Sunday, September 16, 2018

Post #143 - The connection between Northern California pelagics and bike birding

My last 2 entries were VERY long and information-dense, so this will be something shorter and lighter - enjoy!

When I moved from Norwalk (east of LA) to San Mateo (south of SF) in May of last year, I resurrected my long-dormant steel steed for what I thought would be a fun and diversionary game of San Mateo County bike-birding. I had no goals beyond exploring my new surrounds, staying in shape, and seeing a few birds, and San Mateo's varied habitats and bike-friendly roads kept me totally engaged for the first year or so. But as bird returns diminished in my home county, I started venturing north into San Francisco County and south into Santa Clara County to look for species that I hadn't yet found closer to home. Those forays quickly engendered a 'county-birding'-type mentality, and it wasn't long before I found myself using eBird's 'Target Species' to help me plan strategic birding rides into neighboring counties. I'm now totally hooked on maximizing my cumulative Peninsula Bike List (258) and my lists in each of the constituent counties (see map below). County bike-birding is now a healthy addiction!

County bike-birding totals as of September 16, 2018

Even though I'm equidistant from San Francisco and Santa Clara, I bike to SF more frequently than I do to SC. That's because the wind in the Bay Area usually blows from the northwest and builds through the day. There's usually little-to-no wind when I leave at 6:30am, so there isn't much difference between riding northwest or southeast on the outgoing leg. But the return leg is a completely different story. What's often a 15 MPH tailwind behind me returning from SF is an equivalently strong headwind returning from SC. That headwind can be hugely impeding and turn what was otherwise a nice day of birding into a royal pain in the ass - and legs. I can only ride south when the forecast calls for very light afternoon winds. It's just not worth the headache otherwise. I'm hoping to do an overnight trip to SC (and Alameda) in October, so stay tuned for that.


Bay Area is expensive, but you get what you pay for!

It's here that I want to draw a parallel to pelagic trips. When strong winds are forecasted, the universal pelagic strategy is to run directly into them on the outgoing/morning leg. The hope is to reach the deepwater before those winds strengthen to the point that they make travel unnecessarily uncomfortable or impossible. It's then as simple as turning the boat downwind and surfing the building gales back to port. Those windy day courses are shown as yellow traces on the maps below. If we went any other direction than straight upwind on those windy days, we'd have a VERY bumpy and possibly painful ride home in the afternoon. Days with light winds (or - very rarely - with southwest winds) permit alternate routes, and examples of those are shown as green traces below. The bottom topography of the Monterey Seavalley offers more dichotomous options than does the straight shelf edge offshore from Half Moon Bay, but the idea is the same. 

Pelagic routes from Monterey (L) and Half Moon Bay (R)

This is what popped into my head on my ride to San Francisco this morning, so I figured I'd share that observation with you. Cars are largely insulated from wind governance, but the same cannot be said for bikes or boats. Here was today's main quarry, a Black-throated Sparrow that's been hanging out behind the VA Hospital in NW SF for the past week. I also poached a previously reported Red-eyed Vireo in Golden Gate Park. As great as those birds were, they were outdone by a Blackburnian Warbler others and I found while searching for the vireo. 50 miles and 3 birds for my Peninsula bike list - not a bad morning! 

Digi-binoc'd juvenile Black-throated Sparrow

Monday, September 3, 2018

Post #142 - Colombia - Eastern Andes - Boyacá

Quick note - This entry, like my previous on birding in Cundinamarca, is meant more as a permanent online reference than it is a quick blogpost, so it is VERY long and very detailed. This account - as well as summaries from all the places I've visited - will be archived in the International Birding Resources tab under the main banner photo.

Part 1 - Boyacá Logistics
Introduction
When to visit
Getting there
Where to stay
Guides


Part 2 - Boyacá Birding!
Key Boyacá birds
High Andean forests northwest of Tunja
Dry and oak forests accessed from Soatá - endemics!
Paramo and high elevation lakes above Sogamoso
Reserva El Paujil
Eastern slope at Santa Maria

Part 1 - Boyacá Logistics
Introduction
Boyacá is a Colombian department located just north of Cundinamarca and the capital district of Bogotá. It is situated in the Eastern Andes and is one of the most rugged Colombian municipalities. My impression is that Boyacá has been under-birded compared to other departments, but it's proximity to Bogotá guarantees increased coverage as more birders visit the recently stabilized country in upcoming years. I first visited Boyacá in July of 2018, and I am going use this post to write a bit about the spots that I birded on that trip. My experience was far from comprehensive, so do know there is way more to Boyacá than what I present here.



When to Visit (taken  verbatim from my Cundinamarca post)
Short answer: Late-November through early-March with January and February being best. June to August might work, but it's a bit of a gamble.
Long Answer: Rain - more than temperature - is the primary consideration when planning a visit to Boyacá (or anywhere in Colombia), and the graph below shows the average monthly precipitation in Bogotá (8,675ft / 2,644m). Though rainfall will vary with exact location and elevation, the indicated trends are generally reflective of the yearly rain cycle anywhere in the Colombian Andes, Boyacá included.




Precipitation is lowest December through February and June through August, but there is a big difference between those two superficially similar windows. That's because the weather on the high elevation páramo (above ~10,500ft / 3,200m) is usually decent between December and March but is much more variable from June to August.

For example, on my 7-week 2018 trip (June 15 to August 3, I made 10 independent day trips to the páramo in the Central and Eastern Andes across 7 different departments and suffered rain on each occasion. Not every trip to the páramo was a washout, but it was always wet and trails were in universally mucky/terrible shape. The birding was fine but less productive or enjoyable than it would have been between late-November and early-March, the true Andean Summer.

So, while the Andes as a whole have a bit of a break late-June through early-August, páramo elevations, the exact elevations that hold many of the unique and endemic birds birders want to see, could still be very wet. That window might work, but there's greater risk of high elevation rain than between late-November and early March (again, January and February are best).



As if that video isn't enough to convince you of the suggested window, I'll offer 2 more reasons. First, the usually hot Magdalena Valley in the western part of Boyacá is coolest late-November to early-March. The birding there is fantastic, and a visit to the Eastern Andes would be incomplete without some time in that abutting geography. Second, North American neotropic migrants are present late-October to early-April, so total trip lists will be higher than in June-August window.

Getting there
Tunja, Boyacá's largest city and capital, does not have an airport of significance, so the best way to access the department is through Bogotá's fully modernized international airport. From there, it's only 2-3 hours drive to reach Boyacá. Rental cars are available at the Bogotá airport, but be advised you'll probably need at least a high clearance vehicle - if not four-wheel drive - to reach most of the sites I will discuss. Renting an SUV is very expensive, and it is usually cheaper and easier to just hire a driver with his own vehicle instead. I suggest contacting Jovani Flórez at Solutions in Colombia (solutionsincolombia@gmail.com, whatsapp +57 311 227 1259 or +57 320 835 9104). My driver, Daniel, was from Solutions and was absolutely amazing - professional in every way. They are the 'go-to' for Colombian birding transportation and have experience carting birders around every part of the country.

Where to stay
I moved around a lot and utilized a variety of accommodations as I went. I will highlight these as I discuss the individual birding sites and from what bases (cities, hotels) they should be accessed.

Guides
Hernan Arias took me around Boyacá. He is absolutely incredible and comes with my highest recommendation (hedarar@yahoo.com, +57 318 3853676). He knows the birds amazingly well - vocalizations included - and speaks English fluently. He is a good leader, decision maker, and travel companion, and he has a flawless reputation throughout Colombia. He is based in Ibagué in Tolima Department but has experience guiding in all parts of the country. Call him. He's great, I promise.

Biologists Johana Edith Zuluaga-Bonilla and Diana Carolina Macana Garcia also accompanied us in Boyacá. They are members of the Asociación Ornitológica de Boyacá, and I'll point you to that organization's Facebook page for more information on Boyacá birds and birding. The photo below shows me, Hernan, Johana, and Carolina.




Part 2: Boyacá Birding!

Key Boyacá birds
Since Boyacá is so mountainous (minus a tiny sliver of Magdalena Valley in the west), bird diversity is generally lower than in departments with more lowland areas (where species diversity is highest) However, Boyacá is a great place to find Colombian endemics, at least 15 of which can be found in the department with some degree of predictability. I will mention or discuss all 15, though some with more specificity than others. Many of these can also be found in Santander Department to the north or Cundinamarca Department to the south. The Colombian endemics reliably found in Boyacá are:

Colombian Chachalaca (slopes on inter-Andean Valleys)
Blue-billed Curassow (spottily in forests in NW Colombia, notably El Paujil in Boyacá)
Bogotá Rail (highland wetlands in East Andes, specifically Boyacá and Cundinamarca)
Green-bearded Helmetcrest (East Andean páramo)
Black Inca (west slope of East Andes, specifically Santander, Boyacá, and Cundinamarca)
Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird (dry areas on west slope of East Andes, specifically Santander and Boyacá)
Indigo-Capped Hummingbird (Magdalena Valley into East Andes)
White-mantled Barbet (North Central Andes; west slope of East Andes)
Beautiful Woodpecker (North Central Andes; west slope of East Andes; Magdalena Valley)
Brown-breasted Parakeet (Spottily in East Andes)
Silvery-throated Spinetail (East Andes, specifically Boyacá and Cundinamarca)
Apical Flycatcher (Inter-Andean Valleys and adjacent slopes, one of the most widespread endemics)
Apolinar's Wren (East Andes, specifically Boyacá and Cundinamarca)
Niceforo's Wren (west slope of East Andes, specifically Santander and Boyacá)
Mountain Grackle (west slope of East Andes)

Blue-billed Curassow, Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird, Niceforo's Wren, and Mountain Grackle are the most important species as they can't be found in the more easily accessed Cundinamarca to Boyacá's south. The critically endangered curassow will require the most effort as birders will have to reach all the way to El Paujil in the western part of the department (or go to PNN Tayrona on the Caribbean Coast). White-mantled Barbet and Beautiful Woodpecker can also be found at Paujil, but those aren't super critical there as both are also found in the Northcentral Andes, specifically to the east of Medellin. The hummingbird, wren, and grackle are all found in the drier areas around Soatá (below), and special effort should be made to see those in that area.

Bogotá Rail, Green-bearded Helmetcrest, Black Inca, Indigo-capped Hummingbird, Brown-breasted Parakeet, Silvery-throated Spinetail, and Apolinar's Wren are equally or better sought in Cundinamarca to the south. If you miss any of these is Boyacá, there will be additional chances if you also bird Cundinamarca (recommended). Colombian Chachalaca and Apical Flycatcher are widespread and should be found without dedicated effort, either in Boyacá or Cundinamarca. For the rest of this post (E) = endemic.

Just as interesting are these true endemics are several near-endemics (or 'East Andean' endemics) shared with only neighboring Venezuela. With that country a 'no-travel' area at writing, these exclusively shared species are effectively Colombian endemics until that country stabilizes. I don't know exactly how many of these near-endemics there are, but I've shown the ranges of Coppery-bellied Pufflug, Pale-bellied Tapaculo, and Moustached Brushfinch to illustrate the point. For the rest of this post NE = near endemic, specifically shared with Venezuela.




Golden-breasted Starfrontlet (NE), Rufous-browed Conebill (NE), and Ochre-breasted Brushfinch (NE) are three other species that follow this Colombian-Venezuelan distribution, but there are certainly at least a few others. Given the close proximity to Venezuela, Boyacá is a great place to observe these shared Colombia-Venezuela birds. So is Cundinamarca (previous post).

Boyacá Birding Areas
With some of the key birds established, let's talk geography. My time in the department was focused in three areas: th High Andean forest northwest of Tunja (Villa de Leyva, Arcabuco), the dry areas around Soatá in the north, and the highlands and páramo outside of Sogamoso. I will give detailed and firsthand accounts of my time in those places, and I will also briefly mention two other spots that I didn't visit at the end. Those are Reserva Natural del los Aves El Paujil, a lodge in the Magdalena Valley in the western part of Boyacá, and Santa Maria, a small town on the eastern slope of the Eastern Andes. Each of those lowland areas presents an entirely different avifauna from what I sampled in Boyacá's highlands.




High Andean forests northwest of Tunja
With several very good birding sites and an abundance of lodging options, the area to the Northwest of Tunja presents a great starting point for any Boyacá birding venture.






El Peligro (eBird Hotspot, as generated from my checklist, the first for El Peligro)
El Peligro is a relatively new site that is being developed as an avitourism destination by the Corpoboyacá, a local government agency tasked with improving the department's ecotourism product. We arrived at El Peligro after a 70 minute drive from Villa de Leyva (more on this amazing town in a bit). Much of that was on dirt roads, and the final stretch to reach the trailhead will require a high-clearance or 4-wheel drive vehicle. The trail runs west from the starting point and generally follows the ridgeline with some rolling ups and downs. The trail had some very mucky spots when I visited in July, but it should be much drier in the December-March window. The birding was really nice, and the High Andean Forest yielded Golden-bellied Starfrontlet (NE), Glowing Puffleg, Streaked Xenops, Pearled Treerunner, Rufous Wren, Capped Conebill, and Yellow-billed Cacique. We heard Pale-bellied Tapaculo (NE), and others in the group saw Black Inca (E). As the Starfrontlet, Inca, and Tapaculo are the three keys birds at this site, it was a really productive walk. I did not see it on my visit, but Colombian Chachalaca (E) is almost certainly present as well as it has been eBirded from other nearby areas. The trail looks really steep in the photo, but only that section was challenging!



It is worth noting that the trail is designed as a one-way through-hike (your driver could wait for you at the other end), but I will do everything in my power to dissuade that idea as the westernmost section is treacherously steep and rocky. I was so focused on not falling that I did zero birding on that descent. Very fit and adventurous hikers can manage it (I did), but it's an accident waiting to happen for tour groups. My advice is for everyone to start at the eastern end and walk the trail until you feel like turning back. The constant turnover of feeding flocks will ensure different birds are observed going and returning. If the birding is quiet, be patient. You really need to find a flock for the action to heat up.



Reserva Privada Rogitama (eBird Hotspot)
Rogitama is a very interesting story. When owner Roberto Chavarro purchased the property in 1982, it was entirely 'potreros', or cattle pastures. In the 36 years since, Roberto has made reforesting the property his passion. He knows a ton about plants, and he has taken painstaking care to remake the forest in its original image. His is a truly remarkable effort, and you should ask Roberto to show you the photos of the property as his forest has changes over the years. It is amazing, and Roberto should be commended for his conservation efforts.

Located 10-15 minutes outside the small town of Arcabuco, Rogitama is probably the best place on planet earth to see Black Inca (E). I observed 5-6 individuals during my two hour visit, including one individual coming to the lodge feeders. Other species at those feeders included White-bellied Woodstar, Gorgeted Woodstar, Short-tailed Emerald, Andean Emerald, Buff-tailed Coronet, Lazuline Saberwing, and Brown, Lesser, and Sparkling Violetears. Walking the entrance road and minimal trails with Roberto, we found a subset of the birds that we found at El Peligro. There are basic accommodations at Rogitama (I think there's hot water, but double check if you contact Roberto), and meal service can be arranged if you want to eat on site. Otherwise just drive 10-15 minutes into Arcabuco for food. Contact information for Roberto/Rogitama is found on the sign depicted below.




Sanctuario Flora and Fauna (SFF) Iguaque (eBird Hotspot)
SFF Iguaque is a wonderful track of habitat located between Arcabuco and Villa del Leyva. The High Andean Forest is similar to that of El Peligro, so the species are mostly overlapping. Where the two areas differ is in walkability. Assuming one skips the steep western end of El Peligro, the walk is relatively flat. However, Iguaque's main trail immediately assumes a steep pitch that continues for miles. If one is willing to climb several thousand meters (which I suspect few birders are), the trail runs all the way to the high elevation páramo. As such, Iguaque is probably more a hiking destination for the very fit than it is a birding destination for tours and such.

Rather than bird that steep and very narrow hiking track, I'd suggest exploring the Iguaque entrance road. It's a wide, gradual uphill that offers much better visibility, and it could be very productive early in the morning. If I had one morning in the area I'd probably go to El Peligro, but the Iquaque entrance road is a viable and easier-walking alternative for those that prefer to stay nearer the car.

It is possible to stay at Iguaque as they have a beautiful onsite lodge, but you will need to haul your luggage up the bottom 1km of the hiking trail. Unfortunately, this is a common problem in Colombia. A 27-year old backpacker won't blink at the 1km hike to the lodge, but that uphill distance is an insurmountable obstacle for a foreign retiree dragging a rolling suitcase. The photo below shows - clockwise from top left - entrance sign/prices, administrative building, entrance road, lodge.




Additional notes on lodging - Villa de Leyva!
I've noted that there is basic lodging at Rogitama and (mostly inaccessible) lodging at Iguaque, but there are other options as well. I stayed in the very convenient Hotel Azul (Hotel Blue) in Arcabuco and found it fine for a quick overnight. It was a really convenient base from which to access all the described destinations, and there is an attached/adjacent and 24-hour restaurant for convenience. There's nothing for amenities, and it's more like a motel than a hotel. But the rooms are clean, the beds comfortable, and the water hot! They have Wifi, but I had to be in the restaurant for it to work well.

With all the lodging options I've presented, none compare to Villa de Leyva, arguably the most fun and charming Latin American town I've visited. There are all sorts of boutique hotels, so there's something for everyone. Restaurants, art galleries, and shops line the beautiful stone roads, and it would be easy to spend a full morning or afternoon exploring the picturesque town (photos below). I stayed at the Die Sonne Hospederia, and I highly recommend it. It's far from the only game in town but is fairly indicative of the sort of lodging the Villa de Leyva offers. Indigo-capped Hummingbird (E) can be found around Villa de Leyva, but it's very common in Cundinamarca to the south. Don't spend time looking for it if you're also going to Cundinamarca. The photos below show the main square and a street in Villa De Leyva.




As great as Villa de Leyva is, it does require a birder to traverse a rather long and bumpy stretch of dirt road (probably best in high clearance or 4-wheel drive) to reach Iguaque, Rogitama, and El Peligro. For example, it took us about 55 minutes to drive from Villa de Leyva to Arcabuco - and that was in a really nice SUV. That means birders will need wake up an hour earlier to reach El Peligro than if they stay in Arcabuco or at Rogitama. Villa is really cool, so I think it's worth spending a night. If I was going to stay multiple nights in the area, I'd probably spend one in Villa and one in/around Arcabuco. But I don't mind moving every night, and I like to spread out my tourism dollars.

One person everyone should contact in Villa del Leyva in Francisco Javier Peña Tovar at Ciclo Trip (www.ciclotrip.com, Facebook page, Instagram = ciclotrip). He's a super cool guy offers tours where he couples birding to hiking and biking! He knows the local birds well and can organize whatever sort of outdoor, birding, or adventure outing you would like. He would also be a good person to contact if you're thinking about visiting Patio de Brujas (below) as the place can be a bit tricky to find without some local help. Francisco speaks English fluently. Give him a call, you won't be disappointed. Shop: +57 578 732 1485, Cell +57 320 899 4442 or +57 317 435 5202.

Patio de Brujas (ebird Hotspot)
If you do stay in Villa de Leyva, the drier habitat of Patio de Brujas might be interesting. Located about an hour south of town, Patio is an ancient astrological site and one of the very few places in Colombia to see Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant. We found that bird around the monument and collected Short-tailed Emerald and Silvery-throated Spinetail (E) on the entrance road. With a general paucity of birds beyond those specialty few, Patio is probably best suited for hard-core listers who want to tick the Ground-Tyrant. Winds tend to pick up in the afternoon, so a morning visit is preferred. As most other areas present much better birding, try to hit Patio between other spots or in-transit. The two photos below show the restored astrological monument and the surrounding dry hills.



Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant at Patio

Soatá - Dry forests and endemics
Several hours (3-4) north of Villa de Levya is the picturesque mountain town of Soatá. Situated at the interface between some higher elevation oak forest and some lower elevation desert habitat/forest, Soatá will appeal most to hardcore listers looking to chase down Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird (E), Niceforo's Wren (E), and Mountain Grackle (E). I found Soatá's arid habitats a fun departure from higher and wetter habitats, and at times it felt like I was birding in Arizona or Texas!



Mountain Grackle (E), Pale-bellied Tapaculo (NE), Rusty-faced Parrot (NE), and Moustached Brushfinch (NE) can all be found in the oak forest above town, and the Carretera Onzaga hotspot is as good a starting point as any. However, for those interested in something a bit more interesting and personal, I'd suggest a visit to Finca La Labrandera. Owned by Etzel Javier Hernandez, the finca exactly abuts the Carrtetera Onzaga hotspot and offers a similar birding experience, albeit for a small fee. I think it's worth paying to visit La Labrandera as Etzel (etjaher@yahoo.com) is a wonderfully engaging personality. His property is beautiful, and accessing it will help in the quest for the grackle. I'm sure he'd be happy to show you around, and a bit of time with him will enrich your Colombia experience - provided you know a bit of Spanish! There is not yet an eBird Hotspot for La Labrandera, but you can map its exact location from the checklist from my visit.


While in Soatá, I'd also suggest a visit to Ramiro Medina's (ramedinal01@hotmail.com) Finca El Reposo on the eastern edge of town. Located squarely in the scrubby dry forest, El Reposo offers a rustic hiking trail on which I observed Apical Flycatcher (E) and heard Niceforo's Wren (E). The property surely hosts Cinnamon-bellied Hummingbird (E) and Colombian Chachalaca (E) as we saw both along nearby roads. Ramiro is currently improving his trail, but anyone in average shape will be able to manage it as it is. Again, there isn't yet an eBird hotspot for El Reposo, but here's my checklist so you can see exactly where the finca is. Ramiro is also a really nice guy, and I'll link this article (in Spanish) that highlights him, Etzel, and the efforts the two men are making to develop their properties as ecotourism and birding destinations. The top photo show the oak forest around Etzel's La Labrandera (left) and the scrub-desert around Ramiro's El Reposo (right). The bottom photo shows me with Ramiro (center) and Etzel (right).




For those that make the drive to Soatá, I will also suggest a stop at this stunning and easily accesible patch of páramo directly off of Road 55. Make a right onto the dirt but very well-surfaced Road 64 and drive a few miles into the habitat. We had Andean Teal, Green-tailed Trainbearer, Silvery-throated Spinetail (E), Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Andean Siskin, and others in the first mile or two along that road. I'm sure that great páramo birding can be found for at least the first few miles of that road. The photo below show the habitat along Road 64.


Sogamoso - Páramo and high elevation lakes
My biggest regret about my time in Boyacá was that it rained non-stop during my single day at Páramo/Laguna de Siscunsi and Lago de Tota (the 'Inclement Páramo Weather' video from above was made at Siscunsi on that rainy day). But that shouldn't deter you as I can imagine both areas would be absolutely stunning in better weather!




Páramo/Laguna de Siscunsi (eBird Hotspot)
To reach this pristine and stunning track of páramo habitat at over 12,000 feet of elevation, follow Road 62 for 31km from the Sogamoso Central Plaza (or 29km from the indicated Finca San Pedro) to reach a signed turnoff onto a dirt road. That turnoff is between km markers 33 and 34 on Road 62. From that turn, a relatively well-maintained dirt road winds its way up onto the páramo. A high-clearance vehicle would be best, but my local guides said they have taken taxis up the road before!

Regardless, of how you get there, I suggest the small trail that runs ~1.5km to Laguna Siscunsi. Along it you'll have good chances to find a variety of páramo birds including Andean Teal, Noble Snipe, Many-striped Canastero, Plain-capped Ground-Tyrant, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Tawny Antpitta, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, and a host of others. Most prized is the Green-bearded Helmetcrest (E), a fantastically styled Colombian speciality found only on East Andean Páramo. My group was buzzed by several of them - even in the wind and rain - but without a decent perched view it remained off my official Life List. There aren't a ton of birds at Siscunsi, but those that are present are high quality. The páramo is best birded first thing in the morning, so get an early start (maybe 5am) from Sogamoso to reach Siscunsi by 6:15-30. I'd spent 3 hours there, then head to Lago de Tota.

Lago de Tota (eBird Hotspot)
Located at 10,000 feet of elevation, Lago de Tota is Colombia's largest natural lake. My visit to Lago de Tota was marred by the same rain that washed out my Siscunsi morning, but I still have a decent idea of how the place works and what birds to expect. The best way to explore the lake is by boat, and piloted skiffs are available adjacent to the Police Station on the lake's eastern shore, roughly where the red pin is placed on the map above. We heard Apolinar's Wren (E) singing at several points along the marsh but were unable to get eyes on them with the constant the wind and rain. We did see Purple Gallinule, Andean Teal, Ruddy Duck, Large-billed Tern, and Yellow-hooded Blackbird. Birding the shore from the road after the washed-out boat trip, we added Noble Snipe, Grassland Yellow-Finch, and Andean Siskin. We did not hear or see Bogotá Rail (E), but I'm sure the wind was to blame for that as there are lots of eBird reports of that species from the lake. If you miss either the wren or the rail at Tota/Boyacá, there are other chances for both around Bogotá/Cundinamarca. The photo below show the view of some of Tota's marshes.



Though Siscunsi and Tota are close together and couple well, both must be birded first thing morning for best results, particularly the lake where high winds invariable materialize by 11am. My group hustled from Siscunsi to Tota to do both in the same morning. Had it not been pouring rain and miserable, I think we would have regretted not having more time at each. Better would be to have one full morning on the páramo and one full morning on the lake.

I'd spend the first night in Sogomosa, perhaps at the fun and convenient Finca San Pedro as indicated on the map. I'd leave that lodging at 5am the next morning to be at Siscunsi at 6:30. I'd spend most of the morning exploring that area before dropping to Tota for lunch and some shore-based birding. I'd also use that afternoon to find a local hotel and organize a boat trip for the following morning. After that boat excursion the next day, I'd hop back into the car and use that afternoon to drive to my next destination.

Reserva Natural de las Aves El Paujil (eBird Hotspot, website)
El Paujil is a reserve/ecolodge located in the western reaches of Boyacá. Run by Colombia birding and conservation entity ProAves (http://www.proaves.org/), El Paujil is located where the western slopes of the Eastern Andes flatten and join the Magdalena Valley. Elevation in the reserve varies from ~500 to ~ 4000 feet (~150 to ~1200 meters), and the 400+ species eBirded from the property reflect the incredibly bird diversity along that cline.




The signature species at El Paujil is the critically endangered Blue-billed Curassow (E, aka 'El Paujil'), a Colombian endemic with an estimated population of just 250 to 500 individuals. El Paujil was originally established to protect a significant fraction of the surviving curassows but has since evolved into a wonderful all-around birding destination. Of the Boyacá endemics mentioned above, Colombian Chachalaca (E), White-mantled Barbet (E) and Beautiful Woodpecker (E) can be found at El Paujil. Otherwise, Sooty Ant-Tanager (E) is the only other endemic that El Paujil offers, at least with any predictable frequency. Velvet-fronted Euphonia (E), for example, has been observed only a handful of times and should not be expected.

The biggest hurdle with El Paujil is access. It's an equally long, 7-hour drive from Tunja, Bogotá (in Cundinamarca to the south), or Medellin (in Antioquia to the west). Though I haven't been, I imagine it to be the sort of place a birder would want to spent at least 3 days and 2 nights. The reserve abuts the Río Ermitano, and it is possible to bird the Santander side of that flow to if department listing is your thing! El Paujil, looks like a really cool place, and I hope to visit at some point.



Blue-billed Curassow (from Tayrona in 2016)


Santa Maria (eBird Hotspot)
Located at ~2800 feet (~850 meters), Santa Maria is located on the Eastern Slope of the Eastern Andes. I did not make it to Santa Maria on my trip, but it sounds as if it afford access to a number of different elevations, particularly as one drops towards the Amazon basin to the east. It might work well to spend 2-3 nights at in Santa Maria and bird different locations each day. I do not know specific birding spots to the east of Santa Maria, but the Rio Upía, the river that forms the border with adjacent Casanare, is just an hour down the hill to the east. At just ~1000 feet (~300m), I image the birdlife would be very different from anything higher up on that eastern slope. So, Santa Maria is something to keep on your radar during your Boyacá wanderings. Santa Maria is probably the single best place to go in Boyacá if you're really looking to run up your trip list and get into some very different habitats. Minus the 3 endemics in Soatá (Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird, Niceforo's Wren, and Mountain Grackle) and the Blue-billed Curassow and other goodies at El Paujil, the birding in Boyacá's is pretty similar to Cundinamarca. As Boyacá is a less accessible from Bogotá, it makes sense that Cundinamarca/Bogotá have been more heavily birded to this point. But Santa Maria and surrounds are a real wild card and probably hold a lot of birds that can't be seen farther south or closer to Bogotá. 
I suspect the drive will take significantly longer that the indicated 3 hours 45 minutes - probably closer to 5 with Bogotá traffic.


OK, that's it for this installment. There will be additional departmental accounts coming, but these have taken so much work I might need need a break for a while!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Post #141 - Colombia - Eastern Andes - Cundinamarca

Quick note - This is meant as much as a permanent online reference as it is a quick blogpost, so it is VERY long and detailed. This account - as well as summaries from all the places I've visited - will be permanently archived in the International Birding Resources tab under the main banner photo.

Tawny (aka Páramo) Antpitta - Grallaria quitensis
PNN Sumapaz, Cundinamarca, Colombia
Canon 500mm f/4 IS lens + 1.4x III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/400 at f/5.6, ISO 1600, handheld, manual mode

Outline

Part 1 - Cundinamarca Logistics
Introduction
When to visit
Getting there
Where to stay
Guides

Part 2 - Cundinamarca Birding

Key Cundinamarca birds
-Summary of endemics and near endemics

Birding sites around Bogotá
-Downtown Bogotá
-La Florida Park
-Bosque Guajira
-PNN Chingaza and Finca Suasie
-Observatorio de Colibries
-PNN Sumapaz
-Monterredondo
-Laguna El Tabacal
-Jardín Encantado
-PNN Chicaque
Birding sites around Fusugasugá and west into Magdalena Valley
-Parque Verde y Agua
-Finca El Colibrí Gorriazul
-Finca Los Cactos
-Cerro Quininí (with Finca Quininí and Hacienda Posada Campesina)
-Parque Natural Maná Dulce
Notes about Cundinamarca bird photography

Part 1 - Cundinamarca Logistics


Introduction
Cundinamarca is a centrally located Colombian department that entirely contains the Capital District of Bogotá (blue trace on right map below). That district has the same administrative and political standing as do the other 32 departments, but I will treat it as part of Cundinamarca for geographic and birding purposes in this post. Regardless of the details, Cundinamarca offers easy access and fantastic East Andean birding. Nearly 900 species have been eBirded from the landlocked department, and the majority of those can be seen within a few hours driving from Bogotá. The entire department, including the capital district, is only the size of Vermont, so it possible to bird a good chunk of it in just 8-10 days. I first visited Cundinamarca in July of 2018, and I will use this post to write about the specific birding spots I visited on that trip. What I present is far from exhaustive but should give you a starting point as you plan your own Cundinamarcan birding adventure.




When to Visit
Short answer: Late-November through early-March with January and February being best. June to August might work, but it's a bit of a gamble.


Long Answer: Rain - more than temperature - is the primary consideration when planning a visit to Cundinamarca (or anywhere in Colombia), and the graph below shows the average monthly precipitation in Bogotá (8,675ft, 2,644m). Though rainfall will vary with exact location and elevation, the indicated trends are generally reflective of the yearly rain cycle anywhere in the Colombian Andes, Cundinamarca included. 




Precipitation is lowest December through February and June through August, but there is a big difference between those two superficially similar windows. That's because the weather on the high elevation páramo (above ~10,500ft / 3,200m) is usually decent between December and March but is much more variable from June into August.

For example, on my 7-week 2018 trip (June 15 to August 3), I made 10 independent day trips to the páramo in the Central and Eastern Andes across 7 different departments and suffered rain on each occasion. Not every trip to the páramo was a washout, but it was always wet and trails were in universally mucky/terrible shape. The birding was fine but much less productive or enjoyable than it would have been between late-November and early-March, the true Andean Summer.

So, while the Andes as a whole have a bit of a break late-June through early-August, páramo elevations, the exact elevations that hold many of the unique and endemic birds birders want to see, could still be very wet. That window might work, but there's much greater risk of high elevation rain than between late-November and early-March (again, January and February are best).



Inclement páramo weather from Boyacá Dept.
You want to avoid this.

As if that video isn't enough to convince you of the suggested window, I'll offer 2 more reasons. First, the usually hot Magdalena Valley in the western part of Cundinamarca is coolest during late-November to early-March. The birding there is fantastic, and a visit to the Eastern Andes would be incomplete without at least some time in that abutting geography. Second, North American neotropical migrants are present from late-October to early-April, so total trips lists will be higher then than they would be in the second-choice June-August window.

Getting there
Cundinamarca is the easiest Colombian Department to access because of the excellent El Dorado international airport in Bogotá, the global hub for Avianca. At that airport, you'll find rental cars from all the big international agencies (Hertz, Budget, Avis, etc). Be advised you'll probably need at least a high clearance vehicle - if not a 4-wheel drive - to reach some of the sites I will discuss, particularly the páramo. Renting an SUV is very expensive, and it is usually cheaper and easier to just hire a driver with his own vehicle instead. I suggest contacting Jovani Flórez at Solutions in Colombia (solutionsincolombia@gmail.com, +57 311 227 1259 or +57 320 835 9104). My driver, Daniel, was from Solutions and was absolutely amazing - professional in every way. Solutions in Colombia are the 'go-to' for Colombian birding transportation and have experience carting birders around every part of the country.

Where to stay
Cundinamarca mostly lacks full-service ecolodges, but there are a number of completely viable alternatives that I will discuss in the context of the birding sites I'll present.



Many-striped Canastero - Asthenes flammulata
PNN Sumapaz, Cundinamarca, Colombia
Canon 500mm f/4 IS lens + 1.4x III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/800 at f/5.6, ISO 1250, handheld, manual mode

Guides
Hernan Arias took me around Cundinamarca. He is absolutely incredible and comes with my highest recommendation (hedarar@yahoo.com, +57 318 385 3676). He knows the birds amazingly well - vocalizations included - and speaks English fluently. He is a good leader, decision maker, and travel companion, and he has a flawless reputation throughout Colombia. He is based in Ibagué in Tolima Department but has experience guiding in all parts of the country. Call him. He's great, I promise. Hernan and I were joined by guide Pablo Casallas for a few days, and he is another good option for around Bogotá and Cundinamarca. You can get in touch with him through http://birdingtimescolombia.com.

Part 2 - Cundinamarca Birding

Key Cundinamarca birds
There are loads of birds in everywhere in Cundinamarca, but I'd like to quickly note which of the 79 Colombian endemics can be observed in the department. The 12 endemics that are reliably found in Cundinamarca are:

Colombian Chachalaca (slopes on inter-Andean Valleys)
Bogotá Rail (highland wetlands in East Andes, specifically Cundinamarca and Boyacá)
Green-bearded Helmetcrest (East Andean páramo)
Black Inca (west slope of East Andes, specifically Cundinamarca, Boyacá, and Santander)
Indigo-Capped Hummingbird (Magdalena Valley into East Andes)
Brown-breasted Parakeet (Spottily in East Andes)Cundinamarca Antpitta (east slope of East Andes)
Silvery-throated Spinetail (East Andes, specifically Cundinamarca and Boyacá)
Apical Flycatcher (Inter-Andean Valleys and adjacent slopes, widespread)
Apolinar's Wren (East Andes, specifically Cundinamarca and Boyacá)

Turquoise Dacnis (Spottily throughout Andes, try Quininí as described below)
Velvet-fronted Euphonia (Magdalena Valley, adjacent slopes)



Indigo-capped Hummingbird - Amazilia cyanifrons
Jardín Encantado, Cundinamarca
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS IS + 1.4x III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/640 at f/8, ISO 1600

Cundinamarca Antpitta is by far the most prized of these endemics and will require an inordinate amount of effort to find compared to the others. It will be sought only by hardcore listers. Bogotá Rail can be found in wetlands area around/above Bogotá, and the páramo east of Bogotá hosts Green-bearded Helmetcrest and Apolinar's Wren. Black Inca is regularly found east of Bogotá, but is probably easier at Rogitama in Boyacá. Indigo-capped Hummingbird is guaranteed as one drops elevation west from Bogotá. Silvery-throated Spinetail is common and can be found even in downtown Bogotá. Brown-breasted Parakeet is tricky everywhere but is most reliable around Chingaza to the west of Bogotá. Colombian Chachalaca and Apical Flycatcher are widespread and should be found without dedicated effort, either in Cundinamarca, Boyacá, or elsewhere. Velvet-fronted Euphonia is common at lower elevations as one drops into the Magdalena Valley. For the rest of this post, E = endemic.

Just as interesting as those true endemics are several near-endemics (or 'East Andean' endemics) shared with only neighboring Venezuela. With that country a 'no-travel' area at writing, those exclusively shard species are effectively Colombian endemics until Venezuela stabilizes. I don't know exactly how many of these near-endemics there are, but I've shown the ranges of Coppery-bellied Puffleg, Pale-bellied Tapaculo, and Moustached Brushfinch to illustrate the point. For the rest of this NE = near endemic, specifically shared with Venezuela (unless otherwise indicated).




Golden-breasted Starfrontlet (NE), Rufous-browed Conebill (NE), and Ochre-breasted Brushfinch (NE) are three other species that follow this Colombian-Venezuelan distribution, but there aere certainly a bunch of others. Given its relatively close proximity to Venezuela, Cundinamarca is a great place to observe these species. So is Boyacá (next post)!

Birding sites around Bogotá
With some key Cundinamarca birds identified, it's time to discuss where to find them. I will start with those destinations closest to Bogotá and work outwards from there. All of the sites presented here can be visited as day trips from the city, but some will require very long driving days to make that happen. Where possible, I will suggest alternative or on-site lodging to minimize car time. The biggest problem Bogotá presents is traffic. There aren't any highways/freeways through or around the city, so it takes a long time to escape its clutches. While the city center might afford the best lodging options, staying on the periphery - closer to a particular birding site - will cut travel time.



Birding sites around Bogotá

Downtown Bogotá
I visited three sites in urban Bogotá: The Bogotá Botanical Gardens (Jardín Botánico de Bogotá, eBird Hotspot), Humedal Santa Mariá del Lago (eBird Hotspot), and Humedal Córdoba (eBird Hotspot). The botantical gardens are really nice and make a convenient stop for those in the city. The gardens don't host birds that can't be found elsewhere, but they are a nice place to learn some of the local species. I saw Mountain Elaenia, Yellow-backed Oriole, and Rufous-browed Conebill (NE). Other Andean specialities including Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Glowing Puffleg, and Red-Crested Cotinga have been recorded at the gardens.

There wasn't much happening on my midday visit to Santa Mariá, but I could see it being OK when the North American migrants are present. There's a bit of marshy habitat, but the park is pretty limited. Humedal Córdoba presents some nice urban wetlands and riperian birding, and I found Silvery-throated Spinetail (E) and Greater Ani on my brief visit. Be warned that Córdoba does have an unpleasant smell of raw sewage from an adjacent canal. The preserve is patrolled by security, but it's still an urban park. I didn't feel any sort of threat, but visitors should keep their eyes open and avoid being in the preserve before or after dark.

Parque La Florida (eBird Hotspot)
Located on the northwestern edge of the city, La Florida (8,350ft / 2,540m) is a great place to spend a few hours. It's heavily birded and easily accessed, and nearly 300 species have been recorded in the park. Park as indicated below and walk to the observation blind at the south end of the lake. My visit yielded Spot-flanked Gallinule, Subtropical Doridito, and Yellow-hooded Blackbird, and other notable resdients include Bogotá Rail (E), Noble Snipe, and Apolinar's Wren (E). The rail and wren have been heavily taped at La Florida, so they can be more difficult than at locations outside the city. I accessed the lake from the public eastern shore, but it's also possible to bird that same area from the private golf course on the western shore (for a cost of ~$10 US). I don't think there are any major safety issues on the public/eastern shore, but some might feel better about going the golf course route. They'll even assign you a caddy so you don't get lost, but chances are he won't speak any English!



La Florida

Observatorio de Colibries (website, eBird Hotspot)
Beyond a wonderful place to spend an afternoon watching hummingbirds ('colibries'), this private property (~9,860ft / 3,000m) is one of the best guest houses I've found - Colombia or elsewhere. Owner Victoria Lizarralde has done an amazing job with the grounds and the rooms, and her feeder array attracts all sorts of hummers including Green-tailed Trainbearer, Glowing Puffleg, Coppery-breasted Puffleg (NE), White-bellied Woodstar, Sword-billed Hummingbird, and Blue-throated Starfrontlet (NE). Over 100 species have been eBirded from Observatorio, but I didn't notice most of them as I spent all my time trying to photograph hummers. Daily admission is ~30,000 COP (or ~$10 US and is completely worth it. Overnighting isn't cheap compared to other accommodations, but Victoria's hospitality and attention to detail will certainly be appreciated by many. Observatorio is about 95 minutes from Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Chingaza (below), so it could be a good base from which to explore that destination as well. The entry road was very muddy on my July visit but should be better at other times of the year. There are a few km on dirt regardless, and I'd advise high clearance or 4-wheel drive just to be safe. If you don't stay at Observatorio, it is easily accessed from Bogotá. +57 317 404 4493, +57 311 851 3112, email observatoriodecolibries@gmail.com



Sparkling Violetear - Colibri coruscans
Observatorio de Colibries, Cundinamarca, Colombia
Canon 500mm f/4 IS + 1.4x III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/640 at f/7.1, ISO 1600, Tripod, Manual mode


Observatorio de Colibries property walk-through

I have no control over which frame is used for the link,

but my guide Hernan apparently approves!


Parque National Natural (PNN) Chingaza (main eBird Hotspot)
This is one of those legendary spots that every birder should experience, mostly because of the stunningly beautiful páramo found within the mountainous park. That specialized habitat can be accessed at Piedras Gordas (specific eBird Hotspot, ~11,200ft / 3,400m) and is home to species such as Shining Sunbeam, Purple-backed Thornbill, Green-bearded Helmetcrest (E), Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Tawny Antpitta, White-chinned Thistletail, Pale-bellied Tapaculo (NE), Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Plushcap, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, and other high-elevation specialists. The park is huge, and there are several other access roads/points, none of which I had time to visit beyond my single rainy morning at Piedras Gordas. There is also excellent birding along the entrance road to Piedras Gordas, and that stretch of road couples perfectly with Finca Suasie (below). The road from La Calera is all dirt and very bumpy. High clearance or 4-wheel drive will be required unless the road is greatly improved. It's probably 60-80 minutes on dirt from La Calera to Piedras Gordas.

Map and driving distances for Chingaza and Finca Suasie

Finca Suasie (website, eBird Hotspot)
Finca Suasie is a working dairy farm that has recently opened itself to avitourism. Its location is absolutely perfect - just 6 miles from Piedras Gordas - and there is great birding on the property and access road. I found Pale-bellied Tapaculo (NE), Pearled Treerunner, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Black-crested Warbler, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, Blue-backed Conebill, and Black-headed Hemispingus in the High Andean Forest around the property. Though owners Luis and Marcela are still learning the birding industry and getting their feeder array up and running, they have hospitality nailed. Accommodations are basic but comfortable, and home cooked meals create a wonderfully warm environment. Suasie lacks some of the amenities and comforts of Observatorio de Colibries but rewards birders with a more distinctly Colombian experience. My night at Suasie was one of the high points of my 7 weeks in the country, and I will certainly return in the future. As with Chingaza, high clearance or 4-wheel drive will be required unless the road is greatly improved. But staying where you bird is the best, and Suasie lets you do exactly that! +57 313 224 1826 or +57 313 366 8237, info@fincasuasie.com

Finca Suasie - Don't let the clouds/rain fool you,
the view from the property is amazing!
Bottom right: Hosts Luis and Marcela

Parque National Natural (PNN) Sumapaz (eBird Hotspot)
Sumapaz was perhaps the most beautiful example of páramo I experienced. At 12,150ft / 3,700m, species diversity is low, but those birds that are present are highly specialized and particularly prized by birders. I had Bogotá Rail (E), Noble Snipe, Bronze-tailed Thornbill (NE), Tawny Antpitta, Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, Many-striped Canastero, Andean Tit-Spinetail, White-chinned Thistletail, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, and Apolinar's Wren (common, E). I missed Green-beared Helmetcrest (E), but Sumapaz is perhaps the best place to see that incredible bird. Birding Sumapaz is really easy as you can just drive along the road and make periodic stops to bird. The road from Bogotá is mostly paved, and the dirt section towards the top in is decent shape - at least by Colombian standards. I'd still suggest a high clearance vehicle as there were a few deep ruts that might stops a regular car/sedan in its tracks. I accessed Sumapaz after an hour and 40 minute drive from Chapinero in downtown Bogotá, but that time could be cut significantly by staying farther south. A quick note - On the map of Bogota bird biding spots I presented above, Sumapaz looks closer to Fusagasugá than Bogotá. It is, but it can't be accessed from that city, so fuhgeddaboutit!

Sumapaz páramo

Bosque Guajira (eBird Hotspot)
Located on the northern side of Chingaza at 9,500ft / 2,900m, this private property is being developed as a birding destination. They are installing feeders, constructing trails, and working to establish antpitta feeding stations, and I think this site could have potential moving forward. Right now it is still a bit raw, but there is some really nice habitat on the property. Sadly, it was pouring rain on my short visit, so I couldn't explore the area the way that I had hoped. My short and rainy visit did yield Rufous Antpitta, Pearled Treerunner, Green-and-Black Fruiteater, Black-collared Jay, Black-capped Hemispingus, Supercillaried Hemispingus, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, and Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager. Birding along the 7km entrance road yielded Andean Guan, Ochre-breasted Brushfinch (NE), Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Blue-backed Conebill, Barred Becard, Red-crested Cotinga, and Mountain Cacique. Other notable birds in the area include Black-billed Mountain-Toucan and Brown-breasted Parakeet (E), but we missed those. We accessed Bosque Guajira after an hour drive from Guasca where we spent the previous night. Contact Diego Amaral at +57 321 491 1780 for more information on access and entrance fees.

Clockwise from top left: Entrance road, Bosque Guajira
main building, me with Bosque guide, view of Bosque habitat

Map of Guasca and Bosque Guajira

Monterredondo (eBird Hotspot)
I did not visit this spot (~6,700ft / 2,040m), but this is the best known spot to find Cundinamarca Antpitta (E), a species with a very restricted range on the eastern slope of the Eastern Andes. Monterredonda can be done as a day trip from Bogotá, but makes for a very long outing that way. Tourism infrastructure is thin around Monterredondo, but Villavicencio to the Southeast might have adequate lodging. Monterredondo visitors will find a different complement of birds on that slope - the eastern slope of the Eastern Andes - than at any of the other sites that I describe, but this spot is mostly for hardcore lister who want to tick the antpitta.

Laguna El Tabacal (eBird Hotspot)
Located at 4,300ft / 1,300m, Tabacal is much lower in elevation than all of the above sites and presents correspondingly different birds. In Tabacal's subtropical forests, we had Little Tinamou, Little Cuckoo, White-bellied Antbird, Rusty-breasted Antpitta, Red-Billed Scythebill, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, White-beared Manakin, Black-bellied Wren, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Black-headed Brushfinch (NE, barely shared with Panama), and Velvet-fronted Euphonia (E). Bird activity was constant, and I think it's worth dedicating an entire morning to Tabacal. It's possible to visit in the afternoon, but Tabacal is should really be a featured and morning destination. It's just 7km above the town of La Vega, the access road is in good shape, and the series of trails make for mostly easy walking. There's absolutely nothing not to like about Tabacal. There is a small entrance fee, something like $3 US. For those that don't want to do this as a day trip from Bogotá, there accommodations in La Vega. After finishing at Tabacal around midday, I'd suggest heading over to Jardin Encantado (below) to relax.

A view across Laguna El Tabacal. The place is small
but loaded with all sorts of birds!

Jardín Encantado (website, eBird Hotspot)
This private residence (4,780ft/ 1,460m) at is the perfect place to relax after a morning at Tabacal. Being just off the main street in San Francisco, it doesn't look like much from the outside, but on the inside it's a whole different story. Owner Lenore is obsessed with hummingbirds, and she has over 40 hummingbird feeders to prove it! Hummingbirds were everywhere, and we enjoyed point black views of 10 species including Violetears, Black-throated Mango, Gorgeted Woodstar, White-vented Plumleteer, and Indigo-capped Hummmingbird (E). ~180 species have been eBirded from the property, but it's difficult to pull one's attention off the hummers to look at anything else. Access is really easy, and Jardín is a great place to rest after Tabacal. Watch hummers, have lunch in San Francisco, bad head somewhere else in the afternoon. Easy. Cell: +57 310 875 5507, colibriescolombia@gmail.com

Jardín Encantado showcase

Parque National Chicaque (website, eBird Hotspot)
Chicaque was one of the most interesting spots that I visited, as much for the scenery as the birding. The reserve occupies a very steep hillside, and there is a specific protocol for how to best bird it. Upon arriving at the top of the reserve (8460ft / 2580m), visitors will find a very large and modern restaurant complete with hummingbird feeders. It's worth checking those for Golden-bellied Starfrontlet (NE) as we had 3-4 of them right from the parking area. From there, pay the entrance fee, buy your return (uphill) Jeep ticket, and begin the steep descent into the park. That 3km walk takes visitors down a very twisty road than runs through some wonderful forest habitat. We found White-tipped Swift, Glowing Puffleg, Ash-colored Tapaculo, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Flammulated Treehunter, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Whiskered Wren, and Moustached Brushfinch (NE). Nearly 400 species have been eBirded from Chicaque, so it's a really good spot. Once walkers reach the bottom, they are greeted by an immense lodge complete with onsite restaurant.

Chicaque scenery

Chicaque lodge

For those that have had enough walking, the Jeep shuttle will return you to the top (it's a fun and bouncy ride). Folks with more time and energy might enjoy the additional hiking trails radiating out from the lodge. Though most birders, and particularly those with tour group, will probably visit Chicaque for the day, I think an overnight stay at the lodge would be a lot of fun. Accommodations are basic but comfortable, and the restaurant looked nice as well. Luggage can be sent down and up in the Jeep, so that helps! Chicaque - like everywhere - is probably best birded in the morning, but I did it in the afternoon after El Tabacal and Jardín Encantado. The ideal way to do Chicaque would be to hike in one afternoon, spend the night, and hike/bird out the following morning. Alternatively, folks could use the morning to bird around the lodge before the Jeep up the hill midday.

Birding sites around Fusagasugá and west towards Magdalena River
Fusagasugá is a city of about 135,000 people about 2 hours southwest of Bogotá. It has some decent hotels and makes a nice base of operations for several interesting birding sites that would require too much time to access directly from Bogotá. It's worth noting that the drive from Chicaque to Fusagasugá is just over an hour, so Chicaque is as easily accessed from Fusagasugá as it is Bogotá.

Besides noting the indicated locations, it is important to understand that more than 8,000 feet of elevation is lost as one moves down the western slope of the Eastern Andes (right to left on this map). Another 10 miles beyond the left edge of the map is the Magdalena River at the bottom of the Magdalena Valley, the lowland area separating the Eastern Andes to the East and the Central Andes to the west. This is all probably a bit confusing, but the important thing to know is that the birdlife at Finca Los Cactos and Maná Dulca is completely different from the higher elevations closer to Bogotá. That's why birding in Colombia is so amazing; One need not move very far to find hundreds of different species!

Birding spots around Fusagasugá and points west

Aqua y Verde (Reserve Facebook page, eBird Hotspot)
AV is a small private reserve at 6,800ft (~2800m) just outside Fusugasugá. There is basic lodging and food available on the property, and a small set of hummingbird feeders attracts up to 14 species including Black-throated Mango, Long-tailed Sylph, Booted Racket-tail, Bronzy Inca, and Indigo-Capped Hummingbird (E). There is a small road/trail that runs up the hill from the facility, and along it I found Ash-browed Spinetail, Streaked Xenops, Golden-winged Manakin, and Flame-faced and other tanagers. The birding was easy and anyone in decent walking shape will enjoy it. For the more adventurous, continue a quarter mile up the main road/trail, make a left at the T junction, cross the small creek, and make a right onto the steep and rocky trail that runs farther up the hillside. There you'll find some beautiful forest habitat hosting Greenish Puffleg, Streak-capped Treehunter, and Gray-browed Brushfinch. Though a few hours will probably do it at AV, the birding was good enough that it might be worth investing the prime morning hours into the place, either after an overnight in Fusagasugá or on the property. The General Manager is Jorge Bazante. Email: parqueverdeyagua@gmail.com, +57 317 237 5099 or +57 318 609 3960.

Verde y Ague outside Fusasagusá. Clockwise from top left:
outside of building, dining area, forest, dorm room

Finca El Colibrí Gorriazul (website, Facebook page, eBird Hotspot, Airbnb link)
Named for the endemic Indigo-capped Hummingbird that frequents the property, Gorriazul (~5500ft, 1680m) is one of the most unique properties I've ever visited. It's basically a family dwelling that's been converted into a world-class research station. Most closely and presently associated with the University of California-Berkeley, researchers at Gorriazul study hummingbird flight, behavior, feeding, and everything in between. The place is occupied by researchers June-August, but they vacate for the academic year, leaving vacancies which birders can fill. Gorriazul's hummingbirds are amazingly approachable, mostly because they have become so accustomed to flying into custom made enclosures used for the various experiments. Instead of having a man-made facility filled with mice or other research subject, the surrounding forest provides all the hummingbirds the researchers need.


Left: Researchers/owners Kristiina (yes, double 'i') and Alejandro
Right: Researchers hard at work (summers only)!

The one caveat to Gorriazul is access. The entrance road is very steep and in pretty crappy shape, so 4-wheel drive will be required. A tour group van will not make it. However, Gorriazul has a vehicle for transporting guests to and from the main road. If you're traveling alone or as a couple, that would be the perfect way to get to the property. Here's a video I made of one of their feeders so that you'll know what your missing if you don't make it! +57 311 812 2928

Cerro Quininí and Finca Quininí (eBird Hotspot)
Cerro Quininí is a mountain-like formation west of Fusagasugá. There is a fairly good dirt road that runs nearly to the top, and the upper 2km of that road are great birding (the elevation is approximately 6200ft / 1900m). There are even some proper hiking trails that depart from hairpin turn in the road just before the final climb. So, it's a pretty well organized site that local hikers visit in decent numbers on the weekends.


Cerro Quininí area

Birding the specified 2km of road one afternoon and the following morning, we observed Colombian Chachalaca (E), Moustached Puffbird, Bar-crested Antshrike, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Black-bellied Wren, Turquoise Dacnis (E, probably the key bird here), Guira Tanager, Moustached Brushfinch (NE), and Velvet-fronted Euphonia (E).

Finca Quininí, a private property just off the road in those top 2km, should also be on your radar, particularly if you want to spend the night exactly on those 2km. Accommodations are very basic - no running water in guest hut, for example - so I'll suggest this only for the most adventurous. The family that runs the place is wonderful, and they are able to prepare meals for birders as well. My advice would be to bird Quininí all morning, have have lunch at the Finca (call ahead to arrange), then clear out for the next birding spot. There were lots of birds at Quininí in both the afternoon and morning, but the percentages say the morning is best. Finca Quininí contact info: Eisenhower Castillo +57 313 344 5829, +57 319 382 7880


Finca Quininí walk-through

La Hacienda Posada Campesina (website, checklist from my visit)
We stumbled onto this property while we were birding some random dirt road a thousand feet below Finca Quininí. But what a find! This place is really nice and would be perfect for individual birders and tour groups. It has all the amenities one would expect (nice beds, hot water, good decor, etc), and the owner has wisely opened a decent restaurant right across the street. If you want to bird Quininí in the morning, this is the place to overnight. There is even decent birding around the property and along the entrance road (my checklist linked above). It probably takes 15 to 20 minutes to drive back up the dirt road the top 2km. Phone +57 310 303 4527 or +57 322 398 9100, contacto@aprenat.org



La Hacienda Posada Campesina walk-through

Finca Los Cactos (eBird Hotspot)
Located at just 1300ft (400m) of elevation, Cactos is a private hacienda and reserve that offers the rare trifecta of great lodging, great dining, and great birding on a single property. Situated in dry forest habitat, Los Cactos hosts species such as Greater Ani, Whooping Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Barred Puffbird, White-fringed Antwren, Jet Antbird, White-bellied Antbird, Sepia-crowed Flycatcher, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, White-eared Conebill, Orange-billed Sparrow, Orange-crowned Oriole, and Velvet-breasted Euphonia (E). Marta Rodriguez is the most wonderful hostess, and she accompanied/guided us as we roamed her various trails in the late afternoon and morning that followed. We had well over 70 species during our visit, many of which were new for our trip list - even after nearly 5 weeks in the country! As the video shows, the accommodations are great. As a nice bonus, there are 3 very active fruit feeders that can be monitored right from the house porch. Los Cactos is great and is exactly the sort of place a non-birding spouse would enjoy. It is definitely worth an overnight! Contact Marta Terraube +57 314 370 9742 or marta.terraube@hotmial.com. She is absolutely wonderful and is perhaps the best hostess in all of Colombia!



Finca Los Cactos walk-through

Parque Natural Maná Dulce in Tocaima (Facebook page, eBird Hotspot, Trip Advisor)
Located at exactly the same elevation and only 20-30 minutes from Finca Los Cactos, Maná Dulce presents similarly arid habitat and a mostly overlapping complement of dry forest birds. Despite that, I think it is worth visiting both properties as they are so close together. Maná Dulce endemics include Colombian Chachalaca (E), Apical Flycatcher (E), and Velvet-fronted Euphonia (E), and beyond those we found Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Forest Elaenia, Fuscous Flycatcher, and Pileated Finch.

There is lodging at Maná Dulce, but is it very basic compared to what is offered at Los Cactos. It makes the most sense to arrive at Los Cactos in the late afternoon and bird it before spending the night. I'd bird at Los Cactos from 6-8:30 the following morning, eat breakfast, and then head over to Maná Dulce for a few additional hours of birding and exploring. I'd have lunch at Maná Dulce after birding and use the afternoon to reach the next destination. Dry forest? Done! Phone +57 311 449 5850. I'd call a day or two in advance to arrange lunch if you're on a tour.

Notes on Cundinamarca Bird Photography
While there are plenty of really unique and beautiful birds in Cundinamarca, there isn't yet proper infrastructure to facilitate their photography. Certain spots, like Observatorio de Colibries, have really nice feeder arrays that attract lots of birds, but they haven't been optimized for natural looking shots. If you want shots of birds on feeders, you'll have the chance to do that at some places. But if you proper set-ups where you can capture want natural looking shots without man-made objects in them, then Cundinamarca falls short - at least at this time. Photographers would be advised to visit areas/lodges around Cali and Manizales as they have better photographic infrastructure.


Sparkling Violetear - Colibri coruscans
Observatorio de Colibries, Cundinamarca, Colombia
Canon 500mm f/4 IS + 1.4x III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/400 at f/7.1, ISO 1600, Tripod, Manual mode

Wow, that took forever! I hope this gives you an have an idea of what Cundinamarca birding looks like. It's far from complete, but I think it's a good starting point from which to plan your own Cundinamarcan and Colombian birding adventure.

In the next post we'll move north to Boyacá Department!