COLOMBIA WITH A DIFFERENCE BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Colombia with a Difference: Day 1 Our tour begins this evening at at Bogotá, where we will spend the night.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 2 From Bogotá, we shall head northwards to Soatá for a two nights stay. This afternoon we will begin our exploration of the Soatá area.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 3 Our time in the Soatá area will focus on four rare, localized and very special species which are very hard to find elsewhere. These comprise three endemics – the attractive Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird, the secretive Niceforo’s Wren and the endangered Colombian Mountain Grackle – and the near-endemic, rare and localized Rusty-faced Parrot. We have an excellent chance of seeing all four.
Other rare and localized endemic and near-endemic species we may well find in this rewarding area include the stunning Golden-bellied Starfrontlet, Apical Flycatcher, Rufous-browed Conebill and the attractive Moustached Brushfinch.
The birding here is very varied, with forest and open country species of both middle- and low-elevation habitats. A mix of more widespread species may well include Ruddy Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Striped and Squirrel Cuckoos, White-throated Screech Owl, White-tipped Swift, Lesser and Sparkling Violetears, Acorn and Crimson-mantled Woodpeckers, Strong-billed and Montane Woodcreepers, Pale-breasted Spinetail, the retiring Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, the scarce Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet, Mountain Elaenia, Brown-capped Vireo, Inca Jay, Whiskered and Bicoloured Wrens, the sneaky Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Blue-capped, Fawn-breasted, Scrub and Tooth-billed Tanagers, Pale-naped Brushfinch, Streaked Saltator, Yellow-bellied and Plain-coloured Seedeaters, Black-crested and Golden-crowned Warblers, and Yellow-backed Oriole – a great mix of birds!
Boreal migrants include Merlin (uncommon), Tennessee Warbler and Summer Tanager.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 4 Today we will return to Bogotá for an overnight stay, detouring to a good area for the secretive Gorgeted Wood Quail en route. We will have more chances for some of the birds mentioned in the Soatá region.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 5 This morning we will take a flight to the town of Valledupar, situated at the base of the Serranía de Perijá in northernmost Colombia.
Upon arrival, we will ascend into the beautiful Serranía de Perija for a two nights stay, birding en route.
[Note: The ProAves Perija Lodge no longer exists, having been tragically destroyed in a fire in early 2022, so we will stay in a small township instead.]
We will be seeking out our first Perijá endemic, the Perija Brushfinch, at lower levels. Near-endemic birds in this area include Coppery Emerald, Klages’s Antwren and Golden-winged Sparrow. Other good birds include the restricted-range and uncommon Coopmans’s Tyrannulet, Rufous-and-white Wren and the smart Rosy Thrush-Tanager (now treated as a monotypic bird family).
Additional species we may encounter at lower and middle altitudes include the near-endemic Black-fronted Wood Quail (as always, tricky to see as opposed to hear), Moustached Puffbird, Groove-billed Toucanet, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrant, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Lance-tailed Manakin, Golden-breasted Fruiteater, Rufous-breasted Wren, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Black-hooded Thrush, Rufous-capped Warbler, Yellow-breasted Brushfinch and Black-headed Tanager.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 6 At higher altitudes in the Serranía de Perijá, where there is a mix of forest and paramo habitats, all the rest of the endemics are on the menu, including Perija Metaltail, Perija Thistletail, Perija Antpitta (the only challenging species among the Perijá endemics), Perija Tapaculo and Black-fronted Brushfinch.
A good number of species have endemic forms in the Perijá range, some of which are potential candidates for splitting. Probably the most likely of these is the form consita of the Golden-bellied Starfrontlet, but, unfortunately, it is both uncommon and erratic.
There are plenty of other birds at the higher levels and these include the near-endemic but uncommon Spectacled Tyrannulet, as well as Andean Guan, Andean Condor, Orange-throated Sunangel, Bronzy Inca, Crested Quetzal, Streak-backed Canastero, Rufous and White-browed Spinetails, Streaked Xenops, Pearled Treerunner, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, Mountain Wren, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Glossy-black Thrush, the beautiful Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia, Slaty Brushfinch, Slaty Finch, the bamboo-loving Plushcap, Oleaginous Hemispingus, Fulvous-headed Tanager and Hooded and Lacrimose Mountain Tanagers.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 7 After spending most of the day in the Serranía de Perijá, we will return to Valledupar for an overnight stay. This evening we will go out and look for Rufous Nightjar.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 8 This morning we will drive to the town of La Jagua de Ibirico, situated at the foot of the Sierra de Perijá (as opposed to the Serranía de Perija situated further north) for an overnight stay.
This afternoon we will be seeking out a very special, poorly-known near-endemic. The attractive Todd’s (or Perija) Parakeet is known only from a small area of Northeast Colombia and adjacent Venezuela. Formerly treated as a very isolated population of the Painted Parakeet, it is only in recent times that it has been realised that it is a distinct species.
We will also see a good number of other species, including some of those we have already encountered in the Serranía de Perijá.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 9 We will have another opportunity to look for Todd’s Parakeet this morning if we need to.
Afterwards, we will head southwards to Ocaña for an overnight stay. We will arrive in time for an initial look for Recurve-billed Bushbird and other birds.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 10 Our primary target at the Recurve-billed Bushbird (or Hormiguero de Torcoroma) Reserve near Ocaña will unquestionably be the amazing, bizarre-looking Recurve-billed Bushbird, which until recently was barely known in real life. This much-wanted near-endemic speciality even leaves distinctive bill marks on the leaf stems it pierces while feeding. Fortunately for us, this is much the most reliable site in Colombia for this special bird.
We should also see some other interesting species, including the near-endemic Grey-throated Warbler and the attractive Chestnut-bellied Thrush. Luck permitting, we will also see the little-known Todd’s Parakeet (a distinctive form which is still lumped by most authorities in Painted Parakeet).
Other new species may well include Band-tailed Guan, Stripe-throated Hermit, Plain Antvireo and the scarce Pale-vented Thrush.
Later we will continue southwards to the small town of San Vicente de Chucurí for a three nights stay.
Colombia with a Difference: Days 11-12 Not far from San Vicente we should be able to find the attractive, near-endemic Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo, but most of our time in the area will be spent at the Cerulean Warbler Reserve.
Although the Cerulean Warbler (or Reinita Azul) Reserve is named after this attractive North American wintering warbler, and while we will be very happy to see this rather uncommon species, it will not be the prime focus of our attention, for the reserve harbours many excellent species, including several localized endemics.
At the hummingbird feeders around the accommodation, the attractive but localized endemic Indigo-capped Hummingbird is common and there is also another chance to see the uncommon endemic Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird, while in the surrounding trees we will have a good chance of finding the colourful endemic Turquoise Dacnis.
We will need to walk above the reserve centre to reach the best area of forest, passing through pasture land where Russet-crowned Crake is common (but much easier to hear than to see).
As we walk through the forest, along a historically important paved road built by a German engineer in the 18th century, we should see the recently-described endemic Magdalena Tapaculo. We should also encounter such endemics as Colombian Chachalaca, the smart Black Inca, White-mantled Barbet, Beautiful Woodpecker and the recently-described Parker’s Antbird, plus the near-endemic Bar-crested Antshrike and Black-headed Brushfinch.
The usually secretive Lined Quail-Dove can be surprisingly easy to see here and other sought-after species we have a good or moderate chance of here include the gorgeous Golden-winged Manakin, the localized Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, the rare Yellow-throated Spadebill and such skulkers as Ochre-breasted and White-bellied Antpittas, and Long-tailed Tapaculo. Highland Tinamou is regular and, with some luck, we will manage to see one. We will also have another opportunity to come across the elusive endemic Gorgeted Wood Quail. Even harder to find is the near-endemic Blue-lored Antbird.
Mixed flocks are likely to hold an excellent array of more widespread Andean species including Spotted Barbtail, the sneaky Brown-billed Scythebill, Olive-striped Flycatcher, Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrant, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant and the localizedƒ Rufous-naped Greenlet.
Hummingbirds are plentiful at the reserve, and either at the hummingbird feeders or elsewhere, we should have plenty of time to enjoy the near-endemic Red-billed Emerald, as well as such jewels as Green Hermit, Brown Violetear, White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed and Speckled Hummingbirds, Andean Emerald, Green-crowned Brilliant (and perhaps Fawn-breasted), Buff-tailed Coronet and White-booted Racket-tail. The scarce Geoffroy’s Daggerbill is also possible.
Other species we could well encounter in and around this superb reserve include the near-endemic Bronze-brown Cowbird as well as Short-tailed and Barred Hawks, Ruddy Pigeon, White-tipped Swift, Collared Trogon, Red-crowned and Spot-breasted Woodpeckers, Laughing Falcon, Blue-headed Parrot, Spectacled Parrotlet, Wedge-billed, Cocoa and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, Stripe-breasted and Slaty Spinetails, Uniform Antshrike, Southern White-fringed Antwren, Sooty-headed, Plumbeous-crowned and Southern Beardless Tyrannulets, Forest Elaenia, Slaty-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Slaty-capped, Bran-coloured, Vermilion, Piratic, Boat-billed, Streaked and Fork-tailed Flycatchers, the aptly-named Ornate Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Bright-rumped Attila, White-bearded Manakin, Masked Tityra, Cinnamon and White-winged Becards, Yellow-legged Thrush, Russet-backed Oropendola, Giant Cowbird, Carib Grackle, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Grey-headed, Crimson-backed, Lemon-rumped, Golden, Bay-headed, Metallic-green, Black-capped, Yellow-backed and White-winged Tanagers, Ashy-throated Bush Tanager, the colourful Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, Buff-throated, Greyish and Black-winged Saltators, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, Thick-billed Seed Finch and Yellow-bellied Siskin.
We should also encounter some of the less common inhabitants of the area, which include the rare, near-endemic Double-banded Greytail, the near-endemic Slate-throated Gnatcatcher and Fulvous-vented Euphonia and the restricted-range White-eared Conebill, as well as Little Tinamou, Green-fronted Lancebill, Golden-headed Quetzal, Barred Forest Falcon, Barred Parakeet, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Rusty-winged Barbtail, Lesser Elaenia, Barred Becard and Subtropical Cacique.
Nightbirding should turn up Tropical Screech Owl and Pauraque, and there are fair chances for the rare Cinnamon Screech Owl and the widespread Mottled Owl, and a slim chance of Stygian Owl.
During the boreal winter, Olive-sided and Acadian Flycatchers, Eastern Wood Pewee, Grey-cheeked Thrush and Bay-breasted Warbler are also present, not to mention Cerulean Warbler of course. Uncommon visitors include the attractive Golden-winged Warbler and Mourning Warbler.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 13 Today we head southwest across the broad Magdalena Valley en route to the Blue-billed Curassow (or El Paujil) Reserve for a two nights stay.
Parrots are common in the area beyond Puerto Boyaca and we are likely to encounter Yellow-crowned, Orange-winged and Red-lored Amazons along the way, whilst the small wetlands that we pass may conceal Capped Herons or perhaps a handsome Rufescent Tiger Heron. In particular, we shall scan the marshes for the much-wanted Northern Screamer, a species which is readily found in this area.
Other species likely on the journey include Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Cocoi Heron, Great and Snowy Egrets, Cocoi, Little Blue and Striated Herons, Bare-faced Ibis, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, the impressive King Vulture, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Swallow-tailed and Pearl Kites, the scarce Long-winged Harrier, Great Black and Savanna Hawks, Northern Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras, Wattled Jacana (represented here by an interesting black race), Pale-vented Pigeon, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Grey-breasted Martin, Black-capped Donacobius, Pied Water Tyrant and the attractive White-headed Marsh Tyrant. We will also make a special stop for Jet Antbird.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 14 The El Paujil Reserve protects an important area of lowland forest, and here, our main target will be the very rare, critically endangered Blue-billed Curassow, after which the reserve takes its Spanish name. The species is not common and is usually extremely shy in its remaining localities in Colombia owing to the excessive hunting pressure that has been put on the species in recent decades. However, recent conservation efforts have led to the habituation of a few of these magnificent birds at El Paujil and, as a result, our chances of setting eyes on this ultimate prize are very much increased!
The reserve also hosts several Magdalena Valley endemics which we shall be targeting during our stay and these include Colombian Chachalaca as well as second chances for the aptly-named Beautiful Woodpecker, the striking White-mantled Barbet and the stunning Sooty Ant Tanager.
Near-endemic and other specialities found in the reserve include the amazingly colourful Citron-throated Toucan, the stolid Black-breasted Puffbird, Black Antshrike and the rare and poorly-known Black-billed Flycatcher.
Whilst searching for these specialities we should find a number of other new species for the trip. These may well include Plumbeous and Double-toothed Kites, White Hawk, Ruddy Pigeon, Blue-headed Parrot, the huge Blue-and-yellow and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, Spectacled Parrotlet, Greater Ani, Long-billed Hermit, Shining-green Hummingbird, gorgeous Violet-bellied and Blue-chested Hummingbirds, White-vented Plumeleteer, Purple-crowned Fairy, Long-billed Starthroat, Ringed, Amazon and Green Kingfishers, Black-throated Trogon, Whooping Motmot, White-whiskered Puffbird, White-fronted Nunbird and Lineated Woodpecker.
Passerines include Olivaceous, Northern Barred and Black-striped Woodcreepers, Great and Black-crowned Antshrikes, Checker-throated, the elusive Jet Antbird, Chestnut-backed and Bicoloured Antbirds, Brown-capped and Mouse-coloured Tyrannulets, Yellow Tyrannulet (of the interesting and distinctive leucophrys subspecies), Black-tailed and Social Flycatchers, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Tropical Pewee, Rufous Mourner, Flammulated Attila, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Golden-headed Manakin, Black-crowned and Masked Tityras, Scarlet-browed and Yellow-backed Tanagers, the unique Swallow Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Red-legged and Green Honeycreepers, Blue-black Grosbeak, Slate-coloured Grosbeak (this colourful saltator is easier to hear than see) and Black-striped Sparrow. During the boreal winter, Great Crested and Brown-crested Flycatchers, and Eastern Kingbird are also present.
There are a number of other scarce and difficult species that we could encounter including Great Tinamou, Marbled Wood Quail, Red-throated Caracara, the shy Ruddy Quail-Dove, the sneaky Little Cuckoo, White-tipped Sicklebill, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Rufous-crested Coquette, Great Jacamar, Yellow-margined Flatbill, Northern Royal Flycatcher, Half-collared Gnatwren, the near-endemic Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Orange-crowned Oriole and Orange-billed Sparrow.
At dusk, Pauraques call around the lodge, and other nightbirds present in the area include both Crested, Spectacled and Black-and-white Owl sand Vermiculated, Tropical and Choco Screech Owls and Common and Great Potoos, though most of these are tough to see in the forest here.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 15 After some early morning birding at the Blue-billed Curassow Reserve we will travel to the city of Medellin and then continue the relatively short distance to San Pedro de los Milagros for an overnight stay.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 16 This morning we shall explore the area where the endemic Antioquia Brushfinch was recently rediscovered after long being feared extinct. With specialist knowledge, we have a good chance of this interesting endemic this morning.
Afterwards, we shall drive to Anori for a two nights stay at the Reserva Arrierito Antioqueño (or Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve). We will begin our exploration of the reserve this afternoon.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 17 The ProAves reserve known as Arrierito Antioqueño is a lovely area of pristine forest with an extensive, quiet trail through prime habitat, as well as a public road that bisects the reserve.
Our main focus at Arrierito Antioqueño will be the rare endemic Chestnut-capped Piha, which was described as recently as 2001, as well as such other endemics as the recently-described Parker’s Antbird, the superb Black-and-gold Tanager and the spectacular Red-bellied Grackle. We have a good chance of finding all of these. We will also have a good chance for such endemics as Stiles’s Tapaculo and the lovely Multicoloured Tanager, as well as such near-endemics as Citron-throated Toucan, the superb but secretive Sooty-headed Wren and Purplish-mantled Tanager.
Other species we may well find here include Steely-vented Hummingbird, Greenish Puffleg, Purple-throated Woodstar, Blue-fronted Parrotlet, Red-headed Barbet, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Plain-brown, Olivaceous and Spotted Woodcreepers, Red-faced Spinetail, Buff-fronted and Buff-throated Foliage-gleaners, Western Woodhaunter, Streak-capped Treehunter, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Slaty Antwren, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Northern White-crowned Tapaculo, Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, Olive-striped, Golden-crowned and Pale-edged Flycatchers, White-throated Spadebill, White-crowned Manakin, the shy White-naped Brushfinch, Buff-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Bush Tanager and Guira, Black-faced and Silver-throated Tanagers.
Nightbirding here may produce Lyre-tailed Nightjar, Tropical Screech Owl or even the rare Cinnamon Screech Owl.
More difficult species include Wattled Guan, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Pavonine Cuckoo, Brown-billed Scythebill, the attractive Rufous-rumped Antwren, Wing-barred Piprites, Southern Nightingale-Wren, Pale-eyed Thrush and Long-billed Gnatwren.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 18 After a last morning at the Chestnut-capped Piha reserve we will return to Medellin for an overnight stay.
En route we will make a stop in some dry forest where we should find the recently discovered endemic Antioquia Wren, hopefully being alerted to it by its musical song. In the same area, we may well find the endemic Greyish Piculet and Apical Flycatcher, as well as Andean and Tody Motmots and perhaps Yellow-headed Manakin, while Scarlet-fronted Parakeets regularly screech overhead.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 19 This morning we will visit a reserve close to the city where the endemic Yellow-headed Manakin is straightforward to find.
Afterwards, we will head westwards to the town of Urrao for a two nights stay.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 20 Early this morning we will head off to the relatively recently established Reserva Colibri del Sol (or Dusky Starfrontlet Reserve), situated in the Western Cordillera above Urrao. This in itself is an adventure, as the final short distance to the lodge requires the use of mules or horses to transport us, or you can walk if you prefer.
This magnificent reserve gives us a fantastic panorama of forested ridges stretching away to the horizon, making one marvel at the thought of all the avian wonders that must inhabit this vast wilderness. Indeed it was here that the endemic Urrao Antpitta was relatively recently discovered and the reserve was subsequently set up. Today we are able to enjoy not only the remote tranquillity of this area but also a spectacular avifauna. The Urrao Antpitta is now regularly seen at a feeding station while the endemic Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer and rare endemic Dusky Starfrontlet are regularly seen. A walk to the paramo will give us a very good chance of seeing the relatively recently described endemic Paramillo Tapaculo.
Flowers attract a succession of colourful gems. As well as the Dusky Starfrontlet, the nectar attracts the unbelievable Sword-billed Hummingbird. Sparkling and Green Violetears often dominate, while tiny White-bellied Woodstars buzz around like toy helicopters! Other hummers may include Tawny-bellied Hermit, Buff-tailed Coronet, the pretty Tourmaline Sunangel, Mountain Velvetbreast and the diminutive Purple-backed Thornbill.
The dense bamboo hides some desirable skulkers such as the amazing Ocellated Tapaculo, Blackish, Stiles’s and Ash-coloured Tapaculos, and Rufous and Chestnut-naped Antpittas, and we will make attempts to see as many of these as possible.
Other new species we may come across include White-capped Parrot, Grey-throated Toucanet, the superb Black-billed Mountain Toucan, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Pearled Treerunner, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Rufous-breasted, Yellow-bellied and Slaty-backed Chat Tyrants, the elusive Dusky Piha, White-capped Dipper, Brown-capped Vireo, Citrine Warbler, Capped Conebill, Black and Black-throated Flowerpiercers, the colourful Saffron-crowned Tanager and Lacrimose Mountain Tanager. Much less likely, but not impossible, are the chunky Tawny-breasted Tinamou, the shy White-throated Quail-Dove, Andean Pygmy Owl, the sprightly Red-hooded Tanager or the lovely Black-chested Mountain Tanager.
Colombia with a Difference: Day 21 Today we will return to Medellin and catch a flight to Bogotá where our tour ends this afternoon.