Whos keeping an eye on me....

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Colombia 2015 - Pt 4 Los Nevados National Park (Central Andes)

After we had finilised our logistics back in late summer 2014, Chris emailed me to ask if I had any problem with a change of hotel which would enable us to make a good start to a days birding on the Paramo.... 3500 mtrs! "No problem" I said.

We drove high up the central Andes to hotel Del Ruiz on the evening of day 6 and I had started to feel a little sick in the vehicle as we gained altitude, I couldn't wait to get straight off to bed to sleep it off. I struggled to sleep with breathing problems I was definitely feeling altitude sickness.

Again we were up early which wasn't a problem this time as I was awake, breakfast cheered me up a little and the excitement kicked in as to what today could hold. We were in the Los Nevados National Park where we would drive to the Paramo at 4138 mtrs, the Nevado Del Ruiz Volcano still sends smoke plumes into the atmosphere and this morning was no different. I still felt proper poorly, Jose, Noah and Jeff all seemed Ok! Grin and bare it was the only option, afterall were going to see some stunning birds....... well at least I hoped.

It was bitterly cold, as cold as I can remember, maybe it was just me feeling sorry for myself..... or maybe it was just bloody cold. Anyway new birds started to arrive with Strong Billed Cinclodes perched on a fence, Sedge Wrens hunkered down in the thicket and gave fleeting glimpses as they foraged, a Brown backed Chat-Tyrant, and a Plain Collared Seedeater gave fantastic close views while 3 Black Chested Buzzard-Eagles soared across the valley.. what a great start.

We drove a little higher and parked up at a car park, the volcanic plumes of smoke passed us and drifted in to the valley below, the sign below reminds us of the area that we are in. There is a sad story of recent history attached to this Volcano. A reminder that we arnt always in control when nature roars.
...... always check your escape route

At the end of the road we parked up at 4138mtrs .... or in our money 13,576 ft

We picked up more good birds, Plumbeous Sierra Finch, Veridian Metalail and White Chinned Thistle-Tail, while a Tawny Antpitta do what most Antpittas don't do, showed well and hung around for photos. This was an amazing trip for Antpittas.

....... then bang on queue we had the mega! It was easy, we didn't even have to search. Jose had a spot where they are fairly reliable and today they didn't disappoint, well one individual didn't.
I had been really laid back about what I wanted or expected to see in Colombia but I have secretly craved seeing the Buffy Helmetcrest! Today we got it, Jeff, Noah and myself were on top of the world, quite literally. If you are a bird watcher you will know that moment that will be remembered for ever.

not only did we get it in sight it flew straight at us and directly over Noah's head and perched a few feet away just above our heads.

I would have left Colombia pleased to just get one in the scope, but this was such a thrill. Normality set in as after it had checked us out it retreated to 40ft or so away and continued to feed at a safer distance. This was definitely proof of my theory that birds are generally inquisitive and often come over to have a look before retreating.....

I didn't feel so sick now....... beaming from ear to ear, I also realised it wasn't so cold, the sun had come out and warmed us a little. Today would surely be a let down after this high, not a bit of it, the day just got better and better.
We were lucky enough to be able to spend 30 minutes or so with the Buffy Helmetcrest but we needed to catch up on a few other species and first on the list were Rufous Fronted Parakeets. We drove to a 2km section of road at a slightly lower elevation. We easily picked up a Sharp Shinned Hawk and a Scarlet Bellied Mountain Tanager and more Viridian Metaltails

Brown Backed Chat-Tyrant

A Paramo Tapaculo gave us the run around, it came to within 2 meters and continuously called but failed to show itself, I saw plenty of foliage movement but no bird, a little disappointed we walked a little further up the road. Jose heard Parakeets high up in a large wooded hillside. he played the tape in hope rather than expectation and Wow after a few minutes 7 birds came steaming down the hillside and over our heads. They landed somewhere in front of us just out of sight and Jose ran the other way to get his camera from the vehicle while Noah, Jeff and myself ran downhill to find them. It didn't take long to see them all sat on a farm building roof. This was a brilliant chance for images, but Jose missed it all by a few seconds as they continued on, he would get another chance as we caught up with them a short while later in the same vicinity .

Rufous Fronted Parakeets

A long the same stretch of road we picked up some tricky characters with a White-Chinned Thistletail and this White Browed Spinetail that looked far better than my blurred image shows.

 Golden Fronted Redstarts, Paramo Seedeaters and Plain Colored Seedaeaters vied for the same bushes and followed each other around.
Plain Colored Seedeater in full song

After a stop for breakfast we take a stroll to admire the Paramo scenery

and its unique Flora

We still had some amazing birds to find and were especially on the lookout for Black Backed Bush-Tanager. We hit a small mixed flock that were foraging in the roadside bushes which included Shining Sunbeam, Black Flowerpiecer and our target......

Black Backed Bush-Tanager

A return to the vehicle we moved to a small glacial lake (Laguna Negra) whivch gave me more life birds with an Andean Teal (the only one of the trip) and a half a dozen Andean Tit-Spinetails while more of the rare Black Chested Buzzard -Eagles soared past. Another stop close by allowed us great prolonged views of a showy Many Striped Canestero that posed in the sunshine although the unfortunate heat haze spoilt the photography a little....... ( I wasn't thinking that an hour or two before as I shivered at 4138mtrs!)..... its certainly a very smart bird

 It had been a brilliant morning with all the targets achieved We spent the rest of the morning birding the grounds of the hotel where we picked up Mountain Velvetbreast, Andean Siskin,  Glossy Flowerpiecer, more Paramo Seedeaters, Blue Backed Conebill, White Throated Tyrannulet,  White Banded Tyrannulet and in the hotel garden a bonus with a Paramo Tapaculo..... having spent the best part of forty minutes this morning being teased by a singing individual this almost showy bird was rather easy, isn't it brilliant when things fall into place after you think things got away.

Paramo Tapaculo

White Throated Tyrannulet

Blue Backed Conebill

Before we departed for the drive to Pereira airport we had a fantastic lunch back at Hotel Del Ruiz and made sure we had time to spend an hour or so at the amazing feeders. What a selection of Hummingbirds, Buff winged Starfrontlet, Mountain Velvetbreast, Golden Breasted Puffleg, Great Saphirewing, one that pleased everyone including Noah for his world record was the Black Thighed Puffleg, and the rather beautiful Rainbow Bearded Thorntail.

Black-Thighed Puffleg

Golden Breasted Puffleg

Buff Winged Starfrontlet

Great Saphirewing female

Great Saphirewing  male

Shinning Sunbeam

Mountain Velvetbreast female

Tyrian Metaltail

To end an incredible day we got this Sword-billed Hummingbird in the garden at Hotel Del Ruiz..... Flippin eck if it wasn't for the Buffy Helmetcrest this would have been the bird of the day. It came to the feeders within 10ft of us. Another incredible bird, and so privileged to see it so well.

Sword-Billed Hummingbird

Just before we left for the airport we picked up a pair of Grey Breasted Mountain-Toucans both perched and in flight, a lifer for Jose too.

Sadly this was to be our last day birding with Noah Stryker. He was to spend one last day in Colombia while Jeff and myself would fly on to Barranquilla on the northern coast of Colombia. We would meet up with Jose in 6 days time when we visit the Amazon region, but for now we head for the very dry Guajira region and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Colombia 2015 - Pt 3 Central Andes - Rio Blanco

We say goodbye to the lodge at Montezuma, but even while we load up the truck with cases the birds keep coming, 11 species of Hummingbird, scrub, Silver throated, Lemon Rumped and Palm Tanagers. Yellow bellied and Gray Seedeaters and a small flock of Chapmans Swifts went through while Chestnut Collared Swifts hawked over the pond by the Hummer feeders.

We were heading for Rio Blanco in the central Andes but due to landslides we hit plenty of road works. Sometimes road works work for you and as we were able to leave our vehicle and bird along the roadside we picked up close views of a Hook billed Kite as it perched in a valley just bellow the roadside.

A stop en route near Perriera for the best Coconut ice-cream ever and some water species at a small lake where we picked up half a dozen or so including Pied Billed and Least Grebe, Striated Heron as well as a Ruddy Seedeater.

By early afternoon we arrived at the very comfortable Rio Blanco lodge in time for lunch. The Hummingbird feeders were busy giving wonderful views of Long Tailed Sylph, Buff Tailed Coronet, Speckled Hummingbird and Touramiline Sunangels ...... Nice!

Rio Blanco Lodge

Long Tailed Sylph

Touramiline Sunangel

Speckled Hummingbird

Buffed Tailed Coronet 

Our guide Albeiro (the famous bird whisperer) took us up the track to do some afternoon birding where we saw 2 Plushcaps, Andean Guan, Rufous crowned Tody-flycatcher, Grey browsed Brush-finch and plenty of Great Thrushes. Unfortunately a prolonged thunder storm broke out, this time with impressive forked lightning and can you believe hailstone. We took shelter at a cafe for coffee and rode out the storm which would cost us a few hours birding, although back at the lodge the sun came back out and allowed some photos of the resident White Sided Flowerpiecer and, Masked Flowerpiecer.

White Sided Flowerpiecer

Masked Flowerpiecer sneaks a drink from a Hummer feeder

After dinner we tried for some Owls and picked up Band Winged Nightjar and had great views of Rufous Banded Owl.... For good measure a Crab Eating fox stayed around the garden for an hour after dark.

Rufous Banded Owl

Tomorrow we go feeding Antpittas.

Another early start as Albeiro, Jose, Jeff, Noah and myself go in search of five Antpittas. First we watch Buff Winged Coronets, Collared Incas and Long Tailed Sylphs while on the banana feeders I picked up more lifers when three Blue Winged Mountain-Tanagers came in to feed with a Slaty Brush finch and a Blue Capped Tanager.... Awesome birds  and this is before we left the lodge.

Collared Inca

Blue Capped Tanager

Blue Winged Mountain-Tanager

As we climbed the track up the mountain we saw our first Mountain Wren and Flamulated Treerunner as well as 3 species of  Hemispingus, Black Capped, Superciliaried and Oleaginous. Then the day went crazy.

Albeiro is famous for teasing out of the darkest scrub the Antpittas. Today a Chestnut Crowned didn't need any encouragement as it followed us up the hill and picked up a mate along the way and met us at the feeder....
Chestnut Crowned Antpitta

We were interrupted from the feeding by a monster mixed flock of Streaked Xenops, Black crested Warblers, Cinnamon Flycatchers, Montane Woodcreepers, Grey browed Brush-Finch, Gray headed Bush-Tanagers, Golden faced Tyrannulets, Slate throated Whitestarts, White Naped Brush-Finch, Pale edged flycatchers amongst others... Phew! It was hard to keep up.

Grey Browed Brush-Finch


Back to the feeder and we didn't pick up anymore Antpittas, although the Bicolored responded to our call but didn't show itself, we moved up hill to another stakeout and tried again. It wasn't too long to wait before a Brown banded Antpitta appeared, it wasn't as showy as the Chestnut Capped but it gave plenty of fleeting views., again the Bicolored called but didn't show.

Brown Banded Antpitta

We hadn't done with the skulkers as we nailed three Tapaculo species... Spillmans, Ash-Colored and Blackish, anyone would be really pleased to see these species in quick succession and with more than acceptable views too. We even got some "normal" birds as we were now rewarded with the first Trogan of the trip with a pair of Masked showing down to a few meters.

Masked Trogon Male

and the female

Albeiro hadn't finished with the Antpittas and took us deep into the undergrowth to another stakeout. This time for the diminutive Slate Crowned Antpitta, again we were treated to amazing views..... what a bird this is.

Slate Crowned Antpitta

More and more species were logged, Dusky Piha, Sharps Wren, Pearled Treerunner, Streak Headed Antbird, Yellow-Bellied Chat-Tyrant, Hooded Mountain Tanager, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Capped Conebill, Strong Billed Woodcreeepr, Black Billed Pepper-Shrike, Crimson Mantled Woodpecker, Yellow Vented Woodpecker, Blue and Black Tanagers and many others.

Pearled Treerunner

Blue and Black Tanagers (part of a flock of 30)

Capped Conebill

Crimson Mantled Woodpecker
(Brilliant bird in 2 half's - join the top to the bottom and you get the picture!)

Then when you couldn't think things could get any better and while 4 of us were watching a female Powerful Woodpecker, Albeiro shouted us down the track where he had enticed out a stunner... Chestnut Naped Antpitta. Possibly the bird of the day!

We tried hard for the Bicolored Antpitta and although it sang very close to us we never saw it although we got stunning views of the Brown Banded Antpitta again, this time in full song.....


Just for good measure I picked up a pair of Scaly Naped Parrots flyover and added three more lifers with, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Golden Fronted Whitestart, Glistening Green Tanager, Fawn Breasted Brilliant and a Wedge Billed Hummingbird.

Smoky Bush-Tyrant

Golden Fronted Whitestart

The day had been epic, I picked up 76 species and had pretty good views of all of them, who would thought that when watching Tapaculos and Antpittas?

Albeiro looks like its just another days work, I look like I made a friend for life!