Chamicero del Perijá Reserve

The Chamicero del Perijá Bird Reserve is just two years old and was created to protect a number of endemic species, many of them endangered. It is in the Serranía del Perijá or Perijá Mountains, the very northern tip of the Andes, on the border with Venezuela. It is run by a conservation group called ProAves, which has just built a small lodge where birders can stay. The area had long been too dangerous to visit, due to drug-growing guerillas, but around 2006 the Colombian army was able to get rid of them. We did see army patrols in the area, and on the way up we were stopped by a patrol of a few dozen machine-gun toting soldiers who asked to inspect our car. They were very friendly and only made a perfunctory check, but none of us had the nerve to photograph them.

Sunrise in the páramo, atop the Serranía del Perijá. This photo by Merrill Lynch.

At the Chamicero del Perijá Reserve we arose very early to drive to the top of a ridge, at about 10,000 feet, above the treeline in a habitat called páramo. From this ridge we could see Venezuela in the distance to the east. Our primary quest here was to find the Perijá Thistletail, and we needed to be there at daybreak to have the best chance of finding it.

Sixty miles away to the west-northwest we could see the peaks of the Santa Marta Mountains, with a maximum elevation of 18,700 feet, the highest peak in Colombia.
One of our first sightings here was this Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant.
We did not have much trouble finding this Perijá Thistletail.
The Perijá Thistletail was only described in 1977, and owing to its very limited distribution, in an area of difficult access, it is a species that not too many people have ever seen.
There are only 17 sightings of Perijá Thistletail in eBird.
Celebrating our success.
Now that the sun is further up, here are some views of the páramo habitat.
Some other birds that we found up here: Hooded Mountain-Tanager
Hooded Mountain-Tanager
Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant
The Chamicero del Perijá lodge, where we stayed two nights. This is at about 8600 feet, and out in the middle of nowhere. No electricity here, but they had a big generator that they ran as needed.
Looking out from the Chamicero del Perijá lodge. I think this is looking more-or-less west.
We enjoyed an orchid centerpiece, probably picked just outside, at our meals here.
The lodge had hummingbird feeders. Most of the hummingbirds were Longuemare's Sunangel, and there were a lot of them. (At the time they were Amethyst-throated Sunangels, but the species has since been split.)
It was hard to catch one with the light just right to show the amethyst color.
The only other hummingbird species here was Tyrian Metaltail, mostly females like this one.
At the seed feeder, the nigrifrons subspecies of Yellow-breasted Brushfinch, sometimes considered a separate species endemic to this region, the Perija Brushfinch. Although there is already a completely different species that is sometimes called Perija Brushfinch, but ...
A different brushfinch coming to the feeder, Slaty Brushfinch.
And another, Chestnut-capped Brushfinch.
Chestnut-capped Brushfinch
Blue-capped Tanagers scarfed down the bananas.
Rufous-collared Sparrow is a wide-spread species in South America, one of the few sparrow species, and a congener of our White-throated Sparrow.
Black Flowerpiercer
A short way away from the lodge, we found this Emerald Toucanet.
Emerald Toucanet