*Author Guillermo Rico
5 AM on the outskirts of Bogota. A colombian guy and five dutch people walk slowly in La Florida park. Suddenly the group look carefully to a small mirror of water in the wetlands. Bushnell binoculars and professional cameras are quickly drawn. Something moves stealthily among the aquatic vegetation. Happiness overwhelms the moment.
A small aquatic bird is the cause of the smile in the face of these european tourists. Rallus semiplumbeus is the scientific name of this waterfowl locally known as tingua bogotana. In “A Guide to the Birds of Colombia”, the colombian bird bible, this species is considered as endemic, it means its natural distribution is restricted to wetlands and moors of the Bogota´s plateau. This is why this species is a kind of birdwatcher photographic trophy.
European courts by century XVIII saw the birth of this activity that nowadays is popular for westerns. It is just about people following birds around the world. But they are not only seeking birds, they are also willing to get in touch with popular culture and people outside traditional tourism.
Birdwatching is an activity that has grown progressively in Colombia in the past two decades. According to Pablo Flórez, a birdwatcher guide, since 2007 foreigners started to get interested in this kind of tourism in Colombia. Even though in the 80s and 90s some tourists flew to Colombia for birdwatching, social conflict and prevailing insecurity was a grim limitation.
Most of the tourists come from USA and UK, but frequently enthusiasts from countries as the Netherlands, Canada and Belgium choose Colombia as an ecotourism destination. They are usually wealthy people over 50 years old, academics, businessmen and literate.
Jan Dobsovic is one of them. He travelled to Colombia in 2013 with a group of classmates from a slovak university. He visited Bogota, Villa de Leyva, Buenaventura, Salento, Cartagena, Barranquilla and the Tayrona national park seeking for birds.
“Colombia is really interesting and its natural resources are certainly out of this world”, says Dobsovic whilst he attempts to identify bird species in photographs he took.
Within birdwatchers there are also hardcore people. They are college teachers and professional ornithologists that have seen more than 8,000 bird species. “More than hotels and local culture, this ecological tourism specimen is interested only in birdwatching”, explains Ángela Gómez, tourist advisor of Fundación Proaves, a colombian organization that promotes bird conservation. “If they don´t find the species they are looking for they get disappointed”.
Luis Eduardo Urueña, director of Manakin Nature Tours, remembers being field guide of Hugh Buck and Philip Rostron, top english birdwatchers, who have travelled more than 150 countries looking for birds. Urueña also guided the trip of Nancy Boggess, 2006 Physics Nobel prize.
Colombia is the jewel in the crown for birdwatchers. Thanks to high endemism rates, this southamerican corner is known as the fashion birding country. Oswaldo Cortés, colombian ornithologist and field guide, considers that in the country it is possible to watch plenty species in a short period of time. Privileged geographical location and natural ecosystems megadiversity have allowed the coexistence of more than 1,700 bird species in the country.
Must to see
Regularly tours start in Bogota. More than being the capital of the country, this huge city is surrounded by astonishing natural landscapes where nunlets, rakes, moor eagles and hummingbirds can be seen. Wetlands as Jaboque, La Conejera and La Florida and Sumapaz and Chingaza moors are flagrant places for tourists.
At Jardín encantado, a small farm in San Francisco, Cundinamarca, less than 1 hour road trip from Bogota, 23 species of hummingbirds can be spotted. Jurge Benker, a Belgian birdwatcher and tourism entrepreneur, assured he took photographs to 13 species after having lunch in this picturesque place.
Due to high endemism and rare species, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Antioquia, Eje Cafetero and interandean valleys are also desired places for birdwatchers.
“I recommend to explore the three mountain ranges and then fly to Santa Marta”, says Cortés.“After a month touring in Colombia a birdwatcher can return home with 800 bird species spotted”.
Money for the people
“Birdwatching makes it easier for money to reach local people´s pocket. The money does not stay in the monopolies”, explains Gómez. This is the main reason this type of tourism promotes conservation in one of the most diverse countries in the world. Since in Colombia there is no hotel development similar to that of the world large tourist centers, this biodiversity is the differentiating factor that can attracts international tourism to the country. “Birdwatching helps conservation”, emphasizes Cortés.
Yet things are not all rosy. Currently Colombia is facing an escalation of violence due to a social conflict that after 50 years of war has not been resolved yet. In addition, domestic infrastructure, especially roadways within regions, leaves a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, bird diversity is a great reason for international tourism to set its sights on Colombia.
Author: *Guillermo Rico
Periodismo Ambiental independiente con propósito de servicio.