Summer 2009 - Colombia! - Part 1 of 3 Home » Forums » Birding » Trip Reports

From August 18th to October 5th I visited Colombia, the country with
the most bird species in the world. I've travelled extensively in
Latin America with my Spanish speaking wife, so was only a little
nervous. The previous year in Venezuela I had heard many scary things
about security in Colombia, such as a claim that the buses had to
travel in a caravan for safety. The reality is what the tour books
write, that in the last five to ten years Uribe's government has
greatly improved the security situation in almost all of the major
cities, and only some regions of the jungle and 'llanos' are
off-limits.

Having said all this, ALWAYS watch your bags in South America. Theft,
especially of tourists, is very common. And hope you are not unlucky
enough to be robbed by knife or gun. After one month, we were so
comfortable in Colombia that we got careless, and had a bag pulled
from underneath our seat on a crowded bus. I lost a lot of my lower
quality 'identification' photos.

We arrived in Cartagena, a very hot city on the Atlantic side of the
Caribbean Sea. The only worthwhile bird outing seemed to be the
Botanic Garden, which was two buses and a kilometer walk away from the
city. The garden is located among 'fincas' or farms, and is well
kept. Check the abandoned buildings for bats. No unusual birds were
seen; a few include the Blue-crowned Motmot, Bicolored Wren, Lineated
Woodpecker, Red-crowned Woodpecker, and Buff-throated Woodcreeper.

Our next stop was Santa Marta and the adjacent tourist town of
Taganga. The goal was to visit bird-rich Minca in the Santa Marta
cloud forest, as well as National Park Tayrona. In the cities I can
only recommend the Botanic Garden in Santa Marta. Orange-chinned
Parakeets are common here, as is the Russet-throated Puffbird; a
Rufous-browed Peppershrike was also seen.

Tayrona park is a beautiful national park that rises from a rocky
shore. Similar to Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica, but bigger and
better. One problem with the park is it opens at 8:00, which is
rather late, so I recommend camping. My photo highlights were the
Grey-headed Tanager (an Ant-tanager), and the Orange-chinned Parakeet.
Jacamars, toucans, cracids, hummingbirds and various songbirds were
seen here, but I generally don't pay much attention to birds outside
my cameras focal range. There are eco-lodges and towns much closer to
Tayrona than Santa Marta, so I would check those out I was planning to
visit the park for several days.

Minca is a small town in a healthy looking cloud forest. The Andes
form a 'Y' in Colombia, and the Santa Marta mountain range is a dot on
the eastern fork of the 'Y'. So there are quite a few endemics in
that montain range, as well as in the Magdalena valley between the
forks of the 'Y'. In Venezuela they told me that the Colombians had
cut down all of the trees, and I didn't see that until later. Venezuela's
petroleum-based economy is actually very good for the local fauna.
Proaves. an international conservation organization, has a reserve about
20 km passed Minca, but you need a 4x4 jeep to visit, and we could not
arrange that. The Minca cloud forest does have a lot of birds.
Unfortunately I had to leave because I could not use the Internet at
the one Internet location; my work requires a certain type of connection
they could not provide (and I could not use my laptop).

Onward. We had a plan to visit my wife's friends in Cali. So the
next stop was Medellin, but we need a stop in the middle. Proaves has
another reserve (five in total) in the center of the country, which
protects the critically endangered Blue-knobbed Curassow. Only fifty
birds remain in the wild. To visit the reserve, make arrangements by
phone or email, and then take a bus to Puerto Boyaca, and a second bus
to Puerto Pinzon. The reserve is simple and includes a primary forest
and an area of young secondary forest. The bullet-ridden sign at the
entrance must have stories to tell about a time when the area was used
grow cocoa for cocaine, before defoliants were sprayed by the Colombian
government, supported by the US 'war on drugs'. Many interesting birds
were seen here, including two species of Trogon (Violaceous and
White-tailed), Little Tinamou, White-fronted Nunbird, Olivaceous Piculet,
a Collared Aracari, and a few dozen other interesting species. In two
days Crax Alberti, the Paujil, or Blue-knobbed or Blue-billed Curassow
was not seen, but was possibly heard on one walk.

We spent one night in Puerto Boyaca near the upscale Palagua Hotel,
and found very small marshy area near the hotel that was loaded with
birds. I even made a stop there on the return trip, and was not disappointed.
Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, Roseatte Spoonbills, Bare-faced Ibis,
Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters, Purple Gallinules, Pied Water-Tyrants and
Straiated Herons were a few of the birds common here.

Revisit to Minca

My take on my subsequent visit to Minca was also negative. I wrote here that it had a healthy looking cloud forest, and did not leave with that impression on the next trip.

Revisit

I had a day to stop in Puerto Boyaca after revisiting the ProAves Paujil reserve, and the small wetlands outside the city are completely contaminated. I will check for bird life in the morning, but how the Colombians throw plastic and garbage into the streets and rivers is very hard to get used to. And it is hard to see how they can live with it.