Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 7, Dec. 12 How hard can it be to find a cardinal?

It was a new day, a new place and there were a lot of new birds to be seen. We had slept well. Our hotel was quite comfortable. We met Pablo and Jaime in the lobby and headed out to Los Flamencos Sanctuary, next to the village of Camarones. This reserve has a really interesting community of birds. There are shallow salt lagoons that are home to American Flamingos, Scarlet and White Ibis and many other wading birds. Even more interesting is the dry scrub forest surrounding the lagoons. Despite being on the coast, this is area is desert complete with large stands of cactus. If you don't see the beach you would think you were in Tucson. There are a number of endemics and near endemics that call this scrub home.

Our first stop was actually on the beach inside the perserve. Pablo had arranged for a teenaged boy, Diojohnnes, (I am totally unsure of the spelling of his name) who lives on the sanctuary grounds, to be our guide. He was not a birder, but he has amazing eyes and knowledge of the local fauna, including one of our main targets, Vermilion Cardinal. While waiting for Diojohnnes to join us, I walked down to the beach. A large dark backed gull flew in, a first winter Lesser Black-back! I called Martin over. It was kind of nice to show him a gull for a change! The bird flew on, but a second one came in a few minutes later. It also flew off, right before Pablo and Diojohnnes arrived. This was unfortunate, as Pablo had never seen one. They are fairly rare in Colombia. There is something ironic about seeing a bird that is fairly common at home, but really rare where you are currently birding. Its hard to get super excited, if you know what I mean.

We drove a short distance to an area that was good for the cardinal. One of the lagoons was nearby. We could see some pink shapes across the water in the early morning light. Scoping the water we picked out Roseate Spoonbills, a handful of American Flamingos, and two or three Scarlet Ibis, one of our targets. Sometimes its necessary to take a boat to see the flamingos, so we were lucky. Even though we had seen them before, it was great getting them for our Colombia list. We turned our attention to the scrub forest. Diojohnnes immediately found something of interest to me, a small snake! I don't know herps at all, but I really like them. I got a few photos, if anyone is interested in helping me ID it. It kind of reminded me of a Checkered Garter Snake, though not the same color.

We picked up a number of birds fairly quickly. Scaled Doves flushed up from the bath, which resemble our Inca Doves. Bare-eyed Pigeons flew by, which resemble our White-winged Doves. A Black-crested Antshrike came in close to investigate us, which doesn't look like a darn thing like anything we have in Texas. I really love antshrikes. They have fabulous calls, often heard in jungle movies, and a crazed look about them. We also heard a Barred Antshrike in the distance. Slender-billed Inezias showed well. White-fringed Antwrens were fairly common and very curious, coming close to investigate anyone whistling a pygmy owl imitation. Another target bird, White-whiskered Spinetail, was very cooperative. Things were going very well. We had still not seen the Vermilion Cardinal, but the day was young.

We were getting hungry, so we went back to the beach by Camarones, where there is an open air restaurant. While we were waiting for our food we birded the surrounding trees and picked up Yellow Oriole, Russet-throated Puffbird and Orinocan Saltator. A couple of local kids showed us some fish they had caught, happily mugging for my camera. We had a leisurely breakfast of eggs and plantain, watching the locals fishing in the surf with dug out canoes. Terns and Laughing Gulls worked the waves. Dozens of Snowy Egrets picked through the left overs from the fishing nets. A Whimbrel walked along the water's edge. We could see the snow capped Santa Marta Mountains in the background, behind the curve of the beach. I found myself thinking, "This is the feeling that the big inclusive resorts are trying to capture, but the real deal is so much better!" Sure, Camarones is poor. There were skinny dogs and a few pigs wandering around. It wasn't immaculately clean, like the Bogota area, but I still found it beautiful and consider myself extremely lucky to have experienced it.

We went back into the scrub, still hoping for the cardinal. We trolled with the iPod, and heard a few chips that sounded promising, but had no luck at all. One bird that was abundant was Prothonatary Warbler. It was so peculiar to see a bird I associate with wet wooded areas in desert scrub! We scored on Pileated Finch and Green-rumped Parrotlet. There is a riparian area where Glaucous Tanager is seen. Martin saw it, but I missed it. I had a Green Kingfisher, which Martin missed, but it wasn't a very good trade off, in my opinion! I found a frog/toad, flipped over on its back struggling to turn over. Its belly was streaked with the most amazing fluorescent pink! I flipped him over and got a couple of photos. Again, if anyone wants to take a shot at IDing it, I would appreciate the help.

This area gets extremely hot during mid day. The birds siesta and it makes sense for birders to siesta, too. We returned to Riohacha for lunch and a break. I did walk down to the beach for a little while and watched a number of Magnificent Frigate Birds. Even that was too hot, so I returned to the room and luxuriated in the air conditioning. Regrouping at about 3PM, we returned to Los Flamencos, picked up Diojohnnes and resumed our search for the elusive cardinal.

There were good birds, Scub Greenlet, Troupial, Northern Scrub Flycatcher and more antshrikes. We seperated Venezualian Flycatcher from Brown-crested Flycatcher. Buffy Hummingbird was spectacular! We came across a tree packed with White Ibis and a few Scarlet's thrown in for color. But there was still no cardinal. We tried another patch of woods, but had no luck. How hard could it be to find a cardinal? It looks very similar to our Northern Cardinal. The crest is a bit more extravagant, and the color is more intense. I expected it to act like ours. I don't think I have ever played an owl tape in San Antonio and not had a cardinal respond! Pablo was really trying, but it just wasn't happening. He did see a couple of females retreating into the scrub, but too quickly gone to get us on them. The sun was setting and it seemed completely futile to continue. We drug ourselves back to the car. Then Pablo called out excitedly. A beautiful male Vermilion Cardinal was perched in a low shrub! In ten minutes it would have been too dark to see it. Whew! We arranged to meet Diojohnnes in the morning and went back to Riohacha.

Photos from the day:

Bird List:
1 Brown Pelican
2 Magnificent Frigatebird
3 Great Blue Heron
4 Cattle Egret
5 Great Egret
6 Reddish Egret
7 Snowy Egret
8 White Ibis
9 Scarlet Ibis
10 Roseate Spoonbill
11 Turkey Vulture
12 Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
13 Black Vulture
14 Caribbean Flamingo
15 Crested Caracara
16 Yellow-headed Caracara
17 Merlin
18 Limpkin
19 Wattled Jacana
20 Whimbrel
21 Lesser Yellowlegs
22 Solitary Sandpiper
23 Spotted Sandpiper
24 Willet
25 Wilson's Snipe
26 Laughing Gull
27 Royal Tern
28 Sandwich Tern
29 Bare-eyed Pigeon
30 Common Ground-Dove
31 Plain-breasted Ground-Dove
32 Ruddy Ground-Dove
33 Scaly Dove
34 White-tipped Dove
35 Brown-throated Parakeet
36 Green-rumped Parrotlet
37 Smooth-billed Ani
38 Striped Cuckoo
39 Squirrel Cuckoo
40 Lesser Nighthawk
41 Red-billed Emerald
42 Shining-green Hummingbird
43 Buffy Hummingbird
44 Green Kingfisher
45 Rufous-tailed Jacamar
46 Russet-throated Puffbird
47 Chestnut Piculet
48 Red-crowned Woodpecker
49 Straight-billed Woodcreeper
50 Pale-legged Hornero
51 White-whiskered Spinetail
52 Black-crested Antshrike
53 Barred Antshrike
54 White-flanked Antwren
55 Northern Scrub-Flycatcher
56 Slender-billed Inezia
57 Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant
58 Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant
59 Venezuelan Flycatcher
60 Brown-crested Flycatcher
61 Great Kiskadee
62 Tropical Kingbird
63 Gray Kingbird
64 Bicolored Cactus-Wren
65 House Wren
66 Tropical Mockingbird
67 Tropical Gnatcatcher
68 Gray Pileated-Finch
69 Vermilion Cardinal
70 Buff-throated Saltator
71 Orinocan Saltator
72 American Yellow Warbler
73 Blackpoll Warbler
74 Prothonotary Warbler
75 Scrub Greenlet
76 Yellow Oriole
77 Troupial
78 Baltimore Oriole
79 Great-tailed Grackle

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Day 6, Dec. 11. Goodbye Dan, Hello Guajira Peninsula

We had a couple of hours early in the morning to finish our Bogota birding. Bogota Rail was our target. Oswaldo had a doctor’s appointment, so we were accompanied by Pablo. Our target that morning was Bogota Rail. Oswaldo had a spot for it near Guasca where he said we couldn’t miss it. (Oh yeah, I’ve heard that before) He had given Pablo directions the evening before. To be honest, we had some trepidation. Rails are always a pain in the neck to see and Pablo was not familiar with the area at all.

We got to the general area and sure enough, the directions were not very clear. We had a very limited time to look. We cruised up and down a gravel road, driving past a very interesting old church with some ruins several times. Pablo called Oswaldo. We still couldn’t find it. We asked a couple of local farmers on the road and they gave us wildly conflicting directions. We were more than a little tense. Finally we stopped a woman driving a donkey cart. She pointed over a hill. It looked like an area that could have some water, so we went through the gate and started up.

Sure enough, there was a beautiful little marsh. Several snipe flushed, a Noble and a couple of Wilson ’s. Then we saw a rail skittering through the grasses. Success! It was brief, but we saw it fairly well. Then we noticed another rail in a different area. And then another! These were very easy to see. They wandered around out in the open, even allowing a few photos. (Mine are pretty poor, but Martin got decent ones. ) Pablo was stunned by the looks we got. He said he had never seen Bogota Rail anywhere nearly as well as we saw them. Dan and I took a few photos of the nearby church that I mentioned earlier and we took off for the airport.

We had a mid morning flight to Santa Marta which we made in plenty of time. Unfortunately Dan could not continue with us, so Ever took him to the international terminal for his flight back to the states, after dropping us at the domestic terminal. We were very sad to see Dan go. The first part of the trip had been very good, but we were extremely excited for the second section and wished Dan could have shared it with us. Our short flight went well, other than a lack of air conditioning. Maybe this was Avianca Air’s way of acclimating us to the coastal heat.

The landing was spectacular! The run way was parallel to the beach. Brown Pelicans were skimming the surf. The water was cobalt blue. Martin saw a frigate bird. We picked up our luggage and walked outside, where we met our new driver, Jaime. It was obvious we were not in the Andes any more. The heat and humidity was a huge change. Bogota always seemed to be a little gray and misty. Santa Marta was more than sunny. The biggest change was the traffic. I think it’s a requirement that you lay on your horn the entire time you drive. Stop lights and signs seemed to be more of a suggestion than a law. On top of all this, they like traffic circles. It was utter chaos!

We ate a great lunch at an open air restaurant near the airport, and headed east towards Riohacha. We stopped along the way at a restaurant that sat by a river. Pablo had seen hummingbirds in a tree next to the building, but it was not to be this time. We did have a flock of Brown-throated Parakeets. We moved on to a dry scrub forest, where we added Scaled Dove, Northern Scrub Flycatcher, Black-crested Antshrike and White-fringed Antwren. We got into Riohacha right after dusk. Our hotel was a block from the beach with a great view of the Caribbean. I was also excited to actually get to buy something! Two indigenous women were sitting on the steps of the hotel making traditional bags. I did a little bartering (very little actually) and got a bag that I adore!

Photos from the day:

Bird List:

1 Great Blue Heron
2 Cattle Egret
3 Great Egret
4 Black-crowned Night-Heron
5 Black Vulture
6 Andean Ruddy Duck
7 Speckled Teal
8 Blue-winged Teal
9 Bogotá Rail
10 Common Moorhen
11 Spot-flanked Gallinule
12 American Coot
13 Wilson's Snipe
14 Noble Snipe
15 Eared Dove
16 Tropical Kingbird
17 Brown-bellied Swallow
18 Tropical Mockingbird
19 Great Thrush
20 Black-billed Thrush
21 Rufous-collared Sparrow
22 Beryl-spangled Tanager
23 Blue-and-black Tanager
24 Eastern Meadowlark
25 Brown Pelican
26 Turkey Vulture
27 Short-tailed Hawk
28 Scaly Dove
29 White-tipped Dove
30 Brown-throated Parakeet
31 Blue-headed Parrot
32 Black-backed Antshrike
33 Mouse-colored Tyrannulet
34 Northern Scrub-Flycatcher
35 Bicolored Cactus-Wren
36 Rufous-browed Peppershrike
37 Scrub Greenlet

Sheridan Coffey
San Antonio, Tx

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day 5, Dec. 10 Ever, You Don't Have to Follow Me!

We began day 5 with a very happy reunion. Pablo Florez, our guide from our first trip had finished the tour he was doing and joined Oswaldo for the last day and a half of the Bogota portion of the trip. Pablo would be our guide for the last week of the trip to Santa Marta . We were also joined by a friend of Oswaldo. We were heading up to the Monteredando reserve outside of Bogota to look for several endemics, including Cundinamarca Antpitta.

As we drove up the mountain road Oswaldo discussed the trail. We had two choices, a very steep short trail, or a very long level trail. I was still struggling a little bit with my ankle, along with my bad knees and balance issues. I told the group I would be happy to stay on the road by the van and bird there while they did the shorter steep trail, even though it would mean missing the antpitta. Martin asked me several times if I was sure and I was. I hated the idea of missing a bird, but I had been feeling like a drag for the group, so I thought it would be better all around.

They headed up hill and I started wandering up and down the road, seeing what I could find on my own. I actually did pretty well. I found a flock of tanagers and even was able to photograph a Saffron-crowned and a Beryl Spangled. I spotted several hawks, a pair of Roadsides and a White-rumped Hawk. A flock of Flame-winged Parakeets flew through the valley below me. (These had been a big favorite on our previous trip) But all was not completely smooth.

Our driver Ever had stayed below with me. As soon as I walked around the corner on the road and he couldn’t see me, he would follow me, usually talking on his mobile phone. I know he was feeling protective of me, which was very sweet, but it did make birding a little more difficult. I didn’t want to say anything, as he was being very nice, but I did not feel like I needed protecting! It was still very pleasant. The weather was perfect. I found a few butterflies to photograph.

It seemed like the group was gone a long time. It was close to lunch time when they finally came down. They did not look happy at all. The antpitta had been within 10 feet of them, calling its head off, but they never saw it. They never even saw a twig move! It actually happened a couple of times. I felt badly for them. I count heard birds, but Martin and Dan don’t. We ate a snack and then started looking for some of the other birds found in the area.

We worked our way back down hill in search of Ochre-breasted Brush-finch. We heard a couple, but never could get them to show themselves. It was a bit frustrating, to say the least. Then, very close to the road, we heard the Cundinamarca Antpitta calling! It was as close as the one up the hill had been, but again we never saw anything indicating the bird was there. I do have to admit I was secretly happy to have heard it, but I tried not to show it, as Martin and Dan were not able to count it. We did finally get great looks the brush-finches. A flock of Flame-winged Parakeets landed right above us. We also had a few of my favorite hummingbirds, Booted Racket-tail, Long-tailed Sylph and Collared Inca.

We started back to Bogota , hoping to find some flowering trees to look for more hummingbirds. It was getting late in the afternoon when we stopped in Guayabetal, a small town. We walked behind a restaurant and found a beautiful tree with brilliant orange flowers. Our “friends” the violetears, were working in the flowers. Then we saw one of our targets, Green-bellied Hummingbird. A few tanagers and honey-creepers joined the hummers. Some local kids came up and stood with us, asking questions. We let them use our binoculars and Martin set up the scope for them. They all seemed to be enthralled. We talked about the bird life of Colombia and in their area. A few adults joined them. It was a really pleasant interval!.

We finished up, stopped for some fresh arapes, and headed back to Bogota. Again, we didn't have a huge list for the day, but the quality was definitely there!

Pictures for the day:

Bird List:

1 Cattle Egret

2 Great Egret

3 Turkey Vulture

4 Black Vulture

5 Roadside Hawk

6 White-rumped Hawk

7 Eared Dove

8 White-tipped Dove

9 Flame-winged Parakeet

10 Spectacled Parrotlet

11 Short-tailed Swift

12 Green Violet-ear

13 Sparkling Violetear

14 Black-throated Mango

15 Green-bellied Hummingbird

16 White-vented Plumeleteer

17 Bronzy Inca

18 Collared Inca

19 Booted Racquet-tail

20 Tyrian Metaltail

21 Long-tailed Sylph

22 Montane Woodcreeper

23 Cundinamarca Antpitta

24 Chestnut-crowned Antpitta

25 Blackish Tapaculo

26 Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet

27 White-throated Tyrannulet

28 Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant

29 Streak-necked Flycatcher

30 Olive-striped Flycatcher

31 Cinnamon Flycatcher

32 Black Phoebe

33 Social Flycatcher

34 Tropical Kingbird

35 Blue-and-white Swallow

36 Sharpe's Wren

37 Grey-breasted Wood-Wren

38 Tropical Mockingbird

39 Andean Solitaire

40 Great Thrush

41 Black-billed Thrush

42 Green Jay

43 Rufous-collared Sparrow

44 Saffron Finch

45 Ochre-breasted Brushfinch

46 Rose-breasted Grosbeak

47 Common Bush-Tanager

48 Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager

49 Silver-beaked Tanager

50 Blue-grey Tanager

51 Palm Tanager

52 Blue-capped Tanager

53 White-lored Euphonia

54 Saffron-crowned Tanager

55 Metallic-green Tanager

56 Beryl-spangled Tanager

57 Blue-and-black Tanager

58 Purple Honeycreeper

59 Rusty Flowerpiercer

60 White-sided Flowerpiercer

61 Bananaquit

62 Tropical Parula

63 Blackburnian Warbler

64 Slate-throated Redstart

65 Three-striped Warbler

66 Philadelphia Vireo

67 Lesser Goldfinch

68 Russet-backed Oropendola

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day Four. No, you don’t want two tamales.

We got up in the dark to get an early start for the Niceforo’s Wren. We figured it would be more likely to respond at first light. I, unfortunately, did not download the song on my iPod, so Oswaldo and Dan went to a great deal of trouble to get it on Dan’s lap top. We got some coffee at a tiny corner shop and headed down hill to the riparian area we had finished at the evening before.

We arrived in a brushy area with fast flowing water where Oswaldo had heard the wren in the past. In fact, there had been in a nest at one time in one of the over hanging trees. We played the call and eventually heard the bird briefly. We worked our way down the creek a little ways, closer to the call. The bird did not seem to be responding to the recording very well. Martin worked his way in even closer and started imitating the call and the bird responded to him! We all finally got at least a brief look, our third critically endangered species in less than 24 hours.

We went back to the area where we had all the hummingbirds the evening before. We had hoped to get some decent photos of the saberwing and the Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird. The hummers were a bit more dispersed, and though we saw both species, they were not hanging around. It was a bit of a steep climb back up, so I decided to start back ahead of everyone. I had also noticed a lot of butterflies as we were working our way down, so I wanted to see if I could get some photos. I was able to get a few decent shots, in spite of the dark conditions. I was just getting to the area where the van was, when Martin, Dan and Oswaldo arrived. We lucked out with the Bicolored Wren, getting much better looks at that wren than we got of the Niceforo’s.

We went back into town for breakfast and to pack up to go back to Bogota . We stopped at a small restaurant. Oswaldo recommended the tamales. Martin and I asked if we should get a couple. Ever, our driver, who could really eat, looked at us like we were nuts. We each ordered one. It was a good thing! The tamale was almost the size of a football. (Well, that’s maybe a slight exaggeration) It came wrapped in banana leaves and was full of all kinds of stuff, garbanzo beans, chicken, pork and who knows what else. I really enjoyed it, though Dan, who is vegetarian, wasn’t crazy about it. We went back to the hotel.

I spent some time outside in the park across from the hotel while waiting for everyone to finish packing. Even here I found some birds, including a Scrub Tanager and the ubiquitous Blue-gray Tanagers. Oswaldo told me he had seen Chestnut-bellied Hummingbirds here in the past, but I had no luck with them. I also took some photos of the town, which I found very charming. The church was particularly lovely.

We were heading back to Bogota for two nights, but we had a stop to make on the way. Outside of the city there is a wonderful wetland, Lago de Fuquene. There was yet another wren, Apolinar’s, a type of marsh wren that we really wanted to see. It’s an endemic, with an very restricted range. I did have this call on my iPod. We pulled up; I played the call and one jumped right out, ready to kick my butt! Unfortunately the reeds were across some water, so I was not able to get a photo. We added a few more species here, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Spot-flanked Gallinule and Sora. Barn Swallows swarmed over the water. Our list for the day is not long, but we were very happy with what we saw. We got back into Bogota after dark and checked back into the Casona del Patio, where we stayed for two nights. Pablo was meeting us in the morning to continue with us for the rest of the trip.

Photos for this day:

Bird list for the day:

1 Cattle Egret

2 Great Egret

3 Turkey Vulture

4 Black Vulture

5 Broad-winged Hawk

6 Sora

7 Spot-flanked Gallinule

8 American Coot

9 Eared Dove

10 White-tipped Dove

11 Smooth-billed Ani

12 Striped Cuckoo

13 White-tipped Swift

14 Lazuline Sabrewing

15 Sparkling Violetear

16 Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird

17 Silvery-throated Spinetail

18 Bar-crested Antshrike

19 Mountain Elaenia

20 White-throated Tyrannulet

21 Tropical Kingbird

22 Blue-and-white Swallow

23 Barn Swallow

24 Bicolored Cactus-Wren

25 Short-billed Marsh-Wren

26 Apolinar's Marsh-Wren

27 NicÈforo's Wren

28 Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush

29 Rufous-collared Sparrow

30 Streaked Saltator

31 Golden-rumped Euphonia

32 Scrub Tanager

33 Brown-capped Vireo

34 Yellow-backed Oriole

35 Yellow-hooded Blackbird

36 Eastern Meadowlark

37 Apical Flycatcher

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Day 3 Who Would Ever Believe We Were Looking for Grackles?

We assumed that the fireworks were over the night before. We were wrong. At 4:00 AM another loud boom shook our room. They really like fireworks in Soata! It was not really a problem, as we needed to get a very early start. Our target bird, Mountain Grackle, is most easily seen before the sun hits the tree tops above Soata.

Mountain Grackle is an extremely range restricted species and it is on the critically endangered list. It was one of our most wanted species for the trip and Oswaldo is one of the best guides in Colombia for finding it. Most locations for them require a long grueling hike. Oswaldo has a location where they can be seen from the road. The bird resembles our Common Grackle, but has a chestnut wing patch and wing lining. It’s also a bit smaller. It’s kind of hard to explain to a non-birder why we were so keen to see grackles!

The drive up the mountain was a bit long and twisting. We passed a girl on horseback that had a pack full of rockets, taking them higher for that evening’s fireworks. We finally got to an area where the grackles are seen regularly. The land was a mix of forest and farm land. We listened and scanned the tree tops, but had no luck. We climbed a bit higher and found Moustached Brush-finches, which we had missed the day before. A few Tyrian Metaltails worked the flowers.

We then heard the unmistakable calling of the grackles. A hand full of birds flew into the tree tops just down the road from us. We rushed over, and caught brief looks. The birds then flew down the hill to where we had been earlier. We jumped back in the car and retraced our steps. We parked where we thought they had flown, but couldn’t find them. Dan and Martin walked quickly down hill, hoping to intercept them. I was lagging behind. I heard some calling and looked up to see several grackles fly into the tree directly above me. I signaled Martin and they hurried back up. We were able to get much better looks and even a couple of really crummy photos!

We drove back up higher, hoping to find some other good birds. We started walking from the area where we had been earlier. A young farmer and two of his sons walked towards us, the boys driving two calves with little sticks. Oswaldo greeted them and told us the farmer owned the land and was working to preserve it for the grackles. He told Oswaldo that his wife would make coffee for us, if we stopped at his house, further up the hill. Dan and I were all for that! Unfortunately when we arrived she was away from the house, so we moved on.

There was some wonderful forest over the pass past the house. We stopped on and off, playing a pygmy owl tape, but really didn’t get much response. We speculated that the warm sun was keeping the birds low. I did see a good number of butterflies at several stream crossings. We returned the way we came and passed the farmer’s house. He and his wife were both at home, so we stopped and happily accepted the coffee. His sons, initially shy, warmed up to us and the youngest even posed for photos. Martin gave the farmer a donation towards preserving the forest. We started back toward town.

There are two other critically endangered species found near Soata, Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird and Niceforo’s Wren. There is a spot near the edge of town where both have been reported, a lovely creek with flowering trees along it. We stopped and very quickly found the hummingbird. The wren, which is extremely secretive, was not calling. As we were scanning we noticed an SUV that drove by a couple of times. The driver finally stopped. He was the mayor and wanted to discuss ecotourism in his town. He was aware of the birds found near town and wanted to see what he could do to promote it. I asked if I could take his photo, and he was not even slightly camera shy!

It was getting a bit late in the afternoon, but we still had some light, so we went to an area with an over-grown creek on the other side of town. We picked our way along a narrow path, listening intently for the Niceforo’s Wren. We dipped on one side, so we took a trail on the other. We still didn’t find the wren, but came across an Apical Flycatcher. Then we spotted a field with trees along one edge that were flowering. We could hear sparring violetears. We climbed up a stony embankment and walked over the trees. I saw a longer-winged hummingbird feeding lower than the violetears. It had a rusty colored tail, a Lazuline Saberwing! We picked out several, though the violetears made it difficult, as they continually harassed them. We also found a couple of Chestnut-bellied Hummingbirds. This made not seeing the wren a little easier.

We trudged back up the hill to the car, hearing, but not seeing, Bicolored Wrens. They had a nest on top of a box on a utility pole. We worked the edge of the scrub, but had only a few common birds, so we packed it up and headed back to the Hotel International for the night, just as the fireworks started again.

Pictures from this day can be seen at :

Species list:

1 Turkey Vulture
2 Black Vulture
3 White-throated Hawk
4 American Kestrel
5 Band-tailed Pigeon
6 Eared Dove
7 Smooth-billed Ani
8 Striped Cuckoo
9 Lazuline Sabrewing
10 Sparkling Violetear
11 Short-tailed Emerald
12 Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird
13 Amethyst-throated Sunangel
14 Tyrian Metaltail
15 Crimson-mantled Woodpecker
16 Montane Woodcreeper
17 Silvery-throated Spinetail
18 Rufous-rumped Tapaculo
19 Mountain Elaenia
20 White-throated Tyrannulet
21 Cinnamon Flycatcher
22 Smoke-colored Pewee
23 Tropical Kingbird
24 Bicolored Cactus-Wren
25 House Wren
26 Grey-breasted Wood-Wren
27 Great Thrush
28 Black-billed Thrush
29 Green Jay
30 Rufous-collared Sparrow
31 Pale-naped Brushfinch
32 Moustached Brushfinch
33 Common Bush-Tanager
34 Summer Tanager
35 Blue-capped Tanager
36 Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager
37 Scrub Tanager
38 Black Flowerpiercer
39 Tennessee Warbler
40 Tropical Parula
41 Blackburnian Warbler
42 Slate-throated Redstart
43 Golden-fronted Whitestart
44 Brown-capped Vireo
45 Yellow-backed Oriole
46 Colombian Mountain Grackle

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Day 2, December 7. They Should be called Sparkling VIOLENT Ears!

Colombia , Day 2

They Should Be Called Sparkling VIOLENT Ears!

We began our day at the delightful private reserve, Rogitama. Located between Bogota and Soata, which was our next destination, this is the best spot to see one of our targets, Black Inca, an endemic hummingbird. Oswaldo had told us several times that the Inca was extremely easy to see. He called it a “pet” at the reserve. Lazuline Saberwing, a near endemic, was supposed to be almost as easy to see. The reserve is known as a great spot for photography. We were really jazzed!

There was a little time before breakfast, so Oswaldo led us into a secluded area of the garden. He showed us the preferred flowers of the Black Inca. The sun was just breaking the horizon and it was a bit chilly. Hummingbirds were already zipping around. In fact it was rather chaotic, with a lot of chasing. We started focusing on the birds, calling out “Sparkling Violetear, another Sparkling Violetear, oh yeah, ANOTHER Sparkling Violetear!” It appeared that every single bird was a Sparkling Violetear. There was no sign of any Black Incas or Lazuline Saberwings. Violetears are very aggressive, and it appeared that they were keeping any other visitors away. Oswaldo said that the Incas were playing the coquette.

We ate a great breakfast of incredible fresh fruit, yogurt and granola and headed back out. We circled the gardens around the house repeatedly. There still were only Violetears. Finally a Black Inca appeared low in a bush in the area we had started birding in earlier. We even were able to get a couple of poor photos. Then a violetear found it and chased it off. That took some pressure off, but we still wanted to see more. We found a couple more Incas, all perched low and inside bushes, limiting photography opportunities. There was no sign of any Saberwings. Oswaldo showed us a porch on the second floor of the building where flowers were on eye level. An occasional Inca fed on the flowers, but the violetears still caused a lot of problems. I was finally able to get a semi-good picture, but still not what I wanted. We also managed a few other species of hummers, Short-tailed Emerald, Speckled Hummingbird and White-bellied Woodstar.

There is a tract of oak forest on the reserve, which we wanted to check out. Our original plan was to drive up, but Roberto, the owner of the preserve, said it was only 500 meters to the forest, and we would see a lot more if we walked. Martin whispered to me that he bet that it would be a heck of lot farther. We started through the fields and I struggled a bit. The ground was uneven and there were fallen logs and branches under tall grass. I am still being overly cautious due to my ankle, so it was slow going. I hated the feeling that I was holding everyone back.

We saw a few birds along the way, a Silvery-throated Spinetail, some Yellow-breasted Brushfinches, Swainson’s Thrush, Tennessee and Blackburnian Warblers and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. It is always fun to see “our” birds in South America . We got excited when we found a patch of seeding bamboo, but there was nothing of note feeding there. Martin was right, as usual. It seemed we had walked a lot farther than 500 meters! Oswaldo called Evar and he picked us up in the van and took us to a field, where we could finally see the forest, which still appeared to be over 500 meters away!

The van had to stay at the gate, so we walked on. We crossed a beautiful little stream. There were some dragonflies, so Martin immediately lost his bird focus and started taking pictures. I was equally preoccupied with some butterflies, puddling on the edge. Dan walked ahead and called out that he thought he had a potoo. There was a dead tree in the pasture and sure enough, at the top of the left fork, we could see a dark form, head pointing up and tail draped down the side of the trunk. He and I went a little closer and scanned. It looked good. We went a little closer, still good. We made the mistake of going still closer and darn if it wasn’t a “feature of the tree”. The moral of this story is “Don’t go closer!”

We had another long drive ahead of us to Soata, so we returned to the house for lunch and packed up. We had a stop scheduled on our way, which I was not exactly ecstatic about, the paramo. If you have read my blogs before, you know that the paramo is the habitat above the tree line. It is invariably cold, rainy and not exactly what you think of with tropical birding. There is a very interesting community of birds there. Martin loves the paramo. I am not as big a fan. I put on some layers, got my raincoat out and tried be cheerful. Actually I am lying. I wasn’t even trying to be cheerful.

As we climbed higher I realized that something was wrong. The sun was out. The temperature was not unpleasant. It wasn’t even windy! What had they done with the paramo? We pulled off the main highway onto a side road. We cruised along searching for blooming flowers. We were looking for hummingbirds. Unfortunately not much was blooming and there was very little activity of any kind. We managed to find a Sedge Wren, some spinetails and a Sierra Finch. I guess the trade off for the good weather was a lack of birds.

The rest of the road to Soata was long and winding. We arrived just at sunset. As we piled our gear in our hotel room, we heard a large booming noise. I looked out the door and saw fireworks to the west. Then there was another boom and saw more fireworks to the east. Soon they were going off all around us. They were marking the beginning of the Christmas season. As we walked to the restaurant for dinner we saw candles being lit all along the street by the people sitting in their door ways and walking along the street. The fireworks continued sporadically.

We ordered our food at a small restaurant. The woman behind the counter had two small girls, maybe four or five years old. They were extremely excited with the all of the festivities going on, going back and forth between the street and the back where their mom was cooking. At one point they both ran in with lit candles. Dan commented “That doesn’t seem like such a good idea!” After dinner when we left we saw the two girls sitting in a doorway with a line of lit candles sitting on a piece of cardboard. Hmmm. Cardboard, lit candles, small children. We speculated if the town would last the night. The fireworks continued until about 11:00 PM. Thank goodness for ear plugs!

The town did not burn down. We actually got some sleep. The next day was a big one. We had three critically endangered birds to seek out.

Pictures from this day.

Bird List

1 Cattle Egret

2 Great Egret

3 Black Vulture

4 White-tailed Kite

5 Roadside Hawk

6 American Kestrel

7 Eared Dove

8 Smooth-billed Ani

9 Sparkling Violetear

10 Short-tailed Emerald

11 Speckled Hummingbird

12 Black Inca

13 Tyrian Metaltail

14 White-bellied Woodstar

15 Crimson-mantled Woodpecker

16 Azara's Spinetail

17 Silvery-throated Spinetail

18 Black-capped Tyrannulet

19 Golden-faced Tyrannulet

20 Mountain Elaenia

21 White-throated Tyrannulet

22 Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant

23 Tropical Kingbird

24 Brown-bellied Swallow

25 Short-billed Marsh-Wren

26 House Wren

27 Grey-breasted Wood-Wren

28 Tropical Mockingbird

29 Swainson's Thrush

30 Great Thrush

31 Rufous-collared Sparrow

32 Plumbeous Sierra-Finch

33 Rufous-naped Brushfinch

34 Rose-breasted Grosbeak

35 Summer Tanager

36 Blue-grey Tanager

37 Blue-capped Tanager

38 White-sided Flowerpiercer

39 Black Flowerpiercer

40 Tennessee Warbler

41 Blackburnian Warbler

42 Slate-throated Redstart

43 Brown-capped Vireo

44 Yellow-backed Oriole

45 Eastern Meadowlark

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Colombia, The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay


Martin and I returned for two weeks of birding in Colombia , joined by our good friend Dan Peak for the first part of the trip. We spent 5 days in the area surrounding Bogota and then flew to the Santa Marta region on the Caribbean coast for the remainder of our time. Our emphasis was on quality vs. quantity, concentrating on endemic and near endemic species. We had an extremely successful trip, thanks to our incredible guides, Oswaldo Cortez and Pablo Florez. Pablo had guided us on our great trip in August, and made all of our arrangements. The title of this report is the new slogan for Colombia ’s tourism agency. I found it absolutely true.

December 6

We arrived in Bogota late on December 5, so our birding began early on December 6. Our guide, Oswaldo Cortez, met us before 5:00 AM at our hotel, Casona del Patio. We were delighted to see that our driver was Evar, who had driven us in Bogota on our previous trip. We packed up quickly and headed to Laguna Pedropalo, in the Eastern Andes, north of Bogota . This is one of the best sites to see Turquiose Dacnis. There is a reserve, but all of the birds found can be found along the road, where it is easy to walk.

One of the many things that I find charming about Colombia is that many people walk for fun. It’s not unusual to see families strolling together on quiet country roads on weekend. This can be a bit of a negative when birding, due to conversation, but I am so happy to see families together that it’s easy to tolerate. Being a Sunday, there were quite a few people. Despite this, we did manage to see quite a few birds. One of the first life birds I got here was an Indigo-capped Hummingbird. We also scored on Short-tailed Emerald. A Yellow-backed Oriole sang incessantly. We scanned the lake, which was visible from the road, but only saw a couple of Pied-billed Grebes.

We worked our way up the road, driving a bit, then birding, and then driving a bit more. We reached an area where we stood above the trees. We were all looking in different directions, when Martin called out “Male Turquoise Dacnis! He was trying to get it in the scope, as I ran over. Unfortunately the bird flew. We spent quite a long time searching both the tree it was in, and a group of trees in the direction it had flown. Despite playing a tape of its song we never re-found the bird. Needless to say, we were a bit disappointed.

We started working our way back down the road, when a middle aged lady and three young girls, possibly her grand daughters, passed us. The woman turned back to talk, asking us where we were from and what we were looking for. She spoke some English and we limped along with our limited Spanish. (I should say MY extremely limited Spanish. Martin does pretty well) She surprised us all by insisting that we accompany her and the girls to her finca (farm) for coffee. It was very close, just around the corner. Dan and I were both jonesing for caffeine, so we were delighted to take her up on it. The coffee was incredibly good. Martin doesn’t drink coffee, so she had her kitchen girl make him a glass of fresh blackberry juice, known as mora. This was the first of many times on this trip that we were deeply impressed by the open friendliness of the Colombian people.

One of the downsides of birding near Bogota , is that the birding locations can be quite distant from each other. This area of Colombia is very developed, with excellent roads and a very “civilized” country-side. The farms would look in place in any green, hilly area of the United States . Patches of forest are widely separated. We had a long drive to our next location, Rogitama Reserve, so we took off shortly after noon for the long drive. We arrived right at sunset. After a wonderful dinner, Oswaldo took us out to look for White-throated Screech Owl. Unfortunately we did not have a proper spot light and Martin’s flashlight was not able to pick out the bird, though we did hear it calling quite close. More about Rogitama and its famous "pet", the Black Inca.

Here is a link to my photos:

Here is our bird list for the day:
1 Pied-billed Grebe

2 Cattle Egret

3 Great Egret

4 Black Vulture

5 White-tailed Kite

6 Roadside Hawk

7 Broad-winged Hawk

8 American Kestrel

9 Common Moorhen

10 Band-tailed Pigeon

11 Eared Dove

12 White-tipped Dove

13 Spectacled Parrotlet

14 Squirrel Cuckoo

15 White-throated Screech-Owl

16 Green Hermit

17 Green Violet-ear

18 Blue-tailed Emerald

19 Short-tailed Emerald

20 Fork-tailed Woodnymph

21 Andean Emerald

22 Indigo-capped Hummingbird

23 Steely-vented Hummingbird

24 Booted Racquet-tail

25 White-bellied Woodstar

26 Red-headed Barbet

27 Olivaceous Piculet

28 Acorn Woodpecker

29 Red-crowned Woodpecker

30 Smoky-brown Woodpecker

31 Azara's Spinetail

32 Slaty Spinetail

33 Ash-browed Spinetail

34 Bar-crested Antshrike

35 Plain Antvireo

36 Blackish Tapaculo

37 Sooty-headed Tyrannulet

38 Golden-faced Tyrannulet

39 Mouse-colored Tyrannulet

40 Mountain Elaenia

41 Common Tody-Flycatcher

42 Yellow-olive Flycatcher

43 Black Phoebe

44 Rusty-margined Flycatcher

45 Tropical Kingbird

46 Brown-bellied Swallow

47 House Wren

48 Grey-breasted Wood-Wren

49 Tropical Mockingbird

50 Swainson's Thrush

51 Great Thrush

52 Pale-breasted Thrush

53 Black-billed Thrush

54 Rufous-collared Sparrow

55 Saffron Finch

56 Yellow-bellied Seedeater

57 Yellow-faced Grassquit

58 Sooty Grassquit

59 Rose-breasted Grosbeak

60 Summer Tanager

61 Crimson-backed Tanager

62 Blue-grey Tanager

63 Palm Tanager

64 Fawn-breasted Tanager

65 Flame-faced Tanager

66 Bay-headed Tanager

67 Scrub Tanager

68 Blue-necked Tanager

69 Beryl-spangled Tanager

70 Blue-and-black Tanager

71 Black-capped Tanager

72 Green Honeycreeper

73 Rusty Flowerpiercer

74 Bananaquit

75 Tropical Parula

76 Black-and-white Warbler

77 Blackburnian Warbler

78 Canada Warbler

79 Slate-throated Redstart

80 Rufous-browed Peppershrike

81 Red-eyed Vireo

82 Brown-capped Vireo

83 Rufous-naped Greenlet

84 Andean Siskin

85 Lesser Goldfinch

86 Yellow-backed Oriole