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.