27 Jul 2019

6 Mar 18 - Colombia: Posh Catalina

It was our first opportunity for any Birding in the endemic rich Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, having arrived after dark the evening before. The plan of getting to the top of the Santa Marta ridge above the El Dorado lodge, was complicated by the need to get going earlier to look for Owls. We had three 4WDs & unfortunately I was in the back one as we left. Therefore, we were a bit behind Janos, when he stopped the first 4WD for a recently described Santa Marta Screech-owl. As a result, it was looking away by the time I was trying to get some photos. Fortunately, I was a bit better prepared when Janos picked up a Stygian Owl later on. A two Owl Tick morning is a good way to start any day.
Santa Marta Screech-owl: This species had been known to be an undescribed species for at least the last decade, before finally been described in 2017
Stygian Owl: A species I had looked for unsuccessfully in a few Latin American countries. It occurs from Mexico to the Caribbean & as far South as Argentina. The name comes from the Greek for very dark
The rest of the drive to the ridge was uneventful, except for a few Band-winged Nightjars all flushed off the track by the lead 4WD & which we weren't aware of until we reached the top: fortunately not a Tick. There was a reasonable amount of early morning activity, but many species were quick to disappear back into the dense Bamboo & bush cover either side of the track.
 Santa Marta Mountain-tanager: Some of the names could be a bit more imaginative
Yellow-crowned Whitestart: That's another Santa Marta endemic seen
After checking various parties of Scaly-naped Parrots & Scarlet-fronted Parakeets, we finally saw our first Santa Marta Parakeets.
Santa Marta Parakeet
It had been a good start on the top of the ridge, but it was getting close to breakfast time. Not for us, as we had already had a snack, but for Catalina. She was a girl that was quite fussy about her food & when she wanted it. We headed down the hill to the met station where she lived.
Santa Marta Antpitta: After a bit of calling, Catalina appeared at the edge of the forest
Santa Marta Antpitta: Another Santa Marta endemic
Santa Marta Antpitta: Catalina took about a year to get used to being fed. Eventually, she would generally appear when called. The lady who was calling her in removed the plate & for several weeks, she refused to appear. It was only when the plate was returned, that Catalina started coming in again for food
Nearby, we tried a short forest trail which proved productive for Trogons with Masked Trogon & my first White-tipped Quetzal.
Masked Trogon: We had previously seen Masked Trogon at Rio Blanco, but this is the sanctaemartae subspecies
White-tipped Quetzal: Female
White-tipped Quetzal: We found the male nearby excavating a nest hole
White-tipped Quetzal: Male
It was late morning & we headed back to the El Dorado Lodge. But there was plenty of activity to keep us busy around the feeders. More in the next Blog Post.

24 Jul 2019

4 Mar 18 - Colombia: A Slower Morning At Rio Claro

We were back into the Rio Claro reserve for a final morning after an excellent, but long, first day. It was wetter than the first morning. That would have made the photograph more difficult, as I was struggling with light in the forest when it was sunny. As a result, after some initial photography around the entrance, I decided to leave the camera in the minibus for most of the morning.
The entrance gate
Great Kiskadee: This morning, there was a Great Kiskadee around the entrance gate, which provided a nice contract to the previous morning's Boat-billed Flycatcher. Note, the slimmer, more normal bill & the extensive rufous in the wings
Boat-billed Flycatcher: They are quite different. I normally have problems in South America & end up checking the features as I generally can't stay awake long enough to remember them: they are as dull as large immature seagulls (3 Mar 18)
Another Tyrant Flycatcher group that I end up having to check the books on the Streaked Flycatcher & Piratic Flycatcher group. Again, they aren't particularly tricky to separate if you can remember the features. We saw both species at Rio Claro & it was the first time, I had seen these species for fourteen & sixteen years, respectively.
Streaked Flycatcher: Piratic Flycatcher is superficially similar, but has a smaller, stubbier bill & doesn't have the dark moustachial line
Band-backed Wren: This is one of the large group of large Neotropical Wrens
Saffron Finch: Male
Varied White-faced Capuchin Monkey: Having its breakfast
One of the highlights of the morning was seeing a Yellow-striped Poison Frog. I got into Frogs as a small kid & several years before Birds. So, I have always had an interest in seeing them. This is particularly true of the 'Poison Arrows' Frogs of Central & Southern America. These species are usually small & brightly coloured to advertise they are all very poisonous. There are a number of species that have been used in the past by native Indians to poison their arrows when hunting. Presumably, the effect of the poison must wear off, only be a problem if it gets into the blood stream  or disappear as the meat is cooked.
Yellow-striped Poison Frog: This is a widespread Colombian endemic species
We walked back up the small trail & saw a similar set of species to the first morning, albeit we didn't see the Beautiful Woodpecker again, as we didn't go far enough up the trail. The highlight of the morning was when Janos heard a singing Magdalena Antbird on the small trail: it wasn't close. We ended up having to find a small path down to the small stream, next to the trail. There was a steep rocky hillside on the far side of this stream, which looked impossible to get up. After a bit of searching, we started to see the Magdalena Antbird moving around about twenty metres above our heads. It was singing from a number of preferred rocky ledges & bushes, before disappearing out of sight & reappearing at another of its preferred song points. Once we had worked out where it was singing from, it was possible to get reasonable views of it. This was one of only two Ticks for the day: the other being Grey-headed Tanager. While we were watching the Magdalena Antbird, a Barred Forest Falcon appeared & gave some nice, prolonged views. The views were much better than the brief pre-dawn views we had seen at Montezuma. Pity the camera was still in the minibus. It had finished raining, by the time we arrived back at the hotel. There was a Ruddy Ground-dove feeding around the restaurant area. Time to make use of the camera again. After some food, we packed the bags & spent the rest of the afternoon travelling to Medellin. There wasn't any further Birding opportunities as it was close to dusk by the time we arrived.
Ruddy Ground-dove: This is a widespread species which occurs from Mexico to Central Argentina
The bags were all packed as we only had a short time for Birding the next morning, due to an early flight. But there was time for a dawn visit to the nearby site of La Romera. This was a quiet minor road with forest on either side. A few years earlier, Yellow-headed Manakins had been found breeding. After a bit of searching we found a male singing from a small perch in the forest. We had already seen five endemic Red-bellied Grackles soon after arriving & Janos had lured an endemic Stiles's Tapaculo into view. We were leaving by 08:00 & I had three Ticks under the belt. The first flight was to Bogota, where we had plenty of time for a leisurely lunch, before a mid afternoon flight to the Northern coastal city of Santa Marta. We were met by three 4WDs which slowly took us & all our bags up to the excellent ProAves El Dorado Lodge, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. It was dark by the time we finally arrived. This was to be our base for the next three nights.

20 Jul 2019

3 Mar 18 - Colombia: Oilbirds

In the middle of the afternoon, we all met up again. The plan was to walk to some nearby Oilbird caves. Oilbirds are a monotypic Nightbird family. They roost & nest colonially in caves. They are the only nocturnal flying fruit-eating Bird & also are capable of echo locating in the dark. Although they have a wide range covering Trinidad, Panama, Colombia & Venezuela, Guyana, North Brazil,  Ecuador, Peru & Bolivia, there seemed to be a limited number of sites where they can easily be seen. I had only seen them once before in Eastern Venezuela & I was keen to see some more. We drove for a few minutes from the hotel, before pulling over. It was then a half hour walk across open, hot fields where we saw a few familiar species, before we reached a stream within a wood. It was good to get out of the sun. We had been told before in the itinerary, that we would be walking up the stream. In the end, I decided it would be too hot to wear the wellies I had brought & went in my travel sandals. They were perfect in the cool stream, which would have been too deep for the light boots I was normally wearing.
Spectacled Parrotlet: Finally, some reasonable views
 Bare-faced Ibis
After about ten minutes of walking along the stream, we arrived at the Oilbird cave. Not surprisingly, they were dark where the Oilbirds were roosting. Janos had brought a torch which had a broad coverage, but wasn't particularly bright to avoid disturbing the Oilbirds. The photos aren't fantastic, but considering they were taken with a 100 - 400mm lens, on maximum extension, with an ISO setting of 16,000 & 1/25 second, they have come out well enough. All I had was a rock to hold the camera against.
The only problem was after the Oilbird, Janos wanted to head up a very rocky stream bed to look for a Southern Bentbill he had seen on previous trips. Southern Bentbill is yet another Tyrant Flycatcher & while it was a Tick, I decided that it was too slippery to risk breaking an ankle in the sandals & quickly turned back. I decided, it wouldn't be the end of the world, if I miss a few Tyrant Flycatchers in my lifetime. However, when they returned having seen the only Grey-cheeked Nunlets of the trip, then I wished I had pushed on.
Slim-fingered Rain Frog: The second of the day
Slim-fingered Rain Frog: The last view many invertebrates have ever seen
Jesus Lizard: This Lizard is found in streams & rivers. When disturbed, they are able to run across the water's surface, which is why they are commonly known as Jesus Lizards. Their alternative name is Common Basilisk
Damselfly sp.
We were back at the hotel close to dusk. There was enough time to skip the starter at dinner & enjoy a cooling swim in the swimming pool. Every now & then large, Paraque-sized Bats hawked over the pool chasing Moths. A great end to the day.

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.