We had a great time with Forrest Rowland in Colombia. A wonderful country. Forrest is a fantastic birder and a great guide.
Our comprehensive highlights of Colombia birding tour covers all three Andean ranges and both inter-Andean valleys, as well as lowland rainforest in search of numerous endemics and regional avian specialties. During this Colombia birding tour, we will be searching for a remarkable collection of birds that are likely to exceed 500 species, including scores of colorful tanagers, numerous furtive antpittas, and over 50 species of dazzling hummingbirds! Combined with spectacular scenery, friendly locals and pleasant lodges situated within prime birding areas, this Colombia birding tour offers the very best of South American birding.
Wattled Guan, Bogota Rail, Northern Screamer, Merida Speckled Teal, Yellow-eared & Rusty-faced Parrot, Rufous-fronted & Flame-winged Parakeet, Cloud-forest Pygmy Owl, Moustached Puffbird, Black Inca, Empress Brilliant, Toucan & White-mantled Barbet, Greyish Piculet, White-throated Screech Owl, Brown-banded, Chestnut-crowned, Slaty-crowned and Bicolored Antpittas, Bar-crested Antshrike, Red-bellied Grackle, Beautiful Jay, Star-chested Treerunner, Uniform Treehunter, Munchique Wood Wren, Tanager Finch, Black-chinned Mountain, Gold-ringed, Black-and-gold & Glistening-green Tanager, Crested Ant Tanager, Turquoise Dacnis, Choco Vireo, Rufous-browed Conebill, Stiles’s & Tatama (Alto Pisones) Tapaculo, Silvery-throated Spinetail, Blue-throated & Golden-bellied Starfrontlet, Indigo-capped & Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Oilbird, Pacific Tuftedcheek, Black Solitaire, Buffy Helmetcrest, Glowing Puffleg, Choco Brushfinch, Yellow-headed Manakin, Beautiful Woodpecker
Rainforest, Choco Cloud Forest, humid lowland forest, dry forest
Temperate to cold in highlands (Chingaza, Los Nevados), Hot and humid in the lowlands (Rio Claro). Rain is likely on some days.
Brisk pace, some demanding walks
Day 1: Arrival in Bogota
Upon arriving in the city of Bogota you will be met and transferred to a comfortable hotel, which is conveniently located close to our birding destinations within this region. Here you will be met for a welcome dinner by your tour leader from Rockjumper Birding Tours with time to talk through some of the exciting Colombia bird watching adventures to come!
Day 2: Laguna Pedro Palo & Chicaque Natural Park
We will head to our first birding site this morning with a chance to acclimatise ourselves to the Andean altitudes at about 6,500 feet. Located on a saddle in the sub-Andean forest belt on the western slope of the Eastern Cordilleras, Laguna Pedro Palo offers excellent cloud forest birding with a chance to find several localised endemics. Top on our list will be the endemic Black Inca that feeds on flowering bromeliads, and the rare Turquoise Dacnis that often associates with mixed tanager flocks.
Along the muddy edge of the lake lurk White-throated Crakes, while activity in the surrounding forest edge might produce Ash-browed and Pale-breasted Spinetails, the tiny Olivaceous Piculet, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Mountain and Yellow-bellied Elaenias, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, and a profusion of colourful Tanagers such as Golden, Flame-faced and Blue-necked.
Whiskered Wren can often be located by its explosive song and we will try to lure the scarce Moustached Puffbird into view. While walking along a dirt track we will also keep our eyes peeled for fruiting trees likely to attract both White-throated and Crimson-rumped Toucanets, with a supporting cast including Fawn-breasted Tanager, the extravagant Red-headed Barbet and Blue-naped Chlorophonia. In the undergrowth, subtle movement might reveal Three-striped Warblers scouring through a thicket or the active Moustached Brush Finch. Although never common throughout its patchy distribution, we will also watch for White-rumped Hawk soaring overhead.
Following lunch, we will then head to Chicaque Natural Park. A small number of conveniently placed hummingbird feeders provides an excellent assortment of species including Green and Sparking Violetears, Buff-tailed Coronet, Collared Inca, the very tricky Golden-bellied Starfrontlet, Tourmaline Sunangel and Glowing Puffleg. We shall no doubt take a short walk along the dirt roads searching for other gems that might include Rufous Spinetail, Black-crested Warbler, Golden-fronted Whitestart, Pale-naped Brush Finch, Blue-capped Tanager, Capped Conebill, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Superciliaried Hemispingus and Blackish Tapaculo.
Day 3: Chingaza National Park & Siecha Gravel Pits, PM flight to Manizales
Beginning this morning with a predawn departure from our hotel, we will ascend into the high Paramo of Chingaza. Here the sheer variety of flowers and orchids in an endless mosaic of moss-laden elfin stunted forest is nothing short of amazing!
Beginning in the lower subtropical forest before gradually working our way to above 11,500 feet, the trill of the endemic Rufous-browed Conebill may start off the morning, the skulky Pale-bellied Tapaculo should make an appearance, and we will attempt to lure the endemic Silvery-throated Spinetail into view. The white-faced form of Golden-fronted Whitestart is an especially smart addition to the avifauna at this elevation, while flowers are likely to attract a variety of hummingbirds such as the near-endemic Coppery-bellied and Glowing Pufflegs, Purple-backed Thornbill, the apparently nomadic Amethyst-throated Sunangel, and with luck, we might even find the near-endemic Blue-throated Starfrontlet. The endemic Flame-winged Parakeet makes an occasional appearance, flying in noisy flocks over remnant forest patches, as does the oversized Undulated Antpitta in the densely vegetated gullies.
Making our way to higher elevation and spectacular views, we will continue searching for Tyrian Metaltail, Masked and Glossy Flowerpiercers, the brilliant Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, Black-capped Hemispingus, Pale-naped and Slaty Brush Finches, White-chinned Thistletail, Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, Black-capped Tyrannulet and Black-crested Warbler. The skulking Rufous Antpitta (undoubtedly a good future split) can usually be seen with persistence, and we will be scanning carefully for the localised Bronze-tailed Thornbill.
In the afternoon we will take vigil along the Siecha Gravel Pits closer to Bogota where the endangered endemic Bogota Rail can often be quite confiding. This is perhaps also the easiest site in South America for the normally difficult Noble Snipe. Brown-bellied Swallows should be whipping about overhead, while other rewarding sightings could include the near-endemic Spot-flanked Gallinule, secretive Masked Duck and localised Merida Speckled Teal (a potential split from Andean Teal). We will finish the day at a nearby lake with a good population of Andean Duck. We’ll then head to Bogota Airport late this afternoon for our short flight to Manizales.
Day 4: Rio Blanco Nature Reserve
Today on our Colombia bird watching tour, we explore the Rio Blanco Nature Reserve situated above the city of Manizales. Here there are over a dozen active hummingbird feeders along a wooden balcony that is lined with flowers, and these glitter with hummingbirds that include gems such as Long-tailed Sylph, Buff-tailed Coronet, Speckled Hummingbird, the boldly patterned Collared Inca and Tourmaline Sunangel. Finding an Andean Guan or even the oversized monotypic White-capped Tanager that can sometimes be seen from the balcony of the lodge would be a typical way to start the morning in Rio Blanco.
Our main quest for the day, however – and certainly one of the highlights of the entire trip – will be the rarely-seen antpittas, which have been patiently habituated to come to earthworm feeding stations that are active very early in the morning. The reserve features several of these ‘antpitta feeders’ where worms are placed out every day to attract these secretive birds, and here we have a chance to marvel at these fascinating but normally extremely difficult understory dwellers – sometimes only at an arms-length away! Ornately patterned Chestnut-crowned Antpittas and the endemic Brown-banded Antpittas are usually dominant, but we might also have a visit from the tiny vine-loving Slaty-crowned Antpitta, Chestnut-naped Antpitta, and occasionally even the vocal but sneaky near-endemic Bicolored Antpitta. Because these special birds are accustomed to a human presence at these sites, we often obtain exceptional studies (and photographs!) not just of the antpittas themselves, but also of their interesting behaviour as they stuff their bills with worms to feed hungry chicks or sometimes even hop across our feet! Other species that regularly visit the antpitta feeders include Grey-browed Brush Finch, the beautiful Green-and-black Fruiteater and Great Thrush.
The wide pathways within the reserve offer excellent access to the pristine cloud forest, where we will watch for the secretive Tawny-breasted Tinamou crossing the track, Golden-headed Quetzal perched motionlessly on a fern-covered branch, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker (arguably the world’s most beautiful woodpecker!), and peer into the undergrowth for skulking Blackish, Spillmann’s and Ash-colored Tapaculos.
We might also locate a fruiting tree where several species of parrots could be in attendance, including the scarce Golden-plumed Parakeet, Scaly-naped Amazon and the endangered Rusty-faced Parrot (this being its type location where it was first discovered). Mixed flocks here are sometimes composed of fifty plus species all swarming together in excited movements with intense sound at all levels of the mossy forest, and have the potential to leave us dizzy! Just a few of the possibilities include Buff-breasted and Blue-winged Mountain Tanagers, Yellow-billed Cacique, Pearled Treerunner, Black-eared Hemispingus, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Pale-edged Flycatcher, Dusky Piha, Smoke-colored Pewee, the bright Plushcap that prefers dense bamboo, Handsome Flycatcher, Grey-hooded Bush Tanager, Smoky Bush Tyrant, White-banded and White-tailed Tyrannulets, the white capped form of Capped Conebill, bright Blue-and-black Tanager, Sepia-browed Wren creeping through the vines, Streaked Xenops, Slaty-backed and Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrants, and a wide range of other warblers, tyrants, spinetails, and tanagers.
Continued birding inside this fantastic reserve throughout the day could produce specialities such as the tiny but colourful Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Mountain Wren, Powerful Woodpecker (giving its distinctive double tap), colourful Masked Trogon, and/or the furtive but exquisitely patterned Ocellated Tapaculo sneaking through the vine tangles. Although we will need considerable luck on our side, we also have possibilities for rarities such as Masked Saltator and the enigmatic Hooded Antpitta.
We plan to stay in the reserve till after dark so as to embark on a nocturnal excursion searching for resident White-throated Screech Owl, Band-winged Nightjar and Rufous-banded Owl.
Day 5: Los Nevados National Park to Jardin
Ascending towards the snow-covered Ruiz Volcano, we will be driving this morning into the reserve of Los Nevados where we have access to pristine stunted elfin forest and flowering Paramo scrub above 13 000 feet. Whilst being spoilt by the spectacular scenery, we will seek our primary target at this high elevation, the unique range-restricted Buffy Helmetcrest (split from Bearded). This spectacular hummingbird ‘trap lines’, which means that it visits the same flowers at regular intervals on its circuit, and we will carefully watch the known areas of its territory. Tawny Antpittas can sometimes be ridiculously tame here, while other specialities we will be searching for include Paramo Tapaculo, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Stout-billed Cinclodes, Sedge Wren, Paramo and Plain-colored Seedeaters and Many-striped Canastero.
As we slowly descend along the road later in the day, we will continue adding to our great series of hummingbirds with possible species including Black-thighed and Golden-breasted Pufflegs, Great Sapphirewing, Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Viridian Metaltail, Shining Sunbeam and Buff-winged Starfrontlet. Although rare, we also hope to find the endemic Rufous-fronted Parakeet, which often remains inconspicuous due to its preference for dense areas of montane grasses. Red-crested Cotingas regularly perch on exposed snags as we return to the tree line, where we might also find the intensely coloured Golden-crowned Tanager, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Plumbeous Sierra Finch and the scarce Black-backed Bush Tanager.
After lunch, we will then drive to the quaint town of Jardin surrounded by picturesque orchards.
Day 6: Jardin
Setting out this morning with 4×4 jeeps along a dirt road, we will enter into the highland reserve of Loro Orejiamarillo above Jardin, also known as Las Ventanas. This ProAves owned reserve is frequented by nearly 600 Yellow-eared Parrots, a critically endangered species that use the higher montane forest with tall wax palms for roosting, feeding, and nesting. Obtaining views of this diagnostically green and yellow patterned parrot will be our primary target early this morning before we continue birding along the little-travelled road through the reserve.
Here Black-billed Mountain Toucan, the near-endemic monotypic Tanager Finch and bands of Black-collared Jay are likely to make an appearance, along with a superb selection of montane specialities that include White-browed Spinetail, Rufous-headed Pygmy Tyrant, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Yellow-vented Woodpecker, the radiant Tourmaline Sunangel and Strong-billed Woodcreeper. Although rare throughout its range, this forest also supports a small population of the arboreal Chestnut-crested Cotinga and we will keep an eye peeled for this highly sought-after species.
We descend back into Jardin for a short rest before heading out for a late afternoon to visit one of the most accessible lekking sites on earth of the exquisite Andean Cock-of-the-rock. This can be an overwhelming frenzy of more than twenty eye-searing males in full raspy song and ostentatious display, while we marvel from only a few feet away! In the river below we will scan for White-capped Dipper feeding along the rocks, plus several possible tanagers including the boldly-patterned Saffron-crowned, Lacrimose Mountain, vivid Grass-green and near-endemic Flame-rumped. Dinner will be served this evening at a restaurant in the busy town square, which is especially impressive at night with an enormous cathedral lit up by an abundance of multicoloured lights.
Day 7: Jardin to Las Tangaras
We depart Jardin this morning on our Colombia bird watching tour, heading west to Las Tangaras preserve, nestled high in the Western Andes. This afternoon, after our arrival at Las Tangaras, we will take some time to bird near the lodge and hold vigil at the hummingbird and banana feeders set about the grounds. In this biodiverse region, some 2,000m elevation on the Pacific Slope of the Andes, it seems that nature has decided to throw an additional splash of wild colour onto the palette, with the birds being as bright and colourful as the orchids, bromeliads, ferns and hanging epiphytes that cover every visible foot of branch, trunk or root. Even the ground is a riot of blooming plants and moss. Some of the dazzling and bright species that visit the feeders and lodge grounds include Violet-tailed Sylph, the eye-searing Velvet-purple Coronet, scarce Empress Brilliant, Wedge-billed Hummingbird, Masked Trogon, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, and 12 species of Tanagers including Flame-rumped, Metallic-green, Fawn-breasted, Golden and the showy, endemic Crested Ant Tanager…right at the lodge!
Day 8: Las Tangaras
This is the site for some of Colombia’s best-known and most mythical birds. From the fantastic Gold-ringed and Black-and-gold Tanagers, known in bygone eras of Colombia’s difficult past as the “guerrilla tanagers”, to the recently described (2011) Alto Pisones Tapaculo, which proves there are yet species to be found in accessible areas. Las Tangaras and the road travelling down from the mountain village of El Carmen into the foothills and Choco rainforest will provide some of the most, if not the most, exciting birds and birding of the entire tour. Mixed-flocks are nearly constant; bird song emanates from behind every leaf the day long. No amount of enthusiasm would oversell this memorable site, remote in the forests and pastures of the rural West Andes.
The total bird list here seems more akin in quantity to a list from humid lowland rainforest, rather than a mountain slope. However, the mystique of the endemic habitats and species that populate Las Tangaras is given away by the high-quality endemic and range-restricted species present on the list.
Tantalising species we will search for along the car tracks and trails include Cloud Forest Pygmy Owl, Pacific Tuftedcheek, Golden-headed Quetzal, Toucan Barbet, Yellow-vented, Crimson-mantled and Powerful Woodpeckers, Uniform Treehunter, Star-chested Treerunner, Bicolored Antvireo, Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Rufous-breasted Antthrush, Alto Pisones, Narino and Choco Tapaculos, Handsome Flycatcher, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Olivaceous Piha, Choco Vireo, Beautiful Jay, Chestnut-breasted Wren, Black Solitaire, Black-chinned Mountain Tanager, Purplish-mantled, Glistening-green, Rufous-throated and Flame-faced Tanagers, Indigo Flowerpiercer, and both Chestnut-breasted and Yellow-collared Chlorophonias – to name just some of the potential highlights!
Day 9: Las Tangaras to Medellin
There are few places to access the high-elevation temperate forests that rim the upper ridges of the West Andes. One of the best places to access this high-elevation habitat is above the village of El Carmen del Atrato. With some luck on our Colombia bird watching tour, we could find all of the high-elevation specials we are searching for, with the most notable of these being Black-collared Jay, the vociferous Munchique Wood Wren, skulking Tanager Finch, and the bulky, glowing White-capped Tanager.
Much of the remainder of our day will be spent on the road heading to Medellin. We depart eastwards into the deep Cauca Valley, where the Rio Cauca has cut a deep valley into the heart of the Andes. In doing so, it has created unique weather patterns, vegetation and endemic forms of life that accompany such a situation. We will make a few within the dry forest of the valley which could net us some of Colombia’s most range-restricted species including Greyish Piculet, Apical Flycatcher and the recently described (2012!!) Antioquia Wren.
Day 10: La Romera Park to Rio Claro Preserve
Early this morning on our Colombia bird watching tour, we make the short drive to visit the narrow watershed of La Romera Municipal Park. This park protects an island of forest surrounded by farms and semi-rural homes. Birding from the road, we will watch for Andean Motmot, which can often be quite confiding compared to the undergrowth skulkers we will be searching for. Specifically, we will be targeting the endemic Stiles’s Tapaculo that is found in the same dense undergrowth where Chestnut-capped Brush Finch also lurks. The hyper-energetic Yellow-headed Manikin is also high up on our list of targets, La Romera is perhaps the best-known site for it in Colombia. Bird flocks can be quite a spectacle in this area with a pleasant assortment of migrant warblers including Golden-winged, Tennessee, Canada, Black-and-white, Blackburnian and the increasingly scarce Cerulean Warbler all possible. The gorgeous but elusive endemic Red-bellied Grackle moves around in small flocks, uttering extraordinary shrieks as they search for fruits and invertebrates.
By mid-morning, we shall be on our way towards Rio Claro. Rio Claro is a general term for the Rio Claro Canyon Park area, which includes one of the best birding stops in the Magdalena Valley – Rio Claro Oilbird Caves. Not only does this activity provide us with wonderful, up-close views of dozens (if not hundreds) of bizarre Oilbirds, but the trail system up to the caves, and onto the hill beyond them, offers some great species besides.
We will begin the walk to the caves in the mid-afternoon, looking for skulking understory and secretive sub-canopy species including Barred Puffbird, the rare and local Grey-cheeked Nunlet, Great Antshrike, Dusky Antbird, Band-backed Wren, and, with a lot of luck, Spotted Antbird or Streak-chested Antpitta! We will take our time inside the caves, enjoying the unique sights and sounds produced by the Oilbirds, and the deep cool of the dark interior. Later, a steep trail leads us up a short hill to look for one of the most interesting of all Tyrannids, Brownish Twistwing, which we have been able to view in full display here on past tours. We end the day out of the forest, across the fields towards the parking area, which just happens to be one of the most reliable places for Blue Cotinga in the country – what a bird! Though nearly silent and often hard to observe during the mid-morning to afternoon hours, this shining gem obligingly sits on treetops in the early morning and evening, proclaiming its territory.
We have also encountered the dapper endemic Silvery-brown Tamarin here on multiple tours in the past, not to mention one sneaky Jaguarundi crossing the creek before us! After our hike, we will retire to our lodgings up the serene Rio Claro Canyon.
Day 11: Rio Claro & surrounds
The warmer climate will be evident here since we are only at about 2,000 feet in this lower region of the Andes, but this allows us to search for a great diversity of bird species that share affinities with the Colombian lowlands. Birding along the open forest tracks and trails, we can dive into the antbirds with possibilities of Fasciated and Black-crowned Antshrike, Chestnut-backed Antbird and a variety of antwrens including the tiny Pacific, White-flanked, Dot-winged and Checker-throated. The musical White-breasted Wood Wren is a constant companion while other birds we are likely to encounter include Cinnamon and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, the bizarre Brownish Twistwing, Band-backed and Black-bellied Wrens, Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner gleaning for insects, Blue-crowned and White-bearded Manakins, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Russet-winged Schiffornis, loose bands of Black-chested Jay, brightly coloured Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Cinnamon and One-colored Becards, and Fulvous-vented Euphonia. Here we should also watch for troops of boldly marked White-footed Tamarins scurrying through the sub-canopy.
The forest here also supports a great selection of tyrannids including Yellow-crowned and Brown-capped Tyrannulets, Forest Elaenia, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, the minuscule Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Olivaceous Flatbill and Long-tailed Tyrant. Western Striped Manakin and White-whiskered Puffbird are more inconspicuous denizens of this forest, as are a variety of Tanagers including Lemon-rumped, Plain-colored, Dusky-faced and bands of distinctively marked Scarlet-browed.
We will also make our way into a gorge following a shallow stream bed through the forest towards an incredible spectacle of the bird world – an Oilbird cave! This nocturnal species is one of only a handful of birds that uses echolocation, and as we approach the cave we should be able to hear the strange, eerie grunts and clucks emanating from within. This colony supports approximately 250 pairs of Oilbirds and a short session inside the cave will allow us to obtain superb views (and photographs) of these huge birds, both perched and flying.
Day 12: Rio Claro to Bogota and depart
This morning we will do a bit of light birding before heading back to Bogota. Before we go, we will bird a nearby patch of preserved forest for Bare-crowned Antbird, Grey-cheeked Nunlet and Beautiful Woodpecker – all amazing birds!
We depart Rio Claro after some final early morning birding, and head back towards Bogota. As we near our ascent from the Magdalena Valley, we will divert to the town of San Francisco where we will visit the aptly named Enchanted Gardens, a private home where our hostess tirelessly tends to over 30 hummingbird feeders that swarm with activity. Here we can expect to be dazzled by dozens of busy hummers including the endemic Indigo-capped Hummingbird, Green and Sparkling Violetears, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Green Hermit, minuscule White-bellied and Gorgeted Woodstars, White-necked Jacobin, Crowned Woodnymph and a chance for the elusive Ruby-topaz Hummingbird – all at point blank range!
Time permitting, we shall make one final stop at La Florida lake, conveniently situated around the corner from Bogota Airport. Our primary targets here include the endemic and endangered Apolinar’s Wren. Andean Siskin, American Coot, the tricky Subtropical Doradito and the eye-catching, endangered race of Yellow-hooded Blackbird.
What our clients say about tours to Colombia
- MK, Colombia 2017
Rob Williams and the Rockjumper folks were absolutely fantastic in helping me after I lost my passport. They made sure I got back to Bogota for the embassy appointments, changing plans on the fly. Very impressive dedication to help customers.BA, Colombia 2017
Forrest was absolutely fantastic. The best birder/guide that we have ever had the pleasure of travelling with. His enthusiasm and passion for his work were exceptional and made for an awesome birding trip.DH & RD, Colombia Highlights
From the several members of the office staff to the actual tour itself, I have nothing but high praise for my Rockjumper experience. This was my first tour with Rockjumper, but I hope it won’t be my last. Alison and Sarah were tremendously helpful. Rob Williams is as good a leader as I have ever experienced. He not only knows the birds, but he made sure that we all got to see them, showing patience way beyond what I thought necessary. When one of our participants lost his passport, Rob bent over backwards to help this hapless person, never complaining while doing so. Rob always told us what the plan was for the next day. When Plan A didn’t pan out, he had Plan B ready. If something went askew, he handled it with aplomb, always keeping his sense of humour. Did I mention he showed us wonderful birds? Oh, we saw some beautiful ones!CA, Colombia 2017