Guided by Jose Illanes. This was a set-departure tour.
Although Tropical Birding has been running this trip for many years, it was very exciting to be able to lead this trip for the first time, in a country so close to my homeland in Ecuador. Colombia is famed for its extraordinary diversity of birds, being second to none in this respect with a country total exceeding 1900 species! We concentrated on two very different areas of the north, the Caribbean coast for its specialties, and the isolated northern mountain range of the Santa Marta’s that with is isolation has a number of endemics all of its own. After meeting in Baranquilla, we set off for our first destination, Salamanca Island, an area of mangroves. Our principal target there, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird was seen before breakfast. Pied Puffbird, Black-crested Antshrike also featured, before we moved on. Other stops this first day produced Russet-throated Puffbird, Stripe-backed Wren, Northern Screamer. One of the surprises of the day was finding the Santa Marta Woodstar at this unexpected elevation and site. The following day, we continued birding the La Guajira Peninsula the most northern part of Colombia. One of the special birds of this area is the Crested Bobwhite which was seen as soon as we arrived there. Other highlights of this coastal scrubby area included Buffy Hummingbird, the stunning White-whiskered Spinetail, Chestnut Piculet, Orinocan Saltator, Glaucous Tanager, Trinidad Euphonia, and Vermilion Cardinal. Birding some coastal lagoons we found American Flamingo, Roseate Spoonbill, Caspian and Royal Terns, and during the same period we eventually found Tocuyo Sparrow, White-fringed Antwren, Shinning-green Hummingbird, and the Slender-billed Inezia. Some late afternoon forest birding produced the hoped-for Lance-tailed Manakin too. The next morning we returned to the Las Gaviotas Road, and found Santa Marta Blossomcrown, as well as White-chinned Sapphire and Military Macaw, and we also visited some hummingbird feeders that attracted Steely-vented Hummingbird, White-vented Plumeleteer, and Red-billed Emerald.
After birding the Caribbean coast it was now time for the mountains, and so after lunch on the second day we headed up to the Santa Martas, birding during the journey there, which led us to find some of the specialties of the region, like Santa Marta Foliage-Gleaner, Santa Marta Antbird, and Santa Marta Brushfinch, as well as Rusty-breasted Antpitta, before we reached our base for the mountains, El Dorado Lodge. We visited the highest point above the lodge, at around 7500ft/2300m, where the weather can be unpredictable. However, we were fortunate to have a pleasant time there, and found Santa Marta Wood-wren, Streak-capped and Rusty-capped Spinetails, Santa Marta Mountain-Tanager, Brown-rumped Tapaculo, Santa Marta Warbler and Yellow-crowned Redstart. Lower down, around the lodge itself we also added Band-tailed Guan, White-tipped Quetzal, Black-fronted Wood-Quail, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Santa Marta Antpitta, and Lined Quail-Dove; while at their hummingbird feeders White-tailed Starfrontlet was the main attraction. At night we managed to track down the Santa Marta Screech-Owl.
Our final stop of the tour was lower down, within the foothills around El Minca village. On the way to there from the higher mountains we saw Groove-billed Toucanet, Santa Marta Tapaculo, Slaty-backed Nightingale Thrush, Coopmans’s Tyrannulet, Yellow-backed Oriole, and Keel-billed Toucan. Our final birding of this short tour in the Minca area produced Gartered Trogon, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Scaled Piculet, White-bearded Manakin, and the endemic Chestnut-winged Chachalaca right at the tour end, before we returned to Baranquilla for flights out.
Among the 322 species recorded (of which 311 were seen), the ones picked as trip highlights by the group were: Santa Marta Woodstar, Santa Marta Mountain-Tanager, Santa Marta and Rusty-breasted Antpitta, White-tailed Starfrontlet, Santa Marta Warbler, Yellow-crowned Redstart (Whitestart), Rosy Thrush- Tanager, Chestnut Piculet, Vermilion Cardinal, Bicolored Wren, White-tipped Quetzal and Keel-billed Toucan was on the list.