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The Páramo – Los Nevados NP 3200-4000 meters, also Termales Hotel and the Manizales track

WEATHER:  cloudy all day, with some bright, sunny spells. It was quite cold at 14,000ft. as you can imagine.

It was a very special day for the group, we had all looked forward to visiting the high altitude Páramo to see a very special bird, the BEARDED HELMETCREST.

We left our hotel just after 5am and headed out of town stopping for breakfast on the edge of the Páramo at 3200 meters. It was a bright start with a clear sky but clouds soon drifted over. We had a short wait for our breakfast to be prepared so we birded around the café for about 30 minutes. The café overlooked a large laguna called “Laguna Negra” and on it we saw a few Andean Ducks and nothing else. Around the café buildings we found Great Thrush, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Plain-coloured Seedeater and Stout-billed Cinclodes.

Stout-billed Cinclodes

A short walk produced a few more sightings including Sedge Wren and we heard at least three Tawny Antipittas but none of them showed, we then enjoyed a lovely breakfast with hot chocolate before setting off for the Los Nevados NP about 20 minutes further on. The scenery at the top was absolutely stunning, a treeless terraine with unique vegetation and views to die for in every direction, it really was magical. The air was cold and very thin so you couldn’t go dashing about and walking uphill was not a priority for us.

It was also quite cold at the National Park entrance gates and a little windy which reduced ourt chances of seeing our star bird. However, within minutes we had brief but very good views of a Bearded Helmetcrest, what a cracker, the sighting left us salivating and wanting more!

The 'Star of the show'   Bearded Helmetcrest

Over the next hour we searched the area which was also busy with Colombian Tourists visiting the park, we managed great views of Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, Black-breasted Buzzard-Eagle, more Stout-billed Cinclodes and a couple of Andan Tit-Spinetails. The Helmetcrest appeared intermitantly showing very well for some and not so good for others, but we all ended up happy with our sightings. Three of the group had excellent views of Tawny Antipitta and others had none.

the treeless landscape of the Paramo at 4000 meters

We started a slow walk down the track to look for more species, we had glimpses of another Tawny Antpitta and found Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant as well as more Plumbeous Sierra-Finches. After hopping back onto the bus we drove to another area near a rocky outcrop and a picturesque waterfall. We search the rocks for Plain-capped Ground-Tyrant and soon we had one in the scope. This particular bird was very inquisitive and approached one of the group, landing with 2 meters of him, what a picture he got!

not all birds in Colombia are colourful -  Plain-capped Ground-Tyrant - taken by Mike Ambler

I couldn’t believe it, 12 noon arrived so quickly and it was time drive back down to 3000 meters for lunch and check-in at our next hotel. We stopped a couple times to try to locate the one species missing from our targhet birds, the Many-striped Canastereo, but we failed to find one.

At the Termales Spa Hotel we toured the grounds where several hot spring pools and a couple of developed 'spa' swimming pools are surrounded by well kept gardens and in particular a Hummingbird feeding station. You can walk around the feeders where the hummers are so used to human presence that they feed from you hand. It is a very unique and enchanting place the group were enthralled.

Shining Sunbeam - taken by Mike Ambler

Apart from hummer feeders there were other feeding tables where we saw Masked Flowerpiecer, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, Scarlet-bellied Tanager and in the bushes Johnnier our guide got us all onto the Hooded Mountain-Tanager, a smashing find.

Masked Flowerpiecer

A few new hummers for our list included: Viridian Hummingbird, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Mountain Velvetbreast, Shining Sunbeam and Golden-breasted Puffleg.

Viridian Metaltail - Mike Ambler

We had a very nice lunch in the hotel and reconvened at 4pm for a walk outside the hotel on the Manizales track, we walked about 2km downhill and found a good few birds to start with but the light faded as we walked into dense cloud. Highlights of our sightings were of the endemic Black-thighed Puffleg, Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Páramo Tapaculo (this bird showed unusually well for a Tapaculo), we also saw both White-throated and White-banded (just four of us) Tyrannulets.

Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager - take by Mike Ambler

Our bus picked us up and returned us to the hotel, it had been a fabulous day and everyone was happy. Tomorrow we leave for lower altitude sites near Jardin.