Southwest Colombia a mecca for birdwatchers

By Mario Baos

Cali, Colombia, Feb 25 (EFE).- Bosque de Niebla (Cloud Forest), the Camacho Marquez family’s spread of just 0.5 hectares (1.1 acres) on a mountain in southwestern Colombia, is home to 460 different bird species, more than can be found in entire European nations such as Belgium, Switzerland or Austria.

It was for the love of birds that Luis Eduardo Camacho, Angela Marquez and their son, Juan-David, moved out of central Cali to the area known as Kilometer 18.

“Everything happened when the boy saw his dad, a systems engineer, leave the house before 5:00 o’clock in the morning to watch birds and became infected with the same passion. Later they brought me and I also fell in love with looking at the little creatures,” attorney Marquez tells EFE.

During a subsequent bird watching outing, she continues, “we saw this property and we decided to buy it, In less than six months we left everything, we sold the apartment, the car, and we bid farewell to the offices to devote ourselves to being happy.”

A dozen families in all have established avitourism ventures in the rural hinterlands of Cali, Colombia’s third city, to cater to the thousands of enthusiasts who come from around the world to enjoy the area’s unmatched avian diversity.

And by blocking the deforestation of the highlands to make room for crops, those pioneers have safeguarded the avian-friendly ecosystem.

Thanks to its proximity to both the Pacific coast and the Farralones, a cluster of mountains in the West Andes, greater Cali boasts 563 different species of birds.

Carlos Mario Wagner, director of the Colombia BirdFair, says that Cali has a responsibility to protect that biodiversity.

“Around 2004 the Kilometer 18 sector was declared a zone of great importance for the preservation of birds because it’s a critical site that could end in extinction. Nowadays, it’s an example and a place that everyone wants to visit,” Wagner tells EFE.

This year’s edition of the Colombia BirdFair, held Feb. 16-19, brought more than 1,500 people to the mountains of Kilometer 18 with state-of-the-art binoculars and cameras.

Gunther Klonner traveled from Austria to catch a glimpse of the multicolored tanager, a bird 12 cm (5 in) long with dazzling plumage.

“It’s my first time in Colombia and I don’t regret it,” he says, “To see this bird in all its splendor is unique and one of my best experiences in my 36 years of adventures.”

Francisco Sornoza, an ornithologist from Ecuador, calls Colombia “a marvel of the universe, a paradise.”

“I waited my whole life to come to Cali, get to know its birds and live the passion that has moved me since childhood in this zone where nature is beautiful,” he says. EFE mba/dr

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