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Category Archives: Trip Report

BEN BOX – BIRDWATCHING IN COLOMBIA

Glittering Starfrontlet – copyright Jim Lawrence

As anyone who watches birds will tell you, the best times of day to go out with your binoculars are dawn and dusk. This trip was no different and, on most days, it was a question of breakfast competing with an important bird or two. Take, for instance, the day we headed from Manizales to the Montezuma Rainforest Lodge in the buffer zone of the Parque Nacional Natural Tatamá in Colombia’s western Andean cordillera.

Tatamá – copyright Ben Box

We left Manizales very early and stopped at a small commercial centre on the outskirts of Pereira to pick up a group member. The little car park was, like every other stop, a chance to get out the binoculars and, lo and behold: a couple of macaws that should not have been there (out of their range; probably escaped from a private aviary). Next stop, also near Pereira, was Maracay. From the bus we walked into open grassland overlooking dry forest and the distant Río Cauca valley. In a new open-sided pavilion a fabulous picnic was laid out. So we ate and birded, adding to the tour’s bird list the endemic apical flycatcher, scarlet-fronted parakeet, spectacled parrotlet, bay-headed tanager, and migrant fork-tailed flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo.

Colombia Tatamá – Ben Box

Before too long we were on the road again, reaching the Montezuma Rainforest Lodge for lunch. The lodge’s feeders were alive with hummingbirds (I counted ten different species), saltators and tanagers, so we birded again while we ate. After lunch we moved uphill, but as the day wore on the clouds rolled in and by late afternoon the rain was so heavy, we called it a day. We did stop at a small bridge where our guide, Yesenia, put crumbs on the parapet and called “Olive Finch, Olive Finch”, but the bird was clearly sheltering from the rain too and never showed.

Next morning, the rain had moved away, and we loaded into the vehicles for the rough ride to the end of the road into the national park. Tatamá means grandfather of all the rivers and on the mountain sides across the gorge waterfalls tumbled and echoed from the ridges. Breakfast was snatched off the back of the pick-up because the hummingbirds up here were too good to miss: tourmaline sunangel, collared inca, dusky starfrontlet, velvet-purple coronet. accompanied by coffee and arepas we saw other colourful names, green-and-black fruiteater; purplish-mantled and golden-ringed tanagers; chestnut-bellied flowerpiercer, before descending slowly to the lodge as the rain rolled in again.

Footnotes:
Colombia is aiming to be the number one birding destination in the world, to match its status as the country with the most bird species in its territory (1,921 species). Many areas of the country that were out of bounds during the years of conflict are now open to tourists and birdwatching is increasing rapidly in popularity. The Colombian government is training guides and fostering bird-based tourism as a conservation and economic development tool. Five birdwatching routes are in development; two are open: The Northern Colombia Birding Trail and the Central Andes Birding Trail. This group travelled on much of the latter. Contact us for further details.

Ben was invited to join the birdwatching trip in Colombia by BirdLife International and guest of ProColombia.

To The End Of The World And Back, A Masterpiece

Guest Blog: Philip & Gillian Moss came on a four week bespoke adventure through Argentina and Chile. Below they write about their experience.

To the end of the world and back – the title David and staff chose for our trip of a lifetime to Argentina/Chile. Despite having discussed the trip in detail, made some adjustments and received a detailed personalised itinerary in a wonderful glossy picture brochure, little did we really imagine what awaited us.

Our first stop was Puerto Piramides on the Valdes Peninsula. We walked into our room at Las Restingas, situated on the beach, and there, from our balcony, we saw southern right whales out in the bay. Our adventure had really begun. Two trips out on the whaling boats brought us not just sightings but incredibly close encounters with mothers and their calves. Words cannot express the emotions at such an experience.

Las Restingas© Philip Moss

Puerto Piramides was referred to by some as a one-horse town, with nothing going on. Yes, it was isolated, the electricity may go off, the water may occasionally not heat up (neither happened to us) but you know what, the best time of day was when the day trippers went home and we were left to enjoy the lovely sandy bay – and the whales – all by ourselves!

Whales Valdes© Philip Moss

Onwards to Ushuaia, ‘Fin del Mundo’, a small but wonderfully characterful city – sporting many brightly coloured dwellings of varied constructions, including corrugated iron. A trip to the Harberton Ranch, where Tommy Goodall, great- grandson of Thomas Bridges, still manages the estate, enabled  close ups with Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins and a visit to a fascinating maritime museum set up by Natalie Prosser, Tommy’s wife. Cruising round Cape Horn on the Stella Australis brought adventures all of its own – clambering on and off zodiacs to land on remote shores – inc Cape Horn, where the weather changed from pleasant sunshine to snowstorm in the blink of an eye. Standing at the top of Cape Horn – if you could call a stoop ‘standing’, having had to crouch down to avoid being blown off, clothed in several warm layers of clothing and waterproofs, you could only wonder and admire explorers of bygone ages, especially when back on board enjoying the warm comforts of the ship.

After four days we disembarked in Chile where our highlight was a visit to the Torres del Paine National Park. A gloriously sunny day made the scenery clear, crisp and bright. The park itself was pristine, but I guess a 4million pesos fine and jail sentence provides a good incentive to take your rubbish away with you!

Torres del Paine© Philip Moss

Back into Argentina and El Calafate and a tour to the Moreno Glacier – awesome. Standing on the deck of a boat or strolling along the walkways you cannot help but be spellbound by the sheer size, the ice blue coloured streaking or the sudden ‘crack’ and calving as chunks of ice fall into the depths below.

Perito Moreno Glacier© Philip Moss

Another sunny day and we are in Bariloche touring the Lake District, one minute reminiscent of Switzerland, next of our own namesake in the UK, yet not ignoring the charm all of its own. An extended stay, due to the airport being unexpectedly ‘snowbound’ for two days, is not to be recommended but was expertly dealt with by SLA and its agents and made what was a difficult situation bearable. Finally away we flew to the Iguazú falls. Our first experience was from the Brazilian side. It was jaw dropping and we were doubtful the Argentinian side could compete the following day. However, with sunshine thrown in there was certainly no disappointment to even consider.

Iguazu Falls© Philip Moss

And so to the close of our trip – a five hour bus ride and then four hour car transfer to Estancia Rincon del Socorro in the Iberá wetlands. Going that distance we knew it had to be worth it; and it was. Not surprisingly it was out in the middle of nowhere so you were surrounded by nature in the raw and bird life and wildlife abounded, not only around the estancia but in the extensive surrounding grounds, where we witnessed a snake peeing and lagoons where birds and cayman flourished.

Ibera© Philip Moss

Our accommodation throughout was first class and our ‘alternative’ title for the trip was ‘Rooms with a View’. A phenomenal trip, well organised, managed and ‘executed’. A true masterpiece.

To start planning your tour of Latin America, get in touch with us here.

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