Tuesday, 20 November 2012


I'm not the only one who has come to enjoy Colombia recently. As well as the many species of resident birds, their are quite a few migrants who come here in the Autumn (or should I say fall!) after breeding in North America. 

There are many warblers in the trees and bushes around the city. From our balcony I now see Yellow Warblers (Setophaga petechia) nearly every day.

Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia)
I've seen Black and White Warbler (Mniotilta varia) a few times. They feed by running up and down the tree trunks very like a Treecreeper in Britain. Like all the warblers, they're hard to digiscope at a distance because they move all the time.

Black and White Warbler (Mniotilta varia)
Tennessee Warbler (Oreothlypis peregrina) are also frequent at the moment, but they are a little less distinctive.

Tennessee Warbler (Oreothlypis peregrina)

I've also seen Bay-breasted Warbler (Setophaga castanea) from the balcony, and there are lots of Blackburnian Warbler (Setophaga fusca) around the city too. Many warblers present something of a challenge to ID here as many are not in their bright summer plumage. In addition, they are not singing at all, so I'll have to improve my ID skills.
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) seem to be plentiful. Whilst looking at one, I noticed these malar stripes, which means it is in fact a Black-whiskered Vireo (Vireo altiloquus). I don't think they're often seen here on migration, but it was around for a week or more and I was lucky to get this shot.
Black-whiskered Vireo (Vireo altiloquus)
There are a few other larger migrant birds. Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) are common, both bright red (male) and dull yellow (females/juveniles).

Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) female
I've also seen one Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) and Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) on a few occasions.

Last, but not least, on 29th October, late in the afternoon, I saw about 2000 Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) spread across the sky, circling and all moving south, high over the city. These vultures are a common sight in and around Bucaramanga, but as you usually see only a handful in one place, I had no doubt these were migrant birds and not residents.

migrating Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura)

I found this website Turkey Vulture Migration Project which gives details of some GPS tagged North American Turkey Vultures. It seems some migrate from western Canada migrate to winter in the llanos of Venezuela, and, based on those tracks, I suspect the birds I saw may have been coming from there. If they want to go east of here to Venezuela, I'm not sure how they are crossing the high Eastern Cordillera of the Andes. Apparently over 100,000 Turkey Vultures cross the Darien Gap into Colombia in the Autumn, I'd love to see that, as well of some of the other migrating raptors. Perhaps there is still time for a few more sightings of migrants here this year?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Reinita Cielo Azul

 We took a trip to the excellent Proaves Reserva Reinita Cielo Azul near San Vincente de Chucuri in Santander. The drive from Bucaramanga to San Vincente (3 hours) is long and tiring but the scenery is very interesting. On the way we saw some kind of stoat or weasel (probably a Long-tailed Weasel) and what I think was a Grey Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) also crossing the road.

Proaves is a Colombian NGO dedicated to the study and conservation of birds. They set up this reserve to help protect the migrant Cerulean Warbler (Reinita Cielo Azul, Setophaga cerulea) a bird of the Andes which breeds in Eastern North America. The reserves visitor's centre is a 5km drive up a very rough, and in parts very steep, track from San Vincente, but it was worth the drive.

The vistor's centre is surrounded by coffee, cocao and banana plantations and has many feeders, including numerous hummingbird and fruit feeders. They attract orioles & lots of tanagers including this Lemon-rumped Tanager (Ramphocelus icteronotus).

Although I didn't see any of the real rarities of the reserve, I did see two new species here including Yellow-backed Oriole (Icterus chrysater) and Green Hermit (Phaethornis guy). The hummingbird feeders attract many Indigo-capped, Rufous-tailed, Black-throated Mango and White-necked Jacobins all of which are frequent on our balcony feeder at home. They also get Brown Violetear (Colibri delphinae) like this one below.

There are many Andean Emerald (Amazilia franciae) which seem to be very common in parts of Santander, but I've never seen one at our home feeder.

There was also this superb little lizard posing on the Proaves sign.

The walk up from the visitors centre to the forest reserve follows the old Lenguerke trail which leads to Zapatoca. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the reserve with not so much to see as it is mostly open grazing. I did notice these Cattle Tyrants (Machetornis rixosa). They're common but I've not seen them doing this before!

The reserve is thickly forested and, except for the birds, it is very quiet. There reserve is inside the Yariguíes National Park.  It seems to be alive with the buzzing of hummingbirds. Elena and I were both delighted to see a Black Inca (Coeligena prunellei) at very close quarters. This vulnerable but distinctive hummer is endemic to Colombia and restricted to the Eastern  Andes (and Yariguíes). We were told that a few years ago they were not often seen, but now, with feeders placed at lower part of the reserve, they are seen quite frequently here.

I'm not used to neotropical birding in such a place and without knowing many of the bird calls, it is tough to identify species I've not seen before. I did manage to add distinctive Green Jay (Cyanocorax yncas) and Ornate Flycatcher (Myiotriccus ornatus) to my list. There were many other probables / possibles too, but I don't like to add things to my list until I can be sure I can ID them correctly myself.

In the forest are many butterflies, grasshoppers and this dragonfly/large damselfly.

Sadly we had all to little time in the reserve and we had to go before dusk at 5.30 pm. On our way out, Carlos, one of the guides from San Vincente, kindly showed us a nearby location for the endangered endemic Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia castaneiventris). Apparently there are only 3 or so around this area, and  as they are much easier to see in the morning, we'll have to return another day for this one.