Colombia-Risaralda-Otún Quimbaya, a set on Flickr.
After four nights and days of intense birding, frogging and trekking through the primary and secondary forests of La Mesenia, we returned to El Jardin and headed for Montezuma in Risaralda, another place of critical importance in conserving Colombia’s Andean endemic birds. Enroute we planned stop at Otún Quimbaya, part of a complex of parks and reserves near the city of Pereira, formed in part to protect the water supply for the city and surrounds.
To get to Otún demanded another dawn mission walk down from La Mesenia, then a succession of vehicles to Pereira. Some 3 hours 30 mins and 250km away by highway (or 3 hours and 25 km by four wheel drive over the ridge and through the Reserva Orejiamarillo, we later learned). The eco-tourism venture here is very well organised, and includes a system for local community involvement and capacity building which apparently serves as a best-practice model for Colombia, and includes an induction talk, guided walks, and a good standard of food and accomodation, all provided by local people under the banner of Asociacion Yorumo Blanco (derived local name for Cecropia, a large tree who’s silver foliage and spreading branches are iconic in the surrounding mid-slope forests).
The birding around the headquarters and accommodation complex of the reserve is excellent, with great views of endemic Cauca Guan (previously thought to be extinct) and Red-ruffed Fruit-Crow, another large and striking cotingid, which previously I had only seen in a museum drawer (somewhat controversially, as all but one of the specimens London Museum of Natural History had recently been pilfered by a felonious flautist, supposedly for heritage fly-tying) We dipped on Torrent Duck in the river nearby, but sw plenty of can White-capped Dipper. Collared Trogon was common in the secondary forest, and endemic Grey Piculet is also a possibility close to the Complex.
We set ourselves another grueling days schedule, with a 20km return hike up to the higher elevation forests in the national park above the reserve. Surprisingly, much of the valley floor is cleared, and local people still farm the flats bordering the rapidly-flowing river here, but the valley walls are mostly forested, or forming imposing cliffs. Highlights included the brilliant green, blue and yellow Inca Jay, Masked Flower-piercer, Streaked Tufted-cheek, and Hooded Mountain Tanager. In open areas the hummingbirds Black-thighed Puff-leg, Collared Inca, Tyrian Metal-tail and Green Violet-ear visited the abundant crimson melastomas in flower.
The highest point we reached, “Agua Bonita” sits still an hour or so below the return to closed forest, and still 3 hours from the páramo and lakes above that. Here I was rewarded with my first views of Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, another species I had previously only seen in sad rows in a museum drawer. Finally, after a prolonged motionless sit in the mossy forest, I was also rewarded with a glimpse of Chestnut-naped Antpitta, which approached silently and momentarily to amateurish imitations of its haunting double whistle. Further down-slope in dense bamboo, Dave also managed to call in a Bicoloured Antpitta for us, another representative of this elusive and charming group. This place definitely warrants a return with camping gear and more time to explore the higher reaches, and also holds some promise as a site for a combined land-use/climate gradient study, providing sufficient forest can be accessed.