Colombia: A birdwatcher's paradise

Updated: 2015-05-23 05:55

By Chen Liang(China Daily USA)

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Colombia: A birdwatcher's paradise

Colombia is a magical place to watch birds, according to Beijinger Yang Fan, an ardent bird watcher. The photo shows a Long-tailed Sylph, a kind of humming bird indigenous to the region. Photo by Yang Fan for China Daily

Many Chinese tourists still view Colombia as a risky travel destination, which keeps them away, but the country is becoming safer each year. Chen Liang reports.

For many Chinese, Colombia brings to mind soccer and coffee. Few consider the South American country a travel destination. Even fewer have actually been there. But for people who have visited Colombia for the specific purpose of watching birds, it is simply magical.

"As far as I know, I'm the only one," said Beijinger Yang Fan, who lives in Ontario, Canada.

Between July 8 and Aug 8 last year, Yang, 48, an ardent birdwatcher, spent 30 days exploring the rich avifauna of Colombia, which has the largest variety of birds of any country.

"With a total of 1,881 bird species recorded in the country, one fifth of the world's extant bird species, Colombia is one of the ultimate destinations for birdwatchers around the world," Yang, who has traveled extensively in South America, told China Daily.

His first trip to Ecuador lasted 14 days. Hiring local guides at different sites, he managed to record and add 300 new birds to his life list — a cumulative record of the species an individual birder successfully identifies.

The second trip was 21 days in Peru. Booking a tour by a Peruvian birding company, he added 780 names to his list.

In Colombia, he recorded about 400 species, of which nearly 200 were new for him.

"In Colombia I arranged the schedule and traveled around completely by myself," Yang said. "It was not as efficient as the first two journeys, but it was cheaper and more flexible."

He spent more than $5,000 for his trip to Peru, but less than $4,000 for his Colombia trip.

"It can be much cheaper for common travelers, because prices for accommodation, food and guiding services in birding sites are more expensive than those in common destinations," he said. The average cost for a day in a Colombian birding site was $100, he added.

Yang flew into Bogota, the capital of Colombia, from Toronto. After spending the night at Bogota airport, he flew to Leticia, the southernmost city in Colombia and capital of Amazonas province. One of the major ports on the Amazon River, Leticia is located at the point where Colombia, Brazil and Peru come together in an area called Tres Fronteras.

Perched on a church, he watched thousands of parrots return to a local park called Parque Santander for night roosting and had a half-day boat trip along the Amazon to Tres Fronteras. Then he spent most of his seven days at a birding site called KM.

Staying in a jungle lodge, he watched birds while walking back and forth along a deserted 12-kilometer road between Colombia and Brazil.

"The area is remote, but not dangerous," Yang said. "Colombian people are friendly and can be very helpful."

One day he met a young man on the road who spoke to Yang in Spanish, which Yang couldn't understand. The young man brought him to a house nearby, fingered the small patch of wood behind the house and called "boo, boo". Yang realized there might be a bird hiding in the trees. Then the man put a chunk of meat on top of a post, which lured a big bird out.

"It was a spectacled owl, difficult to find in the daytime," Yang said.

He then flew to Medellin, the second-largest city in Colombia and the capital of Antioquia province, en route to Bogota again.

While many Chinese still have the stereotype that Medellin is a dangerous city notorious for its drug lords, it is actually a bustling city of industry and commerce.

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