Mar 9, 2022

Photographing During a Colombia Big Year

Happenstance played no part in getting this image, for this was among the species Mauro and Niky most wanted to photograph – a Gray-breasted Mountain Toucan. Prepared to venture to higher elevations, they decided to search for the impressive species at El Bosque, a hacienda famous for its bird conservation work in the heart of the mountainous Colombian coffee region. This site is one of the best places to photograph birds in Colombia, partly due to its active bird feeding station.

This week, a photography duo shares photos of birds they encountered in Colombia, a nation that can boast one of the most diverse avifaunas found on Earth within the variety of tropical habitats stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the top of the Andes Mountains and on to the Amazon Basin. As the first people ever to conduct a Birding Big Year in Colombia, Niky Carrera Levy and Mauricio Ossa criss-crossed the country tallying 1,453 species and photographing as many birds as possible – all during the last year, 2021.

Beak against beak, 2 Shining Sunbeams were consumed in a fight that preceded an attempt to drink from the same flower in the heights of the Central Cordillera of Colombia. Focusing on the action, the photographers benefitted from diffused light that minimized shadows and provided fairly uniform illumination with a fast enough shutter speed to stop the action.

As native Colombians, Niky and Mauro discovered first-hand the richness of their country, with a special emphasis on birds, and in the process they added hundreds of new species to their Life Lists - Niky with 953 lifers and Mauro with 826! These numbers underscore the potential for any birders who venture to Colombia.

During their Big Year, Mauro and Niky wanted to use our experience as photographers and publicists to raise awareness about the splendor and diversity of their country’s birds. When they have the attention of fellow Colombians, they also share the threats the birds face. Then, the photography duo shares stories about the birding guides and other people on the ground in different areas who are working to protect and carry out conservation measures for birds.

During their year-long birding blitz, they also aimed to raise awareness on behalf of bird conservation, and collected hundreds of stories from and about conservation heroes, including people whose lives have been transformed by birds, some of whom have been trained as birding guides.

The shining Hooded Mountain Tanager was also photographed at Hacienda El Bosque. Because of its location in the country’s high mountains and the attraction of the bird feeders, the site attracts birds such as the Gray-breasted Mountain Toucan and the Crescent-faced Antpitta that usually can’t be seen so close to eye level, because the toucan are usually in the tallest trees, while the antpitta is most often near the forest floor.
Inside the high Andean forest, where green colors blend into the mist, the hummingbird with the longest beak of all flew stealthily to perch on dew-nourished branches. Niky and Mauro found that Manizales has a variety of places to observe and photograph Sword-billed Hummingbirds in all their splendor.

Starting January 1st when they left the municipality of Honda in central Colombia, Niky and Mauro planned to spend 10 days in each of Colombia’s 32 departments (states). The inspired bird photographers covered 13,719 miles of roads, descending from high misty peaks to vast plains that extend as far as the eye can see. They boated more than 250 miles of rivers, reaching remote sites in the Colombian Amazon Basin, which are inaccessible by any other means. A total of 13 flights ensured they reached each of the departments in the country, and they trekked 733 miles during their Big Year.

The photo duo of Mauro and Niky appreciated enlivened passionate conversations about bird conservation with Afro-Colombians, indigenous people, villagers, children, birding guides, and community forest rangers. And they appreciated the hospitality provided by many families who not only opened the doors of their homes to them, but also showed Niky and Mauro the birds they are dedicated to protecting.

In this article we share a tiny percentage of the impressive photos that were taken during Colombia’s first Birding Big Year. We hope you are equally impressed with the birds and the photos taken, often in subdued lighting conditions under the canopy of rain forests and misty cloud forests, often in overcast weather conditions. It’s the tip of the iceberg of the remarkable collection of photos Niky and Mauro produced, and a testament to the potential for any bird photographer in Colombia.

This remarkable collage of Colombian bird photos taken by Niky Carrera Levy and Mauricio Ossa are identified from the top left in a circular fashion: White-bellied Woodstar, Red-hooded Tanager, Golden-eared Tanager, Scarlet Ibis, Green Thorntail, Golden-naped Tanager, Southern Emerald Toucanet, Black-streaked Puffbird, Bay-headed Tanager, Multicolored Tanager, Toucan Barbet, Masked Tityra, Gray-breasted Mountain Toucan, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, and Coppery-chested Jacamar.

To refer to the original article and photographs by Niky Carrera Levy and Mauricio Ossa at Audubon online, see This Duo Photographed Hundreds of Colombia’s Dazzling Birds This Year | Audubon

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The photo duo was especially looking forward for a chance to photograph a flamboyant Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, and were awarded with the chance in the Jardín de Rocas Natural Reserve, where they were delighted to see a half-dozen of the striking birds at the same time.