Saturday, 25 June 2016

Colombia - Day 8 (January 24, 2015): PNN Tayrona, fly to Bogota

Introduction
January 17, 2015 - Isla de Salamanca, Minca, El Dorado lodge
January 18, 2015 - Cuchilla de San Lorenzo, El Dorado lodge
January 19, 2015 - Cuchilla de San Lorenzo, El Dorado lodge
January 20 and 21, 2015 - El Dorado lodge to Minca
January 22, 2015 - Minca, drive to Guajira Desert
January 23 and 24, 2015 - Guajira Desert, PNN Tayrona, fly to Andes
January 25, 2015 - Bogota area: PNN Chingaza, Siecha wetlands
January 26, 2015 - Laguna de Pedro Palo, Payande area
January 27, 2015 - Cañón del Río Combeima, SFF Otún Quimbaya
January 28, 2015 - SFF Otún Quimbaya, Montezuma Road
January 29 and 30, 2015 - Montezuma Road
January 31, 2015 - Jardin area, Cauca Valley
February 1, 2015 - Reserva Ecológica Río Blanco
February 2, 2015 - Paramo habitat of PNN Los Nevados

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Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona is located approximately 34 kilometers west of the city of Magdalena, on the north Caribbean coast of Colombia.Its picturesque sandy beaches and dry forests are popular with Colombians, as well as with backpackers. The park consists of 460,000 hectares of primary and secondary forest, and is the last stronghold for the endangered Cotton-top Tamarin. The endemic, critically endangered Blue-billed Curassow still survives in these forests as well, though it is much more difficult to encounter this species here than in the place where most birders see their first, at El Paujil Bird Reserve in the Magdalena Valley. Steve, Dan, and Dan, my three amigos for this leg of the trip, had already seen Blue-billed Curassow here earlier on their trip before I joined up with them - an excellent sighting indeed!

There are not many species at PNN Tayrona that would be new for me, as many of the specialties of the area are also found in neighbouring eastern Panama, which I visited with David Bell and Steve Pike in March, 2014. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful park with a nice diversity of birds, reptiles and other organisms, and a place we were happy to explore.

Arriving in the late afternoon, we paid our entrance fee and headed over to where we were planning on staying for the night, in some cabins right next to the beach. It turns out that the guy who ran this enterprise also had a keen interest in the flora and fauna of the area, particularly the snakes. When we arrived he actually had a young Fer-de-Lance in a bucket which we were eager to photograph. He had found this individual around the cabins and had carefully maneuvered it into the bucket, and instead of killing it like many would have done, he was planning on releasing it in the nearby woodland. It was great to see someone like this with a great respect for snakes, a group of animals which is often unfairly maligned throughout the world. 

Fer-de-Lance - PNN Tayrona, Magdalena Province, Colombia

Fer-de-Lance - PNN Tayrona, Magdalena Province, Colombia

Fer-de-Lance - PNN Tayrona, Magdalena Province, Colombia

We were shown our rooms - basic, but certainly adequate and with a killer view - before having the rest of the evening to explore the nearby coast. 


Ghost crab - PNN Tayrona, Magdalena Province, Colombia

The Cotton-top Tamarin is a distinctive, diminutive monkey endemic to northern Colombia. While once fairly widespread throughout the area, habitat loss has contributed to an approximately 80% decline in population in the last three generations (18 years), as they now number around 6000 total individuals. The population within Tayrona was introduced in 1974, and it remains one of the few protected areas where Cotton-top Tamarins stiil exist. 

We were quite excited to encounter a small group of the charismatic mammals that evening, jumping from tree to tree as they slowly moved through the forest along the edge of the clearing near the cabins. You've got to love the hairdos on these guys and gals!

Cotton-top Tamarin - PNN Tayrona, Magdalena Province, Colombia

Cotton-top Tamarin - PNN Tayrona, Magdalena Province, Colombia
A Crested Caracara was on the lawn, presumably searching for something to eat among the fallen coconuts from the nearby palms. 

Crested Caracara - PNN Tayrona, Magdalena Province, Colombia

Crested Caracara - PNN Tayrona, Magdalena Province, Colombia

That evening we set out on a night-hike after dinner, exploring some of the trails through the mangroves and into the dry forest. Due to the lack of moisture it was difficult to find many herps, and despite a concerted effort we were unable to turn up any snakes. Scorpions, however were present in large numbers.While very difficult to see as they hid in the leaf litter, Dan Wylie had brought a black light with him. Shining the light over the forest floor, the fluorescing scorpions could be easily found as their cover had now been blown.


Using only the black light for illumination, I experimented with various camera settings until I was able to obtain a sharp result, showing the scorpion fluorescing under the UV light. It is still being worked out by scientists why the exoskeletons of scorpions have this amazing ability to fluoresce under UV light. While the reason why scorpions fluoresce is not fully known, the science behind how it happens is known. The exoskeleton contains several compounds, including beta-carboline, which glow under UV light. Young scorpions who do not have a hardened exoskeleton do not exhibit this feature, and scorpions recently having undergone ecdysis (shedding of their skin) also do not fluoresce. The image below is of the same scorpion as above, however this time I used the flash of my camera.


Below are two more examples, one with the black light and the second image with a camera flash, of a different species of scorpion. It really was amazing how many scorpions could be found in certain parts of the forest where there was an abundance of leaf litter.


We found a few lizards on our hike, including this Yellow-headed Gecko resting on a trailside boulder. This attractive lizard is a widespread species in Central and South America. 

Yellow-headed Gecko - PNN Tayrona, Magdalena Province, Colombia

We were also successful in spotlighting a roosting White-bellied Antbird in a thicket - not how one usually encounters this species.

White-bellied Antbird - PNN Tayrona, Magdalena Province, Colombia

We arrived back at our cabins by 10:00 PM or so - fairly early, but with the sun setting around 6:00 PM we still had enjoyed a solid 3-4 hours of night-hiking, and we needed to get some rest for another early morning of birding.

The birdsong in Tayrona was a little more familiar to me as several of the species I had encountered previously in Panama, and we were now a week into the trip and had become accustomed to the common species of this part of South America. 

We walked down the road shortly after dawn, quickly finding some of the specialty birds of the area, including Buff-breasted Wren and Lance-tailed Manakin. White-bellied Antbirds were singing, though remaining out of the site - good thing we had found the roosting individual the night before!

I added one lifer on the morning - a White-chinned Sapphire. As expected, we had no luck finding any Blue-billed Curassows on the road, though the early morning traffic of motorcycles, trucks, and convoys of horses likely played a role in preventing the curassows from coming close to the road. While the birding was a little slow, it was great to be exploring the mature forest of this beautiful park.

By mid-morning we headed back to the cabins to pack up and slowly prepare to depart for the airport. I explored the beach one more time.


PNN Tayrona - Magdalena Province, Colombia

While I was at the beach, Steve was busy getting his hands on one of the brightly colored, and aptly named, Rainbow Whiptails which frequented the open areas. He handed it off to me to photograph - what an awesome lizard!

Rainbow Whiptail - PNN Tayrona, Magdalena Province, Colombia

Rainbow Whiptail - PNN Tayrona, Magdalena Province, Colombia

Our driver soon arrived and we bid Tayrona goodbye. We were dropped off at the airport and from there made the short flight to the capital, Bogota, where we were planning on meeting up with David Bell and Adam Timpf to explore the Andes on a 10 day tour.

All things considered, we had cleaned up in the north of Colombia, seeing every single one of our main target species. We found all of the possible endemics found in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the Guajira specialties, Chestnut-winged Chachalaca and Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird in the mangroves, and a wide variety of other species, totalling 292 species of birds in our first eight days. I missed Blue-billed Currasow, and El Paujil Bird Reserve wasn't on our itinerary, but it is a place that I will visit eventually. Our only other miss was Groove-billed Toucanet, though the vast majority of its range falls within Venezuela's borders.

Up next - the Andes!

Friday, 24 June 2016

Colombia - Day 7 (January 23, 2015): Guajira Desert, PNN Tayrona

Introduction
January 17, 2015 - Isla de Salamanca, Minca, El Dorado lodge
January 18, 2015 - Cuchilla de San Lorenzo, El Dorado lodge
January 19, 2015 - Cuchilla de San Lorenzo, El Dorado lodge
January 20 and 21, 2015 - El Dorado lodge to Minca
January 22, 2015 - Minca, drive to Guajira Desert
January 23 and 24, 2015 - Guajira Desert, PNN Tayrona, fly to Andes
January 25, 2015 - Bogota area: PNN Chingaza, Siecha wetlands
January 26, 2015 - Laguna de Pedro Palo, Payande area
January 27, 2015 - Cañón del Río Combeima, SFF Otún Quimbaya
January 28, 2015 - SFF Otún Quimbaya, Montezuma Road
January 29 and 30, 2015 - Montezuma Road
January 31, 2015 - Jardin area, Cauca Valley
February 1, 2015 - Reserva Ecológica Río Blanco
February 2, 2015 - Paramo habitat of PNN Los Nevados

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In the predawn darkness, our driver pulled up to the hotel and we were soon on our way to El Sanctuario de Fauna y Flora Los Flamencos. Our plan was to meet up with Jose Luis, a native Wayuu who knows the birds of the Guajira Peninsula better than anyone. 

There are a number of bird species endemic to the Guajira area of northern Colombia as well as northwestern Venezuela. As Venezuela is not an easy place to travel in right now, and the situation in Colombia is very stable, this means that Colombia is the place to go at the moment to see them. Some of the species are: 

-Buffy Hummingbird
-Pygmy Swift (only in Venezuela)
-Bare-eyed Pigeon
-Chestnut Piculet
-White-whiskered Spinetail
-Black-backed Antshrike
-Slender-billed Tyrannulet
-Tocuyo Sparrow
-Glaucous Tanager
-Orinocan Saltator
-Vermilion Cardinal
-brevicaudus subspecies of Pileated Finch

A few additional target species in Pale-tipped Tyrannulet, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Trinidad Euphonia, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Rufous-vented Chachalaca and the Colombian endemic Chestnut-winged Chachalaca are a little more widespread.

We had already seen Chestnut Piculet, Black-backed Antshrike, Orinocan Saltator and Chestnut-winged Chachalaca, leaving around a dozen target species to search for during the morning.

birding at SFF Los Flamencos, La Guajira Province, Colombia

After meeting Jose in his community of Los Camarones, we headed out on foot through the trails in the area. The dawn chorus was quite something here in the desert and we quickly began to work away at our target list. 

Crested Caracara - SFF Los Flamencos, La Guajira Province, Colombia

Quite a few Slender-billed Tyrannulets and Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrants added their voices to the dawn chorus. A few Orinocan Saltators were quickly found, also singing away as dawn broke. Occasional pigeons flying over were soon seen well enough to identify as our target Bare-eyed Pigeon. 

Orinocan Saltator - SFF Los Flamencos, La Guajira Province, Colombia

A Buffy Hummingbird was performing display flights and vocalizing frequently; perhaps a female was watching from somewhere unseen to us.

Buffy Hummingbird - SFF Los Flamencos, La Guajira Province, Colombia

Buffy Hummingbird - SFF Los Flamencos, La Guajira Province, Colombia

Buffy Hummingbird - SFF Los Flamencos, La Guajira Province, Colombia

Perhaps the iconic bird of this part of the world, the striking Vermilion Cardinal soon made an appearance - Jose quickly picked up on its song and got us on a bright red male, singing from the top of a distant, thorny tree. We ended up seeing at least four of these beauties, though unfortunately I was never able to get anything better than distant record shots. With its bright colour and tall crest, it is easy to see why this bird is known as El Rey de La Guajira (the king of the Guajira).

Bird activity was fantastic around a few of the ponds dug into the sand and clay, which the people of Los Camarones use as a water source. Green-rumped Parrotlets, Black-faced Grassquits, Glaucous Tanagers, Pileated Finches and White-fringed Antwrens were all easily seen here, among many other species. 

Kids near Los Camarones

Green-rumped Parrotlets - SFF Los Flamencos, La Guajira Province, Colombia

Pileated Finch - SFF Los Flamencos, La Guajira Province, Colombia

A different suite of species could be found skulking in the thorny thickets throughout the part of the reserve that we walked. Pale-breasted and (our target) White-whiskered Spinetails were found, as was our first Pale-tipped Tyrannulet and a surprise Yellow Tyrannulet. Meanwhile, overhead various herons and other wading birds were occasionally seen flying to their feeding grounds, while Magnificent Frigatebirds slowly cruised over. 

Snowy Egret - SFF Los Flamencos, La Guajira Province, Colombia

Magnificent Frigatebird - SFF Los Flamencos, La Guajira Province, Colombia

It only took an hour or two of sunlight until the day was becoming quite warm. With a few other spots to explore for our few remaining target species, we left the birdlife of this area. 

Common Ground-Dove - SFF Los Flamencos, La Guajira Province, Colombia

cactus fence - near Los Camarones, La Guajira Province, Colombia

Our next trail provided some good studies of tyrannulets, while both Scrub Greenlet and Shining-green Hummingbird were seen briefly but well. Eventually, the distinctive call of a Trinidad Euphonia led to great views of one, singing away from within a small tree. The heat haze of the morning made photography a little difficult but I was happy to come away with some record shots. 

 SFF Los Flamencos, La Guajira Province, Colombia

Trinidad Euphonia - SFF Los Flamencos, La Guajira Province, Colombia

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls are a widespread species throughout Central and South America. We had heard a couple in the Santa Marta mountains, but it was here that we had our first good looks at one, after following the call of an individual from nearby scrub. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls are diurnal, hunting small birds and other vertebrates by day. They can be quite active hunters, and the owl eventually continued on its way, diving into a thicket to chase something. 

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl - La Guajira Province, Colombia

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl - La Guajira Province, Colombia

Our only remaining target bird at this point was one of the hardest species - the Tocuyo Sparrow. Fortunately for us, Jose had a couple of good leads on where they can be found. We struck out at his first spot, and continued on to the second. Here we finally lucked out, having good views of one skulking around on the ground, deep within a thicket. Success! My photos show not much more than a blur, but at least it is identifiable!

Our last stop was the road off the main highway in the Casa Blanca area, which we had visited yesterday on our drive towards the desert. It was now well over 30 degrees Celcius, putting a damper on the bird song. At least there was a bit of a breeze so one could somewhat cool off in the shade.


Here we had good looks at a Pale-tipped Tyrannulet and found another Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. We had no luck with Rufous-vented Chachalaca, a species which can often be found here roosting in some of the thickets. One last new species was a White-tailed Nightjar which some of us flushed. 

While slowly driving up this road, we encountered a Rufous-tailed Jacamar, perching in some roadside trees.It was quite approachable for photos!

Rufous-tailed Jacamar - La Guajira Province, Colombia

We said our goodbyes to Jose, after having seen every one of our main targets, only missing Rufous-vented Chachalaca, one of our secondary targets. Jose was able to help us find 70 species, including so many range-restricted species, in only a half day of birding. I would highly recommend him if anybody reading this is planning on going to northern Colombia in the near future. 

We continued back to the west, driving parallel to the coast, leaving the desert behind with our destination being the forests and beaches of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona. Our plan was to drive through the heat of the day, arrive by late afternoon, and spend the evening and following morning birding the park. In the afternoon we had a flight booked to Bogota high up in the Andes, where we would meet up with David Bell and Adam Timpf and begin the next leg of our trip, a 10 day tour of the Andes.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Colombia - Day 6 (January 22, 2015): Minca, drive to the desert and La Guajira

Introduction
January 17, 2015 - Isla de Salamanca, Minca, El Dorado lodge
January 18, 2015 - Cuchilla de San Lorenzo, El Dorado lodge
January 19, 2015 - Cuchilla de San Lorenzo, El Dorado lodge
January 20 and 21, 2015 - El Dorado lodge to Minca
January 22, 2015 - Minca, drive to Guajira Desert
January 23 and 24, 2015 - Guajira Desert, PNN Tayrona, fly to Andes
January 25, 2015 - Bogota area: PNN Chingaza, Siecha wetlands
January 26, 2015 - Laguna de Pedro Palo, Payande area
January 27, 2015 - Cañón del Río Combeima, SFF Otún Quimbaya
January 28, 2015 - SFF Otún Quimbaya, Montezuma Road
January 29 and 30, 2015 - Montezuma Road
January 31, 2015 - Jardin area, Cauca Valley
February 1, 2015 - Reserva Ecológica Río Blanco
February 2, 2015 - Paramo habitat of PNN Los Nevados

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We were up dark and early for one last shot at the dry forest specialties we were missing around Minca before heading back down the mountain. Our plan was to be picked up by our driver in Minca around noon, who would then be with us for the next couple of days as we planned to explore the northeast region of the country- the arid Guajira desert. 

But first things first - our morning around Minca. We walked from our hotel through the dry streets before dawn while the first few bird species started vocalizing, signalizing the imminent arrival of another new day. Most interesting to me was the Rufous Nightjar calling from somewhere near the hotel grounds. Our goal was to hike a trail near town that accessed some nice dry forest habitat while also having a great view of a nearby valley where it is sometimes possible to see Military Macaws flying to their feeding grounds from their roosting areas early in the morning, and back again in the evening. Those who have birded with me in the tropics know my disdain for parrots - most of them are all green (or occasionally with a small bit of orange, blue, yellow, red etc mixed in), they all sound the same (a loud, irritating squawk), and most sightings are of individuals flying by at rapid speed, often backlit, so that it is impossible to pick out the unique orange/blue/yellow/red bit that identifies them. And to make matters worse, I can never remember which parrot species I have seen, as they are all named Blue-head this, or Red-lored that, or Yellow-crowned something else. But macaws, despite unfortunately being related to the other psitticines, I find somewhat more interesting, and Military Macaws are actually pretty cool.

But I digress - back to the morning at hand. Our progress towards where the good dry forest habitat started was briefly impeded by the discovery of a little lizard on the trail, which I still need to work out the ID of. 

lizard sp. - Minca, Magdalena Province, Colombia

It was a typical morning weather wise - warm, humid, with the temperatures increasing quickly once the sun appeared. The dry forest around us came alive with birdsong - mostly common species like the ubiquitous Tropical Kingbird, Keel-billed Toucan, Dusky-capped Flycatcher and Pale-breasted Thrush, but also a few other interesting species including Rufous-and-white Wren, which has one of my favorite bird songs. While walking along, a couple of Yellow-headed Caracaras kept us company.

Yellow-headed Caracara - Minca, Magdalena Province, Colombia

We lucked out with one of our main targets as we had two separate Black-backed Antshrikes. A surprise Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant was nice to see as well, as they can be a difficult species in this part of Colombia. I snapped this photo of a Smooth-billed Ani, a species familiar to anyone who birds regularly in the Caribbean, southern Central America or South America. What a prehistoric looking bird...

Smooth-billed Ani - Minca, Magdalena Province, Colombia

As we were walking along the trail overlooking the valley just after sunrise, we suddenly heard the unmistakable loud squawking of macaws somewhere in the valley below us. Military Macaws! We frantically scanned for the birds, and eventually they burst through an opening in the foliage - a pair flying together, their green and blue plumage lit up in the morning sun. Almost as quickly as they appeared they were gone again, out of view due to the foliage surrounding us.

We were treated to a few more flybys of Military Macaw pairs - whether they were the same birds, or different ones, we could not say for sure. I did not bother trying for photos however, as the birds were quite distant and I wanted to enjoy the brief views through binoculars that we had. The birds were often flying way down below us in the valley, more often heard than seen, so that our hillside and its respective vegetation blocked out the view..

We stopped at the hotel for breakfast, adding White-lined Tanager and Baltimore Oriole to the trip list as we watched the hummingbirds and tanagers coming to the feeders. What a view!

Steely-vented Hummingbird - Minca, Magdalena Province, Colombia

After breakfast we continued on foot through the town of Minca and towards a waterfall just up the road - evidently a popular spot for the backpackers frequenting Minca as well as the locals. Our interest lay not with falling water, but with the birds in this section of dry forest. We did quite well despite the diminished bird activity at this hour (around 9:00 AM), adding a few new trip birds or lifers, all which are fairly widespread in Central or South America. Swallow Tanager is one of the more unique tanagers; as their name implies they sometimes act like swallows, perching on horizontal branches or hydro wires, and excavating nests in muddy banks. Despite occurring frequently throughout much of South America, it was a species I was quite happy to see and photograph!

Swallow Tanager - Minca, Magdalena Province, Colombia

This Gray-capped Cuckoo was yet another lifer that appeared in some scrub along the side of the road. Black-capped Tyrannulet was also new, though we would see many more in the Andes later in the trip. Purple Honeycreeper and Black-and-white Seedeater, my last two lifers of the morning, happened to be the only individuals of these species that we would encounter on this trip. A few new trip birds were also seen here - Sooty-capped Tyrannulet, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Barred Antshrike and Tropical Pewee among them.

Gray-capped Cuckoo - Minca, Magdalena Province, Colombia

The birding was good but the sun was now high in the sky and we had a ride to catch, so we hurried back down the road towards town, eventually meeting up with our driver in the parking lot at the Hotel Minca.

We were a little surprised by his vehicle, a tiny four-door compact car, and fitting all of our gear inside (mainly Steve's gear - the rest of us just had a single pack) was a bit difficult, but with a bit of crafty maneuvering we made it work and were on our way. To the desert!

It was hot in the mountains, but the lowlands were really cooking and we kept the windows open the whole time as we drove, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of rural Colombia. The landscape transitioned from dry forest to farmland, to coastal mangrove interspersed with small towns, to mature dry forest, to thorny woodland and finally to sparsely vegetated desert.

We stopped for lunch near the Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, an area of mature dry forest which we would be visiting the following evening and subsequent day. The restaurant was along the bank of a lazy river, where a few new trip birds awaited - Little Blue Heron, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Green Kingfisher and my first Carib Grackles.

We finally entered the Guajira Peninsula, and the change in the landscape was immediately apparent - it was very dry, with vegetation consisting mainly of patches of thorny trees. We added some new birds, including Scaled Dove and Pale-legged Hornero, both common species in this part of the world. Despite it being mid-day, we hoped to see at least some of the specialty birds of the region even if they are much easier to find early in the morning.



Taking a small sideroad off of the main road we were excited to see some new birds for the trip, including our first of the Guajira specialties - an Orinocan Saltator. Gray Kingbird was also surprisingly a lifer for me.

This Russet-throated Puffbird perched obligingly at close range. While not a Guajira specialty, the  Russet-throated Puffbird can only be found in northern Colombia and northern Venezuela reliably.

Russet-throated Puffbird - Casa Blanca area, La Guajira Province, Colombia

We continued the long drive after our brief diversion, arriving at Sanctuaria de Fauna y Flora Los Flamencos. Part of the protected land includes a large wetland set at the edge of the Caribbean. One of the most important wetlands in northern coastal Colombia, it hosts an impressive number of wading birds, shorebirds, and gulls. Of course all the Guajira specialty birds can be found within or very near to SFF Los Flamencos.

It was late in the day when we finally pulled up to the refuge. Out here, the only tourists that visit are the occasional group of birders, and it was pretty cool to be at an area that felt so far out of the way of the usual tourist traffic. As we scanned the shorebirds and spoonbills with our scopes, a group of local school-aged kids played soccer nearby, while other people living in the village headed out to the shallow waters to harvest crabs.

Roseate Spoonbill and Snowy Egret - SFF Los Flamencos, La Guajira Province, Colombia

We did not have too much time before sunset, but we successfully found both Kelp and Herring Gulls among all the Laughing Gulls. Both of these species are pretty rare in Colombia, though this spot has become somewhat reliable for them in recent years.

I was also happy to spot my first Scarlet Ibis here among a flock of White Ibises, along with several hybridy looking individuals that were not as bright red as they should be.

As this was our first time on the coast, a variety of species were new trip birds, including many which are common at times in Ontario! Great Egret, Sanderling, Great Blue Heron, American Golden-Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Black-bellied Plover, etc all made appearances.

That evening we drove east to the town of Riohacha where we planned to spend the night. The following morning we would be back at SFF Los Flamencos, to meet up with our local guide for the day and hopefully see most of the bird specialties of La Guajira. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Colombia - Day 4 and 5 (January 20 and 21, 2015): El Dorado lodge, Minca

Introduction
January 17, 2015 - Isla de Salamanca, Minca, El Dorado lodge
January 18, 2015 - Cuchilla de San Lorenzo, El Dorado lodge
January 19, 2015 - Cuchilla de San Lorenzo, El Dorado lodge
January 20 and 21, 2015 - El Dorado lodge to Minca
January 22, 2015 - Minca, drive to Guajira Desert
January 23 and 24, 2015 - Guajira Desert, PNN Tayrona, fly to Andes
January 25, 2015 - Bogota area: PNN Chingaza, Siecha wetlands
January 26, 2015 - Laguna de Pedro Palo, Payande area
January 27, 2015 - Cañón del Río Combeima, SFF Otún Quimbaya
January 28, 2015 - SFF Otún Quimbaya, Montezuma Road
January 29 and 30, 2015 - Montezuma Road
January 31, 2015 - Jardin area, Cauca Valley
February 1, 2015 - Reserva Ecológica Río Blanco
February 2, 2015 - Paramo habitat of PNN Los Nevados

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Our plan for the morning was to hike down the road for several kilometers to lower elevation forests. There was a small village called Palo Alto that sometimes hosts one or more Santa Marta Blossomcrowns, one of our two remaining endemics we had yet to find. 

Band-tailed Guan - Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Magdalena Province, Colombia

My camera spent the night in a ziploc bag with some of Steve's silica packs, and by the morning I did not see any condensation visible through the viewfinder. I tried turning it on, and surprisingly it worked! I guess the silica packs really do work. My macro lens was also OK, but the flash appeared to be dead. It was turned on when the camera setup was submerged and appeared to be fried. 

I decided to take my camera with me, though after an hour or so of hiking in the high humidity with the temperature increasing I noticed a significant amount of condensation in the viewfinder and the top display panel, so that shut down my photography for the day - I just did not want to risk anything. The plan would be to lay the camera out in the hot sun later that afternoon with hopes of removing any lingering condensation. 

The birding was pretty decent on the walk down, though we had to work hard at times for new species. New trip birds appeared occasionally - Long-billed Hermit, Blue-headed Parrot, Bright-rumped Attila, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo. Common neotropical species that we had seen before, but interesting all the same. 

After an hour or two, we were fortunate in hearing a Rusty-breasted Antpitta calling down a slope, our third (of four) antpitta species that are found in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The fourth, Scaled, is a widespread Central American and Andean species that we would miss on the trip. The Rusty-breasted would tease us occasionally with a song, then refuse to show itself in typical antpitta fashion! 

A small flock of Blue-capped Tanagers appeared in a little mixed flock, our second and final life bird for the day. We walked the several kilometers down the to Palo Alto and searched for Blossomcrowns at the recommended garden, but struck out. This bird was starting to get annoying...Our other target, the Santa Marta Antbird was also a no-show on the day. Their preferred habitat, forest edges and second growth at low to middle elevations, was a little too far down the mountain past where we had hiked to. Our plan would be to try to find it one our drive out the following morning.

The sun was rising in the sky and bird activity was slipping, so we decided on retracing our steps up the road towards El Dorado for the afternoon. I was anxious to continue drying my camera in the sun and with few bird targets where we were situated we could relax around the lodge for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

We encountered a group of 5 Black-fronted Wood-Quails along the road, improving on our views of this scarce species which we had briefly observed two days earlier. And as we arrived back at the lodge, one of the guys located this awesome little Anadia species. It is hard to find photos online of the various Anadia lizards, but I believe this one is A. pulchella, endemic to the Santa Marta mountains. 

Anadia pulchella - Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Magdalena Province, Colombia


That afternoon we mostly relaxed around the lodge as the previous few days had involved a lot of walking. The Sierra Nevada Brushfinch made another appearance at the compost pile, our first excellent looks at one. Of course more fun was head with our friend Juan as well...

Chillin' with Juan the Guan - Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Magdalena Province, Colombia

Chillin' with Juan the Guan - Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Magdalena Province, Colombia

Band-tailed Guan - Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Magdalena Province, Colombia

January 21, 2015

The following morning Pedro picked us up to drive us back down to Minca. We tried again for Santa Marta Blossomcrown, this time at a new location that had hosted birds in the past. Extensive gardens are in the backyard here providing excellent habitat for tanagers, hummingbirds, warblers, flowerpiercers, thrushes and more.

While walking around the grounds behind the house, our luck finally came through in the form of a Blossomcrown! It didn't stay long, but I think the other guys managed ok photos. We also encountered our first male Coppery Emerald here, a sharp looking little hummer, as well as our first Black-headed Tanagers, Rusty Flowerpiercers, and singles of One-colored Becard and Coppery Emerald. It was nice to finally see a few lifers in a row, considering we had only two in the previous day.

With our main target acquired we continued our drive down the mountain towards Minca, stopping several times in appropriate looking habitat for the Santa Marta Antbird. Eventually the forest gave way to more fincas interspersed with forests and other cleared areas, providing what looked like suitable antbird habitat. We were in luck once again and came across at least two birds, near the village of Cincinati. Their skulked in the undergrowth and remaining hidden at first, but eventually popped out and allowed the guys with functioning camera to take a few record shots.

With all of our main targets now in the bag, we completed the drive to Minca where a few cold beers on the terrace of the hotel/restaurant were in order!

Interestingly enough, the typical lager of much of Colombia, known as Aguila, uses a picture of a Bald Eagle on their label. Bald Eagles are not found in Colombia, and there is a vast array of amazing eagle species native to Colombia that they could have picked instead - Harpy Eagle, Black-and-Chestnut Eagle, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Solitary Eagle, etc


After another hour or so drying in the sun while we were having lunch, my camera's rise from the dead was complete. I was a little nervous turning it on and taking the first few photos but everything seemed to be working just perfectly! I lucked out this time.

White-vented Plumeleteer - Minca, Magdalena Province, Colombia

White-necked Jacobin - Minca, Magdalena Province, Colombia

Steely-vented Hummingbird - Minca, Magdalena Province, Colombia

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird -Minca, Magdalena Province, Colombia

After a quick photography session with the same common hummingbird species at the feeders we decided to go for an afternoon walk in the dry forest and scrubby areas around the periphery of the town. While we had observed all the possible endemic bird species, there were a handful of lower elevation, dry forest species to look for. While the timing of our hike wasn't the best, we encountered a surprising number of birds including a few new ones for the trip - Blue Ground-Dove, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, Masked Tityra, Cinnamon Becard, etc. White-bearded Manakin and Swallow Tanager were lifers - I was surprised that it had taken us this long before our first Swallow Tanagers which can be quite common in the area.

We stayed in Minca for the night which gave us one more shot at Black-backed Antshrike and Military Macaw in the morning, two specialties of the area. From there we would be meeting up with our driver who would take us east along the coast to the Guajira desert with its suite of new bird species.