Colombia is back on the map! It is a good news story in a world in which there are currently few. From the dark days of the drugs barons, one of the most stable democracies in the Americas has emerged. Our British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has accordingly given Colombia its seal of approval as a safe tourist destination; direct flights from London to Bogota are once again available, and Colombia’s tourist board is proud to announce that ‘The only danger is in wanting to stay’! With such a wealth of landscapes, rich culture and an unrivalled 1,900 species of birds to search for (89 of which are endemic), it is hard to disagree.
Such mind-boggling avian diversity derives from a long, stable geological and evolutionary history and a remarkable array of altitudes and habitats. Three distinct Andean ranges (the western, central and eastern cordilleras) are to be found in Colombia, and two principal inter-Andean valleys (the Cauca and Magdalena), plus the lowland forests of the Amazon and Orinoco basins, the isolated snow-capped Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and diverse coastlines, deserts and wetlands. These stunning, bird-rich landscapes provide the backdrop for this exciting tour, which importantly includes three 3-night stays at Fundación ProAves’ flagship reserves plus a mouthwatering optional extension to Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
We begin, however, in the mountains of Chingaza National Park, an easy drive east of the capital, Bogota. Here, amongst montane forest, lakes and páramo (moorland), we will look for such exciting species as the endemic Brown-breasted Parakeet, Rufous-browed Conebill and Bronze-tailed Thornbill, as well as a fine selection of other Andean birds. Whilst in Bogota we will also explore another renowned birding site, the small city park of La Florida, looking for Bogota Rail, Apolinar’s Wren and the local Subtropical Doradito in the reedbeds around the park’s central lagoon and for another endemic, Silvery-throated Spinetail, in the surrounding parkland. We will then drive north, along the Magdalena valley, to the Pauljil (Blue-billed Curassow) Reserve where we will spend three days exploring the reserve’s threatened humid lowland forest, looking for species such as Beautiful Woodpecker, Sooty Ant-tanager and Saffron-headed Parrot. The curassow itself could prove to be a tricky target, but we have a very good chance of seeing Variegated Spider Monkey, one of the rarest primates in the Americas.
Next we visit the Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve at the very northern end of the Central Andes. A 3-night stay here will allow us to search for the bird after which the reserve is named, plus a great many more species, including Colombian Chachalaca, Chestnut Wood-quail, White-mantled Barbet and Parker’s Antbird. Las Tangaras is the next ProAves reserve included on our itinerary. It is located on the very wet Pacific slope of the Western Andes known as the Chocó. Here we hope to find the stunning Gold-ringed Tanager alongside other colourful Chocó endemics, amongst them Velvet-purple Coronet, Toucan Barbet and Black-and-gold Tanager.
Rounding off the main part of our tour we drive south-east to the pleasant colonial town of Jardin, gateway to the Yellow-eared Parrot Reserve. In recent years the parrots have benefited from a successful conservation strategy based upon the planting of the wax palms upon which the birds are dependant. We should see the parrots flying and foraging around the wooded hillsides above the town.
For those wishing to extend their holiday, we offer a 5-day extension to the endemic-rich Santa Marta Mountains (the highest in Colombia), the summits of which may be enjoyed when cloud-free in the early morning. Birding around the El Dorado Lodge is a mouthwatering prospect; Santa Marta Brush-finches are common in the garden, whilst hummingbirds include Blossomcrown and Santa Marta Woodstar. We will also look for the endangered Santa Marta Parakeet, the newly discovered Santa Marta Screech Owl, Rusty-headed Spinetail, Santa Marta Bush-tyrant, Santa Marta Mountain Tanager and Santa Marta Warbler. The occasional Andean Condor, Black-and-chestnut Eagle or Semi-collared Hawk should also keep raptor enthusiasts happy!
We finish, by contrast, in the arid Guajira Peninsula, where a selection of range-restricted species such as Chestnut Piculet, White-whiskered Spinetail, Vermilion Cardinal, Chestnut-winged Chachalacas and Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird will provide a fitting finale to what is, quite simply, an envy-inducing birding feast!