Searching For Antpittas In Colombia

If you ask a random stranger what their favorite bird is, they are likely to choose something large or colorful. Toucans or Parrots or Flamingos are often chosen because they are famous for being, well, famous. Yet searching for antpittas in Colombia is one of my birding trips that does attract a envy from other birders.

chestnut-naped antpitta in Colombia cloud forest

I met Guillermo the day before for a bit of local birdwatching down by the river in Jardin, Colombia, a town I went to specifically to see the Andean Cock-Of-The-Rock. However today I was in for a real treat. He was taking me all the way up to El Roble. This is a beautiful area in the cloud forest about two and a half hours towards Riosucio.

I was with my travel-blogger wife in a charming finca (country estate on farm or hunting grounds) called Villa Adiela. But at 4:30 a.m. I woke quietly, showered and dressed, and headed out the door to await the car.

The car, an open back Jeep style vehicle, arrived a few minutes before 5a.m. With the driver at the wheel, I sat across Guillermo in the back and we discussed the day’s plan.

Into The Cloud Forest

Cloud forest in Caldas, Colombia

The drive up the mountain was fairly uneventful, being that it started off pitch dark. Yet an hour into the drive the sky began to lighten and we were treated to incredible views. This is farmer land, yet the farms are on rolling hills and steep mountain slopes

The vehicle rumbled higher and higher up the mountain, and the road turned from paved asphalt to broken asphalt to dirt. An hour of driving through clouds passed until we reached an area called peñas blancas, or white rocks in English.

Dona Mira restaurant in Riosucio, Colombia

The first stop was at Restaurante Doña Mira, where Guillermo met with a birdwatching friend and asked about the antpittas. However we didn’t stay here long and continued up the mountain another couple hundred meters to El Roble.

Breakfast At El Roble

Colombian Breakfast of eggs, bread, sausage, and arepa with cheese

Doña Lucia runs El Roble, a patch of land she bought with the purpose of making a nature reserve. She is a small, friendly woman and I don’t think I saw her once without a smile. She’s an avid bird lover and throughout the house-adjacent property are plenty of hummingbird feeders, woodpecker perches, and more flowers and shrubs than I could count.

It was nearing 8a.m. and we were all quite hungry. Breakfast was the standard farm-style fare, well, at least in Colombia. Scrambled eggs, sausage, bread, cheese, and an arepa, Colombia’s national dish.

Slaty Brushfinch eating fruit

After scarfing down Doña Lucia’s tasty food we wandered around the property looking for the birds out and about this time. Other than the hummingbirds we saw quite a lot of Slaty Brushfinches and Acorn Woodpeckers.

Acorn Woodpecker

Searching For Antpittas

After our breakfast and a stroll around the grounds we hopped back in the 4×4 back towards our first stop, Restaurante Doña Mira. From here we parked and walked into the forest with one of Guillermo’s friends, “The Antpitta Whisperer”.

Ok that nickname might be a cop-out as I don’t actually remember his name. How rude of me. However this gentleman is the guy to know if you want to see an Antpitta.

We walked up through the forest for about 20 minutes before going down into a little alcove with a shabbily put together hide. Then we sat and The Antpitta Whisperer began his whispering.

Ok, it was more of a very breathy whistle, but Guillermo told me that an Antpitta will usually come when he calls. In fact, there are two types of Antpittas in this area; A more easily spotted Chestnut-naped Antpitta and the rarer and more fickle Chamí Antpitta.

Chestnut-naped Antpitta with worm in the cloud forest undergrowth

In less than 10 minutes a sprightly Chestnut-naped Antpitta popped out of the trees and leaves and hopped towards us. Of course the secret here is that The Antpitta Whisperer comes bearing gifts: worms!

Chestnut-naped Antpitta with worm in the cloud forest undergrowth

How is it that a bird the color of dirt, which lives primarily on the forest floor, and known throughout the community for being exceedingly elusive, became many a birder’s ‘grail’. Is it solely because they are so difficult to see? I suppose going to far-off places and spending thousands of dollars in travel costs is a major factor.

Chestnut Naped Antpitta on an old growth log in the forest

After the Chestnut-naped Antpitta scampered back into the undergrowth we continued to wait. Guillermo mentioned that there was another Antpitta in the area, but it is one that does not show up very often. But if you have already flown to Colombia, taken a 5 hour bus to Jardin, taken a Jeep 3 hours up the mountain, and hiked on foot, it does not seem wise to rush away if there are more rare birds to be seen.

The bird we were looking for is the Chamí Antpitta, a species that was first described in just 2020! In fact, when this timid bird was discovered, it was thought to be a regular Rufous Antpitta. It was later determined that the Rufous Antpitta was actually a species complex of 13 different antpittas.

Chami Antpitta in the forest undergrowth

It took over 30 minutes before a twitchy and jumpy Chamí Antpitta peeked out of the leaves to look for the source of our whisperer’s whistles. Unlike the Chestnut-naped Antpitta, this one did not come very close nor did she seem that interested in the bucket of worms. She stayed just a few minutes for a peek at us intruders, then hopped along back into the forest to go about her life.

What was awesome to see as an amateur birder was the personality of these two antpittas. They are such shy, yet curious little birds and watching them peek at us from behind leaves before finally coming somewhat close was enthralling.

Chami Antpitta on a small branch

While the goal was to see one type of antpitta, seeing two immediately made the trip worth it. Had it ended there I would have been more than satisfied. However it was not even lunch and we had more to do and see!

chami antpitta on a small log

Lunch At Doña Lucia’s

We hiked back out of the forest and drove to Doña Lucia’s house for a spot of lunch. I was not that hungry after the very filling breakfast, but searching for antpittas in the cloud forest did persuade me to rest my legs.

Colombian lunch of ajiaco, fried fish, rice, and more

Like breakfast, lunch was your standard Colombian fare. We had the national Colombian soup ajiaco along with a lunch plate of fried fish, rice, salad, and plantain. To be honest I was surprised how well seasoned the fish was, as seasoning was something I found sorely lacking during my three months exploring Colombia.

After eating we relaxed a bit and I used this time to charge my camera batteries. I also moved some photos to my laptop to make more space on the memory card. I even did some editing of the previous days photos from seeing the Andean Cock-Of-The-Rock.

editing a bird photograph in lightroom while enjoying the view of the cloud forest

The Best Photo I Took

Guillermo and I went for a short walk behind the property just to see if we could find anything. Of course, being new to Colombia’s bird scene I was always checking things off of my life list. I was pretty much down to go anywhere to see anything even if it meant a bird most consider common.

On a trail right behind the house I took one of my favorite photos of the entire trip. A Rufous-headed Toady Flycatcher actually catching a fly! I was ecstatic since I don’t consider myself good at action shots, and bird-in-flight photography is something I still have trouble with!

Back Down The Mountain

The clouds rolled back in so we decided to head back down the mountain and look for more birds. Since it was a warm day we thought they would be more active when it cooled off…and we were right!

To be honest there was not much more I HAD to see…or so I thought. In fact, many people come to this area not to see the antpittas but to see the Yellow-eared Parrot. This endemic species is found only in part of the Andes of Colombia, and until 1999 was actually thought to be extinct!

Yellow-eared Parrot on a branch

These gorgeous green and yellow parrots live in hollow wax palms so you often hear them before you see them. I was lucky because part of the road down the mountain sloped sharply and we had an amazing valley to view.

The vista put us eye-level with some wax palms, and when the Yellow-eared Parrots flew to another tree to eat, I was able to take get photos! I only wish the birds were closer…I snapped my photos at about 50 and100 meters.

yellow eared parrot in Colombia eating fruit from a tree

Further down the road we stopped as Guillermo heard the sounds of a White-capped Tanager. This is the heaviest bird in the tanager family so it was pretty cool to see. When we were living in Medellin there was a tree right outside the balcony that was filled with Blue-gray Tanagers, so it is cool to see the size difference of birds in the same family.

White-capped Tanager on a branch in Colombia

The last thing we saw before heading back to Jardin was a Masked Trogon. I sadly could not take a single good picture of it. By this point it was quite dark and my sad Sony A7II just couldn’t pump that ISO quite high enough. Fortunately I was able to upgrade my camera for my 3 day trek in the Amazon rainforest two weeks later.

Masked Trogon on a branch in the Andean Cloud Forest

I arrived back at the finca around 7pm and immediately ordered a couple pizzas for delivery. My wife and I enjoyed having the entire place to ourself and we sipped lambrusco in the hot tub overlooking the amazing view of Jardin, Colombia.

Alona drinking wine in the jacuzzi in Jardin, Colombia

Searching For Antpittas In Colombia

Notable Birds In This Article

  • Chestnut-naped Antpitta
  • Chami Antpitta
  • Yellow-eared Parrot
  • Masked Trogon
  • White-capped Tanager

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