BLUE-BEARDED HELMETCREST EXPETIDION
A Journey through the Highlands of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in search for one of the rarest hummingbird
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 two endemic birds that can not be seen in El Dorado Reserve and San Lorenzo ridge area, which only reaches up to 2800m/9200ft in altittute, and this two species start their distibution at around 3400m/11150, though the Blue-bearded helmetcrest is more likely to be found above 3800m/12500ft
Unfortunately most of the habitat 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 concentrate there, the Santa Marta wren is quite common and sights of this species are almost guaranteed, 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 1500m/4600f, the destination is at 3800m /12500ft, camping is needed, and also taking mules to bring equipment, food, camping gear and more. The whole trek lasts 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 water filter bottle).
This area is very good for birding, all Santa Marta highland endemics are possible to spot here along the trek (with the exception of Santa Marta sabrewing, which is the only one we havent seen in this range of elevation). Of course there is no comfort but the birds and scenery make the balance
Transport from Santa Marta (3-4 hours) to San Pedro/ San Javier town at 1500m of altitute. Some birding in the afternoon along coffee plantations
Stay overnight in a basic hotel
We start with an early Breakfast and then Begin of the hike, we will walk around 12km, ascending 12oom/4000ft in altittute. We will bird on the way
Camping in a cattle farm
Early breakfast and the birding Hike continues to the paramo ascending almost another 1200m/4000ft, in a distance of approximately 10km. We reach the lagoons at 3800m/12500ft where stablish our camp for the next two nights
We will explore the surroundings of the lagoons for the whole day, hiking along rocky terrain and shrubby vegetation
Birding in the morning around the lagoons. At noon the donhill starts to arrive the first camping area. Last night at the camping site
Continue going down to San Javier town, a deserved big lunch in 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 6 participants
It includes Transport from Santa Marta 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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