Colombia May-June 2014
Trip Report Colombia May-June 2014
I’m spending the weekend in Medellin w/Juan, then the first group flies in and joins me in Minca in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The first trip will be zigzagging back and forth across the Cauca Valley, between 2 locations on the west slope of the Western Cordillera in the Choco, and the east slope of the Central Cordillera. Las Tangaras and Montezuma are only about 65km apart, as the condor flies, but there aren’t any roads, so you have to go back to the main highway that runs north/south down the Cauca Valley. The first trip goes from May 14 to June 2, and the second trip is from June 2 to the 22nd. On the 2nd trip we go to the eastern Andes, to San Agustin and Florencia, then back to Medellin and Jardin, and end at Rio Claro in the Magdalena Valley.
Day 1, May 9 – fly Texas to Medellin, 4 nights in El Poblado, Medellin
Day 2, May 10 – La Romera w/Juan & mother’s day dinner w/Juan’s extended family
Day 3, May 11 – Mother’s Day, see Juan at night
Day 4, May 12 – lunch w/Pablo, Juan at night
Day 5, May 13 – fly to Santa Marta for 2 nights at Sierra’s Sound in Minca
Day 6, May 14 – the group flies in to Santa Marta in the morning for trip 1, led by David Geale from Canada, it includes Bob Behrstock, Roger Rittmaster, John Rhodes for just trip 2, and Bill Berthet and Priscilla Brodkin will be with me for both trips. After lunch we go to Pozo Azul.
Day 7, May 15 – drive up to El Dorado for 4 nights, 1950m.
Day 8, May 16 – explore road up & down around El Dorado
Day 9, May 17 – drive up to San Lorenzo, 2250m, walk down
Day 10, May 18 – drive to top, 2600m
Day 11, May 19 – work the road back to Minca for 1 night
Day 12, May 20 – Pozo Azul, then fly to Medellin in the afternoon for 1 night at Casa Asturias
Day 13, May 21 – drive to Las Tangaras for 3 nights, do Sinifana for the morning, 750m
Day 14, May 22 – go up the mountain at Las Tangaras, 2000-1700m
Day 15, May 23 – back up the mountain, a little lower to Juan’s bait spot 1680m
Day 16, May 24 – morning at Tangaras on the near slope, then drive to Manizales for the night
Day 17, May 25 – early departure up to Rio Blanco, east slope Central Andes, for 1 night, ant pittas
Day 18, May 26 – morning at Quebada Olivares 2300m, PM drive to Montezuma for 4 nights, west slope of Western Andes
Day 19, May 27 – walk to first bridge 1400m, tons of stuff
Day 20, May 28 – drive to top, 2600m
Day 21, May 29 – rain all day
Day 22, May 30 – morning at Montezuma, drive to Otun for 3 nights @ 1865m, east slope Central Andes
Day 23, May 31 – walk the road at Otun
Day 24, June 1 – take a truck to the top and walk down
Day 25, June 2 – 1st group leaves, 2nd group comes in for 3 nights at Otun
Day 26, June 3 – drive to the top, a sunny morning!
Day 27, June 4 – walk the road
Day 28, June 5 – drive to Cali, fly to Pitalito and drive to San Agustin at 1650m for 4 nights
Day 29, June 6 – explore the archeological ruins 3 km from town
Day 30, June 7 – drive up the mountain past Isnos towards Popoyan to 2200m
Day 31, June 8 – drive to Estrechos de Magdalena, the narrows of the river, 1400m, then move to Florencia for 3 nights at 300m
Day 32, June 9 – work the old road to Florencia, 1400m, km 54-55
Day 33, June 10 – go back to old road but higher, 2000m km 46
Day 34, June 11 – morning on old road above Florencia, 800m, km 70-69, fly 2pm Bogota-Medellin for 1 night at Casa Asturias
Day 35, June 12 – 5am departure for Jardin, hike in to Fundacion Colibri 2200m for 3 nights
Day 36/37, June 13/14 – explore trails at Fundacion Colibri for 2 days
Day 38, June 15 – hike out, 3 nights at La Esperanza outside Jardin
Day 39, June 16 – 6:30am departure to drive up to the yellow-eared parrot reserve, 2900m, and cock of the rock below town
Day 40, June 17 – back up the mountain, road blockage, shopping in the square
Day 41, June 18 – morning at Jardin, work lower road, drive back to Medellin for the night
Day 42, June 19 – drive to Rio Claro for 2 nights
Day 43, June 20 – work the road and trail at Rio Claro
Day 44, June 21 – morning at Cuervo del Condor, drive back to Medellin after lunch
Day 45, June 22 – the group leaves for 8am flight to Miami, I stay 1 more day in hotel
Day 45, June 23 – I depart on 8am AA flight to Miami
Day 1 Fri May 9 –fly AA through DFW/Miami to Medellin, arrive about 9:15pm. I’m renting a room in an apartment for 4 nights to spend the weekend with Juan Guillermo, my photographer friend who lives in Medellin. I found the apartment through AirBnB, $20/night w/a private bath. Beats the price at the Best Western where I stayed last year. The room is small but the apartment is lovely, a great balcony that overlooks trees in a park. We’re on the 10th floor on Calle 9, a block from the main road which is Calle 10. So it’s quiet, except for bird song, lots of palm tanagers in the trees.
Day 2 Sat May 10 – I walk down to Calle 10, looking for breakfast, and get a couple of tasty turnovers at a little panaderia. Guava & cheese, and arequipe, the caramel I really like, a scrumptious start to the day. This is close to where I stayed for several weeks last Feb/March, so I’m familiar with the area. I even know where the main grocery store is, back up the hill across the street from the Best Western. This area is very hilly and steep to walk around, good exercise.
It’s overcast and drizzly, so Juan comes to get me about 11:30. We head to La Romera, a great place just outside town, good for red-bellied grackles. Juan likes to go to the top where we hike down a steep trail to the right and go up a couple of different ways. We don’t cover much distance, but all kinds of butterflies come to this little creek and display in this ravine. Juan puts out the magic shrimp bait and we get Mesosemia mevania right away, Emesis cypria and a few others. Because it is a fairly cool day we don’t get as much as we have in the past here. I do get good looks at a male and female Rhetus dysonii, first time I’ve seen the black and white female. Can’t get the shots, unfortunately, they’re feeding on a eupatorium up the hillside above me.
That night I go w/Juan’s extended family to a dinner for his mother. Lots of fun, get to meet Juan’s parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, what a crowd. There is a 94 year old great aunt to a pair of twin boys just 9 months old. Everyone is very welcoming and friendly, a real Colombian experience.
Day 3 Sun May 11- unfortunately today is Mother’s Day, and Juan and Martin are with their families all day, so I work on the computer. It rains all morning, I just have time to climb up the hill to the grocery store and stock up on breakfast goodes, yogurt, fruit and granola. For an early dinner I hike downhill to Calle 7 to City Pizza, a place I find on trip advisor. Very nice, I sit outside on their covered patio under tall shade trees and have a pizza barcelona, which is serrano ham and carmelized pears. A very different pizza, thin crispy crust with sesame seed all around the edge, but quite tasty. And of course my first guanabana con leche drink, it is good to be back in Colombia!
Juan comes by about 5:30 and we work for several hours, he shows me more on his database, very productive.
Day 4 Mon May 12 – I meet Pablo for lunch, we walk down to Mundo Verde. A delicious salad and health food place, I have a Colombian chicken quisadilla. Not like a Mexican one, but good, with a tangy mustard sauce. Then Juan comes by after work.
Day 5 Tue May 13 – fly to Santa Marta, Avianca has 1 flight/day direct from Medellin. All other flights have to go through Bogota. Pablo has a driver meet me at the airport and we drive about an hour to Minca. It is extremely dry here. The driver says they haven’t had much rain since Oct/Nov, and very little then, and that is normally their heaviest rains. When we get to Sierra’s Sound, the simple little hotel we use in Minca, it is a bit greener. The guy at the hotel says they had rain last Sunday, but the creek in back of the hotel is quite low. I go swimming anyway, or more sitting in the deepest pool I can find below the hotel. It is lovely and cool. It was really hot in Santa Marta, I’m glad to get a little bit of elevation, Minca is about 650m.
Big surprise, I thought they didn’t have internet here, but they do. Not the fastest, but good enough. They also have a nice Italian restaurant, so I can eat early and just hang out and listen to the stream. Lots of bird calls as well. Minca is a popular tourist town, lots of places to stay w/signs in english, sort of a backpacker place. I think this is one of the more high end hotels, because each room has a/c, which is a big plus as it is about 90F. Cooler than Santa Marta, that’s for sure.
Day 6 Wed May 14 – my 6 travel buddies fly in this morning from Bogota, 2 different flights. Pablo has arranged transfers, so the first group gets here about 10ish, and the 2nd group about 11:30. Everybody makes it w/luggage, though two have a very tight connection due to a late international arrival on the United flight from Houston, but we’re all here now. After lunch we take 2 cars over to sendero Pozo Azul, about a 10-15 minute drive. The cars can’t go down the dirt track, so we walk in about 2 km to the big swimming hole. There is a very dilapidated bridge and a trail continues up the hill for who knows how far. We have a good couple of hours, until 4pm, and find a number of new species to add to Juan’s and my El Dorado list, mostly common roadside species. Probably the best is a new species for me, Nymphidium onaeum, with beautiful orange spots around the white center. Everybody gets good photos.
Day 7, May 15 – start up the mountain after 7am breakfast. The drive is only about 2 hours, if you drive straight through, but of course we don’t plan to do that. You climb from 650m at Minca to 1950m at El Dorado, and we take a packed lunch and plan to stop a number of places. Going up the road, we stop wherever it looks promising.
#1 Y road to the right goes to Central (N 11 06 225, W 074 05 193074 05 193) 1460m, where Heliconius eleuchia were in 2008. We see this species flying all the way up the road, probably the most common species we see today. We finally find them nectaring on some small yellow composites where we all take tons of photos. There are very worn individuals and some very fresh ones.
#2 Malabrigo (or Mal Abrigo?) (N 11 06 198, W 074 04 872074 04 872), ravine where Mimardaris aerata firetip was, right hand turn across a small creek over the road, about 1500m. We walked from #1 to #2, not very far. This is a great looking spot, too bad it is cool and overcast. This looks like a wonderful spot to hang out, if we had some sun. Bill and Roger find the Mimardaris on the dirt at the creek, then it flies and poses nicely on leaves. They get great shots, and Priscilla and I see it before it departs. I’m thrilled to see this Santa Marta endemic at this time of the year. I’ve seen it in July and others photographed it in September, so it must fly most of the year. Plus this is a lot lower than I’ve seen it, as before we had it at 2200m at San Lorenzo. We see it 3 times today, at 1700m at the lunch spot Palo Alto (an almost dead one of cement bags) and one nectaring at El Dorado.
#3 Morpho helenor spot, old house, 1600m. I think they are M.menelaus, but Fredy tells me that species isn’t found here. There are 3 or 4 Morphos flying around this old building, maybe coming to guava? We haven’t seen many Morphos earlier, though 1 did fly by the hotel in Minca.
#4 little store Las Flores, this was the traditional spot to stop on earlier trips. But the drivers tell us there is a 2nd place a bit higher, so we continue on. There are lots of flowers planted here and a small store to buy soft drinks. Good elevation to look for blossomcrown hummingbird.
#5 Palo Alto, lunch spot, 1700m. We eat lunch, brought from Sierra’s Sound, at Palo Alto which is a couple of turns past the little store at Las Flores. For 5,000 COP each we can walk around their garden and sit down under their house for lunch. This is a much bigger garden than spot #4, and you can eat your own lunch under the house where caretakers live. They have bananas out for bird feeders also, with chlorophonias and brush finches coming in. We see the blossomcrown hummer there, and lots of flowerpiercers. Also our first of the higher elevation Morpho rhodopteron, like sulkowskyi, sails by. This is a smaller, beautiful opalescent glowing purple Morpho, paler yellow below. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to photograph one. We plan to leave at 1:30pm, but it gets bright and sunny so we walk. The ProAves reserve starts right after here, it is a big reserve. There is a note written on one of the posts saying 2.7 km distance, but it seems further than that to the lodge. 20 minutes later the fog comes down, no more sun. It comes and goes as we work our way up the hill.
I walk ahead and disappear into the fog. Sitting on a rock by myself, I call in white-tipped quetzal, who fly back and forth overhead cackling at me. The cars catch up to me, and we make it to El Dorado about 2:30pm, in heavy fog. Their hummingbird feeders are hopping, and we see both male and female white-tailed sunangels, another spectacular endemic. After a delicious dinner, we all pray for sun tomorrow.
Day 8, Friday May 16 – we wake to light cloud cover. The cars didn’t stay with us, so we’re on foot today and tomorrow. The cars will be back Saturday night for early Sunday drive up to the top. But for today we wander mostly down the road. Poor David puts out tons of spitwads, pee and some shrimp bait, but nothing seems to be interested in any of the bait. Most of the day is cool and cloudy, but we still find some stuff.
Day 9, Saturday May 17 – David and a few of the hardcore hike up to San Lorenzo, the national park station at 2250m, supposedly 3 km up the road. The rest of us have the local guy drive us up. It takes half an hour driving, so that gives you an idea how bad and rocky the road is. We then spend the morning walking back down. I don’t get to photograph much, but the early birds score big with Adelpha serphia egregia, an endemic subspecies, a great female hairstreak Thaeides theia which I’ve never seen (bright yellow spots near the tail), and a riodinid that we can’t figure out, bright yellow and black. We see the Adelpha at least 3 times, usually perching high up. There is a flowering bush about 10-15 minutes walk up from El Dorado, the only flowers we see that are attracting butterflies, so that is a frequent spot to check.
Day 10, Sunday May 18 – our drivers are back, and the birding group departs at 4am (not me, thank heavens!). My group leaves at the civilized hour of 7:30am. It takes about 2 hours to drive up to the top at 2600m, 12 km. I figure nothing will be flying before 9:30 or 10 at that elevation anyway. It is a beautiful sunny morning, and we drive up to satyrs flying across the steep, rutted road in front of us. Not large numbers of species, but we get good looks at the 4 species of Pedaliodes and a few other high elevation satyrs. Of course the clouds come down by 9 or 10, and we end up walking down much of the road in clouds.
Day 11, Monday May 19 – unfortunately someone has gone through my bags, nothing was taken but things look moved. Bob is in the room next to me, and his passport and money are gone. We’re in the lower story of rooms, out of sight of the main dining area, and we believe it was students. There was a large group of students visiting the previous day, and the trail comes out right by our rooms. We hadn’t been given any keys, so our rooms were never locked, and apparently someone took advantage. If they are going to have groups of visitors for day trips, ProAves needs to provide keys to the rooms, as obviously they aren’t secure.
Anyway, David works out that Bob can go to Barranquilla to the US consulate and get a replacement passport. Fortunately he has a xerox of his passport, which is a big help. Then Bob will meet us at the airport for our flights to Medellin. There isn’t any consular service in Medellin, so his only other option was to go to Bogota. Aside for the money he lost, and the hassle, he has to pay for a new passport, $150, and a $200 taxi fare.
We slowly drive down the mountain, walking a lot, stopping at places. We finally get real rain later in the morning, but we still get some photos. We see the gorgeous purple Morpho rhodopteron flying at Central, and David even gets some in flight shots.
Tonight we try a different hotel, Hotel Minca, which is a pretty location and has good hummingbird feeders, 6 species overlooking a nice view of the valley. But the food is not very good. Very fatty meat, I don’t eat mine, and the rooms are hot and stuffy without a/c. We all decide we prefer Sierra’s Sound.
Day 12, Tue May 20 – we have 3 hours to chase butterflies back at Pozo Azul, then back to the hotel for a shower. Last night we decided we wanted to have lunch at Sierra’s Sound, and we’ve pre-ordered lunch for 11am. Then we’re off to the airport, about an hour, for our 2pm flight to Medellin. Crepes y Waffles for dinner, hooray!
We have a good morning, get a number of new species for the trip, and Bob gets to the consulate and fills out all the forms. But the consulate calls David, says Bob didn’t fill out everything, and David has to track down Bob, through the taxi driver, get all the info (mother’s and father’s date and place of birth, good thing he knows it, I wouldn’t know my parents’ info), then email it back to the consulate. But that all works out, we all make our short 1 hour flight to Medellin, make it to Casa Asturias by 4:30pm, and now go to C&W.
Day 13, Wed May 21 – 6am departure from the hotel to try and beat some of the traffic, which means no breakfast at Casa Asturias. This is ok, as their breakfast isn’t to die for, basic eggs, arepas and fruit. We drive about an hour to El Ranchito, not the first one on the left but the second on the right. This one has bird feeder tables, and we pig out on arepas con chocolo and fruit drinks. About an hour later, we’re on our way, and get to Quebrada Sinifana, a large bridge over a river with a sign. We turn right immediately after the sign, taking the dirt track just before the bridge up about 2 km to a good sized cement bridge in the forest (N 11 08 591, W 074 07 126074 07 126). We work this and slowly walk our way back towards the main road, about 725-750m. A goodly number of lowland species, metalmarks, lots of brown skippers, and as it gets hotter around the middle of the day, we get a nice selection of hairstreaks. Nothing new for me, but a nice number of species to add to our trip list. Lots of Eunica monima, Dingy Purplewing, including lots of fresh females with big white spots on the DFW. We arrive at 9:15am, the sun is just getting there, and we have a good 4 hours or so, leaving about 1:30pm.
Bill Berthet has an exciting encounter with a bull, here’s his account -
A welcoming sunny morning sky greeted us on May 21, as our group Neotropical Butterflies, headed for Quebrada Sinifana (elevation around 750m) a small community around 35 miles S.W. of Medellin, Columbia.
All of us were busy photographing butterflies along a narrow dirt road when about a dozen light to medium grey colored Brahman or Brahma Cattle (some were bulls) most weighing well over 1500 lbs., passed by us with a horse wrangler at each end. These animals are intelligent and shy and quickly passed through our group.
Not long after passing us, one of the bulls bolted out of the group and ran back up the mountain dirt road at full speed. I was on the road above the rest when I saw the bull runnning towards me. I jumped (camera, binoculars and all) into a ditch on one side of the road. The bull galloped by with one of the horse wranglers in hot pursuit. He was able to stop the bull from running. However, when the wrangler passed the bull, his horse blocked further progress of the bull at an angle on the opposite side of the road which dropped hundreds of feet into a forested ravine. As I watched I could see a confused, disoriented look in the eyes of the bull. Instead of turning to the right and going back on the road, he turned left, jumped off the road and tumbled down the ravine. Seconds went by as he disappeared into the forest. The wrangler and I looked at each other and I thought “Did this really happen?”
Later the two wranglers met up where the bull jumped, both looking down and deciding what to do. There was nothing to see. We never did find out what happened to this animal after it jumped.
A bit shaken up, I resumed photographing butterflies on fresh cow dung including Lasia pseudomeris and Lasia agesilas. Favorites for the day included the hairstreaks Arzecula arza and Lamprospilis collucia.
We drive about 30 minutes to another nice open air restaurant for lunch, La Mayoria del San Juan in Penalisa, 5 km from Bolombolo, which is where we cross the Cauca River. Now we’re on the western Andes.
From the restaurant it takes us a good 1 hour 45 minutes to get to Tangaras. There is major road building going on, we’re lucky to only hit 1 waiting spot, as there is lots of 1 way sections. We’re glad to get here, and enjoy the hummingbird feeders and have a delicious dinner.
Day 14, Thur May 22 – being butterfliers and not birders, we have a civilized 7am breakfast, then 45 minute drive in jeeps up the mountain. This has us in the field by 8:15, just when the butterflies are starting to get active. There are 3 sets of little wooden bleachers where you can sit along the road, and we get out of the truck at the highest set, #1, about 1800m. You go over a small pass at 2000m, where there used to be soldiers guarding the pass (and the hummingbird feeders) but no solders this time. Then you walk and work the road as far downhill as you want. The good forest only goes maybe 5 km.
We never even make it down to the 3rd set of bleachers, as the people find so many butterflies to photograph. I do walk down to ‘the hole’ at 1760m (N 05 59 947, W 075 48 817075 48 817), where we had great stuff last time 2 years ago, a little above the lowest set of bleachers. But someone, probably the army, has cleared all the undergrowth and done a lot of camping here, so it is not as good as before. But David and I put out plenty of shrimp, pee and spitwads, and stuff is coming in. Plus he’s put bait all over the road, so we have a great morning. Most of what we see are species I’ve seen here before, but we do get some new ones.
I take the driver down looking for the place Juan told me about, where he had a great time when he was here in March. It is a couple of km beyond his usual baiting spot, which is a ways down from where we are walking. His first spot is about 1680m, and I find his 2nd spot at 1580m, where there has been a huge landslide that took out a cement bridge a while ago (N 05 48 410, W 076 10 758). I wander around some, but don’t see much, so I go back up the hill and join the others.
The driver goes down and gets hot lunches for us and delivers them in the field, which is always the height of luxury as far as I’m concerned. It clouds up by noon, and by 1pm it is spitting light rain. We go back up to the pass and spend some enjoyable time at the hummingbird feeders, then walk a bit downhill back towards the lodge. Most of us finally get in the truck and head for home, but David and Roger, the walking fools, decide to walk all the way back. 30-45 minute drive is quite a long walk, even though it is a slow 4 wheel drive road. We’ll see when they get back home. 2 hours later, they still haven’t made it back.
Day 15, Friday May 23 – Some people get dropped off at the first set of bleachers and walk down, others get out at the hole, and I go down to Juan’s first bait spot, at a nice waterfall (N 05 51.129, W 076 10.937) about 1650-1700m. We see fewer satyrs here and some new stuff. Yesterday Bill got a Taygetina banghaasi, a new one for me, and David finds another today. There are lots of Necyria bellona zaneta, a stunning metalmark, and a couple more Adelpha., including another new one, A.lamasi. We’re in the Choco, and get some endemic species. I find a number of lowland species that I am surprised to see this high, like Quadrus lugubris, a skipper that I see in northern Mexico. A great mix of species.
Day 16, Saturday May 24 – our last morning at Tangaras, we go up the mountain a bit earlier and walk down from the hummingbird feeders, back towards the lodge. This turns out to be really good, as we see several new species for the trip, including the stunning Elzunia humboldt and a big grass skipper, Alera vulpina. It has a strong white stripe on the ventral and bright rufous on the dorsal, which I only see when it is flying. I try to catch it but muff the catch, though I do get good shots on the spitwad. David baits 2 of the forested ravines, and as we walk down the sun hits them about 9-10am, and we have to tear ourselves away to leave. Next trip I will spend a full morning on this side.
We get back back and depart about 11am, 2 hours back to the main road where we eat lunch at the same restaurant, La Mayoria del San Juan in Penalisa, then about 3 hours more to Manizales. We spend the night in town at Estela Las Colonis and have a delicious dinner at the hotel restaurant.
Day 17, Sunday May 25 – early departure to head up to Rio Blanco for the next night at 2600m. We go straight out to see the feeding of the ant pittas, we get 4 species: chestnut-crowned; brown-banded; slate-crowned; and bicolored. My favorite being the small, beautiful slate-crowned. We also find lots of satyrs. But it is chilly in the rooms at night, and generally pretty scruffy. Overall, we decide it would have been better to stay in the nice hotel in town. Pablo had tried to talk me into that, but I insisted on spending 1 night at Rio Blanoc. Oh well, live and learn.
Day 18, Monday May 26 – we go down 350m to the Quebrada Olivares at the dam right inside the gate and spend 2-3 hours walking up and down the canals and creek. Great looks at Morpho sulkowskyi flying up and down the ravine, chasing each other. Lots of other stuff starts coming to the streamside as it warms up. 9am is about when you want to get here. It takes the sun some time to get into the ravine. Of course it starts to cloud up by 11 or so, but we have lots of Adelphas, Perisama, crescents and a new rufous Dalla coming to bait. This is a good spot for the beautiful Podotricha judith as well. Another place you could spend more time.
We decide Pablo was right, and if we came back we would stay at the nice hotel in Manizales and drive up to Rio Blanco for day trips. The rooms and food are much better, plus internet. The rooms are scruffy at Rio Blanco and deteriorating and cold. You could easily stay in Manizales and drive up to the creek, below the dam just inside the gate, by 9am or so. It is in shadow, so not very active for butterflies much before then.
We drive to Montezuma, changing vehicles in Pueblo Rico. It takes about 5-6 hours, as we have to take a detour through the mountains on a slow, twisty road. But we make it before dark, after leaving Rio Blanco about 12:15 after lunch.
Day 19, Tuesday May 27 – beautiful sunny morning, we walk up and down to the first bridge maybe a mile or so from where we sleep in the farm house at 1363m. This is one of my favorite places in Colombia, friendly people, excellent food (simple but delicious, and lots of veggies), and great habitat. David and I were stuck here last year for 12 days, finding new species every day, and we still find at least 35+ more to add to the pdf, including a number of new species for me.
David baits all down the hill to the bridge and up the other side, and by lunch it is seething with nymphalids. 8 species of Adelpha, several Memphis, including the gorgeous Memphis laura. This is a different subspecies from Tangaras, the orange edge of the HWD is much more subtle and rusty here. Plus Dalla and several Phocides and Jemadia. Baiting under the bridge is spectacular, there is a small, steep trail that goes down on the far side on the left. Bill scores with all sorts of wonderful shots. He gets 2 new species of Phocides for me, P.johnsoni, very fresh, and P.perillus.
I’m thrilled to finally get good photos of Epiphile eriopis. Last time I had only 1 quite a ways from the lodge, but now they are common on both sides of the bridge up the hill. All in all a great day for us.
Day 20, Wednesday May 28 – the jeep comes up for us and we leave at 6am for the top, about an hour and half very bumpy drive. We’re glad to finally make it and stretch our legs at the top, or as far as the jeep can go. Another clear morning, so everyone gets wonderful scenery shots of the mountains. We see the same high elevation satyrs I’ve had here before, so they are all on the pdf. Probably my favorite bug of the day is a very fresh female Fountainea centaurus that I find in the road. She’s damaged, her hind wings are bent and she can’t fly very well, but she is beautiful.
Day 21, Thursday May 29 – we wake to rain, after heavy rain all night. Some of us work on photos on the computers, but David, Bob and Priscilla head up the mountain in the jeep for birdwatching. They see a bunch of goodies, even though they only get about 15-20 actual minutes w/out rain. We all have lunch at the lodge, and play with photos all afternoon.
Day 22, Friday May 30 – our last day at Montezuma, we’re sad to leave. It is another clear sunnny morning, and it stays that way up to when we leave after lunch. This is our sunniest day, of course. We take the jeep to La Clarita, the 1700m bridge, what we call the 2nd bridge. Some get out at the first bridge, which is about the same elevation as the farmhouse at 1350-1400m, and I go up to the 1700m bridge and walk down. It is a couple of km between the two bridges.
David and Roger found the new Carystina mielkei at the 1700m bridge the first day, at least that is what I think it is. A stunning bug, they had 3 individuals but I don’t see any today. There is a promising riodinid lek just before the bridge, with Euselasia bettina wizzing all around. This would be a productive place to spend the morning, if it stayed sunny. I bet you would find different species popping in all day.
More Adelpha, I find A.lamasi which is new for here, and was new for me at Tangaras. We’re up to 16 species so far for the trip. Coming back down to the waterfall shortly above the first bridge, we find Symmachia titiana, which may be the newly described western subspecies, as we’re on the west slope of the western Andes. David and Roger had photographed it up at the higher bridge, but it is the first time I’ve seen it on this trip. This waterfall, on the far side of the ravine where the first bridge is, can be very productive. It appears to be another riodinid lek, as we have seen a couple of species of Anteros right across from the small waterfall, A.allectus and A. chrysoprastus, and now the Symmachia.
After lunch we leave about 1pm for Pereira and Otun-Quimbaya for the next 3 nights. This is the last place for the group on the first trip. They will fly from Pereira, which has a nice little airport that connects to Bogota and the international flights. We stop in Apia, the small town about 2 hours from the farmhouse, to buy beer, coke, batteries and water for Otun. Otun is a state run reserve and hotel, very cafeteria style food, and no alcohol or soft drinks. We should have stopped and bought fresh pineapples when we got back to the main highway at Pereira, there are dozens of roadside stands selling pineapples, but we forgot. There is a nice panaderia (bakery) on the main square in Apia. We stopped here on the way in for toilets and snacks. This time we visit the little store right next to the bakery, which has batteries but more importantly they also sell ice cream by the scoop. At 1000 pesos, about 50 cents US, you get a large scoop cone. I have vanilla with mora swirls, delicious.
We make it to Otun, which is 45 minutes or so above Pereira, by 5:30pm. We hit rush hour traffic getting through Pereira, but make it before dark. There is a large group, 40 students, here, but they aren’t too noisy and they are leaving tomorrow after breakfast. We usually have this place almost to ourselves, so it will be nice to clear all the others out.
Day 23, Saturday May 31 – we walk the long straight gently climbing road at Otun. Much easier walking than Montezuma, through an old plantation of exotic trees that are now covered in moss and bromeliads. The big target birds here for the bird groups are red-ruffed fruitcrow, which are common here, and Cauca guan. We see fruitcrows frequently, and here the guans booming all morning.
The common butterfly is Elzunia humbold, a spectacular big ithomiinae that looks like a swallowtail. They love the spitwads, and pretty soon it seems like almost every spitwad has one. We find other things all morning long, but not the numbers I’ve seen in late summer/fall. More clearwings than when I was here in February, as the little tiny white flowers are close to blooming that they seem to like. The flowers are low growing all along the road and on the trail that starts across from the gate of the hotel. In February they were dried up, so not many clearwings. Several species of Catasticta and Leptophobia, and in the afternoon some folks find Ridens harpagus, which I had here before, and the new Phocides perillus, which we just had at Montezuma. So a good time is had by all.
Day 24, Sunday June 1 – we’ve hired a truck to take us up the road to the top, about 5km and maybe a 100m higher, then we can walk back down. David gets out half way and baits his way up, also looking for multicolored tanager. There are many more walkers, bikers, horseback riders, etc on the road today, being a Sunday. When we get to the top there are about 20+ people milling about, the little restaurant is open and folks are sitting at tables, people are preparing their packs and tents to hike up into the paramo, generally not a good place for butterfly photography. Before I was here during the week and no one was about but us, so we had lots of opportunities to crawl around in the mud and photograph, but not today. We walk back down, seeing some things but not too much. We had rain from about 7am to 8, and the sun only comes out here and there, so it isn’t a great morning for butterflies, even without all the people. Probably the most amazing thing we see is a guy skipping rope all the way up the road, and back. He looks like a professional athlete, an amazing body.
We do find some new species, the most exciting to me is right in back of my room in the drainage ditch, a Memphis pasibula, with the dark line running from the curled apex down. David gets a decent shot, but it is flighty and won’t let us get the shots we would like. This is one of those species you see in a book and never see in the wild, so I’m thrilled. The blue crescents, Eresia levina, are coming to the cement around the rooms, always a good place to check. And David scores with a Prepona coming to some dog poop down the road, probably P. laertes.
Day 25, Monday June 2 – the last day for group 1, and the start of trip #2. Those leaving have a flight from Pereira at 5pm, so they will leave about 2:30pm, after lunch. David is flying to Lima, Peru to lead a group down the Cusco to Manu road, and the others head for home. Pablo is coming in with 5 people for our 2nd trip. Fred Heath, Kurt and Cindy Radamaker, Thomas Horton, and Paul Levine will be joining us. They are flying in from Bogota about 4:30PM, and hopefully will show up here at the hotel about 6 or so.
Poor Bob’s passport has never shown up at Pablo’s brother, and David has been calling, trying to find out what has happened. Of course, this is a three day weekend, so everything in Colombia is shut down, including the US embassy. David calls an emergency number he finds online, and the duty officer tells him there isn’t any US consulate in Barranquilla, so Bob couldn’t have filed a lost passport report there. We say, WTF? We found the number and address online, the same website where we got this guy’s emergency number, and Bob went to an office with guards, secretaries, an official who took his credit card and had him fill out forms. So who knows what is going on. Bottom line, Bob doesn’t have a replacement passport. He can’t see the embassy in Bogota before Tuesday, and his flight is Monday night. So he plans to throw himself on the mercy of United, fat chance of much luck there. The embassy guy said to reschedule his flight for Friday (!!) So we will all be waiting eagerly to hear what happens tonight, but I suspect Bob will be stuck here in Colombia for at least another day or two. I’ve heard from others who have lost passports it wasn’t a big deal, they got replacements in a day, so we don’t understand all the hassle. Several people give Bob extra cash, as he lost all his money too. An expensive, and frustrating, experience for him.
On a better note, as the guys are packed and ready to go at 2:30pm, I spot a Phocides skipper sitting on the cement right outside the dining room. At first I get really excited, thinking it is one of the orange and blue species, but Roger points out the orange is just the bricks showing through the clear patches in the forewing. It is still new for me, and Roger quickly manages to grab a good shot of it, even with other people wandering around the dining room. Once we get it on the computer (I didn’t even have my binoculars, what a schmuck), it turns out to be another Phocides johnsoni, the same one Bill had for the first time at Montezuma. It doesn’t have any vertical stripes on the body like most of the blue and white Phocides do. What a nice departure present.
Pablo and the new folks show up about 6:30pm, but there is only one new person, Paul Levine. The other 4 had trouble w/their flight from Bogota to Pereira and didn’t make it. Pablo, who has come w/Paul, is scrambling to fix the problem. For some reason, LAN didn’t have their reservation, though Pablo had confirming emails. But he manages to get them on a later flight, so they arrive about 11pm, after a harrowing ride up the rough road in the dark. So we’re all together for breakfast the next day. And the best news of all, United allows Bob to fly without his passport, so he makes it home ok.
Day 26, Tuesday June 3 – we wake to the sunniest morning we’ve had here yet. Pablo gets 2 trucks to take us up the 5km to the top, this time without all the mobs, as the holiday weekend is over. We have sun, lots of poop, and no people, and butterflies keep showing up all morning. We can’t tear ourselves away, even though we stopped and baited the rocky spring and the road where the water runs down. Pablo paints the shrimp stuff on leaves and does a great job. We finally get back to the little waterfall about 1pm, which is a bit too late, as the sun has gone from this stretch of road mostly by then. It has a perfect eastern exposure, so is best about 10-12.
Being with Pablo, who is a keen bird guide, he takes us into the woods at the top several times looking for hooded antpitta. At first we strike out, but later he hears it and gets us back, and this time it sneaks in. Kurt sees it first, hiding on a branch in the back, and several others get on it, but not me. This is a very rare species, too bad I miss it, but at least I was close.
Day 27, Wednesday June 4 – not as sunny today. We walk the road up from the hotel, as the butterflies are a bit different than those on the top part. Not much elevational difference, but here we have a lot more Fountainea nessus, for example. At least, we usually have plenty of Fountainea nessus. Kurt really wants to see it, and of course we don’t have any at all once they have joined the group. Must be bad karma.
Anyway, we walk up to the clearing, about 2km from the lodge, and wander the road all morning. We have a big hatch of very fresh Marpesia corinna, the stunning orange and purple daggerwings. I’ve got lots of photos of these, but I shoot a bunch more, they are so fresh and cooperative.
Day 29, Thursday June 5 – today is a travel day. We leave Otun at 5:45am for a 4+ hour drive to Cali to catch our 1pm flight to Pitalito. We’re in 2 4×4 trucks just for the first 6km of bad road, until we hit pavement where our bus awaits. But the 2nd truck disappears, we suddenly notice it isn’t following, there isn’t any phone signal so we turn around and go looking for them. Their car has died, so we dash back down the hill, depositing all of us at the panaderia across from the police station to nosh on bunellos (little fried hot tasty dough balls) and coffee, while the driver charges back up the hill and gets the 2nd group and the luggage.
We then load the bus and take off, getting to Pereira about 7am. We make good time heading south on the main highway 25 and get to the airport by 11:15, even though we stop for a late breakfast at a roadside restaurant. Check in doesn’t open until 11:30, even though the electronic board says the flight departs at noon, not 1pm, and we should be inside security at the gate. When we finally get to check in, we find out now the flight won’t leave until 3pm, which actually turns in to more like 4pm.
We have a pretty flight over the central Andes and into a lovely valley, get our 2 trucks to take us up to Pitalito and the Hotel Terrazas de San Agustin, a wonderful, open hotel on several levels. The rooms are nice, the showers are great, and we have a tasty meal in the hotel dining room. They have to go get food to make our dinner, so it is a bit later than we expected, but hey. And we have our first internet (sort of) in almost 2 weeks!
Day 30, Friday June 6 – after being awakened at 3am by the next door roosters, who never shut up, we head to the archeological ruins just 3 km from town. The early birders went out w/Pablo at 6, but we join them around 9 when the park opens. This is a fascinating park of ruins from pre-Colombian times called Parque Arqueologico Nacional San Agustin, and is well worth a day to visit. It is beautifully laid out, with many ancient statues carved from rock, and tombs. Apparently it was a burial ground, and they excavated it around 1938, finding dozens of the large statues. I find the statues kind of scary, with big fangs and fierce expressions, some holding children up by the legs looking like they are sacrificing them to the death gods, not warm and fuzzy at all. They are quite unique, and I’ve seen many ruins from Peru to Mexico, but nothing like these.
We hunt around the edges of the grass for butterflies, and do find some fairly common species, but we are in and out of light rain most of the day. We do get good photos of a new subspecies, Heliconius cydno lisethae.
Day 31, Saturday June 7 – we drive, in 2 4×4 trucks, up to 2,200m above the town of Isno, on the road to Popayan. The weather is not looking good, as we get light rain and dark clouds. But we luck out and the sun brightens up for an hour or two, and we have some nice high elevation satyrs. Probably the most exciting for me is Elzunia humboldt cassandrina, a new subspecies. Though later looking through the others’ photos, they find some good skippers and other stuff. Pablo is painting the rotten shrimp on the bushes and rocks, and it really pulls them in. He doesn’t have a spray bottle, so he deliberately paints it all over. Gps where we get out of the truck is N 02 01.405, W 076 16.514 at 2201m,(mtn 1) and we walk down to a ravine with a stream, where we find the Elzunia, at N 02 01.535, W 076 16.496 at 2153m (mtn strmn).
Unfortunately it starts getting cold again and it rains by 11:30, so I figure it is time for lunch. We have a bag of snacks, peanuts and chocolate bars, and a loaf of brown bread, but I can’t find any cheese or anything to make sandwiches with. Pablo has walked up the road with some of the people, and when he comes back he is horrified to realize he left the cheese and ham in his refigerator in his hotel room. Oh well, we can all afford to skip a meal.
We drive back to a small restaurant on the paved road and some have a hearty bowl of soup, I just have hot chocolate. They make delicious hot chocolate here. Then we try a different road to the right that the local guide has told us about, gps N 02 01.646, W 076 15.051 at 2230m (mntn lower). It is a rough road, and we bounce along a ridge through mostly pasture, but we find patches of forest. The sun comes out, the butterflies are everywhere, and we stop and pile out of the trucks. We have another hour or so of butterflies, then it clouds up again.
The local guide has been telling us about a river, but it keeps on being ‘only 10 minutes more’. I’ve been down that road before, and by now it is raining pretty good, the road is getting worse, and the drivers are saying ‘muy feo’, very ugly. So we decide to turn around and head back to town, an hour and a half away. Not a good place to get stuck.
Day 32, Sunday June 8 – we try a place down by the Magdalena river, about 30 minutes from the hotel. This is called Estrechos de Magdalena, the narrowest part of the whole river, a spectacular gorge where you can hike down about 300m to some massive rocks where the river thunders by, maybe 8-10’ wide. Pablo had hoped for butterflies on the rocks, but it is too cool, and there are other people wandering around. It is a touristy place, but worth seeing, very beautiful.
We go back to the hotel for an early lunch of chicken salad sandwiches, tasty, and Pablo has gotten the bus to come early to take us to Florencia, about 4 hours away. We were supposed to stay here 4 nights and drive tomorrow, but we decide to spend the afternoon driving, as the weather has been wet almost all afternoons. Today is the same, after we cross the pass of the eastern cordillera it gets very foggy, then rains. We look for places to stop, but don’t find any, so we head down to where the old road cuts off. They’ve built a new paved road, so all the traffic is there, which leaves the old dirt road perfect for butterfly hunting.
At the first good sized bridge, just a few minutes up the road at 600m, we get out and immediately see a fresh Metamorpha elissa, which excites everyone. We walk just a few steps up a trail and the rain moves in from across the valley, and we all have to run back to the bus. We’re cursed. Oh well, it is 4pm, so we head to town and our hotel Grand Gold for the next 3 nights, right across from the giant mall. It doesn’t inspire from the outside, but inside the rooms are nice. I have a charming view across a bunch of dumpy places, welding and car repair, but I can see the hills and the sky, and at least there aren’t a ton of roosters right next door, so I sleep fine. Only cold water showers, but this is the lowlands. We eat at the little restaurant next store, who are so excited to have a bunch of gringos they take our photos on their cell phones. I’m sure we’ll be on facebook tonight.
Day 33, Monday June 9 – 6am breakfast, and we’re off to the old road for the day. We drive up to about 1400m at km post 55-54. The posts numbers are decreasing, starting about 73 at the turnoff and going up to the pass at about 40, then down the other side to the small town of Guadalupe. The pass is about 2400m. It takes us a good hour+ from the turnoff to get in 18-20km, so that gives an idea of the road. Actually the road is in fairly good shape, but the driver doesn’t like to go fast on dirt roads. Someone is doing a lot of work on this old dirt road, the sides are trimmed quite short, very manicured looking. I wish it was less whacked, better for butterflies. The turnoff is at km post 70 on the main road from Florencia, which is about 25 minutes from the hotel, to the right coming from town.
But we have a good morning and see quite a few good things.
Day 34, Tuesday June 10 – we leave earlier and aim to go higher today. We make it to about 2000m, at km post 46. It takes a good 2 hours, maybe a bit more. It is more overcast this morning, but we get bits of sun here and there. Pablo puts out the shrimp bait, and the Fountainea appear to be waiting for him. They pounce on his hand. We get both F.centaurus and a new ssp for me, F.nobilis titan, which likes to sit open, so we get stunning dorsals. A bit higher, on the next bridge, a new Potamanaxas perornatus comes to spitwads. It starts to rain by mid-day, so we head back to the hotel.
Day 35, Wednesday June 11 – we wake to a brilliant clear day and go up to lower elevation, about 800m at km post 70. We put out bait at a big turn to the left, which becomes better and better as the morning wears on. One of my favorites is the bright red Haemactis pyrrhosphenos, found by Bill. I’ve only seen this genus once before in southeast Peru.
We have a great morning, and have to tear ourselves away to go back to the hotel and the airport, to catch our 3pm flight to Bogota and connect on to Medellin. The flights have been changed a bit later, so we don’t get to the hotel in Medellin until about 9pm.
Day 36, Thursday June 12 – 5am departure for Jardin, to beat the traffic. After less than 8 hours in the hotel, we load up and head south. We have breakfast about 2 hours down the road at Penalisa, the same restaurant we ate at twice on the first trip, just before the turnoff to Tangaras. After a tasty breakfast of arepas and juice, we drive about another hour to the pretty coffee town of Jardin at 1800m.
This is a very pleasant little town with a nice square and a big church. Here we meet our 2 jeeps, who will take us another hour into the hills where we start our hike in to Fundacion Colibri. We also meet Jose here, who will be our guide for the next segment. I’ve been with Jose a couple of times before, he’s a great guy, very helpful and friendly. He worked with Pablo back in 2001 when they discovered the roosting area of yellow-eared parrots up above Jardin. This led to the founding of ProAves.
Jose takes us to the farm supply store, right behind the nice coffee shop on the corner, to buy rubber boots. They cost about 20,000 COP, or US$10, and they are quite comfortable. I often buy boots here on a trip, and just leave them at the last place. Easier than hauling them back and forth on my international flight. Fundacion Colibri is a good place to wear boots, as there are several stream crossings that are much easier if you’re not worried about getting your shoes wet. You can hike in in regular sneakers, but above the lodge you really need boots.
We get to where the jeeps drop us off, and the mules are waiting to haul in our luggage. We’re leaving our big bags w/the jeeps, who will take them to La Esperanza, where we will be spending 3 nights afterwards, to await our return. We start at 11:08am, and it takes us 2 and a half+ hours to get there. It is about a 4-5km hike (3 miles+), with an elevational gain of about 350m, or 1,000’. It’s not too steep in most places, but after only 5 hours of sleep we’re all pretty bushed by the time we make it to the lodge. The best news is we don’t get rained on, though it clouds up and looks threatening.
Last time I made the walk, in 2012, we got rained on heavily for the last half, which was not fun at all. Plus they have upgraded several of the river crossings, so you can do the walk in without rubber boots and not get your feet wet. We walk up the valley, gradually passing little fincas and pastures, and cross the final big new swinging bridge to the lodge. Last time I had to rock hop across the stream, and got wet, so all in all it was a better hike than 2 years ago. I will change the timing on my next trip and stay the first night in Jardin at La Esperanza. That way we don’t have the long drive from Medellin the same day we hike in. We could leave our bags at La Esperanza, leave at 7am and be walking by 8am, which would mean more sun for the walk in and a more relaxed pace, with more time for photography. 3 nights works well for Fundacion Colibri, that gives you 2 full days to explore the trails above the lodge into the forest, then back to La Esperanza for 3 nights at Jardin.
After lunch, Jose expects us to go out and hike up into the forest to look for birds. Most of us say no thanks, but Kurt, Cindy and Priscilla go out with him. They drag themselves back at dusk, while Fred and I just hang out on the porch and watch the hummingbird feeders. Much better idea. When I was here in 2012, they didn’t have any feeders at the lodge, just 2 hours up in the forest at the pass, for the rarities. I suggested they add feeders right at the lodge, so we could drink coffee and watch hummers. It is nice to see they have taken my suggestion, as we spend quite a bit of enjoyable time watching 10 species or so dash around.
Day 37, Friday June 13 – We have a beautiful sunny morning and take tons of pictures. We brought the bait from Pablo (a brave man who carried it in his luggage on the flight from Florencia), and Jose carries it and paints it on leaves everywhere. We go up about 500m from the lodge, to where the forest starts, through the gate and down to the stream, definitely a rubber boot crossing, and continue up the hill.
Lots of stuff is flying, zipping around all over. I get a new Emesis, brown with orange spots, I have never even seen a specimen photo of it, and a Lymanopoda with cheerios for dots, another one I’ve never seen. Lots of Elzunia, lots and lots of Hypanartia kefersteini, at times 4-5 on the same leaf. Lots of Dalla, crescents, leafwings, etc, so we have a wonderful time. The spitwads and bait are really pulling them in. I find a Serdis statius, a big orange skipper, and a Johnsonita auda, a beautiful blue striped hairstreak, fighting over the same spitwad. Great for photographs!
Back for lunch at 1:30pm, then work on photos for the afternoon. Today is my birthday, and Bill and Priscilla have plotted with Jose, who has arranged for a birthday cake (!) to be delivered from Jardin, 3-4 hours away, with some chocolates from the shop in Jardin and a couple of bottles of wine. So we have a party and all have a good time. What a nice thing to do. The caretaker here, Don Uriel, was the one who walked down, got a jeep to town, and brought the cake and goodies back. Truly amazing.
Day 38, Saturday June 14 – after rains all night, we wake to another sunny morning. Today is the first game of the World Cup for Colombia, and some of us are interested in who wins. The Colombians we’ve talked to don’t seem too interested in the whole thing. Colombia wins their first game!
It clouds up by mid morning, so we don’t see as many butterflies as the day before. We go higher up the mountain, but it gets darker and darker, so we’re back to the lodge by 1 or so. We’re located right up against the pass over to the Choco, in Risaralda, and the wet clouds come rolling over the top frequently. It is much colder here than in Jardin, I’m always chilly in the late afternoon/evening, even with my fleece. The locals, Diana the cook for example, are wearing very light clothes. She’s in a spaghetti strap top, gives me the shivers just looking at her. The temperature is about the mid 60’s, but there is usually a brisk wind blowing down the valley from the pass, and being from a hot place, the Rio Grand Valley on the border of Texas, I’m cold. But the bed is warm and toasty.
There are 2 teams of researchers camping up on the mountain, studying extinction in birds, and a few come in for laundry and supplies (and showers). I get to see Johnnier again, who has guided me before and has given me butterfly photos, and also Gustavo, the owner of Fundacion Colibri. Gustavo is doing a great job here, he’s got a lot more contacts with universities and researchers. He tells me he has collecting permits for everything, birds, plants, insects, for 7 years, so it works very well for the universities to do projects here. He has the infrastructure to support fairly good sized groups. Johnnier is happy to get copies of the pdf’s Juan and I are building, he is going to pass them around on social media. Hopefully it will lead to more butterfly photos coming my way.
Day 39, Sunday June 15 – We hike out, leaving about 9am. I’ve asked the jeeps to meet us at 1pm, which gives us plenty of time to photograph and have a leisurely walk out. Fortunately we have a gorgeous sunny morning, so we find lots of Dalla to photograph on the way out. Wherever there is cow patties, and there are plenty, there are butterflies. I think we have 2 species of Vanessa, one with the dark band on the DFW and one without, a gorgeous fresh Dione glycera (Andean Silverspot), and the usual group of crescents, leafwings and pierids. Bill finds a side canyon with a fabulous fresh Phocides johnsoni (I think), and Noreppe chromis, another stunning leafwing, on piles of shot.
We get to the jeep pickup spot, 1 is there and we’re waiting for the 2nd to show, when we realize there is a large Eunica hanging around at the side of the house. Very dark, I don’t recognize it, so we chase it around for a while. The 2nd jeep shows up exactly at 1pm, we drive the hour 15 minutes back to the main road, then up to the left to the new birder lodge, La Esperanza. My first time here, Doug only opened it about 6-8 months ago.
It is lovely, clearly run by an American, so it has many of the little touches you don’t usually find in Colombian hotels. Nice reading lights by the bed, convenient little shelves to sit up the laptop, lots and lots of plugs, good hot shower, plenty of mirrors, etc. Everyone loves it. As we missed lunch, and fortunately he has chilli ready, we eat an early dinner and catch up on internet.
Day 40, Monday June 16 – Yesterday was the presidental election, we passed several jeeps bringing 20+ people back into the hille. It will be interesting to see who won.
We have 6am breakfast, leave for the road up to Las Ventanas at 6:30am. We drive to the yellow-eared parrot reserve, at 2900m, and walk in to the right to see the nest boxes. Jose was here 2 weeks ago and they were still using one of the nest boxes and feeding young, but we are at the very end of the nesting season. GPS N 05 31.810, W 075 48.288, 2860m.We don’t see any parrots, so we visit the farmhouse with hummingbird feeders. For a small fee you can watch the feeders, where we get swordbilled hummingbird, mountain velvet breast and lots of buff-tailed coronets. Most of us then start walking down the hill, but Cindy and Kurt want to stay to look for parrots. As we have 2 vehicles, no problem.
The rest of us spend the day walking down the hill, looking for butterflies at some of the spots where we baited driving up. The most exciting sighting for me is Hypanartia charon, which I see twice. Fred, Priscilla and I chase 1 up and down the road, where he keeps buzzing along in the wet ditch on either side. We see it at GPS N 05 32.397, W 075 47.981, 2867m, and again at N 05 32.384, W 075 47.877, 2722m, but can’t get any photos.
We come down the hill about 4pm and head to the cock of the rock lek, which is just south of town, a steep walk down a dirt road. Jose actually drives the jeep down to the entrance for a couple of the people who are getting tired. His friend unlocks the gate and we go in. This is much improved from when I was here in Sept 2012, now they have benches and a nice rock trail. We see lots of birds displaying. If you’ve never seen cock of the rock, you should come here. It must be the easiest place in the world to see them really well. Jose has told us 4pm is the best time to come, and he’s certainly right, as we have 6-8 birds squawking and jumping around. Even the non birders in the group enjoy it.
Day 41, Tuesday June 17 – back up the mountain, a little bit later as we’re not going to the top but plan to concentrate more on the lower part. We bait as we go up at many of the bridges and culverts where streams come down, up to the cotinga house. This is about half way up, where the chestnut-crested cotinga is often seen. We saw it here yesterday. Some of us work back down the road, while others go up.
It is sunnier than yesterday, and we see more butterflies, including a couple of new satyrs. The big score is Cindy and Kurt get good shots of the Hypanartia charon. I don’t see it today at all, even though I walk and bait the road where I had it yesterday. Apparently it is a higher elevation bug. They get it at the top, right at the ProAves parrot reserve sign. Hooray! And they had killer looks at the parrots both today and yesterday, feeding in a tree by the road.
The driver of the 2nd jeep is lower down w/Priscilla, Paul and Bill, and he calls Jose to say the road workers have told him they are closing the road from 11:30am to 3:30pm, and they want to know if we want to stay up on the mountain or go out now. We decide to stay, and tell him to stay below with our 3 people. Then a few hours later, he calls again, saying now they are closing it until 5pm, so we decide to leave. But, Jose has to drive up to the top to get Cindy and Kurt, and by the time we get down to the road work, they have already dug a big hole. So we’re stuck. But they hand dig a trail around the hole so we can walk out, and Jose stays with the car. We all pile into the jeep, 8 of us (Kurt and Tom standing on the step in the back), and drive down to the square for Dulces de Jardin, the sweet shop, coffee and shopping. Jose has told us about a good leather shop in the local style, nicely made stuff, and most people buy something. Poor Jose waits patiently with the car, and he gets back to the lodge about 5pm, so he got out a bit early. We get back about 4pm. Good thing we did the cock of the rock yesterday.
Day 42, Wednesday June 18 – we go below Jardin to Fondo Montesserate (a steep road down to the left at an out of business store), then back to the lodge for lunch, then drive back to Casa Asturias in Medellin for the night. We drive down 2 lines of cement until the jeeps can’t drive down anymore, where we get out and walk the rest of the way down to the river. I was here 4 years ago, but it has been cleared more and planted all in coffee. We still see lots of butterflies flying around, but most of them are more common, widespread species that like gardens and overgrown coffee fields, many found all the way to north Mexico. But my friends have a good time, with lots to chase.
After an energetic morning, we go back to La Esperanza for spaghetti lunch, then drive 3.5 hours back to Medellin. The van makes it up the dirt road and picks us up at La Esperanza. We meet Pablo back in Medellin, after saying fond goodbyes to Jose in Jardin. Juan comes and meets us as well, and we all go to a different Crepes y Waffles for dinner, a 10 minute cab ride away. We’re in a different hotel, the Hotel Ibis, due to an ex-employee at Casa Asturias not passing on the reservation. This is more centrally located, and a nicer hotel w/better internet, a/c, and quiet rooms, and a restaurant, so the group is happy. But we have to take a cab to C&W.
Day 43, Thursday June 19 – 6 am departure for Canyon de Rio Claro, to the east in the Magdalena Valley about 450m. This is a private reserve with a hotel and restaurant, a very popular swimming hole along a beautiful river. We stay in the separate rooms, Cabanas de Mulata, which are more expensive and quiet, away from the dorms at the dining hall. There is a 3rd set of rooms the other side of the main dining hall, 3 stories high and full of kids, so we like our quieter quarters. Your room looks right out into the forest, with butterflies all around. This time they have built in the walls on the top (2nd) floor rooms. The previous times I was here, the top floor rooms were open, just waist high walls. This was great until there was a storm, when it got a bit too exciting. Obviously other clients felt the same, as now the rooms are solid walls.
After breakfast at the Palacio Frijoles (the Bean Palace) about half way, we arrive at 10:30am, dump our luggage and immediately start photographing. Pablo paints the bushes with his bait, and stuff starts coming in. We have a great several hours, a late lunch at 1:30pm, and more bugs until late afternoon. 2 species of Anteros, a cooperative Chorinea bogota, several Heliconius…
About 5pm we walk a mile or so up river to the beach across from the oil bird cave. We go swimming, a perfect temperature, and wait for the oil birds to come out at dusk. They put on a great show, several flying out early, then back and forth. As it gets darker, Pablo uses his strong light, and they don’t like it. He waits and flashes them when there are a bunch coming out the entrance, and they dive back in to the cave. A fascinating bird to observe.
Day 44, Friday June 20 – today we spend all day walking the road and the steep trail the heads up to the left, (as you’re walking from the rooms back towards the entrance) just past the bridge. Pablo has baited everywhere, and we find goodies on many leaves. The creek under the bridge is a good spot, Priscilla scores with an Agrias that even lets her get dorsals. Different species keep coming in to the bait, so you can wander around and come back to baited leaves and find new species. Tom and Bill walk up and down the streambed and get all sorts of species.
I walk back to the rooms, to get more salt water for spitwads, about 11am, and keep finding new species. 2 gorgeous riodinids are right on the rock trail to our cabins, a brilliant red Mesene phareus and a Calospila clissa, orange and black. Tom finds a fresh Dyscophellus under a leaf, and a spectacular black, white and red Calydna hangs around and poses.
I never make it very far up the trail, too much to photograph, but the others hike a long way up and get more photos. So we all have a great, busy morning. When we meet up at 1:30pm for lunch, we’re tired but happy. The hits keep coming after lunch, and I finally make it back to my room about 4 and crash for a nap. The bait has been fabulous here this time. It is dry, drier than I’ve seen it here, and the butterflies seem especially eager to get to the bait.
Day 45, Saturday June 21 – after breakfast we had planned to take the reserve truck over and get dropped off at the start of the trail across pasture to the Cuervo del Condor. No condors, but after you cross the pasture you follow the stream bed up through nice 2nd growth, low forest to another oil bird cave. This is good forest to work for satyrs, lots of pink-tipped Cithaerias and Pierellas. On previous trips it has also been good for clearwings. But as we have to leave at lunchtime, Pablo is concerned we will waste too much time going back and forth, so we decide to just stay at Rio Claro. This is a good decision, as we keep finding new species to photograph.
Juan tells me the boat trip down the river is very nice, especially late in the afternoon about 3pm, so maybe next time I’ll schedule more time and do that. But not on a Saturday, as many people come on the weekend.
We pack up and leave at 12:30, and Pablo indulges me and we drive over to the Hotel Colores, about 15 minutes away, for lunch. This is where I stayed last time, better food and internet, but we had to drive to good habitat everyday. So I decided I would rather be at Rio Claro, and the group agrees with my decision. We can live without internet for a few days. We’ve had a great couple of days here, everyone is happy with their taste of the lowlands and the increased diversity. I think they were a bit tired of satyrs.
We get back to Medellin about 5 and get our rooms at the Hotel Ibis, then meet for dinner at the hotel restaurant, which is tasty. The same 4 basic choices we had at Rio Claro (beef, chicken, pork or fish) but much better presented here, and with a great salad bar which we’re not afraid to eat. Plus a dessert bar, all included in the inexpensive price of about 15-20,000 COP (about $8-10 US). Pablo even gets a bottle of nice cabernet as a final celebration. We have a fun dinner, everyone has had a good trip and we have thousands of photos.
I spent an extra night here, the rest of the group catches the 8am American flight to Miami the next morning. I had planned to spend the day with Juan, but it is a 3 day weekend, and Father’s Day, so he is off with his family. He and Pablo were talking about arranging a shared taxi to take me and Priscilla (who flies to Bogota for her connection the next afternoon), but I felt it was too much hassle, so I said I would just work on photos in my room. More relaxed, and both the guys are happy with my decision. Interesting to know you can get a seat in a shared taxi from Medellin to Jardin for 25,000 COP.
All in all, it has been a most productive trip. Colombia is always lots of fun, wonderful friendly people, and spectacular butterflies. Working on the pdf’s that Juan and I are making has been very helpful, can’t wait to add all the new species we’ve seen and get the pdf’s online for the world to use. I’ll be back!