The Rio Branco Reserve is located in the Colombian Central Cordillera, 3 km northeast of the city of Manizales. It covers some 4,343 hectares, 75% of which is forest. As many as 364 bird species have been recorded and although the main purpose of the area is to supply water to the city it is increasingly a centre for ecotourism.
We spent two nights at the lodge here and I was able to renew acquaintance with local guide, Sergio Ocampo. I had been to Rio Branco before, about two years ago, and since then seen Sergio when he came to the Birdfair at Rutland Water.
Much of our time at Rio Branco was spent watching and photographing antpittas. We saw several Chestnut-crowned and endemic Brown-banded but Bicoloured and Slate-crowned were only heard. These birds have been habituated to humans and come out twice daily to be fed on worms! They really are rather odd-looking creatures, known locally as “eggs-on-legs”, an apt description.
In spite of spending so much time with the antpittas, we managed to see something like 70 species during the day and many more were heard. It is difficult to pick out highlights but, as its name suggests, the Powerful Woodpecker was impressive. I was also pleased to find a Masked Trogon in more or less the same spot as I saw one on my last visit here. Superciliaried Hemispingus won today’s prize for having the most outlandish name; a Broad-winged Hawk the prize for being the most easily photographed bird.
Just before dinner, as the light was fading and we were listening for Rufous-banded Owls, we were lucky to see and hear three Rufous-bellied Nighthawks that flew close and at times quite low and directly overhead. This was a first record of this species on the reserve and a great end to the day.
The following day we visited Los Nevados National Park, which involved driving up to almost 3,000 metres above sea level. The landscape here was stunning. At this high elevation we were in páramo, a neotropical ecosystem that consists of grasslands, peat bogs and a variety of shrubs, notably the succulent, Espeletia hartwegiana. All this against a backdrop of snow-covered mountain peaks, including Nevado del Ruiz, the 5,321-metre volcano that in 1985 erupted, killing an estimated 23,000 people in the town of Armero.
The surprising variety of birds here included Andean Duck, Andean Teal and Andean Condor, Bearded Helmetcrest, Viridian Metaltail, Shining Sunbeam, Stout-billed Cinclodes, Sedge Wren, Tawny Antpitta, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Pale-coloured Seedeater, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant and Rufous-fronted Parakeet. The Andean Condors were re-introduced into the area about 12 years ago and are thought to have bred for the first time in 2010.
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