After arriving in Barranquilla on the north coast last Friday, I took a cab to the hotel where the other guys (Dan Riley, Dan Wylie, and Steve Pike) were staying, slept for 4 hours and began the trip by birding the mangroves and nabbing all our target birds including near endemic Chestnut-winged Chachalacas and the endemic Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird at Isla del Salamanca. We made the long drive to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta; a mountain range isolated from the Andes and chock full of endemic species and subspecies. We spent four nights at the El Dorado lodge and managed to see every single one of our target species including all the "gettable" endemics and near endemics! We took a long, bumpy 4x4 ride to the higher elevations on two mornings -one of the most stunning views I have ever laid eyes upon.
Some of the highlight birds in the mountains for me included great looks at Santa Marta Warbler, Plushcap, Black-backed Thornbill, Black-and-Chestnut Eagles, White-tipped Quetzals, 4 species of owl including Stygian (and of course the not yet described Santa Marta Screech -owl), Santa Marta Antpitta, and at least 20 species of frogs. The Band-tailed Guans around the lodge were quite approachable and one took a liking to me, following me around frequently, even to inside the lodge!
Finally seeing an endemic Blossomcrown after quite a bit of searching (and on our last morning) will certainly go down as one of the most satisfying birds! A lowlight involved falling into a creek while night hiking and completely submerging my camera along with macro lens and external flash. Fortunately after two days of careful drying the camera and lens are functional, though I wish I could say the same about the flash.
After leaving the mountains we spent two days elsewhere along the coast including a day in the desert scrub near Riohacha. This place was a huge contrast from Santa Marta not only with the climate, vegetation and birdlife but also with how far off the beaten path it seemed. We were the only foreigners there and received quite a few stares during our time there! The desert scrub is a fascinating habitat for me and I had a lot of fun wandering about. Along with our local Wayuu guide Jose, we turned up nearly all of our target birds, near endemics that are only found in the Guajira Peninsula in Colombis and parts of neighbouring Venezuela. Our only miss was Rufous-vented Chachalaca which is much easier on the island of Tobago and parts of Venezuela. Certainly a highlight was having spectacular views of the near-endemic Tocuyo Sparrow; a very difficult species missed by most birding tours to the area. Some other highlights for me here included White-whiskered Spinetail, face-melting views of displaying Buffy Hummingbirds, Vermillion Cardinals, Green-rumped Parrotlets, Orinocan Saltators and a vagrant Kelp Gull.
Our last night in the north was spent in the scenic Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, an area of dry to humid lowland forest right on the coast. While I only added one lifer here as there is a lot of crossover with birds in Panama, it was still really cool to have great views of displaying Lance-tailed Manakins while listening to White-bellied Anthirds everywhere! It is a stunningly beautiful park that is popular with backpackers. We ended up staying in a room only meters from the beach.
After a quick domestic flight we are now in Bogota, having already seen 294 species of birds in the last week. I'm excited to see what the more diverse Andes will have in store for us!