Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Best places to go birding near Bucaramanga

As we're nearing the end of our current stay in Bucaramanga, I've been musing about the best places to go birding in and around the city.
Despite the huge rush of development and high density housing, the geography of the area means there are still green spaces around.  However, many are inaccessible and/or insecure which is good for the birds, but not so good for birdwatchers! So here's a short guide to give you an idea of where to go birding and what you might see.

1. Parque La Flora.

Guira Tanager
The 10.5 Hectares of park in a small valley in the east of the city is an excellent and safe place for a morning's birding. I've seen 81 species and the local bird society, something like 100 which is not at all bad for an urban park.

Black-bellied Wren (Pheugopedius fasciatoventris), Red-rumped Woodpecker (Veniliornis kirkii) and Guira Tanager (Hemithraupis guira) are resident though take a little searching. There are many tyrant flycatchers to challenge your ID skills - learn the calls and behaviour! The park is good for migrants warblers and thrushes. Protonothary warblers (Protonotaria citrea) are easy to see at the right time of year on the banana feeders put out by the salpicon (fruit salad) vendors just by the entrance. Because the park is in a small valley, it's easier to see the canopy and spot birds that might otherwise be missed. I've had some more unusual migrants too - Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea), Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi) and Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea).

There is the odd 3-toed Sloth in the park, though despite many visits I've only seen one once. There are also Coral snakes - I've seen Micrurus dumerilii and I've been told that the endemic M. Sangilensis has also been recorded. Both are highly venomous but not aggressive.

2. Finca La Esperanza & Montifiore

On the eastern edge of Floridablanca, this sloping area of woodland belongs to the CDMB and is popular with walkers at weekends. However, it's a good place to spend time with woodpeckers, tanagers and hummingbirds near the waterfalls.

If you continue up from La Esperanza you reach a road to the Cerro La Judea. This is a large protected area and an Important Bird Area but access is not so straightforward. However, in a few hours you can walk (or drive!) up to the Montefiori hotel/restaurant and its nearbly waterfalls. Here I've seen Golden-naped (Tangara ruficervix), Lemon-rumped (Ramphocelus icteronotus icteronotus) and Black-capped Tanagers (Tangara heinei) amongst others as well as White-naped Brush Finch (Atlapetes albinucha).

3. Jardín Botánico Eloy Valenzuela (Floridablanca)

Botanic Gardens in Floridablanca
The botantic gardens in Floridablanca are very pleasant. There are sloths, squirrels, tortoises and terrapins as well as a few birds. There are many heliconias attracting hummingbirds. For a while, just outside the gardens a pair of Black & White Owl (Strix nigrolineata) were roosting in some bamboo providing great photo opportunities.

Black and White Owls
Further afield:

4. Finca El Carajo & Caragua

Finca El Carajo and Bucaramanga Airport beyond
Finca El Carajo has a restaurant serving excellent trout, with accommodation and camping as well as walking trails around forest located at about 2000m ASL just off the road from Bucaramanga to Cúcuta. It can be annoying with loud music playing as in many parts of Colombia. However, there are some very nice birds here too - trogons, Golden-headed Quetzals (Pharomachrus auriceps), with many tanagers including Saffron-crowned (Tangara xanthocephala) and Fawn-breasted (Pipraeidea melanonota), forest species like Montane Woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes lacrymiger) and Streaked Tuftedcheek (Pseudocolaptes boissonneautii) and skulkers like Blackish Tapaculo (Scytalopus latrans). Interestingly, there are a few Rufous-tailed Tyrant (Knipolegus poecilurus) here and they're easy to see. Just near the restaurant is a field of blackberries which attracts Long-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus kingi) and Booted Rackettail(Ocreatus underwoodii) hummingbirds - the males of both species have spectacularly long tail-feathers and provide a good photo opportunity. I have heard White-throated Screech-Owl (Megascops albogularis) here.

Saffron-crowned Tanager
Band-tailed Guan
Just to the north and below El Carajo is Vereda Caragua. ( A vereda is a small administrative sub-division). An old road runs from the paved main road to Tona to La Corcova on the main road to Cúcuta, but being blocked to vehicles by a landslide, there is no traffic. It runs through forest and is excellent birding including species like Band-tailed Guan (Penelope argyrotis), woodcreepers and many hummers. I've seen a flock of 9 different tanagers here.

5. Picacho & Km 39

Picacho at dawn
Picacho is the 3200m peak that overlooks Bucaramanga to the east and houses many antennas as well as a toll-booth on the main road to Cúcuta and Venezuela. Below this is a valley and a road signposted to Sevilla and eventually leading to Piedecuesta. The upper end of this valley has patches of woodland and birding from the road is excellent. Black-billed Mountain Toucan (Andigena nigrirostris), Black-eared Hemispingus (Hemispingus melanotis), Collared Inca (Coeligena torquata) and Blue-throated Starfrontlet (Coeligena helianthea), Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager (Dubusia taeniata) and Slaty Brush-Finch (Atlapetes schistaceus). I've also seen (I think) Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet (Mecocerculus minor) of which there are very few photos on the web.

Slaty Brush-Finch
Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager
There are small patches of Roble (Oak) which even supports the Mountain Grackle (Macroagelaius subalaris) - an endemic bird which is endangered because it favours the shrinking fragmented Roble habitats of the eastern Cordillera.

6. Road to Llano de Palmas

To the west of Rio Negro is a plateau on which sits Llano de Palmas amongst other places. There are still patches of forest along this road at around 1000m or so ASL. This gives a good chance to find species such as Western Slaty Antshrike (Thamnophilus atrinucha) and Slaty-Antwren (Myrmotherula schisticolor), but in particular is good for finding the punk looking Sooty Ant-Tanager (Habia gutturalis), a near-threatened endemic species. I've had good views of White-bibbed (Corapipo leucorrhoa) and Golden-headed Manakin (Ceratopipra erythrocephala) here and seen my first Black-hawk Eagle (Spizaetus tyrannus).

My apartment in Los Pinos, Bucaramanga proved to have pretty good birding and I have recorded 87 species with 4 others heard. The hummingbird feeders have been an amazing success with large numbers of 5 different species - many neighbours have bought feeders after seeing the swarms around mine. The balcony proved a great spot for watching migrant raptors in late October and this year I've seen over 1500 Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura meridionalis) passing over in 2 days as well as other migrant Buteos. Sadly, as I won't be here shortly, I can't invite other birders, but I hope this short guide to Bucaramanga birding is useful.


  1. I can't believe that you can see sloths near Bucaramanga. I have been to Colombia several times and have never once seen a wild sloth.
    It sounds 1000x better than Cali (where my in laws live).

  2. I'm not sure if the sloths were rehabilitated from captivity into the parks, or if they've got there themselves somehow. However they're certainly free to move around (very slowly!).

  3. Hey Robert! I am a birdder who is moving to Bucaramanga for the next 6 months. I was wondering if you could give me the website or email for the local bird society? I was looking for some people to go out birding with. Are you still in Colombia? Feel free to drop me a line - :)

  4. Sadly, I'm not in Colombia at the moment, but hope to return in the future. SONORA (Sociedad Ornitológica del Nororiente Andino) is the local bird group.
    Many are University biologists and they might be able to help. Their level of English is variable though.....


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