Discovering birding and bird photography

Yellow-headed caracara - Milvago chimachima
Yellow-headed caracara – Milvago chimachima

I needed to go back to basics

It was around mid 2019 and, as I already told you in my first post, I was having some hard times. Mainly because I was suffering a serious sleep disorder that had affected both my professional and personal lives.

I was trying to find ways to mitigate this and was trying to do everything possible to overcome the situation. 💡 So, I decided that one good way of self-care was to revisit my photography hobby and started carrying my camera again during my flights. That was the first part, getting my camera in my bag and starting taking pictures again.

Birdwatching is a hobby

The other part came to place because, for some reason, I found out that birding and bird photography was a thing. It was probably some answer to my prayers or just a mere coincidence, but I got interested in this hobby. I remember I stumbled upon tweets from Memo Gómez, Diego Emerson Torres, Jaime Andrés Herrera, and others in Twitter and I started following them. They regularly published bird photos and I found this very interesting. Thanks to people like them I understood that birdwatching existed.

At the moment I had no clue of how to start, where to go or what to do. I had taken some bird photos in the past during my family trips, because I’ve always been fascinated by them, but that was really only sporadic and I only did it when I had the chance to do it effortlessly. I knew nothing about bird guides or any of the tools I use today.

Gear update

At the time I had a 📷 Nikon D7100 with some lenses, including an 18-300mm. Truth be told, it wasn’t the right gear for the task of photographing birds, so the first thing I did was some online research in order to find an affordable and more appropriate lens. I decided on a Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary. Price and weight were the main drivers for this decision. First because bird photography was a new activity, so I wanted to start at the beginning and avoid a costly investment before I was certain this was going to be a long term thing. Additionally, because I needed to optimize space and weight in order to bring the gear with me during my flights.

With a more suitable equipment, I started exploring options to put it to a test. First thing that came to my mind was visiting a nearby park and just start looking around for birds to photograph. I had no clue whatsoever of what I was doing, but at least I had all the motivation to try. 😅

Note: in a future post I’ll tell you about another gear update.

First Steps

I remember I didn’t get to see much during that first outing, but I managed to get close enough to this Yellow-headed Caracara (Milvago chimachima). I could also see a Colombian Chacalaca (Ortalis columbiana) quite hidden in a tree and the ever present Scarlet Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus).

Yellow-headed Caracara - Milvago chimachima
Yellow-headed Caracara – Milvago chimachima
Scarlet Flycatcher - Pyrocephalus rubinus
Scarlet Flycatcher – Pyrocephalus rubinus

This trip to the park, though very exploratory, really fulfilled my expectations. It also allowed me to realize that right there, closer than one imagines, in a park completely embedded in the city, there were living creatures that I had never stopped to observe 🤯. I never thought I could be able to see them inside a “concrete jungle” (despite Cali being a very green city).

Results from this first session were acceptable. I got really motivated by the fact of being able to see the birds closer in my photos, obtaining details that are impossible to get at plain sight. I was thrilled to continue exploring this interesting thing called “Birding” that I was just starting to discover.

Colombian Chacalaca - Ortalis columbiana
Colombian Chacalaca – Ortalis columbiana


At night, searching in Google for the names of the birds I had seen (at that moment I couldn’t distinguish a Caracara from an Eagle 🤣), I found some photos from Augusto Ilián and his Flickr account. His name immediately sounded familiar to me. With that not very common last name it was very probable that he was the same Augusto I had met about 20 years ago, when I was a teenager and enjoyed my passion for aviation in the world of Microsoft Flight Simulator. At the time, Augusto had founded an online aviation community and virtual airline (Aerocol). Some of us now real world pilots had some relation to that project.

Through Flicker I managed to contact him and we talked over the phone. He was, in fact, the same Augusto and, because of those interesting life coincidences, he was also living in Cali and practicing bird photography. He had been doing it for some years and he happened to know almost all birdwatching places in Valle del Cauca. He also knew a lot of people in the Birding Community, so he very kindly offered me help.

One of my main worries was I didn’t feel comfortable going out to public spaces with expensive photographic gear. That was Augusto’s first recommendation and he suggested different places he knew where I could engage in a whole and safe birdwatching experience. He offered to take me to those places, so we scheduled our first outing.

During subsequent weeks and months I got to know stunning birdwatching places like La Minga, Alejandría – Hummingbirds Paradise, La Conchita, Doña Dora Birdwatching, Sonso’s Lagoon, and even some places that became my favorite ones like La Florida – Bird Forest and Bosque de Niebla Birding and Nature. I’ll write about all these places in the future.

I found a therapy

The more I explored this amazing birding experience the more I got interested and captivated. So much so that I started birding from my apartment’s balcony and in family’s or friend’s country houses, where visits and meetings got mixed with the search for these winged beings in bushes and on twigs.

This new activity did not only allow me to reconnect with nature and rediscover myself (through photography), but it also helped me navigate the moment of crisis I was going through (due to the sleep disorder I talked about earlier).

Since 2019, every week I try to go on a birding outing or birdwatching trip. This hobby has become kind of a therapy for me 💪. A moment for total disconnection from the daily life and for reconnecting with my inner self and with nature; both activities so essential for human beings nowadays, the same they were for our ancestors centuries ago.

Birding changed my life

Birding has become so important in my life that even my little children have become motivated to practice it. This has gotten them into hobbies so beneficial such as photography and nature exploring, something I’m really thankful for.

It turned out to be like a necessity, a kind of ground connection that allows me every week to discharge negative things and recharge energies. This contact with green, with earth, with fresh and pure air from the forests has totally enthralled me. That indescribable feeling of freedom and novelty in the spirit has been something really revealing. Of such an impact that I could say it changed my life 🤩 .

In a coming post I will tell you more about how birding has been a balm to the soul for many of us during the pandemic. Thanks to that sudden “stop” we were forced to by COVID-19, a lot of people around the world got to know this hobby, got interested about observing their environment and found out that connecting with birds and nature could be a method for healing, an incentive that has helped us get through this complex crisis we are still facing.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *