Monday, 7 January 2013

Summer in the mountains

The end of December until the beginning of March is supposed to be summer here in Santander. That means it should be a little hotter and drier although global warming has had a very real impact on the climate patterns in Colombia in recent years and it is less predictable than in the past.

As it was a clear day which promised to be hot, we set off driving up the road to the east, route 66, which climbs the eastern cordillera and leads to Cucuta and the Venezuelan border. Being a Sunday there were almost no heavy vehicles (mulas) which make the road tediously slow during the week. There are major improvement works going on in the lower sections to make this road into a dual carriageway. At least some sections should be open in 2013.

After about 50km of climbing (after starting at 1000m above sea level) we reached Picacho, at around 3200m, where the road levels out onto a plateau on which sits the small town of Berlin, known for its tasty potatoes and 'spring' onions. The air was very fresh and the temperature about 10 C, but the sun was bright and strong. Here there are a number of very large radio towers.

Unlike the previous times we've been up, the sky was very clear and almost cloudless. Visibility must have been over 80 km and to the west I could see way past Bucaramanga to the Serrania de Yariguíes ridges beyond. In the other direction the view was just as impressive.

A short distance from the toll booths at Picacho is the start of a Camino Real, an ancient track which leads down the slopes to Bucaramanga. We walked just a short distance down the track through steep mountain pastures with small trees and bushes. At this altitude all the birdlife is different to that of the city below and I immediately saw many species that were new to me.

Golden-fronted Whitestart (Myioborus ornatus)

Black Flowerpiercer (Diglossa humeralis) were fairly obvious stealing nectar from the numerous flowers. The subspecies that occurs here in the Eastern Andes are hard to distinguish from the Glossy Flowerpiercer.

White-throated Tyrannulet (Mecocerculus leucophrys) seem common and I think also the less common Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet (Mecocerculus minor) occur here, though I wasn't sure of my ID on that.

Many of the birds came very close and I got good views of this Pearled Treerunner (Maragarornis sqamiger). I also added two new hummingbirds, the impressively large Shining Sunbeam (Aglaeactis cupripennis) and Tyrian Metaltail (Metallura tyrianthina). These mountain hummers perch more often than their lowland cousins to save energy, which helps with the ID's!

Skulking in the bushes were Pale-naped Brush-finch (Atlapetes pallidinucha) and perching on top were Brown-backed Chat-tyrant (Ochthoeca fumicolor). No doubt there were quite a few other birds which are new to me up there, but it can be a challenge to identify them at first.

The mountain flowers are really beautiful, though I have no idea of the names!

We finished off the trip with a lunch of a nice fried trout, a speciality in the mountains, at a roadside restaurant.

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