16 Feb 2018

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.