Colombia: Bogota, The Eastern Andes and Magdalena Valley Feb 11—25, 2017

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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This trip marked the debut of a new route that included a loop down over the eastern slope of the Eastern Andes. And, it brought us some terrific birding. One of the most exciting and perhaps least visited areas we added was a high zone of the northern Andes known as páramo. Often defined as a tropical alpine grassland, it is much more than a grassland, as it has a startling array of unusual plants and a surprising number of birds. Sumapaz National Park provided an ideal introduction to this interesting zone. It is the largest contiguous páramo to be found anywhere in the world, and the park lies barely two hours from Bogotá. We spent a lovely morning here and found such gems as Green-throated Helmetcrest, Noble Snipe, Tawny Antpitta, and Apolinar’s Wren. A couple of days later we based in the tiny town of Santa María, located on the eastern slope of the Eastern Andes at a relatively low elevation. During our two and a half days here we enjoyed some of the best birding of the trip with species that included Black Hawk-Eagle, Barred Forest-Falcon, Black-and-white Owl, Lined Antshrike, and tiny Chestnut-vented Conebills among many others.

Flame-faced Tanager

Flame-faced Tanager— Photo: Steve Hilty


Our route then took us back through Bogotá and on to cloud forest sites, tropical dry forests and, finally, a series of stops in the floor of the Magdalena Valley before ending at the Medellín airport for a short flight back to Bogotá to conclude the trip. Two families stand out on this trip—hummingbirds and wrens. We recorded 46 species of hummingbirds and 17 species of wrens (15 of which were seen). We also recorded 15 species of lovely little Tangara tanagers and 13 species of woodpeckers. One day our route took us through 29 tunnels, some only a few hundred meters in length, but others up to a kilometer-and-a-half in length—all in all a personal record, at least for me, and great fun. There were also colorful species large and small, among them Andean Cocks-of-the-rock, Grass-green Tanagers, several mountain-tanagers and, finally, on our last day, a tiny Striped Manakin and an elusive pair of Sooty Ant-Tanagers.

And, there is much more than birds to see in Colombia. Most of you spent a day or two prior to the trip visiting sights (and doing a little birding too) around Bogotá with Diana Balcázar. It soon becomes evident that Colombia is a busy country. 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. There were also thousands of recreational cyclists, impressive by almost any standards. Bogotá suffers growing pains like any large metropolitan area (major traffic congestion), but is trying numerous novel ways to ameliorate 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—over 1,900 species of birds have been recorded here including more than 70 endemics and many more species that are almost endemics. A popular slogan says that the only danger in Colombia now is wanting to stay. And that just may be true.