There's a reason they call it cloud forest...

Just back from the Cuchillo de San Lorenzo ("the knife of St. Lawrence") in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a place I have wanted to visit for a very long time. This particular Sierra Nevada contains Colombia's tallest mountains, despite all the competition from the twin spines of the Andes that carve across most of this country further to the south. But this comparatively small cluster of mountains emerged in isolation, like an island, away from the principal Andean chains, and the therefore has an extraordinarily high rate of endemism in its flora and fauna. To see these unique birds and plants, however, one must climb high up into the mountains, something that has until recently been rather unsafe.

For much of the 1970s, before American growers perfected the cultivation of their crop on their home turf, the Sierra was largely given over to marijuana production; it was the source of the famous Colombian Gold, packed down the mountainsides and loaded into clandestine ships in the jungly coves Magdalena's north coast. In the 80s and 90s the guerilla and then the paramilitaries controlled the zone, then just one of many badlands totally out of governmental control. When I last visited the region, in 1993, I was strongly advised not to go up into the mountains. I took that advice, and so the ornithological riches dwelling in the high altitude cloud forests remained, for me, imaginary. But this time, when we asked around in the placid port city of Santa Marta, the situation was said to be completely calm. And it was, blissfully so. After the thick heat of the coast the mountain air was crisp, oxygenated by steep hillsides of dense forest festooned with epiphytes. Nothing disturbed the tranquility but strange birds darting amongst the gnarled trunks. There were toucans and toucanets, the passive and deliberate Golden breasted fruiteater, and the Santa Marta brush finch, which Laura quickly nicknamed "cheeks," for the dusky patches it has on the sides of its black head. The most dangerous things we could find were the columns of leaf-cutter ants carting their shards of greenery back to their vast nests.

Not all the specialties made an appearance, so we'll just have to take that as an excuse to go back...


They say it's a cold world said...

blue naped chlorophonia
santa marta brush finch
golden breasted fruit eater
sickle winged guan
olive striped flycatcher
santa marta toucanet
white lored warbler
streak capped spinetail
yellow crowned redstart
black fronted wood quail
montane foliage gleaner
santa marta mountain tanager
black throated tody tyrant
mountain elaenia

Anonymous said...

Do you have any plans to try to spot the parens princetoniensis or the lesser red geargrinder sometime soon?