Sunday, March 27, 2016

Cartagena, Colombia - 19 Mar 2016

We arrived into port shortly before 6 am. Skies were beginning to brighten, but a deep haze sat over the city of Cartagena, Colombia to the point that the sun, already above the horizon, was a faint orange orb in the sky. A quick step onto the balcony brought an instant steambath. Today was gonna be a hot one. Laughing Gulls floated by the ship, while Magnificent Frigatebirds soared in the distance. Great Egrets were flying out from the shoreline to a small mangrove island while flocks of Rock Pigeons migrated shoreward. I heard an Osprey calling in the distance, as well as a Peacock that would turn out to be part of an aviary that is found at the edge of the pier.

We gathered at a bus for an 8 am Eco Canoe Tour through a mangrove swamp at the outskirts of the city, where progress was halted on shoreline development in order to protect and preserve the remaining mangrove swamps. We would drive to a small village where Afro-Colombian peoples still partake in centuries-old customs of net-fishing. Prior to that, however, we drove through the heart of Cartagena for a city tour that included the “Walled City” and “Old Fortress” that protected the Colombian people from British attack in the 1700’s.

The new city itself is a contrast in socioeconomic situations that includes sky-rises surrounded by squalor. The Boca Grande, or Little Miami as the locals call it, is a skyscraper complex that is impressively built along the edge of the port city that successfully obscures the poverty that pervades the area when you drive through it. But folks are friendly, and life is bustling everywhere. Our stop at the Old Fort was a brief 10-minute opportunity for locals to hock their goods, like sunglasses and hats, to us tour-folk.

I was interested in trying to identify the suspected Yellow-headed Caracaras that were flying around the morning haze. Unfortunately, my camera fogged up something fierce, and it took almost the entire time to warm it to a point where I could wipe the lens to get a poor shot of one bird. Great-tailed Grackles were everywhere. Overhead Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures soared in small kettles. I spotted several Tropical Kingbirds along with several dove spp. that included Rock Pigeons, Common Ground Doves, Pale-vented Pigeons, Short-billed Pigeons, and White-winged Doves.

As we reached the edge of town we turned onto a shoreline / beach drive that brought flocks of Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets and Snowy Egrets, Laughing Gulls, and a brief drive-by look at a Southern Lapwing! The bus stopped at the edge of a small estuary that had shorebirds that included Reddish Egrets, Lesser Yellowlegs, Willets, Royal and Sandwich Terns, and more Laughing Gulls.

The highlight, though, was a pair of Large-billed Terns that fed in the shallows. Large, bright-yellow bills on a tern with black-and-white wings that reminded you of a Willet in flight made for a stunning bird. Mangrove Swallows were also flitting about.

The group got a surprise when the canoes we were going to commandeer turned out to be hand-carved wooden canoes made by the natives. Patchwork at best, they would turn out to be surprisingly dry, and were pole-driven by a local. Water levels were only a foot or two, so we were in shallows the entire time. Still, I was a bit worried at first whether my camera gear would remain dry. There were no problems, however, as we had a nice, relaxing float through the mangroves. The float trip through the mangrove swamp brought views of locals living in squalor, termite mounds, and water-level views of the local waterbirds. Tricolored Herons and Reddish Egrets were actively feeding. A Willet was resting, and a flock of Royal and Sandwich Terns sat among several Laughing Gulls. Neotropic Cormorants were roosting on a small sandbar.

We came upon Jose, a local fisherman, who demonstrated the skill of net-casting and crab fishing. We returned to the dock and drove back through town before stopping at the pier. Along the way we spotted a half-dozen Yellow-headed Caracara sitting in an empty parking lot and nearby light posts. Try as I may I couldn’t get a decent photo of one through the bus window.

We returned to the ship and cooled off. Outside the window a pair of Gray-breasted Martins was perched on a buoy while a half-dozen other birds were soaring overhead. On one of the mooring ropes an Eared Dove perched and gave a nice view of its pale head and bronze neck scales.

The ship was supposed to leave promptly at 2 pm, but several PA requests indicated that someone was missing. Sure enough, from our balcony I could see the ships officials waiting impatiently for someone to show up. When they didn’t, the ship decided to pull out of port. A few minutes later a schooner pulled alongside w/ the culprit: an 80-year old man who was shopping in town and missed the required 1:30 pm embarkation time. The poor guy had to climb a rope ladder to get back on ship. I expected him to not make the climb, as he could barely pull himself up. But, he did, and we were soon on our way toward our next destination: The Panama Canal!

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