I have to admit that after a month falling in love with Villa de Leyva, Popayán, another of Colombia’s famously colonial cities was a little under-whelming. Her cobbled streets had been paved over in the 1930s, and much of the centre destroyed by earthquake in 1983 and subsequently rebuilt… It has also been a centre of conservative political power for many years, and perhaps for this reason there is thus something of a less-human scale about the place, different from the charm of Villa’s cobbled streets, homely restaurants and colonial churches. On the other hand, Popayán is a great place to use as a launch-pad to explore the Central Cordillera.
From here I was fortunate enough to visit two superb páramo and high Andean cloud-forests (bosque alto-andino) locations, accompanied by the very knowledgeable bird expert, local guide, accomplished photographer and all-round good guy, Jaun Pablo Lopez Ordoñez. I was once again astonished by the massive amount of water harvested, filtered and stored by these environments; the ground underfoot is literally a mossy sponge in many places, and everywhere there are small flowing streams and lakes. The profusion of mosses, epiphytes and ferns that cloak every available space reflects this, and habitat is also provided for numerous special birds that you can see at high elevations. We visited páramos home to Andean Teal (Anas andium) and High Andean Cloud-forests where we had great views of Golden-crowned Tanager (Anisognathus rufivertex), Hooded Mountain-tanager, (Buthraupis montana), Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossa cyanea) and Tyrean Metaltail (Metalura tyranthina). More pictures here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/complicando/sets/72157643540824084/
These excursions have been have provided a welcome respite from long days cooped up in over-air conditioned collections, measuring the dried remains of many of these same bird species that we see in the forests and páramos, and it is a great pleasure to be able to see them in their living state and natural environments. They have also been a great opportunity to meet local and international birders; in Las Delicias I had the pleasure of the company of another Colombian ornithologist, Alejandro Pinto (also working on the ecosystem services project at the Instituto Alexander Von Humboldt), and in Puracé, Mark and Eliana, a lovely couple from the US/Colombia, and also great appreciators of Colombia’s wonderful culture, biodiversity and landscapes.