Exploring New Mexico’s Natural Wonders With Family

Well, my time in Albuquerque has come to a close and Ive now headed further south to spend the first month of the year in Las Cruces! I am really looking forward to my continued exploration of this beautiful and fascinating state, but I am still really fond of Albuquerque and hope to make it back here in the next few months. One of the more interesting things about my time in Albuquerque is discovering that I have family there! Not only do I have family there, but I actually really enjoy hanging out with them! Luckily enough my Grandfathers brothers son and his wife (if you know the technical term for this relation please let me know) enjoy spending time outdoors and were hospitable enough to tote me around to several notable birding and hiking destinations. Like most New Mexicans they are very proud of their beautiful state, and they made for excellent company as we explored some of New Mexico’s natural wonders together.

Woodhouses Scrub Jay – Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks, Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico

You dont get to choose who you are related to. It seems like most Americans view family as a hefty obligation that you have to hang out with a few times a year and then you take to social media to complain about it behind their backs. Well luckily the New Mexico branch of my family would fit in really well with the Michigan branch of my family and they were super enjoyable to spend time with! As mentioned, they also happened to really like spending time outdoors. They were gracious enough not only to take me to Bosque Del Apache but also to Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks for hiking and birding excursions. In the case of Tent Rocks not only did they introduce me to a local I would not have seen on my own, they were also full of knowledge about the area.  Tent Rocks National Monument is a truly breathtaking and unique place, and like all spectacular geologic formations, it gives you a feeling of being on another planet.

Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks – Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico

From the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources: 

Kasha-Katuwe means ‘white cliffs’ in Keresan, the traditional language of the nearby Pueblo de Cochiti. Delicately layered sand, gravel, volcanic ash, and tuff of the Peralta Tuff Member of the Bearhead Rhyolite and sand and gravel of the Cochiti Formation, which are older units in the Jemez Mountain volcanic field, have been eroded into fragile to robust spires with balanced rocks perched on top. The hoodoos, erosional cones, and pedestal rocks that characterize Tent Rocks form as the result of differential erosion (Smith, 1996). Water and, to a lesser extent, wind erosion preferentially attacks the moderately-indurated sand and ash grains around the base of large blocks in the gravel-rich beds. Eventually, the gravel clasts rest on pedestals, thus protecting the underlying sand and ash from further erosion. As time passes, the capstones are gradually undermined and the rocks topple, leaving an unprotected cone.

While I still have no idea what some of that means, it makes for very fascinating viewing and a very dramatic backdrop for hiking and birding. We were lucky enough to have a perfectly clear and bright blue day for hiking, and once we reached the peak we could view all the surrounding mountain ranges in their entirety. The day we went was crowded according to the park ranger, but it still ended up being an amazing day trip. I appreciated that they had set up nice picnic areas right near the ample parking area and that there were bathrooms.

Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks – Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico

Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks – Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico

Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks – Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico

Tent Rocks also did provide some excellent bird watching! I was able to get great views of Townsend’s Solitare and Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay in the picnic area at the base of the trails. As mentioned earlier there are some wonderful picnic areas set up, and if you are planning a visit it makes for a wonderful place to enjoy a packed lunch. Once we got to hiking there was not much space for birding, so most of my quick bird scouting was done in the picnic area. Many parts of the trail are narrow so it would be slightly awkward to bird at a lot of the places on the way up or down.

Townsends Solitare – Tent Rocks, Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico

 

In addition, I also got to see a Sage Thrasher. One of my favorite aspects of birding is when you see a bird that… well… you didn’t know was a bird. As I am working harder and harder at honing my birding skills and birding for longer and longer periods of time, it’s becoming much more rare to find birds that I didnt know exist.  I was lucky enough to have one of those magical moments with Sage Thrasher which had apparently escaped my notice when I was doing research into targets in New Mexico.

Sage Thrasher – Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks – Cochiti Pueblo – New Mexico

Besides Tent Rocks, they also arranged a second day trip. Since no birder can visit New Mexico without a visit to Bosque Del Apache I jumped at the chance when my Aunt and Uncle (well not really my Aunt and Uncle as mentioned above I think technically they are my second cousins or cousins once removed or something) invited me to join them on a day-long excursion there. In addition to checking off a box by visiting Bosque Del Apache, they informed me no visit (birder or non-birder alike) to New Mexico is complete without Green Chili Cheeseburger and Buckhorn Burger (right at the ‘gateway’ to Bosque Del Apache) fit the bill for fulfilling that! Seriously these were absolutely knock your socks off amazing cheeseburgers. Do yourself a favor and stop in there. Even though I look like half of my eyebrow is missing I love this photo: 

I’m sure many detailed posts about Boque Del Apache exist. I’m sure many posts with much more high definition photos exist as well (when I went in December there was probably over $200,000 of photo equipment collectively being used) so I will spare you a million photos of Sandhill Cranes and Geese. This place has deservedly gained a reputation as one of the best places for bird photography in the US, but in my opinion it’s so much more than that.  If you are in this part of the world seriously – just go. Even if you aren’t a birder per se there are sites aplenty to keep you entertained. I mean which warm-blooded ‘merican doesn’t like a Bald Eagle?

Bald Eagle – Bosque Del Apache, New Mexico

Sandhill Crane – Bosque Del Apache, New Mexico

One of the main things that makes Bosque Del Apache so awe-inspiring is the sheer number of birds. Everywhere you look there are oodles and oodles of birds. Seriously someone needs to invent a different shorthand to express the fact that there are a metric fuck ton of birds here. Simply putting ‘x’ on your ebird list does not do it justice. As my friend Wyatt suggested ‘xxx’ would be more apt. There is just something indescribable about seeing tens of thousands of birds all at once that knocks the socks off off casual nature lovers. Perhaps its that it makes you ponder the wonders of nature? Perhaps its that it makes you feel so small in this immeasurably vast world? Well, you won’t know until you go and see for yourself.

Sandhill Cranes – Bosque Del Apache, New Mexico

Snow Geese and Rosses Geese – Bosque Del Apache, New Mexico

Lastly one of the last highlights of Bosque Del Apache was not even avian! It was mammalian! The Javelina is a pig like (its a pig cousin actually) inhabitant of the park that was kind enough to grace us with its presence. As my Aunt aptly pointed out, it would make a great star in a Disney movie. As mentioned with the Sage Thrasher there is something spectacular about seeing an animal you never knew existed, and I was over the moon to encounter this fascinating looking animal.

Javelina – Bosque Del Apache – New Mexico

A little info on Javelina from Texas Parks and Wildlife –

Javelina travel in small herds or “family groups” and seem to have a somewhat limited home range. In the winter, they are generally active in the early morning and late afternoon. Javelina are largely nocturnal during the hotter times of the year. They feed primarily on cacti (particularly prickly pear), mesquite beans, lechuguilla, sotol, mast, fruits, and insects.

Javelina – Bosque Del Apache, New Mexico

Fewer things in the world make me happier than viewing wildlife and birds. The only thing that makes it better for me is doing so with excellent company, and luckily my Aunt and Uncle provided exactly that. As mentioned earlier I am now in the south of the state in Las Cruces, so sadly I dont get to see them as often. I have been seeing some excellent birds though! I look forward to posting in the next week (I’m trying to get back to my original posting schedule of twice a month) and am excited to share my birding adventures and new species from this part of the state!

 

 

 

 

 

Birding Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Sandhill Crane – Los Poblanos Open Spaces, Albuquerque, New Mexico

When most people think about birding New Mexico their minds jump to one place – Bosque Del Apache. While Bosque Del Apache is one of the most notable birding places in the whole southwest, and some would say the whole country, Albuquerque proper also offers some great opportunities to rack up species and practice bird photography. Its been a city I have thoroughly enjoyed for a number of reasons, and high on that list of reasons is that I have seen a lot of birds and new species here.  I’ve spent roughly three weeks here since November and its offered an interesting change of pace and living environment for me. The state’s motto is ‘The Land of Enchantment’ and everything I have experienced in this state (and Albuquerque) has led me to believe that it is a very apt motto. 

Says Phoebe – Tingley Beach, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sadly Albuquerque is a bit bereft of useful and efficient public transportation, so all of the places I have written about here were accessed via ride share services such as Lyft and Uber. I feel like this is less of a problem with just Albuquerque and more symptomatic of how the US operates in general. As a country, we just do not prioritize public transportation and I’ve become surprised when I end up in a city with even mediocre public transport. Luckily the first Airbnb I was staying in was within walking distance to Tingly Beach and rideshare services were prevalent for anything not in walking distance. 

Brown Creeper – Tingley Beach, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The different places I’ve been bird watching in Albuquerque are special for different reasons. So far, my favorite spot is Petroglyph National Monument. Petroglyph National Monument is located about 15 minutes from downtown Albuquerque via rideshare. We headed to the Rinconda Canyon trail which was fairly flat and could most likely be done if you have mild mobility issues. I would assume the main difficulty walking here would come from the fact you are waking in sand. They had clean bathrooms but I dont believe there were any water fountains.

Petroglyph National Monument makes for an incredibly unique birding experience particularly because of the Petroglyphs from which it derives its name, and the ecosystem. The National Monument attracts a wide variety of visitors to view a wide array of Petroglyphs (etchings/carvings) on the volcanic rock. The drawings have been dated from 400-700 years ago and are from the Native Americans, early Spanish settlers and westward settlers. From their website

‘The geology of the area shows the remnants of volcanic eruptions of 200,000 years ago. The basalt from these flows caps the sandstone of the Santa Fe Formation. As the softer sandstone erodes away, the basalt breaks off and tumbles down the hillside. This action provided the escarpment where the petroglyphs were carved.’

The other really interesting aspect of Petroglyph is that its an ecosystem that I have never been to before! According to the National Parks Service “Petroglyph NM is located in the transition zone between Great Plains, Great Basin, and Chihuahuan Desert grasslands. Nine vegetation communities have been identified in the monument, with grasslands and shrublands dominant.” I was able to find this dense but extremely interesting report about the types of vegetation. According to the National Park Service and National Resource Stewardship, Rinconda Canyon is comprised of ‘Mixed Semi-Desert Shrubland and Warm Semi-Desert Shrub & Herb Wash Arroyo’. While I do not exactly understand what this meansfor me, it meant I got to see two new and striking Sparrows – Sagebrush Sparrow and Black Throated Sparrow. 

Sagebrush Sparrow – Rinconda Canyon, Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Black Throated Sparrow – Rinconda Canyon, Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico

While Rinconda Canyon at Petroglyph National Monument was my favorite birding spot, the one I have visited most often is Tingley Beach. Tingley Beach makes for an easy birding jaunt if you are in downtown Albuquerque area. Its easily accessed and makes for a great short birding walk even if the name is misleading because.. well.. there is no ‘beach’ at Tingley Beach. The main attraction here is a set of ponds that attract wintering waterfowl. Wigeons, Ruddy Ducks, Canvasback, Northern Shoveler, Coot’s and Pied Billed Grebes and others are easily seen. The surrounding bosque also park also attracts a large amount of Juncos, different species of Sparrows, and Mountain Chickadee.  The size makes it ideal for a short morning of bird watching. There are also two really well-located photography blinds that allow you very close proximity to the pond’s inhabitants. 

Female Ruddy Duck – Tingley Beach Ponds, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Pied Billed Grebe – Tingley Beach, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Male and Female American Wigeon – Tingley Beach, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Two other crackerjack birding locations in Albuquerque are the Rio Grande Nature Center and the Los Poblanos open spaces. The Los Poblanos Open Spaces, in particular, ended up being a wonderful place for bird photography. When we visited we were able to get super close to Sandhill Cranes (resulting in the photo I lead the post with) and both Merlin and Kestrels. Kestrels, in general, are particularly enigmatic birds and it was wonderful to watch them perch and hover. 

American Kestrel – Los Poblanos Open Spaces, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Merlin – Los Poblanos Open Spaces, Albuquerque, New Mexico

American Kestrel – Los Poblanos Open Spaces, Albuqerque, New Mexico

I hope you enjoy just the small taste of birding in Albuquerque I got to share with you today. Its a wonderful place worth visiting, and I find it to be a diverse and friendly city. It offers a pace and flavor of life I find unique and refreshing. Its inhabitants are welcoming, the food is delicious and there are tons of great areas for walking and bird watching. While it does have a few rough areas I found it on par with what Ive encountered in Denver and San Francisco.  It has a host of affordable Airbnb’s and if you want to bird or practice your photography skills you have a plethora or fairly easily accessible options. Happy Holidays everyone and you will be hearing from me soon! 

Sandhill Crane – Los Poblanos Open Spaces, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sharing Spaces in San Francisco, California

Well! I’m back! One of the reasons Ive loved writing this blog (and have also not posted in a long time) is that it is somewhere I could share my full unadulterated feelings and opinions. It is about more than bird watching. It was about bird watching in relation to my life and the world at large. For the last year Ive underwent a lot of drastic and at times jarring changes. Simply put – I didnt feel like sharing them in my blog. But now after roughly a year and a half, I have returned! I have new birds, new stories, and new tales of birding by public transit to share with you! I even have a few opinions to share!

Bewicks Wren – Battery Godfrey, Presidio, San Franciso, California

Over the last year, I spent time in Mexico, Toronto, exotic Windsor Ontario, and Quebec City.  I had stints in Detroit (with my family) and then to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Most recently my travels took me to San Francisco for Thanksgiving. Over the  years my birding has evolved to have more of a focus on the listing aspect (like Pokemon! you gotta catch ’em all) and I was looking forward to seeing some new species. My boyfriends family lives near AT&T Park and while we did rent a car for several days, I spent several days birding via public transit in the immediate San Francisco area.

White Tailed Kite – Herons Head, San Franciso, California

For me, San Franciso is a place where you can have super conflicting experiences all while standing in the same spot. While standing still you can experience extreme wealth and poverty sandwiched on top of each other.  You can see extreme natural beauty and extreme congestion and resource waste all at once. There’s cultural and racial diversity but socioeconomic segregation is super evident. That being said, San Francisco birding did not disappoint and I enjoyed that there were so many great areas for bird photography available without a car.  Although I learned the hard way that your experience with the BART can vary wildly depending what line you are riding, I found it to be a very nice public transit system overall.

My two favorite birding locations that were easily accessible by by BART were Herons Head Park and the Sutro Bath/Land End/Sutro Heights Park area. Herons Head, in particular, offers some great opportunities for bird photography, particularly if you time it right and arrive when the tide has gone out. Heron’s Head is reached by taking the K or T train and then walking down Cargo Way or Evans (roughly 15 or so minutes). They have bathrooms but I didnt notice any restaurants or coffee shops in the vicinity. Lands End was reached easily (for me anyway) by taking the 38R Bus Line. They had clean bathrooms and a handful of restaurants nearby.

Spotted Sandpiper – Herons Head – San Francisco, California

Since both parks are in the city, they attracted a variety of people for a variety of uses. Besides the bird watchers the main human inhabitants at Herons Head were dog walkers, and the majority of the people I encountered were friendly and respectful that I was bird watching. In fact, the people who were the most crotchety and uncomfortable to be around were other bird watchers.  My boyfriend and I were birding one day (thats right! I converted my new boyfriend into a birder!) and we got stuck on a path behind a group of birders loudly bemoaning the dog watchers and every other human inhabitant of the park. They complained, and pointed out a bird to each other, and complained some more. They griped louder and louder until we couldnt take them anymore and passed like we were in a car on a freeway. Every time we got within earshot of them they were still complaining about the dog walkers. They increased their volume when people they disapproved of got close in an effort to communicate their disdain. They were the first of many exhibits of ‘Green Space Entitlement’ I encountered while in San Franciso. Luckily shortly after we ran into the gripers we ran into a wonderful lady birding solo whose friendliness and helpfulness reinforced my beliefs that not all bird watchers are curmudgeons.

Greater Yellowlegs – Herons Head Park, San Francisco, California

I think anyone who has spent a lot of time in National or even local parks understands Green Space Entitlement. Its basically when any one subset of park users decide that enjoying their hobby should take precedence over other users hobbies. In extreme cases, it manifests itself to people deciding that their use of the park is the only acceptable use, and everyone else should be banned.  More common examples include; groups of stroller-pushing mothers that refuse to break formation and run you off the sidewalk, bicyclists yelling at you to get out of the way even when you are already standing to the side and bird watchers intentionally loudly griping about other people in earshot in an effort to make them feel uncomfortable. At Lands End it manifested itself in a trail runner who decided to run on one of the busiest days of the year and scream ‘EXCUSE ME! JESUS!’ and ‘CHRIST!” at everyone he was trying to pass.  I once even heard of a local park that was receiving pressure to ban walkers during a midday hour so a yoga class did not have to be disturbed by others conversations.

Says Phoebe – Herons Head Park, San Francisco, California

Snowy Egret before it was flushed by a dog. Herons Head, San Francisco, California.

You see, one of the curses about beautiful places is that other people want to visit them too. In addition, we live in a world of ever decreasing green spaces which results in the few we have being super crowded. Ive never been so happy to have a flexible schedule and be able to visit parks in off-peak hours than in San Francisco. Even though I am writing a blog post about tolerance for others in community spaces, would I rather just have a park all to myself without having others bother me? Abso-fucking-lutely. No one is an infinite well of tolerance and there will always be the occasional person who tests your patience. For example, one day at Lands End a guy climbed out onto one of the large rocks and flushed every bird from its comfortable resting spot. Its not that he just flushed the birds, it was that was literally hopping and leaping around the wet and slimy rocks while his friend happily snapped photos. I started getting super worried he would slip and fall in his quest for the perfect Instagram or Facebook photo.

Sutro baths on a sparsely populated day.

Man standing on poop covered rock. The large rock is shown above in the ocean.

We also need to have objective conversations about when the behavior of others actually hurt the birds or other animal inhabitants of the park. For example at Herons Head there were a decent amount of fisherman. For the most part, I view recreational fisherman as an important ally in the battle to save our spaces. Ive actually never met any serious recreational fisherman who didnt care deeply about the environment, clean up after themselves, or follow the rules of the spaces they are fishing. One day at Heron’s Head I happened to spot a bit of fishing bait and tackle while I was photographing a Willet. It was a reminder of what a danger lead tackle and weights can be to birds. For example, many studies are showing that the Common Loon population is decreasing specifically due to lead poisoning from these factors. Would it be out of line to say something to people we see using lead weights and tackle? There are a lot of questions we need to ask about sharing our spaces without, in my opinion at least, making it uncomfortable for people to use them.

Willet with Bait and Tackle – Herons Head Park, San Francisco, California

Willet with Bait – Herons Head Park, San Francisco, California

You see, I am super pessimistic and scared of the way conservation is trending in the United States. The recent decision regarding Bears Ear and Grand Staircase Escalate are really loud announcements about the current administration’s attitude towards those who enjoy our National and local parks. I think one of the greatest tools we have in this fight is forming large coalitions of people to help defend these attacks on our land. While I wish there were enough bird watchers in the US that we could become a super powerful lobbying bloc, I think our best hope is banding together with other groups to make our voices as loud and numerous as possible. One of the best ways to ensure this happens to let people have access and enjoy the space for a variety of purposes. We need to make our spaces comfortable for multiple types of users so when their existence is threatened the largest number of people come forward to oppose it.

White Tailed Kite – Herons Head Park, San Francisco, California

White Tailed Kite – Herons Head Park, San Francisco, California

So here I am writing this post, asking my readers to do one of the hardest things possible – compromise. You see, I dont particularly enjoy being surrounded by large field trips of children when birding, no one likes having their birds flushed by dogs, and no one (least of all the bicyclist) likes the idea of being hit by someone pedaling at full speed. But I believe its better to zoom out, look at the bigger picture, and tolerate the inconveniences that come with sharing spaces than have the place I bird turn into a parking lot. Remeber at the end of the day that the vast majority of this behavior is simply that – an inconvenience.  You are there to enjoy yourself and enjoy nature. Everyone else there is trying to simply do the same thing, no matter what form they are expressing it in.  There are a variety of ways to enjoy our shared green spaces, and no use has priority over another. Know that at the end of the day if anyone ever tries to sell off the spaces you love you will have many more people in the fight with you.

Black Turnstone – Sutro Baths, San Francisco, California

 

Thats all for now! I sign off with the sentiment that I will hopefully be able to get another post or two done by the end of the month!

Birds of Bucaramanga – Or Why Bird Identification Is Like Dating

Welcome to another Colombia post! I have to admit that even though getting to encounter new bird species with every move is exciting and thrilling it also presents its own challenges. Its always hard to leave an area where you’ve grown fairly comfortable with identification and all of a sudden realize you have no idea what you are looking at. In my frustration, this week I came to the odd conclusion that bird identification shares a lot of parallels with dating. Figuring out what some birds are is simple. Its like love at first sight – you just know. Other times bird identification is like online dating and you find yourself scrolling madly though heaps of pictures and descriptions until you find something that could potentially work. But first, before I get into the intricacies of my half baked analogy an important announcement! I saw two migrating warblers in the last week! So allow me to share this PSA form of a Game of Thrones meme for all Central and South American birders. If you cant tell by this opening paragraph this post is going to be insanely random! 

Nedstark

My first migrating warbler was seen at a day trip to Finca El Carajo just outside of Bucaramanga. This ended up being one of my favorite stops Ive had in Colombia yet. It was easily and fairly cheaply reached by cab (30,000COP there and 20,000COP back) and it took about 45 minutes for me to get there from my apartment. Things got off to an amazing start right off the bat when I ran into a mixed species foraging flock within the first half hour of my walk. As luck would have it, a Blackburnian Warbler had decided to join the feeding party for the day. 

Blackburnian Warbler Colombian Migrant

The other members of the foraging flock were impressive but for solely superficial reasons. Beryl Spangled Tanager, Green and Black Fruiteater, Black Capped Tanager and Blue Capped Tanager all greeted me with a swirl of bright and insane colors. There were shades of neon and vivid reds, and everything people would associate with Neotropic birding. In a true example of what it was like to watch a foraging flock I had no idea where to look next! My eyes darted in excitement from one beautiful and vivid bird to the next! 

Beryl Spangled Tanager - Bucaramanga

Beryl Spangled Tanager

Beryl Spangled Tanager - El Carajo Bucaramanga

Beryl Spangled Tanager

Green and Black Fruiteater - Colombia

Green and Black Fruiteater

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Female Black Capped Tanager

I pulled away from the cacophony of color for a minute and turned my attention to a pair of very small little birds hopping around the bushes nearby. They stayed mostly hidden but every now and then they allowed me a small glimpse, showing off a very very red little head atop their little bodies. They also emitted a really strange CROAK! sound as they were flitting about. Even though I made it my mission to grab a photo the rest of the day I could grab nothing but blurry excuses for photos. On returning home I put on my Detective Hercule Poirot mustache  and sat down to solve the mystery. 20160830-IMG_5281When I got home I had one or two blurry horrible pictures of the birds but the call was etched firmly in my brain.  As I still have no hard copy bird guide I found myself scrolling aimlessly through my app on my phone until I sorta-kinda found something that resembled what I was looking for. Much like a superficial online dater I decided I needed to see more pictures before I could be sure.  As many online daters will tell you a lot of times what you see in person is nothing like what you see in the picture, but in my case it was a perfect match. I realized what I had seen was a Rufous Crowned Tody Flycatcher! Its really an interesting little species and Im sad I didnt get to see more of. One species I def. saw in spades that day was the Blue Capped Tanager! These were basically everywhere at Finca El Carajo: 

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Probably the hardest part of birding at El Carajo was the Hummingbird identification, particularly because it was an overcast day and the light was so low. I spotted 3 new species of hummingbirds, and I got that special tingle in my brain when I knew that these were birds I have never seen before. But alas I was unable to get that special spark where I knew exactly what they were. I had been going over the characteristics of one of the unknown Hummingbirds in my head when it decided to plop down and land right next to me in the forest. Since it decided to grace me by landing right in front of my face and sitting still, I was able to determine it was a Bronzy Inca. 

Bronzy Inca El Carajo Santander Colombia

The other two have been added to my ‘yet to be identified’ file and will most likely stay there til my brother arrives from the States at the end of the month with my field guide.  The last bird that required a bit of detective work for the day was a loud wren that I was lucky enough to see right before I left. It foraged in the bushes near me for a good 15 minutes, enough for me to get familiar with this fascinating liquid call it was emitting. From what Ive been told it seems that the process one goes through identifying a wren is very similar to the process one goes through identifying that you are dating a sociopath.  The whole of the bird/person is obscured, you are only allowed to see bits and pieces, and you dont know what you are really dealing with until BAM! It hits you and you realize what exactly it is that is right in front of you. In my case I was not looking at a sociopath but a Whiskered Wren. 
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Overall the birding that day was really great, and I also appreciated the infrastructure and price of El Carajo. It offered everything I really want in a good birding spot which is (besides birds) that they serve food, have clean bathrooms and that the trails are well maintained. It was also nice to see that the forest area was protected and seemed to be in very good shape. The cost was agreeable too. They have a small day fee that is waved if you eat lunch. I had been hearing how good their trout was, so I decided to go that route. The reviews were correct! It was delicious! For a large lunch of trout and 2 beers my total was around 30,000COP (roughly $10) which I found to be worth the price. I would imagine it would have been much cheaper if I didn’t indulge in the two beers but they ended up being a perfect compliment to my overcast afternoon! This lovely Golden Faced Tyrannulet still looked stunning in the dark: 

El Carajo Santander Colombia Golden Faced Tyrannulet

Golden Faced Tyrannulet

Golden Faced Tyrannulet El Carajo Santander Colombia

Golden Faced Tyrannulet

This week I was also able to do some city birding. On the 31st I had a doctors appointment in Floridablanca, and so for some stress relief (and because I was right nearby) I decided to spend a bit of my afternoon in the Botanical Garden. This also brought another migrating warbler and a lifer to boot! To continue with my reaching analogy this was just like in the fantastic song “Short Skirt Long Jacket” where he meets a beautiful woman at the bank when she asks to borrow his pen. While exploring the park I randomly ran into a Cerulean Warbler! While I was excited to see this beautiful bird, it also signaled that my little city park will be filled with the sounds and sights of migrating warblers soon!

Female Cerulean Warbler - Colombian Migrant - Bucaramanga

Female Cerulean Warbler

Another true highlight of the day, and a very restorative one at that, was getting to watch this beautiful Sloth for a while. I had been dealing with a bit on anxiety and there was nothing better than sitting on the cool cement ground and watching this sloth slowly eat and move around its basically bare tree. There is something about watching their languid movement that is very relaxing. 

Unhurried Sloth Beauty –

Sloth Floridablanca Botanical Garden

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One of the stranger identification queries Ive had recently was also at my local park two days later. It was a dark and overcast day (yet again!) and after my luck with the warblers I wanted to keep working the park for migrants. The beautiful sloth was there in its favorite tree right on the ‘zen garden’ but the best treats of the day were in a tree near the aviary area. For some reason there was an almost bare tree that was attracting basically every bird in the park. Sadly it was in horrible light and everything in it was staying fairly high, and as I strained my neck I cursed the birding gods for blessing this horribly placed tree with such a numerous amount of birds. Since this tree was apparently the place to be that day I decided to sit put and see if anything new would show up. What would you know! After a short period of time something did. I knew right away from the shape it was a Vireo. 

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For some reason there ended up being at least 2 (most likely 3-4) of these Vireos in the tree, and the most stand out thing to my naked eye was this little black stripe on their chin. When I went home and decided to do a bit more research on Black Whiskered Warblers I realized the pictures I was finding did not exactly match what I had photographed. There is a different coloration with the face, but its the only Vireo that possesses the distinct black whisker. At the end of the day (like a lonely singleton) I have decided to go with Black Whiskered Vireo until something better comes along, because there is really nothing else that works. 

If you look at the lists I have included below the fold you will realize each one has two or three yet to be identified birds. Quite frankly I have gotten sick of searching for them and so I have left them for a later date. I have heard that Justin Bieber has started using a strange tactic for dating – he posts pictures of women and simply asks his followers to tell him his name and how he can get in contact with them. Well dear readers, you have gotten this far through my odd post, so lets just take it a bit farther shall we? Pretend I am Justin Bieber and tell me the name of this bird!

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Overall the last week was fairly interesting from a bird watching perspective. I have a German friend coming to visit on Sunday and we have quite a few days planned out in nature. Hopefully Ill be encountering more warblers and Ill be continuing my task of becoming familiar with Colombian birds. Ill be back next week with another post that does not have a cheesy and far reaching theme! Until then readers! 

Lists, Lists and More Lists after the fold. 

Huzzah! Risk Versus Reward in Colombia.

Huzzah! I cannot explain how amazing it is to be sitting down to type out my first Colombian post! Ive been here around three weeks now and I feel like I really made the right decision in relocating to Bucaramanga! Its a beautiful city, the people are insanely friendly, and so far Ive had some decent bird watching experiences. At heart I am really more of a city person and Im enthralled to have so many great restaurants and things to do right outside my door. Another thing I have right outside my door?  Yellow Crowned Parrots:

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Yellow Crowned Parrot

Since Im now a city girl again I knew that my day to day birding would be in the cities parks. Of course, being an obsessive bird watcher, I was dressed in my baggy bird watching pants and off to scout within the first few days of being here. The two parks I needed to test out were Parque La Flora (closest to my house) and the Botanical Gardens roughly 20 minutes away in Floridablanca. When trying to find a new local patch I am also checking out a few things besides just the quality of birding. I need to see how easily I can get there, how crowded it usually is, and way down at the bottom of the list is how safe the park is. Ive never actually worried that much about my personal safety, but I do get a bit worried sometimes carrying around my camera and my lens. Of course, all of these other concerns are things  I weigh after I weigh the quality of the birding. My first impression of both parks is that there were a lot of crossover species from Panma. This Rufous Capped Warbler was a familiar find for example:

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Rufous Capped Warbler

As I mentioned everyone in Colombia has really been very kinda and caring. They have left me with the impression that when you are a guest in their country they treat you like they would treat a guest in their own house. Ive felt that the people here want to make sure you have a nice time and things go well for you. This led to me ending up having what (at first) came off as two very strange encounters at the Parque La Flora, but ones I am very grateful for. My second time birding there I was actually approached by two separate people who cautioned me against birding on my own there with my camera equipment. They recommended that I either come with someone or leave the equipment at home because it could make me a target for being mugged. Both of them imparted the same message to me, ‘Be careful because you never know’. I opted to temporarily heed their warnings and spent the next couple of days collecting some more information from friends and weighing if I should return or not. Usually when you’re deciding where to bird the only risk versus reward scenario you need to analyze revolves around the amount of species you could potentially see. I decided to take extra time to process if I would go back since this time my camera gear was what was potentially being risked. In the mean time decided to spend more time birding the park in Floridablanca.  The Botanical Gardens in Floridablanca are bit further but I immediately was happy with my decision. The park really feels safe – there is only one entrance with a security guard and you have to pay a small fee to enter. Most importantly there were some wonderful birds there and I saw some cracking species on my first two visits. Olivaceous Piculet was a particular favorite I had been trying to track down for a while in Panama: 

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Olivaceous piculet

I still had a bit of an itch about returning to Parque La Flora though. The species list on Ebird looked very tempting and I was teetering about returning at some point. I was engaged in some serious analysis when a few days later I was text messaged by a friend and my questions were answered. I found out that over the weekend (during the middle of the day no less) someone was stabbed to death after being mugged for their cell phone. When I heard this news I was super sad and shocked, and I was super grateful to the people who had took time out of their day to look out for me and give me advice. As they both said, you never know. This situation has made me be a lot more cautious about where I will be going on my own, and also very thankful that the Botanical Gardens exist. As I wrote, I feel very secure there and its really a wonderfully maintained city park. Orange Chinned Parakeet from the Botanical Gardens below:
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Since one cannot subsist on city park birding alone,  I also had planned my first short 2 day 1 night trip for a bit of country birding. On a whim I decided to head to the La Pacha Hostel which is slightly outside San Gil, about 2 hours from Bucaramanga. While I was going to explore some trails, what I was most excited about is that they allowed you to rent tents there! I have been yearning to go camping for several years now, but the fact that I didnt own a tent always got in my way. When I read on their website that they rented tents with bedding I was immediate sold! The Hostel was in an area that had zero birding reports out of the immediate area, and very few reports out of the surrounding area. I knew it was going to be an interesting time exploring and I set off not knowing what to expect or what I would find! I packed my red birding backpack and off I went in search of new species! 

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Female Black Throated Mango

The La Pacha Hostel was offered up a very unique experience, delicious food and some fairly interesting birding. The price tag was also very attractive and I ended up paying $56,000(COP) total which included my tent rental and 3 large and tasty vegetarian meals. But back to the most important aspect… the birding. Much like the Bucaramanga area my stay at San Gil offered up some Panamanian repeats (Blue Gray Tanager, Crimson Backed Tanager, Golden Crowned Warbler) but there were also a lot of really interesting new species to be had. Two of the highlights I knew right off the bat were Black Capped Tanager and Colombian Chacalaca. I also managed to eke out a few decent photos of one of the more stunning Colombian common species – Saffron Finch. There is nothing I can write to explain how awe inspiring this shade of yellow is to the naked eye. No photograph can truly capture it, but I can sure as hell try!

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Saffron Finch – Male

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Saffron Finch – Female

One of the most embarassing confessions I have to make about my time in Colombia is that I have been operating without a field guide this whole time! Sadly when I arrived in the country all the places I could find that sold the English Language version of the two most reputable field guides were sold out, so Im waiting on a copy to come from the states. I recently downloaded the App ‘All Birds Colombia’ by Helm Field Guides and Sunbird. While the app has a few flaws it will be better than nothing. I didnt manage to download this app until after my San Gil trip, so for the first 3 weeks here my technique for iding birds has been a bit slapped together to say the least!

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Bran Colored Flycatcher

Basically, my plan of attack was to figure out the family of the unknown bird and then pull up the ebird list and Google every bird in the family that I did not know. This ended up working out fairly well for some birds, and not so well for others. For example in a real ‘DOH!’ moment  I somehow forgot what Roadside Hawk looked like and emailed one of my internet contacts to ask for help with an ID. But even though this technique was inefficient (and sometimes led to embarrassing situations) it did manage to be fruitful for several other identifications. For example with one of my favorite birds from the La Pacha Trip – Grassland Sparrow:

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Grassland Sparrow

As I alluded to, there were some birds I was absolutely stumped on without a field guide. One of the most confusing birds to identify was a Wren that I had gotten up close and personal with in the shaded coffee area behind the hostel. It was loud, large, and super confiding. It let me get extra close to take pictures of it and let me sit and photograph it while it foraged in different piles of twigs and leaves. Whenever any species of Wren makes itself visible Im pleased and so I had a really great time watching and photographing this singular bird for 10 minutes.

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I ended up posting it in a Colombian birding Facebook group (RNOA) and someone was kind enough to confirm for me that this was a Niceforo’s Wren!  This is an endemic bird to the area, and to top it off is listed as Critically Endangered. Its population is estimated at 250 individuals but as Birdlife says this needs to be confirmed. It really gets me thinking to one of the reasons I love birding so much, you really never know what you will find when you go out. The world is really surprising and wonderful place and just by poking around a bit you can stumble across some truly spectacular things. Im super glad I took a gamble and ended up birding here.  Birding here was a really classic example of  a risk (seeing nothing) versus reward (seeing spectacular things people didnt know were there) when deciding to bird somewhere new, and in this case my gamble paid off.

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Seeing this bird really reinforced to me of how important it is to get off the beaten path when birding. A lot of people will only head to the most known hot spots and forgo heading to new places and in my opinion, are being a bit too risk averse. New spots are only found by people who get away from the well trod areas and try something different. When Im out birding I really do feel like Im exploring, and even more so when I have no idea what species I will be seeing. Seeing this Niceforo’s Wren was just a reminder to me that its something I need to continue doing. Overall my short birding trip to San Gil turned out pretty well and Ill most likely be heading back there around migration time! On that note, I have a few more of these one night/two day trips planned and I cant wait to report back with everything I find! A few lists to as a parting gift below the fold!

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