Thursday 25 February 2016

A Tarantula in my Suitcase Part 3 January 2016

Day 10

We left Otun and drove as far as a town called Santa Rosa de Cabale where we stopped at a just opening bakery for breakfast and coffee and to purchase food for later in the day. What a joy it is to be able to sit out in the open on a warm early morning, so very different to Britain! Then it was back into the vehicle and we drove out of Santa Rosa, carefully avoiding a cow wandering around in the road, although judging by the locals attitude this was nothing unusual. Everyone, motorbikes, cars and us just drove around the indifferent animal.

Juan followed the road as it wound ever upwards towards the mountains and leaving the tarmac road at the town limits we were back on the usual rutted and uneven surface that seems standard for roads anywhere outside of towns or cities in Colombia. The road rose ever higher, snaking in sinuous curves round the mountain side. Juan was in rally mode this morning so we ascended at a fair rate but speed was of the essence as we had to be at a particular location as early as possible to see a very rare bird indeed and we soon caught up with another two 4x4's also ferrying birders up the mountain to see the same rare bird. The bird in question was another endemic species, Fuerte's Parrot or to give it its other name, Indigo-winged Parrot, which having been considered extinct had recently been re-discovered at the location we were heading for. The Birds of Colombia describes it as possibly the rarest resident bird in Colombia and it is only found in high temperate forest, where it wanders around in pairs or small flocks looking for mistletoe berries.

Juan passed one of the other 4x4's and then the other, leaving them in our dust rather than the other way round. We swooped round endless curves until we stopped on a bridge at about 3000m elevation and from here it was a walk up the road in the hope of seeing the parrots. The other 4x4's passed us without stopping and their guides had obviously decided to go further up. Did they know something we did not?

We walked uphill on the road passing three Black Vultures waiting for the day to warm up so they could take to the air. 

Black Vultures
After a little way we diverted from the road and climbed a steep grassy bank on our right which brought us to the top of a knoll and a viewpoint where we could survey the terrain spread out around and below us on both sides. There was forest on one side and scattered trees and grassland on the other. We stood in the early morning sun and waited. It was now very much on the line whether we would see the parrots or not. This was our one and only chance and that was certainly less than even although this site, recently discovered, was our best opportunity by far.

Looking back across the road from our temporary viewpoint.
The parrots came in from the right
I think I was the first to pick up two parrots flying towards us but they were too distant to be sure of what they were. I alerted the others as they approached, coming closer and closer and  I said a silent prayer 'Please do not deviate, please keep coming our way, please be Fuerte's Parrots'. The parrots kept on coming and dropped down from the sky into the valley with  the forest trees behind them. This made it so much easier to discern plumage details and sure enough they were the much coveted Fuerte's Parrot. They swept past and gave us a grandstand fly by view, you could even see the indigo patches on their green wings, before they settled in a distant tree. What a result and the pressure was now off. Some minutes later the restless parrots returned, treating us to another flypast and perched in another distant tree but this time were virtually invisible.

Eventually the other birders, who had not had any luck in seeing any parrots higher up joined us. They waited with us and were fortunate to get distant views of the Fuerte's Parrots as they once again flew and this time headed far away over a ridge.

Our location was a good elevated spot to bird from and we waited to see what else might arrive. Three large, thrush like birds but with electric blue upper-parts, a black head and bright yellow under-parts swooped across the valley and into the trees below us. They were another good bird to see, Hooded Mountain Tanagers. 

Hooded Mountain Tanager
We spent an hour or so up here, birding the general area and checking out the trees below us for feeding birds. My abiding memory was of two Grass Green Tanagers feeding in the top of a tree, an exotic sight with their completely over the top 'astro turf ' bright green bodies clashing with their bright red legs and bill and a brown face. They positively shone in the sun.

Then it was time to leave as we had a long trip to our next destination, the Hotel Termales del Ruiz which lies some 50km from the Los Nevados National Nature Park and which contains the Nevado del Ruiz active volcano. We stopped at Manizales for lunch and then continued on our way to our final destination. We were going to drive straight to the park, as today was when we would hopefully see one of the birds, above all others, that I wanted to see, a Buffy Helmetcrest which is an endemic hummingbird found most frequently in the National Park at elevations of 3200-4800m.

The park comprises of a habitat called Paramo and one of the strangest plants you are ever likely to encounter, found growing in the Paramo, is a favourite of the Buffy Helmetcrest. The plants are called Frailejones (Espeletia sp.) and they are scattered liberally over the Paramo, each plant often standing higher than a man with stemmed rosettes at their top. Their presence creates a unique sight as they grow in profusion as far as you can see across the Paramo.

Paramo with the extraordinary Frailejones
You know how you look in a book at bird illustrations and one or two make you think I really want to see that above all others? Well Buffy Helmetcrest and its two cousins, Green bearded Helmetcrest and Blue bearded Helmetcrest qualify on that score for me. During all those long months before I came to Colombia I would linger on the page where they were illustrated. Now I was finally here and this was my chance to fulfill my longing.

Helmetcrests are described as robust and unusual hummingbirds inhabiting the highest Paramos, feeding on the Frailejones flowers and often walking around on the ground in search of insects. Until recently the three current species were regarded as just three races of one species. Buffy Helmetcrest is the commonest and smallest of what are now three species whilst the other two are slightly larger. The rarest of them is the Blue bearded Helmetcrest which had not been seen in decades until it was re-found in March 2015, when two intrepid ProAves biologists made a two day hike up the mountains to investigate the extent of the destruction of the Paramo from illegal burning by farmers wanting to graze cattle and found three individuals of this hummingbird. 

We made a brief stop to stretch our legs and have a break after a long journey up the winding roads through the mountains. 

The cold, clear mountain air was invigorating and then, after an all too brief few minutes, it was back into the vehicle and we started climbing further on the road, and looking out from the vehicle as we headed for the park entrance  I could see the Nevado del Ruiz's sinister, permanently snow capped and squat summit that rises to 5321m off to our left. Its crater is 1km wide and 240m deep and the volcano forms part of the infamous Pacific Ring of Fire. For me there was a strange almost mesmeric fascination looking at the volcano. I was, if you like, in awe but kept my feelings to myself. I contemplated the conical outline, the portal to  unimaginable forces lying below the Earth's crust and my mind wandered to visions of the huge and terrible power that lay bubbling and churning deep in the earth, biding its time as the pressure slowly grew below the Nevado del Ruiz. The volcano, as if to confirm its violent and dangerous potential was emitting steam and smoke today and, as we learnt a little later, the park was closed due to the perceived danger.

The Nevado del Ruiz Volcano
Nevado del Ruiz last erupted on the 13th November 1985 when the eruption melted its snow capped summit and caused a mud slide that travelled over 40km, at night, down a valley,to kill 25,000 unsuspecting people in the town of Armero  when it was engulfed by the avalanche. It was the fourth worst disaster in the world involving a volcano and could have been avoided if the Government of the day had heeded warnings, given weeks earlier, by vulcanologists about the pending eruption. Even today it is estimated that currently half a million people are at risk if the volcano erupts again.

Just in case the Volcano blows - you now know where to go. Follow the signs!
There was a road leading to a viewpoint off to our left where you could stand and look both  down and up and clearly see the devastated and scoured land resulting from the passage of the avalanche as it swept down the valley. I shuddered inwardly at the horror of it all, made all too real by the evidence before me

The trail of devastation left by the avalanche 30 years ago as it swept
down the valley is still clearly visible to this day
We drove onwards and upwards, passing through spectacularly wild scenery and reached the Park Headquarters situated at around 4050m where we found the gates firmly closed and despite asking we were refused permission to enter due to the current dangerous state of the volcano. 

However all was not lost as the area around the park headquarters was known to be one of the best locations to encounter a Buffy Helmetcrest. It was now quite cold with a strong wind blowing and dust storms whirling about due to the dry conditions and I could distinctly feel the effects of the high altitude as my breathing became more laboured, a sharp ache troubled my forehead  and I had to slow down markedly in order to function.

The Park Headquarters with Frailejones growing outside
A plump greyish bird, like a small thrush, flew rapidly out of a wet ditch by the road and was gone over a rise in the ground. Hernan informed me it was a Stout billed Cinclodes. I would liked to have seen more of it but at least I had seen one.

In mercifully quick time we found a Buffy Helmetcrest flying very low, about a foot or two off the ground and allowing us to virtually walk up to it as it fed from some pink flowers around the buildings.  At times it gave up flying and just clung onto the flower and extracted the nectar.

Buffy Helmetcrest
After five or so minutes it disappeared over the gates and into the inaccessible park. So that was that but we were determined to see some more of this great little bird. There then ensued a very long wait. We were the only people here which was good, as yesterday was a Sunday with the result that there would have been many more people  around and we would have had little if any chance of seeing the Buffy Helmetcrest, due to all the disturbance.

We checked and re-checked the flower beds in front of the park headquarters and finally our persistence was rewarded as another Buffy Helmetcrest was discovered feeding amongst the yellow flowers of the Frailejones. It behaved in just the same way as the other bird, indeed it may have been the same one, flying very low and occasionally perching on the flowers and leaves to feed but because of the wind we never got the shot we wanted of it, just sitting at the top of the plants.

You can just see the purple iridescence on the throat feathers. One of the main
ID features of the male Buffy Helmetcrest

Buffy Helmetcrest
I guess the number of photos indicates this is one of my all time favourites!
Well you cannot have it all ways so we settled for what we got and counted ourselves lucky. This individual hung around for about ten minutes before flying off up the mountainside. We decided this was enough although I would have been happy to remain but we had another target bird to try and see, the endemic Rufous fronted Parakeet and this required us to drive back down the road

Before we returned to the vehicle we walked down the road a little way trying to re-find the Stout billed Cinclodes and were successful as it popped up out of another wet ditch and conveniently sat on a small mound, listening as we played a tape of its call.

Stout billed Cinclodes
Satisfied at our success with the hummingbird and cinclodes we returned to the vehicle and headed downhill. Juan was now taking us on the downward spiralling road to a possible location for finding the Rufous fronted Parakeets. He had seen them here before with other birding groups on previous trips but told us that it was likely that we would not see them as their movements were very erratic. If we did see them it was only going to be a fly past. We duly stopped on the road, overlooking a valley which descended in a long sweep downwards and a considerable way below we could see the roof of our hotel for the coming night.

We scanned all the likely trees in the valley from the side of the road but there were no parakeets to be found. A few minutes passed and then the distinctive sound of excited parakeets came to us and from our right, around a bend in the road above us, came a small group of parakeets flying in a ragged formation. They flew past us with Hernan and Juan excitedly telling us that these were Rufous fronted Parakeets. They flew round, then back tracked past us and landed in a tree right by the road some hundred metres up the hill. What luck. Paul and myself needed no second invitation to slowly move closer and closer so we could get some photos, as did the others.

Rufous fronted Parakeet
The parakeets stayed put and we watched them feeding on buds or seed heads before, maybe we got too close or they decided to move on and they were off, shrieking to themselves as they flew over the hill and out of sight. Juan told us that in five years he had only experienced this almost instant result and seen them perch in a tree, once before. We had been so very lucky.

Now we descended, following the road as it snaked round the mountainside and came to Hotel Termales del Ruiz, recently refurbished and re opened. With our unloaded backpacks and cases we went to check in. After the inevitable photocopying of our passports, all hotels have to do this on Government orders apparently, we found that all three of us had been put in one  small room and there was not a lot of space for us and our gear. It would be uncomfortably cramped. I had reached my limits of patience. I now had a splitting headache due to the altitude and told Hernan to tell the guy on reception I was not happy and we wanted a change of room. Now! There then followed an interminable phone conversation between the guy on reception and his manager who was somewhere else, which finally resulted in our being given a dormitory room containing six beds, still all three of us in one room but now with a huge amount of space for us to move about in.

On the left Hernan our bird guide and right Juan our driver with the trusty 4x4
I really think provincial Colombian hotels  need to get their act together based on my experiences. This hotel for instance was totally empty apart from us. So why could they not just indulge in some flexibility and common sense? There were loads of rooms available so why try and fob us off with one of the smallest? I had made my point but should not have had to. The hotel was also very very cold and got progressively colder as the afternoon wore on and at night was almost freezing. There was no heating and eating in the soulless eating area in the cold was not my idea of what a hotel should be offering i.e, a reasonable degree of comfort and relaxation, not a minor ordeal. Many of the reviews of Termales del Ruiz on Trip Advisor also complain about how cold the hotel was. It was so cold we had to have a fan heater in our room that night. Bizarrely though, there was an outside pool which was steaming hot, entirely heated by the volcano. All very weird and I could not help thinking if the volcano can provide hot water for the outdoor pool and apparently an indoor pool also, why on earth can it not be utilised to heat the hotel?

The pool heated by the volcano
Once settled in our room we went to check the hummingbird feeders located slightly above the hotel and looking down on the heated pool. There was still some construction going on here but there were enough feeders scattered around to keep us interested and some new species of hummingbird for us to identify or I should say, Paul to identify. To me, a novice at hummingbird ID it was a bit of a nightmare, especially with the females but Paul's skills saved the day. Three species here remain in my memory. Great Sapphirewing, a large hummingbird with the most incredible midnight blue wings and an aggressive demeanour towards the other hummingbirds; Shining Sunbeam, a rather unspectacular but robust hummingbird with cinnamon underparts and a similar habit to the sabrewing of landing and remaining with its wings aggressively wide spread for some time before closing them and finally Golden breasted Puffleg, a glorious combination of iridescent greens and golds, the colours constantly changing with kaleidoscopic effect as it moved and with ruffs of pure white feathers (hence the name puffleg) covering its legs.

Great Sapphirewing

Shining Sunbeam
The upperparts are much more colourful but due to the position of the feeders
 I never got the opportunity to photograph it from behind

Golden breasted Puffleg

The light began to fade and we retired for dinner. I sat in my fleece in the cold uninviting dining area and regarded my meal with little enthusiasm. My headache had increased and I was feeling distinctly below par. I had a mild dose of altitude sickness so while Chris and Paul went to enjoy the delights of an indoor thermal pool I retired to bed with two aspirin and drank a lot of water trusting this would cure my condition and I would be ready to go tomorrow.

Birds seen on Day Ten

(h) heard only

Cattle Egret; Black Vulture; Turkey Vulture; Black chested Buzzard Eagle; Broad winged Hawk; Southern Lapwing; Eared Dove; Common Pauraque; White collared Swift; Tourmaline Sunangel; Purple backed Thornbill; Buffy Helmetcrest; Tyrian Metaltail; Viridian Metaltail; Black thighed Puffleg; Golden breasted Puffleg; Shining Sunbeam; Collared Inca; Buff winged Starfrontlet; Mountain Velvetbreast; Great Sapphirewing; Rufous fronted Parakeet; Indigo winged Parrot; Scaly naped Parrot; Golden plumed Parakeet; Chestnut naped Antpitta (h); Tawny Antpitta (h); Spillman's Tapaculo (h);  Stout billed Cinclodes; Pearled Treerunner; Many striped Canastero; Azara's Spinetail; Slaty backed Chat Tyrant; Rufous breasted Chat Tyrant; Brown backed Chat Tyrant; Blue and White Swallow; Brown bellied Swallow; Sedge Wren (h); Great Thrush; Golden fronted Whitestart; Hooded Mountain Tanager; Grass green Tanager; Lacrimose Mountain Tanager; Scarlet bellied Mountain Tanager; Blue and Black Tanager; Masked Flowerpiercer; Plain colored Seedeater; Slaty Brush Finch; Rufous collared Sparrow; Chestnut breasted Chlorophonia

Day 11

I awoke with no headache and all signs of altitude sickness banished but the room was so cold there was a risk of hypothermia. I headed downstairs with the others and into the vehicle and we drove downhill on another rough, unsurfaced road running down a gorge and surrounded on all sides by huge forested mountains. This was true montane scenery and I could not help but notice that a mountain stream we passed was steaming. 'How come?' I enquired of Hernan. The answer was obvious. The water was warm courtesy of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano. Further along the track there was a huge shrine to 25 Scouts killed in another avalanche. This certainly seemed a dangerous area
The Shrine to the Scouts
We spent most of the morning before and after breakfast searching for antpittas but it was hard going. We tried any number of locations, beating our way deep into the roadside jungle of vines and plants. The loam and rotting leaves on the forest floor were so thick at some points that my feet sank into them as if standing on soft cushions. After what seemed ages we found a Bicoloured Antpitta calling and managed to lure it in with the tape for a brief view before it disappeared back into the thick cover. Whatever you think about tape luring it was noticeable that birds did not respond that well on quite a few occasions and it seemed if a particular species was not actually calling it was often difficult to get it to respond. If a bird was calling it was often much more responsive but not always.

We returned to the hotel for lunch and found a number of people had come to enjoy the warm waters of the outdoor pool although I am not sure if they were staying at the hotel. We had lunch in the hotel and then checked out. I for one would not miss it but that is my personal opinion.

We drove back up the road we had birded on the way down to the hotel and to where we had yesterday's fortunate encounter with the Rufous fronted Parakeets and all I can say is our luck had still not run out as now there was an incredible flock of around fifty, but not giving such close views as yesterday. We drove on further and were now heading downhill. We stopped at various points where the habitat looked promising and just walked the road with Juan catching us up at intervals. It was getting very cold as the low cloud had long since blotted out the sun and a chill wind was blowing directly into our faces. I put on another layer of clothing to keep warm. We did quite well for birds along the road, the highlights for me, being finding a family of the near endemic and uncommon Black backed Bush Tanager and we watched as they noisily and hyperactively searched the low bushes by the road before moving on higher up the mountainside. They were  closely followed by an exquisite Scarlet bellied Mountain Tanager hunting the same bushes.

Black backed Bush Tanager with fledged youngster
Scarlet bellied MountainTanager
Yet another 'good' hummingbird caught our attention as a Rainbow bearded Thornbill, a dark bottle green bird with a colourful 'beard' of throat feathers and a pink crest flew at great speed across the road. Unfortunately it did not allow close approach, zipping around frenetically and only perching briefly and was finally lost to view, so my photos did not manage to capture the colourful beard. Still it was nice to see it. 

Rainbow bearded Thornbill
We were disturbed by a strange rattling sound and then a small boy on a bike came hurtling down the deserted road. The rattling noise was generated by the back wheel of the bike which had no tyre at all just the rim. However he seemed perfectly happy as he passed us at some speed.

My attention returned to a Brown backed Bush Tyrant dodging amongst the bushes and another near endemic bird, a Golden fronted Whitestart, a shock of bright yellow flitting down the road and never still for more than a few seconds.

Brown backed Bush Tyrant

Golden fronted Whitestart
We moved on and  as we did the sun came out and I felt some warmth permeate my body. A Tawny Antpitta commenced calling but it was too distant for any hope of luring it in with taped calls. We reached a bend in the road and another Tawny Antpitta called and this one was much closer so it was decided to go in after it. We walked some hundred metres into and under the rampant vegetation so we were looking up a slope of tangled branches, twigs and leaves.We played the tape and the antpitta called back. We played the tape again and the antpitta called again  but now much closer. We left the tape off and waited. Five minutes must have passed before Hernan saw it perched quite high above us and just visible  through a mesh of twigs and branches. At first  I could not get my eye in but then I always have trouble locating birds in situations such as this but usually manage to locate them in the end and so it was this time. Tawny is an accurate description of it and all I could see as it was facing us was a pale tawny breast and darker brown head. It could not see us but was obviously listening for our taped call that it thought was a rival antpitta, but then without further ado decided it would get its say in first, stretched its neck and head so they were pointing upwards and commenced calling. I watched its pale throat swelling as it did so. Fantastic. It changed position a couple of times but always remained in view for around ten minutes before dropping down and out of sight. What a great finale to the day.

Tawny Antpitta
Back to the 4x4 and Juan drove us out of the rural surroundings and onto a busy road into the much more urban environment of the large town of Manizales. We arrived this time at better appointed accommodation, The Hotel Carretero, and Paul and myself even managed to get some laundry arranged which was a relief. After some confusion about the idiosyncratic controls of the shower in our room we got the blessed hot water working and I luxuriated in hot water and rinsed the dust and sweat of several days from my hair and body. Simple pleasures but up to now most of the showers we had encountered had been cold water only, although they were meant to provide hot water also. Even in tropical heat such as in Colombia I hate cold showers. The shock to my system is not enjoyable and hot water is infinitely more soothing in my case. I shared the room with Paul but as the room was huge and we both had double beds we had no problems.

We walked to a nearby lively restaurant for dinner, completed the checklist and were back at the hotel by eight. After the nightly ritual of plugging in phones and camera batteries to be re-charged overnight was completed, a knock at the door heralded our laundry, impressively delivered back to our room that same evening and we were all set for an early start tomorrow.

Birds seen on Day Eleven

(h) heard only

Andean Teal; Ruddy Duck; Cattle Egret; Black Vulture; Turkey Vulture ; Band tailed Pigeon; Andean Pygmy Owl (h); White collared Swift; Tourmaline Sunangel; Purple backed Thornbill; Rainbow bearded Thornbill; Viridian Metaltail; Black thighed Puffleg; Golden breasted Puffleg; Shining Sunbeam; Bronzy Inca; Buff winged Starfrontlet; Mountain Velvetbreast; Great Sapphirewing; Grey breasted Mountain Toucan; Crimson mantled Woodpecker;  Rufous fronted Parakeet; Golden plumed Parakeet; Chestnut crowned Antpitta (h); Bicoloured Antpitta; Rufous Antpitta (h); Tawny Antpitta; Blackish Tapaculo (h); Paramo Tapaculo; Pearled Treerunner; Andean Tit Spinetail; Many striped Canastero (h); Azara's Spinetail; White banded Tyrannulet; White throated Tyrannulet; Agile Tit Tyrant; Yellow bellied Chat Tyrant; Slaty backed Chat Tyrant(h); Rufous breasted Chat Tyrant; Brown backed Chat Tyrant; Pale edged Flycatcher; Brown bellied Swallow; Mountain Wren; Sedge Wren; Great Thrush; Blackburnian Warbler; Citrine Warbler; Black crested Warbler;  Golden fronted Whitestart; Hooded Mountain Tanager; Lacrimose Mountain Tanager; Scarlet bellied Mountain Tanager; Blue and Black Tanager; Blue backed Conebill; Glossy Flowerpiercer; Masked   Flowerpiercer; Paramo Seedeater; Pale naped Brush Finch; Slaty Brush Finch; Rufous collared Sparrow

Day 12

This was a day I was really looking forward to as it was 'antpitta day'. We were going to  Rio Blanco a reserve near to Manizales owned by the local Water Company, that promised the opportunity to see and photograph  no less than four species of antpitta. The antpittas, as at Angel Paz's farm in Ecuador which I had visited two years ago, had been habituated to come to be fed in the early morning by a nice man called Albedo who looked after the reserve.

I struggle to say why antpittas hold such an attraction for me but I know I am not alone in finding them a fascinating and charismatic group of birds. It's not as if their plumage is spectacular as it most certainly is not, in most cases being various shades of brown, olive, grey and dull white to match their  nondescript habitat. They are plump, virtually tailless, long legged birds which frequent the darkest recesses of the forest floor rarely perching more than a few feet up and mostly remaining on the ground. They shun coming out into the open, are shy and furtive and never easy to see which probably are good enough reasons for them being so desirable. They have distinctive songs which are usually just single note whistles and to me are the essence of tropical rainforest birding. Mornings are the best time to try to see them and this has been made a little easier for visiting birders by people like Albedo who have habituated them to come to be fed worms although their appearance can never be guaranteed. They are, after all, still wild birds.

Albedo - Colombia's answer to Ecuador's Angel Paz
The drive to Rio Blanco was only a short one of thirty minutes and we arrived just as the dawn was breaking. We were to have breakfast here and then spend the entire day birding the reserve. We were joined by a young Canadian couple for breakfast and as we spoke the man sounded familiar to me and I realised he was Glenn Bartley a professional wildlife photographer whose YouTube videos on cameras and bird photography I had watched avidly back in Britain. He is not so well known in Britain but is I understand a bit of a celebrity on the USA birding/photography circuit.

Rio Blanco Lodge

After breakfast we briefly went our separate ways. We went to try to see a Chestnut Wood Quail as Hernan knew a good location but our tapes failed to get a response. We walked back, passing a captive Spectacled Bear that had been orphaned, raised in captivity and now had a large enclosure in which to see out its days at Rio Blanco. My mind went back to my adventures with a real wild one in Ecuador two years ago and looking at it I did not remember them being quite so large as they obviously are.

We rejoined Glenn and Albedo, who was carrying a bucket of worms and walked up a very steep track that would eventually lead to a ridge trail that ran along the top of the reserve but long before we got there Albedo signalled we should take a small track off to our left which led to a little cleared area. This was the stage for two of the antpitta species, Chestnut crowned and Brown banded Antpitta.

Albedo with his bucket of worms
Glenn set up his high tech camera equipment and we sat and waited. Albedo chucked some worms on the ground in front of us and whistled. An inquisitive male Green and Black Fruiteater came to see what was going on and then departed.

Green and Black Fruiteater
A wait of some minutes ensued and then a Chestnut crowned Antpitta, one of the more attractively plumaged antpittas arrived and hopped around nervously. Our cameras went into overdrive. This went on for some time and the antpitta eventually lost its nerve and retreated back into cover after grabbing some worms. 

Chestnut crowned Antpitta
Hernan tapped me on the shoulder and to my right just a couple of metres away a Brown banded Antpitta had just appeared from the dingy depths of the undergrowth and stood there regarding us. Albedo threw some worms and the antpitta grabbed one and fled back into the gloom but soon it was back out for more and so the 'now you see me now you don't' performance went on until finally it came no more. 

Brown banded Antpitta
We had however, not finished yet as Albedo then tempted out another Chestnut crowned Antpitta for even more photographic opportunities. 

Finally it became obvious that no more antpittas would be coming so we called time and left. What a brilliant experience but there was even more. Albedo led us back to the main path and then we went off into another area deeper in the forest and again sat down and waited. He whistled again and very distantly a response came back. This time we were awaiting the arrival of a Slate crowned Antpitta but it took quite a time for the bird to arrive.  It must have been over twenty  minutes before it showed up, materialising out of the forest as if by magic and sitting on a mossy branch in front of us. Quite small and a little timid at first, it would flit back into cover at the slightest sound but then it settled and was joined by another, more shy individual, possibly its mate. Again we clicked away happily with our cameras until they left and went back into the forest.

Slate crowned Antpitta
We walked up the track and onto the ridge and by way of diversion then came across two very good birds in the form of a magnificent Black billed Mountain Toucan followed by the very rare and sought after Masked Saltator, which caused great excitement as it is usually so difficult to find. We actually found six, two together then a group of four, an hour or so later, in a different part of the reserve. This was, according to Albedo and Hernan, unheard of but its all on camera! We spent some time watching them eating fruit before they slipped away into the forest and then we followed Albedo along the ridge trail. I told Albedo that the antpitta experience this morning was easily as good as the more famous one I had experienced at Paz de las Aves in Ecuador which seemed to please him a lot. I meant it though as here it was less structured, more natural if you like, that is if you can call feeding antpittas worms from a bucket natural!

Black billed Mountain Toucan

Masked Saltator
There was still one more more antpitta to go. This time it was our old friend the Bicoloured Antpitta that we had struggled so hard to find a couple of days ago. We walked along the ridge and diverted down a small slope to another small, specially cleared area below us and repeated the by now familiar process of Albedo calling the antpitta and us waiting. Again there was quite a wait  but the Bicoloured Antpitta eventually showed up but only stayed for the briefest time of all the antpittas we had seen this morning.

Bicoloured Antpitta
It was now all over as far as the antpittas were concerned so we carried on birding along the ridge looking down on the town of Manizales spread out in the distance.


Glenn  went off and lured out an Andean Pygmy Owl with a tape while we continued birding the trail along the ridge finding amongst others a quite superb Crimson mantled Woodpecker and a Masked Trogon. 

Crimson mantled Woodpecker
Masked Trogon
We returned to the Lodge for lunch and found that a group of British birders had arrived by taxi but they seemed a bit disorganised and the guide they had hired was not that good. It seems daft to come all the way to Colombia without making sure you have everything planned and the best guides you can get. We spent a little time watching the comings and goings of the hummingbirds and I managed to get a decent photo of a Great Thrush which is surprisingly hard to do. They are about the size of a Fieldfare and similarly wary but look like a giant female Blackbird,

Great  Thrush
In the afternoon we made another attempt at seeing the Chestnut Wood Quail. Standing in the sticky heat looking down a bank to a forest floor which was a mass of branches, twigs and other natural clutter I doubted we would be able to see anything but at least this time we got a response to our tape. Hernan saw the quail first and then so did we or at least parts of it, so obscured was it by the undergrowth. Cautiously it came nearer and almost in the open, although not quite, remaining well concealed for most of the time, but we had seen it. Afterwards we went back up onto the ridge trail for some more birding, trying to lure out the Andean Pygmy Owl but it was not co-operating.

I could not help but notice the prolific vegetation growing in gargantuan proportions down the slopes of the reserve. Huge ferns and other plants I could not name but with leaves the size of a man. Every inch of tree bark was covered with mosses, epiphytes, orchids and countless other plants all eking out an existence in this tropical paradise. 

Hernan pointed out a strange tree that had  purple flowers of two different shades intermingled and made a welcome splash of bright colour amongst all the greens and browns of the forest. Hernan said its name in Spanish means 'seven skins' as its constantly peeling bark shows seven different colours.

The main highlight in the afternoon was flushing a pair of Powerful Woodpeckers just after we had received a call from Juan that there were two back near the Lodge. This saved us a lot of effort walking back to the Lodge and we watched the two we had flushed hunting the mossy tree trunks, the male resplendent with his shaggy red crest and black and white plumage

Slowly we wandered back to the Lodge to find that a group of American birders had arrived and were busy photographing the hummingbirds on the feeders. I got talking to them and they whispered to me 'You know who that is don't you?' indicating our two breakfast companions of this morning. I feigned ignorance and they told me in hushed tones 'That's Glenn Bartley.

Tomorrow they would be visiting the antpittas along with the British birders we had met earlier but that would make quite a crowd,  many more than the six of us this morning and I wondered if the antpittas would be so co-operative. The restricted viewing areas would certainly make it quite a squeeze.

At dusk we went owling with this group near to the  Lodge and found a White throated  Screech Owl.   Frankly I was not too happy about what went on, with the owl being constantly spotlighted and obviously disturbed by all the attention. Thankfully it flew off and no other owls could be lured in so it was back to the Lodge for a simple dinner and then a short drive back to Manizales and the Hotel Carretero. Here we said our goodbyes to our guide Hernan who had some private business to sort out but we would see him again later in the trip. Tomorrow entailed the inevitable early start and a three hour drive with Juan to the Magdalena Valley.

Birds seen on Day Twelve

(h) heard only

Sickle winged Guan; Chestnut Wood Quail; Black Vulture; Turkey Vulture; Black hawk Eagle; Roadside Hawk; White rumped Hawk; White throated Screech Owl; Andean Pygmy Owl(h); Rufous bellied Nighthawk; Common Pauraque; White collared Swift; Green fronted Lancebill; Green  Violetear; Amethyst throated Sunangel; Spangled Coquette; Bronzy Inca; Collared Inca; Buff tailed Coronet; Tody Motmot; Black billed Mountain Toucan; Bar bellied Woodpecker; Powerful Woodpecker; Golden plumed Parakeet; Streak headed Antbird (h); Chestnut crowned Antpitta; Bicoloured Antpitta; Brown banded Antpitta; Slate-crowned Antpitta; Montane Woodcreeper; Streaked Tufted Cheek; Silvery throated Spinetail (h); Mountain Elainea ; Rufous breasted Flycatcher; Sooty headed Tyrannulet; Golden faced Tyrannulet; Rufous headed Pygmy Tyrant; Green and Black Fruiteater; Black billed Peppershrike (h); Blue and White Swallow; Rufous Wren; Gray breasted Wood Wren; Great Thrush; Blackburnian Warbler; Russet crowned Warbler; Golden fronted Whitestart; Black capped Hemispingus; Lacrimose Mountain Tanager; Blue winged Mountain Tanager; Buff breasted Mountain Tanager; Blue and Black Tanager; Beryl spangled Tanager; White sided Flowerpiercer; Masked Flowerpiercer; Masked Saltator; Rufous collared Sparrow;

to be continued