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Birding in Colombia

1 December, 2015 - 16:15 -- World Land Trust
Blue-billed Currasow.
View from Las Tangaras.

In 2015, WLT supporters David and Susanne Cohen chose the Colombian nature reserves owned and managed by Fundación ProAves, a conservation partner of World Land Trust (WLT) for their birdwatching trip. David sent us this account of their holiday, which included visits to two reserves funded by WLT, El Dorado and Las Tangaras. He writes:

During the course of our three week tour, our guides showed us almost 650 species of birds. That may sound a lot, but in birding terms, we merely scratched the surface. Colombia has more than 1,900 species and this number increases regularly as new species are discovered or properly documented for the first time. 

There were many early starts, to ensure that we were in the right spot at first light, and a number of 12 hour days. There were also some longish drives as we crossed the Magdalena and Cauca valleys and climbed different slopes of the Andes – essential travel if we were to see the different birds appearing on the eastern, central and western ranges. 

We birded at a variety of altitudes during the tour, spending most of the time in the foothills of the Andes, at around 2,000 metres above sea level. On a couple of days we went up to the paramó, generally above the tree line, at a maximum elevation of 4,000 metres. 

“At this level, the temperature was decidedly cool, the air was thin and the birds were really special.”
David Cohen

At this level, the temperature was decidedly cool, the air was thin and the birds were really special. Of particular note were the tiny hummingbirds, eking out a living in these hazardous conditions – with such evocative names as Rainbow-bearded Thornbill (Chalcostigma herrani), Tyrian Metaltail (Metallura tyrianthina), Buffy Helmetcrest (Oxypogon stuebelii) and Shining Sunbeam (Aglaeactis cupripennis).

Our time at Rio Blanco in the hills above Manizales was particularly memorable as we were privileged to see four species of antpitta, normally very shy birds, which hide away in the depths of the forest. Here, they are attracted to a number of feeding stations by a daily supply of worms and allow remarkable views at really close quarters. 

Blue-billed Curassow

We were privileged to see Blue-billed Curassow (Crax Alberti) in El Paujil Reserve, which was created by Fundación ProAves specifically to protect the species. The Blue-billed Curassow is a large game bird, known locally as El Paujil and found in isolated pockets of humid, undisturbed forest in the lowlands and foothills of Colombia. It is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Species with the current population estimated to be in the region of 150 to 700 individuals.

Deforestation and hunting have been the main causes of the species’ decline, following the clearance of large areas of forest to provide grazing for cattle. Having feasted our eyes on this special bird, we were fortunate to find his mate perched up in a tree in the relative cool of the late afternoon, as we set out for our second excursion of the day.

El Dorado

Red-headed-Barbet-male

Red-headed Barbet. © Susanne Cohen Wildlife Photography.

El Dorado is a reserve supported by WLT. It lies in a remote, mountainous area close to the Caribbean coast, well to the north of the Andes. As such, the local birds have evolved in isolation over many years and the number of Santa Marta Endemics is quite remarkable. 

Among the Santa Marta family of endemics there are: Parakeet (Pyrrhura viridicata), Warbler (Myiothlypis basilica), Bush-Tyrant (Myiotheretes pernix), Antpitta (Grallaria bangsi), Screech-Owl (Megascops gilesi) and a Foliage-gleaner (Automolus rufipectus). All of these show very different characteristics from similar species found in other parts of Colombia.

In 2015 WLT supported the extension of El Dorado Reserve to protect habitat for the Santa Marta Parakeet.

Las Tangaras

On the western slope of the Western Andes, ProAves has purchased a significant patch of forest in the wet Chocó region to create Las Tangaras (The Tanagers) Reserve. Also supported by WLT, this protected area contains one of the highest concentrations of range-restricted species in the world, making the reserve one of the most exciting in Colombia. 

ProAves has adopted a very different approach here as they have steadily acquired surrounding cattle pasture, which had been cleared of forest some years ago. Natural regeneration is already taking place, steadily increasing the habitat available to support the important species.

purple-throated-woodstar

Purple-throated Woodstar. © Susanne Cohen Wildlife Photography.

The number of range-restricted species includes a whole host of tanagers including Black-and-gold Tanager (Bangsia melanochlamys) (classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List), Gold-ringed Tanager (Bangsia aureocincta) (classified as Endangered) and Purplish-mantled Tanager (Iridosornis porphyrocephalus) (classified as Near Threatened).

Other exciting species include Red-headed Barbet (Eubucco bourcierii), Toucan Barbet (Semnornis ramphastinus), and Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium nubicola). There are some excellent hummingbird feeders in the grounds of the reserve and a further set on the edge of the forest. The latter produced a nice selection of hummers, including Long-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus kingi), Velvet-purple Coronet (Boissonneaua jardini), Empress Brilliant (Heliodoxa imperatrix) and the diminutive Purple-throated Woodstar (Calliphlox mitchellii).

WLT has supported Las Tangaras since 2013.

More information

David and Susanne Cohen are Friends of WLT and have been supporting WLT since 2011. They arranged their trip through EcoTurs Colombia, which works closely with Fundación ProAves. Their guide was Trevor Ellery and the trip took place 9-30 May 2015

WLT supports land purchase for conservation in Colombia through the Buy an Acre programme. WLT also funds a ranger employed by Fundación ProAves. You can support conservation in Colombia by donating to either programme.

Buy an Acre »

Donate to Keepers of the Wild 2020 »

More information about Friends of WLT »

More information about EcoTurs »

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