20-21 May 2015
In our continuing quest to find the Blue-billed Curassow (which we, not surprisingly, missed at Tayrona National Park) we headed to Reserva Los Besotes. Reserva Los Besotes is a little known reserve 8 km north of Valledupar in the north eastern part of Colombia. The Reserve is actually pretty large and covers an extensive portion of the dry forest along the eastern foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The reserve is Colombia’s first Important Area for the Conservation of Birds. In addition to reports of Blue-billed Curassow, this is one of the best places in Colombia, and probably anywhere, to see the rare and near endemic Red-legged Tinamou.
The reserve is accessed entirely on foot. The trail to the main camp and the heart of the reserve is 2 km long. The trail starts in dry thorn forest where you can expect to find Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Scrub Greenlet, Long-tailed Manakin, White-tipped Dove, Rufous-capped Warbler, and Pale-eyed Pygmy Tyrant in large numbers. These guys were super common during our visit and we saw numerous Yellow-breasted Flycatchers building nests.
Los Besotes is also a great place to see the Black-backed Antshrike, an uncommon bird in the dry forests of northern Colombia. In one morning at Los Besotes we logged 10 individuals and got pretty decent recordings.
As the trail starts to ascend towards the camp you enter dry deciduous forest. Here we recorded Collared Forest-Falcon, Golden-winged Sparrow, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, White-winged Becard, Sooty-capped Hermit, Fuscous Flycatcher, and more. Around the camp, Rufous-vented Chachalacas are fairly common as are Crested Oropendolas. In the dry season Blue-billed Curassows have been seen around the camp as well, but we arrived just as the rains started and no Blue-billed Curassows were seen or heard at the reserve.
Throughout the morning we heard at least 10 Red-legged Tinamous calling deep in the forest. We attempted to see them on several occasions when we thought they were pretty close to no avail. Red-legged Tinamous apparently could care less about other Tinamous in their area and seem to wander around aimlessly throughout the forest. We were in the best place in all of Colombia to see the Red-legged Tinamou and there were several around, but we could not catch even a glimpse. We were starting to think that the only way we were going to see this one is if we accidently bumped into it on the trail. Despite spending the entire day hiking the trails in the reserve we ended the day Tinamou-less. The next morning we started hiking the trails again hoping to bump into a Tinamou, but they still seemed so far away. Feeling like we were going to miss actually seeing this one, we started hiking back to the van when Josh spotted some motion just next to the trail. He could see it was a Tinamou naked eye and we both quickly got on it with bins. Indeed, there was a Red-legged Tinamou right next to the trail, remaining silent, it even walked out into the road briefly allowing some classic butt-shot photos! It was great to connect with this bird and not have yet another secretive “forest chicken,” as we sometimes call furtive Tinamous and Quail-Doves, on our heard-only list!
Los Besotes is also good place for migrants as well. Past the main camp we came across one Black-whiskered Vireo and lower down we saw at least 5-6 Yellow-billed Cuckoos on the road into the reserve and in the reserve itself. Despite the late timing we also saw Scarlet Tanager, Blackburnian Warbler, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and a Yellow Warbler.
We spent two nights camped out at the entrance gate and to our surprise while we were cooking dinner we heard Rufous Nightjars calling in several directions. Rufous Nightjars, at least per eBird and the new Colombia birdfinding guide, have not been reported in the area but on our visit they were quite vocal. In one evening we recorded at least 7 Rufous Nightjars, and probably could have logged many, many more with more hiking. They were pretty much everywhere in the thorn forest near the entry gate. Despite several attempts to see a Rufous Nightjar however, we managed only to see it fly over our heads and back into the thick thorn forest. That evening we also recorded Tropical Screech-Owl, Common Potoo, and Common Paraque.
The birding around the reserve is quite good and makes for a great stop if you are looking for many of the dry forest species in northern Colombia (see our complete eBird list here). To access the reserve call Tomas Dario at 315-724.04.03 or 314-540.37.33. Arrangements can be made with Tomas to stay at the reserve but you will need to bring all of your food and linens and hike in. They have a basic cabin with hammocks, bathrooms, and a kitchen but no electricity, or you can camp at the gate as we did, and hike up into the reserve from there.