Birding Colombia: 4 days around Bogota and Soata

With a few days at my disposal thanks to being ahead of schedule, my goal was to continue to clean up on the country’s endemics while still picking up a few more near-endemic species that could be found within a few hours of Bogota. Arriving on an overnight bus from Pereria, I made it to the south bus terminal by 0230. I was a bit surprised when I got off the bus, as the southern terminal isn’t more than a small building (not what I was expecting for Bogota) and at that hour, few people were around. I waited in the terminal until 0400 and then took a taxi to the town of Usme on the southern outskirts of Bogota. My goal was to make it to Sumapaz National Park, but upon arriving in Usme I was told that the first bus heading past Sumapaz wouldn’t be leaving until 0800. Luckily I found a collectivo that was heading in the right direction and would be stopping 5 km before my desired destination. I really didn’t want to have to walk so I convinced the driver to take me the short extra distance and soon I was off on the 90 minute drive to my morning birding destination in the high Andes.

As a quick side note, the above experience is a prime example of how there’s ALWAYS a way to get around in Colombia. I can’t tell you how many times over the past six weeks I’ve been told bad news with regards to public transportation and then shortly afterwards figured out a way to get to my destination in a timely matter. It’s just always important to keep an open mind, talk to A LOT of people (most of the time people will sound confident in their answers, but actually have no clue) and be willing to be flexible (like pay a bit extra to go slightly past the “end”).

Anyway, I arrived at the Laguna at Sumapaz shortly after first light, but couldn’t see much as there was heavy fog in the area. I hid my large backpack in the paramo and started working my way clockwise around the lake. It didn’t take long to find a few Apolinar’s Wrens along the shoreline, but I actually wasn’t able to find too much of a marshy area. Luckily along the northern eastern edge of the lake I found a marshy area where I flushed two Noble Snipe and saw three male Green-bearded Helmetcrests chasing each other around. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any rails and wasted a lot of time searching other sections of the shoreline since it was difficult to see through the fog. Eventually the fog lifted and I realized that the majority of the marshy habitat was actually on the other side of the road. I made my way back to the main road and crossed over into the marshy areas to look for the Bogota Rail. I quickly had one respond to the tape, but after about 40 minutes and getting very wet, I gave up on trying to see it. There were a lot of Apolinar’s Wrens in the area as well as Andean Teal, American Coot, Ruddy Duck, Many-striped Canastero, and a single Bronze-tailed Thornbill. Although I would have had liked to spend a little longer in the area, I was told the only morning buses that passed by were at 0930 and 1000, so at 0930 I jumped on a bus back towards Bogota, as I didn’t want to get stranded in the area until the afternoon.

After battling Bogota traffic for way too long, I finally made it to my afternoon destination of Observatorio de Colibris by 1430. This relatively new site (opened for about two years) is a very reliable spot for the near endemic Blue-throated Starfrontlet as well as a reliable spot for a few more interesting hummingbirds. The site requires reservations (I made them the day before), but is very accessible from Bogota. I spent about an hour at the location and had great looks at tons of hummingbirds including Blue-throated Starfrontlet, Glowing and Coppery-bellied Pufflegs, Black-tailed and Green-tailed Trainbearers, and Sword-billed Hummingbird. After visiting the feeders I made my way to the north bus portal in Bogota and waited for a 2000 bus to Soata.

I arrived in Soata at 0200 and after pounding on a few hotel doors, finally woke someone up to let me in. I got a little sleep and was back up by 0430 to find a driver to take me up into the mountains for my main target, Mountain Grackle. Luckily it was pretty easy to find a driver, but unfortunately the price was a little steep. We headed off up the road and arrived around the birding area just at dawn. I spent the morning working my way up the road looking for Mountain Grackle, but couldn’t find any. By 0730 we had arrived at Pedro Sabriana’s house and after a short conversation, learned that the grackles hadn’t been very reliable on his side of the mountain and instead were consistently being seen on the other side of the pass. I headed up past his house to the other side, but over the next few hours couldn’t find any grackles. I did get some nice looks at Rusty-faced Parrot as a consolation prize. By 1030 the decision was made to return to town to look for Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird. I left my driver near the plaza and told him to return at 1600 so that we could look for the grackle again in the afternoon. I headed down a nearby gravel road and despite it being the middle of the day was able to find a few hummingbirds including a single Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird.

After 1600 I met back up with my driver and we once again headed up into the mountains. I realized 1600 was a bit of a late start and began to get nervous that we wouldn’t have much time at the top before dark. Before leaving the mountain that morning, Pedro had volunteered to accompany me for the afternoon so we picked him up at his house at 1645 and headed to the far side of the mountain. As soon as we arrived at his recommended spot, we could hear a flock of grackles calling distantly in the valley. Luckily there was a cattle trail heading directly towards the grackles and after a quick run down the trail, I soon found myself watching a small flock of Mountain Grackles. Pedro and I watched the birds as they fed only about 15 meters away for nearly 10 minutes before moving on further down the valley. Awesome!

I made it back to town by 1800 and was told a bus heading back to Bogota would be passing through at 1900. I quickly packed, showered, and ate dinner and went to the bus stop to head back towards Bogota. Unfortunately the bus didn’t arrive until almost 2100, but I was still able to make it back to the terminal in Bogota by 0225. Surprisingly there was a van leaving at 0230 for my next destination (Monterredondo) which meant I’d be able to make my next destination by dawn (who needs sleep anyways?).

I arrived in Guaybetal (the town just past Monterredondo) at 0430 and once again found myself trying to find a hotel when all of them were closed. Luckily, I was finally able to wake someone up and get a really crappy room which was fine with me because I just wanted to drop off my bags. I quickly sorted out a motorcycle to take me up the mountain and by 0630 I was arriving at 2250m in elevation above Monterredondo.

After parting ways with my driver, I started to focus on my main target of the morning, Cundinamarca Antpitta. This highly range restricted endemic can be notoriously hard to see so I figured I’d be spending the majority of the morning crawling around steep hillsides just for a glimpse of my target bird. Luckily for me, this was not the case. I quickly found a responsive bird and quietly lowered myself down a steep hillside until I was well concealed within thicket vegetation. With the bird calling only a few meters away, I started to play the tape and the bird quickly started to make a large circle around me and then popped up in the open about 5 feet from my face! I tried to take a few pictures, but it quickly moved back into the thicket vegetation. Thankfully it popped up again about 10 feet away where I had the opportunity to get a few nice shots! Happy with my success I climbed back up to the road and spent an enjoyable morning seeing a few more interesting birds such as Slate-crowned Antpitta, Ochre-breasted Brushfinch, Suplhur-bellied Tyrannulet, lots of Green-and-Black Fruiteaters and Lineated Foilage-gleaner. Unfortunately, the next two best birds of the morning, Schwartz’s Anthrush and Brown-breasted Parakeet, were heard onlys. After spending a considerable amount of time trying to see the parakeets, I finally walked the 9 kilometers back down to the highway. I was hoping to find Green-bellied Hummingbird, but didn’t have very high expectations until I found a large orange flowering tree in a small village just above the main highway. At this location I was able to find a single Green-bellied Hummingbird as well as nice looks at Scrub Tanager and Purple Honeycreeper. I made it back to Guaybetchal by 1300, grabbed my bags, and boarded a bus back to Bogota. From the city I continued in a south western direction until I reached Agua de Dios by 1930 in the evening.

The next morning I decided I’d visit Mana Dulce reserve. This private reserve located just outside of Agua de Dios provides easy access to a large tract of dry forest. The bird life here is surprisingly similar to Tayrona National Park which is over 750 kilometers away. I wasn’t able to visit Tayrona during my time near Santa Marta so this provided a good opportunity for me to find a few dry forest specialties. I started the morning before light looking for Pheasant Cuckoo, but I was unable to find any (later on the owner said she hasn’t heard any in a while). After light I started to find a few dry forest birds including Jet Antbird, White-bellied Antbird, Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, and Velvet-fronted Euphonia. I spent the majority of the morning looking for Lance-tailed Manakin and finally at about 0930 I found a single calling male. By 1030 it was starting to get very hot so I returned to Agua de Dios and onward to Bogota.

Today was my last morning in Colombia, but I still had a few birds that I wanted to see. I decided to visit a local park near the airport called La Florida. This has been a reliable spot for birders over the past few years, but the area is also known to be a bit dangerous. I arrived just after light, but the entrance to the “bird tourism area” was closed. On both sides of the gate there are large openings and there weren’t any signs saying you couldn’t enter so I decided to head in anyways and make my way to the small observation hide. Once I reached the hide, I quickly saw my first target Bogota Rail as well as a few Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Subtropical Doridito, and two Apolinar’s Wrens. From here I headed back out to the other side of the park in hopes of finding my last target of the trip, Slivery-throated Spinetail. The only issue with this plan is that there is very little habitat remaining and the only thick secondary vegetation I could find was in an off-limits area.

I found a local security guard, and after telling him my dilemma, he agreed to accompany me to the off-limit areas for a small tip. Long story short, we found a single pair of Silvery-throated Spinetails, but I had to wade through wet waist-high grass and when we finished, I was completely soaked. Overall, La Florida is a fairly terrible location and I’d highly recommend checking out other alternatives.

Happy that I found my last endemic target of the trip, I took a taxi back to my hostel and eventually made my way to the airport.

My trip to Colombia turned out to be a huge success. I had found 790 species (without visiting the amazon) and had seen 75 out of 76 possible endemics on the trip. In total I had 260 life birds, far exceeding my initial expectations. Total cost for the trip was $3,200 not including airfare. For detailed information about the sites visited throughout the trip, check out my trip report for Colombia.



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