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2020 was undoubtedly a year of complexities. For those of us who work in the nature tourism industry, it was a year of challenges and reinvention, a year where an appreciation for nature and the great outdoors became more evident than ever. Traditionally, the birding business in Colombia has focused on foreign tourists, who, although not the first, were the ones who created a demand for birdwatching trips focused on the conditions that their needs dictate. It was thus that the first Colombian companies focused their binoculars on an international market and the bird tourism boom began in Colombia.

More than a decade has passed since those beginnings and in that time Colombian birding has evolved substantially. There are no known numbers that let us know how many compatriots practice this activity, but just look at the large influx in national events such as the ENO (National Ornithology Encounter), the Colombia Bird Fair, or the Bird Tourism Congress, to realize there are thousands, Colombians who in their own way go birding in all corners of the country. But if an event has demonstrated the birdwatching character that our country is taking, it is the Global Big Day. In a consecutive way, the last 4 years have left Colombia in a proud first place in terms of the highest count of bird species that a country can achieve in 24 hours worldwide, an achievement only done by the coordination and passion that hundreds of Colombians have put in it.

The group photographing the endemic Pale-footed Tamarin (Saguinus leucops)

This growing breed of Colombian birders follow to some extent the same routes that are traditionally used for travel with foreigners, and in the opposite direction, they create routes that foreigners follow in search of new targets in remote parts of the country. And just like in the rest of the world, they follow a well-defined segmentation pattern: purist birders, occasional birders, purist photographers, and a mix of birding photographers or photo birders, something as diverse as the Colombian people themselves are.

This preamble gives a bit of sense to this story, since it deals with a short trip with Colombian birders (Mónica Estrada, Humberto Montes, Luis Carlos García, and Carlos Granada) but following the same method and form that is used with foreigners. The objective: to visit the Arrierito Antioqueño bird reserve of the Proaves Foundation, a famous place in the bird world for being a key place in the region where the habitat of the Chestnut-capped Piha (Lipaugus weberi) is protected, a species that barely makes a couple of decades it was discovered for the world and of which a few populations are known in the vicinity of the municipalities of Anorí and Amalfi mainly, both located in the north of the department of Antioquia.

The trip was concentrated in two locations:

  • The tropical and dry tropical forest of the Porce I and Porce II dams on the road that leads from Medellín to Anorí, Antioquia.
  • The RNA Arrierito Antioqueño and forests near it.
  • As a bonus, the Mirador El Roble was visited on the Jardín (Antioquia) – Riosucio (Caldas) road, taking advantage of its location on the return route to Pereira, the city of origin of our trip.
Porce I dam
The group in La Cascada trail

The itinerary was as follows:

  • Depart Pereira – Medellín.
  • Birding in the forests of the Porce I and Porce II dams and in the feeders of the RNA Arrierito Antioqueño.
  • Birding on the trails of the RNA Arrierito Antioqueño.
  • Birding on the trails of the Arrierito Antioqueño RNA and surrounding forests on the access road.
  • Birding in the tropical dry forest of the Porce II dam and movement towards Hispania, Antioquia.
  • Birding at Mirador El Roble (Riosucio, Antioquia) and travel to the city of origin.

Highlights

  • Tody Motmot. Photographing this dwarf motmot was one of the reasons for this trip. We were able to observe it several times in the tropical dry forest of the Porce II dam, where it inhabits areas of dense vegetation and low above the ground.
Hylomanes momotula | Tody Motmot | Humberto Montes
  • Chestnut-capped Piha. This endemic bird, although not very showy, is an almost obligatory target when going to this area. He gave us a bit of fighting, but on the second day in the reserve, we managed with the expert help of José, the ranger, to locate him a couple of times first in a portion of the forest just outside the reserve and then on the road inside the reserve.
  • Pavonine cuckoo. Despite its wide distribution throughout central and northern South America, this cuckoo is by far extremely difficult to find and much more difficult to photograph. Our episode with this bird included a hunt inside the bush using the skills of the reserve ranger and his knowledge of the species. However, the way in which the bird collaborated for our cameras and posed repeatedly was impressive.
Dromococcyx pavoninus | Pavonine cuckoo | Humberto Montes
  • White-bibbed Manakin. This little Manakin was found in a place where I have recorded it since 2017, at which time it seemed to be the first record of this species for the area.
  • Magdalena Antbird. This near-endemic antbird, known as the Magdalena Antbird, has its distribution throughout the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia, reaching a bit as far as Venezuela. This place seems to be one of the few where it is found in a mountain habitat, which can be explained by the connection that these forests have with the Mid-Magdalena region.
Sipia palliata | Magdalena Antbird | Humberto Montes
  • White-mantled Barbet. We got this endemic barbet only once, there were a couple singing for a long time just above our heads.
  • Sooty Ant-tanager.Another endemic species that unfortunately we could not take decent photographs due to its skulky behavior, like the previous two, is an exclusive species from Magdalena Medio.
  • Lyre-tailed Nightjar. A female suddenly appeared on our hike on the La Cascada trail in the Chestnut-capped Piha reserve and perched on an almost perfect place.
Uropsalis lyra | Lyre-tailed Nightjar | Johnnier Arango
  • Yellow-browed Shrike-vireo. This Shrike-vireo is usually very difficult to see due to its preference for the canopy of trees. Fortunately, we were able to locate ourselves in front of some cecropias (Cecropia sp.) where we were able to obtain privileged views of this little bird.
  • Speckled Tanager. This tanager that regularly visits the feeders in the Chestnut-capped Piha reserve, was one of the motivators of the trip and visited the place in each one of our days there.
Ixothraupis guttata | Speckled Tanager | Monica Estrada
  • Yellow-tufted Dacnis. This species was before considered part of Black-faced Dacnis, and it was seen some few times feeding in the same trees along with the White-bibbed, Striolated and Golden-headed manakins.
Dacnis egregia | Yellow-tufted Dacnis | Johnnier Arango
  • Chestnut-crested Cotinga. A species that owes us a second visit to the Mirador El Roble since on this occasion and despite the fact that we saw two individuals, they were perched as is usually the case with this species, in the upper part of trees at a high altitude.
  • Chami Antpitta. This species, recently separated from the Rufous antpitta complex, is now restricted only to the montane forests of the central and northern part of the Western Cordillera of Colombia. At El Mirador El Roble, he regularly visits the antpitta feeders together with Chestnut-naped and Slate-crowned antpittas.
Grallaria chami | Chami Antpitta | Johnnier Arango

Photo gallery

Listas de eBird

As always and on each of our trips, the species and localities data are uploaded to eBird, a citizen science platform that gathers bird records from around the world. Here you can find the lists of the species seen on this trip.

About the author

Johnnier is the manager and main tour leader of The Andean Birder. Over 13 years he has been organizing and leading birding trips in the most important regions of Colombia.

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