Sunday 20 March 2016

Colombia: January 17 - February 2, 2015: Intro

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 La Guajira Desert
January 23, 2015 - La Guajira Desert
January 24, 2015 - PNN Tayrona, fly to Andes
January 25, 2015 - Bogotá 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, drive to Montezuma Road
January 29, 2015 - Montezuma Road
January 30, 2015 - Montezuma Road, drive to Jardín
January 31, 2015 - Jardín area, Cauca Valley
February 1, 2015 - Reserva Ecológica Río Blanco
February 2, 2015 - Páramo del Ruiz near PNN Los Nevados


It has been a busy winter for me with lots of traveling. I am fortunate to have a job providing the opportunity to bank hours during the busy season, which I take as time off during the winter months. As I value traveling much more than having a large number in my bank account, this is the third winter that I have done a birding trip to Central or South America (this year it was Chile and Argentina for the month of January). Other trips this winter included Nova Scotia over Christmas, Cuba in February, and most recently a work trip to Alberta in early March to complete some raptor surveys. I am currently in Barcelona, Spain with Laura and we will be spending the next 12 or so days in eastern Spain. We will be renting a car tomorrow morning and checking out the plains, steppe, coastline and of course the Pyrenees. There are not a ton of potential life birds for me in this part of Spain as many of the species here I have seen in Portugal, Morocco, France and previously in Spain, but with a little luck I may see 15 or so new bird species. I don't have a huge target list but I am hoping to see a few particular species - Lammergeier, Wallcreeper and Black Woodpecker are on my most wanted list! Herps of course are also big targets for us - while the weather forecast is for relatively cool weather and it is still early spring, we are really hoping for some lizards or even a snake or two!

Greater Flamingos (and Great Cormorant) - Delta del Llobregat, Spain

In the meantime, I wanted to get started with posting some of my photos from the epic adventure I had in Colombia last winter.  Accompanied at various points by Daniel Riley, Steve Pike, Dan Wylie, David Bell and Adam Timpf, we explored a small fraction of the stunningly beautiful natural areas found throughout Colombia. It was perhaps the most fun I have had on a birding trip, and Colombia is a place I will certainly be returning to at some point. It just might be my favorite country that I have explored so far.

Colombia had always been on my radar as a potential travel destination simply for the fact that it has the highest bird list out of any country - well north of 1900 species currently, with more added every year. Some sources list Colombia as the second most biodiverse country in the world (behind Brazil), and most biodiverse country per square kilometer due to its relatively small size. A stunning 10-20% of the world's plant species can be found within its borders! It has the second highest amphibian list of any country, and third highest reptile list. Colombia has more endemic species (species not found anywhere else) than any other country.

Part of what makes Colombia so biodiverse is the wide range of ecological regions found throughout the country - up to 32 unique terrestrial biomes, per Wikipedia.. The Andes run through the center of the country, splitting into three ranges (each with its own unique species), and separated by hot, dry valleys. Covering the land east of the mountains is an area referred to as the pampas, essentially tropical grasslands and marshes. The Amazon Basin covers the southern and eastern extent of the country, while the Choco lowlands form the area west of the Andes along the Atlantic Coast, up through to Panama. Desert can be found in several areas including the extreme northeast of the country. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta are the world's highest coastal mountains, reaching an elevation of 5,700 m. This isolated mountain range is near the north coast of the country, completely surrounded by lands with elevations below 200 m. As a result, these mountains contain a vast number of endemic species that aren't shared with the nearby Andes, including over 20 endemic bird species (with more to come with future "splits"). In fact there are most bird species in this small mountain range than the entire continental United States!

White-tailed Starfrontlet - Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

Dan Riley and I had talked about doing a trip during the early months of 2015 with Colombia being a potential destination. David Bell and Steve Pike, who I had traveled to Panama with the previous year, were interested as well; Dave in particular was hoping to travel in South America for much of the winter. Dan Wylie, a friend of Steve's, was able to join, while Adam Timpf was planning on being in South America as well.

Eventually a rough trip began coming together. Dave and Adam decided on traveling throughout Colombia for two months, while Steve and Dan Riley were able to devote about three weeks. I could do just 2.5 weeks and Dan Wylie just under two weeks.

Parque Natural Nacional Los Nevados

Dan, Dan and Steve spent the first 5 days or so at Mitu, located in the heart of the Colombian part of the Amazon. I met up with them in Barranquilla in the north of the country, and we birded the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta as well as the desert to the northeast of here. We then flew to Bogota where we said goodbye to Dan Wylie and picked up David, while also birding with Adam periodically. We rented a car and driver and completed a big loop of the Andes, visiting all three ranges and the valleys in between. It was a whirlwind 10 days through the Andes and we might have bitten off more than we could chew as it often left us with half a day of birding followed by long 6-8 hour drives each day. Despite the hectic schedule we managed to see most of our target species including a large portion of the endemics. In the 2.5 weeks I ended up with almost 600 bird species, of which 362 were new for my life list - an average of over 21 lifers a day!

Chestnut-crowned Antpitta - Rio Blanco

I will try to make one blog post for each day of the trip, similar to my trip report from Panama in 2014. Stay tuned...


Linda said...

Beautiful photos! Warm greetings from Montreal! :)

Josh Vandermeulen said...

Thanks Linda!