Birding Colombia: Urrao and Bolombolo

After our successful whirlwind afternoon to see the Yellow-eared Parrots above Jardin, we awoke at 0500 the next morning and boarded a van headed towards Bolombolo.  The game plan for the day was to bird a small section of busy road for three endemics before continuing on to Urrao where we would meet an employee of ProAves to head up to the Colibri del Sol Reserve. After taking motorcycles to the birding location, Alex and I quickly found our first two targets in the form of Antioquia Wren and Apical Flycatcher. With 1 ½ hours left until the motorcycles were supposed to pick us up, I was confident that we’d find out third target, Greyish Piculet. We walked the busy road for 90 minutes looking and listening for the piculet, but it was not to be. Frustratingly we had to leave and catch a bus to Urrao so that we could make our meet up time with our guide and horses.

 

We arrived in Urrao shortly before 1400 and quickly made our way to a nearby meetup point where our guide was waiting with two horses. We loaded our gear on to the first horse and then started off on the hour-long hike to the lodge. Alex started off riding the horse and eventually I took over. It had probably been 15 years since I had last riden a horse, but it was a nice change of pace to get a ride up the steep hillside instead of walking! We arrived at the lodge just before dark (and just before a large rain storm).

The game plan for today was to start at the Urrao Antpitta feeder and then hike up to the hummingbird feeders where we could find Dusky Starfrontlet as well as Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiecer and Paramillo Tapaculo. The antpitta cooperated nicely and after great views of two Urrao Antpittas we started the hike up to the paramo, slowly birding along the way. Although we picked up a few new birds, the main highlights came once we had finally reached the paramo. As expected, there were a few Dusky Starfrontlets visting the hummingbird feeders alongside Chestnut-bellied and Black-throated Flowerpiecers. While Alex took a short break (he wasn’t feeling well) I headed further up the trail and eventually got great looks at a Paramillo Tapaculo. Having seen our target birds, we spent the rest of the day slowly birding down the trail. It was very foggy and very slow birding, but we still managed a few interesting birds including Citrine Warbler (a potential split) and quick looks at Chestnut-naped Antpitta.

By early afternoon we had made it most of the way down the trail and ran into Stephan and Claudia on their way up towards the hummingbird feeders. After chatting for a few minutes we continued down the trail and eventually heard Rusty-faced Parrot. Although we had seen Rusty-faced Parrot at Rio Blanco, I was keen to see this subspecies as it is a potential split. We waited near an overlook and eventually the parrots distantly flew by, but only Alex was able to get on them. We decided to spend another (very boring) 1 ½ hours at the overlook hoping more would pass, but the only highlight was watching Alex demonstrate his playback skills by first taping in a Great Thrush and then taping in a Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager that was originally about 200 yards away. Fun times.

Without many other target birds in the area, the next day we decided to leave well before light and ride the horses up to a place where the Rusty-faced Parrots are known to visit a mineral lick. Stephan and Claudia joined us this morning and shortly after 0500, the four of us took off on horses up the mountainside. The beginning was quite chaotic as the horses had their own plans in mind, but eventually we made it up the trail without any major incidents. From here it was another 25 minute walk to the cliff were the parrots sometime visit. We arrived shortly after 0630 and although we spent over 2 hours at the cliff, the parrots never showed (we didn’t even see any fly by!) Disappointed we headed back down the trail with Stephan and Claudia heading to the hummingbird feeders while Alex and I headed down to the lodge and then back to Urrao.

We took a standing room only bus in Urrao back to Bolombolo (thanks again to the festival still going on) and got off the bus at the 3 km mark where we had birded a few days ago. Once again we were on the hunt for the rare and elusive (but not really) Greyish Piculet. Luckily the tiny bastard was a bit more cooperative and it only took about 30 minutes before we had the majestic beast singing in front of us. Happy with our success (or at least I was, Alex could have cared less to see this lackluster endemic) we continued back to Bolombolo and onward to the town of El Carmen, our base camp for the exploration of Las Tangaras. Despite the majority of the town being drunk (it was the last day of the festival) we were able to find a ride for the following morning and then quickly headed off to bed.