Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Guajira Region - Colombia

The Guajira region is located in the north of Colombia, includes the Caribbean coast and associated lagoons, and is dominated by dry desert scrub habitat. The bird life here is very unique and many of the species sought here are not endemics, but rather near-endemics as many of them are found in neighbouring Venezuela. From what I've read these birds are easier to find in Colombia than in Venezuela; or at least the region is easy to access. Basically see them in Colombia is the take home message.

I was really pressed for time and almost didn't make it to this area but was glad I did. It was the first time I was travelling solo in Colombia (with little to no Spanish ability), and while I only got to bird for about 24 hours, it was well worth it. My only regret is not being able to spend one more day here.

Day 1: I took a bus out into the desert and got off in the middle of nowhere essentially, hired a motorcycle taxi to take me a few kms to a small hotel in Camarones. Birded in the afternoon heat (not pleasant or advisable!)

Day 2: Birded the morning before it got too hot, hired a homemade sailboat to take me out in the lagoons to see the flamingos and waders. Bus back to Santa Marta.

From Jurgen Beckers & Pablo Florez Birdwatching in Colombia book, here is the list of specialties:

(Red indicates I didn't see it)

Bare-eyed Pigeon 
Buffy Hummingbird 
Chestnut Piculet 
White-whiskered Spinetail 
Slender-billed Tyrannulet
Northern Scrub-Flycatcher
Orinocan Saltator
Vermillion Cardinal
Glaucous Tanager
Tocuyo Sparrow
Pileated Finch

Chestnut Piculet (above and below) 

White-whiskered Spinetail (also seen around Cartagena)

 Slender-billed Tyrannulet (I think - has a dark eye). I used it's voice to help distinguish it from the similar Pale-tipped Tyrannulet (pale eye). This photo won't sing for me.

 Northern Scrub-Flycatcher

 Vermilion Cardinals

Flamingos and herons in the next post...

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Santa Marta Endemics - Colombia

As I mentioned before, the Santa Marta mountains have numerous endemics. Many of these birds are named the "Santa Marta Something-or-other". The ones I missed out on I will highlight in orange.

Santa Marta Antpitta
Santa Marta Antbird
Santa Marta Brush-Finch
Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant
Santa Marta Foliage-Gleaner
Santa Marta Mountain-Tanager
Santa Marta Parakeet
Santa Marta Sabrewing - Mythical beast seen by almost nobody. Sight records are considered suspect.
Santa Marta Screech-Owl
Santa Marta Tapaculo
Santa Marta Warbler
Santa Marta Woodstar
Santa Marta Wren - Not possible at El Dorado. Prefers much higher elevation.

The other endemics include:

Blue-billed Curassow - Very rare here, but easier at another ProAves reserve (I didn't go there)
Black-backed Thornbill (a hummingbird)
Blossomcrown (a hummingbird)
Brown-rumped Tapaculo
Rusty-headed Spinetail
Sierra Nevada Brush-Finch (Santa Marta was already taken)
White-lored Warbler
White-tailed Starfrontlet (a hummingbird)
Yellow-crowned Whitestart

Some of these endemics are easier to find, while others take a lot of work, a lot of luck, or a bit of both. And I haven't even mentioned the near endemics, endemic sub-species, or other excellent birds that are found here.

I managed a few pics of some of the endemics but regret not taking even a record shot of others.

 Santa Marta Antbird

 Black-backed Thornbill

 Santa Marta Brush-Finch (above and below)

 This Santa Marta Brush-Finch approached the photographer - not the other way around!

 Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant

 Santa Marta Parakeets

Santa Marta Screech-Owl (as yet a still undescribed species). An easy tick, heard from your bed in the middle of the night. And the guides usually know where they roost. 

 Yellow-crowned Whitestart

 Santa Marta Warbler

White-tailed Starfrontlet

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

ProAves El Dorado Lodge Colombia

The biggest and most popular ProAves lodge in Colombia is the El Dorado Lodge in the mountains above Santa Marta. People come here for the glut of Colombian Endemics, many of which aren't too difficult to find, but are isolated to this small mountain range. Hardcore birders can probably get most of their targets by spending 2 nights here. 

Link or more information on El Dorado: http://www.ecoturs.org/?lang=en&page=eldoradobirdreserve

It's a rough road to get to the lodge and most hire a 4X4 to get there. My brother and I rode on the back of motorcycles with our packs for an exhausting, back-breaking trip that saved us some all important beer money. An adventure to be sure. And after staying in a dirt-cheap shed with bunk beds (with a scorpion and a rodent) we were ready for a plush birding lodge. 

Views at and around the lodge.

Feeders are a main attraction at any birding lodge and hummingbirds were plentiful. 

Black-backed Thornbill (Endemic). A single bird, not always at the feeders. It can be seen higher up the mountain in the tops of Eucalyptus, but the views are not often good. 

White-tailed Starfrontlet (Endemic) at the feeders. Male and female.

 Anybody who has birded the tropics will be familiar with this Green Violetear. 

 And the slightly larger cousin, the Sparkling Violetear

And the handsome Brown Violetear

The very common Violet-crowned Woodnymph (depending on classification, a subspecies of Crowned-Woodnymph). Male and female.

I will cover the endemics of the area on my next post.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Santa Marta area - Colombia

The mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in the north of Colombia are a major birding destination as it has the highest concentration of endemic bird species in South America! (From Birdwatching in Colombia by Jurgen Beckers and Pablo Florez). Because these mountains are widely separated from the Andes ranges, many species evolved into new species or subspecies. However, this isolation also means that biodiversity is a bit lower than the Andes ranges. So while you won't rack up a huge list here, you will see a lot of special / endangered / endemic species. 

Much of this mountain range is difficult to access and some parts not always safe. However, Cuchilla de San Lorenzo is a ridge that is very safe for birders, easy to get to, and all but one endemic is found here. Minca is a small town part way up that birders often spend a day or two at, followed by a few days higher up at the fantastic ProAves reserve and lodge called El Dorado. There is also a research station nearer the summit that's possible to stay at if you can make the arrangements. My brother and I also stayed a few nights at a small village called La Tagua after our plans to stay at the research station didn't pan out. 

I will do a separate post on the El Dorado Lodge and its hummingbird feeders, and another post on the endemics of this area. For now, here a few photos of some other birds we saw. 

Golden-bellied Grosbeak

Orange-chinned Parakeet

Swallow Tanager - very common along road here!

Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant

 Cinnamon Flycatcher

Black-fronted Wood-Quail (near endemic)

Bay-headed Tanager

 Blue-capped Tanager at feeder.

 Blue-naped Chlorophonia 

 Crested Oropendola

 Oropendola nests



Sunset over the Caribbean as seen from the El Dorado Lodge