14 Apr 2019

20 Feb 18 - Colombia: Payande

We arrived at our final destination of the day, Payande, near Ibaque, with a couple of hours of light left. We had dropped significantly in altitude & were now on the lower Eastern slopes of the Central Andes. It was noticeably warmer than it had been and a lot drier & dustier.
It was dry scrubby country, with a couple of small pools
The local cement works dominated the view
But it was good to stretch the legs after a few hours in the minibus. One of highlights was our first Colombian Chachalacas heading off to roost in the trees.
Colombian Chachalaca: This was one of only two sightings I had on the trip of this endemic Cracid
A couple of Apical Flycatchers were another Colombian endemic at this site. Like the Colombian Chachalaca, they are Central Andean species.
Apical Flycatcher: This was an underwhelming species, despite being an endemic. It is separated from the similar looking Pale-edged Flycatcher, by the lower elevation and the diagnostic pale tips to the tail
Rusty-margined Flycatcher: This was another underwhelming & commoner Tyrant-flycatcher. The rusty margins are not always as apparent as the name suggests. It can also have a golden crown stripe, but this was worn on this individual, with just a few pale tips to the crown feathers
Rusty-margined Flycatcher: Superficially, it looks like a small Great Kiskadee, but has a noticeably smaller & finer bill
Great Kiskadee: Note, the much heavier bill & the wings would look a lot rustier (if visible)
Black-striped Sparrow: This is a species I've seen before in Costa Rica & Ecuador. It occurs as far North as Honduras & also to Venezuela and the Northern edge of Brazil
The dry scrub wasn't the most exciting of sites, but I also saw my first White-bellied Antbird & Black-chested Jay. I was glad we had made an afternoon visit to the site, rather than use up a morning, as the mornings generally seemed to have more Bird activity. It was getting dark & time to head on to the uninspiring Hotel Ambala in Ibague for the night, which was less than an hour's journey.

7 Apr 2019

20 Feb 18 - Colombia: Laguna Pedropalo & La Mesa

We had enjoyed a good morning, but there was still some time for a bit more Birding as we walked back along the main track at Laguna Pedropalo for another hour. 
Birding along the track
The main track lead past a few hotels with nice gardens, as well as, fields & scattered patches of trees, which had a good selection of species.
Spectacled Parrotlet: I won't win any competitions with these photos, sitting in an isolated tree
Black Phoebe
Golden-faced Tyrannulet: Clements lumps this with Coopmans's Tyrannulet: the latter occurs in the Santa Marta Mountains and nearby Venezuela
Golden-faced Tyrannulet: Whether it is lumped or not is academic from my viewpoint as it was Tick
Black-billed Thrush: This is a common South American species which occurs from Colombia to Venezuela and South to Peru & Bolivia
Streaked Saltator
As we were in open grassy fields & hedges, then it was no surprise we also saw a few junk habitat species.
Yellow-bellied Seedeater
Shiny Cowbird
One of the endemic species we had been unsuccessful in seeing during the morning was Black Inca: a West slope of the Eastern Andes endemic Hummingbird. By this point, the minibus caught us up & Janos decided to try another Black Inca site near to La Mesa. This turned out to a track between a lot of small farmsteads and houses with large gardens and was probably only a shadow of its former self. Unfortunately, we didn't see any Black Incas. The highlight was some closer views of Spectacled Parrotlets, but otherwise a selection of more junk habitat species. We only spent about an hour here, before moving on.
Spectacled Parrotlet: A pity it isn't sharp
Great Kiskadee: A large and widespread Tyrant-flycatcher that is worth getting to know, given there are a few similar looking species. It occurs from Texas to Central Argentina
Social Flycatcher: Another smaller & less colourful common Tyrant Flycatcher which occurs from Mexico to Central Argentina
Palm Tanager: This is always a sign of degraded habitat
Saffron Finch: Male. This must be one of the most intense yellow species
Saffron Finch: Female. There are far more subtle coloured, but still a nice-looking species
Summer Tanager: This species from the United States winters as far South as Amazonian Brazil and Bolivia
Butterfly sp.
These red berries look like they will be nice & poisonous
It was time to move on. We had a two hour journey as well as, a food stop before we reached our final destination, Payande, for the late afternoon.

1 Apr 2019

1 Apr 19 - Rare 'Scottish' Migrant Roosting At Corfe Castle

The local roads have been very busy over the last couple of weekends as there were many people arriving to twitch the rare 'Scottish' migrant that has recently arrived in the Swanage & Corfe Castle area. I managed to see it on 22 Mar before it left its Swanage roost. Therefore, I felt I could avoid the clogged up local roads over that weekend. After a few days, it moved a new roost site at Corfe Castle. With the clock change, there was the opportunity to have another look after work, as it roosted at Corfe Castle. I had heard it was visible from the platform of the Corfe Castle station.
Corfe Castle: This is my favourite station on the local heritage railway line
Walking to the end of the platform, I found a family had already found the roost site.
Flying Scotsman: She will be at Corfe Castle until 10 Apr
Flying Scotsman: A closer view
The last time the Flying Scotsman visited the Swanage heritage line was 1994 which helped to explain why the visit was particularly well received.
Flying Scotsman: Swanage (22 Mar 19)
It was good to see this impressive & icon steam engine, which was the first British train to exceed 100 mph, in the local area. Hopefully, it will help to generate some additional funds for the heritage railway.
One of the other heritage line trains pulls out of Swanage: With that amount of smoke it's not a bad thing that we have switched to cleaner trains, away from the heritage lines (22 Mar 19)

25 Mar 2019

20 Feb 18 - Colombia: A Turquoise Morning

I've never been very good at early starts, so the two hour plus alarm call before dawn wasn't welcome. At least there was some coffee in the hotel reception as we loaded the bags into the minibus. After three nights in the hotel, we were moving on to a hotel in Ibague on the West slope of the Central Andes for one night. Birders visiting Ecuador quickly get use to the idea of the Andes running down the country and there is a difference in species which occur on the East slope compared to the West slope. The middle of Colombia (from North to South), has the infamous cities of Cali & Medellin for anybody who can remember back to the news of the bad old days of the 1980s drug trafficking era. Less well known is that there are three Andean mountain ranges in this part of Colombia: The Eastern Andes, the Central Andes and the Western Andes. The Magdalena River separates the Eastern and Central Andes and the Caura River separates the Western Andes from the Central Andes. Our first stop of the day was Laguna Pedropalo on the Western slope of the Eastern Andes for the endemic Turquoise Dacnis. The last stretch of the road is a dirt track & after a while of slowly bumping along, we pulled in. There was time for a quick snack of breakfast as it was getting light. As the light improved, we could see the Laguna was a few hundred metres away in the valley bottom. Ignoring the obvious difference in wildlife and trees, the scenery wasn't unlike the rolling grass fields with patches of trees in Southern Devon. We walked back down the track for a short distance, before heading along a track leading towards the lake. There were some large trees with open canopies which had a good selection of species in them.
Red-headed Barbet: Male. Unfortunately, not in focus, but it gives a good idea how it got its name
Red-headed Barbet: Female. This is the bourcierii subspecies which occurs from the Andes of Central Colombia to Western Venezuela
Fairly quickly we started to see a few wintering North American Warblers. There were one or two Black-and-white Warblers, Tennessee Warblers, Cerulean Warblers, Canada Warblers & Tropical Parulas and around ten Blackburnian Warblers.
Cerulean Warbler: I only saw three on the whole trip
Cerulean Warbler: One of these in Cornwall would be appreciated
Blackburnian Warbler: They were probably the commonest of the migrant New World Warblers on the trip
Another species that would have been familiar to most of the group was this Acorn Woodpecker.
Acorn Woodpecker: This is the flavigula subspecies which is the local subspecies. The Colombian Andes are the South most part of the Acorn Woodpecker's range
There were other more Neotropical species. We had seen Southern Emerald Toucanet on the first afternoon near to Bogota and we now had the chance for better views.
Southern Emerald Toucanet: This is the albivitta subspecies. We were to see different subspecies of this species later in the trip. Southern Emerald Toucanet is a recent split from Northern Emerald Toucanet (which occurs from Mexico to the Darren Gap on the Panamanian Colombian border). It was well worth seeing the different subspecies, in case there are further revisions to the Emerald Toucanet taxonomy
Ash-browed Spinetail: Spinetails can be tricky to identify in the Neotropics, as they generally like to skulk in vegetation & rarely give clear views. This one is no exception. This is an Ash-browed Spinetail as there is no sign of a black throat patch & paler upper throat (which the similar looking Azara's Spinetail should show)
Yellow-backed Oriole: This drawback of having open trees in fields is sometimes you get a chance at a distant photo, which wouldn't be possible in forest. This Yellow-backed Oriole is a good example & this is a harsh crop
There was a selection of Tanagers coming & going through the trees including Fawn-breasted Tanagers, Scrub Tanagers, Metallic-green Tanagers, Blue-necked Tanagers & Palm Tanagers. Finally, a lone Turquoise Dacnis was spotted within one of the Tanager groups.
Fawn-breasted Tanager
Turquoise Dacnis: Unfortunately, it was never close, but at least it sat in the open. It is being photo-bombed by a Social Flycatcher (or is that an Anti-Social Flycatcher)
Sometimes, I come across a photo that looks like I should be able to figure it out, but I just fail. Here is one photo. If anybody has any suggests, please leave a comment on the blog.
Unknown species: It looks like it should be a Tyrant Flycatcher or a Becard
We had enjoyed a good morning, but there was still some time for a bit more Birding as we walked back along the main track for another hour. But I'll cover that in the next Post.

23 Mar 2019

19 Feb 18 - Colombia: Bogota Park Birding

After a couple of dull hours of driving across Bogota from Cerro Guadalupe, we arrived at our afternoon Birding spot: Parque La Florida. This area has a decent-sized lake with good marshy edges. There was a good selection of species breeding on reedy islands in the lake to keep us interested. None were Ticks, but several were species I hadn't seen for around fifteen years, as my last visits to South America had been back in 2002 (when I visited Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru & a brief visit to Chile) and 2004 (Eastern Brazil).
Eared Dove: This common South American Dove greeted our arrival
We reached the lake's shoreline after a few minutes of walking.
American Coot: This is the columbiana subspecies of American Coot which occurs in Colombia & Northern Ecuador
American Coot: Unlike, its Northern relative it has this distinctive coloured bill & red-coloured shield
American Coot: This is what the Northern americana subspecies which occurs from Canada & America down to Costa Rica & the Caribbean (Andree Clark bird Refuge, California 20 Nov 14)
Spot-flanked Gallinule: There were also a couple of shy Spot-flanked Gallinules around the reed edge, but they quickly disappeared as soon as they realised they had been seen
Bare-faced Ibis: This widespread South American species occurs from Colombia as far South as Bolivia & NE Argentina
Southern Lapwing: This is another common South America species
Southern Lapwing: They were fairly common at Parque La Florida
There were several large islands of reeds close to the shore on our side of the lake, protected by watery ditches, with a few Yellow-hooded Blackbirds holding territory.
Yellow-hooded Blackbird: This isn't a Thrush, but an Icterid: one of the New World Oriole family
We ended up at the left-hand end of the lake, where we could watch over a large area of marsh with a small channel running through it. There was a good selection of species including Blue-winged Teals, American Coots, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers.
The channel at the left-hand end of the lake
Blue-winged Teal: Female (left) and two males with an American Coot
Solitary Sandpiper
As we waited, we had the occasional views of a couple of Bogota Rails: our main target species for the afternoon. They looked similar to my local Water Rails, but they have a very different call. They have a limited range in the Eastern Andes of Central Colombia.
Bogota Rail: One occasionally appeared out of the reeds along the channel near these Blue-winged Teals and American Coot, but quickly disappeared back into the reeds again
Bogota Rail: They also act like Water Rails (which are not found in the New World)
We got caught in a massive traffic jam as we returned to the hotel in Bogota. Just as it looked like we might arrive at a reasonable time, the minibus broke down on bridged section of three lane dual carriageway. There was nowhere for us to stand safely & it was far from a safe place to have broken down. The driver asked us to get off the minibus as he tried to change the tyre next to lane of traffic. As it was even more dangerous for him, I ended up walking back about 50 metres along the road and started directing traffic out of our lane, as cars were trying to race up our lane as other cars were moving into the central lane. A combination of mad gringo, with a few international-recognised hand signs for those behaving or misbehaving. We were all relieved to hear the minibus driver had managed to change the tyre & we could get going again.
Brian: Taking the advantage of the hotel menu that evening to give us an ad-hoc Mark Knopfler impression