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Day 1: Saturday 23 October – Arrival in Colombia
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we fly from London Heathrow to Bogota, where Andres our local guide will meet the group. Andres is a Colombian national with extensive birding experience, and is also a veteran of many Heatherlea tours in Ecuador and Galapagos. We transfer to a nearby hotel where we will stay for the next two nights to enjoy a wealth of birding experiences.
Day 2: Sunday 24 October – Chingaza National Park and Mundo Nuevo
Our first day, and we visit two sites offering a perfect introduction to high-quality Colombian birding. Lying to the east of the capital and at an altitude of 2800-3200m, the forests within the large National Park at Chingaza offer a sanctuary to many birds. Endemics such as threatened Brown-breasted Parakeet and Silvery-throated Spinetail are found here. With important near-endemics including Bronze-tailed Thornbill, Golden-fronted Redstart, Pale-breasted Tapaculo, and Glowing and Rufous-browed Conebill as early targets, we are optimistic of getting off to an excellent start! Also regular in the park are Black-chested Buzzard-eagle, Black-billed Mountain-toucan, White-chinned Thistletail, White-browed Spinetail, Sedge Wren, Many-striped Canastero, Black-headed Hemispingus, several hummingbird species and the possibility of seeing an as yet undescribed Rufous Antpitta! There’s reptilian and mammalian interest too, headlined by the rare, hard to see Spectacled Bear. Referred to locally as Jukumari, this is South America's only bear species and the last remaining ‘Short-faced’ Bear anywhere in the world.
We also visit Mundo Nuevo to view Hummingbird feeders. We could see Blue-throated Starfrontlet, and Glowing and Coppery-bellied Puffleg which are near-endemics. Green and Black Trainbearer, Tyrian Metaltail, Sparkling and Green Violetear, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Mountain Velvetbreast, Purple-backed Thornbill, Great Sapphirewing, Shining Sunbeam, Long-tailed Sylph, White-bellied and Gorgeted Woodstar, Lazuline Sabrewing and Amrthyst-throated Sunangel may also be taking advantage of the nectar feeding station. Other species we might see today include Torrent Duck, Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, Black Flowerpiercer, Scarlet bellied, Hooded and Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, Red-crested Cotinga, Andean Siskin and Smoky-brown Woodpecker.
Day 3: Monday 25 October – La Florida Park and El Tabacal Lake
An early morning visit to La Florida, a local urban park where we search for Bogata Rail and Apolinars Wren. Both are Bogotá endemics and we may also see near-endemic Spot-flanked Gallinule. Also here are American Coot, Noble Snipe, Yellow-hooded Blackbird and Subtropical Doradito. We then leave the city, driving for just over an hour to Tabacal Lake to look for Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Short-tailed Emerald, Grey-throated Warbler and Black-headed Brush-Finch among others in the surrounding scrub and forest. Other species include Bar-crested Antshrike, Red-billed Scythebill, Blue-lored, White-bellied and Dusky Antbird, Rufous-naped Greenlet, and Plain-colored and Scrub Tanager. Our main targets in this area though are endemic Apical Flycatcher and Velvet-fronted Euphonia. Both are most easily found in dry scrub near the coffee plantations along the main highway and we’ll make stops in suitable looking areas.
After lunch we have access to a hummingbird paradise at a private residence. Here we may enjoy stunning views of endemic Indigo-capped Hummingbird, plus White-necked Jacobin, Brown, Green, and Sparkling Violetear, Ruby-topaz, Rufous-tailed and Steely-vented Hummingbird, Black-throated Mango, White-vented Plumeleteer and Crowned Woodnymph and other species already seen. You can’t come to Colombia without experiencing the coffee, and we have the chance to relax with a flavoursome cup (or tea if preferred) before relocating north-east to lower altitudes at Honda where we stay for one night.
Day 4: Tuesday 26 October – Bellavista and Rio Claro
Today we visit Bellavista, a small reserve which we explore on foot for species including Clay-colored Thrush, Black-capped Antshrike, Red-rumped Woodpecker, Western Striped, White-bearded, Golden-headed and White-bibbed Manakin, Black-bellied and Bay Wren, Ochre-bellied and Sepia-capped Flycatcher. Six endemics, Sooty Ant Tanager, Colombian Chachalaca, Beautiful Woodpecker, White-mantled Barbet, Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant and Tody-motmot occur, the latter two being especially hard to find; we’ll need luck to see them all! At Rio Claro, depending on our arrival time we may enter the Cueva de los Condores (Condor Cave) to try for bizarre-looking Oilbird or we can birdwatch more leisurely around the lodge. We stay here for two nights with an after-dinner nocturnal walk a possibility to try to find Crested and Mottled Owl.
Days 5 and 6: Wednesday 27 and Thursday 28 October – Rio Claro Reserve
Rio Claro is a little piece of heaven, a forested canyon with crystal clear rivers. This is an amazing place for birders, and we walk the accessible paths and trails hoping to find endemic Magdalena Antbird with second chances for Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant and Beautiful Woodpecker. Also here among beautiful surroundings are Fasciated Tiger Heron, Barred Puffbird, Saffron-headed Parrot, Long-tailed Tyrant, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Citron-throated Toucan, Grey-checked Nunlet and Andean Immaculate Antbird, Black-throated Trogon, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Fasciated Antshrike, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Bright-rumped Attila, Rufous Mourner, Blue Cotinga and many more. Our guides will maintain a flexible approach and we may also see endemic White-footed Tamarin Monkey and sometimes River Otter – the whole natural area is largely unspoilt and superbly rewarding. After birding through the morning on Thursday we drive for a few hours to Sabaneta, close to Medellin, to be in position for the next stage of the tour.
Day 7: Friday 29 October – La Romera Park and Cauca Valley
La Romera Park has good patches of forest habitat and a couple of hours here in the early morning will give us a chance to find endemic Red-bellied Grackle, Stiles Tapaculo and Colombian Chachalaca. Other species include Yellow-headed Manakin, Greenish Puffleg, Bar-crested Antshrike, Rufous-tailed Tyrant, Rufous-napped Greenlet, Pale-naped Brushfinch, Black-billed Pepper-shrike, Saffron-crowned and Scrub Tanager. Heading towards the small town of Jardin we make a few stops including at Cuaca Valley. Birding in a pleasant climate we try for three endemics; Greyish Piculet, Apical Flycatcher, and Antioquia Wren, the latter only discovered in 2012! On this day, we also visit one of the most accessible and easiest-to-reach sites for Andean Cock of the Rock. One of the most stunning and iconic of South American birds, a visit to the lekking site will hopefully give us good views. We stay at a comfortable hotel in Jardin for the night.
Day 8: Saturday 30 October – Yellow-eared Parrot Reserve
Yellow-eared Parrot is the most endangered species of the trip, inhabiting just a few small isolated areas of Wax Palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense), the national tree which is itself in danger of extinction. The small population restricted to the cloud forests within Colombia (and perhaps still also in parts of northern Ecuador) is currently estimated at 1,500 individuals in the wild, and along with their equally endangered habitat the birds have been protected since the reserve was established in 2006. We visit this most important site by ascending mountain tracks in 4x4 vehicles to between 1900 and 2600 metres above sea level to find this most sought-after bird.
Rare Dusky Starfrontlet and perhaps Spectacled Bear may also be found in this high-altitude area, before we visit more Hummingbird feeders and birdwatch in the area local to Jardin. Target and expected species include Tanager Finch, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Golden-headed Quetzal, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, Flammulated Treehunter, Citrine Warbler, Barred, Green and Black Fruiteater, Rufous-crowned Tody-flycatcher, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Black-collared Jay, and an array of tanagers such as Lachrymose Mountain, Hooded Mountain, Purplish-mantled, Grass-green and Saffron-crowned. Endemic (but rare here) Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer and prehistoric looking Wattled Guan may also be found, while Black-and-Chestnut Eagle patrol the skies. If we couldn’t see the Andean Cock of the Rock lek the day before we can try again before driving to Manizales and our hotel.
Day 9: Sunday 31 October – Rio Blanco Reserve
A full day to explore the fabulous Rio Blanco reserve, birding along roads close to the lodge. Targets include Golden-fronted Whitestart (endemic), Masked Saltator, Collared and Bronzy Inca, Hooded Antpitta, Speckled Hummingbird, Rufous-banded Owl, Plushcap, Rusty-faced Parrot, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Red-hooded Tanager, Rufous-headed Pygmy Tyrant, Barred Becard, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, White-capped Dipper, Ash-colored Tapaculo, Dusky Piha, Yellow-billed Cacique and many more. The crowning glory of our time here will be a visit to an antpitta feeding station; very much a modern birding experience, we have a chance to see Brown-banded, Bicolored, Chestnut-crowned and Slate-crowned Antpitta and sometimes Green and Black Fruiteater are seen here too. After a good day in the field we’ll continue to Termales for an overnight stay and dinner.
Day 10: Monday 1 November – Los Nevados NP
Located in the Central Cordillera of the Colombian Andes, the park is famous for its 17,400 ft volcano Nevado del Ruiz. By travelling as far into the mountains as possible we increase our chances of adding to our bulging birdlist, with endemic Rufous-fronted Parakeet and Buffy Helmetcrest among our targets. Other desirable species include Black- chested Mountain-tanager, Black-headed Hemispingus, Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, Mountain Velvetbreast, Tourmaline Sunangel, Viridian Metaltail, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Booted Racket-tail, Andean Motmot, Bicoloured and Tawny Antpitta, Spillmann's Tapaculo, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Rufous Wren, Plushcap, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, Mountain Avocetbill, Black-thighed and Golden-breasted Puffleg, Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, White-browed Spinetail, Paramo Tapaculo and Black-backed Tanager plus many more high altitude species. After a great day in the hills we return to lower levels and our hotel at Hacienda Venecia.
Day 11: Tuesday 2 November – Hacenda Venecia Coffee Tour and Santa Marta flight
A short break from birding as we rest, relax and restore energy levels for the rest of this enjoyable holiday. Today we visit a typical Colombian coffee farm, enjoying breakfast before a private tour. Walking leisurely around the property we see how the experts grow, pick and roast the beans and we’ll be invited to become involved in the processes, finished of course with a great cup of coffee!
Soon it will be time for us to transfer to Pereira for our flight to the Carribean coast in the far north of Colombia. The inclusion of an internal flight saves us time and reduces our likelihood of missing out on birds. On arrival at Santa Marta airport we’ll transfer to our hotel at Minca, in a small town of two thousand inhabitants nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Day 12: Wednesday 3 November – Minca Dry Forest
Birding will return strongly to the agenda today with a great number of new species possible. An early morning walk in the lower parts of the mountain could give us Black Hawk-Eagle, Bay-headed, Black-headed, Black-capped, Blue-grey, Palm, White-lined and Crimson-backed Tanager, Black-backed Antshrike, Crested Bobwhite, Military Macaw, Scarlet-fronted and Orange-chinned Parakeet, Red-billed Parrot, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, Lined Quail-Dove, White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swift, Blue-fronted Lancebill, Green and Brown Violetear, White-vented Plumeleteer, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Golden-olive, Lineated and Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Greenish and Forest Elaenia, Yellow-olive and Ochre-faced, Social, Piratic and Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Cinereous, Cinnamon and White-winged Becard, Masked Tityra, Rufous-breasted and Rufous-and-white Wren, Yellow-legged, Black-hooded, Pale-breasted, and Black-billed Thrush, Black-chested Jay, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Scaled Piculet, Brown-capped Vireo, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Streaked and Grayish Saltator, Golden-winged Sparrow, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Yellow-backed Oriole, Crested Oropendola and Thick-billed Euphonia, Whooping Motmot and many more.
It’s fair to say there’s a long list of possibilities! The Sierra Nevada, consisting an impressive 383,000 hectares is home to more than 19 endemic bird species of which nine are endangered. There are also several threatened amphibian species, including critically endangered Stub-foot Toad and a type of Harlequin Frog. This wonderful region served in the past as home to the Tayrona culture and today in the highlands indigenous folk belonging to the Kaggaba (Kogui), Ika (Arhuaco), Wiwa (Arzarios) and Kankuamo. “The Sierra Nevada Santa Marta is the heart of the world and they are the guardians”.
During the northern winter months these foothills harbour a good number of North American, Nearctic wood-warblers including Yellow-throated Vireo, Tennessee, Golden-winged, Cerulean, Prothonotary, Black and White, Mourning, Bay breasted, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian and Black-throated Green Warbler with perhaps Swainson’s Thrush, Summer Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak too. We stay for the next two nights at the El Dorado Lodge to be in prime position to see many more great birds.
Day 13: Thursday 4 November – El Dorado Lodge and Reserve
Created in 2006 to protect one of the most fragile and important zones in Colombia, this section of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is located in the Cuchilla de San Lorenzo in the north-western foothills. Species we hope to see include White-rumped Hawk, Band-tailed and Sickle-winged Guan, Band-tailed Pigeon, Masked Trogon, Yellow-billed (Groove-billed) Toucanet, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Spotted Barbtail, Streaked Xenops, Gray-throated Leaftosser, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Rusty-breasted and Rufous Antpitta, Mountain Elaenia, Black-capped, Venezuelan and White-throated Tyrannulet, Olive-striped and Cinnamon Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Golden-breasted Fruiteater, Great Thrush, Slate-throated Redstart, Three-striped Warbler, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Blue-naped Chlorophonia and others.
The list of possible endemics is at its highest here, and we try for Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Screech-Owl, White-tailed Starfrontlet, Santa Marta Woodstar, Rusty-headed Spinetail, Santa Marta Antpitta, Brown-rumped Tapaculo, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant, Yellow-crowned Redstart, White-lored Warbler, Santa Marta Warbler, Santa Marta Toucanet, Santa Marta mountain-Tanager; Black-backed Thornbill, Colombian Brush-Finch, Bang´s Wood-Wren, Santa Marta Blossomcrown, Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner, Santa Marta Tapaculo, Santa Marta Antbird, Santa Marta Sabrewing, Santa Marta Wood-Wren and Santa Marta Brush-Finch. Near endemics of the region include Black-fronted Wood-Quail, White-tipped Quetzal, and Streak-capped Spinetail. A busy checklist session at the end of the day will hopefully emphasise a day of quality birding!
Day 14: Friday 5 November - El Dorado Reserve and on to La Guajira
Another morning birding at El Dorado searching for new species. With an impressive total of 415 species recorded, this extraordinary reserve is important for its famed species but equally so for its halting and wintering migratory birds. Continuing towards La Guajira where we will stay tonight, we search for birds en-route in one of the driest places in Colombia, with new habitat to explore and new species to target during our last birding session tomorrow.
Day 15: Saturday 6 November Flamencos National Park
We make an early start to our day birding around the Caribbean coast looking for scarce birds restricted to dry scrub habitat. This is a very different area for the tour full of beautiful new species, and we could see White-whiskered Spinetail, Chestnut Piculet, Pale-tipped and Slender-billed Inezia, Reddish Egret, Double-striped Thick-knee, Vermilion Cardinal, Pearl Kite, Common Black-Hawk, Aplomado Falcon, American Kestrel, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Bare-eyed Pigeon, Common Ground-dove, Brown-throated and Blue-crowned Parakeet, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Burrowing Owl, Red-billed Emerald, Buffy Hummingbird, Ruby Topaz, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Russet-throated Puffbird, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Streak-headed and Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Caribbean (pale legged) Hornero, Black-crested and Black-backed Antshrike, White-fringed Antwren, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Vermilion Flycatcher, Brown-crested and Venezuelan Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Tropical Mockingbird, Scrub Greenlet, Glaucous Tanager, Black-faced Grassquit, Pileated Finch, Greyish and Orinocan Saltator, Saffron Finch, Yellow Oriole, Buff-necked Ibis, Greater Flamingo and a range of shore birds.
After a morning birding in the Caribbean area, we return to Riohacha City with some more birding en-route. In late-afternoon we fly back to Bogotá and then take our international flight back to Heathrow.
Day 16: Sunday 7 November – Flight back to the UK
Overnight flight from Bogotá landing in the UK in the early hours of Day 17, Monday 8 November.