#1 Colombia Mid-Magdalena Valley Birding Hotspot: Rio Claro Reserve

The Mid-Magdalena Valley is a biogeographical area of very high interest. Not only does it mark a species limit border for mainly Central American species, but it is also itself an endemic region, too! Its avifauna can be observed, maybe easiest, at the well-established Rio Claro Reserve. Easily accessed from both Bogotá and Medellín, this reserve merits multiple-day visits from birders. 

If I need to convince you more there are some beautiful bathing spots along the Rio Claro and the scenery of the Canyon is very picturesque. But you won’t be the only person finding that: Be aware that the reserve gets very crowded on weekends and national holidaysAvoid those periods for birding. Take my word! 

Early mornings are a must in Rio Claro

And birding starts right away from the entrance on an unpaved road leading to the main accommodations & restaurants within the reserve. Early mornings are a must, as the forests get very quiet in the afternoon. 

I stayed in the last accommodation coming from the entrance, which is the quietest and the top story rooms allow a view into the higher trees often yielding good species. I recommend this to all visiting birders. They are only a 5 minutes’ walk away from the restaurant (through a Magdalena Antbird territory) and a short walk from the Oilbird Cave away. 

Morning hours found me birding along the above-mentioned entrance road. Dusky-faced Tanagers are among the first songsters. Little Tinamou whistles its beautiful tremolo song from the lush roadside forest. Both Citron-throated & Yellow-throated Toucans croak, respectively yelp from high exposed perches. Pacific AntwrenChestnut-backed & White-bellied Antbird join the activity.  

Anywhere along the road can be good for mixed flocks. The very localized, endemic Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant accompanies them. On my first two days, I had only brief, unsatisfying views of a couple of these birds, but I had another ace upon my sleeve for this one I found a Cecropia with fruits and this was frequented by several White-mantled Barbets, a Colombian endemic, Orange-fronted Oriolesand several Tanager species.

Close to the Mulata Creek, I heard the song of Grey-cheeked NunletIt took me only a few minutes to locate this small Puffbird. Not too shabby a start. Activity dwindled a bit after that, but common species like Colombian ChachalacaCrimson-crested Woodpecker, Blue-crowned Manakin, Band-backed Wren & Buff-rumped Warblers kept me entertained. 

A highly refreshing and much-needed dip into beautiful Rio Claro & the following siesta was as much appreciated as needed. 

The Oilbirds leaving the Cave at dusk were the roundup of a highly rewarding day. But the best has yet come… 

The Mulata Creek Trail

The following 2 days I spent on the totally quiet (visitor wise) Mulata Creek Trail. This trail leads to a secluded Finca away from the main visitor area. The first couple hundred meters go through cleared areas. I found Yellow-olive Flycatcher and One-colored Becard

A little further along the same trail, I found one of my main quarries, the Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant. A pair was frequently vocalizing, allowing me to do some video grabs, and sound recordings you can check by clicking here.

Where the trail crosses the Creek, I located more Magdalena Bicolored AntbirdsThe trail now climbs steeply and reaches more fertile birding grounds. I first heard, soon saw a group of the endemic Sooty Ant-Tanager, another species easily recognized by its interesting voice.

A lek of Golden-headed Manakins was active, too. Black-crowned AntshrikeDusky AntbirdSlate-headed Tody-Flycatcher and Trilling Gnatwren, followed. 

Where the trail reaches its highest point, you have a beautiful vista over the area. I took a little break from my birding/sound recording session, taking it all in.

The break was not for long, though… A pair of Red-rumped Woodpecker allowed a close approach. But this Woodpecker only ranked 2nd as I located a pair of the endemic Beautiful Woodpecker calling from low down in the Valley. After a little bit of playback, the birds landed in a Cecropia tree right in front of me, allowing me to record its rarely recorded voice, as the very few recordings on XenoCanto demonstrates

Steady going, more birds showed. White-mantled Barbets displayed right above my head and an obliging Red-billed Scythebill was supporting the cast. 

Slowly making my way back to the main road, I realized that a couple of days more in this reserve would be needed in order to find many of the more difficult species of the area! There such goodies as Yellow-headed Manakin lurking out there somewhere 

But I had to keep this for next time, just including a little night birding on my last night, scoring with Spectacled Owl. 


About the authors

Jérôme Fischer

Professional bird guide, swiss native, with more than 32 years of experience guiding hardcore birders and birdwatching tours. Jérôme has been focused on bird identification. He also traveled to many countries,  starting in Switzerland. Then he traveled exploring South America, the most biodiverse continent in the world, becoming specialized in Neotropical birds.