A private trip: classic on the Andes, August 2021
By. Alejandro Pinto
After more than a year of hard times, we are back in the field again, to do what we are the best for… lead memorable bird watching trips! this time a small group of friends: Michael, Robert, Donald and Kevin and last but not least the Manakin Nature tour leader: Alejo. Ready to visit the 3 branches of the Andes including some of the most iconic places for birding, loaded with many endemics and range restricted birds! Despite this trip is focus on some endemics we were looking for everything and we enjoyed every single bird, the beautiful sceneries of the Colombian mountains and the dramatic landscapes above 12.000 feet in the paramos! An epic trip.
Greet and meet! Few words and orientation before kicked off the trip, we started with Sumapaz, the story begun.
First day, Sumapaz, the largest paramo area in the world, kicking off to start the adventure!
Early wake up call! 4:30 am ready to hit the road and climb some mountains to reach the largest paramo in the world. A short stop in Chiguazá reserve for breakfast and black coffee to be ready for the birds – there we watched the first bird of the trip: Black-backed Grosebeak and the attention was wonderful, they were so happy to have clients back again! – An incredible sunny and clear day at 11.000+ ft. it was amazing to see the place in bloom full of yellow flowers (Espelettia sp.) and very beautiful rainbow colored lichens! a bit quite at the beginning but birds started to showed off from time to time, some good furanidaes like: Many-striped Canastero, Andean-Tit Spinetail and White-chinned Tysthletail to start our birding session and then one of the goodies: Apolinar´s Wren, a couple singing in a top of a Espelettia plant (the yellow flowers one) a couple of Bogotá Rail in the Marshes around gave us some quick but great views, Black-chested Buzzard Eagle soaring many times above us and a beautiful blue sky in the mountains, that was the beginning of the trip.
Second morning of the trip at Chingaza, a renowed national natural park and suck a forest for birding.
Early wake up call and we hitted the road on the way to Chingaza NNP. A short stop on the way for arepas (corn bread filled with cheese) made on a wood fire grill and coffee. During the morning we got a lot of mix flocks, so we had no time to rest! An incredible hummingbird feeder in the middle of the forest, we started with a couple of amorous Torrent Ducks breeding! And right after that a couple of White-capped Deeper foraging on the stony river. We also had great views of many flocking birds: Blue-backed Conebill, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Superciliared Hemispingus, Hooded Mountain Tanager, Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, Blue-capped Tanager. Once in the forest we had incredible views of the Muisca Antpitta (recently splitted from Rufous Antpitta complex) and many hummingbirds: Blue-throated Starfronlet, Coopery-bellied Puffleg, Green-tailed and Black-tailed Trainbearers, Sword-billed Hummingbird and others…we finished in the right way, watching the endemic: Silvery-throated Spinetail.
La Romera park, Medellin.
After a short (45 min) flight to Medellin, we spend our third morning at La Romera, above Medellin, on the central cordillera, a morning easy to remember, cause after leave the car we immediately saw the endemic Red-bellied Grackle at a nesting site and 10 minutes later we were looking for one of the birds of the trip with no doubt: Yellow-headed Manakin! For our surprise was very active and we got at least a pair moving back and forward in the forest they gave us an amazing performance! Robert had a moment: yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! That was a bird! He was more than happy after look for that bird some years ago with no lucky. We also add some species like: White-throated Toucanet (Emerald Toucanet complex), Colombian Chachalaca, Highland Motmot (Andean Motmot) and others. After Lunch we had sometime in the lowlands of the Cauca Valley were we got other endemics: Antioquia Wren and Greyish Piculet! Heading to the charmy town of Jardin, located on the western Andes.
Alto ventanas and Andean Cock of the Rock
Early morning start to drive to the top of the mountain we have some Yellow-eared Parrot groups flying by atop of the mountain but not the clear and close views we were expecting, but anyway we had other great birds on the road like: Slate-crowned Antpitta, Golden-fronted Redstart, Solitary Eagle soaring and incredible views of Quindio Jay (Splitted from Black-collared Jay) and some beautiful mountain Tanagers, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Rufous-headed Pygmy Tyrant and by the way we saw the Blackish Tapaculo. At the afternoon we visit a very well-known Andean Cock-of-the Rock lek to make the day! Watch this beautiful bird leking is such an experience! But also around the yard we saw: Inca and Black-collared Jays and other Tanagers!
Alto Ventana& Lucia feeders.
We climbed again the mountains behind the town of Jardin, making a stop on the ridge looking for a better view of the Yellow-eared Parrot and we got it! Flying by but also they perch at the canopy of the forest nearby, we got them on the scope and finally we saw some color! This parrot specie is one of those range restricted superb birds! After that we had and appointment with the recently splitted Chami Antpitta (Rufous Antpitta complex) in some feeders into the forest, while we waited for the Antpitta we heard the call of the Ocellated Tapaculo, despite is a really hard bird to see, we did it, it was moving back and ford in the bushes nearby the antpitta feeding station. Some minutes later the Chami Antpitta gave us a show around the feeders and was very cooperative, during the morning we also watched: Plushcap, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Tourmaline Sunangel, Blue Dacnis among others. At the afternoon we moved to the central cordillera.
Hacienda el Bosque and Bosque CHEC
Now on the central cordillera again, we visit a couple of places above the city of Manizales, our first morning we visit a new place, Hacienda el Bosque and its rock star “Lunita” a super beauty Crescent-faced Antpitta, we enjoy this superb moment drinking hot chocolate and Don got an early beer to cheers for that incredible bird! Lunita gave us a beautiful show, is so amazing have this hard to see bird coming right in front of us. But the morning was just starting, We also got other amazing birds: Equatorial Antpitta (Rufous Antpitta complex), Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Mr. Antonio a Grey-browed Brushfinch who dance and many hummingbirds including: Shinning Sunbeam, Collared Inca, Buff-winged Starfronlet, Mountain Velvetbreast among others! At the afternoon we climbed a bit more and did a forest birding and despite the activity was low, we had quality birds: Purple-backed Thornbill, Barred Fruiteater, Powerfull Woodpecker and Golden-crowned Tanager made the day! Heading to los Nevados. Night at the hotsprings to relax a bit and be ready for a morning in a high elevation on the Andes.
About this morning: Hacienda El Bosque – definitely a big highlight of the trip was visiting this spot and experiencing Crescent-faced Antpitta up close! Juan Martin and guide Nestor even arranged a special perch with bromeliads for our Gray-breasted Mountain Toucan photos! Nice mural at the restaurant for a group pic backdrop! Not to mention the best food and coffee. Michael Duffy, NYC.
Los Nevados National natural park.
A morning at 12.000+ feet. Our main target: Buffy Helmetcrest – one of the most wanted -. Before heading to the paramo we had sometime around the hotel feeders early morning, Great Sapphirewing, Golden-breasted Puffleg and Shinning Sunbeam were around and gave us good views, after breakfast we started to drive but before reach the good area for the Helmetcrest, a nice male was posing next to the road, we quickly jumped off of the car, put the scope on and we got great views! We did it. Anyway we kept moving to the NNP entrances and we saw it many times again, we enjoy this little beauty for a while! We also saw: Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Black-chested Buzzard Eagle, Stout-billed Cinclodes among others. We were in a stunning paramo scenery and enjoyed visiting the alpine type paramo habitats and seeing the flowering plants and rocky landscape. After lunch we drove all the way down to Otun area, above Pereira city and we spent a couple of hours in the hotel´s yard but with plenty activity, at least 30 bird species were counted on a couple of hours with no walking at all, including some nice Tanagers like: Bay-headed Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, Fawn-breasted Tanager, Golden Tanager and Green Honeycreeper.
Early morning transfer to the end of the road, an area known as “El Cedral”, the picnic breakfast into the forest was interrupted by the song of the White-capped Tanagers we quickly set the scope and we had incredible views to start the morning! After walk some minutes we caught some good flocks with foest birds like: Variegated Bristle-Tyrant, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Montane Foliage-gleaner among others…in one of those flocks we got the spectacular Multicolored Tanager. Down the road we worked hard for Moustached Anpitta and we got it and other birds that made our morning: Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Cauca Guan, Inca Jay and a Non-bird highlight was a beautiful green eye-lash viper! Was an incredible and productive morning on the central cordillera, now heading to our last spot on the western Andes.
Montezuma 2 full days
We spent two full days and one morning in the area of Montezuma, inside Tatamá National natural park, right after the farm house- our lodge for 3 nights- there is a 12 km road to the top of the mountain with an altitudinal gain of aprox 1200 meters (4000 ft) that means, with the change of elevation you also change the set of birds… our first morning we climbed to the ridge, and we had a breakfast with a view, right in from of some of the most beautiful peaks of the western Andes facing the pacific, and we started to walk, that day we watched: Chesnut-bellied Flowerpiercer, Munchique Woodwren, Brown Inca, Velvet-purple Coronet, Gold-ringed Tanager, Rufous-gaped Hillstar, Empress Brilliant, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Bicolored Antvireo, Pacific Tuftedcheek, Fulvous-dotted Treeruner, Black Solitaire, Indigo Flowerpiercer, Purplish-mantled Tanager, Glistening-green Tanager and many many orchids in flower!
For the second morning we climbed until mid-elevations, this time our breakfast was in the middle of the forest, while we were taking the breakfast we heard Nariño Tapaculo right nex to us and by surprise this little guy climbed to a short palm tree and sing for us there! First time that we saw a Tapaculo outside the bushes! Right after breakfast the Ochre-breasted Antpitta gave us a show, we Spotted two of them during the morning and both sing and dance for us! We also got: Tatama Tapaculo, Club-winged Manakin, Scaled Fruiteater, Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant, Olive Finch, Yellow-breasted Chlorophonia, Golden-collated Honeycreeper, Chestnut-breasted Cholorphonia, Black and Gold Tanager among others! What a day! Late afternoon we spend some time at the hummingbird feeders: Green Thorntail, Empress Brilliant, Purple-throated Woodstar, Western Emerald, Rufous-gaped Hillstar and others!
On our last and short morning we kicked off the trip and certainly we had a moment with: Lanceolated Monklet , Parker´s Antbird, Zeledon Antbird, Bar-crested Antshrike, Black-headed Brushfinch and other good birds. A short stop on the road on the way back and we got the las bird of the trip: Turquoise Dacnis! time to go back to the city, have our covid test – all negatives yoohooo! – and flight to Bogotá.
Special thanks to our driver Erney who drives safety and took care of us all the time, the local Guides: Leon in Sumapaz, Manuel and Juan Martin in hacienda el Bosque, Lucia & Martin at alto Ventanas and Yesennia in Montezuma, they were very helpful at the field!
Top birds of the trip: Buffy Helmetcrest, Crescent-faced Antpitta, Gold-ringed Tanager, Scaled Fruiteater, Yellow-headed Manakin, Purple-backed Thornbill, Turquoise Dacnis, Lanceolated Monklet, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Red-bellied Grackle.
About this Trip
I have done many international birding trips. This was my first birding trip with Manakin, and my first visit to Colombia. Our tour of the central Andes was amazing. We saw so many awesome birds. Many of them endemic or near endemic to Colombia. The guides, drivers, and all of the persons involved in our tour helped to create an experience I will not soon forget. What a great country to visit and bird. I will return and do another tour with Manakin Nature Tours. Thank for the great time!
Duluth , Minnesota