Colombia, Day 1, 21 July 2011 - Chingaza, Gausca Wetlands & La Florida

This FAM trip was organised by ProExport, the tourist development agency for Colombia. It was all arranged at rather short notice through their office in London and despite the hurried nature of arrangements they did a very good job indeed. Flights from London Heathrow to Bogata via Newark, New York and several internal flights within Colombia were invloved in what was a real whistle-stop tour of this marvellous birding country. For the South American first timer like me the lure of the most species rich country on the planet and so many emdemics were too good to turn down! I'll include specific details within each daily report but I'd like to pay particular thanks to the following people who made the trip such a memorable one - Juliana Torres Netto, Juan Guillermo Perez, Sergio Ocampo, Diana Balcazar, Walberto Naranjo and Isabel Montoya. As it turned out there were just 4 of us on the tour and all from the UK - myself, Paul Roberts who guides for Oriole Birding and Vaughan and Svetlana Ashby from Birdfinders. 

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!

Golden-fronted Whitestart

Glossy Flowerpiecer

Paramo habitat, Chingaza

Silvery-throated Spinetail (endemic)

Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager

Chingaza reserve visitor centre

Rufous-collared Sparrow

Plumbeous Sierra Finch
Gausca Wetlands

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)

Great Thrush

Southern Lapwing

Southern Lapwing

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!         

American Coot

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!  


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