Birding Without Borders

Day 102: Volcanic Birding

Good birds and new friends in Colombia’s central Andes.

April 12, 2015, Medellin, Colombia — I got high again today, for the last time this year in South America—all the way up to 13,600 feet at the entrance to Los Nevados National Park. More than 50,000 people visit this particular park each year, mostly to see an impressive, glacier-capped, 17,400-foot volcano called Nevado del Ruiz. The mountain has been active for the past 1.8 million years: Today a big steam plume was rising from its summit, and its last major eruption was in 1985 when a sizable lahar (mud flow) buried a town below called Armero, killing 25,000 people. Locals sometimes call Nevado del Ruiz the “sleeping lion.”

The stratovolcano was interesting, but the birds were fantastic! My #1 target at Los Nevados today was the Buffy Helmetcrest, a beautiful hummingbird that lives only at high elevations in Colombia’s central Andes. Jose, Jeff, Dave and I staked out the helmetcrest’s favorite flower patch after dawn, and it took all of one minute to appear. Mission accomplished! We happily watched the hummer for about half an hour, then found a flock of cooperative Rufous-fronted Parakeets before breakfast, and a bit later studied a Sword-billed Hummingbird at point-blank range.

In the afternoon, my transect of the West Andes came to a close. Jose dropped Jeff, Dave, and me at the Pereira airport; Jeff and Dave flew on to Santa Marta to continue their Colombian tour while I made my way to Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city. I’ve enjoyed the company of these two Brits for the past few days—they each have a great sense of humor and an appreciation for birding adventures. One of the best parts of this year is the chance to spend time with like-minded bird lovers!

I also bid farewell to Jose Luna, who has been a great help during the past week. As a standout among Colombia’s fresh generation of locally-grown birding talent, he has an interesting story. As it happens, Juan Jose, the retired cardiologist from Cali who spent a couple of days with us last week, just finished filming a 10-minute mini-documentary featuring Jose Luna (subtitled in English), and you can be one of the first to see it! Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbEADMnZKXU

New birds today: 5

Year list: 1972

Noah's view of a Sword-billed Hummingbird near Los Nevados National Park. Photo: Noah Strycker

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