Trip Report: Colombia’s Eastern Cordillera 2024

January 13, 2024 to January 21, 2024 with Jesse Fagan

Smashing photo of the endemic Bogota Rail photographed by David and Judy Smith at Sumapaz National Park above Bogota.

Bogota is home to nearly 10 million people, and most participants would think that it's just a place to avoid, a jumping off point for destinations farther afield. The reality is that Bogota has excellent birding within its borders. By "borders," I mean within a couple hours drive, and that's only because of the topography and traffic as the straight-line distances are small!  That is what this tour is designed to do.  We visit several important national parks like Chingaza and Sumapaz, and a host of smaller municipal parks (Tabacal) and private reserves (Chicaque, Camana, and La Herreria).  There is really good birding in Bogota, as long as you know how to manage the traffic!

The first couple of days were spent visiting several sites located in the western foothills of the Eastern Cordillera.  You might want to get out a map since understanding the geography of Colombia can be a little confusing.  The western foothills have birds more representative of the Magdalena Valley, which are not found on the other side of the mountain range, in the eastern foothills.  Our first visit was to the birdy site of Tabacal where we enjoyed a bunch of "firsts" for the trip: Spectacled Parrotlets, Bar-crested Antshrike, Black-bellied Wrens, and White-bearded Manakin.  Later, in the afternoon, we visited Jardin Encantado with its array of 25+ hummingbird feeders attracting beauties like Indigo-capped Hummingbird and Sparkling Violetear.  The next full day we spent at Chicaque with its wonderful humid montane forest and accompanying mixed-species flocks where we worked hard to identify every individual.  These flocks included four species of hemispingus (Black-capped, Black-eared, Oleaginous, and Superciliared), Grass-Green Tanager, Blue-and-black Tanager, Rufous-browed Conebill, Black-crested Warblers, among many others.  The birding here was intense, but exciting.  The downhill descent will have our calves remembering it for some time, however.

We made a special visit to see the rare and local Cundinamarca Antpitta, which played well to the camera of participant Jody Gillespie.

We next moved to the highland habitats at Chingaza and Sumapaz.  Sumapaz is slightly higher than Chingaza and offered us a unique experience in the paramo-Espeletia habitat at 12,000 feet.  It was here that we searched out much desired targets like Green-bearded Helmetcrest, Bogota Rail, and Apolinar's Wren.  This day was awesome, and we caught up nicely with all these target species, plus a fabulous lunch at Reserva Chiguaza that included a traditional ajiaco (a soup made with chicken, corn and avocado).  At Sumapaz we birded above treeline, while at Chingaza the following day we spent it in the stunted forest just below treeline.  This unique habitat has many species that are transitioning between foothills forest and paramo.  Probably our most impressive sighting of the day (and for some, the trip!) were lengthy views, photographs, videos, etc., of Ocellated Tapaculo.  Oh, and let's not forget our stop at Observatorio de Colibres on the way back into Bogota where we got to see the Blue-throated Starfrontlet with a host of other cool hummers like Sword-billed and Glowing Puffleg. 

The second half of the tour drops down the eastern foothills to the base of the Eastern Cordillera.  We focus our birding in and around the small city of Villavicencio.  Villavicencio is located at the base of the Andes, but towards the east stretches flat all the way to Venezuela.  This area is the llanos, or open savanna.  We stayed at a small reserve lodge called Camana, a perfect location for our visits to Bosque Bavaria and a survey of llanos country birds.  As mentioned above, the eastern foothills gave us opportunities for more llanos and Amazonian birds.  Indeed, our birding list was quite different here including species like Fork-tailed Woodnymph (not Crowned), White-chinned Jacamar (not Rufous-tailed), Amazonian Motmot (not Whooping or Andean), plus, Yellow-billed Nunbird and several antbirds, White-browed, Dusky, and Spot-winged.  We dabbled in the llanos picking up Scarlet Ibis, Double-striped Thick-Knee, Black-crested Antshrike, Two-banded Puffbird, and Purple-throated Euphonia.  We left early our last morning to avoid traffic due to the tunnel closure (remember that?!).  We visited a small private property (La Herreria), arriving in 4x4 vehicles, where the family have set up a blind for viewing the rare and local Cundinamarca Antpitta.  It took a little longer than normal (birders must be patient), but soon the star arrived, and we got to enjoy amazing views before heading back down the mountain and making our way back to Bogota.

Thanks to this fun group who made my job so easy especially dealing with a couple of obstacles like loud hotel folks and a road closure.  We had a tie for favorite bird of the trip, both already mentioned in this report: Ocellated Tapaculo and Cundinamarca Antpitta.  I wish you the very best in birding and success in 2024 and I hope to see you all again on another trip.

You can see my complete trip report on eBird at this link: https://ebird.org/tripreport/202473

—Jesse aka Mot (from Lima, Peru)