Day 1 – Arrival and Orientation
Our Colombia: Santa Marta birding tour starts in Barranquilla, a port city along the Caribbean coast and readily accessible from North American airports. We meet for dinner at our hotel to discuss the adventure ahead. Night in Barranquilla.
Day 2 – Drive to Minca
After looking for Chestnut-winged Chachalaca and Bicolored Wren in a suburb of Barranquilla, we will drive east parallel to the coast, stopping at a few places including one or two of the numerous roadside ponds for waterbirds. After lunch we will head inland to Minca in the lower foothills of the Santa Marta range, where we will bird around 600 meter elevation in and around the hotel grounds, hummingbird feeders and the access road. We are likely to see several dozen species as we search for Black-backed Antshrike as well as the spectacular Golden-winged Sparrow and Rosy Thrush-Tanager. Night in Minca.
Days 3 Birding and transfer to El Dorado Lodge
At dawn we will board 4-wheel drive jeeps for the drive up the Santa Marta Mountains, with a field breakfast and several birding stops in which we hope to see spectacular species such as Golden-winged Sparrow and our first Santa Marta endemics, including Santa Marta Antbird and Santa Marta Blossomcrown. Lunch will be at the marvelous El Dorado Lodge located at 1950m on the San Lorenzo ridge. The lodge is in a small clearing with spectacular views down the valleys to the lagoon Cienaga Grande and to the Caribbean beyond, and to the Santa Marta Mountain above. Roads lead through forests above and below the lodge, and since certain species occur at specific elevations, we will use the jeeps to visit both upper and lower stretches of forest. The amazing wealth of species will become apparent as soon as we arrive; in the gardens hummingbird feeders attract many hummingbirds including White-tailed Starfrontlet, Santa Marta Woodstar and hopefully Lazuline Sabrewing, fruit feeders bring in Blue-naped Chlorophonia and Black-capped Tanager, and both Santa Marta and Sierra Nevada Brush-Finches should be in the underbrush, and possibly the endemic Black-fronted Wood-Quail will be present. Santa Marta Screech-owls may call at night. Night at El Dorado Lodge.
Days 4 and 5 – El Dorado Lodge
We spend two days exploring forests above and below the lodge, paying particular attention to the many endemics and unique subspecies of the region. Higher elevations support a host of “Santa Marta” specialties – Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Antpitta, Santa Marta Foliage-Gleaner, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant, Santa Marta Warbler, Santa Marta Mountain-Tanager, and Hermit Wod-Wren, as well as White-tipped Quetzal, Rufous Antpitta, Rusty-headed and Streak-capped Spinetails, Golden-breasted Fruiteater, White-lored Warbler and Yellow-crowned Redstart. If we are fortunate, we could find the very rare Black-backed Thorntail and/or Santa Marta Sabrewing. Below the lodge the birding is equally exciting - Band-tailed and Sickle-winged Guans, White-tipped Quetzal, Santa Marta Blossomcrown, Masked Trogon, Montane and Strong-billed Woodcreepers, Emerald and Groove-billed Toucanets, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Swallow Tanager, and Yellow-legged and Black-hooded Thrushes. Nights at El Dorado Lodge.
Day 6 – To Minca and Riohacha
In the morning, the jeeps will take us downslope, and on the way we will have a field breakfast and several birding stops. At Minca we will change transport and continue, heading east, to Riohacha. Night in Riohacha.
Day 7 – Return to Bogotá and connection to main tour
Before our midday flight to Bogotá where our Colombia: Santa Marta birding tour ends, we have a final morning of birding around Riohacha. This will allow us to sample xerophytic scrub and desert habitats and the Los Flamencos Reserve, where specialties include Green-rumped Parrotlet, Buffy Hummingbird, Black-crested Antshrike, White-whiskered Spinetail, Slender-billed Inezia, Vermilion Cardinal, Orinocan Saltator, and Tocuyo Sparrow. Los Flamencos is a national reserve designed to protect several lagoons used seasonally by large concentrations of Greater Flamingos. Among the flamingos occur several other waterbirds, including Roseate Spoonbill, Reddish Egret, Scarlet and White Ibis. Further possibilities include Rufous-vented Chachalacas, Russet-throated Puffbird, and Chestnut Piculet.
We have a midday flight to Bogotá, arriving about 2 pm. This is the end of our Colombia: Santa Marta birding tour, but participants carrying on to our Colombia birding tour will meet for dinner. Others can connect to flights home in the afternoon or evening.