Sunday, August 20, 2017

A birdy wedding

Dear readers,

Apologies for the radio silence, but it has been a busy couple months.

June was mostly consumed by a wedding (featuring myself as the groom and Natalia as the bride) and associated family travel in Colombia. And then much of July was spent in Mexico, my first trip south of that ever increasingly controversial border.

More on Mexican pajaros will come later. For now, at the risk of coming off as vain, I want to take some blog space to cover a rare example of a birder wedding. Not only was this a wedding between two birders, but also everything was bird themed.

origami bird backdrop to the wedding

Bird cake.

Cake toppers; Jabiru and Maguari Stork

Birds in the bride’s hair.

Bird on the groom’s lapel.

looks like a N. Cardinal!

Being an outdoor wedding, birds were invited, though naturally only synanthropic species were able to attend, such as Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Saffron Finch, Tropical Kingbird, Ruddy Ground-Dove, etc.

Each table had a bird mascot, and thus all guests were required to do some bird identification to match their name cards with the table sign-posts.

the coveted Blue Jay table

Identify the bird or you don't get to eat dinner

But let's get to some live action birds before everybody gets confused about what kind of blog this is.

Post-wedding we took my visiting immediate family (parents, two brothers, their wives, 3 nieces and two nephews (ages 10 months through 11 years) on a two-week tour of Colombia. We split our time between the coffee-growing region and the Caribbean coast. Both these regions are known for their birdwatching potential (indeed there isn’t really a place in Colombia without tons of bird diversity), but given the range of interests and abilities among our party of 13, bird sightings were mostly incidental to more family-friendly activities.

Nevertheless, when in the tropics even with minimal effort, some astonishing bird things just always seem to happen. Before we even left Cali, we made sure to hit up Finca Alejandria, where birding is made completely effortless thanks to the 30 hummingbird feeders and trays of bananas.

Long-tailed Sylph, Finca Alejandria at km 18

Golden Tanager looking for some bananas

Banana feeders are great because they attract a wide range of frugivores. Here's a Red-headed Barbet chowing down.
We made two trips to Alejandria. Once for a pre-wedding photo-shoot and then again a couple days later with the fam. Both times the highly-desired Multicolored Tanager (Endangered and endemic to Colombia) put in an appearance.

Multicolored Tanager

Multicolored Tanager

After the end of the official festivities, we travelled by bus to coffee-growing region north of Cali. From a vacation farmstead near Armenia we made forays to various local attractions including: Parque el Café (kind of a coffee-themed version of a Busch Gardens amusement park); Panaca (a farm-animal themed park, which unlike Parque del Café, has stuck a bit more to its core theme and not built tons of roller coasters and other conventional crowd-pleasers); Salento and the scenic Cocora Valley; and birdiest of all, the Quindio Botanic Garden.

Southern Lapwing in a pasture in the Cocora Valley
Natalia has a way of attracting news cameras and as soon as we arrived at the botanic garden, the film crew that just so happened to be shooting a piece on bird watching, immediately wanted to interview the both of us with our binoculars and cameras in hand. Within the hour we were on national news talking about the value of the site for conservation and its attractiveness for birdwatchers.

Shall we review?

The place has a bunch of hummingbird and tanager feeders (check and check).

Messy looking adolescent male Flame-rumped Tanager transitioning into adult plumage, Jardin Botanico de Quindio

It’s also got a canopy tower, a rare commodity in Colombia.

The birdwatching feature that impressed me most was the forest bird blind. Instead of the usual small open windows to peer through, the entire wildlife-facing front was a giant panel of polarized glass. This allowed birdlife (and mammal life, there was an agouti present) to approach well within excellent bare-eye viewing range without being startled. It also could accommodate large groups without people obstructing each other’s views.  I had never seen a blind like this before. With feeding stations bringing in a steady parade of birds and with the darkness of the fully enclosed shelter and the largeness of the polarized viewing pane, it felt like sitting in some kind of live-action wildlife movie theatre.

As evidence of the effectiveness of the polarized glass at the Jardin Botanico de Quindio blind, I present this Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, a normally skittish bird that sat out in the open a few meters from a less than silent group of 25 or so casual observers. This photo taken through the glass turned out pretty well too.

The one disadvantage of this site is that it is a relatively small fragment of forest, isolated from protected areas in a sea of degraded agricultural and pastureland. It lacks the hyper diversity and specialty species would make it a worthwhile stop for high-level birders. For the Neotropical novice, however, it is not to be missed.

The last leg of the family tour was spent along the Caribbean Coast, most notably, at Tayrona National Park, home of the Lance-tailed Manakin and Cotton-top Tamarin, among other creatures.

The critically endangered Cotton top Tamarin. endemic to northern Colombia. These guys are not difficult to see in Tayrona NP.

Tayrona brought back some fond memories from my first trip to Colombia back in 2010.

Crested Caracara with prey on the beach at Tayrona National Park

After the obligatory stop through Cartagena we newly-weds skedaddled off to Mexico City. What kinds of fascinating birds would Mexico bring for us? Stay tuned to find out.


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