Colombian hummingbird species rediscovered after 69 years

This video is called Birding in the Santa Marta Mountains in Colombia. It says about itself:

29 August 2013

Trip with the American Bird Conservancy to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia (Santa Marta Mountains), August 2013. We visited the El Dorado Reserve, flagship reserve of the ProAves organization in Colombia. A comfortable lodge and a great place to find many of the endemic birds that are in the Santa Marta Mountains. The road up to the lodge was an adventure, a rough road but very good for birding.

From ProAves in Colombia:

Spectacular Lost Hummingbird Rediscovered after 69 years amid Rampant Fires across the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia

An intense and prolonged dry season in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta combined with fires set by Kogi indigenous people for agricultural purposes has devastated its fragile high-elevation habitat (páramo), home to a suite of endemic plants and animals. Two conservationists Carlos Julio Rojas and Christian Vasquez who work at ProAves’ “El Dorado” nature reserve in the mountain range, carried out investigations to document the fires. On March 4th 2015, they photographed the spectacular Blue-bearded Helmetcrest – a hummingbird that was last seen in 1946 and feared quite possibly extinct. Unfortunately, the habitat of the three birds they saw is threatened by ongoing fires. A scientific article detailing the rediscovery was published today in the journal Conservación Colombiana and is available online at with further photos.

Described in 1880, the charismatic Blue-bearded Helmetcrest (Oxypogon cyanolaemus) was last seen in 1946; thereafter, it disappeared. Restricted to the world’s highest coastal mountain range, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (rising to over 19,000 feet), the Helmetcrest was suspected to be facing severe threats as cattle ranching by indigenous people expanded across the sensitive high-elevation slopes of the mountain range. Each dry season, more of the fragile brush and forest is burned to make way for grasslands for cattle. The fragile montane forests of the Santa Marta mountains are unique as this isolated mountain range pre-dates the Andes of South America by over 100 million years

Over the past ten years, searches for the charismatic Blue-bearded Helmetcrest failed. Last year it was pronounced “Critically Endangered” by IUCN and BirdLife International and considered perhaps to be extinct. The species is dependent on stunted forest and bushes amongst natural páramo grasslands – habitat that is highly susceptible to fires during the dry season. The situation is even more difficult because the flowering plant the Helmetcrest depends on – the Santa Marta Frailejon (Libanothamnus occultus) – is itself threatened by persistent fires and has also been declared Critically Endangered. In 2013, according to a WWF report the páramo of the Sierra Nevada was being seriously affected by extensive cattle herds belonging to indigenous communities who repeatedly burn it for pasture.

The highest elevations of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta were declared a National Park in 1964. Fifteen years later, in 1979, the park was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Several indigenous reserves cover the mountain range, and some 50,000 indigenous people, mainly of the ethnic groups Kogi and Arhuacos, live in the area. In 2014, the journal Science published an article that identified the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park as the world’s most important protected area for the conservation of threatened terrestrial species – rated first across over 173,000 protected areas worldwide.

During a prolonged and particularly intense dry season in February 2015, National Park staff informed local conservationists Carlos Julio Rojas and Christian Vasquez, who work for Fundación ProAves at the El Dorado Nature Reserve in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, of an ongoing crisis with fires set by indigenous peoples across the park. Seeking to document the environmental impacts of this burning, Carlos and Christian used their vacation time to explore the higher elevations of the mountain range and recorded multiple fires that were destroying fragile natural habitat.

At 11 AM on March 4th 2015 during surveys of the fire, Carlos Julio Rojas who lives in the Sierra Nevada excitedly noted:

“I saw the flash of a bird screeching past me and saw it perch on a bush nearby. I managed to take a quick photo of it before it flew off. I then reviewed the photo on the camera screen and immediately recognized the strikingly patterned hummingbird as the long-lost Blue-bearded Helmetcrest – I was ecstatic!! After reports of searches by ornithologists failing to find this spectacular species, Christian and I were the first people alive to see it for real.”

Christian took up the story. “We set up camp and for the next two days watched the area to document a total of three individuals of the Helmetcrest in an area of less than 10 hectares [25 acres] with three scattered tiny patches of forest clinging to the steep hillsides and surrounded by the remains of burnt vegetation. And the area is really important as we also discovered the Critically Engendered Santa Marta Wren alongside the Helmetcrest.”

“Sadly the survival of the Blue-bearded Helmetcrest hangs by a thread,” says Carlos Julio Rojas. “The impacts of fire are everywhere with the charred remains of plants littered across the páramo. I spoke with the Arhuacos indigenous peoples, and they told me that the Kogi peoples are setting the fires and running pigs and cattle across the area. It is crucial that the fires are stopped immediately and that cattle and pigs are removed from the highest elevations to allow the fragile páramo ecosystem to recover before this unique hummingbird and its equally rare foodplant become extinct.”

A scientific article detailing the discovery was published today in the journal Conservación Colombiana and is available online at

Over one million inhabitants in the dry, arid lowlands around the Sierra Nevada depend on the filtration and provision of water from its páramo ecosystems. Further degradation of the páramo for livestock production not only endangers the survival of the Helmetcrest, but could also result in future severe droughts impacting over a million people in the region.

Hopefully, Colombian conservation entities, the National Parks authority, and the Kogi indigenous peoples can work together with Fundación ProAves to better protect the future of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta – the planet’s most irreplaceable mountain for both people and biodiversity.

Spotted barbtails in Venezuela, new study

This is a spotted barbtail video from Colombia.

From The Wilson Journal of Ornithology in the USA, December 2014:

Breeding biology of the Spotted Barbtail (Premnoplex brunnescens)

Daniel Muñoz and Thomas E. Martin


The Spotted Barbtail (Furnariidae) is poorly studied but shows some extreme traits for a tropical passerine. We located and monitored 155 nests to study this species for 7 years in an Andean cloud forest in Venezuela.

Spotted Barbtails have an unusually long incubation period of 27.2 ± 0.16 days, as a result of very long (3–6 hr) off-bouts even though both adults incubate. The long off-bouts yield low incubation temperatures for embryos and are associated with proportionally large eggs (21% of adult mass). They also have a long nestling period of 21.67 ± 0.33 days, and a typical tropical brood size of two.

The slow growth rate of the typical broods of two is even slower in broods artificially reduced to one young. Nonetheless, the young stay in the nest long enough to achieve wing lengths that approach adult size.

Leatherback turtles and sea level, new study

This video is called HD Leatherback Turtle footage (Dermochelys coriacea).

From Wildlife Extra:

Researchers find the wetter the nests, the fewer sea turtles are hatched

Leatherback turtles are vulnerable to rising sea levels

Sea level rise has been studied in terms of its impacts on coastal ecosystems and habitats; but few studies have looked at its effects on mobile marine species, or their use of coastal habitats.

Many ecosystems that are threatened by sea level rise are home to sea turtle nesting sites. There are seven species of sea turtles in the world, four listed as endangered and two listed as vulnerable.

Conservation and research groups are working to preserve and protect the turtle nesting habitats from human encroachment but, a new study says, their efforts are fighting an uphill battle as oceans continue to rise.

While it’s true that sea turtle nesting habitat could disappear in the future, there is a more imminent threat resulting from sea level rise: environmental changes to turtle nests.

The environment of nests has a number of known impacts on reptile eggs and embryo development. Studies have shown that nest temperature influences the sex ratios in new born turtles and high humidity leads to longer incubation times in loggerhead turtles.

But this new study has shown that the sand water content (or moisture) of nests also seems to influence embryonic development. Rising seas, erosion, and an increase in storms are all likely to change the sand water content of nesting sites.

In their study, researchers focused on one species of sea turtle, the leatherback. Compared to other sea turtle species, leatherbacks have lower reproductive success, with successful hatchings averaging only 40 to 50 per cent of the original clutch.

Researchers worked on the Caribbean coast of Colombia where sand samples were taken from two depths at three nesting zones to determine water content.

Turtle hatchings were monitored and recorded, with each hatching representing a successful emergence. Once hatchings stopped, nests were excavated and the remaining eggs were removed. The stage of death of the embryos was determined for each egg.

Overall, the researchers found strong correlations between sand water content and hatching success – increases in moisture led to decreases in hatching. Nests with greater water content yielded fewer turtles.

This could be a major problem for leatherbacks as sea levels continue to rise, especially where nesting sites are also threatened by coastal development. Currently, our oceans are rising about 3.2mm per year, and we are seeing an increase in major storm frequency resulting in coastal erosion.

Suitable habitat is decreasing for many species and if the water content of their nests plays that large a role in the viability of offspring, then turtles are likely to be impacted by this long before their habitat disappears.

However, the researchers feel it is important to keep in mind that animals have the ability to adapt. Turtles may be able to change the structure or permeability of their eggs in order to get around this problem.

The greatest danger is if the environment changes too quickly, they may not have time to adapt.

New nature reserve in northern Colombia

This video is called Colombia, birds and wildlife.

From Wildlife Extra:

New nature reserve created in northern Colombia

ProAves, the Rainforest Trust and Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) have announced the creation of the Chamicero de Perijá Nature Reserve, the first protected area in northern Colombia’s Serranía de Perijá mountain range.

ProAves has acquired 11 adjacent properties that form the 1,850-acre reserve, which protects a pristine cloud forest environment that includes critical habitat for threatened wildlife.

This reserve’s establishment is extremely timely, as 98 per cent of the Serranía de Perijá’s rainforests have already been destroyed due to colonisation and agricultural expansion.

“Without this reserve, the chances are high that within a few years nothing would be left of the spectacular forests that once covered Colombia’s Serranía de Perijá,” said Dr Paul Salaman, CEO of the Rainforest Trust.

There has been a history of difficulties in conducting research in the area, and so the Serranía de Perijá remains one of the least-known natural environments in the Northern Andes.

Field research by ProAves, however, has confirmed its importance as a stronghold for many endemic and rapidly declining species. It has been established as the home of three endangered and endemic species – the Perijá thistletail, Perijá metaltail, and the Perijá brush-finch.

Several other bird species have also been discovered, including a new brush-finch, tapaculo, screech-owl, and spinetail.

“ProAves has been working in the Serranía de Perijá for almost a decade in an effort to protect its last forested areas,” said Luis Felipe Barrera, Director of Conservation for ProAves. “Thanks to our alliance with Rainforest Trust and GWC, we’ve finally achieved a lasting victory for the region’s imperiled wildlife.”

“The new reserve is globally important, as it is recognised as an Alliance for Zero Extinction site. The incredible fauna and flora include many species found nowhere else in the world,” said Dr Wes Sechrest, Chief Scientist and CEO of Global Wildlife Conservation.

The Chamicero de Perijá Nature Reserve also protects two watersheds that are vital for the city of Valledupar and several towns in the otherwise arid Cesar Department.

“This reserve is a win for everyone. Not only is it going to be a permanent lifeline for the region’s many endemic species that have nowhere else to go, but it is also a major victory for nearby cities and towns that will benefit for years from the water it provides,” said Dr Salaman.