Trip report: Northern Colombia (Jan 2011) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Nick Athanas.

While I have guided custom tours over the last few years in Colombia, this was our first set-departure tour, and it will be the first of many. It was a very smooth-running and easy tour with a great group of people. Flying into Barranquilla, I was surprised to see so much water during what should be a dry time of year. Whole areas south of the city had been inundated and there were lakes where there used to be farms, and cow pastures. Like other parts of the world, there had been tragic floods recently, and many local residents had been left homeless. Luckily, the rain stopped just before our tour and we enjoyed nice weather and good birding. The high water levels meant fewer shorebirds and waterbirds than normal, but the landbirds were very cooperative and we had a nice haul of Guajira and Santa Marta endemics.

Our tour started in the bustling industrial town of Barranquilla, which was playing host to an international junior tennis tournament, the Copa Barranquilla 2011, and our hotel was jam packed with hopeful and very fit young people carrying around oddly-shaped duffel bags full of gear. No chance for us to see any matches as we started our tour early next morning at a university campus on the outskirts of Barranquilla, waiting for the endemic Chestnut-winged Chachalacas to wake up. It didn’t take long before we were enjoying views of a small flock perched up in front of a stadium. After looking at a few other birds like Bicolored Wren and Trinidad Euphonia, we drove back through the city and crossed the mighty Magdalena River, the longest in Colombia, to Salamanca Island, a narrow strip of land between the Caribbean sea and a vast system of freshwater lakes and marshes called Ciénaga Grande. We stopped at the national park HQ where a pair of Russet-throated Puffbirds were waiting for us, then birded some nearby mangroves, where we were accompanied by amazing hordes of Prothonotary Warblers; there were so many of them around that it was tough to filter through them all to find some of the other birds we were looking for! We had our first Black-crested Antshrikes here, as well as some mangrove-loving flycatchers like Panama Flycatcher and Northern Scrub-Flycatcher. There were a few Bicolored Conebills hiding amongst all the Prothonotaries, and a male Sapphire-throated Hummingbird put in a brief appearance…

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