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 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!

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