Birding Despite Disability

Obsessions Don't Care About Limitations

An Underappreciated Treasure: Birding in Valle del Cauca, Colombia

After finishing up in Argentina, we wanted to break up the trip back north to the US. Colombia is perfectly positioned for this: with Bogatá being only about six hours from Buenos Aires and under four hours from Miami.

We had done three trips previously in the country, but had not yet visited Calí or the Valle del Cauca department. This is a prime area to bird for Chocó endemics, especially now that Colombia Birdwatch has built what is the finest birding lodge that we have ever stayed at, Araucana Lodge, about 90 minutes from Calí.

Sites birded between Calí and Buenaventura

Visiting the lodge’s website will provide much better photos of the rooms than what I have here. The best part about birding here is that you can get in several good days with a lot of habitat variety while staying at the lodge every night. This makes everything far easier when one need not unpack and repack every day while hopping from one hotel to another.

Araucana Lodge rooms are perfect

Moreover this place is very modern, and you will not have to engage in the typical difficulty of finding enough power outlets in your room so as to charge your electronics at night.

Good birding from the room’s private deck.

When we arrived on December 28, we were greeted outside the hotel by the welcoming employees and by several life-sized dolls that would be ritually set alight on New Year’s Eve, as is the custom in various South American countries.

Pablo Escobar and Donald Trump awaiting their fate that would come on New Year’s Eve

Our first excursion was down tot he humid forest reserve at San Cipriano. Getting to this great birding hotspot involves a truly unique mode of transportation. San Cipriano consists of a town situated on a small, clear river, with no direct road access. The residents use an abandoned railroad track that connects the town to the nearest road, with an ingenious system of motorcycle-based “train cars” that make the 20-minute trip one way.

Transportation to and from San Cipriano uses “train cars” consisting of a motorcycle attached to a wheeled platform with benches and a roof.

San Cipriano is a lovely little place; very basic and full of friendly residents that are happy to show off the natural beauty and wildlife there. The stream that flows nearby has many picturesque pools and waterfalls and is a popular place for tubing.

The San Cipriano reserve entrance at the end of town

We had a local guide join us here and did very well, finding a Tooth-billed Hummingbird on nest, as well as Rose-faced Parrot and Gray-and-Gold Tanager.

Tooth-billed Hummingbird on the nest
Claire encouraging a future birding guide, maybe, in San Cipriano
Streak-chested Antpitta

After one day down in the humid lowlands at San Cipriano, we would focus on higher altitudes for the remainder of the trip. The first hotspot we visited is a restaurant and hotel catering to birders, known as Doña Dora.

At the birding Mecca of Doña Dora, where they have used old oropendula nests to make hanging lamps
Female Red-headed Barbet

Another area near the lodge is known simply as “kilometer 18,” where a dirt road leads to a number of charming spots that offer food and plenty of feeders. We camped out here and were rewarded with the fantastic Scaled Fruiteater and plentiful tanagers, including Multicolored Tanager.

Blue-winged Mountain Tanager and Flame-rumped Tanger
Multicolored Tanager, our number one target… it did not disappoint!
The most sedate flowerpiercer we’ve ever found: a female White-sided Flowerpiercer

In 6 days of birding we had 208 species and 22 lifers. eBird trip report. Our lifer count was only this low because of previous time spent in western Ecuador where we’d gotten many of the Chocó endemics. Still, this area and lodge gets our highest recommendation. It was the second time we’ve worked with Colombia Birdwatch and we plan to use them again if we decide to return and continue “mopping up” in this amazing country. Our four visits have netted us 622 species so far; only in Brazil have we gotten more species.

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