Monday, 8 July 2013

SFF Iguaque

In the north of Boyacá Department, near to the tourist town of Villa de Leyva is the Flora and Fauna Sanctuary of Iguaque (SFF Iguaque in Spanish) a protected area of forest and paramo in the eastern cordillera of the Andes mountains. Having been to the area last year, we decided to stay in the wooden cabins in the reserve.

After parking lower down and a steep 15 minute walk, there are several large and well-maintained cabins with 6 or 8 bunk beds and bathrooms. It's not often fully occupied and you might get a cabin to yourself, but it's not guaranteed. The food is very good, but at around 2900m up, it does get very cold at night and, as they did not light the fire in the restaurant cabin, the only option was to get warm under the many blankets in the bunkrooms. The accommodation costs around 38,000 pesos per night per person (around 13 GBP). They also charge for parking and entry to the park - extra if you are a foreigner!

The forest is large and there are plenty of birds. We were very lucky to find a nest of Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia (Chlorophonia pyrrhophys), given away by the noise of the chicks begging for food. These are beautiful but not common birds and this area is not in their range according to  Cornell Neotropical Birds. However, many birds are under-recorded in Colombia and are more widespread than books or other sources will suggest. I managed a few shots of the male at the nest, but sadly the poor light and my shoddy camera work did not do their fantastic colours justice. Google an image and you'll see what I mean.

I was also very pleased to see a new hummingbird for me, the Amethyst-throated Sunangel (Heliangelus amethysticollis). This little gem was very close, but we didn't have the camera. When the light catches its gorget, the throat-patch, you can really appreciate the amethyst colour. There were lots of other highland hummingbirds around , but you need patience to get to see them well.

Andean Guan (Penelope montagnii) are common and easy to see here, but these were new to me. Other new birds included Blue-and-black Tanager (Tangara vassorii), Black-banded Woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes picumnus) and Black-crested Warbler (Basileuterus nigrocristatus). Photographing them in the forest is a challenge though! At night I could hear several distant White-throated Screech Owls (Megascops albogularis), but little chance to see them.

Most people stay only one night at SFF Iguaque in order to make an early start for a hike up to the Laguna de Iguaque, and small mountain lake in the paramo at around 3700m - around 12,000 feet. The hike is only around 4 km, but fairly rough and steep.

Climbing up at this altitude you can feel the thinner air and your heart pounds readily. I guess those that live at higher altitudes like in Bogotá or around Boyacá are better adapted than us! It is best to take plenty of warm clothes and sun-block too.

The lake is very picturesque. There are 6 or 7 other lakes in the area which can, apparently be hiked in a single day, but you'd need to be in good shape to do that. I didn't see much of the birdlife higher up - only Black-chested Buzzard-eagles (Geranoaetus melanoleucus) and a few others I'd seen before. The local name is Paramo Eagle which is apposite. The views from here were spectacular in between the clouds. The only slight problem was that Elena slipped and rolled on the rocks on the way down, but luckily with no serious injury and we got down OK.

As the first night was very clear and dark, I got an amazing view of the stars from the cabins. It reminded me how impoverished is the night sky in Britain.

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