Birding Colombia: an explosive extension into the Santa Marta Mountains, Guajira pensinsula & Perijá Mountains (October 18 – 27, 2018).

28 - 10 - 2018

Tony, Tom, Dale & Daniel flew to Santa Marta after birding the Eastern Andes near Bogota, aiming for high altitude endemics in the San Lorenzo ridge, scrubland specialties in the Guajira peninsula and the endemics of the most northern tip of the Andes: the Perijá Mountains.

Quickly after landing in Santa Marta at 4:15pm, we visited the close locality of El Vale, finding a group of seven Chestnut-winged Chachalacas, endemic to northern Colombia. In addition, Crested Bobwhites and Groove-billed Anis were actively moving from one side of the road to the other.

As always, Hotel Minca provided a pleasant stay, and the feeders at the balcony had White-necked Jacobin, Long-billed Hermit, Lesser Violetear, White-vented Plumeleteer, Steely-vented & Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. Black-chested Jays, Bicolored Wrens & Streak-headed Woodcreepers were active and vocal at the parking lot.

The following day we drove up the mountain, from Minca to Proaves´s El Dorado Lodge. With frequent stops along the steep climb, we managed to find several Santa Marta Mountain endemics, including the Santa Marta Foliage-Gleaner, Santa Marta Antbird and Santa Marta Tapaculo. The stop of the Baticola enabled us to find the beautiful Santa Marta Blossomcrown, the Bang´s subspecies of Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, and a gorgeous Keel-billed Toucan as a bonus.

Other birds seen this morning included a pair of Crested Guans that sat calmly on dense foliage, giving great scope views. A singing pair of Rufous-breasted Wrens gave a nice show, followed by a duet of Rufous-and-white Wrens performing just a couple of meters from us. Birds seen this morning included the near-endemic Red-billed Emerald, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Whooping Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, White-bearded Manakin, Golden-crowned & Boat-billed Flycatchers, Ochre-bellied & Sepia-capped Flycatchers, Masked Tityra, Red-eyed Vireo, Pale-breasted Thrush, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, White-lined & Crimson-backed Tanagers, Buff-throated Saltator, Rufous-capped Warbler, Slate-throated Whitestart and Crested Oropendola. Red-billed Parrots flew across the mountains a couple of times. Some North American migrants showed up well, including Black-and-white Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Swainson´s Thrush and Eastern Wood-Pewee.

After a late lunch at the lodge, we enjoyed the feeders and gardens, visited by quality birds: the endemic Sierra Nevada (Colombian) Brush-Finch, endemic Santa Marta Brush-Finch, endemic White-tailed Starfrontlet and near-endemic Band-tailed Guan. Other birds seen included White-tipped Dove, Sparkling Violetear, male & female Lazuline Sabrewing, Crowned Woodnymph (numerous), Black-capped & Bay-headed Tanager, White-sided Flowerpiercer and Blue-naped Chlorophonia.

We had good scope views of a male White-tipped Quetzal (near-endemic) and Crimson-crested Woodpecker from the deck. In addition, it was not difficult to find the endemic White-lored Warbler on a short hike near the lodge.

At night, we had an exciting encounter with the endemic Santa Marta Screech-Owl.

The following day we had an early start (4:00am departure from lodge), bumping along the road all the way up to the San Lorenzo ridge. Birding was initially slow, probably due to the very sunny sky. However, we gradually saw most of our targets: Santa Marta Antpitta, Brown-rumped Tapaculo, White-tipped Quetzal, Streak-capped Spinetail, Rusty-headed Spinetail, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant, Santa Marta (Hermit) Wood-Wren, Black-cheeked (Santa Marta) Mountain-Tanager, Santa Marta Brush-Finch, Santa Marta Warbler and Yellow-crowned Whitestart. We missed the Black-backed Thornbill and Santa Marta Parakeets. We heard the Rufous Antpitta (Grallaria rufula spatiator), Flammulated Treehunter and Pale-eyed Thrush.

All happy to be at the top of San Lorenzo ridge with a good day!

This morning we also saw one juvenile of Solitary Eagle soaring at close distance, and a Peregrine Falcon. Two groups of Scarlet-fronted Parakeets adding up to 25 individuals were very active and noisy, and Scaly-naped Parrots cruised several times above our heads. Other birds seen included Plushcap (one adult w/ one juvenile), Tyrian Metaltail, White-throated Tyrannulet and Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush.

Back at the lodge at 3:30pm, we had time to enjoy for a second time the species attending the feeders in the bloomed garden. We had great looks at 15 Band-tailed Guans, Montane Foliage-Gleaner, White-tipped Dove, Lesser & Sparkling Violetear, Lazuline Sabrewing, Crowned Woodnymph, Black-capped Tanager and Blue-naped Chlorophonia.

Before dark, we had time to take a short hike near the lodge, and luckily, we met with a group of four Black-fronted Wood-Quails!

The following day we birded our way back down to the lowlands. However, it was not easy to start our descent, simply because there were four female White-tipped Quetzals courted by two splendid males! Just in the parking lot!

Coming down the mountain we managed to find the endemic Santa Marta Woodstar (one male, perched on snag), near-endemic Golden-winged Sparrow, Golden-breasted Fruiteater and 6 Military Macaws. Also, we had good second views of 15 Red-billed Parrots, 1 Santa Marta Blossomcrown, 1 Red-billed Emerald and 2 Crimson-crested Woodpeckers. Other birds included Masked Trogon, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Black-throated Pygmy-Tyrant, Golden-fronted Greenlet and Black-hooded Thrush.

We had a two-night stay at Camarones, where we met our good friend José Luis Pushaina, arguably the best local guide in the region. Since sunlight becomes very strong after 10:00am, we had an early start again, and within 4 hours we saw a fair number of target birds, including the near-endemics Tocuyo Sparrow, 4 Chestnut Piculets, 3 Vermilion Cardinals (two males, one female), 2 White-whiskered Spinetails, 1 Slender-billed Tyrannulet (Inezia). Also, 2 Buffy Hummingbirds, 2 Pale-tipped Inezias, 2 Black-backed Antshrikes, 1 Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, 1 Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, 1 Lesson´s Seedeater, 2 Pileated Finches, 1 Northern Scrub Flycatcher, 15 Bare-eyed Pigeons, 2 Green-rumped Parrotlets, 5 Ruby-topaz Hummingbirds (3 males, 2 females), 6 Red-billed Emeralds, 2 Trinidad Euphonias.

Other highlights included species such as 1 Black-faced Grassquit, 2 White-fringed Antbirds, 2 Black-crested Antshrikes, 20 Brown-throated Parakeets, 3 Rufous-tailed Jacamars, 2 Common Ground-Doves, 4 Scaled Doves, 5 White-tipped Doves, 2 Red-crowned Woodpeckers, 1 Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, 1 Brown-crested Flycatcher, 1 Great-crested Flycatcher, 2 Gray Kingbirds, 8 Tropical Gnatcatchers, 2 Tropical Mockingbirds, 3 Prothonotary Warblers, 2 Blackpoll Warblers and 2 Yellow Orioles.

Perched on low bushes we saw an astounding Hook-billed Kite and a beautiful Crane Hawk. Flying over were 5 Mississippi Kites. We saw 1 juvenile Black-collared Hawk, and several Crested & Yellow-headed Caracaras. We heard the Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Crested Bobwhite, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Pale-legged (Caribbean) Hornero and Venezuelan Flycatcher.

At Boca de Camarones we met with a group of more than 200 American Flamingos, and a large number of waders and aquatics, including 8 Neotropical Cormorants, 6 Brown Pelicans, 1 Black-crowned Night-Heron, 1 Striated Heron, 6 Great Egrets, 2 Reddish Egrets, 10 Snowy Egrets, 1 Little Blue Heron, 4 White Ibises, 3 Scarlet Ibises, 2 Bare-faced Ibises, 15 Magnificent Frigatebirds, 1 Black-bellied (Gray) Plover, 1 Collared Plovers, 2 American Oystercatchers, 8 Black-necked Stilts, 1 Whimbrel, 10 Sanderlings, 3 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 15 Western Sandpipers, 3 Least Sandpipers, 1 White-rumped Sandpiper, 4 Willets, 15 Laughing Gulls, 4 Least Terns, 1 Gull-billed Terns, 30 Cabot´s (Sandwich) Tern and 20 Royal Terns.

In the morning of October 23 we birded the Cari-Cari road, seeing well the following: 4 Orinocan Saltators, 2 Vermilion Cardinals, 2 Glaucous Tanagers, 2 Russet-throated Puffbirds, 2 Buff-breasted Wrens, 1 Scrub Greenlet, 3 Trinidad Euphonias, 8 Crested Bobwhites, 2 Hook-billed Kites, 1 Common Black-Hawk, 1 Harris´s Hawk, 8 Bare-eyed Pigeons, 30 Brown-throated Parakeets, 2 Green-rumped Parrotlets, 2 Striped Cuckoos, 2 Buffy Hummingbirds, 3 Black-crested Antshrikes, 2 White-fringed Antwrens, 4 Straight-billed Woodcreepers, 2 White-whiskered Spinetails, 2 Southern-beardless Tyrannulets, 1 Northern Scrub-Flycatcher and 1 Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, among others.

The afternoon was spent entirely in the car on the way to Valledupar, lodging at a city hotel. The following day we drove shortly to Los Besotes private nature reserve, where we saw our main target there, the Red-legged Tinamou. Plus second views of the White-fringed Antbird, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher and Great-crested Flycatcher.

Near midday, we started our ascent to the Perijá Mountains, reaching ProAves´s Lodge at 5:00pm. We did some brief stops along the road, getting the endemic Perijá Tapaculo and near-endemic Gray-throated Warbler. The feeders were busy with Lesser & Sparkling Violetear, Speckled Hummingbird, Amethyst-throated Sunangel and Tyrian Metaltail.  And Scaly-naped Parrots (20) were cruising over.

The following day challenges were waiting for us up at Paramo de Sabana Rubia. Initially, we couldn´t locate the Perijá Thisthletail anywhere along the ridge, in spite of much looking and searching. But our efforts were finally compensated with extraordinary looks of one bird.

Excitement came with the extraordinary views of the endemic Perijá Thistletail.

Soon afterwards, we saw our first Perijá Metaltail of the trip. Here, we also saw the Perija (Rufous) Antpitta, a splendid Andean Condor soaring high. Other birds included 1 Merlin, 4 White-throated Tyrannulets, 2 Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrants, 2 Red-crested Cotingas, 4 Lacrimose Mountain-Tanagers, 2 Blue-capped Tanagers, 2 Blue-backed Conebills, 1 Bluish Flowerpiercer.

At least three Highland Tinamous were vocalizing early morning, and a Paltry (Spectacled) Tyrannulet was moving with a mix flock.

Before dark, we saw below the lodge a pair of Golden-headed Quetzals, 1 Mountain Velvetbreast and 1 Band-winged Nightjar.

On the final day of tour, birding occurred down the road, reaching the airport in Valledupar for our flight back to Bogota.  We had a close encounter with a pair of the endemic Perijá (Phelp´s) Brush-Finch on a dense bamboo stand, and walking closely was a group of three Black-fronted Wood-Quails. Other birds seen included 10 Perija (Yellow-breasted) Brush-Finches, 4 Slaty Brush-Finches, 4 Common Chlorospinguses, 2 Golden-breasted Fruiteaters, 1 Chestnut-bellied Thrush, 2 Fulvous-headed Tanagers, 2 Lacrimose Mountain-Tanagers, 1 Blue-capped Tanager, 1 Black-headed Tanager, 2 Black-capped Tanagers, 2 Beryl-spangled & 3 Bay-headed Tanagers, 1 Black-hooded Thrush, 1 Oleaginous Hemispingus, 1 Merlin, 3 Southern Emerald Toucanets, 2 Smoky-brown Woodpeckers, 6 Perija Tapaculos, 2 Montane Woodcreepers, 2 Rufous Spinetails, 2 Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatchers, 1 Smoke-colored Pewee, 2 Green Jays, 4 Black-chested Jays, 1 Whiskered Wren, 1 Pale-eyed Thrush, 2 Black-crested Warblers, 3 Three-striped Warblers, 4 Black-and-white Seedeaters, 2 Dull-colored Grassquits, 2 Slate-throated Whitestarts, 2 Blue-naped Chlorophonias.

The group at Los Besotes reserve, after seing the Red-legged Tinamou. From left to right: Daniel, Tony, Dale, Tom and José Luis Ropero (local guide). Guess who bought the colorful Guajira bag the day before?