06 September 2010

Lago Calima

For the budget traveler, there is really only one way to get around in South America: public transportation. Luckily, the public transport systems are well set up, and it is near impossible to not get a cab while in even the most modest sized towns. However, for the long hauls across mountain ranges and between towns, the best option by far is to go by bus. I had heard the legends of the Latin American bus rides, but suddenly I was faced by my first one. We were traveling from Bogota to Cali, which, looking at a map, didn't seem all that far to me. In fact, I would've been surprised if it was more than five hours.

It turns out I was five hours short on my estimate.

An entire day was swallowed up by the unending mountain ridges and expansive river valleys of central Colombia. Some of the most incredible canyons I have ever seen carved through razorback ridges on their ways to Colombia's major rivers. The tropical lowlands amazed me, and I saw such cool birds as Striated Heron and Squirrel Cuckoo from the buses windows. This bus turned out to be the nicest of the whole trip - large windows, sleeper seats, and the occasional bad fighting movie. However, by days' end we were finally into Cali, and after a short night's sleep were off on our next bus, this one to the north of Cali, to a small town called Darien. This bus, thankfully, was much shorter and proved to contain a few more life birds for me, such as Saffron Finch and Cocoi Heron. We then arrived at Darien with time for a short walk along the lake to see what was out and about and specifically to look for a new taxon of hummingbird that was recently described. As we walked out, the life birds stacked up and overwhelmed me. Flame-rumped Tanagers flew through the trees, a Crested Bobwhite called nearby and Grassland Yellow-Finches were flushed left and right. We soon found a nice copse of trees, and began our vigil for the hummingbird. The trees were abuzz with Western Emeralds and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds and we soon spotted our target bird briefly: the Black-capped Woodnymph. A paper recently published describes this distinctive hummer only found around Lago Calima, essentially identical to a Green-crowned with a black cap. What exactly will happen to it taxonomically is yet to be determined.

Darien, Valle de Cauca, Colombia: The view from our hotel room.

The next morning we went to check out some other woods, and I saw my first ever woodcreeper (a Montane) and my first ever antbird (Bar-crested Antshrike). Everywhere I turned, I was overwhelmed with the awesomeness that is neotropical birding. Blue-black Grassquit, Spectacled Parrotlet, and Crimson-backed Tanager all put in excellent appearances. A few of our familiar North American birds also showed themselves, including the resident Colombian subspecies of Acorn Woodpecker and the interesting South American subspecies of Black Phoebe. However, at this point during my travels, I began to feel sick, and slowly wandered down to the hotel. That afternoon, as I relaxed and hoped for the best health wise, we took a bus back to Cali and began plotting our next ornithological move in Colombia.

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