Travel Report on Birding Jardin and Las Tangares, Colombia, Feb. 19, 2017

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I last reported from Manizales in the Andean Central Cordillera (range).  From Manizales I traveled February 5th by private car down through the Cauca River Valley, which runs between the Central and Western Cordilleras, and up to Jardin which lies in a central plateau on the Western Cordillera.  Jardin is a small town with brightly painted two-story buildings and a wonderful central Plaza with the impressive neo-gothic iglesia on its east side.  My first night I was forced to book a room just outside of town as most of the hotels were full; I moved into town the second and third nights, but was unhappy with the hotel I chose.  I moved a second time, this time to the wonderfully cheap and centrally located Hotel El Dorado, just off the Plaza.  For a large, bright room, large bathroom with hot water, creaky wooden floor, and friendly staff I paid just 30,000 Pesos per night ($10).  Breakfast I found each day at the wonderful Café Fuente del Sabor, open 7 days a week at 5:30 am (perfect for birders), with 3 scrambled eggs, white cheese, an arrepa (Colombia’s famous maize bread), donut and huge “soup-bowl” of hot chocolate – for 5,500 Pesos (just under $2).

Most birding was done on the 4-wheel-drive track road which runs over a pass at just under 10,000 feet before dropping to Rio Sucio on its way to the Cauca Valley.  With my guide Alejandro, and a different Willy’s Jeep and driver each time, we birded the Jardin-Rio Sucio Road every other day for roughly 7 to 8 hours.  The area if famous for its rich and varied bird life on this road, and I was successful in photographing many species including the Slate-backed Chat-Tyrant, Lachrymose Mountain-Tanager (yes, it has a yellow tear-drop spot behind the eye), Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, Saffron-headed Tanager, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher and the endangered, only recently rediscovered and endemic, Yellow-eared Parrots.

Very close to town, in a Lek (special display areas, used annually by certain types of male birds for attracting females) on a heavily forested steep hillside, a couple of dozen Andean Cock-of-the-Rock males gathered morning and evening for raucous jousting on the dark forest boughs, hoping to attract a female.  Andean Cock-of-the-Rock males are among the most striking and beautiful of the world’s birds.  Normally the Cock-of-the-Rock leks are notoriously hard to find and notoriously hard to get to, and support few individuals.  This particular lek is unlike any I ever have heard of, and the birds are numerous, though difficult to photograph in the very dim light, with the perpetual intervening twigs and leaves.

The town plaza filled each evening with kids and dogs and folks strolling and sitting and eating from the dozens of food vendors.  I sat on a bench, sipping my red Argentinian wine from a plastic coke bottle, smoking my pipe and watching the activity.  Many elderly women, apparently single, dressed high fashion (to my eyes), walked through the plaza.  Most who passed me turned and smiled (not common with other folk).  I got the distinct impression that many wealthy widows, and/or divorcees, moved from the larger cities to Jardin for the beautiful county life, and perhaps were looking for the prospect of a not-quite elderly gentleman to join them.

After 8 days in Jardin, I hired a private car and driver again to transport me to Reserva Las Tangares, another ProAves Foundation bird reserve, located on the western slopes of the Western Cordillera.  I stayed in the somewhat rustic lodge rooms (they had electricity and good hot-water “showers,” though as was common throughout, the cheaper lodging’ showers don’t actually have shower heads, just the overhead water pipe – it does ensure good water output).  I once more was served too much food, with three meals a day plus the constant pushing of snacks and drinks between meals.  A tropical issue was having the dining tables out under an open palapa, overlooking the beautiful rapids of the Atrato River, which wound entirely around half the lodge property; the lights in the palapa at breakfast, before dawn, attracted hundreds of different insects to the white table-clothes below.  I have included a photo of an unusual leaf insect with huge pincers.

The Reserve’s guard, who knew most of the birds well, acted as my guide and drove me daily up the 4-wheel track road that passes back east over the ridge to drop into a central valley.  The road is famous for its variety of tanagers and many other rare and special birds.  Everywhere, as was common also in the Central Cordillera, debris from recent land-slides broke through the roads, and left many places where I worried the ground would give way under us.  All mountain slopes run at least 45 degrees, and many run to almost sheer cliffs, yet are covered with high trees and vines.  Photographs were difficult to take through the heavy vegetation and in the high trees – of course this is a common complaint for everywhere.  I have included shots of the Flame-rumped Tanager, Scrub Tanager, Ornate Flycatcher, the near endemics Velvet-purple Coronet and Violet-tailed Sylph, Empress Brilliant, the endangered and endemics Black-and-Gold Tanager and very rare Red-bellied Grackle.

From Las Tangaras I came by private car to Medellin to plan my final days in Colombia.  Medellin, like Bogota, is a large, clean and very modern city.  I am staying in the Poblado District where I am sure I am far from the probably less savory parts of the old town and surrounding areas.  Until later.  Dave

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