I am a fairly new user to eBird. I joined in order to see if it could be a useful tool to lodges and hotels that do not normally cater to a birdwatching crowd. Imagine my surprise to find out that I just plain like entering my birds into a life list. That’s how I found myself participating in the very first Big Day for the month of October.

History of the Big Day

For the past four years, the global community has participated in a Global Big Day in early May. Birdwatchers around the world tally their bird counts on a single day to give scientists a better idea of how many birds there are in different locations around the world. The event has become so popular that this year, the Cornell Lab and eBird, decided to add a second Big Day to the year, this time in the month of October.

October is traditionally a month of migration so the information captured by thousands of birdwatchers will inform scientists not only of what birds are where on this single day but may hint at changing migration patterns as well.

Our First Big Day

This is the first time that Scott and I have participated in this kind of a bird count. We did not plan our trip in Colombia around this day. However, we managed to find ourselves in a location that could well be called a birding hotspot (though it is not yet recognized as such on eBird).

We began the morning at about 6:00 am, looking for birds on the ground of our hotel, Hotel Huaka-Yo, a nice property situated in secondary forests near the Archeology Park in San Agustín, Colombia. Although we are not the first people to bird here, they are not yet listed as a hotspot. I only wish I was more of an expert birdwatcher as we saw far more birds than we could identify. If you would like to see our one hour list, check it out on eBird:

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S4899788

Saffron Finch, San Agustín, Colombia | ©Angela Drake

Our morning began with a very rude awakening, the squawking of several groups of loud birds. They were quite raspy and jarring with their raucous sounds. Although we could not see a single one, we learned from the hotel staff that we were hearing guacharaca, the local name for the Colombian Chachalaca. Later in the day we were fortunate enough to photograph some high in the trees of the neighboring park.

This small property happens to be a flyway for birds like egrets and ibis. Each morning, we have watched large flocks move from east to west. Locals tell us that they spread out in the local farms, eating their way from cow pasture to cow pasture.

Egrets, San Agustín, Colombia | ©Angela Drake

We were happy to find several colorful birds here as well like the Saffron Finch, the Silver-beaked Tanager, the Blue-necked Tanager, the Palm Tanager, and the Blue-Gray Tanager. My husband was especially happy to see a Squirrel Cuckoo jumping from branch to branch.

Birding at the Archeology Park, San Agustín

After breakfast, we gathered our gear for a day in the nearby Archeology Park. While locals tell you that a mere four hours is sufficient to tour the grounds, we knew that we wanted to both look at the amazing stone carvings as well as look for birds. We planned on spending an entire day, packing a small lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches with bananas in our packs.

Gray-crowned Flycatcher, San Agustín, Colombia | ©Angela Drake

We were not disappointed. We have few great pictures as these birds do not approach people. Nor are their feeders to encourage them any closer. But that didn’t stop us from trying to photograph every bird we saw. Trust me, we have many a blurry shot with a barely recognizable bird! But for every 10 bad photos, we managed a good one!

Check out our Parque Arqueologico Bird List on eBird:

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S49010776

Some of the highlight species for us were the Colombian Chachalaca, the Green Jay, the Boat-billed Flycatcher, the White-lined Tanager, the Bay-headed Tanager, and the Black-crested Warbler. None of these birds are very rare, but who knows how many hard to see birds are actually here. I hope that a dedicated birdwatcher makes their way here sometime soon!

Colombian Chachalaca, San Agustín, Colombia | ©Angela Drake

It’s Not About Totals

Our Big Day was probably smaller than many other birdwatchers. However, at the end of the day, it’s not a competition about final counts. At least, it doesn’t need to be.

For us, adding a bird count for a little known destination is an opportunity to build a new sector of sustainable tourism in a community that greatly benefits from the influx of tourism dollars. San Agustín, and much of the Huila Department (like a province or state), could use an economic boost. They are somewhat isolated by poorly maintained roads though the richness of cultural and naturalist tourism destinations is impressive. We hope our Big Day will help in a small way!

Grayish Saltator, San Agustín, Colombia | ©Angela Drake
Black Phoebe, San Agustín, Colombia | ©Angela Drake

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