Monday, March 6, 2017

6 March 2017 - Playing in the snow

Typical March weather going on. Last week we had temps reaching the high 50's, even into the 60s. Saturday the wind hit. Freight train wind all day and night Saturday and Sunday. Sunday evening the wind let up and it snowed.  This morning I had a fresh eight inches of pretty good packing snow. 

There were so many things I needed to do that have been put off for too long. Surprise, procrastination crept in.  Here is the sum total of my accomplishments today.  If things are spiraling out of control, make a spiral. When is the last time you played in the snow? And used food coloring? 

If you can't remember, maybe you should put your galoshes on, go out and have some fun. 

Right after I posted this, I looked out the window to see my lovely neighbor Allison, with snow boots, walking the spiral. How perfect!

My brother always makes me laugh. I sent him a photo of my efforts and his text back was:
"Little bit of nervous energy today, Calvin?"

Pretty much. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

3 March 2017 - Colombia - The Santa Martas and El Dorado

Our next stop on the way to El Dorado took us to the town of Minca, which is the start of the Santa Marta mountains. Our lodging had wonderful areas to sit and relax or lounge in hammocks. Not that we ever had the time for it. 

But outside of the dining room, a balcony boasted both panoramic views across the valley and hummingbird feeders that compelled us to grab coffee and sit among the birds. 

Rufous-tailed hummingbirds (note pink bill)

White-vented plumeleteer (female) on right and rufous-tailed on left.

Steely-vented humingbird

White-necked Jacobin

We also had a Keel-billed Toucan come in for some mango. He's a regular visitor and is used to all the clicking of cameras and oohs and aahs of birders. He is sitting on the top edge of an open window. 

We had an early morning walk through Minca up into the jungle, back for lunch, then climbed into the 4x4s to get to El Dorado, much higher in the mountains. 

It took us several hours to get there as we stopped and birded several locations on the way. Some of the amazing birds on the way included:

Lineated Woodpecker. Serious fun watching
 a pair working on a nest in a hole of a dead tree. 

A Swallow tanager

This next Rufous-capped warbler was a surprise. The birds are often so high in the canopy, not to mention well camouflauged that sometimes getting a picture was point and pray. I was so happy to discover that the camera actually found this little guy.

Masked Trogan                 Broad-winged hawk

 Double-toothed kite             Black and white owl

Finally arrived at El Dorado, a private bird reserve run by ProAves whose mission is to protect birds and their habitats, especially now as only 15% of the Sierra Nevada's original vegetation remains after years of deforestation and agricultural assaults. 

El Dorado has been likened to the Holy Grail and as a Mecca for birders. In this 1800 acre reserve alone, just under 400 species have been identified. Birders say there are more, they just haven't been found yet. 

The preserve has wonderful lodging. It is a series of outbuildings each with four to six rooms.  They are not very close together and are tucked away in the trees. The rooms are beautiful with big windows for viewing. The main building (registration, dining and library)has decks that also provide up-close experiences with many birds. We also saw a kinkajou, crab-eating foxes, an agouti and red-tailed squirrels here in addition to the bird life.

The food was exquisite, and they even provide great breakfasts at four in the morning for early birders. 

You really know you are in a jungle forest when you can't see further than 5 to 10 feet, at most, off the side of the road. The trees are covered with bromeliads which further obstruct the view. All I could think of was Lewis Carroll's "dark and tulgey" wood and wonder when the bandersnatches were going to show up. 

We abandoned our luggage on the way to the rooms as the lodge had hummingbird and fruit feeders.  Oh boy. 

The fruit feeder was occupied by a female Black-capped tanager, a Bay-headed tanager and a small flock of Blue-naped chlorophonias.

I have mentioned how hard it is to see the birds. Here is a good example. The bird is first spotted with most of us looking up wondering what? where? Then you find it in the binos and realize it isn't a leaf. 

In this case, the sun actually illuminated our Groove-billed toucanet for just a minute. What a difference!

Later we saw an Emerald toucanet, which made it a two-toucanet day. 

But back to the feeders, the hummingbirds were swarming around them and squabbling over the perches. Quite a sight. 

White-tailed starfrontlet

Brown violetear     Violet-crowned woodnymph

Our next morning began with breakfast at 4am then taking 4x4s for the journey up to Cuchilla San Lorenzo. This took us to an elevation of 10,000 feet, high in the cloud forest. The sun would be shining, then the mist-filled fog would roll up the valley to the peak. It was an amazing thing to see. Even though the highest peaks still towered above us, it felt like we were on the top of the world. 

And here comes the fog.

We were really lucky that it cleared up and we were able to look across the valley and see  Pico Colon and Pico Bolivar, the highest peaks in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. At 18,942' they are still topped in glaciers. Since they are most often hidden by clouds, it was a treat to see them above the cloud layer. 

The goal for this area was to find Santa Marta endemics, or those birds only found in this one habitat. Here are a few:
Santa Marta parakeet

Santa Marta tanager

Santa Marta Brush-finch

One of my favorite birds from this day was a Cinnamon flycatcher. 

And so ends another day in Colombia.

I saw 308 species during our eleven-day sojourn.  It seems like I have inundated you with way too many pictures of birds, but compared to what we saw, it really is just a drop in the bucket.       

Sunday, February 26, 2017

26 February 2017 - Colombia, The Fun Stuff

During the trip, we gave ourselves bird names that we liked the sound of or thought fitting. Lynn became Shining Sunbeam which is a kind of hummingbird and extremely appropriate. She decided if she was in a bad mood (never happened) she would be a Paltry Tyrannulet. Barb chose Spangled Coquette, also a kind of hummingbird and equally apt.  

So often while we would be looking up at birds, Lynn would be fingering foliage or pinching petals. I would love to take a class from her. She is hysterically funny and I bet her students remember all the information because of the way it is presented. 

Begonias grow wild here--up near the cloud forest we found some that were at least four feet tall. Beautiful! We learned that the flowers were edible. Sweet and spicy. Barb is checking out the begonias on the side of the path. In the top right you can see a cluster of blooms taller than she is. 

Lynn would find a plant, pick a leaf, taste it, offer it to us to taste and then show us something interesting. 

Serious business, sap tasting.  

And the something funny?  Here she is showing us "the suggestive bud."

Another time we were shown a flower in the clitoria species. family. Yep. There really is such a thing. Many legumes fall into this species. 

She would break open pods and explain what we were looking at, and whether or not we should taste it. 


The people on this trip were extremely smart, but didn't mind being silly. Love that! Two mornings in a row we were up, breakfasted and in Land Rovers by 4 am for a two-hour drive to get to birding spots. The roads were about all a Land Rover could handle: a combination of huge ruts, big rocks, steep drop offs. It was probably just as well we couldn't see. Although the second morning, the headlights would not work on one of the cars, so our guide leaned out the window with a flashlight. The driver was not concerned, he said "I know this road, I drive it about 300 days a year."  Still. Scary. I know my roads, but I wouldn't drive them in the dark, and they are paved! We were hanging on to anything bolted down to help keep the body from jouncing and being thrown around. I think all of us had our heads banged hard against the side frame of the car. More than once. Aargh. Do you call a Land Rover a car?   

Since it was dark, nothing to see out the windows, the folks in my car entertained ourselves by singing rounds and playing word games including I am going to Colombia and I want to see a ____.  Colombian birds tend toward long descriptive names so it was challenging. After getting to Z we did it again backwards. My brain hurt. Then, since we still had time left, we did it again changing the first word to something ridiculous.  Hmm. I can't seem to remember all the silly names. 

Agami Heron                          Agnostic Heron
Buffy Hummingbird               Bodacious Hummingbird
Crested Caracara                     Chaotic Caracara
Dusty-capped Flycatcher        Dingy-capped Flycatehr
Elegant Tern                            Effervescent Tern
Flame-rumpted Tanager          Facitious-rumped Tanager
Golden-breasted Fruiteater
Horned Lark
Inca Tern                                 Iconoclastic Tern
Jabiru                                      Jabbering Jabiru
Keel-billed Toucan                 Kill Bill 3 Toucan
Laughing Gull                        Lugubrious Gull
Montane Woodcreeper           Morbid Woodcreeper
Neotropic Cormorant             Naughty Cormorant
Ornate Flycatcher                   Obstreporous Flycatcher 
Pied Water tyrant
Quail, Brown-fronted wood    Querulous Quail
Rufous-tailed hummingbird
Solitary Sandpiper                   Solicitous Sandpiper
Thick-billed Euphonia            Thin-lipped
Upland Sandpiper                    Uppity Sandpiper
Veery                                        Virginal Veery 
White-tipped Dove
Xenops                                     Xenophobic Xenops
Zone-tailed Hawk                    Zaftig-tailed Hawk

I was quite taken with the road signs, and the group indulged my obsession. When it was possible, Ricardo our bus driver, would pull over so I could get a picture. Since 99% of the roads we traveled were only two lanes, I was trying to get photos as we flew down the road. The caution signs really talked to me. In Utah we have caution signs for deer and cattle, occasionally moose and buffalo, but these?  Fun!


My favorite of these caution signs was for an anteater. I would so have liked to see one!  

Driving was more than a little scary. Two lane roads, fast speeds and many many motorcycles careening in and out between and beside cars and trucks. A quick google search revealed that motorcycles way outnumber cars in Colombia.  I was astonished at how quiet the motorcycles were. With so many bikes on the road it was wonderful not to listen to the roar. Loved it. But continuing with my road sign affair... I like this before and after set. 

This sign came in three versions: one, two and three bumps depending on what was up ahead. 

The signs with circles are a bit baffling. Finally figured out the half-black circles meant dim your headlights.  Not sure what the other one means. 


The falling rock signs are always a favorite of mine. There was a similar sign that had a man walking where the car is in the sign below and his arms were over his head. 

Not sure if this falls into the funny stuff category or if it is just seriously weird.  El Totumo mud volcano. It may be seriously weird, but it is one of the biggest tourist attractions around. Since it is surrounded by wetlands we were there for the birds. Unfortunately it was near dusk and extremely windy. 

This is the mud volcano. For about $13US, you can take the stairs to the top, climb down a ladder and get thoroughly covered in mud. For a couple more pesos you can pay someone to give you a massage. A mudsage?  Then you climb back up the muddy, slippery vertical ladder, down the stairs and head to the wetlands for a wash.  

Rumor has it that the mud is sticky, invasive and can take days to get it removed from all your body parts. It is also supposed to have healing properties. 

Other funny stuff?  Ladies, here's your sign. 

Then there was the closed Visitor's Center that was built in the shape of a hat. 

This next one is kind of a mystery. A ladder leaning against a palm tree with some fake coconuts newly painted green. Okaaay. 

Ever heard of the Seven Minute Workout?  It is a phone app that goes through 12 different exercises in seven minutes. It is supposed to be great for people who travel because you can do it in a hotel room. Vivian, Barb and Lynn are in great physical shape and take part in pre-ski season exercises, pilates and more. To our bemusement, they got their exercise in. Nope. Wasn't tempted to join. 

In the center of Cartegena's old town is a statue of the founder. 

It wouldn't be a proper statue or a birding trip without this. I think the caption is "Really? You had to do that on my epaulettes?"