COLOMBIA OFF-THE-BEATEN-TRACK EXPEDITION: DETAILED ITINERARY
Colombia Off-the-beaten-track: Day 1 Our expedition starts at Bogotá airport, from where we will take a flight to Valledupar. Overnight at Valledupar.
Colombia Off-the-beaten-track: Day 2 Today we ascend the beautiful Serranía de Perija for a two nights stay at Perijá Lodge, birding en route.
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 Coopmanns’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 Off-the-beaten-track: Day 3 At higher altitudes in the Serrania 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, the soon-to-be split 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 Off-the-beaten-track: Day 4 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 Off-the-beaten-track: Day 5 We will explore the Valledupar area early this morning, with good birds including Red-legged Tinamou (which is easier to see here than in most places) and such near-endemic or restricted-range specialities as Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Chestnut Piculet, White-whiskered Spinetail, Black-backed Antshrike, Slender-billed Inezia, Venezuelan Flycatcher and Vermilion Cardinal.
Other likely species include Military Macaw, Lilac-tailed Parrotlet, Shining-green Hummingbird, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Northern Scrub Flycatcher, Black-chested Jay and Yellow, Orange-crowned and Yellow-tailed Orioles.
Afterwards, we will head westwards to the city of Cartagena for an overnight stay. Cartagena is one of the oldest cities in the post-Colombian Americas and is famous for its beautiful, well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture. Indeed, the old city was featured in the film ‘The Mission‘.
We may have our first encounter with the endemic Turquoise-winged Parrotlet en route and we will also likely come across the restricted-range Caribbean Hornero.
Colombia Off-the-beaten-track: Day 6 We will have another opportunity to look for Turquoise-winged Parrotlets this morning before we take a flight to Medellin.
From there we will drive to San Pedro de los Milagros for an overnight stay.
Colombia Off-the-beaten-track: Day 7 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 will return to Medellin airport and take a flight to Bogotá for an overnight stay.
Colombia Off-the-beaten-track: Day 8 Today we will drive southwards through the Andean valleys to south-central Colombia, where we will spend a total of five nights (two nights in the Garzón region and three nights at Palestina near Pitalito). We may arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Colombia Off-the-beaten-track: Days 9-12 Our time will be spent looking for the very localized Spectacled Prickletail and the endemic East Andean Antbird and Dusky-headed Brushfinch in particular, but also many other good birds. This is a very rich Andean area, with numerous bird species likely during our stay, some of which are Colombian specialities and some of which have a wider distribution in the Andes.
Among the many other species that we will be looking for are Colombian Chachalaca, Wattled Guan, Chestnut Woods Quail, Swallow-tailed Nightjar, Geoffroy’s Daggerbill, Tourmaline Sunangel, Greenish, Glowing and Emerald-bellied Pufflegs, Bronzy Inca, Mountain Velvetbreast, Rufous-vented Whitetip, Gorgeted Woodstar, Red-billed Emerald, Tolima Blossomcrown, Indigo-capped and Blue-chested Hummingbirds, Tolima Dove, Barred Hawk, White-throated Screech Owl, Rufous-banded Owl, White-throated Toucanet, Black-billed Mountain Toucan, Spot-winged and Spectacled Parrotlets, White-capped Parrot, Scaly-naped Amazon, Dusky Leaftosser, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Flammulated Treehunter, Ash-browed Spinetail, Bar-crested Antshrike, White-bellied Antbird, White-bellied, Brown-banded and Chestnut-crowned Antpittas, Northern White-crowned, Long-tailed and Magdalena Tapaculos, Plumbeous-crowned and Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulets, Variegated Bristle Tyrant, Rufous-breasted, Handsome and Apical Flycatchers, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, Fulvous-breasted Flatbill, Rufous-tailed Tyrant, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Black-chested Fruiteater, Olivaceous and Dusky Pihas, Rufous-naped Greenlet, Black-collared Jay, Velvet-fronted and Bronze-green Euphonias, Yellow-whiskered, Ashy-throated and Grey-hooded Bush Tanagers, Moustached, and Pale-naped Brushfinches, Subtropical and Northern Mountain Caciques, Red-bellied Grackle, Golden-fronted Whitestart, White-capped, Rufous-crested, Flame-rumped and Scrub Tanagers, Black-and-white and Slate-colored Seedeaters, Black-headed Hemispingus and Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer.
Among the tougher possibilities are Tawny-breasted Tinamou, Spot-fronted Swift, Buff-fronted Owl and Hooded Antpitta.
Colombia Off-the-beaten-track: Day 13 Today we drive back to Bogotá for an overnight stay.
Colombia Off-the-beaten-track: Days 14 This morning we fly to the far east of Colombia, to the remote town of Inírida (formerly Puerto Inírida), situated on the river of the same name not far from Colombia’s border with Venezuela. We will be spending five nights at Inírida and we will begin our exploration of the surrounding area this afternoon.
Colombia Off-the-beaten-track: Days 15-18 Inírida is a surprisingly bustling little town considering its remote location, and it is the Inírida River and even larger, neighbouring Guaviare River, that give it life and provide an easy smuggling route for every kind of consumer goods for the benighted inhabitants of nearby Venezuela!
From a traveller’s perspective, the most famous draw here is the truly spectacular Cerros de Mavecure; three huge, black, quartzite domes that rise straight out of the jungle beside the Inírida River. The three mountains, which are sacred to the indigenous people of the area, are known as Pajarito (little bird), Mono (monkey) and Mavicuri and are 712 m (2,336 ft), 480 m (1,570 ft), and 170 m (560 ft) respectively in height. They are truly spectacular and we are sure to pay them a visit during our stay.
However, we have come to this little-visited place because it is still one of the best-kept birding secrets in Colombia, indeed still off-the-beaten-track for birding tours. Inírida has a really great selection of birds, including some hard or impossible to see elsewhere.
Inírida now has its own very special bird, the recently discovered ‘Inirida Antshrike’. There is still debate as to whether this new, as-yet-undescribed form is a full species or a new, very geographically separated, subspecies of the Chestnut-backed Antshrike. Given the morphological differences (Inirida has a black throat and breast, whereas all races of Chestnut-backed are barred) there seems to be a good chance it is a new species. Mercifully it is not difficult to find around Inírída, so we can form our own opinion.
The other very special bird of Inírida, which is not hard to find, is the restricted-range Orinoco Softtail. This is the only accessible place where one can see this species.
The Inírida area also shares a number of white-sand forest specialities with Mitú, but in addition, has its own exclusives. New white-sand specials here include Bronzy Jacamar, Yapacana Antbird, Plain-crested Elaenia, Helmeted Pygmy Tyrant, Pale-bellied Mourner, the strange Capuchinbird, Yellow-crowned Manakin, the lovely Rose-breasted Chat and Red-shouldered Tanager, all of which are regularly recorded. We will also have further chances for Green-tailed Goldenthroat, Orinoco Piculet, Blackish-grey Antshrike, Cherrie’s Antwren, Black Manakin, Green Oropendola and Plumbeous Euphonia. In addition, the chances of seeing the uncommon White-naped Seedeater are much better here than at Mitú.
Other birds of particular interest include Slate-coloured Hawk, Great-billed Hermit, White-eared Jacamar, Golden-spangled Piculet, Amazonian Streaked Antwren, Duida Woodcreeper, Yellow-crowned Elaenia, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Varzea Schiffornis, Amazonian Grosbeak, Masked Cardinal, Yellow-bellied Dacnis and Velvet-fronted Grackle. We will also have second chances for Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet, Imeri Warbling Antbird, Amazonian Black Tyrant, Pompadour Cotinga, the handsome Black-collared Swallow and Brown-headed Greenlet.
More widespread species we may encounter include Little Tinamou, Muscovy Duck, Spix’s Guan, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Cocoi, Little Blue, Striated and Capped Herons, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great, Snowy and Western Cattle Egrets, Bare-faced Ibis, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Osprey, Double-toothed Kite, Black-collared, Savanna, Great Black and Roadside Hawks, Sunbittern, Russet-crowned Crake, Sungrebe (easier here than at Mitú), Southern Lapwing, Collared Plover, Wattled Jacana, Spotted Sandpiper, Yellow-billed and Large-billed Terns, Black Skimmer, Pale-vented, Scaled and Ruddy Pigeons, Common and Ruddy Ground Doves, Eared, White-tipped and Grey-fronted Doves, Smooth-billed Ani, Squirrel Cuckoo, Least Nighthawk, White-collared, Short-tailed and Grey-rumped Swifts, White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Glittering-throated Emerald, Green-backed, Blue-crowned and Black-throated Trogons, Ringed, Amazon and Green Kingfishers, Black-fronted Nunbird, Brown and Green-tailed Jacamars, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, Golden-green, Spot-breasted, Cream-coloured, Crimson-crested and Lineated Woodpeckers, Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras, Laughing and Bat Falcons, Brown-throated Parakeet, Blue-headed Parrot, Mealy and Orange-winged Amazons, and Blue-and-yellow, Red-and-green and Chestnut-fronted Macaws (indeed, macaws are still a regular sight around Inírida).
Among the passerines, we could well find Great and Black-crested Antshrikes, Plain Antvireo, White-flanked and Dot-winged Antwrens, White-browed and White-cheeked Antbirds, Plain-brown, Wedge-billed, Long-billed, Strong-billed, Buff-throated and Straight-billed Woodcreepers, Curve-billed Scythebill, Rusty-backed, Speckled and Yellow-throated Spinetails, Southern Beardless and Yellow-crowned Tyrannulets, Forest Elaenia, Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant, Ochre-bellied, Grey-crowned, Ruddy-tailed, Euler’s, Dusky-capped, Rusty-margined and Piratic Flycatchers, Lesser Kiskadee, Cinnamon and Bright-rumped Attilas, Screaming Piha, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Wire-tailed, White-crowned and Golden-headed Manakins, Black-tailed Tityra, White-browed Purpletuft, White-winged Becard, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Red-eyed Vireo, Violaceous Jay, White-banded, Southern Rough-winged and White-winged Swallows, Grey-breasted Martin, House, Thrush-like and Buff-breasted Wrens, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Black-capped Donacobius, Black-billed Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-faced, Hooded, Grey-headed, Silver-beaked, Burnished-buff, Turquoise, Paradise and Summer Tanagers, Blue Dacnis, Red-legged and Green Honeycreepers, Blue-black Grassquit, Grey and Yellow-bellied Seedeaters, Large-billed and Chestnut-bellied Seed Finches, Buff-throated and Greyish Saltators, Crested Oropendola, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Epaulet Oriole, Giant Cowbird and Thick-billed and Golden-bellied Euphonias.
A bonus in the Inírida area is the pink Amazon River Dolphin, as small groups are regularly sighted along the rivers. As with so many creatures, they are an endangered species these days, but they still seem to be doing well in this area. We may also see Collared Titi Monkey.
Colombia Off-the-beaten-track: Day 19 After some final birding around Inírida we will fly back to Bogotá.
Our expedition ends upon arrival at Bogotá airport.