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Conference Birding - Scratching the surface in Bogota 19-21 October 2019 (1 Viewer)


Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Another airport meeting brought me via a maddening transit in Dallas (it took 2 hours to get through immigration for a transit, and to almost miss my flight) to a rainswept Bogota. Given my restrictions around travel I was fortunate to have most of the first of three days, a short afternoon on the second day and an early morning and a rather longer afternoon and evening before heading back to Hong Kong on the third.

I arranged guides through Bogota Birding Tours who did a great job of arranging a plan to avoid rain on the first day and, at very short notice, to fit in a full afternoon’s birding in a different habitat on the last day. I would highly recommend them.

Having rained all night I was worried my one full day would bring more of the same. Instead the day broke to high cloud with sunny patches and Camilo met me for a 5:30 start to visit the Parque la Florida, a restored wetland on the eastern side of El Dorado airport. A couple of the enormous and rather long-tailed Great Thrushes flew across the road on the drive – impressive birds – they were big enough for me to wonder if they were grackles!

As we approached the wetland flocks of Bare-faced Ibises and a few Cattle Egrets flew over the road and just as I got out of the car at the carpark another Great Thrush was on the lawn and a Sparkling Violetear - a large iridescent green and dark blue hummingbird – was hovering to feed vertically upwards from a bright red hanging flower. A very nice start!

As we walked down to the lake the first bird I clapped eyes on was a short-tailed swallow with a pale collar, which after a few more passes confirmed itself as a Cliff Swallow. It was hawking above the lake in a loose flock that also included Barn and Bank Swallows, twenty–odd of the larger Brown-chested Martin and a few smaller Brown-bellied Swallows – the latter two both residents.

Out on the water were fifty or so Andean Ducks, sometimes split from Ruddy Duck, in a range of plumages including the distinctive black cap, white face and blue bill on a rich chestnut body of the adult male. Amongst them was a darker, greyer and smaller duck, which we could not identify. I’ve also posted it on the ID forum, and would welcome any feedback. Other waterbirds included a couple of Pied-billed Grebes and a few Common Gallinules, plus half-a-dozen Neotropical Cormorants and several Striated Herons, including one that perched well, showing a distinctive reddish-brown patch on the bulge of the neck. Yellow-headed Blackbirds ruled the reedbeds, the males magnificent in their yellow hoods and black eye-masks.

Several Swainson’s Thrushes lurked in the trees along the banks, with a couple of Red-eyed Vireos and an ever-wonderful Black-and-White Warbler. They brought back great memories as the first two American warblers I saw in the UK back in the 1980s. Three Andean Siskins feeding on seed heads, and a pair of affectionately preening leaf-green Spectacled Parrotlets added some local colour, as did the restricted range endemic Silver-throated Spinetail, which called a few times before a pair, almost as affectionate as the parrotlets, showed on a bare branch. They look most similar to a somewhat scrawny version of the African mousebirds, but with rufous-brown backs and long tails, a short crest and bill, and pale underparts. A Smoky-brown Woodpecker called distantly, but never showed and a smallish- long-tailed flycatcher turned towards us to show the yellow forecrown and supercilium of a Golden-faced Tyrannulet.

Our main target here was the even more range-restricted Bogota Rail. The entire valley in which Bogota sits used to be a giant marsh. Most of this has now gone, initially to dairy farms, and increasingly to urban sprawl, so the few remaining and restored wetlands provide an important refuge for this skulky endemic. At the far end of the park a hide overlooks the edge of the marsh that stretches off towards El Dorado airport. Here we found eight Blue-winged Teals hunkered down on the edge of a grass-fringed channel in front of the reeds and thicker growth. A couple of Southern Lapwings flew off calling loudly and two Spotted Sandpipers, a Solitary Sandpiper, and the distinctive all-black race of Wattled Jacana picked its way along the edge of the channel.

Initially the rail was playing it coy, and I wasn’t quite sure whether to be delighted or disappointed when a movement in the deeper reeds eventually revealed a Sora – an uncommon North American migrant rail with a distinctive black face and throat. As I was watching it another movement turned out to be the Bogota Rail – nice! Somewhat less willing to feed in the open, three of these birds, which look not a million miles away from the plain blue-faced Western Water Rail eventually provided some very good views. The marsh also produced a surprise Yellow Warbler, which was followed as we walked back towards the car by another at wonderfully close range in the same area the B& W Warbler had been in earlier that morning.

Other birds at the edge of the water included a Roadside Hawk – a smallish accipiter with a distinctively banded tail, a couple of grey-headed and yellow-bellied Tropical Kingbirds plus another migrant lifer – a black-crowned Eastern Kingbird that I had somehow contrived not to see in several visits to the US East Coast. A House Wren popped up in the reeds, which seem not to have housed the endemic Apolinar’s Wren for some time, but a couple of chubby wild Guinea Pigs were a good mammal to see in the habitat and colour that God intended.

As we headed back to the car we were distracted first by a male Black Phoebe hunting across an area of new-planted saplings, and then much more significantly by a minor fall that included six or eight Red-eyed Vireos, three or four Summer Tanagers, including a lovely all-red male, a couple of black-winged female Scarlet Tanagers, ten Swainson’s Thrushes, a rather nondescript treetop Blackburnian Warbler and, best of the lot, a larger long-tailed bird that flipped from one treetop to the next showing a flash of chestnut in the wings before revealing itself as my first ever Yellow-billed Cuckoo! I always love migration, and this was a terrific example of hungry migrants feeding busily with out much concern for the birders watching them. As we began driving out movement overhead turned out to be the first four of sixteen Broad-winged Hawks, which Camilo said were the first seen in Bogota that autumn. The stop also allowed us to catch up with a pair of Yellow-backed Orioles – we had heard them calling without having the slightest sniff of them throughout the morning.



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Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
I do hereby protest, yet another conference that dumps you in one of the world's birding hotspots ...why can't you go to Brussels or Frankfurt like everyone else on a business trip?

Or, to express in other words, envious yet again :) Nice haul on first day, can never say no to a B&W Warbler


Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Just for you Jos . . . I did have three wet days in Paris two weeks earlier in which I never left the hotel/conference venue. It seemed a bit pointless to start a thread which listed only Jackdaw and Feral Pigeon, so I didn't bother!

And just to rub it in that was only the first morning - the afternoon visit to a nice forest site is yet to come . . .

I've also added some pix here and in the first post.



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Jeff Hopkins

Just another...observer
United States
Mike, when I was there in 2014, I was told that the wrens had already been "taped out" at La Florida.

No Spot-flanked Gallinules there?


Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Sadly not Jeff - Camilo said that had become increasingly scarce, and we didn't even try to tape the wren



Well-known member
Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your visit - I also used Bogota Birding with Oswaldo Cortes, and would agree they were very good indeed.
Didn't make it to Parque La Florida though - I was aware I was probably missing out, which you've just confirmed...

Wouldn't have described Blackburnian Warblers as 'rather nondescript' though, I guess in March they're in breeding plumage and looking much more colourful!


Well-known member
United States
Mike, your Scarlet Tanager is actually a nonbreeding plumage male.

Love your report, though! Can't wait for the next installment, especially if it includes some tropical tanagers!


Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Apologies for the delay in transmission - normal service is hereby resumed.

kb57 - the Blackburnian Warbler was definitely from the dowdy and scruffy end of the spectrum for the species, plus high in the canopy and against the light. definitely not the views I had been hoping for!

Birdmeister - thanks for the correction on the Scarlet Tanager. As for tropical tanagers . . your wish is my command!

Driving north out of the city towards Laguna el Tabacal an elegant White-tailed Kite (the American split from Black -shouldered Kite) was hunting in a meadow, half a dozen Shiny Cowbirds flew across the road and a Greater Yellowlegs had claimed ownership of a puddle left by the previous night’s rain. As we dropped off the edge of the escarpment few Black Vultures drifted above the road, three or four Carib Grackles appeared on the roadside and at different points a small group of Brown-bellied Swallows and Blue-and-white Swallows foraged overhead.

The first signs of the quality of forest birding at Laguna el Tabacal came with a crimson flash across the road that was my first glimpse of a the outrageous explosion of colour that exactly matches my expectation of Colombian forest birding. I wasn’t to be disappointed, and we only needed to get to the carpark before staring to score. First up was a Black-billed Thrush, safely dusty-brown and monotone, but this was followed by a pair of Rusty-margined Flycatchers that zoomed about flashing a bright yellow belly, black crown, curved white super and a hint of rufous on the closed wing. Next up a Plain Tanager – a big all-grey finch that looked like two thirds of its wings (from the tips up) had been dipped in black ink. Other birds in the car park included the first Ruddy Ground Doves of the day plus a couple of Saffron Finches – an upgrade to a full lifer after seeing introduced birds in Lima in May - drinking and washing in a rainwater puddle and three Black Vultures squatting in the tree above the rubbish incinerator.

A wander over to the edge of the carpark brought more quality – Speckle-breasted Wren was significantly heftier than any Wren I’ve seen previously, and this probable split as a Colombian endemic came in right over our heads singing cheerfully away. A scuttling on the ground brought a new splash of colour in the form of a canary-bellied Rufous-capped Warbler and right above its ahead a black and yellow Common Tody-flycatcher vied for attention with a dusky green Palm Tanager. They all lost the battle to a Blue-necked Tanager, which with its small dark mask in an almost luminous head, black breast and back, navy belly and lime green coverts was the stunning embodiment of South American forest birding!

The trees on the other side of the clearing held a Black Flowerpiercer with its weird flat-topped, hook tipped and upcurved lower mandible which distracted us from a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird that had landed in the big shady tree in the centre of this amazing carpark.

We eventually crossed the road and headed up into the park itself. We didn’t get far as the small hill behind the gatehouse held a range of fruiting trees that brought in another rainbow explosion of multicoloured tanagers. But before these appeared another long-atiled olive-green flycatcher type turned round, revealing a yellow supercilium that met above the small dark bill – Golden-fronted Tyrannulet. Then is all went a bit nuts as first a Crimson-backed Tanager dropped onto a spike of purple fruits, then Blue-Grey and Palm Tanagers appeared on a bare tree and these were followed by a Chestnut-capped blue-bellied Scrub Tanager and a no less garish Bay-headed Tanager lit up the forest and completely blew my mind! Apparently this is all pretty normal here.



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Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Camilo suggested we drop down to take a look at the lagoon. This was a little less overwhelming as the waterbirds were rather less likely to explode my retinas, but we nonetheless scored well – adding nestbuilding Least Grebes and aPied-billed Grebe, a Spotted Sandpiper, some squabbling Neotropical Cormorants, plus a sandy-backed Southern Roughwing Swallow among the Barn Swallows and my first Ringed Kingfishers and a couple of the ever-spectacular Great Kiskadees. Flyover birds included an Osprey, four more migrating Broad-winged Hawks and several unidentified larger pigeons.

A stone pathway beside the lagoon delivered a tail-bobbing Buff-rumped Warbler that unfortunately only gave naked eye views as it zipped off between the bamboos and then one of the toughest birds on the Bogota circuit – a Rusty-breasted Antpitta which rewarded a careful inspection of the forest floor and very helpfully popped up on a moss-covered fallen tree trunk where we were both able to enjoy good views for a couple of minutes.

Diving deeper into the forest I was delighted when a Moustached Puffbird responded immediately to Camilo's sparing playback, suddenly materializing ten yards from us and then freezing in place until it dematerialized without either of us seeing it move. The winding trail delivered six or eight Swainson’s Thrushes, a bulbul-like Rufous-naped Greenlet, a nest-building Rufous-browed Peppershrike, a wonderful gathering of White-bearded Manakins that were not lekking still bounced around like piebald ping pong balls, bringing the forest alive with the terrific sound of their wing-snapping. The same area also delivered another killer combo as first a superb Canada Warbler and then a dazzlingly bright Green Honeyeater appeared under the canopy and gave great views within just a few minutes and with the wing-snapping of the manakins, and a disappointingly unseen Bar-crested Antbird still audible less than fifty metres away!

And that finally, was pretty much it. Silvery-throated Spinetails called, but didn’t show, a solitary Pale-bellied Thrush showed just long enough the reveal its contrastingly paler head compared to the ubiquitous Black-billed Thrush, Great Kiskadees, Rusty-margined Flycatchers and Tropical Kingbirds competed for attention from an overhead wire as we enjoyed an excellent local sausage and fruit juice and a Ruddy Ground Dove posed perfectly for photos as a parting gift from this wonderful place.

In true conference birding style we just made it back through Bogota’s horrendous traffic in time for me to transmogrify myself from a scruffy, mud bespattered and very happy birder into suited, booted Corporate Man and board the bus for the dinner with the thirty-odd airport CEOs and industry leaders I would be presenting to the next day.



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Well-known member
Great report Mike with some great images! The Blue-necked Tanager prompted me to look at some of the regions other specialities....Paradise Tanager takes some beating, what a bird. :eek!:


Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Many thanks all! as the title suggests my trip was the very merest toe-dip in the waters of S American forest birding.

Having successfully delivered my presentation and secured the approvals and resources to go forward I jumped back into the transmogrifier and grabbed a cab to the Bogota Botanical Gardens, which had been recommended as a safe site to bird alone in a city where such considerations need to be taken seriously. During my two hours here it became apparent that Sunday afternoon was not the ideal time, but there were still enough birds for an enjoyable session. First up were the first of 20 or so Swainson’s Thrushes lurking in a bush right by the entrance and much better looks at several Sparkling Violetears. Great Thrushes were everywhere and persistent searching of the canopy delivered a minimum of eight Red-eyed Vireos and a female American Redstart before a thirty-minute rainstorm had me searching for cover and trying not to get dripped on.

As it eased off I came across a mossy lawn in a quiet corner that held at least six Swainson’s Thrushes and two typically skulking Northern Waterthrushes quietly going about the business of foraging regardless of the rain. The miniature Paramo habitat delivered a couple of rather confiding Lesser Goldfinches, another couple of Red-eyed Vireos, wonderful close views of a Black-and-white Warbler, a House Wren, and in a sudden burst of colour first a Yellow-backed Oriole and then an orange, black and white Venezuelan Troupial that I tried to turn into various of the North American orioles before common sense prevailed. A Tropical Kingbird also posed nicely here for its portrait.

As the clock ticked down to closing time one of the ponds held a Green Heron hunched on a snag and the rose garden delivered a fresh burst of activity including an ultra-tame empid I have not been able to assign to species, plus both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers and a local speciality Rufous browed Conebill. Looking out my hotel window on my return (I had arranged for the same taxi driver to bring me back to the hotel) I enjoyed adding another White-tailed Kite right in the heart of the city.

Feeling that I had not really done it justice I returned to the Botanical Garden for another couple of hours the next morning. I didn’t add too many new species but I was chuffed to come across what I think is a Common Nighthawk sleeping on a bare branch (dissenting opinions gratefully received) , get closer looks at half a dozen Shining Cowbirds and had a terrific session with three Slate-coloured Redstarts, a Red-eyed Vireo and another Canada Warbler. I was also able to record and thereby confirm Eastern Wood-Peewee at the same spot. The last hurrah was a cracker - a stonking male Blackburnian Warbler, orange throat glowing between the black streaks - in the avenue of small trees between the roadside and the entrance to the gardens.



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Well-known member
The botanical gardens is a great destination for solo birding in Bogota - I didn't leave enough time there before my flight home, but got some of the same species as you, including Lesser Goldfinch, Yellow-backed Oriole and a similarly unidentified empid (probably but not definitely Alder, according to a birder I met there).
It would be a good destination for anyone with only a few hours in Bogota between flights, due to its relative proximity to the airport and relative safety - I know Parque La Florida has the rare stuff, but it's maybe a bit risky without a guide?


Well-known member
Jardin Botànico Josè Celestino Mutis

I hung around Jardin Botànico Josè Celestino Mutis when Patricia was at an orchid conference there in september 2017, and enjoyed the whole time. Here's my list:
Eared Dove
Sparkling Violetear
White-bellied Woodstar
Purple Gallinule
Black Vulture
White-throated Tyrannulet
Mountain Elaenia
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Tropical Pewee
Tropical Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Brown-bellied Swallow
House Wren
Great Thrush
Lesser Goldfinch
Rufous-collared Sparrow
Yellow-backed Oriole
Shiny Cowbird
Blackburnian Warbler
Magpie Tanager
Crimson-backed Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Black Flowerpiercer
Rusty Flowerpiercer
Saffron Finch


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Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Thanks Jeff - I got a hit for Mountain Elenaia on the ID page - mine was a bit different for having an all-black bill, but this is not apparently a deal-breaker.


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