Western Andes

The Western Andes is the wettest and smallest of Colombia’s three Andean ranges, and the most biologically diverse as it intersects with the Choco Bioregion to the west. The rainy western slope of the mountains remains largely intact, while the drier eastern slope has been largely deforested. Seven national parks and dozens of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) make this range a must for any birder, especially those in search of colorful tanagers and hummingbirds. Home to almost 20 of Colombia’s endemic birds (9 of which are restricted to the range), the range is also home to many near endemic birds that can only be found in Ecuador and Colombia.

The crown jewel of the range is the awe-inspiring Multicolored Tanager, which can be seen in the mountains near Cali. Other target species include Yellow-eared Parrot, Dusky Starfrontlet, Chestnut-bellied Flower-piercer, Alto-pisones and Paramo Tapaculos, Scaled Fruiteater, Crested Quetzal, the recently described Munchique Wood-Wren, and Colorful and Gorgeted Pufflegs. Visiting all these birding areas involves a bit more effort than in the central or eastern Andes; as several areas require 4-wheel drive vehicles. Yet without a shadow of a doubt, birding in the western Andes is an exciting, joyful experience. Please scroll down to learn about the amazing birding sites the western Andes has to offer.

San Antonio Forest and Km 18

The San Antonio and Km 18 Cloud Forest is an Important Bird Area (IBA) for the conservation of birds and is located just 20 minutes from the city of Cali. At approximately 2,000 m (6,550 ft) in elevation, the forest occupies 900 ha (2.220 ac) of well-preserved cloud forest. Birding in the forest is done along small gravel roads that pass through fragments of cloud forest with good mixed flock activity. Target endemic species for this area are the awe-inspiring Multicolored Tanager, Colombian Chachalaca and Chestnut Wood-quail.

The forest is regarded as one of the best places to observe a wide variety of tanagers and hummingbirds. Tanagers in the area include Golden, Blue-capped, White-lined, Scrub, Fawn-breasted, Summer, Metallic-green, Rufous-crested, Saffron-crowned, and Golden-naped, as well as Ash-throated Bush-Tanager and Blue-winged Mountain-tanager. Hummingbirds of interest include Long-tailed Sylph, the near endemic Purple-throated Woodstar, Blue-headed Saphire, Booted Raquettail, Tourmaline Sunangel and Tawny-bellied Hermit.

Other birds that inhabit this cloud forest include Scarlet-fronted Parakeet, Crimson-rumped and Emerald Toucanets, Scaled and Green-and-black Fruiteater, Yellow-headed Manakin, the melodic Chestnut-breasted Wren, Black-billed Peppershrike, Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia, Golden-headed Quetzal, Montane Woodcreeper, Red-headed Barbet, Streaked Xenops and Nariño Tapaculo. The San Antonio and Km 18 forest has over 210 documented species, and is one of the hottest birding destinations in the Colombian Andes. Nearby, a local peasant protects an Andean-cock-of-the-rock lek, providing closeup views of this magnificent bird.

Jardin, Antioquia

Jardin is a picturesque town nestled at 1,750m (5,750 ft) in the western Andes, a town with a lot of charm and splendid architecture. The star of the show in the area are the endemic and critically endangered Yellow-eared Parrots that roost in the endemic and mystical wax palms (Ceroxylon), at around 3,200 m (10,500 ft). This little-known species is severely threatened due to the disappearance of the wax palms, where they roost and nest. Wax palms are the national tree of Colombia, and also an endangered species. The road that leads to the parrot roost can be very productive, with targets that include the endemic Parker’s Antbird, White-capped Parrot, Barred Fruiteater, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, Tanager Finch, the endemic Dusky Starflontet, the endemic Red-bellied Grackle, Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant, Handsome Flycatcher, Northern Mountain and Subtropical Cacique, and Citrine Warbler. Other target species of the area include the rare Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Ocellated Tapaculo, Black-and-white Seedeaters, Striped Treehunter, Clay-colored Thrush, and White-browed Spinetail.

Finca La Araucana

A great introduction to Andean birds can be had birding from the veranda and on the grounds of Finca La Araucana. This property has been in Christopher’s family for more than 50 years and houses an organic farm growing baby greens, sprouts, tomatoes, cilantro, carrots, and peppers. Birding from the house veranda alone has produced an impressive list of 76 species! Common feeder visitors include vibrant-colored birds such as Bay-headed Tanager and Red-headed Barbet, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, and near endemic Scrub Tanager. Trails embedded within a towering, native bamboo forest also offer good birding opportunities– Colombia boasts the second greatest bamboo diversity in Latin America.

Dolmetsch Arboretum

The Dolmetsch Arboretum, directed by Alvaro Calonje, is one of the largest and most complete botanical collections in Colombia. The arboretum is privately owned, but birders will have access to this botanical wonder by taking a tour of the grounds with creator Alvaro Calonje. Thirty-five years in the making, this collection of over 2,200 plants from around the world is sure to satisfiy any botanical craving. The Dolmetsch Arboretum is world-renown for its cycad collection, containing more than 60 species. Cycads are an ancient group of seed plants that are much less abundant than they were during the Jurassic period, and their geographic ranges have contracted, resulting in them being one of the most threatened plant groups in the world. Because of the variety of plants at the arboretum, the arboretum hosts a good variety of birds, such as Green Jay, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, and Blackburnian Warbler.