20 Aug 2019

9 Mar 18 - Colombia: The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Foothills (Part 1)

On the previous evening along the track above the small town of Minca in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta foothills, we had seen parties of Military Macaws heading to roost. It was difficult to keep track of numbers (given the other Bird activity), as some stopped in distant trees, before continuing. The consensus was there were sixty two individuals. The only downside was the nearest individuals were well over a half mile away & many were a lot more distant. It was therefore, slightly surprising that having seen them heading to roost in the distance, that a few flew over us in the early morning.
Military Macaw: Although this Macaw has a large range on paper from Mexico to Bolivia & extreme NW Argentina, it is far too often trapped for the Bird trade & is classified as Vulnerable
Scaled Pigeon: This species has a similar range to the Military Macaws
Again, there was a lot of Bird activity along the track & I only had the opportunity to photograph a few of the species.
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher: Looks like a Flycatcher, looking for the next flying meal
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher: But, it was looking to make sure none of the other Flycatchers would see it eating berries
Dusky-capped Flycatcher: It was looking the other way
Groove-billed Ani: A sure sign that we had dropped significantly in elevation if we were in the Ani zone
White-fringed Antwren: The Antbird family tend to be more of a lowland family given that many are associated with Ants & feed on other forest insects. So, another sign we were a lot lower
Swallow-tanager: Male. The females are a lovely pale green
Thick-billed Euphonia: Male. The vast majority of the Euphonias are variations on a theme. The extent of the yellow & blue around the head, as well as, the habitat & elevation, are generally the features to focus on. The females are generally a variation of even more subtle greens & it's best to look at the males for identification purposes
A flowering & fruiting tree
It will still early morning, but it was getting hot. So, we returned to the road to try another nearby location. More on that in the next Post.

17 Aug 2019

8 Mar 18 - Colombia: Down To The Foothills

We had spent most of the Colombian trip at a significant elevation in the Andes & more recently in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. Many of the days had been over 3,000 metres & we had been staying at the El Dorado Lodge at 2,300 metres for the previous three nights. We dropped a long way down the dirt road to the coast, before we stopped for the roadside scrub Birding. It was mixture of degraded forest with some low-key agricultural areas. We were probably around 800 metres which was why it as feeling so warm. The highlight was seeing my first Rosy Thrush-tanager, which unfortunately, I spent too long watching, before raising the camera. The result was only photos of the bushes it was in about twenty seconds earlier. It disappeared & didn't want to reappear.
Roadside View
Why the excitement? 1987 was my first Birding trip outside of the Western Palearctic. I visited Kenya with three mates, Keith Turner, John Chainey & Dave Unsworth. Keith & John were already keen world Birders & were trying to see all the Bird families the hard way. That is by organising their own foreign trips. It seemed a good target to go for. Ten years later, in 1997, Keith & I visited Cameroon where we saw a Grey-necked Picathartes. This was Keith's last Bird family. I believe Keith was the first independent travelling Brit to see all of the Bird families. It's possible that another Brit might have pipped him to all the families, but it they had it would have been because they were tour company junkies: as the Bird tour companies were starting to use that as a selling-point to their tours. Personally, I tend to discount the big lists of Birders who have got their big lists by only Birding abroad with tour companies: most punters of that category that I've run into, don't have great Birding skills, just large bank balances. In 1998, two more Brits succeeded in seeing all the Bird families & in a year, mainly as one guy paid Bird tour leader Derek Scott to take him around the world to see all the families. Finally, in Sept 2004, I saw my final family, Sharpbill in Brazil. I think I was the fourth independent Brit to see all the families (including Scott & punter). Unfortunately, in recent years, changes in taxonomy & DNA studies have resulted in quite a few new families being added. Many of these I had already seen, but when I left for Colombia, there were eight recently split families I hadn't seen. One of these was Rosy Thrush-tanager. Hence the reason I was keen to see it. We had a chance, but it wasn't certain & I was pleased to have seen it. Just seven families left to get me back to where I was in 2005: five new families in Papua New Guinea, Cuban Warblers & Spotted Wren-babbler (AKA Spotted Elachura) in North East India & neighbouring China. A few countries that I need to try fitting in at some point. Anyway, back to Colombia. There were some more showy species in the trees, to make up for the lack of Rosy Thrush-tanager photos.
Whooping Blue-crowned Motmot: A few years ago this was called Blue-crowned Motmot. It was then split into Lesson's, Whooping, Amazonian & Trinidad Motmot. Whooping Blue-crowned Motmot occurs from Panama to Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador & Northern Peru
Rufous-tailed Jacamar: This is a widespread Neotropical species which occurs from SE Mexico to Bolivia & NE Argentina
Rufous-tailed Jacamar: Despite its widespread range, I'm always happy to see Jacamars as they are a great family
Swallow-tanager: Another sign we were dropping down in elevation & entering more open habitat
Rufous-capped Warbler: Another lower & moderate elevation species
We then got back into the 4WDs & dropped further in elevation until we were around 650 metres & just above the small town of Minca, where our hotel was. We stopped by an average looking track on the left hand side of the road & walked down the track for the last hour of the day. It provided to be better than its average appearance. There were several parties of Scarlet-fronted Parakeets feeding close to the track.
Scarlet-fronted Parakeet
Scarlet-fronted Parakeet
Northern Oriole (AKA Baltimore Oriole): Immature. As the name suggest this species was on its wintering grounds in Northern South America. Looks like a more sensible habitat than the one I saw on St Agnes, Scillies in 1983
It was time to head off to the hotel in the nearby town of Minca. There were a few Hummingbird feeders on the veranda which looked promising. I also discovered a swimming pool, which looked interesting until I realised there was a strong green hue to the pool. I decided that was one pool best avoided. A pity as it would have been a good way to cool down after dinner.

14 Aug 2019

8 Mar 18 - Colombia: Yellow Is Today's Colour

On the final morning in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, Janos decided we would head back to the top of the ridge. This time I was in the front 4WD & had the camera primed in case we saw any Owls. We were successful with a second Santa Marta Screech-owl & I had a quick opportunity for one photo. Not the best of photos, but it was the only photo of this individual & it was only the group in the first 4WD that managed to see it.
Santa Marta Screech-owl
We reached the ridge line just before first light. Another cold morning with clear skies, but it warmed up fairly quickly once the sun appeared.
Early morning views
Early morning views
It was pretty dry up at the top: The pool looked to be only half full at best
There were a number of the same species around the track as on the first morning, but also some of the expected species that we had missed on the first visit, showed up. There was a strong yellow theme to the morning.
Yellow-bellied Chat-tyrant
Yellow-bellied Chat-tyrant
Santa Marta Warbler: The first endemic Tick of the day
Yellow-crowned Whitestart
Myrtle Warbler: We weren't the only tourists, as this Myrtle Warbler (AKA Yellow-rumped Warbler) was here for the Winter
Santa Marta Mountain-tanager: Not being particularly photogenic this morning
Santa Marta Brush-finch: We has seen around ten on the first morning at the ridge, but they had been camera shy
Southern Yellow Grosbeak: They occur from Colombia & Northern Venezuela to Ecuador & Peru
There were a few other new species for the trip.
Scarlet-fronted Parakeet: Another species that occurs from Colombia & Northern Venezuela to Ecuador & Peru
Black-backed Thornbill: One of only two that we saw on the tour. A pity it didn't turn its head as they have a bright lime-green throat
Tyrian Metaltail: A female all puffed up after a preening session
Rusty-headed Spinetail: That's another Santa Marta endemic seen
One of the Birds we had missed on the first visit was Rufous Antpitta. We had seen it earlier in the trip at Cerro Guadalupe, but this was the Santa Marta subspecies which is a potential split. It was skulking in the Bamboo & there were a couple of small gaps where if you knelt down, it was possible to see into the Bamboo. Brian & I had already seen it close, by kneeling down, but the rest of the group then tried to get views. Given it was sitting low down, I wonder how many, other than the other Brit Rob, saw it.
Looking for the Rufous Antpitta
The late Brian Field & myself on the track: The photos copyright remains with Judy Spisak who took the photo & kindly allowed me to include it on the Blog
It was time for a late breakfast before we started on the long journey back to the El Dorado Lodge.
At the breakfast stop, Brian found a fitness regime that he approved off
Rufous-collared Sparrow: Coming in to look for some free breakfast
Rufous-collared Sparrow: One of the most ubiquitous of Latin American species
American Painted Lady: This Northern American species has its Southern limit in Colombia
Back at the lodge, there was time for a quick check of the feeders & rubbish tip. The highlight was a Crab-eating Fox: although this one wasn't living up to its name.
Crab-eating Fox: This one has gone vegie
Waiting for the stragglers to bring their bags so we could leave
We had enjoyed a great time at the El Dorado Lodge & the staff had been very friendly. But now it was time to start the long bumpy ride down the mountain & stop for some lower elevation Birding.

10 Aug 2019

7 Mar 18 - Colombia: Chasing Hummingbirds

We had enjoyed an excellent start to our time in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains with two Owl Ticks & Santa Marta Antpitta on the first morning, when we had travelled up to the top of the ridge above the El Dorado Lodge. When we returned for lunch & some Birding at the El Dorado Lodge, we ran into an American Birder & his Ecuadorian bird guide. As we had had a successful trip to the top of the ridge, Janos decided we would head down below the El Dorado Lodge for our second morning & leave the ridge free for the others. There were few passing places on the ridge track, so it also made practical sense. But it also allowed us to focus on two of the speciality Hummingbirds: Santa Marta Woodstar & Santa Marta Blossomcrown. We headed down the track to a large private house with extensive gardens which were one of the stakeouts for both species. Surprisingly, there were no Hummingbird feeders here, just a very large, extensive garden for us to patrol in the hope of connecting at one of the patches of flowers. We found a Santa Marta Woodstar fairly quickly, but without any feeders to attract it, it was constantly on the move. Reminiscent of a large Hummingbird Hawk Moth in the UK, it never stays around for long. However, we all had a few sightings in the two hours we were there.
Santa Marta Woodstar: Not surprisingly with its name, it is a Santa Marta endemic
Santa Marta Woodstar
The Santa Marta Blossomcrown was trickier & it took a lot of searching in the gardens, before we finally saw one. The gardens were also large enough, that it took a while before the news got around the group & we had all seen it.
Santa Marta Blossomcrown: Another Santa Marta endemic for the trip
In the meantime while we were checking the Hummingbirds, there were a few larger & more distant species to distract us.
Groove-billed Toucanet: Earlier in the trip, all the green Toucanets had been Southern Emerald Toucanets, but we were now in range of this Venezuelan species, which also occurs in the Santa Marta mountains
Black-chested Jay: This will have to do as a record shot of this species which occurs from Costa Rica to Northern Colombia & Venezuela
Crested Oropendola
The view from the garden
Closer to the ground, these Olive-striped Flycatcher & Blue-naped Chlorophonia looked a bit more cute.
Olive-striped Flycatcher: This small Tyrant Flycatcher was feeding low in the vegetation
Blue-naped Chlorophonia: This wasn't a Tick for me in Colombia, but it was one of the best Birds I saw in Colombia
Butterfly sp.
We returned to the El Dorado Lodge for lunch. By this point, I was suffering with a cold that had come on during the morning & skipped the lunchtime photography around the lodge & lunch and headed to bed. I made it out for the afternoon trip back down the hill where the highlight according to the trip report was good views of the regional endemic Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner. I hadn't taken the camera & really can't remember it. However, that's more a reflection on my views of the Foliage-gleaner group than how I was feeling. A slightly more rufous, than browner FG looking at photos. It was a quick meal & an early night for me when we made it back to the lodge, but fortunately, the extra sleep & the medicine meant I was feeling a lot better for the final well-before-dawn start back to the top of the ridge.