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...

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