Saturday 26 July 2014

COLOMBIA 2014: Otun, Cerulea, Bioandina & Monterredondo

21 July 2014.  Our whistle-stop tour of selected sites within an hours flight of Bogota continued. An early breakfast but then a short wait for our vehicle although that did allow a look at a Wedge-billed Hummingbird near some feeders.  Nick & I joined Pablo and his group to make a total of at least 10, a ridiculous number to be birding in a forest habitat as I was soon to discover to my cost.  We went to a site of Pablo's for Hooded Antpitta where a bird had apparently performed well the previous day for Pablo plus 3.  It showed only briefly for us and I was one of 3 not to see it at all.  Very disappointing.  The day didn't get much better when I only saw a female Multicoloured Tanager and then only briefly.  I was very keen to see White-capped Tanager, a bird I'd had the call pointed out to me by the late Ted Parker at Carpish Tunnel in Peru 30 years before.  Then it was too far below us to do anything about but the memory had remained.  It was my main target for our first week as it occurred regularly at three of the sites we were visiting.  I asked Pablo about it later that morning and was told they'd had one in the clearing we were standing in two days earlier!Great, except it wasn't and we were soon moving on unsuccessfully.  The rest of the morning produced Crested Ant-Tanager, Rusty-winged Barbtail, Caua and Sickle-winged Guans, Andean Motmot, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow and the ever popular White-capped Dipper and Torrent Duck.  It was then back for a late lunch, which I skipped to walk a trail by the lodge where a male Booted Racket-tail was best.  We drove to Periera and caught the 16:45 flight to Bogota where all but one of us flew on to Bucaramanga. The flight was an hour late and after taxi rides, one group with a complete maniac, we finally got to our hotel at 23:15.
Wedge-billed Hummingbird
Red Howler Monkey
White-capped Dipper, a firm favourite of mine
Torrent Tyrannulet
Southern Lapwing, not quite as impressive as ours
Saffron Finch

 22 July 2014.  We left the hotel at dawn and drove into nearby hills where Pablo had recently discovered a couple of pairs of Recurve-billed Bushbirds on a dry hillside.  We crossed a shallow river (Wellingtons were ideal) and all got good views of it.  I also saw Black-headed Brush-Finch and Dusky Antbird.  Just as we were leaving a couple of policemen on motorbikes arrived wanting to know what two 4WDs full of foreigners were doing on a small dead-end track. They had clearly been tipped off as to our presence but Pablo soon assured them we were harmless (and leaving). We continued towards the ProAves Cerulea Warbler reserve stopping for breakfast and by the roadside a couple of times to look for birds those on the main tour hadn't seen.  I distinctly felt that whether I'd seen something before or not was immaterial but Jet Antbird, Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo, Yellow-tufted Dacnis and Scrub Tanager were all new for me so I was happy going with the flow.  At the Cerulean reserve the lodge is the best part of an hour's walk below the forest although there are birds to see around it, and it has excellent feeders.  I spent the rest of the morning and most of the lunch period with the hummers.  Eleven species visited including Indigo-capped Hummingbird and Red-billed Emerald which were new for me.  After lunch we visited some other feeders half an hours walk away.  These were good for Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird and we eventually saw a male after a couple of false starts (Pablo being quite insistent that a Rufous-tailed was one until his photo showed its red bill and white post-ocular spot).  My hummer list for the day ended up at 16 including Long-billed Starthroat and Booted Racket-tail.  We tried for Niceforo's Wren behind the lodge as the light was going but only saw it poorly in flight.  Perhaps it was tape shy.
hillside near Bucaramanga
Bare-faced Ibis
Common Tody-Flycatcher at our breakfast stop
Ruddy Ground Dove
Bananaquit keeping an eye on hummers stacking up to land, in this case female Black-throated Mango and Andean Emerald
Bananaquit, regular on the feeders too

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, perhaps the commonest hummer around the lodge
they seemed to spend as much time chasing each other as feeding
even at a shutter speed of 1/400th second the wings are blurred
at 1/250th second they are hardly visible
not the most spectacular of hummers, but sill nice
male Black-throated Mango
female Black-throated Mango, much more distinctive
Green Hermit
Green-crowned Brilliant, another common visitor to the lodge feeders, is one is a female
male Green-crowned Brilliant, unfortunately not catching the light
male Booted Racket-tail
in for a quick refuel ...
... and it is off!

male Violet-crowned Woodnymph
nice when it catches the light
White-necked Jacobin
few are as easy to identify even if the white neck isn't always apparent
White-necked Jacobin and Andean Emerald
Andean Emerald, another of the commoner visitors to the lodge's feeders

even the duller female has a very nice rainbow effect from crown to tail

Brown Violetear and Indigo-capped Hummingbird
Indigo-capped Hummingbird
well nourished toad by the lodge
23 July 2014.  We had an early breakfast and were walking up to the forest as it was getting light.  It was a steady climb but I did not find it overly strenuous.  First we visited some feeders in the forest, both for hummingbirds (Black Inca being the main attraction) and Gorgetted Wood Quail.  Two Wood Quail and 2 Lined Quail Doves rather nervously came in to feed on the ground level grain platform a couple of times despite our large group shuffling around rather noisily behind a screen!  Sadly quietness and patience didn't seem a widely held virtue amongst most of the group. I also saw 3 Chestnut-capped Brush Finches and Nick and I had a brief view of a Rusty-breasted Antpitta.  We also saw 4 Black Incas, 7 Booted Racket-tails and a Fawn-breasted Brilliant on the hummingbird feeders.  We continued into the forest following the Lengerke Trail, an historic cobbled trade route that was several hundred years old.  Birding such a trail in a large group was impractical, especially when most of the birds were not tape responsive and Nick and I tended to wander ahead or more often drop some way behind.  I saw Whiskered and Grey-breasted Wood Wrens, Uniform Antshrike, Parker's Antbird and Metallic Green and Beryl-spangled Tanagers.  We also heard two White-bellied Antpittas but neither was close.  I decided to continue up the trail while the others stopped to wait for lunch, which was being brought up, but I saw little and eventually turned back on hearing some barking dogs.  I rejoined Nick, the others having headed back, and we slowly returned.  More than halfway back we heard White-bellied Antpitta again but as we got closer it became apparent that it was Pablo playing a recording.  They'd been trying without success for half an hour to entice one out, or get it to cross the path.  We took over but with similar results and the bird was calling from too thick an area to get into without disturbing it.  We continued down to the feeders but Nick was keen to get back down to try for Niceforo's Wren again.  I wanted to spend longer looking for the antpitta so stayed at the feeders a bit longer, seeing the Quail doves again, before returning up the cobbled trail.  The first bird I saw on re-entering the forest was an Ochre-breasted Antpitta that flew up from beside the path.  I'd hoped to see White-bellied on the trail too but the cobbles didn't help.  I got close to a calling bird in a less dense area halfway up the hill but it did not show.  One the way back down the bird Pablo had been taping was calling again, but from the other side of the track.  I had no more success with it despite creeping down a small stream and getting very close.  Running out of time I eventually gave up and got back to the lodge just as the light was going, a frustrating end to an otherwise enjoyable day. Niceforo's Wren hadn't performed either.  Pablo's plans for the following day had changed and he wasn't returning to the forest but instead spending the early morning around the lodge (a good time to see the wren) and departing at 10:00 stopping at various sites on the way back to the airport.  I was keener on trying for the antpitta again than the wren so packed my bag and agreed to be back by 10:00.
climbing above Cerulea Lodge
looking down from the forest edge at the Cerulea reserve
Ochre-breasted Antpitta

disturbed from beside the trail, it just sat and looked at me
24 July 2014.  I was up an hour before dawn and steadily climbed up to the high forest arriving at 05:30.  Birds were slow to start calling so I made for the higher calling bird, which being in a less dense area I felt offered me the best chance of seeing.  I got a response to its call but the bird seemed to be moving a lot (only having one good ear made it hard to be sure).  I tried getting it to cross the trail by leaving the recording playing on the opposite side and retreating but with no success.  I then approached and stood motionless intermittently playing the recoding very quietly.  Nothing although I waited 5 then 10 minutes just in case.  Still nothing so I too one pace forward, and the bird flew up from almost at my feet (how had I not seen it approach!) and across the trail.  Very frustrating and that was basically it.  I stayed in the area 15 minutes longer, gave myself 15 minutes at the lower site (a brief unmoving response) and had 5 minutes at the feeder where a Lined Quail Dove was standing on the grain platform and 2 Black Incas were on the feeders.  I left the forest at 09:10 and was back at the lodge at 09:55 ready to go.  Much to my annoyance Palo had changed his mind again, there was nowhere on our journey to have lunch so we were having it in the lodge at 11:30 and not leaving until 12.00. Pablo must have known this the previous evening but was presumably distracted seemingly constantly on his phone. Two more hours probably wouldn't have been enough for me to see the antpitta but I was very annoyed to have been denied the opportunity and rushed back early.  The only consolation was that I did get good views of Niceforo's Wren and Bar-crested Antshrike, but nice as they were, neither was an antpitta!  I also had further hummer photo opportunities.  We left soon after noon and made a couple of stops on our return to Bucaramanga.  First by the road where we had seen the Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo, it was still there, and second down a decent track where we saw Spectacled Parrotlet, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Great Antshrike and Grey-mantled Wren.  We arrived at Bucaramanga airport in good time and I enjoyed watching a pair of Bicoloured Wrens that clearly had a nest in he gap between sides of an advertising sign.  Pablo was flying to Medellin and we were et at Bogota airport by Alejandro who Pablo had employed to take us to Bioandina and Monteredondo, sites in driving distance of the capital.  Alejandro had not been to either site before, which I found concerning, but Pablo had apparently given him a map, possibly marking a site for White-capped Tanager.  Hmm.  We were taken by taxi to the multinational Hotel Ibis, a much more impersonal establishment than the much nicer Casona del Patio where we had first stayed.
Booted Racket-tail at the forest feeder
the ProAves Cerulean Warbler forest reserve, we were too early for returning Cerulean Warblers
view from forest reserve entrance
American Kestrel
Bicoloured Wren near the lodge

Green Hermit
Black-throated Mango female
Black-throated Mango male
Green-crowned Brilliant female

Green-crowned Brilliant male
flashing his shiny bits

Andean Emerald
Indigo-capped Hummingbird
White-necked Jacobin male
showing its named feature
this one's feathers looked a bit the worse for wear
White-necked Jacobin female
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

the tiny feet of hummingbirds always amaze me
Yellow-tailed Oriole.  The outer tail feathers are yellow but often held below the inner ones
as can be seen in his image
Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Bucaramanga from the airport

another big city few outside of Colombia would have heard of
Bicoloured Wren in the open-air cafe at Bucaramanga Airport
25 July 2014.  We left the Hotel Ibis at 05:30 and drove to Guasca where we arrived at 07:00, by which time it had been light for almost an hour.  Not great if we'd headed straight into the field, Guasca marsh was only 5 minutes drive away and a reliable site for Bogota Rail, but no we would do that on our return, now was time for breakfast.  We finally got away at 07:45 but our first stops on the way to Bioandina were in low cloud.  Alejandro was clearly not of the 'spread out and see what you can find' school of thought and reprimanded Nick for wandering a short way ahead in case he disturbed anything!  We managed to see White-chinned Thistletail, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Rufous Wren, Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager and Rufous-browed Conebill before eventually arriving at Bioandina.  This was a big disappointment, not helped for me by Alejandro calling that he'd heard Black-billed Mountain Toucan (my other target bird) which turned out to be a captive macaw.  An early example of my hopes being raised only to be dashed, seemingly the theme of the trip.  At Bioandina we walked a short distance on one of the trails hearing an unresponsive Pale-bellied Tapaulo and returned to the centre for lunch.  We slowly drove back down making several stops seeing Andean Guan, Coppery-bellied Puffleg, Blue-fronted Starfrontlet and Black-collared Jay, but no White-capped Tanager.  We were then told we would be stopping lower down to look for Silvery-throated Spinetail and Guasca Marsh for Bogota Rail.  Trawling for the spinetail in unimpressive roadside habitat was unproductive and when we got back to Guasco we were told we were not now going to look for the rail as we did not want to get stuck in Bogota traffic.  Alejandro was adamant Pablo had told him not to (not sure when) despite the vast majority of the group being very upset not to go - and would have preferred Guasca to roadside trawling has it been made clear we were ruing out of time.  We were so close and still had an hour of light left, a time of day when rails usually perform best.  It was 17:15 so the traffic argument did not see particularly valid - a later departure would have been more likely to avoid any that there was on a Saturday. We got back to Hotel Ibis at about 19:00 with traffic appearing to be thinning all the time.  I was not alone in being very unimpressed.  If Pablo wanted to offer trips to serious birders he needed to get guides and drivers who were prepared to be out all day.  It would also help if they knew the sites well, or at least had been to them before.  Alejandro was a nice guy and he told me he guided for Naturetrek in Ecuador.  Based on my albeit very limited experience on what seemed like a 'birding between meals' trip with them to Gambia in 2001 they seemed ideally suited!
White-chinned Thistletail

superb forest that doubtless deserved longer than our unproductive flying visit
me (and Nick) well behind the group, as usual
Coppery-bellied Puffleg (poorly digiscoped)

birding further down the road

panoramic view from below Bioandina
female Green & Black Fruiteater

26 July 2014.  Four of us left the Hotel Ibis with Alejandro at 04:45 heading for Monterredondo, the only accessible site for Cundinamarca Antpitta.  We stopped for a roadside breakfast as it was getting light, a miserable morning with hanging low cloud.  We turned off the main road and started climbing and after a few kms entered the forest.  Our driver knew the site and stopped on a bend indicating to look along the sections immediately above and below where we were parked.  We knew the antpitta would be difficult as it was suggested that they had become tape shy. Nick had also failed on his previous visit which was not a good sign. We spent most of the morning along this small section of road and twice got a brief response to to tape playback. Both times we went in but to no avail.  We saw a few nice birds including Amythyst-throated Sunangel, Andean Pygmy Owl (responded to Alejandro's whistling), Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Rufous Antpitta, Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant and Grass-green and Golden-crowned Tanagers (the latter one of the best I've seen).  My only chance of a new bird was looking like Green-bellied Hummingbird which Alejandro said we'd look for in some flowering trees on the way down.  We left Monterredondo at 13:30 as it started to rain, and before I knew it were back in town for lunch.  I asked Alejandro where the hummingbird site was and was told we had not stopped there as it was raining and hummingbirds would not be active. That seemed nonsense to me as my experience, albeit at feeders, was that hummers go bananas when it rains.  That had certainly been the case at Rio Blanco.  Even if it was true it would have been worth checking the tree in case a hummer was sitting nearby.  I concluded that Alejandro either did not know where the site was, did not like getting wet or was more concerned not to have a late lunch.  Each alternative was deeply unsatisfactory and reinforced my previous view of him.  We were back at the Hotel Ibis soon after 16:00 after another very unsatisfactory part-day in the field.  Both Nick and I had several words with Pablo several times about how disappointed we were with this part of the trip.  After an absolutely brilliant start at Rio Blanco and some excellent hummingbird feeders the first week had deteriorated into a considerable disappointment with the sites deserving twice as long as we had given them, although a full day at Monterredondo might have sufficed.


birding the road at Monterredondo, me then Nick bringing up the rear
Andean Pygmy Owl
the only owl seen all trip which for a four week terrestrial birding tour is, in my mind, fairly scandalous