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.

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