Birding and Traveling: The Best of Colombia

Guest post by Kathi Borgmann

Colombia is an amazing country. With over 1,900 species recorded, more than any country in the Americas, Colombia is an absolute birding must. And before you say that Colombia is too dangerous to travel in, think again. Colombia is changing fast and is now a top tourist destination. I spent 6 months traveling and birding all over Colombia; the only danger was spending too much time talking to the friendly locals. Colombians are some of the most friendly and honest people I’ve met anywhere in the world.

Best birding sites (in no particular order):

Santa Marta (El Dorado Reserve and San Lorenzo Ridge)

Can you say endemics! Santa Marta boosts 20 endemic species (depending and what taxonomy you follow) and the majority of them are relatively easy to see. The birding is out of this world, especially if it is your first time in the Andes. First class accommodation is also available at El Dorado Lodge.

Santa Marta Antpitta El Dorado Reserve Colombia ©Josh Beck

Santa Marta Antpitta ©Josh Beck

Serranía de Perijá (Chamicero del Perija Reserve above Valledupar)

The Perijá is Colombia’s newest birding destination. Previously considered too dangerous to visit, the Perijá is now open to birding, really good birding. A new species of Tapaculo was recently discovered and more new species are waiting to be described. Nowhere else can you see Perijá Metaltail, Perijá Thistletail, Perijá Brushfinch, and Perijá Tapaculo plus 19 more near endemic species. Accommodation is available at the ProAves Lodge.

Perija Thistletail Chamicero del Perija reserve Colombia ©Josh Beck

Perija Thistletail ©Josh Beck

Mitu

Mitu located in the department of Vaupes near the Brazilian border has quickly gained a reputation as a great site for Amazonian/Guianan Shield birding, combining relatively low cost, easy accessibility, a variety of habitats, and several white sand forest specialty birds. In 9 days we logged 235 species! Specialties include Chestnut-crested Antbird, Gray-bellied Antbird, Orinoco Piculet, Fiery Topaz, Tawny-tufted Toucanet, Brown-banded Puffbird, Bar-bellied Woodcreeper, Duida (Lineated) Woodcreeper, Yellow-throated Antwren, Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock, White-naped Seedeater, and Plumbeous Euphonia.

Rio Blanco

Rio Blanco means antpittas! Here you can see Bicolored, Plain-brown, Slate-crowned, and Chestnut-crowned Antpittas all in one day! Besides being in antpitta heaven the birding here is a total joy, level trails, nice climate, and few bugs. Don’t forget to look for the Masked Saltator; another must see at Rio Blanco.

Paramo Frontino/Dusky Starfrontlet Reserve

The ProAves Colibri del Sol Reserve (aka Dusky Starfrontlet Reserve) is nestled in a valley just below Paramo Frontino in the Western Andes. It is a 2 hour hike or horse-back ride to get to the reserve, but it is absolutely worth it! This reserve is home to several Western Andean specialties including Dusky Starfrontlet, Urrao Antpitta, Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer, and Paramillo Tapaculo.

Dusky Starfrontlet Colibri del Sol Reserve Colombia ©Josh Beck

Dusky Starfrontlet ©Josh Beck

Montezuma Rd (PNN Tatama)

Montezuma Road winds sinuously up into Tatamá National Park, located in the foothills of the Chocó bioregion. Montezuma Road is also famous among birding circles as THE place to see the endemic Gold-ringed Tanager as well as 10 other endemic species. In other words, a must go for anybody birding in Colombia. But this road is also famous for its jarring ride along a narrow road that frequently washes away leaving you gripping the edge of your seat. The family who owns and operates the rustic lodge at the park’s entrance provides mandatory guiding services but you must arrange your own transportation, and 4WD is mandatory. To make arrangements call Leopoldina at 317-684-1034 or 318-780-4900.

Reserva Las Tangaras

Las Tangaras is one of the best known and most visited birding sites in Colombia’s Western Andes, and with good reason! The mixed-species flocks are amazing as are the hummingbird feeders. Regular visitors to the feeders include Velvet-purple Coronet, Purple-throated Woodstar, Empress Brilliant, Violet-tailed Slyph, Greenish Puffleg, Booted Racketail, Brown Inca, White-tailed Hillstar and Fawn-breasted Brilliant. Birding at Las Tangaras is mostly along the infrequently traveled road, save one trail that heads through some excellent forest to a waterfall. The road however, is the best place to see mixed-species flocks and it passes through a variety of habitats. Highlights include Nariño Tapaculo, Dusky Cholorspingus, Toucan Barbet, Black-billed Peppershrike, Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, Uniform Treehunter, Rufous-throated TanagerAlto Pisones Tapaculo, and Yellow-breasted Antpitta.

Old Buenaventura Rd (Anchicayá)

The Anchicayá Valley is simply put, absolutely beautiful! Tropical foothill forests blanket the hill sides while a cloudy mist rises from the forest. It is incredibly scenic and being in the foothills of the Chocó, in one of the wettest areas on earth, the biodiversity and the birding are out of this world. How would you like to add these guys to your list White-whiskered Hermit, Golden-chested Tanager, Esmeraldas Antbird, Gray-and-Gold Tanager, Lemon-spectacled Tanager, Scarlet-browed Tanager, Dusky-faced Tanager, Blue-whiskered Tanager, Emerald Tanager, Lita Woodpecker, and Blue-tailed Trogon. If you are going to bird the Old Buenaventura Road we suggest that you inquire about security before blindly heading down the road. Security in the region is improving and it was safe when we were there but it is always a good idea to ask.

Trampolin de la Muerte/Sibundoy

Located in the department of Putumayo the Trampolie de la Muerte and the Sibundoy area are Colombia’s birding frontier. Little birding has been done around here but the locals are turning up amazing birds: White-rimmed Brushfinch, Bicolored Antpitta, Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Yellow-bellied and Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrants, Deep-blue Flowerpiercer, Blue-browed Tanager, Spectacled Prickletail, and Yellow-throated Tanager. This area is ripe for exploring and the locals are keen to join.

Trampolin de la Muerte Colombia ©Kathi Borgmann

Trampolin de la Muerte Colombia ©Kathi Borgmann

Cerulean Warbler Reserve

The bird list at the Cerulean Warbler Reserve is out of control. Four-hundred and twenty-two species have been recorded at the reserve thus far in eBird alone! The lodge sits in the foothills at 1300 m amid shade coffee and cacao plantations and small farms. Birding is good in the shade coffee but the better birding is up in the forest which is about an hour’s hike from the lodge. The hummingbird feeders here attract more than 10 species of hummingbirds.

Otun Quimbaya

Otun Quimbaya is well-known as the best site for the endemic, endangered and now very local Cauca Guan, as well as being a great site for Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Chestnut Wood-Quail, Hooded, Moustached and Scaled Antpittas, Torrent Duck, and Multicolored Tanager. The birding is along fairly flat trails and the main road through the park. Basic accommodation is also available in the reserve.

More information about these and other birding sites in Colombia can be found on Kathi’s website, Birds of Passage.

For two years, Kathi Borgmann traveled and birded nearly every day in nearly every country in the Americas. Read more about her adventures on her blog, Birds of Passage.