Day 1: Bogotá – Santa Marta – Minca
Tour will begin with an afternoon flight into Santa Marta (landing aprox. 6:30 pm). We will pick you up at the airport and drive 60 minutes to the town of Minca, in the very foothills of the Santa Marta Mountains. Dinner and rest.
Day 2: Minca – El Dorado – San Lorenzo Station
This day will have us birding through a big altitudinal gradient, starting from the foothills around the town of Minca, moving into the intermediate levels around ProAves’s El Dorado Lodge, and all the way up into the higher elevations of Cuchilla de San Lorenzo. Our aim will be to reach the San Lorenzo station by the end of the day (headquarters for the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park, managed by the Ministry of the Environment).
We will start with a search for the beautiful Golden-winged Sparrow and the endemic Santa Marta Tapaculo. One of our stops will be specially made for the Blossomcrown and the recently described Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner. As we work our way up the road, we will search in suitable habitats for the spectacular (but very rare) Rosy Thrush-Tanager, the Rusty-headed Spinetail and the White-lored Warbler.
We will have lunch at El Dorado Lodge, not before seeing (hopefully) a fair number of gorgeous tropical species, such as the very nice Swallow Tanager, White-bellied Antbird, the handsome Rufous-capped Warbler, the colorful Blue-naped Chlorophonia, the Groove-billed Toucanet and the special race (subspecies) of the Emerald Toucanet.
Having replenished energies and after a short break to enjoy the many hummingbirds that come into the lodge’s feeders, we will than head into the higher elevations of our birding transect, searching for more great birds (all endemics): the Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Warbler, Santa Marta Mountain-Tanager, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant and Brown-rumped Tapaculo.
After dinner we will certainly scout for the endemic and recently described Santa Marta Screech-Owl.
Day 3: El Dorado Lodge
After a good and well-deserved rest, we will start birding early in search for any missed endemic and specialty, going a bit further up on the road. Many good birds can be seen at this height, including the beautiful and near-endemic White-tipped Quetzal.
After using productively the good early morning hours, we will head down towards the El Dorado Lodge, where we will have lunch and settle down with our gear. After lunch we will take a short break, either for a good “siesta” or for enjoying and taking photos of the hummingbirds and tanagers that visit the garden flowers and feeding stations.
In the afternoon we will hike slowly around the lodge and along the road, enjoying any birds that come in the way of our binoculars, but looking attentively for the fast moving White-tailed Starfrontlet and perhaps a mixed flock carrying the gorgeous Yellow-crowned Redstart. Certainly, by this time we would have seen many Santa-Marta Brush-Finches, but most other endemics cannot be absolutely guaranteed. Thus, we will plan for an afternoon strategy aimed at finding any of the most important target species missed so far.
Dinner and lodging at El Dorado Lodge, with perhaps a short night walk in search of the Santa Marta Screech-Owl (if we had not seen it the night before).
Day 4: El Dorado Lodge – Minca
This morning we will pay special attention to all target species at this wonderful reserve, looking for better views of the most wanted species and for any species unchecked in our target list. The Santa Marta Antpitta and the Black-fronted Wood-Quail will probably be on our list for the day.
After lunch we will pack our luggage and cars, heading down the mountain and stopping at key places for most wanted species. We will bird slowly, arriving in Minca just before sunset in order to enjoy the very good hummingbirds at our lodge’s feeders.
Day 5: Minca – Riohacha (La Guajira Peninsula)
This day we will head north along the Caribbean coast and into La Guajira Peninsula, birding the foothills of the Santa Marta Mountains, lush forests at Tayrona National Park, and dry forests and scrubland just before reaching the city of Riohacha at the end of the day.
Near-endemics that we will look for include the beautiful (and happily common) White-whiskered Spinetail, Buffy Hummingbird, the scarce Chestnut Piculet, the rather uncommon Black-billed Flycatcher and the abundant Slender-billed Inezia. Most certainly we will enjoy the beautiful Vermillion Cardinal and we will be very attentive for a good view of the astonishing Ruby-topaz Hummingbird. Also nice to see are the Bare-eyed Pigeon, Rufous-vented Chachalaca and the charismatic Russet-throated Puffbird. The Pale-tipped Inezia and the Pale-legged Hornero are also possible. Overnight stay in Riohacha.
Day 6: Riohacha (Flamencos National Park/Isla Salamanca) – Santa Marta – Bogotá
As it goes in desert areas, we will make an early start this day in order to maximize our birding hours before the sun gets too strong. A short 30-minute drive will see us birding at dawn in Los Flamencos National Park in the outskirts of the Caribbean town of Camarones. This protected area has a large wetland with great variety of aquatic and riparian birds, but our first priority will be to bird the scrublands, where the most interesting birds live.
We will look for the much-desired (but seldom seen) Tocuyo Sparrow, the Chestnut Piculet, Orinoco Saltator, Glaucous Tanager, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Blue-crowned and Brown-throated Parakeets and Pileated Finch, among many others. Most likely we will see and enjoy the Blue-tailed Emerald, Black-crested Antshrike, White-fringed Antwren, Scrub Greenlet, Yellow Oriole, Trinidad Euphonia and Grayish Saltator.
Aquatic birds here include the gorgeous (but scarce) American (Greater) Flamingo, the very nice Reddish Egret in both white & dark morphs, Scarlet Ibis, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Black-necked Stilt and the Wood Stork.
Shore birds include many resident and migrant species coming from the North. Nice to see are the Magnificent Frigatebird, Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, Capped Heron, Semipalmated & Wilson’s Plover, Collared Plover, among many others. Along the interior shore line, the Double-sriped Thick-Knee can be seen in pairs or family groups.
Migrants will be present beginning late September & early October, all the way through March & April. These include the Great Blue Heron, Osprey, Whimbrel, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpipper, Willet, Sanderling, RuddyTurnstone and many others.
The Reddish Egret at Camarones: this amazing egret jumps and dances while hunting for fish. A joy to see! Before midday we will head back south into the Santa Marta area for our last birding hours at Isla Salamanca National Park, a place where more aquatics and shore birds will be seen, but where our priorities will be with the very rare Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird and the Sapphire-throated Hummingbird. Highly desired will also be the Chestnut-winged Chachalaca and one more chance for the Chestnut Piculet. We will not ignore, of course, the nice Golden-green Woodpecker, Yellow-chinned Spinetail or a Purple Gallinule.
Final birds of the trip may include the Straight-billed Woodcreeper, the Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Bicoloured Conebill, and why not a family group belonging to the only population for South America of the Bronzed Cowbird. Or perhaps one or more species of kingfishers, out of 5 species possible: Ringed Kingfisher, Belted Kingfisher (a rather rare boreal migrant), Amazon Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher or the tiny and beautiful American Pygmy Kingfisher.
We will drive into Santa Marta airport in time for your flight back to Bogotá.
Day 1: Bogotá – Cajamarca
Transfer from Bogotá to Cajamarca. Overnight stay a Hotel El Nevado.
Day 2: The Giles-Fuertesi Reserve
This will be our earliest start of the trip (3.30am) where we will travel up the Central Cordillera from Cajamarca to the ProAves Giles-Fuertesi Reserve (approx. 1.5hrs). Our main target for this all day trip will be the endemic and highly endangered Fuertes’s Parrot. Thought to be extinct for 90 years, one of the rarest bird species on the planet was rediscovered in 2005. This 144ha reserve was formed in 2009 to protect the approximately 23 pairs of these charismatic parrots known to survive. Along with the parrots we will also be on the lookout for Yellow-headed Brushfinch (an endemic with a very narrow range but locally reasonably abundant), Tolima Dove (very hard to get good views) and Bicolored Antpitta and either on the way or the way back the Black-billed Mountain Toucans, Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucans, Red-Crested Cotinga. Overnight stay a Hotel El Nevado.
Day 3: Cajamarca – Blue-billed Curassow Reserve
This morning we will return to the lower areas to look for anything we may have missed, such as the Tolima Dove. We will then head north along the Magdalena River Valley and into the foothills of the Eastern Andes to arrive at the Blue-billed Curassow Reserve, stopping for Northern Screamer and other birds along the way (approx. 7 hours). With more than 6,000ha, the ProAves Reserve was created in 2003 to protect one of the last remnants of lowland tropical forest in the Magdalena River Valley. While the conservation of critically endangered Blue-billed Curassow (Paujil in Spanish) was the impetus for creating this reserve, a wide variety of threatened and endangered fauna are now protected. Overnight stay at Blue-billed Curassow Reserve.
Day 4-5: The Blue-billed Curassow Reserve
We will spend the next two days in this lowland forest reserve looking for such endemics such as the gorgeous Colombian Chachalaca, Saffron-headed Parrot, White-mantled Barbet, Beautiful Woodpecker, Black-billed Flycatcher, the splendid Sooty Ant-Tanager and of course the critically endangered Blue-billed Curassow. Other specialty birds at this reserve include Crested Owl, Ruby-Topaz and Shining-green Hummingbirds, Black-breasted Puffbird, Southern Bentbill, Black Antshrike, Bare-crowned Antbird, Striped Manakin, Fulvous-vented Euphonia, and Orange-crowned Oriole amid many others.
The comfortable lodge on the banks of the Río Ermitaño is surrounded by bird feeders and along the impressive network of trails through the reserve we will be on the lookout for tracks of the many large mammals that inhabit the reserve such South American tapir, giant anteater, jaguar and several other cat species. We will also be looking upwards for the variegated spider-monkey (one of the 25 most endangered monkey species in the world) as well as the red howler monkey, white-faced capuchin and night monkey. Overnight stay at the Blue-billed Curassow Reserve.
Day 6: Blue-billed Curassow Reserve – The Cerulean Warbler Reserve
After an early breakfast, we will drive to the Cerulean Warbler Reserve, located on the western flank of the Eastern Cordillera. This scenic drive will take us further north along the Magdalena River Valley and be one of our longest of the tour (approx. 8hrs). We will eventually leave the valley and head up into the Eastern Cordillera passing through a variety of habitats to arrive at the Cerulean Warbler Reserve. We will stop for lunch at a restaurant en-route and make a short birding stop in the late afternoon. Overnight stay at Cerulean Warbler Reserve.
Day 7-8: The Cerulean Warbler Reserve
This fabulous 545 acre Colombian Oak forest reserve holds an extraordinary concentration of threatened bird species at the site, including the highest number of critically endangered species in the Americas. The reserve and surrounding shade coffee farms are also a Mecca for North American migrants, including a core wintering area for the rapidly declining Cerulean Warbler. We will spend the next two days birding in the ProAves Cerulean Warbler reserve, looking for many endemics such as the Gorgeted Wood-Quail (which comes regularly to a new feeding station in the forest), Black Inca, White-mantled Barbet, Parker's Antbird, Upper Magdalena Tapaculo and Colombian Mountain-Grackle.
On the first day we will undertake a relatively demanding walk to the far side of the reserve. The trail passes through excellent subtropical forest that harbors a wide variety of excellent birds including the endemics listed above. On our second day we will probably concentrate on the shade coffee and cocoa growing areas closer to the reserves lodge, which hold the endemic Turquoise Dacnis and in the winter many Neotropical migrants including a large wintering population of the reserve's namesake, the Cerulean Warbler. A small population of the near-endemic Recurve-billed Bushbird lives in an impenetrable tangle of scrub and boulders near the lodge, and one can sometimes be coaxed into view. The White-mantled Barbets are often found here more easily than in the forest. The tranquil lodge is surrounded by a variety of bird feeders where endemic Indigo-capped Hummingbird is invariably found along with a variety of tanagers and other species, whilst the endemic Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird sometimes visits flowering roadside trees, and has recently been coming to a feeder in the coffee plantations below the lodge. Overnight stay at Cerulean Warbler Reserve.