Trip Report South Africa Sept 17 – Oct 8, 2015

Trip Report South Africa Sept 17 – Oct 8, 2015

With Rockjumper Birding Tours, leader Athol Marchant

Participants: Wille Sekula, Will and Gill Carter, Ron and Mark Lockwood, and Kim Garwood

To see great photos from our trip, check out Mark Lockwood’s flickr site –

Wed Sep 16 – Fri Sep 18 – travel from Tucson to Johannesburg for 2 nights at Sunrock Guest House

Sat Sep 19 – first day birding, day trip from Jo’burg

Sun Sep 20 – drive to Kruger NP for 3 nights, 2 at Satara and 1 at Skukusa

Mon Sep 21 – safari drive around Satara Camp, our furthest north location, cheetahs!

Tue Sep 22 – drive south 100k to our 2nd location in Kruger NP

Wed Sep 23 – drive 7 hours to Wakkerstroom for 2 nights at Wetlands Country House & Sheds, 1760m

Thur Sep 24 – hunt for larks, & wetlands around Wakkerstroom

Fri Sep 25 – drive 4 hours east to Mkuze, 2 nights at Umkhumbi Lodge just north of Hluhluwa, dry thorn forest and sand forest near the coast

Sat Sep 26 – drive an hour north to Mkuze Game Reserve, waterholes & buffalo & bush shrikes

Sun Sep 27 – drive south to St. Lucia for 2 nights, stay at Maputaland Guesthouse,

Mon Sep 28 – drive around St. Lucia coastal forested dunes, Cape Vidal, green twinspot under cabins

Tue Sep 29 – drive to Hilton for 1 night at Capulet B&B, visit Dlinza Forest Aerial Walkway, trogon!

Wed Sep 30 – Bernie azalea gardens in the Karkloof, then drive to Underberg for 2 nights at the Karmichael B&B at the base of the Drakensberg Mountains.

Thur Oct 1 – drive up the Sani Pass, 3000m, to a different country, Lesotho.

Fri Oct 2 – back to Durban, fly to Capetown for the last week. Visit the K garden that afternoon, then drive to Smith’s Town for 3 nights at the Whale View Manor.

Sat Oct 3 – pelagic trip!

Sun Oct 4 – drive east on the cape to Rooiels, Cape Rockjumper, & Stony Point, penguins

Mon Oct 5 – drive north past Capetown to Ceres for 2 nights on the west cape, stay at the Village Guesthouse in Ceres.

Tue Oct 6 – drive north to the Karoo habitat

Wed Oct 7 – morning birding, then to the Capetown airport, connect with Delta for our international flight back to the US at 7:30pm.

Wed Sep 16 – I drove to Tucson from Bisbee for the night, to catch my 6:15 am flight to Atlanta to meet the others. We have a late lunch with Molly, Mark and Ken at Zona 78, with Frost gelato for dessert, of course.

Thur Sep 17 – fly to Atlanta on Delta, then take Delta’s nonstop 16 hours ATL to Johannesburg, arrive in South Africa about 4:30pm on Sep 18

Fri Sep 18 – picked up at the airport in Johannesburg by a guy from Sunrock Guesthouse, where we are staying for our first two nights. Tasty dinner at Sunrock at 7pm, and we crash.

Sat Sep 19 – tasty breakfast, after birding the grounds and seedfeeders around the guesthouse, 22 species by breakfast. Will and Gill fly in from a couple of weeks earlier trip about 8:15, and we take off for a day birding in the Rust-de-Winter area about 100km away. We have a great day, 76 lifers for Willie and probably the same for me. Almost everything is new. I’ve been to Kenya 20 years ago, but most of what we see today is new for me.

We work the Zaagkuildrift road, driving and stopping on a flat dirt road wherever we see birds. We start at a field of tall dry grass, where Athol has us looking for northern black korhaan, a small bustard. We score with several flights, including one male displaying high over the grass. A big black and white chunky turkey-like bird, hovering and flapping like crazy, is pretty funny looking.

We see new birds one after the other. One of the favorites is the white bellied sunbird, a beautiful metallic green/blue bird, the old world replacement for our hummingbirds. Also a pair of spectacular Crimson-breasted Shrike posing against the blue sky.

We end up birding where a river/marsh comes in across a paved highway, and we add ducks, geese and some shorebirds,as well as vultures and some great looks at white-tailed swallows roosting below us at the culvert. Then Athol drives us an hour plus back to the hotel, while we all fall asleep, still recovering from our long travel day before.

Sun Sept 20 – we head to Kruger National Park, the one place everyone has heard of for South Africa naturalist trips. It is about a 6-7 hour drive to the Odgen entrance, and we do a bit of birding on the way, so we arrive late in the afternoon. At the Kruger camps you have to be inside by 6pm, as they close the gates, and don’t let you out until 6am in the morning.

From the entrance we start seeing all kinds of amazing birds and animals. It is about 50km to our camp for the next two nights, at Satara, which is a large hotel run by the national park people. All the camps are the same, 2 or 3 beds in little round huts with your own toilet/shower, hot water and a/c, so you’re not exactly roughing it.

We take a couple of hours to drive the 50km, stopping many times. We see some spectacular birds, one of my favorites is the unexpected and gorgeous violet-eared waxbill. We get great looks at a pair, the male with bright purple/violet on the head with a pink bill, a stunning bird.

We look at tons of impala, wildebeast, kudu, giraffe, zebra, etc etc. Kruger lives up to all the hype I’ve heard about it, it is amazing.

Mon Sep 21 – we have a special safari vehicle for the next 2 days, so we’re all in our own seat on the outside with lots of room to stand up and see, much better for photography. We meet at 5:45am to get in line to exit the camp at 6, when they open the gates. 4 hours later we finally get a late breakfast, after seeing untold shedloads of animals and lots and lots of birds, total overload.

Probably the most amazing sight are 3 cheetahs sleeping under a tree, close enough for all of us to take a couple of thousand photos. Everyone but me is shooting a good camera with a long lens, and the clicking sounds like a bus load of Japanese tourists. Great looks at hynea, warthog, water buffalo by the hundreds, and many types of antelope.

We see lots of raptors, lots of fabulous colorful birds, the list is too long to go into. After our late breakfast, we skip lunch and get back just in time for the sunset game drive. We have to be at the front entrance at 4:15 for a 4:30 departure, and they are right on time. Sunset is a little after 6, so we have an hour and a half of daylight. We see lion, white rhino, 3 honey badgers (new for me!), and several jackal.

We don’t get back to camp until after 7:30pm, go straight to dinner, which takes forever to serve. We all order salads and still don’t get our food until 9pm, so we’re pretty hungry. For breakfast I had had eggs benedict, which were tasty, and wonderful cappuchino, in fact I had 2 cappuchinos. Good think I ate a big breakfast. It would be nice to have more access to food, but the trade off was we had spectacular looks at tons of things.

Tue Sept 22 – another 5:45am start, and we depart Satara, heading south. Kruger is about 400km north to south, so you could spend a long time exploring it, easily a week to 10 days.

We have a special driver, Dirk, who just leads trips here in Kruger. He drives the safari truck, a special vehicle by land rover modified for safari, and he knows the park very well. He takes us to bridges over rivers, blinds or hides where we are very close to bathing hippos, all sorts of great spots. Plus he has very good eyes for finding the animals, and he knows most of the birds as well, so he is a nice addition.

Today, the third day at Kruger, is hot. The 2 previous days were overcast and much cooler, but today is toasty, probably mid 90’s. This time of year the rains are just starting, and they have had some good rains as there is fresh grass and many of the acacia and plants are beginning to leaf out. The heavier rains are from November to February/March. Because it has such wet/dry seasons, you see very different species throughout the year. Guess I’ll have to come back a couple more times, oh darn.

Today we continue to see many new species of birds, and lots of new mammals too. We score with a sleeping leopard on the riverbank, after a nice lunch at Lower Sabie, another camp right on the riverbank. They had seen the leopard on the riverbank from the restaurant, we are told, so we’re lucky to find it sleeping a bit up the river and easily viewed from the road.

We have dinner that night at the new lodge, for us, at Skuskuza, which is the national park headquarters. Unfortunately the restaurant doesn’t seem to have it’s act together. The delivery of the food takes a good hour, they forget the vegetables, the mashed potatos are cold, but the pepper steak I ordered is one of the best I have ever had. When Athol tries to pay the bill, the credit card machine is not working.

Wed Sep 23 - The next morning the restaurant is even worse. It is supposed to open at 7am. We bird around the grounds for an hour, seeing several new species in the hedges and bushes all around the grounds. We then get to the restaurant for the breakfast buffet, which is a disaster. Greasy, not done, very limited selection, no fruit or bread or jam or yogurt, just fairly nasty food. And we can’t even get plates to eat it on. It is really surprising to have such poor service at a spectacular location like this. Lots of people milling around, none of them seems to have a clue what they are doing. Too bad, as this sort of experience leaves a very poor impression of a wonderful place. So if you go, bring your own food if possible. This apparently is what South Africans do, as the rooms all have referigerators and silverware, and barbies outside.

After much whining and nashing of teeth we leave after our crappy breakfast and head south and west inland to Wakkerstroom, a small birder friendly touristy town with a lovely B&B farm where we spend the next 2 nights. This has a wonderful breakfast, lots of delicious fruit, yogurt and granola, eggs however you want them, all tasty.

The 6 of us are in the 3 old sheds that have been turned into luxury accomodations, very nice and quiet. There is a great marsh right outside of town where we spend a late afternoon and our final morning, and get lots of wetland birds.

Thur Sept 24 – we leave at 6am, and get a local birder, Lucky, who comes with us for the day. He takes us an hour or so away, over hill and dale, where we stomp around looking for a variety of larks in the dry, short grass fields. We find several very rare species, like Rudd’s lark and Botha lark. Good thing Lucky is with us, as I would never have been able to id these, let alone find them.

We also get great looks at the beautiful red-capped lark, one I enjoy, and the gorgeous cape longclaw, with a very bright orange throat. The real crowd pleaser are the meerkats, which we all really want to see. We find a dozen or so away from their burrows, and they race towards us across the field, an hysterical sight, to get back to their home. There they pop up and down, standing on their hind legs, looking fabulous. We also see a number of yellow mongoose, with their white tail tips, which we keep thinking are meerkats, until we see the real meerkats.

One of the more beautiful birds we see several times are blue cranes, with their long wing coverts waving in the wind. And we see 3 secretary birds regally stalking through the dry grass, looking for grasshoppers. All in all, another great day. We eat in town, about 1 km away, at the Bistro, which is a neat, old wooden floor place with delicious food, so all is well on the food front.

Fri Sep 25 – out again at 6am to the local marsh for a few hours, where we get great looks at the prettiest cisticola I’ve ever seen, Levaillant’s Cisticola, then back at 8 for another scrumptious breakfast, then we’re off to the east coast.We drop in elevation, from 1760m at Wakkerstroom with its chilly mornings (49 degrees F the first day!), to the hot, dry lowlands with fields of sugar cane and pineapples.

We stop for lunch about half an hour from our next lodge, at a very nice nursery, shop and restaurant called Lala Weavers. We sit outside under the tall trees and have tasty chicken pannini sandwiches, quiche, and I have a lovely berry yogurt smoothie. We see village weavers here, our 3rd or 4th species of weaver. The shop sells weavings by Zulu women, which are beautiful, baskets that are some of the nicest I’ve seen.

They haven’t had any rain, so everything is grey/brown and crunchy. The rains are late, the woman at the lodge tells me the grass should be over a foot high around our rooms.

I do see a beautiful fresh orangetip butterfly, and some blues. We get to the lodge about 3pm, and some folks go birding, but don’t see much. We do have red dikdik little deer around, funny looking little things. They have a nice upstairs wooden platform/bar, where I spend an hour or so watching the sunset.

Sat Sep 26 – we drive north an hour to Mzuze Game Reserve, another park of 56,000 hectares full of animals. The road deteriorates quickly to more potholes than pavement, so it is slow going.

Because it is so dry, all the animals are at the waterhole. We go to the main waterhole and sit in the large hide out over the water, what little water there is. A large herd of water buffalo come in and run everyone else out. It is amazing to watch the buffalo fighting for water and then bathing, lounging and rolling in the mud and water, right at our feet. The photographers go wild. All the other animals, zebra, impala, nyala, have to hang around the edges, waiting for the buffalo to finish. At one point a buffalo gets mad at a wildebeast and tosses the poor thing out of the water, throwing it off the ground. Life is tough out here, especially when there isn’t any rain. The animals all know their pecking order. The buffalo get out of the way when a rhino comes in to drink.

We see some beautiful birds, amazing how they stand out in the grey, dry brush. Mark spots a stunning pair of little bee eaters, our first, brilliant green and yellow. Will finds the spectacular gorgeous bush shrike, and tapes it in so we all see it. The orange breasted bush shrike comes to the tape as well, and poses up in the trees, so it is easy. The other one is a skulker,much more difficult to get.

We miss the pink billed twinspot, which comes in to the waterhole when we’re not there. Hopefully we’ll get another chance.

We eat a simple lunch at Rhino-Dino, a place in the reserve that makes grilled toasties, cheese and tomato is the standard, and burgers. There is only one woman doing all the work, and so it takes more than an hour to get our sandwiches, as there are other folk there getting their lunch too. But they have a big, shaded pavilion to hang out in and a water feature where the animals are coming in to drink, so we enjoy the rest in the shade.

Back at our camp, fortunately we have a good cook, and she makes tasty dinner. Tonight we have a choice of impala stew or spicy chicken curry. I want to try both, so she gives me a little bowl of each. Last night I had ostrich fillet with a mustard sauce, and it was delicious.

Sun Sept 27 – 6am birding around the camp for an hour before breakfast, and lots of birds are singing. I go sit outside the office and do email, where the slow internet is, and run into the group coming back to my room. They have an eastern nicator, which flies off just as I look at it. Fortunately half an hour later I hear one singing from my room and get great looks at it singing from the top of a tree, in the sun. A golden-tailed woodpecker is working on a hole right outside my room as well, and the tapping interrupts my writing.

Today we drive to St Lucia, only about 50 km away, but we’re going through another game reserve for the morning. You never know what you will see in these reserves, as all the animals are present, including elephants, leopards, lions, etc.

We eat lunch at the reserve, and my big score is a butterfly book on South Africa, which I buy from the gift store after the guys find it for me. 310 rand, about $20, what a deal. It has over 1,800 photos of the 666 species of butterflies here in South Africa.

Then we drive on to St Lucia to Maputaland Guesthoust, run by Germans. St Lucia is a real tourist town right on the water. Fishing is a big draw here, but also they have whale watching, croc & hippo watching tours, sunset cruises, the whole nine yards. It is on the St Lucia wetlands, which are a huge area over enormous coastal forest sand dunes, the biggest dunes in the world I’m told.

We eat in town at another Ocean Breeze, a chain of seafood that we ate at earlier, and it is delicious. Most of us order the grilled salmon, I get my with cajun spices and stir fry veggies, very tasty. We also pig out on the desserts, Willie and I split baklava which are equally delicious.

This group has gotten into magnum mania, the wonderful ice cream bars on a stick. They have 7 or 8 flavors here, the new one for me is mint, which is one of my favorite flavors. Some of the guys, who shall remain nameless, actually have two magnus in the same day, which is just too decadent for me. I resist most of the time, as having a magnum/day is over the top. But they are really good.

Mon Sep 28 – we drive north up the coast to Cape Vidal, again going through a restricted game reserve and seeing a variety of big mammals. We don’t see a large number of birds until we get all the way out to Cape Vidal, where there are cabins for rent and we can get out and walk around.

We’re looking for green twinspots, a fabulous brightly marked finch, that Athol says tend to hang out under the cabins. Sure enough, we find a couple, then some more, and end up with probably over 20, which is amazing. One of the cabins, #10, has a leaky water pipe, and it is splashing and making a small puddle which functions as a bird bath. We see grey waxbills and an unexpected Black throated wattle-eye female. So today we go for quality, not quantity.

For dinner we try the Braza restaurant right next to the Ocean Breeze, a Greek place with steaks, which is what most of the guys get. I end up with chicken and feta flatbread, which is sort of a pizza and way too much for one person. The steaks get rave reviews.

Tue Sept 29 – 6:30am breakfast at the B&B, then we depart south towards Durban. But on our way, about an hour or so, we turn off the highway at Eshowe and go in about 22 km to Dlinza Forest, a preserve with a great wooden walkway and a tower. We find the Narina Trogon, one of our main targets, and Olive Thrush, but dip on the Spotted Ground Thrush.

I’m now getting into the butterflies with my new book, and see Blue Pansy, Yellow Pansy, Common Bush Brown, and a number of flybys. I can definitely see a return trip to South Africa for butterflies.

Will and I end up in the hide, after we come back early from the trail, and get good shots of the purple-crested turaco, and later the rest of the gang get great shots of the tamborine dove, with its beautiful white breast. The hide has a couple of small pools which are luring in the birds to bathe, and it is in the woods so the shyer species come in. All in all, we have a great 3 hours or so.

Then back to the highway and on south towards Durban. We stop for lunch at a gas station and eat at Steers for burgers, which are surprisingly good. I get one with avocado, hold the bacon, and it is nice and spicy. Then two more hours to our B&B, Capulet at Hilton. This is towards Durban and then inland, or to the west. We’re at 29 32 32 S, 30 17 04 E, 3640’ elevation, so it is cooler. We were about 28 degrees S, and Cape Town is about 32 degrees S.

This is a snazzy guesthouse, their website is We have rooms on the second floor with a nice view out to the east. Too bad we’re only here for a night.

Wed Sep 30 – drive up into the Drakensberg mountains for 2 nights at Karmichael B&B at about 5,000’. This is in Himeville, just outside Underberg, actually at the base of the mountains. They are used to cold weather here, they even have heated floors. Plus we eat dinner here both nights, which is always nicer than getting back in the van to drive to town.

In the morning we went up the Karkloof mountain range, and drive about an hour to a magnificent azalea garden, Benvie. I’ve never seen such variety in colors and huge swathes of stunning azaleas, in full bloom. We hit it right at the peak of blooming.

We’re looking for several special bird species here, and we score with great looks at Knysna Turaco, with its wild face paint around the eyes, and Orange Ground Thrush. We only get the latter because another birder wandering around points it out to us as we’re getting back in the van, very friendly of him. Also lots of butterflies, many large swallowtails, are showing up.

Then we eat an early lunch at Yellowstone Café, an old stone house built in 1870 where we sit on the verandah and look over the garden. Tasty food, Willie and I split a chicken and mushroom pie and an apple and bacon salad. Athol has gotten most of us hooked on passion fruit lemonade, which comes with the passion fruit concentrate in the glass and you pour in a can of lemonade, a delicious drink.

We then head to some fields near Richmond where we look down ravines for blue swallow, but don’t find any. We do find great looks at a pair of crowned cranes and blue cranes, with their long elegant wing feathers blowing in the wind. Later Mark tells me there are hundreds of crowned cranes in the fields by our b&b, but this is a new bird for me, and a beautiful one.

Thur Oct 1 – today we head up the Sani Pass, to the small country of Lesotho, in the Drakensberg Mountains. Fortunately we have two local bird guys,, Stewart and Aldo, who drive us up in two 4×4 cars, as the road is very bad. They do a smashing job of finding us most of the specialities, even though we have rotten weather. Light, chilly rain, sleet, hail, even some flakes of snow, occasional patches of sun, it is a cold and miserable day. But we see one great bird after another.

The star of the show is the Drakensberg Rockjumper, which puts on a fabulous display. Aldo finds the first one up above us, as it bombs onto a rock responding to his tape. While we’re looking at it, a very nice view, another from below the road starts calling. It comes up below us and starts spreading its tail, showing off the white ring around the outer edges, flashing and flying about maybe 20-30’ below, looking spectacular against the dark rocks. We are all astonished, as we did not know they did this type of display. It was my favorite moment of the day, and will be one of the top memories of the trip.

We see lots of other montane specialities, like Gurney’s Sugarbird, sitting wet and fluffed up on top of a protea tree in the fog, and great looks at Ground Woodpecker, which nests in holes in the rocks. One is particularly ticked off at us, because we pull our two cars into a slightly sheltered pullout under his nesting area, and he hangs around bitching at us the entire time we’re eating our delicious field lunch. Quiche, chicken legs, fresh bite sized round tomatos, yogurt, chocolate bars, apples, etc, probably the nicest field lunch we’ve had on this trip.

We get good looks at the spectacular lammergeier, the huge bearded vulture that has become so difficult to see. Another one of my favorites is the sentinel rock thrush, a beautiful rufous orange and soft blue/grey thrush. One of the times when the guys hike up the side of a hill, in 40+mph freezing winds, I opt to stay in the car, which is at least out of the wind. The rock thrush flies in to a stone not far from my window and poses nicely, checking out his neighborhood.

All in all a great birding day, in spite of the terrible weather. Though the long hot shower at our b&b feels fabulous, as neither Willie nor I want to get out of the shower, we’re so chilled. We’ll have another delicious dinner here at KarMichael, life is tough.

Fri Oct 2 – back to Durban to catch our flight to Capetown. Visit the Kirstenbosch Gardens in Capetown, they are spectacular. The protea are coming into bloom, huge plastic feeling flowers in many colors, and the garden is stuffed with them. These are a Capetown speciality, and the sunbirds love them. We get great looks at cape sugarbird and a bunch of southern double-collared sunbirds.

The we drive up over the hill to Simon’s Town, on the east cape. We’re here for 3 nights, as we have scheduled a backup day in case we can’t go out on our pelagic trip tomorrow. We eat dinner at our B&B, Whale View Manor, a fancy looking big house with white pillars and a very steep driveway, plus 20 steps to the reception. The dinner is lamb shanks, which several of us don’t eat, though they are beautifully presented.

Sat Oct 3 – We head out to sea at 7am, after a light breakfast of yogurt and fruit and toast. I’m wearing a patch for seasickness, and it works perfectly. The seas are ‘lumpy’, as one of the boat guides says, and it is a good day for seasickness. There are 3 other folks, aside from our 5 (2 of ours pass on the trip), and the 2 women in the other group are hanging over the side of the boat, feeding the fish, poor women. It is parents and their college age daughter, for the daughter’s birthday, and I’m betting that next year she will ask for a different present.

I spend most of the day on a bench just inside the cabin, next to the open door and window, so I can see what’s going on, but I’m out of most of the spray. The people on the back of the boat gets drenched repeatedly. There are 3 local bird experts on the boat, and they are dressed for it, in rain jackets and pants, but I’m not.

We see lots of albatros, both shy and black-browed, lots and lots of white-chinned petrels, plenty of greater shearwaters, and about another 6 or 8 good pelagic species. My favorites are the small wilson’s storm-petrels, but we also see one beautiful cape petrel, with white patches in the wings, and giant petrels. These guys are amazing, as they can shout out id’s with just naked eye views. It is too rough to use your binos most of the time, as you have to hang on with at least one hand, often two. I’m thrown off my bench at least twice, and that’s when I’m hanging on. 3-4 meter seas, and lumps moving in several directions, it’s a rough ride. But we survive and see some good birds, though most of us are glad not to be going out again tomorrow.

Sun Oct 4 – we drive to the east along the coast, passing Muzienburg and heading through several villages on the coast. We head to the Hottentots-Holland Mountains, very rocky and steep, turn off the main road at Porter Drive and come to a gate, where we park. The sign says private property, but birders,hikers and bikers are welcome to enter. We walk along the dirt track with the mountain slope rearing up to our left. It is pretty chilly and windy, I’m glad I have all my layers on.

We find at least two different groups, three per group, of Cape Rockjumpers, and the guys get good photos. The birds are most obliging, even though they are silent, but it is fun to watch them hop from rock to rock.

We also get spectacular looks at Orange-breasted Sunbirds, posing on beautiful protea yellow flowers in the thick coastal fynbos scrub.

Then we continue to the east to Stony Point bird refuge, where the penguins nest. There is a boardwalk where you can walk around and through the penguin colony, watching them hop rock to rock to get in the surf. There are four species of cormorants nesting here as well.

We eat lunch at the restaurant at the penguin colony, decent hake and chips, which is a type of white fish. I get mine grilled, not breaded, and it is a lot of fish.

On our way back to the west cape, where we are staying on the east side at Whale View Manor, we stop at Will’s favorite t-shirt shop. Coincidentally it is next door to an ice cream shop, so we have to hit that as well. Traffic is really ugly right here, due to construction, so Athol stays with the van as he is double parked to the side.

Mon Oct 5 – we drive back over the mountain to Capetown, leaving early to try and beat the worst of the traffic. We make it through Capetown and head north. About 100km or so we get to the West Coast National Park, where we spend the day. This is coastal fynbos, low scrubby bushes, lots of flowers, and we see some good birds here.

There are several bird hides, or blinds, that overlook ponds, and we see lots of shorebirds, both greater and lesser flamingos, red and yellow bishops, and the beautiful Southern Black Korhaan, a lovely bustard that flies in right behind one of the hides.

We eat lunch at the one restaurant, Geelbek, outside in the back under trees full of weavers nesting, and begging. I have a delicious quiche (the quiches have all been very tasty in South Africa), and a nice salad. Wish I had room for dessert, they have a bunch of fabulous looking cakes on display. We get our first rock martin at the restaurant, and a beggin fiscal shrike at our feet.

Then we drive about another 80-90km to Ceres, to the Village Guesthouse, our B&B for the last two nights. Funny the difference between the places we have stayed. This one feels chintzy, hard to define exactly why, but they have lots of rules, do this, don’t do that, very limited internet, small rooms. It feels more like a backpacker place rather than an upscale international tourist place. The previous Whale View Manor was beautiful, and of course it was right on the water, so we had great sunrises and views of the ocean from our room. Plus the people seemed friendlier, again hard to define.

Tues Oct 6 – 6am departure to drive about 80km north into the Karoo, an arid, desert-like habitat with a bunch of specialities, mostly larks, buntings, canaries, and some special warblers. 40km of pavement, then 40 more on dirt. The desert is beautiful, full of a gorgeous purple blooming succulent that covers the land to the horizon. You can see they have had some good rains recently.

We see lots of birds. We score big time with a pair of Black Harriers, and 5 or 6 Pale Chanting Goshawks, as well as lots of LBJs, a variety of new larks, chats, buntings and warblers. One of the toughest is Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, which we find up a steep, rocky gorge after Athol plays its call. Mark finds a pair up on the rocky slope, and they sit out on the rocks, bouncing around but we all get good looks.

We head back to the B&B for a late lunch, then head out again shortly after 3pm on a different road. Our B&B has a nice fountain where Cape Canaries are bathing, with weavers in the trees, so there are nice birds right here in our garden. An inmature, very spotted, Cape Robin-Chat joins us for our sandwiches under the big tree, looking very much like a young American Robin.

We drive about 16km up another road to the Gydo Pass, and stop at a pullout on the right where there is a small trickle of water coming from a pipe. Lots of birds are coming in for drinks and bathing, and Willie spots the Protea Canary, our target bird, as soon as he steps out of the van. We watch the birds for 30-45 minutes or so, very entertaining. They are jumpy and don’t let us get too close for photos, but with binos I watch another immature spotted Cape Robin-Chat beggin from its beautifully marked parent at the water. Plus Cape white-eyes and a gorgeous Orange-breasted Sunbird, as well as the Canary, come in repeatedly. A nice way to end our trip.

Trip report southeast Brazil Jan 20 to Mar 18

Trip Report Southeast Brazil Jan-March 2015

Look on flickr to see our butterfly photos from this trip, under Southeast Brazil

This trip consists of several smaller trips. The first 2 segments are organized through Richard Raby, who is a Brit who lives in Marica, Brazil for 6 months of the year, from November to April. He is a bird guide who has gotten seriously into butterflies and does a lot of rearing of Nymphalids. His email is,

I’ve just gotten in touch with a butterfly guide who works at Iguassu Falls, which is a fabulous place for butterflies. You can contact Roberto Rezende Greve at Roberto has been helping me with id’s on some of our photos, and speaks very good english.

Trip #1 is with Tony Hoare and Bill Berthet from Jan 23 to Feb 11. Then I will hang out at Richard’s in Marica over Carnival. Trip #2 if with Dan and Kay Wade from Feb 18 to March 5. Then Richard will drop us off at Regua for a week, then we fly to Serra Bonita for a week.

Day 1 Tues Jan 20 – fly overnight Houston to Rio de Janeiro, arrive 11:15am

Day 2 Wed Jan 21 – Richard picks me up, 4 nights in Marica at his house

Day 3 Thur Jan 22 – Estrada Fazenda Bananal in Marica

Day 4 Fri Jan 23 – pick up Bill and Tony in Rio, Parides ascanius pm, owl ridge

Day 5 Sat Jan 24 – back to Fazenda Bananal for the day, de Limao pm walk

Day 6 Sun Jan 25 – move to Sertao da Bocaina, Sao Paulo for 5 nights,1150m

Day 7/8/9/10 Mon/Tue/Wed/Thu Jan 26/27/28/29 – explore around Estalagem da Bocaina, 1160m

Jan 26&27 – Sarbia meadow & trail to left

Jan 28 – drive back to Pro-Bocaina, km24 & trail on left

Jan 29 – trail above Pro-Bocaina again

Jan 30 – explore new trails

Day 11 Fri Jan 30 – move to Itamonte, Minas Gerias, the upper part of Itatiaia NP, for 4 nights at Pousada Ribeirao do Ouro, 930m

Day 12 Sat Jan 31 – drive up road to black needles, Itatiaia NP 2200m

Day 13 Sun Feb 1 – explore other track, back up mountain in afternoon

Day 14 Mon Feb 2 – drive 45 minutes to Passa Quatro, National Forest 1100m

Day 15 Tue Feb 3 – drive to Fazenda do Esperanca outside Delfim Moreira, Minas Gerais, for 1 night, walk track Pico de Atacaque 1450m

Day 16 Wed Feb 4 – drive to Campos do Jordao, Sao Paulo for 2 nights 1600m

Day 17 Thur Feb 5 – rained out

Day 18 Fri Feb 6 – Pedra do Bau & Pico de Itapeva near Jordao, then drive to Hotel Donati 950m, Itatiaia National Park late afternoon, after chocolate shopping

Day 19-22 Sat-Tue Feb 7-10 – trails & roads around Donati

Feb 7 – cloudy & cool, walk down to cut through road, no car

Feb 8 – much sunnier, work down to triangle, ride back up for lunch

Feb 9 – go to waterfalls, too much rain, explore Peneda after lunch

Feb 10 – waterfalls & road, sun in and out

Day 23 Wed Feb 11 – Tony & Bill to the airport, Kim back to Marica w/Richard for carnival, great sunny morning at Donati

Day 24 Thur Feb 12 to Tue Feb 17 – back in Marica for a week, catch up on computer work on photos & id’s

Day 29 Mon Feb 16 – hunt for Prepona deiphile

Day 30 Wed Feb 18 – the Wades fly in early, we’re off to Bocaina for 4 nights

Day 31/32/33 Thu/Fri/Sat Feb 19/20/21 – explore around Estalagem da Bocaina, 1160m

Feb 19 – walk trails near Sarbia meadow

Feb 20 – road above Pro-Bocaina, clearwing heaven

Feb 21 – up to the right, then the left, dirt road to bridges

Day 34 Sun Feb 22 – morning at Bocaina, drive to Hotel Donati for 5 nights

Feb 23 – work road down to triangle

Feb 24 – riodinid road behind gate

Feb 25 – Lago Azul, owls & large snake

Feb 26 – old Hotel Simon trail

Day 39 Fri Feb 27 – golden frog at waterfalls & monkeys am, pm drive to Itamonte, Pousada Ribeirao do Ouro for 5 nights

Feb 28 – water plant trail am, forest behind hotel pm

Mar 01 – up the mountain to upper Itatiaia, 2400m

Mar 02 – drove back roads through Itamonte, 1600m

Mar 03 – Passa Quarto Nacional Forestal, 1050-1100m

Day 44 Wed Mar 04 – go up mountian am, drive back to Marica for 1 night

Day 45-50 Thu-Tue Mar 05/06/07/08/09/10 – to Regua for 6 nights

Mar 06 – 4×4 trail

Mar 07 – Von do Mar trail, lots of Eurybia molochina

Mar 08 – walked trails around the lakes

Mar 09 – more trails around the lakes, back by road

Mar 10 – forest fragment trail, giant snipe late afternoon

Day 51 Wed Mar 11 – fly to Ilheus, drive 4 hours to Serra Bonita for 7 nights

Mar 12 – explore trails around lodge

Mar 13 – drive up to towers, walk back by road

Mar 14 – drizzly am, my talk after lunch

Mar 15 – see Vitor’s collection

Mar 16 – more work on Vitor’s collection

Mar 17 – back to the towers, walk back by road

Day 58 Wed Mar 18 – drive to Ilheus, 1:30pm fly to Rio on GOL, then United back to Texas at 8:50pm, arrive home 10:30am Mar 19

Day 1 Tues Jan 20 – United flight from McAllen, TX to Houston to Rio

Day 2 Wed Jan 21 – land in Rio, Richard Raby meets me at the airport. We drive back to his house, about 1.5 hours away, drop off my stuff and head up 30 minutes to walk a nice track at Estrada Fazenda Bananal. This is taller forest where Richard has spent a lot of time and does a lot of baiting here, so he’s very familiar with the species flying. It is very hot and dry, with curled up leaves and crunchy things underfoot. So that means not lots of butterflies flying. But we find some goodies.

Day 3 Thur Jan 22 – We go back the next morning and check some of the bowls of bait left overnight. Several owls come to the rotten banana, including Caligo beltrao, and some nice satyrs. I get good shots of Antirrhea archaea, one of the brown morphos, and Dasyophthalma creusa, one of the Brazilian specialities. Richard scores with Opoptera syme, a new species for this location for him, very fresh. We have several Archaeoprepona who are fairly worn, but this next morning we get a very fresh A.amphimachus, so things are hatching even in this dry time. By late morning we actually get some rain, hooray! It stays dark and overcast most of the day, thunder rumbling. Richard tells me it is the first rain he’s seen in almost a month.

Day 4 Fri Jan 23 – We drive back to the airport in Rio to pick up Tony Hoare and Bill Berthet at 11:30am, then go back to Marica after stopping at a roadside restaurant for lunch. We head to the beach about 3:30pm to look for one of the real endemic specialities, Parides ascanius. Richard knows where to go, wandering around the dirt roads in a little town down by the lagoon. We park next to a field of lantana and other flowers, and find a couple of them right from the car.

Then we move a bit down the road to a second location where we walk in a couple of hundred meters and have an extended, close encounter with another P.ascanius. Tony and Bill have a fabulous time taking tons of killer shots, much better than what we had when I was here five years ago. This male keeps circling around and landing right next to one of us on the trail, then we skulk slowly around trying to get in position.

We go back to the house for an hour or so, then leave about 6:30 to go up into the hills to look for owls. Richard takes us up a pretty bad dirt road, definitely 4×4, to a hang gliders launcing spot with a spectacular view over the coast. We walk in a couple of hundred meters on the side of the ridge through a dry, crispy forest at dusk. I’m thinking we won’t see anything, it’s almost dark, but boy am I wrong. Richard leads us to a very small clearing, maybe 3-4 meters wide, where there is a pile of dead sticks and vines, and suddenly we have 2 Narope cyllastros ? One keeps coming back to the pile of sticks and the guys get great shots.

Bill goes a bit further up the trail, up to the left, and yells out ‘Dynastor darius!’, so we all pelt up the hill to where he is. Richard grabs one with the net, we shoot it in the hand, and there are at least 2 others chasing each other up and down the trail. Richard catches a second one, much fresher and very rufous below. There are Eryphanis chasing each other in the treetops, and a beautiful Caligo brasiliensis that keeps coming back to a tree, low down and good for photos. So four species of great owls zipping around at 7:30 to 8pm! It is practically dark by now, good thing we brought flashlights to hike back out, though we could still walk without lights if needed. An amazing experience.

We head back down the steep dirt road and into Marica, where Richard takes us to a great German restaurant. We stuff ourselves with sausage, pork loin, fabulous sauerkraut and potates, and can barely waddle our way back to the car at 10:30pm. What a day.

Day 5 Sat Jan 24 – We go back to Fazenda Bananal with Tony and Bill. It is somewhat overcast, with sun coming and going. You can see the forest isn’t as dry as a few days ago, but it could still use a lot more rain. I see some different species from before, Marpesia petreus have hatched, and Bill gets some grass skippers skulking in the bushes. We get nice shots of the orange Pirella, P.nereis, which is new for Richard for this location.

By lunchtime it is hot and slow, so we decide to leave and try another spot, though Richard says this is the best forest. He takes us to another dirt road, we park and walk up a track, climbing through a barbed wire fench. It is nice and wooded, and we go down into the woods where there is a lek of tigerwings, mostly Hypothyris ninonia daeta. We chase Ithomiinae through the bushes, getting some photos but missing stuff as well. There are a dozen or more tiger striped Ithomiinae and a couple Heliconius here in southeast Brazil, and it is difficult to sort them all out. That night I go through Richard’s collection, which helps.

Thunder gets louder and louder, so we head back to the car. Good timing, as it rains just as we drive out back to the highway. That night Richard grills us a tasty Brazilian barbeque, chicken wings, steak, sausage, lots of meat. This is a meat eating country.

For field lunches Richard and Bill bought some tuna, at my suggestion, but they bought some NRS (nasty red shit), tuna in tomatoe sauce. I refuse to eat it, and after calling it names, it’s not too popular with the others either. Fortunately they also bought a couple of cans of regular tuna, though we can only get tuna in oil here, and it’s not very high quality tuna. Call me a tuna snob, what can I say.

Day 6 Sun Jan 25 – Today we head out for the first place we’re staying, at Bocaina. I was there 5 years ago, but we didn’t have a car, so we were limited to walking around where we stayed.

We drive back to the first ridge towards the hang gliding place for an hour or so, as this is the last time we’ll be in the lowlands on this trip. We scramble up a steep bank off the bad dirt road, w/Richard giving us a hand, and hang around a hilltopping area in the dry crunchy forest. Richard says normally this is a great area with lots of swallowtails and butterflies displaying, but this has been the driest spring on record. But we see some good stuff anyway.

A determined Vacerra bonfilius keeps coming back to some leaves and allows great photos, and there are a number of Eunica, mostly E.tatilia but also a very fresh Eunica maja that likes to pose on the small tree trunks at the top. He is shy but with persistence we all get good photos.

We drive on to the state of Sao Paulo by back roads, stopping a few places to look for butterflies. We find a fresh Riodina lycisca, looks sort of like a Melanis riodinid black with an orange ring, and see several Pseudolycaena marysas at a parking lot for a restaurant. Richard used to find good butterflies here in the puddles, but now the restaurant is using it for cars.

We make it to the simple hotel where we will be based for the next 5 nights about 5pm, and immediately drive a little ways up the track and walk to the spot where we have found Sarbia damippe roosting in numbers before. Hooray, they are here in the rain, each sitting under a grass stem. There is a small swampy area just past a small wooden bridge. The three of us stay in the car, but Richard insists, and we’re glad he did. We get out and see them all over, very cool looking.

The next morning it is bright and sunny and we take lots of photos. Most of the Sarbia are gone by the time we get there, after our lovely 7:30am breakfast, enough food for twice as many people. There are at least two species of Sarbia here, perhaps more.

All morning we chase butterflies, many skippers, but also the big orange owls Blepolenis batea. One nice thing about these Brazilian owls is they fly during the day. Tony and I also get great shots of the white Morpho here, M.athena, and we see one of the smaller M.portis fly by. It gets dark and cloudy by 1pm, and as we get back for lunch it rains pretty good, with plenty of thunder.

This appears to be our weather pattern over the next several days – bright sunny mornings with clouds building and rain by 1pm. One day we drive back to the pavement and to our left, back a km or two, and walk a track down to the left. This is a cooler morning, but by 9am things are starting to fly. We find lots of the Synargis paulistina, with varying amounts of white, but I think they are all one species. Lots of small grass skippers, with Bernard’s help I’m gradually sorting most of them out.

Later that same morning, after a close encounter with a very fresh Noctuana diurna that lets us lift his hindwing, we drive a little bit further down the road and park at an abandoned building with a sign Pro-Bocaina. Then we walk a short distance and turn right up a dirt track. Richard has explored a number of these tracks that head off into the forest. This is a good one. A short way in is a house in a clearing with several swallowtails displaying and chasing everything that moves. Richard gets his net and catches two, a Battus polystictus and one he gets very excited about, Parides tros danunciae, which is a newer subspecies from further south. It is a mint fresh huge female.

We walk further up the track, past barking dogs at the house, and into nice forest, over a stream. This place looks great, several hairstreaks, a turn or two up the track we find the little white flowers with clearwings. Tony gets good shots of a mystery riodinid, black and white sort of like a Thisbe, but I can’t figure it out. A friend id’s it later as Synargis regulus, don’t know why I missed it. Richard goes back and gets the car and we drive 20 minutes or more up the track. We’ve been told there are 2 houses up here, but it takes us a long time to get to the first one. We stop in one beautiful open ravine just to watch the Morphos, 3 species, sailing up and down in the brilliant sun. There is also one of the huge dark species that never comes down from the canopy.

Suddenly it clouds up and rains by shortly after 1, right on schedule. We get back to the hotel for another delicious chicken and salad lunch. They even have maracuay (passion fruit) pudding or flan for dessert. Yum.

We spend another morning on this same track lower down, just walking up from the pavement. I find a new grey and white striped hairstreak, no idea what it is, and a beautiful Metron oropa comes to some of Bill’s pee. We haven’t had much luck here with different types of bait. Nothing came to the rotten shrimp, and male pee isn’t bringing in numbers either, though a few things have come to Bill’s pee. But nothing like in the Andes. I also get good shots of Rhadbodryas trite, the sulphur with a strong line down from the apex. They’re always more uncommon than the other Phoebis.

Our last evening Richard goes out at the end of the day and scores with a local Narope, very strongly marked. This is a different species from the one he showed us at the hang gliding place in the lowlands. He’s really into the owls.

Day 11/12 Fri/Sat Jan 30/31 – our last morning at Bocaina, we walk the tracks, come back for lunch and drive the 25 km back to Bananal, up to the main Sao Paulo to Rio highway, west for 30-40 miinutes then head up to Itamonte over a 1,666m pass and down the other side to 930m, to the Pousada Ribeirao do Ouro (little river of gold). It’s about 7-8 km before we get to Itamonte, which is 20km below the pass, sort of a country hotel with a nice pool and gardens with a small river right behind our rooms. We score with a separate building off to the side with 4 apartments, 2 up and 2 down, so we’re more private and away from the rest of it.

They make us a delicious trout dinner, 2 large pieces of trout each with capers, mushrooms and chopped almonds, plus a great tray of veggies. We scarf it all down. The food at the last place in Bocaina was quite good and plenty of it. They offered 4 choices: trout, chicken, beef or pork. We weren’t wild about the pork, but the chicken was tasty and the beef was fine. We tried them all and our favorite was the trout, but this trout is better. No bones, perfectly cooked and crispy, very flavorful. We had trout for lunch at Bocaina, so this a double trout day. This hotel is a step up from the previous one with bigger and nicer rooms, though it was very personal and run by a family who did everything to please us. This also appears to be family run, much nicer than US chain hotels. The manager/owner is the cook and the mama, her son Fredirico speaks some english and checks us in, shows us the rooms.

There is a large family eating here with us, seems like 15-20 people and lots of little kids and very very noisy. But they seem polite and happy and having a good time, but even up in my room later I can hear the kids shrieking away. It doesn’t prevent me falling asleep at 10 or a little after, however I wonder when those kids shut up. I sleep like a log, waking at 6:30 the next morning, so they didn’t keep me up.

As Bocaina the last morning we had driven to the right up the pavement,past where the pavement ends a few km up the road, then took the first left and walked the road. We didn’t see much but we did find one of the purple blooming trees that was a magnet for butterflies. Mimoniades versicolor posed nicely for all of us, we got our first Memphis of the trip on some dog shit, and a green hairstreak, Cyanophrys remus was found by Tony. Bill pulled down some white daisies and we shot a lovely Passova poleman. We had lots of the gorgeous owls Caligo arisbe, all dark orange above. We also had this same owl inside the dining room at the new hotel when we arrived, they must be just hatching.

I’ve never been to this location, only at the lower part of Itataia National Park, so I’m eager to explore. We have breakfast at 7:30am and head back to the park. We stop and put various baits out at several places, but there isn’t much flying. The sides are pretty clean, they’re into whacking the roadsides here, so not much in the way of flowers.

Our main score for the day is the fabulous Polygrapha suprema, which comes in as soon as we put out bait. He, assuming it is a he, circles around Richard, then lands on the rotten shrimp that Bill has sprayed in the middle of the road. We get good photos, as we all sneak up on him. Tony and Bill even get some good dorsals. What a spectacular butterfly.

We continue up and see several more satyrs. Closer to the top there is a fork, where there is a Pousada Los Lobos to the left and the park straight ahead. This is open meadow with flowers, and we find Pampasatyrus gyrtone flying here. Tony finds a group of weird tall spikey flowers that they like, and we all get photos. Higher up Bill gets a dark satyr with a white squiggle on the costa, which is Praepedaliodes exul.

We’re looking for fox shit on the roads, which often attracts butterflies, but the only shit we find appears to be quite dried out and not much comes to it. The weather turns cloudy, foggy and cool, so it’s not great for butterflies. We get back to the hotel for their special dinner, using their new wood burning stove for the first time. They serve 3 soups with bread, tasty soups but a different dinner than I’ve had. My favorite is the bean soup, sort of a beans and wieners. The others are a green soup, mostly watery vegetable, and a pork with a corn mush. Interesting but it wouldn’t be something I would yearn to repeat.

Day 13 Sun Feb 1 – we go looking for a way to get up the track that is a trail up to the big rock on the ridge. We take the left turn to the water plant, Eughenis do Agua, and wander around the pretty gardens and nice houses on bumpy roads, finally finding a track that heads into the forest. We walk up a bit and some of us take a junction that appears to be a driveway, with cement in two tracks, but lots of flowers. There are lots of Parides bunichus flying, and we get good photos. This Parides mimics the Mimoides lysithous, black with a narrow white stripe on the wings, very beautiful.

At the top, through an old wood gate and cattle guard, to the left is a hillside of some sort of white heather plant in full bloom, and lots of butterflies coming to the flowers. I spend an hour or more, with Richard and Tony, getting bit by no-see-ums and getting shots of Adelotypa sejuncta and a different hairstreak, plus a few others. By now it is noon and bright sun, so we decide to dash back up the mountain.

Of course it gets foggy the moment we drive up. We stop where we had left bait and find a fresh Pyrrhopyge charybdis semita on a flowering bush. He doesn’t want to fly, as it is cool and foggy. Richard puts the car under the bush, climbs on the hood and gets good shots. I hand up my camera and he gets some photos for me too. This is the same species we had seen yesterday up the hill. It was one of the only butterflies to come to the nasty stinking fishheads we threw around.

The sun comes out, we contine up, and see several more P.suprema. Otherwise it is about the same stuff, though a bit more active because we keep the sun until mid afternoon. The satyrs here are very difficult to photograph. There are lots of Moneuptychia umuarama flying, with a distinctive white squiggly on the ventral, but they pop around in the trees chasing each other and never landing.

After dinner Bill stays up late and watches the super bowl, but the rest of us go to sleep. The hotel has a big screen tv in the lounge, and they set it up for him and some Brazilians. Bill says the Brazilians spent more time on the phones than watching the game.

Day 14 Mon Feb 2 – It is heavily overcast and cool this morning, so we go for a drive over to Passa Quatro (4th pass) to explore some parks on the map. After hunting and pecking around, we find a Forestal Nacional Passa Quatro with a man on the gate, but he lets us in. We drive in, see a sign to Cachoeira de Ipora, which is a waterfall. Those are usually good for butterflies, so we drive up the rutted road, park and wander around.

It actually turns out to be a good day, much to my surprise. We get great shots of a very fresh riodinid, Charis cadytis, black with orange tips, and several other goodies up at the waterfall. A fresh 88, Diaethria candrena, leads us an a 30 minute chase before finally letting the photographers get close.

Bill has peed in a perfect open sunny area, and when we walk back up for the second time there are swallowtails on it. Heraclides thoas are there, but very ratty, and an immaculate Heraclides anchisiades, a different ssp than I’ve seen before. Many of the species here are the same as in Mexico, but different subspecies. Richard finds a Memphis caterpillar in his leaf roll, with a striking head pattern. Richard has reared many of the Memphis, so he is familiar with their habits.

Thunder chases us off the hill and back to the hotel, just in time. As we’re in our rooms a strong storm blows in, wind slamming our open windows around. Closing up our rooms just in time, heavy rain and hail slams down. Fortunately it backs off in time for time, so we dash across to the dining room for another delicious trout dinner.

Day 15 Tue Feb 3 – depart for 1 night at Delfim Moreira on our way to Campos do Jordao. We take Passa Quatro over the pass from Minas Gerais to Sao Paulo, a low pass about 1450m. We stop at the top for a spectacular view with clouds below us in Sao Paulo, at a shrine where pilgrims come. Then down the hill to the main SP-RJ road west.

After half an hour or so we turn off towards Lorena, drive some more then we take a dirt track up to a hang gliding launch pad, where the road continues up to some towers, signed Pico de Ataque. It is confusing here, as we keep slipping back and forth between states, going from Sao Paulo to Minas Gerais then a few turns later back to Sao Paulo.

We spend several hours here walking the track at about 1400-1500m. Lots of grass skippers, most of them the same we had at Bocaina, but there are some new ones. And some different satyrs, our first Forsterinaria. We snack on tuna and cheese bread, our standard field lunch, and drive on towards Delfim Moreira, Minas Gerais. We see our first Doxocopa, 3 species all very fresh.

We turn off the highway onto another dirt track towards the pousda, which is about 6-7 km up the road. It’s a slow bumpy road, but we stop a couple of times to photograph swallowtails and get several great species. Eurytides dolicaon on the way in, about 4 km along we get Heraclides hectorides and right at the driveway of the pousada we get a great spot with two Eurytides bellerophon that are most accomodating, and a fresh Mimoniades ocyalus.

This is an interesting place to stay, with separate cabanas with fireplaces. They generate their own power from their waterfall, and we even have internet, 8 km up a bad dirt road. They make us two soups for dinner, which are tasty.

Day 16 Wed Feb 4 – we explore a bit around here in the morning, though it is cool. We leave after a leisurely breakfast, about 9:30am. Back to the pavement, left to another dirt track 40km across to Campos do Jordao, Sao Paulo. Again with the moving between the two states, we’re right on the border. It stays cool and overcast all day, sprinkling at times, so we see very few butterflies. We do find a few wet spots and see a few new species for the trip, but nothing too exciting.

We get to the upscale resort town of Campos do Jordao, which is a weekend retreat for rich folks from Sao Paulo, about an hour and a half away. We get our nice wood walled rooms at Hotel Pousada Vale Verde, about 2:30pm, then go looking for a late lunch. Richard takes us to an inexpensive pay by the kilo place, but we’ve seen a ton of snazzy restaurants driving around looking for a place to park, so we revolt. We want to go to a fancy looking Churrascaria ou Vivo restaurant, Parillia Argentina, so Richard is willing to change. We’re paying for our own meals here, and Tony graciously offers to buy Richard’s lunch, as this place is a bit above his budget.

The three guys all order giant steaks and rave about the quality of the meat. I have a bite and it is delicious. I don’t feel like a pound of meat, so I get a lasagna and a delicous pear and gorgonzola salad. The salad is better than the lasagna, and both are enormous, I can only eat about a third of the lasagna. The whole meal cost just under 400 reals, including a 10% tip, about US$160 for the four of us. It would have easily cost twice as much in the US or Britain.

As we walk back to the car, we realize it just happens to be parked in front of a chocolate shop, so of course we have to go in. I buy 8-10 pieces of delicious chocolate for 20 reals, US$8. I thought their sign said 20 reals per piece, which was way too high, but the clerk said no, it was 20 reals per 100 grams, much more reasonable. So Tony and I scarf down the tasty chocolates. It’s been raining all afternoon, and if you can’t look at butterflies, might as well eat. One of my basic life philosophies.

It quits raining as we get back to the hotel, and Richard is keen to go out and look for a special satyr from here. I pass and work on photos, but Tony and Bill go with him. They go to Pico do Itapeva at 1700m. They don’t find the satyr Richard is looking for, but they do get a great riodinid that we have no idea what it is.

Day 17 Thur Feb 5 – rain all day, at times quite heavy, so we never make it out of town. We drive into town and Bill goes shopping, then we have lunch at another pay by the kilo place. Back to the hotel for the afternoon of working on the computer, unfortunately no internet all day at the hotel. It’s ironic, we’ve been in several relatively isolated pousadas and had internet, at least part of the time, but here in town we don’t have it. Lots of excuses, but bottom line, it doesn’t work. Oh well. We walk up the road to the alligator place for fondue and pizza. When that place doesn’t have pizza, we drive into downtown and explore. We end up at a Swiss/German restaurant, Rosti’s or something like that. Tony and I share a delicious cheese fondue, and we both have caparinhas which are very tasty and huge. Good thing we’re not driving. Hopefully the sun will be out tomorrow morning. The rain appears to be stopping late in the day.

Day 18 Fri Feb 6 – In the morning we drive 45 minutes or so up to Pedra do Bau, a touristy scenic drive. Richard has seen the Sarbia firetips here, so we’re looking for those. No luck, but we do find a spectacular orange satyr covered with black and white spots, I’ve never seen anything like it. Richard finds it, as he goes down into a valley and wades through very tall grasses into a marsh-like place. He yells that he has something wonderful, so we follow him into the valley. We all get good shots, even though the big clumps of grasses are taller than we are. This is about 1750m, a couple of km up the turnoff for Pedra do Bau, which is well signed. Andres Freitas later id’s it for Richard as Pampasatyrus reticulata.

We go back to town, check out of our hotel, and drive to another of Richard’s spots, Pico de Itapeva, about 1700m. He’s seen a track and wants to drive down into this valley, where he thinks it will be similar habitat. He’s right, as we find more of the spectacular satyrs. We never would have seen them if it wasn’t for Richard’s perseverance.

On the way out of town we stop at a chocolate shop, painted as if chocolate was running down from the roof. They have a great display in the window of chocolate running down a wall, so of course we have to check it out. It’s mostly fancy boxes to give as gifts, but we manage to find some individual pieces to buy. I didn’t realize Campos do Jordao was such a magnet for chocoholics.

We leave for Itatiaia National Park, the lower part, about a 3 hour drive, and arrive by 6pm. We’re here for 5 nights at the Hotel Donati, the second to the highest hotel inside the park. The top hotel, Do Ype, is where the bird tours all stay. It has wonderful bird feeders and tons of hummingbirds, but I prefer the Donati for butterflies. It has 1-2 km of more open tracks to walk with lots of flowers, while the Do Ype is on top of a very steep hill and not much room to walk up there, except the waterfalls are closer.

Day 19 Sat Feb 7 – Richard’s lens broke for his camera a few days ago, so he leaves early to drive back to his home in Marica and get his backup lens. It will take him about 5-6 hours each way, hopefully he’ll be back for dinner at 8pm. We walk down hill to the cut through that heads over towards the Do Ype, 800m below the Donati. No cars are allowed on this, so it is great for butterflies. It is much more overgrown than when I was here 5 years ago. Then it was open enough you could have driven on it, now it is just a narrow track. They have had several washouts, so now it is almost impossible for a vehicle to drive on it.

The weather is mostly cloudy, after raining much of the night, so we don’t see lots of butterflies. More walking than photography, but we do get some good photos. There is a different crescent that appears to come in white or orange. Some new skippers, and the big white Morpho, probably M.athena, same as at Bocaina.

We make it back for lunch, better lasagna than I had at the fancy restaurant a few days ago. After lunch it gets quite cloudy, thunder starts, and it is raining by 2:30. I sit on my porch and watch the guan and wood rails feeding on the grasses by my room. They’re feeding a baby guan. With toucans in the cecropia and lots of other birds around, there’s plenty to watch, even if they aren’t butterflies.

Day 20 Sun Feb 8 – we get a much sunnier day today, and shoot lots more photos. Richard is back, so we take the car down to the triangle, where the road to Hotel Donati turns off. I hike up an hour or so behind the hotel up through the forest, but don’t see anything. Richard tells me this trail goes over to the Hotel Simon, which is now closed.

Then I walk down the road and meet the others at the triangle. Our plan is to have the car bring us back up the hill for lunch at 1 or 1:30, depending on the sun. Richard and Tony have driven up to the old Hotel Simon and found a great swallowtail, Protesilaus helios. Bill and I spend an hour or more shooting 3 species of Dynamine and several other fresh bugs at the triangle.

After lunch Richard takes Bill and me up to look for the swallowtail, which is gone. We drive on to the waterfalls right below the Hotel do Ype, which of course are crowded, today being Sunday. We wander around a bit, planning on coming back tomorrow when the crowds will be gone. The bamboo is fruiting, and flowering, and the buffy-fronted seedeaters are calling everywhere, which is a rare bird only found around seeding bamboo.

The waterfalls are on Rio Campo Belo, and there are 3 of them at 1000m. Walking back to our car we scare up a very fresh Hamadryas fornax fornax, the nominate subspecies.

The 4 of us end up in the hotel dining room, where we can all plug our computers into Bill’s power strip, and work sitting on chairs at tables. The rooms never have any place to set up a laptop, and it gets uncomfortable sitting on your bed. I had put mine on top of the minifridge, and used that socket to plug in, but it is too high over the small bed. Much more comfortable in the dining room.

Richard asks the hotel for snacks and they bring us a platter of cheeses, salami and olives, yum. The guys get beers and all is right with the world. We work on photos for 2 hours or so, dinner isn’t until 8pm, and have a great time.

Day 21 Mon Feb 9 – back up the hill to the 3 waterfalls and the road to them, past the turn off for the Do Ype hotel. We plan to check out the road to the old Simon hotel, where they found the P.helios yesterday at a wet spot. You never know…Unfortunately it is another cool, overcast day, and we don’t see squat at the waterfalls. Plus there are enough people wandering around that even if we had butterflies, it would be difficult to photograph them without people walking through them. Life is tough all over.

It starts to rain lightly, so we head back for lunch at 1pm. Then we drive down looking for sun. Back through the village at the base of the hill and a short distance towards Rio, then turn off to Peneda. Richard has heard good things about this area as a good place for birds from a Finnish book on where to find birds in Brazil. They must have written the book quite a while ago, as the area is now a tourist place stuffed with pousadas, stores selling tourist things, several chocolate stores, and bars and restaurants.

We hunt around and find one of the waterfalls, but the trails are slippery, lots of people, very suburban and hot and sticky (we’re down to 600m), so we bail and head back home. Oh well, you win some…

When we had come back for lunch the electricity in my room didn’t work, the lights only come on just a flicker. The hotel tells us it is the fault of the electricity company, something about one of the three phases isn’t working. So why are only my lights affected? Not Tony’s, in the other side of the cabin next to mine. Who knows why? When we come back at 5:30pm, it is still the same. So I’ll be using my flashlight in my room tonight, and charging my laptop in Tony’s room.

But amazingly the lights are fixed at 6pm, so all is well in my room. It’s the little things that matter.

Day 22 Tue Feb 10 – Tony and Bill’s last full day in the field. More light rain and then the sun bursts out to tease us. We see several new species, things seem to be hatching as almost everything we see is fresh. Bill gets good shots at the waterfall in the afternoon of 2 new swallowtails. I spend a lot of time just below the archway at the entrance to the hotel, which for some reason seems to attract butterflies. A spectacular fresh Catonephele numilia hangs around there, and Tony gets great shots of it. A new Julia, one of the first we’ve seen, is also there and makes me work for it.

Up at the waterfall, from the bridge, we watch as a beautiful female Morpho anaxibia sails up and down the ravine, big orange spots on the apex. What a stunner, a classic tropical vision.

We go up to the closed Hotel Simon, which is now full of weeds, and walk a trail that goes off to the right from the main garden. These leads to a dark area with lots of little white flowers that the clearwings like, but we only see Ithomia agnosia and they don’t cooperate. Tony spends half an hour with a beautiful fresh Parphorus, a yellow veined skipper, and finally gets dorsal shots, so hopefully we can id it, with help from Bernard. Later Bernard tells me it is Levina levina, new for me! Overall, while we don’t see high numbers, we have managed to find some new species daily, and more appear to be coming. It will be interesting to see what we find when I’m back here in a few weeks with the Wades.

Tony and Bill walk down the road from the Simon a bit and visit the artists’ home/studio, then Richard and I join them. The artists are a couple who live here, 700m up from the road up the hill, and they spend an hour or so with us, showing their work. He’s Australian and she’s Brazilian. Amazing stuff, check out, and his partner Tatiana, unfortunately I don’t remember her last name. I love his iguana painting, and her magical realism work, and painted ceramics, are fabulous. If I had a nice house I would have stuff like this in it. We didn’t expect to find something like this up in the forest.

Day 23 Wed Feb 11 – our last morning is gorgeous and sunny, of course, the best morning we’ve had so far. Back up to the waterfall where we watch lots of things chasing and fighting high up overhead. Both Morpho anaxibia and menelaus are sailing around, being attacked by Archaeoprepona and smaller butterflies. Doxocopa laurentia comes down to the fresh cement the workers are putting around the toilets. Too bad the workers are there, but a few butterflies come in anyway. We photograph Hesperocharis and a cooperative Mimoniades ocyalus, in between wheelbarrows and guys carrying shovels.

On our way back down the hill we stop at a puddle by a guard station and get great comparisions of several sulphurs, Phoebis philea the big one, also P.argante & neocypris with the tail. Plus there are 2 new grass skippers for our list, Heliopetes laviana and a beautiful Phemiades pohli, only the 2nd time I’ve seen this species.

We check out of the hotel and leave about 3:30pm, going directly to the airport at Rio about 7pm. We get some traffic for the last part, about 30 minutes in stop and go traffic, but get there in plenty of time. Bill checks in for his 11pm flight and departs, then we go w/Tony to terminal 1 where his flight has been delayed a couple of hours, from midnight to 2am. Sigh. We have a nice steak dinner, graciously paid for by Tony, then Richard and I say good bye and leave for Marica about 9:30pm. We have ugly traffic much of the way, as apparently mobs of people leave Rio to get away from carnival, which starts Friday. At 10:30-10:45pm we’re still in bad traffic getting to Marica, but we make it a little after 11, thank heavens, and thanks to Richard’s driving. Glad I wasn’t driving.

Day 24 Thur Feb 12 – back to the hot, dry area of Marica for the next week, while we avoid the madness of carnival. They haven’t had any rain at all here, surprising to me as we have had quite a bit of rain in the mountains. Richard will have to buy a tanker of water to fill his cistern, as the city hasn’t been pumping any water in quite a while. His last water bill was zero, no water delivered. So we’re conserving on showers, laundery, etc. Richard’s off to take care of accumulated errands, dentist, etc, and I have plenty of computer work to keep me busy.

Day 25 to 29 Fri to Tue Feb 13 to 17 – hang out in Marica, catching up on computer work and tons of emails, and eating at Richard’s favorite home away from home, the local italian/pizzaria. It is delicious, and we eat there every night. We find out that I like spicy pizza, but Richard does not, the wimp. We go out with some of his friends, a nice couple who lives here. One morning they take me to the beach, and then we have lunch at their house, chicken and okra. I had no idea they had okra in Brazil, and I’m not excited to find out, as that’s a vegetable I can do without. But the sauce is tasty, and they have ice cream for dessert.

Day 29 Mon Feb 16 – the great Prepona deiphile deiphile hunt. Jorge Bizarro, who works at Regua, graciously agrees to take us to the special spot where this magnificent butterfly has been seen. We leave Marica at 6am, get to Regua about 7:30 to pick him up, then drive to Tres Picos State Park another hour plus away. Jorge leads us up a dirt track inside the entrance, we drive up a bit under 5km then walk up 5-10 minutes to a beautiful steep narrow ravine with nice forest. He points out 2 tall trees that overhang the ravine and says the Prepona like to sit and chase from the tops of these trips.

Unfortunately last night a very strong thunderstorm blew in, probably winds of over 100km (60mph) and lots of rain. It blew a bunch of tiles off the neighbor’s roof, and wrecked some of Richard’s tall cactus. We lost power, and didn’t get it back for over 24 hours. Today is cool and overcast, we never even see any shadows, so very few butterflies and zero Preponas. Oh well, at least Richard knows where it is and can come back next year. Jorge says January is the best time, so we may also be a bit late in the flight time. We’re both very tired when we get back to Marica, I’m ready to crash and I didn’t do any driving. Poor Richard, he did a great job. We do manage to make it to the italian restaurant, after naps, so we can do emails from there.

Day 30 Wed Feb 18 – head to the airport to pick up Kay and Dan Wade at 7:30am from their overnight flight from Panama. It’s one and a half to two hours to the airport from Richard’s house, so we depart in the dark. The plan is to then head straight to Bocaina for 4 nights. This 2nd trip is for 2 weeks with Richard, hitting most of the same places as trip #1.

We meet up with the Wades, no problems, and drive 3-4 hours to Bananal and the last 27km up the winding mountain road to Estalagem da Bocaina, where we have a late chicken lunch. It is cool and overcast and drizzly, so not many butterflies. I do find a pair of very fresh Dione juno fanning their wings, and Richard sees some Sarbia when he goes and puts up his traps. Hopefully tomorrow will be sunny.

Later that afternoon, about 5pm, I mention to Richard there were a couple of Juno under the tree right outside our rooms, and he goes out to look. He realizes there is a passion fruit vine all over the small tree, and he finds a couple of pupa. So we photograph them, and find more as we keep looking, and some are starting to hatch! We find one freshly hatched and hanging, and another seems to be halfway hatched but doesn’t finish. Why they’re hatching late on a drizzly afternoon, I have no idea. You just never know what you’re going to run into if you go looking, even on a cool drizzly afternoon. Richard says they hatch on rainy afternoons, so they’re fresh and ready to go on the following sunny morning. How do they know it isn’t going to rain for 3 days? The next morning is sunny, and the bugs that hatched the evening before have survived rain most of the night and are fresh as daisies the next morning, so Richard is right.

Day 31 Thur Feb 19 – We head to the main trail, park the car at the junction of the trail and the dirt road, and Kay and I walk down to the Sarbia meadow. Much more water everywhere than 3 weeks ago. The meadow is under 6” of water, you need rubber boots to go in there now. It’s late, after 9am, and we don’t see any of the Sarbia hanging on the grasses.

We head back to where we left the car and take the trail into where Richard puts out his traps. This is maybe a km long trail, or a bit longer, goes across tall grasslands and into forest. There are now several very boggy places w/standing water, difficult to cross without getting your feet wet. They’ve obviously had lots of rain since we were here.

Much of what I see are the same species, but the Juno were not seen before. Now the Caligo arisbe are common, but the Blepolenis owls are scarce, so they’ve switched flight times. I do find a few new skipper species to add to the list. One that I send to Bernard, he replies back is an undescribed genera, similar to Quinta cannae but with big white spots of the FW. This is being described by the Brazilian skipperists, as he puts it.

Later that morning we drive up the right, back on the pavement, just a mile or so up the hill and park, then walk down the severely overgrown trail to the old abandoned hydroelectric plant. We see several Heliconius sara flying, a species we had not seen previously on this trip. And there are some Sarbia, still both species, hitting the white daisies in the sheltered spot by the old plant, so Kay and Dan get to photograph these spectacular bugs.

Day 32 Fri Feb 20 – Today we work the trail above Pro-Bocaina, past the house with the barking dogs. Of course almost all houses here in Brazil have barking dogs. These are two loud german shepard types that sound really mean, but the owner whistles them in and they appear to be more bark than bite, fortunately.

The little stream that crosses the trail shortly above the house is a great spot. We get a pair of Pythonides lancea, the beautiful blue and white skippers, chasing each other and cooperating nicely for photos, and several new (for this location) Lychnuchus celsus, the beautiful skipper with broad orange band in the wings and a green body. I had not seen it so far this trip, though Tony and Bill shot it earlier.

The most exciting butterflies are up the trail at the curve where there are lots of the little white flowers the clearwings like. On our previous visits we only saw 1 or 2 clearwings, and they appeared to be a species of Greta. But now we have dozens, quite a number of species, so we spend an hour or more photographing a very short part of the trail. Several new species for me, it will take a lot of time to sort them all out. The only tigerwing that comes to the flowers is a new species for the trip, Placidina euryanassa.

Today is a 2 snake day, as Dan almost steps on what looks to be a venomous snake first thing in the morning, right next to the road. We had gone wading in a meadow of daisies, often in waist deep grass so we had no idea where we were putting out feet. Not a good idea. I was more concerned with not stepping on a fire ant mound than worrying about snakes. Fortunately we all survived the meadow (I had a repeated close encounter with a very fresh Junonia evarete, a Buckeye, which seemed attracted to my blue shirt). Dan and Kay were photographing a Heliconius beschei on the other side of the road, just 8-10’ off the pavement. Dan had stepped across a small ditch to get it, then was stepping back when he saw a large snake coiled in the ditch. He made a mid air correction, I didn’t know he had it in him, and leaped right over the snake. They had been stomping around there for several minutes, and the snake had had enough. It was rattling its tail and making plenty of noise, I think it didn’t want to be stepped on. It had a large, triangular head, so good thing Dan was so athletic and leaped over it, probably a fer-de-lance.

Later that afternoon Richard wants to go look for Narope at dusk, so we head out about 6:45pm. Richard is an owl man, and always wants to go hunting them late in the day, when all reasonable people are sitting down with a cold beer. But he does finds them repeatedly. The guy who fishes the most hours usually catches the most fish. He takes us to a corner on the pavement, to the right of the pavement from the hotel, and sure enough, eagle eye Dan spots one sitting there at chest height, watching us. Exactly on the same curve where Richard had found them 2 nights previously. It is about 7pm, still light enough for photos, and we get some shots. Mine aren’t in focus,but some of the others look quite good.

On our way back we find another snake in the road, by the car headlights, and we stop and pile out and shot it. The snake poses very cooperatively, we get our fill of photos. Some local guy walks along and wonders what are we doing. When he sees the snake, of course he says kill kill, but Richard does the snake talk, not that it will do much good. We don’t think this one is venomous, but one never knows for sure. We meet a Chek?? researcher who is studying frogs here, and he tells us our 2nd snake is a frog eating snake, slightly venomous.

Day 33 Sat Feb 21 – Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day, in fact no rain for the last 2 days. Today we wake to fog, but hopefully it will burn off shortly. After breakfast we leave about 9am, and it is bright and sunny. We drive to the pavement, turn right and go a couple of km to a Y, where we take the left hand path. This is after the pavement ends, after another pousada or Chez Brunno, another simple restaurant.

We worked this road on trip 1 and had some good things, but today it seems quite slow. I get good shots of Vehilius clavicula, a beautiful grass skipper with a pale tan background and black veins, but aside from that there’s nothing new. Don’t know why, as the weather is good and the habitat looks productive.

Day 34 Sun Feb 22 – our last morning at Bocaina and we decide to go back to where Richard has his traps, to the right from the lodge towards the Sarbia, not going on the pavement. He’s been checking the traps late every afternoon with Dan, and 2 days ago they were hopping. He had Pterourus scamander and several owls and satyrs.

He also had a mystery riodinid on the trail, which he missed catching, and has been beating himself up over it. He has seen this once before here at Bocaina a couple of years ago and photographed it, sent me the photo several years ago and I didn’t know what it is. Late this morning Dan finds another on the same part of the trail and gets some good photos, then when we’re walking back to check Richard’s traps Richard manages to catch it. We had seen Dan’s backpack lying in the grass with his binoculars, and Dan was just a few meters up the hillside but we couldn’t see him. When he said he had the curved wing riodinid, Richard was up the hill like a shot. So thanks to Dan we got both photos and the specimen. It is a beautiful large black metalmark, maybe a Eurybia without ‘eyes’, and a tan edge to the costa and apex of the very pointed, curved forewing. A striking bug, maybe new to science?

After lunch we say goodbye to Bocaina and drive 3 hours or so to lower Itatiaia National Park to stay 5 nights at the Hotel Donati. The mobs are leaving the park, Sunday afternoon, so our timing is good. It appears to be quite dry here, they haven’t had all the rain that Bocaina has had. Funny how just a small distance away the weather can be so different.

These 2 places are in 2 parallel mountain ranges that parallel the coast, running roughly east-west. The range Itatiaia is in is higher than Bocaina and more inland. Our cabins at Donati are spread out in nice gardens, where last time we had the dusky-legged guans and slaty-breasted woodrails everywhere. The birds don’t appear to be as active this afternoon. There may have been some sort of hatch of insects out in the grass last time, as everything seemed to be catching things, so we may not see as many now. We do hear the buff-browed owl calling as we walk up to dinner, sounds just like a spectacled owl with that deep huff huff huff call.

Day 35 Mon Feb 23 – Last night was clear, we could see stars, which has been unusual on this trip. I haven’t seen the moon in weeks. We’ve just changed the time an hour back here in Brazil, so dinner was late for me last night, at 9 according to my stomach. We’re moving into late summer here, similar to late August in northern latitudes.

After a cool overcast start to the day it warms up, the clouds disappear, and it is a beautiful day with brilliant blue sky that hurts your eyes to look at it. We walk the road down to the triangle, chasing everything that moves. It is slow, there seems to be fewer butterflies on the wing as compared to my earlier visit a few weeks before. Almost no crescents, but lots more sulphurs. A new species for the trip is the gorgeous Callicore hydaspes, which I follow up and down the road, finally getting one that is willing to sit.

Late morning we drive up to the waterfalls, just past the Do Ype hotel. Today being Monday, we had ‘assumed’ it wouldn’t be as crowded, but there has been plenty of traffic, both on our road to Donati and the main road up to the Do Ype. Not a steady stream of cars, but every 10 minutes or so. There are few things more frustrating than after you have spent 10 minutes following a butterfly that keeps coming to the road, letting you approach, then flying 5 or 10’ away and you approach again, gradually getting closer, and just as you get with good photographic range and he seems to be getting used to you, here comes a car and you’re back to zero and you start all over again. Patience is a necessary part of wildlife photography.

Kay scores by seeing a white Morpho, M.athena, on the side of the road. We leap out of the car and they get great open wing shots, which is almost unheard of. We wonder if it was hit by a car, then it flies away, apparently unharmed. Guess it just liked the edge of the road. One of the real treats here is watching lots of the beautiful big white morphos floating around, sometimes quite low, sailing along effortlessly over ravines. Truly stunning. We also get the fabulous blue and purplish big Morphos at the waterfall, menelaus and anaxibia, sailing up and down the ravine and sometimes coming very close to you on the bridge.

Day 36 Tue Feb 24 – Yesterday Richard checked out a trail and got some lovely shots of a fabulous orange and black riodinid, Stalachtis phlegia susanna, so we head there today. We park at a gated area for the park employees and walk in past the nice houses and manicured grounds, nice place they have here for themselves.

We take the dirt road down, past the empty EcoArtes building, and get into some good forest. We find at least 3 different species of riodinids hiding under leaves: a very fresh female Napaea, the Stalachtis (several individuals) and one of the clearwing metalmarks up higher, at least 20’ above the ground. Plus later in the morning Richard and Dan get good shots of Panara jarbus, dark with strong orange bands across both the forewing and the hindwing. Richard also gets a shot of what he thinks is the same black mystery metalmark he and Dan had at Bocaina. This is obviously a great area for riodinids, we may have to come back.

We follow the road down to a stream crossing and another closed up building with clearwing white flowers around it, and some clearwings. There are Strephonota hairstreaks, large silvery ventrals and brilliant blue dorsals, here and there, and Historis odius hanging around the empty building. One of the nicest parts is only one vehicle comes by all morning. Richard finds a blooming inga tree the other direction, to the left, and there are several swallowtails fighting over it, but it is too high for photos.

It clouds up and we get thunder as we head back for a late lunch. Light sprinkles during lunch, but it barely gets the road wet. It would be great to get some good rain, enough for puddles on the roads, but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen today. It is clear as a bell by dinner time, stars out and the waxing moon.

Day 37 Wed Feb 25 – we decide to go back to the Lago Azul trails, this time from a different entrance. On our way down the rutted dirt road from the Hotel Donati Richard spots a female Myscelia orsis, and we all get good shots of her. She’s quite fresh with a beautiful bluish cast, and a few blue lines. Otherwise she looks very much like a female Catonephele. It would be great to get good shots of the male, as he is stunning, a brilliant blue.

Dan and Kay get out at the same place we walked in yesterday, through the guard gate and down the dirt road to the riodinid places. Richard and I drive a km or so down the road to the visitor’s center, park and walk in to the Lago Azul trail. We can loop around on the trail and meet up with Dan and Kay.

It is mostly overcast and we don’t see anything as we walk down the switchback trail into the little valley. We get down to the bottom of the ravine with the creek, at 750m. We cross the bridge and take another small trail that cuts down to the creek for swimming, and find a very cooperative Dasyophthalma cruesa that is guarding a little dell between rocks. We flush him, but he returns repeatedly, and doesn’t mind posing for photos.

This is one of the Atlantic forest speciality owls that fly during the day, and we’ve only seen them zipping past, never stopping. So it’s great to be able to shoot a bunch of shots, trying different setings, with this guy. He even flies to a rock and poses open wing when the sun comes out briefly. Unfortunately that is when another couple walks up the path, wanting to go swimming.

Later we meet Dan and Kay on the trail, and take them back to see the owl. He’s still hanging around, so they get photos too. The swimming couple comes up the trail and the guy tells us they had a big snake down by the water, so of course we go looking for it. The guy shows us the snake, laying across a couple of rocks trying to warm up. It is a large rattler, maybe 6’, and doesn’t really want to be photographed. But we get lots of photos anyway.

Day 38 Thur Feb 26 – We plan to go up to the Hotel Do Ype to check out their bird feeders, but we find out it is closed for renovation. However we’re told they are still maintaining the bird feeders, we shall see.

As we drive down the 1km road from our hotel to the main road to turn right and go up to the Do Ype, we see several butterflies flying and can’t stand it. We pile out of the car and spend an hour or so on our road. Yesterday we had some rain late afternoon and evening, and this morning the road is wet, with a few puddles around, and it seems to be bringing out the skippers. Several brown spreadwings are hopping around, including a new Anastrus sempiternus simplicior, a different subspecies from Central America. This one is is all dark below.

We then drive up to the old Hotel Simon and spend the rest of the morning there on the trail to Tres Picos, which takes off to the right from the parking lot. Dan, Kay and Richard hike up it quite a bit looking for monkeys, which we hear, but they never see them. I go straight a bit and find a stunning male Myscelia orsis displaying on a bit of the trail. I try many times to shoot him, but he always lands about 3-4 meters off the ground, so he’s looking down at me. I get some shots, but not the fabulous photo I want. He’s electric blue, and he keeps floating across the sunlite trail over my head, teasing me, but won’t give me a good photo opportunity. Oh well, at least I get to watch him and enjoy his sparkling blue flashing back and forth. If I was a female M.orsis I would be interested.

Day 39 Fri Feb 27 – our last morning at the Hotel Donati. After a great lightning storm last night at dinner, and fairly heavy rain (we had to borrow umbrellas to get back to our cabins) we have hopes for puddles. We head straight to the Do Ype, where there appears to be an army of maintenance folk cleaning, sweeping, polishing. They tell us this is their first day of accepting clients again, and they graciously let us wander around and watch the birds.

The hummingbird feeders aren’t filled, and the birds pop right in our faces as we walk out on the narrow porch, saying where’s our food? Richard asks the hotel staff if they can fill the feeders, and they do it right away. So we enjoy Brazilian rubys and Black Jacobins practically landing on our heads and shoulders.

After a while Richard and I walk back down the steep driveway and turn right to the waterfalls, maybe 400-500m up the road. We’re looking for the beautiful little orange and black riodinid that Richard has had here twice before, Barbicornis basilis, but no luck. However the guard there, Alex, comes over and talks to Richard and asks if we want to see the golden frogs. Of course we say yes, and he takes us back a bit from the bridge, down the road, and finds 5 or 6 gorgeous tiny bright orange/gold frogs crawling on the mossy bank. These are Golden Droplet Frogs, Brachycephalus ephippium.

He tells us they come out in the rain, and he had seen them late yesterday. He’s been seeing them since December. It may be part of his job to protect them. They move very slowly, not quick jumpers like every other frog I’ve seen, just slowly and deliberatly crawling around through the moss and leaf detritus. They don’t like the flash, and disappear under a dead leaf or into the thick moss if we bother them, but if we shoot without flash they ignore us. Amazing little frogs, I had no idea these were here. They are maybe an inch long, about a knuckle on your finger. Thanks to Alex for showing us something very special. He also has a bunch of cool butterfly photos on his camera, hopefully he will write me on my website and share his photos.

On our way back to the hotel we find a troop of the capuchin monkeys near the road and stop for photos. These are clearly beggar monkeys, and run towards the car looking cute. Richard tosses them a couple of bananas, which are promptly grabbed by the big one and taken into a small tree. Dan is out photographing them, while Kay and I shoot from the car. More monkeys are coming from both sides of the road, and showing their teeth, wanting more food. A bit intimidating, this is why it’s not a good idea to feed them. Later we see 2 other troops hanging near the road, maybe they know it is Friday and they’re waiting for the weekend tourists to show up.

We do find several wet places on the road with butterflies coming. We shoot a different Memphis, a new Callicore, some Emesis and several sulphurs, so there are more species coming to the road. Nice that we got some rain.

After a late lunch we drive the 2 hours back to the main highway, 20km or so to the next exit (towards Sao Paulo) and up over the pass into Minas Gerais to Itamonte. Our hotel is about 5 km before we get to town, the same one we used for trip 1. These are the nicest rooms of the 3 places we stay on the 2nd trip, close to the little stream so you sleep with windows open and the sounds of the stream.

Day 40 Sat Feb 28 – because it is the weekend, we don’t want to take the high road up to Itatiaia NP. So we try the water trail, about 1350m, to the left as we go back up the pass at Agua Engenho Serra. We stay to the right on the dirt tracks, following signs to a little restaurant, park at the end of the houses and walk in.

We spent a morning here on trip 1 and it was good for the Parides bunichus, and we see them here again, especially on the old cement driveway that heads up to the left once we walk in past the waterfall. We go up and check out the little white blooming heather-like bushes just past the cattleguard. They are a bit past their bloom, so there aren’t near as many butterflies here as before. It is cool and overcast, with some bits of sun, but much cooler than our previous trip.

But as the morning goes on it clears up and by 11am it is doing ok. Dan has been putting out his accumulated pee each morning, and not been getting much results. But today he scores with a fabulous fresh Myscelus amystis epigona, first time any of us have seen this gorgeous subspecies, with many little windows in the forewing. And he is very cooperative, he wants the pee so he poses for a thousand photos, even letting us lift his wing with a stick so we can get ventrals.

A few other goodies come to the pee as well, the Mimoides lysithous is planted. We have to watch where we’re walking so we don’t step on him. And the huge Phocides pialia maximus bombs around, zipping under a leaf but again not giving good photo opportunities. Dan gets better shots than I do, I’m shooting up against the sun, but we haven’t gotten the photos we want of this new species. Maybe they’re hatching and we’ll get another chance. I also shoot a beautiful yellow damselfly over the small stream, and later find the name on the Regua list of damsels and dragons, Heteragrion auranticum.

We were fed nothing but chicken at the Hotel Donati, and last night we had steak for our first night at Ribeirao do Ouro. Perhaps beef eating makes for more attractive pee? Studies need to be done.

We try a new trail, supposedly the hiking trail up to the big rock that sits above the town on the ridge. Richard has more information about how to find the trail, so we find the place to park, the old building and the artisanal building, and ask a local for directions. She offers to take us through the gate, which we didn’t even notice, up the hill, through the cow paddock filled with large cows and fresh cow paddies, and shows us the track leading up through the pasture. We walk up a ways, maybe half a km, but the forest is still quite a ways away. We decide to turn around, as we’re seeing only buckeyes and blues. We do get Battus polydamas and a fresh trite sulphur in the cow paddock.

We get back to the hotel and have some half ass lunch stuff, chocolate spread on crackers and oranges. Then some of us explore the forest in back of the hotel, across the yellow metal bridge, through the horse paddock. It is good for tigerwings, even though it is overcast. Crackers are fighting up in the tall trees, and I get a new Cymaenes gisca in the ginger. This could be worth exploring on a sunny morning.

That night during dinner, delicious trout with tons of wonderful veggies, it pours so we have to dash back through the rain to our rooms. The hotel family is having a farewell party tonight for their daughter, who leaves for a year in the US for studies, so we fall asleep to the music, fortunately not too loud at least for me.

Day 41 Sun May 01 – we wake to a spectacular clear sunny morning, and decide to head up the mountain to higher Itatiaia Nacional Park. Of course as we climb up to the pass and head up the bumpy dirt road the fog rolls in, and we are in and out of the clouds and sun all day.

Part way up, about km 3 where we stop to look for the bright red orchids on the trees, Richard points out the call of black and gold cotinga, which is ringing over the valley below us. While scanning the tops of the trees, I manage to find one, then a second one. They are a ways away but you can clearly see the orange bill and the yellow in the wings, and listening to their clear haunting songs is a magical moment.

We continue on up the road, spending more time chasing birds than butterflies, as it is cool and foggy much of the time. We stop at the plateau at 2,150m, by the dam and the pool of water on the right. Another black and gold cotinga is singing from a tree very close, and we get excellent looks. While Dan and Kay are photographing it, Richard wanders down by the water and find a pair of gorgeous fresh Mimoniades montana, a new species for all of us.

As we wander over the meadow, we realize there are quite a few of the colorful Mimoniades zipping around, chasing and displaying. We’re in the middle of a Mimoniades orgy. This is very different behavior from the similar looking M.versicolor, which we’ve only seen 1 here and 1 there, and at 1,000m lower. Maybe we just haven’t found the right meadow.

Across the street from the meadow there are lots of puffy white flowers blooming, and the skippers are coming to them. They are also popular with hummingbirds, and the plovercrests are fighting over the flowers. We find a perch where one of the males keeps returning, more photos are taken. This is probably the best looks I’ve ever had at this wonderful hummer.

We continue on up to the top, go into the national park after filling out all their forms. We’re looking for their special red and black frog, but we don’t see it. We walk along the road from the parking lot, which is the continued rocky road we drove up here, but no luck. We are above tree line, at 2400m, so we find all sorts of special flowers and plants, very few butterflies. But it’s been a great day for birds, and the Mimoniades were great.

We go into town for dinner tonight for the first time, at an Italian restaurant called Seis y Meia, or 6:30 in english. It’s a nice clean looking place. Dan and Kay have ravioli which aren’t fabulous, too much pasta and not enough filling, but I have a great pizza. They have a whole bunch of weird pizzas, including a chocolate one. We may have to come back just to try a chocolate pizza. We’ve been eating most of our dinners at the hotel, which has been very good.

Day 42 Mon Mar 02 – We drive the opposite direction, into the town of Intamonte, turn right and take back road through the country. Apparently there is an 80 km circuit that comes out up on the mountain on the road up to the Pousada Los Lobos up on the plateau, but we don’t make it near that far.

We stop at several woodsy looking spots, seeing a few butterflies here and there but nothing special. We ask permission to go down a track, which a guy working there gives us, and we see more Sarbia zipping around the clearing around the house. Both species are here, about 1600m. We also have our first Mexican Fritillary, 2 or 3 chasing each other in the clearing.

We continue our drive and stop for lunch at a wide spot on a dirt road with a track off to the right. We flush several riodinids, most of us not getting a shot. These are one of the Baeotis species. We find several other little riodinids, including Stichelia bocchoris again, posing on small plants in the stream bed by a creek. This is black w/orange stripes on the forewing and a orange collar.

Tonight we eat back at the hotel, and she makes fabulous lasagna, with a salad of huge piles of lettuce, tomatoes, slices of mozarella and a delicious home made pesto sauce. We slather the pesto sauce on the fresh crunchy bread, and our lasagna as well. When we’re totally stuffed, they bring out lemon pie for dessert. We can’t insult the cook, so we stuff it in and waddle our way back to our rooms. Yum.

Day 43 Tue Mar 03 – we drive 45 minutes or to to the Passa Quatro Nacional Forestal, where we were before with Tony and Bill. Today is a beautiful sunny day, we’ve had lovely weather here, and we walk the road to the left of the gate first. There is a different Adelpha coming to some shit, we all chase it and get good shots.

Kay and I walk on up the road and find a dead rattlesnake squashed in the road, very fresh. The ants haven’t even found it yet. Too bad, they are quite rare here in southeast Brazil, and now we’ve seen 2 of them.

We go into the park and drive up to the same waterfall parking spot, then walk into the falls. The whackers have been through, and everything is clean, no weeds or flowers on the edges, which means no butterflies. Sigh. We get to the falls and see a different Parides drinking, I’m not sure this is P. bunichus. One of the black and white ones w/red crescents, we’ll have to work it out. The Parides is flushed from the wet sand, but he flies up and perches on a perfect leaf for photography. Apparently he wants to be famous, because the 3 of us shoot lots of shots.

A white Eunica zips around but won’t sit for photos. Richard says there is only 1 white species here. Because it is such a sunny day, several couples show up. Apparently this is a good date place, though one of the couples is not happy with each other. So people are walking around, swimming, having a good time, but it doesn’t make for good butterfly photography. Though Kay wanders off and gets a nice dorsal of the Diaethria candrena that we worked so hard to get on our earlier visit.

Tonight we have round 2 of the lasagna, with more lemon pie for dessert. This butterfly photography is hard work, we need to keep up our energy.

Day 44 Wed Mar 04 – we depart the lovely Pousada Ribeirao do Ouro and head back to Marica. We plan to miss the worst of the Rio traffic, so the plan is to get through Rio before late afternoon. We go up the mountain road for a final check at higher Itatiaia. No Polygrapha suprema on trip 2 at all, maybe it’s too late in their flight season.

Kay finds a blooming tree with 2 Pterourus scamander coming to nectar and we get our best shots yet of this species, plus a couple of firetips. We leave about noon for the 4-5 hour drive to Marica. We make it through Rio without any problems and get to Richard’s about 5ish. We drop off our stuff and dash up to the first ridge to look for owls, but don’t see a single one. He is very surprised, as he almost always gets at least Caligos here, but not tonight.

Day 45 Thur Mar 05 – Dan and I go w/Richard to look for Parides ascanius at the beach and see 2 or 3 flying, but don’t get any good photos. I shot some cooperative Iaspis hairstreaks, then we go back home to pick up Kay and our stuff and head for Regua for the next 6 nights.

Regua is a wonderful place with tons of habitat and trails to explore. They are doing a bang up job of conserving a very special area. This is my 2nd trip, Dan and Kay and I were here 5 years ago. The rooms are lovely, with a/c, which is a big plus as they are in the hot and sticky lowlands. Delicious food, caparinhas served before dinner, and Nicholas and Raquel make delightful hosts. Check out their website –

After lunch I wander around the lodge at the top of the hill, and find a number of hairstreaks hilltopping, chasing each other around. 3 species of Theritas, including many of the black and blue Theritas hemon, a number of the little green Cyanophrys, probably C.arcaste, and some Strymon, and others that get away.

That night at dinner we meet a filmmaker, Verity White, who is making a film on Regua to help raise money, and she gives us a demonstration of her drone, and shows a sample of what she has shot here for the last 7-8 days. It is amazing, and extremely well done. It will be distributed through

Day 46 Fri Mar 06 – after a scrumptious breakfast we head for the 4×4 trail. This was my favorite trail 5 years ago, with tons of hairstreaks and riodinids. It will be interesting to see how it is now. They have been very dry here at Regua, but they have had recent rains and I think butterflies are hatching.

There are a lot fewer hairstreaks than we had here 5 years ago. We see plenty of Calycopis on the dark banks of the trail, and a few other species like Celmia celmus and Ocaria thales. But where we had hundreds of hairstreaks when we walked down the track last time, now we have dozens and almost all are Calycopis. There seem to be very few large Nymphalids flying, apparently due to the prolonged drought.

I get several spreadwing skippers on my spitwads, Zera tetrastigma erisichthon and a very fresh Camptopleura, which finally lets me flash it after repeatedly jumping the flash. I also shoot a funny looking Pierella lamia with pale orange/tan on the dorsal forewing, but apparently it is just a bright lamia. I was hoping for something more exciting.

Day 47 Sat Mar 07 – today we try the Vor do Mar trail. I’m looking for a trail we did 5 years ago that led to a dark little ravine with a creek at the bottom that was full of yellow Ithomiinae. Thomas drops us off where they think we mean, but this is not the right place. This is by a large, 2 story house with lots of outbuildings and a big pavilion, someone’s fancy weekend home. We walk uphill for several hundred meters, but the road has been whacked and there is nothing. Plus it is overcast and dark today.

We continue up, as Thomas won’t be back until 1:30pm, so we have an extended morning to explore. We come to a small house and see another truck from Regua, the one we were in yesterday, so we know another birding client, Malcom, is up here with the bird guide. We head down a small trail off to the right, come to a stream, cross it and head up the other side. It is dark and not much flying, but we do see several Eurybia molochina metalmarks. They don’t want to pose for photos, though Dan and I chase them repeatedly.

I find one of the yellow Ithomiinae flying up the hill and get some photos. Difficult to shoot it, as if you use flash the color is too bright, and if you don’t use flash it is soft focus in the low light. The challenges of wildlife photography.

We’re assuming the bird guide and Malcom are up this trail, but that turns out to be wrong. I head back down the trail because I want to work the more open areas where we saw the Eurybia, and check around the stream where Dan put out pee. It is still quite overcast, but I find at least 2 of the Eurybia coming to impatients blooming just above the stream, where it is a bit more open. So I chase them for an hour or more, trying to get close enough to get a decent shot on the bright flowers. I get 50 photos or so, none of them really satisfying. Good enough for id, but not great. These Eurybia can be tricky to shoot, as this species has lots of reflective blue on the wing. Depending on their angle, sometimes you see a beautiful deep purple/blue, and sometimes just plain brown. They love to go under the leaves, so you spend lots of time trying to get the camera underneath things. I would love to get that stunning shot of a beautiful purplish butterfly sitting on a bright pink impatient flower, but it is not to be, at least not today. I didn’t know that Eurybia came to impatients. More soft focus photos.

Suddenly a small terrier type dog appears and barks wildly at me, looking back over his shoulder for his master, warning him that strangers are about. I’m not sure how aggressive the dog will be, fortunately I can get off the trail and motion for him to go on by me. He finally does, he must belong to the house back at the start of this track. Then the guy shows up, after picking up my thermos of water on the other side of the creek. I tell him that is mine, he hands it over, and says he’s going to take a bath, I think. As he heads back down to the stream I go uphill to give him some privacy. Of course, this puts me on a collision course with the killer dog, who is not happy that I’m approaching when he’s alone. More barking, though the owner whistles him to be quiet.

Finally the guy finishes his bath, goes past me to join his unhappy dog, telling me with his hands that the dog barks but no bites. Of course, this has scattered all Eurybia. While I’m shooting a Saliana that has popped in, the dog starts barking like crazy up by the house. I suspect this means the bird guide and Malcom have shown up, so I go up to meet them, as we want to catch a lift back 20 minutes or so to the lodge, rather than wait until 1:30 for Thomas’s scheduled return. Apparently the local guy told the guide there was a single gringa down by his stream, as he’s coming to look for me. Anyway, we get together and they are happy to give us a ride. But Dan and Kay are somewhere behind me on the side track, I haven’t seen them in quite a while. I go back on the track, find Kay, but Dan is further away.

I decide to go ahead and ride back with the 2 guys, and Kay will wait for Dan and Thomas. We’re turning the truck around, ready to depart, when we hear Dan yelling, so we wait and all ride back together. It works out well, as the birders are looking for crescent-chested puffbird, and the guide pulls it in with tape. So we get good looks too, sort of a bonus.

On our way out, Malcom in the front of the truck spots a gorgeous black with blue spots butterfly on a big rock. We stop and pile out, and the butterfly sits, a stunning Hamadryas arete, similar to the stunning Starry Night Cracker, Hamadryas laodamis. Unfortunately he doesn’t like flash and departs shortly after we get out. This was in a stretch of road with pasture, fairly cut over.

Day 48 Sun Mar 08 – we wake to overcast skies, which proves to be with us for the next several days. We walk trails down around the lakes/wetlands that Nicholas has been building. The trees have grown amazingly in the last 5 years. We take the brown trail and the yellow trail, seeing a few butterflies but not too many, due to the heavy overcast. But then the sun comes out about 11am, and we have a few decent hours. Heavy rains that afternoon, lots of lightning and thunder.

Day 49 Mon Mar 09 – even darker clouds when we get up, so we decide to explore more nearby trails. Jorge and I walk the long way around to meet the others, and he almost steps on a venomous snake coiled in the path. Jorge Bizarro, their local butterfly guide, likes to walk in only flipflops, and he brushes the snake. He’s lucky he didn’t get bit. Of course we take lots of photos. We meet up with Dan and Kay at the tower, tell them about the snake, and they head back and find it. It is cool and wet, and apparently doesn’t want to move. Jorge put branches around it, to make it more obvious. Later after lunch Raquel goes to see it, but it has left.

Day 50 Tue Mar 10 – even more rain, we’re hexed. Today Jorge drives us to the forest fragment trail, which goes through a nice forest. We are seeing a few species, most of which is quite fresh, but I bet it will be great once the sun comes back.

Late that afternoon at dusk we go out with the bird guide to look for giant snipe. He takes us to a low lying pasture full of cows who stare at us as we walk in through the tall grass. When the guide plays the tape, they start calling back, and sure enough, one flies in close enough for us to wade out into the swampy area and get good looks at it in his flashlight. Beautiful bird. Then we see the scissor tailed nightjars chasing each other over the grasses, their eyes glowing in the torchlight. By now it is almost dark, as the birds don’t get active until night. Our lights show scads of insects flying around, so there is a ton of food for the birds to eat. We wade our back through the field, hopefully avoiding the cow paddies, and scramble up to the truck on the dirt road. What a magical experience, in spite of the cows.

Day 51 Wed Mar 11 – we leave Regua, sorry to say goodbye, and head 2 hours to the Rio airport to fly to Ilheus. Good thing we left early, as we’re caught in a protest which has shut down the main highway. Lots of flag waving, drum beating, and burning of tires to make huge clouds of black smoke. We’re only stalled about an hour, but we’re happy that we left early or we might have missed our noon flight.

4 hours and 2 flights later, our driver meets us at the Ilheus airport and drives us another 3-4 hours to Serra Bonita about 800m, above the town of Camacan, in the state of Bahia for our last week in Brazil. The transfer cost 400 Brazilian realis each way. See their website –

The main reason I’ve come here is for Vitor Becker’s amazing moth collection, the result of 45 years of his intense work. I’ve heard this is a good place for forest and nature. Lots of the bird tours come here now, and some friends liked it a lot.

It is interesting to compare it to Regua, as they are in very different habitats. Regua is pasture and farm land that is being revegatated, and is almost all secondary forest, relatively flat and low, under 400m. Serra Bonita is on a hill and covered with good forest, much taller and darker. The lodge is at 800m, so it is cooler, no a/c needed. (It would be nice if the rooms had fans, not so much for cooling but just to move the humid air.) They actually have fireplaces in each room, and apparently they use them from April to December, when it rains frequently. The butterflies are quite different between the two places, so they compliment each other. It is more difficult to photograph butterflies here at Serra Bonita, as you are mostly in tall forest, watching the butterflies cruise over your head up in the trees.

Bait doesn’t seem to work. It hasn’t worked well on this trip at all. Pee, poop, spitwads, rotten shrimp, rotten bananas, nothing seems to bring them in. There is a group of students and 5 instructors doing an insect course here in english, maybe 25 -30 people total, and they aren’t catching lots of butterflies either. They have put up fruit traps on the trails with almost no success. They tell us if you go down to low elevations there are more butterflies, but I’m not real interested in going down and sweating to find amazonian species. Guess I’m lazy.

One problem with being on top of a hill is that all trails and the road lead downwards. This means that when you return everything is uphill. One day Vitor drives us down to the junction, about 2km, then up another km+ to the microwave towers. We’re hoping for hilltopping butterflies, but don’t see anything except a spectacular view. We spend the morning slowly walking back to the lodge along the weedy road. There is also a trail that cuts off through the woods, but it looks quite dark, so we stick to the road. This first time it seems like a long way, but once we get familiar with it, it’s not so long. Later I walk to the junction in less than 45 minutes, and that includes stopping for photographs and walking slowly.

There are quite a few solanaceae plants up towards the tower, with white flowers hanging from the branches. The Ithomiinae appear to like these, as do the Actinotes. But they are mostly well off the ground over our heads, so we can but watch and enjoy. With a net the students got quite a few, but with our cameras we’re SOL.

I spend 2 days photographing Vitor’s smallish butterfly collection, about 15 drawers, buried in with his 300,000+ moth specimens. All collected and mounted by him, a truly impressive collection. I feel honored that he turns us loose and tells us we can shoot what we want. Very generous, and trusting, of him. I only look at a few of the hundreds of moth drawers. They are all meticulously mounted, perfect specimens. You could spend months and months photographing here, that’s why I call moths the slippery slope.

One day after being in the collection all morning I take a short walk down the road. It is overcast, sun coming and going, and I don’t see any butterflies. But I do shoot two beautiful damselflies, both with yellow and black stripes on the thorax and yellow faces. One has a black tail and wider stripes, and the second has a bright blue tip to the tail. I find them only 20’ apart on the cobblestone road.

Just past our row of rooms there is a nice trail off through the woods, heading down of course. Andy Brower, one of the course instructors, has hung a series of bait traps down this trail, but he gets very little except flies. We do find a fabulous (new for me) glowing blue riodinid, Semomesia geminus, and we get good shots. He is there every day about 2pm for a short while. This must be an unusual species, as BOA doesn’t even have a specimen photo of it. Dan and Kay also get a small black and red riodinid, I think a Comphotis, but I never see it.

Down this trail in the afternoon, if it is sunny, can be interesting but frustrating. You can see quite a few butterflies landing high in the trees, chasing and displaying, but they are far above your head. I take distant shots of some fresh Catonephele acontius, but never see them within 50’.

Serra Bonita is run by a small family who are trying hard to please people, but they have a difficult time with the large group of students. Quite a few have special diets, and it is tough for the wife, who does the cooking in a very small kitchen, to provide for all their special requests. The US kids don’t understand that nobody in the closest town, an hour down the steep, rocky road, never heard of vegetarianism, let alone vegan or gluten free, and there just isn’t much food for the Beckers’ to get except basic stuff. We hear a lot of complaints about the food, and the quantities seem a bit light, especially for a bunch of students. We learn quickly to be at the start time for meals, which are served buffet style. Don’t stroll in at 10 to 8am, when breakfast starts at 7, and expect to find much left.

The course overlaps with us for the first 5 days, then we are alone for a day, then another large group of Germans comes in for our last night. The food is quite a bit better for the first night without the students, shredded meat in a sauce over rice with corn and beans, delicious beans in another sauce, and salad, hooray. They had restricted much of the salad stuff to the vegetarians, so those of us who eat everything didn’t seen to get much in the way of veggies, or at least salad. Then we are served the exact same meal the 2nd night post students. Vitor is skinny and a high energy guy, and I suspect food just isn’t high on his list of concerns. Oh well, spa butterflying, hopefully I’ve lost some weight on this trip. After all the delicious food we had at Regua and some of the other hotels, it didn’t hurt me to eat a bit lighter.

Anyway, I’m glad I came to Serra Bonita, it is a beautiful place. Vitor’s moth collection is probably the most impressive and complete in the world as a private collection, maybe only the British museum and the Smithsonian have anything like it. He wants to keep it here in Brazil after his death, I hope that can be worked out. It is the most astounding private collection I have seen. There are some good birds here, Dan and Kay even saw the pink-legged gravitero (however it is spelled), and I had close encounters with the local marmosets chasing cicadas. We watch huge tarantulas at night, owls coming to the moth lights, foxes on the roads, and of course always the moths at the sheets.

Our Brazil trip end here, we have a long 26 hours plus to get back home. Lucas the taxi driver hopefully picks us up at 8am, drives us to Ilheus for our 1:30pm 2 flights to Rio, where we make our international connections (hopefully) tonight. We land in Rio at 5:30pm, and my United flight to Houston leaves at 8:50pm. If all goes well, it should be fine. The flights coming up here were right on time, vamos a ver. Words to live by in South America!

Trip Report, Peru, Oct-Nov, 2014

Trip Report Peru October – November 2014

To see photos of our trip on flickr, please go to the following link –

This is two trips; trip #1 is southeast Peru/Cusco to Manu Road, from Oct 19 to Nov 3. Participants are Jim Snyder (who started with an early extension to Machu Picchu), Joe Schelling, and Chris Tenney. We were supposed to have 2 more, Priscilla Brodkin and Kevin Painter, but they had to cancel at the last minute.

Trip 2 is central Peru, Satipo and Oxapampa to Pozuzo, from Nov 3 to Nov 21. Participants are Joe and Chris from trip 1, plus Tony Hoare, Rebecca Gracey and Steve Cary, and Jim heads for home. Both trips have been arranged through David Geale at Tanager Tours,, who is coming along as well. He’s a birder, lived in Cusco for 10+ years, but has been corrupted to butterflies and has become a serious butterfly photographer. You can see lots of his photos on his website, David has become a wonderful butterfly guide in only three years. His exponential growth in his butterfly knowledge has been amazing. I highly recommend him if you’re interested in butterfly photography in either Peru or Colombia.

Day 1 Oct 19 – fly overnight from LAX to Panama to Lima on Copa, arrive about 1pm on the 20th.

Day 2 Oct 20 – arrive in Lima, stay 1 night at the Hostal Torreblanca in Miraflores.

Day 3 Oct 21 – fly to Cusco and drive to Ollantaytambo for 2 nights, about 9,000’/2800m, stay at Hotel Pakaritampu.

Day 4 Oct 22 – drive up Abra Malaga pass, 14,000’/4100m.

Day 5 Oct 23 – drive up Abra Malaga pass again, go over to cloud forest, then drive back to Cusco for 1 night at Hotel Garcilaso.

Day 6-10 Oct 24-28 – drive to Cock of the Rock lodge for 5 nights at 1400m, worked the road at higher elevations on the way in, work the road for the next 4 days, both down to Quitacalzon at 1050m & up to about 2000m.

Oct 25 – walk road at COTR

Oct 26 – drive down to Qt 1050m

Oct 27 – drive up to 2000m

Oct 28 – walk trails & road at COTR

Day 11 Oct 29 – drive down to Villa Carmen for 2 nights at 600m.

Day 12 Oct 30 – explore trails at Villa Carmen.

Day 13 Oct 31 – drive back up 4 hours to Wayqecha Research Station for 2 nights at 2,950m.

Day 14 Nov 1 – explore the road below Wayqecha, down to 2,400m.

Day 15 Nov 2 – drive to Cusco for the night

Day 16 Nov 3 – fly to Lima for the night, get group 2, Hostal Torreblanca

Day 17 Nov 4 – drive to Oxapampa for 3 nights, 1833m at Hotel Botteger

Day 18 Nov 5 – drive up the nearby road to NP Yanachaga Chemillen 2150m

Day 19 Nov 6 – drive up to Bosque Shollet 2400m, rainy day

Day 20 Nov 7 – move to Pozuzo for 5 nights,800m, lunch at landslide with great sun 1400m

Day 21 Nov 8 – drive back up to the ranger station and do the trail & bridge, 1100m

Day 22 Nov 9 – drive up to 962m at the big waterfall, with the small generating plant, Catarata Yulitunqui

Day 23 Nov 10 – drive higher to cock of the rock lek

Day 24 Nov 11 – go back to ranger headquarters & bridge, 1100m

Day 25 Nov 12 – drive to Satipo for 3 nights

Day 26 Nov 13 – drive up the mountain above Satipo to 1800m, rain

Day 27 Nov 14 – lots of rain

Day 28 Nov 15 – drive to Pampa Hermosa in light rain, near San Ramon, for 4 nights

Day 29 Nov 16 – explore trails & road at Pampa Hermosa, 1200m, cloudy morning, sun about 11:30am

Day 30 Nov 17 – bright sunny day, a million butterflies

Day 31 Nov 18 – more trails & road & beach

Day 32 Nov 19 – drive to Tarma for 1 night, 3100m

Day 33 Nov 20 – drive back to Lima, butterfly for 30-40 minutes at high pass 4800m, some leave on midnight flights to home, I spend the night in Miraflores

Day 34 Nov 21 – I fly out at 7am for LAX

Day 1 Oct 19 – take a midnight flight from LAX to Panama on Copa, then connect to Lima, arriving in Lima about 1pm on the 20th. All goes well.

Day 2 Oct 20 – Airport transfer is $22. Chris meets me at the hotel and we have dinner a few blocks away at El Senono de Sulco, Peruvian cuisine. We get free pisco sours with a coupon from the hotel.

Day 3 Oct 21 - fly to Cusco, an hour flight, arriving about 12:15, where we meet David Geale of Tanager Tours, who’s made the arrangements. We drive to Ollantaytambo, about 2 hours from Cusco, for 2 nights, about 9,000’/2800m, stay at Hotel Pakaritampu. This is a nice tourist hotel with gardens full of flowers where we see several species of hummingbirds, including bearded mountaineer and giant hummingbird.

Day 4 Oct 22 – we drive up Abra Malaga to the top at 4,300m, but it is raining and foggy. After running into 2 landslides, we decide to head back down. We’re on the dry side, and we were hoping to go over the pass to the wet side where there is some cloud forest. But not today. Jim has been at Machu Picchu and is coming to join us today, taking the train from MP to Ollantaytambo, then a taxi brings him up the pass to find us. Chris was sick last night and took a taxi back to Cusco for some tests, but fortunately all is well and he comes back early the next morning.

We stop at a couple of wide areas with lots of blooming flowers, but only see 2 species of butterflies. The best spot is at 3,317m at Collpani, just below some ruins. Lots of Metardaris cosinga are flying, the big high elevation firetip that is at the pass to the Cosnipata valley. But they only come out briefly when there is a bit of sun.

Day 5 Oct 23 – Today is much sunnier and no rain, so we try the pass again. This time we make it over the top, about an hour drive, and down another half an hour to about km 156-153. David puts out lots of bait, and eventually the fog lifts and suddenly we have satyrs. We probably see about 10-12 species, and we get good photos of almost all of them, so everybody has a good couple of hours.

We drive on down the road to San Luis, just past an orange bridge, to where David knows a small dirt track off to the left. When he led bird tours here before it was paved they used to camp back in here. We find more butterflies here, including the gorgeous Morpho sulkowskyi that fly in between us when the sun is out. Also 2 species of Vanessa, braziliensis and altissima. But the fog comes back in, so after lunch we start our 4 hour drive back to Cusco.

We make it to Cusco about 4:30pm and get into our hotel for the night, have a tasty dinner down on the big square. I have chicken brochettes, and they are delicious. I also order mushroom soup, which is a mistake, as it is too salty and thick, very artifical tasting.

Day 6 Oct 24 – 6am departure for the 3 hour drive to the top of the pass at 3,600m, where we hope to get some sun. Then we drop down the east slope into the fabulous Cosnipata Valley for the next 10 days. My favorite butterfly road in the world.

First snag is the main bridge is closed, so we have to take a couple of hour detour. This gets us to the Manu pass at 11am, instead of 9:30 as we planned. It is cloudy, so we continue on down the side. We stop just past the 2nd tunnel at 2800m and start seeing satyrs.

Later we work our way down to several other spots, and hit the jackpot at 2250m at 57.265 km, where a stream runs across the road. 9 species of Perisama, and tons of other stuff. We run around photographing like crazy. A good start to our time here in the Cosnipata Valley. You can spell it Kosnipata, or even Kcosnipata, as it is a Quechua word and the exact spelling is open to debate.

We spend the next 4 days moving up or down the road, hitting different elevations. Here’s the general layout of the Cusco to Manu road, starting at 4,000m at the pass. There are kilometer posts increasing as you go down past the town of Paucartambo, where the numbers start at zero. This is where our detour rejoins the main road. Cock of the Rock (COTR) lodge is at km 74 from Paucartambo, probable 4 plus hours if you drive it straight through. But you never drive it straight through. It’s about 30-45 minutes to the top of the pass at 4,000m.

From the 4,000m pass down the east slope it is about half an hour to Weyqecha Research Station, 2,900m just past post 39, where we will stay for 2 nights on our way back up. Then about 15 minutes below that are the 2 tunnels about 2,800m. COTR lodge is about 2 hours from here (yes it is a very slow road). Besides you want to stop and get out and walk many sections of it, or in the case of butterfly photography, stop and check all the stream crossings or quebradas, where the water runs over the road. Many of the streams have big bridges, and it is difficult to get down to the water, but there are many small crossings as well, where the water runs across the road. These can be fabulous for butterflies.

Below COTR about 10km, to post 84 (25-30 minutes), takes you to the famous Quebrada Quitacalzon at 1,050-1,100m. We get out and bait about a km above that, past the km 83 post, at a nice stream coming down on the left, then walk down to the bigger crossing, with a bridge, just before 84. There are a couple of short trails to the left off the road here at the bridge, one trail that parallels the stream back up the ravine, from the pullout where you can park, and the second maybe 100-200’ down the road. David baits both trails heavily. He’s made up a bunch of bait, mostly urine, dead fish, and lemonade, before we came, so it is getting good and ripe.

We spend a full day at Quitacalzon and take tons of photos. I take over 500 myself. Lots of new riodinids for me, and everyone else goes crazy with all sorts of butterflies. I see Baeotis felix, one I’ve wanted to see for a long time, and a spectacular Ouleus narycus, which sounds like a boring brown spreadwing but is beautiful blue and rainbow colored.

One day we go up to km 62-65, about 1800-2000m, and get better shots of many Perisamas and other high elevation goodies. We see Apexacuta astoreth flying around, but can never get photos. It clouds up in the afternoon, as usual, and we end up back at the lodge by 3pm. The only electricity at the lodge is by generator from 6-9pm, but we pay an extra 30 soles/hour, about $US10, for them to turn it on at 5pm, so we can work on all our photos. Electric poles and lines have been strung down the valley, so they will have shore power soon, who knows exactly when.

Our last full day at COTR we walk around the lodge, in the gardens where some folks find Parides and skippers coming to the porterweed. I get a ride from Juan, our driver, and go up 3 km to Manu Cloud Forest lodge at Puente Union, 1600m, then walk back down. There are a number of good quebradas in this 3 km, and Joe and I find the 2 missing Perisamas. So now we have seen all 12 species here on the road.

Late in the day we go back up to the cock of the rock lek, now owned by the higher lodge, about 72km post. We pay a small fee and see at least 5 males displaying. Very nice.

Day 11 Oct 29 – we drive down to Villa Carmen, which we thought was 2 hours, but it turns out to be only a little over an hour. It is a cloudy morning when we arrive about 8:30am, too early to get our rooms, so we wander some of the trails. They have a lot of trails here, but they don’t appear to be very well maintained. Some are quite overgrown and impossible to follow, and all that we walk are in thick bamboo which snags on everything.

I get in a pile of ants, paying too much attention to the butterfly I’m trying to photograph and not enough to where I’m standing. The ants get way up inside my pants, so the pants come off, as I’m being bitten up to my waist. And I don’t even get the photo! This reminds me of why I don’t like the lowlands much any more, too sticky, too many damn ants. David has put out lots of spitwads, and many of them are already covered with ants.

The guys go back out late in the afternoon, about 3pm, back to my ant spot, and get a goodly number of shots. Our rooms are quite a ways from the dining hall, which is very new. This place is just being developed as a eco-tourist lodge, it appears to be a working hacienda/research station with lots of people around, lots of college age folk.

Day 12 Oct 30 – we have a beautiful sunny day, and we walk down trail 1, which is a rutted track, to the junction with trail 5. This gets us into fairly good tall forest, on a road wide enough for a vehicle. We hang around here all morning, working trail 5 in both directions, and the road which runs right into the river, so there is a sandbar and some butterflies coming to the beach. It’s not fabulous, but we get lots of Euselasia, some hairstreaks, and a variety of nymphalids. The hairstreaks don’t show up until about 11am, then suddenly we have quite a few. My theory is they are up on top, in the canopy, then when it gets too hot late morning they drop down into the shade near the ground.

We had asked for lunch at 2pm, so we could be in the field through the best butterfly time, but I think this is too long in the hot lowlands. Plus we had a skimpy breakfast, just 1 egg and a few strips of bacon, no fruit or juice, so we’re all starved and tired from the heat by 2pm. I shower and work on photos the rest of the afternoon, but the hardcore go out.

Day 13 Oct 31 – we had planned to leave after breakfast and return to Quitacalzon up the hill, but there is a tremendous thunder storm about 4am and tons of heavy rain. We hoped it would have rained itself out, but no. It starts raining again at breakfast, so we hang in the dining room and work on the computers, as they have electricity all the time here. The rain gets heavier and heavier as the morning goes on. By 9 to 10 it is a deluge, I haven’t seen rain this hard in a while. It finally lets up a bit by 11am, so we go for it.

We’re driving 4 hours up to Wayqecha Research Station for 2 nights at 2900m. We pass on butterflies at Quitacalzon, about half an hour uphill, due to the heavy overcast. Unfortunately there has been a landslide at Puente Union, by Manu Cloud Forest Lodge, and no one can get by. We pull up in line behind 2 big trucks and can see 30-40 people moving rocks and digging like a bunch of ants across the ravine.

4 hours later, we finally get through, after a series of stops and starts. When they finally had it sort of cleared, the vehicles coming downhill went first, so we waited our turn. About the third truck got stuck and much more digging had to happen. Then the last big truck across coming towards our side stopped for some inexplicable reason. Finally someone walking over tells us they have a flat. How long does it take to fix a flat? An hour and a half later, he finally gets out of the way. We find out from our driver that they had to patch the tire, as they didn’t have a spare.

Anyway, we get to Wayqecha about 5:30pm, before dark. The view from the rooms is stupendous. Tomorrow hopefully we’ll have some butterflies.

I wasn’t overwhelming impressed by Villa Carmen. If I was to return to the lowlands, I would probably go to Amazonia Lodge instead. It has more trails and better forest. It is a bit further, but I prefer it.

Day 14 Nov 1 – We drive back down the road to about km post 48-49, where we start putting out bait, or David starts putting out bait, as he does all the baiting. Some of us walk down, and David drives down to the river at the bottom of the ravine about 51. We spend the morning working this area, which is fantastic.

On my way down I come across a great wet wall at post 49, with about 6 species of Dalla and a Thespieus othna, among other more common species. I spend a lot of time photographing here, then walk on down to join the others. Juan our driver comes up looking for me about 10:30, and drives me down to the bottom of the ravine to join in the fun. We also have the beautiful Polygrapha tyrianthina, and people get good photos.

There is another even better wet wall here, with orange water running down that must contain lots of iron or minerals, at post 51, GPS 13 09.438, W 071 35.893 2385m. The Catasticta love it. I stand here and photograph and catch at least 6 species, maybe more, as there are over 30 species along this road. They are easy to pick up when they are drinking like this. I photograph them untouched, in the water, then pick them up and shoot both sides. They are impossible to id from just the ventral, especially when their wings are closed down and you can’t see the ventral forewing. David figures them them all out later, and we have 10 species.

We head back for our usual 2pm lunch, and the sun stays out. We see another Catastica at higher elevations, close to the research station. David gets good photos of C.marcapita coming to flowers, that has an all yellow hindwing.

Day 15 Nov 2 – we get up to an overcast and cool day, not good for butterflies. We drive towards Cusco, about a 4 hour drive, looking for places to stop but not finding much. We stop at the 3,600m pass, but it is too cool. So we continue on, stopping on the other side at a couple of stream crossings that have always look interesting (post 11), but it is still too chilly for butterflies.

So we make it back to Cusco by early afternoon, get into the hotel and spend the next several hours catching up on emails, having been offline for the last 10 days or so.

Day 16, Nov 3 – we have a 1pm flight to Lima, leave for the airport at 11. I spend the morning working on the computer but some people wander around Cusco. Our flight is a bit late, and the traffic from the airport in Lima is awful, so we don’t get to the Hostal Torreblanca until about 4pm. We go back to the same tasty restaurant Chris and I ate at our first night, free pisco sours!, and it is tasty. The 3 new people are flying in tonight, and we’re having 5:30am breakfast for an early departure to Oxapampa, trying to beat some of the dreaded Lima traffic.

Day 17, Nov 4 – we make it to Oxapampa after a long day in the van, arriving about 5pm. 11 hours with a restaurant stop for lunch and a couple of leg stretching/toilet stops on the way. But we’re here, finally. We hire a mototaxi to lead us to the hotel, a private home where I stayed 7 or 8 years ago. Fortunately it is as nice as I remember, and Doris, the owner, is very pleasant and eager to please. GPS S 10 34.728, W 075 24.104

David goes to town and orders pizzas and pasta which is delivered later, about 7pm, and we all sit at a nice table in Doris’s lovely home and pig out on pizza and a great veggie salad, yum.

Day 18, Nov 5 – we explore a road that goes to the nearby national park, Yanachaga Chemillen. The road starts right at the edge of town, we find it by locating the km marker that starts with 0, then turning left (as we leave town) and head up the dirt road. It is only 7 km to the top, but we can only get up to about 5, as the road isn’t very good. It has lots of stream crossings, which is great for butterflies.

As we’re driving at the beginning we come to a fairly fast running stream crossing where they have built a little bridge, which appears to be only for foot traffic and the small mototaxis that are ubiquitous here. So we head for the in-the-water crossing below the small bridge. Just as we touch the water, down the steep embanqment, a mototaxi driver on the little bridge yells to our driver, ‘no, come this way over the little bridge’. However, when we try to reverse, our tires spin, so we’re committed to the stream. But Juan, our driver, slithers our way across, to the cheers and thumbs up of watchers, and us in the van.

As we drive up, above post 3 it gets to be better forest, very patchy but some good areas. David and some people get out at post 4 or so and head up, baiting as they go, while I ride up to post 5 where the remainder get out. We can’t cross the stream at this point, but there is an interesting trail that heads off to the right, a foot path that crosses the car road a bit further up. We put out bait and stuff starts coming in, several firetips including the big orange and black ones, probably Mimardaris montra but there are several that are similar.

We end up with 5 species of firetips and a number of other goodies, including 2 different riodinids. David gets good shots of what we later decide might be a Paraphthonia species, but we’re not sure. Different from any we have seen. We also get a gorgeous black one with red curving lines on the forewing, which later we thin must be a female Necyris, no metallic blue on the ventral.

We have dinner at our house, made by Doris, tasty and easy for us, as we don’t have to go out. She’s also done all the laundery from those of us on the first trip. Her yard is filled with laundery drying on the line.

That night there is a great lightning storm. I lie in bed and watch it over the nearby mountains. It blows towards us and we have good rains for the second night in a row.

Day 19 Nov 6 – unfortunately the clouds hang around the next day, and it is cloudy and cool all day. We drive back out of town about 5 km to a dirt road off to the left that goes up towards Villa Rica. We did this road 3 years ago, and it was great. But it appears to be quite overgrown and neglected, as it is full of pot holes and very slow going. It takes us at least one and a half hours to go about 20 km to Bosque Shottet, which is a preserve for the watershed for Oxapampa. This is about 2400m, and appears to be higher, more of an elven forest and lots of mosses.

We wander around, and see the brand new tower that has been built. Nice views, just before the clouds roll in. We only see a handfull of butterflies today, several orange banded Pedaliodes and Panyapedaliodes, but not much else.

Day 20 Nov 7 – today we drive from Oxpampa to Pozuzo, through National Park Yanachaga Chemillen. It’s only about 80 km, but it takes at least 3 hours. But we plan to stop and explore the dirt road whenever we see butterflies. We find a perfect place to stop, in the forest where there has been a large landslide, and spend all morning there, and stay for lunch.

We have all the ingredients for a perfect butterfly day: good forest, a gravel or dirt road, water running over the road and along in the ditch, sunshine and the magic elixir, male human pee. We have tons of stuff, and everyone is busy racing around taking lots of photos. Catastictas, Leptophobias, firetips, Riodinids, the beat goes on. The GPS for this spot is S 10 16.376, W 075 32.827, 1,444m.

We don’t get to Frau Maria Egg’s cabanas in Pozuzo until about 5pm. This is just through town, up to the left, nice simple cabins in a pleasant garden with a guava tree over the driveway that has rotten guavas, so the owls come in. GPS is S 10 04.192, W 075 33.091, at 750m.

We eat dinner in town at the same restaurant we used last time, not fabulous but sufficient. Their sign says they open at 6pm, and we’re there a bit after 6, but no lights. David wanders in and rousts them out, and they’re happy to serve us.

Day 21 Nov 8 – after a delicious breafast of homemade breads, jams and wonderful eggs with fried yucca balls, we head up to the park headquarters about 30-40 minutes back up the same road we came in yesterday. There’s only 1 road into Pozuzo. Yesterday when we drove in, there had been many landslides and floods. 2 days before we had a heavy rain, and one of the little villages we drove through had lost several houses. There were a couple of places it looked a little dicey, so I just closed my eyes and ignored the outside. Juan, our driver, is cautious and safe, which is a good thing in a driver.

Anyway, we get to the headquarters, which can be really good for butterflies by around 9am, when the sun hits the yard. There is a great trail that heads down to a swinging bridge and loops around upto the road, about 1.6 km. David and some people go that way, I get Juan to drive the rest of us up to the bridge on the main road, and up to where the trail joins the road. So it is a large loop, maybe 3 km. David, being the hotdog, walks it several times throughout the day, and Chris also is a walking fool. I spend more time on the road, putting out David’s pee. GPS for the bridge on the road, at the apex of the ‘V’ that we work, is S 10 11.350, W 075 34.281, 1,080m.

We get a variety of goodies, more in the forest on the trail. Everyone’s favorite is Caria chrysame, a gorgeous little sparkling green metalmark. We must have at least 6 of them on the road. Also lots of Chorinea sylphina, 2 species of the clearwinged metalmarks.

One of the more popular spots is down in the ravine just over the swinging bridge, where David baits heavily. He develops 4 or 5 great puddle parties, where the butterflies are swarming over each other (and a million sweat bees) to get to the baited ground. Lots of crescents, 3 species of Morphos, more and more stuff all day long. We’re falling behind on processing and naming our photos, too many butterflies.

We go back late in the afternoon for dinner cooked by Frau Maria, which is delicious. Huge plates of fresh tomatoes, avocado and butter lettuce with a perfect vingear and herb topping, I could just eat that for dinner. But of course I also manage to stuff down most of the tender beef medallions she serves for the main course. She works half the year in Austria cooking at a fancy ski resort, so she’s a great cook. Must be quite a change, as here she uses a wood fired oven.

Day 22 Nov 9 – we drive lower than yesterday, and concentrate on the road just before the park. There is a large waterfall, on your right as you drive down the road to Pozuzo on your way in, with a small generating plant (very small) at Catarata Yulitunqui, 962m. We spend most of the morning here. The vans that shuttle people between Pozuzo and Oxapampa stop here, at least today on Sunday morning about 10am. We get there about 8am, and have 2 fabulous hours, then 4 or 5 vans descend on us with dozens of people. Of course, most of these people pee somewhere, which explains why this is such a good spot.

Fortunately the vans leave after about 30 minutes, and quiet returns, with the butterflies. A number of new species for our trip list show up here. David also has walked back down the road to Pozuzo, baiting all the way, to the next waterfall about 2 km. In between there is some cleared pasture area, mostly tall grass, but some good patchy forest. We find Emesis brimo on a spitwad here, and lots of Thisbe irenea, a beautiful white and blue metalmark. Tony scores with the spectacular Lyropteryx apollonia, with bright pink spots on the underside, but everyone else misses it.

The big score is David’s find of three hairstreaks on the same baited leaf, and two are fabulous green ones – a tiny Erora species and a very cooperative Arcas imperialis, with the long twisted tails. He comes to get the rest of us and we drive back and they find the same leaf, with the Arcas still there, so we all get photos. Must be clean living.

Day 23 Nov 10 – we try to drive higher to get different species, but we are thwarted by another landslide about an hour up the road. While waiting, we get out and start baiting, and goodies start showing up. By the time the landslide is cleared, (there is a backhoe there working on it) we’re seeing stuff, so we decide to stay here and use the bait. It’s about 1,200m, and we work maybe a km or so from the landslide up the road.

Lots of Adelphas and Memphis, and my favorite for the day is Baeotis felix felicissima, a new subspecies of the one we saw on the Manu road. Bigger with pale yellow corners, it is difficult to photograph to show the yellow. So another great day is had by all.

Day 24 Nov 11 – Our last full day here at Pozuzo, and we go back to the ranger headquarters at the entrance, where the trail goes down through the forest to the swinging bridge or you can walk the road up to the big bridge and up to where the trail joins the road. We wander in different directions, finding many different species. It is amazing when we compare our photos at night, what different species we have each seen.

Just below the ranger clearing, where the trail starts down, there is a riodinid lek where Napaea actoris have been both times. On a baited leaf we get three blue metalmarks, the Napaea plus Thisbe irenea and a new Esthemopsis colaxes (we think).

Down at the beach, where the guys have had a pissing contest to compare whose pee pulls better, there are a zillion bugs. It is at the bottom of a steep ravine, so it gets in the shade by mid afternoon. The firetips seem to prefer the shade, and they pile in late in the day. 20-30 firetips, maybe more, all getting on top of each other, an amazing sight.

Day 25 Nov 12 – our final fabulous breakfast from Frau Maria. Her dinners were far better than what we ate in town, we alternated nights. Next time I would try to arrange for her to cook for us more of the nights. We’ve tried two places in town, Maldonado’s was the second choice. We had planned to go back to our first choice last night, but it was closed. Maldonado’s is ok, but it is mostly meat. Good smoked pork and chicken, but we have two vegetarians, and vegatables are in short supply in town.

Today we drive back to Oxapampa, hitting our favorite landslide at 1,400m for an hour or so, then lunch in Oxapampa, then an estimated 4 hour drive on pavement to Satipo. We’ll see how that goes.

Not much at the landslide, as it is cloudy, but we do see a very fresh Myscelus draudti. After a simple lunch in Oxapampa, (at the restaurant on the square with butterfly specimens in the window) we make the 4 hour drive to Satipo, arriving about 5pm. Satipo isn’t a great town, just a typical lowland scruffy place, and there aren’t any great hotels, so it is a come down from the lovely, quiet, small places we’ve been staying. But we’ll survive.

However, between 6 to 7pm, 10 mining guys’ trucks are parked in the small courtyard at the hotel where our rooms overlook it. They back all the trucks in, beep beep beep, until we want to run screaming. They end up with all the trucks packed in bumper to bumper, they barely fit. At least the guys are quiet once they get to their rooms. A second however, they leave at 5am. So we’re all awake at 4:45 the next morning.

Day 26 Nov 13 – after not a great night’s sleep, we meet for 7am breakfast. The night before the hotel brought in a cook for us, and he made a delicious dinner of mixed brochettes and little potatoes. The only problem was the portions were huge, and we couldn’t eat it all. He appears to be excited to have people to cook for, and asked David what we wanted for breakfast. David said just bread, fruit, eggs, coffee and juice, and I added yogurt. And that’s what we got. No butter or jam for the rolls, no milk for the coffee. Oh, we didn’t ask for that. Details details.

We head up the road from Satipo to the town of Mariposa and higher. It is a very nice dirt road, much better than the road to Pozuzo which was full of potholes. This one is smooth and in great shape. But we are cursed with heavy overcast, thunder at dawn, and rain. We drive on up, nothing better to do, looking for good potential ravines and quebradas where water runs over the road.

Stopping a few times to stretch our legs, we walk some of the road, having almost no traffic. Believe it or not, we actually scrounge up 3 good species, mostly found by Chris who has an eagle eye.

2 new ones for me, a great hairstreak black with 2 white stripes, Lamprospilus nicetus leads us on a merry chase. It is raining lightly, so it doesn’t want to fly. We keep pulling down branches and trying to shoot it. Finally David scrambles up a 10’ bank and stalks it through heavy scrub, almost buried in bushes. He comes up with killer photos, after working very hard for them. It then flies down, and David and I pull down more light branches for the others to get shots as well.

We also get a beautiful Euptychia, we can’t figure out what it is, probably undescribed. We’re at almost 1800m, so it seems odd to get one of the Eupychia, which seem lowland to me. But here it is. And we got a nice female Doxocopa zunilda, probably ssp floris, with the rufous VFW.

Day 27 Nov 14 – our second attempt to drive up into the mountains west of Satipo. We’re cursed, as it is raining heavily at 6am. And it continues raining at 8:30am. We don’t even bother driving up the mountain. We eat an extensive breakfast, as we’re not in any hurry to depart. The cook keeps bringing out more food, so we have to eat it. He makes nice looking crepes, but we don’t have any plates to eat them on. But when we ask for plates, they bring them out. Very few people eat here, I’m guessing, as the staff seems continually surprised when we ask for something. They’re happy to oblige, just appears they never thought someone might want that item, like plates to eat from.

It’s too bad if we get rained out for our 2 field days here, as we drove a ways to get here to Satipo, and we’re staying in a not terribly pleasant place. But that’s the breaks. However, I would think twice about bringing another group down to Satipo. David was here a year ago and had a nice sunny day. He got some great satyrs up at 2500m, and we were hoping to spend some productive time up at those elevations. This is the only place on the central Peru part of the trip where we will be that high, but it appears not to be. We could get up to about 2400m at Bosque Sholett, above Oxapampa, but we had bad weather that day as well.

Day 28 Nov 15 – it is still raining when we get up for breakfast, then depart for our 2 hour drive to the junction, then another hour more to San Ramon, where we transfer our gear to a 4×4 van to get us into Pampa Hermosa.

The jeep track that leads across the big bridge and into the hills to Pampa Hermosa Lodge hasn’t changed much since I first came here in 2005. It’s only 22 or 24 km, depending on who you talk to, but it is slow going. The first 11 km isn’t bad, but then it gets steep and rocky, and you need 4 wheel drive. We pass the waterfall on our right where our van got stuck on our way out in 2005, but our driver is experienced on this road and we get there fine, after an hour and a half.

Hooray, we’re finally here about 1pm. They make us a nice lunch and we wander around some. The river has changed and taken a big chunk of the woods below the lodge, so the trail is different. This was our favorite sandbar where tons of firetips came, but the water is high and there isn’t much available. They have lost the woods that were around the trail, and there are big cages of rocks, so obviously they have had some major flooding. David dumps a bunch of accumulated pee, as we haven’t used much our last 2 days in Satipo.

Later we check on it, and there are 2 species of orange and black Mimardaris on the rocks. But an hour or two later, the river has risen and washed it all off. It must be raining up in the hills, as we’re not getting any rain here, but the river is rising. Hopefully things will dry out.

We do find some goodies on the trail from the main gate down to the river. This trail goes for days up in to the mountains, where there are several villages. You sometimes meet people coming into town for supplies, and it can be a very good trail to work. You have to cross the small waterfall at the start, which can be tricky. There are 2 small footbridges, the main one if you follow the road (which ends at the lodge and turns into a path) is impassible right now (at least for us), as the waterfall is too strong. But there is a 2nd trail that comes right next to our gate, where the people bring horses and burros, and leads to a lower footbridge. David baits this trail, and I find several nice hungry butterflies.

I have an unknown skipper, big orange bands on the forewing and a blue irridescence on the head and body, beautiful. At first I think it is Lychnuchus brasta, which is common here, but that doesn’t have the blue. We’ll have to figure it out. I also have a couple of different clearwings feeding on the spathes of some plants. David gets several scarlet eyes, a km or so further up the trail. Now we just need some sunny days!

Day 29 Nov 16 – it starts off cool and overcast, still drying out from the last several days of rain, but it brightens up by 10 or 11am, and suddenly around 11:30am it starts hopping. The next couple of hours are great. We schedule lunch for 2pm, usually, to not interfere with prime butterfly time, and that turns out to be a great idea today. We don’t want to stop when 2pm rolls around. Afterwards we’re still finding goodies until 4pm or so, when I return to my cabin.

The beach has gone viral, with lots of species all crawling over each other to get to the pee and rotten fish David has spread all over. The river has dropped quite a bit, so we have lots of beach available. A big swallowtail, Neographium dioxippus, is new for our trip, and probably at least 15 species of firetips. I’m going to busy trying to sort them all out. You have to get ventral shots to go with the dorsals, as there are several that look the same from the top. It’s so nice to see the sun again.

Day 30 Nov 17 – we get up to a beautiful sunny morning, and it stays hot and dry all day. Now we see all the stuff we didn’t see yesterday, Adelphas, Pyrrhogyra, all sorts of Nymphalids and Pierids, and a million firetips on the beach.

Interesting to compare what we see on the beach to what we find streamside, in the forest. We have more Yanguna (a big gaudy firetip that is blue with red by the body and big white stripes) than I have ever seen anywhere. There are 2 species (Y.cometes staudingeri and Y.spatiosa mabillei) and we see more than a dozen in one streamside batch! Usually you are lucky to see one. The idea of a dozen Yanguna in one pile is mind blowing, at least to me.

We don’t see any Yanguna on the beach, just near the stream in the forest, where we cross on planks on the trail. But there are many other firetips on the beach that don’t show up in the forest. Many of them prefer to cruise up and down the river banks, so by putting out pee and fish at the edge of the river, on the sandbar, we get ever increasing numbers.

By mid morning the beach is unbelievable. The sulphurs have arrived, I didn’t see any yesterday, along with groups of whites. They tend to cluster with their own species, so we have clumps of yellows and another clump of whites, with firetips everywhere. Several species of swallowtails too, it is a madhouse.

The trail in the forest is also great, lots of Memphis and some riodinids. Not as many hairstreaks, at least for me, though I chase one Micandra (the reddish brown ones with squiggly blue lines) but can never get him, the tease. I see a snake today, when I’m standing in the trail by myself. He doesn’t know I’m there, and just crawls across the trail with a meter of me. He’s about half a meter long, black with white rings and some rainbow horizontal stripes when I flash him. He’s shocked when I move, and he jerks repeatedly, trying to scare me off.

It is also interesting to compare Pampa Hermosa with Pozuzo, as they are close in elevation. But there are some species that were common there and not seen here, and vice versa. For example, I’ve seen Lymanopoda caudalis here by the big waterfall several times, a satyr with a lot of white below, very pretty, but never in Pozuzo. But we had quite a few more Perisama above Pozuzo. Of course we had the most Perisama on the Manu road, because they tend to be higher elevation like around 2,200m. But I’ve only had a few here in Pampa Hermosa, and we had 5 or 6 species above Pozuzo about 1000-1200m, same elevation as here at 1200m. My gps says we are at 1,224m.

Day 31 Nov 18 – more great weather, and more butterflies. We’re all exhausted at the end of the day, except for David who has endless energy. But’s it is a good kind of exhausted. Surprising how tiring it can be, photographing for 6+ hours, bending over, sorting out different species. New species of firetips keep showing up, plus others. Another fabulous day at Pampa Hermosa, with tasty food waiting for us as we stumble back in. Life doesn’t get much better than this.

Day 32 Nov 19 – today we leave after lunch, que lastima. But four days has been about the right amount of time for here. Most of what we’re seeing today we’ve seen before, but there’s always the chance to catch up on those who got away previously, or improve your photos. I do see several new species, so stuff is hatching out, or coming down to where we can get it.

After lunch we stuff in a local van that comes to take us back over the rutted, steep 22 km road to San Ramon, where Juan awaits us about 2:30 or 3pm. Then a couple of hours up the pass to Tarma, where we spend the night in the nice hotel Los Portales about 3,200m. This works better than driving all the way to Lima, which was too long on our previous trip. The restaurant is nice here, not many vegetables, but hey that’s Peru. The rooms are nice, good wifi, and it is quiet.

Day 33, Nov 20 – the long drive up over the pass back to Lima. It takes a minimum of 6 hours, it can be a lot longer due to heavy truck traffic and construction delays. Tony has the first flight at 9pm tonight, so we need to be to the airport by 6pm. Most of the international flights leave around midnight or later, but Tony’s flying to Spain.

We leave Tarma at 7:30am, and stop at the top at 4,800m to stretch our legs and chase the weird Phulia butterflies that fly way up high. It is like walking over tundra, as we are way above tree line. It is a beautiful sunny day, no wind, about as good as it gets up here. We see lots of butterflies, hugging the ground and landing frequently. Mostly Pierids, lots of male and female Phulia (the females are yellow/brown, the males white), some other Pierids and Colias, and some blues. So everybody has a good time.

It is difficult to bend over and photograph at this elevation, one tends to pass out, at least I do. But we slept the night before fairly high, and we’ve been at altitude for much of this trip, so we are somewhat used to it. Better than driving up from Lima after an overnight flight, when one tends to be tired and the elevation is much more difficult to deal with.

We eat lunch a couple of hours outside of Lima, then they take me back to the Hostal Torreblanco in Miraflores, where we stayed the other times in Lima. This takes several more hours, to only go about 30 km, but traffic is horrendous. I say goodbye to all my great travel buddies, as they’re off to the airport for a long evening. I’m glad I’m staying in a hotel tonight for my 7am flight tomorrow.

Day 34 Nov 21 – 4am departure from the hotel for my Copa flight back through Panama City. All goes well, and I’m back to LAX by 4pm. A long day, but it was a great trip. Saw lots of new stuff, got a zillion photos, and learned a bunch more about the fabulous butterflies of the Andes.

Colombia May-June 2014

Colombia May-June 2014


Trip Report Colombia May-June 2014

I’m spending the weekend in Medellin w/Juan, then the first group flies in and joins me in Minca in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The first trip will be zigzagging back and forth across the Cauca Valley, between 2 locations on the west slope of the Western Cordillera in the Choco, and the east slope of the Central Cordillera. Las Tangaras and Montezuma are only about 65km apart, as the condor flies, but there aren’t any roads, so you have to go back to the main highway that runs north/south down the Cauca Valley. The first trip goes from May 14 to June 2, and the second trip is from June 2 to the 22nd. On the 2nd trip we go to the eastern Andes, to San Agustin and Florencia, then back to Medellin and Jardin, and end at Rio Claro in the Magdalena Valley.

Day 1, May 9 – fly Texas to Medellin, 4 nights in El Poblado, Medellin

Day 2, May 10 – La Romera w/Juan & mother’s day dinner w/Juan’s extended family

Day 3, May 11 – Mother’s Day, see Juan at night

Day 4, May 12 – lunch w/Pablo, Juan at night

Day 5, May 13 – fly to Santa Marta for 2 nights at Sierra’s Sound in Minca

Day 6, May 14 – the group flies in to Santa Marta in the morning for trip 1, led by David Geale from Canada, it includes Bob Behrstock, Roger Rittmaster, John Rhodes for just trip 2, and Bill Berthet and Priscilla Brodkin will be with me for both trips. After lunch we go to Pozo Azul.

Day 7, May 15 – drive up to El Dorado for 4 nights, 1950m.

Day 8, May 16 – explore road up & down around El Dorado

Day 9, May 17 – drive up to San Lorenzo, 2250m, walk down

Day 10, May 18 – drive to top, 2600m

Day 11, May 19 – work the road back to Minca for 1 night

Day 12, May 20 – Pozo Azul, then fly to Medellin in the afternoon for 1 night at Casa Asturias

Day 13, May 21 – drive to Las Tangaras for 3 nights, do Sinifana for the morning, 750m

Day 14, May 22 – go up the mountain at Las Tangaras, 2000-1700m

Day 15, May 23 – back up the mountain, a little lower to Juan’s bait spot 1680m

Day 16, May 24 – morning at Tangaras on the near slope, then drive to Manizales for the night

Day 17, May 25 – early departure up to Rio Blanco, east slope Central Andes, for 1 night, ant pittas

Day 18, May 26 – morning at Quebada Olivares 2300m, PM drive to Montezuma for 4 nights, west slope of Western Andes

Day 19, May 27 – walk to first bridge 1400m, tons of stuff

Day 20, May 28 – drive to top, 2600m

Day 21, May 29 – rain all day

Day 22, May 30 – morning at Montezuma, drive to Otun for 3 nights @ 1865m, east slope Central Andes

Day 23, May 31 – walk the road at Otun

Day 24, June 1 – take a truck to the top and walk down

Day 25, June 2 – 1st group leaves, 2nd group comes in for 3 nights at Otun

Day 26, June 3 – drive to the top, a sunny morning!

Day 27, June 4 – walk the road

Day 28, June 5 – drive to Cali, fly to Pitalito and drive to San Agustin at 1650m for 4 nights

Day 29, June 6 – explore the archeological ruins 3 km from town

Day 30, June 7 – drive up the mountain past Isnos towards Popoyan to 2200m

Day 31, June 8 – drive to Estrechos de Magdalena, the narrows of the river, 1400m, then move to Florencia for 3 nights at 300m

Day 32, June 9 – work the old road to Florencia, 1400m, km 54-55

Day 33, June 10 – go back to old road but higher, 2000m km 46

Day 34, June 11 – morning on old road above Florencia, 800m, km 70-69, fly 2pm Bogota-Medellin for 1 night at Casa Asturias

Day 35, June 12 – 5am departure for Jardin, hike in to Fundacion Colibri 2200m for 3 nights

Day 36/37, June 13/14 – explore trails at Fundacion Colibri for 2 days

Day 38, June 15 – hike out, 3 nights at La Esperanza outside Jardin

Day 39, June 16 – 6:30am departure to drive up to the yellow-eared parrot reserve, 2900m, and cock of the rock below town

Day 40, June 17 – back up the mountain, road blockage, shopping in the square

Day 41, June 18 – morning at Jardin, work lower road, drive back to Medellin for the night

Day 42, June 19 – drive to Rio Claro for 2 nights

Day 43, June 20 – work the road and trail at Rio Claro

Day 44, June 21 – morning at Cuervo del Condor, drive back to Medellin after lunch

Day 45, June 22 – the group leaves for 8am flight to Miami, I stay 1 more day in hotel

Day 45, June 23 – I depart on 8am AA flight to Miami

Day 1 Fri May 9 –fly AA through DFW/Miami to Medellin, arrive about 9:15pm. I’m renting a room in an apartment for 4 nights to spend the weekend with Juan Guillermo, my photographer friend who lives in Medellin. I found the apartment through AirBnB, $20/night w/a private bath. Beats the price at the Best Western where I stayed last year. The room is small but the apartment is lovely, a great balcony that overlooks trees in a park. We’re on the 10th floor on Calle 9, a block from the main road which is Calle 10. So it’s quiet, except for bird song, lots of palm tanagers in the trees.

Day 2 Sat May 10 – I walk down to Calle 10, looking for breakfast, and get a couple of tasty turnovers at a little panaderia. Guava & cheese, and arequipe, the caramel I really like, a scrumptious start to the day. This is close to where I stayed for several weeks last Feb/March, so I’m familiar with the area. I even know where the main grocery store is, back up the hill across the street from the Best Western. This area is very hilly and steep to walk around, good exercise.

It’s overcast and drizzly, so Juan comes to get me about 11:30. We head to La Romera, a great place just outside town, good for red-bellied grackles. Juan likes to go to the top where we hike down a steep trail to the right and go up a couple of different ways. We don’t cover much distance, but all kinds of butterflies come to this little creek and display in this ravine. Juan puts out the magic shrimp bait and we get Mesosemia mevania right away, Emesis cypria and a few others. Because it is a fairly cool day we don’t get as much as we have in the past here. I do get good looks at a male and female Rhetus dysonii, first time I’ve seen the black and white female. Can’t get the shots, unfortunately, they’re feeding on a eupatorium up the hillside above me.

That night I go w/Juan’s extended family to a dinner for his mother. Lots of fun, get to meet Juan’s parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, what a crowd. There is a 94 year old great aunt to a pair of twin boys just 9 months old. Everyone is very welcoming and friendly, a real Colombian experience.

Day 3 Sun May 11- unfortunately today is Mother’s Day, and Juan and Martin are with their families all day, so I work on the computer. It rains all morning, I just have time to climb up the hill to the grocery store and stock up on breakfast goodes, yogurt, fruit and granola. For an early dinner I hike downhill to Calle 7 to City Pizza, a place I find on trip advisor. Very nice, I sit outside on their covered patio under tall shade trees and have a pizza barcelona, which is serrano ham and carmelized pears. A very different pizza, thin crispy crust with sesame seed all around the edge, but quite tasty. And of course my first guanabana con leche drink, it is good to be back in Colombia!

Juan comes by about 5:30 and we work for several hours, he shows me more on his database, very productive.

Day 4 Mon May 12 – I meet Pablo for lunch, we walk down to Mundo Verde. A delicious salad and health food place, I have a Colombian chicken quisadilla. Not like a Mexican one, but good, with a tangy mustard sauce. Then Juan comes by after work.

Day 5 Tue May 13 – fly to Santa Marta, Avianca has 1 flight/day direct from Medellin. All other flights have to go through Bogota. Pablo has a driver meet me at the airport and we drive about an hour to Minca. It is extremely dry here. The driver says they haven’t had much rain since Oct/Nov, and very little then, and that is normally their heaviest rains. When we get to Sierra’s Sound, the simple little hotel we use in Minca, it is a bit greener. The guy at the hotel says they had rain last Sunday, but the creek in back of the hotel is quite low. I go swimming anyway, or more sitting in the deepest pool I can find below the hotel. It is lovely and cool. It was really hot in Santa Marta, I’m glad to get a little bit of elevation, Minca is about 650m.

Big surprise, I thought they didn’t have internet here, but they do. Not the fastest, but good enough. They also have a nice Italian restaurant, so I can eat early and just hang out and listen to the stream. Lots of bird calls as well. Minca is a popular tourist town, lots of places to stay w/signs in english, sort of a backpacker place. I think this is one of the more high end hotels, because each room has a/c, which is a big plus as it is about 90F. Cooler than Santa Marta, that’s for sure.

Day 6 Wed May 14 – my 6 travel buddies fly in this morning from Bogota, 2 different flights. Pablo has arranged transfers, so the first group gets here about 10ish, and the 2nd group about 11:30. Everybody makes it w/luggage, though two have a very tight connection due to a late international arrival on the United flight from Houston, but we’re all here now. After lunch we take 2 cars over to sendero Pozo Azul, about a 10-15 minute drive. The cars can’t go down the dirt track, so we walk in about 2 km to the big swimming hole. There is a very dilapidated bridge and a trail continues up the hill for who knows how far. We have a good couple of hours, until 4pm, and find a number of new species to add to Juan’s and my El Dorado list, mostly common roadside species. Probably the best is a new species for me, Nymphidium onaeum, with beautiful orange spots around the white center. Everybody gets good photos.

Day 7, May 15 – start up the mountain after 7am breakfast. The drive is only about 2 hours, if you drive straight through, but of course we don’t plan to do that. You climb from 650m at Minca to 1950m at El Dorado, and we take a packed lunch and plan to stop a number of places. Going up the road, we stop wherever it looks promising.

#1 Y road to the right goes to Central (N 11 06 225, W 074 05 193074 05 193) 1460m, where Heliconius eleuchia were in 2008. We see this species flying all the way up the road, probably the most common species we see today. We finally find them nectaring on some small yellow composites where we all take tons of photos. There are very worn individuals and some very fresh ones.

#2 Malabrigo (or Mal Abrigo?) (N 11 06 198, W 074 04 872074 04 872), ravine where Mimardaris aerata firetip was, right hand turn across a small creek over the road, about 1500m. We walked from #1 to #2, not very far. This is a great looking spot, too bad it is cool and overcast. This looks like a wonderful spot to hang out, if we had some sun. Bill and Roger find the Mimardaris on the dirt at the creek, then it flies and poses nicely on leaves. They get great shots, and Priscilla and I see it before it departs. I’m thrilled to see this Santa Marta endemic at this time of the year. I’ve seen it in July and others photographed it in September, so it must fly most of the year. Plus this is a lot lower than I’ve seen it, as before we had it at 2200m at San Lorenzo. We see it 3 times today, at 1700m at the lunch spot Palo Alto (an almost dead one of cement bags) and one nectaring at El Dorado.

#3 Morpho helenor spot, old house, 1600m. I think they are M.menelaus, but Fredy tells me that species isn’t found here. There are 3 or 4 Morphos flying around this old building, maybe coming to guava? We haven’t seen many Morphos earlier, though 1 did fly by the hotel in Minca.

#4 little store Las Flores, this was the traditional spot to stop on earlier trips. But the drivers tell us there is a 2nd place a bit higher, so we continue on. There are lots of flowers planted here and a small store to buy soft drinks. Good elevation to look for blossomcrown hummingbird.

#5 Palo Alto, lunch spot, 1700m. We eat lunch, brought from Sierra’s Sound, at Palo Alto which is a couple of turns past the little store at Las Flores. For 5,000 COP each we can walk around their garden and sit down under their house for lunch. This is a much bigger garden than spot #4, and you can eat your own lunch under the house where caretakers live. They have bananas out for bird feeders also, with chlorophonias and brush finches coming in. We see the blossomcrown hummer there, and lots of flowerpiercers. Also our first of the higher elevation Morpho rhodopteron, like sulkowskyi, sails by. This is a smaller, beautiful opalescent glowing purple Morpho, paler yellow below. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to photograph one. We plan to leave at 1:30pm, but it gets bright and sunny so we walk. The ProAves reserve starts right after here, it is a big reserve. There is a note written on one of the posts saying 2.7 km distance, but it seems further than that to the lodge. 20 minutes later the fog comes down, no more sun. It comes and goes as we work our way up the hill.

I walk ahead and disappear into the fog. Sitting on a rock by myself, I call in white-tipped quetzal, who fly back and forth overhead cackling at me. The cars catch up to me, and we make it to El Dorado about 2:30pm, in heavy fog. Their hummingbird feeders are hopping, and we see both male and female white-tailed sunangels, another spectacular endemic. After a delicious dinner, we all pray for sun tomorrow.

Day 8, Friday May 16 – we wake to light cloud cover. The cars didn’t stay with us, so we’re on foot today and tomorrow. The cars will be back Saturday night for early Sunday drive up to the top. But for today we wander mostly down the road. Poor David puts out tons of spitwads, pee and some shrimp bait, but nothing seems to be interested in any of the bait. Most of the day is cool and cloudy, but we still find some stuff.

Day 9, Saturday May 17 – David and a few of the hardcore hike up to San Lorenzo, the national park station at 2250m, supposedly 3 km up the road. The rest of us have the local guy drive us up. It takes half an hour driving, so that gives you an idea how bad and rocky the road is. We then spend the morning walking back down. I don’t get to photograph much, but the early birds score big with Adelpha serphia egregia, an endemic subspecies, a great female hairstreak Thaeides theia which I’ve never seen (bright yellow spots near the tail), and a riodinid that we can’t figure out, bright yellow and black. We see the Adelpha at least 3 times, usually perching high up. There is a flowering bush about 10-15 minutes walk up from El Dorado, the only flowers we see that are attracting butterflies, so that is a frequent spot to check.

Day 10, Sunday May 18 – our drivers are back, and the birding group departs at 4am (not me, thank heavens!). My group leaves at the civilized hour of 7:30am. It takes about 2 hours to drive up to the top at 2600m, 12 km. I figure nothing will be flying before 9:30 or 10 at that elevation anyway. It is a beautiful sunny morning, and we drive up to satyrs flying across the steep, rutted road in front of us. Not large numbers of species, but we get good looks at the 4 species of Pedaliodes and a few other high elevation satyrs. Of course the clouds come down by 9 or 10, and we end up walking down much of the road in clouds.

Day 11, Monday May 19 – unfortunately someone has gone through my bags, nothing was taken but things look moved. Bob is in the room next to me, and his passport and money are gone. We’re in the lower story of rooms, out of sight of the main dining area, and we believe it was students. There was a large group of students visiting the previous day, and the trail comes out right by our rooms. We hadn’t been given any keys, so our rooms were never locked, and apparently someone took advantage. If they are going to have groups of visitors for day trips, ProAves needs to provide keys to the rooms, as obviously they aren’t secure.

Anyway, David works out that Bob can go to Barranquilla to the US consulate and get a replacement passport. Fortunately he has a xerox of his passport, which is a big help. Then Bob will meet us at the airport for our flights to Medellin. There isn’t any consular service in Medellin, so his only other option was to go to Bogota. Aside for the money he lost, and the hassle, he has to pay for a new passport, $150, and a $200 taxi fare.

We slowly drive down the mountain, walking a lot, stopping at places. We finally get real rain later in the morning, but we still get some photos. We see the gorgeous purple Morpho rhodopteron flying at Central, and David even gets some in flight shots.

Tonight we try a different hotel, Hotel Minca, which is a pretty location and has good hummingbird feeders, 6 species overlooking a nice view of the valley. But the food is not very good. Very fatty meat, I don’t eat mine, and the rooms are hot and stuffy without a/c. We all decide we prefer Sierra’s Sound.

Day 12, Tue May 20 – we have 3 hours to chase butterflies back at Pozo Azul, then back to the hotel for a shower. Last night we decided we wanted to have lunch at Sierra’s Sound, and we’ve pre-ordered lunch for 11am. Then we’re off to the airport, about an hour, for our 2pm flight to Medellin. Crepes y Waffles for dinner, hooray!

We have a good morning, get a number of new species for the trip, and Bob gets to the consulate and fills out all the forms. But the consulate calls David, says Bob didn’t fill out everything, and David has to track down Bob, through the taxi driver, get all the info (mother’s and father’s date and place of birth, good thing he knows it, I wouldn’t know my parents’ info), then email it back to the consulate. But that all works out, we all make our short 1 hour flight to Medellin, make it to Casa Asturias by 4:30pm, and now go to C&W.

Day 13, Wed May 21 – 6am departure from the hotel to try and beat some of the traffic, which means no breakfast at Casa Asturias. This is ok, as their breakfast isn’t to die for, basic eggs, arepas and fruit. We drive about an hour to El Ranchito, not the first one on the left but the second on the right. This one has bird feeder tables, and we pig out on arepas con chocolo and fruit drinks. About an hour later, we’re on our way, and get to Quebrada Sinifana, a large bridge over a river with a sign. We turn right immediately after the sign, taking the dirt track just before the bridge up about 2 km to a good sized cement bridge in the forest (N 11 08 591, W 074 07 126074 07 126). We work this and slowly walk our way back towards the main road, about 725-750m. A goodly number of lowland species, metalmarks, lots of brown skippers, and as it gets hotter around the middle of the day, we get a nice selection of hairstreaks. Nothing new for me, but a nice number of species to add to our trip list. Lots of Eunica monima, Dingy Purplewing, including lots of fresh females with big white spots on the DFW. We arrive at 9:15am, the sun is just getting there, and we have a good 4 hours or so, leaving about 1:30pm.

Bill Berthet has an exciting encounter with a bull, here’s his account -

A welcoming sunny morning sky greeted us on May 21, as our group Neotropical Butterflies, headed for Quebrada Sinifana (elevation around 750m) a small community around 35 miles S.W. of Medellin, Columbia.

All of us were busy photographing butterflies along a narrow dirt road when about a dozen light to medium grey colored Brahman or Brahma Cattle (some were bulls) most weighing well over 1500 lbs.,  passed by us with a horse wrangler at each end. These animals are intelligent and shy and quickly passed through our group.

Not long after passing us, one of the bulls bolted out of the group and ran back up the mountain dirt road at full speed. I was on the road above the rest when I saw the bull runnning towards me. I jumped (camera, binoculars and all) into a ditch on one side of the road.  The bull galloped by with one of the horse wranglers in hot pursuit. He was able to stop the bull from running. However, when the wrangler passed the bull, his horse blocked further progress of the bull at an angle on the opposite side of the road which dropped hundreds of feet into a forested ravine. As I watched I could see a confused, disoriented look in the eyes of the bull. Instead of turning to the right and going back on the road, he turned left, jumped off the road and tumbled down the ravine. Seconds went by as he disappeared into the forest. The wrangler and I looked at each other and I thought “Did this really happen?”

Later the two wranglers met up where the bull jumped, both looking down and deciding what to do. There was nothing to see. We never did find out what happened to this animal after it jumped.

A bit shaken up, I resumed photographing butterflies on  fresh cow dung including Lasia pseudomeris and Lasia agesilas. Favorites for the day included the hairstreaks Arzecula arza and Lamprospilis collucia.

We drive about 30 minutes to another nice open air restaurant for lunch, La Mayoria del San Juan in Penalisa, 5 km from Bolombolo, which is where we cross the Cauca River. Now we’re on the western Andes.

From the restaurant it takes us a good 1 hour 45 minutes to get to Tangaras. There is major road building going on, we’re lucky to only hit 1 waiting spot, as there is lots of 1 way sections. We’re glad to get here, and enjoy the hummingbird feeders and have a delicious dinner.

Day 14, Thur May 22 – being butterfliers and not birders, we have a civilized 7am breakfast, then 45 minute drive in jeeps up the mountain. This has us in the field by 8:15, just when the butterflies are starting to get active. There are 3 sets of little wooden bleachers where you can sit along the road, and we get out of the truck at the highest set, #1, about 1800m. You go over a small pass at 2000m, where there used to be soldiers guarding the pass (and the hummingbird feeders) but no solders this time. Then you walk and work the road as far downhill as you want. The good forest only goes maybe 5 km.

We never even make it down to the 3rd set of bleachers, as the people find so many butterflies to photograph. I do walk down to ‘the hole’ at 1760m (N 05 59 947, W 075 48 817075 48 817), where we had great stuff last time 2 years ago, a little above the lowest set of bleachers. But someone, probably the army, has cleared all the undergrowth and done a lot of camping here, so it is not as good as before. But David and I put out plenty of shrimp, pee and spitwads, and stuff is coming in. Plus he’s put bait all over the road, so we have a great morning. Most of what we see are species I’ve seen here before, but we do get some new ones.

I take the driver down looking for the place Juan told me about, where he had a great time when he was here in March. It is a couple of km beyond his usual baiting spot, which is a ways down from where we are walking. His first spot is about 1680m, and I find his 2nd spot at 1580m, where there has been a huge landslide that took out a cement bridge a while ago (N 05 48 410, W 076 10 758). I wander around some, but don’t see much, so I go back up the hill and join the others.

The driver goes down and gets hot lunches for us and delivers them in the field, which is always the height of luxury as far as I’m concerned. It clouds up by noon, and by 1pm it is spitting light rain. We go back up to the pass and spend some enjoyable time at the hummingbird feeders, then walk a bit downhill back towards the lodge. Most of us finally get in the truck and head for home, but David and Roger, the walking fools, decide to walk all the way back. 30-45 minute drive is quite a long walk, even though it is a slow 4 wheel drive road. We’ll see when they get back home. 2 hours later, they still haven’t made it back.

Day 15, Friday May 23 – Some people get dropped off at the first set of bleachers and walk down, others get out at the hole, and I go down to Juan’s first bait spot, at a nice waterfall (N 05 51.129, W 076 10.937) about 1650-1700m. We see fewer satyrs here and some new stuff. Yesterday Bill got a Taygetina banghaasi, a new one for me, and David finds another today. There are lots of Necyria bellona zaneta, a stunning metalmark, and a couple more Adelpha., including another new one, A.lamasi. We’re in the Choco, and get some endemic species. I find a number of lowland species that I am surprised to see this high, like Quadrus lugubris, a skipper that I see in northern Mexico. A great mix of species.

Day 16, Saturday May 24 – our last morning at Tangaras, we go up the mountain a bit earlier and walk down from the hummingbird feeders, back towards the lodge. This turns out to be really good, as we see several new species for the trip, including the stunning Elzunia humboldt and a big grass skipper, Alera vulpina. It has a strong white stripe on the ventral and bright rufous on the dorsal, which I only see when it is flying. I try to catch it but muff the catch, though I do get good shots on the spitwad. David baits 2 of the forested ravines, and as we walk down the sun hits them about 9-10am, and we have to tear ourselves away to leave. Next trip I will spend a full morning on this side.

We get back back and depart about 11am, 2 hours back to the main road where we eat lunch at the same restaurant, La Mayoria del San Juan in Penalisa, then about 3 hours more to Manizales. We spend the night in town at Estela Las Colonis and have a delicious dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Day 17, Sunday May 25 – early departure to head up to Rio Blanco for the next night at 2600m. We go straight out to see the feeding of the ant pittas, we get 4 species: chestnut-crowned; brown-banded; slate-crowned; and bicolored. My favorite being the small, beautiful slate-crowned. We also find lots of satyrs. But it is chilly in the rooms at night, and generally pretty scruffy. Overall, we decide it would have been better to stay in the nice hotel in town. Pablo had tried to talk me into that, but I insisted on spending 1 night at Rio Blanoc. Oh well, live and learn.

Day 18, Monday May 26 – we go down 350m to the Quebrada Olivares at the dam right inside the gate and spend 2-3 hours walking up and down the canals and creek. Great looks at Morpho sulkowskyi flying up and down the ravine, chasing each other. Lots of other stuff starts coming to the streamside as it warms up. 9am is about when you want to get here. It takes the sun some time to get into the ravine. Of course it starts to cloud up by 11 or so, but we have lots of Adelphas, Perisama, crescents and a new rufous Dalla coming to bait. This is a good spot for the beautiful Podotricha judith as well. Another place you could spend more time.

We decide Pablo was right, and if we came back we would stay at the nice hotel in Manizales and drive up to Rio Blanco for day trips. The rooms and food are much better, plus internet. The rooms are scruffy at Rio Blanco and deteriorating and cold. You could easily stay in Manizales and drive up to the creek, below the dam just inside the gate, by 9am or so. It is in shadow, so not very active for butterflies much before then.

We drive to Montezuma, changing vehicles in Pueblo Rico. It takes about 5-6 hours, as we have to take a detour through the mountains on a slow, twisty road. But we make it before dark, after leaving Rio Blanco about 12:15 after lunch.

Day 19, Tuesday May 27 – beautiful sunny morning, we walk up and down to the first bridge maybe a mile or so from where we sleep in the farm house at 1363m. This is one of my favorite places in Colombia, friendly people, excellent food (simple but delicious, and lots of veggies), and great habitat. David and I were stuck here last year for 12 days, finding new species every day, and we still find at least 35+ more to add to the pdf, including a number of new species for me.

David baits all down the hill to the bridge and up the other side, and by lunch it is seething with nymphalids. 8 species of Adelpha, several Memphis, including the gorgeous Memphis laura. This is a different subspecies from Tangaras, the orange edge of the HWD is much more subtle and rusty here. Plus Dalla and several Phocides and Jemadia. Baiting under the bridge is spectacular, there is a small, steep trail that goes down on the far side on the left. Bill scores with all sorts of wonderful shots. He gets 2 new species of Phocides for me, P.johnsoni, very fresh, and P.perillus.

I’m thrilled to finally get good photos of Epiphile eriopis. Last time I had only 1 quite a ways from the lodge, but now they are common on both sides of the bridge up the hill. All in all a great day for us.

Day 20, Wednesday May 28 – the jeep comes up for us and we leave at 6am for the top, about an hour and half very bumpy drive. We’re glad to finally make it and stretch our legs at the top, or as far as the jeep can go. Another clear morning, so everyone gets wonderful scenery shots of the mountains. We see the same high elevation satyrs I’ve had here before, so they are all on the pdf. Probably my favorite bug of the day is a very fresh female Fountainea centaurus that I find in the road. She’s damaged, her hind wings are bent and she can’t fly very well, but she is beautiful.

Day 21, Thursday May 29 – we wake to rain, after heavy rain all night. Some of us work on photos on the computers, but David, Bob and Priscilla head up the mountain in the jeep for birdwatching. They see a bunch of goodies, even though they only get about 15-20 actual minutes w/out rain. We all have lunch at the lodge, and play with photos all afternoon.

Day 22, Friday May 30 – our last day at Montezuma, we’re sad to leave. It is another clear sunnny morning, and it stays that way up to when we leave after lunch. This is our sunniest day, of course. We take the jeep to La Clarita, the 1700m bridge, what we call the 2nd bridge. Some get out at the first bridge, which is about the same elevation as the farmhouse at 1350-1400m, and I go up to the 1700m bridge and walk down. It is a couple of km between the two bridges.

David and Roger found the new Carystina mielkei at the 1700m bridge the first day, at least that is what I think it is. A stunning bug, they had 3 individuals but I don’t see any today. There is a promising riodinid lek just before the bridge, with Euselasia bettina wizzing all around. This would be a productive place to spend the morning, if it stayed sunny. I bet you would find different species popping in all day.

More Adelpha, I find A.lamasi which is new for here, and was new for me at Tangaras. We’re up to 16 species so far for the trip. Coming back down to the waterfall shortly above the first bridge, we find Symmachia titiana, which may be the newly described western subspecies, as we’re on the west slope of the western Andes. David and Roger had photographed it up at the higher bridge, but it is the first time I’ve seen it on this trip. This waterfall, on the far side of the ravine where the first bridge is, can be very productive. It appears to be another riodinid lek, as we have seen a couple of species of Anteros right across from the small waterfall, A.allectus and A. chrysoprastus, and now the Symmachia.

After lunch we leave about 1pm for Pereira and Otun-Quimbaya for the next 3 nights. This is the last place for the group on the first trip. They will fly from Pereira, which has a nice little airport that connects to Bogota and the international flights. We stop in Apia, the small town about 2 hours from the farmhouse, to buy beer, coke, batteries and water for Otun. Otun is a state run reserve and hotel, very cafeteria style food, and no alcohol or soft drinks. We should have stopped and bought fresh pineapples when we got back to the main highway at Pereira, there are dozens of roadside stands selling pineapples, but we forgot. There is a nice panaderia (bakery) on the main square in Apia. We stopped here on the way in for toilets and snacks. This time we visit the little store right next to the bakery, which has batteries but more importantly they also sell ice cream by the scoop. At 1000 pesos, about 50 cents US, you get a large scoop cone. I have vanilla with mora swirls, delicious.

We make it to Otun, which is 45 minutes or so above Pereira, by 5:30pm. We hit rush hour traffic getting through Pereira, but make it before dark. There is a large group, 40 students, here, but they aren’t too noisy and they are leaving tomorrow after breakfast. We usually have this place almost to ourselves, so it will be nice to clear all the others out.

Day 23, Saturday May 31 – we walk the long straight gently climbing road at Otun. Much easier walking than Montezuma, through an old plantation of exotic trees that are now covered in moss and bromeliads. The big target birds here for the bird groups are red-ruffed fruitcrow, which are common here, and Cauca guan. We see fruitcrows frequently, and here the guans booming all morning.

The common butterfly is Elzunia humbold, a spectacular big ithomiinae that looks like a swallowtail. They love the spitwads, and pretty soon it seems like almost every spitwad has one. We find other things all morning long, but not the numbers I’ve seen in late summer/fall. More clearwings than when I was here in February, as the little tiny white flowers are close to blooming that they seem to like. The flowers are low growing all along the road and on the trail that starts across from the gate of the hotel. In February they were dried up, so not many clearwings. Several species of Catasticta and Leptophobia, and in the afternoon some folks find Ridens harpagus, which I had here before, and the new Phocides perillus, which we just had at Montezuma. So a good time is had by all.

Day 24, Sunday June 1 – we’ve hired a truck to take us up the road to the top, about 5km and maybe a 100m higher, then we can walk back down. David gets out half way and baits his way up, also looking for multicolored tanager. There are many more walkers, bikers, horseback riders, etc on the road today, being a Sunday. When we get to the top there are about 20+ people milling about, the little restaurant is open and folks are sitting at tables, people are preparing their packs and tents to hike up into the paramo, generally not a good place for butterfly photography. Before I was here during the week and no one was about but us, so we had lots of opportunities to crawl around in the mud and photograph, but not today. We walk back down, seeing some things but not too much. We had rain from about 7am to 8, and the sun only comes out here and there, so it isn’t a great morning for butterflies, even without all the people. Probably the most amazing thing we see is a guy skipping rope all the way up the road, and back. He looks like a professional athlete, an amazing body.

We do find some new species, the most exciting to me is right in back of my room in the drainage ditch, a Memphis pasibula, with the dark line running from the curled apex down. David gets a decent shot, but it is flighty and won’t let us get the shots we would like. This is one of those species you see in a book and never see in the wild, so I’m thrilled. The blue crescents, Eresia levina, are coming to the cement around the rooms, always a good place to check. And David scores with a Prepona coming to some dog poop down the road, probably P. laertes.

Day 25, Monday June 2 – the last day for group 1, and the start of trip #2. Those leaving have a flight from Pereira at 5pm, so they will leave about 2:30pm, after lunch. David is flying to Lima, Peru to lead a group down the Cusco to Manu road, and the others head for home. Pablo is coming in with 5 people for our 2nd trip. Fred Heath, Kurt and Cindy Radamaker, Thomas Horton, and Paul Levine will be joining us. They are flying in from Bogota about 4:30PM, and hopefully will show up here at the hotel about 6 or so.

Poor Bob’s passport has never shown up at Pablo’s brother, and David has been calling, trying to find out what has happened. Of course, this is a three day weekend, so everything in Colombia is shut down, including the US embassy. David calls an emergency number he finds online, and the duty officer tells him there isn’t any US consulate in Barranquilla, so Bob couldn’t have filed a lost passport report there. We say, WTF? We found the number and address online, the same website where we got this guy’s emergency number, and Bob went to an office with guards, secretaries, an official who took his credit card and had him fill out forms. So who knows what is going on. Bottom line, Bob doesn’t have a replacement passport. He can’t see the embassy in Bogota before Tuesday, and his flight is Monday night. So he plans to throw himself on the mercy of United, fat chance of much luck there. The embassy guy said to reschedule his flight for Friday (!!) So we will all be waiting eagerly to hear what happens tonight, but I suspect Bob will be stuck here in Colombia for at least another day or two. I’ve heard from others who have lost passports it wasn’t a big deal, they got replacements in a day, so we don’t understand all the hassle. Several people give Bob extra cash, as he lost all his money too. An expensive, and frustrating, experience for him.

On a better note, as the guys are packed and ready to go at 2:30pm, I spot a Phocides skipper sitting on the cement right outside the dining room. At first I get really excited, thinking it is one of the orange and blue species, but Roger points out the orange is just the bricks showing through the clear patches in the forewing. It is still new for me, and Roger quickly manages to grab a good shot of it, even with other people wandering around the dining room. Once we get it on the computer (I didn’t even have my binoculars, what a schmuck), it turns out to be another Phocides johnsoni, the same one Bill had for the first time at Montezuma. It doesn’t have any vertical stripes on the body like most of the blue and white Phocides do. What a nice departure present.

Pablo and the new folks show up about 6:30pm, but there is only one new person, Paul Levine. The other 4 had trouble w/their flight from Bogota to Pereira and didn’t make it. Pablo, who has come w/Paul, is scrambling to fix the problem. For some reason, LAN didn’t have their reservation, though Pablo had confirming emails. But he manages to get them on a later flight, so they arrive about 11pm, after a harrowing ride up the rough road in the dark. So we’re all together for breakfast the next day. And the best news of all, United allows Bob to fly without his passport, so he makes it home ok.

Day 26, Tuesday June 3 – we wake to the sunniest morning we’ve had here yet. Pablo gets 2 trucks to take us up the 5km to the top, this time without all the mobs, as the holiday weekend is over. We have sun, lots of poop, and no people, and butterflies keep showing up all morning. We can’t tear ourselves away, even though we stopped and baited the rocky spring and the road where the water runs down. Pablo paints the shrimp stuff on leaves and does a great job. We finally get back to the little waterfall about 1pm, which is a bit too late, as the sun has gone from this stretch of road mostly by then. It has a perfect eastern exposure, so is best about 10-12.

Being with Pablo, who is a keen bird guide, he takes us into the woods at the top several times looking for hooded antpitta. At first we strike out, but later he hears it and gets us back, and this time it sneaks in. Kurt sees it first, hiding on a branch in the back, and several others get on it, but not me. This is a very rare species, too bad I miss it, but at least I was close.

Day 27, Wednesday June 4 – not as sunny today. We walk the road up from the hotel, as the butterflies are a bit different than those on the top part. Not much elevational difference, but here we have a lot more Fountainea nessus, for example. At least, we usually have plenty of Fountainea nessus. Kurt really wants to see it, and of course we don’t have any at all once they have joined the group. Must be bad karma.

Anyway, we walk up to the clearing, about 2km from the lodge, and wander the road all morning. We have a big hatch of very fresh Marpesia corinna, the stunning orange and purple daggerwings. I’ve got lots of photos of these, but I shoot a bunch more, they are so fresh and cooperative.

Day 29, Thursday June 5 – today is a travel day. We leave Otun at 5:45am for a 4+ hour drive to Cali to catch our 1pm flight to Pitalito. We’re in 2 4×4 trucks just for the first 6km of bad road, until we hit pavement where our bus awaits. But the 2nd truck disappears, we suddenly notice it isn’t following, there isn’t any phone signal so we turn around and go looking for them. Their car has died, so we dash back down the hill, depositing all of us at the panaderia across from the police station to nosh on bunellos (little fried hot tasty dough balls) and coffee, while the driver charges back up the hill and gets the 2nd group and the luggage.

We then load the bus and take off, getting to Pereira about 7am. We make good time heading south on the main highway 25 and get to the airport by 11:15, even though we stop for a late breakfast at a roadside restaurant. Check in doesn’t open until 11:30, even though the electronic board says the flight departs at noon, not 1pm, and we should be inside security at the gate. When we finally get to check in, we find out now the flight won’t leave until 3pm, which actually turns in to more like 4pm.

We have a pretty flight over the central Andes and into a lovely valley, get our 2 trucks to take us up to Pitalito and the Hotel Terrazas de San Agustin, a wonderful, open hotel on several levels. The rooms are nice, the showers are great, and we have a tasty meal in the hotel dining room. They have to go get food to make our dinner, so it is a bit later than we expected, but hey. And we have our first internet (sort of) in almost 2 weeks!

Day 30, Friday June 6 – after being awakened at 3am by the next door roosters, who never shut up, we head to the archeological ruins just 3 km from town. The early birders went out w/Pablo at 6, but we join them around 9 when the park opens. This is a fascinating park of ruins from pre-Colombian times called Parque Arqueologico Nacional San Agustin, and is well worth a day to visit. It is beautifully laid out, with many ancient statues carved from rock, and tombs. Apparently it was a burial ground, and they excavated it around 1938, finding dozens of the large statues. I find the statues kind of scary, with big fangs and fierce expressions, some holding children up by the legs looking like they are sacrificing them to the death gods, not warm and fuzzy at all. They are quite unique, and I’ve seen many ruins from Peru to Mexico, but nothing like these.

We hunt around the edges of the grass for butterflies, and do find some fairly common species, but we are in and out of light rain most of the day. We do get good photos of a new subspecies, Heliconius cydno lisethae.

Day 31, Saturday June 7 – we drive, in 2 4×4 trucks, up to 2,200m above the town of Isno, on the road to Popayan. The weather is not looking good, as we get light rain and dark clouds. But we luck out and the sun brightens up for an hour or two, and we have some nice high elevation satyrs. Probably the most exciting for me is Elzunia humboldt cassandrina, a new subspecies. Though later looking through the others’ photos, they find some good skippers and other stuff. Pablo is painting the rotten shrimp on the bushes and rocks, and it really pulls them in. He doesn’t have a spray bottle, so he deliberately paints it all over. Gps where we get out of the truck is N 02 01.405, W 076 16.514 at 2201m,(mtn 1) and we walk down to a ravine with a stream, where we find the Elzunia, at N 02 01.535, W 076 16.496 at 2153m (mtn strmn).

Unfortunately it starts getting cold again and it rains by 11:30, so I figure it is time for lunch. We have a bag of snacks, peanuts and chocolate bars, and a loaf of brown bread, but I can’t find any cheese or anything to make sandwiches with. Pablo has walked up the road with some of the people, and when he comes back he is horrified to realize he left the cheese and ham in his refigerator in his hotel room. Oh well, we can all afford to skip a meal.

We drive back to a small restaurant on the paved road and some have a hearty bowl of soup, I just have hot chocolate. They make delicious hot chocolate here. Then we try a different road to the right that the local guide has told us about, gps N 02 01.646, W 076 15.051 at 2230m (mntn lower). It is a rough road, and we bounce along a ridge through mostly pasture, but we find patches of forest. The sun comes out, the butterflies are everywhere, and we stop and pile out of the trucks. We have another hour or so of butterflies, then it clouds up again.

The local guide has been telling us about a river, but it keeps on being ‘only 10 minutes more’. I’ve been down that road before, and by now it is raining pretty good, the road is getting worse, and the drivers are saying ‘muy feo’, very ugly. So we decide to turn around and head back to town, an hour and a half away. Not a good place to get stuck.

Day 32, Sunday June 8 – we try a place down by the Magdalena river, about 30 minutes from the hotel. This is called Estrechos de Magdalena, the narrowest part of the whole river, a spectacular gorge where you can hike down about 300m to some massive rocks where the river thunders by, maybe 8-10’ wide. Pablo had hoped for butterflies on the rocks, but it is too cool, and there are other people wandering around. It is a touristy place, but worth seeing, very beautiful.

We go back to the hotel for an early lunch of chicken salad sandwiches, tasty, and Pablo has gotten the bus to come early to take us to Florencia, about 4 hours away. We were supposed to stay here 4 nights and drive tomorrow, but we decide to spend the afternoon driving, as the weather has been wet almost all afternoons. Today is the same, after we cross the pass of the eastern cordillera it gets very foggy, then rains. We look for places to stop, but don’t find any, so we head down to where the old road cuts off. They’ve built a new paved road, so all the traffic is there, which leaves the old dirt road perfect for butterfly hunting.

At the first good sized bridge, just a few minutes up the road at 600m, we get out and immediately see a fresh Metamorpha elissa, which excites everyone. We walk just a few steps up a trail and the rain moves in from across the valley, and we all have to run back to the bus. We’re cursed. Oh well, it is 4pm, so we head to town and our hotel Grand Gold for the next 3 nights, right across from the giant mall. It doesn’t inspire from the outside, but inside the rooms are nice. I have a charming view across a bunch of dumpy places, welding and car repair, but I can see the hills and the sky, and at least there aren’t a ton of roosters right next door, so I sleep fine. Only cold water showers, but this is the lowlands. We eat at the little restaurant next store, who are so excited to have a bunch of gringos they take our photos on their cell phones. I’m sure we’ll be on facebook tonight.

Day 33, Monday June 9 – 6am breakfast, and we’re off to the old road for the day. We drive up to about 1400m at km post 55-54. The posts numbers are decreasing, starting about 73 at the turnoff and going up to the pass at about 40, then down the other side to the small town of Guadalupe. The pass is about 2400m. It takes us a good hour+ from the turnoff to get in 18-20km, so that gives an idea of the road. Actually the road is in fairly good shape, but the driver doesn’t like to go fast on dirt roads. Someone is doing a lot of work on this old dirt road, the sides are trimmed quite short, very manicured looking. I wish it was less whacked, better for butterflies. The turnoff is at km post 70 on the main road from Florencia, which is about 25 minutes from the hotel, to the right coming from town.

But we have a good morning and see quite a few good things.

Day 34, Tuesday June 10 – we leave earlier and aim to go higher today. We make it to about 2000m, at km post 46. It takes a good 2 hours, maybe a bit more. It is more overcast this morning, but we get bits of sun here and there. Pablo puts out the shrimp bait, and the Fountainea appear to be waiting for him. They pounce on his hand. We get both F.centaurus and a new ssp for me, F.nobilis titan, which likes to sit open, so we get stunning dorsals. A bit higher, on the next bridge, a new Potamanaxas perornatus comes to spitwads. It starts to rain by mid-day, so we head back to the hotel.

Day 35, Wednesday June 11 – we wake to a brilliant clear day and go up to lower elevation, about 800m at km post 70. We put out bait at a big turn to the left, which becomes better and better as the morning wears on. One of my favorites is the bright red Haemactis pyrrhosphenos, found by Bill. I’ve only seen this genus once before in southeast Peru.

We have a great morning, and have to tear ourselves away to go back to the hotel and the airport, to catch our 3pm flight to Bogota and connect on to Medellin. The flights have been changed a bit later, so we don’t get to the hotel in Medellin until about 9pm.

Day 36, Thursday June 12 – 5am departure for Jardin, to beat the traffic. After less than 8 hours in the hotel, we load up and head south. We have breakfast about 2 hours down the road at Penalisa, the same restaurant we ate at twice on the first trip, just before the turnoff to Tangaras. After a tasty breakfast of arepas and juice, we drive about another hour to the pretty coffee town of Jardin at 1800m.

This is a very pleasant little town with a nice square and a big church. Here we meet our 2 jeeps, who will take us another hour into the hills where we start our hike in to Fundacion Colibri. We also meet Jose here, who will be our guide for the next segment. I’ve been with Jose a couple of times before, he’s a great guy, very helpful and friendly. He worked with Pablo back in 2001 when they discovered the roosting area of yellow-eared parrots up above Jardin. This led to the founding of ProAves.

Jose takes us to the farm supply store, right behind the nice coffee shop on the corner, to buy rubber boots. They cost about 20,000 COP, or US$10, and they are quite comfortable. I often buy boots here on a trip, and just leave them at the last place. Easier than hauling them back and forth on my international flight. Fundacion Colibri is a good place to wear boots, as there are several stream crossings that are much easier if you’re not worried about getting your shoes wet. You can hike in in regular sneakers, but above the lodge you really need boots.

We get to where the jeeps drop us off, and the mules are waiting to haul in our luggage. We’re leaving our big bags w/the jeeps, who will take them to La Esperanza, where we will be spending 3 nights afterwards, to await our return. We start at 11:08am, and it takes us 2 and a half+ hours to get there. It is about a 4-5km hike (3 miles+), with an elevational gain of about 350m, or 1,000’. It’s not too steep in most places, but after only 5 hours of sleep we’re all pretty bushed by the time we make it to the lodge. The best news is we don’t get rained on, though it clouds up and looks threatening.

Last time I made the walk, in 2012, we got rained on heavily for the last half, which was not fun at all. Plus they have upgraded several of the river crossings, so you can do the walk in without rubber boots and not get your feet wet. We walk up the valley, gradually passing little fincas and pastures, and cross the final big new swinging bridge to the lodge. Last time I had to rock hop across the stream, and got wet, so all in all it was a better hike than 2 years ago. I will change the timing on my next trip and stay the first night in Jardin at La Esperanza. That way we don’t have the long drive from Medellin the same day we hike in. We could leave our bags at La Esperanza, leave at 7am and be walking by 8am, which would mean more sun for the walk in and a more relaxed pace, with more time for photography. 3 nights works well for Fundacion Colibri, that gives you 2 full days to explore the trails above the lodge into the forest, then back to La Esperanza for 3 nights at Jardin.

After lunch, Jose expects us to go out and hike up into the forest to look for birds. Most of us say no thanks, but Kurt, Cindy and Priscilla go out with him. They drag themselves back at dusk, while Fred and I just hang out on the porch and watch the hummingbird feeders. Much better idea. When I was here in 2012, they didn’t have any feeders at the lodge, just 2 hours up in the forest at the pass, for the rarities. I suggested they add feeders right at the lodge, so we could drink coffee and watch hummers. It is nice to see they have taken my suggestion, as we spend quite a bit of enjoyable time watching 10 species or so dash around.

Day 37, Friday June 13 – We have a beautiful sunny morning and take tons of pictures. We brought the bait from Pablo (a brave man who carried it in his luggage on the flight from Florencia), and Jose carries it and paints it on leaves everywhere. We go up about 500m from the lodge, to where the forest starts, through the gate and down to the stream, definitely a rubber boot crossing, and continue up the hill.

Lots of stuff is flying, zipping around all over. I get a new Emesis, brown with orange spots, I have never even seen a specimen photo of it, and a Lymanopoda with cheerios for dots, another one I’ve never seen. Lots of Elzunia, lots and lots of Hypanartia kefersteini, at times 4-5 on the same leaf. Lots of Dalla, crescents, leafwings, etc, so we have a wonderful time. The spitwads and bait are really pulling them in. I find a Serdis statius, a big orange skipper, and a Johnsonita auda, a beautiful blue striped hairstreak, fighting over the same spitwad. Great for photographs!

Back for lunch at 1:30pm, then work on photos for the afternoon. Today is my birthday, and Bill and Priscilla have plotted with Jose, who has arranged for a birthday cake (!) to be delivered from Jardin, 3-4 hours away, with some chocolates from the shop in Jardin and a couple of bottles of wine. So we have a party and all have a good time. What a nice thing to do. The caretaker here, Don Uriel, was the one who walked down, got a jeep to town, and brought the cake and goodies back. Truly amazing.

Day 38, Saturday June 14 – after rains all night, we wake to another sunny morning. Today is the first game of the World Cup for Colombia, and some of us are interested in who wins. The Colombians we’ve talked to don’t seem too interested in the whole thing. Colombia wins their first game!

It clouds up by mid morning, so we don’t see as many butterflies as the day before. We go higher up the mountain, but it gets darker and darker, so we’re back to the lodge by 1 or so. We’re located right up against the pass over to the Choco, in Risaralda, and the wet clouds come rolling over the top frequently. It is much colder here than in Jardin, I’m always chilly in the late afternoon/evening, even with my fleece. The locals, Diana the cook for example, are wearing very light clothes. She’s in a spaghetti strap top, gives me the shivers just looking at her. The temperature is about the mid 60’s, but there is usually a brisk wind blowing down the valley from the pass, and being from a hot place, the Rio Grand Valley on the border of Texas, I’m cold. But the bed is warm and toasty.

There are 2 teams of researchers camping up on the mountain, studying extinction in birds, and a few come in for laundry and supplies (and showers). I get to see Johnnier again, who has guided me before and has given me butterfly photos, and also Gustavo, the owner of Fundacion Colibri. Gustavo is doing a great job here, he’s got a lot more contacts with universities and researchers. He tells me he has collecting permits for everything, birds, plants, insects, for 7 years, so it works very well for the universities to do projects here. He has the infrastructure to support fairly good sized groups. Johnnier is happy to get copies of the pdf’s Juan and I are building, he is going to pass them around on social media. Hopefully it will lead to more butterfly photos coming my way.

Day 39, Sunday June 15 – We hike out, leaving about 9am. I’ve asked the jeeps to meet us at 1pm, which gives us plenty of time to photograph and have a leisurely walk out. Fortunately we have a gorgeous sunny morning, so we find lots of Dalla to photograph on the way out. Wherever there is cow patties, and there are plenty, there are butterflies. I think we have 2 species of Vanessa, one with the dark band on the DFW and one without, a gorgeous fresh Dione glycera (Andean Silverspot), and the usual group of crescents, leafwings and pierids. Bill finds a side canyon with a fabulous fresh Phocides johnsoni (I think), and Noreppe chromis, another stunning leafwing, on piles of shot.

We get to the jeep pickup spot, 1 is there and we’re waiting for the 2nd to show, when we realize there is a large Eunica hanging around at the side of the house. Very dark, I don’t recognize it, so we chase it around for a while. The 2nd jeep shows up exactly at 1pm, we drive the hour 15 minutes back to the main road, then up to the left to the new birder lodge, La Esperanza. My first time here, Doug only opened it about 6-8 months ago.

It is lovely, clearly run by an American, so it has many of the little touches you don’t usually find in Colombian hotels. Nice reading lights by the bed, convenient little shelves to sit up the laptop, lots and lots of plugs, good hot shower, plenty of mirrors, etc. Everyone loves it. As we missed lunch, and fortunately he has chilli ready, we eat an early dinner and catch up on internet.

Day 40, Monday June 16 – Yesterday was the presidental election, we passed several jeeps bringing 20+ people back into the hille. It will be interesting to see who won.

We have 6am breakfast, leave for the road up to Las Ventanas at 6:30am. We drive to the yellow-eared parrot reserve, at 2900m, and walk in to the right to see the nest boxes. Jose was here 2 weeks ago and they were still using one of the nest boxes and feeding young, but we are at the very end of the nesting season. GPS N 05 31.810, W 075 48.288, 2860m.We don’t see any parrots, so we visit the farmhouse with hummingbird feeders. For a small fee you can watch the feeders, where we get swordbilled hummingbird, mountain velvet breast and lots of buff-tailed coronets. Most of us then start walking down the hill, but Cindy and Kurt want to stay to look for parrots. As we have 2 vehicles, no problem.

The rest of us spend the day walking down the hill, looking for butterflies at some of the spots where we baited driving up. The most exciting sighting for me is Hypanartia charon, which I see twice. Fred, Priscilla and I chase 1 up and down the road, where he keeps buzzing along in the wet ditch on either side. We see it at GPS N 05 32.397, W 075 47.981, 2867m, and again at N 05 32.384, W 075 47.877, 2722m, but can’t get any photos.

We come down the hill about 4pm and head to the cock of the rock lek, which is just south of town, a steep walk down a dirt road. Jose actually drives the jeep down to the entrance for a couple of the people who are getting tired. His friend unlocks the gate and we go in. This is much improved from when I was here in Sept 2012, now they have benches and a nice rock trail. We see lots of birds displaying. If you’ve never seen cock of the rock, you should come here. It must be the easiest place in the world to see them really well. Jose has told us 4pm is the best time to come, and he’s certainly right, as we have 6-8 birds squawking and jumping around. Even the non birders in the group enjoy it.

Day 41, Tuesday June 17 – back up the mountain, a little bit later as we’re not going to the top but plan to concentrate more on the lower part. We bait as we go up at many of the bridges and culverts where streams come down, up to the cotinga house. This is about half way up, where the chestnut-crested cotinga is often seen. We saw it here yesterday. Some of us work back down the road, while others go up.

It is sunnier than yesterday, and we see more butterflies, including a couple of new satyrs. The big score is Cindy and Kurt get good shots of the Hypanartia charon. I don’t see it today at all, even though I walk and bait the road where I had it yesterday. Apparently it is a higher elevation bug. They get it at the top, right at the ProAves parrot reserve sign. Hooray! And they had killer looks at the parrots both today and yesterday, feeding in a tree by the road.

The driver of the 2nd jeep is lower down w/Priscilla, Paul and Bill, and he calls Jose to say the road workers have told him they are closing the road from 11:30am to 3:30pm, and they want to know if we want to stay up on the mountain or go out now. We decide to stay, and tell him to stay below with our 3 people. Then a few hours later, he calls again, saying now they are closing it until 5pm, so we decide to leave. But, Jose has to drive up to the top to get Cindy and Kurt, and by the time we get down to the road work, they have already dug a big hole. So we’re stuck. But they hand dig a trail around the hole so we can walk out, and Jose stays with the car. We all pile into the jeep, 8 of us (Kurt and Tom standing on the step in the back), and drive down to the square for Dulces de Jardin, the sweet shop, coffee and shopping. Jose has told us about a good leather shop in the local style, nicely made stuff, and most people buy something. Poor Jose waits patiently with the car, and he gets back to the lodge about 5pm, so he got out a bit early. We get back about 4pm. Good thing we did the cock of the rock yesterday.

Day 42, Wednesday June 18 – we go below Jardin to Fondo Montesserate (a steep road down to the left at an out of business store), then back to the lodge for lunch, then drive back to Casa Asturias in Medellin for the night. We drive down 2 lines of cement until the jeeps can’t drive down anymore, where we get out and walk the rest of the way down to the river. I was here 4 years ago, but it has been cleared more and planted all in coffee. We still see lots of butterflies flying around, but most of them are more common, widespread species that like gardens and overgrown coffee fields, many found all the way to north Mexico. But my friends have a good time, with lots to chase.

After an energetic morning, we go back to La Esperanza for spaghetti lunch, then drive 3.5 hours back to Medellin. The van makes it up the dirt road and picks us up at La Esperanza. We meet Pablo back in Medellin, after saying fond goodbyes to Jose in Jardin. Juan comes and meets us as well, and we all go to a different Crepes y Waffles for dinner, a 10 minute cab ride away. We’re in a different hotel, the Hotel Ibis, due to an ex-employee at Casa Asturias not passing on the reservation. This is more centrally located, and a nicer hotel w/better internet, a/c, and quiet rooms, and a restaurant, so the group is happy. But we have to take a cab to C&W.

Day 43, Thursday June 19 – 6 am departure for Canyon de Rio Claro, to the east in the Magdalena Valley about 450m. This is a private reserve with a hotel and restaurant, a very popular swimming hole along a beautiful river. We stay in the separate rooms, Cabanas de Mulata, which are more expensive and quiet, away from the dorms at the dining hall. There is a 3rd set of rooms the other side of the main dining hall, 3 stories high and full of kids, so we like our quieter quarters. Your room looks right out into the forest, with butterflies all around. This time they have built in the walls on the top (2nd) floor rooms. The previous times I was here, the top floor rooms were open, just waist high walls. This was great until there was a storm, when it got a bit too exciting. Obviously other clients felt the same, as now the rooms are solid walls.

After breakfast at the Palacio Frijoles (the Bean Palace) about half way, we arrive at 10:30am, dump our luggage and immediately start photographing. Pablo paints the bushes with his bait, and stuff starts coming in. We have a great several hours, a late lunch at 1:30pm, and more bugs until late afternoon. 2 species of Anteros, a cooperative Chorinea bogota, several Heliconius

About 5pm we walk a mile or so up river to the beach across from the oil bird cave. We go swimming, a perfect temperature, and wait for the oil birds to come out at dusk. They put on a great show, several flying out early, then back and forth. As it gets darker, Pablo uses his strong light, and they don’t like it. He waits and flashes them when there are a bunch coming out the entrance, and they dive back in to the cave. A fascinating bird to observe.

Day 44, Friday June 20 – today we spend all day walking the road and the steep trail the heads up to the left, (as you’re walking from the rooms back towards the entrance) just past the bridge. Pablo has baited everywhere, and we find goodies on many leaves. The creek under the bridge is a good spot, Priscilla scores with an Agrias that even lets her get dorsals. Different species keep coming in to the bait, so you can wander around and come back to baited leaves and find new species. Tom and Bill walk up and down the streambed and get all sorts of species.

I walk back to the rooms, to get more salt water for spitwads, about 11am, and keep finding new species. 2 gorgeous riodinids are right on the rock trail to our cabins, a brilliant red Mesene phareus and a Calospila clissa, orange and black. Tom finds a fresh Dyscophellus under a leaf, and a spectacular black, white and red Calydna hangs around and poses.

I never make it very far up the trail, too much to photograph, but the others hike a long way up and get more photos. So we all have a great, busy morning. When we meet up at 1:30pm for lunch, we’re tired but happy. The hits keep coming after lunch, and I finally make it back to my room about 4 and crash for a nap. The bait has been fabulous here this time. It is dry, drier than I’ve seen it here, and the butterflies seem especially eager to get to the bait.

Day 45, Saturday June 21 – after breakfast we had planned to take the reserve truck over and get dropped off at the start of the trail across pasture to the Cuervo del Condor. No condors, but after you cross the pasture you follow the stream bed up through nice 2nd growth, low forest to another oil bird cave. This is good forest to work for satyrs, lots of pink-tipped Cithaerias and Pierellas. On previous trips it has also been good for clearwings. But as we have to leave at lunchtime, Pablo is concerned we will waste too much time going back and forth, so we decide to just stay at Rio Claro. This is a good decision, as we keep finding new species to photograph.

Juan tells me the boat trip down the river is very nice, especially late in the afternoon about 3pm, so maybe next time I’ll schedule more time and do that. But not on a Saturday, as many people come on the weekend.

We pack up and leave at 12:30, and Pablo indulges me and we drive over to the Hotel Colores, about 15 minutes away, for lunch. This is where I stayed last time, better food and internet, but we had to drive to good habitat everyday. So I decided I would rather be at Rio Claro, and the group agrees with my decision. We can live without internet for a few days. We’ve had a great couple of days here, everyone is happy with their taste of the lowlands and the increased diversity. I think they were a bit tired of satyrs.

We get back to Medellin about 5 and get our rooms at the Hotel Ibis, then meet for dinner at the hotel restaurant, which is tasty. The same 4 basic choices we had at Rio Claro (beef, chicken, pork or fish) but much better presented here, and with a great salad bar which we’re not afraid to eat. Plus a dessert bar, all included in the inexpensive price of about 15-20,000 COP (about $8-10 US). Pablo even gets a bottle of nice cabernet as a final celebration. We have a fun dinner, everyone has had a good trip and we have thousands of photos.

I spent an extra night here, the rest of the group catches the 8am American flight to Miami the next morning. I had planned to spend the day with Juan, but it is a 3 day weekend, and Father’s Day, so he is off with his family. He and Pablo were talking about arranging a shared taxi to take me and Priscilla (who flies to Bogota for her connection the next afternoon), but I felt it was too much hassle, so I said I would just work on photos in my room. More relaxed, and both the guys are happy with my decision. Interesting to know you can get a seat in a shared taxi from Medellin to Jardin for 25,000 COP.

All in all, it has been a most productive trip. Colombia is always lots of fun, wonderful friendly people, and spectacular butterflies. Working on the pdf’s that Juan and I are making has been very helpful, can’t wait to add all the new species we’ve seen and get the pdf’s online for the world to use. I’ll be back!

Bolivia, Nov-Dec 2013

Trip Report Bolivia Nov 6 – Dec 9, 2013

If you would like to see some live photos, please go to my flickr site

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

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

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

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

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

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


Day 1 Nov 6 – fly to La Paz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 12 Nov 17 – explore around La Finca

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

Day 14 Nov 19 – go back to 1200m spot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 35 Tue Dec 10 – fly home to Texas


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico July 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colombia Feb/March 2013

Colombia Feb/March 2013

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

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

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

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

Mon Feb 4 – start Spanish class with Federico Del Valle at his Medellin Language Academy, or

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trip Report Colombia 2012 Aug to Oct

Itinerary Colombia 2012 August 19 to Oct 24 Mesenia Gustavo reserve

The entire trip has been organized with Pablo Florez at MultiColor Birding Tours, 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, This is a private home where the woman has about 30 or more feeders.

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

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

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

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

US Southwest Jul/Aug 2012

Arizona and Colorado July/August 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tue Jul 3 – visited Ellie, went to Madera Canyon

Wed Jul 4 – visited Gary at Villas East & Molly

Thur Jul 5 – Madera Canyon w/Fred

Fri Jul 6 – Sherry & Deby at airport

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

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

Mon Jul 9 – see rock cottage

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

Wed Jul 11 – see Brock’s collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sat Jul 21 – hang out at Nederland

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

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

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

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

Thu/Fri Jul 26/27 – at conference

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

Sun Jul 29 – field trip to Cottonwood Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thur Aug 9 – back to the RGV


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Panama, February 2012

Trip Report Panama February 2012

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

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

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

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

Feb 8 – Bayano east of Bayano Lake for the day

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

Feb 10 – to Gatun/Canal Zone for the day

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

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

Feb 13/14/15 – hike trails at Chucanti

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

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

Feb 18 – trails around Finca Hartmann

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

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

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

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

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

Feb 24 – back to Santa Rita ridge for the day

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

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

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

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

Mar 1 – fly back to the US

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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