April 2, 2015, Santa Marta, Colombia — Instead of saying a tricky bird is difficult to find, Colombian birders say “es complicado”—it’s complicated. And instead of asking if you’ve seen a bird before, they ask if “lo conoces”—if you know it personally. Not everything translates literally, of course, but, after more than three months in South America, I’m beginning to interpret the finer nuances of Latin American birding lingo. Added on is local slang: If you really want to impress some Colombians when you see a great bird, try exclaiming, “Que chimba!” (That’s supercool!)
Lorenzo and I spent the morning with a local, indigenous (“Wayuu”) guide named Jose Luis, who is a walking encyclopedia of bird knowledge within Los Flamencos Sanctuary. Flamencos is a delightful Caribbean dry forest reserve right on the beach in La Guajira. I stayed last night at the park headquarters, in a little wooden hut built on the sand a few meters from the ocean. When I woke up this morning, 20 American Flamingos were pacing the lagoon out front; a Reddish Egret stalked the sunrise nearby, and a Scarlet Ibis was trying unsuccessfully to blend in with a bunch of Snowy Egrets.
Jose Luis took us down a couple of dry-forest dirt roads to sweep up a suite of regional endemics shared only with neighboring Venezuela. We found Vermilion Cardinals, Orinocan Saltators, Glaucous Tanagers, Slender-billed Tyrannulets, a Tocuyo Sparrow, and even a bonus Dickcissel and Black-whiskered Vireo. Jose Luis called out each bird by its call, then zeroed in on it and pointed it out with his green laser pointer (very useful for birding in the forest!). By 10 a.m. it was too hot for songbird activity, and we retreated to the lagoon. Lorenzo and I ordered “lunch” (no menu!) at the park HQ and received a whole fried fish on a plate, caught fresh this morning. Que chimba!
New birds today: 14
Year list: 1906