Saturday 26 March 2016

A Tarantula in my Suitcase Part 9 January 2016

Pavonine Cuckoo

Day 21

The Pavonine Cuckoo, as if mocking us, was calling below the garden again this morning as we had our breakfast. We tried to see it and played the tape of its call but it quickly fell silent and never showed itself. Pavonine means 'of or resembling a peacock' which presumably refers to the fact that this particular cuckoo has a long, broad, fan like tail. We did however, manage to find a Moustached Puffbird by the entrance gate to the Lodge which was new for me although the others had seen one yesterday after I had returned to the Lodge and a pair of Sooty headed Wrens were also nearby.

Before our departure for Medellin Pablo suggested a short walk back up the forest trail as we might see some good birds but apart from a Green Hermit it was dead. I could see where it was going and left them to it and returned to the Lodge garden but that was also devoid of birds apart from the Andean Emeralds buzzing around the feeders. The others returned, reporting they too had seen very little so we loaded the bags onto Norelli's 4x4 and at 0830 precisely set off back down the dusty road.

We were going to make a couple of stops along the road and the first came quite quickly when we stopped by some bushes and played the tape of Black headed Brush Finch and had an instant result as a pair gave us some typically fleeting but adequate views as they flitted through the dense undergrowth. Back into the 4x4 and we headed down the road past all the homes we had seen two nights before. Norelli was shouting hola's and various comments in Spanish from the vehicle to virtually everyone we passed and they duly acknowledged him with a wave or comment. It also became obvious it was washing day as we regularly passed lines of clothes strung between poles right by the road. It seemed a pretty wasted exercise to me as every vehicle that passed on the dry road sent up a huge cloud of dust that enveloped the washing. Some of the more savvy homeowners were spraying the road with water from hoses to lay the dust and preserve their washed clothes from the ensuing dust clouds as vehicles hurtled past their homes.

We made another stop and the highlights here were a Cerulean Warbler and a small group of endemic Sooty Ant Tanagers but you had to be quick with the tanagers as they allowed just a brief view, perched openly, before diving across the road and back into thick cover. We drove the rest of the unsurfaced road without stopping but planned to try and see two very elusive birds once we were on the main highway. The words 'main highway' would suggest a busy road but far from it, as only a few vehicles came along it in either direction and it was relatively safe to walk along the road, even in the middle if you chose to so do. It was now getting hot again as we were gradually descending into the Magdalena Valley, with huge trees lining the road on each side. We stopped under one such tree and played the tape of a Tody Motmot, one of our target species but all we saw was a tiny Tamarind Monkey running along a branch high up in the tree. Our other target was Yellow browed Shrike Vireo but although we played the tape here as well, there was no response so we drove further up the road and on leaving the vehicle we heard one almost instantly, calling from still further up the road. Paul found it, perched way up in yet another huge tree and on playing the tape we managed to get it to come closer and lower so we all got reasonably good views of it before it flew back up into the taller trees.

Now for the hardest and unlikeliest bird to try and see, a Tody Motmot. They are much smaller than the other motmots and like them spend their entire time skulking in the darker depths of the understorey. The word Tody comes from the French word 'todier' which means 'a kind of small bird' so now you know! We tried several places and in one we got a response from deep in the undergrowth well back from the road. There was nothing for it but to 'go in' and we crept up a narrow dried gulley running between the vegetation that was obviously a stream in wetter times. Silently we waited as Pablo played the tape. We crouched, not daring to move, for almost thirty minutes but not a movement or sound came from the Tody Motmot. 

We gave up and drove on to make one more stop but now we were really on the last knockings, for if we did not leave in fifteen minutes we would have a good chance of missing our plane as we still had two hours driving to go which included getting across Medellin.

Paul and Chris wandered up the road whilst I went with Pablo down the road. Pablo played the Tody Motmot tape but there was no response. He played it again and a dull coloured bird flashed across the road behind Pablo's back. I saw it but he did not. I alerted him to the fact and he was convinced it was the Tody Motmot. We called Paul and Chris and Pablo played the tape once more but there was no response. We looked into the depths of the undergrowth on the steep banking by the road but could see nothing. Pablo said we really needed to go now but moved for one last look a few metres down the road and then gestured to us excitedly. He had found the Tody Motmot but it was the devil's own job to see it through all the foliage that was in the way. By standing in the middle of the road, lining up on various twigs, branches and leaves I finally managed to get it in my bins, perched with its back to us and holding an insect in its bill. Small and dumpy with a large black bill it looked more like a kingfisher. It was quite some way into the undergrowth and from the road but you could clearly see its blue green upperparts and reddish brown crown. What a fabulous find and we had managed it with literally seconds to spare. I, possibly we, were overjoyed at this success and now with us back in the vehicle Norelli put his foot down and we descended into the hellish heat of the Magdalena Valley. We passed the soapsud river again and then were brought to an abrupt halt in a traffic jam. No one was going anywhere in either direction although it was only roadworks causing the delay but no one seemed to have  sorted out a working contraflow system despite the fact that men were standing with signs that were obviously meant to be used to direct traffic. They appeared to have given up and just stood looking indolently at the lines of static cars and trucks. The traffic on our side of the road suddenly started moving and we were through but having sat immobile for around thirty minutes we were now in trouble and very much behind schedule or so I thought. I had not counted on Norelli and his propensity for high speed driving and rule bending, if there are any rules of the road in Colombia. We embarked on an alternating hair raising to exhilarating car drive of epic proportions, dodging and weaving through lines of traffic and motorcycles, overtaking on bends and forcing our way into queues at the toll booths to a fusillade of car horns and gesticulating arms from drivers frustrated at our queue jumping. Norelli was loving it and bizarrely started whistling Jingle Bells much to my amusement. I joined in and we laughed and joked our way across Medellin until Norelli dropped us off at the domestic terminal for our short flight to Giron.

So it was farewell to loveable rogue Norelli and we entered the comparative calm of the small airport terminal. Our bags were soon checked in and then Pablo said 'Let's eat' and having passed through the minimal security we settled for a burger and chips each. I assumed it would be a bit like McDonalds i.e fast food but not a bit of it, the chips had to be fried and the burgers prepared. As we were now very much up against the time for our  gate to be closing it was looking like we would have to eat on the run but thankfully we just about finished the food before we had to get to the gate.

The plane needless to say was small as it was such a short flight and luggage space restricted. The stewardess stood by the steps and surveyed each passenger's carry on baggage while the captain did his Mister Cool bit, posing by the stairs in a pair of enormous shades. Paul was allowed to carry on his bag with all his camera gear but mine for some reason was intercepted by the formidable stewardess. Although the conversation was in Spanish it was obvious she was saying 'you are not carrying that onto the plane'. Pablo explained to me that it would be given a special place in the hold and frankly it was pointless arguing. One look at the formidable build of the stewardess decided matters once and for all.

We took off, climbing high and at a steep angle to clear the surrounding mountains and some forty minutes later descended onto the hot tarmac at Giron airport.

I noticed a line of passengers already standing on the tarmac waiting to board our plane and the pilot already back in position by the steps in full heroic pose complete with shades. Do me a favour!

My camera bag was already on the tarmac by the time I got off the plane and collecting our cases we drove in two taxis to our hotel in Giron, which was located  down a cobbled street and facing directly onto the inevitable huge town square dominated by the equally inevitable huge Catholic Church. Giron was very much a holiday town and the square was heaving with people promenading, sitting and eating ice creams or examining various stalls flogging the usual seaside tat.

Our hotel was old fashioned, slightly down at heel and built to minimise the heat and humidity with uncovered polished floors and water dispensers on each floor. After going through the tedious rigmarole of having our passports photocopied as required by the Government, we were given the keys for our rooms

It was incredibly hot but even worse was the humidity. I was leaking sweat through every pore in my body but my room did have air conditioning and once I had turned it up to full the room changed from oven hot to a pleasant cool and soon my body returned to what passes for normal these days.

We ate in the hotel on the ground floor, looking out into the sultry night and onto the brightly lit square now busy with nightlife. 

It was Friday and Giron was in full party mode. I wished I could join them for just one night and not have to worry about rising ridiculously early the next morning. Tomorrow our favourite driver, the excellent Juan would be collecting us and would be with us for the rest of the trip. I think we were all very happy at this prospect as he was definitely our favourite.  A huge ice cream rounded off my night and I retired to my air conditioned room to prepare for our pre-dawn start

Tomorrow we were going after a very hard bird to see, a Recurve billed Bushbird. Many visiting birders and groups miss out on this bird as it is incredibly elusive. We could but hope.

Birds seen on Day Twenty One

(h) heard only

Colombian Chachalaca; Wattled Guan (h); Neotropic Cormorant; Great Egret; Snowy Egret; Cattle Egret; Bare faced Ibis; Black Vulture; Turkey Vulture; Russett crowned Crake (h); Band tailed Pigeon; Ruddy Ground Dove; Eared Dove; Squirrel Cuckoo; Pavonine Cuckoo (h); Green Hermit; Greenish Puffleg; Green crowned Brilliant; Andean Emerald; Tody Motmot; Moustached Puffbird; Olivaceous Piculet (h); Bat Falcon; Parker's Antbird (h); Streak headed Woodcreeper; Marble faced Bristle Tyrant; Black Phoebe; Rusty margined Flycatcher; Golden crowned Flycatcher; Tropical Kingbird; White bearded Manakin (h); Yellow browed Shrike Vireo (h); Black chested Jay; Southern Rough winged Swallow; House Wren (h); Sooty headed Wren; Bay Wren; Gray breasted Wren (h); Long billed Gnatwren (h); Swainson's Thrush; Black billed Thrush; Tennessee Warbler; Cerulean Warbler; Blackburnian Warbler; Buff rumped Warbler; Three Striped Warbler; Tawny crested Tanager; Crimson backed Tanager; Blue gray Tanager; Palm Tanager; Blue necked Tanager; Swallow Tanager; Dusky faced Tanager; Buff throated Saltator; Black headed Brush Finch; Summer Tanager; Sooty Ant Tanager; Russet backed Orependola; Orange bellied Euphonia

Mammal seen

Tamarind Monkey sp

Day 22

I staggered downstairs at 5am trying to recall if anything had been left behind in my room. We were leaving the hotel and Juan was already here to meet us and load our cases and bags onto the 4x4. A quick tea and/or coffee and we were on our way in the dark, weaving through the narrow streets of Giron and out onto the main highway. We were on our way to find a Recurve billed Bushbird - hopefully.

The Recurve billed Bushbird was almost unknown until 2007 and remains a very rare bird in Colombia. It had only been seen once in life before, in 1965 at an ant swarm, but as the primary forest is being removed to make way for short term cash crops this in turn creates its favourite habitat - regenerating secondary forest, so perversely the destruction of the primary forest is creating possible new habitat for the very rare bushbird which can only serve to improve its numbers.  

Pablo, our guide, has requested that I do not divulge any details of the location to keep the birds secure from museum specimen collectors which apparently are a real problem in Colombia, even now. One collector called Gary Stiles thought it unremiss to collect no less than five specimens for a musuem despite there being more than adequate specimens available in various museums. So I intend to remain deliberately vague about the location we went to.

Suffice to say we found ourselves standing in the early morning on a narrow track running up a steep hillside slope and unbelievably, already hearing the plaintive whistling notes, of two Recurve billed Bushbirds calling to each other. We had been immediately successful in the first part of our quest which was to find a bushbird. Now came the not inconsiderable challenge of seeing them. Our room for manouevre on the track was minimal due to the restricted location but we played the tape and the calls from the birds seemed to come nearer but we could see nothing of them in the tangle of stems, branches and twigs. They were however very close to us. Pablo walked up to a sharp  bend in the track and then in a stage whisper called to us 'Quick! Come! Come!' He could obviously see a bushbird and we joined him as fast as possible. 'Look! Look! It's just sitting there right in the open. Look!' He whispered excitedly.

Recurve billed Bushbird -female
I looked but was looking too far into the undergrowth. The bushbird was actually sitting on a small branch completely in the open and much closer than any of us could possibly have imagined. It was a female. A rich chestnut brown all over with an amazing shaped, substantial black bill that was a bit like those specialised blades you can fit on a Stanley Knife, the bill being laterally quite broad with a straight culmen and a steep curve to the lower mandible. A recurved bill if ever I saw one! The bill is adapted to allow the bird to slice under bark and into stems to seek out hidden invertebrates and indeed later we watched this female bird adeptly performing this task as it fed, almost at ground level, slicing into the surrounding twigs and thin branches.

The female bushbird remained stationary on its branch for at least ten minutes, calling quietly and regularly to another, presumably male, nearby, before dropping down to commence its unique way of feeding. The male was indeed nearby and I got a glimpse of him in his black plumage but he was always much more obscured by vegetation. Paul and Chris moved back down the narrow path and got better views of the male and I was presented with the dilemna of leaving the female which was showing itself really well or joining the others with the chance of better views of the male. I went with remaining with the female as there would be little room for me on that part of the track occupied by Paul and Chris and indeed I saw the male again briefly when he joined the  female, though not as well as the others, but I was more than happy with the female. We had done it, we really had and so early in the day thus saving ourselves a long search for this most skulking of birds that seemingly never ventures more than a few feet from the ground.

I also had the not inconsiderable bonus of seeing a male Dusky Antbird, which came very close as it passed behind me, moving up the hillside as I was watching the female Recurve billed Bushbird. 

The pair of bushbirds eventually moved off up the hillside too and we went back to join Juan. We were now going to drive up into the mountains in search of Mountain Grackles but Pablo warned us we had only a minimal chance of finding any. It was Saturday and many Colombian's, mainly men, were out on their racing bikes in full lycra as we ascended up the tortuous winding road into the mountains. Cyclists, alone, in pairs or groups  were coming down or going up the road, some really pushing it, others more relaxed and stopping for a coffee, a chat and a rest before continuing. Colombia has a great tradition of biking and every year enter a team sponsored by Movistar, the Colombian national phone company, into all the big professional races in Europe such as the Tour de France. Colombian bike riders are noted for their aptitude for climbing mountains and here, frightening inclines and winding ascents that went on forever and all at altitude was the evidence as to why the country produces such great hill climbers.

We kept going up and up until almost at the summit, where we stopped in a layby at 2900m looking over a wide expanse of forest and played the Mountain Grackle tape but there was no response. We were hardly surprised as it was a very long shot if we found any.  Brown bellied Swallows were nesting in holes in the concrete wall by the road.

View from our stop near to the summit @2900m
The road to the summit and the wall where Brown bellied Swallows were nesting
We turned off the tarmac road and onto  an unsurfaced road, birding as we walked down it with Juan following at a discrete distance in the 4x4. There were plenty of birds to keep us occupied along here the best for me being a hummingbird - a Blue throated Starfrontlet. Tiny and initially appearing dark and featureless, as it moved the light suddenly lit it up in iridescent purple and satin green. A really beautiful combination of colours.

Blue throated Starfrontlet

We wandered on down the road encountering various other birds such as Striped Treehunter and Capped Conebill until the forest ran out and then we drove back to town and stopped at a garage to fill up the 4x4. Unlike our garages in the UK the forecourts here are well attended and we were served by a disabled gentleman in a wheel chair whilst another attendant brought us free coffee on a tray which is by no means unusual in Colombia.

We cleared the busy town and drove uphill to an unsurfaced road on Pablo's insistence and had a brief spell of finding some good birds here. First, an unexpected Bay breasted Warbler flew into a tree near us and then looking down  into the undergrowth below us we found a Jet Antbird and the rare Slate colored Seedeater. We were really targetting the Double banded Graytail but there was no sign of one. A couple of Rusty margined Flycatchers made themselves very obvious in a large tree.

Jet Antbird
Bay breasted Warbler
Rusty margined Flycatcher
We called it quits and drove back downhill and took another dusty road, roughly where we had been looking down onto from our previous position.

This road, running downhill was full of birds but sadly this did not include a Double banded Graytail. However there were plenty of other birds to see. Instead of the usually abundant White collared Swifts we found both Short tailed Swift and White tipped Swift flying above us. Orange chinned Parakeets, various tanagers and many Tennessee Warblers were feeding in a flowering tree. A Black headed Tody Flycatcher, a Ruddy tailed Flycatcher, Long tailed Tyrant and a Dusky capped Flycatcher were found in quick succession as was a confiding Brown capped Tyrannulet. Walking further down the road another pair of Jet Antbirds skulked in the undergrowth below us, whilst two Buff rumped Warblers flitted along a stream edge. typically flirting and swinging their tails from side to side, and a Rufous browed Peppershrike showed itself briefly, high in a tree. Further down a Red crowned Woodpecker fed on an incredibly phallic looking flower and was quickly followed by a Spot breasted Woodpecker which landed on a nearby branch. We reached the bottom of the road and almost unnoticed the light was now turning to that benign golden glow of late afternoon heralding the approach of dusk.

Orange chinned Parakeet

Brown capped Tyrannulet
Red crowned Woodpecker
Spot breasted Woodpecker
It was time to go as we still had a long drive to our next destination, The Cerulean Warbler Reserve, another ProAves gem. Juan took us up the almost inevitable unsurfaced road and as before we passed in the night through small townships with Salsa music blaring out from the customary brightly lit Saturday night bars. Eventually we left habitation behind and the car lights followed the endless winding road as it passed through large Cacao and Coffee plantations. We got a little lost and at one point had to double back but finally we got the right turning and driving up the incline came to the welcome lights of the ProAves Lodge and our home for the next two nights. Dinner was waiting for us and as soon as it was finished we rapidly did the checklist and then headed for bed as it was late. Tomorrow was an even earlier start than normal, at 4.30am, as we had an hour's yomp uphill to be in position at dawn behind a blind to see both Gorgeted Wood Quail and Lined Quail Dove amongst others.

The rooms, of which we had one each, were as usual excellent, spacious and clean and complete with hot shower. I sank onto the bed and was in dreamland in seconds.

Birds seen on Day Twenty Two

(h) heard only

Colombian Chachalaca; Snowy Egret; Cattle Egret; Bare faced Ibis; Black Vulture; Turkey Vulture; Roadside Hawk; Russet crowned Crake (h); Band tailed Pigeon; Ruddy Ground Dove; Smooth billed Ani; Common Pauraque; Short tailed Swift; White tipped Swift; White necked Jacobin; Green fronted Lancebill; Black throated Mango; Tyrian Metaltail; Black Inca; Blue throated Starfrontlet; Andean Emerald; Olivaceous Piculet; Red crowned Woodpecker; Red rumped Woodpecker; Spot breasted Woodpecker; Orange chinned Parakeet; Blue headed Parrot; Spectacled Parrotlet (h); Bar crested Antshrike; Recurve billed Bushbird;  Plain Antvireo; Dusky Antbird; Jet Antbird; Chestnut crowned Antpitta (h); Ash colored Tapaculo (h); Striped Treehunter; Brown capped Tyrannulet; Southern Beardless Tyrannulet; White throated Tyrannulet; Mountain Elaenia; Sooty headed Tyrannulet; Rufous crowned Tody Flycatcher (h); Slate headed Tody Flycatcher(h); Black headed Tody Flycatcher; Ruddy tailed Flycatcher; Cinnamon Flycatcher; Tropical Pewee; Black Phoebe; Vermilion Flycatcher; Long tailed Tyrant; Dusky capped Flycatcher; Great Crested Flycatcher; Great Kiskadee; Boat billed Flycatcher (h); Rusty margined Flycatcher; Tropical Kingbird; White bibbed Manakin; Wing barred Piprites (h); Rufous browed Peppershrike; Green Jay (h); Blue and White Swallow; Brown bellied Swallow; Southern Rough winged Swallow; Gray breasted Martin; Scaly breasted Wren (h); House Wren (h); Bicolored Wren; Black bellied Wren; Whiskered Wren (h); Long billed Gnatwren; Black billed Thrush; Great Thrush; Tennessee Warbler; Bay breasted Warbler; Blackburnian Warbler; Buff rumped Warbler; Russett crowned Warbler; Rufous capped Warbler; Golden fronted Whitestart; Superciliared Hemispingus; Gray headed Tanager; Crimson backed Tanager; Scarlet bellied Mountain Tanager; Blue gray Tanager; Palm Tanager; Blue capped Tanager; Blue necked Tanager; Beryl spangled Tanager; Plain coloured Tanager; Black faced Dacnis; Blue Dacnis; Capped Conebill; Bluish Flowerpiercer; Slaty Finch; Saffron Finch; Blue black Grassquit; Slate colored Seedeater; Bananaquit; Buff throated Saltator; Slate colored Grosbeak; Chestnut capped Brush Finch; Slaty Brush Finch; Rufous collared Sparrow; Summer Tanager; Shiny Cowbird; Mountain Cacique; Thick billed Euphonia; Orange bellied Euphonia

Day 23

Uughh! I awoke with a start as my phone alarm went off. It seemed I had only just gone to bed but no, it was 4.30am and I had to rise and prepare for an hour of walking up a pretty severe ascent of over 1000m to get to the Cloud Forest reserve. I drank two cups of strong black coffee and thus fortified joined the others in Juan's 4x4 and we were driven a short way to  another farmhouse where Juan dropped us and we continued on foot, following a rough track upwards through pasture land. It was still dark so torches were needed but soon the dull grey light of dawn permeated the blackness. Paul and Chris headed off at speed whilst Pablo and myself walked at an easier pace. As the light got stronger I could see where we were headed. The forest seemed an awfully long way away and considerably higher than our current position but there was nothing for it but to put one's head down and walk, walk, walk ever upwards. I deliberately did not look up but when I did venture a glance the forest looked no closer, but as with all things the lung bursting uphill struggle finally came to an end and we turned through a barbed wire barrier onto a small track, almost un-noticeable, that led into the forest.

What a difference as the sweet pungent smell of damp rotting leaves permeated the air and we were enveloped in the leafy gloom of the forest. The narrow, leaf slippery track quickly led to a blind behind which we stood and looked through slats down a short ride to an open area at the bottom with feeders. The light at this moment was truly awful but would quickly get better as the dawn progressed. I looked at the feeders and saw about half a dozen shapes, all rotund and about the size of a partridge. Pablo told me that they consisted of a Gorgeted Wood Quail and Lined Quail Doves but to be honest I cannot say for certainty what I saw, as the Gorgeted Wood Quail was there for only a fraction of time before being driven off by the more assertive Lined Quail Doves. I must have seen it but it was hardly satisfactory.

We stood and watched the activity around the feeder which now consisted of just three or four Lined Quail Doves with one in particular dominating the others and persistently driving them off from the feeder. It even drove off a Grey cheeked Thrush that had the temerity to encroach. We watched for half an hour at least as it stuffed itself silly from the feeder and I swear, as I watched, that it seemed to grow fatter and plumper the more it ate, until finally it could eat no more and staggered off into the undergrowth and was replaced by another which promptly proceeded to do exactly the same as its predecessor. It was obvious that there was little chance of the Gorgeted Wood Quail returning so we turned our attention to the hummingbird feeders behind us and had the pleasure of seeing a Black Inca coming to feed. Pablo spread out our breakfast of boiled eggs and croissants on the bench and we alternately ate and admired the quail doves or tried some very tricky photography in the gloomy light conditions. A bonus for me was  the appearance of  another Colombian endemic, a White mantled Barbet, high in the tree canopy above us.

Lined Quail Dove
We spent about ninety minutes here and then Pablo suggested we go further up into the forest and follow a trail for a couple of kilometres to look for other birds and hopefully tape lure some Gorgeted Wood Quail. On the way I collected a couple of leaves from the Cloud Forest as my daughter had sent me a text requesting I bring some back to her. I just hoped they would survive the rest of the trip (they did).

We quickly heard some quail calling from some distance away from the trail, in the forest, but despite spending some time trying to lure them in we failed. Carrying on we proceeded over a trail of wet and slippery rocks and muddy ground, slowly ascending through the forest. To be honest it was not spectacular birding and the only highlights were another Lined Quail Dove landing in a tree close to us and then departing rapidly in a panic when it saw us, taping out a Whiskered Wren in a tangle of vines and leaves and managing to see a Magdalena Tapaculo. Well Pablo and myself saw it after it responded to a tape but Paul and Chris failed to see it through a combination of misunderstood directions and position. Despite trying to tape it once more it was having none of it and we heard it calling far away after its initial close encounter with us. It is always unsatisfactory when not everyone sees the bird but Pablo said he knew of another territory further up the trail where Paul and Chris could try but I had now had enough and fancied going back to the blind to see if any wood quail might have turned up.

I left the others with Pablo's warning to watch out for the slippery rocks on the trail back down and set off. Well, despite Pablo's warnings I managed to slip on a rock and putting out my hand to stop my fall gashed my finger badly and damaged a knuckle. Blood was pouring from the cut so I bound it with some tissues and carried on but the blood was soon seeping through the tissue. There was now no choice but to forget the quail and head downhill as fast as possible to the Lodge where I had a Travellers First Aid Kit in my suitcase.

I headed downhill with my finger throbbing and leaking blood. It was a long way, longer than I had realised on the way up but I got to the Lodge and ran my finger under the cold water tap to clear the congealed blood and survey the damage. It did not look good but the only thing to do was clean and disinfect the wound and then bind it with as many plasters as it took to stop the bleeding and stop blood leaking through the plasters. This achieved I was back into birding mode but it was now lunchtime and so I was served some soup and an enormous fish for lunch and then birded the garden as I awaited the return of the others. They duly returned with the unfortunate news that they had dipped on the tapaculo.

Our rooms to the left and The ProAves Educational bus

In the afternoon we spent some more time in the garden and Paul found a superb male Turquoise Dacnis, an absolute gem of a bird with its iridescent, electric blue plumage. Then another short trip in the 4x4 took us in search of another endemic, Niceforo's Wren but we failed in both places we tried. Then it began to gently rain and a later visit to another set of hummingbird feeders, still in the rain, also failed to find the desired Chestnut bellied Hummingbird. My finger hurt like hell and blood was still oozing through the plasters. I slapped on another plaster back at the Lodge and that at least stemmed the leaking blood. Not the greatest of days.

At dinner Paul and Chris decided they wanted to go up to the forest again  to try and get better views of the Gorgeted Wood Quail but they needed to be there before dawn. This would require an even earlier start plus the hard climb to get there. I demurred, my finger hurt, I was too tired and had reached that point where I knew I had to take a break. With Paul, Chris and Pablo gone for the morning I could have a lie in, a leisurely breakfast and bird around the Lodge at a gentle pace and in my own time. It was too attractive a prospect to pass up.

Birds seen on Day Twenty Three

(h) heard only

Highland Tinamou (h); Gorgeted Wood Quail; Black Vulture; Black Hawk Eagle; Plumbeous Pigeon (h); Ruddy Ground Dove; Lined Quail Dove; White necked Jacobin; Green Hermit; Brown Violetear; Black throated Mango; Speckled Hummingbird; Black Inca; Buff tailed Coronet; Booted Racket Tail; Fawn breasted Brilliant; Green crowned Brilliant; Crowned Woodnymph; Andean Emerald; Indigo capped Hummingbird; White mantled Barbet; Uniform Antshrike; White bellied Antpitta (h); Magdalena Tapaculo; Straight billed Woodcreeper; Streak headed Woodcreeper; Montane Foliage Gleaner; Streak necked Flycatcher; Marble faced Bristle Tyrant; Sooty headed Tyrannulet; Golden faced Tyrannulet; Ornate Flycatcher (h); Scale crested Pygmy Tyrant (h); Slate headed Tody Flycatcher; Yellow throated Spadebill (h); Vermilion Flycatcher; Long tailed Tyrant; Great Kiskadee; Boat billed Flycatcher; Rusty margined Flycatcher; Tropical Kingbird; Black crowned Tityra; Rufous naped Greenlet; Green Jay (h); Bicolored Wren; Whiskered Wren; Niceforo's Wren (h); Grey cheeked Thrush; Swainson's Thrush; Pale eyed Thrush; Black billed Thrush; Rufous capped Warbler; Slate throated Whitestart; Crimson backed Tanager; Blue Gray Tanager; Scrub Tanager; Saffron crowned Tanager; Turquoise Dacnis; Black faced Dacnis; Lemon rumped Tanager; Saffron Finch; Bananaquit; Grayish Saltator; Chestnut capped Brush Finch; Rufous collared Sparrow; Eastern Meadowlark; Moustached Brushfinch; Thick billed Euphonia

Day 24

It rained through the night which might explain why I slept so well in the cooler conditions. Despite promising myself a lie in I was up at six thirty but come to think of it that did constitute a lie in of sorts. I took a hot shower and my finger appeared to have settled down overnight and was no longer oozing blood.  I walked over for some breakfast and afterwards wandered around the garden finding various 'commoner birds' to keep me occupied.  A couple of Swainson's Thrushes were disputing who was feeding on the berries of the shrubs by the Lodge entrance.

Swainson's Thrush
A Northern Waterthrush ticked away in the bushes by the back  door to my room  and both  Brown Violetears and Green crowned Brilliants zipped around the feeders, the latter being particularly aggressive to other 'hummers'. 

Green crowned Brilliant

Brown Violetear
A brilliant flash of yellow heralded the arrival of a pair of Saffron Finches on the lawn and a Buff throated Saltator and Bananaquit perched on the branches attracted to the bananas especially put out to entice both them and others into the garden.

Saffron Finch
Greyish Saltator

Ruddy Ground Doves were perhaps the commonest bird present but they are still pretty and worth a look in spite of their abundance. 

Ruddy Ground Dove
A fight broke out between two Lemon rumped Tanagers resulting in them both lying in the grass and, having locked feet, they seemed unable to work out what to do next so just lay there occasionally flapping. 

This in turn attracted other birds including a pair of Bicolored Wrens, a Blue and Gray Tanager and a pair of Crimson backed Tanagers. Eventually the two feuding tanagers parted and life returned to normal. 

Bicolored Wrens
Blue Gray Tanager
Crimson backed Tanager - male
Crimson backed Tanager -female
At that moment three Black crowned Tityras flew over and so a pleasant hour and a half passed before the others returned having successfully seen the Gorgeted Wood Quail although by all accounts it did not hang around for long.

We still had unfinished business with the endemic Niceforo's Wren and Pablo led us up beyond the Lodge garden to an area of rampant undergrowth for one last try. We had spent the best part of yesterday afternoon trying to see one, playing a tape of its beautiful song but resulting in complete failure with absolutely no response from the wren. Pablo played the tape as we had done yesterday and we had an immediate response and there was the wren climbing up through the tangle of vines and leaves and even singing. I could see quite clearly both its barred undertail coverts and barred tail, a pale bill and long white supercilium. It is described in Birds of Colombia as 'a critically threatened bird of small populations in unprotected forest patches' so at least here with a territory right by the Lodge this pair should be secure.

It was now 9am and time to leave. Pablo gave each of us, as a gift, a very nice Multicolorbirding tee shirt with various designs of Colombian birds on them. I chose the one with a Multicolor Tanager on it and donned it immediately. Naturally! Juan loaded and secured our bags on the 4x4 roof and we set off once more with the un-enticing prospect of a ten hour drive on mainly unsurfaced roads. We were headed for another ProAves Reserve, El Paujil which is located 1km southeast of a small town called Puerto Pinzon (but more of this later). However we stopped just a short way from the Lodge in an area of Cacao and Coffee plantations to see if we could tape lure a Beautiful Woodpecker. We were successful reasonably quickly which was a blessing, when it landed in one of the immensely tall trees standing like sentinels in the plantation. 

Not only that but a couple of Collared Aracari's were also up there in the tops of the tallest trees. They had such fantastical 'over the top' profiles silhouetted against the sky on their lofty perch. Jam and custard underparts and a bright red rump added to their exotic appearance. Such mean looking birds with white staring eyes and formidable bills the patterning of which makes it look like they have jagged saw teeth.

Collared Aracari

We decided to take the back roads as we wanted to bird on the way. This we did but in the process got hopelessly lost and despite stopping regularly to ask bemused locals what road we should follow, as no roads have any signs whatsoever, it got no better. In fact it got worse as the locals seemed to have no clue as to where to direct us either and I am sure on a couple of occasions they sent us in completely the wrong direction. The Satnav seemed to have given up also. The roads were horrendously rutted and uneven and it was like riding a permanent roller coaster as we lurched and bucketed along. It was, frankly a relief when we got out to bird a particularly attractive looking area but always we had in mind that we really needed to get on the right road as we had an awfully long way to go.

The most memorable stop was at a tree with two woodpeckers in it and not just any woodpecker but two Beautiful Woodpeckers, which responded to our tape and with the happy result that the male remained long enough on a bough to enable me to get a photo of it.What a fantastically marked and colourful woodpecker it is and it was great to get so much better views of it than the one we had seen earlier that morning.

Beautiful Woodpecker

More twisting and winding on dusty dirt roads ensued and finally Juan announced we were on the right road. The landscape was now changing to pasture and cultivation and the forest was just a memory. Still on a dirt road we were overtaken by another 4x4 and instantly enveloped in a cloud of dust so thick that everything, landscape and road was totally invisible and we had to stop briefly to let it clear and then recommence our journey. At last we came to a T junction where our dirt road joined a tarmac surface. Hooray, and now the going got much smoother. We joined a wide dual carriage way with much of it still under construction. Huge tanker trucks were the main feature here, bringing oil from nearby Venezuela and the land about us was littered with 'nodding donkeys' extracting oil from the flatlands on either side of us. Juan and Pablo told us the landowners around here were very rich due to the oil wells and huge cattle farms they owned. It was also now getting extremely hot, up to 40 degrees celsius at one point and the vehicle windows remained firmly shut as the air conditioning did its job and kept us cool. We made one stop by the road to view an expanse of wet grassland, you could hardly call it a marsh, to see some Northern Screamers which we found with little trouble as a pair were perched in a tree quite near to the road. A Lesser Yellow headed Vulture swept past and an Osprey flew off in the distance. Snowy and Great White Egrets were everywhere. 

Northern Screamer

Lesser Yellow headed Vulture
Back in the 4x4 we headed for Puerto Boyaga where we would say goodbye to Pablo and welcome back Hernan. This would also give me the opportunity to purchase some toothpaste of which I had run out and some more plasters for my finger. Our rendezvous in the busy town was perfectly timed and we parked by the inevitable huge square and met Hernan. I made a beeline with Pablo for a nearby pharmacy and after some confusion about the plasters, which were sold to me individually, emerged triumphant with both plasters and toothpaste. A final stop at a garage for fuel and where Chris had a coffee especially made for him free of charge and then we were off again. 

Downtown Puerto Boyaga
l-r Juan our driver, Hernan and Pablo our guides
Soon we turned off the blessed tarmac and hit the dirt road again. We were now passing through a very strange landscape indeed. It is hard to describe but it appeared almost like a series of fossilised sand dunes rising and falling in soft curves and mounds of some considerable height with scattered trees and stretches of water amongst the rolling contours. A lot of the land was also rough pasture as evidenced by the cattle feeding on it. We drove on into the falling dusk and quickly it became dark and we were driving along in our own tunnel of light with the rest of Colombia just an unseen presence in the dark on either side. We wound down the windows and the earthy smells of the night came to us on the inrushing air. It was a long drive and Hernan told us the tale of how the reserve came into existence and the colourful and violent history of Pinzon and the land about it. 

Some ten or more years ago Pinzon was lawless and run by right wing paramilitaries who controlled everything and every one for miles around. Pinzon was a centre for cocaine manufacture, drug smuggling and gambling and from what Hernan related sounded akin to some violent wild west frontier town that you see on old cowboy movies. In this area lived a bird called the Blue Curassow and ProAves wanted to establish a reserve to protect it as there was still, just, a viable population of this critically endangered bird in the area. The bird itself is as big as a Turkey and very good to eat so it was being hunted almost to extinction. Hernan had the delicate and dangerous task to go and see the paramilitary leaders and negotiate obtaining some untouched forest on which to establish a reserve to protect and foster the Blue Curassow. I should say at this point that historically paramilitaries throughout Colombia were, with the tacit backing of the army, responsible for the most appalling violence and horrific massacres so it required some courage to approach them.

According to Hernan the paramilitaries were enthusiastic about the project and granted, at a price, the land for the reserve and gave their full permission to establish a reserve. They even suggested that if anyone killed a Blue Curassow from thenceforth they would fine the culprit or probably worse. So the reserve came into existence in November 2003. But what of the paramilitaries in Pinzon? Well the Government finally cracked down on them and presented the ringleaders with an ultimatum. Go to prison for a token few years and they would be granted an amnesty and could keep all their ill gotten gains. All bar one agreed to this. The odd one out vowed he would never go to prison and they would never take him alive - honestly I am not making this up - and died in a shootout with the police, killing four policemen in the process. That was the end of any further paramilitary  presence in the area and Pinzon has since declined from a mecca of all things debauched and lawless and is now from what I could see an unremarkable run down settlement of wooden houses. 

So with that tale to contemplate we arrived at El Paujil Reserve. Incidentally the name El Paujil is the local name for the Blue Curassow and the bird was once an important symbol in ancient pre-Colombian indigenous culture and there are many gold figures from that time depicting it .

As we approached the Lodge a small lake to our right lit up by the headlights revealed a Cayman lounging on the bank but it slipped into and under the water as soon as we got out of the vehicle.

As with all the other ProAves reserves we were greeted warmly and Hernan in particular. I got the impression he was regarded as something of a hero in these parts but thoroughly deserved in my opinion. The reserve itself comprises 3000 acres of the last remaining humid lowland forest in the Magdalena Valley and is home to many other endangered creatures apart from the curassow, one of which, the Variegated Spider Monkey, is one of the rarest primates in the world.

Our meal was ready and waiting and we sat in the open on a raised eating area with a wattle roof above us, the warm humid night air and serenading frogs and insects in the surrounding dark forest providing a welcome change from the cramped confines and ceaseless lurching of the 4x4. I helped myself to copious quantities of chilled Papaya juice and opted for a vegetarian meal.

We each had our own air conditioned wooden room with Chris staying near the Lodge whilst Paul and myself had adjoining rooms up in the forest, necessitating a walk across a bridge and then up quite a lot of concrete steps but that was no real hardship.

The walkway to my room
I lay on the bed as the air conditioning cooled me and soon was sound asleep. Tomorrow was a big day for me as I really wanted to see a Blue Curassow and was excited to learn that a pair had been coming to feed on the lawn outside the Lodge each morning. Please let it happen tomorrow!

Birds seen on Day 24

(h) heard only

Northern Screamer; Rufescent Tiger Heron;Great Egret; Cattle Egret;Bare faced Ibis; Black Vulture; Turkey Vulture; Lesser Yellow headed Vulture; Osprey; Roadside Hawk; Northen Jacana; Plumbeous Pigeon; Ruddy Ground Dove; Striped Cuckoo (h); White necked Jacobin; Green Hermit; Brown Violetear; Black throated Mango; Speckled Hummingbird; Great Sapphirewing; Green crowned Brilliant; Red billed Emerald; Andean Emerald; Indigo capped Hummingbird; Crimson rumped Toucanet; Collared Aracari; Beautiful Woodpecker; Red crowned Woodpecker; Yellow headed Caracara; Laughing Falcon (h); Northern Crested Caracara; Orange chinned Parakeet (h); Streak headed Woodcreeper; Golden faced Tyrannulet; Southern Bentbill; Vermilion Flycatcher; Great Kiskadee; Rusty margined Flycatcher; Tropical Kingbird; Yellow throated Vireo; Southern Rough winged Swallow; House Wren; Bicolored Wren; Niceforo's Wren; Pale breasted Thrush; Tropical Mockingbird; Tennessee Warbler; Bay breasted Warbler; Canada Warbler; White shouldered Tanager; Crimson backed Tanager; Glaucous Tanager; Blue capped Tanager; Blue necked Tanager; Yellow Tufted Dacnis poss split from Black faced Dacnis; Blue Dacnis; Lemon rumped Tanager; Saffron Finch; Thick billed Seedfinch; Bananaquit; Buff throated Saltator; Mountain Grackle; Shiny Cowbird; Orange crowned Oriole; Baltimore Oriole; Thick billed Euphonia; Golden rumped Euphonia; Orange bellied Euphonia.

Day 25

Remarkably I was first down for breakfast although Paul, unknown to me was already out owling. I think he saw a Mottled Owl. I sat at the breakfast table in the dark with a coffee and watched some large bats flickering through the lights along the trail to our rooms whilst other smaller bats flew in to roost in the wattled roof above our eating area. Another pair of eyes lit up in my torch light and a Crab-eating Fox sauntered down the path and headed for a blue and white tub some 50 metres away down on the lawn by the surrounding undergrowth. The significance of the tub was not known to me at this time. The fox stuck its head in the tub and proceeded to eat some of whatever was in it and after a few minutes wandered off into the forest.

Breakfast was my favourite of scrambled eggs and strong black coffee. Hernan told us the best plan was for us to go birding near to the Lodge and Juan would stay behind and if and when the curassows turned up he would call Hernan on the 'walkie talkie' and we could hotfoot it back to the Lodge.

The dining and relaxation area
We set off with the heat rising alarmingly quickly.We checked the lake but there was no sign of the Cayman. A dozen or so Blue and Gold Macaws flew over high up and some Colombian Chachalacas rent the air with their strident calls, and at that moment Hernan's walkie talkie crackled. It could only be one thing and it was. Juan alerting us to the fact the curassows had turned up! The adrenalin surged and we were off, not exactly running, it was too hot for that, but certainly at a brisk pace back to the nearby Lodge. We stood on the raised eating area and there, standing around the blue and white tub, were a magnificent pair of Blue Curassows dipping their heads into the tub every so often to feed.

Pair of Blue Curassow. The female is very different with thin white bars across
her upperparts and chestnut instead of white underneath

They seemed relatively untroubled by our presence, especially the male whilst the female always kept partially hidden and seemed the more cautious of the two. They remained for about ten or fifteen minutes then the female gently wandered off into the undergrowth and back into the forest. The male was less inclined to leave and remained for longer until he too decided to depart but remained in the open and walked in a different direction to the female so that he passed in front of us. It was fantastic to see one of the rarest birds in the world so relatively close as, slightly nervously the male strutted past, then up a bank and tree trunk and into the forest.

It all seemed so quick but I can vividly recall his shiny black upperparts and brilliant white underparts, the long broad and slightly fanned tail with its prominent white tips, the sky blue cere and wattles from which it gets its name and his long pale flesh pink legs. Absolutely magnificent. It was going to be a great day and nothing would top this.

Blue Curassow - male
Now we set off to explore other parts of the reserve. Some Orange chinned Parrots were making quite a racket as they fed on berries as we passed by, heading to a mound that gave a panoramic view over the forest and where there were some hummingbird feeders which resulted in another new hummingbird for the list, a Long billed Starthroat.

Orange chinned Parakeet

Long billed Starthroat
Hernan then led us on a trail which eventually got us walking along a riverbed but because of the drought it was virtually dry. It was incredible to be so low down in the warm humid atmosphere of the river bed with huge plants and trees towering up and over us on the steep slopes on either side, obliterating the sky and creating the impression we were walking through an enormous green cavern. Highly atmospheric and good for birds. Hernan was in my opinion probably the best guide we had and here he was entirely at home in his native and natural element. Almost any bird that  we wanted to see and was possible in the reserve Hernan managed to find for us. Following the trail on this particular morning we found  Long billed and Streak throated Hermits and Bare crowned Antbirds amongst many others. The trail finally left the river bottom and we ascended steeply up to a ridge, stopping half way up to look at a Gray chested Dove, which unfortunately saw us at virtually the same time as we saw it and departed rapidly. A female Black throated Trogon flitted silently, almost furtively from one branch to another. 

Black throated Trogon-female
I felt a sudden burning pain on my ankle. Ants! Biting me! Fortunately, earlier I had the sense to tuck my trousers into my socks as a precaution against this very event but still managed to inadvertently stand across a line of ants which needed no further invitation to let me know about it. I moved away rapidly and all was well. 

In the forest it is never quiet as hordes of insects provide a none too musical accompaniment. Probably the most consistent noise is that of the cicadas that come in all sizes and advertise themselves  with a variety of sounds and at varying intensity. 

Suddenly the comparative peace of the forest was interrupted by a noise coming at a volume similar to that of a chainsaw. It was incredible how loud and pulsingly rhythmical it was in the confines of the forest. The culprit was clinging to the trunk of a tree and was a cicada but not just any cicada.This was the daddy of them all. The size of a two pence piece (big for a cicada) it clung to the bark, dark and squat almost alien looking and it was hard to believe that this insect could generate such a volume and intensity of sound, totally disproportionate to its size.

'Big Daddy' Cicada!
When we got to the ridge the dead leaves on the forest floor were so dry they crackled and crunched under our feet like giant cornflakes, and then we descended just as precipitously as we had ascended, down the other side of the ridge, spiralling downwards with ankle deep golden dry leaves again crunching under our feet, to follow the trail as it ran alongside a river. We did not have the trail to ourselves as Leaf Cutter Ants were also on the move, each ant carrying a tiny piece of bright green leaf no bigger than a piece of confetti but huge in comparison to the ant. It was almost balletic as an unending ant conveyor belt progressed in a remorseless wavering line with others returning the other way to collect their piece of leaf. I carefully stepped over them admiring their sense of purpose. Nothing was allowed to divert them or get in the way of their ceaseless desire to take back their piece of leaf to the nest.

Leaf Cutter Ants on the march
After quite a search we found a Black billed Flycatcher along the trail by the river, which with its confiding nature gave us really close views as it hunted insects low down below the canopy. 

Black billed Flycatcher
It was now blisteringly hot as we approached midday, sweat, heat and humidity combined to make me feel very uncomfortable as we made our way back to the Lodge for lunch and as we did a Cinnamon Woodpecker flew from tree to tree before us.

Cinnamon Woodpecker
A huge Basilisk Lizard was clinging to a tree when we got to the Lodge. Its crest had obviously seen better days but otherwise it looked fine and after admiring it I prepared to sit down to a very tasty vegetarian meal but before I could one of the reserve staff called us and alerted us to a pair of King Vultures that were soaring overhead with the more regular Black Vultures, and then a Swallow tailed Kite added to the excitement as it swooped over the tree tops. This Lodge, incidentally was the only one to think of offering a vegetarian option. 

Basilisk Lizard

Afterwards we had a short siesta before setting off on another trail. Before we did though we diverted a short way off the trail from the Lodge and visited where a pair of female Blue Curassow were kept in a large pen. These birds were rescued and raised by the reserve staff and now kept in the pen for their own safety and it was unlikely they would go back into the wild. It gave us an opportunity to study them at close quarters and see the difference in their plumage to that of the male. I confess to finding them more attractive with their finely barred upperparts and chestnut underparts. On occasions they are visited by wild curassows and at one time this was the best way to see a wild curassow here but that was before the pair started to come to the feeder by the Lodge.

Leaving the curassows we walked a short trail, again by the river and found a pair of Black Antshrikes which we taped out of the trees from across the river. Hernan told us the river was called Rio Hermitano and in the bad old days was used to ship the cocaine from Pinzon to the wider world.

Black Antshrike- Male
Then we waded the river as there was no bridge, a not unpleasant experience as the water was warm and shallow and the sandy bottom was gentle on my feet. We carried our socks and boots with us and put them back on once out of the river on the other side. It was still uncomfortably hot as we made our way up the trail just as a Little Tinamou scuttled off into the undergrowth. Hernan and myself saw it but Paul and Chris missed out so Hernan played a tape of its call and we managed to entice another two to show themselves very briefly and obscurely in the dense undergrowth. Otherwise it was dead and we gave up and waded back across the river and got set to leave. Juan had the 4x4 ready and waiting and we loaded the bags and with relief I sat in the air conditioned vehicle and bade a fond farewell to this excellent reserve.

We now had another longish drive to our next and penultimate destination La Reserva Rio Claro el Refugio which also promised to be very hot and humid but had some excellent birds to see. Juan also told me as he drove that he used to play trumpet in a Salsa band and we discussed the instruments you get in such a band and Salsa in general. I never realised it was so popular and widespread in Latin America. On our way back through the fossilised dunes we did some birding, the chief feature of which were parrots. They were not exactly abundant but certainly more noticeable than elsewhere. Our first encounter was with a Chestnut fronted Macaw that was feeding in a tree. We had stopped to look at some Northern Screamers but as is often the way found another good bird as well. The macaw was not exactly showy but we could see its head as it fed on the fruits in the tree. .

A little later another two were having a spat in the bare branches at the top of another tree. 

Chestnut fronted Macaws

Orange winged Parrots were also to be found in the trees or flying over the road, their distinctive heavy bodied fast wing flight action making them obvious. 

Orange winged Parrot
A Blue and Yellow Macaw sitting on the roof of a homestead got me excited until Juan told me that it had been raised as an orphan by the homeowner but was then released back into the wild where it now spent most of its time and roosted but would come back periodically to the house where it was raised. The others were a bit sniffy about it but it was nice to see it anyway

Blue and Yellow Macaw
A Savanna Hawk sat unperturbed in a tree as we stopped to admire it further up the road.

Savanna Hawk
Then we rejoined the tarmac highway and after some while crossed the huge Rio Magdalena which apparently contains hippos but I will explain a little later why an African mammal is in a South American river. Immediately afterwards we passed the imposing entrance gate to the Hacienda Napoles, the former huge and luxurious estate that was owned by the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar. The estate contained, amongst other things, a complete zoo but when Escobar died in 1993 the Government took over the estate and distributed all the animals to various zoos. Unfortunately some hippos escaped and now reside in four nearby lakes and the Rio Magdalena.There are about thirty on the loose, living a feral existence and occasionally threatening the local fishermen. The estate is now being turned into a theme park and tourist attraction as well as bizzarely and not without irony harbouring a maximum security prison, on the outskirts of the town of Puerto Triunfo. A full size replica of Escobar's tiny Piper plane that took his first shipment of cocaine to the USA is mounted on the top of the entrance arch to his former estate.

The replica of Pablo Escobar's drug smuggling plane
We stopped at a supermarket in Puerto Triunfo to load up with provisions and water before making a further drive to Rio Claro. When we finally arrived, at night, it was a very different experience to anything we encountered at any of the ProAves reserves. Rio Claro was on a much larger, more commercial and more impersonal scale with a lot of people staying here and to my mind it was not so nice as it lacked the intimate personal feel of virtually all the places we had stayed in on our travels thus far. Many people were staying here not just for birds but as general tourists in beautiful surroundings where they could relax, walk by the beautiful Rio Claro and just chill out. Fair enough. Juan told us that at weekends it was absolutely packed with people as it was so relatively close to Colombia's two largest cities, Bogota and Medellin.

After some argument at the huge reception/dining area we were given a room each in the Cabanas La Mulata, a couple of buildings containing a few select rooms and set back in the trees half a mile or so back up the long entrance drive to the main reception area.We were reliably informed it was their best accommodation.

The entrance road to the reception area looking from our accommodation

This was fine as it would mean we would have quiet and be undisturbed by the comings and goings of people around the reception area. What was not fine was the fact my room had no fan, no towels and no soap and in the night the water both hot and cold ceased to run, as I discovered in the morning. If this was their top accommodation - well let's leave it there!

My room was huge and the amount of beds suggested it was more a dormitory than a single bedroom. It was hot and humid in the room and the roof did not quite fit the walls with the consequence that the minute you put the light on it attracted a variety of huge moths and other insects of the night which would enter via the gap between wall and roof and then blunder around the room.

We walked back up to the reception area that was also where you ate and then after our meal and the checklist we went owling along the drive outside our accommodation. Hernan played the tape of a Choco Screech Owl and we waited. After a few minutes we shone our torches on the surrounding branches and were amazed to discover a Choco Screech Owl sitting at head height just a few metres away from us. In the pitch black night it had responded to our tape and arrived completely silently to take us all by surprise.

We left the owl in peace after a few minutes but no other species of owls were tempted by our tapes so we went back to our rooms

I was too tired, hot and dishevelled to be bothered to complain about the room tonight but I certainly would in the morning.

It was another early pre-dawn start tomorrow as we were going to follow a forest trail up into the mountains.

Birds seen on Day Twenty Five

(h) heard only

Little Tinamou; Northern Screamer; Colombian Chachalaca; Blue billed Curassow; Marbled Wood Quail (h); Cocoi Heron; Great Egret; Snowy Egret; Cattle Egret; Striated Heron;Bare faced Ibis; Black Vulture; Turkey Vulture; King Vulture; Black Hawk Eagle; Savanna Hawk; Roadside Hawk; Southern Lapwing; Pale vented Pigeon; Plumbeous Pigeon; Ruddy Ground Dove; White tipped Dove; Gray chested Dove; Greater Ani; Smooth billed Ani; Choco Screech Owl; Common Pauraque; Short tailed Swift; Gray rumped Swift;White necked Jacobin; Long billed Hermit; Streak throated Hermit; Black throated Mango; Long billed Starthroat; Red billed Emerald; White vented Plumeleteer; Crowned Woodnymph; White tailed Trogon; Broad billed Motmot; Collared Aracari; Channel billed Toucan; Beautiful Woodpecker (h); Red rumped Woodpecker; Cinnamon Woodpecker; Lineated Woodpecker; Laughing Falcon (h); Northern Crested Caracara; Orange chinned Parakeet; Blue headed Parrot; Yellow crowned Parrot; Orange winged Parrot; Blue and Yellow Macaw; Chestnut fronted Macaw; Black Antshrike; Checker throated Antwren; Pacific Antwren; Dot winged Antwren; Bare crowned Antbird; Chestnut backed Antbird; Wedge billed Woodcreeper;Straight billed Woodcreeper; Streak headed Woodcreeper; Greenish Elaenia; Sepia capped Flycatcher; Marble faced Bristle Tyrant; Sooty headed Tyrannulet; Slate headed Tody Flycatcher; Yellow olive Flycatcher;Yellow margined Flycatcher; Panama Flycatcher; Boat billed Flycatcher; Rusty margined Flycatcher; Streaked Flycatcher; Tropical Flycatcher; White bearded Manakin; Green Jay; Black bellied Wren; Tropical Mockingbird; Bay breasted Warbler; Buff rumped Warbler; Crimson backed Tanager; Glaucous Tanager; Saffron Finch; Thick billed Seed Finch; Bananaquit; Orange billed Sparrow; Summer Tanager; Crested Orependola;

Alala Sister

to be continued

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