Packed and ready to go, we left the lodge on food to walk a short way up the Camino Montezuma once again. No jeeps this time, John and Duber got a lie in. No such luck for Alejandro and Gleison! We had not birded this section of the trail in the morning before, and were assured that at this time of day there would be a host of new species to listen out for. They came thick and fast - Slaty Antwren, Parker's Antbird, Zeledon's Antbird, Slaty Spinetail and a rare Spotted Woodcreeper. For a while it was non-stop.
Our morning lasted about four hours, a short walk up the track and back on a section we had mostly only driven through previously. A clear highlight was Plumbeous Pigeon, a bird for which nobody else harboured any enthusiasm whatsoever but I was insistent that I see one. Bloody thing pooting away in the forest constantly but could I see it? No, or at least not until one of the guides found me a silent one just sitting on a branch looking at me. Excellent.
Plenty of other good birds seen, Lemon-browed Flycatcher another new one, and also Greyish Piculet which we had seen lower down in the valley and excellent views of Purple-throated Fruitcrow. I missed a flyover Barred Hawk because I was pissing about with Snuffi, but I think you will agree that this was a wholly worthwhile miss! Look!
|Snuffi is an admittedly small panther, but this is a HUGE leaf!
I spent a lot of time examing plants in the rainforest, the aroids in particular. All the locations we visit were replete with just stunning plants, and I was very struck with the tropical vines and tuberous plants, philodendrons and alocasias. I grow a number of these at home, but the ones in Colombia were a different level entirely. In their natural habitat of dense, wet, humid forests they can attain their full glory, whereas in Chateau L, whilst lovely, they simply can't develop in the same way. I can dream though. The insects were also pretty incredible, and we all enjoyed following the trail of Leaf-cutter Ants back to their immense nest, a huge pile of earth. Fascinating, but I am glad Chateau L doesn't have any! Richard made a short nature documentary for his kids which I memorably ruined the first take of.
|Agouti - lots of these around the accomodation
All too soon it was time to pack up and go. A quick final lunch on the veranda and then back into the jeeps to bounce back down the track to Pueblo Rico, from retracing our route to Pereira. We had a little space time baked in to ensure we didn't miss the flight, some of which we spent birding a spot near the town of Virginia which sits on the Cauca River. This was the lowland habitat that we had left largely unbirded in our rush to get to Rio Blanco and it delivered a host of new species immediately. We parked the jeeps next to a small tributory and had a little wander. An Ultramarine Grosbeak was in the tree above us, along with Yellow-bellied Elaenia. A pair of Spectacled Parrotlet were nearly, with Grey and Ruddy-breasted Seedeater feeding in the margin. Somewhere closer the river a Limpkin called, but best of all a Dwarf Cuckoo flew by and perched for great views, a lifer for all of us and completely unexpected.
At the airport I was informed that the rear jeep had seen Fork-tailed Flycatcher en-route, whereas I had only managed a poxy Great White Egret. Damn it! Fair enough if there had been a photo that needed taking, but I had just not been paying attention! A big miss. We sat down and started to enjoy a few post-birding beers, and what should fly across from one of the apron floodlights top another. Oh yes.
It was a short flight to Bogota over the Central Cordillera, and here I said goodbye to the Alejandro and the rest of the team. A quick shower, some shopping for the obligatory fridge magnet and some coffee, and soon we were all on board our international flights back to London, or in my case Madrid as I don't ever like to make it easy. What a trip, it had been everything we all wanted, a long time in the making and worth the wait. Mannakin could not have been better, their on-the-ground logistics were incredibly impressive. It has taken me about two months to finally write this final post, and all that is left is the day-by-day, site-by-site trip list - not a simple task given the 300+ species seen but I am building up to it. For now, thanks for reading, and any suggestions for a 2024 trip of equal awesomeness will be gratefully considered as Bob, Richard, Dave and I are already plotting.