November 23, 2018, 4:50 pm
In the 1990s, the natural reserves of La Planada and Rio Ñambí were two of the most popular and in-demand destinations for birders, herpetologists, botanists, and anyone with an interest in the natural world in the whole of Colombia. Their incredible biodiversity brought some of the foremost experts in the world to the rainy Western Andean slopes of Nariño, and the names La Planada and Rio Ñambí were famous.
Then came the violence – at the turn of the century, the FARC moved into the region, principally to cultivate coca, and things took a turn for the worst. La Planada was forced into closing by FARC threats, and Altaquer – the small town alongside Rio Ñambí – lost around 95 percent of its population to forced displacement. However, since the recent peace accord, things are looking up, and these two stunning reserves are open for business and ready once more to welcome nature-lovers from all over the world.
I recently spent an incredible 10 days birding in the region, as part of the 14th annual Festival de Aves del Piedemonte Andino-Costero, and I firmly believe that this corner of Colombia has the potential to become one of the country’s premier birding destinations; no mean feat in the No. 1 country for birds on earth. Rio Ñambí and La Planada, in particular, boast excellent facilities, knowledgeable guides, and such a wealth of natural diversity that it truly takes your breath away.
La Planada lies alongside the jungle border with Ecuador, and has a bird list of almost 300 species, including some really range-restricted ones: the jewel in the crown there is the Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, a beautiful toucan found only at this one reserve in Colombia! They are common in La Planada as well: standing at the mirador at dawn, overlooking a breathtaking view over the jungle towards the distant volcanoes and mountains of Ecuador, you can hear their wailing calls all the time. When one finally lands in a nearby tree it’s enough to stop you in your tracks. Other amazing species that can be found at La Planada (all of which I was lucky enough to see) include the Hoary Puffleg, White-faced Nunbird, and Toucan Barbet.
Rio Ñambí Natural Reserve is at a lower altitude than La Planada and, consequently, boasts some distinct species. It’s one of the best places in Colombia to search for the enigmatic and beautiful Long-wattled Umbrellabird – another bird I managed to add to my list – as well as the Moss-backed Tanager, Baudo Guan, and more than 30 species of hummingbird. The dense jungle is home to a profusion of orchids, frogs, and insects as well as the truly surreal spectacle of fluorescent fungi, which glow strongly enough to light your way through the jungle at night! Did I find a 2-metre high stick covered in glowing fungi and pretend to be Gandalf in the darkness of the jungle? I’ll let you make up your own mind on that.
If I took one thing away from my time in this forgotten region of Colombia it’s that this country is just waiting to be explored and discovered and, for birders in particular, there is still so much out there to lift the lid on. So I would strongly urge anyone with an interest in nature, birding, or birding tours in Colombia to make time to explore La Planada and Rio Ñambí, you won’t regret it!
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