12 days / 11 nights
Come along on the ultimate Western Andes Birding Experience! Observe and learn about some of the most exotic and important endemic species of Colombia. Prepare for color, wonder and beauty!
Key Species: Buffy Helmetcrest, Rufous-fronted Parakeet, Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Black-thighed Puffleg, Masked Saltator, Brown-banded Antpitta, Slate-crowned Antpitta, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Bicoloured Antpitta, Dusky Piha, Fuertes’ Parrot, Hooded Antpitta, Cauca Guan, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer, Munchique Wood Wren, Gold-ringed Tanager, Black-and-gold Tanager, Parker’s Antbird, Crested Ant-Tanager, Tanager Finch, Black Solitaire, Toucan Barbet, Beautiful Jay, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Choco Tapaculo, Golden-bellied Warbler, Tatama Tapaculo, Club-winged Manakin, Fulvous-dotted Treerunner, Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Baudo Oropendola, Baudo Guan, Grayish Piculet, Apical Flycatcher, Striped Manakin, Golden-collared Manakin, Multicolored Tanager, Crested Quetzal, Golden-headed Quetzal.
Day One - Manizales
Our epic Andean birding adventure begins in the city of Manizales. On the first day you will meet up with the rest of your group for the next 11 days, as well as sitting down with your group leader for a welcome dinner in one of the city’s nicest restaurants. During dinner we will go over the bird list for the trip and you can get nice and excited about all the incredible birding to come!
On our first birding day we will head up into Los Nevados National Park for a full day of birding in the high-altitude paramo and cloud forests. The day will begin early as we bird the Elfin Forest along the road into the park, keeping an eye out for target species like Black-backed Bush Tanager, Rufous-fronted Parakeet, and Golden-crowned Tanager.
After birding the Elfin Forest, we will continue up into the paramo where our principal target will be the endemic Buffy Helmetcrest hummingbird, which is normally seen quite easily around the park visitor centre. While we stake out the Helmetcrest, we will most likely spot Plumbeous Sierra Finch, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Tawny Antpitta, and Stout-billed Cinclodes, among others.
Once we’ve spotted the Helmetcrest, we will head down to Termales del Ruiz Thermal Baths where the hummingbird feeders attract more than 10 species of high-altitude hummingbirds, including the Sword-billed Hummingbird, Shining Sunbeam, Black-thighed Puffleg, Mountain Velvetbreast, Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, and Buff-winged Starfrontlet. We will eat lunch at the hotel and have plenty of time to observe and photograph the hummingbirds, which will even come and eat nectar from a feeder placed in the palm of your hand!
On the way back down towards Manizales we will bird the cloud forest road where it’s possible to encounter large mixed flocks of Andean tanagers, flycatchers, brush-finches, woodcreepers, and much more. Principal targets include Ocellated Tapaculo, Andean Pygmy Owl, and many other cloud forest specialities.
Another early morning today (as with every morning: this is a birding trip after all!) as we head out of Manizales to Rio Blanco Reserve, a wonderfully preserved slice of cloud forest on the outskirts of the city that has become famous among birders for its Antpitta feeding stations. The Antpittas have a strict feeding schedule, so we will head out first thing with our local guide who will help us to spot Bicolored Antpitta, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Slate-crowned Antpitta, and the endemic Brown-banded Antpitta. There aren’t many places in the world where you can enjoy better views of these shy and elusive species.
As we walk between the antpitta feeding stations we normally encounter large mixed flocks, and our principal targets will be Masked Saltator, Dusky Piha, Flammulated Treehunter, Grass-green Tanager, Yellow-billed Cacique, and Stygian Owl. After lunch in the Rio Blanco lodge, there will be some time to enjoy the hummingbird feeders, before we head out again along the trails in the afternoon, in search of any species that have eluded us so far. In the later afternoon our driver will pick us up and it’s off to Santa Rosa de Cabal.
This excellent new location for birding in the Central Andes is an important site for the critically endangered endemic Fuertes’ Parrot (or Indigo Winged Parrot) and this enigmatic and tricky species will be our principal target today. After an early departure from Santa Roas de Cabal we will head up to almost 3,000m into the mountains, arriving at an important stakeout point for the parrots at first light. With any luck we will spot them arriving in the mossy branches of the cloud forest to feed at dawn, and be able to tick off a huge Colombian endemic target.
The rest of the day will be spent birding the extensive cloud forest and elfin forest along the road. The parrots can be spotted throughout the day, so we will keep our eyes and ears open for more sightings. Other top targets at Cortaderal include White-capped Tanager, Mountain Avocetbill, Andean Pygmy-Owl, Golden-breasted & Black-thighed Puffleg, Gray-breasted & Black-billed Mountain Toucan, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Agile Tit-Tyrant, and Black-chested Mountain-Tanager.
We will stake out another section of forest in the late afternoon, hoping for more views of the Fuertes’ Parrot – after all, who could get bored of spotting such a rare and beautiful bird! - and then head back down to Santa Rosa for our transfer to Otun Quimbaya Reserve, where we will eat dinner and spend the night.
The Otun Quimbaya Flora and Fauna Sanctuary is a classic Colombia birding site and boasts an impressive list of 450+ species, including some rare and range-restricted endemic species. The key target bird is the recently rediscovered Cauca Guan, an endangered endemic species that is relatively easy to spot within the park. Other endemic species which we will aim to spot include Grayish Piculet, Chestnut Wood-Quail, Multicoloured Tanager, Crested Ant-Tanager and Stiles’ Tapaculo.
We will arrive in the evening, however, should the group be interested we will head out after dark for some owling and nightjar spotting on the trails around the lodge. We will be especially aiming for sightings of Colombian Screech Owl, Mottled Owl, White-throated Screech Owl, Stygian Owl, Lyre-tailed Nightjar, and Rufous-bellied Nighthawk.
After an early breakfast, we will head up the road to bird the El Cedral trail, where our principal targets will be the Cauca Guan, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow (another species which can be tricky but is unusually common at Otun Quimbaya), Chestnut Wood-Quail, and a variety of species of flycatchers, tanagers, and parrots.
We will also bird along a stretch of the Otun River, where we will hopefully get a glimpse of the charismatic Torrent Ducks, the daredevils of freshwaters rivers in the Colombian Andes. We will also search for one of the dream species of any Neotropical birder: the almost mythical Hooded Antpitta, which was barely known in Colombian before being discovered at Otun Quimbaya. It’s rare and hard to see, but we will certainly do our best!
After lunch at the lodge, there will be more birding on the trails around the reserve. Other top species at Otun Quimbaya include the near-endemics Rufous-breasted Flycatcher and Bar-crested Antshrike, as well as Moustached Puffbird, Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Golden-plumed Parakeet, Wattled Guan, Moustached, Chestnut-crowned and Scaled Antpittas, and White-capped Dipper.
Otun Quimbaya is also home to some interesting mammal species as well, with Red Howler Monkeys commonly seen in the trees around the lodge, and the elusive Mountain Tapir observed surprisingly often. This reserve seems to be a place where otherwise rare and elusive species like to show themselves!
We will enjoy dinner at the lodge before grabbing an early night (although more owling is also possible should you wish) in time for an early start tomorrow.
There will time for some pre-breakfast birding around the lodge grounds before we depart Otun Quimbaya to head towards Montezuma Lodge and Tatama National Park. We will pass through the city of Pereira en route, where we will hope to add another endemic bird to our trip list within the city itself. The Turquoise Dacnis is a tricky little species which, luckily for us, happens to have made a home for itself around the University of Pereira – we'll make a stop to try and tick this species off before continuing on to Montezuma.
Montezuma Lodge, located within the zone of influence of Tatama National Park, has reached legendary status among Colombian and international birders due to its remarkable range of endemic and near-endemic specialty species. The road along which we will be birding has a gradient of 1,100m to almost 2,800m, so you can only imagine the bird diversity: amore than 600 species have been recorded here! Due to the sheer scale of birding available from Montezuma we will be spending three nights at the lodge so we can spend one full day birding the upper section of the road and another full day on the lower section.
We will arrive at Montezuma in the late afternoon, but there should still be time to enjoy the wonderful range of hummingbirds and tanagers that visit the lodge gardens. Top species to look out for include the near-endemics Velvet-purple Coronet, Brown Inca, White-tailed Hillstar, and Purple-throated Woodstar, as well as a multitude of other species including Empress Brilliant and Violet-tailed Sylph.
The next morning, we will be up bright and early to bird the upper and middle sections of the Montezuma Road, known as Los Chorros and Cajones. We will be birding from around 1,700m to 2,600m in our quest to add some excellent endemic species to our trip list. Our main endemic targets for today will be Munchique Wood-Wren, Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer, Black-and-gold Tanager, Gold-ringed Tanager, and Tatama Tapaculo. Possible near-endemic Choco specialities include Black Solitaire, Beautiful Jay, Toucan Barbet, Tanager Finch, and Yellow-collared Chlorophonia. There also always the possibility of Olive Finch, Buffy Tufted cheek, White-faced Nunbird, and even the super-rare and rarely-seen Greater Scythebill. Tonight’s beers are on us if that beauty shows itself!
We will return to the lodge at the end of the day for dinner.
On our second full day at Montezuma we will bird the lower sections of the road, known as Clarita and Rio Claro (note: this depends to an extent on our luck yesterday: should we miss any endemic targets we will bird higher up the road this morning as well). Hopefully we will be able to add other near-endemic Western Andes specialities such as Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager Choco Tapaculo, and Narino Tapaculo to our trip list. Other targets include Fulvous-dotted Treerunner, Oche-breasted Antpitta, Club-winged Manakin, Barred and Scaled Fruiteater, Purplish-mantled Tanager, Olivaceous Piha, Tricolored Brush-Finch, White-headed Wren, and potentially hundreds more. The mixed flocks here can be so incredible that it’s hard to know where to look next!
This morning we will head out early from Montezuma one hour further into the Choco Pacific rainforest on a special bonus trip for an otherwise tricky Pacific endemic species: the Baudo Oropendola. Normally this rare bird is only found along jungle rivers near the Pacific coast, but a large population has been discovered in the little jungle village of Santa Cecilia, so that’s where we’re heading! As this region lacks tourism and birding infrastructure, we will only bird around the town in the morning. As well as the Oropendolas – which we will hopefully spot around the town first thing in the morning – we will hope to observe the endemic Baudo Guan (much trickier), as well as Pacific lowland species such as Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Pacific Antwren, Spot-crowned Barbet, Choco Toucan, Rose-faced Parrot, Chestnut-backed Antbird, and many more.
After a morning birding the forest trails around Santa Cecilia, we will depart for the pretty colonial town of Buga, stopping for lunch along the way. We will spend the night in Buga.
Today’s birding couldn’t be much more distinct from the past days in the Central and Western Andes, as we head down into the Cauca River Valley in search of some dry forest and wetland species in the shadow of both ranges of the Andes. Although the lake itself is very picturesque, we will focus our birding time on the trails through the scrubby forest and the wetland borders.
We will depart early from Buga and and arrive just 15 minutes later at the entrance to the Lagoon. Our principal targets in the dry forest will be the two endemic species for which Sonso is well-known: Grayish Piculet and Apical Flycatcher, both of which should prove easy enough to track down. Within the forest we will also search for Dwarf Cuckoo, Jet Antbird, Gray-headed Dove, Ruby Topaz Hummingbird, Great Antshrike, and Dusky Antbird. In the wetlands our primary targets will be Horned Screamer, Least and Pinnated Bitterns (both tough to spot but possible), Glossy Ibis, Blackish Rail, Cinammon and Blue-winged Teal, White-faced, Black-bellied, and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, and the surprisingly common Snail Kite. Our local guide should also be able to locate a roosting Common Potoo: these strange nocturnal birds are common around Sonso and there are often two or three roosting individuals to be seen.
After a day of birding at Sonso, we will depart in the afternoon for the city of Cali where we will spend the night in a luxurious boutique hotel in the city.
We will depart bright and early from Cali this morning and head into the fringes of the Western Andes to La Minga Ecolodge, a charming little house surrounded by some excellent cloud forest. The bird feeders at La Minga are visited by some spectacular tanagers, barbets, and hummingbirds, and we will enjoy a leisurely morning observing these species at close-range, as well as birding a section of forest above the lodge, which is home to some interesting local specialities.
The star of the show at La Minga is undoubtedly the handsome Multicoloured Tanager, an endemic species that has taken to feeding on bananas just metres from the patio of the main house – you'll never get a better chance for a photograph of this stunning Colombian species. Other top feeder birds include Red-headed Barbet, Flame-rumped Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Booted Racket-tail, Purple-throated Woodstar, and Bronzy Inca.
The forests around La Minga are also home to some excellent birds, with over 150 species recorded. Mixed flocks can contain a multitude of woodcreepers, foliage-gleaners, tanagers, and flycatchers, but our principal target will be the spectacular Crested Quetzal, with its bright-red eye and neon-green plumage. There aren’t many better places in Colombia to spot this Quetzal, so with any luck we will be able to tick it off our list at La Minga.
After one last group breakfast in Cali, our epic tour comes to an end. We can arrange your onward transfer to Bogota for your flight home or, should you not yet be tired of Colombia birding, why not consider extending your time here with our Cali birdng adventure or a trip to the wild Pacific coast. There’s so much more to see and do!