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Santa Marta mountains and the Guajira Peninsula.

A short trip to the Santa Marta mountains and the dry forest in the Guajira peninsula, our main aim is to watch as many birds as possible, get some good photos and have fun!

About Santa Marta mountains, the highest coastal mountain in the world loaded with endemic birds, from bottom to top. during the trip we explore this mountain range from 0-2800 masl (0-9000 ft) increasing our chances to watch as many of the endemics and range restricted birds. late in the trip we visit the humid tropical forest along the Caribe in the Tayrona area and at the end the Guajira peninsula, watching all the specialties in the dry forest but also we visit the shallow water lagoons of the area and mangrove forest, changing dramatically the ecosystems, habitats and the set of birds. we ended our 7 days trip with 240 seen bird species and beautiful memories.

Sunrise in San Lorenzo ridge.

Day 1. First aproach to the Santa Marta mountains:

Early morning start to have a flight from Bogotá to Santa Marta, after arrival we drove about 50min above to town of Minca. The montane forest here is home of several bird species including some endemics. The morning was loaded with good birds and we had activity all the time. One of the most wanted - despite is not an endemic - was the Rosy Thrush Tanager and we manage to watch a couple at the same time Scaled Piculet was calling right above our heads and a mix flock with: Golden-fronted Greenlet, American Redstar, Buff-throated Saltator and Chestnut-capped Warbler among others was passing by. A couple of Sierra Nevada Brush Finch were singing in the forest and gave us great views. Other highlights during the morning: Santa Marta Antbird - two of them working in the bushes - Santa Marta foliage Gleaner moving quickly in a dark area but finally showing off a bit, Santa Marta Brush-Finch, Golden-winged Sparrow among others. Midday break in our home for the next 3 nights, mountain house, a lodge located at mid elevations and surrounded by shade ground coffee. The feeders provide us new birds for the trip: Blue-naped Cholorophonia, Black-headed Tanager, Lazuline Sabrewing and more. 57 species for the morning and we area just starting!

After a local delicious lunch and rest, we got a cup of local coffee and birding the mid elevation area. Our main target for the afternoon was the endemic Santa Marta Blossomcrown, we watched not only one but 3 males in a lek area! They were very active chasing up each to other, despite the foggy we had an incredible session and we add to the list more endemics and nice looking birds, superb views of the endemic: Santa Marta Tapaculo and White-lored Warbler, but also: Golden-breasted Fruiteater, Keel-billed Toucan, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Masked Trogon, Crimson-crested Woodpecker. We ended the day with the Scarlet-fronted Parakeets and Red-billed Parrot with the view of the Caribbean Ocean from the mountains.

birding in the dry forest

Day 2. Mid elevation area.

Watching birds into the forest is not always an easy task, but little by little we started to add new species to our trip. Early morning we saw the endemic sub-specie of the Southern Emerald (Santa Marta) Toucanet and also the endemic Streak-capped Spinetail. Suddenly we got a small mix flocks with some of the target birds of the area: Santa Marta Mountain-Tanager (Black-cheeked), Yellow-crowned Redstar , Streak-capped Spinetal, Santa Marta Brush-Finch among others. We tried for a while the Santa Marta Antpitta with no successful but right after we gave up we saw a juvenile Black and Chestnut Eagle soaring! And eventually the endemic Rusty-headed Spinetail. We were trying hard for one of the most wanted birds, the White-tipped Quetzal with not much successful until a female and three males were chasing up right above us and gave us a beautiful show, singing, calling and flying around. During the afternoon we visited a farm house with a nice garden, those flowers provide nectar for amazing hummingbirds and we added some top ones: Santa Marta Woodstar and Coopery Emerald and other species like: Whooping Motmot, White-lined Tanager and Band-tailed Guan. On the way back we saw the Grey-throated Leaftosser and once get dark despite was only heard we enjoy the song and calls of the Santa Marta Screech Owl.

Santa Marta Woodstar, working around the mermelades

Day 3. High lands, San Lorenzo ridge.

After a early morning start, we drove all the way to the top of San Lorenzo ridge, a well known place for several endemic species of Santa Marta. the beautiful views of the layers of mountains and the snowy peaks to the south and the Caribe to the north, such a landscape. we were just enjoying the landscape when we heard the voice of our driver calling us: Parakeets! we ran as fast as possible and we saw a small flock of about 6 Santa Marta Parakeets feeding with Scaly-naped Parrots. after enjoying the Parakeets we started to add other endemics: Santa Marta Warbler, Hermit Wood Wren, Black-cheeked (Santa Marta) Mountain Tanager, Santa Marta Brush-Finch, Streak-capped Spinetail, Rusty-headed Spinetail among others. We were walking quietly when a big mammal jumped behind us! we did not know what it was, we were still trying to understand and suddendly a Red Brocket jumped out of the bushes in between us, passing by few inches away from us and the spotting scope - which was near to be broken! - what a moment! the next unexpected moment happened just few minutes later, we were carefully searching for one of the top birds of the area, the Sierra Nevada Antpitta, we were looking through a window inside the forest and one of them passed by quietly in front of us and eventually sings, giving us perfect views. The rest of the morning walk was really productive and we added: Merlin, Bicolored Hawk, incredible views of the endemic Brown-rumped Tapaculo singing in front of us among others. The afternoon´s heavy rain forced us to stay in the lodge, but some owling at night, despite we heard the Santa Marta Screech Owl several times we could not see it, now heading to the lowlands.

The endemic Santa Marta Brush-Finch

Day 4. Santa Marta mountains low elevations.

We did a very good job the previous days and we watched 16 endemics of the sierra nevada de Santa Marta, so we had a very relaxed morning, but in Colombia even the mellow days are quite impressive! we watched a couple of times the elusive Rusty-breasted Antpitta, Black-chested Jay and the Crested Oropendolas flying all over. we made a stop in a beautiful garden on the road, drink a coffee - which was literally roasted and grinded for us in place! - and enjoy the last views of the Santa Marta Woodtstar working around the mermelades bushes, also Grey-headed Tanager and Bay-headed Tanager were around. On our walk we heard the distinctive call of Macaws and quickly we turned our eyes to the sky, 2 Military Macaws flying eye level with the morning light and the Caribe ocean in the back were for sure the birds of the day and a most wanted! other additions to our list: White-lined Tanager, Cinnamon Becard, Rufous-breasted Hermit, American Redstar, Golden-crowned Greenlet among others just to say good bye to the Santa Marta mountains.

Afternoon at Tayrona was very nice! Our hotel, located on a hill was very convenient for birds and wildlife spotting and indeed we did not move much to get spectacular views of: White-necked Puffbird, Lineated Woodpecker and a family of Santa Marta White-fronted Capuchins getting fruits from a Cecropia tree really close to us. Also, the Red-howler Monkeys moving in the mountains and the Common Pauraquee flying around the parking lot.

Bay-Headed Tanager, endemic subspecie

Day 5. Tayrona National Park.

We started early to give a try to the always elusive but hard Blue-billed Curassow, despite the efforts we couldn’t see that bird, anyway we were able to spot other great birds and wildlife during the morning! The Crab- eating Fox walking on the road was the first sight in the morning, and right after that a group of noisy Grey-headed Tanagers made us to realize the presence of a Boa constrictor moving in the lianas! later the incredible Lance-tailed Manakin the beautiful White-fringed Antwren and the White-chinned Sapphire joined us. Walking trough the Tropical humid forest also gave us good views of: Trinidad Euphonia, Black-crowned Antshrike, Long-billed Gnatwren, Buff-breasted Wren, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Blue Dacnis and the migrants: Protonotary Warbler, Northern Waterthrush and Broad-winged Hawk. At the end of the morning the Black Hawk Eagle spring was perfect to say good bye to Tayrona.

Santa Marta White-fronted Capuchin

Day 6. The dry Forest in Guajira Peninsula.

First morning in the dry forest was beyond excellent!! We clean the area with beautiful sights on the gravel roads near Camarones village. The first sight was the range restricted Tocuyo Sparrow and the Orinocan Saltator and right after that we heard a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl who was quickly spotted, around the Owl tons of birds moving around: Shining Green Hummingbird, Buffy Hummingbird, Red-billed Scythebill, Slender-billed Tyrannulet, Scrub Greenlet and the Protonotary Warbler. Later in the morning during the walk we added more targets of the area: Black-backed Antshrike, Black-crested Antshrike, Glaucous Tanager and one of the most wanted: White-whiskered Spinetail. Then we moved to a feeding station in camarones village with a quick stopover for: Double-stripe Thick-knee, Buff-necked Ibis, Slender Kite, Harris Hawk. Once in the feeders we just chill out and get beautiful sights and photos of: Vermilion Cardinal, Orinocan Saltator, Buffy Hummingbird, Pileated Finch, Yellow Oriole, Russet-throated Puffbird, Scaled Dove among others. The heat was already hard at midday, so short brake with a local lunch, we are already over 200 bird species.

At the afternoon we went to one of the shallow water lagoons area, after a short boat ride we were closer to the shore birds. We added several species to the trip list and we enjoyed our time checking carefully the Sandpipers, Plovers and other migratory species. Willet, Whimbrel, American Oystercatcher, Gulls, Terns were part of the menu.

Target birds in the dry forest: White-whiskered Spinetail, Shining-green Hummingbird and Vermilion Cardinal

Day 7. Boca de Camarones

A wonderful last morning in the field, loaded with all the migratory shore birds and other specialties of this area of Colombia. We did a boat ride in laguna grande, the area is also known as Boca de Camarones, were the fresh water lagoons joined to the salty water of the caribe ocean. The shallow water lagoons are the perfect place for fish and shrimps hunted by several species of birds, our main targets for the morning were the American Flamingoes and we saw plenty of them flying by but also in big groups in the water. on the way we spotted several times the Scarlet Ibis which is considered an scarce bird around, usually in flocks with the White Ibis and from time to time some hybrids - Rose colored - on the way back to the village fo Camarones we made a short stop for a sculky one, the elusive Mangrove Rail, we have succesful whit this beautiful bird and was the perfect way to finish our trip in the north of Colombia. other birds during the morning: Reddish Egrett, Tricolored Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, Large-billed Tern, Yellow-billed Tern, Ringed Kingfisher, Osprey and many more.

We ended the trip with a oficial list of 240 bird species - not bad for 7 days in the field - only seen birds have been included in our lists. we got photography records for no less than 50 species and now we have plenty good memories of the Santa Marta mountains and the Guajira peninsula.

Watching birds in the shallow water lagoons in Camarones

Thanks to:

We would like to thanks to all our ground services suppliers. Silvana Travels and their wonderful cars, fully adapted for the gravel bumpy roads of the Santa Marta mountains, our main driver Chucho, who was very carefully driving on and off road. also the local guides to joined us, Danilso in the Tayrona area and all his enthusiasm searching birds and mammals and Jhonis Alarza in the the lowlands at Guajira peninsula for his big effort with all the little brown jobs in the dry forest.

Huge thanks to Andreas and Bauke for joining me in this adventure, they are not only great birders but also great persons, open to explore Colombia and taste a bit of this country.

Russet-throated Puffbird, Red-pileated Finch and American Flamingoes

eBird trip report available:

Top Birds

After a long debate, our favorite birds that stands out because their beauty and behavior:

  • Mangrove Rail (lifer for everyone!)

  • Santa Marta Parakeet

  • Rosy-thrush Tanager

  • Red-billed Scythebill

  • Russet-throated Puffbird

  • Blue-naped Chlorophonia

  • White-tipped Quetzal

  • Vermilion Cardinal

  • Crimson-backed Tanager

  • Sierra Nevada Antpitta

  • White-whispered Spinetail

Beside birds:

Crab-eating Fox, Colombian Red-howler Monkey, Santa Marta White-fronted Capuchin, Central American Agouti, Red Brocket Deer, Yellow-striped Poison Frog, Blue Crab, Red-tailed Squirrel.

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