Colombia-Reserva La Mesenia

GrasshopperPasture on the valley floorPristimantes sp (?)Pristimantes sp (?)Pristimantes sp (?)Pristimantes quantus (?)
Pristimantes quantus (?)Cloud Forest SpiderCloud Forest ScorpionCloud Forest insectmucous-covered fern shootFlowers in secondary forest
Cloud forest flowers sp.shield beetle ?Andean mid-slope land-use mosaicCloud Forest Katydidwalking in the ravineSanta Laura
rainforest streamCollared IncaCollared IncaDusky PihaTrail to the ChocóRainforest stream 2

Colombia-Reserva La Mesenia, a set on Flickr.

From a sacred Andean Lake to the wettest place in the world, almost…  Perched at 1600 m altitude in the western cordillera of the Colombian Andes, Fundacion Colibri’s “Reserva La Mesenia” is only a mornings walk from a ridge, perennially shrouded in mist, that gives onto the lowland Chocó of the western coast, where at more than 8 metres annual rainfall, you can safely say you are in the wettest forest on earth.  If not convinced by the numbers, the structure of the primary forest here leaves no doubt:  every available space on root, trunk and branch is crammed with mosses, lichens, bromeliads and ferns, and the forest floor is spongy to a depth of metres in places, a web of interlocking roots, decaying vegetation and moss.  The path over the ridge itself is worn into a deep and narrow defile by centuries of horse and foot traffic, and the walls are dripping constantly.

As an introduction to birding in Colombia, where can be found 1855 species, (nearly 25% of the worlds bird species), La Mesenia is no disappointment:  I rapidly lost count of the new birds I was seeing.  At the beautiful timber-constructed headquarters, no less than five hummingbird species visited the feeders:  Bronzy Inca, tiny White-bellied Woodstars, Green Violet-ear, Sparkling Violet-ear, and Andean Emerald.  In the forest however, things were harder to see; calls of Andean Solitaire and Grey-breasted Wood-wren were often heard, and similarly Spillman’s Tapaculo called often, but rarely emerged.

On the ridge itself, another set of feeders were visited by a completely different Hummingbird fauna, dominated by Buff-tailed Coronet, but also including Greenish Puff-leg, Collared Inca, Speckled Hummingbird, the evocatively (and appropriately) named Tourmaline Sun-angel, Violet-tailed Sylph, Empress Brilliant, and Velvet-purple Coronet.  Here also we had excellent views of the recently-described and endemic Munchique Wood-wren.

Collared Inca by Alexanderson01

Other highlights included Golden-headed Quetzal, the rare Dusky Piha, and on the Chocó side of the ridge, mixed flocks including Grass-green Tanager, Glistening Green Tanager, Green-and-black Fruit-eater, Chestnut-breasted Clorophonia and Flammulated Tree-hunter.  My experience here is apparently somewhat typical of birding in Colombia: a few elusive little brown species, then suddenly a mixed flock including tens of individuals in spectacular rainbow colours.  Unfortunately ongoing security issues in the Chocó mean that it is not safe to descend more than a few hundred metres in elevation on the western side, and for this reason our study here is limited to forests in the upper reaches and eastern flank of the range.

To get to La Mesenia requires an hour by four-wheel drive from Jardin, then another hour or so walking (with mules to carry gear) up a cleared valley mostly turned to cattle pasture and tomate de arbol (tamarillo), a zone for me reminiscent of the Himalayas, if a bit more tropical.  The organisation is focussed on research and environmental education rather than tourism, and holds great promise for the conservation of Cloud-forest species in the region: The environment, staff and facilities at the reserve itself are excellent, and I look forward to returning soon.

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