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Day 1: Sat 19 October 2024 - Arrival in Colombia
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we fly from London to Bogotá, where Andrés 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 the Hilton Garden Inn, Bogota where we will stay for the next two nights.
Day 2: Sun 20 October - Guajira Forest, La Calera and Hummingbird Observatory
Our first day, and we visit three 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 Guajira Forest is part of the buffer zone of Chingaza National Park. Offering a sanctuary to many birds including endemics it will be a great place to start, with threatened Brown-breasted Parakeet and Silvery-throated Spinetail both possible here. Important near-endemics including Bronze-tailed Thornbill, Golden-fronted Redstart, Pale-breasted Tapaculo, and Glowing and Rufous-browed Conebill are also early targets! Also regular are Black-chested Buzzard-eagle, Black-billed Mountain-toucan, White-chinned Thistletail, White-browed Spinetail, Sedge Wren, Many-striped Canastero, Black-headed Hemispingus with the possibility of seeing an as yet undescribed Rufous Antpitta too! Reptilian and mammalian interest is 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.
At La Calera we have another chance of Brown-breasted Parakeet and Streak throated Bush-tyrant, Black Flowerpiercer, Scarlet-bellied, Hooded and Lacrimose Mountain-tanagers Red-crested Cotinga and Smoky-brown Woodpecker may also feature. At the Hummingbird Observatory we have a good chance of a wide variety of dazzling species at the feeders. We may see Blue-throated Starfrontlet, 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, White-bellied Woodstar and Amethyst-throated Sunangel and perhaps a few others - a spectacle of colour on just our first days birding!
Day 3: Mon 21 October - La Florida Park and El Tabacal Lake
An early morning visit to La Florida, a local urban park where we search for Bogotá Rail and Apolinar's Wren. Both are Bogotá endemics and we may also see near-endemic Spot-flanked Gallinule. Also likely 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 Brushfinch and others in the surrounding scrub and forest. Bar-crested Antshrike, Red-billed Scythebill, Blue-lored, White-bellied and Dusky Antbird, Rufous-naped Greenlet, and Plain-coloured and Scrub Tanager may also feature. Possible in this area too are endemic Apical Flycatcher and Velvet-fronted Euphonia and both are most easily found in dry scrub near the coffee plantations along the main highway. After lunch we have a lengthy drive ahead of us, making a few stops in suitable looking areas for birds before arriving at Rio Claro, where we stay at Los Colores Hotel for two nights.
Day 4: Tue 22 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, Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant and Beautiful Woodpecker. Also likely are Fasciated Tiger Heron, Barred Puffbird, Saffron-headed Parrot, Long-tailed Tyrant, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Citron-throated Toucan, Grey-cheeked Nunlet, Andean Immaculate Antbird, Black-throated Trogon, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Fasciated Antshrike, Bright-rumped Attila and many more. Our guides will maintain a flexible approach and depending on our progress, we may visit Cueva de los Cóndores (Condor Cave) to try for bizarre-looking Oilbird today. After-dinner we plan to take a nocturnal walk to try to find Crested and Mottled Owl, while mammals seen during our time in the reserve might include endemic White-footed Tamarin Monkey and River Otter.
Day 5: Wed 23 October - Rio Claro to Sabaneta
We spend the morning at Rio Claro, targeting reserve specialities we might not have seen or perhaps visiting Cueva de los Cóndores for Oilbird if not yet attempted. High among our targets will be Black-throated Trogon, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Brownish Twisting, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Rufous Mourner and Blue Cotinga. After a traditional lunch at a local restaurant, we continue to Sabaneta where we stay at Hacienda Hotel la Extremadura for one night.
Day 6: Thur 24 October - La Romera Park and Bolombolo
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 may include Rufous-banded Owl, 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 Bolombolo where birding in a pleasant climate we try for three endemics. If lucky Greyish Piculet, Apical Flycatcher and Antioquia Wren (the latter only discovered in 2012) will all be seen before the drive to Jardin where we are well placed for some special targets over the next two days. We stay at Hotel Valdivia Plaza for two nights.
Day 7: Fri 25 October - Yellow-eared Parrot Reserve
Yellow-eared Parrot is the most endangered species of the tour, 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 estimated at just 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. In 4x4 vehicles we ascend to between 1900 and 2600 metres above sea level to find this highly sought-after bird.
Rare endemic Dusky Starfrontlet and Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer may also be found in this high-altitude area, and other 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 and Black-collared Jay. Chestnut-naped and Slate-crowned Antpitta are also likely, as is an array of colourful tanagers such as Lachrymose Mountain, Hooded Mountain, Purplish-mantled, Grass-green and Saffron-crowned. Prehistoric looking Wattled Guan is another possibility before we return to our hotel after a day exploring a special region of Colombia.
Day 8: Sat 26 October - Cock of the Rock lek and transfer to Manizales
After an early breakfast, we 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 before continuing to nearby Bambusa for further birding. Highlights here may include Crimson-backed, Blue-necked, Flame-rumped and Scrub Tanager, Crested Bobwhite, Red-headed Barbet, Spectacled Parrotlet, Highland (Andean) Motmot , Blue-headed Parrot, Colombian Chachalaca, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Inca Jay , Clay-coloured Thrush, Green Hermit, Acorn woodpecker, Crimson-rumped Toucanet and many others. After a busy morning with plenty of new birds we drive south to Manizales where we stay at Recinto del Pensamiento Hotel for two nights.
Day 9: Sun 27 October - Rio Blanco Reserve
We have a full day to explore the fabulous Rio Blanco reserve where targets include Golden-fronted Whitestart (endemic), Masked Saltator, Collared and Bronzy Inca, Hooded Antpitta, Speckled Hummingbird, 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 where we have a chance to see Brown-banded, Bicolored, Chestnut-crowned and Slate-crowned Antpitta. Green and Black Fruiteater are sometimes seen here too.
Day 10: Mon 28 October - Los Nevados National Park
We start the day with visits to local feeding stations for antpittas and hummingbirds. If lucky Chestnut-faced and Equatorial Antpittam plus Sparkling and Lesser Violetear, Tourmaline Sunangel, Tyrian Metaltail, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Collared Inca and White-bellied Woodstar will feature alongside other species at the feeders.
Located in the Central Cordillera of the Colombian Andes, Los Nevados National 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 difficult species with endemic Rufous-fronted Parakeet and Buffy Helmetcrest high among our targets. Other desirable species include Black- chested Mountain-tanager, Black-headed Hemispingus, Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, Mountain Velvetbreast, Great Saphirewing, Viridian Metaltail, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Booted Racket-tail, Bicoloured and Tawny Antpitta, Spillmann's and Paramo 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 and Black-backed Tanager. After a great day in the hills we return to lower levels and the Termales del Ruiz Hotel for one night.
Day 11: Tue 29 October - Hacienda 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 Caribbean 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 transfer to La Sierra Hotel for one night.
Day 12: Wed 30 October - Las Gaviotas and Camorones
After breakfast we depart for Las Gaviotas, a coastal lowland forest where we look for Lance-tailed Manakin, White-bellied Antbird, Buff-breasted Wren, Barred Antshrike, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Crimson-crested Woodpecker and many others. Later at Camarones, Caribbean birds such as Reddish Egret, Red-billed Emerald, Chestnut Piculet, Black-backed Antshrike, Caribbean Hornero, Buffy Hummingbird, White-whiskered Spinetail, Slender-billed Tyrannulet, Tocuyo Sparrow, Vermilion Cardinal, Scarlet and White Ibis and American Flamingo may be seen. A new region of Colombia means lots of new species, and after a productive day we travel to La Guajira and the Gimaura Hotel where we stay for one night.
Day 13: Thur 31 October - 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. Among those we could see are Pale-tipped and Slender-billed Inezia, 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, 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, Brown-crested, Venezuelan Flycatcher and 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 and a range of shore birds. Later we drive to Minca, and travel by 4x4 vehicle to El Dorado Lodge where were stay for the next two nights.
Day 14: Fri 1 November - El Dorado Lodge and Reserve
Created in 2006 to protect one of the most fragile and important zones in Colombia, El Dorado Reserve is located in the Cuchilla de San Lorenzo in the north-western foothills. Home to more than 19 endemic bird species to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, nine are endangered and we will be sure of some great additions to our already large birdlist! 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.
Day 15: Sat 2 November - El Dorado Reserve and return to the UK
Another morning at El Dorado searching for new species. With an impressive total of 415 species recorded, this extraordinary reserve is not just important for its local species but equally so for wintering migratory birds. After our final session in the field we return to Riohacha City, flying back to Bogotá for our overnight flight back to the UK arriving on Sunday 3 November (day 16).