Read this wonderful article by Jennie Smith and Federico Rios, in the New York Times: Here
“A century after museum collectors surveyed Colombia’s avian fauna, a new generation of researchers returns to see what remains, and what has changed.”
The research team has just returned from the San Agustín resurvey, where one of the target species was the Dusky-headed Brushfinch (Atlapetes fuscoolivaceus), locally known as the ‘Sanjuanero’, in honor of a traditional dance from the Huila folklore. This endemic species was collected in good numbers by Miller and his team and it is one of the species we have targeted for high resolution genomic comparisons. The good news is that the team secured various specimens which will now provide invaluable information about the genomic health of a population of this important species for Colombia.
On September 11, 1912, The New York Times published a short article announcing the return of naturalist Leo E. Miller to the U.S.A. after 18 months of fieldwork in Colombia. Miller brought with him 2300 specimens to be deposited in the collections of the American Museum of Natural History and many stories to tell. This week, our team is retracing some of the footsteps of Miller and his colleagues while resurveying birds in the San Agustín area of Huila Department, Colombia.
We, however, expect to have better luck than Miller had at first, who feeling quite ill wrote the following about his arrival in San Agustín in April of 1912:
“… I was laid up completely and unable to do any collecting whatever. Here we met Señor Nieto of the Bogotá engineers and discovered that our barometer was reading 900 feet too high, so that the altitude of San Agustín should be 5000 feet. When this error commenced I do not know.”
Miller was also initially disappointed upon arriving in San Agustín because he ecountered less forest than he expected. A few days after, however, he was able to explore the Río Naranjos area, where he had the life-changing experience of finding an area with numerous nests of the spectacular Cock-of-the-Rock Rupicola peruviana illustrated below by Louis Agassiz Fuertes.
Our team is looking forward to finding not only that the Cock-of-the-Rock persists in the area, but also to a unique experience doing ornithological work in an area of utmost cultural importance amid pre-Columbian archeological sites. We are also excited about obtaining material to sequence a high-quality genome for the local endemic Dusky-headed Brushfinch (Atlapetes fuscoolivaceus) to be used as a reference for our analyses of changes in the population genomic structure and genetic health of bird populations over more than a century. Stay tuned for updates on our trip!
Following in the footsteps of Chapman, Cherrie, Fuertes, Howes, O’Connell and Ring, we have found not only birds and natural landscapes, but historical features that have survived the passing of time and the transformations of our current landscapes.
One such feature, is the historical footpath that runs through Fusagasugá, and which we walked through during the second resurvey of the project in October 2020. This footpath, or ‘camino real’ as it is known in Colombia, connected the town of Fusagasugá with Santa Fe and with Honda, two of the main commerce regions of the country. About the footpath, Chapman wrote:
“Nowhere in Colombia have we found so great a faunal change in so short a distance as that which occurs between these two points. Indeed, one has to go only a few hundred feet below El Piñon to pass from the Temperate, completely into the Subtropical Zone. So steep is the trail that one seems to be descending a flight of stairs. Within a dozen steps the rolling ground of the dividing ridge is lost to view, and one is at once protected from the chill winds of the tableland.” Chapman 1917.
Today, this footpath can serve as a means for local communities to share their history, culture, and their birds with visitors from all over the world, while promoting more sustainable livelihoods.
The view of Páramo de Santa Isabel from a site known 100 years ago as Laguneta, is a reflection of the transformations this landscape has seen in 100 years. When Chapman took this photograph 100 years ago, he was standing on a clearing surrounded by montane forest. Today there is a large pine plantation and cattle pastures with small relicts of the forest. The view of the Central Andes from this point clearly shows an impressive reduction in forest cover. The current photo was taken by Glenn Seeholzer.
The first official resurvey of a Chapman site is now on its way. A team of 13 researchers headed out to Toche, a locality deep in the mountains of the Central Andes, which was first surveyed by Arthur A. Allen and Leo E. Miller, exactly 108 years ago in August 1911. The research team will carry out standardized surveys and collect a target list of specimens which will be compared to the information gathered by the explorers from the American Museum of Natural History.