Thursday, January 12, 2017

Happy New Year backyard birding in Colombia

With 2016 in the bag, early January is typically for birders (when they're not out racking up first-of-year finds) a time to reflect on the passed year's birding achievements. Incredibly, four people individually smashed the ABA area big year record and this Dutch guy broke the world big year record that was just set in 2015.

I didn't set out to break any records in 2016, but incidental to all the international travel, I managed to log more than 1500 birds for the year. This was by far my personal biggest year and enough to make the top 20 on eBird. It's been such a whirlwind that I'm still working on writing up all the adventures and have photos of few birds I still don't know how to ID. 

Rather than try to pull out an arbitrary top 10 sightings as I have done in the past, instead I want to share the joy (or brag?) about where I've been spending my new years lately. One of the perks of having a Colombian novia is an obligatory annual trip to the world’s birdiest country. Trips to see in-law relatives stereo-typically involve some measure of dread, but not for me.  Natalia’s aunts, uncles, cousins and parents are all wonderful people and as a bonus I have had the chance to mark the end and beginning of the past three years spotting beautiful tropical birds.

“Barlovento,” Natalia’s uncles’ farm north of Cali, shouldn’t really offer much in the way of birds, given that it sits within a landscape dominated by sugar cane monoculture. Yet, after 12 years of planted tree growth, the parcel attracts a decent diversity of avifauna. In the handful of days I have stayed there, I have observed nearly 70 species, including some real lookers.

Yellow Oriole

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, a bird I've yet to see in the US
Spot-breasted Woodpecker
Cattle Tyrant
After Natalia's uncle started showing interest in printing some of the images he was seeing on the back of my camera, I started trying a bit harder to get some print-worthy crushes of some of the really common trashy stuff.
Bare-faced Ibis or 'Coquito' - you know it's a trash bird if has a common Spanish name

especially if the common name is taxonomically stupid as in this 'canario' or Saffron Finch
'Siriri' or Tropical Kingbird, the king of tropical trash birds 

Vermillion Flycatcher - prettiest trash bird?
dang this Scrub Tanager is arguably even better-looking

This 'Cocli' is definitely not trash. Buff necked Ibis used to be a common fixture in the Cauca Valley until they were hunted to brink of extirpation to be used in Sancocho (a soup). They are starting to make a comeback and the family of four that roosts in this palm at Barlo Vento is a huge source of pride.
Natalia’s parents' farm, "Kaliawirinae," suffers from a similar landscape challenge, with the surrounding areas dominated by cattle pasture. Forest fragments are general small and not-well connected. But this makes Kaliawirinae’s patch of forest an attractive oasis for birds. Natalia and others had documented nearly 150 species on site. I’m proud to have been able to contribute several new observations to the reserve’s list over the past few years and the list now sits at 169! Quite the yard list.

Straight-billed Woodcreeper

Chestnut-eared Aracari

Nesting Golden-bellied Euphonia pair

Great Potoo, my first ever potoo sighting back in 2013

Lettered Aracari

Oriole Blackbird or Gonzalito

Plumbeous Kite

Speckled Chachalaca or Guacharaca, the notoriously noisy bird that is hated for the cacophony it often makes at 4 am 

Tropical Screech-Owl

The newest addition to the Kaliawirinae list is  Chestnut-vented Conebill, a bird sufficiently rare in the area such that it has taken ornithologists decades to get a handle on its distribution.

First attempt, Hilty 1987 (red x marks Kaliawirinae)
Take two: Restall 2006

This map seems pretty good. McMullen 2010 
If I were to bird Kaliawirinae every day, it might take 6 months, but I'd eventually get the list up to 200 I'm sure. It sits at an ecosystem crossroads connecting the llanos savanna, Andean foothills and Amazonia, such that the common resident birds are an odd mix of birds typical of these regions. That means that the list of wanderers that could pass through is several hundred species long. To give you an example, a Hoatzin, the awkward Amazonian stinky turkey that dwells on oxbow lakes and other backwaters, showed up at Kaliawirinae despite the lack of anything resembling appropriate habitat.


  1. The second picture shows a Fork-tailed, not Scissor-tailed, Flycatcher.

  2. Very nice. I spent a week walking the streets of Tulua and it was impressive just what you could see in a strictly urban enviroment.
    If you need a scissor-tailed Flycatcher come see ours in Greenville County when he hopefully returns this summer.

    1. Thanks, Derek!

      I've got Scissor-tailed in Orange County, NC. It's Fork-tailed I need in the US! (though I'm not that into US/ABA listing anyway).

  3. Ah, ok. Good luck with that one.