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

17 Mar 2019

19 Feb 18 - Colombia: A Morning At Cerro Guadalupe

The alarms were set fractionally later on our second morning of Birding in Colombia, but still well before what any sane person would consider to be dawn. There was chance for a quick coffee in the hotel reception, as they had remembered to provide some this morning, before we jumped into the minibus for the forty five minute drive to Cerro Guadalupe. This is a windy road on the edge of Bogota & where we were to spend the morning Birding along the forested road edges. The Birding was from the road, but fortunately, there was little traffic along the road, as it's a dead-end road. Soon after first light, we saw some Guans sitting in the trees. They were Andean Guans, but the light wasn't great for photos. As the light improved, we saw more Andean Guans & they were closer for photos.
Andean Guan: These were the first of several parties of Andean Guans we were to see over the next week
As we walked along the road, we encountered a few Coppery-bellied Pufflegs: this was the only site we saw this near endemic which is restricted to the Colombian Eastern Andes & neighbouring Venezuela.
Coppery-bellied Puffleg: A cracking Hummer
As we continued Birding, we ran into a few small parties of Birds, including a couple of large & bulky Rufous Wrens. The road was a bit frustrating, as often there were banks on either side of the road above head height, so we were seeing some of the typically skulking species sitting partially concealed above our heads, before disappearing far too quickly. The views were fine, but it was a morning of struggling to get photos. But then I was also spending more time Birding & not worrying too much about using the camera.
It was tough habitat to see into & it was relatively quiet
Another scenery shot
After some time, some police showed up on motorbikes. They stopped close to us, before slowing following us at a distance. Brian walked over to have a chat them as he & Janos were our best Spanish speakers. I was expecting to be told that we weren't allowed to be Birding along the road and we had to leave. But the coppers kept their distance. Later, Brian said, they explained they would hang around as there had been problems with robberies along the road in the past, so they were going to keep an eye on us for our own good. They were friendly & quiet and it was reassuring having them around. It was nice to have my suspicions proved wrong.
Our guardians for the morning: While Brian & a couple of others were having a chat with the coppers, Welsh Birder Rob Hunt was leaving them to catch up with the rest of us
As we walked along the road, there were a few Band-tailed Pigeons flying around. Additionally, a smaller, medium-sized Bird flew over & perched on a distant tree. The scopes were brought into use, to confirm it was a Red-crested Cotinga. Like, the Andean Guan, it was a species I had seen before in Ecuador, but not for 18 & 20 years, respectively.
Red-crested Cotinga
We walked down to a nearby road junction, before exploring along that side road. There were one or two small trails into the forest & we managed to see a few other species in the bamboo thickets under the trees including a couple of Rufous Antpittas, a couple of White-browed Spinetails and an Agile Tit-tyrant. Back on the road, I saw my first Golden-fronted Whitestarts & a family party of Black-crested Warblers.
White-browed Spinetail: Bamboo can be really hard to photograph Birds in
 Agile Tit-tyrant
Agile Tit-tyrant
Golden-fronted Whitestart: This is the nominate ornatus subspecies. It was the only occasion we saw this subspecies, all the rest were the yellow-faced chrysops subspecies
Plushcap: This is a widespread South American species that I've only ever seen skulking in or near to Bamboo
Plushcap: I've rarely had clear views of Plushcaps, which is a pity as they look great
Black-crested Warbler: Adult
Black-crested Warbler: Juvenile. This juvenile was more of an identification challenge, until mum & dad appeared
A mixed flock produced my first Black-capped Hemispingus & Superciliared Hemispingus: both members of the large & colourful Tanager family.
Black-capped Hemispingus: This species occurs from Colombia & Western Venezuela and further South through Ecuador to Peru
Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager: They have a similar range to the Black-capped Hemispingus
Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager: This is a large good-looking Tanager
Pale-naped Brush-finch
Butterfly sp.
By late morning, I had managed to see six Ticks, despite it seeming a fairly quiet morning. It was now very quiet & we returned to the minibus to head off to the afternoon destination of Parque la Florida (Florida Park). Another long, cross Bogota journey of around two hours.
Bogota: Looks like Health and Safety laws have made it to this suburb of Bogota

10 Mar 2019

18 Feb 18 - Colombia: Afternoon Coffee With Extra Hummers

After a two & a half hour journey in the minibus from the upper slopes of Sumapaz National Park, we finally reached our destination for the afternoon: Chicaque Park. We were quickly to discover that it was never quick travelling between sites in Colombia, even though the destinations weren't always far apart. This was partly due to travelling in a minibus on roads with few opportunities for overtaking. Chicaque Park looks to be a large national park, although we spend most of our time drinking coffee whilst photographing the Hummers coming into the feeders by the cafe. I normally find it takes a while getting my eye at a new place with Hummer feeders. This isn't helped by my normal pattern of travelling around in the Neotropics. No sooner than I get familiar with the typical Hummer species at one site, then I'm moving onto a new elevation or Andean slope & have to start working out & learning the regular species again. Additionally, many species have overlapping features & I can't remember all the features in my head. Seeing 64 species in three & a half weeks didn't help either. The best way to start is to find a species that looks obvious & familiar. Collared Incas are fairly obvious to pick out, as they are distinctive and have a large range from Colombia & Venezuela to Peru & Bolivia, which means that I've bumped into them on a few occasions in Ecuador.
Collared Inca: I was happy with this photo considering it was an overcast & damp afternoon & the light wasn't great
Collared Inca: They are a fairly large Hummingbird with this distinctive large white collar & a lot of white in both the undertail & the outer tail feathers on the upper side of the tail and a long straight bill
This Hummingbird looks superficially similar to a Collared Inca, but is a female Tourmaline Sunangel.
Tourmaline Sunangel: Female. This has an obvious white throat, but the white doesn't extend around the sides of the neck. Additionally, it doesn't have the white in the tail & is noticeably shorter-billed
Tourmaline Sunangel: Male. The males are more non-descript, especially when the light doesn't catch the purple throat
The next easy identification was a Woodstar. Woodstars are one of my favour groups of Hummingbirds as they are small & hyperactive. Most of the Woodstars I've seen hover while feeding, so it was good to see one which was happy to come in & perch up: making it easier to photograph them. A check of the excellent Pro Aves field guide & it was confirmed as a female Gorgeted Woodstar. At just over 2 inches long, it one of the world's smallest Birds.
Gorgeted Woodstar: The small size, pale underparts & pale collar suggest this is a Woodstar. The buff underparts & rufous uppertail & the Eastern Andes location indicates this is a female Gorgeted Woodstar
The next species to get my eye in on was a Puffleg. Pufflegs are less obvious, but have noticeable white feathering around the legs. This is a very useful feature as it helps to narrow the range of pages to check down from thirty two, to just two.
Glowing Puffleg: This individual is starting to develop its shiny purple gorget which is surrounded by a narrow buffy border on the Eastern Andes vestita subspecies
Another of the more subtle Hummingbirds was this Lesser Green Violet-ear. A few years ago, this species was known as Green Violet-ear. When the Northern subspecies was split as Mexican Violet-ear, the remaining subspecies from Costa Rica to Peru, Bolivia & extreme NW Argentina was renamed Lesser Violet-ear. Rather than lose all links to the original name, I often try to keep a reference in the English name to the original name.
Lesser Green Violet-ear: This is an all green Hummingbird with a noticeable purple lower face and ear coverts
Finally, we saw our main target species for Chicaque Park: a Golden-bellied Starfrontlet. No amount of sharpening will cover up that this photo wasn't in focus: but it's the best I have of this near endemic Hummer.
Golden-bellied Starfrontlet: This species occurs in the Eastern Andes & just over the border into Venezuela
Brian was using the same camera & lens as I was: a Canon 7D Mark II with the Mark II 100 - 400 mm lens. I was disappointed for the few days with my photographs compared to what Brian was getting. Finally, I realised the image stabilisation wasn't enabled on the lens & that made a big difference, especially on days when we were in the forests & the light wasn't great. We had a short walk along the entrance track, before the minibus caught us up & we returned to our hotel in Bogota. it had been a long day, but good with ten Ticks. I was glad we had arrived early the previous day so that we had had chance to start getting over the jetlag & used to the altitude.