Birding in the Guajira Peninsula, Colombia has been well-covered in many trip reports and is also described in the Colombia Birding Site Guide by Beckers and Florez. I just want to provide a brief update for birders that plan to travel to the area independently. The Guajira Peninsula in northeast Colombia provides easy access for several range-restricted species, many of which are only shared with Venezuela.
The regional endemics and dry forest specialties include: Vermilion Cardinal, Tocuyo Sparrow, Buffy Hummingbird, Orinocan Saltator, Chestnut Piculet, Slender-billed Tyrannulet, Pale-tipped Tyrannulet, Pileated Finch, White-whiskered Spinetail, Pale-legged Hornero, Bare-eyed Pigeon, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Northern-scrub Flycatcher, Rufous-vented Chachalaca, and Glaucous Tanager.
Fortunately the birding here is relatively easy and most of the specialties are readily found, although I did miss one of the easier ones. I had originally planned to have a full day and one full morning for birding in the area, but our bus to Santa Marta we so slow and delayed that we did not have time to reach Rioacha. After spending an unplanned night in Santa Marta I eventually continued towards Rioacha around midmorning. It was easy to catch a taxi to the gas station along the main highway from where minivans and buses head east nearly constantly. Of course I ended up on a bus that waited for another 45 minutes before leaving.
I did not go all the way to Rioacha, but got off the bus at the intersection to Camarones (just tell the driver you are headed to Camarones). The bus trip from Santa Marta to Camarones took about 2:45 hours. At the intersection I hopped on a mototaxi, which took me to a hotel in town (1,000 COP, 2 minutes). There is a brand-new hotel in town, right across from the police station, and I got a clean room with air-conditioning (30,000 COP). I also saw a hostel just across the street, so there are accommodation options in Camarones and I think it is way more practical to stay here, although food choices seemed somewhat limited.
With great luck it could be possible to see all target species during one long morning, but I would recommend at least two nights in the area. After I dropped off my gear I immediately started walking towards the Old Camerones Road, easily accessed from the far end of town. This road of potholes and broken pavement goes through decent scrub and dry forest habitat, including passing some waterholes and crossing small streams before ending at the main highway. There was quite a bit of local traffic on this road, mainly people by motorcycles and on foot, plus a few kids with slingshots! The vegetation was still lush and waterholes still relatively full, since unusual amounts of rain had fallen a few months prior. Theoretically it should be possible to see nearly all specialties along this short stretch of road, but it could be difficult.
I initially struggled a bit, but eventually pieced together a decent list for the first afternoon with Slender-billed Tyrannulet (common), Bare-eyed Pigeon, White-whiskered Spinetail, Tropical Gnatcatcher (dirt common), and I even managed to get onto a Chestnut Piculet. The Guide the Birdwatching in Colombia (Beckers&Florez) for some reason states that Chestnut Piculet and Tocuyo Sparrow are not present in the vicinity of Camarones, but they actually are! I saw the piculet several times and there is an excellent spot for the sparrow just across the highway.
While birding near one of the bridges a local on a motorcycle stopped to talk to me. I explained that I was birdwatching and he asked me if I was interested in seeing a Buffy Humming? Well, of course yes. He said he had to drop somebody off and would return in an hour. I said I would be birding along the road and see him later. I saw a few more birds but things slowed down. My new guide showed back up and I hopped onto the motorbike. We headed back towards town, but took the left turn towards the river mouth.
We stopped along the road and entered first along a sandy path. There were paths everywhere and it seems very advisable to go with a local guide, since it supports the birding in the area and also allows access to some of the village area of the Wayuu, the local indigenous group.
We walked some distance, seeing more Chestnut Piculets, and eventually my guide pointed out a calling Buffy Hummingbird. We tracked down the calling individual for some amazing views and heard another close by. It appeared to be some sort of lekking area for the species. With one of the trickier species in the bag we rushed to another location before sunset and promptly found Vermillion Cardinal, a male that sat up briefly. Buffy Hummingbird also called in this area.
We returned to the hotel and decided on a 5:30 am meeting time. The next morning saw me trapped in the hotel with all doors locked and noone around. I managed to find a narrow window and climbed out, fortunately the police across the street was still asleep. My guide showed up promptly and we set off for one of the other main targets of the area, the Tocuyo Sparrow. Luckily my friend Ross Gallardy had found a location within five minutes of Camarones and by motorcycle we were at the start of the trail right at sunrise. (See post here: https://budgetbirders.com/2017/01/28/birding-colombia-the-caribbean-coast-minca/) We flushed a covey of roosting Crested Bobwhite and I was able to spotlight one for great views. It took about five minutes before we heard the soft ticking of a Tocuyo Sparrow and eventually had one on top of a tree singing his heart out for thirty minutes. It was even a new location for the guide and with other sparrows heard nearby seems potentially reliable.
I also saw the only Pale-tipped Inezia here. From here we rushed back to the area we had birded during the previous afternoon looking for Orinoco Saltator (briefly seen in flight and perched partly obscured), We also managed better views of Crested Bobwhite, a nice pair of Vermilion Cardinal, more Buffy Hummingbirds. A short stop at the river mouth to scan for shorebirds was largely unproductive.
We searched far and wide for Glaucous Tanager, but to no avail. Driving back to the Old Camarones Road we went off trail and explored a larger wetland, which held many Limpkins, Wattled Jacanas, and Common Gallinules. A Russet-throated Puffbird perched very close. We even went to the Perico Sector where we saw American Flamingos in the lagoon, but try as we might not a single tanager showed. I later learned that the cemetery just on the edge of Camarones (we passed it several times) is reliable for Glaucous Tanagers.
I returned to the hotel by 11:00 am and found myself on a bus heading back to Santa Marta just around noon. Overall I found the birding in the Guajira Peninsula very enjoyable and productive and wouldn’t mind returning to get the Glaucous Tanager. Kathi Borgmann has also an excellent post about birding in the area: https://birdsofpassage.wordpress.com/2015/04/25/birding-in-the-guajira-peninsula/