Our flights had finally arrived in Bogata the previous evening and we were lucky to be met by our guide for the first day Diana Balcazar. She quickly settled us into the nearby Marriot Hotel and made arrangements to meet pre-dawn for our first days birding.
Our main destination for the day was the upland area to the east of the city known as Chingaza. Stopping to pick Isabel up en-route we were high up in the misty hills just after dawn for a pretty mind-blowing start to our Colombian birding. Within minutes we'd located 2 Golden-fronted Whitestarts, Andean Siskin, Rufous-browed Conebill the first of many many Rufous-collared Sparrows and Great Thrushes and White-throated Tyrannulet. A fantatsic male Glowing Puffleg showed extremely well but also extremely briefly followed by a Black-crested Warbler and Tyrian Metaltail. Best of all were some superb views of the endemic Silvery-throated Spinetail. Further up and in true paramo habitat near the reserve centre Brown-bellied Swallows swooped, a Sparkling Violetear gave itself up and 2 magnificent Black-chested Buzzard-eagles showed beautifully. Misty and windy conditions were making things hard work but I managed to score with a brief Chestnut-crowned Antpitta and we also got Plain-coloured Seedeater, Plumbeous Sierra Finch, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Glossy Flowerpiercer and MattoralTapaculo. First prize in the looks stakes had to go the the small group of Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanagers - stunning birds!
Paramo habitat, Chingaza
Silvery-throated Spinetail (endemic)
Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager
Chingaza reserve visitor centre
Our 2nd stop of the day was the small area of wetlands known as the Gausca Wetlands. Parking up in a small area of farmland and meadows we enjoyed an al-fresco lunch (lovingly prepared by Diana!) with Eastern Meadowlark, Great Thrush and a Sparkling Violetear for company. We soon finished our scoff and made the short walk down to the marshy area. Our target bird the endemic Bogata Rail was very quickly bagged, indeed we went on to record about 5 of these great birds. Also present were a pair of Southern Lapwings that flew aggitatedly around us for most of the time we were there, several Spotted-winged Gallinules, American Coot, a pair of Andean Teal, Black-necked Stilt, Ruddy Duck and a very welcome Noble Snipe.
Lunch at Gausca Wetlands (copyright Diana Balcazar)
Our final birding destination of a packed first day was the lake and marsh of La Florida on the edge of Bogota and close to the airport. This curious place is a sort of country park and had been closed for over a year due to flooding. Some negotiations by Diana did the trick though and the gates were soon being unlocked for us. Personally I found the site to be a little disappointing but by now we were all pretty tired and hot so that undoubtedly had something to do with it! Birds we recorded here included Lesser Goldfinch, Band-tailed Seedeater, American Coot, Black Vulture, Tropical Kingbird but sadly we couldn't find Apolinar's Wren which inhabits the reedbeds here but is becoming increasingly difficult to find. A White-tailed Kite from our minibus completed birding for the day. I owe a HUGE thankyou to Diana for being such a great guide and good fun company! I'll always remember the dances we had every time we got a new bird!
The remainder of the evening was spent in transit - flying from Bogata to the city of Cali where we were met and transferred to the lovely western Andean lodge/hotel at what is known as the KM18 Cloud Forest (due to it being 18km out of Cali). Even in darkness as we arrived you could tell that we'd have birding on our doorstep the following morning. After dinner we pretty much collapsed into bed!