Birding the Montezuma Road

The famous birding hotspot known as the Montezuma Road is easily one of the best birding destinations in Colombia. With nearly 600 species of birds recorded along the 14 km track from the Montezuma Rainforest Lodge to the top of Cerro Montezuma. The elevational gradient from the Lodge at 1300m to the mountaintop at 2550m is simply spectacular for birding. Located on the Pacific Slope of the Western Andes, Montezuma is part of a broader region known as the Chocó, one of the most biodiverse areas on earth.

When I first visited Montezuma, back in 2016, I fell in love with the incredible diversity. Having spent only three days on site I knew this place was magical. Shortly after my first visit I began working as a local guide at the Lodge. The birding has never ceased to amaze me. So far I’ve seen/heard roughly 400 species of birds at Montezuma.

After being closed for much of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lodge at Montezuma is now receiving visitors. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come down and get back into the intense birding this place has to offer.

Montezuma has not disappointed. The birding is crazy good. Hummingbird feeders bustling with activity, fruit feeders with colorful tanagers and barbets, and most important of all, the cloud forest itself, concealing countless secrets.

I started my birding adventure on the mountaintop and worked my way down to the lodge, separating the road into sections, each section can be birded in a day. At higher elevations the endemic Munchique Wood-Wren and Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer are rather abundant and relatively easy to see. Other goodies include Tanager Finch, Barred Fruiteater, Grass-green Tanager, Purplish-mantled Tanager and an assortment of hummingbirds. Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant and Black-throated Tody-Tyrant are skulkers, but I was able to get a visual of both.

The middle section of the Montezuma Road is home to some spectacular birds as well, Golden-headed Quetzal, Gold-ringed Tanager, Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Orange-breasted Fruiteater and Beautiful Jay, to mention a few. With some luck I managed to spot an Indigo Flowerpiercer, a shy species that can be readily detected by its far-carrying high-pitched song, but is a needle in a haystack when trying get a visual. The stunning Velvet-purple Coronet is wildly abundant and highly territorial in this middle section, a glowing gem in the dark Cloud Forest understory.

A leisurely morning stroll on the lower Montezuma Road produced 150 species, including Olive Finch, Ornate Flycatcher, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Toucan Barbet, Choco Tapaculo, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Plain-backed Antpitta, Andean Cock-of-the-rock, White-chinned Swift and Buffy Tuftedcheek. Noisy flocks of Crested Ant-Tanagers and Dusky-faced Tanagers move through the vine tangles in the dense jungle accompanied by Golden-bellied and Three-striped Warblers.

Back at the Lodge, the feeders are a constant source of entertainment, a pair of Red-headed Barbets make an appearance, noisy flocks of Chesnut-headed and Russet-backed Oropendolas take part in the feeding frenzy momentarily. A serious number of hummingbirds hover around the feeders, over thirty species visit regularly.

It is great to be back and I definitely don’t want to leave. The good news is, I will be at the Montezuma Lodge for another month and hope to share some more discoveries soon enough. Until then, stay safe.

Best birding,

John Cahill

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