Colombia – plata o plomo?

IMG_0061 Black-fronted Wood Quail blogsizeIt’s been some six weeks since I returned from Colombia, and it’s safe to say that I’m already planning my return there. There are hummingbirds aplenty to lure me back, the small matter of a hawkmoth new to science, but above all there are new friends I want to see again in this friendliest and most beautiful of countries.

When I told people back here in the UK that I was going to Colombia last year, the reaction was invariably a little guarded. Or even incredulous. There are still plenty of misconceptions about this country – ghosts that need to be laid to rest once and for all.

IMG_1420 blogsizeUnfortunately Colombia still stands in the shadows cast by its past – decades of bloody internal strife and then the years when the activities of the drugs cartels dominated the international news. Our perception of Colombia remains unfairly coloured by those years – it is now a welcoming and largely safe place to visit. Certainly no worse and in many cases a lot better than anywhere else in Central or South America.

IMG_4367 blogsizeI was there for a shade over a week and, to get the birdy bit out of the way, I saw exactly 350 species in that time – many of them new to me, not least a suite of gorgeous endemic and near-endemic hummingbirds. They were the driving force for my visit – but they were really the icing on a tremendously rich and varied cake. Colombia is incredibly biodiverse and boasts a phenomenal amount of endemic species of all shapes and sizes.

IMG_4489 colombia fruitAs our understanding of the complexities of taxonomy grows, we’re even now expanding the number of species we recognise there – so shortly after seeing Apolinar’s Wren and Bogota Rail (and recently split Green-bearded Helmetcrests) we bumped into what once was considered simply a subspecies of Bar-winged Cinclodes – now considered a species in its own right: Chestnut-winged Cinclodes. And so it goes on – this is a land of expanding horizons and discoveries waiting to be made.

IMG_4251 blogsizeI had my own small moment while I was there – a hawkmoth I found appears, according to the world Sphingidae expert, to be a new and previously undescribed species of Xylophanes. Further work is needed to confirm that, and this is just one of the reasons that compel me to return as soon as I can. I’ve found a handful of rare birds during my time living in Shetland, and it’s always a thrill – but not a patch on finding a first for the world!

I was there for such a tiny morsel of time, and covered such a meagre amount of ground, but my overwhelming impression was of a colourful, friendly and infinitely varied country.

IMG_4523 blogsizeThere used to be an expression in Colombia back in the darker days – plata o plomo – literally, silver or lead. This was a knowing reference to the hard choices people had to make to survive.

The choice to return to Colombia – or for anyone thinking of going there for the first time – should be a much easier one to make. For anyone with even a passing interest in natural history, it’s a compelling, wonderful place – plata all the way.


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3 Responses to Colombia – plata o plomo?

  1. 350 species. That is just a delightful amount of species sightings.
    I believe that your writing about Colombia is an important step in making people feel less guarded about visiting.
    Your photos are as always just stunning, your observations perceptive, and your writing clear and interesting.
    Thank you.

    • Jon Dunn says:

      Thank you for those kind words, Johanna. I think Colombia is an absolutely wonderful country and I want to encourage people to go there – and part of that encouragement needs to be not only championing the wildlife and the warm welcome of the people, but also addressing directly the enduring misconceptions about safety issues in Colombia.

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