Colombia: Bogota, Eastern Andes & the Magdalena Valley Feb 02—15, 2015

Posted by Steve Hilty


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 a rainy morning at the little Bellavista Reserve above La Victoria. We’d gotten an early start, driven more than an hour to reach the reserve, and now sat in our bus as the rain showed little sign of abating. We eventually tried a short walk, but soon aborted this effort and decided to leave. It was a disappointment. Within the reserve four endemics can be found, as well as several other enticing species. But, sometimes a bad situation can turn into something serendipitous, and this soon proved to be the case. An unplanned bathroom stop at a road toll booth, shortly after the rain had stopped, provided us with an explosion of birds both near and far, and later in the day, on the recommendation of a friend of Herman, we visited a road that neither of us had explored. Within minutes of arrival we found a group of four endemic White-mantled Barbets and just minutes later enjoyed great views of a pair of endemic Sooty Ant-Tanagers with pink crests raised. And a couple of days later we added the Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant to our list of endemics we thought we might have missed at the Bellavista Reserve. In fact, this new road was so good that we decided to return for another afternoon visit and added many more species.

By the end of the trip we’d recorded 40 species of hummingbirds, and people that arrived a day or two early for city tours and birding around the city added two or three more—a remarkable number made possible in large part because of an explosion of feeders at several of the sites we visited. But it wasn’t just about hummingbirds. There were Oilbirds, a nice selection of antbirds, more than enough flycatchers for any enthusiast, a tremendous list of tanagers including 12 species of Tangara tanagers, the rare Turquoise Dacnis (multiple sightings), and the lovely Black-faced (Yellow-tufted) Dacnis at two sites.

Every time I return to Colombia I learn about another new and exciting location for birding—a new lodge, a new road, an area previously inaccessible or unexplored. 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 beginning about 2008, an explosion of interest followed. In the late 1980s I often said that security was so bad in Colombia that I might never be able to return. Little did I imagine the transformation that would occur.

During this short trip we visited eleven different locations and still missed one—La Florida on the edge of Bogotá—that we were unable to reach because of road construction. Habitats ranged from Magdalena Valley marshes and ranchland to tree line in the Eastern Andes and included tropical dry forest, rain forest, and cloud forest. Everywhere we traveled there were signs of heavy construction, people working, a country at work, a varied and booming economy, and a country that is generally clean and surprisingly cognizant of conservation issues. Bogotá suffers growing pains like any large metropolitan area, but 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. Road signs throughout the country urge people to take care of the environment and keep the environment clean. For a country that has struggled to rid itself of crippling political and social problems, the transformation is remarkable. The statistics are undeniable—some 1,900 species of birds have been recorded here including over 70 endemics and many more species that are almost endemics. During our brief visit we recorded 40 species of hummingbirds, and two or three more were seen by those who came a day or two early for birding and cultural sites around Bogotá. A popular slogan says that the only danger in Colombia now is wanting to stay. And that just may be true.