Whos keeping an eye on me....

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Colombia 2015 - Pt 1 Western Andes (Montezuma Lodge and Higher Elevations of Tatama NP)

Well its that time again to fly off to somewhere new..... Myself and Jeff embark on our grand tour for 2015. Colombia has been high on the trip list for a number of years and now it becomes reality. We visited the UK Birdfair 2014 and spent sometime with Chris Calonje the owner of Colombiabirdwatch.com tour company who put together a private tour for myself and Jeff including the three key areas that we wanted to visit.

Here we are half a year later ready to start our tour of the Central\ Western Andes, Santa Marta mountains and the Amazon region of Mitu.

Basic tour itinerary is :

Day 1 Arrive in Bogota
Day 2 Flight to Pereira and drive to Montezuma with Birding Montezuma Lodge
Day 3 Montezuma Upper Part
Day 4 Montezuma Lower Part
Day 5 Montezuma-Rio Blanco with Birding Rio Blanco Lodge
Day 6 Rio Blanco
Day 7 Los Nevados and flight to Barranquilla
Day 8 Isla Salamnca-Minca Sierras Sound
Day 9 Minca-El Dorado El Dorado
Day 10 El Dorado El Dorado
Day 11 El Dorado-Minca Sierras Sound
Day 12 Minca-Riohacha (Tayrona National Park) Barbacoas
Day 13 Los Flamencos National Park (flight to Bogota)
Day 14 Bogota-Mitu Los Paisas
Day 15 Mitu Los Paisas
Day 16 Mitu Los Paisas
Day 17 Mitu Los Paisas
Day 18 Mitu - Bogota
Day 19 Depart Bogota

An added interest is that Noah Stryker will join us for 6 days in the Andes whilst he is undertaking his Birding without Borders big year record attempt, Noah Strykers 5000 species in a year so we should have some good birding and interesting conversation from day 1........

We arrived in Bogota via Miami and quickly got to our hotel in a pleasant suburb of the city. No way could I sleep as the excitement crept in knowing that in the morning we will be taking a flight to the Western Andes to start birding in earnest. I am sure we got some weird looks as we sat outside the small hotel getting the first city birds onto the trip list, Eared Dove, Shiny Cowbirds, Rufous Coloured Sparrows and Great Thrush. Even whilst still on the runway ready to take off to Pereira we picked up a White tailed Kite hovering over the runway verges, whilst at Pereira Black Vulture, tropical Kingbirds, southern Rough winged Swallows and Brown Bellied Swallows were easy pickings. Chris Calonje picked us up and we were off into the Western Andes where we stopped at a lovely town called Apia here we had lunch and Chris explained about the huge positive steps the country has made in making it safe for tourists and bird watchers... The food was good too.

Apia - Western Andes

We were back on the road now moving up to even higher elevations to another town to meet our open aired land cruiser, Noah Stryker was already in the back with our guide Jose. We soon got to know that Noah was a fun guy with a good sense of humour and of course plenty to tell about his first 96 days of his world record big year attempt! To think that we were going to be part of it was pretty exciting. A few hours later after some road stop birding due to landslides making it very slow going we arrived at montezuma lodge mid afternoon.

Montezuma Lodge

Within moments we were met with 11 species of Hummingbirds of which 10 were new to me! White necked Jacobin I had seen before but the Violet tailed Sylpth, Velvet-Purple Coronet, Green crowned Brilliant, Steely vented Hummingbird, White tailed Hillstar (this maybe a split as is Rufous Gaped Hillstar), Rufous tailed Hummingbird, Purple bibbed Whitetip, Black throated Mango, Andean Emerald and the Empress Brilliant wernt! How about that for starters?

Andean Emerald

Purple Throated Woodstar

Velvet-Purple Coronet


White Tailed (or Rufous Gaped) Hillstar

Violet Tailed Sylph

Steady rain threatened to get heavier as the thunder clapped loudly, but the Hummingbirds didn't steal all the limelight as Flame-rumped and Blue-Grey Tanagers and Flame (Lemon) Rumped Tanagers frequented the Banana feeders.


After a fine evening meal and a sample of Chris's Rum and my whisky as a celebratory nightcap we eventually retired as the rain battered down.
A very early start and a long 12k drive all up hill along the bumpiest track imaginable, we were heading to the top of the Montezuma rd to the telecomm tower.

Early coffee and raincoats: Robin (our driver), Chris, Jose, Fernando, Noah, Jeff and myself all converged on the dinning area for a wake up coffee as the thunder clapping turned into monsoon rain. We put the tarpaulin sides down on the Land Cruiser and we set off  up the 12km track, even with the sides down myself and Noah got drenched! we huddled as far away from the leak as possible. Thoughts were running through my head that our first day in the Andes was going to be a wash out. We sat tight and continued uphill. After half an hour Chris jumped out of the cab and pointed out in the gloom a Yellow bellied Antpitta.... It could have been a wader as the track was flowing as if a small river. But it gave great views along the track for a minute, what a great bird to lift the spirits.

As we reached the top the rain became drizzle (and would eventually petter out to a fine day by 11am), although the telecomm tower was shrouded in cloud and mist.

Birding for wimps..... or just keeping the optics dry, you decide. Chris, Noah and Jeff
The umbrellas spent the next hour mainly keeping the optics dry, however it didn't take long for the birding to liven up as we picked up a great endemic Chestnut bellied Flowerpiecer... Well actually we had a few flitting about with one perching nicely at eye level and ten foot in front of us.... my Camera was in the truck and of course the bird had flown my the time I came running back with it. I did manage some record shots of the endemic.

Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiecer

The recently discovered Munchique Wood-Wren showed really well in a number of locations and add a lovely Purplish Mantled Tanager and a pair of SHOWY Narina Tapaculos... This was easier than I thought it was going to be.

More lovely species were seen as we set off on foot down the track, Lachrymose Mountain-Tanager, Black Capped Hemispingus, Rufous Spinetail, Dusky Bush-Tanager, Rufous headed Pygmy-Tyrant, Collared Inca, Brown Inca, and flocks of Handsome Flycatchers.

As the sun came out so did the endemic Gold Ringed Tanagers... Awesome birds and a target species for the trip. Its always nice to get targets early on. We would see 4 or 5 individuals during the morning

The Montezuma crew enjoy the mid morning sunshine
Jose, Chris, Noah Stryker, Jeff and myself - thanks to Fernando for taking the pic.
The "old man" of Cerro Tatama with the forest in the foreground bathed in cloud! Apparently the Old man has never been climbed, so sensibly we decline the offer to give it ago.

this is birding paradise.... Walking down the Montezuma road with the Western Andes as a fitting backdrop.... Jose, Fernando, Noah and Jeff

Noah takes an image of the impressive scenery at the higher elevations of Montezuma Road
a Band tailed Pigeon flies high above the canopy

More highlights continued with the fabulous Green and Black Fruiteater, Orange breasted Fruiteater, Golden winged Manakin which we saw on a nest, Black Chinned Mountain-Tanager and my first ever Motmot species with the impressive Andean (highland) Motmot all added to the collection of birds.

Green and Black Fruiteater
Andean (highland) Motmot

Beautiful Jay
This pair of Chestnut Breasted Chlorophonia have to be one of the prettiest birds you could wish to see, ask a child to colour a bird and this is what they would come up with.

Many other species were seen and logged, Sharpe's Wren, Greenish Puffleg, Bronze-Olive Pygmy-Tyrant, Black capped Tyrannulet, Western Wood Pewee, Green Jay, Golden Bellied Warbler, Plain Antvireo. Bicolored Antvireo (which was a lifer for our guide Jose`), Yelow Backed Oriole, Beryl Spangled Tanager, Booted Racket-tail, Ornate Flycatcher, Pale Eyed Thrush, a pair of Red Headed Barbet, and this Empress Brilliant on her nest was a lovely sight.

We got back to the Lodge in time to catch the last of the light and a few of the hummingbirds.

Empress Brilliant male

Purple-Throated Woodstar female
We didn't have it all our way as we missed all the Owls later in the evening, only the Crested Owl gave any response. however we ended the day with over 90 species of bird.
We finish the evening off with a few beers and a good chat before we retired ready for some lower elevation birding tomorrow.

Jose, Noah and Jeff settle down for dinner as the light fades on our first day in the Andes



Margaret Birding For Pleasure said...

WOW! What a wonderful post. This is a fantastic trip with lots of birds to seeand photograph. Love the Andean (highland) Motmot and the Jay and of coursse allthe Hummingbirds as wellas thefabulous scenery. Looking forward to seeing more.

Dave said...

Cheers Margaret, it was a wonderful trip. Yes will be updating the next part in a day or two

Kurt Niznik said...

Fantastic write-up, thank you! Those aspiring to visit Montezuma Road can check out the Montezuma Rainforest Ecolodge page to learn more and book a stay: www.montezumarainforest.com