Our big birding day in Colombia finally arrived. Our guide, Oscar Laverde, picked us up at 5:30 am at the apartment. Oscar is a professor at a university in Bogota and studies and teaches ornithology. It was fortunate for us (and him) that we had a native of Costa Rica with us……Arlyne of course. Oscar’s English was rudimentary but then my Spanish is just OK. We took a bit of a shortcut to Chingaza but it still took two hours to get to the main entrance. As with many of Colombia’s national sites and important structures, there were security guards at the entrance. We saw several government and private security guards nearly every place we went. For example, on the way to Chingaza, we passed by a major electrical substation that was guarded by armed soldiers in sandbagged bunkers and shelters. In effect, the Colombian guerillas are terrorists and even though the country is fairly peaceful now, the guerillas of the FARC (fuerzas armadas revolucionarias de Colombia) or Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia could presumably become a problem again. Many of the young men who were guerillas only know how to do one thing and seem to be forming paramilitary gangs. We didn’t see any evidence of them.
Chingaza is an enormous, mountainous park. About 70% of the water for the city of Bogota is stored in large reservoirs. These resources must be guarded. As a side benefit, I suppose the birds are also somewhat protected. The Colombian spectacled bear (I believe endangered) lives in these mountains as well.
We were treated to a short orientation video of Chingaza NP but we were eager to start. Actually, we had already started on the road leading up to the entrance. We stopped along the gravel road whenever we heard bird sounds. Our first bird of the day was a black flowerpiercer but we didn’t get a photo. I heard the bird clearly say “no pictures please” in bird talk. Oscar specializes in bird songs and calls and of course identified it for us. Very soon we spotted three rufous wrens and they were nice enough to let us see them briefly. Very cute birds. We then (Oscar, actually) saw a masked flowerpiercer fly back and forth across the road before it let Arlyne get a photo. Next was a beautiful scarlet-bellied mountain tanager.
We rose above the clouds on our route into the mountains. Because of the altitude of 10,000 to 11,000 feet, the flowers in these eastern Andes are quite small. We found it interesting that many, many hummingbirds live here. Oscar pointed out a green trainbearer hummingbird against the overcast sky. We could only see the silhouette but the long tail was distinctive. As most birders and photographers will agree, in conditions where we were, usually at some distance from the birdlife and with poor lighting, our photos are not National Geographic quality. I remarked to Oscar that the birds seemed very cautious and wondered what predators they were worried about. He told us that forest falcons roamed these hills and even a little golf ball-sized bird is prey for these raptors. We did see a white-rumped hawk in flight and I’m sure the small birds knew about this guy too.
By the time we pulled up at the entrance, we had also seen several Great Thrushes. We had seen these birds in Bogota and thought they were yellow-legged thrushes. I love these quite common birds with their prominent eye ring, orange bill and orange feet.
Our strategy was to drive slowly along the road to Oscar’s favorite sites, where he knew birds hung out. We also stopped whenever we heard any calls and walked along the roadside, looking for flickers of movement.
On a small side road, we spotted three Andean guans. They are large birds but quite shy. When the guans stopped briefly to check us out, we got some pretty good photos. These birds are similar to the big guans we have seen in Costa Rica that “fly” through thick jungle and sound like they’re crash-landing.
Our best sighting was two (maybe three) white-capped tanagers. They were noisy and seemed angry or excited. Oscar thought this was probably because one of them was a juvenile. He said these were the first white-capped tanagers he had personally seen in Chingaza. He pulled out his shotgun microphone and small recorder and he (and I) both recorded them. I had a small video camera that we borrowed from our daughter and managed to catch one flying past us.
There were several cattle wandering along the road throughout the park. I’m not sure who they belong to. One of our favorite birds was a white-chinned thistle tail. He hopped around quite a bit, watching us. It almost never let us see all of him but he had a cute face and wonderful eyes.
We spotted 14 new birds for our list during the half-day we spent in Chingaza. There were all quite different and I wonder why natural selection created birds that all lived in the same environment but were blue, black, brown, green, red, yellow and multi-colored. I’ll bet no one knows the answer.
On the way back to Bogota, we stopped at a small wetlands, oddly called Laguna Seca, which means “dry lagoon.” This location is known for a perennial birder’s favorite, the Bogota rail. This bird is declining as the city encroaches. Here we saw several southern lapwings, a few purple gallinules, the spot-flanked gallinule, a white-tailed kite and wonderfully, the Bogota rail. We saw only parts of the rail at any one time, but the whole day was exciting for us. When we’re birding we’re easily pleased just to get photos and see a new bird or two.