A Week in the Llanos of Colombia Jan 27—Feb 03, 2017
Posted by David Ascanio
Our weeklong Colombia tour started in Chingaza National Park (name derived from the Muiscas Amerindian), a site that offered some high Andes birding, despite the clouds that covered the páramo (Andean habitat found above tree line). There were Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers, Glowing Pufflegs, wonderful flowering orchids, a skulking Pale-bellied Tapaculo and much more. After enjoying such a rich and varied avifauna, the morning gained momentum when an Andean Pygmy-Owl was found at the road’s edge at about eye level, thus allowing great views. Later in the morning, we learned about the flora of the páramo and saw an endemic Espeletia (locally called frailejón). Following lunch, the afternoon provided a perfect complement to the morning with a visit to the Observatorio de Colibríes, where we had the chance to study and enjoy 12 species of hummingbirds, all at close distance!
The second day we took a short flight to El Yopal, located in the plains, or Llanos of the Orinoco River. This vast region is part of an extensive drainage crossed by a complex network of rivers and channels. From the city of Yopal we took a fairly long (and bumpy!) road to Hato La Aurora (hato = ranch), but birds in wetlands alongside the road kept us happy. Some of the species seen along the road included the unique Orinoco Goose and the wonderful Whistling Heron. We also saw several species of ibises (Scarlet, Buff-necked, Glossy, Sharp-tailed, and Bare-faced) and enjoyed astonishing close encounters with pairs of the bizarre Horned Screamer.
But our days in Juan Solito Lodge and the contiguous Hato La Aurora were what I would call a birding experience in the good old days. By that I mean a combination of great birding, farm-like life, no phone lines or mobile signals, superb house-style meals (recipe for the lentils at the end), amazing skies with constellations such as Orion and Taurus, the Milky Way over our heads, and the sensation of being in the middle of nowhere! Each morning welcomed us with new birds, and every evening offered a great sunset to celebrate what we had seen. A stop in a wetland always offered a surprise, and the forest gave us amazing views of wrens, manakins, and tyrant-flycatchers. Every new location allowed sightings of new species such as Chestnut-fronted Macaws, the unique Spectacled Parrotlet, Sunbitterns singing, donacobius and its unique choreography, and the common Yellow-browed Sparrow.
The night was also alive. Close to the lodge we were serenaded by pauraques, while in the open grassland, White-tailed Nightjars flapped their wings around us. Close to the wetlands, Band-tailed Nighthawks showed their unique white tail band and the lack of any wing band. A very special presentation about life in the Llanos and paintings by the owner gave us a deeper understanding of the melancholy accompanying life here.
The last morning found us between groups of trees in otherwise extensive grassland (this habitat is locally called mata), where Cinereous Becard and Blue-crowned Parakeet were observed. Also, a contiguous wetland gave us the chance to see more waterbirds and Yellow-chinned Spinetail, while in native grassland we were able to see a singing Grassland Sparrow.