Birding Colombia: Chestnut-capped Piha Reserva, La Romera, Jardin

After a full day of traveling, Alex and I woke up at 0300 and started on the 3 mile walk to the Chestnut-capped Piha reserve. Our game plan was to owl along the way, and although we heard Tropical Screech-Owl, Mottled Owl, and Wattled Guan, we were unable to find any of the rarer owls. By first light we were already part way up the main trail at the Piha Reseve with one goal in mind: to find Chestnut-capped Piha, a critically endangered species found only at this location. It was a long morning as we walked around quietly searching for the Piha. Although we couldn’t find the piha, luckily there were plenty of other cool birds to see including Moustaced Puffbird, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Multicolored Tanager, Streak-capped Treehunter, Brown-billed Scythebill, and Green-fronted Lancebill. By early afternoon we had made it to the top of the ridge and had began the decent down the other side. Alex took a quick break as I walked further down the trail when suddenly I heard the distinct call of a Chestnut-capped Piha! I called for Alex who quickly came running down the trail and we spent the next hour waiting and searching for the piha. Finally we made the decision to quietly sneak down the hillside which proved to be a good move and as soon we did we had great looks at two Chestnut-capped Pihas. From here we continued along the large loop trail and although the habitat was fairly poor we came across a major highlight of the trip in the form of a Pavonine Cuckoo, an extremely difficult bird to see, but this bird came in aggressively and at one point almost flew into us! After a long day of birding, we finally made it back to our room by 1800, meaning that we had been out for 15 hours and had walked close to 15 miles for the day! Shortly after we made it back, Alex’s friends Stephan and Claudia showed up. Coincidentally they were going to be doing almost the same itinerary as us for the next two weeks, just 1-2 days behind! Although they were going to stay at the ProAves lodge the next two nights, they didn’t have reservations for tonight so instead they stayed at the same small hotel as us. Since they had a rental car, we worked out a deal that if Stephan would give us a ride up in the morning, we’d show him the Piha. A fair trade for all. After an unsuccessful bout of owling we headed to bed.

At 0500 we drove up to the Piha Reserve and once again quickly found ourselves on the main trail before light. The plan for today was to quickly make our way up to the ridge so that we could concentrate on a few tanagers we had missed the day prior as well as show Stephan the piha. As light broke and we headed up with ridge we came across a few feeding flocks that contained a some new birds including Uniform Antshrike, Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, Purplish-mantled Tanager, Black-and-Gold Tanager, and a surprise Chestnut-capped Piha. Eventually we made it to our piha stakeout and once again had great views of two Chestnut-capped Pihas. From here we headed back down the trail the same way we had come and although we ran into a few more flocks we still weren’t able to find any Scarlet-and-white Tanagers. We made it back to our hotel by noon and as Stephan and Claudia packed to head back to the reserve, Alex and I gathered our belongings and caught a bus back to Medellin. After arriving in Medellin, we took the surprisingly nice and efficient metro system south to the town of Itaque on the outskirts of Medellin. We made our way to a hostel and after a nice dinner of queso con queso con queso, we went to bed.

Yellow-headed Manakin

Yellow-headed Manakin

Since we had left the piha reserve a day early, our game plan was to spend the morning at La Romera and then eventually make our way to Bolombolo, a town en route to our next major destination of Urrao. Although getting to La Romera turned into a bit of a fiasco (the Colombian Guide Book’s directions were once again terrible) we eventually made our way to the right spot only about 30 minutes after first light. La Romera is an interesting birding location with steep hillsides and the constant sound of a flowing river, made it difficult to hear in the majority of locations. Although we heard our main target, the Yellow-headed Manikin shortly after arrival, it was almost impossible to find it. Instead we continued a bit further down the road and found our second target of the morning, Red-bellied Grackle. After watching the grackles for a bit, we headed back to the spot where we had heard the manakin and prepared for a long wait. Fortunately only 20 minutes later, Alex yelled that he had found the bird. He had been watching a small group of Three-striped Warblers and was hoping that the manakin might get caught up in the feeding flock when he somehow managed to spot the male Yellow-headed Manakin quietly sitting halfway down the ravine. With both of our targets quickly found, we eventually came up with the idea to head directly to Jardin instead of Bolombolo. If we could make it to Jardin by early afternoon, we could get the Yellow-eared Parrots and then head to Bolombolo early the following morning. If this plan worked, it would essentially save me a day later on in the trip. With the decision to go, we quickly made our way back to Itague and boarded a bus to Jardin.

We arrived in Jardin at 1400 and I was feeling confident that we would have plenty of time to find the endemic parrot. We made our way to a hotel, but soon found out they were full. This wasn’t a big deal as we figured we’d just check the next one. The issue was that the next one was also full. And the next. And the next. And the next. Seven hotels later, we finally found an open room. Apparently it was the first day of a major festival and almost the entire town was fully booked. Although I was happy we had simply found a room, Alex was less than pleased as it was directly next to the stage in the middle of the plaza. We were in for a loud and sleepless night (not to mention we were grossly overcharged) but with the hotel sorted out, the next issue was finding a ride to the parrot location 45 minutes away. It didn’t take too long to find a taxi (a bit surprising since apparently there are only 5 in town!) and after once again being over charged, we were on our way to find the endemic Yellow-eared Parrot. Just as we were heading out of town, we heard some parrots outside the window and after taking a minute to recognize them as our target, we had the taxi turn around and soon we had quick looks at a flock of 45 Yellow-eared Parrots flying by. Unsatisfied with the look, we continued up to the top of the road and continued on to a clearing slightly down the other side that is known to be a good location to see the parrot. With about an hour of daylight left, we were treated to multiple pairs flying by as they headed off to roost. Happy that our plan actually worked, we headed back to town and eventually fell asleep despite the noise outside our window that continued into the wee hours of the morning.