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!