Santa Marta National Park


Santa Marta National Park (Parque Nacional Natural Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta) covers in 10 miles (18 km) as the crow flies habitat ranging from coastal mangrove-lined lagoons, freshwater marshes, and arid woodland, to temperate and subtropical forests on slopes rising dramatically just inland to snowcapped peaks.

Forested mountain slopes support 14 of Colombia’s 66 endemic species of birds, including chestnut-winged chachalacas, bright blossom-crowns, Santa Marta parakeets and woodstars, white-tailed starfrontlets, white-tipped quetzals and warblers along a road up to the TV towers on San Lorenzo Ridge.

Guerrilla activity is reported from time to time (check) but otherwise excellent wildlifeviewing, especially for birds.

Red-footed boobies can be seen from the Santa Marta seafront. Rare northern black-necked screamers, Everglade kites, and endemic sapphire-bellied hummingbirds, among others, are along the 59-mile (95-km) road passing by marshes and woodlands west from Santa Marta to Barranquilla, and around the huge Cienaga Grande (first Ramsar Wetland site in Colombia) with mangroves and marshes opposite the Los Cocos entrance to Salamanca National Park, which has a visitors’ center and boardwalks over several lagoons, also beaches and estuaries with large concentrations of waterbirds and shorebirds, many northern migrants, and the only known population of bronze-brown cowbirds.

Tayrona National Park, 45 square miles (116 km2) about 130 miles (211 km) east of Santa Marta, offers paved drives through tropical deciduous forests often alive with birds—over 300 species including military macaws, lance-tailed manakins, crimson-backed tanagers, king vultures, ferruginous pygmy-owls (whose calls can be mimicked easily to attract others)—also sandy beaches which are a significant sea turtle breeding area.

 Cock-of-the-rock males, heads enveloped in scarlet-orange plumage covering all but their eyes, give a show for females on a communal courtship lek where a dozen or more gather in deep mountainous forest and serially perform. One dances, tossing his head, calling, spreading wings and tail, hopping on one foot, then another, posing dramatically for moments at a time, and finally retiring to let another take his turn. A grayish female shows herself, and all males as if signaled drop to the ground and wait until she flutters down and pecks one on his rump. He hesitates as if stunned by his good fortune, then hops on her back for a quick mating. Then she’s off, to handle the rest herself.

Cock-of-the-rock males, heads enveloped in scarlet-orange plumage covering all but their eyes, give a show for females on a communal courtship lek where a dozen or more gather in deep mountainous forest and serially perform. One dances, tossing his head, calling, spreading wings and tail, hopping on one foot, then another, posing dramatically for moments at a time, and finally retiring to let another take his turn. A grayish female shows herself, and all males as if signaled drop to the ground and wait until she flutters down and pecks one on his rump. He hesitates as if stunned by his good fortune, then hops on her back for a quick mating. Then she’s off, to handle the rest herself.

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