Birder's Guide

MAR 2018

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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18 Birder's Guide to Travel | April 2018 Top 10 Birds in Colombia So began a journey—a quest, of sorts—devised, slowly, over the years prior to this trip in 2013. Colombia's eco- tourism sector was blossoming. I had had the privilege of traveling to and guiding bird tours in many of the rarely- visited corners of this natural wonderland in search of most of the prized bird and mammal species. Until a de- cade ago, few people considered traveling to Colombia because of its long civil war. After some two dozen visits, I had finally acquiesced to my boss's request to plan an itinerary that could net more than 1,000 bird species in less than a month. I should be able to pull off this feat now, or I never would, I told myself. That's the very brief backstory of how nine birders found themselves en route from Villavicencio to the most- ly uncatalogued backcountry of the Colombian Amazon, at Mitú. What transpired over the subsequent 27 days would become a legend in my mind, a series of events that I can recall only in bits and pieces now, nearly four years later. It was intense, and overwhelming, in the way only a journey seldom undertaken by any one individual can be. The trip spanned from the eastern border shared with Brazil to the west across all three Andean ranges within Colombia, including the two vast river valleys in between and a trek through the coastal and montane habitats of the Santa Marta mountain range and Guajira Peninsula to the north. We had days in sweltering rainforests follow- ing ant swarms and staring in awe of Guianan Cocks-of- the-rock on lek. We had days in freezing páramo (alpine "grassland") staring in awe of a Buffy Helmetcrest feeding on the most beautiful bright purple flowers imaginable, just after enjoying Rufous-fronted Parakeets flying out of the frozen rock crevices they roost in. In between, we had days all over the place, even an afternoon stroll on the beach with flamingos. Summing up the experience of that first Colombia "mega-tour" would take more words than anyone would care to read—or than I would care to write—and would still utterly fail to convey the sense of wonder and the respect for nature and local culture I felt with each new bird, new forest, and new town we visited. Rather than try to recapture the whole experience, I'll list the Top 10 sightings of that month. It was frustrating to choose only 10 out of 1,017 species we recorded on the tour, but it was done enthusiastically and with great care. Here are the A-listers: #1 • Santa Marta Screech-Owl Megascops sp. nov. There is something satisfying about seeing an "unde- scribed" species: It creates a great feeling of wonder, ac- companied by the quenching of a deep curiosity upon encountering a bird that is so "new". Such is the case with the Santa Marta Screech-Owl. It was suspected for years # 3 # 4 Photo © Gerard Savaresse Photo © Josh Beck

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