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Birding in Colombia - The Heart of the World


Isolated geologically for millenniums, and politically for decades, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is now open for exploration and on its way to becoming the mecca of bird watching world. 

Colombia is home to almost 20% of the world's bird species with over 1,950 birds being recorded within its borders and more being found all the time. Venerated as the 'Heart of the World' by local indigenous cultures, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, are a beautiful example of evolution in isolation and recently described as the most irreplaceable concentration of biodiversity on Earth by the IUCN. Once formed as part of the Central Andes of Colombia, tectonic movement split the Sierra range some 134 miles to the north, isolating all biological life on its slopes both in its geographical isolation, and exceptional altitude uplifting to be the world's highest coastal range.

When and Where to Go: El Dorado Nature Reserve

Located about a 3.5 hour drive from the Caribbean coastal town of Santa Marta, El Dorado Nature Reserve sits in the heart of the emerald mountain range and boasts some of the most stunning wildlife on the planet. A birders paradise, it has the highest concentration of continental range-restricted bird species found anywhere in the world (600 species) and all but two of the Sierra Nevada's 20 endemics can be seen in the reserve.

The best time to visit Colombia as a whole is between December and March, or July and August, as it rains the least during these months. If you prefer to visit from April to June or from October to November, expect a comfortable spring-like climate. The Caribbean coast experiences its heaviest rainfall in September and October and is relatively dry the rest of the year while the lowlands experience little temperature variation with a tropical climate. Because of its coastal location and high elevation (approximately 3,000 to 8,000 ft), the reserve has a bimodal climate with temperatures averaging 65 º F. In general, it has a dry season from December to April and a rainy season from May to November, with a slight decrease in rainfall during the months from June to July.

What to Look For: Endemic Birds

While exploring the reserve and soaking in the views of the snowy peaks, keep your eyes open for the Santa Marta parakeet or the curious but light-weary rufous antpittas that like to emerge just before sunrise. The endemic and abundant yellow-crowned whitestart, the shy Santa Marta antpitta, the quick and elusive rusty-headed spinetail and the near-endemic streak-capped spinetail are all spotted regularly in and around the reserve. Other birds and subspecies (possible future splits) can be seen, such as the emerald toucanet (commonly referred to as 'Santa Marta toucanet') and the sub-specie of blue-naped chlorophonia with its unique patch of yellow on its forehead. If you're lucky you might even spot the critically endangered harlequin frog or the crab-eating fox and at night time, the lemurine monkeys or the highly coveted Santa Marta screech-owl.

Where to Stay: El Dorado Lodge

Located exclusively in the heart of the El Dorado Bird Reserve, El Dorado Lodge is one of Colombia's most beautifully designed eco-lodges. A 12-minute walk along a trail and suspension bridge leads to their fantastic Kogihabs, traditional round huts, which have unobstructed 180 degree views towards the Sierra Nevada peaks in the morning. At the lodge, guests can explore the trails, observation lookouts, and delight in the opportunity to bird watch beside the feeders that are home to a startling array of hummingbirds.

With such a vast array of landscapes and ecosystems, a wildlife watching tour of Colombia is an essential visit for any discerning wildlife enthusiast, especially bird lovers (See also - Birding in Panama). For more information read A Closer Look at Travel to Colombia or  contact Kelsey, our South America expert or learn about our other trips to Colombia.

Keeping it wild,

Your travel family at Wildland Adventures

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