Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Work and Play

The last few days have seen us birding at several sites along the Algarve coast with mixed success.

On Friday we were at Castro Marim and the surrounding area. It was a relaxed day of ‘social’ birding with our friend, Georg. We hadn’t seen him for a while and there was plenty to talk about but we still managed to find more than 90 species during the day. Highlights included a Purple Heron, several Little Bustards, at least 30 Slender-billed Gulls, a Wood Sandpiper, a Great Spotted Cuckoo and maybe half a dozen Collared Pratincoles. Our visit to what we used to refer to as the disused airstrip at Aldeia Nova was memorable. First of all we noticed that there was actually a light aircraft parked by the derelict buildings and then we saw the police arriving in numbers, followed by a television news crew. The evening news report confirmed what we surmised at the time, that drugs were involved. With evidence in Peter’s passport of a recent visit to Colombia, we were relieved not to be interviewed! From now on it will be called the little-used airstrip.

We returned to Castro Marim late on Saturday afternoon. We had arranged to meet Dave Gosney and his partner, Liz who are currently on a three-month tour of Spain, Portugal and Morocco, working on updates of Dave’s Finding Birds in… books and filming for a new series of DVDs. We saw again a few of the birds seen on Friday, including Little Bustards, Caspian Terns and Slender-billed Gulls but again this was essentially a ‘social’ visit. And naturally we have rather mixed views about bird finding guides!

Tavira saltpans were more or less birdless on Sunday morning. We did see one of the resident ‘grey egrets’, presumed to be garzetta x gularis hybrids, feeding in its usual place at low tide but it was very windy and we soon decided that there more pressing matters to attend to.

Yesterday we had a very good morning at Quinta do Lago. A low-flying Black Kite was the star bird for Elaine and Julie who were with us and we were pleased to see another Purple Heron, our third on successive visits to this site. The tide was high giving good opportunities to photograph a few waders.

Grey Plover


Ruddy Turnstone

We took our picnic lunch to Lagoa dos Salgados. We had been disappointed on our last visit there (18th March) to find that the lagoon had been drained but the latest news was that it had been re-flooded and that on Thursday last week there were lots of birds, including many waders and Flamingos. What another huge disappointment then to find on our arrival that the lagoon was again just a huge area of lifeless mud! It certainly starts to look as though Salgados, in spite of its recognised year round importance for birds, in spite of all the campaigning, press coverage and questions in the Lisbon Parliament, will be after all be sacrificed to the developers. How can anyone want yet another sterile golf course in place of such a wonderful wildlife site?

We did see at Salgados our first Alpine Swifts of the year and we had close-up views by the parking area of the four Northern Bald Ibises that have been there for several months, the ones that absconded from the Spanish re-introduction project. One of the Ibises caught an Iberian Worm Lizard (Blanus cinereous) which caused a bit of a squabble between them.

Northern Bald Ibis with Iberian Worm Lizard

Northern Bald Ibis

We spent the afternoon walking round the marsh at Alvor. Unfortunately, it became very windy and conditions for birding were difficult to say the least. There were about 30 Flamingos present and a selection of waders that included a single Golden Plover which appeared to have an injury to one of its wings, although it managed to fly away from us before we could get a photograph. It was that sort of afternoon.

Work and play? What's the difference?

Thursday, 26 March 2009


June was apoplectic on Tuesday morning when she read the BBC News email. There was a story headlined RSPB calls for more UK wind farms. Our first reaction was that we had somehow lost a week and that it was April Fools Day but no, it was still only 24th March. So what on Earth is going on? Is the RSPB finally coming clean about its business partnership with Scottish & Southern Energy? Is it finally admitting that all the accusations that have been made against it over the past few years are true? This unqualified and enthusiastic endorsement of wind farms is otherwise hard to understand from an organisation that is supposed to be about bird protection. It is difficult not to conclude that the RSPB has been ’bought’. Well, whatever they are being paid will have to offset the loss of subscription income that will surely result. We wonder what Peter Condor would make of it all.

Anyway, yesterday we went to have a look at one of these wind farms. It’s in the Serra do Caldeirão and about two hours drive from here. Of course, we were birding really but our all-day trip through the rolling hills and valleys west of Ameixal inevitably took us to the highest point in the area at Mu (577 m above sea level) where wind turbines are currently still under construction. In fact we sat and had our picnic under the shadow of one of these giants. Not to beat about the bush any longer, WE HATE THEM! But the bandwagon is rolling and, with the help of Europe’s largest wildlife charity and all the other vested interests, looks to be unstoppable, so be prepared for one near you anytime soon. Don't expect to see any change to the climate though!

Otherwise it was a lovely, mostly sunny day with Nightingales singing in the valleys, Bee-eaters hawking over the rivers, Subalpine Warblers skulking in the Cistus scrub, Short-toed Eagles soaring, hirundines gathering mud for nest-building and much much more. A very noticeable feature of the day was the continuous passage of Painted Lady butterflies - thousands of them going by all day.

We took a few photographs...

European Bee-eaters

Following the RSPB's lead, Peter got one fitted to his bird...

Red-rumped Swallow collecting mud

Rock Bunting

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Sunshine After The Rain

The day started cloudy and there was even a slight rain shower but by lunchtime, as we were watching the local Little Owls in trees across the road, the sun appeared. Time to forget about 'admin', grab the camera and bins and head off to the saltpans!

In no time we were watching Bee-eaters prospecting for nest sites. Numbers have increased over the last few days; today there were about a dozen but none came near enough for a photograph. At the same time a pair of Zitting Cisticolas was displaying and several times the 'wet-my-lips' call of a Quail came from an adjacent cereal crop over which many House Martins, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows hawked for insects. We tried hard to photograph Yellow Wagtails but had to settle for just watching them busily feeding just out of camera range, numerous but unco-operative. Most were iberiae but there were also one or two flava. In the end, like yesterday, we had to be content with a few more wader images.
Kentish Plover



On the way home we made a slight diversion to see whether Nightingales had arrived at what is the nearest regular site. Here our luck changed as we almost immediately located our target and with just about enough light for a photograph. No doubt there will soon be evenings when we go there simply to listen.


Monday, 23 March 2009

Tavira saltpans

We spent a couple of hours or so this afternoon around the saltpans here in Tavira. The area forms part of the Parque National da Ria Formosa, designated a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. It's a wonderful place to see wading birds and we can routinely see more than 20 species here in the winter months and at migration times. Just now most of the pans are dry and wader numbers are relatively low but in our short visit this afternoon we still managed to find 17 species.

They say that salt was harvested in the Tavira area as long ago as 2,000 BC and the expertise required to produce high quality salt, flor de sal as it is called here, is passed down from generation to generation. Today we were pleased to see work being done to prepare the pans for this year's production and we hope that it won't be long before the pans are flooded again and providing feeding areas for the many migrant waders that will be passing through here in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, we managed to photograph a few of the current 'residents'.

Friday, 20 March 2009

That Was The Week

We’ve had a bit more variety this week, visiting Alvor, Monchique, Quinta do Lago, Lagoa dos Salgados and Castro Marim and everywhere (not surprisingly) we have seen newly arrived migrants.

At Alvor we spent a very pleasant Monday morning walking round the marsh where there were plenty of birds to keep us interested. Among the 14 species of waders identified was a single Northern Lapwing, interestingly the only one we have seen since we returned to the Algarve on 5th March. A Little Owl staring back at us from the wall of a ruin near the parking area was a popular find and while we were having our picnic lunch there we saw our first Common Redstart of the year.

Later the same day we drove up through Monchique to Foia, at 902 metres above sea level, the highest point in the Algarve. Apart from the magnificent views and an array of telecommunications and radar installations, Foia offers Rock Buntings and Blue Rock Thrushes, both of which we found without too much trouble. We also had very good views of four Dartford Warblers together, presumably two pairs engaged in some territorial dispute. A brief stop on the drive back down produced a Common Cuckoo.

We stayed at home all day on Tuesday as PT Comunicações had promised to send out a technician to look at a problem we have been experiencing with our phone line. It wasn’t a complete surprise that nobody came but the day was saved when a male Montagu’s Harrier sailed past the kitchen window!

On Wednesday at Quinta do Lago we saw a Purple Heron, a drake Garganey, a Glossy Ibis, the long-staying Red-knobbed Coot plus the usual Red-crested Pochards and Purple Swamp-hens that are always crowd-pleasers. From Lago do São Lourenço we walked part of the way towards Ludo Farm and found five Slender-billed Gulls on one of the saltpans. There was also a single Audouin’s Gull on the estuary. However, there was a gale blowing and it really wasn’t a great day to be trying to find birds.

We took our picnic to Lagoa dos Salgados only to find that the lagoon has been drained yet again. That this excellent site for birds is treated so badly can only be described as a disgrace. A stunning male Black-eared Wheatear on the dry lake bed cheered us up a little and there was a brief and distant view of the four Northern Bald Ibises that have taken up residence on the adjacent golf course, birds that have absconded from the re-introduction programme in Spain.

Yesterday was spent at Castro Marim. Highlights among the 82 species recorded were a Purple Heron, two Collared Pratincoles, four European Bee-eaters, at least seven Slender-billed Gulls, a Spectacled Warbler, a Common Whitethroat and numerous Yellow Wagtails that included the subspecies iberiae, flava and flavissima all feeding together.

Yellow Wagtail (iberiae)

Today we’ve doing a bit of 'admin' but we did try to find some birds to photograph around Tavira. A Hoopoe and Crested Lark were the only ones that co-operated at all.

Eurasian Hoopoe

Crested Lark

Saturday, 14 March 2009

A Busy Week

Another busy few days of birding has seen us spending lots more time in the Baixo Alentejo, making several visits to Castro Marim and still finding a few minutes to have a look round Tavira. Today we rounded off the week with a trip to Quinta do Lago.

In the Castro Verde area we have seen countless Great Bustards and Little Bustards, there have been excellent views of Lesser Kestrels, several sightings of Spanish Imperial Eagle, Great Spotted Cuckoos have been easy to find, Black-eared Wheatears have returned and yesterday a Black Vulture was soaring with about 20 Eurasian Griffons. After really good views of them last weekend, on our last two trips we have struggled to find Black-bellied Sandgrouse but while we have been searching we have enjoyed watching and listening to the song flights of the many Calandra Larks. There hasn’t been time for much photography but it would be a poor show if we couldn’t get a picture of the area’s most numerous species - Corn Bunting.

Corn Bunting

Our walk around the saltpans at Castro Marim on Tuesday morning took us six hours to complete - there were just so many birds to look at. After lunch, we walked some more! Highlights for us among more than 80 species seen were the single Little Bustard that was virtually the first bird we saw when we arrived, a high count of 30 Caspian Terns, Audouin’s Gulls, a Spectacled Warbler, several Stone-curlews and a Bluethroat.

We made a further brief visit to Castro Marim on Thursday when this colour-ringed Spoonbill was very obliging. In an immediate response to our report, we learned from Otto Overdijk that the bird, a male, had been ringed as a nestling 2120 km away in the Netherlands on 24th May 2008.

Eurasian Spoonbill

Around Tavira we have seen Blue Rock Thrushes, Stone-curlews and Dartford Warbler, heard Water Rail, Cetti’s Warbler and Quail and managed to photograph Woodchat Shrike. On Monday, we saw two different grey egrets, presumably the same birds that we have seen many times before and which are thought to be Little Egret x Western Reef Egret hybrids.

Highlights from Quinta do Lago today were three Glossy Ibises, two Audouin’s Gulls, a Purple Heron and a Bluethroat.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Alentejo - again

Yesterday was another long day out in the Alentejo. We visited many of the same areas that we went to on Saturday and saw most, but not all, of the same birds. Once again there were several good views of both Great and Little Bustards, including a flock of 66 Little Bustards; Black-bellied Sandgrouse were easily found and two Common Cranes still remain. In as much as we saw fewer species, it wasn’t such a good day for raptors but what we might have lacked in quantity we made up for with quality - excellent views of Spanish Imperial Eagle, Lesser Kestrel and Short-toed Eagle, the latter perched on the top of a tree above our regular lunch site. A Great Spotted Cuckoo was a popular choice as ’bird of the day’ but a Black Stork soaring with Red Kites against a background of clear blue sky took some beating.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Castro Verde

Most of today was spent in the Castro Verde area of the Alentejo - yes, we’re back in Portugal again! What started as a grey, cloudy day cleared later and by lunchtime it was warm and sunny, although there was still a bit of a breeze.

Great Bustards were easily found, we saw Little Bustards and had very good views of Black-bellied Sandgrouse. Eleven species of raptors included a Peregrine Falcon chasing a Black-bellied Sandgrouse, a Golden Eagle and, of course, our favourite Black-shouldered Kites. Other highlights included Great Spotted Cuckoos, Blue Rock Thrush and two Common Cranes.

We mentioned last November that many of the White Storks’ nests along the roadside between Castro Verde and Mé rtola had been removed when the power poles were replaced and we wondered what would happen when the birds returned. Well today we were pleased to see that platforms had been put up to help the storks get new nests built and there were storks all along the road. Of course, while some storks found themselves homeless and were having to start from scratch, for others it was just the usual renovation job. The pictures tell the story.

Lucky Stork...

...Unlucky Stork

We made a brief visit to Castro Marim on the way back to Tavira. In just 20 minutes or so, while standing in one spot, we recorded about 25 species including Little Bustard, Mediterranean Gull, Common Shelduck, Black-necked Grebe and Greater Flamingo, making a nice end to the day.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Colombia - Part 3

On the morning of Day 5 we returned to Rio Blanco and after breakfast there walked the forest trails a little higher above the lodge than we had ventured yesterday. After a slightly slow start, the birds appeared one after another and most were seen very well. Highlights included Blue-and-black (Bruised?) Tanager, Grass-green Tanager, Black-collared Jay, Rufous-crowned Tody-Tyrant, Streaked Xenops, Mountain Wren, Black-collared Jay, Masked Trogon, Flammulated Treehunter and Dusky Piha but there were many more and it was another excellent morning.

After lunch we returned to the airport in Manizales for our flight to Bogotá and found ourselves leaving earlier than expected. The reason for this became clear an hour later when we arrived in the capital just in time for a torrential hail storm that saw the airport closed for a while. In fact the downpour was so severe that it was several minutes before some of us were allowed to leave the aircraft.

Masked Trogon

Eventually we were able to head off to Reserva Natural Chicaque about 45 minutes away, in the hills above the city. The track down to the log-built lodge was too steep, rough and narrow for our bus and so we transferred to 4WD vehicles for the last mile or so. We arrived in time to enjoy a beer as the sun went down and the light faded but too late for any further birding.

We spent the next morning, after an unusual breakfast that included meat and potato soup, walking forest trails in Reserva Natural Chicaque. Some of the trails were quite steep but whatever climbing we did was well worthwhile for the quality and quantity of birds seen. The following is just a sample of the species recorded: Metallic-green Tanager, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, Acorn, Crimson-mantled and Smoky-brown Woodpeckers, Brown-capped Vireo, Streaked Xenops, Montane Woodcreeper, Ash-browed Spinetail, Striped Woodcreeper,the endemic Black Inca, Flame-faced Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager and Green-and-black Fruiteater. Most of us were surprised to find just how good the birding was here!

Lodge - Reserva Natural Chicaque

After lunch we headed to Bogotá to spend our last two nights in Colombia at the very nice Hotel La Feria, conveniently located near the exhibition centre where we would be spending tomorrow. Knowing that we could have a lie-in in the morning at least until 7.00am we treated ourselves to a night out – a cocktails and a lovely meal in a restaurant across the city.

Our next day was spent wholly at Destino Colombia, a travel trade show where, after a lengthy ceremony to launch the new http://www.colombia.travel/ website, we had a succession of meetings with ground agents, hotel and lodge owners. The object was, of course, to discuss arrangements for a first Avian Adventures birdwatching tour in Colombia in 2010. The results were all very positive.

Once again the evening saw us out on the town, at a closing event for Destino Colombia that featured much music and dancing and wine glasses that were filled and re-filled as quickly as you can imagine!

Finally, on the morning of our return home, there was time for birding just outside Bogotá, near La Virgen de Guadalupe. We walked along a fairly main road that had little traffic early on and saw a nice variety of birds that we hadn't seen before. Those added to our list included Glowing Puffleg, Pale-naped Brush-finch, Rufous-browed Conebill, Red-crested Cotinga, Agile Tit-Tyrant, Silvery-throated Spinetail, Plushcap and Masked Flowerpiercer.

When the number of passing trucks became a distraction, it was time to go but there was one more birding site to visit that was conveniently near the airport – Parque Público La Florida. This is a well-known home of the endemic Bogotá Rail and we had no difficulty in finding several of these birds. The problem was that we couldn't see them - they just called repeatedly from the waterside vegetation! Some of us were already on the bus and ready to leave when one finally showed but a quick return to the reeds resulted in everyone seeing the bird and rounding off the trip on a high. Also here were Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, some rather odd-looking American Coots, Spot-flanked Gallinule, Blue-winged Teal, Brown-bellied Swallows, Subtropical Doradito and an Osprey.

American Coot

Yellow-hooded Blackbird

Thanks for a very good trip are due to Juliana Gomez of the Colombian Tourist Office, guides, Sergio Ocampo and Daniel Restrepo, and to friends and colleagues from both the UK and the USA who all share our fascination with birds. We all came to the same conclusions: Colombia is now open for birding, the areas we visited were quite safe, the people are friendly, the food and accommodation are good and, it can't be repeated often enough, there are more bird species here than in any other country in the world.

The only risk is...boosting your life list!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Colombia - Part 2

Our third morning in Colombia required another early start as we left the Pacific coast bound first of all for Medellín. We arrived early at the airport at Bahía Solano and there was plenty of time for birding along the road where Spot-headed Barbet, Ringed Kingfisher and Rusty-margined Flycatcher were amongst the species that helped pass the time before the arrival of our SEARCA charter aircraft.
Our SEARCA flight arrives at Bahía Solano

In Medellín, we had plenty of time to visit La Romera, a park well-known as a site where the endemic Red-bellied Grackle can be found. We struggled initially to get good views of these birds but eventually one or two came to feed in trees along the roadside and later a small group of them came close as we were eating our picnic lunch. Also here were a White-capped Dipper and Russet-backed Oropendolas.

Our onward flight to Manizales was delayed for more than an hour with the result that further birding was limited to a visit to a water treatment plant. This unlikely place was home to a pair of Lyre-tailed Nightjars which we saw very well, including a nest with young located in a hole in a concrete wall. The male Nightjar had actually entered a building, presumably to feed on moths attracted to the lights - not sure what the Red-necked Nightjars of the Algarve or the European Nightjars of Cannock Chase would have made of it all!

Lyre-tailed Nightjar

Our two-night stay in Manizales was at the very nice Hotel Termales del Otoňo, featuring as its name suggests thermal hot springs. Southern Lapwings were not only on the grass outside our rooms but also on the roof!

As usual, time to enjoy our comfortable accommodation was strictly limited and next morning we left pre-dawn intending to spend the day at Rio Blanco Ecological Reserve. We were probably more than half way there when we found the road blocked by a mudslide that had presumably been triggered by the heavy overnight rain. A change of plan was required and so, after returning to the hotel to get warmer clothes, we went instead to Los Nevados National Park in the central Colombian Andes. In this park is Nevado del Ruiz, the 5,321-metre volcano that in 1985 erupted, killing an estimated 23,000 people in the town of Armero. However, this morning the volcano was unfortunately hidden by cloud.

At this high elevation we were in páramo, a neotropical ecosystem that consists of grasslands, peat bogs and a variety of shrubs, notably the succulent, Espeletia. Our first short birding stop was above a small lake where several Andean Ducks could be seen. A Many-striped Canastero was singing from the top of a nearby bush.

Páramo with Espeletia

A little bit higher up, near the park entrance, we found one of THE birds of the entire trip, a Bearded Helmetcrest, a hummingbird in case you're not familiar! Also here were a Tawny Antpitta and a Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant that at a distance had the look of a Whinchat about it as it perched on the top of a bush.

Bearded Helmetcrest

On the way back downhill, we birded along the road and found a succession of new birds that included Andean Tit-Spinetail, Black-backed Bush Tanager, Blue-backed Conebill, Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, Golden-fronted Whitestart, Black-chested Buzzard Eagle, Stout-billed Cinclodes and Sedge Wren. However, good as this was, when word was received that the road to Rio Blanco was now open again, off we went reverting to our original plan.

We had lunch at the lodge there and then spent more than an hour photographing the scores of hummingbirds that were coming to the feeders. Easily the most numerous species was the easy to identify Buff-tailed Coronet, but Sparkling Violet-ear, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Speckled Hummingbird, Bronzy Inca, Collared Inca, Tourmaline Sunangel, Long-tailed Sylph and White-bellied Woodstar soon became familiar.

Lodge at Rio Blanco

Buff-tailed Coronet

Collared Inca

Tourmaline Sunangel

We were persuaded to leave this spectacular hummingbird show when the opportunity to see one or more species of antpittas was promised. These birds are being fed daily on a diet of juicy worms put out for them in a metal bowl placed in a forest clearing, a ploy that has been used to good effect at various places in Ecuador. Not surprisingly, the feeder of the antpittas was christened the 'worm man' and we followed behind him as he went about his task. He might have been disappointed that on the way to the feeding site we couldn't help but be distracted for several minutes by one of the best feeding flocks that we saw all week, but before too long we settled down to watch the antpitta show. The bowl was placed in its usual place and we all sat quietly as the 'worm man' began to whistle, signalling to the birds that dinner was served! It was remarkable - we didn't have to wait long at all before three species of antpittas arrived: Chestnut-crowned, Slate-crowned just briefly and the endemic Brown-banded. It was quite a sight!

Chestnut-crowned Antpitta

And so ended our fourth day in Colombia but there was much more to come...

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Colombia - Part 1

Just back from Colombia, generally recognised as having more bird species than any other country in the world – 1,883 according to Howard & Moore - but in recent times unfortunately little visited by birdwatchers. Serious internal armed conflict, with rebel groups funded by the trade in cocaine and heroin, has deterred tourists from visiting, but things are changing rapidly, thanks to improvements in security resulting from President Álvaro Uribe's "democratic security" strategy.

Significant increases in military strength and police presence throughout the country have pushed the rebels further away from the major cities, highways and tourist sites. As a result, the British Foreign Office and the US Department of State have revised their advice on travel to Colombia and the country is now receiving more than a million tourists every year. As the Colombian Tourist Office puts it: “el riesgo es que te quieras quedar” or “the only risk (now) is wanting to stay”.

Our trip began with flights from London to Madrid with Iberia and then with the very good Colombian national airline, Avianca, from Madrid to Bogotá and Bogotá to Medellín.

The following morning we flew again, this time to Bahía Solano on the Pacific coast in the Department of Chocó. On the way from the small airport to El Almejal Lodge at last we were birding. In fact, two King Vultures and a pair of Black-cheeked Woodpeckers were seen even before we left the airport! Along the road, among the many species seen were Rose-faced, Mealy, Red-lored and Blue-headed Parrots. We were well and truly in the tropics!

Our transport to El Almejal Lodge

The lodge is situated right on the coast with Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds flying by regularly and various gulls, terns and boobies passing offshore. Red-legged Honeycreepers, Palm, Blue-grey and Lemon-rumped Tanagers were coming to a feeder outside the dining room and an Eastern Long-tailed Hermit flashed by from time to time. From elevated platforms on the hillside above the lodge we enjoyed wonderful views to the ocean and in spite of the rain saw a succession of tanagers, euphonias and more.

Lemon-rumped Tanager

Palm Tanager

This Common Basilisk was one of the highlights of the afternoon walk

From the viewing platform

The rain became heavier overnight and at breakfast time (5.15am) it was still pouring down; it was clear that we were in for a very wet day if we went ahead with our plan to walk the trail towards the nearby Ensenada de Utría National Park. However, although this was not intended to be a trip to see rare or endemic species, there were those in our group who were very keen to try and see Baudó Oropendola, a bird with a very small range and recent records from only two locations, one of them just a few kilometres away.

And so, after a short drive, we set out on foot along an increasingly wet and muddy forest trail that at times resembled a shallow linear pond. Fortunately, the local guide knew exactly where to take us and, although most of us were literally soaked to the skin when we got there, we did get good views of the target birds (or as good as you can get through binoculars in heavy rain). We stood almost directly below the palm tree in which there were several hanging nests typical of the genus Psarocolius. Baudó Oropendola is a black and chestnut, crow-like bird that has a bright yellow tail with blackish central tail-feathers. Its long, black, conical bill is tipped orange-red and it has a bare pink cheek patch.

Now that we'd seen the endemic oropendola our mood on the walk back was much brighter and although the trail was even wetter and muddier, the rain eventually stopped and by mid morning there was even some sunshine. Amongst the birds seen White-tailed Trogon and Cinnamon Woodpecker were among the highlights but a Grey-capped Cuckoo proved to be bird of the day for at least some of us, eclipsing even the Baudó Oropendolas. It had obviously (like us) had a good soaking and was perched on a power cable, drying out in the sun. Even in its wet and somewhat bedraggled state it was a very attractive bird!

After lunch the rain started again and further birding was delayed for a while but eventually we walked a stretch of the road between the lodge and the airport. Some of us still had on our wet clothes from the morning, hoping they would dry while we were wearing them! Among a long list of species seen were Lineated Woodpecker, Stripe-billed Araçari, Chestnut-mandibled and Chocó Toucans but the most popular was a striking male Golden-collared Manakin.

In spite of the weather our first full day of birding had been excellent and it was a shame that our schedule didn't allow for a longer stay at El Almejal Lodge.