Colombia: Bogota, Eastern Andes and the Magdalena Valley Feb 03—16, 2014

Posted by Steve Hilty

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Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty is the senior author of A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, and author of Birds of Venezuela, both by Princeton University Press, as well as the popular Birds of ...

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It was late afternoon. We stood in the narrow corridor bordering the “Jardín Encantado,” a private hummingbird garden (called Enchanted Garden) in a small town about an hour west of Bogotá. It was sunny and warm. Sipping coffee provided by the owner, we watched in amazement at the sheer number of hummingbirds visiting the garden—at any moment easily 50 to 75 individuals were buzzing back and forth among 30 strategically-placed feeders. From the far corner of the veranda, Luis Eduardo, my co-leader, yelled, “There’s a Ruby-topaz Hummingbird perched at feeder number three.” I was at the other end of the small garden trying to sort out a dozen other species that were coming and going so rapidly it was almost impossible to keep track of them. The endemic Indigo-capped Hummingbird was one of the commonest, but there also were dozens of Crowned Woodnymphs, mangos, violetears, a Red-billed Emerald, and occasionally both White-bellied and Gorgeted woodstars. It was exhilarating and exhausting. Never had I seen so many individual hummingbirds at once. And, there also were Crimson-backed Tanagers, Bananaquits, and other small passerines in the vines around the border of the garden.

Enchanted Garden, Cundinamarca, Colombia

Enchanted Garden, Cundinamarca, Colombia— Photo: Steve Hilty

This is one of Colombia’s newer “hot-spots” and, like many of them, it’s an exciting site. Now, every time I return to Colombia someone describes to me another new and exciting location—a new antpitta feeding site, a new lodge opening in the Andes, another on the Pacific coast, a new site for an endemic, and so on. During the 1980s and 1990s Colombia was mired in civil unrest and foreign visitors were rare, flocking instead to neighboring Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, and other countries for birding and ecotourism. When birders finally were able to return to Colombia about six or seven years ago, it was like an explosion. New lodges and birding sites began opening up almost everywhere. In the late 1980s I often said that security was so bad in Colombia I might never be able to return. Little did I imagine the transformation that would occur.

During this short trip we visited ten different locations from the Magdalena Valley lowlands to treeline in the Eastern Andes, and in habitats ranging from marshes and ranchland to tropical dry forest, rain forest, and cloud forest—all perfectly safe. Everywhere we traveled there were signs of heavy construction and people working—a country at work. Most surprising to new visitors, Colombia is clean, the population ambitious, and the economy varied and booming. Bogotá suffers growing pains like any large metropolitan area, but the city is trying numerous novel ways to ameliorate traffic congestion and smog: a private lane bus system; a proliferation of bicycle lanes; no automobiles one day a week; an odd-even license plate number system for alternate day driving; and Sunday closing of many streets to all but bicycles and foot traffic. And road signs throughout the country urge people to take care of the environment, keep the environment clean. For a country that has struggled hard to shake off crippling political and social problems, the transformation is remarkable. The transformation isn’t complete, but it is well along, and Colombia is rapidly being discovered by international birders. The statistics are undeniable: some 1,900 species of birds have been recorded here including over 70 endemics and many more near endemics. During our brief visit we recorded 36 species of hummingbirds. Another seven were added on the Santa Marta Extension, and more than half the group saw three or four additional species in the Bogotá area on private pre-trip activities—in all, a remarkable example of the diversity of Colombia’s birdlife. A popular slogan says that the only danger in Colombia now is wanting to stay. And that is really true.