Thursday 31 March 2016

A Tarantula in my Suitcase Part 10 January/February 2016

Day 26

I awoke much earlier than anticipated as it was so hot in the room and as a result I had only slept fitfully. Going to the shower to cool off I found there was no water. I tried the taps and the loo but there was nothing there either. Great. Tired and dirty there was little I could do but inwardly fume. Mind you as I had no towel or soap provided in my room there was not much point in having a shower but that does not occur to you when only half awake at 5am! I got dressed in my, by now very dirty and sweat stained clothes and went outside to await the others. In the light from my torch a Common Opossum was coming up the path, a really strange looking creature a bit like a cross between a giant rat and a mongoose with a long whip like rat's tail and pointed face. It stopped, regarded me, thought better of it, turned and sauntered back down the path and off into the undergrowth.

I awaited the others as the dawn came up and once we were all assembled told Hernan of my troubles. He said we would go to reception, have breakfast, complain and get things fixed. Once all this was done we commenced to bird the long entrance drive from the reception area up to a bridge crossing a small river. We stopped in an open area just before the bridge where we could see the sky above the trees. Hernan thought this a good place to wait and see if any Saffron headed Parrots might fly over. They are a near endemic and would be a very good bird to see as they are quite scarce. Sadly it did not happen although we waited here for around forty five minutes. We did see a pair of One colored Becard's nest building in a medium sized tree right by us. Rather confusingly the male is grey and the female chestnut brown so where the name one colored came from is anybody's guess. Even more confusingly a Cinnamon Becard was also present which looks very similar to the female One colored Becard! A male White tailed Trogon also hunted from some wires but there was no problem with its identity!

One colored Becard - male with nest material
One colored Becard - female
White tailed Trogon - male
It was beginning to get very hot and humid once more as we gave up on the parrots and started out on the trail just beyond the bridge, following it as it rose up one side of the mountain with the river below. A Black Phoebe was flycatching in a dry gulley as we passed over the bridge.

Black Phoebe
That old familiar feeling came to me once again, my clothes adhering to my body like a second skin as I sweated in the high humidity and heat. The path climbed steadily and often steeply upwards through the forest and along the side of the gorge, as the river became further distanced below. Birds were hard to find but when we did find them they were good ones to see. Hernan really knew his stuff and was excellent in finding birds for us. Our initial successes were with flycatchers and we found some very good ones, Ochre bellied, Sepia capped, Slaty capped and Black tailed Flycatchers and the endemic Antioquia Bristle Tyrant were all located often with us looking at them as we balanced perilously on insecure and slippery  banks with a vertiginous drop below to the river. Southern Bentbill and Olivaceous Flatbill were another two good ones. It was really tough going in the heat and increasingly I was feeling the strain exacerbated by the relentless accumulation of non stop early starts for almost a month and all the days operating in extremes of temperature and altitude that my body was just not used to. There was no use in complaining and I certainly did not want to let the others down or be a cause of delay, so just quietly got on with it. We stopped at the top of a particularly steep incline and looking out into the surrounding branches and vines saw a White whiskered Puffbird sat, frog like under the canopy, waiting to pounce on anything unsuspecting. I like puffbirds, there is something very satisfying about regarding their shape and form, all head and bill.

White whiskered Puffbird
We descended down towards the river and crossed it, able to hop from stone  to stone it was so shallow. One stone turned out to be anything but as it was a toad of  huge proportions, squat, warty and very ugly. It never moved but remained flat and still just like the surrounding stones.

A very large Toad sp.
There were some bird ringers operating along the banks of the river, their mist nets strung out between poles, something familiar to all three of us  as we too were or are bird ringers. We carried on following the steep trail up the other side of the river. It was getting tougher and tougher going but just when I was about to tell Hernan I had reached my limit he indicated that this was as far as we would go as we had seen everything we had targeted. We turned back and retraced our steps. The toad had gone from the river crossing but the puffbird was still there, stoically sitting and waiting for its opportunity. We walked further on and Hernan heard a Grey cheeked Nunlet, a relative of the puffbird, but we needed to backtrack up a steep section of the path to get near it. It took some time to locate the nunlet but Hernan was right on it and found the nunlet sitting almost directly above us in the thick of the leaves so that all we could see was most of its underside and a long black bill.

Grey cheeked Nunlet
Like puffbirds, nunlets do not move much apart from their heads which they slowly rotate looking for prey while the rest of the bird remains firmly rooted to a perch. In order to get a better, more level field of view we had to scramble up a very steep bank and fight our way through the undergrowth. Last up I just could not manage it on my own but Hernan took my camera and grabbed my wrist in a grip of iron and literally hauled me up the slope and onto a safe place to stand. The view of the bird from here was much better although the steep incline of the bank made my leg muscles protest at the strain put on them but I got my photos in the cramped space available to us. Paul and myself alternated so we could each take images and all was well. The nunbird, despite the commotion below it from our scrambled ascent seemed totally unphased by this and finally moved, only after we had been watching it for some twenty minutes. This was a tremendous end to our morning as these birds are not easy to find and Hernan had been playing a tape of its call all morning but with no success.

We went back to the reception area for lunch and then retired to our rooms for a rest. My room had now been attended to, there was running water and there were towels, soap and not one but two fans. For once I took a cold shower just to cool myself and lay with just a towel around me, on the bed with the fan blowing air over me. It was bliss but it could not last, as soon, we were going in the 4x4 to a large cavern where Oilbirds resided.

I made the most of my quiet time and then joined the others in the 4x4 for the short trip to the Oilbird cavern. We got to a small cafe where a lady gave us permission to drive down across some fields to park by an almost dry river bed. She owned the land and had it seemed given us permission to drive down. We parked the 4x4, got out and followed an almost dry, stony river bed under the trees. It was not a long walk before we came to an enormous limestone cavern, its mouth towering up high above us and leading into dark recesses that were forever hidden from sunlight. 

The Oilbird Cavern
Crystal clear pools of water were scattered across the floor of the cavern as were old feathers and droppings but it was the noises issuing from the dark recesses high in the cavern roof that impressed. Eerie other worldly shrieks and cries came from the Oilbirds as they flew around disturbed by our presence. It was so dark in the cavern and it was so big and high that our torches struggled to illuminate the limestone stalactites and ledges in the cavern's roof where they perched. I saw indistinct, brown barred forms, surprisingly large, flying around in the top of the cavern and settling on the ledges. These were the Oilbirds and this was about as good a view as we could hope for. It was a little disappointing but we had at least seen them. This cave incidentally has absolutely no protection, according to Hernan, so the Oilbirds were very vulnerable to disturbance and we decided it was best to leave them after about twenty minutes.

We retraced our way back across the dry boulders of the river bed. Under the canopy of the trees it was shaded from the worst of the sun's heat but it was still very hot and humid and my clothes resolutely refused to become unstuck from my body. A pair of Grey headed Tanagers were in the undergrowth feeding on ants with some Bicoloured Antbirds, the latter remaining unseen as far as I was concerned and that was about all we saw on the way back to the 4x4.

Gray headed Tanager
Juan drove us back to the top of the hill and gave the lady at the cafe some money and then we returned to the reserve to be dropped just inside the gate where we birded a large, rather deserted camp site. Nothing really remarkable was here apart from two Barred Puffbirds sitting in a tree and a large Iguana was spread out along a branch of another tree by the river. This Iguana  was markedly different in patterning to the other one I saw which was grey all over whereas this one was much more colourful with orange yellow skin and black markings. I know precious little about Iguanas so do not know if this was a different species of Iguana or just a variation. (Subsequent research on my part has established that it is the latter).

We sat by the river and I rested my weary feet. Walking in a forest in thick socks and stout boots all day is all well and good and sensible but it does take a toll on your feet and I longed to dangle my sweaty feet in the cool waters of the river. Hernan pointed to a large tree on the other side of the river and told us there were some monkeys in the tree which were very rare. They were White footed Tamarinds and I think we saw three or four in all.

We returned to the ever patient Juan as a Pale breasted Thrush sang in a tree near the vehicle and a Thick billed Euphonia messed around in another tree that had great whorls of grey bark curling from its trunk.

Pale breasted Thrush

Thick billed Euphonia
Juan drove us back to the open space we had visited this morning, again in the hope we might get to see the elusive Saffron headed Parrots but it became obvious they were not going to show up so we then went to the reception area to sit outside until dusk in the hope we might see the parrots flying to roost in the forest on the surrounding mountainside. Again we were out of luck and watched as some white water rafters returned from wherever they had been and the rafts were loaded onto a truck and driven off. I got talking to two Americans, father and son who told me they were from Wyoming and the father had, before he retired, something to do with US financial investment in Colombia and was coming back to revisit his old haunts. They seemed pleasant enough and it whiled away half an hour as we waited for the non showing parrots.

We went back to our rooms and then walked back to the reception area for dinner. Here we fell upon some great good fortune as Hernan met a young American couple, Stephen and Addrianne whom he had met in the USA on some environmental course he was involved in a year or so ago. They told him they were staying in a room on the other side of the reception area to us and had a fruiting tree right outside their window. They were on the second floor so their open balcony looked directly into the upper branches of the tree and in that tree they had seen Saffron headed Parrots feeding this very day!

Hernan relayed the news to us and we resolved there and then to get to that tree at dawn tomorrow in the hope of seeing the parrots. It was our best chance by far of seeing this rare parrot.

Birds seen on Day Twenty Six

(h) heard only

Little Tinamou (h); Cattle Egret; Black Vulture; Turkey Vulture; Roadside Hawk; Solitary Sandpiper; Greater Ani; Crested Owl (h); Spectacled Owl; Mottled Owl (h); Oilbird; Short tailed Swift; Gray rumped Swift; Rufous breasted Hermit; White vented Plumeleteer; Bronze tailed Plumeleteer; Rufous tailed Hummingbird; White tailed Trogon; Broad billed Motmot (h); Barred Puffbird ; White whiskered Puffbird; Grey cheeked Nunlet; Channel billed Toucan; Laughing Falcon(h); Orange chinned Parakeet (h); Blue headed Parrot; Spectacled Parrot (h); Bi-colored Antbird (h); Magdalena Antbird;  Wedge billed Woodcreeper; Black striped Woodcreeper; Streak headed Woodcreeper; Plain Xenops; Yellow crowned Tyrannulet; Ochre bellied Flycatcher; Sepia capped Flycatcher; Slaty capped Flycatcher; Antioquia Bristle Tyrant; Southern Bentbill; Olivaceous Flatbill; Black tailed Flycatcher; Eastern Wood Pewee; Acadian Flycatcher; Black Phoebe; Long tailed Tyrant; Bright rumped Attila; Great crested Flycatcher; Boat billed Flycatcher (h); Rusty margined Flycatcher; Streaked Flycatcher; Tropical Kingbird; Blue crowned Manakin; White bearded Manakin; Striped Manakin; Cinnamon Becard; One colored Becard; Lesser Greenlet; Yellow browed Shrike Vireo (h); House Wren; Band backed Wren; Black bellied Wren; Bay Wren; Pale breasted Thrush; Bay breasted Warbler; Buff rumped Warbler; Gray headed Tanager; Tawny crested Tanager; Crimson backed Tanager; Blue Gray Tanager; Swallow Tanager; Saffron Finch; Buff throated Saltator; Orange billed Sparrow; Yellow rumped Cacique; Fulvous vented Euphonia.

Mammals seen

White footed Tamarind
Common Opossum


Day 27 

We were as good as our word and dawn found us, after a twenty minute walk from our accommodation, outside a small complex of apartments and staking out the tree growing outside Stephen and Addrianne's balcony. All was quiet. We positioned ourselves on some concrete steps that allowed us to look through a gap between the buildings to the tree. There was no sight or sound of the parrots but there were other birds taking advantage of the fruits in the tree. Collared Aracaris, an endemic White mantled Barbet that did not hang around for very long, a Bright rumped Attila and a Streaked Flycatcher all hopped around in the upper branches.

Streaked Flycatcher
Collared Aracari
Bright rumped Attila
Our view of the tree was somewhat restricted but just about adequate.Twenty or so minutes passed and I heard the distinctive, harsh but cheerful sound of parrots and three parrots flew fast from the other side of the river and hurtled into the tree. They had bright yellow heads and green bodies. Saffron headed Parrots!

Saffron headed Parrot
At that moment Addrianne appeared on her balcony and I alerted Hernan, not wanting to encroach on their privacy.  Hernan to my consternation immediately went up the steps and knocked on the door, explained we were outside and asked would it be possible for us to come into their room to photograph the parrots! I admired his chutzpah but the result was that Stephen and Addrianne were only too happy and kind enough to oblige. What stars, as it was only around 7am and they had obviously just got up but they too were as excited as us to see the parrots. So we all stood on their balcony and watched the parrots. It was hard to ascertain just how many there were, possibly six, as they have a remarkable facility to disappear in the leaves, sidling along the branches to feed and hiding in the bunched leaves at the end of the branch. One parrot showed itself very well for a few minutes so Paul and myself fired away with our cameras taking full advantage of the unique opportunity that had so unexpectedly presented itself to us.

It lasted about forty minutes and then the parrots suddenly fled from the tree and were gone. What a result. I thanked Stephen and Addrianne profusely and their only condition was that I email them the best pictures I had of the parrots. I was more than happy to oblige. Who wouldn't be?

Then it was breakfast time so we walked back to the reception area and awaited 8am when they started serving breakfast. 

The Rio Claro viewed from the walkway
We checked out at the reception  and loaded the 4x4 with our gear and settled down for another long drive to our next stop, the Hotel Iguaima near the Canyon del Rio Combeima, which is located in the Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, a well known tourist area and rightly prized for its spectacular scenery. The road was thankfully tarmac and I settled down to contemplating life out of the window as the flat grassland rolled by on one side and mountains on the other. Juan found some western music and we drove along to some familiar rock records albeit some years old. One track took me by surprise and upset my emotional equilibrium. It was 'Under Pressure' sung by Freddie Mercury and David Bowie and as I watched Colombia pass by my mind went back several years to a sad and worrying time for me when my business was going through difficult times and I too was under pressure. I played the track a lot to myself in those days and it helped to sustain me through the hard times and now here I was listening to the two great rock artists who had made that recording, both now deceased, one only recently and an emotional tear came to my eye. It's strange how music, both classical and popular can do this to you. Almost like a memory in sound it can instantly and disarmingly take you to places and times you thought had long been forgotten. Whilst the track was playing I was not with the others or indeed in Colombia - well not in spirit anyway but far away in an uncertain time that I had all but expunged from my consciousness. The song finished and I was back and then Juan with all good intentions, mistakenly sensing I liked the song, played it again. Oh God! I just about held it together.

There were any number of police road checks on the way and inevitably we fell foul of a speed trap, the only one of the trip where we got caught. At another road check we were worryingly told to get out of the vehicle by the policeman and show our passports but then he told us to forget it and just smiled and shook our hands!

Many roads in Colombia have fearsome speed humps near any habitation, which requires the vehicle you are travelling in to virtually come to a standstill. This allows various street vendors who stand in the middle of the road by the speed humps to approach your vehicle offering all manner of goods such as coffee, soft drinks and fruit, all relatively normal but we were also offered, bizarrely, walking sticks and almost unbelievably a peacock which the guy had under his arm and proffered tail first to us with another three or four stood on a table by the side of the road! I had to laugh.

We stopped for lunch in an open air roadside cafe at a place called Alvarado. I stuck to fish (Tilapia) and chips due to my insides being in turmoil from some bug but watched in awe as the others each tackled a plate of goat. The portions were huge and even Chris, never one to decline food or let it go to waste failed to complete the course.

Tilapia and chips. Nice tablecloth!
Then it was onwards again and we passed through the town of Armero which was destroyed by the volcano Nevado del Ruiz thirty years ago at the cost of 25,000 lives. It was a distressing sight as the destroyed town has been left untouched since the disaster and the ruined houses and buildings consumed by lava, ash and earth from the landslide stand like tombs, forever as mute witness and memorial to an enormous tragedy and countless missing people.The fact that the buildings have been left just as they were on that fateful night makes the tragedy all that more poignant, graphic and horrific when you see it for real. We stopped but as soon as we did the inevitable street seller was at the window trying to sell us pictures of the ruined town and buildings. I was quite upset as I felt that more respect should be shown to the dead of Armero rather than make a fast buck.

We drove on, leaving the street seller in our dust and later Hernan instructed Juan to turn off the highway as he knew a place where we could get to see another of our target birds, Velvet fronted Euphonia. A short drive up an unsurfaced road brought us to some houses and small holdings. It was very dry here with the occasional scattered tree but the minute we got out of the 4x4 Paul heard a Velvet fronted Euphonia and soon we were looking at a pair feeding in a tree by the road. They flew further across a paddock to another tree and we went round the paddock and climbed a gate into a sun parched field at the back of the paddock containing two very irate Southern Lapwing.

Southern Lapwing
We re-found the euphonias in the tree as well as a pair of  diminutive Spectacled Parrotlets.

Spectacled Parrotlets
Having had our fill of the euphonias we returned to the gate and were lucky enough to get really good views of a male Barred Antshrike.

Barred Antshrike
Not a bad forty five minutes and a nice, welcome break from all the driving.

It was then back on the road but Hernan had another treat up his sleeve. We arrived at a place called Chembo, and turning off the road and following no more than a concreted track that wound past quite palatial properties we came to a stream where we stopped. It was then time to get out of the vehicle and commence another long, stiff climb up another surfaced track, going up another mountainside. Hernan thought this a good place to try and tape lure our current nemesis Crested Ant Tanager but despite the ideal habitat, a dark thickly vegetated  narrow gorge with a stream running through it we had zero response despite trying at several places along the gorge. We came to the top and then the track became a muddy trail to our right, rising upwards at an alarming angle. It was, as you may have guessed hot, humid and sweaty work climbing the incline but I got on with it as before. I was not going to give in. Not for anything. We walked up and then down and then up again following the trail as it wound round the mountainside with thick forest rising steeply to our right  and thick undergrowth to our left falling away steeply, until we stopped and looking back found ourselves looking across to where we had just come from on the trail. Hernan heard an endemic Tolima Dove calling from there. Now this is on a par with Recurve billed Bushbird as a hard bird to see and missed by many visiting birding groups. We played the tape of its call but the dove sounded a very long way off and by the sound of it was not coming any nearer. We looked at the trees on the far side of the track from whence we had come. I thought we would see nothing as the trees were so distant but Hernan, don't ask me how, found the dove. I could hardly believe it. It was 'miles' away, displaying on a branch to another dove. You could just about see it in the bins as it paraded up and down on the branch often disappearing behind the leaves. Unbelievable. We watched until it was lost to view in the tangle of branches and leaves. We walked back exulting in our good fortune, not only in seeing this much desired dove but in having such an exceptional guide. We started dropping down to where the trail met the surfaced track when another Tolima Dove flew in to the trees behind us. That made three. Just like buses!

Hernan was not finished yet. Rejoining the surfaced track we were now, again looking down on the thickly vegetated narrow gorge with the hidden stream running through it. As we were watching a pair of Blue black Grosbeaks, Hernan suddenly tensed. We knew the signs. Crested Ant Tanager! He walked up and down on the lip of the gorge, following the calls coming from the dense undergrowth below and eventually a pair of these, to us almost mythical birds, appeared in the tangle of vegetation on the far side of the narrow gorge where it became more open, I kept my bins on the fast moving male, a fabulous creature with a bright red upswept tufted crest and deeper red upperparts. What joy as we watched it, finally still for a minute or two, sitting on a branch calling and flicking its wings. It had been a long wait but now here it was

At last, at long last. I cannot recall how many times we had tried to lure one of these out but now it had come to us almost at the last opportunity.

Juan drove the 4x4 up the track to save us a long walk down and then we headed for Canyon del Rio Combeima to try for another two target birds, both endemics, Andean Blossomcrown, a hummingbird and Yellow headed Brush Finch. The scenery became spectacular again as we were now in the Parque and in the Canyon del Rio Combeima. Huge forested mountains and spectacular valleys dominated as we passed our hotel for the night, the Hotel Restaurante Iguaima which looked very nice, and headed uphill through a small dusty one street town called Juntas and just beyond stopped near a bridge over the Rio Combeima, which was no more than a rocky mountain stream complete with Torrent Tyrannulets  and White headed Dippers. Here by the dirt road there was a small flowering tree, that was meant to be a favourite of the Andean Blossomcrown but sadly not this afternoon. In fact we only saw one bird in the tree and that was the dreaded and ubiquitous Rufous collared Sparrow. We gave it an hour or more but it began to get dark and it was obvious that the Blossomcrown would have to wait until tomorrow morning.

Never mind we had that nice Hotel Iguaima to get back to.

We drove back through Juntas which looked 'interesting' and worth closer scrutiny but there was no time. We skirted a man taking his golden retriever for a ride on his motorbike and several other well fed dogs were, as dogs here do,  lying comatose in the road. All very homely. Hernan pointed out a cock fighting ring and as we passed two men were launching their cocks to fight in the ring. Hernan went on to explain that cock fighting is a big 'sport' in Colombia and very popular, with rings in all the major cities and virtually every town. Not so nice.

We turned into the grounds of the hotel which had a fantastic setting with a single storey reception area and rooms located in separate wooden lodges scattered around a central area of decking. The whole thing, sadly, was let down by the staff or more to the point lack of them or at least anyone who seemed to have any authority or capacity to make a decision. Paul and myself were sharing a room and discussed who was going to have a much looked forward to shower in our well appointed room. There was of course no hot water and no one to fix it. Resigned we went for our meal which we had to have at 7pm prompt as the kitchen staff ceased working shortly after. Fair enough. A well stocked bar behind us was also out of bounds after eight although no one thought to tell us, so no second, post meal beer for me. Looking at Trip Advisor the hotel gets rave reviews so maybe we were just unlucky on our visit for whatever reason.

Thankfully it was only one night we were spending here and then we would be heading back to Bogota.

Yellow edged Giant Owl

Birds seen on Day Twenty Seven

(h) heard only 

Neotropic Cormorant; Cocoi Heron; Snowy Egret; Cattle Egret; Bare faced Ibis; Black Vulture; Turkey Vulture; Roadside Hawk; Southern Lapwing; Black Skimmer; Ruddy Ground Dove; Tolima Dove; Greater Ani; Green fronted Lancebill; Gartered Trogon; Green Kingfisher; White mantled Barbet; Crimson rumped Toucanet (h); Collared Aracari; Red rumped Woodpecker; Yellow headed Caracara; Yellow throated Toucan; Orange chinned Parakeet (h); Saffron headed Parrot; Spectacled Parrotlet; Barred Antshrike; Chestnut backed Antbird (h); Magdalena Antbird; Buff throated Woodcreeper; Southern Beardless Tyrannulet; Torrent Tyrannulet; Scale crested Pygmy Tyrant; Olive sided Flycatcher; Black Phoebe; Bright rumped Attila; Rusty margined Flycatcher; Streaked Flycatcher; Tropical Kingbird; White bearded Manakin; Pale footed Swallow; Southern Rough winged Swallow; Grey cheeked Thrush; Pale vented Thrush; Canada Warbler; White shouldered Tanager; Crimson backed Tanager; Blue Gray Tanager; Palm Tanager; Bay headed Tanager; Purple Honeycreeper; Yellow backed Tanager; Saffron Finch; Ruddy breasted Seedeater; Rufous collared Sparrow; Crested Ant Tanager; Blue black Grosbeak; Velvet fronted Euphonia; Thick billed Euphonia.

Day 28

We rose early and Hernan knocked on our door to tell us the hotel said we could use the empty room next door to ours for a shower as that had hot water. I wondered why we could not have moved to that room last night.

Next door to the hotel was what looked like a small farmhouse with a few hummingbird feeders hanging from the building. Hernan apparently knew the owner and she had told him last night that the Andean Blossomcrown had been seen at the feeders recently and we were welcome to stake out the feeders in her yard.

So we stood or sat around in the concrete yard awaiting the hoped for arrival of the Blossomcrown. As per usual when waiting for a bird to turn up, we found other birds, the best of which for me was a Mourning Warbler (but see postscript below), a lifer, which fed low down in grasses and bushes and perched obligingly on a fence wire for a brief moment.

Mourning Warbler
We stood around waiting for an hour or so but there was no sign of the Blossomcrown. A Piratic Flycatcher and a Cattle Tyrant were new for me but of hummingbirds there was little sign.

Cattle Tyrant

I suggested we go back to the flowering tree that we had stood around yesterday evening, which we did but there was still no sign of the Blossomcrown here either but we did at least get to see the other endemic living here - the Yellow headed Brushfinch, a pair of which, in typical brush finch behaviour gave us fleeting views before finally giving us a full view of their yellow loveliness and then diving back into cover.

It was becoming obvious that we were not going to get to see the endemic Blossomcrown so we retreated to the hotel for breakfast. Needless to say it took an age to arrive but when it did was very good.

Then, after checking out and having our photo taken by the hotel owner for publicity purposes, we headed for the nearby sizeable town of Ibague where we were going to attempt to find a Rosy Thrush Tanager, another hard to find and see bird that gives many groups the slip. Hernan knew of a pair, the location of which I will not divulge but although we heard them and got very close to them they just would not respond to the tape close enough that we could see them. A Rose breasted Grosbeak had us going for a moment before it too slipped away.

A little later we met two Colombian birders who told us they had just seen a Stygian Owl perched in a tree some fifteen minutes walk away and showed us some really good photos that they had just taken of it. We decided to try and see it but as we set off it  commenced to rain, proper tropical rain causing us to rapidly seek shelter. It did not stop for some thirty minutes and when it eased we headed for the owl location but of course the owl had gone. The rain commenced again but lighter now and I noticed how many birds just sat waiting out the rain. A pair of Blue headed Parrots and a Blue necked Tanager just sat quietly in the trees awaiting the skies to clear.

Blue necked Tanager
I got tired of just standing around looking at wet leaves and decided I was going to go back to the awaiting Juan, leaving the others to come back in their own time. A Black Aguti ran across my path as I walked back down to Juan and then my phone rang. 'Hello?' 'Where are you?' a voice I did not recognise enquired. 'Colombia' I replied without thinking. It was in fact Paul asking where I was as they thought I might have got lost in the forest. 'No I'm fine,' I replied feeling a little foolish about not recognising Paul.

I got back to Juan and we settled in the 4x4 as it started to rain hard again. Secure in the dry we chatted about this and that waiting for the others who eventually turned up soaked to the skin but they would soon dry off in the heat.

It was time to eat and we found an enormous roadside restaurant, so empty that I thought it must be closed but it wasn't. By now the rain was hammering down, the kind of rain you do not see in the UK, huge volumes of it, thundering on the tin roof and pinging off the car roofs. No one took any notice and just walked around under umbrellas and carried on, as I assume this is normal for Colombia. In the UK everyone would be gawking in amazement at such a thing or looking for sandbags.

The restaurant served chicken and we ordered. When it arrived I have never seen so much food for one table in my life. Mountains of it. A huge platter of chicken was placed before us, then similar sized platters of chips and potatoes and vegetables. It was truly a gargantuan feast and the plates just kept on coming. Sadly, although ravenous my stomach was in such a bad way I had to refuse the temptation to indulge.

It was now time to head for Bogota and back to where we started twenty eight days ago, the Hotel Casona del Patio. One more stop at a pharmacy on the way out of Ibague to get something to quell my stomach and then we set off on the dual carriageway and a four hour drive in light rain to Bogota. We slowly climbed up into the Andes passing a constant procession of labouring trucks on one side or the other of the road, then descended again before the final approach to Bogota. The road in the last hour of driving became much busier and night fell as we approached the outskirts of Bogota. The city has a restriction on traffic whereby certain number plates are only granted access at certain times.We had not to breach the line until 7.30 pm which we achieved with no problem as the traffic was truly horrendous and this with a number plate restriction! What it would be like if every vehicle could enter the city at once did not bear thinking about.

We crawled along in stop start waves of traffic, a pulsing, noisy, brightly lit chaotic mess as we entered the huge city. Eventually the traffic cleared slightly so we could proceed without constantly stopping and starting. It seemed we had to drive across most of the city. I watched as trams passed going the other way with people crammed into them like packed sardines, all on their way home from work. It was Friday night which certainly did not help the situation. With the aid of the Satnav we turned and twisted through narrow back streets, some very run down and looking dangerous others more upmarket. Then one more turn and there was our hotel.

It was my turn for the single room tonight while Paul and Chris shared but as it turned out I was allocated a room which was basically an apartment and was huge whilst Paul and Chris had something much smaller. It seemed sensible to change rooms so we each could spread out and hopefully get some rest after a long and trying day.This we duly did.

It was late when we arrived at the hotel and this being Friday night our favoured sushi restaurant had a line of waiting customers outside so we decided not to bother. I went instead with Hernan and Juan to a nearby supermarket and we got some food and water for tomorrow's visit to Sumapaz National Park and some snacks for Paul and Chris for tonight.

I went to bed for the last time in Colombia. Tomorrow was another early start and a drive up into the mountains to over 4000m in the Paramo. I was really looking forward to this as there was a chance to see another species of Helmetcrest, my nominated bird of the trip.


I originally published this picture as a Mourning Warbler. That was what we originally identified it as. I was subsequently contacted by Professor Steven Bell of Indiana University who read my blog and told me he considered it was a MacGillivray's Warbler based on the white markings around the eyes and the black lores. I can find no reference to a MacGillivray's Warbler being ever seen in Colombia and certainly Birds of Colombia do not include it, otherwise we would surely have considered it. Consequently, accepting the importance of this record if it is a MacGillivray's, I have put several images on BirdForum to ask others opinion who are better qualified and experienced with the two species in question. So far it is inconclusive with some saying it's one or the other or even a hybrid! So for now I will stick with Mourning Warbler although judging by my photos it shows the broken white semi circles round the eye and the black lores joining above the bill which indicate MacGillivray's.

Birds seen on Day Twenty Eight

(h) heard only

Cattle Egret; Bare faced Ibis; Black Vulture; Turkey Vulture; Southern Lapwing; Ruddy Ground Dove; Green Hermit; Brown Violetear; Green Violetear; Black throated Mango; Collared Inca; Buff tailed Coronet; Fawn breasted Brilliant; Purple throated Woodstar; White vented Plumeleteer; Steely vented Hummingbird; Rufous tailed Hummingbird; Andean Motmot (h); Blue headed Parrot; Spectacled Parrotlet; Montane Woodcreeper; Yellow bellied Elaenia; Torrent Tyrannulet; Golden faced Tyrannulet; Common Tody Flycatcher; Black Phoebe; Cattle Tyrant; Rusty margined Flycatcher; Streaked Flycatcher; Piratic Flycatcher; Tropical Kingbird; Cinereous Becard; Blue and White Swallow; Brown bellied Swallow; Southern Rough winged Swallow; House Wren; Black billed Thrush; Tennessee Warbler; Mourning Warbler; Blackburnian Warbler; Slate throated Whitestart; Crimson backed Tanager; Blue Gray Tanager; Palm Tanager; Blue necked Tanager; Saffron Finch; Blue black Grassquit; Rosy Thrush Tanager (h); White naped Brush Finch; Yellow headed Brush Finch; Rufous collared Sparrow; Shiny Cowbird; Thick billed Euphonia; Lesser Goldfinch.

Mammals seen

Black Aguti

to be continued

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