Exciting Endemics in Santa Marta, Colombia

White-tailed Starfrontlet male, one of the many endemics this exciting day had in store for us

We were out before dawn to be at the top of the San Lorenzo ridge at first light. This ridge of ancient rock forms part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, an isolated range of coastal mountains in the northwest of Colombia that pre-date the Andes. At its highest point, this range reaches 5775m or 18942 feet above sea level. This altitude and isolation means that it is home to the highest level of endemism in the world for its area, and has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Santa Marta Brushfinch, one of the day's endemics

We were birding the El Dorado Bird Reserve, an area of 1024ha managed by Pro Aves, where we were staying in a comfortable lodge with exciting birding in the grounds right outside the bedroom window. But today we were going up in altitude to catch up with some very exciting endemic species. Almost before we’d jumped out of our rugged 4x4 vehicles, the new birds came thick and fast: Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Brushfinch, Santa Marta Warbler and Santa Marta Mountain-tanager. There was a clue in their names – these were all endemic species and all lifers!

Santa Marta Parakeet, tricky to photograph in the early morning light but a very special endemic indeed!

The light levels initially weren’t great but that didn’t stop us enjoying great birds as Streak-capped Spinetail and Rusty-headed Spinetail were added to the list, more endemics and more lifers! And as the sun came out we began to appreciate the stunning landscapes all around us. We’d grabbed a hot drink and a bun before leaving our lodge, but by now all that birding had made us hungry, but our ground agents had already thought of that. Laughing at our surprised faces, our wonderful hosts had laid out a picnic for us at a fantastic viewpoint. Mountains look even more impressive when you're holding a mug of delicious Colombian hot chocolate and a breakfast pie.

Hot chocolate ready and waiting just when you need it!

Calls coming from the vegetation alerted us to more species nearby and we heard Santa Marta Antpitta and Brown-rumped Tapaculo but sadly neither of these two skulkers were in the mood to show. However, Montane Woodcreeper and Montane Foliage-Gleaner were more obliging, again their names identifying their altitude preferences. Golden-breasted Fruiteater was another bird we were excited to see, as was the skulking Hermit Wood Wren, and the exciting Yellow-crowned Whitestart.

A very happy group of female birders!

Stunning views in the sunshine

Back down at our lovely lodge late afternoon, we had time to relax around the wonderful grounds, but that didn’t mean that the birding had to stop. Attracted to the feeders, we had amazing views of the endemic hummingbird, White-tailed Starfrontlet, with both male and female giving us a show. Another endemic, Sierra Nevada Brushfinch fed on the ground in a shady corner. And Bay-headed Tanager, (the subspecies Toddi with its all-green belly, a potential split for the future) was positively showing off for the crowds, while a handsome Black-hooded Thrush fed on berries nearby.

Skulking Sierra Nevada Brushfinch, another endemic and lifer!

Luckily this female White-tailed Starfrontlet was more in the mood to show off

And the day still hadn’t finished rewarding us with treats. After a delicious evening meal made from local produce, we armed ourselves with headtorches to follow a trail in the grounds. We didn’t have to go far – just there was a handsome Santa Marta Screech Owl, another endemic and another lifer! And as if that wasn’t enough, we saw two grey-handed night-monkeys in the trees right beside our lodge, superb mammals as well as birds. This really was the day that just kept giving!

Bay-headed Tanager subspecies Toddi, a potential split for the future

We’re planning a Birdwatching Trip to Colombia in January/February 2021 so if you would like to learn more about this exciting, endemic-packed tour, please email us on


We look forward to hearing from you and sharing the exciting birds of Colombia with you!

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