Transfers from the airport to the hotel and back to the airport
All meals (except meals on Day 1 & Day 17)
All private land transportation including 4×4 vehicle for safari trips
Tour leader fees
Local guides fees
Entrances and admission fees
All activities described in the itinerary
International and domestic flights
Medical and travel cancelation insurances
Personal expenses such as laundry services, drinks, alcoholic drinks
Any activity not described in the itinerary such as city tours, visiting cultural sites and any place not described in the itinerary
Gratuities (please see our tipping guidelines blog)
Colombia Uncovered: Southern Andes, Amazonian Foothills and Llanos February 2024/2025
We are proud to introduce to you our fantastic Colombia birdwatching trip, Colombia Uncovered: Southern Andes, Amazonian Foothills and Llanos. This exciting Colombia birding tour is one of several trips we offer to this amazing country, the planet’s richest country for birds, with almost 2,000 species recorded. If you have enjoyed our classic The Very Best of Colombia: Santa Marta, Andes and Chocó birding tour (which immediately precedes this tour) and/or our Bogotá and Medellín endemics birding tour (which takes place in October), then this third tour is a great choice for another fantastic birding adventure with Birding Ecotours.
This trip provides the opportunity to travel across Colombia along a completely different route compared to our classic itinerary above. We will start the trip in the city of Cali, and after visiting a new private reserve, where we should get excellent views of two Colombian endemics, Chestnut Wood Quail and Multicolored Tanager, as they regularly visit bird feeders here, we will then travel south to Nariño and Putumayo states to enjoy further unique birding experiences.
We will look for a family of Chestnut Wood Quails in Reserva La Florida (photo Gilberto Collazos).
One of the highlights of the tour will be visiting the Páramo de Bordoncillo on a quest to find the poorly known and localized Chestnut-bellied Cotinga. This species was only recently rediscovered, and the area we visit for it is one of the few spots on Earth to see this awesome bird. Together with the Peruvian endemics, White-cheeked Cotinga and Bay-vented Cotinga, this species is considered a “Holy Grail bird” among cotinga fans and South American bird lovers; honestly, it is one you should just not miss! Other interesting species here include Golden-plumed Parakeet, Black-headed Hemispingus, Carunculated Caracara and the majestic Andean Condor, which is relatively easy to photograph near its roosting cliffs. Another highlight of this tour is visiting the Llanos, now inaccessible in Venezuela but within reach in Colombia (not everyone knows this!), but more about this below!
Heading south, we will reach the humid montane forest of a fascinating geographical part of the continent: the point where the Andes mountain chain, that runs south to north, splits into three different cordilleras. This unique geography is perhaps the most important reason why Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. Indeed, Colombia has more bird species than any other country, only seven less than the magical 2,000!
We will drive along the infamous Trampolin Road, which will take us from the cloudforest to the upper tropical Amazon lowlands. In the mountains, we will look for the near-endemic and sought-after White-rimmed Brushfinch, another huge target of this trip. While looking for this sought-after bird, we should also be rewarded with massive mixed-species feeding flocks which hold species such as Blue-browed Tanager, Golden Tanager, Bronze-green Euphonia, Orange-eared Tanager and Golden-collared Honeycreeper. Other species in these lush mountains include classics such as Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Black-billed Mountain Toucan, Dusky Piha, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow and the beautiful White-capped Tanager.
The upper tropical forest where the Andes meets the Amazon will provide a feast of birds such as Coppery-chested Jacamar and other avian jewels including White-eared Jacamar, Brown Jacamar, White-chinned Jacamar, Scarlet-crowned Barbet, Amazonian Umbrellabird, White-chested Puffbird, Western Striolated Puffbird, Black-streaked Puffbird, Scaled Fruiteater, Vermilion Tanager and Golden-collared Toucanet.
The Amazonian foothills provide for another new set of birds (photo Oswaldo Cortez).
The lowlands will provide birds like Horned Screamer, Plum-throated Cotinga, Cream-colored Woodpecker, White-throated Toucan, White-eared Jacamar, Long-billedWoodcreeper and the most-wanted Rufous-headed Woodpecker. With luck, we may see Amazon (Pink) River Dolphins in the Putumayo River. After several days exploring the Mocoa and Putumayo lowlands, we will take a domestic flight to Bogotá (Colombia’s capital) where we will stay overnight, followed by a full morning to explore La Florida Park looking for more Colombian endemics such as Bogota Rail, Apolinar’s Wren and Silvery-throated Spinetail. In the afternoon, we will fly to Yopal, the gateway of the Colombian Llanos.
Los Llanos are vast tropical grassland plains nourished by the waters of the Orinoco River. This habitat represents an amazing bird and wildlife refuge in northwestern South America. It is reminiscent of the Pantanal in Brazil, due to its high density of aquatic bird species. It was a popular destination among birdwatchers and nature lovers visiting Venezuela in previous decades, but due to the current political and social situation in the country, Venezuela is less popular to visit. The good news, however, is that you can still visit Los Llanos and not miss this incredible habitat, shared by only Colombia and Venezuela.
We will find large congregations of waterbirds while in Los Llanos (photo Alejandro Grajales).
While in Los Llanos we will use the famous Juan Solito Lodge as a base where we will spend three days looking for the localized Pale-headed Jacamar, Orange-fronted Yellow Finch, Two-banded Puffbird, Masked Cardinal, Wire-tailed Manakin, Rufous-vented Chachalaca and White-bearded Flycatcher, as priorities, but of course, we also expect to be able to feast our eyes on many others. This area provides a fantastic wildlife spectacle created by the congregation of hundreds of aquatic birds including Wood Stork, Jabiru, Scarlet Ibis, Sharp-tailed Ibis, the Near Threatened (IUCN) Orinoco Goose and the amazingly beautiful Roseate Spoonbill. Sungrebe, Sunbittern, Double-striped Thick-knee and Crestless Curassow should also be among the highlights for this section of the tour. After twelve days of intense birding in the Andes and the lush tropical forest, our stay in Los Llanos will be more relaxed, allowing participants to enjoy birds, wildlife and photography in this beautiful landscape. Los Llanos also provides great opportunities to spot wildlife such as Capybara and Orinoco Crocodile and, with luck, elusive species such as Giant Anteater, Jaguar and Anaconda.
Come and join us on this epic Colombian birding adventure that will take you from the heights of the Andes to the lowlands of the Llanos, targeting a number of unique and endangered species while in the company of your friendly and experienced Birding Ecotours tour leaders.
Itinerary (17 days/16 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Cali
You will arrive at Cali international Airport and be transferred to our comfortable hotel where we will have our first dinner together and discuss the exciting prospect of the next 17 days of birding in Colombia.
Overnight: Hotel Carl Danton, Cali
Multicolored Tanager, one of the most beautiful tanagers may be seen at Reserva La Florida (photo by Alejandro Grajales).
Day 2. Birding Reserva La Florida and transfer to Popayan
We will have an early start to visit Reserva La Florida where we will have the chance to see a family of endemic Chestnut Wood Quails coming to a feeder. Other classic bird species include Golden-naped Tanager, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Golden Tanager, Andean Motmot, Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Golden-winged Manakin and Golden-headed Quetzal, the endemic and striking Multicolored Tanager and the endemic Colombian Chachalaca. After lunch we will drive south to the colonial town of Popayan.
Overnight: Hotel Dann Monasterio, Popayan
Day 3. Birding Paramo de Purace
After a 1.5-hour drive, we shall reach the Paramo de Purace where, with a bit of luck, we will be able to see the majestic Andean Condor, Colombia’s national bird. Here the local communities feed the Andean Condor with animal carcasses, which offer good opportunities for photography. In addition to the condor, we may see Carunculated Caracara and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle soaring above the paramo. Other species include Golden-plumed Parakeet, Grass-green Tanager, Buff-breasted MountainTanager, Golden-crowned Tanager, Black-backed Bush Tanager, Black-capped Hemispingus and hummingbird species such as Shining Sunbeam, Black-thighed Puffleg and the impressive Sword-billed Hummingbird. After lunch we will return to Popayan, looking for birds on the way to the hotel.
Overnight: Hotel Dann Monasterio Popayan
The ridiculous-looking Sword-billed Hummingbird.
Day 4. Birding around the hotel and transfer to Pasto
The hotel surroundings offer great opportunities for species like Crested Bobwhite, the elusive Dwarf Cuckoo, Bar-crested Antshrike, Cocoa Thrush, Greenish Elaenia, Red-breasted Blackbird, White-lined Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Pearl Kite and two endemics: Greyish Piculet and Apical Flycatcher. By 10am we will start the long drive (5.5 hours) to Pasto and be transferred to our hotel.
Today we will explore the Paramo de Bordoncillo, a place that has only recently been put on the map for birdwatchers when the poorly-known Chestnut-bellied Cotinga was rediscovered in this remote part of Colombia. For Cotinga-lovers this is probably one of the main targets of the trip and one of the rarest and hardest to find anywhere in the world. We will focus most of our efforts on finding this mega rare species.
However, the paramo also includes other impressive species such as Masked Mountain Tanager, Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, Carunculated Caracara, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Paramo Tapaculo, White-browed Spinetail, Black-backed Bush Tanager and Spectacled Whitestart. After lunch we will visit Laguna La Cocha to look for species such as Noble Snipe, Andean Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Gull and Black-backed Grosbeak.
Days 6 – 7. Birding Trampolin Road (upper and lower sections)
The famous Trampolin Road, which joins the city of Pasto with Mocoa, is one of the most dramatic roads in Colombia, passing through different forest types from 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) to 1,900 feet (600 meters) above sea level, as it descends into the tropical upper Amazonia. Along the road, we will look for one of the main targets of the trip, the sought-after White-rimmed Brushfinch. Other birds to look out for along the road include Blue-browed Tanager, Bronze-green Euphonia, Black-billed Mountain Toucan, Golden-eared Tanager, Lined Antshrike, Western Fire-eye, Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer, Grey-mantled Wren, Orange-eared Tanager, Black-collared Jay, Dusky Piha, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Rufous-rumped Antwren, White-capped Tanager, Rufous-crested Tanager, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Maroon-tailed Parakeet and hummingbirds such as Violet-fronted Brilliant and Chestnut-breasted Coronet.
We’ll look for the rare White-rimmed Brushfinch along the Trampolin Road (photo Danial Orozco).
Day 8. Birding Campucana
Today we shall focus on the tropical forest known as the Campucana. Here we will look for the prized Coppery-chested Jacamar and also other delights such as Black-streaked Puffbird, Speckled Tanager, White-streaked Antvireo, Spot-winged Antbird, Southern Nightingale-Wren, Musician Wren, Orange-billed Sparrow, Rufous-naped Greenlet, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Foothill Stipplethroat, Yellow-breasted Antwren, White-crowned Manakin, Blue-rumped Manakin, Black-billed Treehunter, Short-tailed Antthrush and hummingbird species such as Blue-fronted Lancebill and Wire-crested Thorntail.
Playa Rica offers forest and wetland areas which provide perfect habitat for a number of species including the likes of Horned Screamer, Capped Heron, Limpkin, White-throated Toucan, Plum-throated Cotinga, Orange-fronted Plushcrown, Ivory-billed Aracari, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, Chestnut Woodpecker, Cream-colored Woodpecker and Yellow-tufted Woodpecker. We should also find other more common species such as Black Caracara, Silver-beaked Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Red-capped Cardinal, Blue-headed Parrot and Lettered Aracari. If time permits, we will look for Amazon (Pink) River Dolphin on the Putumayo River
We hope to find Cream-colored Woodpecker in Playa Rica.
Day 11. Flight to Bogotá and visit to the hummingbird garden
We will continue our adventure by taking a domestic flight from Puerto Asis to Bogotá, from where we will transfer to La Calera to visit the hummingbird garden “Observatorio de Colibries” This private house offers beautiful gardens with great hummingbird feeders including species such as Sword-billed Hummingbird, the striking Blue-throated Starfrontlet, Glowing and Coppery-bellied Puffleg, Black-tailed Trainbearer and Longuemare’s Sunangel. Later we will transfer back to Bogota to stay near the airport.
We will be transferred to the airport and connect with a domestic flight to Yopal in the Casanara state, the entrance to the Colombian Llanos. If time permits, we could spend the morning birding La Florida Regional Park close to the airport before our domestic flight to Yopal. La Florida is a good spot for the endemic Bogota Rail, and other birds such as Subtropical Doradito, the endemic Apolinar’s Wren, the endemic Silvery-throated Spinetail, American Coot, Spot-flanked Gallinule, Common Gallinule, Bare-faced Ibis, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Andean Duck, Southern Lapwing and Mountain Elaenia. If we do not have time for birding in Bogota before the flight, we can visit a place called Lagunaso in Yopal, where we can spend the afternoon looking for aquatic species.
Jabiru and hordes of other waterbirds can be seen near Juan Solito Lodge (photo Alejandro Grajales).
Day 13. Yopal to Hato La Aurora and onwards to Juan Solito Lodge
After breakfast we will leave our hotel and head to Hato de La Aurora, birding the savannas and the seasonally flooded plains looking for species such as Double-striped Thick-knee, Maguari Stork, Jabiru, Wood Stork, Whistling Heron, American White Ibis, Scarlet Ibis, Sharp-tailed Ibis, King Vulture, Savanna Hawk, American Kestrel, Oriole Blackbird, Grassland Sparrow, Yellowish Pipit, Eastern Meadowlark and Burrowing Owl. We will arrive at Juan Solito Lodge for lunch and will spend the afternoon birding around the lodge. Juan Solito Lodge is located in the north-eastern corner of the Hato La Aurora ranch, right on the banks of the Ariporo River and acts as a perfect base from which to explore the vast and impressive Los Llanos.
We will start our adventure by exploring Los Llanos in safari-style 4×4 vehicles while scanning the vast savannas and wetlands for wildlife such as Capybara, Giant Anteater and even the mighty Anaconda. Los Llanos is probably one of the easiest places in the world to see this giant snake! However, our target species are, without doubt, the localized Pale-headed Jacamar and White-bearded Flycatcher, both restricted to the Llanos habitat. Other species include Festive Amazon, Scaled Piculet, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Violaceous Jay, Bicolored Wren, Purple-throated Euphonia, Masked Cardinal, Wire-tailed Manakin, Orange-fronted Yellow Finch, Masked Cardinal, Spectacled Thrush, Rufous-vented Chachalaca and vast numbers of aquatic species. At night, we will do another safari-style drive looking for nocturnal wildlife and birds and, with some luck we might see Jaguar or Lowland (Brazilian) Tapir.
The cute Wire-tailed Manakin in the Llanos (photo Alejandro Grajales).
Day 15. Birding Juan Solito, Hato La Aurora
Today we will explore river channels by boat looking for species such as Orinoco Goose, Brazilian Teal, Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Crestless Curassow, Hoatzin, Sunbittern, Sungrebe, Boat-billed Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, Two-banded Puffbird, Venezuelan Troupial, Barred Antshrike, Northern Slaty Antshrike, Amazonian Black Tyrant, Orange-crowned Oriole, Chestnut-vented Conebill, Rosy Thrush-tanager and Orange-fronted Yellow Finch.
Orinoco Goose is another one of our targets while in Los Llanos (photo Alejandro Grajales).
Day 17. Domestic flight to Bogotá and flight out
We will be transferred to the airport and catch our domestic flight to Bogotá. We will say farewell at Bogotá Airport after an amazing 17-day-long birding and wildlife adventure.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.
The endemicMulticolored Tanageris one of the most spectacular tanagers in the world (photo Alejandro Grajales).
After some years of waiting, I had the privilege of returning to Colombia to lead this tour, which we had planned before the COVID pandemic hit. This was a special tour offering our clients and friends an opportunity to see different parts of Colombia compared to the traditional birding routes. We decided to be adventurous and explore the possibility of a birding route through the southern Andes, from Cali, across the Paramo de Bordoncillo, and the Trampolin Road to the Amazonian foothills around the Putumayo River. In addition to this, a second leg focused on the eastern region of Casanare, in the Colombian Llanos. We called this tour Colombia Uncovered. I was delighted to return to this incredible country after stopping guiding here in favor of my very good friend and colleague, Giancarlo Ventolini. I had also been very busy giving other South American countries my personal attention, but this was a new tour we were developing, and what better opportunity to visit this amazing country again.
Planning and preparations had proceeded well and were at an advanced stage, with the Birding Ecotours team and our excellent ground partners finalizing all minor details to start the trip. Unexpectedly, on January 10, 2023 – less than two months before the start of the tour – a colossal landslide destroyed an important section of the Pan-American Highway and adjacent villages, with 64 houses destroyed and 700 people displaced. The part of the highway that was destroyed formed part of our planned route, from Popayán to Mocoa. Alternative driving routes near the main highway were not a viable option, as they would be heavily congested with traffic. After studying various possible options, we decided to travel by vehicle from Popayán through Purace National Park, to Pitalito, and the across Huila State to Mocoa. This route had incredible birding opportunities, but unfortunately missed Paramo de Bordoncillo and Trampolin, which meant no chances for Chestnut-bellied Cotinga and White-rimmed Brushfinch. At the end of the trip, I felt a great personal satisfaction when the participants agreed that they had thoroughly enjoyed the modified tour and thought that it worked better than the originally planned tour. They asked me if we would advertise this tour, rather than the original plan, just to point out how much they enjoyed it.
Needless to say, this trip provided some of the classic, most-wanted and iconic birds of the neotropics, as well as a nice set of endemics and range-restricted specials, including Andean Condor, Andean Cock-of-the Rock, Torrent Duck, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, Orinoco Goose, Jabiru, Roseate Spoonbill, Horned Screamer, Band-bellied Owl, Tolima Blossomcrown, Tolima Dove, Hooded and White-bellied Antpittas, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Golden-winged Tody-Flycatcher, Lemon-throated Barbet, Sapphire-rumped Parrotlet, Long-billed Woodcreeper, Rufous-headed Woodpecker, Coopery-chested and Pale-headed Jacamars, White-bearded Flycatcher, Sharp-tailed Ibis, Hoatzin, Sunbittern, Bicolored Hawk and Crestless Curassow. Endless numbers of Scarlet Ibises roosting before sunset in the ponds of water in Los Llanos was a magical experience. Wildlife was not ignored on this trip – our first Colombia tour with a significant amount of wildlife – including, unexpectedly, Amazon (Pink) River Dolphins only a few meters from the boat, Giant Anteater, Southern Tamandua, the endemic Colombian Black-handed (Medem’s) Titi, Humboldt SquirrelMonkey, Red (-crowned) Titi Monkey, Orinoco Crocodile, Capybaras, and the impressive Green Anaconda.
Day 1, 08th February 2023. Arrival in Cali
Today was our arrival day in Cali and we made our way to the hotel and discussed the exciting trip ahead.
Day 2, 09th February 2023. Finca La Florida
All tour participants had met the previous night in the city of Cali. The first day of the tour was a predawn start from Cali to drive to the famous Km 18 and visit Finca La Florida. This relatively new private reserve and feeding station has become very popular among birders and photographers in Colombia, providing a great selection of birds, including two endemic stars, Multicolored Tanager and Chestnut Wood Quail. As soon we arrived at the property, we were received by Andean Motmot and then amazed by the number of birds coming to the feeders, including handsome and colorful species such as Red-headed Barbet, and Golden, Saffron-crowned, Golden-naped, Palm, Blue-grey, White-lined, and Black-capped Tanagers which were all seen nicely. In addition, the endemic Flame-rumped Tanager and striking Multicolored Tanager gave us repeat views, to the full satisfaction of our group. The hummingbird feeders attracted beautiful avian jewels such as White-booted Racket-tail, Western Emerald, Steely-vented and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Long-tailed Sylph, White-necked Jacobin, Brown Violetear and Tawny-bellied Hermit. After our breakfast and heavenly Colombian coffee (and equally good chocolate, for some) we went directly to the quail feeders to feast our eyes on excellent views of a family party of Chestnut Wood Quails. The lighting and distance were perfect, allowing us to study every minute detail of these great birds.
The endemic Chestnut Wood Quail was seen well at La Florida (photo Alejandro Grajales).
We also used the opportunity to walk some of the trails on the property, following the call of a Narino Tapaculo, but it remained heard only. We were still glad, though, because the elusive Chestnut-breasted Wren soon showed for us, but sadly covered by some leaves, and not everyone managed to get this skulking species. We were also rewarded with an unexpected Golden-winged Manakin (male) which was seen by the whole group. Property staff pointed out a Common Potoo at its daytime roost, which was a nice surprise and a highlight of the first day, especially for those who were setting foot in the neotropics for the first time. Other birds in the area included sightings of Sickle-winged Guan, Acorn Woodpecker, Montane Woodcreeper, Scarlet-fronted Parakeet, Black-billed Thrush, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Brown-capped Vireo, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Eared Dove, Shiny Cowbird, Saffron Finch, Canada and Blackburnian Warblers, Yellow-headed Caracara, Black Vulture, and the handsome Green Honeycreeper.
Before enjoying lunch, we heard the calls of Golden-headed Quetzal calling from the nearby forest, and with a good strategy, we managed to see a beautiful pair near the parking lot. We got scope views and the photographers amongst us tried their best to get shots of this lovely bird.
Common Potoo at its day roost at La Florida (photo Alejandro Grajales).
After a delicious lunch at La Florida we started the 100-mile (160-kilometre) drive from La Florida to the southern city of Popayan, arriving late in the afternoon.
We left Popayan and headed towards Puracé to visit La Piedra del Cóndor, a high-elevation montane forest habitat where Andean Condor can still be seen roosting on the mountain cliffs. It is also one of the few accessible places in the country to see the near-endemic Caranculated Caracara. We were given an informative introduction to the tourist project being run by the local Andean community of Puracé. It is a commendable project, aiming to conserve the area and attract and cater for visitors in a sustainable way. We were then placed at a well-known stakeout with stunning views of the surrounding landscape, and in front of the huge rock La Piedra del Cóndor, where the locals put out meat to attract the condors. I quickly spotted the bird roosting on the cliff and we all had good views through the spotting scope. We waited patiently to see if the condor would descend from the top of the cliffs and feast on breakfast. There was not much other bird activity until we saw a Caranculated Caracara coming to the rock, providing great views. Only a few participants had seen it before, in other locations like the mountains and national parks such as Antisana, above Quito, Ecuador.
Caranculated Caracara (photo Alejandro Grajales).
After quite a long time we saw the Andean Condor descending from the top of the cliff and heading straight towards us. It maneuvered in the air, turned around, and finally perched on the rock to eat some food. It was a fantastic experience to have one of the most iconic birds in the world soaring right above us. Although people see condors in places like the Andes of Peru, Chile and Argentina, they are often only seen at a distance. It truly was awesome to see its imposing size from so close!
We had a long drive ahead of us, across Puracé National Natural Park, on our way to San Agustin. So we left La Piedra del Cóndor and decided to spend less than an hour birding along the road. During our condor watch I had heard the call of Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, so decided to give it a chance. Fortunately, I took the group to the right spot, where a family of toucans were flying by. Even though they were a bit further from the road, there were great photographic opportunities. Everyone certainly enjoyed one of the most spectacular mountain toucans in the Andes which was a big target for some of our group. Then we drove lower and made another stop, where we got our first views of Sparkling Violetear,calling and making territorial displays from the Eucalyptus trees. Even more importantly, we were able to find a couple of White-throated Toucanets.The birds here belong to the endemic griseigularis race,found only in western and central Colombia. There is still controversy over Emerald Toucanet taxonomy, after being split into seven different species, with some considered conspecific, by other taxonomic authorities. The International Ornithological Congress (IOC) considers Aulacorhynchus albivitta as White-throated Toucanet, with four different races. The Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) uses the name Grey-throated Toucanet to refer to the same species, Aulacorhynchus albivitta,and eBird uses the name Southern Emerald Toucanet. I suggest keeping track of all subspecies and races because one does not know when they might be split or lumped together again.
We had incredible views of this female Andean Condor (photo Alejandro Grajales).
We then continued our drive towards San Agustín, crossing Puracé National Park. The dreamers amongst us kept their eyes open for Mountain Tapir, whilst the others admired the landscape or took a short nap. We did, however, make two important stops along the way. First, we stopped to look at Frailejones, beautiful plants in the Espeletia family that dominate the páramos of Colombia. Only those who had visited Colombia before had seen these beautiful plants at the base of Nevado del Ruiz’s snow-capped volcano, which rises above the city of Manizales. This active volcano is a famous birding spot and home of the beautiful Buffy Helmetcrest. The other highlight of our long drive was seeing Hooded Mountain Tanager,which is the second-largest tanager in the world, after White-capped Tanager. With all these amazing sightings, great anticipation for the coming days, and a little fatigue after the first early starts, we arrived in San Agustín and settled into our comfortable hotel. We then enjoyed a delicious supper and a good night’s sleep.
Day 4, 11th February 2023. San Agustín Archeological Park and surrounds
After a beautiful sunrise and a tasty breakfast, we found some birds in the hotel grounds, including the first Inca Jay and Buff-rumped Warbler, which was skulking on the small forest stream banks. We then drove to San Agustín Archeological Park. This park contains one of the largest collections of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in Latin America, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. We had great birding in the park, including our first views of the endemic Colombian Chachalaca. Their noisy calls were all around us, announcing our arrival at the park. We spent the first few hours of the morning having nice encounters with species such as Ruddy Pigeon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Andean Motmot, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Plain Antvireo, Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrant, Great Crested and Rusty-margined Flycatchers, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, Slate-throated Saltator, Blue-grey, Bay-headed, and Blue-necked Tanagers, and Rufous-collared Sparrow. We had to work harder than usual and were rewarded with great views of Western Fire-eye and Slaty Spinetail. Sadly, some birds remained heard only, including Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Whiskered Wren and Streaked Xenops. We also found the migratory Canada Warbler and Swainson’s Thrush. We then had good views of Black Phoebes during our refreshments. After a few hours enjoying the birding and being introduced to the fascinating pre-Columbian civilizations, we left the park and headed for lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch we went to explore a nearby wetland which, incredibly, provided excellent (but brief) photograph opportunities of the secretive but widespread White-throated Crake.
A tomb platform with supporting statues (photo Alejandro Grajales).
In the afternoon we spent the rest of the day looking for and photographing water birds and open-country species in a different wetland not far from San Agustín. We added species such as Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teals, Common Gallinule, and Southern Lapwing, while enjoying great scope views of a single male Masked Duck (together with two females), with Grey-cowled Wood Rail, Great, Snowy and Western Cattle Egrets, Little Blue and Striated Herons, Wattled Jacana, Solitary Sandpiper, Bare-faced Ibis, and Black-crowned Night Heron all seen in the area too. A great moment of excitement came when, while scanning the reeds with the scope, I suddenly spotted a Wilson’s Snipe right out in the open at the edge of the reeds. Everyone had good looks through the scope. Things got even better, with a Sora crossing the open spaces of the reed islands, giving everyone perfect views. We enjoyed some open-country species as well, such as Vermilion (female) and Piratic Flycatchers, and Tropical Mockingbird. We also had Southern Rough-winged Swallows and nice, but distant, views of Yellow-hooded Oriole.
After enjoying our fill of the abovementioned species, we decided to walk towards a large patch of Guadua bamboo, where we heard a lowland bamboo special, Large-headed Flatbill. Sadly, access to the interior of the patch was not easy and we were running out of time. We heard a raptor call and played Bicolored Hawk and this magnificent hawk came towards usand perched in the open, providing magnificent scope views. Generally, accipiters are difficult to see, making this sighting the cherry on top. We happily called it a day and drove to Pitalito for our two-night stay.
The endemic Red-bellied Grackle was seen nicely atEl Encanto Reserve (photo Alejandro Grajales).
Day 5, 12th February 2023. El Encanto and Drymophila Reserves
We had an early start and drove towards the recently established El Encanto and Drymophila Reserves, both run by a local family who have decided to invest in ecotourism and conservation. These reserves were put on birders’ radars recently (after the COVID pandemic) when the secretive Schwartz’s Antthrush started coming to the bird feeders. Sadly, it didn’t show up during our visit. Nevertheless, we got other great birds during our full-day visit. We started the day exploring the Drymophila Reserve, getting species such as Inca Jay, the endemic Red-bellied Grackle, the endemic and localized East Andean Antbird (Drymophila caudata; the reserve takes its name from this genus). The hummingbird feeders attracted interesting species, such as Andean Emerald, Crowned Woodnymph, Buff-tailed Coronet, Gorgeted Woodstar, Bronzy Inca, Lesser, Sparkling and Brown Violetears, White-booted Racket-tail,and theendemic and recently split Tolima Blossomcrown,one of the stars of the reserve.
We had good views of White-bellied Antpitta at El Encanto feeders (photo Alejandro Grajales).
We were delighted to see the enigmatic Hooded Antpitta at El Encanto feeders (photo Alejandro Grajales).
We visited the bird feeders of the Drymophila Reserve and were rewarded with excellent views of White-bellied Antpitta, and the enigmatic Hooded Antpitta, amega-rare near-endemic. Wehave seenit regularly on our previous Colombia tours at El Cedral in the Otún Quimbaya Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, but this was the first time we had seen it attending a worm feeder. We got great views of both but, sadly, there was no hope for the Schwartz’s Antthrush, which had not been seen in a while. Other interesting species at the bird feeders were the large and secretive White-throated Quail-Dove and the endemic and localized Tolima Dove.We saw the silhouette ofa Scaly-naped Amazon flying above the reserve, but it was too far away for the group to count. We returned to El Encanto along a very rough road and some of us managed to see Yellow-faced Grassquit and Lesser Goldfinch.
We savored a delicious homemade lunch at the family house, and then continued birding around the house. We saw White-lined Tanager (male and female), a tanager that does not mix with other species in flocks. At the same fruit feeders we also saw Blue-grey, Palm, Blue-necked and Bay-headed Tanagers.We got nice views of Squirrel Cuckoo, Streaked Saltator, Red-headed Barbet, Scrub Tanager, the beautiful Crimson-backed Tanager, Thick-billed Euphonia, the endemic Velvet-frontedEuphonia, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Pale-breasted and Black-billedThrushes, and the well-known Rufous-collared Sparrow.
Before we left the reserve, we managed to get good views of the endemic Apical Flycatcher, as well as Ash-browed Spinetail, and Rufous-naped Greenlet. The hummingbird feeders provided Red-billed Emerald, White-vented Plumeleteer, the endemic Indigo-capped Hummingbird, Black-throated Mango, and Rufous-tailed and Shinning-green Hummingbirds.We then returned to Pitalitoto get some rest in the late afternoon.
Golden-eared Tanager (photo Diego Rocha).
Day 6, 13th February 2023. Birding lowland hotspots around Mocoa
This morning we drove towards Mocoa, the capital of the Putumayo department, located at 1,980 feet (605 metres) elevation. We planned to spend the next few days focusing on lowland species that are hard to find in Colombia (but may be possible to see elsewhere in South America). These species may indeed be found around Mocoa at some of the few accessible Amazonian lowland hotspots in Colombia.
We started birding some hotspots near Mocoa, including Bosque Verdeyaco, La Ruta del Barniz, and Km. 51. Bosque Verdeyaco received us with great views of species like Speckled Chachalaca, Scaled Piculet, the striking Paradise Tanager, also Magpie, White-lined, White-shouldered, Blue-grey, Palm, and Silver-beakedTanagers, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Crested and Russet-backed Oropendolas, Thrush-like Wren, Yellow-browed Sparrow, Violaceous Jay, Olive-sided Flycatchers, and Chestnut-collared and White-collared Swifts.
In the late morning sporadic showers became heavy rains. Unfortunately, this happened on almost all our afternoons in the Amazonian foothills, limiting the time available for birding and thus the number of lowland species recorded. Birding next to the road and checking the rivers provided views of Torrent Duck for all participants and Amazonian Umbrellabird for only some of us.
We explored another hotspot, where we had amazing views of Coppery-chested Jacamar,our first attractive jacamar for the trip. Another interesting species was the huallagae race of Yellow-whiskered Bush Tanager (considered by Cornell to be Short-billed Chlorospingus). We continued birding the Verdeyaco forest, getting some common species (but new for the trip), such as Grey-capped Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Red-capped Cardinal, Yellow-headed Caracara, and Smooth-billed Ani. We heard Dusky Spinetail,which did not want to cooperate with us, as well as Little Tinamou, calling in the distance.
In the evening we visited a spot on the outskirts of Mocoa town to look for Band-bellied Owl, which showed nicely for everyone.
We spent the next couple of days exploring the Amazon rainforest foothills around Mocoa. We explored a family property where we got a nice set of birds, including the always-stunning Rufous Motmot, the uncommon Lemon-throated Barbet, Chivi Vireo, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Violaceous Jay, Cerulean Warbler, and Summer, Yellow-bellied (a glimpse for some of the group), Blue-necked, and Turquoise Tanagers. We also saw Golden-tailed Sapphire, a new hummingbird for the trip.
After a brief but productive stop on this property, we went to explore Vereda Campucana, unfortunately spoiled by lots of fine and continuous rain. A steep track passed through the forest where the mythical Black Tinamou has been seen, but the rain was not helping, especially on the upper parts of this road. As bird activity was rather quiet and the trail was slippery, we decided to retreat, but were then splendidly rewarded with the uncommon Black-streaked Puffbird.It is found in similar habitat in Peru and Ecuador, but this is the northern limit of its range in southern Colombia. We were happy for Sue, who found a female Andean Cock-of-the Rock, a bird she badly wanted to see. We managed to see Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Pale-vented Pigeon, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Swallow Tanager, Yellow-bellied Dacnis, Buff-throated Saltator, and Purple Honeycreeper. The following birds were heard only: Cinereous Tinamou (distantly), Orange-billedSparrow (close, but no cigar), Lined Antshrike and Dusky Spinetail.
We also birded some strategic sites back along the main road, one of which gave us full views of the most-wanted and hard-to-see Golden-winged Tody-Flycatcher.That was another super moment of the trip! We added several common birds, including Southern Rough-winged and Blue-and-white Swallows, Black Vulture and Blue-headed Parrot. We returned to Bosque de Verdeyaco, where we got some new birds, such as Green-backed Trogon, Thick–billed and Orange-bellied Euphonias, Canada Warbler, Golden Tanager, Smoke-colored Pewee, and Olive-sided and Acadian Flycatchers. We had decent views of Glittering-throated Emerald and glimpses of Wire-crested Thorntail feeding on an Inga tree near the property entrance. The male was seen by a few only, while the female was seen on more than one occasion, albeit very briefly.
For these couple of days we enjoyed lunch at the hotel and then kept the afternoons free to evade the foreboding weather. Participants were glad to have an opportunity to work on their photos and enjoy some leisure time.
Day 8, 15th February 2023.El Escondite
Following our adventure in the Putumayo region, we went to explore a famous hotspot called El Escondite (The Hide). Sadly, the weather was not great as it was raining mildly. When we arrived at the private reserve, we went to the old school area, the best place in the area to see one of our targets for the day, Sapphire-rumped Parrotlet,which we saw well. There was almost no understory bird activity but several canopy species were showing well. Other species seen this morning on El Escondite included interesting birds such as White-chinned Jacamar, Chestnut Woodpecker, Striped Woodcreeper, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Swallow-winged Puffbird and Black-tailed Tityra. We got nice scope views of Bare-necked Fruitcrow (male), and once again we had a glimpse of Amazonian Umbrellabird flying by. Other birds at El Escondite included Orange-fronted Plushcrown, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, White-vented Euphonia, Masked Tanager, Grey-capped Flycatcher, Red-bellied Macaw, Laughing Falcon, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Greater Ani, Speckled Chachalaca, and Golden-bellied Euphonia. Common species included Great Kiskadee, Violaceous Jay, the monotypic Black-capped Donacobius, and Piratic, Social, and Boat-billed Flycatchers. We also had views of a Great Potoo at its day roost, with White-bearded Hermit and Fork-tailed Woodnymph seen in the main garden and Roadside Hawk, Bare-faced Ibis, and Whistling Heron added near the reserve entrance. The monotypic Hoatzin was seen here for the first time on the trip which was a highlight for those who had yet to see this unusual species.
The monotypic Hoatzin was seen nicely on this tour (photo Noah Frade).
Our visit to El Escondite allowed us to get two interesting primate sightings. First, a group of the Colombian-endemic and range-restricted Colombian Black-crowned (Medem’s) Titi, which was seen nicely. Second, a large troop of Humboldt’s Squirrel Monkeys putting up a characteristic performance while travelling across the forest subcanopy above us.
After the morning birding at El Escondite we started out for our next destination. Leaving Mocoa, we managed to get our first Scarlet Ibis of the trip – apparently, they have started to colonize the Amazon foothills from the eastern Llanos. We arrived in Puerto Asís, where we were scheduled to stay for two nights, and decided to have another easy afternoon as the weather was not improving.
Day 9, 16th February 2023. Putumayo River tributary and Playa Rica
I took the group for a pleasant surprise after I heard that Amazon (Pink) River Dolphins were almost guaranteed along a tributary of the Putumayo River. We took an hour-and-a-half-long speedboat trip along the Putumayo River, at times a few meters from the Ecuadorian border. The group did not expect this at all, since I was covering the surprise with a veil of mystery until the very last minute. I had the freedom to take a decision like this because I knew the group very well, having travelled with them on various occasions and enjoying a friendly relationship. I knew they would love the experience of seeing this amazing and very unexpected creature.
Amazon (Pink) River Dolphins were the wildlife surprise of the trip.
During the boat trip, we saw some interesting birds, such as Mottled-backed Elaenia, White-winged Swallow, Amazon and Ringed Kingfishers, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Horned Screamer, Pied Plover, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, and Masked Crimson Tanager, which was new for the trip and the group was very happy to see. We also had White-banded Swallow, Red-capped Cardinal, and Black-capped Donacobius, and we heard Riparian Antbird, and Great Antshrike.We found the dolphins and, although it was difficult to take good photos because they were constantly moving, spending more time under water, and only coming up for short periods to breathe, everyone loved the experience.
After this little adventure, we went directly to Playa Rica, our hotspot for the day. We arrived a little later than expected, but still nailed some great birds, including the most-wanted Rufous-headed Woodpecker, the fantastic Long-billed Woodcreeper, White-eared Jacamar, Scarlet-crowned and Lemon-throated Barbets, Black-crowned Tityra, Blue-headed Parrot, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, and Yellow-tufted Woodpecker.In addition to the birds, we were fortunate to find a Red (-crowned) Titi Monkey.After lunch,we returned to Puerto Asis and took the afternoon off. In the evening we ate a last supper with Johnny, our main driver since the start of the trip. This was the end of the first leg of our trip and we were to catch a flight the next day for the second leg of our adventure.
After a very short drive we arrived at Puerto Asis airport to catch our flight to Bogota. We had a smooth flight and after arrival in Bogota, we headed to La Calera town to visit the famous Observatorio de Colibríes. The driving was slow due to weekend traffic, as the people living in Bogota like to get out of the city and enjoy a country lunch and chill out. There was also rain and roadworks, delaying us further. From the van window, we got excellent views of Streak-throated Bush Tyrant. We arrived at the feeding garden and some of the participants went into raptures when they saw how many high-elevation and sought-after hummingbird species were around, some of them difficult to see anywhere else. Additionally, this lovely private house boasts strikingly beautiful garden designs. Some of the spectacular species we saw included the impressive Great Sapphirewing, the striking Blue-throated Starfrontlet, Longuemare’s Sunangel, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Tyrian Metaltail, White-bellied Woodstar, Sparkling Violetear, Glowing Puffleg, and the most-wanted Sword-billed Hummingbird, which made Sue very happy. Other birds seen around the gardens included Great Thrush, Rufous-collared Sparrow and Glossy Flowerpiercer. We then returned to Bogota for the night.
Blue-throated Starfrontlet was the star of the Observatorio de Colibríes (photo Alejandro Grajales).
Day 11, 18th February 2023. Yopal rest day
We were transferred to El Dorado airport in Bogota and caught our short flight to Yopal, where we stayed for the rest of the day, resting and preparing for the intensity of the next few days. Since there were no direct flights between Puerto Asis and Yopal, this “rest” day was necessary to allow us to do the five-hour drive from Yopal to Juan Solito Lodge (the heart of the Colombian Llanos) at a relaxed pace during the prime hours of the day.
Day 12, 19th February 2023. Los Llanos and Juan Solito Lodge
We were fetched from our hotel in Yopal in two 4×4 vehicles and started our drive to Juan Solito. We had hoped we could get some of our targets and interesting species on the way to the lodge, but the drive far exceeded our expectations. We wished we could have spent longer enjoying the birds and taking photos!
We scored with a large diversity of waterbirds, including the handsome, most-wanted and here, relatively common, Orinoco Goose. We got excited with several sightings of the localized Sharp-tailed Ibis. We alsoenjoyed views of White-headed Marsh Tyrant, Carib Grackle, Tropical Mockingbird, Horned Screamer, Black-necked Stilt, large numbers of Black-bellied Whistling Duck, our first Roseate Spoonbill, Yellow-headed and Crested Caracaras, Jabiru, a couple of Maguari Storks, Savanna Hawk, and Scarlet Ibis.
Los Llanos(photo Alejandro Grajales).
During the dry season only a few ponds of water remain, harboring a plethora of aquatic species in high concentrations – as can be seen in the image above – and this is the perfect time to visit Los Llanos. Los Llanos (“the plains”) is a vast tropical grassland plain situated to the east of the Andes in Colombia and Venezuela. Most of it is located in Venezuela however not many eco-travelers are aware that Colombia offers excellent access to this unique biome.
We arrived at Juan Solito Lodge, and after check in were introduced to our local guide and field assistants for our stay in Juan Solito. We stayed in the clearing at the lodge to explore the surroundings and it could not have been better! We found many of the localized targets for this region, including the most-wanted Pale-headed Jacamar, Orange-fronted Yellow Finch, Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Ruddy Ground Dove, Pale-vented Pigeon, Versicolored Emerald, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Scaled Piculet, Lineated Woodpecker, Short-crested Flycatcher, Violaceous Jay, Masked Cardinal (found only in Colombia, Venezuela and Trinidad), Spectacled Thrush, a female Blue Ground Dove (only for some of us), and the localized White-bearded Flycatcher. We were very happy to find a Great Potoo roosting in a dead tree during the day (well done Tracy). There were birds everywhere and we enjoyed being away from the city and completely surrounded by nature for a few days.
After a long day, we enjoyed a quick shower, supper, worked on our daily checklist, and made plans for the following day. There was much excitement, and with those thoughts we said goodnight.
Day 13, 20th February 2023. Birding around Juan Solito
We went for a walk before breakfast hoping to see Giant Anteater, which can be reliable in the area, but didn’t find it. We however enjoyed views of Double-striped Thick-knee, Grey Seedeater, Blue-black Grassquit, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Olive-grey Saltator, Yellow-browed Sparrow, Oriole Blackbird, Orange-fronted Yellow Finch, and Rufous-fronted Thornbird next to its massive nest. Furthermore, we found Pale-eyed Pygmy Tyrant playing hide-and-seek, Short-crested Flycatcher, White-fringed Antwren, Spectacled Parrotlet, Brown-throated Parakeet and Chestnut-fronted Macaw.
Wire-tailed Manakinwas one of the stars at Los Llanos (photo Alejandro Grajales).
After breakfast, we went to explore some gallery forest looking for interior forest species. The activity was slow and quiet, adding Straight-billed Woodcreeper, followed by Pale-breasted Spinetail, Lineated Woodpecker, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, and Chestnut-eared Aracari. One of the stars was Wire-tailed Manakin for which we had to work hard to get all the participants onto, as the male manakin was shy, mostly remaining hidden from us. We were happy with good views, including its tail, although taking photographs proved difficult.
Laura, our field assistant, spotted a Collared Forest Falcon near the trail while she was trying to provide the photographers a better opportunity with the manakin. Laura and I worked together, trying to find a good position and eventually this elusive and shy raptor came out into view. We feasted our eyes on this sighting, with everyone trying to get photographs and admiring its behavior. Great was our surprise when we saw its mate arriving, having a pair was a real treat! After this sighting, there was not much activity in the forest and so we returned to the lodge clearing. We looked for birds from the river stakeout, where we added Pale-headed Jacamar, Grey-fronted Dove, Sunbittern, Green Ibis, Spot-breasted and Crimson-crestedWoodpeckers and Orange-winged Amazon.
A highlight of Juan Solito was the secretive Collared Forest Falcon.
We also saw other wildlife, such as Capybaras and some Spectacled Caimans, the more common crocodilian in this part of Los Llanos in Casanare. The special Orinoco Crocodile is scarcer and we were hoping to see some in the upcoming days, together with the mythical Green Anaconda.
We spent the afternoon on a 4×4-vehicle excursion, exploring some of the dry plains and looking for Yellowish Pipit. We planned to check a small lagoon for aquatic species and wait until sunset, hoping for mammals coming to drink. Our first score was a nice pair of Burrowing Owls along the track. We tried hard for Yellowish Pipit but we did not find it, unfortunately. At the lagoon we added lots of aquatic species, completing all potential birds in Los Llanos, with a list including Snowy and Great Egrets, Little Blue, Rufescent Tiger, Striated, Cocoi, and Whistling Herons, Jabiru, Wood and Maguari Storks, and Bare-faced, Green, American White, Scarlet and Sharp-tailed Ibises. We were hoping for Glossy Ibis only because we had not seen it yet but unfortunately, they did not oblige today. In addition, we saw Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Blue-winged and Brazilian Teals, Wattled Jacana, Pied Plover, and the monotypic Limpkin.We added Least and Solitary Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Yellow-billed and Large-billed Terns and Black Skimmer.
At sundown, we enjoyed a bottle of white wine with snacks. We had views of Red Brocket deer, which was relatively common in the area and there was a habituated individual at the lodge. Perhaps one of the most memorable experiences, amongst the breathtaking natural scenery, was the ‘red leaf tree’. Humorously, the tree was red because it was full of roosting Scarlet Ibises – a special moment,as this species was a target for many of our participants.
On the drive back to the lodge we managed to get great views of Crab-eating Fox.Before supper we triedfor Tropical Screech Owl,which we heard near the cabins, but it did not want to answer this time. Nevertheless, Mike managed good views when he woke up during the night, with a photograph to prove it! Before I went to my room, I saw a huge Common Opossum but, sadly, nobody else in our group saw it.
Scarlet Ibises preparing to roost in a tree in Juan Solito.
Day 14, 21st February 2023. Hato de La Aurora and wetland birding
We planned to repeat the same formula of birding and exploring the surroundings for an hour, before returning for breakfast. Suddenly Giovani, our local guide and a true llanero, shouted, “anteater”! We dropped everything and had excellent, close views of Giant Anteater, one of the big five animals of South America. We had seen this amazing creature on our Brazil and Peru tours and recently in Guyana, but this was our first time finding one in Colombia. The light was not ideal and the anteater was moving briskly, but everyone was ecstatic with this sighting.
We birded the surroundings and saw some of the usual suspects, seen on previous days, and some new birds, such as White-tipped Dove, Striped Cuckoo, Southern Mealy Amazon, and a nice surprise was a Two-banded Puffbird.This isa recent split from Russet-throated Puffbird, which is almost a Venezuela endemic but reaches the Colombian Llanos as the western range of its distribution.
Giant Anteater was a wildlife highlight of the trip.
After breakfast, we started a 4×4-vehicle drive towards Hato de La Aurora, in the deep heart of the Colombian Llanos, where we would spend the full day and return in the evening. On the way to Hato de La Aurora, we stopped at a seasonal lagoon, where we saw the Critically Endangered Orinoco Crocodile. We could study it in great detail, comparing it to the Spectacled Caimanwe had seen previously. We then went looking for something some of the participants were dreaming of seeing, the mythical Green Anaconda.Even though it is widespread across the continent it is not easy to see, and Los Llanos is the place with the highest likelihood. Our local guide, Giovani, together with the driver (both men born in Los Llanos and thus experts), looked for it in a swamp they knew. An individual had been reported recently and, walking in the swamp with feet under the muddy water, they managed to find one, which came out of hiding and showed for us. We would certainly remember this experience for the rest of our lives!
The Green Anaconda seen in Los Llanos.
The Critically Endangered Orinoco Crocodile seen in Hato de La Aurora.
After the big herping moment with these two impressive reptiles, we arrived at Hato de La Aurora hacienda for lunch and enjoyed the garden feeders. Hato de La Aurora is a huge hacienda property with the highest density of Jaguars in the Colombian Llanos, and where conservationist and researcher, Mr. Jorge Barragan, has been conducting a study on the Jaguar population in the area for the last 20 years. We had the opportunity to meet him and listen to a short, fascinating talk about his work in Hato de La Aurora. Before and after lunch we looked for birds around the garden and had Masked Cardinal, Bicolored Wren, Versicolored Emerald, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Violaceous Jay, Tropical Mockingbird, Thick-billed Euphonia, Silver-beaked Tanager, Olive-grey Saltator, and Venezuelan Troupial.
After lunch and a short break, we drove in our 4×4 vehicles to a distant wetland where jaguars had recently been photographed on a camera trap. On the way, we managed to see Eastern Meadowlark, a new bird for the trip, plus Burrowing Owl. We arrived at the spot and waited in silence for over an hour with the hope of seeing Jaguars. In the meantime, we got good views of Savanna and Black-collared Hawks, and Turkey and Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures.Time was running out and we were about to leave when we had a super sighting of a pair of Crestless Curassows which, although distant, provided good views of this shy species. We left the wetland and looked in another lagoon where, in addition to all the usual aquatic species and dozens of Capybaras, we managed to spot a single Glossy Ibis, which showed nicely in the scope. It was then time to start the long and dusty drive back to Juan Solito. Along the drive, we had good views of Crab-eating Foxes as well as Nacunda Nighthawk, Parauque and Spot-tailed Nightjar.
We arrived back in Juan Solito, and after supper we were surprised to be invited to participate in a birthday party for one of the lodge staff members. It was a brief but very interesting opportunity to experience local customs, especially the local musical traditions which had a unique style.
Crestless Curassow was a great find in Hato de La Aurora in the Colombian Llanos.
Day 15, 22nd February 2023. Juan Solito Lodge area and return to Yopal
We had an easy morning hanging around the lodge clearing, trying for Spectacled Thrush, which unfortunately did not show. We got all the usual birds around the clearing, including Scaled Dove, Carib Grackle, Masked Cardinal and Rufous-vented Chachalaca. We got nice views of White-bearded Manakin and Pale-headed Jacamar for the last time, as well as a Southern Tamandua which was a lovely surprise before we hit the road back to Yopal. It was great to see this awesome creature so well and for so long. It did not seem to be bothered by our presence, it seemed very relaxed, looking for termites, and climbing down a tree. We then drove back to Yopal for the night.
Day 16, 23rd February 2023. Flight to Bogota and departure
We caught our flight from Yopal to Bogota where our fantastic 16-day Colombian birding tour would end. All the participants had decided to stay extras nights in Bogota in order to get their international connections, or do some tours around the city.
Everyone enjoyed this Colombia Uncovered birding tour, despite all the last-minute changes, due to the landslides, described in the first part of this report. As I am writing these lines, I’m still unsure whether we should revert to the original itinerary or keep this modified version. The modified version seems to be perfect for reaching the best bird and wildlife experience in southern and eastern Colombia. Perhaps we would have to rename the tour to Wild Colombia, though. It was a great trip and we hope to return to Colombia soon.
Pale-headed Jacamar, restricted to Los Llanos in Colombia and Venezuela.
Bird List – Following IOC (12.2)
Birds ‘heard only’ are marked with (H) after the common name, all other species were seen.
The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following BirdLife International: VU = Vulnerable.
Cinereous Tinamou (H)
Little Tinamou (H)
White-faced Whistling Duck
Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Colombian Chachalaca (Endemic)
Chestnut Wood Quail (Endemic)
Neotropical Palm Swift
Tolima Blossomcrown (Endemic) – VU
Indigo-capped Hummingbird (Endemic)
Rock Dove (Introduced)
Ruddy Ground Dove
Blue Ground Dove
Tolima Dove (Endemic)
Grey-cowled Wood Rail
American White Ibis
Rufescent Tiger Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Western Cattle Egret
Little Blue Heron
Andean Condor – VU
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Tropical Screech Owl
Coppery-chested Jacamar – VU
Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan
White-throated Toucan (H)
Collared Forest Falcon
Southern Mealy Amazon
Ash-browed Spinetail – VU
Dusky Spinetail (H)
Plain Antvireo (H)
Lined Antshrike (H) – VU
Mouse-colored Antshrike (H)
Northern Slaty Antshrike (H)
Great Antshrike (H)
East Andean Antbird (Endemic)
Scaled Antpitta (H)
Hooded Antpitta – VU
Nariño Tapaculo (H)
Southern Beardless Tyrannulet
Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrant
Pale-eyed Pygmy Tyrant
Eastern Wood Pewee
Streak-throated Bush Tyrant
Pied Water Tyrant
White-headed Marsh Tyrant
Lemon-browed Flycatcher – VU
Apical Flycatcher (Endemic)
Great Crested Flycatcher
Large-headed Flatbill (H)
Cinnamon Attila (H)
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Rufous-and-white Wren (H)
Grey-breasted Wood Wren
Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush (H)
House Sparrow (Introduced)
Blue-naped Chlorophonia (H)
Velvet-fronted Euphonia (Endemic)
Yellow-whiskered Bush Tanager
Orange-billed Sparrow (H)
Red-bellied Grackle (Endemic) – VU
American Yellow Warbler
Flame-rumped Tanager (Endemic)
Masked Crimson Tanager
Orange-fronted Yellow Finch
Grassland Yellow Finch
Hooded Mountain Tanager
Blue-winged Mountain Tanager
Multicolored Tanager (Endemic)
Total heard only
The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: EN = Endangered, VU = Vulnerable, DD = Data Deficient.
Giant Anteater – VU
Central American Agouti
Humboldt’s Squirrel Monkey
Colombian Black-handed Titi – VU
Red (-crowned) Titi Monkey
Red Brocket – DD
Amazon (Pink) River Dolphin) – EN
The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: CR = Critically Endangered, VU = Vulnerable.
Orinoco Crocodile – CR
Alligators and Caimans (Alligatoridae)
Iguanas and Chuckwallas (Iguanidae)
Whiptails and Tegus (Teiidae)
South American and Malagasy River Turtles (Podocnemididae)
This itinerary has been designed to provide you with another incredible birding adventure which is complementary to our Very Best of Colombia: Santa Marta, Andes and Chocóbirding tour. As Colombia is a large country, the fourth largest in South America, it is virtually impossible to see all of its highlights and enjoy all of its avian treasures in a standard 15- or 21-day trip. For this reason, we have decided to divide our ‘Very Best of Colombia’ tour into two different tours. The Very Best of Colombia, Part II will give you the chance to see other areas of this fabulous country. This trip will take you to the southern Andes in search of some incredible, range-restricted species such as the Chestnut-bellied Cotinga and White-rimmed Brushfinch. In addition, we will search for some classic and most-wanted Andean species such Andean Condor, White-capped Tanager and Golden-plumed Parakeet. We shall explore the Amazonian foothills where we will enjoy a plethora of colorful birds such Coppery-chested, White-chinned, White-eared and Brown Jacamars, Plum-throated Cotinga, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Vermilion Tanager, White-throated Toucan and Golden-collared Toucanet. We will end our trip in Los Llanos where we can enjoy great birds such as the localized Pale-headed Jacamar and Orinoco Goose and if we are lucky wildlife such Anaconda, or even the mighty Jaguar.
Our tour will start in Cali’s Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport (CLO) which can be reached by direct flights from all over Colombia, from some US international airports and from Panama City (Panama). Cali can be reached from Europe with a stop in Bogota. Please consult your travel agent to book your most convenient flight. Your tour leader will be waiting for you at Cali airport with a small board with the Birding Ecotours logo and we will then transfer you to your hotel. Please remember to keep your luggage tags, as they are required to exit the terminal at the Barranquilla airport. Please be aware that most international flights arrive in Cali in the afternoon, so we don’t have any birding activities planned for the first day. In case you arrive on an early flight, you will be transferred to the hotel but may have to wait until check-in is available. For an early check-in you might be charged extra by the hotel; this cost is not included in the Birding Ecotours tour price.
When filling out the customs declaration form, please use this address for the hotel:
Hotel Hampton by Hilton Cali, Avenida Colombia #1A Oeste-35, Calí, Colombia
Phone: +57 (2) 4896000
Our tour will end in Bogota after a wonderful 17 days in Colombia. After a final morning’s birding we will transfer you to the Bogota El Dorado International Airport (BOG), from where you can catch international connections and flights back home.
DOMESTIC FLIGHT INFORMATION
There are three domestic flights on this trip, covering the Puerto Asis-Bogota and Bogota-Yopal-Bogota legs. These flights are not included in the Birding Ecotours tour price, but we will book them for you. To reach Bogota from both Puerto Asis and Yopal we will fly in small aircrafts where the luggage is limited to 15 kg (33 Ib) as checked luggage and 5 kg (11 Ib) as hand luggage.
Any excess baggage fees are not included in the tour price and will cost about US$ 2 per kg (4.40 Ib). We will fly with EasyFly (www.easyfly.com.co) for the Puerto Asis-Bogota and Bogota-Yopal-Bogota routes, which we find to be the easiest airline covering these routes. We ask you to not book any flights before you confirm with Birding Ecotours.
PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS AND PACE
We grade this trip as moderate. Most of the birding consists of walking along roads and birding near the vehicle but some of the walks lead slightly up and down hills in the paramos. There are two areas, in the lowlands of Los Llanos and Putumayo, where the vehicles cannot access and thus require full mornings of walking with high humidity and heat but all along flat gradients.
We need predawn starts on each day of the tour so you will have to be physically and mentally prepared for this. We normally spend the whole morning birding in the field, return to the lodge for lunch (followed by a little rest), before continuing our birding in the afternoon.
We have customized our tour so that we will be spending two or three nights at a few destinations, which minimizes the stress of packing and re-packing every day, however Colombia is a big country, and the tour includes some lengthy drives between destinations. These lengthy drives are however certainly not bland and they will allow us to enjoy the interesting countryside and maximize our chances for unexpected birds along the way. There will be long drives through the southern Andes along our way to Putumayo
We will stay at the best accommodations available, however not all lodges provide the full suite of facilities such as air conditioning or heating.
We think this trip might be difficult for people with back, walking, and balance problems or for those who are not used to a birding trip with the many early starts involved.
We ask you to be ready for all kinds of weather during this trip.
Putumayo, Pasto, Puerto Asis and Hato La Aurora in los Llanos are hot with temperatures reaching 30 – 37 °C (86 – 98 °F). Please pack clothes in which you feel most comfortable for this kind of weather. We highly recommend using sunscreen and a light-colored hat or cap. Please check here on what we recommend to pack for our birding tours.
Even when it is sunny in the mornings, the temperatures can be cool at night in Popayan. Similarly, the southern Andes can be warm in the mornings with temperatures often dropping to a chilly 16 °C (60 °F) at night. We can also expect some rain in this part of the Andes however certain flocks of birds are more active on rainy and overcast days.
Up in Paramo de Bordoncillo in the southern Andes, windy days may produce even colder temperatures, sometimes dropping to 5 °C (41 °F) in the night and early morning.
In Calí, high humidity and some rainy mornings should be expected with minimum night-time temperatures in Bogotá at around 10 °C (50 °F).
Insects and chiggers are expected in Los Llanos and the Amazonian foothills however we recommend that you bring insect repellent, wear loose-fitting long pants and long-sleeved shirts and keep insect repellent handy. Spraying your feet, socks, shoes, and the lower portion of your pants with insect repellent will help reduce chigger bites.
Laundry services are only available at Hampton Cali, Pasto, Putumayo (Hotel Sumawasii), Habitel in Bogota and in Hampton Yopal. Laundry fees are not included in the tour price.
Note on showers: Hotel Pakari (Mocoa x 2 nights) and Juan Solito (Llanos x 3 nights) do not provide hot showers however the weather is generally hot and humid.
We will have a private van for the whole tour with plenty of room for everybody. However, we might have to divide the group in two for the transfer from Yopal to Juan Solito Lodge. We will use open safari-style jeeps for our drives around Los Llanos which offer better views and photography chances.
‘We were very impressed by the sheer number of birds we saw and the range of interesting and beautiful habitats on our 2020 Best of Colombia birding tour. We really did think we were seeing the best of Colombia from a birding perspective. Giancarlo was an excellent guide and a very nice person to be with for 3 weeks. It was also very nice that there were just the three of us and we weren’t in a large group.’
John and Maggie
‘Our Colombia tour was so wonderful. I can’t say enough about how great it was. Eduardo is a fantastic as a guide and leader. The itinerary was also great, and he has a warm relationship with local guides and lodging hosts. I have zero complaints! An added bonus was having Giancarlo Ventolini as a driver and extra guide for much of the trip. That young man was a sweetheart, a super driver as well as a really good and knowledgeable birder.
And the birds, over 450 species! You do have a treasure in Eduardo as your employee. He made the tour perfect for me. I hope to do another trip with him in the future.’
‘The Best of Colombia Part 2 is an excellent balanced tour with many areas of interest. If you want to see good hummingbirds, this is the tour for you. If you want to see elusive Chestnut Wood Quails do this tour. The people you meet are all kind and welcoming and the bird gardens are fantastic. After the Andes and Amazonia, Los Llanos is a welcome surprise with wonderful scenery and photo opportunities. Who doesn’t want to see a bare tree decorated with scarlet ibises at sunset – almost too beautiful to believe.’
John and Susan
We can run any of our tours privately at any time and can also arrange custom itineraries!