White-naped Seedeater, Mitú
After leaving the bountiful hummingbird feeders of Acua Monte we descended into Bogotá, heading to the airport to meet our friend Nick Athanas who would be joining us for the next part of our trip: Mitú, deep in the Amazon. We made it to the airport and met Nick without a hitch, and after Andrew and Nick had a burger at allegedly the best burger place in Colombia, we headed to the gate for our flight to Mitú, where our flight was only delayed by about 40 minutes if I remember correctly, not too bad for South American local travel.
White-browed Purpletuft, Mitú
Now the place we were heading, Mitú, is a pretty special and unique place. The type of habitat it supports there, white-sands forest, has only one other relatively accessible place in this part of the Amazon, and that spot (São Gabriel) is across the border in Brazil. There are a fairly large number of species that only are findable in these two locations, and those were our primary targets on this trip. Mitú is also known as a spot where in 1998 over 1,900 FARC guerilla members attacked the town, killing about 70 people, destroying part of the town, and taking hostages as they retreated after they were repulsed by the Colombian military.
Swallow-winged Puffbird, Mitú
13 years later when we were there, the only sign that anything such as that ever happened is the very robust military presence in the area, with thousands of soldiers around, including patrolmen and guys standing on corners at many intersections, just casual observers, yet obviously armed. Despite, or perhaps partially because of, this military posturing, I personally never felt remotely in danger in our time there, which is always a good thing.
Gray-bellied Antbird, Mitú
Upon landing in the small one runway airport of Mitú, we got out into the stifling mid-afternoon heat and made our way to the tiny terminal. The first sign that we were in a place most tourists don't visit was when we were pulled aside by a high ranking police officer and questioned about our stay, as well as having photographs of us taken next to our passports. Luckily at this point we had found the local guide we had arranged for during our stay there, a guy who went by the name of Nacho. After a few minutes of explaining ourselves, with Nacho's help, we hopped in the back of a converted motorcycle that had a small truck bed, and headed off to our hotel. Nacho's services would prove invaluable during our time there, especially when interfacing with the local tribes and communities in the area, places where he seemed to know everyone. In fact, Nacho just knew everyone in general. He claimed at one point to have been the former chief of police in Mitú, and we don't really know whether or not it was true!
Lettered Aracari, Mitú
Our standard day in Mitú was up before dawn, hop on motorcycles that Nacho would arrange to take us to our birding destination for the day (when they showed up anyways), bird until 4-5pm, come back, shower, buy food and water for the next day, eat, crash. The birding was fantastic, with many rare and local species, and we found almost every single target in our time there. Some of the highlights for the group included getting what are likely the first photos ever of Gray-bellied Antbird, and possibly the best photos taken of a few other species, including Chestnut-crested Antbird, Orinoco Piculet, Brown-headed Greenlet, and White-naped Seedeater. Also on the recording front, Nick and Andrew got the first recordings of Orinoco Piculet, and multiple likely best recordings of other species.
Yellow-bellied Dacnis, Mitú
All in all it was a fantastic place, and I would recommend it as a birding destination, but only if you're up for some pretty hardcore birding, with no creature comforts, lots of walking, and lots of reward for your effort. Nick wrote a great trip report, much more bird oriented of course, but a good read for sure: http://antpitta.com/tripreports/Mitu_Colombia_June2011_Athanas.pdf. His trip report details all sorts of logistics as well, for people interested in traveling there themselves.
After Mitú we headed back to Bogotá, parted ways with Nick, who was back off to Ecuador, and then will be going to Medellín next. As always, pictures from the trip can be seen at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uropsalis/sets/72157626770172797/.