Colombia is well known for its diversity of habitats and high level of bird endemism. This is especially true of the isolated mountains of Santa Marta in northeastern Colombia and the Guajira Peninsula on the Caribbean coast, where an impressive number of range-restricted species can be seen. They include the beautiful and sought-after White-whiskered Spinetail, Santa Marta Blossomcrown, Scarlet Ibis, Vermilion Cardinal, Santa Marta Antpitta, White-tipped Quetzal, Chestnut Piculet, and Lance-tailed Manakin. During our searches we’re likely to see some fine mammals such as the handsome Cotton-top Tamarin or the bright Red-tailed Squirrel, as well as a number of interesting reptiles and showy butterflies.
On the Caribbean Coast, Isla Salamanca, Tayrona and Flamencos National Parks allows for birding through mangroves and coastal wetlands, along the ocean and in dry scrub forest that can yield species such as the near endemic Buffy Hummingbird, the endemic Chestnut-winged Chachalaca, Russet-throated Puffbird, the near endemic Chestnut Piculet, Bicoloured Conebill and Panama Flycatcher.
The tour begins at 6 pm this evening in Barranquilla. Night in Barranquilla.
We’ll begin in the wetlands east of Barranquilla. After crossing the Magdalena River, we’ll stop at an extensive marsh where North American migrants are seasonally abundant alongside more exotic Brown-throated Parakeet, Straight-billed Woodcreeper and Yellow-chinned Spinetail. The noisy Stripe-backed Wren is usually common, the omnipresent Red-crowned Woodpecker peeks from its holes in the palm trees, and the stunning Russet-throated Puffbird is sometimes seen hunting large insects and lizards in the open. After a few hours of birding in this mix of shrubs and wetlands, we’ll drive to the Isla Salamanca National Park for a short walk in the shade of the mangrove. This rich habitat always attracts interesting species, including Bicoloured Conebill, Bare-eyed Pigeon and with some luck the stunning Chestnut Piculet or the Critically-endangered Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird. By now it will be hot so we’ll retreat to our cool vehicle and drive toward Santa Marta and then Riohacha, stopping for lunch on the way. In the afternoon, just before arriving in Riohacha, we’ll explore the semi-arid vegetation of the Los Flamencos National Park. The thorny and almost leafless vegetation here hosts an amazing selection of beautiful species. One of the most striking is the White-whiskered Spinetail, but the competition is stiff as other amazing birds occur as well, including Vermilion Cardinal, Orinocan Saltator, and Trinidad Euphonia. Night in Riohacha.
In addition to thorn scrub, Los Flamencos offers mudflats and coastline, where shorebirds sometimes congregate in great number but the star of the mudflat is the bright Scarlet Ibis, found along with White Ibis and often some hybrids. Continuing in the red theme, we’ll have a good chance of finding the lovely Roseate Spoonbill and a few Greater Flamingoes. We’ll also bird the most arid part of the reserve, looking for any species we may still need, perhaps the extremely restricted Tocuyo Sparrow, Slender-billed Tyrannulet (or Inezia), or Buffy Hummingbird. In the afternoon we’ll drive toward the splendid Tayrona National Park, arriving early enough to relax in our lodge on the shore of the Caribbean Sea. In the late afternoon, we’ll offer a choice between some more birding or a swim from a beautiful white sand beach. Night La Jorara.
Tayrona is both beautiful and relaxing, and it’s a great birding destination. We’ll spend the morning looking for Crested Guan, Lance-tailed Manakin, Southern Bentbill, White-chinned Sapphire and White-necked Puffbird among others. We even have a chance of finding the extremely rare and endangered Blue-billed Curassow. During our morning’s walk through the forests of the national park, we’ll also be looking for mammals, including Colombian Red Howler Monkey and a Tayrona specialty, Cotton-top Tamarin. After lunch we’ll wend our way towards the village of Minca in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. After check-in at our hotel, we’ll look especially for the restricted-range Black-backed Antshrike, but also Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, Rufous-capped Warbler, Panama Flycatcher, and Bicoloured Wren. With some luck we might even find a flock of Military Macaw, and the bright red morph of Red-tailed Squirrel would be a brilliant addition to our mammal list. Night in Minca.
We’ll bird all morning around the charming little village of Minca. Its location at the intersection of arid habitat, coffee plantation, and the first patches of humid forest helps explain why it holds so many interesting species. Our main targets will include Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Golden-winged Sparrow, Scaled Piculet, Rufous-and-white Wren, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, Rufous-breasted Wren, Swallow Tanager, Keel-billed Toucan and our first Santa Marta endemic, the Foliage-gleaner! We’ll have lunch at the charming Hotel Minca, where besides the wonderful food, we’ll find one of the most impressive hummingbird feeding stations in Colombia. We’ll see dozens, perhaps hundreds, of hummingbirds of various species while enjoying an after-lunch cup of Colombian coffee: Steely-vented and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Red-billed Emerald, White-vented Plumeleteer, and Pale-bellied Hermit among others will be competing for the precious sugar. After our time at the feeders and on the hotel grounds, we’ll begin our drive toward the El Dorado Lodge. The last part of the road is rough and we’ll change over to four-wheel vehicles, arriving in the late afternoon. Night at El Dorado Lodge.
El Dorado lodge to Cerro Kennedy. We will rise early and head up to higher elevations towards to Cerro Kennedy, in search of these endemics: Santa Marta Wood-Wren, Brown-rumped Tapaculo, Santa Marta Antpitta, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant, Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Mountain-Tanager, Santa Marta Warbler, Yellow-crowned Whitestart, Rusty-headed Spinetail and Streak-capped Spinetail. We will have a picnic lunch at upper reaches with great views of the Sierra Nevada and bird along the road on our way down.
We’ll also pay special attention to the hummingbirds as we have chance of seeing endemics Black-backed Thornbill, Santa Marta Woodstar and the endemic subspecies of Tyrian Metaltail. As we descend we can find the stunning White-tipped Quetzal, Golden-bellied Grosbeak, as well as White-lored Warbler, “Bangs’s” Wood-Wren, Golden-breasted Fruiteater, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant and Montane Woodcreeper. Night at Dorado Lodge.
Dorado Lodge. After breakfast we will have time for enjoy the feeders. On the compost feeder we have very good chance to find Black-fronted Wood-Quail, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush or White-tipped Dove. At the hummingbird feeders – White-vented plumeleteer, Crowned Woodnymph, Brown Violetear, Sparkling Violetear, and White-tailed Starfronlet. The fruit feeders attract Black-capped Tanager, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Colombian Brushfinch, and Santa Marta Brushfinch. After lunch, the specialties continue with Santa Marta Blossomcrown, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Groove-billed Toucanet, Venezuelan Tyrannulet, Crested Oropendola, Scarlet-fronted Parakeet and others. Night in Dorado Lodge.
Dorado Lodge. Today transfer to Barranquilla, birding in the morning. On the way, we’ll have a full morning to bird in the Santa Marta foothills, covered by patches of shade-grown coffee and rainforest, looking for any last species we may still be missing. The trees will probably be full of boreal migrants, including the common Tennessee Warbler and Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and perhaps rarer ones such as Golden-winged Warbler or Olive-sided Flycatcher. Among the resident species, we’ll have a great chance to find our last Santa Marta endemic, the Santa Marta Antbird, as well as Yellow-backed Oriole, Rusty-breasted Antpitta, and Venezuelan Tyrannulet. We’ll arrive in Barranquilla. The tour concludes tonight in Barranquilla.