17 Jul 2019

3 Mar 18 - Colombia: Steamy Birding At Rio Claro

Walking the main track from the entrance at the Rio Claro reserve had been a good start to the morning with a good selection of Birds, including six Ticks. Unfortunately, as we started on a narrow track going uphill & away from the river, it started drizzling. Some of the party immediately got their umbrellas out, even though it was only drizzle. None of the Brits thought it was worth using an umbrella. Birdquest have a policy of rotating the position of people on the narrower trails, so some of us were stuck behind others using umbrellas, which made it difficult to see past them. Birdquest should show a bit more sense with their policies: if people want to use umbrellas unnecessarily, they should stay at the back. After about a half hour, we finally reached a more open area & this had a lot of activity in it, especially as the drizzling had stopped & the umbrellas had disappeared. As the sun came out, it became even more warm & humid.
Beautiful Woodpecker: This endemic species is a speciality of the Northern Magdalena Valley
Long-tailed Tyrant: Despite being ten inches long, this species has a small body, thanks to the long tail
Walking back along the narrow track was probably better than walking up the track: probably as a result of the sun coming out again.
Olivaceous Piculet: They occur from Guatemala & Honduras to Colombia & West Venezuela
White-mantled Barbet: Another Central Colombian endemic
White-mantled Barbet: Showing off its acrobatic skills
The sunshine started the Manakins lekking. There was a small lek of Golden-headed Manakins near the path.
Golden-headed Manakin: Male. The females are dull green
Nearby, we saw a single Striped Manakin, but it didn't want to show itself properly.
Striped Manakin: This is another species which has been recently split with the Eastern Striped Manakin occurring in coastal SE Brazil, while Striped Manakin occurs from Colombia & Venezuela to Ecuador, Peru & W Amazonian Brazil
Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner: This species which occurs from Panama to Colombia & West Ecuador
Slim-fingered Rain Frog: This medium-sized Frog was on the narrow path & thanks to the internet, it can be identified
Finally, we were back on the main track. It was late morning & most of the activity had dropped off. The exception was this Pale-breasted Thrush, which looked like it was feeding some youngsters.
Pale-breasted Thrush: This is a widespread species that occurs across most of South America as far South as Peru, Bolivia & Northern Argentina
Pale-breasted Thrush
I think we were all pleased to be heading back to grab some lunch & a short siesta in the A/C rooms, before heading out in mid afternoon. We weren't use to this heat & humidity.

13 Jul 2019

3 Mar 18 - Colombia: Early Morning At Rio Claro

We only had a few minutes of  driving to get to the entrance to the Rio Claro National Park which was a pleasant change. We were still up well before light as we had the opportunity to have a quick breakfast before leaving the hotel. The first few minutes of Birding was around the entrance gate, as it was locked up. However, somebody quickly appeared to let us into the park. There was a small open area once we got through the entrance gate which allowed a selection of species to be easily seen.
Boat-billed Flycatcher: Best told from the similar looking Great Kiskadee by the heavy bill with a curved upper mandible and the olive brown upperparts, compared to the rusty coloured wings & tail of a Great Kiskadee
 Straight-billed Woodcreeper: This is a widespread species which occurs from Panama to Venezuela, Brazil, Peru & Bolivia
There were a number of groups of Parrots & Parakeets flying passed, but none were close. But our attention quickly changed when somebody saw my first Barred Puffbird in the open area. Puffbirds often sit still for some time while looking for their next meal. So, they can be reasonably cooperative to see at times, but their sedentary habits mean they can also be easily overlooked.
Barred Puffbird: They occur from Panama to West Ecuador
Barred Puffbird: Just gorgeous
Just as we started to walk along the main track into the forest, Janos heard a Bare-crowned Antbird calling. It provided some reasonable views close to the forest edge. We had only been going about thirty minutes & this Bare-crowned Antbird was my third Tick.
Bare-crowned Antbird: This species occurs from Guatemala & Belize to Northern Colombia
As we continued along the main track, we ran into our second species of Puffbird for the morning: a White-whiskered Puffbird.
The main track with the river to the left
White-whiskered Puffbird: They occur from SE Mexico to Central Colombia
Varied White-faced Capuchin Monkey: Sadly, this party were very wary & quickly disappeared
This was the first time on the trip we had been in low elevation forest & the good Birds kept on coming.
Gartered Violaceous Trogon: This species used to be known as Violaceous Trogon, before it was split a few years ago into three species. Guianan Violaceous Trogon & Amazonian Violaceous Trogon were the other two species. I've chosen to retain the old name within its name
Gartered Violaceous Trogon: This species looks very similar to Amazonian Violaceous Trogon, but can be split on range and it also had a more extensive white line separating the yellow from the blue upper breast & throat
Black-headed Tody-flycatcher: This species occurs from Costa Rica to Colombia. NW Venezuela & West Ecuador. Despite having Birded in all these countries, albeit only Eastern Venezuela, it was another Tick for the morning
Yellow-margined Flycatcher: This is a widespread species which occurs from Colombia & Venezuela to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia & Brazil
Not surprisingly there were a few Butterflies along the track, as well as, some excellent large dainty Damselflies.
Butterfly sp.
Another Butterfly sp.
Large Damselfly sp.: This was closer in body length to a small Hawker Dragonfly
Large Damselfly sp.: They were amazing in flight. It's a pity this photo isn't sharp, but it gives an idea of how different they looked compared to UK Damselflies
We had been walking slowly along the main track for around an hour or so. We hadn't covered a great distance, but had seen a lot in that time. There was a small track heading uphill & away from the river, which we took. I will cover the Birds along that track in the next Post.

9 Jul 2019

30 Jun 19 - Little White Legs

I had spent most of my visit to Longham Lakes to look for & photograph Red-veined Darters. However, I did spent a few minutes photographing this White-legged Damselfly.
White-legged Damselfly
Also, there were good numbers of Common Blue Damselflies in the grassy edges to the lakes.
Common Blue Damselfly

6 Jul 2019

30 Jun 19 - Sunburnt Darters

It was getting to the end of June & as usual, the Dorset Birding was very quiet. Many species have bred & are either moulting or attempting to raise a second brood. The first few Waders have started to appear, but that has just been a trickle so far. My thoughts were turning to Dragonflies and the expectation of trying to get some reasonable photos of Red-veined Darters. They have been seen in low numbers at Longham Lakes in recent years, but I've not been successful in seeing them there in the past. There had been a mid week post on twitter from local Birder, Ian Ballam, that he had seen & photographed some. The weekend looked promising, albeit exceptionally hot & sunny on the Saturday. I contacted Peter Moore on the Thursday evening to see if he was up for a visit, but he was thinking of travelling further afield for Brilliant Emerald on the Saturday. Fortunately, I've managed to photograph Brilliant Emeralds in the past. I made a flippant remark about I would still head there at the weekend & probably find something good. As well as Red-veined Darters, Lesser Emperors have also become established there in recent years. The next day I had a text from Peter saying "Scarlet Darter at Longham Lakes". Clearly, there was something good there, but it had already been found. This is only the second Dorset record, with the first being seen at Longham Lakes on 8 & 9 Jul 17.
Scarlet Darter: I was one of around 15 people who connected with the original individual before it disappeared (9 Jul 17)
In the end I decided to give the Saturday a miss. There is limited on road parking at Longham, unless you fancy a longer walk from the garden centre & I figured that it would be very popular given few people have seen a Scarlet Darter in the UK. The previous Longham Lakes record appears to have been one of the most twitchable individuals & it didn't linger long enough for more than a few locals to connect: as it was only seen on & off for a couple of hours mid morning. I was still keen to visit & the Sunday looked perhaps more promising. It had been in the low 30s the day before, but an overcast morning & more of a breeze was going to keep the site cooler. I grabbed the camera & left. After an afternoon of negative news on the Scarlet Darter, I had no problem in finding somewhere to park the car. After a ten minute walk, I reached the small pond where the Scarlet Darter had been seen the previous day. There had been no sightings, but it is a great looking site & I hung around to have a look. After all, if it was still around, but only liked to show in the mornings, then perhaps it was worth a wait. After about fifteen minutes, a guy I've not seen before said he had a bright red Darter flying over the pool. He said it had red eyes & he was 99.9% certain it was the Scarlet Darter. Being cynical, I didn't think it could be the Scarlet Darter, solely based upon the 99.9% certain statement. But I was also knew that two Red-veined Darters that had been seen on the pond during the previous day. I couldn't see it from where I was looking, so walked across to join him. It reappeared & perched up a few meters into the pond. Time to use the camera.
Red-veined Darter: It wasn't close
Red-veined Darter: A closer crop. I could see the dark edged pale pterostigma which I knew was a feature of Red-veined Darter. Also, it didn't look bright enough on the abdomen. I was trying to remember the other features for Scarlet Darter, but despite looking at the book over breakfast, I could only remember the overall brightness of the abdomen for Scarlet Darter
Having looked at the back of the camera photos, I checked my photo of the original Scarlet Darter & I could see that the pterostigma were dark. It had to be one of the Red-veined Darters. It probably wasn't what the handful of other peeps there wanted to hear, but that's life. It had flown, but returned to the same perch a couple of minutes later.
Red-veined Darter: This time it was side on. I thought that Red-veined Darters have a blue lower eye, but it is hard to see on this individual because of the wings. There is a hint that the lower eye could turn blue, but perhaps that happens over time. I was confused about the white band on the side of the frons. I couldn't remember reading about that it the past, but it was a few years since I looked at Red-veined Darter identification
The dark marks on the side of the abdomen was something that the previous Scarlet Darter hadn't shown. Checking the books, it is something that Red-veined Darters show. It was now happy to sit around & allowed views through the guy's telescope. Somebody had looked up the other features on their phone & confirmed it should have had a broad flat bright red abdomen with no black & no black on the red legs. In the end, we all agreed that it was a Red-veined Darter. It showed a couple of times, before disappearing for most of the next two hours. I hung around and chatted with various friends who were steadily arriving. Eventually, it was time to accept defeat that the Scarlet Darter wasn't round & head off with Olly Frampton & Peter Moore for the North Lake: which had been the stronghold for the Red-veined Darters during the week. Soon after arriving at the North Lake, we had found the second Red-veined Darter. I saw another two on the way back to the car. There had been about thirty seen during the week, but presumably the breeze wasn't helping.
Red-veined Darter: Note, the black marks on the abdomen & the dark bordered pale pterostigma
Red-veined Darter
Red-veined Darter: The dark legs & the facial pattern showing the blue-grey lower face & the white edges to the frons
Red-veined Darter
Red-veined Darter
Red-veined Darter 
Red-veined Darter: A close of the wing showing the red veins & the distinctive pterostigma
Clearly, it wasn't just me that was looking sunburnt that day.

28 Jun 2019

2 Mar 18 - Colombia: Parrots In The Mist

Obviously, the alarms went off well before dawn so we could get into some jeeps for a slow & bouncy ride up into the hills above Jardin. Our main target species for the day was the endangered Yellow-eared Parrot. This was a species that was thought to be extinct up until 1999 when around eighty individuals were discovered in the Colombia Andes. Thanks to good campaigns to raise its plight with local communities & also to protect its habitat, the population has grown. One of the problems is its main tree, the Quindio Wax Palm is also a threatened tree. The tree used to be used for Palm Sunday processions, but part of the work with local communities & the church, has greatly improved protection for the trees, with alternatives being used for the processions. The main Colombian Bird NGO, ProAves, has created a couple of reserves & put up nest boxes on the Palms to help provide additional nesting holes. This has been a successful campaign and the population is now around 1500 individuals.
A lone Quindio Wax Palm
It was a cold wait in the mist for the first sighting
It was very misty at first light, but slowly the mist started to clear. We saw a couple of Yellow-eared Parrots flying towards our viewing point on a small ridge. Fortunately, they landed, but not particularly close. Soon after a few more flew in & landed in a bit closer in some of the Palms. They were followed by others until we had seen around twenty of these lovely Parrots.
Yellow-eared Parrot: The light wasn't great as they were flying in
Yellow-eared Parrot: Most settled in these trees
Yellow-eared Parrot: A great looking Parrot
Yellow-eared Parrot: They are a near endemic as there is a small population in Northern Ecuador
We saw a reasonable selection of other species as we walked down the main track towards the town. However, it was a morning when few species were photogenic.
Walking back down the main track: It's clear why we used jeeps, rather than taking the bus
Black-billed Mountain Toucan: This species occurs from Colombia & W Venezuela to NE Ecuador
Streak-throated Bush-tyrant: This species occurs from Colombia & Venezuela to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia & NW Argentina
Golden-fronted Whitestart: This is the yellow-faced chrysops subspecies
Slaty Brush-finch
Montbretia: This looks similar to the Montbretias that grow in my garden. The family is native to East & Southern Africa & therefore these must have been introduced into South America
These flowers look like they will be popular with the local Hummingbirds
After a good morning's Birding despite the mist, we returned to the hotel in Jardin to collect our bags. The rest of the day was spent on a long & slow drive to the Rio Claro reserve.
Green Iguana: It was a largely uneventful drive, with this Green Iguana being the highlight
Medellin: There were a number of hillsides around the city that were as packed as this hillside
No surprise, that we were stuck in a few traffic jams in the Medellin area
We didn't arrive until after it was dark. As we stepped out of the bus, it was distinctly warm & humid. Having spent most of the trip at altitude, the next couple of days were going to be a big shock as we were only around 350 metres asl.