19 Feb 2019

17 Feb 18 - Colombian Solid Gold

After an overnight flight from Heathrow, Brian Field & I arrived into Bogota just as it was getting light. Having collected the bags & cleared passport control, we were pleased to get to the arrivals area & find somebody waiting for us to take us to the hotel. I hadn't slept for more than an hour or two on the plane, so was looking forward to some sleep. But about three hours after closing my eyes, the alarm was going off to wake up again, having left just had enough time to race down for the complimentary breakfast. Whilst enjoying breakfast, I had time to consider the early starts & insufficient sleep that were going to be a feature for the next few weeks. Therefore, I might as well get used to it straight away. At least I would be feeling tired by mid evening when an early night would be helpful. The next item on the plan was to change some money & head down to the city centre. We had the rest of the day to ourselves, before we had to meet the rest of the Birdquest group for dinner. Brian had said there was an excellent gold museum in Bogota, the Museo del Oro & he thought it would be worth a visit. After a fifteen minute taxi ride, we were dropped at the museum. It looked like a dull office block, but with few windows. Perhaps not surprising giving the amount of gold inside the building. Apparently, it houses over 34,000 separate gold items. The museum was dedicated to the history of pre-Colombian gold by the many different indigenous cultures and regions within the modern Colombia. Many of the items dated from a few hundred years BC to about 1000 AD. The quality of the workmanship was impressive & seemed comparable to similar gold jewellery and objects I've seen at the British museum or on archaeological programs on TV from the UK & Europe. The Colombian items were largely pure gold, whereas similar aged items from the UK were often gold with inlaid precious stones. In hindsight, I didn't photograph as many of the labels as I should have done & so the captions are not as detailed as I would now have liked.
This was probably a ceremonial gold breast band
This looks like a gold breast band to indicate the owner's importance: Note, the Monkey imagery. A lot of the items featured wildlife in the designs
This was from the Yotoco-Malagana culture close to the modern city of Cali: It dates from 200 BC to 1300 AD (or in Spanish 200 AC to 1300 DC)
I really like these fine figures
Looks like a shark symbol
There aren't many people who get to go fishing with gold hooks
Gold Lizard pendant: Although it looks like a crocodile, the translation confirms it is a Lizard pendant dated to 970 AD
This is a Guan pendant dated to 240 BC & it was part of a burial item
In addition to over 34,000 gold items, the museum is home to over 20,000 bone & stone items
Frigatebird pendants
Burial goods
The burial practices in some parts of South America were very different to Europe with people buried sitting up: This individual must have been found in a very arid location given the excellent preservation
Colibri or Hummingbird: I saw 64 species of Hummingbird including 23 Ticks in Colombia
This item is believed to have been on the end of a cane or stick & dates to 490 AD
I'm assuming this was an elaborate headdress with a a religious or ceremonial use
Gold band
Gold pins
Gold figurine: This is thought to be an important female chieftain. Chieftains and shamans performed important rituals to ensure that life would continue normally. This is from Quimbaya and dates from 500 BC to 700 AD. It is close to the Hotel Thermales del Ruiz where we stayed a week later
Will this be the next dancing craze: This Jaguar breastplate was made between 1 and 700 AD
Golden earrings
One of the earrings
Conch shell: Conch shells were often of great value to pre-Colombian Andean cultures as they would have had to have been traded over hundreds of miles to get into Andes. This one was covered in gold leaf as well
We declined a chance of a photo with this local
Or a photo with these ladies
After leaving the gold museum, we had a wander around the centre in search of a cafe.
This cafe had been well decorated: The coffee & cake were equally well made
Old church: This looks like it was one of the early Spanish churches in Bogota
Modern Bogota
It was now late afternoon & time to get a taxi back to the hotel & sort our gear out for the morning. We were due to meet the rest of the Birdquest group & leader Janos Olah that evening for dinner in the hotel. All the group had arrived during the day, apart from one of the American Birders, Doug, who wasn't due in to Bogota till the early hours of the following morning. He made it in time for the 04:30 meeting the following morning for our departure in search of some real Colibri & lots of other goodies. At least we were staying in the same hotel for the next couple of nights so didn't have to worry about packing the bags.

1 Feb 2019

16 Feb 18 - The Start Of The South American Adventure

Back to early Feb 18, I left the UK for the start of three months travelling in Colombia and Chile, followed by the Atlantic Odyssey & West African Pelagic back from Ushuaia to Holland. The first part of the trip was a Birdquest tour to Colombia with my good mate, the late Brian Field, who sadly & unexpectedly died a few months later. Although I've travelled widely abroad, virtually all my trips have been travelling with mates or sometimes on my own on self-organised trips. I've done three trips on expedition ships which are obviously organised tours, but they are to places that obviously can't been reached by other means. The only organised tour I've booked on up to this point was a week's trip to Turkey in 2015. That was initially arranged by one of my mates, Nigel Jones & several friends were booked on the trip, before it was handed back to Birdwatch magazine to fill the remaining spaces. This was a trip I could easily have self-organised, but given Nigel had already sorted quite a bit of the organisation, I was happy to go along for the plans, rather than sort something out myself.
Horned Lark: There have only been a couple of previous accepted records of Horned Larks in the UK. Subsequent DNA analysis has confirmed this is one of the North American subspecies, hoyti, praticola or nominate alpestris, from the Arctic coast of North America or Canada
Back to Colombia, the previous summer, Brian had mentioned he was booked on the Birdquest tour to Northern Colombia. I have wanted to visit Colombia for a number of years since it's settled down. It was a country I wasn't confident I wanted to do on my own & I've half-looked for mates who might be interested in teaming up. But as a number of friends had already visited on organised trips, it wasn't looking hopeful for a self-organised trip. Even then, other independent Birders who have visited in recent years have still ended up with self-organised trips using local Birding tour companies to get around & provide guides, so will have paid a hefty price for their trips. By autumn 17, it was looking like my work was going to dry up later that year, so I decided to join Brian on the tour as the start of a longer time abroad. I wasn't overly sure I wanted to go on an organised tour, but figured I might have a long wait before I could find some mates who wanted to go. At least, I would know Brian & he said Janos Olah who was leading the tour was an excellent leader & good company.
Horned Lark: I've heard there are suggestions that the Shorelark complex (which the Yanks insist on called Horned Lark), is in flux at the moment with the potential for future splits. Being a Brit, I stick to Shorelarks for the species name, but will use Horned Lark for the North American subspecies
Brian & I decided to fly out early compared to the rest of the group so that we would have a day in Bogota to rest before the trip got going. Kindly, Brian agreed to pick me up on his way from West Cornwall to Heathrow. It was an mid morning & early pickup, considering the flight wasn't until the mid evening, but we wanted to do some Birding en route. Back in Nov 17, a Horned Lark had turned up at Staines Reservoir just outside Heathrow, having previous been seen & kept quite at one of the other local reservoirs. I saw it a few days after it moved to Staines Reservoir, where it could be seen from a public path. But it was too far for any worthwhile photos. Brian left it for longer before he made the journey, by which time it had disappeared. In the end, it did reappear & settle down for the winter at Staines Reservoir, but Brian didn't make the effort again. Given we were going to pass within a mile or two of the site, it was worth another look. We arrived in the early afternoon & Brian headed off to look for it, while I stayed to keep an eye on the car & bags. Normally, I would have been happy to leave the car locked up, but with everything for a three months trip in the car, I wasn't going to take that risk. Within an hour later Brian reappeared, having had good views & with directions on where to look for it. Fortunately, it was feeding on the bank of the main causeway & only twenty metres from the path. My camera was ready & I headed off for the ten minute walk.
Horned Lark: Whether this eventually gets split only time will tell, but I suspect it may be a long wait. At least it it does, I won't have to make a long journey for the next one. The two previous records have been on Scilly & South Uist, but I don't believe either have been accepted. With the DNA evidence this record should at least get accepted and may help a review of the previous records
Horned Lark
The trip was off to a good, but cold, start. But cold was something I was going to get use to in Colombia on a number of days & was warmly kitted out for. We checked in with plenty of time for some food before the flight to Bogota.

29 Jan 2019

24 Mar 18 - My Final Two Chilean Tapaculos

All too quickly, it was my last day of Birding in Chile. I decided to try & see the two new Chilean Tapaculos for me: White-throated Tapaculo & Dusky Tapaculo. Both occur at Parque Nacional La Campana, on the North side of Santiago. Moustached Turca also occurs in the park, but this was the only Tapaculo I had seen on my first short visit to Chile in Sep 02. The park doesn't open till 08:00 so I had chance to get breakfast before the park opened. I arrived to find a slow-moving queue of people trying to get into the park to go walking. I had been caught out by getting used to not seeing people while I was Birding & trying to get into a popular park near the capital on a Saturday. After a fifteen minute wait, I was finally able to get into the park. Fortunately, the other people were walkers & weren't going in the direction I wanted to go. I headed into the park until I could find a small path into the dry Chaparral habitat on the right-hand hillside. After a few minutes of walking into the habitat, I found a more open area & tried the recording of White-throated Tapaculo. Within a couple of minutes, a White-throated Tapaculo had responded.
White-throated Tapaculo: It showed well until I lifted my camera, when it disappeared back into the vegetation. It hung another for another ten minutes, but was very skulky
Dusky-tailed Canastero: This is the nominate humicola subspecies which occurs in central & Northern Chile
Tufted Tit-tyrant: Another species that likes the dry Chaparral habitat
It had already got hot & I decided I needed to push on. The next site in the park was the forest trails where I was hoping to find find a Dusky Tapaculo. After a bit of searching, I managed to see my last new Tapaculo, but I failed to get any photos of it. Just after this, I bumped into a couple of American Birders who were the first Birders I had seen since the Arica pelagic. They had been at one of the nearby high-altitude sites, El Yeso, & seen a couple of Diademed Sandpiper-plovers. I hadn't been expecting they would still be around at El Yeso as they disperse from the central Chilean sites outside of the breeding season.
Striped Woodpecker: Another Chilean near endemic that was on my hit list
It was now late morning & very hot. Time to head out of the park & find a cold drink. My plan had been to try a local reservoir on the way back to Santiago. I had seen on eBird, that a local Birder had seen a South American Painted Snipe at the site recently. It seemed a long shot, but worth a look. However, as I was driving back towards Santiago, I realised I should have enough time to get up to El Yeso. Given it was still really hot, I decided I didn't fancy walking around the reservoir site. A quick check of the map & I was heading to El Yeso. It took a bit longer to get there than I had hoped, which cut into my time to look for the Diademed Sandpiper-plovers. It might have helped to have asked the American Birders for detailed directions, but visiting El Yeso hadn't seemed a realistic plan at the time. I tried all the obvious areas I could see & with more time maybe I would have been successful. It probably didn't help that a lot of other Santiago residents had decided to have a weekend's camping at the site. It was a cracking place to visit & will be on my route for my next visit to Chile.
El Yeso: it was stunning scenery. However, the deep shadows indicated I really needed to head to the hotel which was around a three hour drive
El Yeso: I didn't have any access problems with a normal car. However, I couldn't follow some of the 4WDs off the road by the lake as I didn't have their clearance
I had run out of time. I needed to head back towards the airport & the Hostal Sol y Luna for my last night. It was a bit tricky to find, but I found it in the end. After a final packing of the bags I was ready for my early morning departure to catch the early morning plane to Buenos Aires. I would have a six hour wait there before the late afternoon plane to Ushuaia. Trailfinders haven't been able to find a better connection. I had plenty of time to start entering all my Chilean sightings onto the laptop. Chile had been a brilliant trip & a good use of my time between the Colombian & the Atlantic Odyssey trips. I had seen thirty two Ticks on my second trip to Chile, out of a total of around forty five potential ticks. I saw another three new species from that hit list around Ushuaia within the next couple of days. Many of the species I still need are either possible to see at the high-altitude sites near Santiago or are Peruvian overshoots into Northern Chile. So I have a reasonable chance to seeing them in the future, especially as I plan to return at some point to visit Easter Island & the Juan Fernandez Islands, which will mean passing through Santiago again.

26 Jan 2019

22 Mar 18 - More Tapaculo Fun & Games

I woke up at first light at Parque Nacional del Laja to find the campground looked like it was near a slate mining area in Snowdonia. The steady drizzle made it seem even more like Snowdonia. I didn't have a lot of recent information about the park, but it was an old site for seeing Chestnut-throated Huet-huet. I struggled to find the small paths that were marked in the reports which lead to the Bamboo areas where they had been seen in the past.
Pacque Nacional del Laja: The low cloud added to the Welsh feel. It was scenic & somewhere up higher were the Bamboo clumps, but I reckoned I could spend a lot of time wandering around in the rain without any success
Pacque Nacional del Laja
After a look around & a bit of early morning Birding, I decided to cut my losses & move on. I had other sites for Chestnut-throated Huet-huet. Those sites were further North & I hadn't wanted to drive for a few more hours on the previous night to reach them. One of the best-looking sites was Termas de Chillan which had some nice bamboo groves which Chestnut-throated Huet-huet likes. Magellanic Tapaculos were also at the same site. I didn't reach the Termas de Chillan site till early afternoon as it was another site at the end of a long, slow side road into the mountains. I quickly found the site that others had visited. This was a massive area of dense Bamboos on the flat valley bottom and at the base of the hillside.
Termas de Chillen Bamboo: It looks great habitat, but also very dense to see into
Termas de Chillen Bamboo
Time to get out & start looking. I quickly had a response from the first of several Magellanic Tapaculos that I saw or heard at the site.
Magellanic Tapaculo: My fourth Tapaculo tick for the Chile trip & the only reasonable photo of all the photos taken. The light was grim & typical for a Tapaculo, it was skulking behind bits of vegetation on all the other photos
I heard a Chestnut-throated Huet-huet, but it only called a couple of times, but I had a rough area from where it had been calling from. After an hour of looking I gave up on that individual. Another Chucao Tapaculo did show itself from the same area, but that was the wrong species. After three hours of looking, it was getting cold & the little activity in the area had stopped. I ended up trying to find some accommodation for the evening. Given it was a big tourist valley, I thought it would be easy. It turns out I was looking in the off-season period & nearly everywhere was shut for the off-season or they wanting to rent me a chalet for six or more people at the prices that they would charge for a group. Eventually, I found a room in a small hotel next to a pizza restaurant. Hopefully I would have more success in the morning. Overnight rain didn't improve my optimism, but at least it had stopped raining by the morning. I returned to the same general area, but tried to find other small paths into the Bamboo. I did hear another Chestnut-throated Huet-huet, but it refused to come to the edge of the cover & I couldn't find a place to get into the Bamboo.
More great-looking, but impenetrable Bamboo
Finally, I decided to return to the first track & see if the first Chestnut-throated Huet-huet was prepared to show itself. I could at least approach the area from a different angle by crossing the stream. First, I tried sitting quietly for some time in case my arrival had disturbed it. Then I tried the recording & it responded a few times. After another ten minutes of waiting, it finally showed itself. Long enough to enjoy bins views, but too tucked into cover for a chance of a photo. It was similar to the showy Black-throated Huet-huet I seen a few days earlier on Chiloe Island, but with a chestnut-rufous colouration extending from the belly to the throat. I was happy just to have seen it. It was now late morning. I could now move on towards my last destination of of Parque Nacional La Campana, to the North of Santiago. I had a late morning pizza, in preparation for the four hundred mile journey. I didn't reach La Campana till 21:30. After a bit of searching I had sorted out a hotel room for the night & directions to a restaurant. After some food, I headed up to one of the park entrances. Old reports had said there were Rufous-legged Owls around some of the campsites in the park. The park entrance was locked up. I tried to walk in, but was immediately spotted by a park guard. The campsites for closed for the season & he said they had CCTV operating, so it would be obvious to his bosses if he had let me in to look around after dark. I tried plan B for the next hour of looking around the outsides to both entrances to the park, but no joy. This was a blow as this had been my most reliable site on paper for Rufous-legged Owl. I hadn't tried too hard earlier in the South, as my information hadn't been great & I was banking on this site. In the end, I did see Rufous-legged Owl in Ushuaia a few days later. But I had had to go out with a lot of the punters who were booked on the Atlantic Odyssey with local guide, Marcelo. His prices for the evening, were a complete rip off & he was also the worst person I've ever looked for Owls with. The evening left me completely unimpressed with his guiding abilities, although the Rufous-legged Owl was finally good to see.

24 Jan 2019

21 Mar 18 - New (Chilean) Pastures

I had arrived after dark at Parque Nacional Puyehue on the previous evening & found a self-catering cabin at a cabanas about six miles before the park entrance road at a sensible price. It turned out to be a good decision with Slender-billed Parakeets, Chilean Pigeons & Green-backed Firecrowns flying about the cabin at first light. After having some breakfast in the chalet, I left for the park. The conifer trees were tall & dense and combined with the steep-sided hills, it meant that the forest was cold & dark & there was little activity. I stayed on the main gravel road in the park & only explored less than a mile beyond the lake on the right-hand side of the road.
This river passed under the road next to the second of two big, expensive hotels on the approach road
The road was a gravel track after the river
The roadside lake: The sun had been up for over two hours, but it doesn't seem like that
My main reason for visiting the park was in the hope of finding a Magellanic Tapaculo, which I hadn't been able to find on Chiloe Island. There were some potential sites I could have tried on Chiloe Island. However, I decided that as I still had several sites further North, that I could try one of those sites & start reducing the distance to Santiago. I did succeed in seeing a Magellanic Tapaculo & hearing a second individual. However, I didn't manage to get any photos. I was more successful in getting photos of a couple of Chucao Tapaculos in the roadside vegetation. I heard another ten Chucao Tapaculos: they are clearly common in the park.
Chucao Tapaculo: They really are brilliant
Chucao Tapaculo
Chucao Tapaculo
Chucao Tapaculo
There were a few Chilean Pigeons flying around. I had seen a few on Chiloe Island, but only in flight. It was good to finally see one to photograph.
Chilean Pigeon: This one was feeding on the gravel road through the park
One of the other species, I had hoped to see in Chile was Austral Pygmy-owl. I had unsuccessfully looked for them around Ushuaia in Dec 1998 & during my short visit to the central Chile in Sep 02. I hadn't had any luck on Chiloe & was still trying. I was still surprised when an Austral Pygmy-owl started responding from the trees close to where I was standing. After a couple of minutes of waiting, I saw where it was calling from.
Austral Pygmy-owl: They occur in the Andes of South Chile & Argentina & winter to North Argentina
Austral Pygmy-owl: I'm always happy seeing Owls, especially if they are new
By this point in the trip, I had seen most of species I was keen to see & I was looking for specific targets. Magellanic Tapaculo has been the main target & the Austral Pygmy-owl has been a bonus that I had hoped to see. There was a chance of seeing Patagonian Tyrant, but I couldn't find any. Despite my successes, the Birding had been fairly quiet & it was time to move on. I spent the rest of the day driving onto Parque Nacional del Laja. Again, I didn't arrive until after dark. I hadn't been able to find any accommodation in the small towns on the approach to the park, so ended up booking a camping slot within the park for a few quid. I had a sleeping bag & was happy to kip in the car.