17 Mar 2019

19 Feb 18 - A Morning At Cerro Guadalupe

The alarms were set fractionally later on our second morning of Birding in Colombia, but still well before what any sane person would consider to be dawn. There was chance for a quick coffee in the hotel reception, as they had remembered to provide some this morning, before we jumped into the minibus for the forty five minute drive to Cerro Guadalupe. This is a windy road on the edge of Bogota & where were were to spend the morning Birding along the forested road edges. The Birding was from the road, but fortunately, there was little traffic along the road, as it's a dead-end road. Soon after first light, we saw some Guans sitting in the trees. They were Andean Guans, but the light wasn't great for photos. As the light improved, we saw more Andean Guans & they were closer for photos.
Andean Guan: These were the first of several parties of Andean Guans we were to see over the next week
As we walked along the road, we encountered a few Coppery-bellied Pufflegs: this was the only site we saw this near endemic which is restricted to the Colombian Eastern Andes & neighbouring Venezuela.
Coppery-bellied Puffleg: A cracking Hummer
As we continued Birding, we ran into a few small parties of Birds, including a couple of large & bulky Rufous Wrens. The road was a bit frustrating, as often there were banks on either side of the road above head height, so we were seeing some of the typically skulking species sitting partially concealed above our heads, before disappearing far too quickly. The views were fine, but it was a morning of struggling to get photos. But then I was also spending more time Birding & not worrying too much about using the camera.
It was tough habitat to see into & it was relatively quiet
Another scenery shot
After some time, some police showed up on motorbikes. They stopped close to us, before slowing following us at a distance. Brian walked over to have a chat them as he & Janos were our best Spanish speakers. I was expecting to be told that we weren't allowed to be Birding along the road and we had to leave. But the coppers kept their distance. Later, Brian said, they explained they would hang around as there had been problems with robberies along the road in the past, so they were going to keep an eye on us for our own good. They were friendly & quiet and it was reassuring having them around. It was nice to have my suspicions proved wrong.
Our guardians for the morning: While Brian & a couple of others were having a chat with the coppers, Welsh Birder Rob Hunt was leaving them to catch up with the rest of us
As we walked along the road, there were a few Band-tailed Pigeons flying around. Additionally, a smaller, medium-sized Bird flew over & perched on a distant tree. The scopes were brought into use, to confirm it was a Red-crested Cotinga. Like, the Andean Guan, it was a species I had seen before in Ecuador, but not for 18 & 20 years, respectively.
Red-crested Cotinga
We walked down to a nearby road junction, before exploring along that side road. There were one or two small trails into the forest & we managed to see a few other species in the bamboo thickets under the trees including a couple of Rufous Antpittas, a couple of White-browed Spinetails and an Agile Tit-tyrant. Back on the road, I saw my first Golden-fronted Whitestarts & a family party of Black-crested Warblers.
White-browed Spinetail: Bamboo can be really hard to photograph Birds in
 Agile Tit-tyrant
Agile Tit-tyrant
Golden-fronted Whitestart: This is the nominate ornatus subspecies. It was the only occasion we saw this subspecies, all the rest were the yellow-faced chrysops subspecies
Plushcap: This is a widespread South American species that I've only ever seen skulking in or near to Bamboo
Plushcap: I've rarely had clear views of Plushcaps, which is a pity as they look great
Black-crested Warbler: Adult
Black-crested Warbler: Juvenile. This juvenile was more of an identification challenge, until mum & dad appeared
A mixed flock produced my first Black-capped Hemispingus & Superciliared Hemispingus: both members of the large & colourful Tanager family.
Black-capped Hemispingus: This species occurs from Colombia & Western Venezuela and further South through Ecuador to Peru
Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager: They have a similar range to the Black-capped Hemispingus
Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager: This is a large good-looking Tanager
Pale-naped Brush-finch
Butterfly sp.
By late morning, I had managed to see six Ticks, despite it seeming a fairly quiet morning. It was now very quiet & we returned to the minibus to head off to the afternoon destination of Parque la Florida (Florida Park). Another long, cross Bogota journey of around two hours.
Bogota: Looks like Health and Safety laws have made it to this suburb of Bogota

10 Mar 2019

18 Feb 18 - Afternoon Coffee With Extra Hummers

After a two & a half hour journey in the minibus from the upper slopes of Sumapaz National Park, we finally reached our destination for the afternoon: Chicaque Park. We were quickly to discover that it was never quick travelling between sites in Colombia, even though the destinations weren't always far apart. This was partly due to travelling in a minibus on roads with few opportunities for overtaking. Chicaque Park looks to be a large national park, although we spend most of our time drinking coffee whilst photographing the Hummers coming into the feeders by the cafe. I normally find it takes a while getting my eye at a new place with Hummer feeders. This isn't helped by my normal pattern of travelling around in the Neotropics. No sooner than I get familiar with the typical Hummer species at one site, then I'm moving onto a new elevation or Andean slope & have to start working out & learning the regular species again. Additionally, many species have overlapping features & I can't remember all the features in my head. Seeing 64 species in three & a half weeks didn't help either. The best way to start is to find a species that looks obvious & familiar. Collared Incas are fairly obvious to pick out, as they are distinctive and have a large range from Colombia & Venezuela to Peru & Bolivia, which means that I've bumped into them on a few occasions in Ecuador.
Collared Inca: I was happy with this photo considering it was an overcast & damp afternoon & the light wasn't great
Collared Inca: They are a fairly large Hummingbird with this distinctive large white collar & a lot of white in both the undertail & the outer tail feathers on the upper side of the tail and a long straight bill
This Hummingbird looks superficially similar to a Collared Inca, but is a female Tourmaline Sunangel.
Tourmaline Sunangel: Female. This has an obvious white throat, but the white doesn't extend around the sides of the neck. Additionally, it doesn't have the white in the tail & is noticeably shorter-billed
Tourmaline Sunangel: Male. The males are more non-descript, especially when the light doesn't catch the purple throat
The next easy identification was a Woodstar. Woodstars are one of my favour groups of Hummingbirds as they are small & hyperactive. Most of the Woodstars I've seen hover while feeding, so it was good to see one which was happy to come in & perch up: making it easier to photograph them. A check of the excellent Pro Aves field guide & it was confirmed as a female Gorgeted Woodstar. At just over 2 inches long, it one of the world's smallest Birds.
Gorgeted Woodstar: The small size, pale underparts & pale collar suggest this is a Woodstar. The buff underparts & rufous uppertail & the Eastern Andes location indicates this is a female Gorgeted Woodstar
The next species to get my eye in on was a Puffleg. Pufflegs are less obvious, but have noticeable white feathering around the legs. This is a very useful feature as it helps to narrow the range of pages to check down from thirty two, to just two.
Glowing Puffleg: This individual is starting to develop its shiny purple gorget which is surrounded by a narrow buffy border on the Eastern Andes vestita subspecies
Another of the more subtle Hummingbirds was this Lesser Green Violet-ear. A few years ago, this species was known as Green Violet-ear. When the Northern subspecies was split as Mexican Violet-ear, the remaining subspecies from Costa Rica to Peru, Bolivia & extreme NW Argentina was renamed Lesser Violet-ear. Rather than lose all links to the original name, I often try to keep a reference in the English name to the original name.
Lesser Green Violet-ear: This is an all green Hummingbird with a noticeable purple lower face and ear coverts
Finally, we saw our main target species for Chicaque Park: a Golden-bellied Starfrontlet. No amount of sharpening will cover up that this photo wasn't in focus: but it's the best I have of this near endemic Hummer.
Golden-bellied Starfrontlet: This species occurs in the Eastern Andes & just over the border into Venezuela
Brian was using the same camera & lens as I was: a Canon 7D Mark II with the Mark II 100 - 400 mm lens. I was disappointed for the few days with my photographs compared to what Brian was getting. Finally, I realised the image stabilisation wasn't enabled on the lens & that made a big difference, especially on days when we were in the forests & the light wasn't great. We had a short walk along the entrance track, before the minibus caught us up & we returned to our hotel in Bogota. it had been a long day, but good with ten Ticks. I was glad we had arrived early the previous day so that we had had chance to start getting over the jetlag & used to the altitude.

6 Mar 2019

18 Feb 18 - A Cold Misty Start To The Colombia Trip

It was the first morning of the Birdquest tour & it was a good introduction to the Colombian Eastern Andes with a pre-dawn arrival at the Paramo at over 3200 metres. We had the chance of a quick bite of some breakfast in the half light. Although the light levels started to increase, it was fairly misty. But it wasn't too misty & we quickly realised there was a large marshy area close to the road.
The marsh later in the morning after we had returned to the road
Another habitat shot
As we got closer, we found this superb looking pool
We were hoping for a Bogota Rail or two. None were seen, although Janos heard one call briefly. Scanning the marsh, we could make out the shapes of a few more distant Ducks & Waders, but too far to figure out them in the mist with the bins. I was only travelling for the next three months with a small spotting scope, due to weight restrictions & I left the scope in the hotel anyway. But others had scopes & somebody fairly quickly picked up a couple of Noble Snipe around the edge of the marsh. This was really good news as far as most of the South American Snipe species were Ticks. We followed a small path down to the marsh & although the original individuals had disappeared, several more were found. It's a shame that the light wasn't great, when they were at their most approachable. However, I'm not going to complain, especially as they weren't seen at this marsh on the 2017 tour.
Noble Snipe: There were at least a dozen Noble Snipe in the boggy edges of the marsh. Generally, individuals didn't show for long, before moving into cover or flying to another part of the marsh
Noble Snipe: Like all Snipe species, they were remarkably well camouflaged
Noble Snipe: Finally, the mist started to clear
Andean Teal: There were a few out in the open water pools in the marsh. This is the andium subspecies which occurs on the slopes of the Central & East Andes from Central Colombia down to Ecuador
Greater Yellowlegs: The first site of several where we saw Greater Yellowlegs
As we were walking down to the marsh, we saw the first of several Apolinar's Wren. This is a high-altitude Wren & the first endemic of the trip.
Apolinar's Wren: This small endemic Wren has a limited range in the Paramo on the Eastern Andes
Apolinar's Wren
Tawny Antpitta: There were a few Tawny Antpittas around in this amazing habitat. This is the alticola subspecies which is restricted to the Colombian Eastern Andes
Tawny Antpitta: I've found they are one of the easiest Antpittas to see as they frequently & relatively tamely hop around in the open in high altitude habitats, but I still struggled to get close to one
 Tawny Antpitta: Another Tawny Antpitta singing from the bizarre vegetation in the area
Great Thrush: This is the largest of the Colombian Thrushes & was commonly seen in the higher elevation sites we visited
Forest Rabbit: This diminutive Rabbit is only 13 inches long when fully grown
Brazilian Guinea Pig: They were almost as large as the Forest Rabbit
Brazilian Guinea Pig: Another photo in better light
Eventually, with the sun briefly appearing it started to get a little bit warmer & we started to see some Hummingbirds. This was good as one of our targets for this site was the endemic Green-bearded Helmetcrest: another Eastern Andes Paramo specialist.
Green-bearded Helmetcrest: I saw at least ten, but this was the only worthwhile photograph
Tyrian Metaltail: They are really well camouflaged
Tyrian Metaltail: This individual had a small shiny throat patch providing it turned its head in the right direction
Tyrian Metaltail: This was another common Hummingbird at this site. The white post-ocular spot, short, thin bill & long tail help to confirm the identification
Walking along the road produced a couple of gorgeous Rufous-browed Conebills.
Rufous-browed Conebill: This is a near endemic Eastern Andes species which also occurs just over the border into Venezuela
Having seen the majority of the expected specialities in the Paramo area, we got back into the minibus & dropped down in elevation to around 3100 metres. A suitable spot was found with taller trees where we could pull the minibus off the road for some lunch. There wasn't a lot of activity, but there were a few White-throated Tyrannulets present.
White-throated Tyrannulet: This is one of the common Tyrant Flycatchers & worth getting you eye in, given it would be a regular species that we were to see throughout the trip
After some lunch, it was back in the minibus for a lengthy drive to our afternoon Birding site: Chicaque Park.