Recently I flew to Colombia as a guest of that government, to participate in
the Colombian Bird Festival held at Manizales in the department of Caldas
I was one of two intercontinental speakers. The invitation came from Sergio
Ocampo-Tobòn, a past President of the Colombia Birding Network and founder
of the Festival.
It is most appropriate that Colombia has a Bird Festival - it has over 1870
bird species; probably nearer 1880 now - photos of some newly discovered
species were shown for the first time at the Festival . Indeed, Colombia is
a megadiverse country and has more endemic species than any other,
although by area it is only about 1/8th the size of Australia.
Much has been written about Colombia that is negative. Much has also been
written about the airline on which I travelled, Aerolineas Argentina, that
was also negative. Armed with that knowledge and a travel itinerary I
couldn¹t interpret, I set out with some trepidation. The first November
cyclone to hit the Top End in forty years delayed travel by a day, not an
But instead of an old aircraft with broken seats, dirty toilets, terrible
food and disinterested cabin crew, I found a spanking new airbus, a spotless
interior and crew that almost rivalled Qantas in their professionalism.
Although I didn¹t speak the language, and was unfamiliar with the culture I
never felt isolated or unsafe. Some stranger always came forward to help
a professional woman; a young man; a primary school student; and even when
they didn't, somehow I could always make myself understood
The hotel, Recinto del Pensamiento, where I was to stay, was the equal of a
four-star hotel in Australia, and Manizales, far from being a hotbed of
ongoing revolution or guerrillas, was a beautiful city that in many ways
resembled Adelaide in appearance and pace, except it was perched on a ridge
in the mountains, and had more universities (twelve in all)!
Recinto was also the site of the Bird Festival. The launch began with the
playing of the national, department and city anthems to which we all stood.
Maria Claudia Garcia-Gomez , the President of COTELCO, the national hotel
and tourism association, launched the Festival The next day, the Governor of
the state of Caldas, Julian Gutierrez-Boter, came to speak. Both
highlighted the importance of birdwatching tourism as did Felipe Rincon
Cardenas, President of the chain of hotels of which Recinto de Pensamiento
was one. Over lunch he told me of the involvement of coffee growers in
While some speakers highlighted the diversity of birds and other wildlife in
their regions, others talked about conservation problems - including
authorities such as Dr. Juan David Arango Gartner who addressed urban river
issues, and Andrea Ferreira of Paraguay who spoke for the preservation of
biodiversity of grasslands. Andrea is the Sustainable Tourism Coordinator
for an NGO. She said that cattle are monitored on the pampas and are shifted
around to allow grassland to recover for nesting and feeding birds. Her
organization is also working with farmers to improve roads and vehicles so
that they can have visitors on their country.
Juan Paulo was a most inspirational speaker. Born blind in 1986 he taught
himself to recognise thousands of different birds calls. Working with 25
000 bird records in a lab, he can recognize the bird, the time of day it is
calling, the natural environment and ³the sounds of the earth². In
grassland JP recorded 10-12 species singing all at once and could identify
them all. Furthermore he could pick out 25 tones in one call.
Uttej Rao, the only other intercontinental speaker, talked of birding in
Gujarat, a state in India that shares a border with Pakistan. He said that
locals considered it a sin to kill birds and so the birds were unafraid of
humans and in large numbers.
Guto Carvalho spoke about birding in Brazil. The population of that country
is 250 million, of which about 30 000 are birders. But the interest is so
great that Gutto estimates it will reach 1 million in a few years. He said
that birdwatching tended to be internal with relatively few birders
traveling to Brazil from other countries.
I spoke on the threats to north Australian grasslands/floodplains and
woodlands from weeds, destructive fires, cyclones and sea level rise.
Several speakers mentioned the importance of working with communities, but
because I didn't always have a translator I cannot comment on their
particular approaches. However one, Luis Fernando Jaramillo, spoke of his
work with Indigenous people and birds which included attempting to limit
their attempts to force those people off their lands. Later, with Juan
Paulo translating I told him of Top End Indigenous rangers allegedly forced
to resign to the detriment of parks they'd once looked after, and of course
visitors. I couldn¹t help but compare the empathic reaction of Luis and
others at the Festival to the response of some at the Wildlife Tourism
Australia workshop where I first raised the issue.
At morning tea I got my first look at the birds of Recinto Great and Snowy
Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, American Vulture, Southern Lapwing, Eastern
and Tropical Kingbird, White-collared Swift, Rufous-collared Sparrow and
House Wren. Because I had no guide I mostly had to figure out what I was
seeing myself, checking with Sergio whenever I could. Other birds I knew
from the US. At other breaks I saw Cattle Egret, Black Phoebe, Bananaquit,
Pale-edged Flycatcher, Palm Tanager, Great Thrush, Saffron Finch, Lesser
Goldfinch and Yellow-bellied Siskin.
On the last day I at last had the chance to climb the mountain behind
Recintos to visit the hummingbird house. However I had to return early to
sort out my itinerary, really the only low point of the whole trip. If I'd
taken my scheduled flight back to Bogotá, I stood a good chance of missing
my connecting flight to Buenos Aires. Sorting out the mess took hours and
caused poor Natalia, the lass trying to fix it, much despair.
Then I discovered that all the photos I¹d taken of birds and the conference
were missing. Others had scheduled a trip to see antipittas in the
afternoon but I decided to return to at least try to record some of the
Species at the hummingbird house included Sparkling and Green Violet-ear,
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Speckled Hummingbird, Buff-tailed Coronet, Bronzy
Inca, and White-bellied Woodstar. Hopping around the fuschias and other
potted shrubs was a little black bird with an upturned beak White-sided
A general article on my visit has already been published on the web
<www.impress.com.au> and I'll be writing another in January (for The Weekend
Australian) plus another more focused on the birds for a US birding journal.
Lastly, I have no hesitation in recommending Manizales and its department of
Caldas to birders and other wildlife enthusiasts. Indeed Colombia has much
to offer all sorts of visitors. And incidentally I've felt far more unsafe
walking the streets of Darwin than I ever felt in Colombia. If anyone would
like more information please don't hesitate to contact me.
My thanks to the Birding Aussers who kindly sent me information. I wish you
all the happiest of New Years.
Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow
PO Box 71, Darwin River,
043 8650 835
PhD candidate, SCU
Vice-chair, Wildlife Tourism Australia