Birding Colombia: Las Tangaras Reserve and Otun Quimbaya

Despite the entire town being drunk the night prior, the ride we coordinated the night prior actually arrived at 0400 and we were quickly heading up the dirt road to the Las Tangaras Reserve. The game plan was to do some owling, but after being dropped off and realizing I had forgotten my parabolic microphone in the truck, my morning of owling turned into a morning of calling the driver and getting my gear back. While I took care of my problems, Alex did some trolling for owls, but despite not finding any, he was still able to find a single Oilbird! Quite the find away from a cave. Luckily I had my gear safely back in my hands before light and I met up with Alex just as the sun began to rise.

We spent the first part of the morning birding along the road where we encountered some nice flocks as well as some understory birds such as Uniform Treehunter, Alto Pisones Tapaculo, and Narino Tapaculo. After things slowed down a bit we headed off down the only trail and quickly found some White-headed Wrens in a large clearing. As we entered the forest, Yellow-breasted Antpitta and Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owls began calling and Alex taped in a Crested Quetzal. As we continued down the trail we kept finding large feeding flock after large feeding flock. It was an absolutely amazing morning. Our first large flock contained Black Solitaire while our second flock contained Choco Vireo and Crested Ant-Tanager. Other interesting birds commonly found throughout the morning included Toucan Barbet, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Fulvous-dotted Treerunner, and Orange-breasted Fruiteater. We arrived to the highest point midday and after Alex endulged in some “beans and bread” we continued down what was suppoed to be the “loop” trail. Apparently at one point it was a loop, but a massive landside took out a large section of trail so instead we had to turn around and bird our way back out. We once again ran into a few more large flocks which included Purplish-mantled Tanger, Olivaceous Piha, Black-and-Gold Tanger, and I got on a single Club-winged Manakin. We made it back to the main road by late afternoon and finished the day near the hummingbird feeders which included Violet-breasted Coronet, Empress Brillant, and Purple-throated Woodstar.

The next morning we awoke to rain and after some deliberation as to whether I should even go up the mountain (I had seen my main targets and could instead get an early start on my long travel day), I conceded and we headed in the direction of Las Tangaras. We met Claudia and Stephan at the base of the road and drove up with them. Luckily we had decided to park near the hummingbird feeders and bird down the road as shortly after we started to descend, we came across a small landside that was caused by the heavy rain overnight. Fortunately we were able to walk past it, and after a slow start, we finally found a few good birds including Beautiful Jay, Yellow-collored Chlorophonia, and Golden-collared Honeycreeper. By mid morning we once again said our goodbyes to Stephan and Claudia and headed back to El Carmen. After taking a bus to nearby Bolivar, Alex and I parted ways. He headed towards Medellin (for a flight home the next day) and I headed towards Pereira and onward to Otun.

 

After departing ways with Alex in Bolivar, I started the long journey towards my next birding destination, Otun. From Bolivar I took a chiva to Bolombolo and quickly found out that I had missed the last bus (12:00) to Pereira by 30 minutes! After asking around about other alternatives, a plan was made to take a shared car to Pintada and then a van to Pereira. After 7 hours of travel I finally arrived in Pereira and after 30 minutes of waiting, was picked up by a driver who works for the Otun Reserve and we made the final hour long journey up a bumpy road to the reserve headquarters and accommodation. I finally made it to my room eleven hours after the start of my journey in El Siete! I quickly unpacked my gear and headed to bed as I had a 0300 start the next day to make the 6km walk to El Cedal to look for Hooded Antpitta.

I awoke at 0300 and quickly found myself hiking along the dirt track in the direction of El Cedal. Although it would have only taken a little over an hour to hike there, I wanted to give myself plenty of time to look for Colombian Screech-Owl along the way. My first few stops were unproductive, but finally at the 2.7 km mark, I got my first response from a Colombian Screech-Owl. Luckily the owl came in very close and I was able to find it perched about 10 yards away and only about 3 meters off the ground. Unfortunately it flew off quickly and I was unable to get any pictures. Happy that I had seen my first target I continued on and reached El Cedal at about 0430. With some time to spare before light, I quickly found another Colombian Screech-Owl and this time I was able to get a few shots and recordings before it disappeared back into the night. Knowing that my main target, Hooded Antpitta, only sings briefly in the earliest part of the morning, I left the screech-owl and headed to a spot recommended by a Belgium couple that I had met at Rio Blanco two weeks earlier.

Just as it began to get light, a Hooded Antpitta started to call from the steep hillside in front of me. I was excited that I had quickly found my main target, but knew actually seeing the bird would be much more difficult. I climbed up the hillside and began an hour long game of cat and mouse as I attempted to follow the antpitta along the hillside trying to catch a glimpse. The bird was moving around a lot, and with it still being very dark within the forest, it was impossible to see it. As the lighting got better, I quietly made my way close to the bird and began to play the tape to see if it would come in. After about ten minutes of waiting, I was unable to get a response, so decided to stand up. Luckily, just as I stood, I caught a glimpse of a leaf moving in the distance. Just below the left sat an adult Hooded Antpitta! I was able to follow the bird for about 10 minutes and watch it feed by sailieing out to glean leaves, often returning to the same perch. Very cool!

Happy to have seen my main target by 0645, I climbed back down the hillside and started to bird my way back towards the headquarters. It was a very enjoyable morning and I was able to add a lot of new birds for the trip. Rufous-breasted Flycatchers commonly called from the roadside and I logged a total of eleven Moustached Antpittas for the morning (two seen!). As flocks passed by, I was able to find Ashy-headed Tyrannulet, Rusty-winged Barbtail, Streak-capped Treehunter, Crested Ant-tanager, White-capped Tanager, and Multicolored Tanager. I also came across a few small groups of the endemic Caucan Guan which is very difficult to find away from this area. The main highlight of the morning though were the Red-ruffed Fruitcrows which would quietly sit alongside the road. Difficult to find throughout much of its range, this large colorful bird is absurdly common at Otun and I easily saw over 10 in a single morning. Having found all of my targets except Chestnut Wood-quail (heard only as this point), I decided to focus my efforts on it. I made my way back to the headquarters and coordinated a guide to walk with me for the afternoon along the trails behind the headquarters. Unfortunetly a year ago, the national park service changed the rules and it is now mandatory to have a guide with you if you want to walk the trails. This is annoying because the guides will only go out at certain times (0900 in the morning and 1500 in the afternoon) and although some know their birds well, no one really wants to slowly walk a trail looking for wood quail for hours. I spent the afternoon with my guide and although we saw a Grey-headed Dove we were unable to see any wood-quail despite the fact that they were frustratingly close. With a very successful day coming to an end, we headed back to the headquarters.

As mentioned above, this new issue with Otun is that technically you aren’t allowed on the trails by yourself. Luckily I found out that evening that the staff actually doesn’t care if you walk the trails by yourself, it’s just the national park employees. Luckily the employees don’t arrive until 0800, so from 0600-0800 I was able to walk the trails by myself. I spent the entire morning searching for wood-quail and although I heard many, I was unable to see any. The rest of the day was fairly uneventful and long story short, I didn’t see the quail. With one morning left, I headed back to the same area I had searched in vain for the quail the day prior, but unlike yesterday, this time I was able to call in two different male Chestnut Wood-quails. With all my targets found, I spent a little more time on the trail seeing Stiles Tapaculo, Greyish Piculet, Bar-crested Antshrike, Hooded Siskin, and my first Colombian Acorn Woodpecker before heading back to the headquarters and catching the 0930 chiva back to Periera. From there I boarded a bus to Pueblo Rico where I planned to meet up with Stephan and Claudia and spend 1 ½ days at Montezuma.