Colombia May-June 2014

Colombia May-June 2014

Summary

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 05 193) 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 04 872), 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 07 126). 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. 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 48 817), 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!

Bolivia, Nov-Dec 2013

Trip Report Bolivia Nov 6 – Dec 9, 2013

If you would like to see some live photos, please go to my flickr site
http://www.flickr.com/photos/31442061@N08/sets/72157638750318993/

I will be adding to these Bolivia sets as we get more of the photos id’ed. There will be 4 sets from Bolivia: Chulumani, Coroico, above Villa Tunari and Los Volcanes.

Organized w/David Geale of Tanager Tours as 2 trips back to back.

Participants trip 1 = Dan and Kay Wade, Kristine Wallstrom, Tony Hoare, Bill Berthet, Sherry Nelson, Deby Galloway and Priscilla Brodkin. Trip 1 runs from Nov 6 to Nov 20. Trip 2 is from Nov 20 to Dec 5.

Trip 2 = Tony leaves, Willie Sekula and Ken Kertell join us

Bolivia is a very poor country, probably the poorest Latin American country. Certainly the poorest I’ve spent much time in. One of my friends calls it the India of South America. Driving through the small villages below La Paz, on the road to Chulumani and Coroico, we are surprised by the large number of locked and closed stores in the towns. Much seems to be abandoned, not many people in the streets, just empty. There aren’t any gas stations in either town, even though these are the 2 bigger towns in the area. Our driver several times has to go hunting for gas being sold by individuals from their homes, and he can only buy a few liters at a time. Even though they are selling it for 3 times the La Paz price.

One of the most amazing things to us is the lack of fruit and vegetables for sale in the towns. Apparently it all has to be brought from Caranavi, below Coroico, up to La Paz and back down the other road to Chulumani. So it is very expensive, and just not available. Everyone grows coca.

Summary

Day 1 Nov 6 – fly to La Paz

Day 2 Nov 7 – drive to Tarapari Biodiversity Garden in Chulumani, Sud Yungas for 4 nights, 1700-1800m

Day 3 Nov 8 – work the road to the cemetery, on foot

Day 4 Nov 9 – drive to the river at 1540-1600 meters for the day, 20-30 minutes, Nazi house trail & carwash

Day 5 Nov 10 – drive an hour to San Isidro forest, 2500m, walk downhill

Day 6 Nov 11 – back to the river at 1540m for the morning, drive to Apa Apa for the next 5 days, 40 minutes

Day 7 Nov 12 – explore around Apa Apa lodge, 1600m

Day 8 Nov 13 – attempt to drive up to pristine forest above Apa Apa, 2150m, but only make it to 1900m, van can’t climb the road

Day 9 Nov 14 – go back to San Isidro forest road, 2500m

Day 10 Nov 15 – part of the group go back to the Nazi house/car wash area, some work the grounds at Apa Apa, explore the new riverside/laundery area

Day 11 Nov 16 – drive to Coroico, 4 nights at La Finca

Day 12 Nov 17 – explore around La Finca

Day 13 Nov 18 – drive back through Coroico to waterfalls, go down to 1200m

Day 14 Nov 19 – go back to 1200m spot

Day 15 Nov 20 – drive to La Paz for dinner, fly to Cochabamba at 8pm for 2 nights, 2500m

Day 16 Nov 21 – drive to San Miguel up above Cochabamba to 12,100’, 3700 meters, mostly birding.

Day 17 Nov 22 – leave for Los Tucanes (1700’/515 meters) for 6 nights, stop at Miguelito 2000m

Day 18 Nov 23 – go short distance above VT to Parque Nacional Carrasco, 2100’/640 meters

Day 19 Nov 24 – go higher up old road to CBBA (Cochabamba) 800m

Day 20 Nov 25 – wake to rain, hang out, then go back to same place as yesterday

Day 21 Nov 26 – drive back up the old road, get a little bit further, maybe 850m

Day 22 Nov 27 – drive up main paved road to Crystal Mayu

Day 23 Nov 28 – drive 320km, 5-6 hours, to Santa Cruz for the night at Hotel LP, great dinner at Taj Mahal.

Day 24 Nov 29 – drive west 3 hours to Los Volcanes for 5 nights

Day 25/26/27/28 Nov 30/Dec 1/2/3 – explore trails at Volcanes, 1300m

Day 29 Wed Dec 4 – drive back to Santa Cruz, 1 night at Hotel LP

Day 30 Thur Dec 5 – meet Steffen & Yuvinka, 4 nights at their place to photograph her collection

Day 31 Fri Dec 6 – Yuvinka takes me to see the collection at the Natural History museum

Day 32/33 Sat/Sun Dec 7/8 – more work on Yuvinka’s collection

Day 34 Mon Dec 9 – fly back to Miami for the night

Day 35 Tue Dec 10 – fly home to Texas

Detail

Day 1 Wed Nov 6 – fly from McAllen to Dallas to Miami to catch the American 10:45pm overnight flight to La Paz, arriving at 6:20am on the 7th. Just a few weeks before we leave we find out, thanks to Bill Berthet, that we need to get visas for Bolivia. This is news to both me and David. When he drove into Bolivia a few years ago it wasn’t an issue, and I hadn’t needed a visa when I was here decades ago. Anyway, thanks to Bill, we see online that we will need to pay US$135 in cash when we get to La Paz. There is a list of paperwork we will need to provide as well, including your yellow fever certificate, a letter of introduction in spanish for where you are going to visit, credit cards to show you aren’t a deadbeat, return tickets, etc.

Kristine tries to go into New York city to the Bolivian consulate and get her visa ahead of time, which is recommended as a good idea, but she runs into no end of hassles. They want $165, not $135, and tell her she has to provide a letter from her local police authority saying she is a good person. She finds out this takes 10 days and cost another $35, so she says forget that. Bill has trouble when he checks in for his flight in Jacksonville, FL and the AA agent makes him go get his visa in Miami, hauling his luggage, etc. However, the rest of us just fly to La Paz and pay our $135 and fill out the forms at the counter, no sweat. They never even asked for my yellow fever certificate or any of the other papers. But then we’re not young back packers, who might have more trouble.

Day 2 Thur Nov 7 – We meet up w/the rest of our group, the Wades flying in from Panama and 3 folks who came in a few days early. We go to their hotel, the hotel Rosario, which looks wonderful inside, and we head off for the Yungas. We leave La Paz at about 11am, after stopping for several errands including picking up our enormous box lunches provided by La Paz on Foot, our organizers for the first part of the trip.

We drive east up over the pass at La Cumbre (4,670 meters) and start our drop to the lowlands. We come to the main Y, where we go to the right towards Chulumani. Coroico is to the left. The road becomes dirt, dusty and slow, so we start looking for butterflies. This is the infamous Road of Death, but we don’t have much traffic and we find some great butterflies. It is quite dry and dusty on the road, but waterfalls come down the hills. Shortly after where we have to pay for our tickets to enter the road, there is an interesting trail off to the left, at a sharp turn in the road to the right just under 3,000 meters. We walk down the road a ways here and find several species of Pedaliodes, Steremnia lucillae, and a great new Rhammus hairstreak w/a big yellow triangle on the FW, plus a new white Lymanopoda galactea.

We continue driving down the road, stopping here and there. We have been told that there is a lot of construction ahead of us, and the road is closed to all traffic until 4pm. So we’re not in any hurry to get to the closure. Chulumani is only 73 km down this road, but it takes us hours. Another good spot is where a truck has gotten stuck, so the traffic stopped at a bridge about 2000 meters. Here we find a totally different set of species, including our first Adelpha alala, some Telenassa jana, and best of all, a stunning Polygrapha tyrianthina. Tony gets a heartstopping shot of the dorsal glowing in the sun, best shot I’ve ever seen of this fabulous purple leafwing.

Then we continue to the ‘official’ road closure, which of course doesn’t really open until 4:30 or a bit later. Then we have to dodge upcoming traffic and dice back and forth until we’ve bulled our way through. There are lots of fast moving buses kicking up clouds of dust, and our van doesn’t have a/c, so we all slide the windows shut, suffocate, wait for the dust to get bearable, open the windows, then 5 minutes later have to slide them shut again.

We finally make it to Chulumani almost at dark, a good 2 hours past the road closure. Our hosts are waiting for us in the town square, which seems to take forever to find, then they show us the 5-10 minutes to get to Tarapari Biodiversity Garden, our home for the next 4 nights.

They only have 3 double rooms, and there are 10 of us, so the overflow is being put up at the neighbors. I go up the hill along w/Tony and Kristine to the Country House, which has 3 smallish but nice rooms w/a beautiful porch. They are all double rooms, but you wouldn’t have much room to move around w/2 people and their luggage. Fortunately we each have a single, so we can use the 2nd bed for storage. But we have nice hot suicide showers, the ones w/wires sticking out that you turn on while standing in the water. These are some of the hottest ones I’ve ever had.

We eat all our meals at Tarapari, which are pretty good. Lots of veggies, not just starch and mystery meat, so we’re happy. The people try hard to please us. The owner Javier at Country House has a small butterfly collection on the walls, so he’s very interested in what we’re doing. My bathroom is funny with a huge sunken tile tub that I have to carefully climb in and out of, with steps. We could have a party in my bathroom. We fall asleep to the sounds of tropical screech owls, and the next morning we wake to chachalacas.

Day 3 Fri Nov 8 – We vote to not get back in the van today and just walk the road and explore the gardens. No more dust and bouncing, for at least a day! This turns out to be a good idea, as the road goes up from Tarapari to a nice cemetery with lots of weedy roadside edges. It is very dry, but they have apparently had rain not too long ago, as there is mud and damp areas in the ditch on the roadside. There is a lot of stuff flying around, but difficult to get them to stop. We put out pee and spit wads, and find a couple of poop spots, but not much is coming to any of the above.

One of my favorites today is the very fresh Adelpha coryneta, a distinctive Sister. We all get great shots of these. Lots of hairstreaks, many Strymon and Calycopis, but some other genera as well. The most common are the Actinote, probably several species, they are abundant. Not the usual Altinote species I’ve seen in Ecuador and Peru, but the real Actinote that are impossible for me to tell apart.

Day 4 Sat Nov 9 – Today it’s back in the van and we drive down the road to a couple of stream crossings. It’s only about 20 minutes (a real 20 minutes) to the first stream coming down the hill to our right. It is still in shade, as we leave about 8:20am, after some go birding at 6am, then breakfast at 7:30am. We leave some pee, and half of us drive on down the road, looking for the next stream crossing.

We find it, over a bridge with a pretty nice house on our right. We are told later this is the house of Klaus Barbi, a famous Nazi, so we call this place the Nazi house trail. They have fenced off most of the stream, though I see a small trail at the left of their fence. We drive just on around the corner and find a spot where local people back their trucks down to the stream so they can wash it. Looks good to us, so we pile out. It’s a very small area, only room for a single car to back down to the stream, but we start to see firetips. And more and more firetips. It turns into a firetip frenzy. I think we have at least 13 species, several of which I can’t id at this point.

Then a local shows up in his pickup truck to wash it, and we think oh no. But the butterflies are obviously used to this going on, and they just keep zipping around, landing on one side then the other and generally ignoring the people, the truck, and us tromping around. So we spend an hour or so photographing while the guy washes his truck and his kids do the laundry, while his wife takes care of the teeny new baby.

I walk down the road one or two turns, past where our driver is patiently waiting in a small pullout. I find another guy washing his truck on the right, and more butterflies. This place is in the sun, while the other spot was in the shade, so there are almost completely different species. Lots of Nymphalids, Perisamas, crescents, lots of Actintoes, and a fresh Cybdelis boliviana. So some of us go work that patch.

Dan and I then walk back up the road to the bridge and the fenced property and go on the small trail to the left of their wall. This leads up the creek and into a dark ravine, with a completely different set of species. I spend the rest of the morning here in the canyon chasing tigerwings and lots of goodies.

We’ve brought sack lunches, so we can spend all day, and we do. It turns into a fabulous day of butterfly photography, w/people going back and forth between these 3 spots, seeing different species at each place. We may have to come back here.

Day 5 Sun Nov 10 – drive to San Isidro forest, back through Chulumani and uphill towards the town of San Isidro to the pass at 2500 meters, then walk back downhill. This puts us in satyrland, and that’s the main things we see today, tons of high elevation satyrs. I find a pair of Memphis alberta, a new one for me.

After lunch we find a large concentration of satyrs piled on a crack in the rock wall, and we stop to shoot them. After taking lots of photos we realize what they are on is a long owl pellet, actually 2 pellets about 6-8” long. We have big debates, is this scat, or from an owl? By taking it apart we find fur, so it is definitely from an owl. It’s only about waist high on the rock wall, the owl must have been sitting there on a little ledge. It must have been a big owl. There are at least 20-30 butterflies packed onto it.

We continue walking downhill, finding butterflies wherever there is scat. Several good flocks of birds, too. At one point I think I’m hearing club-winged manakin, but David says it is white-eared solitaire. We also find yungas manakins displaying and get good looks.

One of the most spectacular finds is a damselfly that has electric blue, I mean glowing neon blue on the dorsal wings. You only see the sparkling brilliant blue when it flies, or flicks the wings. Almost everyone gets great photos too, very memorable. Dennis Paulson tells me later it is Cora terminalis.

Day 6 Mon Nov 11 – back to the river at the Nazi house and the car wash spots, where we were 2 days ago, for the morning, then drive to our new home at Apa Apa Lodge for the next 5 nights. We have a fabulous morning, actually we have to tear ourselves away a bit after 2pm, go back to our houses, pick up our luggage and take off for Apa Apa.

We have a number of new species at the same 2 truck wash places and up the dark ravine. Probably some of the best are the last couple, where Estevan, the driver, pointed out an Oxynetra semihyalina skipper, one of those with clear wings and a big black band, a spectacular bug. We also have our first Caria metalmark, one of the green shiny ones. Plenty of new stuff, some Perisamas, Catastictas, Doxocopa, 2 species of swallowtail, 3 including a Parides, we’re sorry to leave this place.

Poor Bill has been quite ill since the start of the trip. The local doctor has made 2 house calls, given him shots and medicine, but he’s not getting any better. So he decides to take a taxi back to La Paz and go to the hospital, hopefully they can fix him up. He can get another cab and come join us, or meet us in Coroico.

We get to Apa Apa lodge, only about 40 minutes from Chulumani, by late afternoon. This is an old hacienda that has been owned by the same family for hundreds of years, from an old spanish land grant. They are running a reserve up the mountain behind their hacienda.

The rooms are small, grubby and not very nice, but we’ll survive. The food is tasty, and the dining room is very nice, open w/great views and lovely breezes. So we spend most of our time when we’re not in the field hanging out in the dining room working on photos and reading.

Day 8 Tues Nov 12 – we explore the trails and roads around the lodge. Butterflying is slow, but we find a number of new species. The most spectacular is Sacrator polites, a beautiful skipper w/bright orange in the wings, a green back and dark wings. It likes to lurk in the bottom of the ravine but it comes to spitwads, so we get good photos. There are lots of clearwings in the ravine but they aren’t very cooperative for photos. Overall it is slower than we hoped.

Day 9 Wed Nov 13 – we attempt to drive up the road to the good forest, but our van can’t make it all the way. So we get out and walk uphill, from about 1800 to 1900 meters. The road rapidly deteriorates to just a track, then not even that. Just a creek full of waist high sawgrass. We bushwhack our way up a ways, then give up. Dan puts out lots of pee, which brings in the goodies. A couple of different Epiphile, lots of satyrs and several new skippers. It is disappointing that we can’t get up to the good forest, but such is life. If we had a guy with a machete, or maybe an army of guys w/machetes.

Our driver Estevan has gone back to the hacienda to pick up lunches and brings them back to us. We eat where the guys have put out some pee, so we’re entertained all through lunch by different goodies flying in. A very fresh Catonephele chromis poses nicely, Dynamine tithia cooperates, and a new skipper causes much excitement. Lychnuchoides ozias looks really strange, with the way it sits showing the hindwing pointing up above the forewing like a big bump. We also see our first Physcopedaliodes physco, a beautiful satyr with a round orange spot on the forewing that comes in for photos. So a good time is had by all.

Day 10 Thur Nov 14 – we have 2 days left here at Apa Apa, so we decide today to go back to the San Isidro forest road. This goes through the same habitat as above us, but w/the road we can get up to 2500m. Back to the land of satyrs.

We don’t see many new species, but get a chance to photograph some that got away when we were here a few days ago. 2 different Memphis, both photographed in the hand, so we’ll be able to figure them out. One fascinating aspect of these Bolivian high elevation satyrs is that several of them, in different genera, have the VFW a bright rufous, which I’ve not seen before. There is Pronophila cordillera, at least one Pedaliodes, Mygona prochyta, and several others with this coloration.

Bill came back last night, after a couple of nights in La Paz. Hopefully he’s all well and ready to go. Apparently he ate a caesar salad at the Miami airport, in one of those plastic boxes bought from one of the little stands. He got sick shortly after arriving in La Paz. The doctor in Chulumani was treating him for a regular tourist bug, and it was something a bit nastier. He went to the hospital in La Paz and they drew blood and did an analysis, gave him drugs and a bunch of rehydration. So no more salads at Miami airport for me.

Day 11 Fri Nov 15 – today we split up, I go back to the Nazi house/car wash place w/some people, including Bill who hasn’t had a chance to go there, and the others stay at the lodge to explore a new spot down by the river.

We have a good time back in the dark ravine and photographing bugs at the 2 car wash places, w/some new species even though it is our third time there. Beautiful shots of Noreppe chromus and 5 species of Catasticta. Not as many firetips as before, though Dan and Kay get guava skipper, the South American subspecies. This is definitely the best place we’ve been so far on this trip, I would love to see a survey done here once a month, or even once a week, for a couple of years.

The others also have a good time at the river spot, w/some more new species, including Quadrus truncata, a new one for me. We stop in Chulumani and buy more big bottles of water, and we have to hunt through 3 stores to find any. Lots and lots of coke and orange soda, no bottled water. But we finally find some. Then we look for fruit, as we have all been jonesing for fruit. We had a lovely big bowl of fruit our first morning here, but nothing since. We finally find some blackish bananas, so we buy 16 for 8 bolivianos, or a bit over $1.

Estevan, our driver, tells us that 10 years ago he was a truck driver delivering fruit and vegetables from here at Chulumani to La Paz. But now everyone only grows coca, ‘solo coca’, because it pays so much better. This area used to be famous for wonderful avocados, but not now. Now they have to pay higher prices than in La Paz for their fruit and veg, so most people don’t eat much fruit and veg. So they don’t sell much in the stores.

He also buys some gasoline, and there aren’t any gas stations in town, so he goes looking for people who sell gas from their homes. Of course that means it is a lot more expensive. Gas is subsidized here in Bolivia, and it costs about 3.6 bolivianos/liter, which is about US0.50/liter, or about $2/gallon. However that is in La Paz, here it is three times as much, 10 bolivianos/liter. They are building 2 huge gas stations, but it looks like they are going very slowly.

Day 12 Sat Nov 16 – we leave Apa Apa about 8:30am, then Chulumani about 9am, and drive 23 km to Puente Villa, the big bridge at the bottom of the ravine, arriving at 10:15. That gives you an idea of how bad the road is. Then we turn off to the right for Coroico, where the sign says 40km.

This road is much better, because there is much less traffic and no buses. No dust on the plants alongside the road, and no ruts. We find a great stream for lunch, more car washing, and wander up and down the stream, shooting lots of stuff. I finally get good looks at Diaethria neglecta, and catch one to shoot in the hand, showing the reflective blue dorsal. Lots of sulphurs and daggerwings mudpuddling, new Dynamine, and a second species of Cybdelis which we unfortunatly don’t get good dorsal shots of. This is about km 15 or so, well before km 20, so we think we are making good time.

After an hour or so we head on, thinking we are close. But the road goes on and on, we pass the 40km marking, no town. David is under the impression that La Finca, our hotel, is a km outside of the town of Coroico, and we will come to the hotel before the town, but this turns out not to be the case. We finally get to town, more like km 50 (don’t trust the signs), and call the hotel asking where are you? They tell us 7 km the other side of town, who knew?

We finally make it, we have the entire hotel to ourselves, and it is a huge improvement over Apa Apa. Daniel, the guy who took care of us at Apa Apa, was very nice, and a great cook, but the rooms were just too small and uncomfortable. We spent most of our time in the open air dining room, being eaten by flies. Several of us have huge swollen areas on our exposed surfaces from the fly bites. These flies are sneaky, you don’t feel them, but you get strong swollen reactions to the stealth bites.

Overall, La Finca is a very welcome change. The showers are nice, Bolivia has the best suicide showers I’ve ever had, nice and hot and plenty of water pressure. And the food tonight at dinner is delicious. Salad, hooray, with a very tasty light vineagrette on it w/avocadoes. Most of us eat it heartily, figuring if we’re going to get sick, we have 4 nights here. Several people were sick the last day or two at Apa Apa, which is weird as we were all eating the same things. Hopefully that won’t be a problem here. Stay tuned. And our first desert, chocolate pudding, dark and tasty.

And we get individual rooms. At Apa Apa they only had 5 rooms, so we all had to double up in the cramped rooms. Poor Tony was stuck w/me. He said I was the first woman he has slept with in the 45 years since he’s been married. But we got along fine. Here the doubles have 4 beds, and the singles two, even a table and chair, first cabin.

Day 13 Sun Nov 17 – today we explore around La Finca, walking up the road a mile or so, looking for waterfalls. We never find any, and the road has more traffic than we thought, so it makes for a frustrating morning. The butterflies we see are all very jumpy, being used to lots of cars so they’re really quick to move. We don’t really see many new species, plus it is quite overcast and cool most of the day, with clouds rolling up and down the spectacular mountains on both sides of us, beautiful views but not many butterflies. Oh well, at least lunch is good, and dinner is great, w/lasagna and wonderful bread. We ask Senor Juan, the owner, if the bread is coming from a bakery in Coroico, and he laughs and tells us it is from La Paz. If you can’t see lots of butterflies, might as well eat.

Day 14 Mon Nov 18 – back through Coroico and off to the several good looking spots we passed on the way in, where the water runs across the road. Estevan our driver had to get more gas, and of course there aren’t any gas stations. So the night we arrived he went back into town and spent the night, probably w/a friend. Hope she was good looking. At least he’s back late yesterday and managed to find some somewhere.

This morning we go back to town and 6 km to the 3 cascadas, or waterfalls. Unfortunately they are full of kids, even though it is Monday. We didn’t go on the weekend to try and avoid the mobs, but there are still too many people running around. We try all 3 waterfalls and get some photos, but overall we decide to move on. Tony is concentrating on shooting one group of butterflies when a woman comes down the road herding several large cows, and one of the cows wants to investigate what Tony is doing. He doesn’t know the cow is coming up behind him, so it’s a bit of a surprise.

We go back to town and take the other Y to Vacantes, 7 km down to the left if you’re coming from town, to the right as we’re heading back into town. It takes us a good 30 minutes to drive down the 7 km, a steep dirt road. We end up at the river in the bottom of the ravine at 1200 meters, and wander around finding lots of stuff. David finds a trail off to the right of the main bridge at the bottom, and finds several beaches with tons of butterflies. So everyone has a good time.

I’m really tired for some reason, so I sleep in the van most of the afternoon. That night it is fun to see everyone’s photos, mostly lowland species. At 1200 meters it is low enough for the lowland species to come up.

All around Coroico you can see where the hills have been cleared. Estevan tells me it was cleared for coca 10 years ago, then the ground was exhausted and couldn’t produce the coca any more. So now it is just grass and a couple of cows. Too bad, as this area was famous for butterflies a couple of decades ago.

Day 15 Tues Nov 19 – I’m developing a cold, unfortunately, with a sore throat and aching joints, so I stay home today. The others head back to the 1200 meters riverside place. Sherry has been sick the last 2 days with stomach problems. Most of us have been sick at different times on this trip, even though we’re drinking bottled water. But you never know what the kitchen is doing. It is weird that different people get sick on different days, very random.

They have a great day and get more new species, and lots of killer shots. I’m especially thrilled by a new Emesis orichalceus that Dan nails, and it is a huge help that Tony knows what it is. And our first orange and black striped Phocides, which I think is Phocides yohkara. I may have missed seeing them, but as I get everybodys’ photos, I don’t mind. Though later going through my photos from the Nazi house carwash spots, I find that I shot Phocides yohkara there as well, at the time I labeled it Mimardaris sela. You have to check the antennae tips, only the Firetips have those big ‘golf club’ curved antennae, while the Phocides have straight antennae.

Day 16 Wed Nov 20 – we have a late departure, as the road is closed to La Paz for construction until noon. All in all it takes us about 4-5 hours to get to La Paz, including a good hour from the outskirts to the hotel. Traffic is horendous, I can’t imagine living here. La Paz is not a pleasant city, crowded, dirty, very packed feeling. I’m glad we’re not spending the night.

Aside from the spectacular scenery through the pass, the highlight is when we have to stop for a flat tire. As Estevan changes tires, we find a fabulous fresh Lasiophila regia basking next to the road at about 11,000’/3,333 meters, and everyone gets great shots. I call it the sunset satyr, probably the prettiest Lasiophila I’ve seen.

We have a sandwich at the Hotel Rosario, after all of us hogging their wifi. 2 weeks w/out internet and we’re all in withdrawal. Most of us manage to download our hundreds of messages, stuff down the large sandwiches, say goodbye to Tony and pick up Ken and Willie, and make a mad dash to the airport for our 8pm flight to Cochabamba. We make it, get to the fancy hotel Aranjuez, which is about 10 steps up from where we have been staying. A real hotel, w/a tv, a mini fridge, unlimited hot water, windows that open out to a lovely garden, and of course, barking dogs. Sigh.

Day 17 Thur Nov 21 – the dogs aren’t bad, and I sleep just fine. After a fancy buffet breakfast, w/lots of fruit (!), we take off for a day up in the polylepis forest above town.

Our new driver, in a much bigger bus, is over an hour late, and then doesn’t know his way around or out of the city. Hope this isn’t going to be a problem. Turns out he is from Santa Cruz. David and Dan keep telling him to ask a taxi how to find the main road out, and he keeps ignoring them and asking other drivers. We finally get on the right road, which leads up and up and into a very interesting ravine, called San Miguel, about 12,100’/3700 meters.

Today is a birding day, and we have lots of new birds. We pretty much get all the specialities here in a few hours, just roadside birding. Things like rufous-sided and bolivian warbling-finch, blue and gold tanager, 2 species of saltators, red-tailed comet, we get good looks at most of them. It is dark and cool, so almost no butterflies, but lots of fun anyway.

The road goes up and up forever. We’re about 20 km out of town, and the km markings are 450, so the road must go on across Bolivia. Wonder where it goes? I’m always tempted to explore, but we have to head back to Cochabamba. We get caught in heavy rain on our way back, but it is dry at the hotel.

Day 18 Fri Nov 22 – another night of barking dogs, plus this time I have the extra special 2 tomcats fighting in the garden below my windows. Wish I had a pea shooter. Anyway, we take off for Villa Tunari, over the high pass and down the east slope on the main highway to Santa Cruz.

Main highway’ is a slight exaggeration, as it is a tight, twisty supposedly paved 2 lane road stuffed full of slow trucks. Of course there is another road closure, there has been a landslide. This much be a daily occurrence on this road. Rather than wait until 3pm, when it will open, we back track a bit and go down a cobblestone road that David knows, called Miguelito about 2000 meters. When he was here 8 years ago, they had just put this side road in for the power lines. Now of course the campesinos have moved in and chopped much of into little plots. So much work for so little return, certainly harder work than I’ve ever done, or even known anyone who has.

We don’t see a lot of butterflies, mostly the same species as we had on the road to San Isidro, a bit further north. Ken gets a shot of Morpho aurora, and we have Colias lesbia andina for the first time.

We head back to the road closure, get in the considerably longer line, and sure enough, they open shortly after 3pm. Our driver has pulled a fast one and sneaks way up to the front of the line, then sweet talks a truck driver into letting us pull in front of him. So we make it through, then it takes about another 2 hours to Villa Tunari.

We’re at Los Tucanes, a fairly nice place on the far side of town across the bridge to the left. There is another nice looking hotel on the opposite side of the road, we may check it out. We’re here, dinner is tasty w/helado de maracuya (passionfruit ice cream), so life is good. We eat lots of river fish, surubi, which is fairly bland w/out bones, and is fine.

Day 19 Sat Nov 23 – we drive back through town and take the old road off to the left, about 4 km outside of town, and head up a couple of km. We come to a small wooden bridge to the left and signs to Parque Nacional Carrasco, so we walk in. It is 800 meters to the oilbird cave. We spent our day working this road, which goes through forest w/some chopped clearings.

We want to work the river, but it is Saturday and the river banks fill up quickly w/swimmers and families picnicking for the day, so we move on. We get lots of crescents, including a new subspecies of Anthanassa drusilla for me, A.drusilla verena. I see a green headed Staphylus, but can’t get a photo. I’m sure it is not a Gorgopas, but w/out a photo I’ll never know. There are many little Staphylus zipping around, and other second growth species.

Day 20 Sun Nov 24 – today we drive up the same road but continue past the bridge, heading higher. We come to a major Y and take the right, which peters out in a small village. After backing and filling to turn our small bus around, we head back and take the left turn, which heads up into the hills and decent habitat.

This becomes a good road to explore. I think we have found the old road to Cochabamba, with old cement gutters running along the side in most places. We drive up to about 800 meters, probably only 5-6 km, get out and put out spitwads, pee and shrimp. David has bought some frozen shrimp in Cochabamba, put them in a mesh inside a big plastic coke bottle, and can add water now to keep making shrimp mixture to spray on the leaves. Each day it is getting better and better, ie nastier and nastier.

We have a good day. This is an interesting elevation, as we see some higher species and also lots of lowland species. A beautiful fresh Consul fabius entertains folks for a while, and the orange-tipped angled sulphurs are common, Anteos menippe. Probably my favorite is a spectacular Sea sophronia, which at first I think is a Eunica. It is bright blue with a strong white band across the forewing, and very mottled on the ventral. It is cooperative, landing on several of us and hanging around by the bus much of the morning. We don’t figure out what it is until that night, when we can’t find it in the Eunica. A new one for me!

Day 21 Mon Nov 25 – we wake to heavy rain, so we have a slow breakfast and hang out doing internet. By 9 or 9:30 the rain stops and we head up the mountain, going back to the same place as yesterday. It looks like it hasn’t rained much here at all, the sun is out and we have a great day.

Very different species than yesterday, lots more riodinidae and we don’t see a number that we saw yesterday. No Sea sophronia, for example, but new skippers too. Today is sunnier and hotter, and the shrimp is a day older, maybe that’s why. Anyway, we add a number of new species to our list. We have 4 or 5 species of Memphis, which are always a nightmare to sort out from live ventral photos. There are a number of nice skippers from the lowlands that I have not seen in several years, since I was working on our Southern Amazonia book. Nice to see old friends like Charidia lucaria and Chrysoplectrum perniciosus, very fresh and gorgeous. A beautiful Thisbe irenea provides quite a bit of fun, and a Brachyglenis esthema hangs on a leaf over a waterfall and is most cooperative. Another great day. Deby finds 2 wonderful Myscelus, M.epimachus yesterday and M.assaricus today.

Day 22 Tue Nov 26 – I wake at 2:30am to a great thunderstorm, but the morning dawns clear. The rains appear to be kicking in, which is great. We had timed this trip to try and hit the beginning of the rains. Now I want to go back to Chulumani and Coroico and see if the species mix is changing there. Oh well.

We try to get our driver to head higher up the old road, but he is not used to dirt mountain roads and balks. We get him to go a little bit higher but very little. He’s terrified that he won’t be able to turn around. So we work another stretch of road still about the same elevation, 800m or so. We had planned to go quite a bit higher, but not w/this vehicle or this driver. If we did another trip it would be a better idea to have a bus bring us from Cochabamba to Villa Tunari and drop us off, then hire a couple of locals w/trucks to run us up and down the dirt road. Then we could get another bus from Santa Cruz to come get us on departure day. That’s why this is an exploration trip.

We don’t see near as many bugs flying as yesterday, but we do find a few new species. Best for me is Emesis adelpha, which is most cooperative. Always great to see new species who are also willing to pose. He’s under a leaf, but allows to turn the leaf over and shoot away.

We see tons of Mylon skippers on this stretch, probably 15-20, I’ve never seen so many. Most of them are M.zephus, but David and Sherry pick out at least one M.illineatus.

Day 23 Wed Nov 27 – we head back up the main paved highway, hoping to get back 1000 meters or more. We get up to 1100 meters at Rio Chuamayu, where we find 2 tracks off to the right. It is very difficult to find roads off the main highway, which is full of slow, noisy trucks, that don’t lead to someone’s house.

David noticed these 2 short tracks as we came down the hill several days ago. They turn out to be ok, not fabulous, running up along a stream. The lower track, right before the Rio Chuamayu bridge, apparently is a toilet stop for the truckers, as we find several shit piles. This of course brings in the leafwings.

David scores with a new genus for me, Coenophlebia archidona. Otherwise we mostly find species we’ve already seen, but a good chance to get better photos. Several of the sulphurs and whites are stopping in the wet areas over the track. I catch a gorgeous Morpho aurora and try and catch the iridescent lavender on the wings, not easy to do even in the hand.

Later in the trip I spent 4 days with Yuvinka Gareca, photographing her collection, and she tells me about several places they like to work above Villa Tunari. Staying on the main paved highway, they go up past the checkpoint, which is about an hour above Villa Tunari. First, coming up from Villa Tunari, is Yendo al Chocolatel, about 1350-1450m, off the road to the town of Chocolatel. Then a bit higher is Rio Vinto about 2250m. Maybe on a future trip.

Day 24 Thur Nov 28 – we leave Villa Tunari and drive the main highway to Santa Cruz, along with a couple of thousand trucks. Our driver is heading for the barn, so he puts his foot down and we make it fairly quickly, with many passes of slower vehicles. Interesting, as in the mountains we were the slowest car on the road, but not now. I think he will be glad to see the last of us.

This is reinforced in a small town with a pretty square, where he takes us for lunch. David has a mister bottle full of rotten shrimp, which expands when left in the bus as we wander around, and has leaked. So the bus now smells of rotten shrimp. No wonder the driver isn’t too happy.

We go into a restaurant, but they only have a set menu of comida tipica, absolutely no chips, snacks, cookies, candy, etc. We decide it is in our best interests to skip eating and wait for Santa Cruz. We make it to the hotel by 1:30 or so and eat at the hotel café. Not too exciting, most of us get tomato stuffed w/tuna, but it is more tuna mush. Something to eat, however.

That night we go to Taj Mahal, a great Indian restaurant that Bill finds in Lonely Planet, maybe a 10 minute walk away. Indian food in Bolivia, who would have thought? It is delicious, we all take bites off each others’ plates, and all of it is excellent. As we waddle our way back to the hotel some folks even have enough room to hit a frozen yogurt place. Yes, Santa Cruz is not like the rest of the country. More like a regular city in any upscale part of the world.

Day 25 Fri Nov 29 – off to our last location, Refugio Los Volcanes. I have high hopes for this last place. It is an actual eco lodge, w/good habitat and trails, something we have not had. Not more dusty roads and dodging traffic.

We drive in our air conditioned van on paved roads, then turn off onto a steep dirt road. The driver says we have to turn off the a/c to make the climb. We make it to the top, about 5,700’, where we take all the luggage out and say bye-bye to our driver. He’ll be back to get us in 5 days.

2 jeeps show up to get all our stuff, and most of us walk down, supposedly 2 km. It’s very steep, even though they have poured cement on parts of it. We still slip repeatedly walking down. We drop 1,200’ down to the stream bridge, then climb 200-300’ back up to the lodge.

What a spectacular location! You come out into an open meadow surrounded by fabulous red sandstone hills that look like melted mountains or gumdrops. One of the more spectacular places I’ve been. We all shoot more photos of scenery than of butterflies this afternoon.

Day 26/27/28/29 – Sat/Sun/Mon/Tue Nov 30/Dec 1/2/3 – we wander the trails and road for the next 4 days. Interesting place, but it doesn’t appear to have large variety. We see tons of 3 uncommon species: Hyalothyrus neleus, Chorinea sylphina, and Physcopedaliodes physcoa, the one I’m calling Psycho Satyr. These are the most common bugs we see over and over. Otherwise we’re finding 1 of this and 1 of that, everyone getting different species.

Kristine finds a great trail that leads up to a hilltop overlooking the meadow and our buildings that proves to be great for displaying butterflies of all types. David spends an afternoon up there and gets more than 10 species of hairstreaks. He says the sun hits it until 5:30pm, when he comes back down for dinner. One of his best finds is a mating pair of Ipidecla crepundia, tiny hairstreaks that I’ve only seen one photo of from Cristalino Lodge in Brazil. He has several other smart looking species that we will have to try and figure out.

I’m seeing lots of species that I have only photographed in Argentina. We are a long ways south here, but we’re also finding species from Mexico. One day several of us get photos of Florida Purplewing, Eunica tatila. I’ve never seen this species in South America before. We’re south of the Amazonian lowland rain forest, into drier habitat, so we’re finding a different mix of species.

We suspect the species mix may change quite a bit as the rains come in, perhaps more diversity in late December or January. We’ve had mostly perfect weather, brilliant sunny days and cool, star filled nights. One day was overcast and cool, but the others have dawned clear.

Several folks spend a lot of time up on Kristine’s hilltop, or hairstreak heaven as we’re calling it, getting different species each time. The problem is the bugs spend most of their time whizzing around, so it can make for frustrating photography. Ken gets a beautiful Livendula, a new riodinid for me that is half white and half rufous w/purple. David finds 2 different Calydna, more riodinids. One afternoon several people get shots of a Parelbella. And they continue to get different lycaenids. Bill gets Chlorostrymon telea, one that has made it to south Texas. The hilltop has the most variety, but many of them get away. It seems to be better for photography late in the afternoon, as they are all super hyper in the morning but settle down a bit more towards the end of the day.

It is surprising to us that we’re not seeing more puddle parties. Many of the trails go along the streams, which are very low w/lots of sandy banks and exposed rocks. There are tons of Pierids flying around, when you look over the canopy across the valley you can see chains of them chasing each other. But we only see 2 small mudpuddling groups where the guys have peed, and only briefly. There just may not be many nutrients in this red sandy soil.

One day Dan, Sherry and Deby find some beautiful swimming holes down the stream. It’s a bit of a walk, but a nice reward. There are a series of nice spots where the locals have put in cement steps down to streamside. In the second place you work your way back 150 meters or so upstream and it opens out to a fabulous cavern wall where the waterfall comes down, maybe 75-80’ high, into a deep pool.

During the wet season when the stream runs much higher, you probably can’t even get across in most places. Standing down next to the water you can easily see where it has scoured out the rock higher than your head. They tell us January is when they get most of their rain, January to March, but sun as well. Maybe David can come back w/another group some January. They say that’s when the Morphos fly.

All in all Los Volcanes is a beautiful spot, one of the prettier places I’ve been. We see a number of species, but lower overall diversity than I had expected. Excellent food and a comfortable place to stay, a great place to relax in the hammock during the warm afternoon with a great breeze blowing. If you come to Bolivia you have to come to Volcanes.

Day 30 Wed Dec 4 – we drive back to Santa Cruz, taking a couple of hours and several trips up the bad dirt access road by jeep. One jeep takes probably 4-5 trips to haul all our luggage and the 10 of us up to the top, where our faithful bus awaits. We get back to town about 5pm to the Hotel LP. They once again are short a room, so Priscilla and I have to double up. Don’t know if this is an accidental oversight, but we were missing a room a week ago as well. Suspicious coincidence. This was booked through the Forest Agency, who handles Volcanes bookings. I find out later from David that the taxi that was supposed to be there for him, when he left Volcanes 2 days early, didn’t show, so he had to take a public collectivo. I’m not too impressed w/the Forest agency’s attention to details.

We go to El Tomate, a nearby pizza place, and have a great final dinner. 3 different tasty pizzas w/cheese in the crust, tasty garlic bread and frozen yogurt for dessert, yum.

Day 31 Thur – Mon Dec 5 through Dec 9 – most people take off for the 10:30am American flight to Miami, and run right into a killer ice storm. So they end up stuck all over the country, as the American flights mostly go through Dallas which is closed. Good thing I waited a few days.

I hang around to meet Steffen Reichle and his wife Yuvinka Gareca. She has been collecting here in Bolivia for many years. She works at the Natural History Museum in Cochabamba, and has arranged for me to spend a day at the Natural History Museum Noel Kempff Mercado here in Santa Cruz. She has a wonderful collection which I race through in 3 days, just hitting the highlights after concentrating on hesperiids. Very instructive, and I figure out names for a number of the mystery bugs we shot on our trip. A very worthwhile several days.

They are very gracious hosts, putting me up at their house for the next 4 days and feeding me tasty food. Cappachinos, nutella and good bread w/fruit for breakfast, yum. We have a great time, and I do tons of work w/her collection. So many bugs, so little time.

Saturday night they have a big sushi feed, where a bunch of friends get together and make tons of sushi. I help out a bit, never having made sushi before. It is all delicious, even though I’m a bit concerned about all those fingers making the raw food. But all is well and it is quite enjoyable, even though my being the only non spanish speaker makes it a bit difficult to participate in the conversation. So I just eat. I’ve never sat at a table w/so many plates of sushi, must be 10 or more. There are 10 people, and we can’t eat it all.

Monday morning I catch a cab to the airport for my shot at the American 10:30 flight. Weather is nice in Miami, so I should at least get that far, where I have a hotel for the night at the Comfort Suites. All flights are cancelled through DFW on Monday, but it looks like my Tuesday flights are ok, at least for now. We’ll see what happens.

Tuesday I make my flight through DFW and back to McAllen, Texas on time without any problems, except for the mobs of stand by folks who missed their flights over the last several days. Good timing on my part! Back home and thousands of photos to work on, should keep me busy for the next couple of months.

Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico July 2013

Participants: Veronica Prida, Monica Maeckle & Susan Hoffert, plus Cornelio and Mateo as bird guides. We stay at Veronica Prida’s lovely rental house, actually 2 homes with a great pool. See her website, www.casatulco.com

Sat Jul 20 – I fly from Tucson to Houston and connect to United’s non stop flight to Huatulco. United flies once a week on Saturday, which works well as you can avoid having to fly through Mexico City. I arrive about 3pm and Veronica picks me up and takes me to her lovely house where 4 of us are spending a week or so, chasing butterflies and eating tasty Mexican food. She has been sending me butterfly photos and invited me to come be her guest at her rental house in Huatulco, and help her work on a butterfly list for the area.

Tonight we go into town to walk around the square and go to Salvador’s Café Huatulco coffee shop. The square is jumping, Saturday night and everyone is there. When we get over to Santa Cruz and Café Huatulco, it is lovely. A beautiful warm night, with live music from the pagoda and tasty coffee, plus quesadillas and snacks. Salvador, the owner of the coffee finca (best coffee in the area, or the world according to Salvador) joins us, his daughter runs the coffee shop. We spend several hours hanging out in the open plaza, drinking a variety of things that Salvador keeps ordering, including some aged mescal that tastes like a smokey single malt whiskey. He says ‘you just kiss it’, and it evaporates on your tongue. Of course then you can breathe fire 3 feet across the table. All in all, a great welcome to the hospitality of the people at Huatulco. We don’t get to bed until 12:30 or so, must be a record for me.

Sun Jul 21 – Veronica has arranged for Cornelio Ramos Gabriel, (birdguidecornelio@yahoo.com.mx) a local bird guide, and Mateo to take us to Copalita Eco-archeological park, some ruins that have been make into a nice park with stone trails around the old temples and ball court. They have a nice display of pottery, much from 500 years B.C., and some interesting maps at the entrance,  where we see a dazed green kingfisher who has flown into the windows. But he recovers and flies off.

We spend the morning, until almost 1pm, walking the wide stone paved paths and chasing birds and butterflies. Probably the most exciting thing to me is that Carmelito finds a couple of pupa on a guanabena shrub that turn out to be Archaeoprepona demophon, One-spotted Prepona. They are very strange looking, very much like twisted dead leaves, hanging from a string off a leaf, about the size of your thumb. You can see the face with 2 little horns. (shot of caterpillar)

Later looking it up online, we find examples of late instart larvae that look just like this, and pupa shots similar to what we saw and also bright green pupa, much smoother and more like monarch pupa. On further investigation, we had the caterpillar, which apparently does this to hide during the day. It hung like a dead leaf from its frass chain.

We head back to the casa where a delicious lunch of chicken chiliquiles awaits us, and a refreshing dip in the pool. Tough life. Then it’s time for a nap to get ready for our dinner at Tango Lunda.

Mon Jul 22 – we drive about 2 hours up to Finca Monte Carlo for the night, where I have been a couple of times before. This is about 900 meters in the mountains inland a bit from the coast, up a rough dirt road, better with 4×4 but not absolutely needed.

Efren, the owner, meets us there and is excited to show us the gorgeous pupa of Superb Cycadian, Eumaeus childrenae, all over the large cycad in his garden. I had photographed the red, gummy bear larvae on this same bush in October 2010, so it is very interesting to see the pupa, like little chocolate goodies all over the leaves.

We have a great day working our way up to the Finca, especially at the bridge at the turnoff. The sign there says 3 km, but it is more like 5 or 6 km.

That evening we lose power, so we sit in the dark and watch the full moon come up from the rooftop. Monica has brought a white bug sheet, so she sets it up and they try to get their smartphones to glow as ultraviolet lights, but it doesn’t work very well as a moth light. We find a huge black witch that comes into the kitchen, which causes general excitement.

That night I get ill and am very tired the next day. I don’t think this was from the food at the Finca, as no one else gets ill. Susan was sick the day before, it may have been from the chicken at Tango Lunda, which we both ate, covered in the tasty Oaxacan mole. But who knows?

Tue Jul 23 – we leave after spending a few hours wandering around in the fog, unfortunately. So we see very few butterflies, a couple of clearwings. This is a great place to spend some time, I’ve spent a week here in the past and not been bored. This trip we just don’t have enough time.

We stop in Llano Grande at the mariposarium, or butterfly house. I stay in the car and sleep, the others go visit. We take the long dusty rough dirt road back through the hills and connect back to highway 200, the main coastal highway, on the other side of Huatulco. If I was feeling good, and you wanted to photograph butterflies, we pass many wet streams that cross the dirt road, and you could spend the day stopping and photographing. But we’re tired so we just bounce along and get back to Veronica’s peaceful home.

After naps we go out for fabulous italian food at Georgio’s Tratoria, which I highly recommend. Omar Rodriguez, Veronica’s husband, has shown up and he takes us out. He just tells the owner to bring us tasty food, and different courses keep coming out. Delicious, 4 or 5 courses, ending with wonderful pasta of 2 types of ravioli, then 4 different desserts. A place to go back to.

Wed Jul 24 – Susan leaves, too bad for her. Monica gives her talk at the Flamboyan Hotel downtown on monarchs. There is a good turnout, about 45 people, all locals, not tourists. I didn’t realize there was so much interest in butterflies here. Monica does a great job, in spanish, I’m impressed. They even want to buy my books. I’ll have to send more down here to Cornelio, he can distribute them for me.

4 more friends show up, and we nosh on Kathy’s homemade ceviche and guacamole and margaritas. The tough life continues.

Thur Jul 25 – they all go to the beach and I work on the computer. Sitting at the main table with both doors open and a lovely breeze blowing through, the waterfall tinkling in their front room, very comfortable.

Fri Jul 26 – Cornelio comes at 8am and we go to the Parque Nacional Huatulco to chase butterflies. We hike about a mile through the sand dune forest and come out on a spectacular beach.  Not a soul in sight, as compared to yesterday where the others had beaches jammed with visitors. This is a bit of a walk, but a beautiful beach.

We get good looks at Colima Pygmy Owl, after Cornelio calls it in. Not many butterflies, but a beautiful forest. (shot of ceiba tree)

That night we go into town and eat at Omar’s favorite flauta stand, which are the best flautas I’ve ever had. Yum, lots of delicious places to eat in Huatulco.

Sat Jul 27 – Omar takes me and another friend back to Copalita Archaeological Park. I look for the caterpillars on the same tree, but don’t find any. This is a nice hike up to an overlook of Copalita Beach, where the river comes down to the sea.

When we get back to the house, Omar works on his paintings. He is a well known artist who sells many great abstract paintings, some very large. He paints with house paint, and has a large canvas set up in the garden. It doesn’t hurt it to get wet, so he paints outside.

His style is fascinating, I take many photos of his work as he builds it up with different layers of brilliant colors. He uses masking tape to put stripes across his painted stripes, then removes the tape so the other colors show through. It grows and evolves like a living thing, very interesting to watch it change hour to hour.

I fly back to Houston and onto Tucson on the 2:30pm flight, getting home about 9:30. A fun trip, lots of delicious food, very relaxing and I met some fascinating people. I’ll have to come back and spend more time chasing butterflies.

Colombia Feb/March 2013

Colombia Feb/March 2013

Thur Jan 31 – fly from TX to Bogota overnight, then a short hop over to Medellin, arrive Feb 1

Fri Feb 1 – arrive Medellin 8:30am, Best Western Skyplus hotel for 19 nights, 128,000 COP/night

Sat Feb 2 – go with Juan to Pueblito de San Juan in Amaga, 1800m

Sun Feb 3 – go with Juan to Daniel’s fabulous house of orchids, 2200m

Mon Feb 4 – start Spanish class with Federico Del Valle at his Medellin Language Academy http://medellinlanguageacademy.com/, or federico@medellinlanguageacademy.com

Mon-Fri 2 weeks Spanish class in the morning, work with Juan at night

Sat Feb 9 – go with Juan to Pueblito for butterfly photography, get sun

Sat Feb 16 – go with Juan to the Condor cave at Rio Claro and Rodrigo’s house for the weekend

Sun Feb 17 – Rodrigo takes us to Napoles, a safari adventure park

Mon/Tue Feb 18/19 – work on the computer in Medellin

Wed Feb 20 – fly to Pereira and go to Otun for 2 nights

Thur Feb 21 – a full day at Otun, meet David Geale and Pablo’s birding group

Fri Feb 22 – go w/David and drop off the group at the airport, we go to Montezuma for 4 nights

Sat-Mon Feb 23/24/25 – walk the road at Montezuma

Tue Feb 26 – back to Pereira, fly to Popayan for 5 nights for butterfly conference

Coffee strike changes plans, stay at Montezuma through Sun Mar 5

Fri Feb 1 – All the flights go smoothly. This time when I arrive in Bogota on the United flight from Houston I wait for my luggage and it doesn’t show. Asking some questions I’m told don’t worry, it will be transferred to my connecting flight to Medellin. As this is different than my trip last year, I’m a bit concerned, but no worries, there it is in Medellin. They have opened the brand new terminal here in Bogota, so everything is different from my previous trip. I change a slug of cash right in the baggage area, at an official cambio. Much easier than waiting in line at a bank. Using atm’s also usually works well, but you never know if that particular atm works with your bank.

I had arranged for the hotel to have a driver at the airport who takes me the 45 minutes or so to get to the hotel for 65,000 COP. I expected a regular driver in some sort of uniform with a Best Western sign, but he was just a guy in jeans with my name written on a board. As I’m getting to the hotel in the middle of the morning, the room’s not ready. So I open the laptop and start working in the lobby, and a short time later the receptionist tells me she’s got a room, hooray. Maybe they didn’t want a scruffy person sitting in their small lobby all day. I have a nice view from my small terrace, I’m on the 5th floor of the 8 story hotel. I look to the west and can see the in town airport down below me.

I’m going to be taking Spanish classes with Federico for 2 hours a day starting next Monday for 2 weeks. We’ve had a few classes ahead of time on skype. He charges me about $20/hour, or 35,000 COP (Colombian pesos). The exchange rate is between 1,700 – 1,800 COP to 1 USD. If there were other people in my class the cost per person would be 20,000 COP, so it’s much cheaper to do it with a friend, but the $20/hour seems like a fair price to me. I’ve never used a private tutor before. Federico pretty much just speaks to me in Spanish, though if I have questions he will explain it in English.

That afternoon, after a nap, Federico comes and picks me up in his car and drives me the km or so to his Medellin Language Academy, which is just down Calle 10. The hotel is uphill, which will make walking back fun. It’s not a steep hill but I’ll bet it will be noticeable. Now I know how to walk it each morning. There’s a Crepes y Wafles only 2 blocks from the school, and Federico points out a good place right across the street that he likes for kababs and Middle Eastern food. There should be lots of restaurants around to check out. I scheduled my classes for 10am to noon each day, convenient for having a tasty lunch somewhere afterwards.

Another convenient thing about the Best Western is the grocery store right across the street. I stock up on cereal, yogurt, fruit, crackers and some good cheese for 65,000 COP, or about USD37. I have a small kitchen in my hotel room with a fridge and a stove and plenty of cabinets, no silverware or cups or bowls of any sort. They have a cereal/yogurt/fruit buffet in the grocery store, 6,000 COP/kg, that comes with nice plastic bowls, so I buy some just to get the bowl, and the fresh fruit. A bag of plastic bowls was going to cost 5,000 COP.

Sat Feb 2 – Juan picks me up at 7am to go out towards Amaga to look for butterflies. It’s a dark and drizzly day, so we don’t see much, but the road he takes me up looks very promising. He has been here 30 times, and today turns out to be the worst weather he’s had yet. Even though we are in the ‘summer’ here in Colombia, which should be the dry season, we end up with pretty heavy rain on our way back to town. We do see a few butterflies, but very few. A different looking Opsiphanes which gets away before we can grab it and several skippers, but I’m sure if you had some sun this place would be hopping. Hopefully I’ll be able to come back and get better weather.

Going out for the day with Juan and Martin is really just another pigs on wheels trip, as Martin likes to stop and buy food to take back home at several places. Plus we eat breakfast at one of the little outdoor shops, I get my favorite arepa con chococlo (the mountain corn) and a bowl of delicious café con leche for all of 4,000 COP. Their friend Alejandro is along as well. The guys order a bunch of arepas to take back with them, we stop and pick them up on our back. The guy at the restaurant is busy scraping ears of corn to get the kernels to mash up for the arepas. We also stop for lunch at one of the nice Los Llanos restaurants, which serves beef and more beef. I bring half of mine back to the hotel. It’s a big pile of grilled beef with a plate of little potatoes and yucca, talk about your basic meat and potatoes meal, but tasty. This cost 13,000 COP, plus I give the waitress 2,000 more. Less than USD10.

Sun Feb 3 – Juan comes and picks me up to take to his house, only about 3-4 minutes uphill from my hotel. We work on how to organize our photos for a couple of hours, then his family takes me to La Ceja to visit his sister-in-law’s beautiful house and meet her husband, Daniel, who is a collector of killer orchids. He has probably the best collection in Colombia, 3 huge greenhouses full of unique and spectacular orchids. It’s about an hour to the east of Medellin, on the way to Rio Claro. We spend quite a bit of time wandering around his different greenhouses. He has a warm one, with plastic all around it, for the lowland species, then one that is only partially covered and the third one is open to his cooler habitat about 2,200m. He has lots of the Dracula orchids, and many many different ones that I have never seen. He likes to only have a couple of each type. It is the most amazing collection I’ve ever seen. He is interested in having paying tours of tourists come from Medellin. It will be interesting to see if he can work that out. He also has a spectacular house on a hill that is completely open on one side so we sit for dinner and look out over a killer view. He has beautiful orchids displayed all over the house, very artistic and original. A pretty special place. And tasty food too! It is a large family group who all are very intimate with one another, and of course it is all in Spanish. I can follow some of it, and when they speak directly to me they know to speak slowly and probably much more simply, but my head hurts by the end of the day trying to keep up. They are very friendly and welcoming, how nice of them to let me come to their family Sunday get together. I really enjoyed Daniel, he is very enthusiastic and an interesting guy who has a real passion.

Mon Feb 4 – my first official day of Spanish classes, though I’ve had a crash course with Juan on the weekend. I walk downhill about a km to the school down Calle 10. My classes are from 10am to noon every day. As I’m the only student, I could schedule them whenever I wanted, for as long as I wanted to pay for. I think 2 hours/day will work well. Other classes I’ve taken, in other countries in small groups, were 4 hours/day, but because there were 3 or 4 students you didn’t spend as much time talking. One on one you have to do all the talking, no goofing off and not paying attention.

My schedule for the next 2 weeks, Monday through Friday, is the following. Walk a km+ to Federico’s school, down Calle 10, private class from 10am to noon. After class I eat lunch in one of the many restaurants within a few blocks. I experiment and try a different place almost every day.

I often work on my Spanish homework while sitting outside at some café, drinking one of the delicious juice drinks or a café con leche. One of the many things I love about the Latin culture is they never hurry you up or try to move you on from holding a table. You can buy a cup of coffee or a coke and sit at that table all day if you want. So sometimes I spend a couple of hours, sometimes less, watching the people and casually working on my Spanish. And I can get tasty food to eat at the same time, not a bad deal.

Most of my meals run about 20 to 25 COP, which is expensive for Colombia at US$12 or so, but then I’m in an upscale part of the city and I’m eating at nicer places. There are many cheaper places to eat, including KFC and Domino’s. One of my favorites is MundoVerde, or Green World. They have fabulous huge salads and all sorts of organic things, along with fancy juice drinks like granadilla or maracuya (passion fruit) and yierbabuena (a green mint-like herb).

Most of the meals are too big for me to eat in one sitting, so I often take the leftovers back to my hotel and eat them for dinner or one day if I don’t go out to lunch. Of course I find the delicious ice cream place, with gelato in all sorts of tropical flavors. 5000 COP for a big double scoop of 2 flavors, yum.

Federico recommends a couple of places close by, and I try each of them. One is Vea Pues, a small very local looking place with lovely little windows in wood that open out to a tree filled area. Their special salad is good, with large pieces of grilled chicken, but nothing to rave about. I preferred the salad from MundoVerde. The other place he likes is a Kabob House almost across the street from the school . I expected something on a stick, but no. They served meat in a pita with a falafel like sauce, with lettuce and tomato and onion. The meat was cooked on a vertical stick, both beef and chicken and probably pork, marinated and tasty. It was very good, and one of the cheaper places at just under 10,000 COP. Again I couldn’t eat it all, it was huge.

After lunch I either wander around or gradually walk my way back uphill to the hotel and work on photos in the afternoon. Most days Juan calls and picks me up on his way home from work at 5:30 or so, than we work all evening on designing layouts for pdf’s, combining our photos, and he’s showing me how to use Lightroom and gimp. This last is a great free photo manipulation software that you can download. It does an amazing amount of stuff, very much like photoshop without the big price tag. I don’t have photoshop on my laptop, so it is a big help as we’re selecting some of my photos to put into his database. Anyway, it’s a very productive time together. I’m sure his family will be glad when I’m gone, as I’ve been monopolizing his time. They graciously feed me a light dinner every night I’m there, which is tasty and very nice of Adriana, his wife.

Sat Feb 9 – Juan takes me back to his favorite place, Pueblito de San Jose. Today we have a sunny day, one of the sunniest since I’ve been here. It rains almost every day, often just overcast and a drizzle, but several good thunderstorms. Very weird weather, this should be one of the hot and dry times of the year.

I take hundreds of photos and get several new species for me. We speak Spanish all day and the guys correct me when I mess up, so it’s great. On our way back late afternoon Juan takes me to see Gabriel Rodriguez’s fabulous butterfly collection. 2 generations of collecting, as his father collected for many years. Very impressive, I could have spent many days here. Hopefully I’ll get to come back and maybe photograph some of it.

Mon-Fri Feb 11-15 – school in the mornings, work with Juan at night

Sat Feb 16 – Juan and Martin pick me up at 6am and we drive 3 hours east to the cave of the condor, just past Rio Claro. After stopping, of course, for breakfast at the famous bean palace, El Palacio de los Frijoles, where I have the typical arepa con chocolo and a bowl of coffee con leche, and a guanabana drink with milk. Just to give me the energy to get through a tough day of butterfly photography.

Once we get to the parking spot, we leave the car and walk about a km or so across pastures, though gates, and come to the edge of the forest where a small stream wanders into the woods. We follow the stream for another km or so to a large cave that is full of oilbirds. This is good habitat for butterflies, and we luck out and have a great sunny morning. So we spend 5 or 6 hours chasing butterflies and take lots of photos. This will be one of our test places for the photo checklists Juan and I are making. We add a number of species to the list, even though both of us have been here several times before. This is private land, and you pay the people at the car park spot 4,000 COP each. We leave all our stuff, computers and packs and money, in the car, no problem. Juan suggests I lock my passport and wallet in the glove box, though obviously if someone wanted to break in, that wouldn’t stop them. But the property owners are around, there is a small pool where people are swimming, so it’s relatively safe.

Rodrigo, who is a great bird photographer, meets us there. Afterwards, we go to his country house, which is lovely. His wife, Cristina, is there. They do a lot of bird rehabilitation and have many parrots, both small ones and macaws, flying around loose that they have rescued. The government confiscates them when they find people selling them, and gives them to Rodrigo and Cristina to fix and release. They have a lovely pool that overlooks the fields, and it’s very relaxing to lounge by the pool watching lots of parrots streaking around, screaming their heads off.

That night, while sitting outside watching the stars, the dogs go crazy (they also rescue lots of street dogs). Rodrigo goes off into the bushes to see what the dogs are after, and shows us an anteater that the dogs have treed.

Sun Feb 17 – it rains heavily during the night, and the next morning we wake to steady rain. So no butterflies today, but Rodrigo takes us to Pablo Escobar’s old house. It has been turned into an African safari theme park called Hacienda Napoles, which is a bit strange, but interesting. The best part, to me, is a large exhibit of Colombian bird photos, with bird calls playing. All the photos are by Rodrigo, and it is very impressive. We get to meet the owner, who is a good friend of Rodrigo’s. They also have a nice mariposarium, or butterfly house. We meet the guy who runs it and he is very knowledgeable about how to raise the different species. This is a big park, they have several hotels, and tell us on a busy day more than 3,000 people come through the gates. Yikes. Fortunately (for us) with the rain there are few people today. Glad they don’t all go to Rio Claro or the condor cave. That afternoon we drive back to Medellin, having had a fun weekend.

Mon/Tue Feb 18/19 – I work on photos in my hotel, enjoying the beautiful weather. Now it’s nice and sunny. My room has large sliding doors that I can open all the way, so I have probably a 10’ wide open area on to my porch. Where I sit working on the computer I have a great view down across the valley and can watch the clouds and the light change, not very productive spending too much time watching out the window.

Tuesday Mike and Songha, a couple who have sent me some butterfly photos, come take me to a nice lunch at the fish restaurant down the road. They are exploring Colombia and having a great time. Its fun to get to put faces to the names.

Wed Feb 20 – I fly from the in town airport (aeropuerto local) to Pereira, only about a 45 minute flight. It’s very convenient to use this local airport, but it’s only for short internal hops. It’s a 7,000 COP taxi ride from my hotel, about 15 minutes, even though the driver doesn’t think LAN flies from there. He’s convinced I need to go to the bigger international airport, 45 minutes and a 65,000 COP taxi ride away up on the plateau. But I insist, and after he calls his dispatcher and finds out that, yes LAN does flies to Pereira from the local airport, we get there with no problem. My flight isn’t cheap, at US$130 one way. I suspect if, when I had booked it online, I had said I was in Colombia instead of in the US, my ticket would have been cheaper. Of course, my credit card is from the US, so I’m not sure if that would have worked. I’ll have to ask one of the Colombian guys to price it, see if their cost is much less.

Pablo has arranged, hopefully, for a driver to meet me at the airport and take me 15km up the bad dirt road to the hotel at Otun-Quimbaya for 2 nights. 70,000 COP for the transfer, a lot for a 15km ride, but it is 4×4. However, nobody is there waiting for me with my name on a sign. After waiting 10 minutes or so, I talk to the local taxi drivers. Unfortunately none of them know about where I’m going. The hotel doesn’t really have a name, and it certainly doesn’t have an address. I had tried to find the phone number of the hotel, but couldn’t do it. It’s at the Otun-Quimbaya Santuario de flores y fauna, or SFF Otun-Quimbaya, which of course the taxi drivers have never heard of. But, like a clever person I had Pablo’s cell phone number in my pocket. By this time we’re a large group of about 10 or 12 drivers, trying to figure out where the peabrained gringa wants to go. They clearly don’t get many woman of my age traveling alone, especially going somewhere none of them have heard of. When I whip out Pablo’s number, one of them calls and gets him, and he tells them where it is. Once he explains it, oh yes, we all know that place. Wonder what they call it? I’ll have to ask Pablo.

The guy they assign to me is young, and has never been there. Of course, we’re in a small taxi, and he’s worried as the road gets worse and worse. He’s a city driver, not rocky, dirt roads. But he manages to make it, hopefully he’ll get back down ok. The road isn’t really very bad, fortunately it’s been dry so there’s no mud, just rocks he has to watch out for, his little car is very low clearance. He originally wanted 70,000 COP, which is what Pablo had told me it would cost. Then when he finds out where it is, he wants 80,000,saying muy legos, or very far. As the road gets worse and it seems to take longer and longer, he is more and more unhappy, asking me cierto? (are you sure?) so I finally give him 90,000, which makes him smile again. Good thing I had been here a couple of times. Once we got on the dirt road out of town, I know we’re on the right road. I just didn’t know how to get from the airport to the start of the dirt road.

My room is ready, no problems there, and they have lunch right away. By 1pm I’m in the field and looking for butterflies. It’s overcast so I don’t see many. I can tell they’ve had some rain recently, it will be interesting to see what’s flying tomorrow morning, hopefully it will be sunny. I explore the clearwing trail that takes off right across from the entrance but no luck. Last time this trail was lined with small white flowers growing in the shady undergrowth, and the clearwings were all over the flowers. But now, the flowers have all gone to seed, and I only see 2 clearwings flying by, not stopping, so no photos.

I see maybe 5 or 6 species, mostly Euptychoides saturnus, even though I walk a couple of km up the broad road, putting out spitwads. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. The big score is I do a big load of laundry in the washing machine at the hotel, and a dryer. I have my own soap, and I knew where the machines are from a previous visit. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to do my own laundry, but no one said anything last time, so I’m going for it again this time. Doing laundry in Medellin, especially at my hotel, was very expensive. I don’t feel like paying 7-9,000 COP per shirt, that’s $4 or almost 5 dollars! So I save enough on the laundry to pay for the extra costs for the taxi ride. Guess that’s what they mean by it all coming out in the wash.

Thur Feb 21 – I have a full day here at Otun on my own. David’s group is supposed to show up sometime this afternoon, but as they’re birding all day it may be dark when they get here.

After breakfast at 7:30 I head out up the road by 8am. Putting out more spitwads, and spitting on my wads from yesterday to freshen them up, I don’t see anything on the spitwads at all. Overall it is much much slower than before. Last year I was here in late August and again in September, and the joint was jumping. Today I see almost nothing in comparision. No nymphalids (last year we had 5 species of Epiphile alone), almost no skippers, no riodinids. What I do see I only see one or two of that species. Of course the weather may have a lot to do with it, as it is mostly cloudy and cool. The sun breaks through now and then, but it never heats up but stays cool and pleasant. I never come close to breaking a sweat, even though I walk all morning up and down hills.

I’m starting to wonder if Aug/Sept is a peak time for butterflies. Perhaps it’s warmer then? This is supposed to be the dry season (so everyone keeps telling me), but by 12:30 it starts to rain fairly heavily, and continues most of the afternoon. I do get some nice shots, one of the white and black Catasticta notha poses nicely wide open, which is unusual. The sun comes out about 10:30 to 11 or so, and things immediately start flying and chasing, but still very few species. I don’t even see anything on the several poop piles along the road. I do see a tayra cross the road right in front of me, one advantage of being by yourself. And the red ruffed fruitcrows are abundant. They’re even in the garden in front of my room, lurking in the small trees and flying down to the grass, catching bugs. A spectacular bird to have all over the place. They’re so big and gaudy, they’re difficult to miss. Lots of North American warblers too, brightening up for spring. I see several gorgeous blackburnians, and quite a few other species as well. Plus several thrushes are singing, sounds like wood thrush. In some ways it feels like a walk in the east coast woods in early spring, about the same temperature. Except for big black and red fruitcrows everywhere.

Fri Feb 22 – We get a great sunny morning, after all the rain yesterday, and I see a lot more butterflies than yesterday. Still not anything like the numbers I saw here last year, but quite a few more species than yesterday. Lots of Castilia castilia crescents, for example, and there wasn’t one to be found yesterday.

David and his group showed up about dinner time yesterday, and they drive up to the top, leaving of course at 5:30am. I run into them working their way back down the road late morning. Birding has been slow, probably due to the bright sun. You always seem to get either birds or butterflies, rarely both. But it can be nice to alternate.

After lunch I pile in with them, in 2 cars, and we drive to the airport in Pereira, where the group departs for Bogota and homeward. David and I have made a deal with Arley, David’s driver, to stay with us at Montezuma. He’s charging 190,000 COP/day plus 45,000 for room and board at Montezuma, plus gas for a total of about 1,100,000 COP for 5 days. The drivers are charged less than the clients for food. This way we’ll have a driver with us for complete flexibility.

Sat Feb 23 – after a 6:30am breakfast we head up the slow road from the casa. It looks like it is going to clear, the fog brightens, we’re hopeful. We put out tons of spitwads, pee, and David has made a gallon of shrimp bait, which he left at Leo’s, the owner of Montezuma. But by mid morning it gets cooler and drizzly, so we only get up to about 2,100m.

There are 4 signed spots on the road. #1 Rio Claro at the first main bridge at about 1,500m, #2 La Clarita at the 2nd bridge at 1,700m, #3 Los Cajones at 2,100m and #4 at Los Chorros at 2,500m, the last flowing water on the mountain. The first bridge can be fabulous for butterflies, I’ve had tons of stuff here. It’s always a good idea to get the guys to pee here every time they go by. I’ve walked to the first bridge several times, it’s less than 2 km.

We do find several new species for me, and a couple more new species for the Montezuma list. So in spite of a rainy day we do fairly well. David gets good shots of a new grass skipper hiding in the woods on a spitwad, probably a Neoxeniades. It’s greenish with some spots, very interesting. And I find a Telemiades on the 2nd bridge, on a spitwad, with bright yellow underneath the hind wings on the trailing edge. He even lets me lift his wing and take lots of shots.

We find things like 1 Fountainea centaurus, near where the greenish skipper is. David had told me he had a Yanguna at spot #3, where they had lunch a few days ago with the group. It had come down and hit his napkin, but not stayed for a photo. Today I see it sitting up on some ferns at the top of a landslide, surveying his kingdom. But when Alejandra, our guide for the day, (one of Leo’s young daughters) and I try to scramble up the rocks, the Yanguna departs. Arley is able to take a distant shot of it, once I learn the Spanish word for fern. Hopefully I can id it from his photo, it’s different than any I’ve seen before.

We work our way back down the hill, but return later in the morning to spot #3, hoping to get the Yanguna. But by then it is raining and nothing is to be seen. The faithful lunch delivery service, on horseback, has found us, so we eat in the car. Pretty nice to get a hot lunch, each in its own little Tupperware-type container, delivered to you in the field. Then we start coming back down. We get out from under the rain about 1,700m, and walk most of the rest of the way.

Most of the time there’s not much to see in the way of butterflies, only where we put out bait. The shrimp bait certainly pulls in the flies well. But we do stumble on a few goodies. Alejandra finds a flashy big crescent or maybe a Eueides, orange hindwings and black w/spots on the forewings, new for me. We make it back to the lower bridge, spot #1, and there is nothing on all the pee except for the common moths and 1 Dalla. The lowest numbers I’ve ever seen at this spot.

I come back to the casa, about 3:30pm, and David votes to stay out and work the road coming back, returning about 5pm, but he doesn’t see anything else. He’s developed the technique of drive-by spitwads, chewing them up and splatting them out of the car window as we slowly go by, but most of the spitwads don’t seem to attract much. It’s tricky, because he has to aim at a big solid leaf, otherwise the spitwads tend to fall off.

That night after dinner there is a birthday party for Peter, one of 2 serious photographers here w/Daniel, a bird photographer guide. Leo has had a cake delivered from town by motorcycle, and it’s actually in fairly good shape. Her daughters, and Arley, made a ‘multicolored tanager’ out of balloons, and it’s huge. They obviously had a great time making it.

We have a discussion after the cake about a potential coffee strike scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, the 25/26. We had seen signs about it in the town of Apio, on our way in, but it was only for the 25th. But Leo tells us now it is scheduled for 2 days. They plan to block the roads and shut everything down. This could be a relatively large problem for David and me, who have flights out of Pereira the afternoon of the 26th. The other group of photographers planned to leave the 25th and drive towards Cali.

They change their plans and vote to leave tomorrow, the 24th, in order to avoid potential complications. David and I decide to wait and see, there’s a good chance nothing will come of it. Plus we have to go to Pereira, so we don’t have the option of leaving early unless we want to camp out at the airport. We talk about going back to Otun, but that is 15k out of town on a narrow road, also easy to blockade. We could even be in town at a hotel in Pereira and if the roads are all blocked, we won’t be able to get to the airport. If we’re going to be stuck, we decide we would much rather be stuck here at Montezuma, with good food and good places to explore and butterflies, rather than the other options. So, vamos a ver.

Sun Feb 24 – we wake to rain, unfortunately. So we decide to have today be our day w/out the car. Our deal w/Arley is for one day he gets off, and 2 days he will take us up the mountain. It’s still raining by 8:30am, so I’m working on the computer. David wanders up the road, he can always go birding.

The rain stop by 10 or so, and we go out. David had come back about 9, soaked, but he’s ready to head out again once it stops raining. We actually get a number of new species today, in spite of the overcast, cool weather. Whenever it brightens up a bit, butterflies are out, sitting on leaves, trying to dry out.

Mon Feb 25 – Today is the day we’ve been waiting for, spectacularly clear and sunny. We head up to the top after our usual 6:30am breakfast. Birding groups leave much earlier, maybe 4:30 or 5am breakfast. It takes close to one and a half hours to drive straight to the top, but we of course stop at all the bridges and some good stretches to put out bait. David gets out at Los Cachones, where we see the Yanguna again, and he walks up from there, while I drive on up to the top with Arley and check out the grotto on the left where I had the Hypanartia charon last trip. This is right above 2600m, just below the power line, as high as the groups usually go. But no H.charon today.

We spend the rest of the day slowly working our way back down. It fogs up, of course, at the top by 10:30 or 11, but as we come back down we get back into sun. We see quite a good number of butterflies, but not the numbers I saw in September. But we get lots of photos and have a great day.

Arley, listening to the news on the radio, says the coffee pickers strike is no big deal, which relaxes us. But, that night at dinner, we hear a different story. David calls Pablo, who calls a friend who lives in Apia. This is the town at the center of the strike, and we have to drive right through it to get back to the airport at Pereira. It is the only road from Montezuma. Pablo calls back and says his friend says they are letting cars through for an hour, then blocking for an hour, so we decide to go for it. But, then he calls back 15 minutes later and says another friend tried to get through today and couldn’t, and it was a bit ugly, and looks to get uglier. With police butting head against the protesters, it doesn’t sounds like a good situation to get in the middle of, so we decide to stay at Montezuma.

There are 2 other groups here stuck with us, one couple who was supposed to leave today, Monday, but their local jeep ride didn’t show up to pick them up. He of course supports the strikers, so won’t drive. They ask to get a ride with us tomorrow, and we say yes, but now we’re not going. The other Dutch couple, with a birding guide, were heading for Otun, but they also decide to wait it out.

Our problem is our flights, and David has his international flight to catch, but it’s not going to happen. After what seems like hours of trying Leo’s cell phone, as David’s doesn’t work here, he manages to get hold of his mother in Canada and asks her to call both airlines, Avianca and American for his international flight, and tell them we can’t get to the airport. We’ll see what they offer, as we can’t at this point give them a definite day when we will be able to get to the airport. But we can’t be the only people stuck like this.

Pablo says, on the second call, that his friend thinks the strike may last 3 or 4 days, so I’m probably not going to make it to Popayan for the butterfly conference. At least I hadn’t paid for the conference. David manages to get hold of the 1-8000 number for my hotel, which fortunately was on my confirmation, to tell them I won’t be there tomorrow. They say I need to send them the cancelation by internet, as that’s how I booked it. Of course, we don’t have internet up here in the mountains. So after much discussion w/higher ups, the hotel tells David they will cancel my reservation and not charge me for the first night.

The situation is extremely fluid, and no one knows what will happen tomorrow, so once again, vamos a ver. That night I have a severe attack of diahorrea and repeatedly have to spend time in the bathroom. Weird, because no one else has any problems here.

Tues Feb 26 – we all have breakfast together and the others go out, while I go back to bed to catch up on my sleep. It’s another cool, overcast day. Yesterday was our day for butterflies. It gets sunnier in the afternoon, and David gets more good photos.

The strike is still on, and there are many different stories about what’s happening. As we’re getting everything at least third hand, it’s impossible to determine what is really going on. It sounds like it’s still ‘muy complicado’, and cars are not getting through. There are 2 different blockages between us and the airport, one right outside Pereira, so we decide to wait another night.

Wed Feb 27 – Arley tells us at breakfast that he heard the army is moving in on the blockade on the PanAmerican highway near Cali. Apparently the strike has spread all over the country. We hear that the truckers are supporting the government and want the strike ended, as they aren’t getting paid when they can’t drive. Maybe the government is going to do something about it, but maybe not. Anyway, a good situation to stay away from, so we decide to stay where we are.

David has already missed his international flight, and I’ve kissed off the Popayan conference. My international flight isn’t until Sunday night at midnight, so we figure we’re not dying to get to Bogota.

The morning is sunny, and we get lots of butterflies. David and I spend the morning around the first bridge, and we see more new species for the trip. Checking the bridge below the casa, I kick up a gorgeous blue and black Mesosemia with cream bands on the ventral forewing. Weird, sort of a variation on Mesosemia pacifica, which has cream/orange bands on the dorsal forewing.

Thur Feb 28 – we decide to go up the mountain today, as it’s nice and sunny to start. We make it up to La Clarita at 1700m, put out lots of bait and walk up another couple of hundred meters in elevation. It gets cloudy by mid-morning, but we still find a few different species. We end up back at the low bridge for lunch, and back to the house by 1 or 1:30pm. More new species for the local list found, mostly by David who never stops.

He had photographed Anteros allectos yesterday, and today we find them displaying right across from the waterfall, just past the first bridge up the opposite side of the valley. There are 3 of them chasing each other around, but one lands several times low enough for us to shoot him. He has a funny way of sitting, even under the leaf, where he holds his hindwings out flat. Looks like a grass skipper. I wonder why he shows off the dorsal of those wings, as they are just solid dark brown. This is only the second time I’ve seen this species, before it was in the lowlands at Paujil. We’ve had 2 species of Anteros here, and quite a few of the Sarota neglecta.

That night after dinner David, who turns out to be amazingly good on guitar, and Gustavo, the Ecuadorian bird guide for the Dutch couple, play a bunch of songs in English and Spanish and entertain us all in great fun. They have found an old guitar and a ukulele here that have not been tuned in who knows how long, but David manages to tune them to each other, so they sound good together. Even when they lose one of the strings on the guitar. And both the guys can sing, who knew? The big hit with the Colombians is country roads by John Denver, even though they don’t understand the words in English. But they ask for it to be played again, it’s a great haunting melody. Their second favorite is the song from the movie Titanic by Celine Dion. Leo has 5 daughters, and they all know the words, in English, to that one. They sing sweetly, with lots of giggles. I’ll never hear either of those 2 songs again without thinking of this night stuck in the mountains of Colombia, sitting in an open shed under a metal roof in the rain, listening to them all singing away. One of those great memories.

Still not much news on the strike. It’s extremely difficult to get any valid information on what’s going on, if cars are getting through, not to mention what’s going to happen tomorrow. From what the guys can find out, the blockades are still there, so we decide to wait another day.

Fri Mar 1 – The rain continues all night and into the morning, but lets up a bit late morning. David scores with another couple of different species, a beautiful Vettius fuldai, which I’ve never seen in Colombia, and Taygetomorpha celia, both additions to the Montezuma list. He finds something every day.

Arley hears on the news that the government has offered 90,000, presumably per kg, and the pickers want something like 240,000. Those figures may be off. Rumors still seem more common than any sort of facts. Leo, the owner, tells us her friend from Pereira is going to come by motorbike and see if he can get through.

He shows up, after 6-7 hours, and says he can take us out tomorrow by back dirt roads. We decide to go for it, should be an adventure. Hopefully not too much of one. There are 2 roadblocks we have to get around to get to Pereira.

Once we get to the airport in Pereira, we have to see when we can get a flight to Bogota. Avianca told David that our tickets will be honored for up to a year, for a $25 change fee. I had 3 legs, to Bogota-Popayan-Bogota, wonder if I will get any sort of refund for my two unused legs. Probably not. Hopefully we’ll sleep in Bogota tomorrow night. That would be great for me, as my international flight is Sunday night. David has missed his on American Airlines, he will have to see what he has to pay to get another flight, and when he can get it.

Sat Mar 2 – we leave at 6am for our back roads sneak to Pereira, following our trusty motorcyclist. Another option was to hire 3 motorcycles to take me, David and our luggage, but 5 or 6 hours on the bike of a small dirt bike over bad roads, maybe in the rain, doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.

At least that was the plan, but Gustavo convinces David and me that is not the smartest idea. He is worried about bad guys lurking on those untraveled, back isolated roads. So after more discussion, we decide not to take the motorcycle guide and wait until the main roads are clear. We hear there are 10km of cars backed up at the first roadblock. If none of those locals want to risk the back roads, it sounds like it’s not a good idea for us either.

We go ahead and pay off Arley, so at least we’re no longer accumulating his costs at 145,000 COP/day. And that’s when he doesn’t do anything. If he drives us up the mountain its 245,000 COP. We owe him 1,750,000 COP, or over US$900, ouch. We find it significant that he decides to go back to Medellin by way of Quibdo, the main city on the west, rather than follow the motorcycle guide on the back roads. When we first got stuck David had suggested we could go by Quibdo, and Arley said no way. It is FARC territory, and more dangerous. But now, a week later, if he prefers that way to the back roads, that give you an idea which way he thinks is more dangerous. So he takes off for 308km of bad dirt road to get back to Medellin. We all wish him the best of luck. It will be safer for him alone than if he had tourists with him.

That night at dinner we hear on the news, and from David’s wife who calls from Canada, that the negotiations between the coffee pickers and the government have been resolved. But the local guys are still blocking the roads, waiting for word from their higher ups. Even when we get to Pereira, we may have to wait some time to be able to get flights.

Today was great for butterflies, on a more enjoyable topic, a beautiful clear morning. David left right after breakfast and hiked up to La Clarita, the second bridge at 1700m, and got quite a bit of new stuff. I worked the lower bridge and also got several new things, and some good photos of ones I had missed, like great ventrals of one of the Potamanaxas, and Ebrietas osyris w/ventrals. Lots of the skippers let me do the wing lift with a stick, so I can shoot the underside. Many of the dark skippers here have pale ventrals, which makes them different. I got good ventrals of Mictris crispus, a beautiful pale blue. This was another new species for this location, new for Colombia for me.

Sun Mar 3 – at breakfast we still don’t know much. Are the roads open? About 8am the local jeep driver shows up with food and a car full of buddies to pick up Leo. She’s going to Pueblo Rico, the nearest town an hour away. When she returns, hopefully she will have the most recent available info on if the road blocks are gone.

It’s a rainy morning, so we’ll just hang around, work on photos and wait for Leo’s return. Maybe we can make it to Pereira tonight. I’m pretty sure my international flight is not going to happen, however.

I’ve tried to get an email message to John, to let him know I probably won’t be on my flight to Houston and on to McAllen Monday morning, but I’m not sure if it’s gotten through. David’s phone doesn’t work here, and Leo’s phone is very spotty. She’s out of international minutes. Of course we don’t have any internet. I had asked Gustavo to ask someone from the Neblina office in Armenia to send John an email, but they were reluctant to do it. They don’t speak much English. Fortunately David’s wife called from Canada last night, and David asked her to write him. David had called his family back at the beginning of the strike, and at that time it never occurred to us that we would still be stuck here a week later. I should have asked them to send John an email then, but it wasn’t an issue. 20/20 hindsight. Of course, if we had known then what we know now, we would have gone back to Otun on the 24th and spent the time there. We could have probably gotten to the Pereira airport easier from there. Could of, would of, should of.

Mon Mar 4 – yesterday Gustavo went into Apia with one of the local guys to scout things out. He ran into Leo and her boyfriend, Alex, the guy who came out on the motorcycle to explore the backroads options. He has found a shorter backroads, much less muddy, and talks Gustavo into following him. So Gustavo charges back to pick up the Dutch couple, who are getting antsy as their international flight is Tuesday night, and they take off to run the gauntlet. They make it, takes about 4-5 hours. We decide to it today, Monday, but Leo can’t get a driver from Pueblo Rico to try to get through the blockades. She finally scrounges up a guy from closer to Pereira, but he can’t come until Tuesday. So we spend another day in the mountains.

Today turns out to be the best weather day of our whole stay here. The sun is brilliant at dawn and it stays sunny until 1 or 2pm. David charges up the mountain right after breakfast and spend most of the day above 1800m from the 2nd bridge. Being lazier, I work the lower parts again and find several new species. He brings back several others as well. We’ve been here 12 days and we’re still getting new ones daily.

Tues Mar 5 – the driver is here at 6:30am and we’re off. Leo comes with us. In Pueblo Rico we change drivers and get the guy who knows the blockades. He’s constantly on the phone as we whip around corners, not seeing hardly any cars on the road. Lots of trucks parked everywhere, and buses. The 2 gas stations we pass are out of fuel and filled with parked trucks.

Our driver stops and talks to people along the route. He has several posters which we tape up in the windows as we go through different little towns, showing our support for the strike. Different posters for different towns. We make it several hours down the road to the major roadblock in Marina. The driver had bought a huge bottle of pepsi in the previous town, the biggest bottle I’ve ever seen. We thought, wow he must really be thirsty. But he’s planning ahead.

We pick usp another local driver who says he can get us through. Now our driver is wearing his shawl around his neck and his coffee worker hat, he’s a real field camesino. He’s giving thumbs up to all the guys on the street, we’re cheering on the strikers, and the new local driver is glad handing everyone as we crawl through the mob.

At the big blockade our guy hands over his huge bottle of pepsi, which is greeted with cheers, more secret handshakes (some of which must include money) and finally they move all the blocks out of way and we slowly lurch through. Many of the guys here are holding very large sticks, like baseball bats, and look ready to use them. It’s a bit dicey, but once the boss man says we’re cool, everyone slowly moves out of our way and we make it through.

Bottom line, we make it to the airport in Pereira, and now we have to talk to the airlines and see if we can get a flight to Bogota, then deal with our missed international connections. Avianca takes us to Bogota without any problems and doesn’t charge us a dime, even though on the phone they had told us it would be a $25 charge each for changing the flights. 3 of them work for 45 minutes or more, trying to get my flight on United, as they’re all part of the star alliance. Finally it’s no, I have to book it in Bogota. But we get on the 2pm flight, and arrive in Bogota about 3pm.

They had given us the phone number to call for United. David can’t make it work on his cell phone, we’ve been cursed w/phone problems this whole time. We can’t call our families in Canada or the US either, though we expected to be able to do that once we got back to a regular town. But apparently David only has local minutes on his phone, and he needs international minutes.

While we’re waiting for our Avianca flight, we check w/the phone calling store in the airport, and find out that cell phones can’t call 800 numbers. But the nice lady lets David call on her office phone, and he spends half an hour talking to United. Again, they let me rebook my flight to Houston and McAllen for tonight, 1am, at no charge. We’re both shocked and thrilled.

We make it to Bogota and David tries to get hold of American to rebook his flight. Unfortunately, American isn’t near as understanding as United, and he ends up having to buy a brand new one way ticket for 1,600,000 COP, or about USD900. Double ouch. We figure out later that the difference may have been that no one notified American he was going to have to miss his flight. But John, when he found out from David’s family that I was held up and not going to make it, he cleverly called United here in the US and gave them a heads up, so they gave me full credit. Word to the wise in the future, make sure to always bring the phone number of all your airlines with in the country where you are going to be. Having the 800 number in the US is useless, you need to have the Colombian number. And if you’re going to miss your flight, be sure to get hold of the airline and let them know. It may save you a lot of money.

So we make it to Bogota and now have 9 or 10 hours to fill until our 1am flights. Fortunately there is a (you guessed it) Crepes y Waffles at the Bogota airport! So David and I spend 4 hours or more snacking our way through chicken crepes, then desert crepes. I can even skype John with the free airport wifi.

When I go to check in for my United flight, they don’t have a preprinted form for me, and have to go check the computer and print one. But they finally find it and I’m in. David still has to pay the big bucks, in spite of playng the poor starving student card, thank goodness for credit cards.

I get home the morning of March 6, 2 days late, tired but I still had a great time. Even with the strike, it was a very productive trip. I missed my conference in Popayan and didn’t get to meet some of the experts I was hoping to get to know better, but there will be other trips.

I find out later that Popayan has been the center of the strike and completely cut off from the rest of the world. They are actually running out of food in the stores and having lots of problems. The guy organizing the conference tells me they had it in 2 cities, as many people couldn’t make it to Popayan.

Hopefully on my next trip there won’t be any more strikes!

Trip Report Colombia 2012 Aug to Oct

Itinerary Colombia 2012 August 19 to Oct 24 Mesenia Gustavo reserve

The entire trip has been organized with Pablo Florez at MultiColor Birding Tours, Pablo@multicolorbirdingcolombia.com It will actually be 3 trips, w/3 different sets of participants. Trip 1 includes Kristine Wallstrom and Eileen and Glenn Mahler, w/Kim Garwood. We’re starting from Medellin w/Rio Claro in the Magdalena Valley, than back to the western Andes and south to around Cali. From August 19 to Sept 10.

The 2nd trip will include Dan and Kay Wade, Sherry Nelson, Deby Galloway, Jim Snyder and Kim. It goes from Sept 11 to Oct 2, and is mostly central and western Andes, including my first trip to Las Tangaras on the west slope of the western Andes in the Choco.

The 3rd trip runs from Oct 3 to the 24th and includes Willie Sekula, Priscilla Brodkin and Ken Kertell, as well as Dan and Kay and Kim. It goes back to Las Tangaras, then the ProAves Piha reserve north of Medellin, then we fly to Bogota and do the eastern Andes and my first trip to Mitu in the eastern lowlands in white sand forest.

The eastern slope of the eastern Andes has a different rainy season than the rest of the country. The wet time is June/July/August, so we should be at the end of the rains now.

What makes Colombia so biologically diverse is that the Andes split into 3 chains, west, central and eastern, with 2 valleys in between. The Magdalena Valley is between the central and eastern ranges, and is the much wider valley. The Cauca valley is between the western and central chains, and is narrow. As we move up and down different slopes in different valleys, we find many different species in different habitats. The wettest is the west slope of the western Andes. In the Cauca valley, the west slope of the valley (east slope of the western Andes) seems to be wetter than the eastern side of the Cauca (east slope of the central Andes).

The weather patterns are very complicated in Colombia, and of course the weather appears to be changing, so it is very unpredictable. Colombia has 2 rainy seasons, around the 2 equinoxes. So March/April/May is the heavier rains, then again in late September/October/November, with supposedly drier times in January/February and again in June/July/August. But this has changed a lot in the last several years.

There is a big difference in elevation as to what species you find, the same as in birds, or plants. I’m using the terminology they use in the Birds of Northern South America, page 15, by Robin Restall and others. I’m interested in the upper tropical, subtropical and temperate elevations. Below is a quote of how they split the elevations.

LT = Lower Tropical = sea level to 800-900m UT = Upper Tropical = 800-900m to 1,400-1,600m LS = Lower Subtropical = 1,400-1,600m to 2,000m US = Upper Subtropical = 2,000m to 2,300-2,600m Te = Temperate = 2,300-2,600m to 3,100-3,400m, or to treeline P = Paramo = treeline to snowline

One of the key things in butterfly photography is getting the butterflies to stop flying around so you can photograph them. This means baiting them in with various disgusting substances. We have found that spitwads, white toilet paper or napkins with either spit or salt water, work well. Pee and poop, especially human male pee, also can work wonders. The guys on my trips often bring a large mouth bottle so they can pee in it at night, then they have an extra bottle to bring in the field and put wherever they like. Putting a small white blob of paper on the pee spot visually attracts the butterflies to stop and investigate it. Old pee spots work well, but we usually don’t have time to establish older pee spots. So bus stops, shrines, bridges, places where many people have stopped and peed, can be excellent. Fish or shrimp bait also works very well, if you can make it up. Juan Guillermo is the master at shrimp bait. It helps to bring a small bottle for salt water so you can refresh the spitwads. I’ve found a nasal spray plastic bottle, about 3 oz, works well. I can carry it in my pocket and fill it up each morning.

Sun Aug 19 – fly United overnight from Houston to Bogota and catch a connecting flight at 7:30am to Medellin, arrive in Medellin about 8:30 on Aug 20.

Mon Aug 20 – Pablo picks us up at the airport and we drive to Los Colores for 3 nights in the Magdalena Valley, east slope of the central Andes about 400m.

Tue/Wed Aug 21/22 – Rio Claro and nearby trails, stay at Los Colores

Thur Aug 23 – drive to Medellin, 1 night

Fri/Sat Aug 24/25 – drive to Jerico for 2 nights, 2000m in town, 1400-1500m at the finca, east slope western Andes, west side Cauca Valley

Sun Aug 26 – drive to Otun, 4.5 h, 3 nights at 1900m, west slope central Andes, east side Cauca Valley

Mon/Tue Aug 27/28 – at Otun

Wed Aug 29 – leave after breakfast for 3 hour drive to Montezuma, 4 nights, west slope western Andes

Thur/Fri/Sat Aug 30/31 & Sep 1 – Montezuma, 1400m to 2600m in the Choco

Sun/Mon Sep 2/3 – drive to Yotoco for 2 nights, stay in Lago Calima, Darien at Hotel Altavista del Lago in town, 1500m east slope of western Andes, west of the Cauca river in Valle del Cauca

Tue/Wed/Thur Sep 4/5/6 – drive to El 18 for 3 nights, Hotel El Faro del 18, 1800m, east slope of western Andes, near the ridge to the west

Fri/Sat/Sun Sep 7/8/9 – Anchicaya on west slope of the western Andes, stay in Queremal for 1 night at 1500m, than 1 night at hydroelectric area at 700m, then back to Queremal for the 3rd night.

Mon Sep 10 – bird back down the road to 1100m, after lunch drive to airport, fly to Bogota or Medellin, Kim 1 night in Medellin, others back to US, end of trip 1.

Trip 2 pretrip – meet Dan and Kay Wade from Panama who flew into Medellin Sept 10, night at Hotel Asturias in Medellin

Tue/Wed Sep 11/12 – drive to Urrao and ride horses to Dusky Starfrontlet Lodge for 2 nights, 2900m

Thur/Fri Sep 13/14 – horses back to Urrao for 2 nights at Las Araucarias Finca Hotel at 1900m, work the road 2500-2800m

Sat Sep 15 – drive back 5 hours to Medellin for 2 nights at Asturias, stop at municipal water reserve outside Concordia on the way,

Sun Sep 16 – La Romera road above Medellin

Mon/Tue Sep 17/18 – drive to Jardin and walk in 3 km to Gustavo’s new reserve for 2 nights, 2200m

Wed Sep 19 – move to Hotel Balandu in Jardin for 1 night after walking out from Gustavo’s

Thu Sep 20 – work the road up the mountain in the am, then drive to Las Tangaras for 4 nights, 1600m

Fri/Sat/Sun Sep 21/22/23 – walk the road at Las Tangaras, 1700-1900m, western slope of the western Andes

Mon Sep 24 – drive 6 hours to Otun for 3 nights, 2nd visit, western slope of central Andes, eastern Cauca Valley,

Tue/Wed Sep 25/26 – walk road and trails at Otun

Thur Sep 27 – Pablo joins us, we spend the morning at Otun then drive to Salento for 3 nights at La Moraleja, about 2000m

Fri Sep 28 – drive to Patasola for the day at 2300m, and Valle de Cocora in the afternoon

Sat Sep 29 – drive to Orizante’s reserve at 1800m near Circasia in Quindio, botanical garden/butterfly house in the pm

Sun Sep 30 – drive to Filandia and Bosque Bremen, 1800-2000m, for 2 nights

Mon Oct 1 – drive down to the Rio Barbas with Pedro José, 1700-1800m, killer hike into the canyon

Tue Oct 2 – fly back to Medellin for 2 nights, Jim flies to Bogota and back to the US, end of trip 2

Wed Oct 3 – Sherry & Deby leave early for the us, start of trip 3 with 3 new friends joining Dan, Kay and Kim. The new people are Willie Sekula, Priscilla Brodkina and Ken Kertell. Trip 3 goes from Oct 3 to Oct 25.

Thur/Fri Oct 4/5 – drive to Las Tangaras for 2 nights, David Geale as our guide

Sat Oct 6 – morning at Las Tangaras, drive back to Medellin after lunch for the night

Sun/Mon Oct 7/8 – drive to the Piha reserve for 2 nights, north of the central Andes at 1400m

Tue Oct 9 – morning at Piha reserve, fly to Bogota 4:30pm, 1 night at Casona del Patio in Bogota

Wed Oct 10 – early departure to Santa Maria for 2 nights, 800m at La Esmeralda

Thur/Fri Oct 11/12 – walk roads/trails at Santa Maria, drive back to Bogota for 2 nights

Sat Oct 13 – Chicaque Parque Natural, south of Bogota, 2600m

Sun Oct 14 – fly to Mitu for a week at the Hotel Mitasava on the river, white sand lowlands

Mon – Sat Oct 15-20 – explore trails and roads around Mitu

Sun Oct 21 – fly back to Bogota for our last 2 nights at Casona del Patio

Mon Oct 22 – day trip to Chingaza National Park above Mundo Nuevo, 3100m

Tue Oct 23 – day trip to hummingbird feeders

Tue Oct 23 – last night in Bogota, fly back to Houston at 12:15 on the 24th

Day 1 – Sun Aug 19 – fly to Bogota, onto Medellin, arrive the morning of Aug 20 at 8:30am.

Day 2 – Mon Aug 20 – Pablo picks us up at the airport, which is 45 minutes east of Medellin, and we head further east to the Magdalena Valley for 3 nights. We stop for breakfast about an hour from the airport at Palacio de los Frijoles, one of my favorite places. There are several of them around Medellin, nice open air restaurants that cook on a big fire pit in the middle of the room with a beautiful view over the hills. They even have bird feeders, where they put out bananas for the tanagers. They also have my favorite arepas con chocolo, with the high mountain corn that is sweeter. An arepa is sort of a cross between a tortilla and a pancake, made of corn and much better than it sounds. An arepa, a cup of café con leche and a fruit smoothie, is a great way to start the day. Plus tanagers. Then we walk down the dirt road behind the restaurant. You can go all the way down to the river. I did this 2 years ago and we had some good species, but nothing too exciting this time. Down at the river they are building a dam or some large cement structure, so it is all torn up. Plus it looks like they have had heavy rain in the last day or two, as everything is soggy and the river is high and muddy. We head on over to Los Colores, a new hotel for me. My previous 2 trips I’ve stayed at Rio Claro, but Pablo suggests Los Colores as a place to stay. It’s only about 4 km further down the road, towards Bogota. It has air conditioning and internet, and a better restaurant. That afternoon we go to Gruta del Condor, a trail on private land in between the 2 hotels. You walk through cow pastures and come to a stream that meanders into the forest, where you walk down the streambed a mile or so until you come to a large cave that has oilbirds. We do the walk late in the afternoon, from about 2:30pm to 5:30. It is very pretty but too late for butterflies, as it is dark and shaded along the stream. Though we do at least half a dozen species of tigerwings, most of which we can’t get close to. I want to go back and check it out in the morning.

Day 3 – Tues Aug 21 –after sleeping like rocks to make up for our night on the plane, we meet Pablo at 6am and drive a few kms to a trail on land used by a mine or more of a quarry for marble. Up above the quarry there is nice forest and the road runs along the ridge, so you can look down into the valleys. We see some nice birds here, sooty-crowned ant tanagers are probably the best, being a Colombian endemic. This looks very promising for butterflies, I want to come back. We return for breakfast at the hotel, than head over to Rio Claro Reserva Natural. For a small fee you can enter for the day and wander the trails, or go swimming. This is a popular swimming hole w/folks from Medellin, so you should try and avoid it on the weekends. The butterflying seems slow, but that may be impacted due to the overcast weather. The sun comes out now and then, and we see more butterflies, but overall it is not as good as I remember. We do get more good birds, great looks at white-mantled barbet and barred puffbird, on the same branch! Even for a weekday, there are lots of people on the main road hiking in. Pablo is taping in chestnut-backed antbird when we hear a murmur like a cresting wave of water, and at least 100 kids come walking down the road. They are polite and friendly, but they pass in waves, and we assume our bird is history. But no, it is apparently used to people, because after they are pass we get good looks. Later that afternoon Pablo also tapes in Magdalena antbird, a recent split and another endemic.

Day 4 – Wed Aug 22 – we go back to the quarry ridge road in the morning, after heavy rain at breakfast, then back to Rio Claro after lunch. It was amazing how quickly the weather changed. It was pouring buckets about 7/30am, but by 9am it was hot and sunny. The rains are just getting going. There are a lot more frogs calling tonight than the previous night. Our big score for the day was a fabulous Arcas imperialis hairstreak, a very fresh female with a large pink spot in the center. Prettiest one I’ve ever seen, I bet he just hatched this morning after the rain.

I think when I come back to this area I will prefer to stay at Rio Claro. Though lots of folks would prefer Los Colores with the a/c, internet and better food, I really like being in good habitat, so we can wander around separately and photograph as we choose, not all have to get in the vehicle and drive over and drive back together. Though the gardens around Los Colores are nice, we had spectacled parrotlets in front of our rooms, and jacana and bare-faced ibis on the muddy pond. This time Rio Claro had lots of people, many more than I have seen before, even though it was a Tuesday. The previous Monday was a big holiday in Colombia, so maybe there was some spillover. I like to stay in the cabanas la mulata, which are several 100 meters away from the main restaurant area and the more expensive rooms, so you get very few people in that cluster. They also have a large dormitory type set of rooms several 100 meters the other side of the restaurant, where the families and big piles of locals stay, where there are some great big rocks right on the river for hanging out and swimming from, so the noisy group is separated from the nature group quite well. When we went back this afternoon, on Wednesday, it was much quieter.

Day 5 – Thur Aug 23 – We wake to rain, it has been raining at least several hours after a good lightning storm woke me up. Then a frog starts singing in my room, oh well might as well get up. We plan to go back to the Gruta al Condor, the walk up the stream to the oilbird cave, then we drive 3 hours back to Medellin after lunch here at the hotel. Once again the sun comes out by 9am and the bugs start flying. Working our way up the stream bed, hopping from rock to rock and trying to keep my feet dry (and failing) we find a spot in the forest where the sun is hitting the forest floor, and suddenly the Pierella lamia are all over the place. Plus we get several of the gorgeous pink tipped satyrs, Cithaerias pireta, always a big crowd pleaser. More clearwings show up, and we have a great morning.

After lunch we drive back 3 hours to Medellin, dodging slow trucks and crazy motorcyclists. We go to dinner at my favorite, Crepes y Wafles, just around the corner of the Hotel Casa Asturias. Then we go shopping for lunch food tomorrow at the snazzy grocery store right next store.

Day 6 – Fri Aug 24 – another driver picks us up and takes us 2 hours to a good spot for butterflies outside the town of Jericho. I feel we are like a package being delivered from one caretaker to another. Pablo has another tour for the next week and a half, so he has his friends taking care of us in different locations. They are all in touch constantly with each other by cell phone. Last night when we got back in the rooms after dinner and lunch shopping, he called me within 5 minutes. I bet he had the hotel desk clerk call him and let him know as soon as we got. He is watching over us like a benevolent god, kind of a nice feeling.

Jericho is a place I wanted to come back to. We stayed 2-3 hours here on my last trip, and I didn’t get a chance to properly explore it. It is actually a private finca, I think it is Finca Cultivares or maybe Finca Las Cascades about 5-8 km before you get to the town of Jerico, about 1400-1500 meters. It is another private reserve and had some interesting butterflies, so this trip we scheduled in 2 nights in a hotel in town so we have 1 day and a half to explore the trails.

When we arrive about 10:30am it is raining pretty good, so we have an early lunch up on the old porch under the eaves of this great old farmhouse. By the time we finish our yogurt, cheese and bread it has lightened up considerably so we start up the old road. They grow cardemon here and have fields of the large plants. The flowers grow out from the base and produce sprays of seed pods, very interesting. As we slowly walk uphill the sun comes and goes. Whenever it brightens at all we see butterflies. Even in the heavier rain we find lots of butterflies hiding under leaves. Our caretaker for the day, Gustavo, sees what we’re looking for and starts finding tons of butterflies hiding under banana leaves. He’s a birder so has sharp eyes, and is a big help. Later in the afternoon it gets warmer and suddenly we have lots of butterflies. It never gets sunny but we do see some shadows, and have our best day yet. Hopefully tomorrow will be sunnier, as this place can be really good on a bright sunny day.

We head into town and after much hunting and pecking the driver finds our Hotel Atenas. The town of Jerico is a very pretty little town, everything freshly painted with beautiful wooden carved doors and window guards, painted multiple colors. A woman at the hotel walks us into town, about 2 blocks to the square, and takes us to the ‘best place in town’, upstairs with balconies overlooking the square. We get, big surprise, chicken and French fries, the universal dinner. 38,000 pesos for all 4 of us, about $20. Kristine has spotted an ice cream place, so we have to check it out on the way back. It is soft ice cream from a machine, but they have passionfruit and it’s pretty tasty.

Day 7 – Aug 25 – We head back to the finca, arriving about 8:30am. Today one of the owners walks w/us, even though I tell him we don’t need a guide. Guess he just wants to make sure we don’t get snakebit or lost or fall in a hole somewhere. It’s overcast, and he tells me it is a cool morning. We start off by wandering off the trail through their fields, about waist high plants, and start flushing up butterflies everywhere. They are waiting for the sun, and we get lots of photos. Several species of tigerwings as well as the common peacocks and a zillion grass skippers. Unfortunately I slip on a wet log and twist my ankle. It doesn’t seem to bother me as we walk uphill for the rest of the morning, but by noon it gets very painful and I’m having trouble putting much weight on it at all. I get a big stick and use it as a crutch and stumble back down the hill. The sun comes out and we have tons of butterflies everywhere. I slowly wander down ahead of the others and spend several hours working the stretch where we saw the Jemadia yesterday, and the Mesosemia mevania. We put out spitwads, pee and banana, and find goodies on all our baits. Probably my favorite for the day is my first Consul panariste, and we even get a bunch of shots of him open on the ground.

Day 8 – Aug 26 – We take off after breakfast and drive to Otun, about 4-5 hours, 15 km up a dirt road above the town of Pereira. The last 5 km gets pretty rough and is very slow going for the van, but we make it ok. We meet our new guide Johnnier, who I met 4 or 5 years ago at El Cairo, where he lives. El Cairo is a small western town in the western Andes, and Johnnier is a very nice young man who is into conservation and education of local people to appreciate their special birds and natural areas. His English is dramatically improved, I’m impressed. Wish my Spanish had improved as much in the last 4 years. After lunch at the hotel, (which is sort of cafeteria style, you get what they give you and go get your plates, then return your dirty dishes to the window) we walk a bit down the road back to the intersection and take a right towards the river and the bridge. We see plenty of butterflies, including the beautiful blue crescent Eresia levona. This is the only place I’ve seen this species, and today it is hanging around at the entrance to the hotel. As we wander down the road we get several other nice ones, including Epiphile chrysites, a gorgeous orange and purple banner that likes to sit on us, and a Memphis lyceus that won’t leave Glenn alone. We’re here for 3 nights, so the next 2 days should be good. This is my third time here. I love just walking up the road and putting out lots of spitwads. We’ll see what we find, but today is a good indication.

Day 9 – Aug 27 – The birders amongst us get up early and go out with Johnnier to find the 2 local specialties, the red-ruffed fruitcrow and the Cauca guan. This is the best place in the world to see both of these birds. The fruitcrows are common and you can usually see them on the trails during the day, and the guan is easy first thing in the morning. We all meet for breakfast at 8am, than head out to walk up the main road. XXXphoto of road. This road goes for miles, we’ll only walk the first mile or two as we put out spitwads and pee and look for butterflies. The sun comes and goes, but it is fairly dry and we find many great bugs. This place is great for some gaudy nymphalids, we get 3 or 4 species of Banners or Epiphile. Including 2 of the blue ones. Both Epiphile orea, which is common in the Andes, and a new one for me, Epiphile epimenes, that has brilliant blue on both the forewing and hindwing. They like our sweat and several times are on our hands or our packs on the side of the road. Another species that was new for me last time year and is common now is Epiphile chrysites, striped orange and purple, gorgeous.

One of my other favorites here is Elzunia humboldt, a spectacular Ithomiinae that looks more like a swallowtail. This time they seem to be much less common than in the past, but we do find 1 on the road and later I get shots of 1 in the forest. This is my third time to Otun, and I find a number of different species than on previous trips. This is one of my favorite photography locations in Colombia, it would be a great place to come each month around the year. I bet you would find all sorts of different stuff.

In the afternoon I explore a new trail that takes off right across from the entrance through the woods, marked R1 on bamboo poles. It parallels the main road, going up and down but an easy trail to walk, for about 2.5 km and comes back out on the road. They have marked bamboo poles about every 100 meters, which is always very helpful. It is full of clearwings, displaying and feeding on small white flowers that line the trails. Mostly they appear to be Oleria makrena, but there are several others with a similar pattern but different genera. I see some Pteronymia and Ithomia, and the gorgeous big clearwinged satyr Pseudohaetera hypaesia. Jhonier works the same trail, and gets the first live shot I’ve seen of one of the brown Morphos, Antirrhea geryon.

The others go back down the road to a pee spot that seems to pull in different big high elevation satyrs. Yesterday we had Pseudomaniola phaselis, new for me, and a very cooperative Oxeoschistus puerta. Today they get one of the huge Pronophila.

Day 10 – Aug 28 – After breakfast a jeep comes for us and takes us several miles up the road, then we can walk back down. This way we can cover a different part of the road. We stop part way up in a sunny stretch and Glenn puts out some pee, and when we come back down this is one of the better places. We only climb maybe 100-150 meters in elevation, but we see a number of different species. Lots of Adelpha olynthia, which we didn’t see at all closer to the lodge. Some other species that I have seen on the trails in the woods near the lodge, here they are near the road. I think the forest is better higher up. I’m amazed by how many of the Yanguna, the big blue and red skipper we had yesterday, we see today. I see at least half a dozen, and some are posing on grasses overhanging the road, so we get unbelievable photos. They are on territory and chasing each other, and everything else that moves. This is a rare skipper, I’ve only seen it a few times, and this is my first in Colombia, so it’s lots of fun to see so many. We’ve timed our trip right for their big hatch.

We slowly walk back down the road, taking lots of photos. I get probably the best shots I’ve ever taken of Podotricha juditha, which I’ve seen in other Andean countries but not in these numbers. The faithful jeep driver follows along, and when it’s time to head back for lunch at 1:30pm we pile in and drive the last part. A great morning. After lunch I’m still finding new species. I’m always sorry to leave Otun, I’ll be back. Maybe try it in the dry season.

Day 11 – Aug 29 – we drive to Montezuma where we stay with a simple farm family in rustic accommodations. But the people are very friendly, the woman is a great cook, and they have fabulous west Andean habitat just up the road from their farm house. We’re here for 4 nights, and this is my second trip. Last time I was here for 3 nights and it wasn’t enough. This is on the east slope of the western Andes, still in the Cauca Valley about 1400-1500m at the house. Actually I think we went over a pass and are now on the west slope of the western Andes. They have upgraded their accommodations, added more rooms and have us staying down at the big white building right next to where the trail goes into the forest. On my previous trip we stayed at the small farmhouse, only 3 rooms, and had to walk an extra half a km or so to get to the forest.

Day 12 – Aug 30 – we are driven in another old faithful jeep up to 2600m, which takes well over an hour to drive. We bounce around like peas in a pod in the back of the jeep cage, trying to hang on as well as we can. We run into a batch of soldiers about half way up, bathing in a very cold stream, and it being a good idea to be friendly to guys with big guns, we offer to take their packs the rest of the way to the top. So they throw all their packs on the roof and tie on jugs of water to the sides of the jeep, and off we go. When the jeep finally lets us off we walk a little bit further uphill and find chestnut-bellied flowerpiercer, a local endemic, and lots of satyrs. Almost at the top, 2600m, Glenn gets good shots of a very rare Hypanartia charon, which I saw and dismissed as the common Hypanartia dione. On the dorsal it looks very similar at a glance, but the ventral is quite different, and the wings are much more rounded. What a peabrain on my part, glad Glenn went after it. We have a spectacular sunny morning, with views in all directions that don’t quit. We spend the rest of the day walking back downhill and photographing everything that stops for us. These high elevation satyrs are very difficult. I can get them to genus, but will be asking Thomas Pyrcz for help with many of the id’s. I score with a leafwing I’ve wanted for a while, Fountainea centaurus, a gorgeous purple bug. It doesn’t start raining until quite late in the afternoon, when we’re tired and ready to hop in the jeep and bounce back downhill for a delicious dinner. Life is good.

Day 13 – Aug 31 – we drive back up the hill, but this time we stop a lot lower and walk back down, so we work a different elevation. My favorite spot is the big bridge, where yesterday we put out lots of pee but didn’t make it back down in time to get anything there. Glenn and Eileen get out just above the bridge to work that area, Kristine and I head further up to about 1850m, where we all get out and pee and put out spitwads. This is a nice stretch of road with an open, eastern exposure, and the sun is bright and it warms up quickly. We are covered in butterflies from about 8:30 to 10 or so, they are even landing all over the jeep, going for the accumulated sweat from all those sweaty hands holding on. Lots of stuff we’ve seen at Otun, several species of Perisama and Adelpha, but some new ones as well. One that gets away is another Epiphile or Banner, a new one for me, E.eriopis or White-tipped Banner. I want to go a bit further up, so we finally tear ourselves away and drive a couple of hundred meters higher, but suddenly the fog rolls in. We turn around and start walking back down through the fog. Back to shooting pictures of orchids and beetles. The weather is always changeable in the mountains. We get back to our pee stretch of road and hang around for another hour or 2, and find several new skippers on Kristine’s peewads. Lunch is delivered again by horseback, hot food in individual Tupperware-type containers, pretty decadent service. We then wander our way back down the hill for the rest of the afternoon, getting in some good birding as we keep running in to a good mixed flock. Leo, the owner of the farm who is with us, is a pretty good birder, but she has a hard time giving us directions, as she only speaks Spanish. But she knows many of the songs and she knows the specialties that the birders want. We see black-and-gold tanagers, toucan barbets, and the gaudy glistening green tanager, and crested quetzal plus many others. I miss the toucan barbets, as I’m shooting a strange satyr that Kristine noticed at a pee spot. Plus we kick up our first owl butterfly of the trip.

Day 14 – Sept 1 – Today we don’t have the jeep, so we have to walk. I head over the small rise, about 60-70 meters up from the house, and then drop down 130m to the bridge. The house where we stay is about 1540m, the top of the small rise about 1600m, and the bridge is 1470m, based on my pressure sensitive altimeter. The actual elevations may be 100-150m lower than that. Then the long climb up as far as you want to go. There is a 2nd bridge about 1700m that is good as well, but I may not make it that far. Yesterday Johnier took a short trail through the woods off to the right just before the top of the rise and got some nice shots, including another Cithaerias and the beautiful red Pierella helvina.

This morning it is bright and sunny. We’ve had nice dry weather the last week, which is a bit unusual but not too weird, according to locals. They tell me their ‘summer’ runs usually June/July/August and the first week of September, than it starts raining more and more. This year it is drier than normal, as compared to the previous 2 years, 2011 and 2010, where it poured most of the year. It is very dry in the US, and friends in Panama tell me it has been about half their normal rainfall there as well, so we’re in a dry stretch this year all over. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next month or so.

Anyway, the sun is hitting the left hand bank as we walk up from the house, and a short distance uphill we find a nice riodinidae lek. There are several species of Euselasia and the fabulous Rhetus dysoni flashing around and fighting. It’s only about 8am, but this looks like a good spot to check on any sunny morning. I wander ahead, over the rise and slowly head down towards the bridge. We find our first Opsiphanes or small owlet of the trip. I think it is O.quiteria, very scalloped hindwing. I find a 2nd one at the bridge.

I make it to the bridge shortly after 9am, and it is hopping. All the pee we’ve put out over the last 2 days is bringing them in. We spend the day going up the other side maybe several hundred meters, not far. There is another small waterfall on our left as we climb the other side, and there is a great attracting spot right there. We eat lunch here, sitting in the dirt and watching different goodies come and go. We see another Consul panariste, a bit more worn than the one we saw at Jerico, and some killer riodinids, Ancyluris and Necyria, plus 4 species of Dalla and more Adelpha and Memphis. A great morning.

We spend a lot of time chasing Eunica norica, a beautiful purplewing with a wide bright blue patch on the trailing edge of the dorsal hindwing. He keeps landing and displaying his blue upperside, but not letting us get close enough for photos. At one point 3 or 4 of us are crouching over the butterfly sitting with closed wings, trying to time it and catch him with spread wings, but no luck. I give up, and so do most of the others, but Leo persists, and manages to get great open shots. All it takes is patience. I’ve chased this species in several Andean locations but never been able to even get decent ventral shots. But here we all get very nice ventrals, and with Leo’s good dorsal I’ve finally got him.

Leo and Jhonier get multicolored tanager on the way back down, near the lodge. Kristine just misses it. We do get good looks at crested ant-tanager at the bridge. This can be a birdy place, but it can also be quiet, like most cloud forests. When I’m photographing I’m spending all my time looking at the ground, so I don’t pay much attention to the birds.

Day 15 – Sept 2 – we leave Montezuma and head back in the jeep to Pueblo Rica and change back to the van. But we have the morning to wander around Montezuma until about 11am, so we stay fairly close to the casa. We see a number of different species just up the road, including good shots of Sarota chrysus, always a crowd pleaser. They are lekking on the first rise, we find 3 different individuals sitting on leaves. Glenn and Eileen go down to the bridge, there is a short trail to the stream bed from the left as you walk down. They find several big skippers, including one of the orange and black striped Mimardaris, a Phocides and the green headed Gorgopas chloracephala. I walked to the bridge and looked down at the stream but didn’t see anything, so didn’t bother to scramble down the trail. My mistake. Next time I’ll go down to the streambed and check under the bridge. The skippers were right by a big rock when they got to the stream.

We drive back to the east and take the main highway 25 south and meet Pablo in Cartago. We say goodbye to Johnnier and head on south, turning west to Buenaventura. We go over the low pass about 1600m with lots of heavy truck traffic. This road goes to the main Colombian port on the Pacific, so it is packed with trucks. More traffic is heading east, fortunately. We turn off to Lago Calimo, a popular tourist weekend town. It is Sunday afternoon, and a steady stream of cars is heading out of town after their weekend at the lake. The total drive takes about 6 hours, so we get to the hotel about 6pm.

We stay in town at the hotel Altavista del Lago. It is quite noisy, lots of small motorcycles charging up and down the road, and people talking in the streets. Lots of activity, but it calms down about 10pm and I sleep ok. We walk 2 blocks to a tasty simple restaurant and Kristine and I have robalo con ajillo, a salt water delicious fish with lots of garlic, yum. We miss the wonderful salads at Montezuma, but we get mango juice drinks. Eileen and Glenn order beef which is very tough, the fish is a better idea.

Day 16 – Sept 3 – we drive back to the reserve Yotoco, about an hour. The road around the lake is twisty and long, once we get back on the main road it is only about 15-20 minutes, assuming we don’t get stuck in heavy truck traffic. You can camp at the reserve, but no hotel. It is about 1700m, on the east slope of the western Andes, west of the Cauca river. One of the most productive spots is in the camp area where some guava trees are ripe with lots of fruit on the ground. We have morphos and leafwings coming in here all day long. I think these morphos are different than what we had at Montezuma. We get several species of Archaeoprepona, a very worn Consul panariste (for our 3rd location of this species!), some Memphis who are quite shy and a new fabulous leafwing that I don’t know. I’ve seen it in D’Abrera, so it will have to wait until I get home. It has a very pointed apex and a strong dark line from the tip down. It also never lets us get close, but Glenn manages to get some usable shots. It appears to be blue above, like a Prepona. Interesting to know it flies at this elevation.

After we can tear ourselves away from the rotten guavas, we head up the dark sendero (trail) into the primary forest, about 10am. It is slow but we see a variety of ithominae, both clearwings and some tigerwings. Lots of howler monkeys. My favorite is another new one for me which we saw at Otun but nobody got great shots of it. It is a satyr, Pseudomaniola phaselis. I first see it on a rotten banana next to the steep trail. I try to stalk it down some steps but spook it. It lands a couple of times on leaves but won’t let me get close. In desperation I decide to pee right there on the steps, hoping it might be interested. Jackpot! Before I stand up it zooms in and swoops around me. I’m trying to zip up my pants, get out my camera and not drop anything, while it zips here and there, landing on my shoulder. I hold out both hands and it lands, on my right of course, the hand I shoot with. I take some awkward photos w/my left hand, as it goes back to my shoulder and gets real friendly. Finally I get it onto my left hand and can shoot to my heart’s content, getting fabulous dorsals and ventrals. Very satisfying, to get good close up shots of a new species, and this is a beauty.

On our way back to town, going around the lake, Pablo suggests we stop at a fancy resort for dinner. We do and it is tasty. This would be much better place to stay, should be quieter, no motorcycles and loud music. But the rooms are about an extra $40/person/night. Guess you get what you pay for.

Day 17 – Sept 4 – we leave after breakfast and decide to check out a great looking road that heads down on the west side of the dam that build the lake at Lago Calima. There is a police station here, and Pablo politely asks for permission to go down the road. They let us go, and we head down in the van, then get out to walk while the van follows behind. We think it is only going to be few kilometers long, but it turns out to go for hours. We spend most of the day working our way down, from about 1600m to 1400, and get down to the stream at the bottom where we have lunch.

The first couple of hours are fabulous for birds. We find some fruiting trees at eye level and a great flock of tanagers keeps hanging around. We fill our eyeballs with close looks at multicolored tanager, the name of Pablo’s bird tour company, and one we really wanted to see. It is indescribable how spectacular this bird is when you see it in good light, against dark green leaves. Amazing. Then a pair of scaled fruiteaters fly in and we get more eye-popping views. Pablo goes wild with his long lens, this is only the 3rd time he has seen this species. Two new ones for me! Then at the bottom we get yellow-green bush tanagers, another hard to find species.

About 11am it warms up, our jackets come off, and the butterflies are flying, so we switch from birds to butterflies and have an enjoyable couple of hours chasing and photographing the bugs. What a great day. We finally leave the road about 3pm and drive a couple of hours towards Cali to stay at El 18. We are in El Faro del 18, faro being a lighthouse. This is a nice quiet hotel a few km off the main highway. They appear to be opening it just for the 4 of us, as we pick up 2 women at the bottom and take them up in our van. They are the receptionist and maybe the cook. Dinner is nice and the rooms are comfortable, once the hot water heats up. They turn on their router and we even have internet. It’s chilly at 2100 meters, but we have plenty of blankets and hot soup with dinner.

Day 18 – Sept 5 – today we go to San Antonio, about 30 minutes drive away. Pablo tells me the road at the hotel is great to walk for birds, that’s the plan for tomorrow when we won’t have the van. Today we drive, w/a local birding friend of Pablo’s named Jose, a bit towards Cali then right up the dirt road to the tower at San Antonio. We drive in a km or 2, then get out and walk. Jose says the tower is at 2200m, my watch shows 2400m. We find several nice tanager flocks and have much debate over metallic-green versus golden-naped tanagers. Overall it seems very dry and there aren’t many butterflies. Plus it is cool, especially when the sun is behind the clouds, which is often. We put out pee and spitwads but nothing comes. Most of the butterflies we see are the same species we had at Otun, but there were a lot more flying at Otun. My impression is this isn’t a great place for butterflies, but a different time might give a different result. Probably our best bird is the rufous-tailed flycatcher, which responds very dramatically when Pablo plays the tape. It circles around us several times, landing on bushes and doing a raised wing display, flashing a rufous underwing. Different behavior for a flycatcher.

We have lunch at a tasty outdoor Colombian restaurant that Jose knows called La Embajada de Ginebra. It has nice hummingbird feeders overlooking some good forest, and the food is quite tasty. They serve us as appetizers some very thin fried plantain and a sort of thin fry bread with a warm delicious tomato and veggie salsa. We pig out on this, as good as any chips and salsa I’ve had, and barely have room left for our large lunches. Amazing how good almost anything tastes if it is fried. So we have a good hour or 2 there. Then back to the hotel (the restaurant is maybe a km from the turnoff to our hotel, on the same side of the road). We walk the last km or so of dirt road to the hotel through good forest and see more birds, but nothing too exciting. Tomorrow we’re going 2 km or so on our same road to a simple hotel for breakfast that has more feeders, then we walk the road further in, towards Dapa. Jose tells me Dapa is an hour away by car, so we won’t get near that far.

On our way back in late afternoon we flush our first White-spotted Satyr, Manataria hercyna, which I’ve never seen at this elevation. I’m used to that as a lowland species. I catch it and we shoot both sides. A nice way to end the day.

We’re so full from lunch we tell our hotel most of us just want soup and salad for dinner.

Day 19 – Sept 6 – 7am pickup to get driven the couple of km up the road for breakfast. The good forest starts about at the breakfast place, so we don’t want to waste time, and energy, walking the first part. Plus we’re just generally lazy. Finca Alejandria, the small breakfast lodge only has 2 rooms, just rooms in the house of the very nice Argentinian couple who feed us both breakfast and lunch. Plus they have 9 or 10 hummingbird feeders all around their wonderful porch, with a great view down the valley. This is a great spot to eat, perfect temperature, good food and lots of exciting birds. I would like to stay here, instead of the fancier hotel El Faro where we are, but they don’t have enough rooms.

After breakfast we walk up the road for several km, and gradually as it warms up we start seeing more butterflies. It is a nice sunny day but they don’t really get flying until late morning. By noon however we’re seeing some nice new species. Probably the one that excites me the most is the Epiphile grandis, a beautiful banner with orange and black stripes and a purplish sheen to the dark DHW. I know it as soon as I see it, due to some little black marks near the body, and Pablo, Kristine and I stalk and chase them quite a bit. They are coming to some fresh horse poop, so Pablo pees on it when we continue on back to the lunch place. After lunch I come back and they are still there, so I get good shots.

The owner of Alejandria is a reiki master, so Eileen gets a massage from him after lunch. She tells it is wonderful, and she has had lots of different styles of massages. For 30,000 pesos, about $16, that is hard to beat.

Day 20 – Sept 7 – we leave after breakfast and drive to Queremal town, a simple little town with a decent hotel, the Hotel Campanario right on the corner in the main street through town. We dump off all our bags and Pablo gets a truck transport to haul us up into the mountain. We walk in through pasture to where the forest starts and head up maybe 100-200 meters, to 1600-1700m, alongside a stream in a dark ravine. This is called the San Juan river aquaduct trail. There is lots of dappled sunlight coming in and lots of butterflies flying and landing in the sun gaps. Beautiful blue and yellow endemic subspecies of Heliconius erato chestertonii are common, and lots of an eyed-skipper, probably one of the Cyclosemia species. I managed to get a couple to lift their wings by using a stalk of grass, so I can shoot the underside, which shows about half the wing as a beautiful blue/grey.

We put out lots of pee and spitwads and start seeing all sorts of stuff. Lots of Dismorphia, including several new species. I catch a couple and shoot them in the hand, that is the only way I can id them. One has a striking top half of the dorsal hindwing a bright orange, totally unexpected when I opened him up. We’re having a great time and don’t see anybody on the trail, except for 3 cowboys who ride by us on horseback. Suddenly a big cow comes crashing down the narrow trail, bolting crazily and being chased by one of the cowboys who is in full tilt pursuit down the steep and rocky trail. The cow is dragging a rope that is whipping all around. We all dive for the edges of the trail into the bushes, and fortunately they charge by and none of us are hurt. Pretty scary, probably equally scary to the poor cowboy who wasn’t happy to see a bunch of old bumbling gringos in the way. He was a fabulous rider, as it was a barely controlled plummet down the trail. We didn’t see them again, which was a good thing, but we kept an eye out for the rest of the day.

It clouds up and by 2 or 2:30 it is too dark for butterflies. Plus we are on the shady side of the ravine. So Pablo calls the driver, who is waiting for us when we come back out to meet him in the pasture about 3:15. Having cell phones work everywhere is so convenient. We eat a tasty huge chicken dinner at the hotel. Again we seem to be the only guests. They are having a big musical fiesta tomorrow, Saturday. Too bad we’re going to miss it. (HA) Pablo has managed to get permission for us to stay at the hydroelectric grounds in a very simple place. It sounds great, in the middle of primary forest about 700m. We will need to show passports and give them a list of all our electronic equipment and cameras and binoculars, for security reasons. Don’t ask why, those are the rules.

Day 21/22 – Sept 8/9 – 5:30am breakfast and we leave by 6 for the 2-3 hour drive towards Buenaventura, 93km. We’re lucky Pablo didn’t want to leave an hour or two earlier. He says the hotel is willing to make breakfast at 4:30am, they are used to serving birders who stay here and make the 2 hour drive each way as a day trip. Apparently there aren’t any even half way reasonable hotels to stay any closer. It’s called Anchicaya, and Yatacue. Inside the hydroelectric plant the locals call it Alto Anchicaya.

We get to the security checkpoint at the low point of the steep ravine, about 300m, a bridge with locked gates on both ends. After 20 minutes or so we manage to clear their security, after lots of talking by Pablo. The guard has a preprinted list with our names and passport numbers, so it had to all be worked out in advance, but he is still very meticulous (or dumb, hard to tell) and triple checks all our numbers, inspects our van, goes over the drivers’ papers, basically just takes a certain amount of time. Anyway, we make it through and drive another 20-30 minutes back up the other side of the ravine to about 700m, where there is quite a compound of buildings for the dam/hydroelectric workers. Someone is waiting for us and escorts us most of that day, walking a trail with us and opens locked gates to let us further up the trail. After a while he gets bored and finally leaves us alone. Everyone is connected by radios, and they keep track of us.

Pablo doesn’t get hold of the person in charge of the rooms until after 4pm, and he is getting a bit concerned that we may not actually get the promised rooms. But finally that boss man shows up and all is well. 3 guys come up to meet us and it is smiles all around. We end up with a nice suite, more of an apartment with 2 bedrooms, 2 beds each, 2 bathrooms and a full kitchen and living room. The 4 of us share the 2 bedrooms, and Pablo shares an apartment with some of the engineers. It is more comfortable than I expected. No hot water, but it is ok. They have a poolside cafeteria-type arrangement for meals, with several women w/big pots of tasty food. We can choose between beef or chicken, or pork or chicken, each meal, plus lots of rice, veggies and sometimes fruit. Pretty good, and plenty of it.

That afternoon it gets very dark and drizzly, and very difficult to bird. Almost no butterflies, and all the birds seem to be hiding on the far side of the trees. We do get white-headed wren, rufous mourner and rufous piha, and a few others.

Early breakfast the next morning at 5:30am, then we walk up the hill behind our apartments. Pablo has seen scarlet and white tanager from the clearing at the top before, and this is one of our big targets. On the way we check the tall grasses around the lamps. Yesterday we noticed lots of moths roosting in the grasses at the base of some of the lampposts. This morning, on the lamppost next to the forest, we find lots of birds cleaning up last night’s moths. Wrens, tanagers, lots of activity. We finally walk away and fortunately Pablo hangs back, and 2 barred woodcreepers fly in and start working the cement pole with the lights on top. I’ve never seen such close looks at this spectacular species, it is gorgeous when you see it well. This is almost impossible to do in the forest with a typical sighting, in the dark trees against a glary or foggy background. But this time they are at eye level on a fairly bright morning in the open. Pablo gets lots of great photos, and we all feast our eyes on their beautiful finely barred backs and bellies, every part that isn’t bright chestnut. A plain woodcreeper joins the party, and it is a great comparison. The plain is noticeably smaller, with a nice black malar stripe, and of course no barring. They sally out and keep nabbing moths as they flush from the undergrowth, and put on quite a show. We probably hang out an hour or more, as different birds come and go, but mostly watching the woodcreepers.

Finally we leave and drive the van up the road about 5 km towards the dam itself. We never make it, as we keep finding birds and walking the road and photographing butterflies. The forest seems to get better and better as we work our way up the fabulous valley, with amazing steep hillsides covered in relatively untouched primary forest. Next time I would be tempted to drive straight to the dam and spend the morning working my way back down hill to the compound. We find several flocks and finally get short looks at the scarlet and white tanager, at least a few of us get it, but not all. A friendly family of purple-throated fruitcrows comes up slope to us, along with lots of other goodies like grey and gold tanagers and scarlet-browed tanagers, another gorgeous bird.

Probably my best butterfly is a huge Morpho that Kristine notices sitting in the road in front of us and a wet place, sort of a land slide area. Apparently a frog has been killed here and the Morpho is on it, along with lots of flies. We shoot it from a distance, especially Pablo with his big lens, then I sneak up and manage to catch it. I’ve never seen this species, a beautiful maroon underside and very pale dorsal, one of the big canopy morphos who always just sail by overhead. Very exciting, can’t wait to figure out which one it is.

We leave after a late lunch and several hours later make it back to the hotel Campanario, in time for the Sunday afternoon soccer match from our balcony. Half the village is lined up in plastic chairs right outside our rooms, cheering wildly. They finish and leave soon after we arrive, but then the music starts about 6pm. Our rooms are right on the other side of the wall of the big event room, so we get to enjoy the music too. Oh joy. Pablo says it will ‘probably’ stop by 10 or so. I’m keeping my fingers crossed as I type this at 7:30pm. Tomorrow is our last day, and we fly out tomorrow afternoon. Pablo and I go back to Medellin, and the other 3 fly to Bogota, than connect with their international flight to Houston at midnight. So it will be a long day and night for them, even longer if we don’t get much sleep tonight. Vamos a ver.

Day 23 – Sept 10 – well, the music stopped the night before at 8pm, I was stunned and a very happy camper. So we all got a good nights sleep and got up early for our final morning birding the road below town, down to about 1100m. Pablo find us several good birds, my favorite being chestnut-breasted wren. This is one of the big wrens w/fabulous voices, flute-like and magical. Very difficult to get really good looks at it, as it is very skulky and bounces around quickly, but just listening to the song ringing through the undergrowth is wonderful.

We go down to a place Pablo wants to show me, a waterfall where people go swimming on the weekend. These places are often great for butterflies, as people have to pee somewhere, which brings in the butterflies. He is right, as we find a nice poop pile with several Opsiphanes (owlets) on it, and a fresh Noreppa chromus, which Glenn catches so we can shoot the beautiful electric blue dorsal in the hand.

We do our final packing and leave the hotel at mid day, then head back up to El Faro and El 18, then stop at the same restaurant for lunch with the hummingbird feeders. We have chicken shish kabobs which are delicious for 7500 pesos, about $4. I can’t finish all of mine. Then we dash to the airport in Cali and get to enjoy the Cali traffic, but manage to make it in plenty of time for my and Pablo’s 4pm flight back to Medellin. The others are going to Bogota at 6pm, then connecting at midnight to their flight back to Houston. A nice end to a great trip.

Day 24/25/26 – Sept 11/12/13 – Trip 2 pretrip. Dan and Kay Wade flew in to Medellin the day before, and the 3 of us went to Crepes y Wafles (of course) and had a great dinner. Then Arley (our driver from Rio Claro) picks us up at 7am and we drive 5 hours to Urrao, almost straight west of Medellin. But we have to go south towards Jardin and back up through Concord to get to Urrao, about 1900m. We eat lunch at our hotel, Las Araucarias, where we will spend 2 nights later, but now we head on up outside of town to meet Luiz, the ranger at the ProAves Dusky Starfrontlet lodge.

He is waiting for us with 3 horses, which the 3 of us ride up 500m to about 2900m for 2 nights. Luiz walks the 7-8km hike, and carries my backpack. He makes it look easy. The trail is fairly steep in places and muddy and rocky, so the horses slip and slither around. Sort of like riding a dirt bike, but very little control, at least by us. We make it in one piece, after about 1 hour and 45 minutes, and are glad to get off the horses. But we are glad we had the horses, as I don’t think we could have made that hike in one afternoon. It helps to be young and strong, not older and out of shape like some of us.

The lodge is wonderful, lots of hummingbird feeders right at eye level, and lots of fuschia bushes in front. The birds are so used to people they ignore us and zip around right in our faces. We get 10 or 11 species, but unfortunately we don’t see the Dusky Starfrontlet. Pablo was here in early August, and he has spectacular photos of the bird taken at the feeders. But we don’t have that kind of luck.

Dan rides a horse the next afternoon up to the paramo, 3500m. He is a glutton for punishment, but he does get great looks at the Dusky Starfrontlet. He tells me Luiz has about 10 more feeders up high, stuffed with birds, and a big round flat feeder that the chestnut-fronted flowerpiercer is coming to. Plus some good tanager flocks. So if you’re a birder, you need to make the 2nd hike to the paramo. But Kay and I opt out. Dan also tells me the horses only get you so far, then you have to climb the ultimate stairmaster, a grand staircase Luiz has built to get up to the top. So he is pretty tired when he makes it back, just in time for dinner.

Dan and I spend the morning going a bit back down the trail below the lodge and get lots of good butterfly photos. It surprises both of us, as we didn’t expect so many butterflies, but we find lots. Mostly satyrs and pierids, 2 nice new species of Catasticta and Leptophobias. The gorgeous Morpho sulkowski is flying back and forth up the stream. They never seem to stop, but it is lots of fun to just watch them sail around, like glowing lavender balls.

Early that morning Luiz took us up to see the Fenwick’s Antpitta, which he feeds earthworms, about 300m up from the lodge. We sit quietly on his bench, waiting for it to appear, when it sneaks up between our legs and pops into Luiz’s bucket sitting at our feet. There are 2 birds, eating the worms he put out and also repeatedly getting in the bucket. I even get photos with my little camera, as they are only a few feet from where I’m sitting. An amazing experience.

Our 2nd morning is not quite as sunny, but we get some different butterflies than yesterday. Then after lunch we ride back down, slipping our way back downhill. My horse and Kay’s seen to want to jockey for who gets to be second. Dan’s quietly steps along, sure of the way, but our 2 horses keep competing. Mine loves to cut hers off repeatedly, and when they have room they want to race ahead of each other. So we are all glad to make it back down in one piece. It is a wonderful place, but not a hike for old farts. The cooking by Flor, Luiz’s wife, is great. Marvelous mangos, delicious juices, even a coffee parfait for desert. And they have hot water, which I had been told was not available.

Arley is waiting for us, in his red jeep, and we go explore the road we will work the next couple of days. It goes up to about 2800m, a lot easier to reach than by horseback. Then we head back to dinner at our hotel, Las Araucarias. The owner is very accommodating, and wants to show us his pictures taken up in the paramo. After a tasty dinner we beg off, tomorrow we can see his photos. We’re tired and crash for a good nights sleep.

Day 27 – Sep 14 – our hotel is very scenic and quiet, being outside of town. Urrao is the home of Colombia’s first silver medal Olympian, and everyone is very proud. He won it for bicycling, and we see hundreds of people on bicycles everywhere here.

We work the road out of Urrao, taking the right fork instead of the left, which goes to the horse pickup spot. The right fork is carreterea a Caisedo, a town way up in the hills. We drive up the valley to the north of the Dusky Starfrontlet lodge to about the same elevation, close to 2900m. So is it better to take an hour+ bouncy jeep ride to get to 2900m and sleep lower at 1900m, or have the scary horseback ride and sleep up high? Choices, choices.

We see many of the same species as at the Dusky Starfrontlet lodge, but some different ones. Today we see lots (4 to 6) of the gorgeous purple Fountainea centaurus and we didn’t have any at the Starfrontlet. The same 2 Catasticta species, and similar high elevation satyrs, but fewer yellow and white Leptophobia. But that may be because we aren’t working a streamside. Lots of Morpho sulkowskyi, this time they are flying up the road low to the ground, they appear to be fighting the wind. One even lands on me briefly, to check me out, which makes me feel special. Usually I see them sailing out over ravines and up and down creeks, nowhere close to me, but today they come very close.

By 2pm most of the butterfly activity has died down, even though it stays a bright and sunny day. We have driven up to the bridge, a little above 2800m, then about another km or so up to the pass about 2900m. The mountains twist around here, and I am completely backward. Gustavo, who came out for the day w/us, insists the pacific side is back where we came up, and the Cauca side is ahead of us, which seems wrong. But he is sure, and he knows it much better than me. We are seeing some pacific slope birds, so he must be right.

Day 28 – Sept 15 – We look for a different road, but apparently it has all been chopped and turned into fincas. So after 45 minutes or so driving up a dirt road up another valley and stopping and asking people ‘where is the bosque?’ (forest), we give up and turn around and start the 5 hour drive back to Medellin. Gustavo says he knows a reserve just before we get to Concordia, another coffee town that we drive through, so we decide to check it out. It turns out to be quite nice, about 2200m, and we spend a couple of hours. It is owned by the municipality of Concordia and provides their water, so it is protected watershed and a holding manmade lake. Gustavo goes in and finds a security guard who lets us in. He unlocks the gates, we go in and park the car and take off on the main path down to the lake. We cross the dam and head into the forest, circling the lake.

The first part is pretty quiet, a bit too manicured, but as we get around to the back side we run into the creek that feeds the lake and the forest gets much better. If I was to go back I would take the higher path leading up from the parking lot, to the right, and you would get into good forest fairly quickly. The path is all stone, must have taken lots of work. Kay finds a lek of Elzunia lurking around back by the stream, and we all get nice photos. This is a spectacular genus of Ithomiinae that look like swallowtails, black with yellow and red stripes, very striking. And big. We then see a number of other species, many of which I saw at Otun about the same elevation.

We even find one of the Yanguna firetips, perching on leaves in the sun over the water. Arley climbs up and tries to bring the branch down, Gustavo gets a distant shot of it but it keeps flying off and returning to a different leaf. We see several other nice species like the wonderful Pseudohaetera hypaesia, a big clearwinged satyr that likes it dark and wet, and more Mesosemia mevania, the beautiful blue eyemarks that were in several places on trip 1.

We even get good shots of a new hairstreak, I have no idea what it is. A friend id’s it as Balintus tityrus, probably a female. So it turns into a great day. We have a field lunch, peanut butter sandwiches or ham and cheese w/fruit, then head back to Medellin. Arly drives fast but safely, and it is a difficult, twisty, steeply descending road. We drop down and cross the Cauca river again, leave Gustavo at a town near Jardin, and blast back up the west side of the central Andes to Medellin for 2 nights. Back to the Hotel Asturias where hopefully Sherry Nelson and Deby Galloway will arrive this evening. Another dinner at Crepes y Wafles, oh darn.

Day 29 – Sept 16 – Arly picks us up at 8am for the morning at La Romera, a residential road above Medellin about 1800-1900m. I’ve butterflied it several times before, and there are always good things to find. Plus if we’re lucky we’ll find red-bellied grackles, which I’ve seen here about half the times I’ve visited. Jim Snyder arrives this evening, so we should be complete with 6 of us for trip 2.

Juan Guillermo and his friend Martin come and meet us at La Romera. Juan is an excellent butterfly photographer who lives here in Medellin and has been very friendly with sharing his photos with me. He brings his magic fish bait which brings all sorts of butterflies in to pose for great photos. He sprays the evil smelling mixture on the leaves with a mister, and we have a blast all morning until about 2pm. We get killer shots of a new hairstreak that is gorgeous, and a beautiful fresh Baeotis maculata.

I’ve been around people who use fish bait before, but the way Juan does it is very clean. He wears disposable plastic gloves and keeps it in triple sealed plastic containers. He also strains out the chunks so it goes in the mister without clogging. He uses 4 or 5 shrimp and fills a blender with water, chops up the shrimp, strains it, lets it sit for 2 or 3 days, and voila, nasty stuff that brings in the bugs. Very instructive to watch him work with it, we learn a lot. It makes us want to mix some up. Last time I was here I bought some shrimp cocktail in the grocery, couldn’t get just a few shrimp, put them in a blender but it didn’t work right.

Day 30/31 – Sept 17/18 – we’re off to Jardin about 3 hours away, back down the west slope. We’re meeting Gustavo here at his house, leaving most of our piles of stuff and walking in an hour and a half to his new reserve for 2 nights. La reserva de mis suenos, the reserve of my dreams, what a great name. Later I find out the real name is Reserva Mesenia, though I like my incorrect name better.

It turns out to be a bit more complicated than that. The 2 taxi drivers take us to the big Hotel Balandu a couple of km outside of Jardin and want to leave us there. They know nothing about Gustavo’s house, or Pablo, or anybody. But suddenly Gustavo shows up, we talk to the hotel and get them to store our luggage, than take off in the jeep that brought Gustavo. Not to his house, but an hour later over more dusty, bumpy roads, we get out in the middle of nowhere, with a pile of tree tomatoes in sacks. Gustavo says the horses to carry our small packs should be here in a half hour or so. We decide to start walking, as it’s clouding up and getting dark.

It is now about noon, not 10 when I ‘assumed’ we would start walking. Gustavo says ‘siempre izquierda’ or always left, so we head off the narrow track up into the hills. We do start seeing butterflies ,but have to keep walking.

We cross a couple of scary bridges over the river, just a log or plank, some 30’ long or more, with a wire to hang onto. We continue on uphill, it starts to rain, and of course several of us (those of the male persuasion) don’t have umbrellas. We continue slogging our way uphill as the rain gets heavier, never a torrential downpour (gracias a Dios) but enough to get us pretty wet and cold, except for the fact that we’re slogging uphill so we’re sweaty.

Gustavo catches up to us and leads us through the confusing maze of little trails, but always working our way up the valley. We finally make it, after much grousing. It actually only takes about 2 hours and we climb about 350 meters, so it’s not the end of the world. But it always seems longer when you’re not sure when it is going to end.

The rooms are pretty nice, 2 rooms with 2 bunk beds in each, plus a 3rd room with 4 bunk beds and a bathroom. I take the big room with Sherry and Deby and give the other 2 rooms to Dan and Kay and a solo to Jim. They have to use shared bathrooms up by the kitchen. The cook is a marvelous 16 year old who feeds us well by cooking over a wood burning stove. We are all wet and chilled, so we huddle around the stove under blankets like lost souls. Diana, the cook, doesn’t seem to mind having to work her way in between us, and put up with our wet shoes and socks stacked on the piles of wood next to the stove. She makes us delicious arepas by hand which we slather with butter, and stuff down with hot chocolate. Not too tough.

The next morning it is nice and sunny, and after Gustavo helps us across the stream we start seeing lots of butterflies. We have a great morning just mostly working the 500m or so up to the gate where the real forest starts. The first section has forest across the river and more open pasture on our side where they are revegging it. Lots of fresh cow patties and they all seem to attract butterflies. Several species of Dalla, more red mapwings, Adelphas, lots of goodies. Lots of my favorite blue crescent, Eresia levina, so we all take tons of photos. It starts to rain again by 1 or 2, just in time to get back for trout for lunch.

One suggestion, next time I would bring rubber boots, which most of us left at the hotel in Jardin. You don’t need them for the trails, but it would make crossing the river much easier. We have to cross repeatedly, and several of us get wet feet from slipping on rocks, or need to have Gustavo help us across. If you had boots you could slop across wherever.

Next time I will stay more nights, at least 3. Gustavo has over 3,000 hectares, which is a huge amount of land. It covers 3 ridges and down to 3 different rivers on 3 sides. I’ll never make it over the ridge to the other side, but I would like to hike in an hour or 2 to see his hummingbird feeders in the forest where the specialty hummers come, 400 meters climb above the rooms. He says an hour, ha! I suggested he put some feeders at the lodge and close to the edge of the forest, for older, out of shape clients who can’t make it in for the special birds.

He has many plans for this huge project. I wish him well, and would love to see it again in a few years. You are on the eastern slope of the western Andes, but can go up over the ridge and be on the western slope, so he has many of the western goodies. You could spend several days here easily, especially if you are in good shape.

Jim went the highest up into the forest and got some good species. We also had some nice stuff up by the gate, where you have to cross the river again and the trail heads up into darker woods. Jim said when he found light gaps he got lots of stuff. Gustavo got some good shots of another beautiful hairstreak hanging out over the river. Lots to explore here.

Day 32 – Sept 19 – We walk out after breakfast. We’re dreading having another wet slog down the hill, but even though it starts out foggy and overcast, it burns off and we end up being late getting down to meet our jeep at 11am, walking 3+hours But he waits, of course, and we drive the hour back to the Hotel Balandu for the night. We get all our piles of luggage back, and our computers, which we all missed dreadfully, have lunch at the hotel then Gustavo takes us to town where we can walk to a lek of cock of the rock. It turns out to be an exercise in futility, and a fairly steep walk down the hill behind town, as we get there way too early and are concerned about walking through a field of long grass that looks like chigger heaven. However I think we’re ok, we’re at about 1800m, pretty high for chiggers.

We don’t see any birds, as it’s about 3pm, so we take the little 3 wheeled motos to the road behind the hotel. This leads to a pretty waterfall which was good 4 or 5 years ago, on my first trip. But it has been cut down and many new fincas are up this valley, so we end up going back to the hotel by 4.

Day 33 – Sept 20 – 6am departure in a jeep with a new guide, Juan David or Juanda. He’s a bird guide who will be with us for the next 5 days or so, at Las Tangaras.

We work the road up above Jardin, which leads to the yellow-eared parrot reserve, another ProAves reserve. We don’t have time to get all the way up to 3000m, where the parrots are. I made the decision to try Gustavo’s new reserve, instead of the 3 days we originally had scheduled for Jardin. I’m glad we went to the new reserve, but we ended up with not enough time to do justice to either place. You always need more time.

Unfortunately the morning is foggy and we see very few birds or butterflies. We do get great scope views of black-billed mountain toucan, and Deby gets some good shots of an Actinote I’ve never seen, but overall it is disappointing. This can be a fabulous road, but not today. Too bad we didn’t have more time.

After lunch at a different restaurant on the square, Las Magaritas, we head to Las Tangaras for 4 nights. This is another ProAves reserve I’ve heard lots of good things about, so I’m looking forward to it. They say the drive is 3.5 to 4 hours, vamos a ver.

Kay and I ride with Juanda and his friend Rodrigo, and he drives like the proverbial bat out of hell. We make it to Las Tangaras by about 4:15pm, after leaving about 2. But it is a rough, bumpy ride, and we’re all glad to get there. They have nice hummingbird feeders set up in the clearing, and we have half a dozen or western species. We’re on the west slope of the western Andes, in the Choco, so we should get some good stuff tomorrow.

Dinner is wonderful, fresh tomatoes and mozzarella with herbs, avocados sliced with more herbs, and tasty pork ribs. Yum, think I’m going to like this place. The only down side is we have to drive 40 minutes to get to the good birding habitat, back to the bridge and over another ridge to the west where we walk a great road. Can hardly wait for the morning.

Day 34 – Sept 21 – we have a civilized breakfast at 7am, after resisting much urging by Juanda to make it earlier. They are used to birders’ schedules here, and are probably shocked by how late we are. But we have a fabulous morning birding the road, even though we are late. It does take about 45 minutes to drive, in 2 local jeeps, up and over a small pass past the soldiers, than start walking downhill. The lodge is at around 1600m, and the pass is about 2000m. Lots of spectacular insects here in the Choco.

Several good flocks give everybody killer looks at purplish-mantled and black-and-gold tanagers, 2 of the monster targets. Spectacular birds, with lots of other foliage-gleaners, woodcreepers and others. Juanda is busy helping get everyone on the different birds, as in a typical Andean flock people are looking in 6 different directions calling out ‘what is this beautiful bird?’

About 9 or 9:30 it starts warming up and butterflies start flying. A small herd of cows pass us being driven uphill by their vaquero, whose whistling from below us makes us think he is a piha. But the big advantage is the cows have pooped in several places up the hill, and we start to find some nice butterflies spread out along the poop. A gorgeous new one is the rosy/purplish Fountainea nobilis peralta, and we all get wonderful open shots.

At the lunch spot we find a cooperative Eunica norica, and Jim and others manage to get the dorsal with the brilliant blue trailing edge. Plus Epiphiles, or Banners, of a couple different types, and of course satyrs. So it is a great morning. We have delicious chicken, potatoes and rice with us for a hot lunch, which is always a luxury in the field.

By 1pm it has clouded up, so we drive back up to the top where the soldiers are. In back of the soldiers’ shed there is a short trail to an area of 10 hummingbird feeders set up by the ProAves lodge. So we spend another hour or so watching and photographing one of my favorites, velvet-purple coronets and about 7 or 8 other species.

It gradually starts to rain, so we head back to the lodge by mid afternoon. The most exciting news is that Martin, Juan Guillermo’s friend from a week ago in Medellin, comes out to visit with us and brings the magic elixir of shrimp bait. We decide to save it for the morning, due to the rain.

That afternoon at the lodge Juanda finds us a pair crested ant-tanagers in the shrubs along the driveway, which is a life bird for Sherry and Deby and Jim. Everybody gets good photos, including Rodrigo who is a serious bird photographer. So Rodrigo breaks out some very nice 8 year old rum from Medellin, and we all have a fiesta with rum and coke, and looking at each other’s photos and generally have a fun time.

We find out that Juan G. can’t stand it, and is coming tomorrow, Saturday, to join the party. And bringing more shrimp bait. The fiesta continues!

Day 35 – Sept 22 – Juan G. left Medellin about 4am and made it in 3 hours, so he joins us for breakfast. He’s staying the night, which is great. We all trek up the hill for the 45 minute drive, over some rather scary landslides, and today go a bit further down the road than yesterday. We walk around 1700m for several km, and Juan and Martin put out their shrimp bait over a couple of hundred meters. This becomes the best area, and we get lots of goodies.

One of the best is a new Anteros for both Juan and me. I don’t even see it, but most of the others get great shots, so we can figure it out. More crescents and longwings with this confusing pattern of vertical yellow bands on the FW and varying amounts of red on the HW. I’m not sure if they are all 1 species (1 in Eresia and 1 in Heliconius) or if there is more than 1 species involved in each genus. The wide red bands are Eresia datis monto and Heliconius clysonymus, but there are some that are all black on the HW, and some with red bits.

We have a great time all morning, though it’s not as sunny as yesterday. By early afternoon it is dark and drizzly, so we head back, after spending some more time at the hummingbird feeders. The soldiers have found a beautiful red and black patterned snake, so we shoot that too. Being in the Choco, this place can be ‘savagely wet’, as Sherry says, and we’ve been lucky to get 2 decent mornings.

That night Juan G. shows me a little bit of what he does in lightroom. I’m impressed, and think I will buy that software when I get back home. He can keep an amazing amount of info with that program. He also shows us his wonderful book on butterflies of Colombia, and graciously gives me pdf’s of it! I’m so excited, I can hardly stand it. Can’t wait to go through my photos and see what I can id from his book, almost all his great photos. Another banner day.

Day 36 – Sep 23 – back up the hill with all our Colombian friends, only this morning it is foggy and cool. We just have to go birding instead, and see most of the fabulous west slope Choco specialities. Close up looks at purplish-mantled and black-and-gold tanagers, we actually start ignoring them. And rufous-throated tanager, best looks I’ve ever had at all of these. Choco vireo, the list goes on. The big miss is gold-ringed tanager, oh well.

It teases us several times by starting to brighten, but we never really get any sun. Too bad, but we’ll just have to come back. It is only 3 hours from Medellin, so hopefully Juan and Martin can do some trips over here at different times of the year. And me too!

They all take off late that afternoon, so we’re on our own for dinner at the lodge. We lost power the previous night, while we were asleep, from a big thunder storm, and the power is still out this afternoon when we get back. So dinner is by candlelight, how romantic. But that means no playing with the computers and our photos that night, so we all go to bed early. Uber and Daisy, the couple who run this ProAves reserve, have done a great job taking of us, we will miss them.

Day 37 – Sept 24 – today we depart, and Juanda had talked to Pablo the afternoon before and we set the time for the driver to show up at 8:30am. But he doesn’t make it until about 10. Uber is worried and calls several people, but no one knows anything about it. Pablo is traveling back today from Peru, and we can’t get hold of him. But Eugenio, the driver with the van, does show about 10, and we load up and take off.

I think the road in from the main highway was worse than Eugenio expected, as he has to go slowly over the many potholes and washouts. We have lunch at La Pintura at a tasty Dona Rosa’s, where we eat robalo (fish) and fruit drinks. Then we continue south to Pereira and 15 km up another bad road to the hotel at Otun for our next 3 nights. We arrive about 4:30 or so, and are glad to get in our rooms and get hot showers.

Last night at Las Tangaras no electricity meant no hot showers. Jim, Sherry and Deby were tough and took cold showers, but Dan wimped out (or wised up) and asked Daisy to heat him some water. She brought him a big bucket of steaming water, and he had to add a couple of gallons from the shower to cool it down. So he and Kay had plenty of nice warm water and did the big bucket/little cup wash off. They had lots of left over water, so I took it and was able to sponge off as well. Much better than a cold shower.

Day 38/39 – Sept 25/26 – We walk the road and trails at Otun. This is a great place for butterflies. The road is through nice open second growth forest with lots of dappled shade, and acts as a long edge. The first morning is overcast and cool. But by putting out lots of spitwads and pee spots we lure all sorts of nice things from the forest. The sun finally comes out about 1pm and is bright all afternoon.

I was here a month ago and this time we see some different species. Probably the most exciting for me is the Ridens harpagus, similar to a long-tailed Astraptes, blue with a snazzy white pattern. Dan finds the first one, on a pee spot, and later Jim finds 4 on the same rock in the middle of the road. This is an uncommon genus that I rarely see in the field, and a new species for me.

Sherry and Deby score with the fabulous Sacrator sacrator skipper. I’ve only seen this here once, 2 years ago. We find lots of other species, a bright Green Flasher, Astraptes talus, and the leafwing here is Fountainea nessus, with pink and purple stripes.

Otun is famous for the red-ruffed fruitcrow and Cauca guan, both of which are ridiculously easy here. The guan doesn’t excite me much, as one guan looks very like another, but the fruitcrow is killer. Deby gets heartstopping photos. It is a big bird that looks like it is wearing a brilliant red scarf, all fluffed up around the neck.

The second day we get a small truck to take us higher up the road. This time we drive all the way to the end of the road, at the entrance to the national park where you can hike 30km to Los Nevados. This is also a water processing plant called Hydrobiologica El Cedral. It’s only about 100-200m higher than the hotel, maybe 2200m, but we see some higher elevation species. People often use horses to pack their supplies and camping gear in, so there is a lot of horse poop around, which means lots of butterflies. It is a spectacular bright sunny morning, not a cloud in the sky, which is unusual for here.

We spend at least an hour+ photographing around the buildings on top, including a great pee spot on the side. Several species of Dalla, including a beautiful dark brown and half cream one that Sherry gets great shots of, and a very fresh and cooperative Andean Silverspot, Dione glycera. Lots of Perisamas, both silver and gold species.

We finally start walking down, seeing more stuff all the way where we put out pee on the way up. As it gets later in the morning it clouds up and thunder starts. By then we are within a km or so of the hotel, so we jump in the truck and hightail it for home. Just in time, as we pull into the driveway about 12:30pm the heavens open up and we have to dash for shelter. Poor Jim, he chose to walk the rest of the way, and he gets pretty wet. We have a strong hail storm, first time I’ve seen hail like this in Colombia. It melts off quickly, but we’re glad we made it back, rather than having to ride standing up in the truck in the open.

After dinner, walking back on the cement path to our rooms, Deby spots a small brown and cream banded snake on the path. I don’t know how she saw it, as we were walking in the dark without flashlights. Good thing she spots it, as I’m barefoot, of course, and could easily have stepped on it. Everyone has to photograph it, none of us know what it is. Hopefully we can find out.

Day 40 – Sept 27 – Pablo comes to take us to Salento, and we say goodbye to Johnnier. The package gets handed off to the next carrier. (us being the package) We spend the morning at Otun, and most of us ride back to the top of the road in the truck, then work their way back down. I chose to walk up from the lodge. It’s not near as bright and sunny as yesterday, so there is not as much flying, but we get lots of photos, improving our shots and finding some new stuff. The folks who went up get to see multicolored tanager, Pablo’s special bird as it is the name of his company. Jim, the nonbirder, gets decent photos of it.

After lunch we pack up in 2 small trucks and drive 2-3 hours to Salento. Pablo makes a detour in Pereira to buy some shrimp, which is somewhat of an adventure. He’s in the other truck, so my truck wanders around and plans to meet him at the bus terminal, but there isn’t any parking, so we head on to Salento. Pablo’s truck goes into a scruffier part of town and finds a Chinese restaurant which sells him some shrimp. Why they have to go to a Chinese place to buy fresh shrimp instead of the grocery store, don’t ask.

The hotel we’re staying in at Solento is a very old big house that has been divided up into rooms, so each room is quite different. Dan and Kay score with the honeymoon suite, a huge fancy bathroom with a giant whirlpool bath and a big glassed in shower with tons of lights, while my room has almost no lights at all and the only window is into the parking lot. The wood work everywhere is amazing, especially the inlaid elaborate roofs and the carved panels between the rooms. But there are very few plugs and Sherry and Deby don’t have any hot water. And no internet, which leads to some whining, as we have now been 10 days offline. Can’t have everything.

We walk up a couple of blocks to the square, which is very pretty. We eat on the corner on our right at Fondo de los Arrieros, which is excellent. I have punto mixto, chicken and pork on a skewer, delicious. Sherry has trout with garlic, trucha con ajillo, and says it is fabulous. Deby and Dan both have different types of trout and also rave about it. Dan’s is trout with cheese and mushrooms, looks like trout pizza. Plus Club Colombia, the good beer here, so everyone is happy. Arrieros are a big deal here, it means mule skinners or people who handle horses and mules and packing stuff in, apparently a big part of the history of the area.

Day 41 – Sept 28 – after a delicious breakfast at our hotel of homemade arepas, cheese, eggs and a huge slice of papaya, with tasty café con leche and chocolate, we’re off to Patasola, a state run reserve about 2300m. We drive to the entrance of the dirt road, where we pick up our local guide, Hector. We then drive uphill about 35 minutes, only 10k but it takes forever bouncing around. Just to keep us in shape for bouncy rides on poor dirt roads.

We go up through a big forestry logging plantation, and there are many guys cutting, trimming, loading horses to haul wood, etc. We finally get to the reserve, 150 hectares of forest. Unfortunately the morning is dark and overcast, so we don’t see many butterflies. Only a number of Pedaliodes, the typical higher elevation satyrs.

Some of the speciality birds here are golden-eared parakeet and masked saltor, both of which we don’t see. Oh well, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. We walk the road and do find some nice mixed flocks with good tanagers, and later in the morning we go down the great looking trail they have. If we had some sun this could be very good for butterflies, several clearings, bamboo, and a great looking stream into a perfect sandbar. All we need is sun.

After a field lunch of ham and cheese and good bread (Pablo buys a store loaf of integral/wheat and a handmade loaf of good brown bread, we suck up the handmade loaf and ignore the store bought) we drive back to town then out the other side to the Valle de Cocora. These are huge tall palms several hundred years old. They are the tallest palms in the world, and the national tree of Colombia. Apparently they grew this tall to emerge above the other trees in the forest. They look funny now, because the people have cleared the forest around them for pastures, except on the steep hillsides. So you have forests of really tall skinny palms in open pastures, surrounded by cows. Very interesting.

One of our cars is dying, serious transmission problems. Yesterday this was the car I rode in, and we all felt it was not going to make it to Salento. I told Pablo last night I thought it was going to be a problem, so he rode in it today. It barely made it up the palm valley, so Pablo whips out his trusty cell phone and gets us another car for tomorrow. This is why we pay Pablo the big bucks, to handle problems like this.

Back in town, Dan, Kay and I go to the cool little old coffee shop on the main plaza, which is a very interesting place. This is a tourist town, and the locals are very used to bozos wandering around. The night before Jim had walked the streets taking videos, and everyone smiled and waved and laughed, very friendly. The 3 of us have nice café con leche and devour the small jar of café flavored Arequipa, which is a popular wonderfully smooth caramel found throughout Colombia. They claim this is a local specialty with the coffee flavor, but I can’t tell the difference from the normal Arequipa, it’s all scrumptious. We don’t have any trouble finishing our cup. The 3 coffee costs about $2 total for a fun hour or two hanging out in the store.

Then it’s back to the same restaurant as last night. The food was so good everyone wants to go back. Tough life, this traveling.

Day 42 – Sept 29 – another delicious breakfast (not losing any weight on this trip), then we drive to a different reserve that Pablo knows about. This is lower, at 1800m, and Hector yesterday said it usually has lots of butterflies. We will see. It is towards the town of Armenia, near the smaller town of Circasia. Pablo talks his way in with the caretaker, and we have a great morning. It is mostly coffee with native forest in a deep ravine with a small stream in the bottom. They have a trail that wanders up the ravine, and we immediately find several species of clearwings as soon as we’re into the forest. There is a great vine flowering, and the clearwings are all over it. We spend the morning shooting many clearwings and some satyrs, lots of Pseudohaetera hypasia, the big clearwinged satyrs with dark edges.

Lots of sliding up and down the hillsides covered with leaves, it is quite dry. The caretaker has 2 big dogs who are very friendly, and very excited to have all these strangers on their land. We finally manage to get the caretaker to leave us, and take the hyper dogs away, though poor Jim ends up with dog shit all over his pants. You can’t tell the shit from the leaves, until you land in it. Charming.

We do get lots of good shots of Ithomiinae/clearwings, including lots of very fresh Tithorea tarricina that are everywhere. A good time is had by all, and the caretaker graciously gives us fresh lemonade when we stagger back up the hill to the cars.

We then drive to Armenia and through to the botanical garden of Quindio, which turns out to be fabulous. We eat our field lunch in their entrance and wander around the garden. They specialize in palms and have over 150 species. Colombia has the 2nd largest number of palm species in the world, after Malaysia.

We get to the butterfly house, which is the biggest in Colombia, and have fun photographing stuff inside. Lots of fresh rusty-tipped page, Siproeta epaphus, and some big owls. Then we have another coffee and watch their hummingbird feeders, and get back to our hotel in time to check out the massive parrot roost that Jim found the evening before. However, tonight no parrots, so Jim takes some sniveling from us at dinner. After dinner we wander around the town looking for ice cream, but failing to find it. Apparently lots of places sell ice cream in the afternoon, but after dark they all close up. Oh well, we didn’t need it anyway.

Day 43 – Sept 30 – we leave for Filandia and Bosque Bremen. We go straight to Bosque Bremen, which is only about 45 minutes from Solento. It is similar to Otun but a bit drier. Many of the species we see are the same ones we had at Otun, but we get a few new ones. And some of the same ones are more obliging here and pose nicely, so we have a good morning. Dan catches a new Dismorphia with lots of yellow, and we see a different Charaxine or Leafwing with creamy/whitish bands on the forewing. At first I think it is a female Fountainea, but then we see several of them drinking sap from a tree, and that seems a bit odd to me. Deby gets some decent shots of it, but I fail to catch it so we don’t get great shots, and none of the dorsal.

Back in the charming town of Filandia we are staying at Posada de los Compadres, an old house that is beautiful. Old creaky wood floors, high ceilings, a beautiful dining room with lots of glass, and hot water for all, a huge plus. Deby and Sherry never could get hot water in Solento. No internet still, but Pablo shows us a coffee shop on the square that has wifi, so Deby and Sherry hang out there for an hour. Maybe I’ll try it tomorrow.

For dinner we walk downtown, 2 blocks, and go past the square to Dona Rosa’s, where some of us order pollo and some order garlic trout, trucha anjillo. The servings are huge, we can only eat half, and they serve the enormous very thin crispy delicious patacones pounded out from platano or banana. The trout comes swimming in a very rich cream sauce that reeks of garlic and mushrooms, very different from garlic trout I’ve seen elsewhere. Those that have it rave about it. Then we visit a pharmacy on the way back to get some menthol salve for my and Kay’s chiggers, we got tons of them at the clearwing reserve, I think. Others think it takes 48 hours for chiggers to show up. Odd that only the 2 of us are covered. I have the famous chigger rx cream from Texas, but Pablo suggests the menthol cream, so I figure why not try it. It costs 3800 pesos for a tin, about $2. It does knock down the itching, about the same as my stuff from home.

Several folks also get some cipro, you can get 10 pills here for 3000 pesos, about $1.50. Beats the $100+ it costs to get it at home. Cipro is a strong all purpose antibiotic that lots of people like to carry in their first aid kit. I just buy it here if I need it, usually I don’t, but it never hurts to have a batch with you.

Pedro José, a friend of a friend of Pablo’s, stops by the hotel to talk to Pablo about places to go tomorrow. He suggests down by a river, which is low and has lots of exposed rocks with good butterflies. He also graciously gives me his nice butterfly photos, many of which have names on them. Over 400 photos, and I copy them to my external hard drive after we flick through them quickly. He has some great owl shots of butterflies just hatching from the pupa, ones I’ve never seen, Dynastor macrosiris.

Day 44 – Oct 1 – we head for the river after breakfast in our delightful hotel, I could definitely learn to live like this. We get to the reserve Rio Barbas, named after a hermit who lived here for decades and had a long beard. We were told 500m walk through the forest and we would be at the river. Pedro forgot to mention we have to hike down into the canyon, and then hike back out. The trail is a bit difficult for us older slugs. It drops a bit over 200m in elevation and seems to go forever. We slither and stumble our way down. There is a section that is actually a tunnel, very black and we have to feel our way, crouched over low, but we survive.

Once we get to the river at the bottom of the canyon, it is beautiful. Pedro was right, there are many exposed rocks, so we put out spitwads, pee and the shrimp bait that Pablo has made up for us. As the day warms up we get more and more butterflies, including great dorsal shots of the spectacular Fountainea nessus, the pink and blue one.

We have a couple of firetips and some other things, but much of what we see we had at Otun and/or Bosque Bremen. It is an interesting hike, but a bit more strenuous than we had bargained for.

Pablo has hauled down tons of food for lunch, so we have to eat it so he doesn’t have to haul it back up the hill. After lunch, by 1pm, it starts to thunder and gets very dark, so we scramble up the hill. However, it starts to rain about half way up, and by the time we drag outselves out of the canyon we are pretty wet. Then we have to slog our way across the 500m of open pasture to our patient drivers, stick our wet bodies in their cars and get back to the hotel, only about 15 minutes, fortunately.

After hot showers we sit in the dining room, working on photos and drinking hot chocolate, feeling tough. Pablo and Pedro were surprised how quickly we came up the hill, I think we even impressed ourselves.

Back to the same restaurant for dinner, but they’re closed, Monday night. Dan and Kay found a nice place on the square, so we go there, and it is very good. Most of us have skewers of chicken and beef, blab and watch the old music videos they are playing, a comfortable evening.

Day 45 – Oct 2 – back to Bosque Bremen for the morning, then off to the airport in Pereira for our afternoon flight to Medellin. The couple who are caretakers at the reserve make us a tasty lunch, same as the other day. We eat in their kitchen, very friendly and inviting.

Jim takes off for Bogota and home to Hawaii, while the rest of us go back to Medellin to our home away from home, the Hotel Asturias, and of course, Crepes y Waffles.

Day 46 – Oct 3 – Deby and Sherry leave at 5am to go back home, and the next group comes in about 9:30am. Willie, Ken and Priscilla show up without any problems. Today is sort of a rest day, to let everybody catch their breath.

Pablo shows up for lunch at, you guessed it, Crepes y Waffles. It is a beautiful day, and most of the tables are outside under the big trees in the shade, so we have a very enjoyable lunch. Then it’s time for naps, and get ready for dinner at the Italian place across the street from Crepes y Waffles. No wonder I like this hotel. We even see a Cattleheart flying across the street from my room window.

Juan Guillermo is going to come join us for dinner, after he gets off work. We hit the Italian place and get tasty pizzas with delicious salads all around, a lovely evening.

Day 47 – Oct 4 – 5am departure back to Las Tangaras, 3 hours south and west of Medellin. We leave early to beat the traffic, and to have time to go straight up the mountain and enjoy the morning photographing butterflies. The mornings are the good time, as the rains come in the afternoons.

David Geale, from Tanager Tours, joins us as our guide for the next next week or so. He and Pablo are good friends, and I used David last year for my Peru trip which was fabulous, so I’m happy with the switch. David is an excellent bird guide who has been corrupted into butterfly photography, so he’s a big asset in the field and fun to be with.

We have fairly heavy rain as we drive south and turn west towards Ciudad Bolivar, where we have breakfast. The Cauca River is running much higher and chocolate brown since we saw it last, not very long ago. The restaurant owner tells Dan they had good rain all night, and the river has already dropped noticeably at his place, a smaller river that feeds into the Cauca. As we’re heading to the western slope where it is really wet, I’m thinking we’re doomed.

But it stops raining as we go over the pass and drop down the western slope to Las Tangaras. We drop off our stuff at the lodge and dash up the road past the friendly soldiers and get out and start walking down the road in good forest. We get some sun, not bright but bright enough, and we find a number of different species from when we were here 10 days ago.

Kay gets great shots of Perichares deceptus, and Dan scores with Potamanaxas melicertes, both nice skippers new for the trip. We don’t see any of the beautiful purplish Fountainea leafwings that we had here before, except one that is a total rag. Different clearwings as well, so there as been somewhat of a turnover in species. Very interesting. Another great place that it would be fun to come for a week every month and monitor how the species mix changes throughout the year.

Day 48 – Oct 5 – Back up the mountain after a more civilized breakfast at 7am. Today we have a beautiful sunny morning and there are a lot more butterflies flying. We’re on the road before 8:30am, after our 45 minute ride up the mountain, and immediately we’re seeing Hypanartia trimaculata, one of the 3 red mapwings, Necyria bellona zaneta, or N.zaneta comes to Willie’s potent pee, and many satyrs.

My favorite spot today turns out to be ‘the hole’, what Dan calls the short trail off to the left of the road. There are a couple of small clearings maybe 30-40 meters down the trail with a nice eastern esposure, and there are a number of satyrs hanging around here. When David shows up with the shrimp bait, they pounce on the leaves where he sprays it.

There are several Praepronophila petronius, and I shoot 2 different ones, a genus I have seen only maybe once before. At least 1 very pale satyr that I have no idea what it is, and of course several Pedaliodes. I’ll send all these high elevation satyrs to Tomasz Pyrcz who graciously helps me with identifications.

It stays sunny until late morning, then it comes and goes until about 2:30 when the fog comes in. Back for a tasty dinner and hot showers, a delightful day.

Day 49 – Oct 6 – we have a lot of rain during the night, and wake up to drizzle. We head up the mountain but don’t see much this morning, too cool. After lunch we drive back to Medellin and have our final dinner at C&W.

Day 50 – Oct 7 – leave Medellin at 7am and drive towards the Piha reserve, about 4-5 hours. Fairly steady rain, but it lightens as we get closer. We stop at El Salto, a left turn after the big bridge on the way to Anorí. We drove about 20-30 minutes up past almost constant little houses lining the road, then came to a steep waterfall and the hydroelectric plant about 1000m. It’s still cool and overcast, so we decide not to wait around and take the cable car ride to the top, in the fog. We walk part of the way back down the road, but it is pretty well manicured and we see common species, Checkered-Skippers and Scarlet Peacocks. We do photograph 2 species of Checkered-Skippers, 1 I’m not sure which species it is.

We drive on up to the ProAves reserve, about another hour and a half. I forgot how long the road is from the turnoff. We have our picnic sandwiches, then wander the road for a few hours after lunch. Some people go up the trail into the forest. I see Oressinoma sorata, different from the more common typhla. David gets a beautiful hairstreak, grey with diagonal white stripes, I can’t figure out even what genus it is.

Day 51 – Oct 8 – this is our full day here at the Chestnut-capped Piha reserve. I’ve been here several times before. The road is excellent to work, and there is a long trail up through the forest to the ridge. The birds here are an interesting mix, many western Choco species as well as Cauca Valley species.

After a cool and cloudy breakfast we start working up the trail, putting out lots of spitwads. David gets into the spirit of things and leaves a large deposit of ‘serious bait’ in the clearing by the water cement structure a short distance up into the forest, an area that has been productive in the past. Boom, he gets a fresh Opsiphanes which Dan later manages to catch. It has a different patchy orange ring on the dorsal, probably O.cassina but a different subspecies I’ve never seen.

As the morning goes on it brightens up, and the sun even pokes through now and then. We move back and forth up the trail, adding salt water to the dozens of spitwads put out. We start finding lots of skippers, and it turns into a great day for cloud forest skippers. 3 species of Potamanaxas, 2 new for me, and a number of large, strongly marked skippers, some very obliging on the spitwads. This is the most skippers we’ve seen on this trip, it’s great.

After a late lunch, the sun stays out. I find a new small hairstreak in the road by one of the puddles. It reminds me of a lantana hairstreak, small, no tails, brown with a white line, but it’s different. He flushes several times but comes back to the road. It’s amazing how hard it can be to find a small hairstreak on a dirt gravel road, they blend right in.

Day 52 – Oct 9 – we have to drive back to the Medellin airport for our 4:30pm flight, so we need to be there by 3 or 3:30 at the latest. It’s a 5 hour drive, so we don’t have much field time today. Originally we were scheduled to go to Rio Claro instead of the Piha reserve, which would have made more sense logistically. Rio Claro is 2 hours east of Medellin, and only about an hour or 1.5 hours from the airport. But I wanted to change and come to the Piha reserve, so we have more driving time. I’m glad we did, as we got a number of new species yesterday, but it makes today a travel day. Always a trade off.

David, Ken and Priscilla get some good shots of some different species, but the rest of us just pack and work on photos.

We leave about 9:30am, make our flight with plenty of time to spare, and get to our Bogota hotel, Casona del Patio, the place with the yellow flags out in front. We then eat at the Wok, right around the corner. Delicious Asian fusion cusine, with some tropical Colombian stuff thrown into the mix, scrumptious.

Day 53 – Oct 10 – 5:30am departure for our 4 hour drive to Santa Maria, lower on the east slope past Guateque. We stay in town at the hotel La Esmeralda, about 800m. No a/c or hot showers, but it is pretty warm so that’s ok. We get all our rooms in a separate block, like our own house, which works fine. The hotel manager is very concerned about the number of towels we each have, and collects all extra towels so we only have 1 per room. Picky picky.

We meet Aybar, a local guy who is working with the NGO to develop ecotourism in the area. He provides a college student, Arian, who shows us the road up to the hydroelectric watershed and preserve. We drive up and park at the gates, then spend the rest of the morning and afternoon walking the road, seeing lots of stuff. This is east slope of the eastern Andes, so we’re into Amazonian species. The road is about 1100-1300m, above the town, and we get an interesting mix of lowland and cloud forest species.

There is a very nice book the local guys have made on the butterflies of Santa Maria, plus they have a great foldout brochure showing the 184 species. This was made in 2005 by Hannier Pulido and others, and is very helpful. I photograph it to help w/id’s.

We find a number of species that are not on their list, however. Some common ones like Vettius coryna and Castilia eranites. We have a good time, and look forward to another couple of mornings here.

After dinner, on the open porch of the hotel, we walk into town with Aybar who shows us a very nice video of the hidden creatures of Santa Maria at his house. It is quite well done, good photography, good music, well done subtitles in English, we enjoy it.

He’s got a tough slog trying to sell ecotourism here, however, as the road from Bogota is deteriorating and slow going. But it is a very pretty place and I’m glad we’ve come. David tells me we’ve paid Aybar 90,000 pesos (about $50) for our permits to access the hydroelectric property and their reserve. I think it was worth it.

Our driver, in his big new van, hasn’t spent much time on dirt roads, and drives quite slowly. I think he’s a city boy and doesn’t go off concrete much. Dan finally tells him to drive faster, but he still seems quite afraid of doing more than a crawl over dirt and gravel roads.

Day 54 – Oct 11 – We try a different road today. Aybar has told us about a couple of different roads, one down at 600m by the river, but I prefer to stay a bit higher. We take the dirt road that goes under the bridge and up the canyon to the cock of the rock, what they call Hyca Quye, at 1,075m. We have a fabulous day with all sorts of butterflies coming in to the pee and spitwads.

My favorite is a most obliging Prepona praeneste that I get posed open on the wet road. He even lets me use a twig to lift his wings so I can shoot the ventral.

This is one of our best photography days of the trip, I shoot over 400 pictures. Lots of mud puddling parties where we put out pee, Riodinids displaying, lots of wet road where the water washes downhill. You can see that serious water has come down this road next to the river, all the grass has been steamrolled flat in a downhill direction. The local guide tells us the water comes down the walls of the steep canyon and just rushes down the road, not even getting to the river. But today is sun and clouds alternating, and quite warm, so there are lots of butterflies flying.

Day 55 – Oct 12 – we decide to go back to the first place, higher up the hill. We think the sun won’t get down to the canyon floor in the 2nd track until mid morning, and we have to drive back to Bogota today, which takes about 4-5 hours. So we have to leave by early afternoon. Back to the Wok for dinner!

Our morning is cool and mostly overcast, so we don’t see tons of butterflies. But we do get a number of new species, and several of us get good shots of the Morpho menelaus which are common here. One advantage of poor weather, you don’t see many species but what you see sometimes doesn’t want to fly, so you can get good photos.

On the way back the driver gets with the program, horse heading for the barn, and we make it back in about 3.5 hours, at least an hour faster than the way going.

Back in Bogota, that night at dinner we pig out and all order delicious desserts after our tasty meals. Mine is a flourless chocolate tort with mora or blackberry sauce over it, to die for. All the desserts are wonderful, but I like mine best. We blow the budget, maybe we’ll have to chip in a little extra, but it’s worth it. All our meals at Santa Maria for the 2 days cost about the same as our dinner at the Wok. Hopefully it averages out for Pablo.

Day 56 – Oct 13 – 7:30 departure for Chicaque Parque Natural. I’ve wanted to go here since a friend has been sending me photos of the butterflies from here on his trips to Bogota. It takes us about an hour and a half to work our way south through Bogota traffic, even on a Saturday morning. We finally get there about 9:30am. As it is fairly high at 2,600m, things are just starting to happen.

We’re fortunate with the weather, as it is mostly blue sky so it warms up nicely. This is Natural Park, not a National Park. I’m not sure what the difference is, but they have spent plenty of money here. There is a long stone path with many steps, all leading downhill unfortunately. My friend, David Guzman, had told me we had better be in good shape, and now I see why. The entrance is on top of the hill, and all the trails lead downhill. The administration office is 500 meters below, in elevation not in length of trail. They tell us it takes 40 minutes, maybe for someone 25 years old, not us slugs.

We find a great overlook maybe 75 meters lower than the entrance with a spectacular view of the Magdalena Valley, and lots of blooming flowers around the brick walkway. We find many hairstreaks and Dallas hilltopping around this overlook, and spend most of our time right here. We probably get at least 5 or 6 new species of hairstreak, including a beautiful Erora, one of the pale green ones. Who knows when I can get the Dallas sorted out, they are so confusing.

It gradually fogs in and by 1pm the sun is gone. In fact the path and the parking lot are gone, as it gets very heavy. We eat our chicken sandwiches made by the Casona del Patio from Bogota, then go to the restaurant for hot chocolate. We should have eaten lunch here, as it is a very nice restaurant, very comfortable. Willie, being the pig that he is, orders their foundade de chocolate, which is one of those volcanos of collapsing hot chocolate cake. We have to all have bites, of course. Very tasty. If I was to come back I would definitely eat here, instead of bringing sandwiches.

They have camping, and we see many kids hauling all their gear into the camping spot. Hope they like camping in heavy fog. We find some good satyrs on the trails around the campsites. I’m sure the trails lower down are great as well. They have 17km of trails. This place could do with a lot more exploring, but be willing to walk up steep hills at high elevation.

Tonight it’s the group farewell to Bogota restaurants, and I suspect the vote will be to go back to the Wok.

Day 57 – Oct 14 – 10:30am flight to Mitu for the next week. Mitu is a strange mix of white sand habitat and tierra firma, plus some varzia or seasonally flooded areas as well. The white sand parts tend to not be very rich in biodiversity, but there are some species that only like this habitat.

When we arrive in Mitu we have to line up and check in with the military, showing passports which are photographed and all the information keyed in. This takes quite a bit of time, as we end up being the last in line, but we finally get through, get our baggage and make it to our hotel on the river Vaspes, the same name as the department we are now in, close to the Brazilian border in the lowlands.

Unfortunately for us, this is the last day of the week long fiesta the town throws once a year, and everyone is drinking, partying, and making lots of noise. One of the main band stages happens to be right by our hotel on the river, and the music goes almost all night. But it will be quieter tomorrow, according to Pablo.

We eat lunch a few blocks away at a little table on the sidewalk, watching the people and having a good time. Pablo has preordered pollo a la plancha, which takes a while to get, and we drink more delicious juice drinks while we wait. My favorite is guanabana con leche, like a wonderful milk shake. They usually have 4 or 5 tropical flavors, and you choose whether you want it in milk or water. Mango, maracucha/passion fruit (my 2nd favorite), mora/blackberry, and guanabana/soursap are the common choices, sometimes lulo/naranjilla, all very tasty and refreshing.

While we are eating, a fresh morpho drops out of the sky and lands on our round metal table, between Priscilla and Kay. It wants to drink the water on the table, condensed from the cold glasses. We try to take some photos, but it is so close and unexpected we don’t get very good ones. It seems like a good omen for the trip.

After lunch we take a taxi about 3 km to the end of the road to an indigenous village and walk a km past town to a magnificent rock outcropping called Urania, where we watch birds flying to roost and the sunset. We’re looking to the east over endless forest, with the sun setting behind us, a wonderful vista. An umbrella bird flies over our heads and across in front of us and lands in a tree, looking like it is out of a calendar. The river winds below us off to the horizon, with trees blooming a bright pink or yellow, an amazing sight.

We finally walk back through the village, over the long bridge, to where our driver is supposedly waiting for us. But nobody is there. This is the 2nd driver, as the first one Pablo had arranged said his car was broken. (probably by too much beer). Pablo had recruited the 2nd driver from the hotel/bar next to our lunch restaurant, so who knows how long this driver had been there in the bar.

Anyway, we decide to start walking the 3km back to town, as it is past 5:30pm, the sun has set, and it is getting dark rapidly. We stumble along the dirt road, filled with mud puddles, trying to avoid splashing into one, as it gets darker and darker, and of course we don’t have our flashlights. Willie uses his smartphone to get some light.

About 6pm, here comes the driver w/a senorita in his car, probably more than a bit drunk. He says he will turn around and pick us up, but he gets completely stuck in the mud when he backs off the road. So we keep walking. Pablo has hitched a ride on a motorcycle into town to get us another driver, but he passed our guy as he was riding in, so he thinks we’re ok.

I make it to the edge of town w/Willie and Ken, the other 3 are behind us, and we ask someone for directions to the hotel. He offers us a ride in his little motorcycle flatbed, so the 3 of us pile in. We drive another half mile or so and run into Pablo, who is frantically looking for us in the street. We go on to the hotel, the volunteer driver drops us off and goes back w/Pablo to get the others.

They show up at the hotel a bit later, with a story to tell. While they were riding back on the flatbed of the motorcycle, the side flopped down. Apparently the sides are just latched in place, not permanent like on a pickup truck. Dan unfortunately was sitting on the top of the side when it flopped down, and it was a miracle he didn’t fall out on the blacktop, as he was just holding on to his scope and tripod. But he didn’t fall out, so we all make it back in one piece, though a bit worn out by an exhausting day.

The restaurants are all closed, as the band is really cranked up now and everybody is drunk. Pablo finds us some snacks and we eat dinner at the nice tables at our hotel, being bombarded by the music. Needless to say, none of us sleep much that night, though I was so tired I crashed right after dinner and slept through the loud fireworks at 9, right over our hotel. They shut off the power, so the fireworks looked better, and the others all said they were the most amazing, longest, loudest fireworks they ever saw. But I slept through it all.

I woke up about 2:30am, and the music is still going strong, vibrating the walls in my room. Through my bathroom roof (lots of open area) I can hear another band, so I get 2 different musical shows for the price of 1. Finally they stop about 5am, and we all stumble out of bed for breakfast at 7am.

Day 58 – Oct 15 – after a good breakfast at Alicia’s, Pablo’s favorite restaurant (it was closed yesterday) we drive, with yet another driver, to a different village and walk in about half a km to the Bocatoma Trail. Apparently this is the attack plan here, where you drive several km’s to different villages and walk in through the village to the forest. We don’t see a soul once we’re past the village, and spend the morning putting out spitwads, shrimp and pee. This is white sand forest, with very white sands and dark colored water with lots of tannins running everywhere. It is very low in nutrients, and therefore not many birds, or butterflies, live here. There are some special birds, and we’re hoping for some special butterflies.

It is hot and sunny, and we all sweat like pigs. Now I remember why I’m not crazy about the lowlands any more, cloud forest is so much more comfortable. Nothing seems interested in any of the bait we put out, except for flies and bees. There aren’t many butterflies, but we do find some small numbers.

There are several daggerwings, including some very dark Marpesia themistocles, probably a different subspecies than I’ve seen before. We also get several hairstreaks, most of them Calycopis but a beautiful cooperative Pseudolycaenia marysas, the big bright turquoise blue one like P.damo in Mexico.

Priscilla and Ken score with a new one for me, the skipper that mimics a firetip, Pyrrhopygopsis. It doesn’t have any white on it, like the P.socrates I’ve seen before, so I’m assuming it is P.romula.

Being exhausted from lack of sleep, we stagger back out about 12:45 and wait for our driver, who fortunately shows up and takes us straight to the restaurant, where we pound down juice drinks and rehydrate. I drank 2 liters of water this morning, and still am dehydrated. You just can’t carry enough in these circumstances. Pablo carried in a gallon of water for us to refill our bottles, but we’re still thirsty. Back to the hotel, where it is blessedly quiet, for cold showers and a nap.

Day 59 – Oct 16 – 6am departure for the guianan cock of the rock lek, at Ceima Cachivera. This turns out to be fabulous, we all get stunning looks at the beautiful birds, prettier than the Andean cock of the rock in my opinion. The plumes are long and bright orange, and the back is a beautiful checkerboard pattern. The photographers have a great time.

Later, as we’re about ready to leave, hot and tired, Pablo bounces up and says he’s found an ant swarm with white-plumed antbird, so we’re all excited and rejuvenated and rush back down the trail to see it. Pablo leads us into the jungle, off trail, and he manages to find the bird and get us all on it. Good job, Pablo! We get memorable looks at this gorgeous antbird sitting on sticks in a sun gap deep in the middle of the jungle, glowing bright chestnut with those impossible white triangles above and below the face, fabulous.

We have some good butterflies as well, though again the numbers are nothing to rave about. But we keep finding one here and one there. The drive takes about 50 minutes bouncing in the back of the old Nissan pathfinder jeep-like transportation vehicle, plus we have a 2nd small truck where everyone can stand up in the back. I suspect this is Pablo’s insurance on one of the vehicles either not working, or not showing up.

One slight adventure we have today is crossing a bridge made of a couple of logs, on foot. It used to be 2 or 3 logs, no problem. But a few weeks ago the logs collapsed into the water, so now we have to walk on logs underwater, more than knee deep, and they are snapped in the middle so they drop down somewhat steeply, then come back up out of the water on the other side. Not difficult for the locals, we watch several people do it including a woman with a child on her hip, but for out of shape gringos that don’t have good balance, a bit of a challenge. We decide it is easy to do it barefoot, like the locals, so we roll up our pants, take off our shoes and make it across, with some handholding by the local indigenous guide.

Pablo always hires a local guy to walk with us and help carry the water and food, and just to have a local with us, especially on indigenous land. It is a good idea, and gives a little bit of money to the community. He also always goes and meets the guy in charge and politely asks for permission to go on their land, after he explains that we are looking for mariposas y pajaros (butterflies and birds). They always say yes, that we are welcome, but I think it is a politically wise thing to do.

Day 60/61 – Oct 17/18 – today we have an even earlier departure, leaving at 5:30am for an hour plus bouncy drive. It turns out to be more like an hour plus 20-30 minutes. This is our furthest drive, and of course it is to the best forest. Unfortunately it rains most of the morning, at times fairly heavily. Pablo takes us to the first indigenous house we run into, and we hang out on their porch for an hour or 2. They are gracious, much more so than I would be if a bunch of wet, smelly foreigners showed up on my doorstep and wanted to get out of the rain.

Finally the rain lightens up late morning, and we go back to the trails. This is the famous bushbird trail, or Santa Cruz Road, where Shirley found the rare swallowtail a year ago. We don’t see either the swallowtail or the bushbird on the first day, but the sun finally comes out about noon and things start hopping.

The most exciting butterfly is one Priscilla finds on our way back to the truck, a beautiful Helicopis gnidus. And it is cooperative and poses for all of us to take multiple shots from the boardwalk. This species seems to like very wet areas over dark, tannic water. I’ve only seen it once before at Napo Wildlife Center in lowlands of Ecuador, from a canoe.

We decide to go back the next morning and hope for better weather. It starts out sunny, but clouds up and the thunder starts by mid morning, but it doesn’t really start to rain until we’re on our way back. Then we have a pretty good thunderstorm, heavy rain and lots of loud close crashes of thunder.

We do see some new species of butterflies, not big numbers but again one here and there. And we find another ant swarm and Pablo tries hard for chestnut-crested antbird. We hear them, close to us, and see them fly in and hide behind trees, but most of us never get that great look in your binos. But at least we got to experience them. Lots of other antbird species, and we see striated antthrush, a pair, early that morning. So we have a good day. Plus we manage to see the bushbird, though it is very skulky and quiet, coming to Pablo’s taped calls but not making a sound. It circles us quietly and stealthily, but we see it moving and get decent looks at it.

We’re always happy to get back to Alicia’s restaurant, where they have delicious guanabana con leche drinks, our favorite.

Day 62 – Oct 19 – today we do a boat ride to a different trail. This is a 20 minute ride in a dugout canoe to the small village of Santa Marta, where we then walk through white sand forest, past another even smaller village about 400m in on the Cajure trail. This is a very slow morning, both for birds and for butterflies. We do see a couple of pompadour cotingas, but we can’t really see their gorgeous raspberry sherbet color against the overcast, glary sky. Pablo hears the call of citron-bellied atilla and calls it in, so we get great looks at this white sand specialist.

The forest looks very stunted and low. I imagine there are very few nutrients in this white sand habitat, which probably leads to very few butterflies as well. Pablo puts out the stinky shrimp and it is immediately covered by ants and/or flies and bees, but almost no butterflies. The shrimp would be a great attractant for someone studying bees, I have seen a number of new bee species on this trip.

We decide to try some trails through varzia, or seasonally flooded areas, but don’t have much luck there either. We do see some sulphur mud puddling parties where we see both trite and the orange-tipped angled-sulpher, but very few butterflies. Ken finds a sailor, or Dynamine, that has lost half the green color on the forewing and it shows orange. It looks really weird, I’ve never seen a butterfly lose the scales off a wing like this.

We get back to the hotel early and go have lunch about 1pm. We’ve been coming back about 3pm and have a late lunch/early dinner at 4pm, but today we may have to eat 2 meals. Oh no, more guanabana con leche for everyone.

Day 63 – Oct 20 – our last full day at Mitu. Some of us, like Willie, can’t wait to get back to Bogota. It has been so hot and very few butterflies flying to keep us interested. We have seen a few specialties, but I don’t think I would come back here for butterflies. Juan Guillermo tells me, however, that he has a friend who spent a month working here and collected 350 species, so we may have hit a poor time of the year.

Today we decide to go back to the guianan cock of the rock trail, Ceima Cachivera, and today we luck out with the weather and have bright sun until mid afternoon. We change our timing a bit as well, have breakfast at the restaurant at 6:30am then go to the field about 7:15. Pablo brings us snacks for lunch, the standard cheese, ham and little rolls plus fruit and juice drinks and peanuts. Then we stay a bit longer, and come back about 3pm. This works better and we have more energy, or maybe it is because it is sunny and we are seeing some good bugs.

The shrimp that Pablo has been carrying faithfully works very well today, in spite of the flies and the bees. Pablo changes how he puts it out. Instead of leaving lumps of rotten shrimp on the leaves, which get covered with flies or ants or bees, he smears it on the leaves so you can’t see it. Not only does this make for better looking photos, it seems to attract fewer of the ants and bees, so the butterflies can get to it. We usually get one individual butterfly on a leaf, and we get some good ones. We still have lots of leaves covered with ants or bees, there seems to be a different species of ant on each leaf. I guess whoever gets to the bait first, then goes and gets all their buddies, wins that leaf, and the others leave it alone.

Several new riodinids or metalmarks, lots of Nymphidiums, a very fresh and cooperative Thisbe irenea, the best shots I’ve ever gotten of this species, and several more, including a new Baeotis like a bumblebee metalmark but different. So we have a good day, probably our best butterfly day here in Mitu. A nice way to end the week.

Good thing Pablo hired 2 trucks, as the one that he and I are riding in the back of breaks down on the way back. There is a grinding clanking noise, we stop suddenly, and the oil comes out from under the truck. Not good. But fortunately we have the 2nd vehicle, so we pile in and make it back. Don’t know what the poor driver of the first truck will do, that will be an expensive repair. Everything, including vehicles, here in town has been brought in by the river, so it is very expensive. Gas is twice the price here that it is in Bogota, 15,000 pesos/gallon, or about $8.

We have our last tasty guanabana drinks at Alicia’s, and their scrumptious pollo a la plancha, or their polla milenasa, both are excellent. Tomorrow we are scheduled to fly back to Bogota at 2pm. We’ll see how that goes. Pablo has been here 7 times, and 3 times the flight was very late, and once he had to spent an extra night. So we’re keeping our fingers crossed for decent weather.

Day 64 – Oct 21 – we fly back to Bogota and the Wok for dinner, we can hardly wait. Our flight is an hour or so late, but we’re in the hotel in Bogota by 5pm. Another delicious dinner at the Wok, our last meal with Ken and Priscilla, they fly out early tomorrow morning. We order 3 of the fabulous torte de chocolate with mora (blackberry) sauce, but they only have 2 left. So we split the 2 and are overloaded with chocolate. Good thing they didn’t have 3.

Day 65 – Oct 22 – 7:30am departure to what I think is Chingaza National Park. Pablo has arranged a driver for the 4 of us. We can’t get Willie’s seat belt, in the front seat, to work. It keeps sticking and won’t come out, so we take off and don’t worry about it. We don’t get 5 minutes down the road before the driver is pulled over by a policeman and given a ticket. The cop won’t accept the driver’s explanation that it doesn’t work. Of course, a cop in the US wouldn’t buy that story either. So there goes the driver’s profit for the day. Bummer.

It takes more than 2 hours to get to where we’re going, and the last 1.5 hours is over a bumpy dirt road with tons of potholes. This is a different location that where I went before. Pablo had mentioned there were 2 possible locations. Today we go above the small hamlet of Mundo Nuevo.

We climb and climb to get above the dairy pastures. Finally we get out and walk a bit more up the road. We come to a T intersection with a larger dirt road that is well manicured. The driver tells us this is the aquaduct, and we can hear the water running underground. We’re very close to paramo, and see esplatia plants, the weird high elevation plants that are only found in paramo.

We also see some Tatachila whites flying, and I’ve only see this genus quite high. Kay manages to get some decent shots of them. We have a number of other Pedaliodes, the wildly confusing high elevation satyrs, and a beautiful green Colias, a sulphur with pink edges and bright green eyes.

We spent several hours wandering around, eat our cheese and good nutty bread and apples that we bought the night before at the upscale grocery store near our hotel, and head back to Bogota by 4pm. Another dinner at the Wok, life is tough.

Day 66 – Oct 23 – our last day in the field. Another driver picks us up at 7:30 and we head to the hummingbird woman’s house, Jardin Encantado, www.jardinencantado.net. This is a private home where the woman has about 30 or more feeders.

We spent an hour or so with the hummingbirds, then head over to the laguna at La Vega. But we don’t see too much, and decide to head back to the hotel to rest up and do final packing.

Late that afternoon we head out for our final meal in Colombia. Believe it or not, we’re a bit Woked out, so Willie finds Carpacchio, a good sounding Italian restaurant that is nearby. We tell the guys at the desk to tell David Geale where we are for dinner, as he’s flying back in to Bogota about 5 for his final night on his way back to Canada. We can’t find Carpacchio, so we settle on Archie’s for pizza, which Willie had also read about. We’re enjoying our pizza when David shows up, who has hunted us down. He’s not a bird guide for nothing. It turns out that Carpacchio is just down the block.

The pizza is good, and so are the salads. Then it is back to the hotel, rest for a few hours, then Willie and I head to the airport for our midnight flight back to Houston. The hotel sends us in their truck, 30,000 pesos for the transfer, about $15 for the 2 of us.

Day 67 – Oct 24 – we fly back home to Texas, all flights go well and are on time. A great trip, a zillion photos, and lots of fun memories. I love Colombia, and can’t wait to go back.

US Southwest Jul/Aug 2012

Arizona and Colorado July/August 2012

Sun Jun 24 – leave Mission heading for Marathon. Have to go back to Mission.

Mon Jun 25 – take 2, head for San Antonio, Junction and I-10. Night at Sonora.

Tue Jun 26 – onto Las Cruces, NM, 1 night at America’s Best Value Inn

Wed Jun 27 – zipped over to Tucson, 1 night at Comfort Suites at Sabino Canyon

Thu Jun 28 – Mt. Lemmon in the am, down to Green Valley to our rental for 9 nights

Fri Jun 29 – first morning in our townhome in Desert Hills II

Sat/Sun Jun 30/Jul 1 – explore mobile home parks in Green Valley

Mon Jul 2 – checked out parks in Tucson, met Ken & Jim for lunch

Tue Jul 3 – visited Ellie, went to Madera Canyon

Wed Jul 4 – visited Gary at Villas East & Molly

Thur Jul 5 – Madera Canyon w/Fred

Fri Jul 6 – Sherry & Deby at airport

Sat Jul 7 – move to Prescott Valley for 3 nights, explore Prescott

Sun Jul 8 – check out places to rent, lunch at Iron Springs Café

Mon Jul 9 – see rock cottage

Tue Jul 10 – drive back to Tucson, 4 nights at Comfort Suites Tanque Verde, $67/night

Wed Jul 11 – see Brock’s collection

Thu Jul 12 – check out possible rental houses in Tucson for Aug/Sept 2013

Fri Jul 13 – up Mt Lemmon to look for Arizona hairstreaks w/Fred and others

Sat Jul 14 – drive to Portal Lodge for 2 nights, $85/night, Cave Creek Canyon

Sun Jul 15 – drive up Cave Creek Canyon to Rustlers Park, work the road for butterflies

Mon Jul 16 – drive to Albuquerque to Casa de Suenos for 2 nights, meet my brother & Shelly

Tue Jul 17 – drive up to the Sandia crest at 10,600’, spectacular views

Wed Jul 18 – drive to Pagosa Springs, Colorado to rental cabin for 2 nights

Thu Jul 19 – hike to Opal Lake, enjoy the cabin

Fri Jul 20 – drive to Nederland, CO for the weekend w/Phil, Liz & Courtney

Sat Jul 21 – hang out at Nederland

Sun Jul 22 – drive to Denver for 8 nights at Red Lion, Lepidopterists’ Society conference

Mon Jul 23 – field trip to Roxborough State Park southwest of Denver, 6500’

Tue Jul 24 – field trip to Golden Gate Canyon State park west of Denver, 6800’-7200’ & Tinytown

Wed Jul 25 – work in collection at Denver Museum of Natural History

Thu/Fri Jul 26/27 – at conference

Sat Jul 28 – field trip to west side of Eisenhower tunnel on I-70, 11,400’

Sun Jul 29 – field trip to Cottonwood Pass

Mon Jul 30 – drive to Fort Collins to photograph in the Gillete Collection at Colorado State Univ, w/Paul Opler, for 3 nights/2 days. Lunch on the way in Boulder w/Phil, Liz and Courtney, and did some shopping for heavy clothes at REI.

Tue/Wed Jul 31/Aug 1 – work in the collection. Enjoyed Fort Collins very much.

Thur Aug 2 – drive to Nederland to stay w/Phil for 4 nights.

Fri/Sat/Sun Aug 3/4/5 – pig out at Phil’s and do a bit of hiking

Mon Aug 6 – leave Colorado, drive to Amarillo on our way home

Tue Aug 7 – drive to my bro’s in Dallas

Wed Aug 8 – drive to San Antonio and meet Willie at the Liberty Bar, night at Willie’s

Thur Aug 9 – back to the RGV

 

Sun Jun 24 – left Mission heading for the Marathon Motel just west of Marathon. I’ve never stayed here but it looks cool. $90 for a double room w/2 beds. Unfortunately our a/c in the car starts dripping water on my bare feet in the passenger side, and we get concerned. We are in Laredo by 9:15am, where it is already over 90 degrees. We are afraid the a/c is dying or leaking, and because it is Sunday we can’t get anyone to check it. We decide to return back home and take it to the Subaru dealer early Monday morning. We are heading west on highway 90, which crosses lots of big empty desert in west Texas, not a good place to break down.

Mon Jun 25 – I’m at the dealer at 7:30 when they open. The guy looks at it and tells me no problem, it was just condensation. He runs the a/c on high for 5 or 10 minutes and says, well it was really hot yesterday. If it was his car he would drive it. Seeing as he is honest and doesn’t want to take my money, we decide to go for it. But, hedging our bets a little, we go up through San Antonio and take I-10. More boring, but if we do break it will be easier to get help, and our cell will work all along the interstate. We make fabulous time, leaving about 9:45 and making it to Sonora, west of Junction by another 65 miles. We had planned to spend the night in Junction, about 380 miles w/several chain hotels, but we were making such good time we went another hour. The speed limit out here in west Texas is 80 mph, so John cranks it up and we fly down the smooth interstate, making it to Sonora by 4pm. Good thing we decided to stop then, as the first hotel is completely full, and there’s only 2 or 3 in town. She says they are packed w/construction and oil workers. Fortunately the Days Inn has a few rooms. Good thing we didn’t wait too late. The towns are a bit apart in this part of the world. We eat right next door at the Sutton County Steakhouse, and it is very good. I just have the salad bar for $2.75 plus chips and homemade salsa, hot and spicy and tasty w/nice thin crispy chips. John has chicken fried steak, and can’t finish it all. Nice little restaurant, great old pictures on the walls from the late 1800’s when the town started, back in the cattle days. I would stop here again. We have stayed in several different towns along I-10, and none of them have ever been very exciting. Fort Stockton is an armpit, John likes Van Horn but it is too far from Mission for a days drive. I like Balmorrhea state park w/their fabulous swimming pool (3.5 Million gallons from a live spring), if you have never been there you must check it out. Nice camping there, and they have an old couple of rooms built by the CCC, but hard to get. But it is also too far for a day, at least for our days. Our driving days of 12-15 hours are over. So we try Sonora and are pleasantly surprised.

Tue Jun 26 – Leave Sonora and head west on I-10 to Las Cruces. An easy drive, no wind fortunately. We make Las Cruces by early afternoon, grab a room at a new chain for me, America’s Best Value Inns. This is cheap, $55 for a nice room w/2 queens. There are a zillion hotels at Las Cruces, but I picked this one because it was ranked #1 on Trip Advisor. I have avoided them in the past because the cheapest hotel is often the noisy one, but in this case that is not true. It’s a couple of miles off the interstate in a scruffy area w/old time motels, but the people are friendly and helpful, a casual easy going place. I would stay here again, very hard to beat the price. We eat a late lunch at the well known La Posta down in La Mesilla, the historic old town part of Las Cruces. We were so stuffed we passed on dinner, though we had planned to try tacos at one of the other many great Mexican places here. One big reason to spend the night at Las Cruces is to eat tasty Mexican food w/green chiles, as Hatch is right up the road.

Wed Jun 27 – off to Tucson, an easy drive again no wind or dust. We get to the Comfort Suites at Sabino Canyon by 1pm, gaining another hour in the time zone. This is also quite reasonable, $55 for a king suite, very nice. We overlook the parking lot of the strip mall, but hey, the room is quite nice. Molly and Mark meet us for dinner at the Eclectic Café, right on the corner by our hotel.

Thu Jun 28 – Molly and Mark pick me up at 7am and we head up Mt. Lemmon for a lovely morning of birding. It’s a spectacular day, where the sky is so blue it hurts your eyes to look at it. We go up over 8,000’, so it is much cooler and wonderful temps. We stop first at Rose Canyon campground, which costs $8 for a day use fee. We park and wander around a couple of places, finding all sorts of great AZ mountain birds. Probably our best bird is buff-breasted flycatcher, we get killer looks in it posing in the sun and really showing off his buffy breast. I had only seen this bird in the US up sawmill canyon many years ago, so that was fun. Also great looks at Grace’s warbler, like the yellow-throated warbler I get in the RGV. It’s fun to see the western birds that I haven’t seen in a while, like Mexican jay, yellow-eyed junco (w/its evil glaring eyes), mountain chickadee and lots of black-throated gray warblers feeding young. We see quite a few young birds being fed, it is that time of year. Then we drive on up to Summerhaven at the top and go down a dirt road and grab the 2nd of 2 parking places, then walk up a wonderful cool shaded canyon, very green. They have had some good rains here recently, the ground is actually muddy in places and you can see where water has been running. There is flowing water in the creek bed. A friend of Molly’s has told us he saw saw-whet owl here a few days ago. We look in his spot but no luck. This mountain is a good place for my one missing owl, flammulated. Maybe we can try next week. One of the most enjoyable encounters is a baby red-faced warbler we find. We see several adults, one of my favorite AZ birds I had hoped to see, and one is carrying a big green worm. Molly tells me they nest on the ground, which I did not know, so I’m following the adult as it moves down from the treetop towards the ground. Suddenly, about a foot off the ground, the adult hopes to a small ball of fluff sitting quietly and stuffs in the worm. The nestling must have just come out of the nest, it doesn’t have any tail and mostly still pin feathers, a pale rump and no red on the face at all. We watch the adult make a couple of trips, feeding the baby, just a bit downslope of us so we get great views. What a great experience, standing in the cool green shade smelling wet earth and watching this young bird. The last great bird sighting is olive warbler, which comes in after Mark hears it calling and Molly plays a tape. Fortunately we had stopped at an outhouse, after the first toilet was closed, and found the birds right in front. The pair of olive warblers are right over our heads, looking for the intruder. Then we head back to our hotel, pick up John and check out about 12:30, and then we go back to the Eclectic Café for lunch. It was delicious yesterday, and continues the winning streak today. John has huevos rancheros and loves them, Mark and I pig out on reubens which are smashing, and Molly has another great chicken sandwich. Yesterday we had salads to die for, and John had great tostados. What a tasty place. Then we find a post office to mail some books, and drive about 30-40 miles south to Green Valley. We get stuck in a monster traffic jam, the entire I-19 southbound is at a standstill. Fortunately we are near an exit and bail off, head back towards Tucson and cut over to the old Nogales highway. Taking that south to Green Valley takes a bit longer, but it beats sitting in the sun roasting w/a bunch of other cars. We find our rental townhouse off Continental, actually a few miles south of Green Valley, a huge retirement community. We’re paying $500 for the week, plus $50/night for the extra 2 nights, plus a cleaning fee and a $500 refundable damage deposit. Cheaper than a hotel and much more room. We have a full kitchen and a lovely back yard overlooking an arroyo w/a great view of the mountains. We can hear I-19 but it’s not close and not a problem. I booked it through vacation rentals by owner, vrbo.com, or homeaway.com. After finding our place, great directions from the owner, we head to the Safeway to stock up. $100 later, after getting a Safeway card and getting $20 discount off our purchases, we head back, successful hunting and gathering completed. Later that afternoon I hear a bit of thunder, look out the window and the sky looks clear over the arroyo. I go outside and look up, and a monster thunderhead, black and threatening, looms over our house. It’s raining so hard towards the mountains you can’t even see them, just solid streaky grey. John and I sit out on the back patio until we start getting wet, watching the storm come in. Lots of lightning and over an hour of heavy rain, what a great storm. This is one big reason I like this area, I wanted to come to southeast AZ and see some great thunderstorms. The monsoon is just starting, and you often get this afternoon heavy rains, w/spectacular sunsets. Sure enough, it clears up about 6:30 or 7pm, the sun ducks out from the clouds as it goes down, and we enjoy wonderful skies. We sit out on our back porch again (we’ll be spending lots of time out here), watching the sky gradually darken and another lightning storm on the other side of the mountain range. It flashes and lightens up the clouds in spectacular patterns, increasing in intensity and frequency as it gets later. We watch until full dark, after 9pm, our own personal entertainment.

Fri Jun 29 – first morning at our rental, and we’re out on the patio well before dawn, about 5am, watching the sky lighten. We face towards the east northeast, so we see the orange edges to the mountains early. It is quite cool, about 68 degrees, and I have goose bumps in my light shorts and tank top. It feels wonderful. We have coffee and hang out until about 6:30, when it has warmed quickly to the upper 70’s. Time to go inside and get out of the sun. We get up to 107 degrees today, blazing hot. I walk to the closest store for a newspaper (I know, how old school) and wander around a bit, but it is too hot to be outside. Good thing we have laptops and plenty to do on the computers. And good thing John is a good cook. He grills brats with onions and bell pepper, and fresh corn, delicious. The Safeway here is much nicer than the HEB grocery stores we have at home in the Rio Grande Valley. They stock all my favorite yuppy goodies, like Martinelli sparkling cider, which is difficult to get in the RGV. You can tell this is a more affluent community, and this is in the middle of the off season. Lots of cheeses, a fabulous wine section, artisan breads, and we find specialty soups for sale. We get some Tuscan tomato and basil soup and some wonderful looking San Francisco sourdough bread, freshly made. The strawberries are delicious too, and the cherries. They even have Peet’s coffee for sale, Major Dickinson. We used to order that for delivery by UPS. I could get used to this.

Sat Jun 30 – We drive up north a bit and explore some trailer parks (oops, I mean manufactured homes communities). Interestingly, we both like one nice park better than the townhome subdivision we’re renting in. Maybe we’re just trailer park trained. We collect info on places for sale for future reference. Where we’re renting, in Desert Hills II, several places are for sale for $75K to 95K, all 2 bedroom/2 bath units connected in rows w/carports. Our major problem w/the place we’re in, which is very nice, is not enough windows. Difficult to open the place up and get any air. Of course, you don’t want to do that when it is 107 outside, but at dawn it is lovely, with a fresh breeze flowing off the desert. The double and single wide trailers have windows on all sides, and some of them look very nice in Pueblo Estates on La Canada. The prices are about the same range, $55K to 99K. I could easily move into a couple of these. We also find the local Post Office to mail books, and there is quite a line, 6 or 7 people. But it moves quickly, they have 3 clerks. Wonder what it is like in the winter, when all the snowbirds are here. In our subdivision only about a third of the homes look occupied, as a rough guess. This is very much a winter area, prices on many things are higher in the winter, especially the rentals. Green Valley is an entire development for retirees, and there are many subdivisions w/deserty sounding names at different prices. A friend of a friend has a condo in Desert Hills III, and we go find it. We can tell it is nicer than the area we are in, and sure enough, a place is for sale for $115K. Their carports are actual garages w/doors. This morning on my walk for a paper I heard a costa’s hummingbird, and he popped up and posed beautifully for me, flashing his purple gorget in the sun. Also a nice, confiding verdin in the bushes right outside the store. Lots of gambel’s quail around, and a big cooper’s hawk lurking from the rooftops at dusk.

Mon Jul 2we head back to Tucson to investigate some trailer parks there and meet Ken for lunch, a new friend who is coming along on my trip to Colombia. We spend time at several different parks in Tucson, our favorite probably the cheapest one on El Reales near the airport, Mission View. This is very similar to our park back in Texas, friendly people, more relaxed and easy going. There are several interesting units for sale from $13K to 27k. One fact we learn today is that none of the trailer parks appear to allow rentals from owners. This one has a few units the park rents directly, but they are scruffy and not very interesting. They do not allow owners in the park to sublet their units at all, which is too bad as I would just as soon rent a trailer or manufactured home for a couple of months. But apparently it’s not to be. As we aren’t wild about the condo scene, we now will have to look at houses. We check out several other parks, some too snooty and some too packed in extremely close, so we say no thanks. The last one is over on Harrison, Pantano Vista, and it has potential. But after much discussion, we come up w/the idea of just renting a couple of places next summer. If we like that, we can continue to rent for the next several summers. There are lots of choices available in the summer months, the low season here, and that gives us the ultimate flexibility. Then we meet Ken, who has brought Jim along, at Zona 78 for a delicious lunch. I get a specialty barbequed chicken pizza and wonderful bruschetta served w/a cup of what looks like chocolate pudding. When I ask what that is, the waiter tells me it is an emulsion of balsamic vinegar, and it turns out to be scrumptious. A great recommendation by Ken.

Tue Jul 3 – I go north to Sahuarita to visit Ellie, who used to live in the RGV. She’s in a lovely house and has lots of bird feeders. She and Dick, her husband, take me up to Madera Canyon and we walk a bit, then hang out at the hummingbird feeders at Santa Rita lodge, watching lots of hummers and some other nice birds. We have a beautiful blue grosbeak, lots of black-headed grosbeaks, and of course some of the local great hummers, like broadbill and magnificent. Very enjoyable. Then they take me to the Cow Palace for tasty reuben sandwiches. I meant to order a patty melt, but Ellie got a reuben and I mindlessly followed. It was still tasty.

Wed Jul 4 – I head north a bit to visit a friend of Molly’s, Gary and his wife, who have a condo in Villas East. It is a small 1 bedroom, but the development is very nice. Gary says it is one of the older developments and is nicely landscaped w/grown up plants. They take me and Molly driving for quite a while, showing us their favorite developments and some of the not as favored ones. They just spent several months looking for a house to buy, so they are up on all the various Green Valley subdivisions. It is a very interesting morning, and very generous of them to take the time to show us around. It is a cooler day here, as the rains are picking up. It turns out to be a record setting low high, if that makes sense. It is only 86 degrees for the high today, the lowest ever recorded for Tucson on July 4. They get lots of rain in town and there is considerable flooding, but it’s not so bad here at our place. The clouds make for some killer sunrise and sunsets, I’ve been up everyday at 5am to watch the sunrise, different every day.

Thu July 5Fred comes down and takes me back up to Madera Canyon, but we do a lot more hiking around than the other day. Fred stops at some earlier spots, then we drive over to Box Canyon, then back up Madera as it warms up. In Box Canyon we find a beautiful blooming cactus, and Fred tells me it is an Arizona Fishhook Pincushion. One of the fun things about being in the field w/Fred is that he knows about lots of different living things. He id’s all the lizards we see, and we see many of them. Sometimes 4 or 5 at a time, on the trail in front of us or up in the trees. We had good rains the last two days, and that may explain why there are so many out. When we go up to the parking lot on top of Madera and walk up the ravine, we kick up two Zestusa dorus, a new species for me.

Jul 6 a leisurely morning, John’s tasty chicken enchiladas for lunch, left over from dinner last night. One big advantage of traveling w/John, he’s the cook. So when we rent houses or condos w/a full kitchen, he can cook all his delicious dishes from home. Saves lots of money by not eating out. Today is trash day, and here they have holes dug in the ground w/a lid where you are supposed to put your trash in bags. I put it in about 7:30am, and in less than 2 hours later the javelin have opened the lid and lifted out the trash bag and strewn our trash all over the front yard, what a mess. I’m amazed they can lift the lid, but I can’t imagine what else would have done it. The trashman says that is very common. We have seen javelin several evenings right next to our patio. I hissed at one the other night, and he raised all his fur along his back and woofed back at me. They’re not so cute when they’re right next to you. This afternoon I head up to the Tucson airport to meet Sherry and Deby at the hotel by the airport where they are conducting a seminar. It will be fun to see them again and meet their clients taking the seminar.

Jul 7 we leave our rental in Green Valley and head to Prescott for 3 nights, stopping at a Circle K to meet Al for a book buy in Phoenix. Bloody hot, 108 degrees, I don’t know why anybody wants to live in Phoenix. It’s a Saturday, so there’s not much traffic, which is great. We zip through, picking up a bag of lemon cookies brought to me by Al from Panama, what a nice guy. As we get north of Phoenix we decide to take a more scenic route, so rather than just head up 17 and turn left to Prescott Valley we go west on 74 to Wickenburg. This is a dot-dot-dot road on my AAA map, and I always like to take dot-dot-dot roads. That is how AAA marks scenic roads, and we have followed many of them on explores over the years. I could spend years just traveling around the US driving all the scenic roads. This one is no exception, as we get off the interstate we get out into beautiful cactus, tall saguaros everywhere and striking hills in the distance. Best of all, much less traffic. We get over to Wickenburg, go north and connect up with highway 89, which winds and twists up into the hills another 50 miles or so to Prescott. The last part is so twisty they don’t want vehicles over 40’ on it, but it is lots of fun in the Subaru forester. John gets to play rally car and we’re whizzing around the corners, many of which are marked 30 or even 20 miles per hour. A beautiful road w/spectacular views. We go through Prescott, a popular summer retreat at 5,300’ for folks from the furnace of Phoenix, so there are lots of tasty restaurants and shops, much more than would normally be supported in a small mountain town. We’re staying in a Comfort Suites on the other side of town in the cheaper burb of Prescott Valley. When I tried to get a reservation, as it was Saturday/Sunday/Monday in the summer high season, I was having trouble finding a place in Prescott. By moving 5 miles down the road to Prescott Valley we saved about $75/night, which adds up. So we’re now in the Comfort Suites in Prescott Valley, a very new hotel up on the hill. We get a room on the east side which has a commanding view over the valley, very nice. We eat at Tara Thai 2, a Thai restaurant recommended by yelp, just half a mile down the main highway 69 from our hotel. It’s tasty, the crispy spicy angel wings (basically spicy buffalo chicken wings) are delicious. We’re too full to eat all our dinners, we ordered way too much. I have chicken and pork w/3 vegetables in the tasty Thai peanut sauce, and John gets tempura. We could have easily split 1 entrée, plus I have to taste the fresh coconut ice cream w/peanuts. Pigs on wheels lives!

Jul 8 exploring Prescott for a house to rent next July. I’ve contacted several owners from vrbo.com, and we drive and check out a couple, plus find some nice trailer parks to explore as well. Our plan is to spend July up here in the mountains, then August and September in Tucson, probably at 2 or 3 different places. It’s always fun to look at places to live or explore a town and imagine living there. We like Prescott, and find a nice old rock cottage on an acre of pine trees. The owner has sent me the address, but has it rented so we can’t go in. It looks very inviting, cool w/a big porch. When we get back to the hotel she has sent me a note saying their tenants have left, so if we want to come by tomorrow, Monday, they will show us around. We say yes, as we’re serious about it. We have lunch at a delicious little funky place, Iron Springs Café at 1501 Iron Springs Road. This is a winner. I have N’awlins French toast to die for, and John has the best huevos rancheros he’s ever had. Truly tasty Ridgeline coffee as well, and we have to be more pigs and get a peach cobbler to go for dinner tonight. We won’t have to eat another meal today. We also find a very comfortable trailer park up the side of the hill off 89, the road south of Prescott, w/lots of units for sale. The trailer parks don’t rent by the month, and as this is the season most people stay up here, nothing is open anyway. But this one looks very nice if we decided to buy a place, plus it’s pretty cheap. One unit is only $9,950, and another was $15K then marked down to $12K, and now $10k. Talk about a motivated seller. If you were ready to buy I bet you could get some pretty good deals here. But we’re still looking, and still plan to rent next summer, then play it by ear. But I think we’ll be back to Prescott.

Jul 9 – we go see the inside of the rock cottage, all the original knotty pine paneling. The owner has the shades drawn to keep it cool, and w/the thick walls it is very pleasant inside at noon without air conditioning. It has two large patios, in front and back, so depending on the time of day you always have somewhere in the shade. Now all I need to find out is the exact date of the Lepidopterists’ Society meeting next June in Gainesville, FL. I think it is towards the end of June, so I don’t want to reserve this place starting July 1 if that’s the case. But hopefully we can work that out and be here for most of next July. Then we eat a late lunch at the Raven Café in downtown Prescott, which is wonderful. They have a great open patio up on top of their building, and even though it is in the mid 90’s there is a great breeze and it is very comfortable. I have lemon chicken pita, which is delicious, and John has a tasty veggie quiche. Another place we’ll be back to. Prescott is sort of a foodie town, lots of interesting restaurants to check out.

Jul 10 – we drive back to Tucson but again we take a scenic route. I always prefer to take back roads instead of interstates if I have the time. So we go north on I-17 towards Flagstaff then cut off into the mountains at Camp Verde, and head to Payson. More twisty mountain roads, lots of pretty areas even if it is very dry. When we get to Payson we decide we’ve had enough twisty roads and take the dot-dot-dot road on the AAA map back down to Mesa, which is a very pretty road. We get around southeast Phoenix by freeways, 101 to 202 to I-10 south, which works out great, very little traffic. These are huge freeways, however, 6 and 7 lanes, so you can just imagine the mobs heading into town during rush hour. We get back to Tucson early and go eat at Zona 78 again. This time John gets a fabulous pizza, simple w/just pepperoni, onion, their home made sauce and fresh basil leaves on top. One of the best pepperoni pizzas I’ve ever tasted. I eat a chicken wrap which is marvelous, and my favorite, a small spinach salad w/pears, pecans and shaved gouda cheese. Another great spot to hit again and again.

Jul 11 – 8am I’m at Jim Brock’s home to check out his butterfly collection. I spend most of the day photographing his wonderful collection, have to come back as I only scratch the surface. Then John and I go back to the Eclectic Café for an early dinner, in the same shopping center as our hotel, very convenient. Today I have Joey’s southwestern chicken penne in a fabulous sauce, lots of garlic and grated parmesan. Half of it goes home w/me for lunch tomorrow. Their key lime pie isn’t to die for, wouldn’t get it again. It’s ok but not worth the calories, but hey you have to test it out.

Jul 12 – today we’re checking out 4 different houses we’re thinking of renting next summer. 2 on the west side, 1 north and 1 far east up the road to Mt. Lemmon. We end up with 2 we like a lot, the far eastern one near the road up to Mt. Lemmon, and what we call the horse house, over by Rich Hoyer on the north side. Hopefully we can work out arrangements with the owners. After much discussion, we think we’ll skip Prescott and just spend 3 months or so in Tucson next summer.

Jul 13 – Fred picks me up and we meet several other butterfly folk at the parking lot at Catalina and Tanque Verde. This is the standard meeting point, I find out. A big parking lot where everyone, hikers/bikers/birders etc, can leave their cars and carpool up the mountain. Plus there is a great bakery/coffee shop, Le Buzz, where I have to try a turnover and a killer ginger/molasses cookie. This place may well go into my future book on great bakeries of the world. At the least, one has to test all potential candidates. This place passes, and it is mobbed, w/many folk eating outside at their tables, dogs at their feet. My friends tell me on the weekend it is really crammed. It’s not cheap, $10 for my 2 goodies plus a mocha for Fred, but hey, it’s only money. Obviously lots of other people feel the same. Then we head up the mountain and Fred has us stop at several places. Molina Basin has bright red Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar on the pipevine. Very different plant from what I see down in Central and South America, where it grows everywhere as a vine, while this one is on the ground buried in the dead grasses. Fred shows me the flower looks like a mouse ear, and is pollinated by flies who think it is a mouse ear. Amazing. Our main target is Arizona hairstreak, which I’ve never seen. Fred takes us right to Sollers Road a bit above 8,000’, and we not only find Arizona Hairstreak, but we also get great looks at Colorado Hairstreak. Fred knows the Colorado likes to sit on the oak bushes just a bit down the road, especially when it is cloudy like it is this morning. Otherwise they come out later in the afternoon, but because it is so overcast we get lucky and find several mid-late morning. We also find lots of Nais Metalmarks nectaring on the Fendler’s Ceanothus alongside the road, which is also favored by the hairstreaks. Later we go further up the mountain to Incinerator Ridge, where we see more Arizona Hairstreaks, Pacuvius Duskywings, and an orgy of the pleasing fungus beetles on a log, dozens of them having a great time. This is a very pretty beetle, dark navy blue w/lots of black spots, and there are even a bunch of the all black nymphs on the same log. A beautiful red crossbill flies in and we get good looks at that. All day it is dark with very dark clouds to the east and thunder and lightning, so we’re finally chased off the mountain. We get light rain on our way downhill and it is actually chilly to me in shorts. We had a great day in spite of the cool weather, got 2 new species of hairstreaks and even some photos.

Jul 14 – we leave Tucson, sorry to go but we’ll be back. We head over to Portal to the Portal Lodge for 2 nights, where we can explore Cave Creek Canyon, one of my very favorite places in the US. Especially in July and August, after the rains kick in. We were thinking of driving over from Willcox past the Chiricahua Monument and over Onion Saddle past Rustler Park, but locals recommend we stay on the paved road and go in through Rodeo in New Mexico. We can check there and find out what shape the road is in. Last year they had serious fires which left the mountains bare, and if they get heavy rain the dirt roads get washed out or full of boulders. They had heavy rains last night down in Sierra Vista and washed out the Miller Canyon road, and maybe Carr Canyon, where there were also bad fires last year. They need rain desperately, but not all at once. After we check into the hotel I ramble up the canyon, stopping to wander around a few places. It is extremely dry and crunchy underfoot, even though the ranger tells me they had 2” of rain on July 4. No signs of it where I go, it just shows how severe the drought has been, the land just sucks up any moisture.

Jul 15 – we drive up the canyon after breakfast at the little café at the hotel, fairly tasty for not having any other choices here. We see spectacular views of the red cliffs as we drive up into the canyon. We stop several times, even wandering around the Southwestern Research Station and watching their hummingbird feeders, but don’t see a single hummer. The feeders at the lodge, on the wooden porch between the rooms, had very few birds as well. Late in the day last night we were sitting outside, and only saw maybe a bird every 5 minutes or so. I remember these feeders swarming w/hummers, lots of fighting and zinging around your head, but not now. The ranger says they had a good migration, but it has been very slow since. This canyon burned badly last summer, and that with the drought may have severely impacted the birds. We do see Mexican jays and flycatchers, but no trogans, though I’m told they are around the bridge at South Fork. I was hoping to see blue-throated hummingbirds, which on my past trips here have been very common, but no luck this time. We do find some nice butterflies, however. I walk the creek bed under the South Fork bridge and get good shots of Arizona Sister posing open and closed, and Golden-banded Skipper. As we drive further up the mountain we stop at the big right turn where water runs over the road, just past where the road to Paradise comes in at the higher elevation. There are several dark skippers zipping around, and I manage to get good shots of one of the Cloudywings. As we climb higher we start seeing signs of the monster fire they had here last summer. It was close to getting the town of Portal and all the houses down by the creek, but fortunately was stopped before it got that far. However it badly burned most of the mountain. We drive to Rustler Park on top, over 9,000’, and most of it is crisped. Strange looking with all the blackened trunks but wildflowers blooming around the bases. We find very few butterflies up high, and by 11am it is clouded over and the thunder is rumbling. We head back down and run into Fred and a couple of friends, scouting for his NABA trip in a few weeks. We tell them the best spot was back where the water was on the road, so we all head back down, as by now it is raining pretty hard. But we run out from under the rain, and back at the water have mixed sun and clouds. Whenever the sun comes out, here come the butterflies. So we all have a good time, then John and I head back to the lodge for a late lunch and peach cobbler, yum.

Jul 16 – we leave Arizona and head to New Mexico to meet my brother Dan and his girlfriend Shelly for the next 4 nights, 2 in Albuquerque and 2 in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. We have plenty of time, so we take another scenic route from Lordsburg up to Silver City then east over to I-25 on highway 152. This is only about 65 miles from Silver City to the interstate, but it is a very steep, windy road through the mountains. Very pretty but slow, but we still enjoy it. When we finally get to I-25 and head north, we have a couple of big thunderclouds on either side of us, raining down in silver grey streaks. We move in and out through the rain up the interstate, but as we get closer to Albuquerque the dust storms start to increase. It gets very dusty to the east, between us and the mountains, sometimes so high we can hardly see the mountains. We make it, however, up to I-40 and a couple of miles west to Rio Grande Blvd and Casa de Suenos. This is a very nice small hotel of little buildings close enough to the historical district you can walk to restaurants and shops, but it is on a quiet street next to a big park. We meet up with Dan and Shelly and go to Church street to a delicious Mexican restaurant, w/good margaritas. We only find out later they are wine margaritas, but Dan and Shelly and I like them. John got a beer, and it was only when he asked for an additional shot of tequila that they told him they don’t have any tequila. Oh well, we liked them a lot.

Jul 17 – the 3 of us drive up the Sandia crest, only about 15 miles east of town. This turns out to be a truly fabulous drive, 14 miles to the top where you have a spectacular 360 degree view, w/the city of Albuquerque at your feet. The little store/café has a nice porch to sit on, and a couple of hummingbird feeders stuffed w/broadtails and 1 brilliant male rufous on his way back south already. Mostly females and young, but there are a few bright red throated males. And begging chipmunks. We take the short hike around the top and have a lovely day. We get back home where John has made tasty chili, then a short stroll to town later to test out their ice cream stores. Life is good.

Jul 18/19we drive up through Chama and into Colorado, coming to our beautiful cabin rented for 2 nights about 10 miles south of Pagosa Springs, another 10 miles up a dirt road. This is hardly a cabin, but a fantastic spacious house, 4 bedrooms, big living room w/a fireplace (which we use to great enjoyment both nights), a big porch and everything one could want. I found it on vrbo.com, which is where I have rented many houses in different locations. Vacation Rental By Owner, a very useful site to know. This is #224274, and I would definitely rent it again. Lisa the owner is very helpful, and gives us a great suggestion for dinner in Pagosa Spring at Tequila’s, tasty Mexican food with a good location right over the stream and the springs, where we can watch tons of tubers floating down the river. She also tells us about her favorite hike to Opal Lake, which we do the next morning. 2 miles into the lake in national forest land, we drive maybe a mile back towards town and turn left over a bridge across the stream. She tells us this used to have a national forest brown sign, but someone has cut all the signs down along the main dirt road. I guess the locals don’t want visitors. We drive across the bridge and soon see more brown national forest signs, which direct us straight ahead for a couple of miles to Opal Lake, then a turn to the right for another mile. This road is also in excellent shape for a mountain road, any car could make it with ease. The hike is great, we climb about 500’, but starting at 8,700’ we have to pause several times to catch our breath. The morning is a typical mountain morning, brilliant blue sky and flowers in the meadows, such clean air it tastes delicious. Eagle eyed Shelly spots ptarmigan hiding under the spruce trees, and we find 5 of them lurking around. These may be young ones, as they don’t seem very cautious, and are very cryptic in their brown summer plumage. All in all a splendid walk, a great recommendation by the cabin owner.

Jul 20 – wishing we could spend more time at the cabin, we split up and say goodbye to Dan and Shelly. They head back to Carlsbad Caverns, and we drive north through the mountains to Nederland, above Boulder, where John’s son Phil lives with Liz. They just moved here 6 months ago, and we have not seen their new place, which turns out to be fine, off in the pines with a nice view from their deck, and lots more broadtail hummers fighting over their feeder. We go to their favorite restaurant the Smokehouse, in town about a mile or so away, and have fabulous wings, some of the best I’ve ever had.

Jul 21 – enjoy a walk w/some friends and a bunch of dogs up above Eldora, beautiful day in Nederland at 8,200’. Then Phil’s delicious lemon herb barbequed chicken for dinner.

Jul 22 – we drive to Denver for 8 nights at the Red Lion Hotel while I attend the Lepidopterists’ Society meeting and spend several days on field trips chasing butterflies in the mountains. One great thing about Denver is there are a ton of fabulous places to explore nearby, w/the Rockies right on the doorstep.

Jul 23 – field trip to Roxborough State Park southwest of Denver. This is a beautiful park with spectacular red rocks thrusting up over the trees and grasses. This is the same formation that runs up above Boulder, the Flatirons, which I didn’t know. The summer has been so hot that most of the flowers have already gone to seed and we don’t see too many butterflies. But we do find some Colorado hairstreaks and a very obliging Tailed Copper.

Jul 24 – another field trip to Tinytown and Golden Gate Canyon State Park. The trail above Tinytown turns out to be great, cool and damp with lots of flowers, so we have lots of butterflies. Locals are saying the season is 4-6 weeks advanced, but in this shaded canyon we see more what it should look like. Lots of blooming monarda, which the fritillaries love, and lots of photo ops. Then we drive north to Golden Gate Canyon State Park, but by then it is raining. This is another park I have to come back and visit. This trip has shown me that I need to come back to Colorado in late May and June sometime in the future.

July 25/26/27 – attend the conference, hear the talks, spend a day photographing in the collection at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Jul 28 drive to the tunnel on I-70 about 50 miles west of Denver and take the first exit immediately west of the tunnel to the right. You can drive back over the tunnel to the south side, but both sides are great for butterflies. On the north side there is a long wide open valley that heads up high to the hills, w/a nice trail, but 2 friends and I just ramble over the flowering hillsides along a creek and look for butterflies. My target today is Purplish Fritillary, which we find several times. Plus a couple of new blues, we get 4 different species. A beautiful morning, it doesn’t really cloud up until after 1pm, so we enjoy hours of exploring around at over 11,000’, slowly walking uphill and across the flower strewn meadows. On the east end of the tunnel the first exit leads to Loveland Pass, another good butterfly location. There is also Mt. Evans, another high point you can drive to. Two more spots to explore on a future trip.

Jul 29 – drive 3 hours to Cottonwood Pass above Buena Vista. The paved road goes up to the continental divide at 12,200’, where we park and hike up over the rim and down into a fabulous basin. You can see across to the Collegiate Peaks, a series of 14,000’ peaks named Yale, Harvard, etc. This is wilderness, so there are no roads and no motorized vehicles, just foot traffic. The trails run around the rim, but we go off trail and scramble our way down the slope to the willow bog below. We work our way around the edge of the willows, photographing wildflowers and some butterflies, lots of Mead’s Sulphurs and some Fritillaries and Purplish Coppers. Steve, who leads the trip, had camped here for 4 nights a couple of weeks ago, and he keeps saying you should have been here then. The butterflies were swarming. Same refrain I’ve heard on every trip here. The hot weather has accelerated everything, and many of the plants are past blooming and the butterflies are also past their peak. But it is a truly beautiful place, very special, looks like calendar shots of Colorado. 3 species of gentian flowers, 2 shades of gorgeous purple/blue and the white one, arctic gentian. Another wonderful place to come back to.

Jul 30 – we leave the Red Lion Hotel, our home away from home, and go to Boulder to meet Phil, Liz and Courtney for lunch, then up to Fort Collins where I will be photographing their collection for the next several days. The restaurant at the Red Lion was surprising good, delicious quesadillas, nachos, chicken salad, etc. One night we went into town and ate at Piati’s, where we had the best roasted garlic and goat cheese on flat bread I’ve ever had.

Jul 31/Aug 1 – work in the CSUC collection and eat at several tasty restaurants in Fort Collins. We stay in the University Best Western on College Ave, so I can walk across campus to Laurel Hall, where Paul Opler has the Gillete collection, very convenient. The Best Western is a bit pricey, $120, but you have to pay for convenience. However we wander around town and find lots of interesting looking places to eat. One of the fun things about a college town is there are tons of tasty and inexpensive restaurants. One night we eat at a scrumptious Mexican place a few blocks north of the hotel, Los Tabascos or something similar. I had the best mango margaritas I’ve ever had, and we were during happy hour so I pigged out w/2, which is 1 more than I usually drink. They were perfect, like a delicious smoothie w/a nice kick. They also had a great salsa bar, so of course we had to work our way through half a dozen salsas on their nice crispy chips. I just had a big bowl of guacamole and John had a delicious chile relleno that he raved about, so we were happy. Paul took me to Avo’s for lunch one day, which was also delicious, and had tons of sandwiches and goodies on the menu. I had a tough time choosing, would have loved to go back.

Aug 2/3/4/5 – drove to Nederland and hung out w/Phil for the next 4 nights at 8,500’ up in the pines. Of course we ate lots of great food, from Friday night dinners at the Smokehouse w/their fabulous smoked wings, to Phil’s smoked chicken and barbequed meatloaf, yum. Pigs on Wheels continues! One day I drove up Caribou road, off Ridge Road back towards town, and went up to about 9,500’ and walked along a power line cut to the right of the dirt road. Caribou road was fine for the first 2 miles or so, but then it got steeper and quite rocky. Where I stopped, at the power line cut, was about 4 miles up. Phil told me up higher there are several trail heads that take off, but I didn’t make it that high. I did see several butterflies, as it was a sunny morning and warm. I got nice shots of Queen Alexander sulphurs, a new one for me, and some of Commas coming to leaking sap on birch trees. I also shot some beautiful red mushrooms w/white spots, Amanita muscaria, which John later told me is a hallucinogenic.

Nederland is a mountain tourist town, so it gets crowded in the afternoons, but Phil’s house is a couple of miles out of town, nice and quiet. It was fun to hang out, watch the Olympics and of course, eat!

Aug 6/7 – Monday morning we finally start our trip back to Texas. We drive east through Denver on I-70 and south on 287 to Amarillo for the night, then on to Dallas the next day. The eastern plains in Colorado are parched, miles and miles of bare dirt. I had heard the hotels in Amarillo, on I-40, are better on the west side of town. The ones on the east are cheaper but noisy and often scruffy, so we stayed at a Comfort Inn off exit 64. As we drove into town from the north on 287 we got into a strong thunderstorm and heavy rain, right about where they closed the highway and dumped us all off on a detour. Fortunately it was right where we were going to get off on loop road 335, which took us west of town and connected up w/I-40 at exit 64, where our hotel was. How convenient. We ate that night at Carino’s, an Italian chain that we enjoy, and had very good calamari and their firesticks. More tasty stuff, we’ve had lots of good food on this trip. Tuesday we made it to my brother’s house in north Dallas and went to my favorite Indian place nearby. On Highway 287, a bit southeast of Amarillo near Hedley, we passed a peach stand. We were surprised, didn’t know they grew peaches this far north, but we turned around and went back. Good thing we did, as the peaches were fabulous. 5 huge juicy fist sized peaches for $5.50, delicious! John made 2 of them into a cobbler and left it at my brother’s the next morning, but we scarfed down the other 3, juice running down our arms.

Aug 8/9 – drive to San Antonio to meet Willie at the Liberty Bar, then crashed at his great little farmhouse between Poth and Falls City. The next morning we ate at the Palace Café, on the south side of Falls City, and had the famous Willie’s BLT w/extra bacon and a fried egg, plus the grilled biscuits. Another yum, we didn’t have to eat for the rest of the day. Made it back to the Rio Grande Valley, piece of cake, and started sorting through the huge box of mail and cleaning out the bugs. Good to be back.

 

 

Panama, February 2012

Trip Report Panama February 2012

This trip was organized by Al Thurman from Phoenix. He’s been collecting in Panama for over 30 years, and has permits, so this was mostly a collecting trip. Al invited me to come along as the only photographer. The collectors were very gracious and let me go through their specimens at night and shoot what I wanted, which was very helpful.

Participants: Al, John MacDonald (another collector with much experience in Panama, he drove the 2nd car), Gap and Terry Danish, Nathan Schiff, Paul Thompson, Dan Bogar, Larry Bezart, and Bill Tyson (the last 2 were into beetles), and Kim Garwood.

Feb 6 – fly in from Houston, 3 nights in Panama City at Amador Ocean View Hotel

Feb 7 – Cerro Jefe for the day, 900-1000m

Feb 8 – Bayano east of Bayano Lake for the day

Feb 9 – Santa Rita Ridge for the day east slope, move to Canal Inn B&B for 3 nights

Feb 10 – to Gatun/Canal Zone for the day

Feb 11 – to Cerro Campana for the day, 800m, then Cerro Anton late afternoon

Feb 12 – Advantage Panama Tours takes us to horses for ride to Cerro Chucanti Field Station 4 nights

Feb 13/14/15 – hike trails at Chucanti

Feb 16 – horseback downhill, then back to Canal Inn B&B in Panama City

Feb 17 – fly to David 9:15am, 3 nights at Finca Hartmann about 5,000’

Feb 18 – trails around Finca Hartmann

Feb 19 – drive north to Rio Candela, 5600’, on Costa Rican border

Feb 20 – drive to Mt Totumas for 3 nights, check it out and decide to stay at Finca Hartmann

Feb 21 – John and I go to Mt Totumas, stay only 1 night

Feb 22 – we meet the group at Rio Candela for a 2nd time, drive up higher to 6,150’

Feb 23 – fly back to Panama City from David at 5:15pm for 2 nights at Amador Ocean View Hotel

Feb 24 – back to Santa Rita ridge for the day

Feb 25 – drive to El Valle, I stay at Kevin’s house after working the trail at Hotel Campestre

Feb 26/27 – El Capitanes in El Valle 2 nights, change to new lodge at Rio Indio

Feb 28 – back to El Valle and Kevin’s house

Feb 29 – La Laguna w/Kevin, then back to Panama City Hotel Riande by the airport

Mar 1 – fly back to the US

Tues Feb 7 – we’re doing day trips out of Panama City for the next week. We drive to Cerro Jefe, where in August we had the fabulous Agrias tree pulling in all sorts of goodies. That was then, this is now, and we don’t see any leafwings at all. In August the tree was dripping/leaking sap for many places, it may be diseased, but now there isn’t any sign of sap, and therefore no butterflies. The guys hang traps there but get zero. This is also the place where we had the big gathering of clearwings on the blue mistflower/eupatorium on someone’s driveway up the little hill, but we strike out here as well. This is of course the dry season, but we didn’t think it would be this dry. Al has told us he has many specimens taken in February, but we’re not finding much. We get onesie twosies of a variety of species, but nothing in quantity. Most of what we see is very fresh, just small numbers. I have Morpho cypris fly right overhead and it looks mint. They have had all 5 Morpho species at Cerro Jefe, but not today.

Wed Feb 8 – we drive east to Bayano Lake, hot lowlands down logging roads off the highway. It takes close to 2 hours from the city, which makes for a long day. I’m not wild about this place but the others are keen to come back, so that’s fine. This is a good place for Heliconius, especially the erato/melpomene that just have the red on the forewings but no yellow on the hindwings, plus some combinations. Overall it’s very slow and it gets dark and cloudy by early afternoon, so we quit about 2:15 and head back.  For restaurants the guys alternate between Pencas, which is more convenient as its right by the Amador Causeway, and their all time favorite Jimmy’s in downtown towards the airport. Jimmy’s has killer steaks, I like their rez a la pimiento or pepper steak, so we pig out every night. Both places have excellent ceviche, and Pencas has delicious fruit blended drinks, or batidos. I alternate between mango and passionfruit or maracuya. Roughing it on these trips is tough duty.

Thur Feb 9 – we drive east to Santa Rita Ridge, just past where the cuota to Colon ends. This is up about 800-900’ at some microwave towers, a nice ridge where we have our best day yet by far. This is on the Atlantic side, so it’s considerably wetter than the dry Pacific side. Lots of Archaeoprepona flying and coming to the traps, and some new riodinids, including Symmachia virgatula caught by Nathan, I’m so jealous. At least he lets me shoot the specimen, a brilliant orange. John sees a Rodinia calphurnia metalmark like Rhetus but we can’t catch it, let alone take a photo. I’ve never seen this one. It’s a beautiful day, not too hot, bright sun, bugs flying. The trails head off in 3 directions, unfortunately they’re all down as we’re at the top w/the microwave towers. But we all have a good time all day long.

Fri Feb 10 – drive east past Santa Ridge towards Colon, take the shore road looking for the Portobello National Park. Al remembers it as a good place 30 years ago (!), but we can’t find it, even though he’s found it online. It has a waterfall, sounds like a nice park, but we hunt up and down the road all the way to the small town of Portobello w/out any luck. It’s a rainy morning and a pretty drive, but not many bugs. So we head over the canal at the Gatun Locks and go to an empty road off to the right that runs through nice forest w/some big trees. Not large numbers flying but we do find some things. The beetle guys find a big log pile and get lots of goodies.

Sat Feb 11 – today we head west to Cerro Campana, across the Bridge of the Americas about an hour or so. This is also about 800m, but much wetter and more cloud forest than Cerro Jefe. It is very foggy and also windy, which is an odd combination. The clouds blow in and out, and it keeps teasing us w/bits of sun, but it never burns off, so after several hours we decide to head back. There are some good things here, but you have to have sun. We check out Cerro Anton, or Anton Hill, which is right in town and Al has never been up there. After a certain amount of backing and filling we find the road to the top, where they have a nice park w/killer views over the city. But it is Saturday afternoon and lots of people want to go up, so we have to wait at a guard shack for 20 minutes or more. It is a narrow twisty road and they only let cars go one way, then they tell us there aren’t any parking places up top, but we finally make it. This would be a good spot to check out in the wet season, as there is lots of good looking habitat, but don’t come on a weekend, or come early in the morning.

Sun Feb 12 – off to Chucanti. They are supposed to pick us up at 8am, then 2.5 to 3 hours to where we get the horses for our 4 hour ride into the Darien. This turns into an ordeal, as first we can’t get Dan from the Amador Ocean View Hotel, where he had to stay due to a shortage of rooms at the Canal Inn. There is an international ironman race today, Sunday, and even though he had checked at the hotel desk to make sure he could get out Sunday morning, Al can’t drive into pick him up. But he can get a cab to the airport, so he manages to make it to the Riande Hotel at the airport, where he meets up w/Paul, who came in the afternoon before and went there, because Al wasn’t there to pick him up. So after much confusion we are all together and departing the Riande Hotel about 2 hours later than planned. We drive to Torti at the edge of the Darien w/Michael, a bird guide I met back in 2006. He now works for Advantage Panama. We have to keep one of the rental cars to drive us to Chucanti, due to another confusion. Al thought they were picking us up in Panama City, but they are only sending a car, which won’t quite fit all 8 of us. We stop for lunch which turns into another 2 hours ordeal at the restaurant in Torti, so we finally make it to the horses about 4pm. After having to stop at a checkpoint where the guard, having no idea what he’s doing, slowly and methodically writes down every bit of info on all 8 of our passports, taking at least 30 minutes to do so. So we start off on our smallish horses and it quickly becomes apparent that we are all a bit larger than the typical Panamanians riding these horses. Our feet, at least mine, don’t fit well in the stirrups, and poor Dan’s feet probably come w/in a foot of the ground, being over 6’6”. Paul, being the only one of us in good shape, chooses to hike up the 2000’ gain, probably 7-8 miles. But the rest of us struggle on, beating our poor underpowered horses. After a few hours it gets dark, and we do the last couple of hours in the pitch black, stumbling around hoping our horses know where to go. All in all we were very lucky not to have anyone get seriously hurt. Several of the guys fall off, Dan fairly seriously, but no broken bones. I was never so glad to get somewhere in my life. Once we manage to collapse off our horses, we ‘only’ have 10 minutes more to stagger uphill, a very steep hill. But we get to the top and drop dead. Once we get fed, which turns out to be excellent, we recover a bit, but we’re all pretty slow the next day. Naps are considered a good idea all around. My feeling is this place is good for young folk and those in good enough shape to make the hike. If you want to ride, you should be maybe 150 pounds, w/200 pounds as the absolute outside limit, and hopefully under 6 feet tall. Of course many gringo tourists, especially older ones like us, don’t meet those criteria. It also helps to have good knees, another weak point of several in our group. The trail is not only steep but rocky and covered in leaves in many places, so you can’t see the rocks as they roll out from under your feet. All in all, an exciting experience I wouldn’t plan to do again. And this is the dry season. Al was planning on bringing a group here next August, in the wet season, and I can’t imagine hiking up the trail when it’s slippery in the pouring rain. There’s also no electricity, as their generator was broken. We of course have hauled in our own generators for black lighting for moths, so we at least have some power at night.

Mon/Tues/Wed Feb 13/14/15 – we have 3 full days, 4 nights, to explore around the trails. There are some good butterflies around, John especially gets some nice metalmarks and hairstreaks. He finds a good light gap in the forest and lurks around there for a couple of days. We tend to get 1 of this species and 1 of another, except for Eunica pusilla which appears to be having a nice hatch. We get lots of females, which I have never seen. The guys are all very nice and let me photograph whatever they catch, which is helpful as most of what I see is out of photographic range. But the guys w/the nets can grab some. The beetle guys get a pretty good selection, over 40 genera which pleases them. I bet there is a lot more flying in the wet season, if you can get up here. I will be eager to hear how Al’s group does in August. The last day Dan is trying to catch a fresh Parrhasius orgia from the deck of the lower cabins, but it keeps landing on a tree just out of reach. So Michael, being clever, fashions a stick on a small rope and throws it out to the tree, entangling it in the branches, and hauls the small tree closer and ties it off on the porch. After several swings and adventures, fortunately the hairstreak keeps coming back to the same tree, and Dan finally catches it. It turns out to be a female, I’ve never seen a female so determined to return to the same place. One morning I find an ant swarm and sit and watch it for an hour or so. Not tons of bird species, but some good ones. There are about half a dozen ocellated antbirds, one of the gaudy species, and one I’ve only seen at ant swarms. Lots of bicolored antbirds, they come very close to me, and 3 or 4 different woodcreepers. Lots of Rusty Woodcreepers and a big Barred Woodcreeper, and lots of Black-striped. I haven’t seen an ant swarm in a couple of years, so this one is really enjoyable.

Thur Feb 16 – we have to ride back out, which several of us have been dreading, but it goes fairly well. I walk and ride, alternating about half and half, walking down the steeper parts. This makes it easier on the horse and lets my knees stretch out from the riding. I’m not near as worn out as the trip up, plus it’s much much easier doing it in the daylight. I even see king vultures on the way down. The only snag on the return trip is the guys w/the luggage horses take forever. We all make it down to the waiting spot, where our cars are, then have to wait 2 hours for our luggage. In my opinion this is inexcusable, to make the paying clients wait several hours after 4+ hours of riding. The baggage guys claim the horses couldn’t carry the weight, they need to get bigger horses, or maybe mules, if they want to take up older clients. By the time we make it back to Panama City it is 6:30 or 7pm, and we skipped lunch on the way back. The Canal Inn doesn’t have enough rooms, this is beginning to sound like a broken record, so poor Al has to take 2 of us to the Amador, then go pick up 2 more coming in at 10 pm. The rest of us crash after another pig out at Pencas. My favorite thing there is the mango batidos, or smoothie, absolutely delicious. They also have passion fruit, so it’s a very tough choice. Just have to go twice. This group has two favorite restaurants in Panama City, Pencas which is near the Amador Causeway, and the favorite, Jimmy’s Greek place downtown closer to the airport. (gives you an idea how important food was to us, I mention the restaurants twice!) With traffic it can take an hour to get to Jimmy’s at dinner time, which is a pain, but they have excellent steaks which the guys all love.  I’ve been wanting to go to Crepes y Wafles, but don’t think it’s going to happen w/this meat and potatoes group.

Fri Feb 17 – Al has to take 3 of us to Albrook airport for the 7am flight to David, than the rest of us are on the 9:15 flight. We all make it to David, get 3 rental cars, of course the original reservations aren’t any good so Al has to scrounge up another car. Fortunately there are 5 car rental companies at the airport. We make it to the nice restaurant in Volcan at Hotel Dos Rios by shortly after noon, then up to Finca Hartmann by 3 or so. What a treat to get here in the light. Last year we drove from Panama City and due to a variety of delays didn’t get here until about 9pm. More stumbling around in the dark. So it’s very nice to get here in time for the moth guys to set up their lights, unpack and settle in. I score by getting the small cabin to myself, such luxury. This keeps me away from the night moth/beetle activities. I even have a little table to work on the computer. This is a beautiful place. Lots of Leptophobia aripa flying, we’ll see if we can find much else, it’s very dry.

Sat Feb 18 – last night those working the black light got a pretty good haul, including several Chrysinae beetles, the gold shiny ones. Always big crowd pleasers. There are two or three species here, a gold one and a bigger green one, and a larger silver one.  When I wake up at dawn it’s in the high 50’s in my room, but comfortable w/the blankets. Down in the big house John has the fire going and Bill makes tasty omelets for breakfast, life is good. There isn’t any electricity except what you create if you bring a generator, so my little cabin only has a kerosene lamp and candles, very romantic. We brought generators for the black lights, so you can charge batteries and laptops at night at the big house. The dawn is perfectly clear, not a cloud in the sky, but it takes the sun a while to get over the mountain and onto our clearing, about 9am. When I was here last August it was raining and chilly. Walking the trails I head right at the ‘Y’ and up into the forest, not seeing much until about 10am as it warms up. Suddenly by 10:30 there are Marpesia marcella zipping around the trees, one we didn’t see last August. Now they are common. Along with the Morpho helenor maritita subspecies w/the blue line just on the forewing, very different looking, and some clearwings. We wander around the hills and coffee plantations of Finca Hartmann for the day. There are several forested areas with lots of edge around the coffee. There are a couple of trails that head up into the hills that go forever, or working the road back that we came in on can be good. There aren’t as many butterflies as last August, when I was here before, but we find plenty of stuff.

Sun Feb 19 – we drive over to Rio Candela about 5,600’, into La Amistad National Park. We park the cars at a clearing where a stream comes into a larger stream and split up into several directions. I walk uphill several hundred feet and find several species of crescents and lots of clearwings. We end up with a nice selection of clearwings, plus yellow kite swallowtails. No satyrs, which seems odd, and very few hairstreaks. Paul catches a large hairstreak that neither Dan nor John knows what it is, so that’s very interesting, and John finds a quetzal up above. Bellbirds are clanging away, it’s a beautiful place to spend the day. On our way back we step over the border and buy soft drinks at a little market in Costa Rica, no border guards here at all. We go through Serena, looking for ice, but can’t find any. We stop to visit the Hartmanns at their house and see their baby anteater, which crawls all over several of the guys. Its fur is very stiff, and with that long pointed face and the eyes sticking out on the side it is a bizarre looking little creature, but very friendly. It has strong claws, they don’t break your skin but you can certainly feel them grab on, and its tail wraps around peoples’ necks and holds on tightly. You can tell it climbs well.

Mon Feb 20 – we are scheduled to move to Mt. Totumas today for three nights, but there is some concern about them having enough room for the 10 of us. So Al, Bill and I drive over to check it out first. 20 minutes back to pavement, about another 20 minutes back towards Volcan and we turn off on the dirt road to Mt. Totumas. This turns out to be a tough road, it takes us an hour to do a bit less than 10 km. Very rough and rocky, fording a couple of streams, we climb from about 5,200’ to 6,300’ at the lodge, most of it the last 2 km past the Pozas Terminales, or hot springs which are about 7 km in. The lodge is a beautiful building w/a nice deck out the back and hummingbird feeders, we’re greeted by violet saberwings, one of my favorite hummers. But they only have 3 bedrooms in the main house, and they have another guest coming today. Jeff and Alma, the hosts, are extremely friendly and gracious. They are building a 2nd building which is not quite finished, and they have put 3 beds and 3 pallets on the floor in a giant sort of dorm room, but our folks aren’t going to be too happy like this, so we decide to stay at Finca Hartmann tonight and a few of us will come back tomorrow. Jeff, the owner, shows us the stump the quetzals are nesting in, just 70 meters in back of the lodge. They laid eggs last year the first week of May, and he says they are excavating a new hole this year. I want to come back and explore. There won’t be as many butterflies, but some different ones, and if it is cool and foggy I can always go birding. Alma is going to cook us dinner for $15 each, but we are responsible for our breakfast and lunch. Their main house is a regular house, w/a full kitchen and living room, nice view windows, very plush. They generate their own electricity w/a turbine on their stream, so they have power 24/7, which is a luxury. They even have internet during the day, as they are high enough to get a sight on the tower, but it is solar powered, so only works when the sun is up.

Tue Feb 21 – 2 cars head over to Mt. Totumas, John and I plan to stay at least one night, and the others are doing a day trip. Apparently the beetle guys don’t want the hassle of moving their black lights. So John and I will be the guinea pigs and see what we find. Other moth people have collected here, they just ran the sheet on the porch. We are sitting on their nice porch, watching 9 species of hummingbirds, when the pair of quetzals fly overhead, to much screaming and general excitement all around. There are lots of trails here, you can walk up to Amistad National Park and over the continental divide, if you’re a strong hiker. Several of the guys gets some good Pedaliodes w/a lovely rufous wash on the ventral forewing, which I’ve not seen before. Later Tomasz Pyrcz tells me it is P.lithochalcis, which he has split off from dejecta. The others leave and John and I stay for a tasty steak dinner. Jeff and Alma know how to buy their meat, as their steak is dramatically better than what we had at our place the night before, which was so tough we didn’t even eat all of it. They tell us you have to ask the butcher for filet, its $4/pound instead of the $1.60/pound Al had bought ours for. Unfortunately it’s very windy tonight, and the sheets John and Jeff put up are blown to shreds. John does get some good sphinx moths and some other things, but Jeff tells us the best time to come is July/August, the rainy time, and there is much less wind. Guess we’ll have to come back. Jeff had saved me a ‘huge skipper’ that was in his kitchen a week ago, but it turns out to be Pycina zamba, a beautiful Nymphalid that is hard to catch.

Wed Feb 22 – we get up, eat breakfast and drink their tasty coffee, and slowly work our way down the bad road. We head over to Rio Candela to meet the rest of our group and don’t get there until about noon. While we’re making sandwiches out of the back of the car another Pycina zamba zooms in and lands on John’s back, where Bill snags it. Bad timing for it, good for us. After sandwiches I work across the stream where Al has dumped a bunch of pee, and the Marpesia marcella are coming in, so I can get good dorsals and ventrals, plus a bunch of crescents. Then we drive on up the road several km further in, up to about 6,150’, where it is good forest. We meet the local ranger, a nephew of Don Chicho from Finca Hartmann (small world) who warns us to watch out for a female jaguar who has cubs and is dangerous. Too bad, no sign of the jaguar, but we do get lots of new butterflies for the list.  Another good day, we’ll be sorry to leave the mountains tomorrow. The beetle guys have done very well, 54 genera of beetles.

Thur Feb 23 – drive back to David and fly to Panama City, where we stay at the Amador Causeway Ocean View Hotel again for 2 nights, pigging out again at Jimmy’s.

Fri Feb 24 – back to Santa Rita ridge for the final day’s collecting w/the group. We find a number of new species flying, as compared to our earlier trip a few weeks ago. Dan gets a different pair of Symmachia metalmarks, which turns out to be new for Panama as S.multesima, Bill gets a fresh Eunica auarcana, and several other new species show up. For our final group dinner Al takes us to the Miraflores locks, which is always fun. We have their fancy buffet and watch the ships pass through the locks. Being as it is Friday during Lent, they have nothing but fish, good thing we all like fish.

Sat Feb 25 – Al takes me and 2 others to El Valle for the day, where they drop me off at Kevin’s house outside Coronado after we explore the trail at the Hotel Campestre. It is very dry and we see few butterflies, as compared to last August when it was a fabulous place for clearwings. However Al scores with a female Lyropteryx lyra, the beautiful Cherry-bordered Metalmark. He’s never seen this species in over 30 years of collecting in Panama. I’ve only seen female specimens a few times, never a male.

Sun Feb 26 – Kevin and I head back to El Valle, where I have reservations at Los Capitanes, a nice hotel run by a German. We stop to drop off my luggage and run into the owner, who invites us to go higher to his new eco-lodge in the woods at Rio Indio Arriba, maybe another 20 km up the bad dirt road. The cost is $60/person including 3 meals, as compared to $44 to stay at Los Capitanes w/out meals. Kevin had heard he was building a new place but didn’t know it was open, so we say yes. We follow him up the rough road in Kevin’s car, which is 4 wheel drive. It turns out to be a charming place, built out of stone and wood, decent rooms but w/a shared toilet and shower, and only cold water. A propane water heater would make it much nicer. But it is right on a pretty stream, and we see some nice butterflies. Again I’m sure it would be much better in July/August. We hike up the trail from the cabins maybe a mile or so, up and down over several ridges and ravines, and most of the area is being turned into small homesteads. People are living everywhere up here in the hills, w/their dogs and their chickens and their kids. We do see some fresh satyrs but nothing wildly exciting.

Mon Feb 27 – we drive as far up the road as we can, then get out and walk. Kevin has been up here many times. He says this road is only about 2 years old, and already wearing down. We see a few things flying, but our main score of the morning is a very fresh female metalmark who poses nicely on some tiny flowers on a low tree branch, Hypophylla zeurippa. That afternoon back at the lodge the guys find and kill a large fer-de-lance snake right by the cabins. It is over 4’ long and fairly thick, I wouldn’t have wanted to run into it on a midnight run to the toilet.

Tue Feb 28 – we take our time heading back on the road towards El Valle, and Kevin takes me to another of his favorite spots. On our way in we had turned left at the T, past the chicken ranches, so now we continue on straight to the right hand side, instead of going back, and come to a trail at Cerro Gaital preserve. We find a crew whacking away and removing all weeds, making a very wide trail, you could drive up it, but we still see some butterflies. Emesis cypria and one of my favorite skippers Mnestheus ittona, the one w/the beautiful white curves, are soaking up the sun and posed nicely.

Wed Feb 29 – Kevin takes me up to La Laguna, the next road south or east of his turn off a few km past Coronado. We go up about 30-40 minutes to almost 3,300’ where there is a very pretty little lake. They have made it into a park, however, and have a chain on the entrance where you have to pay .50 and it doesn’t open until 9:30am. We park outside and walk over the chain and around the lake. Kevin says 5 years ago he couldn’t walk around the lake, it was so overgrown, but now they have cleared it all and it is too immaculate. But we find a trail off into the brush in the back, climb under a fence and find lots of bugs. Everywhere is changing so fast here in Panama, many houses are being built and the older wild areas are rapidly disappearing. Afterwards we had back to Kevin’s house, pick up Sandy his wife and they take me into Panama City, about 2 hours, where she does their big shopping and he drops me off at the Riande Hotel near the airport. Al had made a reservation for me, and supposedly paid for it, but not according to the hotel, where I had to pay w/my credit card. It’s been a fun trip, but South America is better.  Panama is growning and changing so quickly, it has a real boom town feel to it. Hard to imagine what it will be like In another 5-10 years.

 

Peru October/November 2011



Trip Report Peru October & November 2011

(Photo Checklists now available for Central Peru: Pampa Hermosa and Pozuzo, and for Northern Peru: Chaparri, Owlet Lodge and Rumiyacu/Moyobambo, and eventually for Southeastern Peru: Cock of the Rock Lodge and above)

Participants/Photographers, central Peru: Priscilla Brodkin (PB), Deborah Galloway (DG), David Geale (DvG), Kim Garwood (KG), Eileen Mahler (EM), Glenn Mahler (GM), Sherry Nelson (SN), Dan Wade (DW), and Kay Wade (KW); northern Peru: Rick Cech (RC), Kim Garwood (KG), Tony Hoare (TH), Emily Peyton (EP), Willie Sekula (WS), Dan Wade (DW) and Kay Wade (KW).

The entire trip, close to 7 weeks, was organized through Tanager Tours, by David Geale, and I was very happy with him. www.tanagertours.com It was the first time I had used David. He came along on the 2nd part, so we got to spend a few weeks with him. He’s a keen birder, but he was very interested in the butterflies, and took lots of photos. I definitely plan to spend more time in Peru w/him. His driver, Juve, was also excellent and a knowledgeable birder, and was taking tons of good butterfly photos as well. I will hopefully be spending more time with both of them in the field in the future.

We have found when we’re with bird guides we often do a birding part early in the day, meeting at 5:30 or 6am for those who are interested, then the whole group meets at 7 or 7:30am for breakfast. Then we take off for butterflies after breakfast, often bringing sandwich makings and simple lunch w/us in the field. If we go back to the lodge for lunch I like to schedule it a bit later, maybe 1 or 1:30pm. The good butterfly time tend to be about 8 to 2pm. After that it gets much quieter in the forest for butterflies, except for crepuscular skippers.

There were 3 groups of friends who came along, so there was a lot of variety, but all are good photographers and good travel companions. Unfortunately my laptop seems to have acquired a virus and quit working, so my trip report will be briefer than normal (probably a good thing).

Part 1, Machu Picchu & Ollantambo:

Tue Oct 4 – fly to Lima, 1 night at Mami Panchita.

Wed Oct 5 – fly to Cusco, 1 night at Hostal Atlantis, barking dogs, US$35/single, $50/double.

Thur Oct 6 – train to Aguas Calientes, La Pequena Casita for 3 nights, US$64/double.

Fri Oct 7 – Machu Picchu, spectacular.

Sat Oct 8 – explore Aguas Calientes, walk the train tracks for butterflies and torrent ducks.

Sun Oct 9 – train back to Cusco & dogs at Hostal Atlantis.

Mon Oct 10 – Roger drives us to Cock of the Rock lodge for 3 nights.

Tues, Wed, Oct 11, 12 – work the road, different elevations.

Thur Oct 13 – drive to Ollantaytambo 3 nights at Munay Tika, Pisaq Ruins.

Fri Oct 14 – Abra Malaga AM 14,500’, more ruins PM, salt evaporation ponds.

Sat Oct 15 – wander Ollantaytambo AM, drive back to Cusco PM, more dogs at Atlantis.

Sun Oct 16 – Huacupay Lakes AM, supposed to fly back to Lima but flight cancelled, 1 more night at Atlantis.

Mon Oct 17 – get last flight out of Cusco, back to Mami Pachita, miss my group’s departure for Pampa Hermosa.

Part 2, Central Peru, Pampa Hermosa, Pozuzo & Villa Rica:

Tue Oct 18 – a driver takes me 7-8 hours to San Ramon and 2 hours more to Pampa Hermosa for 3 nights, arrive about 4pm.

Wed/Thur Oct 19/20 – trails and road at Pampa Hermosa, lots of firetips.

Fri Oct 21 – drive to Pozuzo through Oxapampa for 5 nights at Bungalows Maria Frau Egg’s.

Sat to Tues Oct 22 to 25 – different elevations on road above Pozuzo through Yanachaga-Chemillen National Park.

Wed Oct 26 – drive to Villa Rica for 4 nights at Rapallo Bungalows overlooking marsh and lake.

Thur to Sat Oct 27 to 29 – drive back up Bosque Shollet and around marsh to coffee plantations.

Sun Oct 30 – drive back to Lima, 10-12 hours w/stop for lunch in La Oroya, night at Mami Panchita.

Part 3, Northern Peru, Chiclayo to Tarapoto:

Mon Oct 31 – early flight to Chiclayo, drive 2 hours to Chaparri Lodge for 3 nights.

Tue/Wed Nov 1,2 – explore Chaparri, spectacled bear!

Thur Nov 3 – Juve takes us to Olmos, 1 night, stop at Bosque Pomoc for Peruvian Plantcutter.

Fri Nov 4 – drive to Gocta Lodge 200 soles/night double, 3 nights, stop at Abra Porculla 1800m.

Sat/Sun Nov 5/6 – road to Gocta, fabulous waterfall, Maranon Cresentchest.

Mon Nov 7 – Drive to Long-whiskered Owlet Lodge for 5 nights, $150/person/night, visit Marvelous Spatuletail at Huembo, 2100m.

Tue/Wed Nov 8,9 – trails at Owlet lodge, 2350m.

Thur Nov 10 – drive down slope to Royal Sunangel Trail, 1900-2000m

Fri Nov 11 – Owlet Lodge

Sat Nov 12 – drive to Moyobambo, stopped at swampy area, 3 nights at Rumipata Bungalows, Japanese couple w/fish ponds, 900m.

Sun/Mon Nov 13/14 – creek and trail w/horses, 2 days 1100m, Rumiyacu

Tues Nov 15 – drive to Tarapoto for last 2 nights at Hotel Rio Shilcayo, 240 soles/double, 200/single, oilbird crevasse on the way. Air conditioning and a full bar, white-winged parakeets in the trees and aracaris nesting in the garden.

Wed Nov 16 – spend the day in the Huallaga Valley, dry xeric habitat

Thur Nov 17 – fly back to Lima in the am, day rooms at Mami Panchita, US$25/room + $40 airport roundtrip transfer for 6, international departures that evening around midnight.

Wed Oct 5 fly to Cusco with my brother Dan and his girlfriend, Shelly, their first trip to South America. They wanted to see Machu Picchu, so we added this first part on to the central and northern Peru trips I had planned. We stay at the Hostal Atlantis, about 6 or 7 blocks away from the main square. It’s a pleasant hotel w/friendly staff, but it’s in a more residential neighborhood, which means lots of dogs. Next time I would pay a bit more and stay at a more upscale tourist hotel in the historical center, where there are not as many dogs. At times there are 8 or more dogs hanging around in the street in front of the hotel, and they seem to bark most of the night, one of my pet peeves. We walk into the center and eat at one of the fancy restaurants overlooking the square, w/blue balconies, and have a delicious dinner and enjoy people watching.

Thur to Sat, Oct 6,7,8 We take the early train to Aguas Calientes for 3 nights, where we stay at La Pequena Casita, a nice little hotel recommended by David. It overlooks the white water river, which is great because it drowns out any town noise. The bus to Machu Picchu is right down the road, and the next morning we hop on with almost no lines. It’s a rainy morning, and at first it is foggy around the ruins and we hike to the inca bridge, which looks pretty scary. Later it clears up and we see spectacular views. That night we eat at Toto’s, a lovely restaurant over the river w/a big open fire where they grill the steaks and the trout. We eat trout w/garlic, and it is some of the best trout I’ve ever had, plus a great salad buffet of all types of bean salads. One morning it is raining, and we go shopping. Dan and Shelley buy tons of weavings, they have to buy a couple of bags to carry all their spoils. Another morning we walk back along the railroad tracks, looking for butterflies. There are lots of torrent ducks on the river, squabbling over territory, and we have fun watching them race over the white water chasing each other. Plus there are some nice butterflies along the tracks.

Sun Oct 9 We take the train back to Cusco, another night w/the barking dogs, arriving back about 9pm.

Mon to Wed, Oct 10,11,12 off to Cock of the Rock Lodge, one of my favorite places in the world. Roger, our new driver, is very experienced on the road, and it’s much easier in a small car than in a big van or bus, as I’ve done it before. I had warned my brother about this scary road, but he didn’t see what the problem was. Much easier to squeeze by the big buses and trucks coming up the road. We leave at 6am, trying to get through some road work where they close the road at 6:30am until noon. We slip through at 6:38, but a short distance later have to turn around due to a landslides, common on this road. So we have to detour back to the main road to Puerto Maldonado, which adds a couple of hours to our drive. We still get there by 2:30pm, which amazes me, as previous trips have taken a good 8-9 hours. Roger tells me it usually takes about 5-6 hours without any road problems. Having our own vehicle and driver makes it a piece of cake to pop back up the road to higher elevations and walk the parts that look good for butterflies.

Thur Oct 13 leave Cock of the Rock on a beautiful sunny morning, so we stop a couple of times going up the road. I find a fabulous purple leafwing at km 56, 7500’. Roger shows me a trail that takes off from the sign Hito Pillahuata, he says it goes downhill a couple of kms and connects up w/the road, so a driver can meet you lower down. Looks interesting. Another good place to stop is the Biological Research Station at Wayqecha at 2,950m. You can stay here now, though I’ve heard it’s fairly simple and cold, not very many sunny days. But we find some good butterflies sunning in the road right in front of the sign, probably where folks have peed while waiting for a bus. We take a dirt road from Paucartambo, the main small town between Cusco and the high pass where Parque Nacional del Manu begins, and cut over to Ollantaytambo, stopping at the Pisaq ruins on the way. We buy tickets good for 2 days that includes admission to 4 different ruins, for 70 soles each. Roger gets us student rates, convincing the ticket seller we are biologists. Ollantaytambo is a pretty tourist town, lots of restaurants, and we stay at the pleasant Munay Tika, and eat a tasty dinner right across the street. I would stay here again. This is in the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and there are ruins everywhere. Plus shopping of course.

Fri Oct 14 we drive up Abra Malaga, a high pass to 4320m (14,500’).

Abra Malaga pass

The bird tours come up here, and leave at some ungodly hour, like 4:30am, but we whine and convince Roger to leave later. He’s not quite sure what to do with us, as we aren’t hunting all the high elevation species. He shows me where there is a foot path coming down the road, crisscrossing it repeatedly, and the birders hike down most of it for the day. We go up, freeze to death, turn around and come down to a nice pullout about km 101 at 10,600’, where we find butterflies. Then we go to Urabamba and to Moray ruins and the salt ponds, ancient pools where they evaporate water for salt, pretty interesting. In the afternoon we do the ruins at Ollantaytambo.

Sat Oct 15 in the morning we wander the town, then drive back to Cusco and another night w/the barking dogs.

Sun Oct 16 we’re supposed to fly back to Lima this afternoon, but a rain squall comes in and the pilot of our incoming flight decides to not land, so our flight is cancelled, after hours of waiting. The crowd is pretty annoyed, as we have to queue up back at the ticket counters and rebook our flights, w/the rest of the 150 people on our flight. Some folks try to cut in the line and it gets violent, with lots of shouting and shoving, and LAN calls in the riot police, who respond very quickly. Perhaps this is not uncommon at LAN ticket counters in Cusco? I bum a phone from someone in line and call David in Lima, to let him know I’m stuck in Cusco for another night. He arranges a driver to pick me up the morning after I get to Lima and bring me to Pampa Hermosa so I can catch up w/the group. Of course we now have to stay yet another night back at the Atlantis, fortunately they have rooms. 15 soles for a taxi to take us back to Cusco, and $35 single/$50 double for our rooms. No credit cards, so good thing we have cash. The check in guy is very helpful, and even orders us pizza that is delivered to the hotel. My brother and his girlfriend miss their international connections w/American, which were at 10:45 that night, but they have a friend who works at AA and rebooks their flights for the next evening at no cost. We heard others in the LAN line saying they were having to pay $250 each at AA for their rebooking.

Mon Oct 17 We get the last flight out of Cusco at 4:50pm, and are waiting breathlessly for another storm to blow up, but we make it this time. Try to avoid scheduling afternoon flights from Cusco, especially as you get closer to the rainy season in November. They often have big thunderstorms, and the flights get cancelled. Locals tell us this is very common. Apparently Cusco is a VFR airport, and they don’t fly at night. So Dan and Shelley say goodbye at the Lima airport, where they plan to hang out until their evening international departure, and I head to Mami Panchita for the night. However, first I check w/Copa for Kay’s luggage, which has mysteriously disappeared on their flight from Panama. David had asked me to check when I arrived in Lima, but no luck. We seem to be hexed w/flights on this trip. Priscilla had her flight cancelled, by American, from Miami to Lima and it took her 2 extra days to get to Lima. Fortunately she had flown early, and David and the group picks her up at the airport at 8am, then drives to Pampa Hermosa.

Part 2, Central east slope Peru, Pampa Hermosa, Pozuzo & Villa Rica:

Tue Oct 18 - 7 friends had planned to meet me at Mami Panchita’s in Lima, but instead we meet at Pampa Hermosa that night, after David’s driver gets me over there. I expected to have to pay $150-200 for this, but David absorbs the cost, which is extremely nice of him, as it was in no way his fault that I was late.

Wed/Thur Oct 19,20 walk trails and the road at Pampa Hermosa, 1200m. This place is great for firetips. This is my third time here, and I really like it. The food is good, the cabins are very comfortable, it’s quiet and has power all the time, hot showers, and lots of butterflies! It’s a pain to get there, as the last 24 km is a bad dirt track, you really need 4 wheel drive. The lodge will arrange this last bit, but then you have to leave your rental car in San Ramon, which is expensive and not a good idea. So it’s awkward. The previous trip we rented 2 cars and drove them, then the cars sat at PH while we walked the trails, rather expensive. I wish the lodge could arrange the pickup in Lima. But once you’re there, it’s great. This place has more firetips than just about anywhere I’ve been, we probably have more than 10 species.

Fri Oct 21 drive from Pampa Hermosa to San Ramon w/a 4×4 van, 24 km of bad road. Meet our van in SR, then get stuck by construction until 12:30, so we go chase butterflies down by the river in San Ramon. Finally we get through, have 30km of mud roads of construction until the big bridge, turn left for Oxapampa 44 km on good road, then 77km of dirt road to Pozuzo. The last part takes about 3 hours, and we make it to Pozuzo before dark. We stay at Frau Marie Egg’s bungalows, and they are great. Simple rooms but quiet, plenty of hot water and electricity, and delicious breakfasts. She is a great cook, and makes us homemade brown bread that we fight over every morning. She makes several loaves, and it all disappears down our gullets like snowballs in hell. I would definitely recommend this place as a base to work the Pozuzo road. We drive back uphill to the National Park Yanachaga-Chemillen, mostly working the road at different elevations.

Sat Oct 22We start off near Pozuzo, mostly pasture and scrub, stopping at the first two stream crossings. We put out lots of pee and spitwads, up to maybe 1000m.

Sun Oct 23 Today we go higher, to the park headquarters just before my favorite bridge at km 60. We pay 5 soles each, and spend the day working the triangle from the headquarters up to the bridge and up to the next corner, where a trail cuts down back to the headquarters. Some people take the trail, I walk back down the road to the bridge. This bridge is great, lots of good riodinids and tons of Actinotes and satyrs, plus Catastictas and other lower cloud forest species. We’re about 3800’. Behind the headquarters there is a suspension bridge, newly built, and the trail comes in over it. Just over the bridge is a great spot for butterflies, and Kay gets shots of Pycina zamba, the first live shots I’ve seen. Around the headquarters is also very good, stuff landing all over the cement around the buildings.

Mon Oct 24 overcast and not much happening. We go up to the Cock of the Rock lek and have lunch, then some of us walk back down while others watch the cocks displaying. It starts to rain when we’re a mile or so down the road, and we huddle under a cliff (not having our umbrellas like peabrains), waiting for the car who doesn’t come and doesn’t come. Finally they all show up. The others were into the displaying birds, until Juve our driver finally made them get in the car to come get us.

Tue Oct 25 a bright sunny day, you just never know what the weather’s going to be like in the mountains. We go up to 4300’, where there is a higher trail off to the left, and some work the bridge again at 60km. We all have a great day, we find 2 different dead snakes that really bring in the butterflies, and Marie makes us lasagna, with homemade noodles, for our departure dinner. Pozuzo is a great spot, I’ll be back. Another nice part of the Pozuzo experience is that poor Sherry has a terrible allergic reaction to some substitute chemical stuff she brought instead of Deet, and she develops horrible hives that get worse and worse. Finally after several days she comes out one morning w/nasty red welts on her face, and we go to the local hospital for a shot. We had taken her to a farmacia a few days before where she got pills. The pharmacist then said she should go get a shot, but she hoped it would get better. Unfortunately it didn’t, so one morning we track down the local hospital. The first one won’t deal with her, as it’s only for people w/the government health plan, but the 2nd hospital takes her right in, she sees a doctor, gets the shot and is out in maybe 30 minutes, for a grand total of 12 soles, about US$3-4, including the shot. The best part is her hives go away almost immediately, and by that afternoon she is much better. It wouldn’t have been near that easy, or cheap, back in the US. So it’s not a nice experience for Sherry, but nice to know how quickly the local health care place was able to help her.

Wed Oct 26 drive from Pozuzo to Villa Rica, take dirt road for 30.5 km so we don’t have to go back thru Oxapampa. This goes up over a high point, about 1800m through Bosque Shollet where we will be butterflying this same road the next couple of days. We stop at km 12 at a bridge late afternoon and still find satyrs and the purple leafwing. We’ll be back here.

Thur Oct 27 we’re at the Rapallo Bungalows for the next 4 nights, a nice location with great views out over the marsh/lake at about 1500m, surrounded by mountains. Our cabanas face the east, so we have beautiful sunrises as the sun comes over the mountains and lights up the marsh, all misty, very Chinese looking. We even have some nice butterflies on the grounds, with a patch of blue flowers right below the restaurant that is pulling in clearwings and tons of buckeyes. Below it is tall grass with many peacocks and buckeyes basking in the early sun. The food here is hit and miss, more miss than hit. The woman owner seems a bit lackadaisical and not terribly helpful. We have towel wars, where it is difficult to get new towels, towels disappear off the drying racks in front of some of the rooms, soap vanishes daily, minor but annoying hassles. Weird. And she smokes constantly, and the first couple of nights the food is very late, and average when it comes. Oh well, can’t win them all. I probably wouldn’t come back here. However, we do find some nice butterflies back up the hills. Today we drive around the lake and work the coffee plantations, but it is very dry and there aren’t many butterflies flying, plus it is overcast and cool.

Fri Oct 28 we head up the road, back on the cutoff to Oxapampa/Pozuzo. We walk a couple of different trails but they all just lead to fields. Another cool cloudy morning, but it burns off by 10am or so, and we do have stuff flying. We keep driving and make it over the top, where it is too cool for bugs, and down the other side back to the bridge I wanted to explore, at 12 km. We pass some cabins off to the left, as you drive away from Villa Rica, that Marie Egg has told us belong to a family member, and these have great potential for future trips. David has the phone number and is going to check them out, they might be much better than staying in town where we are. Plus you would be in the good habitat. The town is growing and has expanded out to where Rapallo Bungalows are. The previous time David was there, 18 months ago, they could walk the road in front of the lodge and go birding, but it has all been chopped now. Anyway, we get to the bridge about 11am, and all sorts of stuff is flying. We put out the magic elixir and immediately a Potamanaxas is there. We spend a couple of hours, have lunch and chase bugs, taking lots of photos. A good day.

Sat Oct 29 we plan to go back up the hill, but the road is closed for roadwork. We try another road, also just recently paved and it is closed as well. Out of desperation we try a 3rd alternative, crossing the bridge on the other side of town and turning left onto a short dirt road, less than a mile. We explore down it, following signs for a cascada (waterfall) and the signs point across a ford w/a higher foot bridge. Juve doesn’t like the look of the ford, so we park and take the foot bridge. This turns out to be another good spot, w/butterflies coming to the ford and up the steep rutted road that leads to the waterfall. Some of us walk up maybe a km or so, never making it all the way to waterfall. We spend the morning going back and forth up this road and on both sides of the ford, finding more and more species as it warms up. After lunch, which as usual we have w/us (juve’s tasty tuna w/onions and lime) we try again to go back up the road to the Bosque Shollet forest on top, and this time the road is open. We make it up to the top, about 1800m, and it is sunny, for once. Even though it’s about 2-2:30pm, we find some excellent bugs. I catch the purple leafwing, finally, on some poop behind the sign on top, always a good spot to check. This turns out to be Polygrapha tyrianthina, a truly spectacular butterfly, and we also get great looks at Junea dorinda, another dramatic high elevation satyr, plus more Pedaliodes of course. A great way to end this part of the trip. Walking down the road late in the afternoon, about 4 or 4:30pm, a car of locals stop and warn me that this is a dangerous road and we shouldn’t be on it after dark. It is a man and woman in the car, and the woman is the one talking to me. I was walking w/one of the other women in our group, so perhaps they were worried about us being 2 women. They tell me there are ladrones, robbers, who come out after dark. We go on down the road, Juve picks us up and we all get back to Villa Rica without any incidents, but it is something to keep in mind. When I mention this to David, he says he has been warned not to camp up there, which some birders used to do, but he’s never had any problems during the day.

Sun Oct 30 long drive from Villa Rica to Lima, too long 10 hours+. We stop for a good lunch at the Michelin restaurant in La Oroya. Next time I will spend the night in Tarma, nice hotel there. 30km of muddy roads in construction to get back on paved highway at San Ramon. Then we get stuck in a horrible traffic jam back in Lima, and end up having to take Glen and Eileen straight to the airport for their international departure that night. We don’t get to the airport until 8 or so, and finally back to Mami Panchita’s about 9pm, where we meet the next group of valiant photographers for the northern leg. Some go out to eat, I crash and we all say goodbye to David, who has done a bang up job, and turned into a keen butterfly photographer. I’ll be spending more time w/him in the field, that’s for sure.

Part 3, Northern Peru:

Mon to Wed, Oct 31 to Nov 2 6:45am flight to Chiclayo, so we have to leave Mami Pachita’s about 4;30. We get to Chiclayo, and the driver from Chaparri Lodge is waiting for us. About 1 hour 15 minutes to the turnoff to Chaparri, about 75 km, where we have to buy tickets to enter the reserve, 30 soles each, about $10-12. Good thing I had a couple of hundred soles in my pocket! Then another 45 minutes on a bad road across the very dry, actually parched, habitat. They have not had rain in almost 2 years, and everything is grey-brown, except for where they are irrigating. We get a local guide, Salvador, a young guy who knows the birds quite well and is very nice. He’s only 18 and quiet and shy, but quite helpful, and enjoys chasing butterflies and taking photos. Chaparri only gets a bit of rain from December to March, and didn’t get any this year. It would be fascinating to come back here in the rainy season and see everything greened up. I assume there would be more butterflies flying then, but we still get more than 40 species. This is Tumbesian habitat, very similar to Urraca Lodge in southern Ecuador, where I was in March 2011. There it was green, and we had lots of special species. Most of what we see here at Chaparri we also had at Urraca, but this is a bigger piece of habitat, over 34,000 hectares, and I suspect they would have more butterflies in the rains. They do a lot of work with the spectacled bear, and have several they are rehabilitating to release. We luck out and see a wild mother and cub, coming in close to a bee hive they have dug up in the ground across the valley from the mirador, very convenient for digiscoping. I am surprised to see bears in such dry habitat close to the coast, but this is probably one of the best places to see them in the wild. Plus we see a number of Tumbesian bird endemics, much more than we saw at Urraca. Elegant crescentchests are common, believe it or not, and we see them daily from the comedor, the open restaurant, as many as 3 at a time. The birds and animals are coming so close because there is a spring here, and small pools of water down the middle of the ravine. The lodge is doing a lot of drip irrigation on the hillsides, to keep the plants alive and probably to bring in the animals and birds for the tourists. The animals are quite tame, we get foxes coming through the dining area, and peccaries, and a collared antshrike joins us for breakfast at the buffet table. A very special place.

Thur Nov 3Juve, our excellent driver, shows up w/Guido from Lima, and Miguel, David’s birding partner, has come along as well. We take off for Olmos after lunch, about 2pm, 2 hours back to Chiclayo, then east for another couple of hours. We stop at Bosque Pomoco to look for Peruvian plantcutter, which we find after an hour or so of looking, thanks to Juve. We get to Olmos just after dark and stay at a new hotel, not quite finished and a bit rough around the edges, but they have a restaurant next door and it’s just for a night.

Fri to Sun, Nov 4,5,6 We leave Olmos and take a dirt road off to the left about an hour or so out, to go up to Abra Porculla about 1800m. We bird here for an hour or so, seeing a few things but not as many as expected. Probably because we didn’t leave early enough to get here at the crack of dawn, as the bird tours do. It is very dry, if more rains had come I’ll bet we would see more butterflies here. On to Gocta Lodge, south of Pedro Ruis. This place is known for its spectacular waterfall, actually 2 waterfalls falling from the huge box canyon. The lodge is in a wonderful scenic location, but unfortunately they have chopped down most of the surrounding forest, so not too many birds. We do see Maranon crescentchest on the road, skulking in the scrub. We spend 2 days up and down the 5-6 km dirt road up from the highway, and get some new species but we have to work at it. The guys find a trail off from where we have lunch, Juve’s special tuna w/onion and lime, and down the trail there is a nice clearwing lek and some white flowers the clearwings like. Different from the usual clearwing white flowers, but lots of varieties are here. We go back the next day and probably get 8 to 10 species. This is just past the Km 02 mark, on the left side of the dirt road as you go uphill, just before a steep right hand turn. There is also a decent trail that takes off to the right a turn or two further uphill. This trail actually goes all the way down to the paved highway, but we only go up and down for 30 minutes or so.

Mon Nov 7 Drive back to Pedro Ruis and east to Abra Patricia, first stopping at Huembo for killer looks at Marvelous Spatuletail, surely one of the world’s top hummers. They have built a place with hummingbird feeders before the pass, about 2100m, and we have very satisfying looks at both males and a female. The male is wonderful, and comes again and again, even though the chestnut-breasted coronets constantly chase him off. Tony calls them chestnut thugs, an apt name. The guys bring down lunch so we can eat at the feeders, talk about spoiled, and the sun comes out and we even get butterflies. Several species of orange banded Pedaliodes, so a great day is had by all. Then we drive about another 2 hours plus, through lots of construction where sometimes we have to wait, but we get here well before dark, even though we left Huembo about 2:30pm. This is the new Long-whiskered Owlet Lodge at 2350m, built by Ecoan, a Peruvian NGO. This is a great place to stay, they even have internet.

Tue to Fri, Nov 8,9,10,11 explore the trails at the Owlet lodge. When the sun comes out, which is spotty and around intermittent showers, we get a good variety of satyrs. Many are the same as I had at San Isidro in Ecuador in the spring, which is about 2000m, but some are different. Good humid montane forest, cool and wet. On Wed Nov 9 we wake to a brilliant almost cloud free morning and a beautiful sunrise, and it turns into a gorgeous sunny day, unusual at this elevation. First off, at 6am, we meet the guy here who is feeding the undulated antpitta, and he shows us the short trail across the street and uphill about 5-10 minutes. The bird comes in immediately and we get fab looks. They have only been feeding it for 2 months. There are 2 pro photographers staying here w/monster lenses, and the antpitta comes so close they can’t shoot it. The local guy throwing out the worms moves the bird closer to us, for the folks w/small cameras (us), and then further away for the big guns. After 7am breakfast we have tons of butterflies flying, the problem is getting them to stop. Fortunately we have the magic elixir, male human pee. The guys are all saving their pee in plastic bottles and it gets sprinkled all over the trails, plus everyone is peeing at likely looking sunny spots or stumps along the trails. After a while we find piles of satyrs here, there and everywhere. From in back of the highest set of rooms there is a trail that leads to the tower, about 200m, then another 100m to a split. You can take the left fork which is called the Grallarias trail and it goes down and around back to the main road coming in off the highway, 1200m long. They have it nicely signed every 100m, which is a big help. At the junction it is open and sunny, and this is a good spot for butterflies to come in, plus we have several pee spots at the base of the tower, and on the 200m trail to the tower. On this sunny day I walk the Grallarias trail down from the tower, which is the easier way to go, as it’s more downhill this way. About 700m at some steep switchbacks there is a clearwing gathering place, and I finally get one to pose, an Oleria near makrena, lots of markings. Wonder if they are here all year? You go down to about 600m, then start up slowly. About 400m is another spot I put out spitwads the day before, and pee, and we get a couple of good skippers here, a new Thespieus and a rubyeye w/a white line, by Dan. It will be interesting to figure out how many satyr species we end up with. We all get great shots of Parataygetis albinotata, a big satyr with prominent white lines. I’ve seen it at Cock of the Rock but these are the first live shots. We don’t hike down to look for the owlet, which you do at night. It is at least 900m down a steep muddy trail, and often you have to go an additional 300m + further down. It helps to take Roberto, the local expert who has the most experience finding this smallest owl in the world, smaller than your palm. The pro photographers find it and get fabulous shots, which they show us when they come back up, but another group tried 3 nights in a row and missed all 3.

Thur Nov 10 we drive down slope about 20-30 minutes to the Royal Sunangel trail, a pullout to the left. We crawl under the barbed wire and head down to the right, though I think the actual trail to the hummingbird goes to the left. Juve tells me the left hand trail is much rougher, steep up and down, and he suggests we do the trail to the right. This is also steep, wet and dark, over mossy slippery rocks, so we really have to watch our footing. It is another gorgeous sunny day, but we don’t see as many butterflies as I would expect. We do get several new species, Tony scores Anteros formosus, Dan and Kay get a new Oxeoschistus satyr, and we all see a fresh riodinid Teratophthalma, a very striking looking butterfly. Back up on the highway late in the morning Tony has walked a bit further downhill and finds a large pullout on the right where the water ditch is running, and lots of wet cliff face, and there are a bunch of butterflies coming to the gravel. A different Catasticta and some Dalla skipperlings, plus a beautiful Perisama gold with white dashes, probably P. philinus. Late in the afternoon, on the trail to the tower at one of the pee stumps, I found the first Corades ulema w/beautiful gold bands on the ventral, only the second time I’ve seen this species. We have had 4 species of Corades here, the odd teardrop shaped satyrs.

Sat Nov 12 we drive to Moyobambo for 3 nights, but stop at a few places on our way. First we walk a short old road that cuts around the paved highway and comes back just before a big bridge, looks promising but too overcast. I think this is Afluente. “Afluente is a town on the road at roughly 1000 m. elevation. A few kilometres down the road you cross Puente Serranoyacu (I think), and a few km. below that you come to Puente Aguas Verdes – this would be where you walked the parallel gravel road. I’m guessing that’s around 900 m. elevation. Just below that is the turn-off to Playa Mariposa, which I’ve never taken – elevation about the same. Then the TOWN of Aguas Verdes is another 5 (?) km. down the road – a lot of birding groups visit some white sand forest just outside that town. So though I don’t know the elevations, you want to make sure which Aguas Verdes (bridge or town) the Field Guides participant was talking about. No matter what, Aguas Verdes and Afluentes are certainly different places, though separated by less than 10 km.” From David about the 2 locations.

Then we stop a bit further down the mountain at Playa Mariposa, just before the small town of Aguas Verdes. There is a road sign to the left for Playa Mariposa (a subtle hint), we park the car and walk in 700m to what looks like a perfect butterfly spot. The road walking in looks good too. Beautiful habitat coming down the opposite hillsides, a nice flowing small river, big gravel/sand bars, looks like people picnic here (which means pee spots), unfortunately all we need is sun. It’s a dark and stormy looking day so no butterflies. Except out of nowhere a large tigerwing floats through and lands over our heads about 15’ up. It is Pterourus zagreus, the first time I’ve seen this species. The folks w/long lenses manage to get decent shots of it, I’m amazed because we have such low light. This place looks like it has great potential, I will definitely schedule some time here when I come back to Tarapoto on my way to the Owlet Lodge. It reminds me of Bocatoma at Gomez Farias in Tamaulipas, Mexico, a place we have driven to many times. That place is fabulous for butterflies, but you have to avoid the weekends, when locals use it for picnics and swimming.

The 3rd stop is an open swampy area for pale-eyed blackbirds and a few other birds. Dan and Willie find a small trail off to the left, we all troop in and find a number of good swamp butterflies. A real crowd pleaser is the Paches loxus, a brilliant blue skipper that appears to be common here. We get to our home for the next several days, Rumipata Bungalows, which are simple but comfortable. Except for super hard mattresses, but we get used to those after the first night, sort of. The food is very tasty, fresh and lots of vegetables and salads, and fish from their ponds. The Japanese couple works very hard to take care of us, and the food is an interesting blend of Peruvian and Japanese, w/delicious sauces. They also have some interesting trails on their property, you could spend a day just walking the trails here.

Sun/Mon Nov 13/14 we drive back out to the entrance, next to the Banos Termales (hot springs, jammed on the weekend), turn left then an immediate left again on a dirt road and go up the hill. Several km up the road we pass a creek that comes out of the hills to our right and runs across the dirt road. Juve was expecting to take us there, but it’s crowded with lots of people, so we keep going uphill. We get up to the pass and start down the other side, but there are people everywhere w/crops and animals, very little good habitat. We turn around, go back to the pass, get out and walk downhill for an hour or so, but are only seeing common roadside edge butterflies, so we decide to go back to the hotel and explore the trails there. However, we pause when we pass the creek again, this time there are much fewer people, and we see butterflies flitting around, so we get out. Great decision, as this turns out to be a goldmine. We spend several hours here and come back the next morning. I originally thought they were giving horseback rides, but actually folks are riding down out of the hills from their isolated fincas, tying up their horses and getting a moto, the 3 wheeled taxis that are everywhere, into town, doing their shopping and coming back, loading up their horses and riding back to their fincas. Early that morning it was more crowded, but by 10am or so they’re all in town. We jump rocks, cross the creek and explore a short distance up the trail, finding butterflies everywhere. It’s a bit of a culture clash, as we’re crawling around shooting butterflies, and the locals are doing their washing in the creek. At one point a woman w/beautiful hair to her waist walks up to the creek where some of the guys are shooting butterflies at the edge, she whip off her shirt and dunks her head in the small waterfall and starts washing her hair, so the guys leave quickly. That’s probably the only water she gets all week to wash with. It makes us appreciate what we get to do, a bit easier of a life. Anyway, we get a long list of species seen here, and we find some new ones when we come back the 2nd day. My favorite was one of the last species seen, a beautiful Ridens skipper that most of us got to photograph. Only the 2nd time I’ve seen that genus, and certainly the best photos I’ve ever gotten. Another place to come back to.

Tue Nov 15 drive to Tarapoto to Hotel Rio Shilcayo for our last 2 nights, a nice place in town w/gardens and a good restaurant, and air conditioning, good to have in the lowlands. We plan to spend the morning on the trails at the hotel, have another tasty lunch (much better than anything we can find on the road) and drive the 3 hours to Tarapoto in the afternoon. But we have our first rainy morning, all morning, so Willie and I just hang out watching birds from our room, 10 species of hummers at the feeders and black-bellied tanagers (replacing silver beaks) in the garden. Some more energetic folks walk the trails anyway. We have a noon lunch, early as we’ve usually aimed more at 1 or 1:30pm, then take off for Tarapoto. We stop at the oilbird bridge about 20 km from Moyobambo, and Rick gets stunning photos of oilbirds flying below us in the chasm, an amazing sight. It’s at the Quiscarrum bridge about km 515. We finally leave and make it to Tarapoto before dark. Excellent pisco sours at the restaurant.

Wed Nov 16 our last day, que lastima. Juve and Miguel take us an hour or two away to another special habitat, very dry, must be in a rain shadow, in the Huallaga Valley. We find many butterflies very similar to northeastern Mexico, which seems strange to me. Very dry, we put out pee but it disappears almost immediately. We do get some nice Caria metalmarks and a number of different species for our list. It’s very hot, so we’re glad to get back to our air conditioned rooms and a shower. One advantage of spending more time in the mountains is the cooler climate, as compared to the hot lowlands.

Thur Nov 17 our flight from Tarapoto to Lima is about 10:30am, on time and no problems. I think there are only 2 flights to Lima/day, and the other was late in the afternoon, so we went with the morning flight. Our international departures are around 11pm to midnight. We have day rooms at Mami Panchita for $25/room, plus $40 for the round trip transfer for 6 of us. $20 each, well worth it for a place to shower, rest and do final reorganization and packing. We eat down the road at Lorenzo, tasty food and plenty of it, then hit a panaderia on the way back at Renzo’s. Our final Peruvian goodies. Peru is full of wonderful butterflies and lots of places to explore, and friendly people. I will be back many times. Next time I want to go to Cajamarca, stay at the Hotel Laguna Seca.

 

 

Panama, August 2011

Trip Report for Panama August 2011

Author: Kim Garwood

This trip is timed for the rainy season, which runs May or June through November. December to March is dry and often windy, especially in January/February. The Panamanians call this time winter, and the dry months summer, the reverse of North America. So it’s less crowded in hotels at this time. In my experience more species are flying now, when it’s wet, but Al tells me the hairstreaks are more common in the dry season, when many trees and plants bloom.

July 30 – fly nonstop from Houston to Panama City on Continental, night in Canal Inn B&B

July 31 – drive to Finca Hartmann for 5 nights, 1400-1500 meters

Aug 1,2,3,4 – explore trails at Finca Hartmann

Aug 5 – drive to El Valle, 2 nights at El Campestre, 650-700 meters

Aug 6 – walk the trail at Campestre, 800 meters and lots of Ithomiinae

Aug 7 – walk Ichiro’s trail (Cerro Gaital), then after lunch drive to Burbayar Lodge for 3 nights, 1450’/400 meters

Aug 8 – we hiked the trails at Burbayar, very few butterflies

Aug 9 – we go to Lake Boyano for the day, road 12 km southeast of the bridge to the left

Aug 10 – leave Burbayar, back to the Canal Inn for 2 nights, work Cerro Jefe for the day

Aug 11 – day trip back to Cerro Jefe, top about 950 meters

Aug 12 – fly back to the US

Saturday July 30 – fly to Panama City where I’m met by Albert Thurman, our fearless leader for the next 2 weeks.  Al has spent a ton of time in Panama, after living there for 5+ years in the 70’s and doing many trips back there.

Our trip was organized by Expeditions Travel out of Gainesville, FL, and is a collecting trip with permits. We have an interesting group, some after beetles, many after butterflies, and most after moths.

We go to Pences for a delicious dinner, out towards the causeway. I get fajitias for $12 and tasty corvine ceviche for another $5, such a deal.

Sunday July 31 – we head to David and Volcan, to our home for the next 5 days at Finca Hartmann. This is a coffee finca where Al has collected for 30+ years. They have a large building with 4 bedrooms upstairs and 2 more downstairs plus 3 beds in the main room.

The best thing is there is a nice fireplace and the guys, mostly John MacDonald, keep the fire going 24/7. We’re about 1400-1500 meters and it’s often foggy and cool, in the 60’s, so the fire feels great. There is also a small cabin w/a large bed and a separate kitchen, so a couple could stay here very nicely. I manage to score this honeymoon suite, which is pretty cool. We even have hot water with propane showers and flush toilets, but no electricity. However, as the guys are collecting moths they have generators so you can charge batteries and run computers at night off the generators.

We bring our own food and Al cooks most of the dinners, while the Rileys volunteer to handle breakfast and do a bang up job. There are 15 of us, a large group, so cooking is no small task.  But it seems to go easily, if somewhat casually, and we all have plenty of food.

The first night we plan to eat at Il Forno, in Volcan, a tasty Italian restaurant that is run by one of the Hartmann daughters. We were supposed to get to the restaurant by 4:30pm, but due to a variety of factors (having to get the 3rd rental car in the morning, 2 hours at a leisurely lunch in Santiago at La Hacienda) we don’t arrive until closer to 7pm, then finally make it up the mountain to the Finca by 10 or 11. The van won’t make the last 2 miles of bad road, so they have to shuttle the little cars to haul in all our luggage.

But we finally get in, except they are short a couple of beds, so Al and Mike go back to town to get a hotel. The Hartmanns bring out a few more mattresses the next morning and Ichiro moves into my cabin, he gets the kitchen.

Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday August 1/2/3/4 – wander the trails at the Finca. The best trails are the roads, both back the way we came in and continuing a bit further on from the Finca, plus there is a long road back from the Y, which is about half a mile or so from the cabins.

I walk maybe a mile or two along this road, into good forest, while several of the hikers go much further. There is a trail off this track that heads to Amistad National Park, another 2 miles, and several other trails through the woods, but they aren’t well maintained and it’s very dark and wet in the woods.

We have heavy rain every day, often by early afternoon, and lots of fog, so the weather isn’t in our favor. We see some good things, but the numbers of butterflies seems low to me. I get some new species, which is always fun, but the overall diversity isn’t much. Probably the best is a gorgeous bright blue Flat, Celaenorrhinus aegiochus, which looks like a Two-barred Flasher at first. I always wonder what it’s like at a different time of the year. Al says the dry season is good for hairstreaks, February being the best. Some of my other favorites are the Mesosemia, lots of M.asa, a beautiful dark blue male and the female has a white stripe on the forewing. Plus 2 new ones for me, M.grandis, with a spectacular bright turquoise blue stripe across both wings, and M.harveyi, all rufous w/small tails.  Later, when I get home to my reference books, I realize this brown one is really a female M.grandis.

Friday August 5 – We leave Finca Hartmann about 8:30am, and fortunately they come up with a big truck to haul all our luggage, otherwise it would have taken us several trips to get it all out in the little cars. We get down to their house, about 100 meters lower at 1300 or so,  and wander around for an hour. It’s nice and sunny there, and they have some trails down to a stream, plus a little museum of pre-Colombian artifacts they have found on their land. Most of us buy some coffee to take home.

There are a number of species we see just around the house and garden and trails, like Rusty-tipped Page and Archaeopreponas and Sulphurs. We finally get under way, say goodbye, and make it to David where we have lunch at the KFC, then leave there about 1pm.

It takes us to just about 6pm to make it to the Hotel Campestre at El Valle. The turn off to El Valle is about 98 km from Panama City, and it seems to take forever to drive back down the bumpy road, around trucks and many cops w/radar.  It appears that we have the hotel to ourselves, which is good so the moth people can string up their sheets and lights. We have a tasty dinner, steak with pepper sauce for me, at the hotel restaurant which is outdoors and has a great view of the valley and the sunset.

Saturday August 6 – There is a nice trail about 800 meters long that starts from the garden of the hotel, you can see the sign from the restaurant for the ‘square trees’, arboles cuadernos?, you cross the small stream and walk a short distance, under a large limb that hangs over the trail, and there is a great spread out lek of Ithomiinae sitting around in the dappled shade, perfect for photos. John MacDonald tells me he had 21 species of clearwings here last year on August 13. I have 16 species today, and miss several of them.

This would be a great trail to walk once a week, or at least monthly, and see how the species mix changes throughout the year. When you get to the big tree, where they have several benches, there is a sign returning to the hotel to the left, but if you go to the right a short distance you hit a barbed wire fence. Turn right, follow the fence line maybe 100-200 feet and there are a couple of places where the wire is down so it’s easy to step through into the meadow full of impatients. Here it’s more open and sunny, instead of in the dappled woods, and there are different butterflies. Many crescents, Eresia and Castilia, and at least 2 species of Parides, including childrenae the beautiful green one.

So a great morning is had by all, most of us don’t get back for lunch until mid afternoon. Ichiro takes another trail down the street to the right, he’s going to show it to me tomorrow. He gets some different stuff, including a yellow Melete, looks like a different subspecies. That afternoon Kevin Painter, a guy who’s been sending me photos from El Valle, comes to meet me and takes me to dinner at Bruschetta, a delicious restaurant in town, and we sit around and blab for hours, plus Berto, another photographer from El Valle, comes by to meet. It’s always fun to get to put faces to folks you have only known online.

Sunday August 7 – Ichiro, Dave and I head for Ichiro’s trail, which is called Cerro Gaital. Ichiro found it by using the book Where to Find Birds in Panama. We have the morning here, than we’re heading to Burbayar Lodge for 3 nights.

You drive, from Campestre, by taking the first right from their driveway, then the first left, then the next right, and you can drive out maybe 500 meters or a km and park where the road dead ends, at a sign that says Bienvenides a Cerro Gaital. You hike uphill several hundred meters and come to a yellow empty hut, where the trail goes to the left. Better is to take a cut through the woods to the left, you go through a barbed wire fence, a little before the yellow hut. This is a decent trail about a km or so which then intersects w/the main trail. The cut through is better to walk, as the ‘main’ trail is overgrown, w/grass over rocks, so it’s difficult to see where you’re putting your feet. The cut through is more across the hillside through waist high undergrowth, and there are lots of Ithomiinae again sitting around, waiting to be photographed. I saw several different species from what I had the previous day. First butterfly I saw, however, was a fresh Riodinid, Ithomeis eulema imitatrix, a dramatic orange,black and white bug. It was on territory, flitting from bush to bush, and Ichiro patiently waited for me to take lots of photos before he collected it. The Ithomiinae were interesting as the dark tigerwings tended to lek together, and the translucent bluish ones grouped together. In the tigerwing group I had lots of Napeogenes tolosa , Hyposcada virginiana, Tithorea tarricina, very similar looking but three different sizes. The Napeogenes is the smallest, up to the Tithorea. I also got good shots of Yellow-banded Ruby-eye, Orses cynisca.

For birding, I saw the rare rufous-vented ground-cuckoo extremely well. I was lurking around quietly, waiting for clearwings to settle for photos at a lek, when this clacking comes from the bushes and the ground-cuckoo dashes up the hill close to me. Then it flew up about 20’ in a tree and sat there clacking its bill at me, maybe 40-50’ away. Finally it quieted down and just sat there watching me for 5 minutes or more. Best looks I’ve ever had at that usually shy bird, maybe I was near a nest?

After lunch we drive back to Panama City and a couple of hours southeast to Burbayar Lodge, turning left off the Pan American Highway at the signed road to Ceti about 60-70 km from PC.

The road up the hill to the lodge was only paved about 2 years ago, and it’s still a steep slow drive, only about 14 km in from the main highway. Simple little thatched cabins, I score my own cabin w/a porch over the forest, no electricity except when they run the generator for the evening hours. No hot water but we do have flush toilets, and the food is excellent, and they even include wine with dinner, very civilized.

Monday August 8 – Mike and I explore the white trail, only about 500 meters along the creek. You have to cross the creek a couple of times and it’s fairly deep, deeper than my borrowed boots so I have to stop and dump the water out of my boots on the far side. Plus the boots have a hole in the left one.

Then I walk the red trail, which starts about 50’ or so down from the entrance on the main road. The first km or so is nice, crisscrossing the stream many times but not deep, though very nice looking forest but almost no butterflies. It’s a sunny morning, and we’ll all puzzled by the lack of butterflies. Maybe another time of the year.

The red trail loops around to the top of the cabins, about 2.5 km, so I figure I’ll end up back there. However they don’t have it marked at a key intersection (actually a couple of key intersections, but I guess right on those). When I come to a choice where there is a sign for the blue trail to the right, I ‘assume’ my red trail goes straight. At this point I’m within 300 meters of the cabins, after a couple of hours of slogging up and down hills on muddy slippery trails, and I’m ready to be back home. But I go half a km or so, and nothing. So I backtrack to one of the junctions, no signs, and try a different tack, but again nothing after half a km or so.

By this time I’m getting very tired and low on water, and worried that I may have to go all the way back to the start, 2.5 km away, and afraid that I don’t have the energy to do that. Finally I get back to the junction w/the sign for the blue trail and try that one as a last resort, and eureka that is correct. Thanks for the signs, guys. It would have been easy to have a red arrow, or a sign saying ‘lodge’ or exit, but no…Another confusing aspect is they have had pink tape tied to trees every now and then counting down the meters left (which is why I thought I was w/in 300 meters).

Once I get on the blue trail the pink tape shows up again, counting down 200 meters, 100 meters, 0 meters, and I’m at the bottom of a ravine standing in the creek, no signs anywhere. Say what??? Fortunately I continue another couple of hundred meters and find one of the traps the guys have put up in a tree, so I know I’m close. Boy am I glad to climb yet another hill and pop out of the woods at the upper cabins.

I stagger back to my cabin, take off my wet boots, and collapse at the lunch table, about 1:30pm, where everyone says, oh good Kim’s back. Then it starts to rain, so good timing on that part, but I was never so glad to get back, and drink a couple of pitchers of cold water.

Tuesday August 9 – we drive back to the main highway and continue to the east (or south, it’s confusing here in Panama, towards the Darien and Colombia).

Be sure to carry your passport, as on a previous trip everyone in the car had to show their passport and the policia copied down all the numbers, but today we sail right on through.

A little less than an hour we have crossed Canita and the Bayano bridge over Lake Bayano, and another 12 km to the not very noticeable gravel road into the bushes. Al and John found this spot scouting earlier, and our 3 cars pull in and we wander around.

These may be logging roads, or tracks, but they are somewhat open and lots of butterflies. Before we are out of the cars we can see Heliconius erato or melpomene with just the red band on the forewing but all black on the hindwing. It’s interesting, as we see both ones with the yellow line on the HW, and ones without the yellow.

Unfortunately it clouds up, gets darker and darker, the wind kicks up and most of us make it back to the cars before the heavens open, except for Ichiro and Chris who come back as drowned rats. Dave runs back and just beats a tree crashing down on the road. The wind brings down several trees, it’s a bit scary.

We go have an early lunch at a decent restaurant back in Canita, then get back to the field by noon, the sun comes out and things are hopping. There was even a big tree down on the highway, but they’re clearing it by the time we return from our early lunch. We stay until about 4pm, and John MacDonald shows me a new Mesosemia hypermegala, mostly black with a blue ring, a stunning bug. Another good day, funny how different from the day before.

Wednesday August 10 – we depart Burbayar after breakfast, after saying goodbye to the bats. I’ve had bats flying through my room every night, and last night they left presents on my floor and even on my pillow. Apparently they were eating some fruit with large seeds and deposited the seeds as they flew over my bed.

I wake in the middle of the night and feel smooth slippery slimy things on my pillow, get my flashlight and see weird shiny egg looking things all over. The guys in the kitchen tell us they are seeds from the bats, and I can’t think what else they could be. Lisa even had a bat hit her in the head last night while she was in bed, so we won’t miss the bats too much.

We head to Cerro Jefe, a famous collecting site. In the DeVries Costa Rica Riodinid book it is interesting to see how many of the Riodinids were collected here at Cerro Jefe.

We drive back to Panama City and take the Cerro Azul turnoff, then branch to Cerro Jefe. On the way up we stop at a house with eupatorium all over their driveway and hillside and probably a thousand Ithomiinae, mostly tigerwings, coming to the blue mist flowers. I’ve never seen so many nectaring. Mostly Hypothyris euclea, but I suspect we’ll end up with 7 or 8 or more species once we sort them all out.

The house is almost at the end of the paved road, across from Finca Luna, about 2,000’. Then we head on up, onto the dirt road, stopping at several spots the guys have had good luck with putting out their traps. John has caught Agrias amydon smalli here, and he scores another as soon as he hangs his trap. Lisa also catches one in the same spot, it must be a pass over the hills. John also takes us to a spot where they catch Morpho cypris, another holy grail for the collectors.

We eventually work our way to the top, to what they call elfin forest, about 950 meters/3200’. Here the fog is rolling in, so we have lunch (always a good time to eat, when the weather is bad), it brightens up and we get butterflies flying. Dave tells us he has some good skippers up at the antennae tower a bit up the road, so several of us head up there. He caught Myscelus perissodora. The collectors get several good riodinids, which they let me shoot later in the hotel, Mesenopsis melanochlora and Panaropsis elegans. I miss a couple of different Vettius grass skippers, both V.artona and V.layrenaye, plus several different dark big satyrs that I haven’t seen before.

This is a good spot, different species flying, you can only imagine how good it could be if it was a sunny day. We make it back to the Canal Inn, some go
to the artisanal market for shopping, and the whole group goes to Jimmy’s for dinner, a tasty Greek restaurant.

Thursday August 11 – I head back to Cerro Jefe w/2 car loads, but the 3rd car goes to the Pipeline Road. Up on Cerro Jefe we have a great day, with the collectors getting several Agrias, Preponas, and John gets Baeotus beotus, which he had never seen before and I had not seen north of Amazonian Peru.

Unfortunately it was foggy again up at the tower, so I only saw Ancyluris inca at the riodinid spot. The dark satyrs flying around are Praepronophila petronius, I think, though Dave also caught a brighter rufous satyr that looks just right for this species. So the dark ones may be something else.  The Rileys also score and catch 3 Morpho cypris, which gives us 5 species of Morpho up there.  Many of the Nymphalids are flying around the special tree, where the collectors now have 3 or 4 traps hung.

On further examination, Tom finds sap leaking from the tree in several places, it forms drip spots under the branches, and many butterflies are attracted to this hanging sap. Good thing John noticed the butterflies flying around this tree on his initial scouting trip before our trip started, and choose to hang his trap here. This has been a magnet for the gaudy sap-sucking Nymphalids. Perhaps the tree is diseased, a healthy tree wouldn’t be producing sap like this, usually.

So our final day is much fun for all. That night, back at the Canal Inn, just as we’re ready to go to dinner the heavens open and torrential rain pours down. We wait half an hour or so, while the streets flood over the curb, and decide to go back to Pences for dinner, instead of out to the Miraflores Locks as planned.This turns out to be a wise decision as the power is out over much of the city, except Pences has their own generator.  I enjoy their delicious fruit freeze drinks, batidas. This time I get passionfruit. A good way to end a good trip.

Ecuador, March/April 2011

Trip Report for Ecuador March/April 2011

Participants: Kim Garwood

Author: Kim Garwood

General Comments – Photos from the different locations of this trip will be posted on Flickr, under Kim Garwood, Ecuador 2011. I will be putting them up slowly over the next several months, and will also add some from the other photographers as they send them to me, and as I get id’s figured out.

Ecuador divides into 3 regions for nature tours, in my opinion. This time I’m doing 2 of the 3 regions, southern Ecuador and eastern Ecuador. There is also western Ecuador, which includes Mindo and the great birding lodges Bellavista and Tandayapa, also Tinalandia, but that will be other trips.

Our Part 1 is southern Ecuador, where you fly to Loja or Guayaquil and visit the several Jocotoco lodges around the south, and Copalinga Lodge outside Zamora, plus Vilcabamba and Podocarpus National Park.

Then our Part 2 is the fabulous eastern transect over the Papallacta Pass at 4,000 meters, and dropping down the eastern slope. You can stay at Termas Papallacta, the wonderful hot springs/spa resort at 3,300 meters, or Guango Lodge, owned by the folks at San Isidro, a little below, about 8 km down from the village of Papallacta, spectacular hummingbird feeders. Then down to Baeza and south to Cabanas San Isidro, a bit lower at 2,100 meters. Then down to the turnoff east towards Coca and Loreto, where you find the new lodge WildSumaco about 1,400 meters. Then you can head to Coca and take a boat trip to one of the many great lowland lodges on the Rio Napo.

Our Part 3 is a week camping at the Rio BIgal Reserve 2 hours hike above Loreto, also in eastern Ecuador.

This trip was organized and booked in 3 parts. Part 1 is southern Ecuador, booked through Bird Ecuador and Carmen Bustamente from Cabanas San Isidro, http://cabanasanisidro.com/pages/tours.htm . Part 2 is eastern Ecuador, led by Andrew Neild, http://www.thebutterfliesofvenezuela.com/butterflytours.html and Part 3 is camping at Rio Bigal Biological Reserve above Loreto, eastern Ecuador, with Fundacion Sumac Muyu, http://bigalriverbiologicalreserve.org/english/index.php .  Andrew also leads private butterfly photography tours, you can contact him directly at his website.

There are many good bird guides and tour companies here in Ecuador, and lots of great lodges to choose from. Bird Ecuador is very good, our trip through Carmen was flawless, but another good ground agent is Mindo Bird Tours, w/Jane Lyons. I used Carmen this time because I started with Copalinga Lodge outside Zamora. I asked Catherine there if she could coordinate the rest of our trip, Part 1, and she recommended using Carmen.  It also helped that we could send all the money for Part 1 to Carmen’s bank account in Miami, just by mailing US checks, and she passed the money onto Copalinga as well as the Jocotoco lodges. Otherwise we would have had to wire the money to Copalinga, which is always a minor pain.

Part 1 we fly to Loja, drive to Zamora and Copalinga Lodge, then work our way to the west, flying back from Guayaquil. Participants in Part 1 are Dan and Kay Wade, Hank and Priscilla Brodkin, Jim Snyder, Kristine Wallstrom and Kim Garwood.

Our Part 2 is with Andrew Neild as the leader, organized by Geodyssey Tours, a British tour company. They used Andean Travel Connections as their ground agent. Andrew has done the beautiful books Butterflies of Venezuela, Vol 1 and 2. He’s been a great help to me over the last several years on Nymphalid identifications, and I’ve been looking forward to getting to spend some time in the field w/him, and several of the other British photographers, as well as Bill Berthet from Florida.

Part 3 has us being met at the docks in Coca, on our way back from Napo Wildlife Center, by Thierry Garcia of Fundacion Sumac Muyu, who takes us to Loreto then up hiking 5 km to our comfortable camp site, using mules to haul in all our food and stuff. Just 3 of us, Kim, Bill Berthet and Kristine Wallstrom, who is with me for the entire 6 weeks.

Weather in Ecuador is complicated and variable, and it changes depending on where you are. In eastern Ecuador, where we spent most of our time, we were coming into the rainy time of the year, in April/May/June/early July. Then it dries out a bit in Aug/Sep, then rainy again in Oct/Nov, and drier in Dec/Jan/Feb. Because they’re on the equator they have 2 rainy seasons.

Day 1 – Sat Mar 19 – fly Houston to Quito, 1 night Hotel Sebastian

Day 2 – Sun Mar 20 – fly to Loja, drive to Copalinga Lodge east of Zamora for 4 nights, 950m

Day 3/4/5 – Mon/Tue/Wed Mar 21/22/23 – explore trails and road at Copalinga

Day 6 – Mar 24 – Carmen’s bird guide picks us up from Copalinga and takes us to Tapichalaca, Jocotoco Antpitta lodge, 2400-2600m

Day 7 – Mar 25 – see the antpitta in the am, heavy rain all day

Day 8 – Mar 26 – morning at Tapichalaca, drove to Loja after lunch, 3.5 hours, night in Loja at Hostal Aguilera Internacional, about 7,000’

Day 9 – Mar 27 – early departure from Loja to Urruca for 2 nights at 820m, several birding stops on the way

Day 10 – Mar 28 – walk the road at Urruca lodge, Jorupe reserve, another Jocotoco reserve.

Day 11 – Mar 29 – drive to Buenaventura, Long-wattled Umbrellabird lodge, 3 nights, 500-700m

Day 12 – Mar 30 – walked down the road from the lodge, Umbrellabird in the afternoon.

Day 13 – Mar 31 – drove to the higher part of the reserve, 2nd looks at Umbrellabirds.

Day 14 – April 1 – drove to Guayaquil and flew back to Quito for a night.

Day 15 – Apr 2 – a free day in Quito, met Andrew Neild and the others for dinner, Part 2.

Day 16 – Apr 3 – over the Papallacta pass, 2 nights at Termas Papallacta, 3,300m

Day 17 – Apr 4 – work the Jatuntinagua bridge at 2,100m & the meadow at 1,800m

Day 18 – Apr 5 – work the dirt track above Termas, 3,500m, then the bridge and to San Isidro for 2 nights

Day 19 – Apr 6 – the road in front of Cabanas San Isidro, 2,100m

Day 20 – Apr 7 – move to WildSumaco Lodge for 3 nights, 1,500m

Day 21,22 – Apr 8,9 – explore the road and trails at WildSumaco

Day 23 – Apr 10 – transfer to Yachana Lodge for 4 nights, Amazon lowlands on Napo, stop at Rio Pingullo 950m

Day 24/25/26 – Apr 11/12/13 – explore trails at Yachana

Day 27 – Apr 14 – transfer to Coca for the night at Hotel El Auca, butterfly oil field road at Anaconda in the afternoon

Day 28 – Apr 15 – transfer to Napo Wildlife Center for 4 nights

Day 29/30/31 – Apr 16/17/18 – explore trails at NWC

Day 32 – Apr 19 – transfer back to Coca, met Thierry for Part 3, 1 night in Loreto

Day 33-37 – Apr 20-24 – mule trek 5k into Rio Bigal Reserve for 5 nights camping

Day 38 – Apr 25 – mule trek back out, 1 night in Loreto

Day 39 – Apr 26 – fly from Coca back to Quito for the night

Day 40 – Apr 27 – early flight back to Houston and home on Continental

Day 2 – Sun Mar 20 – our driver, Luis, was supposed to pick us up at the hotel at 5am for our 6:30 flight to Loja, but he was late. He did show up about 15 minutes late, but we got to the airport and made the flight, no problem. He was driving a large bus, so the 7 of us had loads of room. He will be our driver for the rest of the trip when we leave Copalinga. He had trouble with a tire.

When we made it to Loja, about a 50 minute flight on Tame, the next driver wasn’t there either, so we were starting to feel jinxed. I asked a guy there to call our contact, and found out there had been a miscommunication w/the driver when our flight was changed to the early one. But the driver showed up in an hour or less, and carefully drove us through Loja, about 45 minutes from the airport, then onto Zamora and a short distance past to our very comfortable home for the next 4 nights, about 2.5 hours.

I’ve been here once before and wanted to come back. Copalinga is on a dirt road about 2.5 km from an entrance to Podacarpus National Park, and the road is a great place to walk for butterflies.

We had lunch at 12:30, then wandered up the road, and got lots of nice shots of 3 species of emperors and a number of other species, including the gorgeous Kite-Swallowtail Eurytides serville, which zoomed up and down the road several times.

It was overcast and fairly dry, no mud puddles in the road, so we didn’t see as many species as I had here in Nov of 2009. But late that afternoon it started to rain, and rained nicely all through dinner. Tomorrow should have some puddles.

There is a great spot just a few hundred meters right of the entrance to the lodge, on the one dirt road towards the park, which last time was the best for butterflies. We have high hopes for tomorrow.

Catherine, the Belgian owner/cook at Copalinga, is an excellent chef (and speaks 5 or 6 languages), and we have fabulous chicken w/pineapple and grapes and apples for dinner, after a delicious mozzarella/tomato/avocado in balsamic salad. A good place to eat for the next several days.

Day 3/4/5 – Mon/Tue/Wed Mar 21/22/23 – We explore the road to the Bombuscaro entrance to Podacarpus National Park, and trails inside the park, plus trails around the lodge, for the next 3 days. Catherine is a wonderful host, very friendly and helpful, and she takes whoever wants a lift each morning up the 2.5 km to the park entrance about 8am, after breakfast. This allows you to get further into the park, then we walk back on the road. I only do this 1 day, but some of the others do it several times, and see different species each day. You see quite different species in the forest, as compared to the road.

The road is fabulous when the sun’s out, 5 species of Daggerwings/Marpesia, several Swallowtails, including one that I’m not sure what it is, tons of Emperors/Doxocopa, Actinotes and Perisamas and Satyrs.

The rains appear to just be starting, we have good rain every day and every night, which builds up the road puddles. The butterflies appear to be just hatching out, as almost everything we see is very fresh, and we’re seeing new species daily, so we all have a ball. A number of Riodinids show up, and mostly are willing to pose, 4 species of Sisters/Adelpha, and a number of skippers who aren’t as cooperative. Jim gets photos of at least 2 different Dalla, maybe more.

This is a very interesting location because we’re at the high end of lowland species plus the bottom end of higher elevation/cloud forest species. The lodge is at 950 meters, and the park is 100-200 meters higher, plus you can hike up quite a bit if you want in elevation.

One day I work the trails at the lodge and get killer shots of 2 of the big satyrs, the beautiful pink tipped one, Cithaerias pireta, which is a lowland species, and the Pierella hyceta, which I usually see in cloud forest, w/bright rusty on the DHW. Copalinga is a very comfortable place to base out of, and lots of goodies to track down, plus the food is delicious. A dream lodge, I’ll be back a number of times.

Day 6 – Mar 24 – Mauricio, our bird guide, and Luis the bus driver, pick us up at breakfast and we take off. We bird the old Loja-Zamora road, starting at Zamora, and get out and walk at the bridge. This looks like it would be really excellent for butterflies if we had some sun, but we’re early, about 7:30am and overcast. But as we work our way up the road it warms up and we find a goodly number of butterflies, several new species for our trip.

Mostly fairly common roadside edge species, but some nice metalmarks like the beautiful black and red Amarynthis meneria, always a crowd pleaser. Mauricio is a very good guide w/wonderful eyes, and he nails a Lanceolated Monklet right off the road. He’s very helpful and quick to get onto finding butterflies for us, he’s going to work out well.

We stop at the top of the pass where you can access the start of the old road. In a car you can drive down maybe a km or so, but in the bus (we have a huge 20+ person bus, just for the 7 of us) we walk a bit down and see several new high elevation satyrs, the orange banded Pedaliodes I’ve seen in Colombia and a different Corades, even a hairy orange skipper.

We get some good photos and have to drag ourselves away to drive on to Vilcabamba, another 1.5 hours down the road for lunch, and it’s now noon. We drive through Loja and down the mountain to Vilcabamba, a pleasant well-known tourist town. This is the famous valley where people live to be more than 100 years old, and the temperature is perfect.

After a simple lunch of vegetable crepes for $2 each we head on south for what should be a 2 hour drive, but there is lots of construction and we are held up frequently, so it turns into more like 4 hours.

We finally get to the famous Tapichalaca lodge, the flagship reserve of the Jocotoco Foundation. We crash early after dinner, tomorrow we hope to see the antpitta.

Day 7 – Mar 25 – Breakfast at 7am, then up the road and a 3 km hike in to the where they feed the antpitta w/earthworms. Since Angel Paz has started feeding antpittas outside of Mindo, a number of the birding lodges have trained their local antpittas to come for feedings, and you get outrageous looks at birds that 5-10 years ago were almost impossible to find.

So the Jocotoco antpitta comes right in front of us, a fabulous bird almost as big as a football w/a stunning white patch under the eye. We all take tons of photos, even in the pouring rain. They tell us more come when it’s not raining, but we’re happy w/what we get. They also have a feeder table w/corn where white-throated quail-doves come, and a blind to photo them from, so we get excellent looks at those too.

We finally head back to the lodge and spend some time at the feeders there, then after lunch we take the bus downslope, left from the entrance. Mauricio takes us past the town of Valladolid where we walk the road and see some good birds, Maranon Thrush, Spectacled Wren and several tanagers.  It’s not raining lower down, we go under 5,000’,  but then it does start raining and we head back upslope to our lodge. We stop and walk several places, probably the best bird we see is bearded guan, great looks from the bus. No butterflies today at all, but some stellar birds.

Day 8 – Mar 26 – after breakfast we go back to the entrance of the road to the antpitta feeding place, but this time we’re looking for golden-plumed parakeets.

Yesterday in the rain we didn’t have any visibility and couldn’t see down the ravine to the nesting boxes, but this morning is clearer and we can see 5 different nest boxes. We get great looks at the parakeets, some even coming to the nest box, plus Hank flushes band-winged nightjar which gives us great looks, plus several other goodies. One of the prettiest is black-throated pygmy-tyrant, a beautiful little bird.

Then we work the road below the lodge again, and kick up a few more goodies, one of my favorites, crimson-mantled woodpecker. We even see a few butterflies, but it stays rainy and overcast most of the day. After lunch, when we’re loading up the bus, it brightens a bit and sulkowsky’s morpho flies overhead.

We walk up the road briefly and get a beautiful orange and black skipper, good photos by all, so we have a few nice bugs. If we could get a sunny day here it would be great. Oh well.
Then back to Loja and stay in town at the pleasant Hostal Aguilera Internacional, where we eat dinner in their restaurant and hit the sack.

Day 9 – Mar 27 – early departure after a 6:00am breakfast. Mauricio has several birding stops for us today. We drive back to the Loja airport near Catamayo, above it in the hills where it’s a dry desert-type habitat. It takes 45 minutes to do 30+km, so we’re up in the habitat by 7:30am or so.

We find lots of local special birds, one of the best is short-tailed woodstar which comes to Mauricio’s tape, and buzzes between us repeatedly. We’re looking for Anthony’s Nightjar, which Mauricio has seen here before, but not today.

By 8:30 or 9 it gets warmer and butterflies start to appear, so we switch into photography mode, and spend another hour having a great time chasing bugs. Jim in particular gets lots of great shots, as he hangs behind when we hike off on the bird hunt.

Then we head west 2 hours to Cariamanga, where we had planned to have lunch, but couldn’t find any decent restaurants, and the bus had to back and fill a couple of times to get through town, as several roads were blocked. We finally just stopped at a panaderia and got some cheese and pineapple empanadas and yogurt to go, which was perfect.

About 15-30 minutes past Cariamanga we go up to the small town of Utuana and straight through to another Jocotoco preserve about 2500 meters. We walk in about 30 minutes to their feeders and see several fabulous hummers; rainbow-fronted starfrontlet, purple-throated sunangel and speckled hummer. Several Pedaliodes (satyrs) were on the trails but were difficult to get ventral shots of.

Then we stopped at Sozoranga to look for chestnut-collared swallows that nest there in the church. We found lots of nest but no birds.

We make it to the next Jocotoco lodge at Jorupe reserve, about 5 km from Maraca on the border w/Peru. This is dry tumbesian habitat, w/a strong dry and a wet season, deciduous forest. Fortunately we’re in the early wet season and everything is green. The dry season runs from June to December, and the trees drop all their leaves in Nov/Dec. Then the rains start in January and it greens up again.

Day 10 – Mar 28 – We wake up to spectacled owl and west Peruvian screech-owls calling all around our cabin, which is a great way to start the day before dawn.

An early 6am breakfast and we’re off up the road, looking for black and white tanager. We never get to see that one, but have many other specialty birds of the area. White-edged oriole, henna-headed foliage-gleaner, white-tailed jay, constantly calling Watkin’s antpitta, a number of species I’ve never even heard the name of.

This has been a great birding trip, many new species for all of us, and most of this group has been in the Andes many times. For butterflies, we see lots of Elzunia pavonii, the big black and yellow striped ithomiinae that looks like a swallowtail. There is another Heliconius w/a very similar pattern, looks sort of like a zebra but different. Plus Kristine gets great shots of a little Aeria tiger striped clearwing w/the similar pattern. We score good shots of a number of crescents (oh joy), and several different riodindis. A new Synargis, a female laying eggs who comes and poses, and a very pale Tegosa that I think is something different.

Back at the dining area they have feeders out and they put out a bunch of our rotten mangos. We went wild at Copalinga, Catherine served fabulous mangos, then made the mistake of telling us they were only 4-5 for a dollar. So we each gave her a buck and she bought us a bunch on her next trip to town. She got 6/$1, so we had 40 mangos. But we’ve managed to eat most of them, except for a few rotten ones, which go to the butterflies. Many crackers come to the mangos, several species. 1 red cracker and lots of variations on grey cracker, w/different amounts of white. I suspect there is more than 1 species here that look like that.

Day 11 – Mar 29 – Another early departure, then we stop at one of Mauricio’s spots, about 3,800’, and tape in white-headed brush-finch, white-winged brush-finch, and a gorgeous skulky elegant crescent-chest.

Then we head north towards Balsas, but we first stop about 5,300’ and walk a road down to the river at Catacocha, which has a number of new species of butterflies for us. Lots of rusty-tipped pages, malachites, a different 88 and a different sailor, this road reminds me of the Ocampo road in Tamaulipas.  Orange mapwings, some hairstreaks, a different Emesis, maybe E.diogenia, not quite red enough for mandana.

At the river we find a bunch of white-patched skippers, Theagenes aegides, 6 to 8 puddling. There are several Actinotes coming to tall yellow daisies, and a red and yellow crescent that looks like a Heliconius, but I don’t think it is.

We have our box lunch, then drive about another 3.5 hours, get north of Balsas and turn right towards Pinas. About half way there (the sign says 25 km to Pinas) we turn off to the left at a signed intersection for Long-wattled Umbrellabird lodge, 5 km, and drive up through progressively nicer looking habitat. Kay sees a grey-backed hawk perched obligingly in a tree, and we get good photos, and make it to the lodge about 4pm. Dumping our stuff in our rooms, we head for the dining area and the famous hummingbird feeders, which are a sight to behold. They have the nectar in big flat pans, like garbage can lids, and there must be 15-20 hummers sitting on the edge and sucking up the sugar water. Quite a spectacle.

Day 12 – Mar 30 – Breakfast w/tons of hummers, then we walk down the road back to the bridge, which takes all morning. Luis our driver brings down the bus at 1pm and collects us, so we have lots to time to work the road and not have to worry about slogging back uphill in time for lunch. Pretty easy work.

Heavy rain at night but the mornings are bright and sunny. Lower down we get several species of Daggerwings or Marpesia, including the beautiful blue and orange one M.furcula, which I finally get good dorsal shots of.

Many of the species we see are the same ones we would find in Mexico and Central America. Many of them come south, hit the Andes and curve around to the right, hugging the west coast, but there are some different ones. Several great Heliconius or Longwings zip around, different subspecies of erato and maybe melpomene that is blue w/pink vertical bands on the FW and w/a wide white fringe on the trailing edge of the HW, a striking bug. Plus cydno and eleuchia, w/broad white or cream edges to the HW and a couple of pale bands on the FW, plus another that looks very close to the Elzunia but is different.

We have heavy rain, sometimes very heavy, every afternoon and night, but all 3 mornings are clear, typical rainy season weather. One evening it is raining so hard we have to put on rain gear to get to the dining hall, but we manage. Overall here I wish there were more forest trails, so we didn’t stay just on the main road. No traffic, as the roads deadends into the reserve, but it’s mostly roadside edge species, lots of common grass skippers like Trailside or Anthoptus epictetus and some veined skippers like Callimormus radiola.

The trails are narrow, steep and muddy, and not very well maintained, except for the trail to the Umbrellabird lek which is a really good trail. Lots of steps but not too hard, and only takes about 15 minutes. It starts about a km up from the lodge, then straight down towards the river. We get fabulous looks this afternoon, we go about 4pm, Mauricio finds a male who just sits on the branch and looks at us.

The next afternoon most go back for 2nd looks, and this time he is displaying, leaning forward, swinging his long wattle (which he can make go up and down) and blowing out his cheeks. He swings the wattle side to side and puffs it out, an impressive show. Certainly the easiest look possible at this difficult species. Plus song wren, immaculate wren, club-winged manikins displaying, the bird list goes on and on. You would think this was a birding tour. The feeders are great here, rufous headed chachalacas and bronze-winged parrots which are beautiful.

Day 13 – Mar 31 – Today we drive back to the road, up about 10 km, then in to another higher part of the same reserve. We get dropped off and walk down the road a couple of km, chasing lots of green and black striped frogs, probably poison arrow frogs, but don’t see many new butterflies.

This is being reforested, and was purchased for the El Oro Parakeet, which we hear fly over but don’t see. It’s still pretty pasteurized for good butterflies, we’re wading through a couple of million red peacocks and a few higher elevation things like Leodontas. One of the cooler things is found by Mauricio, duh, who points out to me some Heliconius sara who are just hatching out and the males are hanging from the pupa, waiting to breed.

Day 14 – Apr 1 – A long drive back to Guayaquil, about 5+ hours. We come out of the mountains and onto the coastal plain and head north, w/big mountains on our right.

Mauricio finds us horned screamers out on the rice fields, but otherwise it’s pretty boring. We drop off Dan and Kay at their nice hotel in town, they’re flying directly back tomorrow from Guayaquil.

The rest of us take an early evening flight to Quito, which is late, but we finally get to our hotels. Kristine and I are taken to the fancy Patio Andaluz right in the old colonial part of the city, a great location but expensive, and the other 3 go back to the Hotel Sebastian. The Brodkins go out tomorrow to a week at Septimo Paraiso near Mindo, and Jim has to head back to work. This is the end of Part 1.

Day 15 – Apr 2 – Kristine and I have a free day in Quito, and she wanders around the old town and takes in the gorgeous churches and beautiful buildings. I wake up w/a killer migraine, probably from the altitude and the long day yesterday, so I spend the morning in bed while she checks in periodically and brings me coca tea. I recover by lunch time and we go out and have great ice cream, just the cure for a recovering migraine. We’re meeting Andrew Neild, the leader of Part 2, tonight for dinner, along w/the rest of the Brits on his tour. We’re being joined by Bill Berthet, another American friend from Florida who is a great photographer and been on a couple of trips w/me before. So we’ll be an international group. Andrew has written the wonderful books on Butterflies of Venezuela, and has been a big help to me w/id’s on Nymphalids, so I’m really looking forward to getting to spend time in the field w/him.

Day 16 – Apr 3 – leave Quito 7am and drive over the Papallacta Pass at about 4,000 meters. We find Altapedaliodes tena right at the top, on a beautiful sunny morning, a new genus for me.

Then we come down to the Termas Papallacta, a lovely hotel at the hot springs, where we will be staying the next 2 nights. We drive a dirt road up behind the hotel which goes up into some very nice looking habitat, but it clouds up and there are few butterflies, plus it’s a Sunday and there are many people at the hotel for the baths, and driving up the road for hiking.

So we head on down the slope and stop at a bridge at the Rio Jatuntinagua about 2,100 meters, 18km below Guango, the nice birding lodge. Here we spend 1-2 hours chasing all sorts of great stuff. Many satyrs, 2 beautiful Catastica or Dartwhites, yellow Leptophobia, Orophila cardases – like a Perisama, and a great unknown hairstreak w/purplish bands.

After blocking the road and causing much amusement from the traffic we head on down to Baeza and turn south about 5 km to a meadow on the right where Andrew has worked before, about 1,800m. Last time, in August he caught 32 species of Ithomiinae here. It’s raining when we arrive, but we wait and it dries out and brightens and all of a sudden we have butterflies. Lots of photos of several metalmarks, including a new one for me that neither Andrew or I know, a beautiful Necyria, the great pair of Heliconius telesiphe and Podotricha telesiphe and our first Oressinoma typhla.

We have only a short time here before it rains again, but this is a place worth coming back to. We go back to Baeza and have coffee and hot chocolate at Restaurant Gina, suggested by Giovani, our bus driver. A nice little place to eat, good to know.

We get back up to Termas, about an hour, and enjoy the hot, 41C, pools right in front of our cabins, and almost melt it feels so good and relaxing. This tropical travel is tough.

Day 17 – Apr 4 – We wake up to fog, so head down to the bridge about 9am. It’s still cool when we get there, so we head on down to the meadow from the day before. By the time we get there it’s about 10am  and things are starting to brighten.

Andrew spews his fish bait all over, the sun pops out lightly, and we have butterflies everywhere. We spend the day chasing up and down this small meadow, less than 100 meters, w/a small stream coming down the side, and 10 of us keep busy taking tons of photos.

Many new species that we didn’t see yesterday, several Catastictas, another fabulous large white metalmark, Hermathena candidate, that Andrew gets excited about. We don’t get bored, new stuff keeps being drawn in, but we finally head out about 3pm, back up the road and stop at Guango to visit the hummingbird feeders. For $5 you can photograph there to your heart’s content and they serve tea and hot chocolate, well worth it.

Day 18 – Apr 5 – we say goodbye to Termas and head to Cabanas San Isidro for 2 nights. We hang around the high elevation and work the dirt road behind the Termas, hoping for some sun. Ian got a great shot here the first afternoon of a new genus, Neopedaliodes, probably an undescribed species. It has big orange spots on both wings on the dorsal, and I’m eager to find it again.

We futz around the track, dodging the rain and sometimes getting wet, but when it lighens even a bit the butterflies come out. Probably our best butterfly of the morning is a white Lymanopoda that pops in and settles down in front of us, posing nicely for lots of photos. These are very high elevation butterflies, I’ve only seen one like it once in Colombia, also at almost exactly 3,500m. We also manage to find Ian’s Neopedaliodes again and get some photos. Bill and Tony find some Pedaliodes (maybe) to shoot, even in the rain, and they are gorgeous below, lots of bright rufous, almost red. These will be tough to sort out, but hopefully Andrew has some expert assistance on these high elevation satyrs.

Then we go back down the road and stop at ‘our’ bridge, and again find a number of new species. A little brown job that we’re not even sure of which family it is, plus a couple of more satyrs. We make it to San Isidro about 3pm and work the dirt road a km or so from the entrance, and have a fabulous couple of hours until about 5pm. The sun is out and lots of stuff is flying.

Again the fish bait pulls lots of species down to the road. Probably the most exciting thing we see is a spectacular hairstreak, all green and blotchy w/etchings near the body. No idea even what genus it is, but it poses wonderfully for 30 minutes of photography by all of us. It’s difficult to get the color right, but she lets us shoot over and over. Andrew collects it, so we know it’s a female. At first I called it a Sarota, it has the hairy legs and acts like one, but Andrew realizes it has black and white antennae and lobbed tails, no long hairs but definite bumps, so it’s a hairstreak and not a riodinid. It will be fascinating to try and figure out which species it is. Andrew later id’s it as a Rhamma species, hopefully he can tell me which species.

Day 19 – Apr 6 –First we go watch the white-bellied antpitta come in to the worm feeder, a new one for the Brits. After breakfast we take the bus up the road a couple of kms and find some great areas to explore, even after torrential rains all the previous night. It’s about 10am, and stuff is just starting to crawl out and bask, so it is great for photography. Lots of species are sitting around w/wings wide open, trying to warm up.

We take tons of photos of the common yellow Leptophobia, which are usually impossible to get dorsal shots of, and lots of satyrs, and some beautiful grass skippers. A strongly veined one, maybe a Parphorus, with some nice yellow dashes on the FW, some dark skippers w/lots of spots, and lots of Vettius coryna, plus some fresh dark skippers w/big orange bands in the FW, maybe Lynchnuchoides.

Unfortunately it goes back to raining by lunch time, we eat our sack lunches in the bus and finally give up and head back to the lodge for most of the afternoon. The sun finally breaks through about 4pm, and all of a sudden the road is full of butterflies. I’ve not seen them come out this late after a day of rain, but I guess these guys can’t wait for decent weather.

Folks get lots of nice photos in the last hour, including a great Oxeoschistus flat open by Tony and a few others. The next morning we spend time photographing the tons of spectacular moths that have come into the lights. Lots of big yellow and rufous imperials, and a hieroglyphic sphinx moth different than I’ve ever seen.

Day 20 – Apr 7 – We drive to WildSumaco Lodge for 3 nights, a relatively new lodge at just under 1,500 meters 5 or 10 km up off the road to Loreto.

On the way we stop first at the mirador close to San Isidro, where the Guacamaya trail takes off on the ridge. On a clear day this is a wonderful view over the amazon basin, but not today. We head down and turn left for Coca and Loreto, 146 km to Coca, then stop at Comedor Susanita, about 20-25 minutes east, at a big bridge.

There are 88’s/89’s in the dirt parking lot, and there is a trail heading down to a nice waterfall in back of the lot. Below a post w/tires up on it, we head down the narrow muddy trail to the waterfall and we find the white flowers the clearwings love, and get 4 species of Ithomiinae hanging from them. It’s difficult to take turns photographing them on the slippery trail, but we get Ithomia salapia, I.terra, Pteronymia amandes and the beautiful Greta libethris w/the yellow band. Andrew tells me I.salapia comes in 2 versions, one w/the black box on the HW and one w/out.

On a sunny day you can see lots of butterflies on the big rocks down by the waterfall, but unfortunately the rain gradually gets stronger as we wander around. Andrew shows us a 2nd place he really likes to stop, about another 15 minutes east at another bridge, but by now it’s raining steadily and we head onto WildSumaco.

Here we enjoy the hummingbird feeders and find some nice satyrs around the road and the entrance, plus lots of moths left over from the night before. The rains appear to have started, and perhaps the moths are heavier when it’s rainier. Andrew was down the east slope in August and saw very few moths, but had better, sunnier, weather. Bonnie and Jim, the owners of WildSumaco, have kept rain records for the last couple of years, and they say April is the start of heavier rains, through May/June/July, same as at Copalinga. These 2 lodges are both on the east slope and similar elevations, Copalinga about 1,000m.

Day 21 – Apr 8 – Kristine and I take the F.A.C.E. trail in about a mile or so to look for the place where I saw tons of clearwings last time I was here, in late Oct 2009. The others walk back down the road about 1-2 km to the lower cabins and garage, where there are a number of trails through the forest. The best for butterflies is probably the power line cut, where it’s open but w/forest on both sides. The guys put out fish bait and get lots of goodies. Several Adelpha, 2 new species of Memphis, M.anassa and M.lineata, and Les even gets open shots of lineata. Lots of Catonephele salambria, the list goes on. In the forest we find some clearwings, not the numbers I had in 2009 but some good ones nevertheless. A common species here is Godyris duilia and the smaller version, Greta alphesiboea, both beautiful w/rufous edges on the hindwing and yellow on the forewing, spectacular.

Day 22 – Apr 9 – heavy rains in the night, and they continue almost all day. Occasionally it brightens a bit, and I head down the road to the lower area and watch the hummingbird feeders there for an hour or so, but no butterflies.

After lunch it lets up and we all go back down the road where we find several new metalmarks coming to some white flowers overhead and new skippers for the list, especially coming to the little fuzzy pink flowers on the power line cut, right at the high point where it drops off downhill. Unfortunately we can’t get close to them, but one of the spectacular grass skippers, w/the white swirl and spangles, flies close to some of the guys and they get killer shots, dorsal and ventral, so hopefully Richard and I can figure it out. Andrew also catches a huge Taygetis, and it’s not mermeria, which don’t get this high, so it’s something new. We walk back up the hill and get home just before the rains start again, about 4:30pm, so we have a good time after all.

Day 23 – Apr 10 – more heavy rain in the night and morning. Our van shows up on time at 9am, but Andrew wants to hang around a bit and let the weather lighten up.

We play w/the big green and brown caterpillars on the small tree next to the dining room, and Bill cuts off 2 of the different pupa and mounts them in the dining room so Bonnie can see what comes out. We leave about 10:30, it gets lighter, and we stop at one of Andrew’s spots on the Rio Pingullo, maybe 30 minutes from WildSumaco.  This turns out to be a fabulous spot, w/tons of stuff coming to Andrew’s fish bait.

My personal favorite is an unknown spreadwing, similar to Mictris crispus but different, but there are a number of other goodies. Probably the rarest is the beautiful pierid Cunizza hirlanda, a white w/a swirly yellow and orange ventral, and I get great ventral and dorsal shots, only the 3rd time I’ve seen this species.

We finally leave about 2:30pm, after 3 hours, and take a right turn before Loreto and drive another 2 hours to Agua Santa, where the boat from Yachana Lodge is waiting for us. 10 minutes to cross the Napo river and we’re at our new home for the next 4 nights.

This lodge is owned by the local indigenous tribe, who have done a bangup job w/this lodge. Lovely gardens, good food, a spectacular porch and dining area w/bar from which to watch sunsets over the river, comfortable rooms w/large just screens, so you get what movement of air there is.

It’s warm but not unbearable, it cools off to low 70’s at night, though we sweat like pigs during the day hiking in the forest.  This is upstream from Coca towards the mountains.

Day 24/25/26 – Apr 11/12/13 – First day we hike up the hill from the lodge to a couple of miradors and on a ridge trail into the forest. Our local guide is Abel, who grew up here. He’s very helpful and nice, and he knows many of the birds.

We find some butterflies but overall it seems slow to both Andrew and myself. We have 3 nice sunny days, but I wonder if the heavy rains of the previous 3 or 4 days knocked many species down. We do find 1 of these and 1 of that, but very small numbers.

The 2nd day we go back across the river and take a great double decker bus they have made and cruise the dirt road back to the Yachana reserve, about an hour. It’s lots of fun to sit on top and watch the world go by, the bus is slow and cumbersome but the driver is very good. Again, good looking forest but not many bugs. We do find a patch of taller forest and get several Adelpha coming to the road, and a fresh Eunica alpais, but the star of the show is the killer Dynamine gisella, a stunning purple/blue sailor, and everyone gets marvelous shots, after messing w/it for half an hour or more.

After lunch, which is delivered hot from the lodge, we take the new road that is being built to Tena, to the west or left from Agua Santa, the village across the river. This looks nice, but it’s getting late in the afternoon.

Kristine and I get good shots of a fresh Chloreuptychia tolumnia which she finds, beautiful blue w/an orange streak on the VFW. The 3rd day we take the motorized canoe upstream about 45 minutes towards Tena, to Abel’s uncle’s farm, and hike trails there. This is very nice looking forest, probably the best of the 3 days, and it should be quite productive at a different time.

We find Hatarea pirea, the transparent satyr w/orange, and some other stuff but not much again.  Though I do get 2 new Euselasia metalmarks I have not seen before. Probably the most exciting thing found by the guys is an Amazonian puffing snake, and Andrew gets marvelous video, so even though I don’t see it, I get to enjoy the video that night. There is argument whether it’s 7 or 9’+ long, but all agree it’s a pretty big snake, and watching it climb into the trees and puff up like an adder is pretty cool.

Day 27 – Apr 14 – We wake to heavy rains and have a wet 2 hour boat ride down river to Coca, but they have good ponchos and we stay relatively dry, considering.

Coca is a scruffy river port town that mostly services the oil industry, so it’s not very scenic, but we stay at the Hotel El Acua, a very pleasant place and surprisingly quiet for being in town. Be sure to get rooms on the garden side of the hotel, not over the street. It’s only $54 for a double, nice big rooms, good internet hookup, big showers, so we’re happy.

Andrew takes us to dinner at the restaurant right on the dock over the river, so we get to watch the lightning show and the clouds which are spectacular. Delicious food, I have the pepper steak and others have what looks like fabulous avocado stuffed w/chicken or shrimp. I’m a little cautious about salad stuff, after being sick the night before w/stomach problems, but hopefully everyone will be ok.

That afternoon we go out to the Anaconda oil field road, where Andrew found good stuff last August, but it is still very slow for butterflies. We kick up a few things, a fresh lovely Caria castilia and some new Marpesia or Daggerwings for the trip, which keep people happy, but overall it’s surprisingly quiet.

Andrew talks our way in past the guards and shows us one of the working oil fields, where they have a huge flame shooting in to the air burning off excess gases. Many moths come to this flame which burns 24 hours a day, and they’re all singed and lying around the base. He says there were many more when he was here before, but it’s still strange to see them all lying on the ground.

Day 28 – Apr 15 – a leisurely morning, we don’t have to be back to the docks until 11am for our 5 hour boat trip to Napo Wildlife Center, 3 hours by motorized canoe then transfer to paddled canoes for 2 hours.

It’s raining again this morning, it didn’t start until just before dawn, hopefully it will rain itself out by boat time. I’ve heard great things about NWC, so I have high expectations. Unfortunately we have to wait for other clients bound for NWC that are arriving from Quito on the flight, and it’s delayed due to the rains. Apparently the airport is VFR, so the pilots need a certain visibility.

We hang out on the docks at the same restaurant where we ate the night before for several hours, and finally get underway about 1:45pm. We make it down the Napo and to the transfer point, where we change to smaller paddled canoes for the last 2 hours or so.

This last part is a wonderful trip, going slowly through a small creek w/amazing trees, vines and plants everywhere, and wonderful bird sounds. We find frogs, snakes, all sorts of goodies, and get to the lodge just at dark. The lodge has a great location on a large lake, and all the cabins have a great view over the water. Another place you could easily hang out and just watch the clouds over the lagoon.

This is a very upscale lodge, probably the snazziest I’ve ever stayed at. It’s not cheap, I was told almost $200/day/person, but the meals are delicious, the staff very attentive, the rooms sumptuous, especially when you consider where you are, and they have some lovely forest. You have to take a canoe to get back to the parrot clay lick, which we do one morning, and to get to their birding tower, which we do another morning, and we walk trails around both areas.

The butterflies are still slow but we manage to keep finding stuff to keep us busy. Mauricio, our boatman, has amazing eyes, and Juan Carlos, our guide, is very adept at taking care of us. They find more snakes, amazon jungle dragons (like a small iguana), birds, and even butterflies. Juan Carlos tells me they have 2 rainy seasons, and we are in the April/May/June rainy time.

Then it is a bit drier July/Aug/Sept, then back to rains Oct/Nov, and it is drier Dec/Jan/Feb. Now the trees are fruiting, there is much rotten fruit on the ground, which attracts satyrs. Some of the most common butterflies we see are the large Pierellas which glide over the ground, and many of the Ithomiinae also come to the small orange seeds of the Tamia-muyo Tree, from the weird white golfball sized fruit that grow from the main trunk.  But again the forest doesn’t seem as full of butterflies as it should be, maybe in the drier season. The star for us are the many Helicopis cupido we find in the Montrickardia plants from the canoe rides. This is a beautiful riodinid w/very long tails, silver spots on the underside, a truly spectacular butterfly. We cruise the canals and take many butterflies for photos.

Day 29/30/31 – Apr 16/17/18 – We explore several options for trails, having to use the canoe to get almost everywhere. This is a slight pain, as we all have to move as a group, and walking through the forest w/6 or 8 people trying to photograph is almost impossible. But the canoe rides are one of the highlights, it is magical gliding over the black water surrounded by swamp and forest.

This lodge is basically in the middle of a swamp, but extremely comfortable, and very few mosquitoes. We sleep under mosquito nets inside our luxurious cabins and enjoy being taken care of.

I like the morning where we go to the tower, again by canoe, because we have more time to wander the trails by ourselves. I find a fruiting tree w/clearwings and get some nice shots. This would be a very romantic place to bring a partner and be away from the world, but I prefer better habitat w/more trails I can walk myself. It’s flooded lowland forest, and has special species that like that type of swamp, lots of hoatzins and snail kites. I’m glad I came but probably won’t be back, too expensive for my budget and I prefer a little higher elevation forest, better mix of species.

Day 32 – Apr 19 – Early departure for our 5 hour transfer back to Coca, the Brits have an 11am flight to catch to Quito. It rains, big surprise, so their flight is delayed, fortunately.

We make it back to the docks and meet our guide for Part 3 of our trip. Thierry Garcia is an energetic Frenchman who lives here in Loreto w/his wife Marion. They have a private reserve, Fundacion SumacMuyu, and they have bought about 150 hectares of forest about 2 hours above Loreto.

We spend the night in Loreto at the basic but comfortable Monte Azul hotel for $10/room, quite a switch from the NWC. It’s funny, as we’re going from the most luxurious accommodations to the simplest on our trip, but that’s how it worked out.

After adventures w/Thierry’s giant boat car, an ’87 Ford Crown Victoria that he drove here from Louisiana where we back into a curb and jam the muffler into the tire, then have to limp around Coca finding a mechanic to fix it, we make it to Loreto and have a tasty lunch and dinner at 2 of the new restaurants in town. Our favorite is the Colombian fruit stand, where the owner makes delicious fruit smoothies, batidos. I get durazno (peach) and they get mora or blackberry, w/milk they’re like shakes.

Day 33-37 – Apr 20-24 – After breakfast back at the Colombian fruit stand, we meet Jamie, our taxi driver, who takes the 5 of us and our ton of gear up an hour on the newly improved gravel road and drops us off where the mules are waiting.

The 3 of us, Kristine, Bill and myself, start walking w/Marion while Thierry and the mule driver load the mules. Immediately we find lots of the weedy tall dandelion type white flowers covered with clearwings, so it’s going to be a very slow walk. It’s about 5 km/3 miles and we gain about 300 meters/1,000’, so it’s not a difficult walk, though it is muddy. We’re in rubber boots, and there is a certain amount of sucking and pulling your boots out of holes.

But there are lots of butterflies, and what takes the locals an hour takes us more than 4 before we make it to the camp. The lower part of the road is lined w/the white flowers, plus there is a yellow composite on tall stalks the butterflies also like, so we stop every 10’ to take more photos. No hurry, we have all day, plus the next 5 days, to do just this, photograph butterflies.

This is heaven, we spread out and move at our individual pace, not having to stay w/a group is wonderful. Thierry and Marion have built a great structure for camping, a 2 story large open wooden platform. The tents are pitched on the top level, w/hammocks, and we eat and hang out below. They have a cold water shower and a dry composting toilet, so all the comforts of home are there. Marion is a great cook and turns out amazing meals from her open simple kitchen, some over a wood fire and some using propane, which had to be hauled in by mule. She has a local woman, Nancy, who she is teaching to cook. Nancy is very shy but very helpful, and a big improvement over the poor girl they had last time.

We really enjoy our 6 days here, and have some of the best butterflying of our entire trip. We do have lots of rain, but some sun every day, and when it’s not raining there are more butterflies everyday. We see new species on our last morning. The leafwings seem to be coming out, we have seen very few on the earlier part of our trip, but more Memphis, Preponas, Fountainea, Zaretis and Consuls are evident daily, all very fresh. Maybe they fly more in the wet season.

It’s very humid, but mostly quite pleasant temperatures. It cools off to mid 60’s at night, I sleep in sweats in my sleeping bag and am comfortable.

During the day it only is in the 70’s, but hot in the sun and we’re sweaty and looking forward to our chilly shower at the late afternoon. The big thing we miss is electricity, it would be fun to work on the computer and play w/our many photos at night. We brought enough batteries for our cameras for the 6 days, as they don’t have a generator and don’t really want the noise. Maybe solar panels would provide battery charging, but they don’t stay here all the time so they can’t leave expensive things like solar panels lying around.

This is a new camp from the one I saw in 2009, and much improved. They have bought this land, so they have total control over it and can invest their sweat equity to build some nice things. Thierry loves going for night walks in the forest, and finding snakes and frogs and stuff. He has some herp groups come here, and they spend 6pm to 1am every night in the woods. We only go out w/him for 1 night, we’re usually too tired, but he has great eyes and knows his area very well.

This is a fabulous place for amphibians, he has 23 species so far. He finds a snail eating snake one night and we take photos, holding the very calm snake on our arms. One of my favorite butterflies is a new spreadwing skipper, a green headed Nisoniades I finally see, not a Chloracephala. Their butterfly list was about 430 species, and we add close to 50 new species, so we have a great time. Thierry and Marion are fabulous hosts, they work very hard to please you and make sure you have a great time. They are passionate about what they’re doing, and well worth supporting.

Day 38 – Apr 25 – we mule trek back out, leaving after lunch and taking a slow stroll down the boot sucking trail so we meet Jamie at 5pm, late enough to hopefully avoid the taxi strike scheduled that day. 1 night in Loreto back at the Hotel Monte Azul, even the cold shower there feels good. Fruit batidos back at the Colombian fruit stand, empanadas and his delicious pan de yucca for dinner, and we’re ready for bed.

Day 39 – Apr 26 – a casual morning at Thierry’s office transferring photos, then Jamie takes us back to Coca to the airport, where we fly Tame back to Quito for the night for $65 one way, a short 30 minute flight.

We spend the night in Mirasol, or gringolandia, at the Vieja Cuba, a nice old building converted to a B&B. It looks very nice but is unfortunately noisy all night. Of course it doesn’t help that we go to bed early, as we have a 3;25am departure for the airport. Other folk come in about 1am, and there are lights in the halls all night that come in thru the windows in the doors, clouded but the light still comes through, plus weird plumbing noises that keep us up.

Day 40 – Apr 27
– we catch the early 6:30am flights back to Miami and Houston, so we get back home that afternoon. Except for Kristine in New York, she doesn’t make it home until 1am, so she has an exceptionally long day. A great trip, lots of new photos, good travel companions, some tasty food, friendly helpful people, all in all most enjoyable. Ecuador is probably one of my favorite countries, along w/Colombia. Great diversity in a small country and lots of wonderful places to stay.