Let’s Go Birding February 21st

The day started with a drive up the mountains around Cali, Colombia. This trip included passing a police officer with lights on for no apparent reason in the center of Cali. Throughout the trip in Panama and Cali we were in one large travel bus. Today, however, we were in two 15 passenger buses because we were told larger bus would not fit on the roads we were to travel. The trip up the mountain were sketchy, increasing everyone’s nervousness – and some widespread car sickness. Once on the mountain, we were welcomed on to a traditional Colombian mountain farm, owned be a family. The farm, at 12 acres, was the largest conservation area in the district. They have dedicated the ground to native plants and birds from that area. Breakfast was incredible and our hosts were gracious, waking at 3 AM to start cooking for our large group. Fresh croissants, eggs, and coffee, of course.

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The next stop was to visit the educational and cultural center “right next to the farm” (about 200 yards of hard walking up a hill). The center was the only one of it’s kind in the area in and around Cali. Built to educate community and visitors about both what is found naturally in the hills there and what is becoming extinct due to lack of awareness of the precious species and ecosystem elements there. While at the center, Carlos for the Asociacion Rio Cali gave us a presentation. The presentation shared that their organization is a non-profit organization that works to promote ecological and socially sustainable conservation practices for the Cali River basin. The Cali River basin supplies drinking water for 500,000 people in city of Cali and is one of the most diverse ecosystem areas in the world. One primary interest is to decide how land is split so that it is both profitable for local land owners and ecological at the same time, all the while saving natural resources. One example is work the center did with a local farmer to diversify local plant life on his cattle farm. Today, he is growing 80% of his family’s food and all of his cattle’s feed are grown on his farm of 18 hectors. Another program hosted at the center is the education for conservation. The purpose is to enhance the knowledge of local people on the importance of conservation.

The surrounding community is very involved in the center. Through education, they had demonstrated there is money to be made in bird tourism. Last year, they hosted their first Bird Fair. Mapalina birding travels is an organization that has grown out of the education of bird tourism. Highlights of the group includes the guides are locals who are experts on the 220 species. The area represents one of the best spots in the world.

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10% of the funds collected go back into the foundation for the River Cali basin. For more information on the upcoming 2016 Bird Fair, visit their website www.colombiabirdafair.org. Colombia has 20% of the world’s birds and only 1% of the area.

After this presentation, we visited the local town square of El Felidia, which stands for struggling faith. Here we took the opportunity to visit with local towns people and shop owners while we waited for mass. We enjoyed fresh made pastries, coffee, and chicken. In true Latin American fashion, mass was delayed by 40 minutes due to a very strong rain shower. The rain was their first in three months, backing up traffic coming up the mountain, and delaying the priest. So he had a good excuse.

After mass, we loaded into the vans and went further up the mountain where the rough and twisting roads got rougher and more twisted. If you like guardrails, don’t take this road. Our destination was approximately 8,000 ft. above sea level. There Mapalina prepared a lunch in a park close to what a state park is in the US. After lunch we went for a bird watching trip through the park in the rain soaked trail. With a group of 26 people, we didn’t see many birds and we all enjoyed sliding and slipping down the mountain. The drive back down the mountain was just and slippery.

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