Sunday, April 12, 2015

Taking the detour to Mani

On arrival in Yopal I met up with Pedro and his family, who kindly hosted me for some days while I made wheel repairs to my bike – over 25 000 km had begun to take its toll on the hubs and rims. I was fortunate to share the New Year with the family, and enjoyed the festivities and Colombian traditions while bidding farewell to the Old Year.

The Colombian flag flying high.

Countryside along the western edge of the Llanos.
After a pleasant stay, I headed further south towards Aguazul followed by a detour towards Mani. I had been tipped off some weeks earlier by a local that the Llanos was supposedly very beautiful near Mani, so I just had to go see for myself. Sometimes I can be a real sucker for taking other people’s advice, especially when it involves the chance to see nice scenery. Maybe I would find a good bird or two, and so I figured it would be worth taking the diversion.

So after a night in Aguazul, I took the road to Mani. Nothing spectacular yet, but I am quite patience so continued on. An expected lifer turned up in the late afternoon, a pair of Double-striped Thick-knee on an open pasture, grazed to a stuble by the cows. A Crested Bobwhite crossing the road added a second tick for the day, before I enquired at a farm whether I could camp there. Sure, no problem, was the reply; one can always expect such a reply from Colombian folk. As payment for staying the night and enjoying a warm meal, I had to answer dozens of questions asked by the children concerning my bike and travels! Always a pleasure!

Sunrise over the Llanos.

An early start before sunrise ensured a pleasant ride as the fog lifted off the grasslands. Small flocks and pairs of parrots flew by, undoubtedly making their way from their night time roost to their favourite fruiting trees. Orange-winged and Yellow-crowned Parrots were the most common, with the occasional pair of raucous Chestnut-fronted Macaws passing over. Cattle Tyrants, Eastern Meadowlark, Yellow-headed Caracara and Giant Cowbird were roadside spectators as I passed by. Black Vultures were still lounging in the trees, most likely waiting for the heat thermals to pick up so they could take to the wing. Some large roadside fruiting trees delivered all the parrots mentioned above, but also various common tanagers (Blue-grey, Palm, and Burnished-buff) and thrushes (Black-billed and Pale-breasted). 

Chestnut-fronted Macaws were common and usually seen in pairs.
An Orange-winged Parrot.

While watching an elegant Swallow-tailed Kite from the entrance gates to a finca, I was invited in by the owner to take a closer look at the other birds on the property. After a brief chat, I took a stroll along the banks of a river, with a few nice surprises in store, such as Plumbeous Kite, Pied Plover, Osprey, Ringed Kingfisher, Snowy Egret, another Sunbittern and the striking Large-billed Tern. The tern flapped its way over the waters while a lone Caiman lay on a sandbank in the river, soaking up the midday sun. A brief visit to a nearby wetland, on horse-back and guided by my host, produced some exciting and new waterbirds, including Limpkin, a pair of Yellow-billed Tern and Orinoco Gooose. I had been hoping to see the latter species even since arriving in the Llanos, so was pleased to see not just one but three birds.

A Caiman basking in the midday sun.

Large-billed Terns truly do have massive bills! And a bold wing pattern.

So after being hosted yet again as a complete stranger, I was beginning to comprehend why Colombia was quickly becoming one of my top three countries visited to date. After just three months in the country, I had met some very special people, who would change my outlook on life…

The strikingly patterned Sunbittern, worth watching every time.