Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Post #141 - Colombia - Eastern Andes - Cundinamarca

Quick note - This is meant as much as a permanent online reference as it is a quick blogpost, so it is VERY long and detailed. This account - as well as summaries from all the places I've visited - will be permanently archived in the International Birding Resources tab under the main banner photo.

Tawny (aka Páramo) Antpitta - Grallaria quitensis
PNN Sumapaz, Cundinamarca, Colombia
Canon 500mm f/4 IS lens + 1.4x III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/400 at f/5.6, ISO 1600, handheld, manual mode


Part 1 - Cundinamarca Logistics
When to visit
Getting there
Where to stay

Part 2 - Cundinamarca Birding

Key Cundinamarca birds
-Summary of endemics and near endemics

Birding sites around Bogotá
-Downtown Bogotá
-La Florida Park
-Bosque Guajira
-PNN Chingaza and Finca Suasie
-Observatorio de Colibries
-PNN Sumapaz
-Laguna El Tabacal
-Jardín Encantado
-PNN Chicaque
Birding sites around Fusugasugá and west into Magdalena Valley
-Parque Verde y Agua
-Finca El Colibrí Gorriazul
-Finca Los Cactos
-Cerro Quininí (with Finca Quininí and Hacienda Posada Campesina)
-Parque Natural Maná Dulce
Notes about Cundinamarca bird photography

Part 1 - Cundinamarca Logistics

Cundinamarca is a centrally located Colombian department that entirely contains the Capital District of Bogotá (blue trace on right map below). That district has the same administrative and political standing as do the other 32 departments, but I will treat it as part of Cundinamarca for geographic and birding purposes in this post. Regardless of the details, Cundinamarca offers easy access and fantastic East Andean birding. Nearly 900 species have been eBirded from the landlocked department, and the majority of those can be seen within a few hours driving from Bogotá. The entire department, including the capital district, is only the size of Vermont, so it possible to bird a good chunk of it in just 8-10 days. I first visited Cundinamarca in July of 2018, and I will use this post to write about the specific birding spots I visited on that trip. What I present is far from exhaustive but should give you a starting point as you plan your own Cundinamarcan birding adventure.

When to Visit
Short answer: Late-November through early-March with January and February being best. June to August might work, but it's a bit of a gamble.

Long Answer: Rain - more than temperature - is the primary consideration when planning a visit to Cundinamarca (or anywhere in Colombia), and the graph below shows the average monthly precipitation in Bogotá (8,675ft, 2,644m). Though rainfall will vary with exact location and elevation, the indicated trends are generally reflective of the yearly rain cycle anywhere in the Colombian Andes, Cundinamarca included. 

Precipitation is lowest December through February and June through August, but there is a big difference between those two superficially similar windows. That's because the weather on the high elevation páramo (above ~10,500ft / 3,200m) is usually decent between December and March but is much more variable from June into August.

For example, on my 7-week 2018 trip (June 15 to August 3), I made 10 independent day trips to the páramo in the Central and Eastern Andes across 7 different departments and suffered rain on each occasion. Not every trip to the páramo was a washout, but it was always wet and trails were in universally mucky/terrible shape. The birding was fine but much less productive or enjoyable than it would have been between late-November and early-March, the true Andean Summer.

So, while the Andes as a whole have a bit of a break late-June through early-August, páramo elevations, the exact elevations that hold many of the unique and endemic birds birders want to see, could still be very wet. That window might work, but there's much greater risk of high elevation rain than between late-November and early-March (again, January and February are best).

Inclement páramo weather from Boyacá Dept.
You want to avoid this.

As if that video isn't enough to convince you of the suggested window, I'll offer 2 more reasons. First, the usually hot Magdalena Valley in the western part of Cundinamarca is coolest during late-November to early-March. The birding there is fantastic, and a visit to the Eastern Andes would be incomplete without at least some time in that abutting geography. Second, North American neotropical migrants are present from late-October to early-April, so total trips lists will be higher then than they would be in the second-choice June-August window.

Getting there
Cundinamarca is the easiest Colombian Department to access because of the excellent El Dorado international airport in Bogotá, the global hub for Avianca. At that airport, you'll find rental cars from all the big international agencies (Hertz, Budget, Avis, etc). Be advised you'll probably need at least a high clearance vehicle - if not a 4-wheel drive - to reach some of the sites I will discuss, particularly the páramo. Renting an SUV is very expensive, and it is usually cheaper and easier to just hire a driver with his own vehicle instead. I suggest contacting Jovani Flórez at Solutions in Colombia (solutionsincolombia@gmail.com, +57 311 227 1259 or +57 320 835 9104). My driver, Daniel, was from Solutions and was absolutely amazing - professional in every way. Solutions in Colombia are the 'go-to' for Colombian birding transportation and have experience carting birders around every part of the country.

Where to stay
Cundinamarca mostly lacks full-service ecolodges, but there are a number of completely viable alternatives that I will discuss in the context of the birding sites I'll present.

Many-striped Canastero - Asthenes flammulata
PNN Sumapaz, Cundinamarca, Colombia
Canon 500mm f/4 IS lens + 1.4x III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/800 at f/5.6, ISO 1250, handheld, manual mode

Hernan Arias took me around Cundinamarca. He is absolutely incredible and comes with my highest recommendation (hedarar@yahoo.com, +57 318 385 3676). He knows the birds amazingly well - vocalizations included - and speaks English fluently. He is a good leader, decision maker, and travel companion, and he has a flawless reputation throughout Colombia. He is based in Ibagué in Tolima Department but has experience guiding in all parts of the country. Call him. He's great, I promise. Hernan and I were joined by guide Pablo Casallas for a few days, and he is another good option for around Bogotá and Cundinamarca. You can get in touch with him through http://birdingtimescolombia.com.

Part 2 - Cundinamarca Birding

Key Cundinamarca birds
There are loads of birds in everywhere in Cundinamarca, but I'd like to quickly note which of the 79 Colombian endemics can be observed in the department. The 12 endemics that are reliably found in Cundinamarca are:

Colombian Chachalaca (slopes on inter-Andean Valleys)
Bogotá Rail (highland wetlands in East Andes, specifically Cundinamarca and Boyacá)
Green-bearded Helmetcrest (East Andean páramo)
Black Inca (west slope of East Andes, specifically Cundinamarca, Boyacá, and Santander)
Indigo-Capped Hummingbird (Magdalena Valley into East Andes)
Brown-breasted Parakeet (Spottily in East Andes)Cundinamarca Antpitta (east slope of East Andes)
Silvery-throated Spinetail (East Andes, specifically Cundinamarca and Boyacá)
Apical Flycatcher (Inter-Andean Valleys and adjacent slopes, widespread)
Apolinar's Wren (East Andes, specifically Cundinamarca and Boyacá)

Turquoise Dacnis (Spottily throughout Andes, try Quininí as described below)
Velvet-fronted Euphonia (Magdalena Valley, adjacent slopes)

Indigo-capped Hummingbird - Amazilia cyanifrons
Jardín Encantado, Cundinamarca
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS IS + 1.4x III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/640 at f/8, ISO 1600

Cundinamarca Antpitta is by far the most prized of these endemics and will require an inordinate amount of effort to find compared to the others. It will be sought only by hardcore listers. Bogotá Rail can be found in wetlands area around/above Bogotá, and the páramo east of Bogotá hosts Green-bearded Helmetcrest and Apolinar's Wren. Black Inca is regularly found east of Bogotá, but is probably easier at Rogitama in Boyacá. Indigo-capped Hummingbird is guaranteed as one drops elevation west from Bogotá. Silvery-throated Spinetail is common and can be found even in downtown Bogotá. Brown-breasted Parakeet is tricky everywhere but is most reliable around Chingaza to the west of Bogotá. Colombian Chachalaca and Apical Flycatcher are widespread and should be found without dedicated effort, either in Cundinamarca, Boyacá, or elsewhere. Velvet-fronted Euphonia is common at lower elevations as one drops into the Magdalena Valley. For the rest of this post, E = endemic.

Just as interesting as those true endemics are several near-endemics (or 'East Andean' endemics) shared with only neighboring Venezuela. With that country a 'no-travel' area at writing, those exclusively shard species are effectively Colombian endemics until Venezuela stabilizes. I don't know exactly how many of these near-endemics there are, but I've shown the ranges of Coppery-bellied Puffleg, Pale-bellied Tapaculo, and Moustached Brushfinch to illustrate the point. For the rest of this NE = near endemic, specifically shared with Venezuela (unless otherwise indicated).

Golden-breasted Starfrontlet (NE), Rufous-browed Conebill (NE), and Ochre-breasted Brushfinch (NE) are three other species that follow this Colombian-Venezuelan distribution, but there aere certainly a bunch of others. Given its relatively close proximity to Venezuela, Cundinamarca is a great place to observe these species. So is Boyacá (next post)!

Birding sites around Bogotá
With some key Cundinamarca birds identified, it's time to discuss where to find them. I will start with those destinations closest to Bogotá and work outwards from there. All of the sites presented here can be visited as day trips from the city, but some will require very long driving days to make that happen. Where possible, I will suggest alternative or on-site lodging to minimize car time. The biggest problem Bogotá presents is traffic. There aren't any highways/freeways through or around the city, so it takes a long time to escape its clutches. While the city center might afford the best lodging options, staying on the periphery - closer to a particular birding site - will cut travel time.

Birding sites around Bogotá

Downtown Bogotá
I visited three sites in urban Bogotá: The Bogotá Botanical Gardens (Jardín Botánico de Bogotá, eBird Hotspot), Humedal Santa Mariá del Lago (eBird Hotspot), and Humedal Córdoba (eBird Hotspot). The botantical gardens are really nice and make a convenient stop for those in the city. The gardens don't host birds that can't be found elsewhere, but they are a nice place to learn some of the local species. I saw Mountain Elaenia, Yellow-backed Oriole, and Rufous-browed Conebill (NE). Other Andean specialities including Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Glowing Puffleg, and Red-Crested Cotinga have been recorded at the gardens.

There wasn't much happening on my midday visit to Santa Mariá, but I could see it being OK when the North American migrants are present. There's a bit of marshy habitat, but the park is pretty limited. Humedal Córdoba presents some nice urban wetlands and riperian birding, and I found Silvery-throated Spinetail (E) and Greater Ani on my brief visit. Be warned that Córdoba does have an unpleasant smell of raw sewage from an adjacent canal. The preserve is patrolled by security, but it's still an urban park. I didn't feel any sort of threat, but visitors should keep their eyes open and avoid being in the preserve before or after dark.

Parque La Florida (eBird Hotspot)
Located on the northwestern edge of the city, La Florida (8,350ft / 2,540m) is a great place to spend a few hours. It's heavily birded and easily accessed, and nearly 300 species have been recorded in the park. Park as indicated below and walk to the observation blind at the south end of the lake. My visit yielded Spot-flanked Gallinule, Subtropical Doridito, and Yellow-hooded Blackbird, and other notable resdients include Bogotá Rail (E), Noble Snipe, and Apolinar's Wren (E). The rail and wren have been heavily taped at La Florida, so they can be more difficult than at locations outside the city. I accessed the lake from the public eastern shore, but it's also possible to bird that same area from the private golf course on the western shore (for a cost of ~$10 US). I don't think there are any major safety issues on the public/eastern shore, but some might feel better about going the golf course route. They'll even assign you a caddy so you don't get lost, but chances are he won't speak any English!

La Florida

Observatorio de Colibries (website, eBird Hotspot)
Beyond a wonderful place to spend an afternoon watching hummingbirds ('colibries'), this private property (~9,860ft / 3,000m) is one of the best guest houses I've found - Colombia or elsewhere. Owner Victoria Lizarralde has done an amazing job with the grounds and the rooms, and her feeder array attracts all sorts of hummers including Green-tailed Trainbearer, Glowing Puffleg, Coppery-breasted Puffleg (NE), White-bellied Woodstar, Sword-billed Hummingbird, and Blue-throated Starfrontlet (NE). Over 100 species have been eBirded from Observatorio, but I didn't notice most of them as I spent all my time trying to photograph hummers. Daily admission is ~30,000 COP (or ~$10 US and is completely worth it. Overnighting isn't cheap compared to other accommodations, but Victoria's hospitality and attention to detail will certainly be appreciated by many. Observatorio is about 95 minutes from Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Chingaza (below), so it could be a good base from which to explore that destination as well. The entry road was very muddy on my July visit but should be better at other times of the year. There are a few km on dirt regardless, and I'd advise high clearance or 4-wheel drive just to be safe. If you don't stay at Observatorio, it is easily accessed from Bogotá. +57 317 404 4493, +57 311 851 3112, email observatoriodecolibries@gmail.com

Sparkling Violetear - Colibri coruscans
Observatorio de Colibries, Cundinamarca, Colombia
Canon 500mm f/4 IS + 1.4x III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/640 at f/7.1, ISO 1600, Tripod, Manual mode

Observatorio de Colibries property walk-through

I have no control over which frame is used for the link,

but my guide Hernan apparently approves!

Parque National Natural (PNN) Chingaza (main eBird Hotspot)
This is one of those legendary spots that every birder should experience, mostly because of the stunningly beautiful páramo found within the mountainous park. That specialized habitat can be accessed at Piedras Gordas (specific eBird Hotspot, ~11,200ft / 3,400m) and is home to species such as Shining Sunbeam, Purple-backed Thornbill, Green-bearded Helmetcrest (E), Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Tawny Antpitta, White-chinned Thistletail, Pale-bellied Tapaculo (NE), Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Plushcap, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, and other high-elevation specialists. The park is huge, and there are several other access roads/points, none of which I had time to visit beyond my single rainy morning at Piedras Gordas. There is also excellent birding along the entrance road to Piedras Gordas, and that stretch of road couples perfectly with Finca Suasie (below). The road from La Calera is all dirt and very bumpy. High clearance or 4-wheel drive will be required unless the road is greatly improved. It's probably 60-80 minutes on dirt from La Calera to Piedras Gordas.

Map and driving distances for Chingaza and Finca Suasie

Finca Suasie (website, eBird Hotspot)
Finca Suasie is a working dairy farm that has recently opened itself to avitourism. Its location is absolutely perfect - just 6 miles from Piedras Gordas - and there is great birding on the property and access road. I found Pale-bellied Tapaculo (NE), Pearled Treerunner, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Black-crested Warbler, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, Blue-backed Conebill, and Black-headed Hemispingus in the High Andean Forest around the property. Though owners Luis and Marcela are still learning the birding industry and getting their feeder array up and running, they have hospitality nailed. Accommodations are basic but comfortable, and home cooked meals create a wonderfully warm environment. Suasie lacks some of the amenities and comforts of Observatorio de Colibries but rewards birders with a more distinctly Colombian experience. My night at Suasie was one of the high points of my 7 weeks in the country, and I will certainly return in the future. As with Chingaza, high clearance or 4-wheel drive will be required unless the road is greatly improved. But staying where you bird is the best, and Suasie lets you do exactly that! +57 313 224 1826 or +57 313 366 8237, info@fincasuasie.com

Finca Suasie - Don't let the clouds/rain fool you,
the view from the property is amazing!
Bottom right: Hosts Luis and Marcela

Parque National Natural (PNN) Sumapaz (eBird Hotspot)
Sumapaz was perhaps the most beautiful example of páramo I experienced. At 12,150ft / 3,700m, species diversity is low, but those birds that are present are highly specialized and particularly prized by birders. I had Bogotá Rail (E), Noble Snipe, Bronze-tailed Thornbill (NE), Tawny Antpitta, Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, Many-striped Canastero, Andean Tit-Spinetail, White-chinned Thistletail, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, and Apolinar's Wren (common, E). I missed Green-beared Helmetcrest (E), but Sumapaz is perhaps the best place to see that incredible bird. Birding Sumapaz is really easy as you can just drive along the road and make periodic stops to bird. The road from Bogotá is mostly paved, and the dirt section towards the top in is decent shape - at least by Colombian standards. I'd still suggest a high clearance vehicle as there were a few deep ruts that might stops a regular car/sedan in its tracks. I accessed Sumapaz after an hour and 40 minute drive from Chapinero in downtown Bogotá, but that time could be cut significantly by staying farther south. A quick note - On the map of Bogota bird biding spots I presented above, Sumapaz looks closer to Fusagasugá than Bogotá. It is, but it can't be accessed from that city, so fuhgeddaboutit!

Sumapaz páramo

Bosque Guajira (eBird Hotspot)
Located on the northern side of Chingaza at 9,500ft / 2,900m, this private property is being developed as a birding destination. They are installing feeders, constructing trails, and working to establish antpitta feeding stations, and I think this site could have potential moving forward. Right now it is still a bit raw, but there is some really nice habitat on the property. Sadly, it was pouring rain on my short visit, so I couldn't explore the area the way that I had hoped. My short and rainy visit did yield Rufous Antpitta, Pearled Treerunner, Green-and-Black Fruiteater, Black-collared Jay, Black-capped Hemispingus, Supercillaried Hemispingus, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, and Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager. Birding along the 7km entrance road yielded Andean Guan, Ochre-breasted Brushfinch (NE), Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Blue-backed Conebill, Barred Becard, Red-crested Cotinga, and Mountain Cacique. Other notable birds in the area include Black-billed Mountain-Toucan and Brown-breasted Parakeet (E), but we missed those. We accessed Bosque Guajira after an hour drive from Guasca where we spent the previous night. Contact Diego Amaral at +57 321 491 1780 for more information on access and entrance fees.

Clockwise from top left: Entrance road, Bosque Guajira
main building, me with Bosque guide, view of Bosque habitat

Map of Guasca and Bosque Guajira

Monterredondo (eBird Hotspot)
I did not visit this spot (~6,700ft / 2,040m), but this is the best known spot to find Cundinamarca Antpitta (E), a species with a very restricted range on the eastern slope of the Eastern Andes. Monterredonda can be done as a day trip from Bogotá, but makes for a very long outing that way. Tourism infrastructure is thin around Monterredondo, but Villavicencio to the Southeast might have adequate lodging. Monterredondo visitors will find a different complement of birds on that slope - the eastern slope of the Eastern Andes - than at any of the other sites that I describe, but this spot is mostly for hardcore lister who want to tick the antpitta.

Laguna El Tabacal (eBird Hotspot)
Located at 4,300ft / 1,300m, Tabacal is much lower in elevation than all of the above sites and presents correspondingly different birds. In Tabacal's subtropical forests, we had Little Tinamou, Little Cuckoo, White-bellied Antbird, Rusty-breasted Antpitta, Red-Billed Scythebill, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, White-beared Manakin, Black-bellied Wren, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Black-headed Brushfinch (NE, barely shared with Panama), and Velvet-fronted Euphonia (E). Bird activity was constant, and I think it's worth dedicating an entire morning to Tabacal. It's possible to visit in the afternoon, but Tabacal is should really be a featured and morning destination. It's just 7km above the town of La Vega, the access road is in good shape, and the series of trails make for mostly easy walking. There's absolutely nothing not to like about Tabacal. There is a small entrance fee, something like $3 US. For those that don't want to do this as a day trip from Bogotá, there accommodations in La Vega. After finishing at Tabacal around midday, I'd suggest heading over to Jardin Encantado (below) to relax.

A view across Laguna El Tabacal. The place is small
but loaded with all sorts of birds!

Jardín Encantado (website, eBird Hotspot)
This private residence (4,780ft/ 1,460m) at is the perfect place to relax after a morning at Tabacal. Being just off the main street in San Francisco, it doesn't look like much from the outside, but on the inside it's a whole different story. Owner Lenore is obsessed with hummingbirds, and she has over 40 hummingbird feeders to prove it! Hummingbirds were everywhere, and we enjoyed point black views of 10 species including Violetears, Black-throated Mango, Gorgeted Woodstar, White-vented Plumleteer, and Indigo-capped Hummmingbird (E). ~180 species have been eBirded from the property, but it's difficult to pull one's attention off the hummers to look at anything else. Access is really easy, and Jardín is a great place to rest after Tabacal. Watch hummers, have lunch in San Francisco, bad head somewhere else in the afternoon. Easy. Cell: +57 310 875 5507, colibriescolombia@gmail.com

Jardín Encantado showcase

Parque National Chicaque (website, eBird Hotspot)
Chicaque was one of the most interesting spots that I visited, as much for the scenery as the birding. The reserve occupies a very steep hillside, and there is a specific protocol for how to best bird it. Upon arriving at the top of the reserve (8460ft / 2580m), visitors will find a very large and modern restaurant complete with hummingbird feeders. It's worth checking those for Golden-bellied Starfrontlet (NE) as we had 3-4 of them right from the parking area. From there, pay the entrance fee, buy your return (uphill) Jeep ticket, and begin the steep descent into the park. That 3km walk takes visitors down a very twisty road than runs through some wonderful forest habitat. We found White-tipped Swift, Glowing Puffleg, Ash-colored Tapaculo, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Flammulated Treehunter, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Whiskered Wren, and Moustached Brushfinch (NE). Nearly 400 species have been eBirded from Chicaque, so it's a really good spot. Once walkers reach the bottom, they are greeted by an immense lodge complete with onsite restaurant.

Chicaque scenery

Chicaque lodge

For those that have had enough walking, the Jeep shuttle will return you to the top (it's a fun and bouncy ride). Folks with more time and energy might enjoy the additional hiking trails radiating out from the lodge. Though most birders, and particularly those with tour group, will probably visit Chicaque for the day, I think an overnight stay at the lodge would be a lot of fun. Accommodations are basic but comfortable, and the restaurant looked nice as well. Luggage can be sent down and up in the Jeep, so that helps! Chicaque - like everywhere - is probably best birded in the morning, but I did it in the afternoon after El Tabacal and Jardín Encantado. The ideal way to do Chicaque would be to hike in one afternoon, spend the night, and hike/bird out the following morning. Alternatively, folks could use the morning to bird around the lodge before the Jeep up the hill midday.

Birding sites around Fusagasugá and west towards Magdalena River
Fusagasugá is a city of about 135,000 people about 2 hours southwest of Bogotá. It has some decent hotels and makes a nice base of operations for several interesting birding sites that would require too much time to access directly from Bogotá. It's worth noting that the drive from Chicaque to Fusagasugá is just over an hour, so Chicaque is as easily accessed from Fusagasugá as it is Bogotá.

Besides noting the indicated locations, it is important to understand that more than 8,000 feet of elevation is lost as one moves down the western slope of the Eastern Andes (right to left on this map). Another 10 miles beyond the left edge of the map is the Magdalena River at the bottom of the Magdalena Valley, the lowland area separating the Eastern Andes to the East and the Central Andes to the west. This is all probably a bit confusing, but the important thing to know is that the birdlife at Finca Los Cactos and Maná Dulca is completely different from the higher elevations closer to Bogotá. That's why birding in Colombia is so amazing; One need not move very far to find hundreds of different species!

Birding spots around Fusagasugá and points west

Aqua y Verde (Reserve Facebook page, eBird Hotspot)
AV is a small private reserve at 6,800ft (~2800m) just outside Fusugasugá. There is basic lodging and food available on the property, and a small set of hummingbird feeders attracts up to 14 species including Black-throated Mango, Long-tailed Sylph, Booted Racket-tail, Bronzy Inca, and Indigo-Capped Hummingbird (E). There is a small road/trail that runs up the hill from the facility, and along it I found Ash-browed Spinetail, Streaked Xenops, Golden-winged Manakin, and Flame-faced and other tanagers. The birding was easy and anyone in decent walking shape will enjoy it. For the more adventurous, continue a quarter mile up the main road/trail, make a left at the T junction, cross the small creek, and make a right onto the steep and rocky trail that runs farther up the hillside. There you'll find some beautiful forest habitat hosting Greenish Puffleg, Streak-capped Treehunter, and Gray-browed Brushfinch. Though a few hours will probably do it at AV, the birding was good enough that it might be worth investing the prime morning hours into the place, either after an overnight in Fusagasugá or on the property. The General Manager is Jorge Bazante. Email: parqueverdeyagua@gmail.com, +57 317 237 5099 or +57 318 609 3960.

Verde y Ague outside Fusasagusá. Clockwise from top left:
outside of building, dining area, forest, dorm room

Finca El Colibrí Gorriazul (website, Facebook page, eBird Hotspot, Airbnb link)
Named for the endemic Indigo-capped Hummingbird that frequents the property, Gorriazul (~5500ft, 1680m) is one of the most unique properties I've ever visited. It's basically a family dwelling that's been converted into a world-class research station. Most closely and presently associated with the University of California-Berkeley, researchers at Gorriazul study hummingbird flight, behavior, feeding, and everything in between. The place is occupied by researchers June-August, but they vacate for the academic year, leaving vacancies which birders can fill. Gorriazul's hummingbirds are amazingly approachable, mostly because they have become so accustomed to flying into custom made enclosures used for the various experiments. Instead of having a man-made facility filled with mice or other research subject, the surrounding forest provides all the hummingbirds the researchers need.

Left: Researchers/owners Kristiina (yes, double 'i') and Alejandro
Right: Researchers hard at work (summers only)!

The one caveat to Gorriazul is access. The entrance road is very steep and in pretty crappy shape, so 4-wheel drive will be required. A tour group van will not make it. However, Gorriazul has a vehicle for transporting guests to and from the main road. If you're traveling alone or as a couple, that would be the perfect way to get to the property. Here's a video I made of one of their feeders so that you'll know what your missing if you don't make it! +57 311 812 2928

Cerro Quininí and Finca Quininí (eBird Hotspot)
Cerro Quininí is a mountain-like formation west of Fusagasugá. There is a fairly good dirt road that runs nearly to the top, and the upper 2km of that road are great birding (the elevation is approximately 6200ft / 1900m). There are even some proper hiking trails that depart from hairpin turn in the road just before the final climb. So, it's a pretty well organized site that local hikers visit in decent numbers on the weekends.

Cerro Quininí area

Birding the specified 2km of road one afternoon and the following morning, we observed Colombian Chachalaca (E), Moustached Puffbird, Bar-crested Antshrike, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Black-bellied Wren, Turquoise Dacnis (E, probably the key bird here), Guira Tanager, Moustached Brushfinch (NE), and Velvet-fronted Euphonia (E).

Finca Quininí, a private property just off the road in those top 2km, should also be on your radar, particularly if you want to spend the night exactly on those 2km. Accommodations are very basic - no running water in guest hut, for example - so I'll suggest this only for the most adventurous. The family that runs the place is wonderful, and they are able to prepare meals for birders as well. My advice would be to bird Quininí all morning, have have lunch at the Finca (call ahead to arrange), then clear out for the next birding spot. There were lots of birds at Quininí in both the afternoon and morning, but the percentages say the morning is best. Finca Quininí contact info: Eisenhower Castillo +57 313 344 5829, +57 319 382 7880

Finca Quininí walk-through

La Hacienda Posada Campesina (website, checklist from my visit)
We stumbled onto this property while we were birding some random dirt road a thousand feet below Finca Quininí. But what a find! This place is really nice and would be perfect for individual birders and tour groups. It has all the amenities one would expect (nice beds, hot water, good decor, etc), and the owner has wisely opened a decent restaurant right across the street. If you want to bird Quininí in the morning, this is the place to overnight. There is even decent birding around the property and along the entrance road (my checklist linked above). It probably takes 15 to 20 minutes to drive back up the dirt road the top 2km. Phone +57 310 303 4527 or +57 322 398 9100, contacto@aprenat.org

La Hacienda Posada Campesina walk-through

Finca Los Cactos (eBird Hotspot)
Located at just 1300ft (400m) of elevation, Cactos is a private hacienda and reserve that offers the rare trifecta of great lodging, great dining, and great birding on a single property. Situated in dry forest habitat, Los Cactos hosts species such as Greater Ani, Whooping Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Barred Puffbird, White-fringed Antwren, Jet Antbird, White-bellied Antbird, Sepia-crowed Flycatcher, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, White-eared Conebill, Orange-billed Sparrow, Orange-crowned Oriole, and Velvet-breasted Euphonia (E). Marta Rodriguez is the most wonderful hostess, and she accompanied/guided us as we roamed her various trails in the late afternoon and morning that followed. We had well over 70 species during our visit, many of which were new for our trip list - even after nearly 5 weeks in the country! As the video shows, the accommodations are great. As a nice bonus, there are 3 very active fruit feeders that can be monitored right from the house porch. Los Cactos is great and is exactly the sort of place a non-birding spouse would enjoy. It is definitely worth an overnight! Contact Marta Terraube +57 314 370 9742 or marta.terraube@hotmail.com. She is absolutely wonderful and is perhaps the best hostess in all of Colombia!

Finca Los Cactos walk-through

Parque Natural Maná Dulce in Tocaima (Facebook page, eBird Hotspot, Trip Advisor)
Located at exactly the same elevation and only 20-30 minutes from Finca Los Cactos, Maná Dulce presents similarly arid habitat and a mostly overlapping complement of dry forest birds. Despite that, I think it is worth visiting both properties as they are so close together. Maná Dulce endemics include Colombian Chachalaca (E), Apical Flycatcher (E), and Velvet-fronted Euphonia (E), and beyond those we found Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Forest Elaenia, Fuscous Flycatcher, and Pileated Finch.

There is lodging at Maná Dulce, but is it very basic compared to what is offered at Los Cactos. It makes the most sense to arrive at Los Cactos in the late afternoon and bird it before spending the night. I'd bird at Los Cactos from 6-8:30 the following morning, eat breakfast, and then head over to Maná Dulce for a few additional hours of birding and exploring. I'd have lunch at Maná Dulce after birding and use the afternoon to reach the next destination. Dry forest? Done! Phone +57 311 449 5850. I'd call a day or two in advance to arrange lunch if you're on a tour.

Notes on Cundinamarca Bird Photography
While there are plenty of really unique and beautiful birds in Cundinamarca, there isn't yet proper infrastructure to facilitate their photography. Certain spots, like Observatorio de Colibries, have really nice feeder arrays that attract lots of birds, but they haven't been optimized for natural looking shots. If you want shots of birds on feeders, you'll have the chance to do that at some places. But if you proper set-ups where you can capture want natural looking shots without man-made objects in them, then Cundinamarca falls short - at least at this time. Photographers would be advised to visit areas/lodges around Cali and Manizales as they have better photographic infrastructure.

Sparkling Violetear - Colibri coruscans
Observatorio de Colibries, Cundinamarca, Colombia
Canon 500mm f/4 IS + 1.4x III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/400 at f/7.1, ISO 1600, Tripod, Manual mode

Wow, that took forever! I hope this gives you an have an idea of what Cundinamarca birding looks like. It's far from complete, but I think it's a good starting point from which to plan your own Cundinamarcan and Colombian birding adventure.

In the next post we'll move north to Boyacá Department!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I just stumbled on this site. I live in Bogota and you have done a fantastic job of covering so many fantastic birding sites. I can't wait to visit the many that you list that I have yet to discover. Thanks for your awesome post!