Observe the birds, a passion without age limit in Colombia

Binoculars in hand, Juan David Camacho walks the jungle. At 10, he is the youngest bird watcher in Colombia but dreams big. His country, a paradise for bird watchers, is the world's number one bird species, and the little boy intends to see them all.

"We leave very early with our cameras , binoculars, tripods and we watch the birds until around noon, in silence, "he said quietly. Without stopping to take a look here and there: there is no question of missing the rare specimen that would land on a branch around Lake Herons, Cali.

Soccer buff like most Colombians, Juan David discovers another passion when his father takes him one day to observe the birds. "The first outings with my dad did not please me too much, but afterwards, if!", He admits mutinous to AFP. It was three years ago.

Since then, once a month, he travels through the tropical forests around Cali, the third largest city in the country with about 2.5 million inhabitants.

Nestled in the heart of the vast expanse of the Valle del Cauca (southwest) and the Andean cordillera, this municipality, which extends from 900 to 4,100 m of altitude, counts "562 species of birds, much more than in all the "Europe", says the expert Carlos Wagner

– Zones prohibited by the war –

"I have already seen 491 and taken 200 in photo", rejoices Juan David. In February, he was at the International Bird Festival, which attracts more than 15,000 people each year to Cali, and gave a lecture on his "Three Years of Passion for Birds."

Too small to reach the lectern On the stage, he grabbed the microphone and commented on the expedition images he and his parents, computer scientist and lawyer, and sometimes other feathered creature lovers. None of them are as young as the child. Some might be his great-grandparents.

The second largest country in the world for its rich biodiversity, after Brazil eight times bigger, Colombia is the one with the most bird species: more than 1,920 19% of those on the planet.

A huge part of the territory, the red zones of the armed conflict, remains to be explored thanks to the ongoing peace process with the guerrillas.

"This is a tropical country, a point of contact between wildlife and North America and South America.In addition, in Colombia, the Andes are divided into three mountain ranges, with multiple valleys (…) so many ecosystems where evolved many species, "says Wagner , 40, director of the festival of Cali.

This other enthusiast grew up in the surrounding countryside, near the San Antonio Forest, site of the first ever great ornithological expedition to Colombia in 1910 by the New York Museum of Natural History.

– L 'avitourism, an economic alternative –

Threatened by deforestation, this 900-hectare eden has been classified as Important Area for Bird Conservation (AICA in Spanish, IBA in English) in 2004 by the great British NGO BirdLife. "But because IAISs were not legally recognized in Colombia, there was no guarantee that they would be respected," says Wagner.

With a project of end of studies in zootechnics on the avitourism, he then strikes, with other enthusiasts of ecology, to sensitize the inhabitants so that they preserve the forest and welcome, against retribution, bird watchers. "We are great romantics, but the farmers have needs: they cut down the trees to cultivate," he admits.

Although Colombia is the kingdom of birds, observation tourism is poorly developed. [19659002] But the government has become aware of this potential source of income. He expects in the future "14,978 observers per year, who would spend nearly nine million dollars", according to a projection of the Ministry of Tourism. Most currently come from the United States, Canada, Argentina and the United Kingdom.

In the forest of San Antonio, a dozen places and guides already welcome observers, at the rate of 15,000 to 20,000 pesos (about 5 to 6.5 dollars) visit.

Olga Gomez, who raises rabbits, turned his small farm of one hectare into a paradise for birds. From white arum trees to red heliconias, the flowers are there to seduce them.

"We have observed up to 25 species, including 18 hummingbirds," says this 66-year-old smiling lady, who keeps a record of visitors to his Finca La Conchita: a thousand in one year.

– Rare Species –

Higher up the mountain, at Finca Alejandria, clouds of hummingbirds of all colors also flutter around red saucers of sweet water. Other species feast on bananas placed on bamboo platforms.

A French family from Amiens marvels. "In our large northern plains, trees have disappeared because of extensive agriculture, we see fewer and fewer birds, and here it's magic!" Says father Marc Bulcourt, 62, a nurse retirement

Then comes a multicolored callist, one of the 79 endemic bird species of Colombia. "Any observer wants to see it at least once before dying!" Exclaims Mr. Wagner, pointing to an extremely rare Multicolored Chlorochrysa Nitidissima, the scientific name of this small turquoise, yellow, and lime green bird.

If Juan David has already seen, he does not intend to abandon his quest: "I have not yet seen a condor," he says. The iconic bird of the Andes is threatened, its populations increasingly reduced, so difficult to observe.

"When I visited all of Colombia, I would like to go to other countries," said the child who dreams, of course, to become an ornithologist.