Trip Report Colombia Aug/Sept 2010
This trip is going to be split into 2 parts w/2 sets of participants. The 1st part is mostly in the eastern andes with Mike Chapman, Deborah Galloway and Sherry Nelson. The 2nd part is out of Medellin and the central andes w/Richard Lindstrom, Shirley Sekarajasingham and Fred Heath.
Guide – Pablo Florez email@example.com
Fri July 30 – I flew to Miami, spent the night at the Comfort Inn and Suites near the airport, $98
Sat July 31 – met Mike Chapman at the airport and we flew to Bogota, 2 nights at Casona del Patio, $58/single
Sun Aug 1 – day trip to La Vega, Laguna de Tabacal 1400m & hummingbird garden 1500m
Mon Aug 2 – drive to El Silencio 3 nights 2700m
Tues/Wed Aug 3/4 – walk trails at El Silencio
Thur Aug 5 – drive to La Mesa and walk road at Pedro Palo 2100m, 1 night in La Mesa
Fri Aug 6 – work Pedro Palo road again and lower part 1600m, drive back to Bogota 2 nights
Sat Aug 7 – day trip to Bio Andino 3000m east slope and 3500m pass paramo
Sun Aug 8 – drive to Monterredondo for the day, 1900-2100m, and onto Villavicencio for 2 nights at the Travel Blue hotel.
Mon Aug 9 – Bosque Bavaria 10 minutes outside Villavicencio, 1100m walk down to 750m
Tue Aug 10 – fly to Macarena for 4 nights at La Cascada Hotel, Cano Cristales, 500 meters
Wed/Thur/Fri Aug 11/12/13 – explore Cano Cristales
Sat Aug 14 – fly back to Villavicencio for 3 nights
Sun Aug 15 – Buenavista at 1400-1500m, change hotels for next 2 nights
Mon Aug 16 – Buenavista in the morning, then lower Bosque Bavaria in the afternoon
Tue Aug 17 – leave Villavicencio, stop at Monterredondo for the day, then onto Bogota 1 night
Wed Aug 18 – take the bus to Rogitama for 3 nights w/Mike, Deb & Sherry fly back to the US
Thu/Fri Aug 19/20 – explore Rogitama gardens and trails, 2600 meters
Sat Aug 21 – get a ride to Tunja, catch the bus back to Bogota, I fly to Medellin to the Casa Asturias, Mike goes back to the US after a night in Bogota. This is the end of the first trip.
Sun Aug 22 – Richard and Shirley join me go to La Romera, road above Medellin, w/Juan Guillermo
Mon Aug 23 – drive to Piha reserve at 1400m for 4 nights, stop at Oficina de Tablon 850m
Tue/Wed/Thur Aug 24/25/26 – explore trails and road at ProAves Piha reserve
Fri Aug 27 – driver takes us back to Medellin, 4 hours, to Hotel Casa Asturias for 3 nights
Sat Aug 28 – day trip to Humidal de Bramadora, 500 meters near Sopetran northwest of Medellin w/Juan G and friends
Sun Aug 29 – day trip to La Romera
Mon Aug 30 – early departure to Rio Claro for 3 nights, walk road to Cocorna
Tue/Wed Aug 31/Sep 1 – trails at Rio Claro
Thur Sep 2 – 6 hour drive to Jardin for 3 nights at Hacienda Balendu, eastern slope of western andes, cross the cauca river. 1750 meters, José Castaño as guide in Jardin
Fri Sep 3 – go up the mountain to 2900 meters
Sat Sep 4 – down to Monserrate Road below Jardin, 1700 meters
Sun Sep 5 – leave at 6am, meet Pablo at Jerico, 2 nights in Manizales at Casa Galvez
Mon Sep 6 – to the high paramo for bearded helmetcrest hummer at Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados above Manizales, 4000m
Tue/Wed Sep 7/8 – drive to Rio Blanco for 2 nights, cool and rainy 2400-2700m
Thu Sep 9 – drive to Montezuma for 3 nights, 1400m, western slope western andes
Fri/Sat Sep 10/11 – explore road and trails at Montezuma, 1400-2000m
Sun Sep 12 – morning at Montezuma below the farmhouse, then drive to Otun above Pereira for 3 nights, 1900m back to the central andes, west slope
Mon/Tue Sep 13/14 – walk the road and trails at Otun
Wed Sep 15 – morning at Otun, then fly from Pereira to Bogota to Santa Marta, 1 night at Minca at Sierra’s Sound Hostal
Thur Sep 16 – drive up the rough road to El Dorado, ProAves reserve for 3 nights, 1900m
Fri Sep 17 – drive up to 2600 meters for the morning
Sat Sep 18 – walk the road and gardens around lodge
Sun Sep 19 – morning at El Dorado, drive back to Minca for the night
Mon Sep 20 – drive to Guiara Pennisula for the night in Riohacha at Barbocoa Hotel
Tue Sep 21 – back to Santa Marta, fly to Bogota for last night in Casona del Patio
Wed Sep 22 – fly back to the US
Sat July 31 – arrived in Bogota about 1pm, Pablo’s ‘trusted driver’ was waiting for us outside with our names on a sign. We hit the Davivienda atm right in front of the airport and got 720,000 Colombian pesos, about $350. There’s also Bancolombia, but it only gives 400,000 COP, while Davivienda gives 720,000. The current exchange is about 1850 pesos/$1, so I use 2000/1 in my head. 35,000 for the transfer, or about $17. We’re staying at a nice little hotel, Casona del Patio, in a pretty yellow building around a little patio. www.lacasonadelpatio.net Mike took off for the Gold Museum, which is well worth your time, but I’m staying in the room. We didn’t get into our rooms until 2:30pm, and I didn’t feel like fighting the traffic. Plus it’s raining and quite cool, only about 55F. We see the standard rufous-collared sparrows and some great thrushes on the rooftops.
Sun Aug 1 – 6am pickup by Manuel, a bird guide friend of Pablo’s, who’s taking us to La Vega for the day. It’s about an hour and a half drive, and we stop for breakfast at a little roadside restaurant for coffee and arepas, tasty corn fat sweet tortillas. We turn off the main road at La Vega on a sort of paved 7 km steep road signed to Laguna de Tabacal. Up at the top we park, pay our entrance fee and walk in. Almost immediately we see some Sarota metalmarks chasing each other and landing on big heliconia leaves. Unfortunately the leaves are above our heads, so it’s impossible to see the undersides of the butterflies. It’s cool and cloudy, about 8am, and they are spreading out to bask, in between attacking each other. Tromping around in the wet grass stirs up lots of very fresh Trailside Skippers and a few other goodies. We finally head up the trail which looks great for butterflies. Lots of flowers and open areas but nice trees and bamboo along a stream. As usual on a cool wet morning we don’t see tons of stuff, but what we see is more concerned with warming up, so they’re basking and posing for photos. We get several satyrs, good dorsals of Pareuptychia ocirrhoe and others, Eresia polina found by Mike, one of the purple Eyemarks, several red Rayed Longwings and a great Dismorphia. We chase some birds, getting nice looks at velvet-fronted euphonia. As we walked to the end of the trail that overlooks the lake, we found several bushes that were attracting clearwings, and there were at least 4 species, 2 clear ones and 2 tigerwings, 1 was Ithomia iphanassa and the other 1 similar but a different black pattern on the forewing. As we were photographing them, it started to rain, and got steadily harder, until we had to quit. By the time we made it back to the car it was really starting to come down, and it just got heavier the rest of the day, so it was a good thing we left. We then drove to San Francisco, where we had lunch at a new Spanish restaurant and had good paella, then went to the Jardin Encantado, www.jardinencantado.net.
This is a private home where they have been feeding hummingbirds for 11 years, but only in the last year opened it to the public. It cost 12,000 COP/person, or about $US6. In a small space, about 10-12’wide and maybe 50’ long, they had over 30 hummingbird feeders overlooking a ravine, and there must have been a couple of zillion hummers. I’ve never seen so many black-throated mangos, males and females, as well as at least a dozen more species. The woman told us she had had 26 species in total. Some of them were white-bellied and gorgeted woodstars, several violetears, indigo-capped hummers (an endemic), lots of rufous-tailed, green hermit, white-necked Jacobin, and a lifer for me – Lazuline Saberwing. We finally left, drove back to Bogota and met Debbie and Sherry for dinner at Crepes y Wafles. This is a great chain restaurant found in major Latin cities that I highly recommend. They have both savory (meat, chicken, veggie, cheese) crepes and killer dessert crepes, so go hungry. Later that night we met Pablo Flores, who has organized the trip for us and will be traveling w/us most of the time. He lives in Medellin and had just flown in for our trip. This is my 3rd trip using Pablo, and he’s a great birding guide, and very patient w/our hunting for butterflies. The advantage of being w/a birder is when we get cloudy drizzly weather, which is common in the andes, we can always look for birds. He has tapes and knows most of the calls, and is a very good bird guide, plus he’s a really nice guy.
Mon Aug 2 – after breakfast at the hotel we drive to El Silencio for the next 3 nights. We head northwest on the main road to Medellin, then turn off to Subachoque, where Claudia the owner meets us to lead us in. This is a private dairy farm about 2700 meters on the east slope of the Magdalena Valley, or the west slope of the eastern andes. The andes split into 3 chains in Colombia, with 2 major valleys in between, which is what leads to the tremendous diversity in Colombia. When we get to El Silencio, only about 1.5 hours from Bogota, we find a charming simple little place that has 3 rooms in a row and a kitchen w/a dining table, and 2 women who will be cooking for us. Lunch is tasty, chicken in rice w/lots of vegetables, great fresh tomatoes in herbs, much more than we can eat but we manage. We walk down the road which turns into forest very quickly. It is a somewhat steep muddy rocky road, and we spend several hours going slowly downhill, from about 9:30am to 1pm when we get back for lunch. We see several satyrs, lots of Pedaliodes and an obliging Manerebia rubescens. We see some great birds, starting w/chestnut-crowned antpitta that Pablo tapes in very close, posing and singing nicely. We find a couple of flocks with flowerpiercers, scarlet-bellied mountain-tanagers, white-throated tyrannulets, and my favorite, a brilliant grass-green tanager right in front of us. After lunch we walk the opposite direction, back the way we drove in, to the owner’s beautiful home, which they use as a weekend place. We spend time on their back porch which has a wonderful view and a nice garden with some fuschias flowering that the hummers are coming to. Woodstars and violetears back there, then Pablo sees a black-tailed trainbearer in the front of the house, where there is a big hedge of small pink flowers that the hummers like. We spend time hanging around and see tyrian metaltail coming in several times. We take a different way back which is more in forest and see more flocks, including one of my favorites, pearled treerunner, plus a nice selection of high elevation birds. Back for complimentary malbac wine while we sit outside doing our bird list, then a tasty dinner in the cozy kitchen heated by a wood burning stove. Life is good. We even have very hot water showers.
Tues Aug 3 – We planned to get out early and hike down the steep road, but it was raining after breakfast and quite chilly, so we got the people to give us a ride to another family house a couple of miles down the valley, about 150 meters lower. This is next to an old oak forest w/beautiful trees, and the family there has collected about 80+ species of orchids. Unfortunately not many of them were blooming, but it was fun to explore around there, and we saw a few new birds. Great looks at long-tailed sylph and golden-bellied starfrontlet, a new one for me. Sherry had one of the stinging bright green io moth caterpillars fall on her from a tree and stung her arm. It swelled up immediately but then fortunately backed off, and after a couple of hours you couldn’t even see it. The forest looked really good, but we didn’t see much, and almost no butterflies. This could have been because it stayed cold all morning, in the 50’s, and frequent drizzles. It finally warmed up a bit by lunch, and afterwards we went back down the steep trail and saw several new satyrs. At least 2 new Pedaliodes and the very pretty rufous Lymanopoda obsolete w/pinkish bands on the ventral. I’ve seen this one before in Colombia at Rio Blanco. We came back about 5pm, but Pablo stayed out and saw black-billed mountain toucan and red-crested cotinga, so we’re heading back down tomorrow morning.
Wed Aug 4 – more drizzles this morning, but looking out from the porch we can see across to the central andes and snow covered peaks. The central andes are the highest of the 3 chains. It’s sunny out there, so hopefully our clouds will move away later today. After breakfast we head back down the steep trail, and the sun comes out and it’s a beautiful morning, and there are lots of butterflies. Mostly high elevation satyrs, but a great selection, and we take tons of photos. We walk down maybe 200 meters in elevation, and find more stuff as we get a bit lower, and it gets warmer. Mid morning we have to step aside for a herd of cows being moved to a lower pasture, and they don’t want to pass us, so a few stragglers get left behind. One cow in particular hangs back and keeps sneaking up on us, then turns and runs back. We finally get her to pass us, so we can go back and forth on the trail chasing butterflies. We have many new satyrs for our trip, and most are quite fresh. Mike finds a couple of different skippers, and there are many that get away. None of the Leptophobia will stop for pictures, but due to all the fresh cow poop on the trail many of the satyrs are at our feet and happy to pose. At least 4 species of Pedalioides, Corades chelonis, Lasiophila prosymna, Lymanopoda obsoleta – with the pink bands below, Pronophila orcus, and several others we’ll have to figure out later. The sun comes and goes all day, but stays out until 5 or later, so it’s a wonderful day. Because we’re on the west side of the mountain it takes longer for the sun to get on the trail, but once it’s out for a while, even if the fog comes in again (which it does several times) the butterflies stay active. I think if it’s cool and drizzly all morning the butterflies don’t ever come up from where they’ve snugged in for the previous night.
Thur Aug 5 – our driver comes for us and we leave at 7am to drive back towards Bogota and to the southwest, to La Mesa. We are stuck in heavy traffic w/lots of trucks, and realize we should have left earlier, maybe at 5am, to avoid some of the traffic. Pablo usually leaves early, but he has bird groups, and our butterfly group isn’t as hard core. Anyway, what normally takes him an hour and a half takes us over 2 hours, but we’re still in the field walking the road by 9:30 or so. We turn off the main road up to the right on a paved cement road, right past a tasty restaurant El Rancho de Jario, where we have a late lunch afterward. We get out of the van after driving up 10-15 minutes and immediately see new butterflies. Marpesia corinna males and a white banded female are nectaring on a nearby bush, similar to cordia flowers, along w/waiter daggerwings, M.zernythia. As we walk the road we see lots of new stuff. One of the most exciting is one we don’t get shots of, Cybdelis mnasylus, a beautiful purple spotted nymphalid. We walk in about a km and find some great stands of white flowers that the clearwings are coming to, and get many new species. The common pattern here seems to be the transparent amber ones, like Dircenna, and we get probably half a dozen variations. We get good shots of our first hairstreak, Theritas mavors, in the parking lot of the restaurant after lunch. We also see a bunch of birds, everyone’s favorite is the black inca. After lunch we drive down to through the small town of Tena, to a bridge and an old trail paved w/large stones that goes up to the left, about 1600-1700 meters. This is called Salto de Tambo, and we find out from a local the road is from colonial times, probably 150 years ago. Here we find lots of a new dartwhite or Catasticta, and Deb gets some shots of it. I try to catch it to shoot the dorsal, but no luck. This looks like a good butterfly spot, but it’s now 4:30pm and overcast, so we don’t see much, but some new sulphurs. More new birds, as I find Colombian wren. We drive on to the town of La Mesa where there are a couple of hotels. Pablo has reservations at one but we don’t like it and go to another. His original is El Recreo, but it is dark, smelly and has a noisy barking dog in the courtyard. We find the Santa Barbara Hotel which is new and much nicer, even if it is on the street. I have a room overlooking the street, but it quiets down nicely about 8:30pm. No a/c or hot water, but they do have a nice fan, and it’s fine.
Fri Aug 6 – back to El Rancho de Jairo for breakfast, they open at 7am, then back up the road towards the laguna at Pedro Palo. We have to hunt for the turquoise dacnis, the speciality bird here, but we manage to see it several times, always at the top of the tree so we don’t get killer views. This is a good birding place, we’re constantly serenaded by yellow-backed orioles and lots of black-capped tanagers. Today we walk in another km past the white flowers, where the road gets too muddy and we leave the van. We walk down towards the laguna seeing many birds in the melastoma which are fruiting, but few butterflies because it’s overcast. Nothing on the white flowers today. After several hours we decide to go back to Salto de Dambo, as it might be warmer lower down, and we strike it rich there. The sun comes out and we spend another several hours chasing bugs, skipping lunch and starving poor Pablo and the driver. We need to carry lunch stuff w/us, even tuna or peanut butter and crackers, because when the sun does come out you don’t want to waste prime butterfly time sitting in a restaurant somewhere. We see many hairstreaks, Mike seems to have a knack for finding them. He gets the big damo, silver-banded, fine-lined stripestreak, and lots of garden skippers, like glassy-winged, Xenophanes tryxus and Pompeius pompeius. I catch a new Mimoides swallowtail, our first swallowtail, and there are Pink-checked Cattlehearts, Parides xxx. Lots of butterflies, totally different range of species than the higher spot just 400-500 meters higher up the hill. Interesting that yesterday the higher spot was better, and today the lower spot was the hot location. We then drive 2 hours back to our hotel in Bogota. We can’t get a taxi for Crepes y Wafles, it’s Friday night and it looks like everyone is out on the streets as we drive in through horrendous traffic. Even the hotel desk can’t get through to the taxi place, so we walk to Wok where we get delicious sandwiches and stir fry.
Sat Aug 7 – 5:30am departure for an hour drive east to Guasca for breakfast at a simple bakery, then an hour more towards Chingaza National Park up at 3000 meters. We turn off to yet another slow dirt road and walk along, finding 3 great birds right away. Mattoral tapaculo responds to Pablo’s tape and we get to see a mythical tapaculo actually singing not 5’ from us. Then we find a pair of black-billed mountain-tanagers that pose nicely for photos, and then several groups of brown-breasted or flame-winged parakeets fly around and perch several times for more photos. Then the sun breaks through briefly and we see lots of 2 new species of satyrs, probably both Pedaliodes. One with beautiful orange bands on the dorsals of both wings, and a bigger one with bright rufous on the ventral hindwing. I chase them back and forth through a barbwire fence, becoming adept at slithering through the strands, and Mike gets good shots from the road. We eventually get good shots, and the bigger one poses nicely on Mike’s camera and his hand, sucking up sweat. We also see a big Lasiophila, which I get to shoot in the hand when it tries to hide in some bamboo when it starts to rain. So we have a great day in the higher elevations, also finding a few new hummers including coppery-breasted puffleg and amethyst-throated sunangel, both new for me. Pablo was hoping for blue-throated starfrontlet, but the flowers weren’t right. On our way back we stop at a high pass about 3500 meters and get out to look for hummers coming to the special Espeletia plant, an amazing composite that looks like an agave. It only grows in the paramo, above the tree line, in Colombia and a bit of Venezuela. It’s taller than Pablo, and the hummers love it. I’ve never seen hummers come to composites before, but many things are new here. Pablo has seen the bronze-tailed thornbill here, but not today. We finish our day by stopping at a marsh near Bogota where Pablo finds us Bogota rail, and noble snipe, 2 more new ones for me. Not bad for a butterfly trip.
Sun Aug 8 – we leave Bogota and drive east again 2 hours to Monterredondo for the day then another hour to Villavicencio for 2 nights. This is on the eastern slope at a lower elevation about 600-700 meters. We turn off the main highway at the small town of Monterredondo about 1400 meters then climb a steep rocky road to about 1900, where we have to park and walk from there. We climb another 200 meters slowly over the morning, seeing lots of new butterflies who are zipping by up and down the hill and not stopping at all. There are 2 species of Panacea, the one I know with the bright red ventral hindwing, Panacea prola, and a new one that is dark below. It’s frustrating as they don’t even perch anywhere to allow you to check them out w/your binos, but finally Pablo scores with a great dorsal, and Deb gets a good ventral. That’s why it’s nice to have a number of photographers along. I never even get a look at one. More different satyrs, a couple more new Pedaliodes and a darker Pronophila that Deb gets good shots of. We get a fabulous new brushfinch, the Ochre-breasted, bright orange head and breast, a truly beautiful bird, probably the prettiest brushfinch I’ve ever seen. Pablo is looking for Cundinamarca antpitta, which they usually find a bit higher on this road, but he only hears it distantly. We’re probably going to stop here on our way back to Bogota next week and rent a jeep to drive us higher up on the road. There is a major landslide between here and Bogota, which has been opened a bit for one lane traffic. It just happened about 2 weeks ago, good thing we’re here in August and not July. Apparently the rains were very heavy this July. We get to Villavicencio about 5pm, which is kind of a grotty lowland town, and find our hotel the Travel Blue. Our rooms are right over the noisy street, and seeing as the hotel is empty we bitch and snivel and finally get the clerk to let us switch to the back side of the hotel. I don’t know why she was giving us those not nice rooms, when much better ones were open. But we get rooms at last where we can get a decent night’s sleep. She was telling us the rooms on the back side were all 3 and 4 beds, so more expensive, but when we got her to open them for our inspection, surprise only 1 bed. We eat dinner at the Chinese restaurant right next door which is a bit pricey but very tasty.
Mon Aug 9 – take a jeep about 10 minutes to the good birding habitat, where we have the jeep driver take us up about 400 meters on a steep rocky road to the Orange-breasted Falcon reserve by ProAves. ProAves has bought land and set up about a dozen reserves around Colombia, and they are doing a fabulous job of conservation. Several of their reserves now have simple lodges where you can stay, we will be visiting a couple of them on the 2nd trip. This reserve doesn’t have any place to stay, it’s just land they have set aside. We get out of the jeep about 1100-1150 meters and start exploring. This area is called Bosque Bavaria. The name Bosque Bavaria means the forest next to the beer distillery, which owns a big chunk of forest for their water supply. We spend several hours just at this spot and a couple of hundred meters up the road before slowly walking back down the road, photographing all the way. We see lots of butterflies, including lots of the Panacea prola but none of the new Panacea from yesterday. Lots of Heliconius and lower elevation satyrs and some new Riodinids, including the great Lyropteryx apollonia metalmark. There were also lots of Ithomiinae, mostly tigerwings. I shot several new species, big ones like Melinaea and little Hypothyris, and several in between. The pattern here appears to be much blacker than in other places I’ve seen. The hindwings are often almost all black, maybe an orange trim, very beautiful. It will be fun sorting them all out when I get home. We don’t see tons of birds as we’re concentrating on butterflies, but a moustached puffbird can’t be ignored, and paradise tanagers are always appreciated.
Tue Aug 10 – we spend a few hours back at the lower part of the Bosque Bavaria road, then fly to Macarena to the south, about an hour on a great old DC3. It has jump seats on the sides and is carrying mostly freight, including a motocycle right in front of Sherry and me. The plane must be older than I am, but lots of fun. Then they unload the luggage using a horse drawn wagon, great for photos. The guy from the hotel meets us at the airport and we walk a couple of blocks to our home for the next 4 nights, the simple but friendly Las Cascades. We’re going to be exploring Cano Cristales, a beautiful clear stream that is lined with colorful mosses. The first afternoon we take a ride on an open narrow wooden boat on the good sized river, Rio Guayabero. We get caught in a good squall, so we dash upriver to a house we hide out in while the storm blows over. In an hour we’re back on the river, seeing all sorts of gallery forest birds like hoatzin, capped heron, great ani and several macaws. Tomorrow we’re off to Cristales.
Wed Aug 11 – We take the boat again for about 10 minutes upriver, then take a great old Toyota land cruiser, made in 1982, across about 8 km of very bad road, through stream beds and over rocks. The driver is very good and obviously knows the road extremely well, because he takes that car places I would never think of driving, but we get there in one piece. Pablo has gotten us special permission to drive in the last 2 km, to save us the walk. We first think it’s because he tells the military that we’re doing scientific research on butterflies, but then we find out it’s because he told them we were old and needed the extra transport. Whatever works, it saves us several km of walking. So we make it to the river, where we have to show our passports and check in again. We had to show them at the boat landing in town as well. This area was until very recently quite dangerous and tourists couldn’t come here, but the military has moved in with a very large presence, and all movement is strictly controlled. This is the base for all the amazon military operations, so there are lots of trucks and tons of soldiers. But, as always in Colombia, they are extremely polite and friendly and very professional, and it makes you feel safe to have them around. At the river they even happily pose for our cameras, smiling like the nice young men they are. The river is amazing, words can not describe it. It is filled with soft flowing puffy pink and purple plants that look like moss but they are soft to the touch, truly magical stuff. The water is clear and just the right temperature, and the rocks are carved into fantastical shapes and holes. The pink plant only grows at a certain depth, close to the sun and the surface, so the deeper pools are lined w/pink and then clear and green in the center. We take a couple of million photos trying to capture it, and I’m sure we fail utterly. You have to see it to believe it. Pablo tells us the pink stuff is endemic to the Macarena Mountains, which go up to about 2000 meters. There is another ancient endemic plant, Bellasia macarenensis, and many weird looking plants all over. And we see good butterflies, even though it is a overcast, dark day. I hope we get some sun in the next couple of days, because I think the butterflies will be great, and Pablo also says the pink plant gets even more gorgeous in the sun. This is the lowest elevation of our trip, and we see a number of metalmark species, many of them in our southern Amazonia book. Alesa amesis, several Nymphidium, and Mike finds a very fresh cassiope owl, Selenophanes cassiope. I catch it to shoot the dorsal, and when Mike comes out of the bushes to see it he runs into a wasp nest and is attacked, so we all have to run. Fortunately I hang onto the owl, so we can stop and take our photos a 100 meters or so down the trail.
Thur Aug 12 – back to the boat/land cruiser transport, and to the pink river. Today we cross the river, having to wade, then go a couple of km up the road. This is an illegal road made by the guerillas about 10 years ago. It goes up a small hill, maybe 75 meters or so, then down into taller forest. The morning is again overcast and dark, sprinkles of rain on and off, and it’s very quiet for birds and not too many butterflies either. But after lunch the sun comes out and we find several new goodies. My favorite is a large brown and orange Myscelus that is hilltopping on our way back. This turns out to be Azonax typhaon, a new genus for me. We keep trying to get his picture when he lands on a couple of bushes above our heads, but he always quickly moves and orients towards us. We can’t run him off, but we can’t get the definitive photo either, though we get shots good enough to id it, hopefully. More new riodinids, and big sulphurs start to come out. We make it back to the river and spend an hour or more in the water, which feels fabulous. This is probably the best swimming hole I’ve ever been in, in any country. The guys lead us to a large pool, a couple of hundred feet long w/a waterfall coming into the upper end. Yerlis the local guide has a mask so you can swim upstream, close to the waterfall, exploring underwater, then let the current take you down into the pool over long areas of pink moss, which is luxuriously soft to the touch, then out over the dropoff into the cool green water, truly magical. This is a unique place, and we have it all to ourselves. Don’t come on the weekend, as they tell me there can be 50-100+ visitors. You can walk upstream for 10-20 miles, so you can always walk a long way and get away from the crowd, but now we only see a few people all day, and have the whole enormous pool to ourselves, except for the occasional soldier who strolls by w/his rifle.
Fri Aug 13 – our last day at the pink river. We have to choose whether to go back through the pasture to the edge of the woods, where we went the first day, or back up the hill across the river from the second day. Or we can rock jump upstream and bushwhack up the river. The guys tells us there are beautiful cascades about 15-30 minutes upstream, but we’re more interested in butterflies and birds. Not enough time to fully explore this exceptional area. Last time Pablo camped at the river, w/the solders, but our group preferred to stay in the small friendly town in a nice simple hotel La Cascada, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and eat our meals at the restaurant Fondo Azul they sent us to. The food is tasty, the dorado fish is excellent, they get up early to have our breakfast waiting, preordered the night before, when we get there at 6am, and the owner personally serves us. Eggs scrambled with onions and tomato is called perichos, and served with arepas this is a tasty breakfast. This town has only recently started seeing international visitors, so we’re happy to spend money around the town w/different stores. Of course we have to check out the different panadarias near by, the turnovers w/areiquipe (caramel) are good. All in all a very comfortable place to spend several days. For our last day we choose to go back and work the forest trail, through the pasture, where we were the first day. This turns out to be a good choice, as the sun comes out and it is nice and sunny all day long, after morning drizzles. The difference between today w/sun and 2 days ago w/overcast is very interesting, as we see almost all different species. Before we had many riodinids, now we get the big nymphalids or brushfoots. Many typical Amazonian lowland species like Dirce Beauty or Colobura dirce, 2 species of Catonephele, and we start to see some leafwings, both Memphis and Zaretis. Also a goodly selection of Adelpha or Sisters. We stay busy most of the day and make it back to the river by mid afternoon, where Debbie and Sherry go to the lower big pool and the others hike up to a higher pool, where we find the soldiers. I go across the river and behind a big rock to change clothes and find another soldier, who graciously offers his hand and helps me jump across some rocks, his rifle in his other hand. I change and come back to the lovely big pool, where again it is delightful. This place looks like it was designed as a movie set, it doesn’t look real. I’ve never swum w/soldiers before, who leave their rifles on the bank, across the water from us, some of them using their vests because I don’t think they can swim. This pool is deeper then yesterday’s, maybe 10-20’, gloriously clear and cool. Then Pablo and Yerlis take me upstream to the cascade, about a 20 minute rock scramble along a small trail. The river is quite low for this time of the year, normally this is the rainy season but not too heavy. The heaviest months are May and November, and the dry season is late December, January and February. But the river is a couple of feet below normal for this time of the year. I highly recommend this trip, as the river is truly unique and the people here are very friendly and happy to see tourists. The soldiers make you feel safe, and they are also very welcoming. Yerlis is a great local guide, always attentive and jumping in to help, he carries our bolsas de agua (you have to buy plastic bags of water 5 liters for 3000 pesos about $1.50) and he develops an excellent eye for finding butterflies, especially under leaves. And there are good butterflies. The 2 trails we worked had almost completely different fauna, you could probably assemble an impressive anazonian list here, with some input from the llanos and some Andean species as well. Today on the way out we had 3 new species, Mimoides pausanias, a new Memphis and a great skipper, the black with blue spots Mictris crispus, and Yerlis found me a new Nascus, a big orange spreadwing skipper.
Sat Aug 14 – we have a couple of hours to bird and butterfly on a road out of town, then catch our flight at 11:15am back to Villavicencio. Apparently all the flights to Macarena come from Villavicencio. We take a couple of motos, which are 3 wheel motocycles that work as taxis, out of town on the dirt road to Cachicamo, stopping at La Balastrera. After passing through another inspection point where we have to show passports to soldiers, we get out and walk a mile or so along a very promising looking road, forest on one side and more open shrubby stuff on the other. Even though it is drizzling, we find some pale yellow clearwings coming to yellow flowers on small trees, probably Callithomis of some sort, but we can’t get any photos. We do see great looks at yellow-bellied dacnis.
Sun Aug 15 – today is our first real rainy day. We go up to Buenavista, about 1400-1500 meters above Villavicencio, and get dropped off by taxis at La Piedra del Amor, a mirador turistico which is closed. Unfortunately it’s raining by 9am. We hang around in a few different shelters waiting for it to clear, but it just continues to get heavier, so finally we throw in the towel, call the taxis and head back to the Travel Blue hotel. We’re changing hotels, as we aren’t thrilled with the Travel Blue. Pablo has found us a nice place a few steps up in quality, which should be much quieter, cleaner, and hopefully friendlier, for $14/person/night more. It’s a deal, at the Hotel El Caimito, near a big shopping center so we have more choice in restaurants as well. We have a late lunch at the fish restaurant across the street on the corner, and the fish soup is delicious. 8000 pesos for a big bowl of soup and fried fish with rice, so it’s cheap too. Good thing we came back, as it rains heavily all the rest of the afternoon. For dinner we go to the Unicenter giant mall right down the street, the hotel has recommended Oliva in the food court, and it is a great recommendation. Delicious pizzas, great maracuya con leche drinks (passion fruit w/milk) and tasty bruschetta, plus we pig out on ice cream at Polys on the floor below. If you can’t chase butterfies, might as well eat, that’s my motto. We also hit the atm here, a safe place to get more money.
Mon Aug 16 – We decide to try Buenavista again, as the day looks a bit brighter than yesterday though still overcast. This turns out to work well, as the sun comes out by mid morning and pretty soon we have tons of bugs. This road has people living along it in places and there are several simple wood frame structures being built where small clearings have been made. This means lots of weedy open areas, and lots of the small white flowers the clearwings like, so we’re busy photographing a variety of small tigerwings, satyrs, and several new species for our trip. By noon we decide to get taxis and head over to Bosque Bavaria, which is about 600-700 meters lower, so it’s a quite different mix of species. Bosque Bavaria is much better forest, no people living there, but it’s a very steep road. After yesterday’s heavy rains even a jeep is going to have trouble getting up the road, so we just take taxis and have them drop us at the bottom, then walk up the lower part of the road. There are lots of butterflies here, such a difference some sun makes. So we have a great afternoon there, and come home w/lots of photos to keep us busy. Villavicencio is a good base to work out of with these 2 locations near town. It’s a good sized city, maybe 500,000 people, so it’s crowded, noisy and not quaint, but a good variety of butterflies near town. Bosque Bavaria is maybe 10 minutes by car, and Buenavista is maybe 20-25. You can move easily between the 2, as we did today. You do need a cell phone to call a taxi from Buenavista, but from Bosque Bavaria we just walked to the bottom of the road and flagged one down to head back to town. Taxis are inexpensive, we paid 5000 COP to come back from Bosque Bavaria, maybe 15 minutes to our hotel. That’s $2.50 for 3-4 of us.
Tue Aug 17 – we leave Villavicencio and drive back towards Bogota, stopping again at Monterredondo. This time Pablo has hired a jeep to take us up the steep rocky road, so we can get higher than we could get w/our van. The van driver wasn’t too happy about going back up that road anyway. The jeep wasn’t in our budget, so it costs an additional $11/person, so jeeps aren’t cheap. But he gets us up quite high, about 2400-2500 meters, and leaves us so we start walking down. He’ll be back about 2:30pm and find us along the road. It’s nice and sunny when he leaves us, about 10:30am (there was lots of road construction between here and Villavicencio, which added at least an hour to what should have been only an hour trip) and we see some new Pedaliodes, but then it clouds up and by 12:30 we’re worried about rain. It looks very threatening, so Pablo calls the jeep guy and begs him to come back early. One of the amazing things about Colombia is Pablo has cell coverage almost everywhere. So he can call up a taxi or his driver at any time, even when you’re out in the boonies and haven’t seen a soul all day. Very convenient. We’re looking for Cundinamarca Antpitta, this road is the place for them. Pablo tapes one in, but I miss it, I’m behind the wrong tree and can’t see it. The others get decent looks, just another reason to come back. Of course, now it clears up by 2pm and is sunny again, and suddenly we get several new butterflies. The most spectacular is a very cooperative Elzunia xxx, which after much patience on our part decides to sit on the road, and eventually even on Mike’s finger. This is a fabulous black, yellow and dark orange ithomiinae, found in cloud forest. A very different genus from the other Ithomiinae. We also get a Potomanaxas skipper, a fresh female Catonephele chromis, and we find a tree that is full of the dark Panaceas, plus a couple of big leafwings, Archaeoprepona meander. They’re clustering around the main trunk of a 6” diameter tree with lots of lichen on it. There’s at least a dozen butterflies up about 20’, so we play w/digiscoping them. We can’t figure out what they’re eating, if it’s the sap or something in the lichen. It’s odd, as there are many similar trees, but they’re only on this one. We can’t see any sap wounds on the tree, but it’s fun to watch so many fighting and interacting together. We finally make it back to Bogota and Casona del Patio for our last night together, and our final Crepes y Waffles dinner. Tomorrow Debbie and Sherry fly back to the States, Pablo flies back to Medellin (his home town) while Mike and I head to Rogitama near Arcabuco off the main highway to Bucaramanga, on the east side of the eastern andes about 2600 meters. This place has been regenerated in only 20 years from an open paddock to a great hummingbird garden and some forest by Robert and Ginette Chavarro, and it’s a particularly good spot for black inca, which is their star hummer.
Wed Aug 18 – Mike and I take a bus from the huge bus station in Bogota heading northeast to Bucaramanga for 27,000 pesos (about $14-15) and get off at a restaurant in Arcabuco, where the bus stops for a rest break. There are many bus lines to choose from, but Pablo recommends Berlinas. You have to ask the taxi driver to take you to the terminal for buses going to the north, terminal 3. Biggest bus station I’ve ever seen, very clean and lots of security. We need to show passports to get our tickets, then again to get into the waiting area. A driver is waiting for us in Arcabuco, and takes us the 10 minutes to Rogitama, where we’ll be for the next 3 nights. They have nice, simple rooms, hot water which is critical at this elevation, and very tasty food. And a garden full of hummers. It’s cold and rainy when we arrive, and stays that way most of the afternoon, so we don’t do too much exploring today. The wife of the caretaker, our cook, is very accommodating, and brings me delicious hot herbal tree from leaves in their garden. Hopefully tomorrow morning will be sunny, and we can look for butterflies.
Thur Aug 19 – We wake early to fog at dawn, but by breakfast it’s clearing off, and the morning gets nice and sunny. We explore up a trail off the right side of the house, as you face it, and come to some old fields where they have a few horses who are happy to see us because they think we bring food. When they realize we don’t have any, they go away, and we chase butterflies all morning. There are gorgeous Colias sulphurs where the front wing is bright orange and the hindwing paler yellow, several new satyrs including a Pedaliodes with bright rufous on the trailing edge of the dorsal hind wing, and many different species that get away. I find out later from Hannier this is an undescribed species of Pedaliodes. One I really wanted is a new crescent with dark orange on the fw and white on the hw, it looks like a small Adelpha or sister on the wing. We bushwhack above the paddocks up to a ridge, then work out way back down to more meadows out north of the house which are full of clover, and many more Colias sulphurs. After lunch Yinette the cook takes us and shows us roosting tropical screech-owls. Not a bad day, except for our shoes are soaked walking through tall wet grass everywhere. We get more heavy rain late in the afternoon about 4:30pm, but we’re in by then so no problem.
Fri Aug 20 - After talking to Roberto last night, we go up through the right hand horse pasture, fighting off the aggressive colt who’s starting to feel his oats and is possessive about ‘his’ field. There are several pastures above, steeply climbing (we can feel the elevation) and lots of flowering shrubs. They have a maze of small pastures, divided by hedgerows and mora or blackberry lines. Many of the pastures have tall wet grasses w/lots of small flowers, so it’s a good habitat to wander around in. Lots of satyrs come out of the shrubby bits and bask in the grasses. Probably 5-6 species of Pedaliodes, Lymanopoda obsoleta (which seems to be common at elevation), a couple of Catastictas or Dartwhites, and we finally see Morpho sulkowski sailing through like a glowing lavender lantern. There are lots of Vettius coryna, more than I’ve ever seen before. Today Yinette gives me a pair of rubber boots to use, which saves me from wet shoes. I wear a woman’s size 9, which is a metric 42. This is about as big as boots get here in South America, so if you have larger feet than that, as many guys do, you’re out of luck. I often buy a pair in country and leave them at the end of my trip, so I don’t have to haul them along on the international flight. This place is a good place for boots, not that it’s terribly muddy but you’re walking through tall wet grasses a lot, as they don’t have wide trails, just paths or often we just wander around in the pastures/meadows. Up higher, above the pastures into the woods, we have a batch of pine trees where everything is covered w/needles and no butterflies. We continue on up and find a small path off to the right into oaks, a very quick habitat change. Into the oaks we find clearwings, at least 2 species – Oleria makrena and a Greta with a lovely peachy band on the fw. They’re coming to small white flowers growing on shrubs that reach about 10-12’ high, difficult to pull down for photos. Most of the flowers are past blooming, it would be great to see them when the flowers were fresh. After lunch the driver comes and takes us to see the tourist town of Villa de Leyva, where I thought the Instituto Humboldt was located, but I’m wrong. It’s nearby in another town, so we just drive around the clean, uniformly built colonial town, all buildings are white w/red tile roofs. Many foreigners are building houses up in the hills nearby, it’s become another retirement destination. Seems somewhat Disneyland-ish to me, a bit artificial, but I’m glad to see it. Lots of tourists and students on the streets, which are old cobblestone and tough on cars, not to mention walking. We’re glad to get back to Rogitama, where it’s quiet and peaceful.
Sat Aug 21 – the last morning, and we decide to wander the pastures around the house instead of hiking back up the hill. We kick up several new satyrs and manage to catch a Lasiophila and shoot it in the hand, which will help w/identification. We have an early lunch and Ginette takes us out their bad road to meet a taxi on the main highway, who takes us an hour to Tunja where we catch an immediate bus back to Bogota for 17,000 COP. It takes about 2 hours to the edge of Bogota, then another hour+ to get to the bus terminal, in what seems to be a perpetual traffic jam. Traffic is horrendous in Bogota, I’m glad I don’t live here. At the bus terminal you stand in line for a taxi, tell the woman where you’re going and get a piece of paper w/your cost, then go outside and take the first taxi and give him the paper. It’s organized so you know you’re getting a regular taxi and you know the cost. Dash to the local El Puente Aereo (air bridge) for my Avianca flight to Medellin, about an hour flight. I make it to the Casa Asturias by 9:30pm, after leaving Rogitama at noon.
Sun Aug 22 – Richard and Shirley flew in yesterday, but their luggage didn’t make it. So today they have to go back to the airport, 45 minutes away, and pick up their luggage, check it through the x-ray, and bring it back to the hotel. This is the only country where I’ve had lost luggage not be delivered to your hotel. At least American Airlines provided the taxi to pick them up and take them back, but it’s a waste of a couple of hours of their time. We’re told by Colombian friends this has happened to them as well. But Juan G. meets us at noon at the Carrefour de Las Vegas, a big shopping center, where we ride in his car up to La Romera road, about 1900 meters. Medellin is about 1500 meters, so we have nice views over the city. One nice thing that happens to me at the shopping center is I leave my binoculars in the taxi that drops us off to meet w/Juan (like a peabrain), and don’t realize it until we’re pulling away from the pickup spot. Juan is trying to call our hotel, as they ordered the taxi, when we see our taxi driver across the big street, across the median. He’s waving my binoculars, he’s found them, circled back and found us, and brings my binos back to me. What a nice guy! So we’re off to La Romera, binos in hand. This is a good road near town for birds and butterflies, and we have a great sunny afternoon. Juan has some rotten fish bait, and it works like a magnet. Very fresh Rhetus dysoni, Napaea, several species of crescents including a new white banded Anthanassa, and a cooperative Heliconius. Juan gives us a bottle of his fish bait to use at the next location, and we buy a small batch of shrimp at the store and talk the hotel into letting us use their blender to liquefy them with water. Talk about strange looks. When we explain it’s for butterflies, they really think we’ve lost it.
Mon Aug 23 – off to ProAve’a Piha reserve, or Arrierito Antioquenuo, for 4 nights about 4 hours north of Medellin. This is where the central andes come to their end in the north, and is a great area for endemism. We stop at a road to the offices and some brick houses for the large dam they’ve built at the river at the bottom of the valley before climbing up to the Piha reserve. There is a road to the right, just before the major bridge across the river, where you see a sign Oficinas de Tablon a bit up the hill. We continue up the paved road until it turns to dirt, past the brick houses on your right, and get out and walk a bit. The dirt road Y’s, we go down to the left and cross a small stream. This place is loaded with butterflies. Of course it’s the middle of the day and sunny, but it is a good place to explore. It’s about 850 meters. We only walk a couple of hundred meters to the stream, Pablo arranges some rocks so we can hop across, and up to a large gate to a big field. There are lots of new species for our trip, several leafwings (a new Memphis and Archaeoprepona amphimachus, both of which are coming to some poop so I get good shots) and lots of skippers coming to the flowers. Some beautiful Callicore pitheas, the pink one with 2 big circles, and another Callicore I’m not sure of. Wish we had more time here, lots of stuff flies by, tigerwings and other Nymphalids and Skippers. At the stream we see out first Gorgopas chlorocephalas, a black skipper with a stunning green head. We finally make it on up to the Piha reserve, one of the great ProAve reserves. This has 4 nice rooms, and they’ve added hummingbird feeders in the last 6 months, so it’s buzzing w/hummers. We see western emerald, Andean emerald, green-crowned woodnymph, green-crowned brilliant, a nice mix of Andean and a few choco species. The choco wraps around the northern end of the central andes here, so it’s a transition zone. Lower down, about 1100 meters on our way up the hill, we stopped and looked for scarlet and white tanagers, a choco speciality which Pablo has seen here. It was hot and about 1pm, so not a good time for birds. The reserve is in cool often foggy cloud forest, but when the sun comes out there can be lots of butterflies. We walk up the road after lunch for maybe a km and find purplish-mantled tanager, one of my favorites, and later Shirley and Pablo get great looks at the chestnut-capped piha, the namesake and reason for this preserve.
Tue/Wed/Thur Aug 24/25/26 – We walk the road and explore the trails here at Piha reserve. It’s nice not to have to use a vehicle. The dirt road is good to work in both directions. To the left there is a big left hand turn over a creek and a ravine, and we make this an official pee spot, maybe 5-10 minutes away. Butterflies often like to use these ravines and seem to like curves. A bit past this curve are the steep stairs leading up to the start of the trail system, good thing they’ve got study handrails. At the top of the stairs there is a ‘Y’, the left hand trail is new to me. It goes more through second growth and is more open. Shirley goes up there one day and gets a number of different species, a lovely Oxeoshistus that poses well, and some different Ithomiinae. One morning I go up and flush a white-tailed nightjar from the start of this trail. The main trail goes to the right paralleling the small stream, and it goes for miles. Most people spend a full day up this trail, it climbs quite a bit to some ridges and is in good, dark, wet forest. Jose the ranger even brings you a hot lunch at noon, so you can spend the entire day on the trail. Shirley spends the first day up here w/Pablo, looking for birds, and they get good looks at multicolored tanager, one of the specialities here, plus lots of purplish-mantled tanagers and more pihas. Richard and I work the lower parts of the trail, before it starts to climb so steeply. He puts out tons of spitwads, using salt water instead of spit. This way he can refresh them a couple of times/day w/a spray bottle. Some of the best bait to use is human urine and feces, we call it poop. The leafwings and owls in particular come to the poop. Richard gets shots of one I’ve never seen, Consul panariste. I go back and hang around some the next 2 days, but no luck. A very fresh Caligo atreus is so engrossed that I pick him up and shoot him in the hand, showing his beautiful creamy band around the hindwings and the rich purple on the forewing. I have to use 2 fingers to hold his wings open, he’s so large. We have 1 fairly nice, sunny day, but the other 2 days are more fog and cool overcast than sun. We find some butterflies everyday, but on the overcast days it’s more walking than photographing. On the sunny day we see a number of species we don’t see again. To the right, from the reserve, you can walk a km or so through increasingly better habitat, past another big curve this time to the right where there is another good ravine. It can be productive to walk this way on the road, to the right, for birding as well. I’ve seen several good flocks on this part of the road, and easy looks at the piha, plus brown-billed scythebill, a real stunner. Pablo had pavonine cuckoo here in January at one of the overlooks. One day I go quite a ways to the right on the road, and find different species, including a new gorgeous satyr that keeps landing too high up the fern covered bank, then is scared off by a bus and comes back low down so I can photograph it. It looks like a cross between Pareuptychia metaleuca and a Splendeuptychia species, I’ll have to figure it out when I get back to my books. It’s one I’ve never seen. It’s nice to have several days to work the area, as the weather is so changeable it’s impossible to predict. We have rain everyday, but not hours of it. It would have been nice to have more sun, but that’s why it’s a cloud forest.
Fri Aug 27 – After our last morning here, our driver shows up after lunch and takes us the 4 hours back to Medellin, to the Casa Asturias. Juan Guillermo has us to his home for dinner w/his wife and a few friends, Martin Moreno and Luis Alvardo, both butterfly photographers.
Sat Aug 28 – Juan, Martin and Luis take us to their new favorite place, Humidal de Bramadora near Sopetran to the northwest of Medellin. This is through the tunnel and to a much drier habitat, with cactus. Many of the butterflies we see are from Mexico and Central America, but either are different subspecies than I’m familiar with, or at least new to my Colombian list. I get great photos of a new skipper for me, Aethilla lavochrea, the Yellow-rimmed Skipper. We have a great day, as it’s sunny but with some high clouds so it’s not too hot. They tell me this place can be really hot, and I believe them.
Sun Aug 29 – Pablo takes Shirley and me back to La Romera, but it’s a rainy, cool day and we only see a few butterflies. We do get killer shots of a fresh Marpesia corinna, one of the orange and purple daggerwings. We also have a gold Perisama that likes my sweat and spends time on my hand for photos. Fred flies in tonight, so we’re all together for the rest of the trip.
Mon Aug 30 – 6am departure for breakfast on the road and a butterfly stop on the way to Rio Claro. We have breakfast at Palacio de los Frijoles, a tasty restaurant about 1.5 hours from Medellin. Afterwards we wander down the dirt road just a few 100 meters from the restaurant, the old road to Corcona. At first it’s slow, but then we find some good butterflies, including a fresh Pyrrhopyge phidias (probably) that lets me lift his wing to shoot the ventral with the thinner white section and several other grass skippers w/white below coming to poop. We get great shots of Panoquina evadnes and a Niconiades, probably N.nikko. We get all the way down to the big bridge over the river and go to a beach a bit beyond where we see, and photograph, my first Cunizza hirlandiaXXX a spectacular yellow and orange Pierid. Shirley finds her life beautiful woodpecker on the way back to the car, so a good day is had by all. Then we drive about another 1.5-2 hours to Rio Claro for the next 3 nights, arriving late afternoon. We are in Cabanas La Mulata, the new cabins before you get to the restaurant. There are some old dorm type places behind the restaurant, where Pablo stays, and another dorm set several hundred meters up river. There is a trail that runs along the river for a long way. This is a favorite swimming retreat on the weekends for folks from Medellin.
Tue/Wed Aug 31/Sep 1 - The first night we have a tremendous thunder and lightning storm, it must last 3-4 hours and makes it difficult to sleep. The cabins are open windows so you really get to experience the storm, even though we’re on the bottom floor. There is a 2nd floor of rooms above, where I was the first time I was here, and the walls are only waist high, so the rain blows in. At first I’m disappointed we’re not on the top floor, and they tell us we can move the 2nd day, but after the previous night we all vote to stay where we are. We must have gotten 6” or more of rain, I’ve never been in a storm that intense. It knocks out the power which takes 2 days to restore, so we have to be judicious w/batteries. Pablo even takes Richard and Shirley’s batteries into town the 2nd night to recharge them. We get power back the afternoon of our 3rd day, so we can look at our photos. And we have lots of photos. Richard puts out his salt water spitwads, and the skippers come out in droves after the heavy rain. It will be interesting to get our final count, but we have many species. Just working the road from our cabins to the restaurant, maybe a 5-10 minute walk, can take an hour or more w/all the skippers to shoot. We see lots of different species from when I was here before in July 2008, so I’m very glad we’ve come back. There is also a trail that heads up to the ridge that is very productive, though it gets steep and muddy. All in all we wish we had more time here. The last night we walk about 20 minutes up river from the restaurant and come to the oilbird cave, where we sit on the beach and wait for them to come out at dusk from the cave across the river from us. The river is high, due to the rains, and there is a small waterfall pouring out of the cave where they nest, but it doesn’t seem to bother them. At dark they start to come out, making all their weird squawks and squeals. Then we have to walk back in the dark w/headlamps, but well worth doing. Another possibility we didn’t have time to do is to go to the Condor Cave, where you walk up a shallow stream and can see oilbirds in another cave. Last time my friends went here and had a number of different species of butterflies as well.
Thur Sep 2 – drive back to Medellin, about 3 hours, drop Pablo off at a bus stop, and head onto the west, crossing the Cauca river, to Jardin, a lovely little coffee town about 1750-1800 meters. We stay at the nicest hotel around, about a km beyond the town, the Hotel Hacienda Balendu. This is an upscale resort place that pretends it’s a farm, so they have horses and chickens, etc. The food is fine, the rooms are nice, and it’s a good location to take a jeep up the rocky road to the ProAves reserve on top for the yellow-eared parrots. Pablo and Jose, his friend who is our guide for the couple of days we’re here, studied the parrots 10 years ago, so they’re the experts.
Fri Sep 3 – We decide to try it up the mountain. It’s always a gamble, because you don’t want to go up if it’s going to be bad weather, but the weather changes so quickly in the mountains you never know. We luck out and get some sun, not lots but enough to get several good species of high elevation satyrs, and we get good photos of almost everything we see. We don’t see the parrots, however, so Fred and Shirley opt to leave very early on Sat, at 4:30am, to try again for the parrots at their roosting site.
Sat Sep 4 – Fred and Shirley take off early w/Jose and Jorge, the driver, then Jose comes back and gets myself and Richard, who have a civilized breakfast and see them about 9:30. Then we all go back through town, after stopping for tasty strong coffee at one of the many cafes lining the square, and drive back towards the small town of Andes. We turn down to the left at Fondo Monserrate, a steep road w/2 tracks of lined cement that takes us down towards the river, through coffee fincas. We get out and walk until about 2:30pm and see many butterflies. The track is lined w/flowers and weedy patches and is crescent heaven. We also chase the gorgeous Heliconius erato chesterXXX, a beautiful blue endemic subspecies w/a yellow horizontal stripe. I get lots of shots down by the river of 2 species of Tegosa for comparison. Then we stop in town at Dulces de Jardin, a nice little handmade candy shop, and get back to the hotel late in the afternoon. And F&S did manage to see the parrots!
Sun Sep 5 – 6am departure to meet Pablo at a restaurant for breakfast, then butterflying at a private reserve near Jericó about 1600 meters. This finca has been working with macaw restoration and houses a number of macaws being rehabilitated to be released in the wild, plus Pablo did some studies here for the cerulean warbler. The warblers like shade grown coffee, and this place used to grow shade grown cardamom. Pablo thought it might be good for butterflies, and he was right, it’s great! We can barely get past the farm house, a huge tree has dropped small fruits and there are many butterflies all over the ground in front of the house. We spend a couple of hours until it starts to rain about 1:30pm, and get tons of shots of many species. Lots of tigerwings on the wide track, big enough to drive on, that slowly goes up the hill next to a stream and is lined with ornamental bananas. The ithomiinae are eating small piles of dark stuff that are on top of the banana leaves, and we see quite a few different species. R&S start putting out spitwads and immediately get lots of skippers as well, many new for our trip. They pose nicely for photos, so we’ll have lots of work sorting them all out. Pablo says there is a nice hotel in Jericó, about 20 minutes away, and the owners of the finca are thinking of starting an eco lodge, which I think would be a good idea. I hope to come back here and spend at least a full day, maybe 2. The track goes for several kms, per Pablo, and there is much to explore. Then we drive about 3.5 hours south along the Cauca river, a beautiful drive, then cross back to the central andes to spend the next 2 nights in Manizales in town at the very pleasant Casa Galvez, a brand new hotel that is reasonably quiet even though it’s in the middle of the bustling city of 400,000. They even have menus from some restaurants that will deliver to the hotel, so we don’t have to go out.
Mon Sep 6 – 6am departure to head up to the National Park Los Nevados above Manizales, around the Volcano del Ruiz which is snow covered all year. My target is bearded helmetcrest, a hummingbird I’ve wanted to see for years. Pablo has almost promised it to me if I go here, we’ve talked about this hummer a couple of times. Apparently they live at the visitor center at 4,050 meters, over 13,000’. They nectar on the strange flowers around the center, including a different species of Espeletia that we saw in the eastern andes. Unfortunately it is a cold and foggy day, and much of the morning it’s hard to see much of anything. But the paramo, above tree line, is always fascinating and fun to visit. The flowers and plants and mosses are different and great to photograph. A bold tawny antpitta strolls across the road at the visitor center, right in front of us. We go down to an older hotel, the Hotel Termales del Ruiz, that is being refurbished to look for black-thighed pufflegs, another very rare hummer. This is about 3500 meters, and there is hot water running along the rough road for the hot springs. We finally find the puffleg after the fog lifts a bit, they’re coming to the dark red flowers of the melastoma, similar to one we saw above Jardin. We even find a new butterfly, one of the high elevation Lymanopoda white species, which poses nicely for lots of photos. The sun has come out briefly, so we decide to head back up to the visitor center for a last minute try for the helmetcrest, and get great looks at a feeding female. She hangs from the flowers and walks across the stiff plants, doing very little flying, weird looking behavior for a hummingbird. So the day ends well.
Tue Sep 7 – drive 30 minutes to Rio Blanco, our home for the next 2 nights. We arrive fairly early and it’s raining, but we go up the road about 10 minutes or so to their relatively new antpitta feeding station. The caretaker puts out earthworms every morning about 7:30am, and he has 3 species of antpittas coming: brown-banded, chestnut-crowned and slate-crowned, a small one. The chestnut-crowned is the biggest and the most aggressive, and chases the others off. She must have a nest, because she stuffs as many as 10 worms in her beak and takes off to the bushes, then comes back shortly for more. These worm feeding stations are a fabulous way to see antpittas, started in Ecuador by Angel Paz outside Mindo, and they’re spreading through the andes at birding lodges. The real excitement for me is they also have ocellated tapaculo coming in here sometimes. The caretaker says more birds come when it’s not raining, as the rain brings out the worms, so when it’s dry the birds are hungrier. We have a lot of rain most of the day, and finally get a bit of sun mid afternoon and then see a few species of Pedaliodes. At the research station they have a pretty good butterfly collection, inside a room from the dining room where they keep a heater and a dehumidifier going all the time. I photograph their drawers and note down the names. They claim to have 350 species of butteflies here, I would love to get the list. After dinner we go owling, as it’s not raining, and Pablo manages to bring in white-throated screech-owl in the woods behind the lodge. Then later, back up at our higher rooms across the road he hears, and finds, rufous-banded owl as well. They only have 2 rooms in the main building, where we eat and where the hummingbird feeders are all around the porch. There are a few more rooms w/3 or 4 beds, for students, in the higher building across the road. Pablo and I take 2 of the student rooms, so we have to walk down for our meals, and to watch the hummers. We find 9 species of hummers at the feeders, and Pablo tells me their total list is 12 species. We also luck out and have a large fruiting tree in the clearing, and get both rusty-faced parrots and golden-plumed parakeets flying around and feeding in the trees. Rio Blano is actually owned by the water company, and they keep the forest as a watershed for Manizales. It’s gated, and you have to get permission to get in, but Pablo knows the right people and brings groups here for birding. The road is steep but the birding is great, and if we just had some sun the butterflies are good too.
Wed Sep 8 – We start w/a not rainy day, which is a plus, and at 7:30 we get all 3 antpittas plus my life look at the ocellated tapaculo, finally. I’ve chased this bird several times, but usually by myself w/out a tape, and could never see it. What a great way to start the day! We then walk on up to the top where you can go either left or right. Left leads to open pasture after several hundred meters, but the first part along the ridge can be good. To the right you pass a house then a construction site w/lots of bags of gravel, then get to good forest. The right trail goes a long way, far longer than I’ve been. They tell me January is the best month for butterflies, they have the most sun then. Guess I’ll be coming back in January.
Thu Sep 9 – We decide to leave right after breakfast and drive the 5 hours to Montezuma where we stay w/a simple farm family for 3 nights. This is our western most location on this trip. We had planned to spend the morning down at the river below the lodge at Rio Blanco, but w/the poor weather we figure it’s better to move on. When I was here before in July 2008 I spent 2 days photographing down along the river, the butterflies were quite good there, but I had sun. We drive to Parque Nacional Tatama, crossing back over the Cauca river and back to the west slope of the western andes. We’re staying at a very simple farm house, but the food is quite tasty and the family very friendly, and they’re into birds as well. We have to take a jeep down from Rio Blanco to Manizales, where we change to a van and drive to Virginia, then change back to another jeep to get up the dirt road to the farmhouse. Walking to the bridge, going on up the hill to the left from the entrance to the farmhouse you come to a bridge that looks great for butterflies, but it’s drizzly and cool. We do get killer shots of an Oleria with bright orange edges at the back of the hindwing which poses nicely.
Fri Sep 10 – Fred and I ride horses 2 hours to about 2,000 meters from 1400 at the house, about 7-8 km, while Pablo and Shirley walk, then we all walk back down for the day. It takes us about 2 hours to get to where we leave the horses, and P&S take about an extra hour to join us. I’m amazed, because on our way back down we find lots of spitwads that Shirley put out on her way up, and managed to do the climb. I couldn’t have done it. The spitwads turn out to work great here, we find lots and lots of skippers on them, as well as a few Heliconius and Dismorphia. We eat lunch, brought to us on horseback, at the top in one of their little plastic shelters, and get great shots of a friendly Elzunia humboldt who thinks this is his place. We have fog for our walk back down the hill, but see many new birds. This is a wonderful spot for birds, we get Buffy Tuftedcheck, Fulvous-dotted Treerunner (my favorite), Beautiful Jay (in heavy fog, good thing they come close), and killer looks at Black Solitaire, several feeding in a fruiting tree, flying back and forth and flashing their white tails, as well as a whole slew of higher elevation tanagers. I love purplish-mantled, but we also get black-chinned mountain-tanager and the spectacular gold-ringed tanager. The next day Pablo and Shirley perservere in the rain and also get black-and-gold tanager. This is the same set of birds they used to get at El Cairo, where I went last time and is a bit further south. But the local birders are using this farmhouse now, above Pueblo Rico and La Virginia, and it’s much less driving from the house to the habitat. Good forest is only about 10 minutes walk from the house. We go up this first day, past a few houses with horses, then up through a gate and down to the first major bridge, about 45 minutes walk. This bridge becomes a magnet for butterflies, as everyone pees here and the horses tend to leave their dropping both up and down. From the bridge it’s a steady climb up at least 600-700 meters, for 4-5 kms. On our way back down this day we find many skippers on the spitwads Shirley put out in the morning. As it gets later in the afternoon, and dark and foggy, we keep finding skippers, many new ones, and even some of the Dyscophyllus and others that like it dark, like Lychnuchus basta. We finally make it back to the house at dark, after a very long day as we left at 6am. We all fall asleep tired but happy.
Sat Sep 11 – Today we have a more leaisurely breakfast at 7am, then walk back to the good bridge. This morning is brilliant and sunny, lots of blue sky, so we have tons of butterflies. This is a great spot, I’m definitely coming back for more time. We keep finding new species all day long, including 7 species of Adelpha or Sisters, 3 of which are new for me. Pablo shows us a sunning White-tailed Hillstar from the bridge, where Fred and I spend an hour or more, and Fred gets a great shot, it’s so close. 2 species of Morphos, 2 species of Owls, lots of crescents, a new Myscelus and several riodinids, it keeps going all morning. Lunch is again brought to us in the field, a brother finds us on the trail and the lunch is hot from the kitchen. Life is good. But early, right after lunch, it starts to darken, we hear thunder, and by noon it is pouring. Fred and I go back to the bridge and up the hill towards the house and stop in one of their plastic shelters, where we’re joined by Richard and Leo, the woman who owns the place. She’s walked w/us both days, and led Fred’s horse the day before. It was Fred’s first time on a horse, pretty gutsy on his part. We decide to make a dash for home from the shelter, which turns out to not be such a good idea, as the heavens open and we’re all drenched, even w/umbrellas, by the time we get back. The road turns into a river, and we end up wading through 6” to a foot of running water, so we’re soaked to the knees. Yesterday I borrowed a pair of rubber boots, but didn’t really need them, so today I wore tennis, which are now completely wet. Oh well, they will dry. We had a fabulous morning, it was well worth it.
Sun Sep 12 – This morning is overcast and drizzly, so we work on photos for an hour or so after breakfast. P&S go birding, back up the road, but the other 3, Fred, Richard and me, go down the road to the right, instead of up to the left, and find a whole new set of butterflies as it brightens a bit. We leave after our last delicious lunch, planning to definitely return for more time. We take a jeep back to our transfer point, load up the van and drive back over the cauca river to the central andes, through Pereira for atm’s, then up to Otun, a regular hotel/lodge about 45 minutes east of Pereira at 1800 meters. This is a reserve, Otun Quimbaxxxx of about 500 hectares, and they have great birds. You wake up every morning hearing red-ruffed fruit crows making their low, blowing across a bottle sound, and we see them daily, a wonderful bird. They also have lots of cauca guans. But we concentrate on the butterflies, and they have tons of those.
Mon/Tue Sep 13/14 – I take over 900 photos in our 2 days here, and we only butterfly until lunch each day. We walk up the road, to the right from the entrance, a nice gradually climbing dirt and gravel road w/secondary forest on both sides. R&S put out lots of spitwads, and they work wonderfully here. This is the highest I’ve ever had the spitwads work. We get lots of skippers, but also Heliconius and Ithomiinae. A number of new species for me, one of the fanciest is Sacrator sacrator, a big dark skipper w/the back third of the forewings yellow with several brilliant silver spots at the edge of the yellow, a real killer. On the 2nd day we find a couple of poop spots which prove to be magnets for the leafwings, and we get lots of Memphis and several different Adelpha and a zillion Fountainea nessus, the beautiful pink and purple banded leafwing. I’ve never seen as many as they have here of this species, they like to fly around us on the road, probably attracted to our sweaty bodies. Another place you could spend a lot of time. I was here in July 2008, and we’re seeing more butterflies now, even though we get heavy rain both afternoons by lunch. This is typical rainy season weather, sunny mornings then the clouds build up and it rains in the middle of the day. When it’s sunny there are lots of butterflies.
Wed Sep 15 – we have a final morning at Otun, and I check out the trail through the forest. Richard has spent some time here putting out spitwads, and I’m hoping for clearwings. I’ve id’ed 4 species so far, but some have not posed for photos, and I particularly want Patricia dercylidas which I’ve seen both days but it’s never stopped. One can dream. We leave Otun about 11am for the hour drive to the airport at Pereira, where we fly to Bogota and connect on to Santa Marta for our last week. We spend the night in Minca at a new hotel Pablo has found, Sierra’s Sound right on the river. You can hear the white water loudly, which I guess is the sound in the name of the place. They have a nice restaurant on the river and the rooms are fine, this will be a pleasant place to come back to after our time up at El Dorado. We even see a few birds and butterflies early the next morning.
Thur Sep 16 – We spend the morning driving up the bad road to El Dorado after stopping and birding/butterflying for an hour or so at Pozo Azul about 750 meters. We find a few specialities and several new butterflies, then head up to higher elevations. There is a small tienda that everyone stops at to buy a coke and look for blossomcrown hummer at their flowers, about 1600 meters. We get good shots of an orange banded Pedaliodes that is common there, as well as several other butterfly species coming to the blooming mora or blackberry bushes. We finally get to El Dorado, the ProAves comfortable lodge, for a late lunch. They have nice gardens and lots of hummingbird feeders, but unfortunately we get rain all afternoon. It knocks out the power, which turns out to the common state of affairs for the next 3 days. We are without power most of the time. P&S go looking for the newly described Colombian screech owl that night, don’t find it but they do get good looks at night monkeys in the cecropia trees right near the lodge. So we all go out the 2nd night but aren’t as lucky, even though it’s clear and moonlit.
Fri Sep 17 – our driver spent the night, and we head up to the top of the road early in the morning. The road is terrible, we drive up many places that don’t look passable to us, but the driver is experienced w/this road and calmly, slowly coaxes the car over all sorts of rocks and giant washouts. We luck out today and have sunshine changing w/clouds, but some nice sunny moments. The sun brings out the butterflies, and we get lots of shots of several Pedaliodes species, not sure of how many different ones there are. This is an extremely tough genus, I’m hoping my friend Hannier who’s working on this genus can help me out w/some id’s. We also get a ton of photos of a very friendly Adelpha corcyra salazari which is all over us, a beautiful endemic subspecies of sister. We stop at the national park lodge, San Lorenzo, on the way back down, about 2200 or 2300 meters, to check their flowers but don’t see anything. Back to El Dorado for another late lunch, and more rain that afternoon.
Sat Sep 18 – we wake to fog and rain, and it stays that way all day. It lightens a few times, but shortly returns to heavy fog. I walk the road a bit, find a few hardy butterflies and see several flocks in the trees, but the fog is too heavy to id any birds. We hang around the hummingbird feeders and enjoy the common violet-crowned woodnymphs and the speciality, the white-tailed starfrontlet, which likes the feeders in front of our rooms.
Sun Sep 19 – we have our last morning here at El Dorado, then the driver comes back to get us and take us down to Minca. As we’re driving away from the lodge we spot an Adelpha sitting on a leaf, and we pile out and get great shots of a very fresh Adelpha zunia inachia, a rare subspecies. We spend the day working our way back down the road, stopping at the tienda again for an extended lunch, but the rain stays w/us most of the day. We get back to Sierra’s Sounds Hostal and another tasty dinner on the river.
Mon Sep 20 – We go back up the road a few kms on a bright sunny morning and see a goodly number of butterflies, then drive to the east along the coast to Riohacha for 1 night. We go out to the supposedly desert, but it’s raining here as well, and we end up sitting under a palapa on the beach drinking beers and soft drinks and watching it pour. We do manage to get 3 or 4 life birds before the skies open. There are about 15-20 specialities in this area, so hopefully tomorrow will be sunny. We get very close to a flamingo, first one I’ve seen this close. Usually they’re pink dots across the marsh in a scope. We spend the night at the Barbacoa Hotel which is fine. Pablo had originally had us in another hotel, closer to downtown and restaurants, but when he called this morning to confirm our reservations, they had lost them, so he had to scramble and find us another place. This is not uncommon in Colombia, so you have to confirm and reconfirm, and still reservations aren’t always there. So don’t arrive at your rooms late.
Tues Sep 21 – We wake to a spectacular clear day and head back out to the peninsula. We drive back towards Santa Marta about 20 km and turn off to Camarones, an indigenous village. Pablo gets a local guide, always a good idea in indigenous areas, who’s quite knowledgeable about the bigger birds. We see lots of wet birds preening on top of the bushes, and get great looks at one lifer after the other. Everyone’s favorite is the vermillion cardinal, but we have lots of bare-eyed pigeons, green-rumped parrotlets, buffy hummingbird, russet-throated puffbird,and lots of shorebirds. We’re in migration, so the flats are teeming w/a great mix of shorebirds. This would be a good spot to come if you were from Europe and wanted to see lots of the American shorebirds, at least at this time of the year. In the trees we have lots of North American warblers as well, prothonotory and chestmut-sided warblers plus others. We even get a few skippers, our first elves and Erichson’s white-skipper who poses nicely. Very different birding from the rest of our trip. Late in the morning they go to a very wet area and I head back to the car, not having rubber boots. I get the driver to go back to Camarones and we visit a panaderia or bakery in town, at the farm supply store, and stock up on Arequipa cake and cookies for everyone. Then we go back to the beach palapa and have cold drinks and pastries. It gets very hot here when the sun’s out, and you wouldn’t want to bird, or butterfly, through the hot part of the day. About 11 we head back to Santa Marta, about a 3.5 – 4 hour drive, stop for a nice fish lunch on the river and head straight to the airport where we catch our 5:15pm flight back to Bogota on Avianca. It’s back to Casona del Patio for our last night in Colombia. Shirley and Richard go do dinner w/a friend, and Fred and I hit the Wok restaurant, 2 blocks from the hotel, and have a great meal. They have killer desserts, try the lemon and grapefruit tart, and Fred swooned over the chocolate and more cake, more like fudge.
Wed Sep 22 – We go our separate ways back to the US. I fly to Miami and spend the night, then back to Texas tomorrow. A great trip, lots of new species photographed and lots of Colombia seen. It’s a wonderful country, I notice the improvements just in the last 3 years. More peaceful, less military, the hotels and food are getting better. Pablo is a wonderful guide, I highly recommend him for birds and butterflies. He’s learning more and more about traveling around the country, and his English is much improved. All in all, what’s not to like? I’ll be back many more times.