CLASSIC COLOMBIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Colombia: Day 1 Our Classic Colombia birding tour begins in the evening in Bogotá, where we will stay for three nights.
Colombia: Days 2-3 Built on a flat, high mountain plateau, the bustling city of Bogotá is a great base from which to explore an excellent variety of natural habitats in Colombia’s Eastern Andes.
During our exploration of the Bogotá region, we will explore some high paramo, where we have a great chance of finding the splendid endemic Green-bearded Helmetcrest and near-endemic Bronze-tailed Thornbill. Here, in the thin mountain air, Tawny Antpittas bound across the turf, Buff-winged Cinclodes creep around the wetland edges and endemic Bogota Rails and Apolinar’s Wrens frequent the marshland. Another typical inhabitant here is the distinctive Noble Snipe, and we shall have an excellent chance of seeing this localized bird.
Other species at these high altitudes include Andean Teal and Andean Duck. During the boreal winter, we could encounter a Merlin.
We will also visit some feeders where the delightful, restricted-range Golden-bellied Starfrontlet can often be seen, as well as Lesser Violetear.
On our second day, we will explore an area of high elevation forest in Chingaza National Park where we have an opportunity to see the colourful endemic Flame-winged (or Brown-breasted) Parakeet, the endemic Silvery-throated Spinetail (which betrays its presence with its staccato vocalizations more typical of Cranioleuca spinetails) and the near-endemic Pale-bellied (or Mattoral) Tapaculo.
Other specialities we may well encounter while exploring this diverse park include such near-endemics as Longuemare’s Sunangel, the uncommon Blue-throated Starfrontlet, Coppery-bellied Puffleg, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, Rufous-browed Conebill and the pretty Golden-fronted Whitestart (here of the nominate white-cheeked race), and also the localized and gorgeous Golden-crowned Tanager.
The monotonous calling of an Andean Pygmy Owl may well lure in a mob of nervous little birds, and amongst these, or in the busy mixed feeding flocks, we will look for Pearled Treerunner, White-browed Spinetail, Black-capped and White-throated Tyrannulets, Agile Tit-Tyrant, Rufous Wren, Black-crested Warbler, Black-headed, Black-capped, Black-eared, Superciliaried and perhaps Oleaginous Hemispinguses, and the brilliant Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, the electric-blue Blue-backed Conebill and the smart Plushcap. Black and Bluish Flowerpiercers vigorously pursue their nectar thievery in the company of many other passerines in the flowering shrubs.
Thick bamboo fills many of the forest glades and strange but distinctive calls may lead us to the highly distinctive local form of the Rufous Antpitta (which may be split in the future), while other birds of interest in this splendid area include Andean Guan and Ash-coloured Tapaculo. We may also find the interesting Red-crested Cotinga, the uncommon Andean Siskin and the rather more widespread Hooded Siskin.
Other widespread species we may well encounter include Sickle-winged Guan, Band-tailed Pigeon, Scaly-naped Amazon, Chestnut-collared Swift, Long-tailed Sylph, Tyrian Metaltail, the colourful Glowing Puffleg, Bronzy and Collared Incas, Masked Trogon, White-throated Toucanet, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Merlin, Azara’s Spinetail, Montane and Lineated Foliage-gleaners, Blackish Tapaculo, Mountain Elaenia, White-banded and perhaps Tawny-rumped Tyrannulets, the delightful Rufous-headed Pygmy Tyrant , Streak-necked, Slaty-capped, Flavescent and Cinnamon Flycatchers, Smoke-coloured Pewee, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Barred Becard, Blue-and-white and Brown-bellied Swallows, Sharpe’s Wren, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, the musical Andean Solitaire, Glossy-black Thrush, Black-collared Jay, colourful Hooded, Blue-winged and Buff-breasted Mountain Tanagers, Grass-green, Blue-capped, Blue-and-black, Beryl-spangled and Flame-faced Tanagers, White-sided, Glossy and Masked Flowerpiercers, Grey-browed, Pale-naped and Slaty Brushfinches, Plain-coloured Seedeater, Citrine, Three-striped and Russet-crowned Warblers and Northern Mountain Cacique.
Widespread birds likely in more open habitats as we travel around the Bogotá region include Western Cattle and Great Egrets, Bare-faced Ibis, Black and Turkey Vultures, Roadside Hawk, American Kestrel, Southern Lapwing, Eared Dove, Ruddy Ground Dove, Squirrel Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Sparkling Violetear, Tropical Kingbird, Cattle Tyrant, Great Kiskadee, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow (during the boreal winter), Bananaquit, Blue-grey and Palm Tanagers, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Lesser Goldfinch, Yellow-backed Oriole, Shiny Cowbird and Eastern Meadowlark.
Colombia: Day 4 West of the capital, the western slope of the Eastern Andes still harbours some very ‘birdy’ patches of cloudforest. One of these is one of the few sites where one of Colombia’s rarest endemics, the colourful Turquoise Dacnis, can sometimes be found, though it is by no means common here. Another of the country’s specialities that occurs here is the flashy but scarce endemic Black Inca, and whilst looking for the latter species we are likely to encounter several other hummingbirds such as Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Andean Emerald, Steely-vented Hummingbird and White-booted Racket-tail.
Oak trees, not found in any other South American country, are sometimes inhabited by parties of noisy Acorn Woodpeckers, while active mixed flocks nervously flit through the canopy and mid-levels, and often include Red-crowned and Smoky-brown Woodpeckers, Ash-browed Spinetail and Brown-capped Vireo. Warblers often join the flocks and, as well as the resident Tropical Parula and Slate-throated Whitestart, during tours in the boreal winter we may well find wintering Black-and-white, Tennessee, Blackburnian, Mourning and Canada Warblers, as well as Swainson’s Thrush. Colour is added by the bewildering array of tanagers, which include Fawn-breasted, Golden, Blue-necked, Bay-headed, Scrub, Black-capped and Crimson-backed.
Other species likely here include the endemic Moustached Brushfinch as well as Pale-breasted Spinetail, Sooty-headed and Golden-faced Tyrannulets, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Whiskered and House Wrens, Black-billed and Great Thrushes, Streaked Saltator, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Saffron Finch.
We will also explore some shade coffee lower down where, in the brushy borders, we should see the zebra-striped, near-endemic Bar-crested Antshrike, which occurs here in close proximity to the similar but more widespread Barred Antshrike. Other species at these lower elevations include White-tailed Kite, White-tipped Dove, Slaty Spinetail, Vermilion Flycatcher, Scrub Greenlet and Rufous-browed Peppershrike. Here also we will look for flowering trees frequented by ‘hummers’ such as Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and White-vented Plumeleteer, and, if we are fortunate, we will find one of the rarer species such as Short-tailed Emerald. We may also come across the smart Stripe-breasted Spinetail.
During the late afternoon, we will explore some dry habitat in the Magdalena Valley, where we will have our first chance to find the endemic Apical Flycatcher and Velvet-fronted Euphonia, while other new birds could well include Scarlet-fronted Parakeet, White-bellied Antbird, Pale-eyed Pygmy Tyrant, Black-striped Sparrow, Grey Pileated Finch, Grey Seedeater and Black-faced Grassquit.
After exploring this area we will continue on to Ibague for an overnight stay.
Colombia: Day 5 This morning we shall visit some relict patches of drier woodland above Ibague. Here we will try to find the endemic and highly localized Yellow-headed Brushfinch and, if we are lucky, the very rare Tolima Dove and Tolima Blossomcrown. We also have a good chance of finding the lovely Velvet-fronted Euphonia and the shy Yellow-throated Brushfinch, as. well as the superb Grey-throated and Crimson-rumped Toucanets, Northern White-crowned Tapaculo, Moustached Puffbird, Collared Trogon and Andean Solitaire.
Afterwards, we continue northwestwards across the paramo to Otun Quimbaya for an overnight stay.
Colombia: Day 6 This morning we will visit the Otun-Quimbaya Reserve where we shall find ourselves listening for the pre-dawn calls of the endangered Cauca Guan, for it was at this site that this previously thought-to-be-extinct cracid was rediscovered during the 1990s. As the sky lightens we should locate this Colombian endemic as well as Sickle-winged Guan, whilst the booming calls of lekking Red-ruffed Fruitcrows (which are surprisingly common here) fill the air. If we are in luck we will encounter the furtive and very difficult Wattled Guan.
Dense brush at the forest edge holds the inconspicuous and recently-described Stiles’s Tapaculo, whilst almost pure whistles from the forest understorey indicate the presence of Chestnut-breasted Wrens, perhaps more numerous here than anywhere else in the species’ range. It is also an excellent place for hearing, and with luck seeing, the secretive Chestnut Wood Quail, and even the rarely seen Hooded Antpitta, which is being seen with increasing regularity at this site.
As mixed foraging flocks start assembling, we shall carefully scrutinize these for the localized Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulet and Rufous-breasted Flycatcher as well as Golden-olive Woodpecker and Red-faced Spinetail, and amongst the tanager flocks, we may well find the magnificent endemic Multicoloured Tanager. Other species we may well see include the impressive Golden-plumed Parakeet, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Slaty Antwren, Marble-faced and Variegated Bristle Tyrants, and Inca Jay.
Along the river, we are very likely to find a superb pair of Torrent Ducks, which we will also take the time to look at. This stunning duck is another flagship species for many South American countries and highly evocative of the tumbling rivers of the Andes. We may also find Black Phoebe, Torrent Tyrannulet and White-capped Dipper.
Later we will drive to the town of Santa Rosa for an overnight stay.
Colombia: Day 7 While exploring a magnificent area comprised of a mosaic of paramo grasslands and temperate forest fragments, we shall search for the splendid Fuertes’s Parrot. This rarely seen species has been found in this part of Colombia and we have a very good chance of finding it in this area at a recently discovered site.
In the forest patches, we shall also look out for the superb Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, Paramo Tapaculo, Golden-fronted Whitestart (the subspecies here having a yellow face), Lacrimose Mountain Tanager, the near-endemic Black-backed Bush Tanager and, with luck, Bar-bellied Woodpecker.
Afterwards, we shall continue northwestwards to Manizales for a three nights stay.
Colombia: Days 8-9 Protecting an important watershed for the city of Manizales, the important Rio Blanco reserve holds some of the rarest and most threatened species in Colombia. In particular, we will be keen to find the rare Rusty-faced Parrot and the skulking and hard-to-see Brown-banded and Bicoloured Antpittas.
In recent years, Brown-banded Antpitta has become easier to see as it visits a feeding station alongside Slate-crowned Antpitta and Chestnut-crowned Gnateater. Other skulkers include Chestnut-naped Antpitta, the amazing Ocellated Tapaculo (which can be hard to see) and Spillmann’s and Ash-coloured Tapaculos. We shall also be alert for the jay-like calls of a party of stunning White-capped Tanagers, one of the oddest members of its family.
Another feature of the reserve is the amazing set of hummingbird feeders where, as well as the ubiquitous Tourmaline Sunangel, we should see the more drably-cloaked Speckled Hummingbird, the aggressive Buff-tailed Coronet and the tiny White-bellied Woodstar.
Other species that we will hope to see here include the endemic Flame-rumped Tanager as well as Plain-breasted Hawk, Long-tailed Sylph, the superb Black-billed Mountain Toucan, the delightful Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Tyrannine and Black-banded Woodcreepers, Streak-headed Antbird, the drab and elusive Dusky Piha, Rufous-crowned Tody-Tyrant, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Pale-edged and Golden-crowned Flycatchers, Mountain Wren, Capped Conebill (here with a white cap), Grey-hooded Bush Tanager and Black-winged Saltator. We will also seek out bamboo specialists such as Black-eared Hemispingus and Plushcap.
Pre-dawn, armed with a spotlight, we shall go in search of White-throated Screech Owl, Rufous-banded Owl, Rufous-bellied Nighthawk and Band-winged Nightjar.
If we are fortunate we will see one or two of the rarer or more difficult species such as Scaly-naped Amazon, Yellow-billed Cacique and the bamboo-loving Masked Saltator.
During our second full day, we will explore the high temperate zone at Nevado del Ruiz, which is situated at above 9800ft (3000m), where patches of forest give way to the paramo. Here, our primary targets are the endemic Buffy Helmetcrest and the endemic and very localized Rufous-fronted Parakeet (which is often hard to find).
In the more open areas and around a wetland we shall look for Andean Teal, White-tailed Hawk, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Andean Tit-Spinetail, the localized Stout-billed Cinclodes, the attractive Many-striped Canastero, White-chinned Thistletail, Grass Wren, Pale-naped Brushfinch, and a variety of seedeaters including Plumbeous Sierra Finch and Paramo Seedeater. Tawny Antpittas are often very tame here and we should see this endearing species well.
Of special interest are the fabulous hummingbird gardens surrounding the hotel at Los Nevados where we will spend the night. Here, a number of colourful hummingbirds, including Viridian Metaltail, Golden-breasted Puffleg, the lovely Buff-winged Starfrontlet and the dazzling Shining Sunbeam, occur alongside Great Sapphirewing and the formerly tough-to-see, near-endemic Black-thighed Puffleg and gorgeous Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, and sometimes even the scarce Purple-backed Thornbill.
Colombia: Day 10 After some final birding in the Manizales area, we will head down to the humid Chocó region for a three nights stay in the Montezuma region.
Colombia: Days 11-12 No ‘ultimate’ Colombia birding tour would rate as such without visiting the Chocó! As well as being very birdy, the Chocó region of Colombia is one of the wettest areas on our planet, and we are bound to have some rain during our visit.
As well as holding a number of Chocó endemics that are shared with Ecuador, this area is also home to the fantastic Gold-ringed Tanager, and we should have little trouble finding this stunning endemic. We also have a good chance of finding its close relative the Black-and-gold Tanager.
While at Montezuma we will walk a series of forest trails and work our way along a little-used track through the mossy forests. We should see a number of colourful and exciting hummingbirds, such as Tawny-bellied Hermit, White-throated (or Choco) Daggerbill, White-tailed Hillstar, Empress Brilliant, Collared Inca, the near-endemic Brown Inca, Velvet-purple Coronet, Purple-throated Woodstar and the exquisite Violet-tailed Sylph.
Mixed flocks are a feature of the area and in these flocks, or elsewhere, we may well encounter Red-headed Barbet, the near-endemic Toucan Barbet and Black-chinned Mountain Tanager, Yellow-vented Woodpecker, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, the skulking Rufous Spinetail, the smart but localized Fulvous-dotted Treerunner, the retiring Uniform Treehunter, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, the near-endemic Narino Tapaculo, Ornate and Handsome Flycatchers, Black Solitaire, the stunning, near-endemic Glistening-green and Purplish-mantled Tanagers, Silver-throated, Lemon-rumped and near-endemic Rufous-throated Tanagers, Dusky-bellied Bush Tanager, the delightful, near-endemic Indigo Flowerpiercer and the near-endemic Choco Brushfinch.
We should also come across some of the scarcer species of the area, which include such endemics and near-endemics as Cloud-forest Pygmy Owl, the little-known Bicoloured Antvireo, Parker’s Antbird, the elusive Yellow-breasted Antpitta (easy to hear!), Choco Tapaculo, the gorgeous Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Club-winged Manakin, Beautiful Jay, Crested Ant Tanager and the stunning Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, as well as Pacific Tuftedcheek, the sluggish Olivaceous Piha and Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia.
We should also find such more widespread species as Broad-winged Hawk, the gorgeous Golden-headed Quetzal, Andean Motmot, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Streak-necked Flycatcher, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant and Capped Conebill (the subspecies here has a blue cap and so does not appear capped!).
Providing road conditions permit, we will also explore another area, high up on a ridge shrouded in clouds. This area is very good for three rare and localized endemics; Tatama Tapaculo, Munchique Wood Wren and Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer. Also in the area are Green-and-black Fruiteater and the skulking Tanager Finch.
Colombia: Day 13 After some final birding around Montezuma we will drive to Jardin for an overnight stay. Along the way, we will stop to look for the recently-described Antioquia Wren and we also have a good chance to see the endemic Greyish Piculet.
We should arrive in plenty of time to see the magnificent Andean cock-of-the-Rock at a huge lek on the edge of town. As this is indeed one of the spectacles of Andean birding we will devote some time at this site watching these bizarre birds displaying. We might also see Chestnut-capped Brushfinch and Black-chested Jay here.
Colombia: Day 14 This morning our main target will be the critically endangered Yellow-eared Parrot, and we have an excellent chance of finding this little-known species which is severely threatened due to the disappearance of the wax palms which it needs for roosting and breeding. Yellow-eared Parrot has become a Colombian endemic following the extirpation of the last population in northern Ecuador in the 1990s. Whilst searching for the parrot, we are likely to come across a number of other goodies in the cloudforest such as White-browed Spinetail, Striped Treehunter, Rufous-chested Chat-Tyrant, Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, the splendid Barred Fruiteater, Black-collared Jay and, with luck, the near-endemic Tanager Finch or even the rare Tawny-breasted Tinamou or Chestnut-crested Cotinga.
Lower down, in the more open country, we may well find a few more new species for the trip, such as White-capped Parrot, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, White-lined Tanager, Subtropical Cacique, Russet-backed Oropendola and perhaps a small group of Black-and-white Seedeaters.
Later we will travel to Rio Claro for a two nights stay.
Colombia: Days 15 The excellent Rio Claro Reserve preserves one of the best tracts of humid tropical forest remaining in the middle Magdalena Valley and here we hope to find no fewer than four of Colombia’s threatened Magdalena Valley endemics, the gaudy White-mantled Barbet, Beautiful Woodpecker, the recently-discovered Antioquia Bristle Tyrant and the stunning Sooty Ant Tanager with its bubblegum-pink throat patch and crest that stand out against the dark of the forest interior.
In addition, a host of other exciting birds inhabits this interesting habitat, and we shall arrive early when the dawn chorus is in full swing. Black-bellied and Bay Wrens vigorously proclaim their territorial rights with their loud duets and strikingly-plumaged species include Western Striped and White-bearded Manakins.
One of the area’s outstanding avian highlights is an impressive Oilbird cave. After entering the dark haunts of this strange nightbird, we will listen to the loud shrieks constantly echoing from the guano-covered walls of the cave and look up at the greasy chicks and their devoted parents huddled on the narrow ledges.
Other birds we may well find in the Rio Claro area include Laughing and Bat Falcons, Plumbeous Pigeon, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Striped Cuckoo, Grey-rumped and Short-tailed Swifts, Rufous-breasted and Long-billed Hermits, White-tailed and Gartered Trogons, Rufous and Broad-billed Motmots, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, the attractive but sedate Barred Puffbird, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Collared Aracari, Olivaceous Piculet, and Crimson-crested, Red-rumped and attractive Cinnamon Woodpeckers.
Passerines include Plain-brown, Wedge-billed, Cocoa, Straight-billed and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, Plain Xenops, Pacific, White-flanked and Dot-winged Antwrens, One-coloured and Cinnamon Becards, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Forest Elaenia, Ochre-bellied, Sepia-capped, Piratic, Dusky-capped, Streaked and Boat-billed Flycatchers, the restricted-range Panamanian Flycatcher, Olivaceous Flatbill, the bizarre Southern Bentbill, Brownish Twistwing (uncommon), Long-tailed Tyrant, the gorgeous Black-chested Jay, the noisy Band-backed Wren, Pale-breasted Thrush, Long-billed Gnatwren, White-winged Swallow, Grey-breasted Martin, Chestnut-headed Oropendola and Yellow-rumped Cacique (sharing a breeding colony with their attendant brood parasite the Giant Cowbird), Bay-breasted, Rufous-capped and vociferous Buff-rumped Warblers, Purple Honeycreeper, Thick-billed Euphonia, and Grey-headed, Golden-hooded, Dusky-faced, White-shouldered, Plain-coloured and Tawny-crested Tanagers.
We should also find a few of the more difficult species while at Rio Claro (or equally while at El Paujil). These include the colourful but elusive Saffron-headed Parrot, the unobtrusive Grey-cheeked Nunlet, the secretive Magdalena and Bare-crowned Antbirds (our best chance of these is if we come across an antswarm), Black-faced Antthrush, Wing-barred Piprites, Russet-winged Schiffornis, White-thighed Swallow, White-breasted Wood Wren, Southern Nightingale-Wren and Fulvous-vented Euphonia.
Colombia: Day 16 Today we shall again visit one or more of the sites around Rio Claro before heading northeast across the broad Magdalena Valley to the Blue-billed Curassow (or El Paujil) Reserve for a two nights stay. We may arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Parrots are common in the area beyond Puerto Boyaca and we are likely to encounter Yellow-crowned, Orange-winged and Red-lored Amazons along the way, whilst the small wetlands that we pass may conceal Capped Herons or perhaps a handsome Rufescent Tiger Heron. In particular, we shall scan the marshes for the rare and much-wanted Northern Screamer, a species which is readily found in this area.
Other species likely on the journey include Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Cocoi Heron, Great and Snowy Egrets, Cocoi, Little Blue and Striated Herons, Bare-faced Ibis, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, the impressive King Vulture, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Swallow-tailed and Pearl Kites, the scarce Long-winged Harrier, Great Black and Savanna Hawks, Northern Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras, Wattled Jacana (represented here by an interesting black race), Pale-vented Pigeon, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Black-capped Donacobius, Pied Water Tyrant and the attractive White-headed Marsh Tyrant.
Colombia: Day 17 The El Paujil Reserve protects an important area of lowland forest, and here, our main target will be the very rare, critically endangered Blue-billed Curassow, after which the reserve takes its Spanish name. The species is not common and is usually extremely shy in its remaining localities in Colombia owing to the excessive hunting pressure that has been put on the species in recent decades. However, recent conservation efforts have led to the habituation of a few of these magnificent birds at El Paujil and, as a result, our chances of setting eyes on this ultimate prize are very much increased!
The reserve also hosts several Magdalena Valley endemics which we shall be targeting during our stay and these include Colombian Chachalaca as well as second chances for the aptly-named Beautiful Woodpecker, the striking White-mantled Barbet and the stunning Sooty Ant Tanager.
Near-endemic and other specialities found in the reserve include the amazingly colourful Citron-throated Toucan, the stolid Black-breasted Puffbird, Black Antshrike and the rare and poorly-known Black-billed Flycatcher.
Whilst searching for these specialities we should find a number of other new species for the trip. These may well include Plumbeous and Double-toothed Kites, White Hawk, Ruddy Pigeon, Blue-headed Parrot, the huge Blue-and-yellow and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, Spectacled Parrotlet, Greater Ani, Long-billed Hermit, gorgeous Violet-bellied and Blue-chested Hummingbirds, White-vented Plumeleteer, Purple-crowned Fairy, Long-billed Starthroat, Ringed, Amazon and Green Kingfishers, Black-throated Trogon, Whooping Motmot, White-whiskered Puffbird, White-fronted Nunbird and Lineated Woodpecker.
Passerines include Olivaceous, Northern Barred and Black-striped Woodcreepers, Great and Western Slaty Antshrikes, Checker-throated, the elusive Jet Antbird, Chestnut-backed and Bicoloured Antbirds, Brown-capped and Mouse-coloured Tyrannulets, Yellow Tyrannulet (of the interesting and distinctive leucophrys subspecies), Black-tailed and Social Flycatchers, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Tropical Pewee, Rufous Mourner, Flammulated Attila, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Golden-headed Manakin, Black-crowned and Masked Tityras, Scarlet-browed and Yellow-backed Tanagers, the unique Swallow Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Red-legged and Green Honeycreepers, Blue-black Grosbeak, Slate-coloured Grosbeak (this colourful saltator is easier to hear than see) and Black-striped Sparrow. During the boreal winter, Great Crested and Brown-crested Flycatchers, and Eastern Kingbird are also present.
There are a number of other scarce and difficult species that we could encounter including Great Tinamou, Marbled Wood Quail, Red-throated Caracara, the shy Ruddy Quail-Dove, the sneaky Little Cuckoo, White-tipped Sicklebill, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Rufous-crested Coquette, Great Jacamar, Yellow-margined Flatbill, Northern Royal Flycatcher, Half-collared Gnatwren, the near-endemic Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Orange-crowned Oriole and Orange-billed Sparrow.
At dusk, Pauraques call around the lodge, and other nightbirds present include both Crested Owl and Vermiculated Screech Owl and Common and Great Potoos, though all can be tough to see in the forest here.
Colombia: Day 18 After some final birding at El Paujil, we shall make our way back to Bogotá. From there we take a flight to Santa Marta in northernmost Colombia for an overnight stay.
Colombia: Day 19 Today we will ascend from the Caribbean coast at Santa Marta to El Dorado lodge, near San Lorenzo, for a three nights stay. As with the Chocó, no ‘ultimate’ Colombia birding tour could omit to go to the Santa Marta region. We have even had to extend our stay in these wonderful mountains as the number of endemics and the time required to find them has increased!
We will have plenty of time to day for our introduction to the extraordinary number of endemic birds that inhabit the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
Colombia: Days 20-21 With the snow-capped peaks of Simon Bolívar and Cristóbal Colon towering up to 5800m (19,000ft) above sea level and lying just 45 kilometres (28 miles) from the coast, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia is the world’s highest coastal range. Nowhere else on earth is the distance so short between palm-fringed tropical beaches and windswept icy peaks. Between these two extremes, the mountain’s slopes are covered in lush forests showing an extremely high degree of endemism. A montane ‘island’ separated by a wide lowland gap from the Andes, this roughly triangular massif is home to more than 20 endemic bird species and an impressive number of often highly distinctive endemic subspecies. Though large parts of the mountains are currently inaccessible, the San Lorenzo road at its north-western corner allows the visiting birder to see the majority of the area’s endemics, in addition to a wealth of other birds.
As we climb up to El Dorado and as human influence diminishes and forest starts to predominate, we should soon find our first Santa Marta endemic, perhaps the attractive Santa Marta Brushfinch. On reaching lower subtropical elevations we shall start looking for four endemics that primarily inhabit this zone, the secretive Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner and Santa Marta Tapaculo and the somewhat easier Santa Marta Antbird and White-lored Warbler. We will also keep a lookout for Sooty-capped Hermit and listen for the exquisite Rusty-breasted Antpitta, which we have a reasonable chance of seeing in this area.
The tall forests and shrubby edges are home to a number of other interesting birds, such as Red-billed Parrot, the spectacular White-tipped Quetzal, Yellow-billed Toucanet, Santa Marta Toucanet (currently treated as an endemic subspecies of White-throated), Keel-billed Toucan, the distinctive local form of the Tyrian Metaltail (a good potential split), the striking Golden-breasted Fruiteater, Black-hooded Thrush, Black-headed Tanager and Southern Yellow Grosbeak.
Higher still, we shall concentrate on the Santa Marta endemics above San Lorenzo. In dense bamboo thickets, Rusty-headed Spinetails deliver their relentless squeaks, whilst in vine tangles higher up in the trees, Streak-capped Spinetails eagerly forage for insect prey. We shall watch tubular flowers for the exquisite but elusive White-tailed Starfrontlet, and we will keep our ears open for the soft squabbling calls of a flock of quietly foraging Santa Marta Parakeets, masters at blending in with their surroundings. The ‘bob-white’ song of the omnipresent Santa Marta Antpitta will soon become a familiar sound, but we shall have to work hard to glimpse this phantom of the forest floor. Equally secretive are the endemic and highly distinct local races of the Rufous Antpitta (now a proposed split as Sierra Nevada Antpitta) and near-endemic Black-fronted Wood Quail, though the endemic Brown-rumped Tapaculo and the recently-recognized endemic Hermit Wood Wren should prove less difficult.
Luckily, not all the endemic birds require so much effort, and we will scrutinize mixed flocks for the lively Yellow-crowned Whitestart, the smart Santa Marta Warbler and the handsome Santa Marta (or Black-cheeked) Mountain Tanager.
Amidst striking mountain scenery, where we can look down on the hot and dry Caribbean coast far below us, we will also search for Santa Marta Bush Tyrant and the uncommon Santa Marta Blossomcrown, as well as more widespread species such as White-rumped Hawk, Ruddy Foliage-gleaner and Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant. We may also see a few of the other difficult species, which include the rare Andean Condor, Military Macaw, Mountain Velvetbreast, the difficult Flammulated Treehunter, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush or Yellow-tailed Oriole.
An endemic that needs just a little luck to see is the tiny Santa Marta Woodstar, but the endemic Black-backed Thornbill is more difficult to find.
At night we will make a concerted effort to see the recently-described, endemic Santa Marta Screech Owl as well as the much more widespread Mottled Owl and Band-winged Nightjar.
(There are three other Santa Marta endemics which are beyond our reach. The very rare endemic Santa Marta Sabrewing has been recorded exceedingly rarely in the San Lorenzo area, but as it has never been reliably recorded on any birding tour to the area, we are not going to hold out any hope for that one! Occurring only at high altitudes, far beyond any roads and so requiring an expedition to see, are the endemic Blue-bearded Helmetcrest and Santa Marta Wren.)
Colombia: Day 22 After devoting much of the day to the birds of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, we shall begin our descent to Minca, situated in the semi-arid foothills above the coastal town of Santa Marta, where we will stay overnight. As we descend we will look for some of the mid-elevation species.
Colombia: Day 23 Today we shall work our through the lower elevation habitats below Minca; a patchwork of dry woodlands choked with dense vine tangles, fields, pasture and small plantations of shade coffee, where flowering trees often act as a magnet to a variety of hummingbirds, and we shall watch especially for the tiny, near-endemic Coppery and Red-billed Emeralds.
Other birds in this zone include the near-endemic Black-backed Antshrike, the splendid Golden-winged Sparrow and the stunning Rosy Thrush-Tanager (now treated as a monotypic bird family), as well as Scaled Pigeon, Rufous-and-white and Rufous-breasted Wrens, Golden-fronted Greenlet, American Redstart (during the boreal winter), Swallow Tanager, Crested Oropendola, the colourful Blue-naped Chlorophonia and Black-striped Sparrow.
Working our way to the coastal highway, we then head for patches of humid lowland forest. Here we will hope to add Pale-bellied Hermit, Lance-tailed Manakin, Buff-breasted Wren and perhaps the attractive Cotton-top Tamarin or Venezuelan Red Howler Monkey.
We will eventually reach the coastal town of Riohacha, where we will stay overnight.
Colombia: Day 24 East of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the arid Guajira Peninsula juts out into the Caribbean Sea, becoming progressively drier towards the east. Here we shall search for a number of specialities only shared between this part of Colombia and adjacent Venezuela. Arguably the most striking of these is the eye-catching Vermillion Cardinal, but they also include Russet-throated Puffbird, the tiny Chestnut Piculet, the ubiquitous White-whiskered Spinetail, Slender-billed Inezia and the harder-to-find Tocuyo Sparrow.
Bare-eyed Pigeons constantly fly back and forth, and more widespread species inhabiting the arid desert scrub include the near-endemic Caribbean Hornero and the restricted-range Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Buffy Hummingbird, Orinoco Saltator and Glaucous Tanager, as well as Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Harris’s Hawk, Scaled Dove, Groove-billed Ani, Brown-throated Parakeet, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Black-crested Antshrike, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Yellow-breasted Flatbill and Tropical Gnatcatcher.
The nearby lagoons hold an impressive number of wetland species such as American Flamingo, Roseate Spoonbill, Reddish Egret, Great Blue, Little Blue and Tricoloured Herons, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, White and Scarlet Ibises, Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Royal, Caspian and Gull-billed Terns, and sometimes Cabot’s Tern. During tours in the boreal winter, we may possibly see a vagrant Herring or Lesser Black-backed Gull amongst the wintering Laughing Gulls.
After our visit to the Guajira Peninsula, we will drive westwards to the town of Santa Marta for an overnight stay.
Colombia: Day 25 We shall take advantage of the cool morning hours to visit the cactus-studded coastal scrub of Isla Salamanca National Park, where early in the morning we hope to see the endemic Chestnut-winged Chachalaca and perhaps Crested Bobwhite. Nearby mangroves are home to a very dense population of Bicoloured Conebills, sharing this habitat with Prothonotary Warblers and Northern Waterthrushes (during the boreal winter), and, with just a bit of luck, we will also find the rare endemic Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird.
Along the coast, we will see Magnificent Frigatebirds, numerous Brown Pelicans and Common Black Hawk, and will scan the shorebirds for Semipalmated and Wilson’s Plovers, Willet, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Short-billed Dowitcher, Stilt and Solitary Sandpipers, and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Shorebirds are more numerous during the boreal winter when Osprey is also likely.
Other species which we may well see today, or elsewhere in the Santa Marta region, include the endemic Bronze-brown Cowbird as well as Blue-winged Teal (boreal winter), Zone-tailed Hawk, Purple Gallinule, American Coot, Common Ground Dove, Northern Scrub Flycatcher, Bicoloured Wren, Red-eyed Vireo, Trinidad Euphonia, Greyish Saltator and Great-tailed Grackle.
Later we will continue on to Barranquilla airport, where our Classic Colombia birding tour ends in the afternoon.
(There are quite a few international flights that serve Barranquilla, and also domestic flights to Bogotá. We will be pleased to supply internal flight tickets to Bogotá on request.)