After a very productive two days in Santuario de Los Flamencos, we spent the next two days at Taironaka, an ecolodge located on the Don Diego River ~15 miles east of Tayrona National Park. To get to the central lodge grounds, there is an option to either walk an 800 meter-long trail (not a simple matter with with our over-packed luggage), or to take a short ~10-15 minute motorized boat trip upriver. That decision was easy. The property here is very nice, with several hundred yards of river frontage and multiple cabins that likely can accommodate a total of ~70 guests. By far this was the most extensive and most comfortable lodging that we used on the entire trip. And that was no accident. I figured that by this time we’d be pretty exhausted and need some down time. And relax we did. Our days here typically started with an early morning walk, a relaxing breakfast, another short walk, and by noon we were ready for some river time. This meant jumping into the river and floating down from the upper end of the property to the lower end or just relaxing in the shallows. It’s amazing what an effect cool water and effortless floating has on the psyche. It helps when an occasional Amazon or Ringed Kingfisher calls from the riverbank. Let’s call it river therapy.
Taironaka isn’t exactly a high-level birding destination, although each day at lunch we were joined by a small guided group that had birded the ~800 yds from the road to the dining area. We had a few good sightings on the grounds and on the trails, but since we were tired and only had a single pair of functioning binoculars, birding was secondary to relaxation here. Nonetheless, we did have great sightings of a Crested Guan that is habituated to the dining area, and on the trails we saw Orange-crowned Oriole, Gray Seedeater, and at least five Rufous-tailed Jacamars on a single walk. And yes, it was hard to ignore the peacocks that roam the grounds.
After our enjoyable stay in Taironaka, we made the successful transfer to Santa Marta Airport and the short flight into Bogota. We opted for a ~20 hour layover in Bogota to avoid another night of trying to sleep in an airport. We didn’t have any birding plans for the day, as prior attempts at arranging for a guide fizzled out. We found a great B&B called A Bogota on Holiday located 10 minutes from the airport that had free airport pickups. In fact, while driving us to the B&B the owner asked if we had any plans for our day. When we mentioned that we were birders, he said he knew a driver who would take us to a local destination. So within 45 minutes after landing, not only were we checked into a comfortable and pleasant B&B, but we were on our way to our final birding destination, the wetlands of La Florida Park. It was mid-afternoon, so it wasn’t optimal timing, but the pond at La Florida was filled with recognizable species like American Coots, Ruddy Ducks, Black Phoebe, and Common Gallinules, and we picked up our final new species including Spot-flanked Gallinule, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Subtropical Doradito, Brown-bellied Swallow, and Apolinar’s Wren to end our trip.
This was an interesting trip. I began with trepidation, wondering if our safety was going to be in danger every day from narco traffickers and armed FARC nationalists and anti-American kidnappers. After all, I’ve never been to a location where the US State Department issued strong warnings to travelers. Yet from the day of our arrival, we never had a time when we felt endangered, and the people of Colombia were uniformly open, warm, and friendly. I suspect that there might still be pockets in the south or on the Pacific coast where it might not be wise to travel alone at this point, but there were no problems at all for us alone in the entire Sierra Nevada region. A lasting memory for me is the sharp contrast between all the comforts that we have in the US (and that we take for granted) and the simpler life of the average Colombian citizen. A trip like this is not for all travelers; in fact, most travelers avoid staying at the hostels and fincas, preferring the comfortable birding lodges. For me it was a great learning experience.
As for the birds, well…we ended up with 251 species seen, of which 61 were lifers for me. For a Colombian tour, those are not outstanding numbers, but we were guided for less than half of the trip, we visited only a very small portion of the country, and I spent more time relaxing on this trip than on previous birding vacations. For anybody who is in search of endemics, this is clearly a region worth visiting, with 19-20 true endemics possible on the road from Minca to San Lorenzo Ridge. As with any trip, there were missed species, but does it really matter? Instead of worrying about what we missed, I prefer to focus on what we saw and did; memories of Russet-throated Puffbirds perched a few feet from us, or live accordion music coming from around the corner, or floating down a river, or watching hundreds of American Flamingoes flying toward our boat, or following a Pale-legged Hornero through the brush, or sitting on the tienda porch in the middle of nowhere waiting for an endemic hummingbird to arrive.