Saturday, July 15, 2023

Montezuma Hill (Tatama NNP) - Colombia

We visited Colombia in March 2023 and I was highly anticipating a visit to Montezuma Rainforest Ecolodge ("Ecolodge"). We'd arranged our trip to Colombia through Kimkim which had recommended Tinamu Reserve, which we visited (see my prior post), and another birding reserve on the outskirts of Medellin. On Kimkim's website, which discussed birding in Colombia, they referenced the Ecolodge and what a great birding area it was. I looked into it and found that it was relatively close to Tinamu. I asked Kimkim if we could switch the Medellin spot for the Ecolodge instead and it was eventually arranged. After our reservation I found some exciting news: On the eBird Hotspot list for Colombia, "Camino Montezuma - Montezuma Rainforest Lodge" was no. 14 in Colombia with 482 bird species seen in the last year (the top hotspot in the U.S. is Southeast Farallon Island, off San Francisco, with 436 bird species). Tinamu Reserve which they'd previously booked for us was no. 23, with 448 bird species. Then a little later I discovered that "PNN Tatama - Camino Montezuma", which is the road into Tatama NP past the Ecolodge, is the no. 1 hotspot in Colombia with 620 bird species seen in the last year. As noted in my last post, I found that Colombia has more bird species than any other country in the world. I wondered if this might make PNN Tatama the top hotspot in the world. I looked up the top 20 countries in the world as far as bird species and I only found three other hotspots with more bird species seen in the world in the past year than PNN Tatama: one in Peru with 671, one in Brazil with 644 and one in Ecuador with 634. So we were going to visit the fourth best hotspot in the world!
To get there we first flew from Bogota to Pereira, then spent two nights at Tinamu Reserve, near Manizales, a 1.5 hour drive from Peirera. At the end of our stay at Tinamu we were picked up by a driver that drove us back 1.5 hours to Peirera, then drove us to Pueblo Rico, an additional 2 hour drive. Along the way, I had our driver stop so that I could take a photo of a yellow-headed caracara which was in a tree by the side of the road.  
In Pueblo Rico, a town of about 10,000 people, we were picked up by John, who works for Ecolodge, driving a large 4x4. 
Pueblo Rico, near where we were picked up. 

We headed out of town in the opposite direction and took the first dirt road to the left and our adventure really began. After a relatively decent road passing a few scattered houses, the road became a four-wheeling adventure: driving through gigantic ruts, often filled with mud and water; driving around mud and dirt slides which often contained huge boulders that the vehicle barely squeezed by; crossed over at least one stream and a bridge over the Tatama River; and up and down steep grades often with large rocks. John was an amazing driver. It took us about 45 minutes to cover the 10.5 miles from Pueblo Rico to the Ecolodge. 
Tatama River
The Lodge is situated on 988 acres at the edge of Tatama National Natural Park ("Tatama NNP") at an elevation of 4,430 feet. It has 12 rooms, situated about 100 yards from the main building, with bathrooms, warm water and electricity, but no air conditioning, cell phone, telephone, fans or wife (wifi is available in the main building). 
Bathroom in our room.

Two beds - the walls are very flimsy, windows are covered with plastic. But it worked and was comfortable. 

Moth catcher. This was put out at night with a light behind it and attracted moths to it to keep them away from our rooms. 

The moth catcher at night covered with moths. 
The food is simple, but very hearty, and made mostly with ingredients grown on the property. It was among the best food we ate in Colombia. 

The Lodge has fruit trees and flowers around it, as well as several bird feeders for hummingbirds and other birds, such as tanagers. The birding at and around the Lodge is great, what is referred to as "Camino Montezuma - Montezuma Rainforest Lodge" in the eBird hotspot list. I've read that they get over 30 species of hummingbird at the feeders regularly (I saw 14) and one couple noted, in an article I'd read, that they saw 16 species of tanagers there during their stay. 
As I recall, the Lodge was founded by the Tapasco family who had 12 children, 7 of which are still living. One of the children, Michelle Tapasco, now runs the lodge for the family and also acts as a birding guide, along with her daughter, Diana Tapasco, and her nephew, Fernando Largo, who was the guide for us. We had the opportunity, our first evening, to talk to each of them. Other family members work in other capacities for the Lodge. 

We arrived about 10:00 a.m., checked into our room, then came back to the Lodge and looked at birds on the bird feeders. 
Crimson-backed tanager - female

Crimson-backed tanager - male

Yellow-rumped tanager

Flame-rumped tanager

Silver-throated tanager

Scrub tanager

Rufous-tailed hummingbird

White-necked Jacobin

Andean emerald (this and next)

Tawny-bellied hermit

White-booted racket-tail - male

White-booted racket-tail - female

Green-crowned brilliant

White-whiskered hermit

Purple-throated woodstar - females

Violet-tailed sylph

Purple-bibbed whitetip

Green thorntail

Red-headed barbet (this and next)

Chestnut-headed oropendola (this and next)

Russet-backed oropendola (this and next)

Black-chested jay
We had lunch about 11:30 a.m. and then went for a walk up the road into Tatama NNP with Fernando, our guide, for about 4 hours, beginning about 1:30 p.m. 
Bright-rumped attila

Striolated manakin (this and next)

Club-winged manakin - female (this and next)

White-shouldered tanager
Swallow-tailed kites

Andean motmot

Great kiskadee

Black-billed thrush
We had dinner later that evening, perhaps about 6:30 p.m., and I spent most of the other time watching birds at the feeders.
The dirt road to the Ecolodge continues on past the Ecolodge and is the only road into Tatama NNP. The 8.7 mile road to the top of Montezuma Hill, at 8,530 feet in elevation, is every bit as bad and worse than the road into the Lodge, with the added ingredient of a steep grade at many places. The top of Montezuma Hill is home to an off-limits Colombian military base and satellite station (we got wifi at the top of the hill!). It takes about 1.5 hours to drive the 8.7 miles and requires a serious 4x4. This 8.7 mile road is what is referred to as "PNN Tatama - Camino Montezuma" in the eBird Hotspot list. The road has 7 wood covered stations for resting and shelter and one is a watch tower along the way. For birding, the Lodge assigned us a guide, Fernando, and a driver, John. Our second day we met at 5:30 a.m. at the Lodge and then drove to the top Montezuma Hill, just a stone's throw from the military base fence, at a wood covered shelter. We did stop several times along the way up to view birds seen by John. At the top we had breakfast with one other guest/client and his guide while we watched hummingbirds at a nearby feeder as well as some other birds. The birding then consists of going down the hill back to the Lodge, with the client and guide walking and the driver of the 4x4 back some distance. The other client and guide we met at the top our morning planned to walk the entire 8.7 miles back to the Lodge. We needed to be back by 11:00 a.m. to have lunch and then leave. So we rode most of the way in the 4x4, but got out in stretches, mostly in the upper reaches of the mountain, for birding. Different species of birds are found at different elevations and some of the most rare and/or endemic birds are found near the top.

13,451 foot Tatama Hill is somewhere along the ridge in this photo or the next. The photos don't give the perspective to determine which peak is highest. 

The top wood covered station near the military installation on top of Montezuma Hill. We had breakfast there. 
Chestnut-bellied flower piercer (this and next) - on the top near the wood station. 

Collared inca (this and next) - on the top near the wood station. 

Tourmaline Sungangel (this and next) - on the top near the wood station. 

Buff-tailed coronet - on the top near the wood station. 

Rufous-gaped hillstar (this and next) - on the top near the wood station. 

Rufous-collared sparrow - on the top near the wood station. 

Munchique wood-wren (this and next) - the critically endangered bird in the sign above. 

Partially walking and mostly riding in the 4x4, we came back down Montezuma Hill. 

Tanager finch

Collared trogon

Masked trogon - male

Masked trogon - female

Fulvous-dotted treerunner

Dusky chlorospingus

Green and black fruiteater

Gold-ringed tanager (this and next)

Purplish-mantled tanager (this and next)

Tatama NNP covers 200 square miles and is on the western side of the Cordillera Occidental, the lowest of the three branches of the Colombian Andes. The Andes of Colombia are divided into three branches known as "cordilleras" (Spanish for mountain range). The Cordillera Occidental (West Andes) is closest to the Pacific coast and is home to the city of Cali. The Cordillera Central (Central Andes) runs up the center of Colombia and includes the cities of Medellin, Manizales and Pereira. The Cordillera Oriental (East Andes) extends northeast and includes the city of Bogota.
The highpoint of Tatama NNP is Tatama Hill (Cerro Tatama), at 13,451 feet elevation, also the highpoint of the Cordillerea Occidental. We got a great view of Tatama Hill at the top of Montezuma Hill, but the two are separated by a deep canyon without roads. Temperatures in Tatama NP range from 39 to 72 degrees and it is a rain forest with very high precipitation. Tatama NP has 560 species of orchid, more than 620 species of birds (16 endemic to Colombia and 7 endemic to the Cordillera Occidental), 110 species of mammal and 108 species of reptile. 

On our way out that morning John, our driver, was watching for birds for me and spotted a fasciated tiger-heron, a crested ant-tanager and acorn woodpeckers that we stopped for to get photographs. 
Fasciated tiger-heron

Crested ant-tanager

Acorn woodpecker
He drove us all the way to Pereira to catch our flight to Medellin.  I loved Montezuma Rainforest Lodge and Tatama NNP and would love to go back again some day. 

1 comment:

  1. This really is an amazing place, and part of the reason why is its isolation, which was also one of the hard things about it. Seeing the variety of birds in your photos helps me appreciate the unique experience it was.