Actually this blog starts with an ABS November field trip to the Sierra Magina in Jaen province. Elena and I set off very early in the morning & arrived at the meeting point in the town of Ubeda in good time. I was surprised at the number of members who had travelled so far for this one, perhaps because it is a new and interesting location, but a convoy of ten or more cars is not conducive to good bird watching. In fact birds were few and far between but the scenery was spectacular and worth the trip for that in itself.
There were admitedly long range sightings of Golden Eagles soaring over the sierras, but the only photograph I took on the entire trip was of a Crossbill that sat nicely on a bare branch giving the whole group good views.
A quick walk around the Charca de Suarez yielded very little. The only birds of note were a pair of nice Pintails, that most elegant of ducks, and an over-flying Booted Eagle. There was a Marsh Harrier also outside on the marshes.
I took a keen birding friend Gerry Bennet along to Zapata and the Guadalhorce. He had recently invested in a superb micro 4/3rds camera with a quality Leica 100 - 400mm lens. The advantage of this type of mirrorless camera is the very compact size and reduced weight, of the lens in particular because the smaller sensor requires a much shorter focal length for the equivalent magnification and reach of a full frame, or APSC type DSLR like my Canon 7D.
I was very impressed with the quality of his images, particularly the long range shots which gave better detail than my big 500mm lens. The downside however is thay my larger sensor, extra glass and longer focal length gives better quality images at short range. The soft bokeh/background created by a larger aperture is just not possible with the smaller kit. Here are a couple of short range shots that I think were better than Gerry's equivalent, a White Wagtail and a Common Sandpiper.
These two long range shots below however, of a roosting Buzzard and a Booted Eagle, both taken from the main hide at the Guadalhorce, are not as clear and detailed as Gerry's. Swings and roundabouts I suppose but his kit is less than half the size and weight of mine, and less than half the price too.
There were quite a few other species seen this day including a group of Avocets, a pair of Flamingos, several Greenshank, Green Sandpipers, eight Shelduck, a lot of Black-necked Grebes, an Osprey, a Great Egret and much more. The Great-crested Grebe below was one of a pair seen off the beach, the sea was very calm at the time.
Finally I thought I would post this image of a magnificent rainbow taken from our terrace during a pause between showers recently. Some pots of gold out there somewhere.
The Summer months in Spain are not great for birding, particularly since bird numbers have declined at an alarming rate. I have therefore not been very active lately. A quick trip down to Tarifa and Bonanza in October yielded very little of interest, virtually no signs of any migration and a general lack of birds everywhere except for this handsome Cirl Bunting, one of a number seen taking a drink down near the beach to the east of Tarifa.
After Tarifa and an equally empty La Janda we ventured down to Bonanza. The salt pans were again almost devoid of birds, but since there had been very little rain in this area the marshes beyond, along the south bank of the Rio Guadalquivir, were dry enough to traverse by 4x4 and here there were lots of waders present.
Waders though do not excite me, they offer very little of interest photographically, just another image of a bird standing in the mud is quite boring so I satisfied my urge to click with a shot of this coaster looking like it was actually in the field with us. It caused me to reminisce about my days at sea and the excitement of setting off to visit new and interesting destinations around the World. I will however post a rather poor shot of a Northern Wheatear only because it seems to have remarkably long legs, a very tall wheatear indeed.
Back at home we enjoyed the sight and sound of a young Blue Rock Thrush that frequently visits our terrace and serenades us with its delightful song. One of my favourite local birds.
An evening walk around the Charca de Suarez was again not terribly interesting birdwise, but I quite like this shot of a Little Egret on a carefully placed perch in front of one of the hides.
After leaving the Charca we observed all the usual Avadavats in the long grasses along Turtle Dove Alley. By this time there were very few showing the bright red male breeding plumage, but still worth a look anyway.
As usual not much to report in July/August. Our House Martins have pretty much abandoned any attempts to raise a second brood this year, we found a few tiny dead chicks underneath the nests. There are not enough flying insects so the adult birds have to travel too far to find food when the tiny chicks need a constant and steady supply. In previous years our ten nests have been fully occupied and have raised two, or even three broods. This year the birds arrived much later and one nest was not used at all and only one brood was successful. There are fewer Swallows and Swifts around too, in fact all insectivorous birds are in steep decline, what a disaster. We can almost certainly attribute this to chemical crop sprays.
We have not been bird watching at all but on a trip to Alhama de Granada we spotted this Short-toed Eagle on a pylon at Zafarraya, I took a few photos of it, one of which is not bad as it was taking off. You can see from the perched shot below it had definitely spotted me but didn't seem unduly perturbed.
It is also worth recording our resident Booted Eagle which flies over the house every day. Shots of the underside of birds in flight are very boring as a rule, but it's just here for the record. I suppose I should record the numerous Greenfinches, House Sparrows and Sardinian Warblers that come to Elena's bird restaurant in considerable numbers, perhaps I'll get the camera out & have a go soon. She is doing her bit for the survival of these species at least. It's a shame we have not found a way to help the insectivores.
As I was visiting my sister in Florida I decided to take an excursion over to Trinidad to spend a couple of days at the famous Asa Wright Nature Lodge. The Lodge is on an old cocoa plantation in the mountains but it is now a nature reserve set in 1500 acres of secondary forest surrounded by some pristine primary rainforest. It is birding in comfort here with full board including afternoon tea and rum punch on the veranda while watching the hummingbirds and others on the feeders below.
I had some target species to go for in my short stay and I was pleased to get most of them. I did not bother with the famous Oilbird colony at Dunston Cave as I have seen them before in Ecuador and I know that the minimum of disturbance is best. Also I was fully occupied with plenty of other species around the house and on the forest trails.
My first target was the famous Tufted Coquette. A stunning hummingbird, widespread but uncommon and this is probably the best place to see it. The male has a rufous crest and black-spotted rufous plumes projecting from the neck sides which make it extremely distinctive and attractive.
This extremely tiny bird flits constantly around the hvervine bushes and does not use feeders as a rule. This makes it hard to pick up and then very difficult to photograph. Getting an unobstructed view and a clear shot in focus is a challenge. I was reasonably happy with these which took some patience and perseverance.
The female (below) is a lot less flamboyant than the male.
After the Tufted Coquette I headed down the Discovery Trail hoping to see some of the other target species, one of which was the White-bearded Manakin. Now I had picked up this species once before in Costa Rica, albeit just brief and obstructed views, whereas here there is a lek, ie a communal breeding location where the males try to display and impress the females, which is what I hoped to see.
So I stood all alone in the forest lek waiting and watching in hope of something special. At first there was nothing, no sign of them, but after a few patient minutes I started to hear popping and crackling noises much like a bowl of rice crispies with cold fresh milk poured on. Then I picked them out in the dim light by following the popping sounds. Like little diamonds shining brightly in the gloom their startling white-on-black plumage made them quite easy to spot as the males hopped from branch to branch, making those weird crackling sounds with their wings trying to impress the females. That was a magical ten or fifteen minutes, alone and surrounded by these fantastic little birds oblivious to my presence and performing their mating rituals. Superb.
Pleased with my progress so far I moved on down the Discovery Trail towards the Bellbird Trail. Then I started to hear noises like a large steel hammer striking an anvil. At first they were quite distant but as I moved further on they got closer until quite frankly it became almost deafening. The males make this sound to establish their territory, it's a warning to other males not to stray into his area, and there were several males competing right around me. Now although I could hear the incredible noises almost on top of me, seeing them was another matter. They were extremely hard to pick out high up in the canopy, well camouflaged amongst the background. Finally I picked one out, poorly lit against backlight streaming through the foilage I managed a few shots of which this is probably the best one. It was an amazing sight watching those wattles, or beard, trembling as the bird emitted the great clanging sounds that give it its name, the Bearded Bellbird.
After this I headed back to the Lodge, picking up along the way a nice Purple Honeycreeper, a very exotic looking but not uncommon bird which I had seen before in Ecuador.
I missed out on the Golden Crowned Manakins even though I did hang around their lek for a while until the mosquitoes drove me away. I would try again in the morning.
After a restful night I was up at first light wandering around the gardens where I did photograph this lovely Plain Brown Woodcreeper amongst all the more common species that I will come to later. However I missed out again on the Golden-headed Manakins, so I joined the guided walk after breakfast and sure enough the young guide eventually picked some out at the lek. This is another species I had seen before but was keen to get a better view. They were not as obliging as their White-bearded cousins however, preferring to remain further away and quite still in the gloom. nevertheless I did manage a few reasonable shots with my ISO set very high.
Another cracking bird, although not literally in this case. The Golden Headed Manakin is a little beauty.
At lunch we met Martyn Kenefick, professional bird guide and author of the Field Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. He told us about the quite rare Amethyst Woodstar Hummingbird which had been spotted recently, and sure enough we found it where he suggested, on the hvervine bushes along the entrance driveway.
I was pleased later to pick up a new Tanager. Not rare, in fact locally quite common, but the Turquoise Tanager was a lifer for me.
I am not sure if I had recorded the Violaceous Euphonia before, I will look it up later but we did get excellent views of both the male and female of the species around the bushes in the garden.
Below is another bird I have seen before but one which is so distinctive it is great to see at any time. The Barred Antshrike has very striking black-and-white striped plumage with a jaunty crest, quite a looker.
The female Barred Antshrike is quite different, being mostly chestnut brown with black & white stripes only on the face. An attractive bird all the same.
Here's another familiar species, the Green Honeycreeper is a common neotropical species but always worth a photograph as it is quite handsome.
The tiny Ruby Topaz Hummingbird however is not one I had seen before. It is not a common species and being so small is quite hard to spot as it does not frequent the hummingbird feeders where the jacobins and other bigger species are very aggressive. So once again I managed only a couple of very poor, partially obstructed shots of this tiny but very beautiful hummingbird, again on the hvervine bushes in the gardens.
Below is a more mundane species, the Spectacled Thrush, or bare-eyed Thrush as it is sometimes known.
Here's another hummingbird which I had not recorded before. The Black-throated Mango is quite easy to identify as it is the only one with a vertical black stripe down its breast, at least the female, the male is much darker overall.
In the afternoon I went for quite a long walk into the primary forest. The Crested Oropendolas were very noisy as they peered down at me from high up in the tallest trees.
Palm Tanagers moved stealthily through the sparse undergrowth. These are very common and unwary birds and in fact there was a nesting pair in the rafters of the veranda at the Lodge.
The Tropical Mockingbird is another quite common species, a familiar sight around the gardens and parks of this Island. This is a different species to the Northern Mockingbird which is common throughout much of North America. I heard a tropical mockingbird singing outside my bungalow during the night, a great serenade.
I was pleased to get a reasonable shot of a Grayish Saltator, a bird I have seen before but not well enough for a good image.
Finally back at the Lodge after a long trek I relaxed on the veranda for a while checking out the feeders. There are a number of hummingbirds that frequent these sugar-water feeders and the White-chested Emerald (below) was a new one for me.
.....as was the Copper-rumped Hummingbird.
The most numerous of all the Hummers is the White-necked Jacobin. This is a very aggressive species, They squabble amongst themselves and I have seen a pair actually fall to the ground while fighting, it's their territorial instinct coming to the fore in the artificial environment set up by humans. They are a major reason why much smaller species such as Tufted Coquette, Amethyst Woodstar and Ruby Topaz stay away from the feeders.
Some species are prepared to hold their own against aggressive behaviour. This superb Long-billed Starthroat for example which I photographed on a feeder proves the point. This was another lifer for me, and a very elegant one it is too.
Perhaps the most numerous bird around the Lodge is the ubiquitous Bananaquit. It's an attractive little bird of uncertain classification, being tentatively placed with the tanagers but many experts refute this and perhaps it should have its own family, it is apparently more closely related to the Wood Warblers except that unlike them it builds a domed nest. Oh well, it's a nice little bird which is fortunately very common in Trinidad.
Here are a couple of birds I photographed as they perched on a garden sign advising guests to watch their step and use the handrails. Clearly the majority of guests at this place are not young and nimble. Birding seems to be a pastime for the elderly and retired, like me ha ha.
The House Wren is the most widely distributed bird in the Americas. It occurs from Canada to the southernmost tip of South America. I always enjoy seeing it. The brown White-lined Tanager female (below right) is strikingly different from her male counterpart who is completely black except for some white inside primaries visible in flight.
My last afternoon in Trinidad involved taking an organised tour down to the coast where we would have a boat trip on the Caroni Swamp to see the Scarlet Ibis's coming in to roost. We also stopped at a couple of birding hotspots on the way to see what we could pick up.
Our first stop was at a series of ponds which looked as if they might be settling ponds in a water purification system. Anyway it was well frequented by a number of bird species including this Southern Rough-winged Swallow which perched conveniently for me to take a photo, Unfortunately the other Swallow species present, the more attractive White-winged Swallows never sat down and were just too quick for me to catch a shot in flight.
The Pied Water Tyrant above was another bird that sat nicely for me. I had photographed its cousin the Masked Water Tyrant before in Ecuador, but this was another lifer for me so I was well pleased.
While the other members of our group were focussing on the water birds I managed to grab a shot of this little Flycatcher in the surrounding vegetation. I think it is a Least Flycatcher and if so is yet another lifer. We were doing well today.
Back to the ponds though and there were a number of species, most of which I had seen many times before including Striated Heron, Purple Gallinule, Smooth-billed Ani, Snowy and Great Egrets. The Wattled Jacana above however is a different species to all the other jacanas that I had previously photographed and in fact represented yet another lifer, excellent, and there was more to come.
The most conspicuous birds at the ponds were the striking Yellow-hooded Blackbirds. large and imposing looking they were very numerous and provided great photo opportunities, one of which can be seen above. This species is interesting because it is only the male that builds a nest, quite unusual in the avian world.
After the ponds we paused at a couple of spots that the driver knew to pick up two more species. The Saffron Finch, an attractive yellow finch which apparently always frequents the same trees in the grounds of a large official building, and so it was. Also a distant view of a single Red Breasted Meadowlark in some grassy fields along the roadside. Both species were lifers again so I was well pleased even though the photos are not great.
Finally on to the Caroni Swamp. This is a large area of brackish mangrove swamp on the eastern coast just South of the capital Port of Spain. It is a popular outing amongst the locals who bring picnics and enjoy the boat ride, mainly to admire the spectacle of thousands of Scarlet Ibis's coming in to roost at dusk, and it is a magnificent sight.
From our boat ride through the channels in the mangroves we could see groups of Scarlet Ibis's deep in the mangrove forest, their scarlet plumage seemed to glow in the dim light which unfortunately was just too poor for photography. We also picked up a few other birds such as Little Blue Heron, Tricoloured Heron, Great Blue Heron, Semi-palmated Plover and Willet. Also a couple animals called Silky Anteaters, curled up asleep around narrow tree trunks, somewhat like sloths.
Of great interest to the local tourists were the considerable numbers of American Flamingo. They are quite a new arrival and were previously considered rare and accidental. Well now ther are quite a number and so are of great interest locally. They are very similat to our Greater Flamingo (phoenicopterus roseus) but are in fact a separate species, (phoenicopterus ruber).
I only spent three full days in Trinidad but it was a great birding experience. The Asa Wright Centre is a very welcoming and comfortable Centre for anyone with an interest in Nature, and in particular neo-tropical birds. Considering the excellent food and clean, spacious and well equipped accomodation it is great value for money and all proceeds are used to support their environmental activities. I complete this blog with a couple more photos from the Centre, and a little Bran Coloured Flycatcher that I took a long time to identify and am still not 100% on it, but it's the best fit from all I have looked at so far..
Checked the Dippers this week & happy to report breeding is well under way with frequent visits to the nest, usually with healthy looking beakfulls. Much more water in the river this year and so I saw them swimming for the first time as it is too deep for them to walk into the water from a stony perch.
I did notice something odd about one of the pair however and this cropped image shows that it has lost all of the crown feathers. I doubt this is natural moulting, looks like the result og some serious abrasion, or a disease perhaps. Anyway it appears to be otherwise ok.
We popped into the Charca for a quick look. Not a great deal of activity there. One resident White Stork, a few Common Sandpipers, a Redshank, lots of Little Egrets roosting on the island and two Little Bitterns on Laguna del Tarage.Lots of Red-knobbed Coot chicks already, they have already had a successful breeding season.
Not a lot to shout about lately after three weeks in England visiting family over Easter, where it rained almost every day. However I was pleased with these shots of a beautiful Jay when we returned, taken in the woods at El Robledal in the north of the Axarquia region. Elena and I went specifically to get a shot of this bird which has always eluded me. Jays are very wary and they do not normally allow you to get within about 100 meters, however I put the car in 4wd and drove off the beaten track into the woods where I knew they forage. Sure enough after sitting quietly for ten or fifteen minutes with the engine off, a pair settled in a nearby tree allowing me to get a good photo. This was taken with my 500mm lens with a 1.4 extender fitted, giving a focal length of 700 mm. It worked well.
Prior to leaving for England I picked up a long range shot of this Spotted Crake which had been seen regularly in the new scrape at the Guadalhorce. Not a great photo but a decent record shot of a smart bird.
I had previously tried unsuccessfully to capture the Spotted Crake that had been seen recently at the Charca de Suarez. No luck there with the Crake but this rather handsome Pintail made up for it. One of the most elegant of ducks, they are not common here in Andalucia.
As I was in the area I decided to check the picnic site on the Rio Guadalfeo near Velez de Benedaulla to see if the Dippers were active around their traditional nest site. Sure enough I was fortunate to capture this one perched at the side of the water cascade behind which the nest lies. It's a bit early to expect them to have eggs but it was encouraging to see at least one bird in situ. Hopefully there is a mate and breeding will take place.
Elena I would soon spend three weeks in England so I hoped it would not be too early for a birding trip to Extremadura. In the event it was (too early), the exceptionally cold and wet weather had delayed the arrival of all the migratory birds, I was scraping ice off the windscreen in the mornings, and one whole day was wiped out in the rain. Anyway we picked Bob Wright up at 7:15 and rendezvoued with Derek & Barbara Etherton at 9 in a service station cafe on the way to Cordoba. From there we headed for the Plains of La Serena.
I had several target birds for this trip, one of which was the Great Bustard, I would really like to have better photographs of this iconic species. As it happens we had several sightings but as usual they were quite distant and the birds beat a hasty retreat at the presence of people, so the best I could do was a few shots of them in flight as they left. One day perhaps. We also spotted another target species, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, a covey of them flew across the road ahead, no chance for a photograph. Not so this Little Owl that posed conveniently on a rock for us, very nice.
We were of course seeing all the usual birds one would expect in this landscape. The ubiquitous White Stork was everywhere..
Larks were in every field, Calandra, Thekla, Crested, Short-toed and Lesser Short-toed Larks were all quite common.
Meadow Pipits were also abundant but not perhaps as numerous as Corn Buntings.
I was quite surprised by the number of Hoopoes sighted. Given the very cold recent weather I would have expected them to have stayed further south at this time.
As an indication of how much rain had fallen we had to turn back at one point, unable to cross a river which in normal times would have been dry or just a trickle. However it was around here we saw the first Subalpine Warbler of the year.
An Iberian Grey Shrike stayed on the barbed wire fence long enough for us to pull up and take a shot through the car window.
At the end of the day we arrived in Trujillo and enjoyed a decent meal in a restaurant in the main square of this delightful town and retired to the hotel for a decent night's sleep, quite content with the variety of birds we had seen during the day.
Unfortunately, next day was a washout. It rained steadily all day and although we travelled one of the best birding routes in all of Spain between Trujillo and Caceres, following the small road to Santa Marta de Magasca it was hopeless. We saw a few wet and bedraggled Lesser Kestrels but I really fear for them, this weather means no large insects have been emerging so there will be very little food to keep them alive. This on top of the steady elimination of insects through the increasing use of insecticides on a massive scale will probably decimate their numbers. There were none yet nesting on the roof of the bullring in Trujillo which is a fine sight when they are.
Next morning we headed off to Monfrague. It was extremely cold, I had to start off by scraping the ice off my windscreen. When we arrived at the famous Salto del Gitano there was virtually nothing to see, a few Griffon Vultures, a high flying Peregrine but very little else. The biting wind drove us further along to seek some shelter and I contented myself by photographing a few of the small birds in the trees by the river. here. Long-tailed Tits were foraging, along with Chaffinches, Tits, Robins and a few other small species.
Close to the dam Barbara spotted a nice Cirl Bunting which conveniently did not fly away before I managed to fire off a shot.
I quite like this shot of a Chaffinch. Common as much but it looks good on a royal blue background.
The Black Kite below sat on the overhead cable even when I got out of the car to take his picture. They are not usually that obliging.
From Monfrague we headed off to the Embalse de Arrocampo. Nothing spectacular to report from here but there were plenty of Spanish Sparrows in the hedgerows.
Well I say nothing spectacular but Derek said he spotted a couple of Tree Pipits foraging on the grass with the Meadow Pipits. Now I have never identified a Tree Pipit, they are incredibly difficult to distinguish from their much more common cousins, so I went back to where Derek had indicated and sure enough there were a couple that looked slightly different from the rest. It's hard to be sure but these two had bolder head stripes and broader white supercilliums plus they looked a bit heavier than the rest, so hopefully I have a photographic record here of a Tree Pipit.
I went over to Caleta de Velez hoping to see the reported Icelandic Gull which had been seen regularly around the fishing harbour for a few weeks now. I wondered if I would recognize it amongst all the other gulls which include Black-headed, Yellow-legged, Lesser Black-backed, Mediterranean, and a few Audouins. In the event I needn't have worried, it was quite different in appearance from any of them and easy to spot as it sat on the beach amongst a group of mainly Yellow-legged Gulls.
I had to photograph it through a heavy steel wire fence which obscured some of the light coming into the lens, but the results are ok as record shots of a very unusual visitor to the shores of Andalucia. This bird breeds in the Arctic regions of Canada and Greenland and normally only Winters in the North Atlantic, sometimes as far south as the shores of Britain and N E United States, so it is a very unexpected visitor here, one worth recording.
It differs quite substantially in appearance from the other Gulls around, very pale plumage with white wings & no black anywhere except on the tip of the bill. The bill is small and narrow giving the bird a slightly dove-like appearance. As gulls go it is quite attractive.
I imagine the exceptionally cold winter this year has something to do with its presence in Andalucia. We have experienced some extremely cold winds from the North all across Europe and the Atlantic, so it is likely to be the reason for this very unusual but welcome visitor.I wonder how long it will remain but think it might get a bit too warm for it quite soon. Personally, I hope so.
Due to physical health issues I only spent three days birding in Columbia. I am an independant birder, I don't go on expensive birding tours but try to do it myself. No doubt I would have much longer lists from a tour with full time guides, but it's the independant element that makes it fun for me, plus I have a healthier bank balance as a result. Of the sixty or so birds that I remember positively identifying more than thirty were lifers, they are the ones in bold type below.
I came to Columbia to see my daughter Louise, her husband Wade, and my Grandson Arlo. They were here having a break from the severe Canadian winter. I thoroughly enjoyed my week with them, highlights being a five hour bike tour of old Bogota and a couple of days in an old colonial town called Villa de Lerva, where we went horse riding, and quite interestingly came across Jeremy Clarkson looking a bit grumpy and scruffy as he wandered into the main square with his film crew in tow.
As the week progressed I started to become very tired and just a bit unwell. As it happens this had nothing to do with Columbia, it was caused by some dermatology treatment I had been prescribed in Spain just before departing for Bogota. Unbeknown to me the cream I was applying (Zyclara/Imiquimod) has quite severe side effects which were accumulating as I continued to apply it.during my holiday. By the time I left the family to go birding I was very definitely not well and was getting getting progressively worse, but I thought it was temporary & continued on with my plans.
Columbia has more bird species than any other Country and should be a birder's paradise. However it is a big place and the birding hotspots are widely separated and often difficult to access. In the event I decided to focus my efforts on just one location, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. I took a short flight from Bogota to the Caribbean resort of Santa Marta & made my way by shared taxi up to the small backpackers town of Minca in the foothills of the mountain range.
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is an isolated mountain range separated from the main Andean chains that run through Columbia. Reaching an altitude of 5,700 m just 42 km from the Caribbean coast it is is one of the world's highest coastal ranges. It is a compact group, relatively small in area and completely surrounded by lands with elevations below 200 m. Because of its isolation it is rich in endemic species which have evolved separately from those found in the main Andean Mountains. I stayed in Minca for a couple of nights & did some birding around the place, but my final destination was much higher, at the legendary eco lodge of El Dorado..
The drive up to El Dorado can only be undertaken in a serious 4x4 and to call it a road would be a misnomer, it's more of a protracted gap in the jungle, and is not for the faint-hearted taking 2.5 hours to cover about 15 kms. I was picked up at 6 am and at 8:30 we arrived and I went straight out with my guide for the day looking for those endemic species.
My main target here was the White-tipped Quetzal, a handsome member of the Trogon family which is endemic to just this area and a small nearby section of Northern Venezuela. We got lucky, within a hour we had a handsome male perched quite still in a tree fairly close, what a bird!
Later that day we had equally good views of a female Quetzal. She lacks the bright shiny green head and breast plumage and the pointed tail extensions of the male, but a stunning bird nonetheless.
There were other spectacular birds to be seen. The Strong-billed Woodcreeper for example is one of the largest and heaviest of the Woodcreepers, and there are many. It is perhaps three times the size of the Montane Woodcreeper which was also foraging in the same tree giving a great comparison.
Here is a very attractive bird, the Golden-breasted Fruiteater is another species endemic to this area of Northern Columbia and a small part of neighbouring Venezuela. I had photographed a similar species in Ecuador, the Orange-breasted Fruiteater but this one is different, having evolved separately in this isolated Sierra.
The Crimson-crested Woodpecker is a very large campephilus which makes an imposing sight when seen close at hand. It is about the same size as the Powerful Woodpecker which I had photographed in Ecuador. It is slightly larger than the Lineated Woodpecker with which it can be confused in its range, but the white lines on the back clearly meet in a "V" formation so this is definitely Crimson-crested. Another lifer!
The Red-billed Parrot is a fairly common Andean species and this one sat rock still in its hole for some time, watching us and assessing whether we posed a threat or not. Eventually it and its mate flew off with much loud squawking.
More Santa Marta Endemics
Although I was only here for a very short time I picked up quite a few of the species endemic to this area. Here are some examples.
These two are fully endemic species, the Santa Marta Mountain Tanager and the Santa Marta Brush Finch. They only exist in this relatively small area and cannot be seen anywhere else. I was fortunate to get good views of both.
And another endemic species, the Yellow-crowned Whitestart. Again it only exists here in this small mountainous region of Northern Columbia. Not a particularly imposing or distinctive bird but one only seen by visitors to this rather inaccessible place.
I have seen quite a few Emerald Toucanets previously, but the Santa Marta Emerald Toucanet is a separate species endemic to just these mountains of Northern Columbia. It is a form of White-throated Toucanet - (aulacorhynchus albivitta) but is classed as a separate species (a lautus)
Black-chested Jays are very vocal and are not welcomed by birders as they tend to scare off other more interesting species, such as the Quetzal and Masked Trogon. However they are quite a handsome bird with bright white eyes & strong black and white plumage.
There are two Guan species very common around El Dorado, the Band-tailed Guan and the Sickle-winged Guan. For some reason I failed to get a shot of the Sickle-winged, they were just so easy that I didn't bother, silly as now it's too late.
I like Tanagers, they are generally colourful birds and about 240 species have been described although some are being reassigned to other families as DNA studies progress. They are all New World birds and 60% live in South America, many in the Andes. One could spend a lifetime watching Tanagers, similarly there are people who want to see every type of hummingbird. They each hold a certain fascination and one can see why.
At El Dorado I was pleased to pick up a few new species from each family. Above is a nice Bay-headed Tanager, and below is a Violet-crowned Woodnymph. Very colourful examples of each genus.
The Hummingbird below is a Brown Violetear, not one of the most colourful varieties perhaps but it's not gaudy or too bright, the violet patches contrast well with the more subdued browns.
Here are two new Tanager species that I have not seen before. The first is a Black-capped Tanager. I particularly like the metallic sheen on those breast feathers, reminiscent of chain-mail armour on knights of old.
The next one is a Blue-headed Tanager. I had to ask for an ID on Facebook for this one as the illustration in my Field Guide is absolutely terrible, looks nothing like the real thing. Quite a stunner. It was one of the few birds that came down to the fruit feeder at the Lodge and I was quite fascinated to see those fancy yellow trousers. This is a relatively large Tanager and one that is quite distinctive, strange I couldn't ID it from the Field Guide (Birds of Ecuador) but that illustration has to be the worst I've ever seen.
The Blue-naped Chlorophonia is a very colourful little bird that is widely distributed around but not within the Amazon Basin. Clorophonias were once thought to be related to Tanagers but science now places them as true finches, ie Fringillidae.
Black Hooded Thrushes were fairly common around El Dorado, but lower down the mountain, in Minca, they were completely absent. They live above 800 meters and up to 2600 m.
In Minca it's the Pale-breasted Thrush that is the common one. Up at the higher reaches however they are entirely absent.
Here's an interesting species that I photographed on a bird watching walk with "Jungle Jim's" Tours in Minca. This was a three hour walk around and above the village, starting at 6 and finishing at around 9 am in time for breakfast. The Black-backed Antshrike was definitely the best bird of the walk. The one below is a nice shot of a female
And here we see it with its breakfast, a nice juicy flying insect.
The male Black-backed Antshrike is more striking than the female with a jet black head with black & white wing coverts and white flanks.This is another species that is only found on the Caribbean Slopes of Columbia and NW Venezuela, so I was very pleased to pick this one up.
Here's another small, mainly black species but this time a much more widespread and common bird, the Black Phoebe. This is one of the sub-species known as the White-winged Black Phoebe which has considerably less white on the undersides and is sometimes considered a separate species from the nominate form.
The Bi-coloured Wren below is very common around Minca, in fact I photographed this one in the grounds of the Hostal I was staying in, the "Hotel" Minca. I use speechmarks as this place calls itself a hotel but is in fact just another backpackers hostal, grossly overpriced and pretentious. Anyway the Bi-coloured Wren has a very sweet song which was a delight to hear.
Here's another bird I photographed in the village of Minca. This is a Red-Crowned Woodpecker which was foraging in a tree in the main street. A young girl asked me what I was looking at with my binoculars so I let her try them. She liked the experience and we spent a pleasant half-hour watching birds together. It's nice when a young person shows an interest in the World around them and the living things that share this planet. I hope she has a good life.
The next two are also birds that I saw in and around Minca, on the morning walk with Joe as I recall. The first is a Rufous-capped Warbler, an attractive little warbler indeed.
The next is a Yellow Oriole. I showed Joe this shot and he seemed quite surprised that I had seen and photographed it, I think he was a little peeved that he had missed it himself. Anyway it's the only one I saw in my brief sojourn in Columbia.
The Social Flycatcher is a very common but I am assured that this one is a Vermillion-crowned Flycatcher. Something about it being a southern variety having been split into a separate species from the nominate Social Flycatcher. It looks exactly the same to me. Before scientists started analyzing DNA etc birding was much simpler. A great Grey Shrike for example was just that, now look at it, Great Grey, Southern Grey, Iberian Grey and others. They are all just Grey Shrikes to me. Just as this is just a Social Flycatcher.
Here is another Flycatcher, the Olive-crowned variety, but I prefer it's alternative name, the Olive-crowned Fruit Tyrant. Quite a mouthful. This one was taken near El Dorado on the road up through the mountains from the Lodge.
Sometimes it proves impossible to identify a bird that one has photographed well. here's a little brown job with no real distinguishing features except for that colourful and clearly striped bill. I have checked every Finch, every Seedeater and every other bird that might remotely answer this conundrum, but I cannot find anything like it. So it remains a UFO.
The Rufous-tailed Foilage Gleaner is not a particularly uncommon species, but like all Foilage Gleaners it is hard to photograph, being inconspicuous and highly active. Orange-chinned Parakeets are a very widespread South American species which I have photographed before.
This is a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. A very widespread and common hummingbird but worthy of inclusion as it's not a bad photo.
And this one is a Steely-vented Hummingbird, another common species.
This I believe is a Mountain Violetear, otherwise known as a Lesser Violetear . However I am not 100% sure of this, there are so many hummingbirds, but it just seems the most likely candidate as I scrutinise the Field Guide to birds of the area..
This Thick-billed Euphonia was taken near El Dorado but it could have been anywhere really, quite a common and widespread species.
The Black-capped Tyrannulet on the other hand is a little Flycatcher which inhabits forest edges above 1800 meters in elevation. I include this poor photograph for the record, it was identified for me by my guide. Also for the record a very poor shot of a Black-throated Tody Tyrant, included as it was another lifer and because it is relatively quite rare, again only found above altitudes over 1800m.
The Lesser Goldfinch photo below was taken in the Botanical Gardens in Bogota.
As was the Rufous-collared Sparrow. Very common birds but not if you live in Europe.
Also in the Botanical Gardens I came across this chap foraging around the edges of one of the ponds. It's obviously a Moorhen or related species but I can't pin it down. It doesn't appear to conform with any description of birds of this family found in Columbia. Perhaps it is a feral or imported bird, I just have no idea.
Retired seafarer living in Frigiliana, a white village in Malaga Province in southern Spain. Married to Elena. Keen bird and wildlife watchers.
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