Leticia is a large Colombian town of about 40,000 people on the Amazon River that is the focus for the region and the main airport for visitors. I´ll say more about it and our travel arrangements in another blog entry.
We stayed several nights in Leticia, very close to Santander Park. The park is well laid-out with lots of trees and a small church on one side. What makes it special is the evening arrivals of an estimated 30,000 Canary-winged Parakeets (Brotogeris versicolurus). These very noisy birds arrive from all directions in small groups before sunset to roost safely in the trees. By the time darkness has fallen around 6.30 pm, the branches are packed. You can, for a small donation, view the arrival from up in the church tower. Down below it formed a spectacular flock though the smell resulting from the droppings is very strong.
|Canary-winged Parakeets - about 700 in this shot alone|
When we arrived (August 14), joining the parakeets in the roost were many thousands of Purple Martin (Progne subis). They also packed themselves tight onto the branches. In the poor light of sunset, it wasn't easy to identify them - there were mixed males, females and juveniles in different stages of moulting, but their behaviour was characteristic. Large groups arrived high over the town and on approaching the park, the birds went into a steep fast dive into the trees. I understand that Purple Martin are migrants from North America which "winter" in Colombia. Perhaps that means the martin roost in Leticia is highly seasonal? Of course there could be other parrots and swallows in the roost, but picking them out is something of a challenge!
The parakeets and purple martins were harrassed and often "put-up" by circling Zone-tailed Hawks (Buteo albonotatus) and by Bat Falcons (Falco rufigularis). In the confusing swirl of thousands of birds, these raptors must have a hard time picking out individual targets.
Near the park, in a vacant lot, I was lucky enough to get a good view of a Thrush-like Wren (Campylorhynchus turdinus).
A short-walk out of Leticia takes you to the airport with open grasslands and wet areas. There is good birding there, but the roads around are fairly busy at times with construction work going on, and much of it is surrounded by military, who might not appreciate birders hanging around with binocular & cameras, but I had no problems except for a polite request to move on. I saw a few species new to me there Red-capped Cardinal (Paroaria gularis), Chestnut-bellied Seedeater(Sporophila castaneiventris), Silver-beaked Tanager (Ramphocelus carbo) and one Giant Cowbird(Molothrus oryzivorus). Later on, at the ponds near the Tercel plant, I saw my first Limpkin (Aramus guarauna).
The only Colombian road out of Leticia - locally called "the kilometers" goes past the airport and is well paved at least up to km 13. Buses go to km 11 every 20 minutes or so, but much less frequently to km 22. The areas along the road near to Leticia are farmed but there are turnings off with more trees. We walked along km 11 from the main road to the river Tacana. There are several eco-lodges/hostels in this area. Although we found plenty of wildlife, it's far from virgin forest!
Parrots were always around on our trip, and being noisy birds, fairly easy to spot. However, being up in the tree-tops often in bad light, they aren't always so easy to identify. I picked up Marroon-tailed Parakeet (Pyrrhura melanura) and Short-tailed Parrot (Graydidascalus brachyurus) and later White-eyed Parakeet (Aratinga leucophthalma) here at least. There are plenty of clearings and tanagers are common including Turquoise Tanager (Tangara mexicana).
One morning we walked to the local port and negotiated a 70,000 COP (about 25 GB Pounds) boat trip to the nearby river islands. This was our first experience of the actual river and very impressive it was. During our visit (mid-August) the river was low, but when the river is high (December to May) no doubt it takes on a different character.
Some islands, such as Isla Ronda, about 1 hour or so from Leticia, have extensive mud patches attracting migrant waders such as Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos) and Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius). Collared Plover (Charadrius collaris) were common and approachable. There are lots of grassy and wooded areas too, but these islands are flooded for many months each year and getting around on foot is not easy. I was pleased to see Lesser Hornero (Furnarius minor), a bird which specializes in Amazon river islands. I also added some very easy to identify species on the islands like White-headed Marsh Tyrant (Arundinicola leucocephala), Oriole Blackbird (Gymnomystax mexicanus) and Yellow-billed Tern (Sternula superciliaris).
|Oriole Blackbirds bathing in the Amazon|
|Mudflats of Isla Ronda|
A most surprising birding aspect of the river and its islands was the sparsity of herons and egrets. I had expected to see huge numbers gathering together as you often see in the River Magdelena cienagas, but perhaps they are much more spread out in the Amazon or maybe the season has a big effect. As everywhere, local knowledge is key and a good local guide would no-doubt find many more interesting and unusual species around Leticia and the nearby river islands, but for my first trip to the area I was very pleased with more common and conspicuous birds.