wetland near RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

As the sun set, my next order of business was to find a camping spot for the night. I had originally planned on staying at the ProAves lodge, and several weeks earlier I contacted them by email to arrange everything. Despite emailing multiple times, and trying several different email addresses, no one got back to me. Fortunately, I am no stranger to car camping and actually quite enjoy it. It would have been nice to have been able to support ProAves by staying at their lodge here and it was a shame that they apparently do not monitor any of their listed email addresses. 

I had scouted out a few areas on the drive in and settled on one of them - an area of flat gravel beside a newly paved section of road, less than 100 m from the entrance to the trail system of the reserve. I took this photo the next morning.

Camping spot near RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

The road to Anorí had been quiet enough during the day and, as expected, it was almost devoid of traffic in the evening. Only a few vehicles passed all night, most of them buses. The elevation was perfect for creating optimum sleeping temperatures and I drifted off. 

I awoke before dawn and readied my daypack with all necessary items for a long hike. I first passed the ProAves lodge, just up the road, but there were no vehicles around and no sign of life and so I was unable to ask anyone for permission to hike the trails. 

 I headed up anyways and enjoyed a full morning of birding. 

 RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

The morning was productive and frustrating at the same time. I found some great birds, including my main target - the Chestnut-capped Piha - but all of the "best" birds were the dreaded heard-only. I heard two different pihas along the ridge trail but was unable to actually see either of them.

The Chestnut-capped Piha was only first discovered in 1999 and is now know from around 16 sites between the Porce and Nechí river valleys. Much of its global range lies within areas with high rates of deforestation and fragmentation, and as such, the piha is listed as Critically Endangered. ProAves was instrumental in protecting some of its habitat; this reserve contains 3,271 hectares of primary and secondary forest. Cotingas are some of my favourite birds and I had been really excited to search for this piha, one of the rarest cotingas in the world.

Unidentified beetle - RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

Some of the other great birds I found during my mostly fruitless Chestnut-capped Piha search included Lanceolated Monklet (heard only), Chestnut-crowned Gnateater (heard only), White-bellied Antpitta (heard only), Indigo Flowerpiercer (heard only) and Stile's Tapaculo (heard only). Do you sense a theme? I was sure that I was going to see the monklet since it sang from just up the hillside from my location. Despite fifteen minutes of searching and waiting, I just could not. Today was one of those days!

Hook-billed Kite - RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

But that being said, I still had some memorable moments with species that I actually saw. Parker's Antbirds are quite common in the reserve and I finally photographed this endemic species to Colombia for the first time. 

Parker's Antbird - RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

Parker's Antbird - RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

At one point I rounded a bend and was face to face with a Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner. It just sat there, allowing me to collect full-frame photos from only a few feet away!

Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner - RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner - RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

The ridge trail was where I spent the last couple of hours of my day before I had to hit the road. In addition to the heard-only Chestnut-capped Pihas, I also lucked into a few other great birds. A little mixed flock contained some Purplish-mantled Tanagers and a Rufous-rumped Antwren, while a Uniform Antshrike sang from only metres off of the trail. Eventually I obtained some decent photos of him as well.

Purplish-mantled Tanager - RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

Uniform Antshrike - RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

As the morning turned to afternoon, dozens of butterflies took advantage of the bright sun filtering through the canopy. Below are two that I photographed.

Oxeoschistus puerta - RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

This next butterfly is a type of hairstreak known as Balintus tityrus. It is uncommonly encountered and is apparently endemic to Colombia. 

Balintus tityrus - RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

Balintus tityrus - RNA Arrierito Antioqueño, Antioquia, Colombia

With the sun high in the sky, I pulled myself away from the piha search since I had a lot of road to cover in the afternoon and evening. I watched a few Red-bellied Grackles alongside the road near my car, the 100th bird species that I encountered at RNA Arrierito Antioqueño in my short time there. My solo road trip was coming to a close, but first I had a visit planned to the Urrao area and RNA Colibrí del Sol, the Dusky Starfrontlet Reserve. 

Monday 30 March 2020

Colombian Endemic Cleanup: The Cerulean Warbler Reserve

By mid-day on February 15 I rolled into the town of San Vicente de Chucurí, located at the base of a steep, gravel road leading to the Cerulean Warbler Reserve. My original plan was to stay in a hotel in San Vicente and arrange for a motorbike to take me up the rough road to the reserve the next morning. But with five hours of daylight remaining, I gave it a shot to scout out the road. Who knows, maybe it would be navigable by car.

This turned out to be a good decision. The beginning of the road is quite steep but certain sections are reinforced with concrete, making it possible to drive up. Eventually the concrete ends and the road transitions to very rough, sharp gravel as you pass through mostly farmland with some small forest patches. With care I was able to navigate my car through these sections, managing to avoid any flat tires. A success. 

Common Tody-Flycatcher - entrance road to RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

Reserva Natural de las Aves Reinita Cielo Azul (the Cerulean Warbler Reserve) has been set up in part to protect the wintering grounds of its flagship species, the Cerulean Warbler. The plight of the Cerulean Warbler is well known to those of us birders from the eastern United States or southern Canada, as the species has declined drastically over the last few decades. Indeed, Cerulean Warblers appear to be quite numerous at the reserve as I easily encountered individuals in most mixed flocks. 

Apart from the Cerulean Warbler, there are many other interesting and unique species that draw birders here. I arranged a list of eleven target species, of which four were Colombian endemics. Quite a few other Colombian endemic species occur here (Mountain Grackle, Indigo-capped Hummingbird, Colombian Chachalaca, Black Inca, Turqouise Dacnis, Parker's Antbird, etc) but I had seen these previously. 

Endemics Others
Gorgeted Wood-Quail
Russet-crowned Crake
Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird
Ash-throated Crake
Magdelena Tapaculo
Cinnamon Screech-Owl
Niceforo's Wren
Double-banded Graytail

Yellow-throated Spadebill
Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo

Black-headed Brushfinch

 Entrance road to RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

The afternoon birding was incredibly productive given the time of day. In the lower section of road I heard a Russet-crowned Crake singing from one of the fields. I searched some areas where the shrike-vireo and the graytail are often reported, but struck out with those. However, I located a few nice mixed flocks to sort through, which contained species such as Guira Tanager, Cerulean and Mourning Warblers, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Rufous-naped Greenlet and much more. Bar-crested Antshrikes and Pale-breasted Spinetails sang from the roadside thickets. A Plain Antvireo's song rang out. Two Spot-breasted Woodpeckers worked a dead snag right beside the road. And a few flocks of White-tipped Swifts whizzed past. Everywhere I looked, there were birds!

Niceforo's Wren - entrance road to RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

Eventually, I heard the beautiful song of a Niceforo's Wren and I managed to track it down for photos (see above). This species actually ended up being quite common along the road, especially in the upper half before you come to the ProAves Lodge. I heard at least five that afternoon. In the same area I came across a few Black-headed Brushfinches.

Yellow-legged Thrush - entrance road to RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

As the afternoon turned to evening the thrushes came out of the woodwork and I finally managed a decent(ish) photo of a Yellow-legged Thrush. A few Buff-rumped Warblers were working a dark gulley and one allowed me to take its photo. 

Buff-rumped Warbler - entrance road to RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

Since the birding had been so good, I stayed until sunset and revised my plans. I had located a perfect spot to tuck my car off of the road and so I decided to sleep in my car overnight. That would liberate me the cost of a hotel room and a motorcycle ride the next day, while also saving me some driving time. Luckily I had enough food and water in my car to last me until the next day. 

Sleeping in my car proved to be a great decision. The elevation where I was situated (around 1400 m) was perfect for creating optimal sleeping temperatures. But even better, a Cinnamon Screech-Owl sang off and on from somewhere up the hillside! I tried to seek it out (unsuccessfully) before calling it a night. Common Pauraques and a pair of Tropical Screech-Owls vocalized occasionally through the wee hours, infiltrating my dreams. 

Common Pauraque - Pipeline Road, Colón, Panama (January 11, 2010)

My alarm went off at 4:20 AM. I had slept well for around seven hours and felt refreshed and alert as I began to make my way up the road by foot, my flashlight illuminating the path. The reason for my early rise was that I wanted to be in the forest as early as possible (a good hour of uphill hiking remains before one reaches the forest of the Cerulean Warbler Reserve). I passed the driveway for the ProAves Lodge, found the path that winds through the pastures and hoofed it uphill towards the forest. 

The Rufous-collared Sparrows (who else?) were awake and singing at this early hour but few other birds were, other than the occasional Common Pauraque and one Mottled Owl. Every time that I wake before dawn to go birding I realize how much I love this time of the day. One of my favourite experiences is to hear the world come alive in the morning, one bird species at a time. 

I discovered one surprise on the walk through the pastures - an Ash-throated Crake "purring" from deep within the pastures. Soon, the promised sun was lightening the sky and the Tropical Kingbirds, Tropical Mockingbirds and Pale-breasted Spinetails added their voices to the dawn chorus. 

I arrived at the forest edge and immediately heard one of my main bird targets for the day. A pair of Gorgeted Wood-Quails, their rollicking song echoing from a distant valley. As is usually the case for this species I did not see them, but just in case I made sure that my footsteps were quiet as I navigated the forest trail. 

RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

Soon, the first rays of the sun were cutting through the damp leaves of the forest. I encountered another one of my main target species - the Magdalena Tapaculo - and listed to two or three individuals belting out their songs. I managed to coax one in a bit closer but try as I might, it remained out of sight. Photos would have to wait but at least I walked away with some good recordings. 

Euptychiina (tribe) sp. - RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

There are benches placed at regular intervals along the forest trail and I stopped at Bench #2 for a while. Sitting still in high quality forest is a great way to see birds that would otherwise remain hidden due to the sound of your footsteps. A Lined Quail-Dove walked past me, a Black Inca hovered in the nearby midstory, and a few minutes later, a Wattled Guan landed on the path! 

Wattled Guans have a peculiar vocalization that bears a striking resemblance to someone cutting a 2x4 on a table saw. While hearing them is easy, observing them is another matter and this was my first sighting of the species, ever. The huge guan noticed me rather quickly and flew up into the trees where it joined a second individual. But I managed a few poor record photos before it and its presumed mate flew off into the canopy. Awesome! This species is named for its odd yellow wattle, which is barely visible in my photo below.

Wattled Guan - RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

My day list slowly but steadily rose throughout the morning, even though the Yellow-throated Spadebills remained unaccounted for. I eventually found a nice mixed flock which contained gems such as Bluish Flowerpiercer, Metallic-green Tanager, Rufous-browed Tyrannulet and Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulet. Some other great species unfortunately remained heard-only - these included Long-tailed Tapaculo, Highland Tinamou, White-bellied Antpitta and White-mantled Barbet.

Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulet - RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

The first few hours of the morning were bright and sunny but the clouds eventually came in. This did not dampen the birding, as activity levels remained high. I tried for the spadebills once again at a side-trail near Bench #2 on my way back out of the forest, but had no luck.

 RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

At this point I had encountered quite a few of my target species, including most of the forest ones (other than the spadebill). I still "needed" the Double-banded Graytail, Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo and Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird, species that are most easily seen in the secondary growth and farmland habitats further down the hillside. That is where I focused my time in the late morning and early afternoon.

Upon exiting the forest the clouds had rolled in, along with a band of fog. I surprised a Crab-eating Fox on the path alongside the forest edge. It slipped away into the mist.

Crab-eating Fox (Cerdocyon thous) - RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

The diversity in patterns and colours of Orbweaver Spiders (family Araneidae) is almost infinite. This particular individual was on a fencepost next to the path when I passed by its location in the pasture. I have yet to identify it.

Orbweaver sp. - RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

Near the bottom of the pasture, several flowering trees had attracted hummingbirds. One of the first individuals I got on was a Chestnut-bellied, at 6.8628, -73.3820. An Indigo-capped Hummingbird and a Crowned Wood-nymph were both nearby.
Smooth-billed Ani - RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

The walk back down to the car was a lot easier than the walk up as I lost the ~ 500 m of elevation that I had gained earlier in the day. Now that I was out of the forest, my day list shot up with many open-country and secondary forest bird species. Some of these were new Colombia birds for me, like Golden-winged Warbler, Olivaceous Woodcreeper and Yellow-tailed Oriole. I reached my car, still parked at the camping spot along the road, and watched a few Black-winged Saltators while I rehydrated.

Black-winged Saltator - RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

Black-winged Saltator - RNA Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander, Colombia

I slowly made my way back down the road by car, stopping periodically to troll and listen for the Double-banded Graytail and Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo. They remained off my life list, joining the Yellow-throated Spadebill from earlier. Oh well, you can't get them all. And as they say, 8 out of 11 ain't bad!

I decided to depart the area since I had found almost all of my target birds and there was a lot of ground to cover in the upcoming days. I really enjoyed my time at the Cerulean Warbler Reserve as it was certainly the most "birdy" of all the locations I visited, with some quality species mixed in. In 27 hours I had found nearly 170 bird species. 

I pointed my car west and began the long drive to the Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve for the next adventure. 

Saturday 28 March 2020

Colombian Endemic Cleanup: The Recurve-billed Bushbird Reserve

The Recurve-billed Bushbird is not a Colombian endemic since it barely ranges into the western Venezuela. But it is one of those birds that I just had to see. This type of antbird possesses an incredible, upturned bill that it scrapes along the sides of bamboo to find whatever morsels lie inside. It is known from very few locations. One area where it can be reliably located is the mountains above the town of Ocaña in northeastern Colombia. ProAves has even purchased some land here to protect the bird, creating the Reserva Natural de las Aves Hormiguero de Torcoroma (Recurve-billed Bushbird Reserve).

I had not originally planned on searching for the bushbird near Ocaña on this trip. The location was quite far from the rest of my route; the reserve is closer to the Santa Marta mountains than to Medellín. But since I had done so well in the early part of my route, I had time.

It was basically a 48 hour diversion from when I left the Blue-billed Curassow Reserve, visited the Recurve-billed Bushbird Reserve, and drove to my next destination, the Cerulean Warbler Reserve. However it could have been less since I did not drive much in the dark and I had two leisurely mornings at hotels (there were no good birding areas close by to these that I knew of). In the end though, it was worth it!

 View from RNA Hormiguero de Torcoroma, Norte de Santander, Colombia

I arrived in Ocaña in the early afternoon on February 14 and drove up to the reserve which was relatively easy to find. I parked at the bottom of the entrance road (it is far too steep for a non 4WD vehicle) and walked up. The reserve is not manned but there was an unlocked entrance gate after a few hundred meters. For three hours I walked the trails on the property, happy to be out birding after a very long drive!

For a while I was unable to turn up the bushbirds but there were several other birds to keep me company. Klage's Antbird is a species found mostly in northern Venezuela, though a few spill over into the mountains of northeastern Colombia. It shares habitat with the Recurve-billed Bushbird and was the only other potential lifer for me in this area. By the time I walked up the steep entrance road and arrived at the gate, I had already heard two singing!

Eventually I was successfully in getting my binoculars on the birds and I spent twenty minutes watching their antics. I even managed a terrible "record" photo. I can attest that they were a lot less blurry through the binoculars.

Klage's Antbird - RNA Hormiguero de Torcoroma, Norte de Santander, Colombia

The birding was relatively slow given the time of day but at least the temperatures were not scorching (a nice change compared to the previous locales I was in). A little mixed flock near the entrance gate contained several Speckled and Black-headed Tanagers.

Speckled Tanager - RNA Hormiguero de Torcoroma, Norte de Santander, Colombia

The bushbirds were still playing hard to get as I began to walk the trails. I specifically searched out areas of thick bamboo - their preferred habitat.

RNA Hormiguero de Torcoroma, Norte de Santander, Colombia

Slowly some birds came out of the woodwork. Two Lined Quail-Doves crossed the path in front of me, a few Whiskered Wrens and a single Gray-throated Warbler belted out their songs, and several Moustached Brushfinches scurried away in the undergrowth. In a clearing I came across two Short-tailed Emeralds, one of the main target species for visiting birders. Previously, I had connected with this hummingbird near Tunja in the eastern Andes of Colombia.

Eventually I heard the distinctive song of a Recurve-billed Bushbird down a hillside. I waited but the bird would not show itself so after five minutes I had to continue on. A little while later, while passing through a substantial bamboo patch, a small black bird moved from within. A glimpse of its tail here, its body moving behind a stalk of bamboo there, until finally I saw it well enough. A male Recurve-billed Bushbird! The sighting was somewhat brief and the bird was obscured most of the time, but I was thrilled to finally watch this iconic species. A little while later, I had similar views of a different male further along, though both eluded my camera. At any rate, I was happy to just watch the birds through my binoculars. Photography would have been very difficult in the dark understory and even record shots would have been nearly impossible.

With my main targets in the bag, I headed back to my car as the sun slunk further down towards the horizon. I considered finding a hotel in Ocaña and returning at dawn for another crack at the bushbird, but time was of the essence. It would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to fit in all of my remaining stops before I had to have the car back on February 21. So I made the difficult decision to hit the road and travel south towards the Cerulean Warbler Reserve.  Maybe I will return one day in the future for better looks (and photos) of the bushbird.

Thursday 26 March 2020

Colombian Endemic Cleanup: The Blue-billed Curassow Reserve

It was the hottest part of the day as I cut across the Magdalena River valley. The roads were smooth and I listened to a few podcasts to help the time pass by.

For those reading this who wish to independently visit the town of Puerto Pinzón and Reserva Natural de las Aves El Paujil (Blue-billed Curassow Reserve), DO NOT follow the directions that Google Maps provides. Instead, take Highway 60 east, from just south of Puerto Boyaca. At 5.954403, -74.475392, turn left and head northeast on the dirt track. Follow this road for several hours until you reach the town of Puerto Pinzón (note that it is called Guineal on Google Maps, the labelled Puerto Pinzón is somewhere else). This road takes between 2-3 hours to traverse, depending on how much you beat up your rental vehicle. It took me about 2.5 hours each way. While I made it easily with my sedan, a vehicle with high clearance is preferred. But the road can be navigated with a low-clearance vehicle like mine. I fully expected to get a flat tire given how many hours I was driving along the gravel road, but luck was on my side.

Because of the scorching temperatures I did not make too many birding stops. But there is good potential along this road. Some of the wetlands referenced in other trip reports were dry, though I eventually managed to find a Northern Screamer at a river crossing about 1.5 hours into my drive. This was a long-overdue lifer for me.

Northern Screamer - entrance road to Puerto Pinzón, Boyacá, Colombia

Other interesting birds seen along the gravel road included Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Savannah Hawk, Anhinga, Least Grebe and Yellow-chinned Spinetail, plus the usual assortment of wading birds and open country birds.

Least Grebe - entrance road to Puerto Pinzón, Boyacá, Colombia

Magdalena River Turtle (Podocnemis lewyana) - entrance road to Puerto Pinzón, Boyacá, Colombia

By late afternoon I arrived in the town of Puerto Pinzón. A previous trip report mentioned a hotel at 6.067351, -74.265781, but when I drove by the little building it looked closed without any people in sight. I figured that I would continue on to the reserve and plan to sleep in my car near the entrance.

I followed the gravel road up to the reserve, bottoming out on a few occasions, but arriving without any issues. I was becoming a veteran at navigating potholed, steep gravel roads in a low-clearance, 2WD car!

Entrance - RNA El Paujil, Boyacá, Colombia

I waited for dusk to fall, and hopefully, the temperatures along with it. In the meantime, the calls of a few birds pierced through the very still, humid air. Two species of macaws flew over - Blue-and-yellow, and Chestnut-fronted - while I also watched a pair of Yellow-backed Tanagers. Sometime after 5 PM I heard a motorcycle rumbling up the entrance road to the reserve. It was one of the rangers, leaving for the night. I had a nice chat with him and I inquired about the possibility of visiting the reserve in the morning, which he said that I could do for the price of 50,000 pesos (around $17 CAD). He also told me about the "hotel" in town which I had driven past before, and he offered to help me get set up there for the night.

Long story short, I was able to get a room in the "hotel" but I had to talk to five different people to sort it out! It involved tracking down someone with a key who could open the building for me. But for 15000 pesos (around $5 CAD), I had a private room with a bathroom, though the water only worked in the evening and not the following morning. It was the most basic hotel room that I had ever rented, but it did the trick and I was not fussy. There was a much needed fan in the room as well. It sure beat sleeping in my car in humid, 30 degree weather. I found the one restaurant in town that was open, enjoyed a hearty meal of fried beef, rice, beans, salad and lemonade, and had an early bedtime.

Before 6 AM the next morning I was walking down the entrance road into the Blue-billed Curassow Reserve, listening to the forest waking up. Marbled Wood-Quails, two species of tinamous, Sepia-capped Flycatchers and Black Antshrikes were identified by call early on, and it wasn't until around my 25th species that I actually saw my first bird of the morning.

I hurried down to the main lodge area since the star attraction, the Blue-billed Curassows, are often reported around the lodge buildings. It did not take long to find them...

Blue-billed Curassows - RNA El Paujil, Boyacá, Colombia

Blue-billed Curassow - RNA El Paujil, Boyacá, Colombia

Apparently the lodge feeds these curassows at the moment which means that they are incredibly easy to find. I could have added this species to my touch list if I was so inclined! At least seven females and three males were around, foraging at very close range and sometimes getting in the way. Crazy!

Blue-billed Curassow - El Paujil Bird Reserve, Boyacá, Colombia

Blue-billed Curassow - El Paujil Bird Reserve, Boyacá, Colombia

Blue-billed Curassow - El Paujil Bird Reserve, Boyacá, Colombia

The Blue-billed Curassow is a range-restricted species, being endemic to northern Colombia and only finding habitat in a few humid lowland forests. As is the case with so many other natural habitats in tropical regions around the world, the lowland tropical forests of the Magdalena Valley have been decimated in recent decades and 98% of the original forest cover is gone. The population level of the Blue-billed Curassow has followed suit and only an estimated 2,200 individuals of this species remain in the wild. Its low population estimate and rapid decline has led to its status as Critically Endangered by IUCN.

Blue-billed Curassow - RNA El Paujil, Boyacá, Colombia

The El Paujil Bird Reserve (Blue-billed Curassow Reserve) was set up to strategically protect some of the remaining lowland tropical forest in the Magdalena Valley. At the moment, the reserve protects 3,983 hectares of forest. The population of Blue-billed Curassows has rebounded slightly in the reserve, but the levels still have a way to go.

Blue-billed Curassow - RNA El Paujil, Boyacá, Colombia

I had my fill of the curassows and continued on to explore some of the trails around the lodge.

My main goal was to connect with the Black-billed Flycatcher, another range-restricted species that is often reported at El Paujil. I heard one, but was unable to actually see it. I also heard a Beautiful Woodpecker from across the river; it too remained out of sight. But there were many other interesting species around. These included Chestnut Woodpecker, Black Antshrike, One-colored and White-winged Becards, Purple-throated Fruitcrow and Gray-cowled Wood-Rail.

Cinnamon Woodpecker - RNA El Paujil, Boyacá, Colombia

Blue-and-yellow Macaw - RNA El Paujil, Boyacá, Colombia

Some rustling next to the river alerted me to a Common Basilisk, the first individual of that species I had seen before. Check out that crazy crest on its head; a feature shown by adult males.

Western Basilisk (Basiliscus galeritus) - RNA El Paujil, Boyacá, Colombia

A huge number of Urania Swallowtail Moths must have emerged in recent days since there were literally thousands of them around.

Urania Swallowtail Moth (Urania fulgens) - RNA El Paujil, Boyacá, Colombia

I birded the trails for a few hours and then returned to the lodge to settle up my bill and to spend a few more minutes with the curassows. The day was becoming quite warm and bird song had diminished. The usual crew of curassows were still hanging around the lodge but I also found two females in the nearby grassy edge and adjacent forest, carting around youngsters!

Blue-billed Curassow - RNA El Paujil, Boyacá, Colombia

Blue-billed Curassow - RNA El Paujil, Boyacá, Colombia

Blue-billed Curassow - RNA El Paujil, Boyacá, Colombia

After running into the park wardens and settling up the fee, one of them asked me if I wanted to see night monkeys. That is a question in which I have never responded with "no"!

Three of them sat up in a tree, curiously watching us from their perch - a broken off trunk. This species is the Gray-handed Night Monkey (Aotus griseimembra), which ranges from northern Colombia into northwestern Venezuela.

Gray-handed Night Monkey - RNA El Paujil, Boyacá, Colombia

The morning at El Paujil had gone quite well, even if I only heard Beautiful Woodpecker and Black-billed Flycatcher. While it was a bit weird to observe such a rare species in the Blue-billed Curassow acting like tame chickens, it was still an incredible Bucket List moment!

As the sun rose high in the sky, I hopped in my trusty car and hit the long dusty road out of Puerto Pinzón. The Ocaña area and the Recurve-billed Bushbird Reserve beckoned.