|Hacienda el Bosque|
We left Rio Blanco in the dark, normal service resumed. Our destination was Hacienda el Bosque, a speciality site added to the itinerary specifically for....you guessed it, more Antpittas. The drive took about an hour and a half, and it was getting light as we arrived for breakfast. The hacienda is a dairy farm with a side-line in birding, and we were taken to quite a swish little restaurant high up the hill. You can stay here too, in rather nice looking huts. Breakfast was excellent, the best hot chocolate yet, and a Barn Swallow flew over. The main course lay below us, two Antpitta feeding stations - Equatorial Antpitta and Crescent-faced Antpitta.
We picked our way down to the former, hearing but not seeing Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan, and getting some good views of White-browed Spinetail. The Antpitta stage was a little awkward, especially as a photographer had joined us and was stood exactly where I would have liked Juli (for that was its name) to pose. And then he used a flash and got told off, hey ho. This is what stupidly high ISO and a monopod are for - 6400 yet again in this case, oh for a more modern camera.
We did not stay long as feeding time for the Crescent-faced Antpitta was approaching. We hurried back up the hill via a Barred Fruiteater, a Red-crested Cotinga , and some scope views of Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan to the next set of hides. The feeding station was on a steep slope, with the bird calling from some way down it. Unlike the others which were largely slam dunks, this one was allegedly a lot trickier. Whether it was possible to dip or not I have no idea, but the encounter was tense and extremely brief, with the bird popping into view only momentarily before doing a runner. My one photo is extremely unsatisfactory, but such is life - the 8th one of the trip - hardly possible you would think but there it was.
The Hummingbird feeders right next to the Antpitta were far more enjoyable. I clawed back Sword-billed Hummingbird that the others had seen on the previous day, and new for the trip were Tyrian Metaltail, Purple-backed Thornbill, Shining Sunbeam and Buff-winged Starfrontlet. The names are just so evocative!
|Shining Sunbeam. All the good stuff is on its back....|
Time was pressing - any time spent at the Hacienda was time we would then not have at Los Nevados, and we had agreed with Alejandro that we had to leave by 9am once we had seen the key species here. Los Nevados was only an hour or so away, and as we increased altitude we began to see some new birds. At a mountain pasture covered with Great Thrushes we also got Stout-billed Cinclodes and Band-tailed Seedeater, and then we were into the clouds as we climbed to the Brisas Visitor Centre at 4138m. Things were noticely harder here, scurrying for a bew bird resulted in heavy breathing, and holding the camera steady took masses of effort.
We had the most amazing views of Buffy Helmetcrest imaginable, a male feeding on native Paramo flowers at what seemed like point blank range. In fact they were all over the place, with at least five zipping around through the mist. Good views of Viridian Metaltail as well, amazing that tiny Hummingbirds live up here. But it is not only Hummingbirds that live in this seemingly inhospitable environment, there is also an Antpitta up here. Not skulking in deep cover, not singing invisibly from a slope, but running around mountain paths - Tawny Antpitta. It seemed crazy that there would be such a bird up here, but this is the habitat, and sure enough we maintained our daily Antpitta hatrick with one seen briefly close the centre.
|Buffy Helmetcrest - male|
|Buffy Helmetcrest - female|
|Plumbeous Sierra Finch|
We made our way down to the Laguna Negra to look for birds that preferred a slightly lower altitude and less fog. On the lake itself we found several Andean Ducks (like a Ruddy Duck) and half a dozen Andean Teal. Andean Tit Spinetails fed in bushes by the roadside, and although it took a while we got some conclusive scope views of Many-striped Canastero. By now we had all begun to develop dull headaches due to the altitude but there is little you can do about this other than descend and wait for things to return to normal.
|Paramo habitat, with the tall Espeletia|
We birded our way down the road, amazingly getting views of a Paramo Tapaculo that was unusually cooperative, and Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant. Lower still we came across a memorable spot where many birds were concentrated. Rainbow-bearded Thornbill and Golded-breasted Puffleg were new Hummingbirds, but Alejandro was far more excited by Masked Mountain Tanager feeding young, a very rare bird in the area and one that most people have not seen here. Get a photograph he implored! We also had Scarlet-breasted Mountain Tanager here, and Blue-backed Conebill. This concluded birding for the day, we had another longish drive ahead of us, back through Manizales to Pereira and then south-east to La Florida, ready to bird Otun Quimbaya Reserve the next morning.
|Masked Mountain Tanager|