After a 14 days tour to Pantanal in Brazil, I arrived in Bogota on the 15th October to continue my Odyssey into the Wild in Colombia. On this occasion it was in search of birds, especially those that are endemic to that country.

I spent the first two nights in Bogota, when I visited Chingaza National Natural Park, an hour’s drive from the capital. My bird guide Andres, was a good bird spotter and thanks to him I was able to photograph two endemic birds, namely the Silvery-Throated Spinetail and the beautiful Golden-Fronted Whitestart. Thereafter, Andres and I boarded an internal flight on 17th October to Medellin, located in the central region of the Andes Mountains of South America. It is the second largest city of Colombia after Bogota.

It took a further four hours by car to our destination Jardin, a small town with a population of about 5,000 people. On the way to Jardin, I was able to photograph another four endemic bird species. These were the Red-Bellied Grackle, Greyish Piculet, Antioquia Wren and the Apical Flycatcher. I stayed three nights in Jardin in search of birds endemic to Colombia, especially the Yellow-Eared Parrot, an endangered spices found in the Andes of Colombia.

According to Andres, these parrots are closely associated with wax palm trees that are found in this area. The parrots nest in the hollow trunk of the tree, while their main diet is the fruit of the wax palm. The wax palm is the tallest of palms in the world and it is also the national tree of Colombia. These trees are also classified as endangered. In the nineties, the numbers of the Yellow-eared Parrot on Planet Earth were drastically reduced to a number less than 100, mainly due to the harvesting of wax palm by humans for use on Palm Sunday, annually. However, the parrot population has increased to over 1,500 over last three decades, due to the efforts of local and international bird conservation organizations with the support of the local churches. They live in cloud forests from 1800-3000 meters above sea level.

On 18th October morning, at around 5 am we were on the road leading to a hilly area known as “Alto de Ventanous” at an elevation of 2900 meters. It took us about 90 minutes to reach our destination from Jardin, in search of the Yellow-Eared Parrot. At sunrise, we were at the destination and then we walked to a top of a hill where we could see the palm trees located in the valley of the surrounding mountains. This is the habitat of the parrots, but unfortunately quite far from our location. Since these species fly at sunrise in search of food, Andres scanned the terrain with his binoculars searching for the parrots. On one occasion, we sighted the parrots far up in the air for a few seconds.

Later, I used my drone to locate the palm tree where those parrots nested, but this was situated very far from our location and there was no access either by car or foot. The aerial view from the drone indicated another road access in the direction of the palm tree, closer than the current position. Andres suggested that next morning we should come back and try our luck, which we did.  We parked our vehicle at a research station nearby. Andres knew the research officer, who maintains a log of the movement of the parrots and other species in that area. Andres together with the research officer tried to get close to the identified palm tree, but it was impossible and they had to turn back. Later, once again we heard the sound of the parrots, and to my luck the parrots landed on a tree in the direction of the palm tree that we were focusing on. Although it was at far, I was able to capture a few images using my 800mm telephoto lens. Andres said this was the first time that he has seen the parrots at such a distance, visible to capture images. The parrots were there for a few minutes before they flew away from our sight.

It was a great day for me since I was able to photograph the Yellow-Eared Parrots. During the rest of my stay in Jardin, I was able to spot the beautiful “Andean Cock-of–the-rock”, a bird that I have not photographed before in the wild. These birds are native to South America and are found in tropical and sub-tropical rainforests close to rocky areas, where they build their nests. It is the National bird of Peru while the Andean Condor, a vulture species and one of the largest birds in existence, is the national bird of Colombia.

Text and pictures by B A Mahipala

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