Mitu, Colombia – Part 2 – May 12-17, 2017

Continuing where I left off in describing our Mitu adventure. (Read this prior post to get caught up to speed!)

Each evening after a long day in the field, we would discuss with Nacho our plan for the following day. Ross hoped to visit Pueblo Nuevo again but was told we couldn’t travel that far twice in one trip because our driver, Wilson, refused, despite the fact that on other days he only had to travel less than 5km in total for the day yet was still getting paid the same amount, 25 USD. It’s sometimes hard to explain in a second language what we mean, but eventually they understood that it all evens out and with some arguing and threatening to leave them altogether and do it ourselves, they agreed to take us back. When Jon checked back on Nacho’s original itinerary, even Nacho had put in going to Pueblo Nuevo twice! All of the added hassle was a waste of time. This sort of thing really began to get on our nerves. Long story short the plan was made to visit Pueblo Nuevo again early the next day.

When we woke up the following day, no one could have guessed where we were actually going, not us, not our bird guide, not even the man who took us there, a man we didn’t even know we would end up meeting. We originally talked with Nacho about going back to Pueblo Nuevo, so we were outside of our Hotel early. But since 4am is the only time to get any kind of cell phone service out here, Ross finally received a few messages from Diego Calderon that dictated a small change of plans for the morning. Diego mentioned to Ross that the best place to get our main target for the day, Fiery Topaz, was actually just beyond Pueblo Nuevo at a metal bridge, Puenta Lata, so we decided to go there first (Thanks Diego!). It worked out that we were headed that direction already! We arrived at our location and soon our first sighting was of a bat going to roost indicating that the exchange from night to day was finishing up. Before long the world around us began to wake up. Ross ventured slightly up the road to see what he could find while Jon and I stayed back on the bridge overlooking the currents below to hopefully catch a glimpse of our main target, a brilliantly colorful hummingbird with strict instructions to call to Ross should we see one. It didn’t take long for the hummingbirds to wake up and we soon were treated with views of a Black-eared Fairy and White-necked Jacobin before seeing the yellowy-green of our target Fiery Topaz! Jon and I called to Ross and were remarking about how beautiful the bird was when we realized it was a female! Even the female is adorned with a bright green throat! Ross came to join us and the three of us watched as a stunning male with its animated red throat lit up in the light, yellow belly and streamer-like long black tail hovered over the water. Things were off to a promising start already as we had our main target of the day accounted for. Nacho probably should have known that this was “the site” for this main target but whatever, we were there and we were happy. We walked up from the bridge and in the scrubby habitat nearby had views of two hermits fighting over the flower patch as well as Chestnut-bellied Seedeater and Black-throated Antbird.

The habitat where we were looked promising so we asked Nacho if there were any trails nearby. He didn’t know of any as he doesn’t usually come here but there was a trail through the jungle leading to a nearby house. We decided that we would just bird this instead of paying the fee to enter Pueblo Nuevo and see what we could find. Before I mention our day, let me first mention that before we came to Colombia we were warned to bring rubber boots as the trails were going to be really muddy. So for the last four days that we were here, we wore our rubber boots to all of the trails we visited and never truly needed them as the trails were in decent shape for regular hiking boots. Wanting to finally give our sore feet a rest from wearing those terribly uncomfortable rubber boots, Ross and I donned our hikers knowing that the trail we were supposedly visiting for the day was perfectly fine as we were there only 2 days before. Obviously plans had evolved and we were no longer going to the trail we had thought. Ross and I both joked that this was going to be the muddiest trail we’ve been on yet… and we were right. The trail was muddy but definitely manageable and we were happy to be walking through nice forest. Not more than 10 minutes on this trail and we had already caught up with a Fulvous-throated Antwren in a mixed antbird flock, another one of our biggest targets in the bag.

We continued along the trail and soon ended up in a large clearing with a house. Nacho explained to the one guy and he agreed to show us some of the trails through the patch of forest behind his house. If anyone else makes a visit up to this area, we would highly recommend coming to this same location as the forest was birdy and the first clearing we visited seemed to be a hotspot for birds perched on the snags with the first bird perched in the open being White Hawk. We spent some time here scanning the trees and saw other things such as Black-tailed Tityra, Dusky-chested Flycatcher, Paradise Jacamar, and a bunch of White-throated Toucans.

Afterwards is where the day got interesting. We thought we agreed to bird the trails but somewhere lost in translation we apparently agreed to visit a Cock-of-the-rock lek, only we didn’t realize that until we were bushwacking up a hillside and finally arrived at a cave system of sorts. It was some intense hiking that day and overall was essentially pointless as we were more focused on climbing through tangles than really appreciating what was around us. We didn’t hear much on this hour long trek but eventually we did end back up on a trail and what a reprieve it was to not have to crawl through tight spaces any longer! Just before we exited the forest we stumbled upon an antswarm and had views of White-cheeked Antbird and White-chinned Woodcreeper. As we were walking back out, we came to some secondary growth and Ross thought it might be a good spot to try for Black Bushbird. With one play of the song a pair of Black Bushbirds came in quickly to see what other bird dared to enter their territory. We had excellent looks of the all black male and rufous and black female, one species where the female looks more interesting than the male. We enjoyed our time with the bushbirds and thanked the local for his help and were on our way back out. We once again ran into a large flock on our walk out with the most interesting bird being a Curve-billed Scythebill that unfortunately I missed seeing. We spent a bit more time on the bridge but didn’t see the topaz again. Nacho asked that we leave the area by 2PM because he said he needed to get back to town to coordinate a boat because we told him we wanted to visit a place downriver. We headed home early and Ross and Jon took the opportunity to visit Urania while Nacho was out finding us a boat to take us down river, surely a task that isn’t too hard in a town with few roads!

For the last three years in May, eBird has sponsored a “Global Big Day” where the goal is to have people from all over the world bird a region and see how many of the world’s birds can be observed in a single day. This event has only been a ‘thing’ for three years now, and for the third straight year we were in a different country for the Global Big Day, our first being in Bolivia, and second being Palawan in Indonesia, both of which allowed us to contribute unique birds to the Global Big Day efforts. This year the Global Big day took place on Saturday May 13th, and we were obviously in Mitu, Colombia. I like to think we are the only people to have done it in a different country for three years running (but maybe not and if you know otherwise let me know!) Anyway, originally we hoped to find a boat and be taken down river to a community known as Santa Marta for the Big Day. Unfortunately Nacho was unable to find a boat (but we suspect he didn’t try really hard and just told us we couldn’t get one but we suspected we could have done it ourselves.) But without being able to use Plan A, and having already birded many of the other spots, we didn’t really have a Plan B so we had to come up with something last minute. It was decided that we would start on the Bocotoma Trail and cut across up to Mitu Cachivera, something we planned to do eventually so it did work out in the end. The morning in the white sand was surprisingly slow. We did bump into another local birder, a guide by the name of Miguel, but he refused to talk to us, something that has always bothered Ross because there’s no reason for birders to be rude to each other, after all you share a common goal! Regardless, Miguel was less than helpful and I cannot even vouch for his expertise as a guide as he was counting birds that he heard Ross play the tape of. Either way, the day started off on a rough leg and Nacho was giving us contradictory information as to where we could cross and where we couldn’t. Needless to say, frustration levels were high. Highlights from the day were Pavonine Quetzal, Guinan Cock-of-the-rock, a pair of Azure-naped Jays, and having excellent views over the rainforest standing atop a mountain in a basin! Ross and I climbed to the top of the Cerro and had great views of a Bronzy Jacamar and Ross picked up a Cliff Flycatcher for his Colombia list. We worked our way back down and didn’t get back to the hotel until dusk. Thankfully the day was salvaged and we did end up having a much more successful day than we could have thought, seeing and/or hearing 124 species of birds, more than any of the other birders in Mitu! It was a long 13 hours out in the field, but it was worth it!

On Sunday May 14th we finally had a boat to take us to Santa Marta. Wilson had found a boat the day before and therefore got the day off of driving. On the boat ride down river we had views of Amazon Kingfisher and Amazonian Umbrellabirds. We didn’t have permission to walk the indigenous grounds and would have to ask once we arrived. Thankfully the people were very nice and extremely happy to have us there, paying a small fee of course. As we were starting to walk towards the trail I spotted some Red-fanned Parrots dangling from a branch. They were using only one leg and preening each other. Basically being adorable. We had excellent scope views but for some reason we didn’t stay and watch them for as long as we would have liked, probably because it was early morning and we had other targets. But watching parrots do somersaults over a branch is so much fun.

We were warned by the people that the bridge to access the back part of the area was in rough shape and that the other had burned down altogether and we would be needing to take a canoe across to continue on the trail. The people weren’t kidding as the dilapidated bridge was missing many planks and would shake as you walked across. Despite its unappealing looks, the bridge was great for birds and on the morning walk across it we called in a Chestnut-capped Puffbird and a Black-headed Antbird. Any day you have 3 life birds before 6AM has to be a good day right?!

After we birded the bridge we crossed over a flooded section with a small canoe as the prior bridge had was no longer in place, and continued walking a white-sand trail. If there ever was a day to have rubber boots, today was it! We wouldn’t have gotten very far at all without our rubber boots as most of the trail went through a stream and crossed through very muddy sections. We actually had to turn around after we reached a flooded section that was deeper than our boots would allow. The local guide told us we could cross if we stepped exactly where he did, but you couldn’t see where he stepped. Not wanting to fill our boots with tropical floodwater, we decided to turn back around and walk the way we had come, which was quite alright since the area was very birdy and we had already run into several bird flocks. We ran into a large flock containing Fulvous-throated Antwren twice and Ross finally got us on a Black Manakin, something he had been playing tape for for the last few days. Along a side trail we found a few Gray-bellied Antwrens that came in for a close look and also a tiny pair of Golden-crowned Spadebills that gave away their presence after Ross heard their high pitched call. The weather was overcast with a few scattered showers here and there. Each time it would rain we would take out our umbrella and when it would stop we would see a few more birds. It really was a good system. We ate lunch during one of the hardest downpours and were thankful to be sitting under a manmade structure.

After the rain we worked our way back to the run down bridge and next thing we knew we had been on it for over an hour! This was due to Ross calling in our first Brown-banded Puffbird of the trip. Something he had been taping for almost nonstop for the last seven days. While watching the puffbird a pair of Pompadour Contingas flew into the same snag! That meant we had seen two species of puffbirds and a pair of contingas from the exact same spot! It seemed that every time we would look up we would get on another good bird! Today was definitely a highlight and it was nice to go to a new area. We ended our trip to Santa Marta with Green-tailed Goldenthroats feeding on the flowering trees and then got on the boat for a ride back up river to Mitu.

Brown-banded Puffbird

Monday May 15th was our last full day in Mitu and we had very few possible birds left. All three of us wanted to see Ivory-billed Aracari, but apart from that there wasn’t much more we needed. We started the morning at the covered bridge at Urania. It was raining slightly and still very dark so we didn’t see much from the bridge aside from a Green Kingfisher. We opted to continue walking forward and soon came to another covered bridge. Although it isn’t a known spot, it looked like as good a place as any to find Blackish-Gray Antshrike so Ross played tape and we soon heard it calling. Ross walked down in to the brush as far as he could and played tape once more. As soon as the tape finished the Blackish-Gray Antshrike landed less than 5 feet in front of him. It was nice to see that one and we kept walking until we once again came to one of those unique rock mountain hillsides. We walked out onto the surface and from here scanned the jungled horizon looking for anything of interest that would be perched up, particularly an aracari. We soon had several Many-banded Aracaris and great looks at more White-throated Toucans. It didn’t take long before we started to wonder if we would even get a trip bird for the day, let alone a lifer, not something you can say often when in the Amazon. Ross decided to take a walk in the forest while Jon and I spent some more time on the rockface. While he was gone, Ross got great looks at a Little Tinamou and also saw Great Jacamar, Western Striped Manakin, and a large flock of Azure-naped Jays. Upon his return we continued to scan for canopy birds and soon Ross found a nice male Spangled Cotinga sitting high in a tree. Soon afterwards Ross heard the dueting of a pair of Brown-banded Puffbirds and we got great looks at they perched high on a snag. After seven days of trying hard to find this species, we saw our first one yesterday and now we had another pair without even trying! Go figure! By this time it was late morning and things slowed down so we decided to head back out. Just as we were about to leave, we flushed a pair of Blackish Nightjars and were able to get great looks as they briefly perched on the open rocks.

We left the rock face and went back down to the bridge and while Jon and I took a break to chat, Ross produced not only a trip bird, but a lifer in the form of Scale-breasted Woodpecker. Ross seriously never stops birding. You can most always find something in the Amazon. It was also super fun to watch a male and female Cherrie’s Antwren building their nest only 3.5 feet off of the ground! From here we headed back to Mitu for lunch and a quick break before returning to the Urania bridge for the afternoon. This afternoon we decided to walk back along the road towards Mitu hoping to find some more aracaris as well as parrots flying around. This worked out well as we quickly found a pair of Pied Puffbirds. Another lifer for the day. We didn’t see too much else during the walk except for some Lettered Aracaris.

We had a flight to catch at 2PM but agreed with Nacho to go birding around Bocotoma for a few hours and come back to the hotel at 9AM. Again, I wisely chose to stay behind to shower and pack while Ross and Jon went birding. I suppose they just went out just to go out because there wasn’t a chance they would see anything new apart from Bar-bellied Woodcreeper and they didn’t have that. The only big miss of the whole trip. Not too shabby! They came back and packed and we headed to the airport.

Our flight was supposed to take off at 2PM, but the plane didn’t arrive until after 3:30, over 90 minutes late! We spoke with a local who is actually an air traffic controller for this “airport” and he told us that the runway closes at 4PM so that repairs can be made to the runway. It was 3:53 and we hadn’t even boarded yet and we started to get a little nervous but beyond belief, the plane took off at 4:03PM, easily the fastest turnaround we had ever seen. If anything, it’s oddly symbolic of our next adventure. We have one week’s time, during which Ross has to graduate from Darden, before we turnaround and head to Indonesia and Madagascar for the next 6 months!


As always, I’ll be posting all of our latest adventures here! Hasta Luego for now!

3 thoughts on “Mitu, Colombia – Part 2 – May 12-17, 2017

  1. Melissa you really write well of your many adventures and I think it is amazing that Ross plans these so well! Though that shaking bridge, limestone cliffs, going through the thick of forest and going to unknown places of an average person is just crazy but specular once you get there and see your lifer birds, etc… Know that I am praying for you two on these great adventures! Someday you can put all these in a nice picture birding book!


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