Trip report: Northern Colombia (Aug 2019) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Nick Athanas. This was a set-departure tour.

This has long been a popular short trip since it combines a nice variety of habitats, a superb mountain lodge, and over 20 possible endemic birds along with numerous other regional specialties. We had a successful trip notching 19 of those endemics, 18 of which are restricted to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This isolated mountain range holds Colombia’s highest peaks, though we only reached about 8500 ft. (2600 m.) on the tour. Some of the highlights from the mountains included nesting Santa Marta Parakeets, a Santa Marta Antpitta coming to a worm feeder, the often difficult Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant, the recently split Hermit Wood-Wren, and great hummers like Santa Marta Woodstar (more of them than any other tour I’ve guided) and Santa Marta Blossomcrown. The hot lowlands played host to a very different set of birds. The deserts of the La Guajira Peninsula gave us the blazing Vermilion Cardinal featured on the first page along with other superb regional endemics like White-whiskered Spinetail (the world’s best spinetail?) and the very cute Chestnut Piculet. The lowland rainforests were hot and a bit quieter than usual but still held a few gems including Lance-tailed Manakin and the endemic Cotton-top Tamarin, a fantastic monkey. Speaking of mammals, this was the best tour we’ve had for them with ten species. We usually run this trip from January to March, but we had enough demand to offer a mid-year departure. While rainfall averages higher, we only lost one afternoon to rain in the mountains and the lowlands were completely dry (some areas were experiencing an extended drought). List totals are not as high since very few North American migrants are present, but all of the resident species and endemics are still totally “gettable”. Of course the tour group makes a big difference as well, and once again I am happy to say we had a very pleasant a friendly group that were all a pleasure to guide. It included the youngest participant I’ve ever had on any set-departure tour at twelve years old. He was also a superb birder, and his sharp eyes and youthful enthusiasm added a lot to the tour.

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