Birder's Guide

AUG 2013

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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take place without incident throughout the year. In early 2012, the Colombian government declared that 94% of the country was safe for travel, and indeed, the nation's tourism industry has been blossoming over the past several years, with no slowing in sight. distinct chain of mountains with high levels of endemism), harbor tantalizing numbers of bird species found nowhere else on Earth. Several areas of Colombia's remotest parts have yet to be explored by scientists, undoubtedly hiding species new to science and the world. Colombia's Natural Bounty A Birder's Paradise An indirect consequence of the armed confict is that paramilitary and revolutionary groups have limited large-scale development of Colombia's extensive forested and savannah regions. In this way, the unfortunate confict has had the fortunate side effect of preserving and protecting vast swaths of critical habitat for birds and other wildlife, leaving many ecosystems and landscapes unspoiled and pristine. A biologist's dream, Colombia is truly one of the world's mega-diverse countries, and is considered by some to be the most biologically diverse country on Earth. With vastly different eco-regions supplying endless possibilities for adventure and discovery, it's easy to see how intoxicating a nation this can be for birders. Colombia's geography is the key to its biological richness and natural wonder. Varied climates, two coasts, and ever-changing landscapes host an inconceivable array of species, many of which have only recently been discovered. The country is usually divided up into fve regions: Amazon, Andean, Caribbean, Pacifc, and Orinoco (or Llanos). Near the Ecuadorian border, the Andes split into three distinct chains: the Western, Central, and Eastern cordilleras. The divergence and separation of these three massive mountain chains, along with ample geologic time and distinct environmental factors, endowed Colombia with a plethora of unique ecosystems and habitats. Endemic species of all classes can be found throughout the country. Many areas, such as the species-rich Andean, Chocó, and Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (itself a With new avian species consistently being discovered (or rediscovered, like the oncethought-extinct Fuertes's Parrot in 2004), Colombia is the Holy Grail for birdwatchers. Nearly 1,900 bird species have been recorded in the country thus far, among them more than 70 species endemic to Colombia. Several years ago, intrepid birding-tour agencies began slowly but steadily building an increasingly visible presence in the country. Birding tours continue to pave the way for wildlife tourism in Colombia. Most agencies offer tours lasting from 6 to 30 days, visiting the Andean chains, Caribbean coast, and Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. It's not unheard of for birders to walk away with 600–800 species, and that's just on the short tours! Tips for Traveling Although Colombia's tourism industry is in its infancy, there are positive signs that the country is preparing to become a top destination for international travelers. The government is investing more heavily in infrastructure projects, linking key travel areas, and reopening regions which were previously off limits due to insecurity. Hotels, eco-lodges, reserves, and other small operations are beginning to establish themselves near main highways and travel routes, providing visitors with amenities once only available in the large cities. Colombia can be tricky to navigate even for the most seasoned traveler. It is advisable to research a tour with an established agency and let it do all the planning and logistics. Many key birding sites are pri- Top to bottom: q Thankfully, the striking Red-bellied Grackle is easy to see near Medellín. Photo © Adam Riley. q You may fnd your luggage carried via pack animal on the way to some reserves. Photo © Tim Mitzen. q The isolated Santa Marta range is a virtual island of habitat, and home to many endemics, like this Santa Marta Parakeet. Photo © Nick Athanas. q The odd frailejón (Espeletia sp.) grows high in the Andes above the treeline in an open habitat called páramo. Photo © Tim Mitzen. 32 Birder's Guide to Travel | August 2013

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