#1 Birding Destination in Cesar: Cerro Pintado and Perijá Mountain Range

The Perijá mountain range is located in the north of Colombia and is a territory of great biological importance for the country and humanity due to its unique characteristics and the environmental services it provides in the region.

In addition, it has great cultural importance since it has reservations of the Yuko-Yupka and Bari indigenous peoples, almost extinct ethnic groups.

The economy of the region is based on agriculture and mining. In the agricultural part, permanent crops of oil palm, coffee, cocoa, and livestock stand out. On the other hand, mining focuses on the extraction of coal but it pollutes the sources of water, soil, and air.

The rural population, which suffers from high rates of poverty, has been the main affected by the armed conflict in the past. Community-based tourism, rural tourism, and bird watching tourism are economic alternatives for these communities that, until recently, became peace territories.

Perijá Mountain Range (Serranía del Perijá)

The The Perijá Mountain Range (or Serranía del Perijá) is an isolated, northern extension of Colombia’s East Andean Cordillera. It borders Venezuela for the whole of its north-south alignment.

Due to its independent orogeny from the Andes and other close Mountain Ranges, it hosts highly interesting avifauna and some endemism, although not to the same extent as the Santa Marta Mountains.  

The area is almost completely lacking ornithological coverage and very few expeditions have been undertaken to study the area. This is mainly because of the inaccessibility of the area due to a long and ongoing guerilla presence, enhanced by the Venezuelan crisis and illegal crop plantations.

Efforts of the Colombian military, at least parts of the Colombian side of the mountain range have become accessible to tourists but are still rarely visited by birders.  

While forests on the Colombian side of the accessible areas have been partly cleared, the areas on the Venezuelan have declared a National Park. Although, the ProAves Foundation has established the Perija Bird Reserve that protects some of the most interesting areas higher up in the Sabana Rubia sector. 

Cerro Pintado at Perijá Mountain Range

Cerro Pintado, Perijá Mountain Range, Manaure, Cesar

Cerro Pintado is located in northeastern Colombia, on the western slope of the Perijá mountain range. This area has unique characteristics allowing a vast diversification of different groups of fauna and flora. Its proximity to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and being the transition zone between the Guajira peninsula and the eastern Andes, makes it so special.

The vast majority of the hill is covered by premontane and montane forests which in the higher areas are replaced by paramos. At present, there are strong pressures of colonization, mainly from the lower parts to the higher ones, through the expansion of agriculture and livestock.

This site has been declared an Important Bird Area (IBA), with around 15.000 hectares. It holds significant numbers of globally threatened species, a significant population of range-restricted species, and holds a significant component of the group of species whose distributions are largely or wholly confined to one biome-realm (Know more at Birdlife International Website).

We all were stunned by the beauty of this remote area. The Cerro Pintado delineates the border with Venezuela and stood in the backdrop of the untouched forest below us! 

A Famtrip with Ropero Aventuras

In this perspective, it was a big privilege to visit the area on the Sula Fam Trip in December 2018 for a good 3 days. We were accompanied by Jose Luis Ropero from Ropero Aventuras, who knows the area very well.

If visiting the area as an individual, it is absolutely mandatory to hire a local guide! During our trip, we explored the altitude gradient available from the Colombian side from 800m a.s.l. – 3100m m.a.s.l. 

Vereda San Antonio

On our first morning, we explored the foothills around Manaure and found the beautiful Rosy Thrush-Tanager singing, seconds later posing for pictures sitting in a bush. Climbing the road up to Vereda San Antonio, where we stayed for the night, we found little activity. 

Rosy Thrush–Tanager – Rhodinocichla rosea, Balcón del Cesar, Cesar

The owner of the Finca has serious plans to convert the place into a hotel. During our stay there, several mountain bikers explored the area, and it was nice to see (again, and again), how many parts of Colombia tourism are taking flight.  So many local people put in effort, as they recognize it as a viable and sustainable economy. 

Vereda San Antonio still lacks some basic infrastructure but with the often boundless enthusiasm and energy people put into such projects, this could change very soon… And their location would be exquisite as there are very few other options in the area. 

During our two evening and late morning excursions in the close vicinity of the Finca, we birded some small but very productive woodland patches. We saw the regional endemic Perija TapaculoGrey-throated WarblerPerijá Brushfinch and ssp. nigrifrons of Yellow-breasted Brushfinch (a good species under IOC Taxonomy = Black-fronted Brushfinch). 

Birds in colombia

The Paramo Area

One morning, we devoted to the search of the little known Perijá Thistletailregional endemic Furnariid of high altitudes. We reached the Paramo-like habitat very early on a chilly but cloudless morning. And most important: almost no wind, and actually quite a rare occasion up here! 

Tawny-breasted Tinamou sang in the Valley below. Little trails leading into the forest were very tempting, but we didn’t have time to explore them. The song of Perija Thistletail immediately caught our attention, instead.

With the help of a little playback, we lured the bird completely out into the open. Camilla took an excellent photos of this individual, and I was able to take immaculate sound recordings.

As the morning progressed, the first rays of light warmed us and general bird activity increased. An Andean Pygmy-Owl sat out in the open and was mobbed by Perijá MetaltailsWhite-throated Tyrannulets2 Chestnut-breasted ChlorophoniasCommon ChlorospingusSlaty BrushfinchLacrimose Mountain-Tanager (ssp. pallididorsalis) and Blue-backed Conebill! What a flock.

Close by we saw Mountain Wren and heard the very distinct (and different to other populations) song of Rufous Antpitta. Rumor has it, that finally after almost 30 years of research, the split in the Rufous Antpitta complex is neigh! The saltuensis ssp. of the Perija Mountains will surely be elevated to species level. Further down activity dwindled but we saw a beautiful Golden-breasted Fruiteater 

Manaure

Unfortunately, it was time to wrap up things at Vereda San Antonio and head back to Manaure. Here we stayed at the charming Villa Adelaida for the night. Around their garden, we logged a scatter of common species like Red-crowned WoodpeckersBicolored WrensCrested OropendolasRufous-capped Warblers and Black-headed Tanagers.

But the best bird here was definitely the beautiful Golden-winged Sparrow. This was as well, our last excursion the highly memorable and interesting FamTrip with Sula. A difficult call, but for me, maybe the visit to the Perija Mountains ornithologically-wise constituted the highlight of this trip. Always save best for last, right?  

We fared well to our guide José Louis Ropero, and the next morning we hit the road back to Bogotá on a long and unexpectedly long journey. But that’s a different story just watch the video!

References
  • Serranía del Perijá: Geografía, capital humano, economía y medio ambiente. Author María Aguilera Díaz. Banco de la República (read here)
  • BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Cerro Pintado (Serranía de Perijá). Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/08/2020.
About the authors

Jérôme Fischer

Professional bird guide, swiss native, with more than 32 years of experience guiding hardcore birders and birdwatching tours. Jérôme has been focused on bird identification. He also traveled to many countries,  starting in Switzerland. Then he traveled exploring South America, the most biodiverse continent in the world, becoming specialized in Neotropical birds.

Sara Colmenares

The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism–environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.