Entering the foothills of the Andes was a change from the plains I had become accustomed to. The bird assemblage naturally changed too, with numerous species I had not seen for some time, such as Swallow-winged Puffbird, Black-tailed and Black-crowned Tityra, Turqouise and White-shouldered Tanagers, White-collared Swift and two new species, Blue-crowned Motmot and displaying (lekking) male White-bearded Manakins. I was still missing a lot, many birds went unidentified or were simply to fast for me to get a good look at. Much to my surprise, I also saw a pair of White-banded Swallows gliding over the waters of a tranquil stream. These are rather beautiful swallows with a dark glossy blue plumage, deeply forked tail, and a white band across the chest - elegant indeed!
The midday temperature and humidity was also higher here than in the plains, so I took to a stream to cool off in some deep pools. Some locals were doing the same so I was not the only one searching for a cool and watery microclimate. Cycling further into the hills while gaining altitude ensured a reasonable temperature drop, but the start of serious mountain climbs. I was heading for Santa Maria, and the road continued to wind its way up. Some sheer cliffs on the way produced two pairs of Cliff Flycatcher and a handsome Bat Falcon, perched atop a dead tree. With night nearly upon me, and having no idea how far I still had to go to reach Santa Maria, I ended up making an emergency stop-over for the night beside the road. An unmistakable silhouette flashed passed me in the dim light. I knew what it was despite the brief view, nothing else has a tail like a male Lyre-tailed Nightjar! What a bird, with surely the longest tail I have even seen on anything with two wings (the tail can reach a length of over half a metre). Next morning I was up early to enjoy the forest birding, and had a brief chat with a group of mountain bikers racing their way to the top; I had no hopes of keeping up with their pace!
|Group of cyclists near Santa Maria.|
Lots of American migrants were about, such as Blackburnian Warbler, American Redstart, Swainson’s Thrush, Canada Warbler, Golden-crowed Warbler, Summer Tanager, some unidentified species, and a Cerulean Warbler. I had a glimpse of the latter a couple months earlier, but did not expect to see one again. So it was a delight to find out that they appeared to be rather common in the area. Just before entering the town, I had views of a Pectoral Sparrow and a Masked Tityra. The bird life seemed so good that I decided to spend the night in Santa Maria and do some birding in the nearby forest the next morning. While taking a stroll through the town, distantly familiar calls drew my attention to a group of Thrush-like Wren, foraging close to the ground in the town’s main square.
|The striking male Canada Warbler.|
|A Cerulean Warbler gleaning leaves.|
|View over Santa Maria.|
The morning birding was good but slow, or perhaps I was slow…I still struggled to identify the hummingbirds I was seeing. I managed to nail one down to being a Mango species (not the fruit!), but no further. Definite identifications included some usuals such as Blue-necked Tanager, Great Kiskadee, Thick-billed Euphonia, Russet-backed Oropendola, Golden-faced Tyrannulet and Purple Honeycreeper. Some pleasant surprises were a pair of Bay-headed Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, and a Plain Antvireo. I was tempted to stay another day but decided to move on, as I wanted to reach Bogotá before the weekend.
|A male Bay-headed Tanager.|
|A male Blue-naped Chlorophonia.|
|Despite being rather common, the Purple Honeycreeper is an exquisite bird.|
From Santa Maria the road past through a rather nice valley with excellent forest. It must have been excellent because it did not take too much effort to spot my first male Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, calling from a tree canopy beside the road! Though the views were brief, I was very satisfied with the find; a stunning bird in a stunning location. All too quick to get a photo though, and I was still in a rush to move on. After passing through some tunnels, the day passed to night, and so I was soon looking for a camping spot. At a house not far off I met some lovely Colombian folk who offered their backyard for camping. After chomping my through a few arepas for dinner, I was ready for bed. Early the next morning I took to the nearby Emerald Walking Trail, and found a couple lifers while admiring the surrounding mountain slopes; Golden-olive Woodpecker and Ochre-breasted Brushfinch. Loads of tanagers were about, and again, some more unidentified hummingbirds.
|Mind the wildlife, a sign just north of Santa Maria.|
|There were a number of tunnels on the way north from Santa Maria.|
|The start of the Emerald trail, an easy and scenic walk.|
|View over the Chivor Dam.|
|Freshly made sugar cane juice is irresistible.|
|Can't help yourself liking it, can you?|
I had taken a rather scenic route to get back to Bogota, via the towns of Quateque and Guasca. Though there was not much time left for birding, I still managed to see the regulars such as Inca Jay, Band-tailed pigeon, Tropical Parula, Magpie Tanager, Slate-throated Whitestart, Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, Yellow-backed Oriole, Andean Siskin, and White-tailed Kite. Closer to Guasca I stopped at the De Tomine Dam to see if there was anything interesting lurking in the aquatic vegetation. Standing well above the vegetation were two birds I was not expecting to see at this altitude, namely Whistling Herons. Sure, common in the Llanos and lower eastern slopes of the Andes, but what on earth were they doing here so close to Bogotá? Still much to learn about Neotropical bird life! Though there was not much else about, I did see Speckled teal, Spot-flanked Gallinule, American Coot, Pied-billed Grebe, and a Peregrine swooping past.
|A street in Guateque.|
|Countryside along the way from Quateque to Guasca.|
|View over the western corner of the De Tomine Dam near Guasca.|
|Colombian cyclists on the road near Guasca.|
That afternoon, rather late, I made the final descent from the mountain with stunning views over Bogotá bathed in golden rays from the setting sun. While admiring the scene from beside the road, I was offered a free drink by a restaurant waiter (!); a refreshing drink before hitting the rush hour traffic! My plan was to stay a short while in Bogota to get some bike repairs done, but instead I had my first taste of would it would be like to actually live there…
|Making it back to Bogota in good shape.|
|Late afternoon view over Bogota, enjoyed by Colombians.|
Notes for birders:
Two sites near Santa Maria are worth mentioning, the first being the forest at Santa Maria itself, and the second the valley to the north. Perhaps it is no surprise, but the forest at Santa Maria seemed to be a good spot for Cerulean Warbler. I found this species just a little above the town (at 4.864299, -73.258622) and further along the road, together with a host of other North America summer migrants.
To the north of Santa Maria the road passes through a forested valley where I had the sighting of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (at 4.878442, -73.270745). I could be mistaken, but it seemed to me the forest here is worth exploring. If I had more time I would have camped here for a night to get a better impression of the bird life. Santa Maria is close by so it would be an ideal base to bird from.