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Colombia – Birds & History: November 2019

Our second birds and history tour in Colombia was led by our ex-Naturetrek tailormade holidays manager Robin Smith, who reports back from a hugely successful and enjoyable tour.

The November 2019 ‘Colombia Birds & History’ tour was a real triumph – over 300 species of birds were recorded while enjoying the very best of Colombia’s vibrant culture, rich history, superb hospitality and incredible natural scenery! (writes leader Robin Smith). The tour kicked off in Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá, where the group soaked up such sites as the Gold Museum (which houses an exquisite collection of pre-Columbia gold), the historical old quarter of ‘La Candaleria’ and the historic Bolivar Square, while also learning of the country’s recent struggles and its bright future. Superb birding followed in scenic eastern Andean locations, with Sword-billed Hummingbird, Black-chested Mountain-tanager and Silvery-throated Spinetail proving highlights.

Our base in Colombia’s central Andes was a traditional hacienda featuring expansive gardens packed with exciting birds including Bar-crested Antshrike, Spectacled Parrotlet and Greyish Piculet. Here we explored the scenic Cocora Valley, famed for its towering wax palms and enchanting cloud forest habitat, where encounters with Black-billed Mountain-toucan and Crimson-mantled Woodpecker proved highlights. Another nearby reserve produced a ‘mixed-flock-of-a-lifetime’ which included Marble-faced Bristle-tyrant, Ashy-throated Bush Tanager and Metallic-green Tanager, to mention only a few. However, the undoubted star of the flock was Multicoloured Tanager – Colombian avian gold!

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Artefact from the Gold Museum (Robin Smith)

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Black-billed Mountain-toucan (Paul Hanks)

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Sword-billed Hummingbird (Paul Hanks)

In the cloud forest reserve of Rio Blanco four species of antpitta, including Chestnut-crowned and endemic Brown-banded varieties, were seen at point-blank range, while more colorful beauties were enjoyed along the scenic trails – Grass-green Tanager, Rusty-faced Parrot and Yellow-vented Woodpecker certainly stuck in the memory. Moving higher we were treated to some of Colombia’s most spectacular Andean scenery while searching for (and enjoying views from just metres away) the endemic Buffy Helmetcrest. Here we spent a night in a mountain retreat with naturally occurring thermal hot spring pools and more dazzling ‘hummers’ including Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Great Sapphirewing and Buff-winged Starfrontlet. The wonderful birding seemed to be on tap – more top species followed including Golden-crowned Tanager, Golden-fronted Whitestart and Pearled Treerunner!

Our next stop was the quaint colonial town of Jardin, where the group visited a raucous Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek, soaked up tremendous views of rare and endemic Yellow-eared Parrots and enjoyed a tour of a small-scale coffee plantation (coffee tasting included of course!) However, a ‘breakfast with birds’ really stole the show, with such dazzling species as Crimson-backed Tanager, Red-headed Barbet and Crimson-rumped Toucanet all coming to fruit feeders just metres away – all the while tucking into a traditional Colombian breakfast supplemented by freshly brewed Colombian coffee and hot chocolate!

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Chestnut-crowned Antpitta (Paul Hanks)

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Buffy Helmetcrest (Paul Hanks)

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Crimson-rumped Toucanet (Paul Hanks)

Our final stop was the historical Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena, where the group rounded off a memorable holiday with a fascinating walking tour of the old city, visits to the Fort of San Felipe and La Popa hill, delicious sea food, refreshing tropical fruit juices and Magnificent Frigatebirds cruising overhead. What a fascinating mix of birding, history and culture the last 2 weeks had been! However, for five members of the group it didn’t end there…a five-night Santa Marta birding extension followed, with highlights including the recently described Santa Marta Screech-owl (we saw the rare rufous morph!), Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Warbler, White-tailed Starfrontlet and White-tipped Quetzal – not to mention some of the most dramatic scenery of all South America! Upon return the feedback from the group has been unwaveringly positive, with one couple commenting, ‘It is honestly difficult to see how this holiday could have been improved’, while another stated; ‘We just loved this trip. It covered everything we had always wanted to see in Colombia!’

We’re expecting our next departure in November 2020 to be popular! 

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