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! 


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


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: 



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. 

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. 

20160902-IMG_6129 20160902-IMG_6130

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!


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. 

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