Birding Without Borders

Day 91: The Eagle Has Landed

Noah spots a potential first Colombian record.

April 1, 2015, La Guajira, Colombia — Lorenzo, Anival and I descended from El Dorado today, ditching the cool mountains for the hot, dry lowlands of northern Colombia (the high temperature in Santa Marta today was about 95 degrees Fahrenheit). We will spend the next day and a half in a neighboring district called La Guajira, right on the Caribbean coast. This week is Semana Santa in Colombia, or “holy week,” which is a huge vacation. The beach towns are jammed with spring breakers!

This afternoon we arrived in La Guajira with a couple of hours of daylight, and Lorenzo guided us down a productive dirt track. We quickly picked up some of La Guajira’s common specialties: White-whiskered Spinetail, Black-crested Antshrike, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Trinidad Euphonia, and even a well-camouflaged Double-striped Thick-knee. Anival spotted a Merlin perched atop a dry snag, and I took some photos (that will be a tough bird for me to find up north this summer, so I was happy to see it). 

Then, in the distance, I saw a bulkier shape—broad-shouldered and flat-headed—sitting in another tree. Its profile was strangely familiar, and, a bit mystified, I stalked a little closer to get a better view. When I could see some color, I couldn’t believe my eyes: This thing definitely had a frothy-white head and a smooth, warm-brown body. There was no mistaking it—I was looking at an adult Bald Eagle! No $@#!&% way!

Bald Eagles are common enough at home in Oregon, but, as far as I know, there are no records south of Mexico. To find one in Colombia represents not only a first country and continental record, but a major range expansion and perhaps one of the craziest vagrants ever recorded in the world. How it got here, I can only guess. Did this aguila travel down the Central American isthmus on its own, or was it assisted? Did it catch a ride on a booze cruise? I suppose the rare bird committees will have to decide.

Luckily, I got photographic proof:

April Fools! Photo: Noah Strycker

Meanwhile, Lorenzo, Anival, and I celebrated another fine day of birding, and the beginning of a new month. Happy April!

New birds today: 21

Year list: 1892

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