PhotoNatura Colombia 

Birding  and  Wildlife  Photography
     

BLUE-BEARDED HELMETCREST EXPEDITION

A journey through the Highlands of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Search for the endemics Blue-bearded Helmetcrest and Santa Marta Wren

Above the treeline the paramo extends in a mixture of grassy vegetation, small succulents, mossy cliffs of rocks and impertubable lagoons. The wildlife has adapted to this rough ecosystem in their own way. Two of those species are the endemics Blue-bearded Helmetcrest (Oxypogon cyanolaemus) and Santa Marta wren (Troglodytes monticola), these are the only two endemic birds that can not be seen in El Dorado Reserve and San Lorenzo ridge área, which only reaches 2800m in altittute, and this two species start their distibution at around 3400m, though the Blue-bearded helmetcrest is more likely to be found above 3800m.


Unfortunately most of the hábitat has been burned some years ago and despite the vegetation is slowly recovering the amount of lost habitat is worrying. There are spots where the vegetation remains and the birds concéntrate, the Santa Marta wren is quite common and sights of this species are garanteed, but the helmetcrest requires more searching in the higher lagoons, though over the few expeditions we have organized to watch these species we've never failed to see any of them. To access those spots a long walk along coffee plantations, cloud forest and finally paramo is required. The trek starts in San Pedro / San Javier towns at 1600m to the lagoons at 3800m, camping is needed, and also taking mules to bring equipment, food , camping gear and more. The whole trek lasts 5-6 days (itinerary below), the trails are steep, rocky and maybe muddy but full of birds  so a decent fitness is important, there are no facilities, water is taken from crystaline streams (you need to bring your own filter).


This area is so good for birdng, compared to El Dorado área, that all Santa Marta endemics are quite posible here (exception of Santa Marta sabrewing, which is the only one we havent seen in this range of elevation), and many of them are more likely to be seen. Of course there is no confort but the birds  and scenery make the balance


ITINERARY


DAY 1

Transport from Santa Marta/Barranquilla (3-4 hours) to San Pedro/ San Javier town at 1550m of altitute. Stay overnight in a very basic hotel

DAY 2
Beinning of the hike which will go up to 2700m and last for the whole day. Camping in an abandoned farm.

DAY 3
Hike continues to the paramo where stay in tents in the main camp in the lagoons area at 3800m

DAY 4
Exploration around the lagoons for the whole day

DAY5
Birding in the morning. At noon the donhill starts to arrive the abandoned farm. Last night at the camping site

DAY 6
Continue going down to San Pedro / San Javier town, and then drive down to Santa Marta.


PRICE depends on group size:


1 person ............................ USD$ 1450

2 persons......... .................USD$ 1250 per person

3 persons ......................... USD$ 1100 per person

4 persons or more ........ USD$ 900 per person


Limit 8 participants


It includes Transport from Santa Marta/Barranquilla and return, all accommodations (one night in basic hotel before the trek, the rest in tent), camping gear, all meals in the field, water supply, use of mules to take equipment and food, local guide/mule rider, local english-speaking birding guide, local indigenous permission.



Take a look at some birding reports made by a couple of keen birders that made the trek, who were lucky enough to visit this amazing place and take great views of these species plus many more..


Also please take a look a this great article mabe by the journalist Alex Ossola who also joined us and was perhaps the first non Colombian in seen the helmetcrest.

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