Day 84: A Little Help from New Friends

A researcher who just discovered a new species recounts more dangerous times in the Colombian forest.

March 25, 2015, Monterredondo, Colombia — I’ve fallen in with a group of hardcore but fun-loving young birders in Bogota, and they’re determined to help my mission in Colombia. Today, four of them—Juan Pablo and Juan Diego from yesterday and their friends Oswaldo and Giovani—took me to a forest called Monterredondo outside of Bogota. The five of us left the city at 4:30 a.m. and didn’t return until after 9:00 p.m.

Monterredondo is a large, intact cloud forest, accessed by a single switchbacking road into the hills. The specialty here is a bird called the Cundinamarca Antpitta, which was first described in 1992 and is still known from only a couple of locations in Colombia’s East Andes. Oswaldo helped discover this particular stakeout, and directed us to the exact spot where he had seen the antpitta several times before. After a bit of searching, we heard one calling, but it was down a thickly vegetated slope. Oswaldo and I plunged into the vegetation and crept within a few meters of the bird, but it might as well have been behind a curtain. At least we heard it!

We spent the rest of the morning walking sections of the same road, sifting through mixed bird flocks. During a quiet stretch, Juan Pablo told me a hair-raising story: Several years ago, for his graduate work, he was surveying birds in a remote corner of Colombia when he and his field crew were surprised and kidnapped by guerillas. They were taken across the border into Venezuela and held captive for a week before being rescued by the Colombian military; Juan got home in time to see himself on the news. Things have improved dramatically here in the past decade (Colombia is no longer the world’s biggest cocaine producer), but there are still parts of the country where even locals don’t go. Happily, Juan’s research turned up an undiscovered species of tapaculo, which he subsequently helped describe and name the Perija Tapaculo, and his paper about it was just published this month.

New birds today: 14

Year list: 1799

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