Birding Colombia: Montezuma and Santa Cecilia

With an early arrival in Pueblo Rico, I had 3 ½ hours to burn before meeting up with the others and our transportation at 1800. I decided to head downhill towards Santa Cecilia in hopes of finding Baudo Oropendola. The information I had was very vague and after the hour drive to Santa Cecilia I only had 1 ½ hours to try and find the oropendolas. Sadly I couldn’t find the trail, but after messing around for an hour, I finally found a trail heading in to good forest. With only about 20 minutes left to bird I quickly headed down the trail hoping that I’d get extremely lucky. As I was quickly walking along, I heard the distinct sound of an alarmed guan. I quickly stopped and spotted a Baudo Guan sititng at almost eye level down the steep hillside. I quickly grabbed by camera from by bag, but as I was about to start taking pictures, I felt a sharp pain on my foot (I was in flip-flops for some dumb reason) and looked down to find about 30 army ants on my feet and legs. Needless to say the guan went flying as I quickly turned my attention to getting the ants off of me before I received too many bites. With no time left, I headed back to the road and back to Pueblo Rico to meet my ride to Montezuma.

The three of us arrived at Montezuma by 1900, and after a nice dinner, coordinated to have the 4wd vehicle drop us off at the top of the road the next morning. We arrived at the top just as it was getting light and the rain and fog from the night prior was starting to clear. Just after breakfast we had fantastic looks at the endemic Munchique’s Wood-Wren which literally sang two feet from us. From here we started walking down the mountain, but unfortunately the fog rolled back in. Luckily Stephan spotted our other high elevation target Gold-ringed Tanager which fed nicely directly in front of us. Although the morning had started out quite well, our luck stopped there. It began to rain and the bird activity dropped to almost zero. We made our way to a shelter about halfway down the road and after eating lunch and waiting for an hour, Stephan and Claudia decided to head back to the lodge. I was determined to find my main target, Bicolored Antvireo, so I decided to stay behind with our guide (a guide is mandatory here) and wait for the rain to stop. The rain never did stop and although we didn’t see much the rest of the afternoon, we did run into one nice flock that contained a Choco Vireo and a Rufous-browed Tyrannulet. We made our way back to the lodge by dark and hoped that the next day we would have better weather.

At 0430 Stephan and I started to walk up the road. The plan was to make it to the best area for the antvireo by dawn and concentrate our efforts on it. Our guide was supposed to meet us at 0700 when they brought breakfast. Fortunately the weather had improved overnight and the bird activity was great. It only took about 20 minutes before we were able to located a pair of Bicolored Antvireos and we were able to get some decent pictures as well as recordings of their song (both male and female) as well as three different call types. From here we continued birding down the road trying to find a Choco Vireo for Stephan, but it was not to be. Bird activity was still fairly slow, but we eventually found a few good flocks that included Fulvous-breasted Flatbill and Crested Ant-Tanager. Later on in the afternoon Stephan found a Scarlet-and-white Tanager while I was looking for Lanceolted Monket. Sadly I missed the tanager (and never found the monklet!). We had made plans to leave by 1500, so we had to quickly bird down the rest of the road and pack our gear before our ride arrived.

Being a few days ahead of schedule, I decided to spend a day downhill from Pueblo Rico near the town of Santa Cecilia. This area had recently been discovered as a reliable site for the endemic Baudo Oropendola, a bird you usually have to fly to the Pacific coast of Colombia to see. With better information from the staff at Montezuma and the number of a local to be our “guide” for the day, the three of us headed to Santa Cecilia for the night. We had high expectations for the next day as this very under birded area is located at 300m in elevation and has very good potential to produce a large number of lowland Choco specialties.

Our local guide met us at 0530 and we headed to the first spot about 20 minutes downhill from town. Just as we were arriving to the location, it began to rain. Luckily the spot for the oropendola is only about a five minute walk along the river and the spot is at a local restaurant/bar area along the river. We spent the morning sitting under the conveniently located shelters and watching for our target birds. The locals were thrilled with our attendance, as apparently we were the first “tourists” to visit and they were very interested in the local wildlife. The one guy had a camera and showed us a number of pictures of the oropendolas as well as other birds he had seen on the property (including Baudo Guan). While waiting for the rain to stop, a few small flocks moved along the hillside with the best bird being Spot-crowned Barbet. Finally at around 0830, our guide spotted a Baudo Oropendola which came flying by and distantly landed on the hillside. After a while it took off and we made our way to another view point at the one guy’s small house. By 0930 the rain stopped and the birds became more active. More Baudo Oropendolas began to appear and a few moved much closer allowing much better looks than the first had given us. Also a distant chachalaca perched up on a snag which turned out to be a Grey-headed Chachalaca. After enjoying the oropendolas for a while, we decided to leave and head to another spot which is supposed to have good access to forest.

We were running short on time due to the rain (we only planned to spend a half day in the area) but we still wanted to check out a second area called Area de Manejo Especial Etnico del Alto Amurrupa. After hiking along the river for awhile, it became apparent that we weren’t going to reach any good forest any time soon. We turned around and headed back toward the car, but before arriving, there was another trail that I thought looked promising. The guide had pointed out the trail when we first walked in, but said it was very muddy and recommended the river trail. Stephan and Claudia decided to head back to town, but I still wanted to explore a little and figure out where the good forest was so that others would have reliable information when they visited. With only an hour to bird/explore before having to meet back up with the others, the guide and I quickly headed up this steep and muddy trail. Although I got very wet (and wished I had rubber boots) it was still worthwhile checking out as this trail enters some fantastic lowland Choco forest. Unfortunately I just didn’t have the time to explore it! I did see a few cool birds including Golden-collared Manakin, Purple-throated Fruitcrows, and more Baudo Oropendolas. The guide also caught this really cool poinson dart frog! After a quick hour of exploring the area, we headed back to town where I took a much needed shower and then the three of us started the long drive towards Pereria. When we arrived in Pereria I said goodbye to Stephan and Claudia for the last time and caught a bus to Bogota while they headed towards Santa Rose de Cabal.