November 20, 2018, 6:42 pm
I swallowed the last sip of beer from the bottom of my mug and jabbed at my phone several times to request a taxi. I explained to my friends that while it was indeed Friday and the night was still young, I had to turn in early because I was going on a birding tour the next day.
“What exactly happens on a birding tour,” one friend wanted to know. “I’m no expert, but I think you look for birds,” I responded. Beer makes me sassy.
If the bar wasn’t so noisy, I would have explained to the group that after doing some research, I learned Colombia was actually a prime destination for birdwatching because it’s home to more than 1,800 native and migratory species. The country also has more than 110 officially designated Important Bird Areas, or IBAs. The program to determine IBAs in Colombia started back in 1996 with the ultimate goal of protecting and preserving bird habitats.
So at 8:30 with the bar music blasting and my friends ordering another round, I headed home to sleep, because as everyone knows, the early bird gets the worm. The day of the birding tour, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and while I groggily stumbled to the shower, I heard the tweets of birds outside my window. Oh good, they’re awake, I thought and wished I could somehow let them know I would be seeing some of their friends soon.
I am by no means a birding expert. Calling me a novice even seems generous, but since I now live in one of the most biodiverse countries in the world – Colombia – I figured this was a great place to start learning about these feathered creatures.
The van picked me up and we headed to La Florida, a 660-acre park spanning across wetlands in the western part of Bogotá. The park is an IBA and the marshy habitat makes it a prime destination to spot birds. We arrived to the park around 6:30 in the morning and sipped on some café con leche (coffee with milk) outside the entrance.
The park was still and peaceful. Early morning dew made the grass glisten and the air was chilly. We were provided binoculars and the guides showed me how to properly use them. Seconds after the binoculars were distributed, we heard the faint sounds of chirps. I pointed my binoculars towards a tree and spotted a small, brown bird hopping from branch to branch. The guide informed me I was looking at a House wren (Troglodytes aedon) and we spent a few minutes peering up at it before continuing along the path that snakes through the park. The guides were very knowledgeable and seemed like they had spent their whole lives doing nothing but studying birds. They alerted us to White-tailed Kites (Elanus leucurus), Tropical Kingbirds (Tyrannus melancholicus) and Brown-bellied Swallows (Notiochelidon murina) to name a few. They were able to identify certain species by only hearing melodic chirps. One guide pulled out his phone and showed us an app that mimics certain birds, hoping we could attract more species.
The park was nearly empty of people except for a few other birders. I met a burly man standing on the bank of a lake, scanning the reeds for signs of bird movement. He quietly told me he has been a birder for 30 years and has gone birdwatching all over the world, including Antarctica. When I asked him the most important thing he learned from birdwatching, he replied that this hobby has taught him patience above all else.
He repeated a piece of advice a fellow birder once told him: “If it’s your time to see the bird, you will see the bird.” I would like to think this kind of mentality can also be applied to life.
About 2 hours into the tour, we stopped to nibble on some queso con bocadillo. This traditional Colombian snack is a slice of cheese similar to mozzarella resting upon a wedge of guava paste. I looked around while munching on my cheesy-sweet snack. Andean ducks were swimming in the nearby lake, a stray dog jovially splashed around in a different part of the lake and massive trees blocked the sun moving higher in the sky.
In all, we spotted 23 different bird species on the tour. Here is a list of birds we spotted:
• Apolinar´s wren (Cistothorus apolinari)
• White-throated Tyrannulet (Mecocerculus leucophrys)
• Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)
• Brown-bellied Swallow (Notiochelidon murina)
• Great Thrush (Turdus fuscater)
• American coot (Fulica americana)
• Common gallinule (Gallinula galeata)
• Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis)
• Black vulture (Coragyps atratus)
• White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus)
• Smoky-brown Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus fumigatus)
• Eared dove (Zenaida auriculata)
• Rock dove (Columba livia)
• Sparkling Violetear (Colibri coruscans)
• House wren (Troglodytes aedon)
• Rufous-collared Sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis)
• Yellow-hooded Blackbird (Gallinula galeata)
• Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis)
• Southern lapwing (Vanellus chilensis)
• Bare-faced Ibis (Phimosus infuscatus)
• Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)
The tour concluded with how every experience should end, with food. We ate at a nearby restaurant that offered typical Colombian breakfast such as tamales, arepas, eggs and of course hot chocolate. I not only learned more about birds in Colombia, but about birdwatching itself.
Whether you are a bird expert or novice, this tour is a great experience because of the knowledgeable guides, tranquil landscape and abundant bird species.
Here are some tips if you take this tour:
• Bogotá can get very chilly, so remember to dress warmly.
• Wear bug repellent because the mosquitos are feisty.
• Boots and an extra pair of socks are recommended because you will be walking through muddy terrain.
• Go to sleep early the night before the tour. You can spot more birds early in the morning.
Share with your traveller friends!