Conservationists Carlos Julio Rojas and Cristian Vásquez were trekking through the high altitude wetlands of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta when they were stopped in their tracks by a rare and beautiful find.
Given their location in the coastal range home to the “Lost City” (and many yet to be discovered archeological sites), these biologists working at the Reserva Natural de Aves ‘El Dorado,’ a scientific research station of the ProAves Foundation, managed to capture with a camera the Colibrí Barbudito Azul, or Blue-bearded Helmetcrest.
For bird lovers around the world, the spotting of a Blue-bearded Helmetcrest is important news, as the last time this hummingbird was seen by humans, was back in 1946.
“I saw the flash of a bird screeching past me and it perched on a bush nearby. I managed to take a quick photo of it before it flew off. I then reviewed the photo in the camera and immediately recognized the strikingly-patterned hummingbird as the long-lost Blue-bearded Helmetcrest,” explains Cristian.
The habitat of the three birds which were spotted by Rojas and Vásquez, is under threat by forest fires in the world’s highest coastal range, the Sierra Nevada, as extensive cattle ranching on high-elevation slopes, involves burning brush and forest to make way for more grassland.
Over the past ten years, expeditions to find the charismatic Blue-bearded Helmetcrest have failed. Last year, the species was pronounced “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and BirdLife International.
Many ornithologists have even considered the Blue Helmetcrest to be extinct. Survival has been made even more difficult for this bird as it feeds on the flowering Santa Marta Frailejon (Libanothamnus occultus) plant, and with the extensive fires in the Sierra – due to a long and dry summer – are now also under threat.
“Sadly the survival of the Blue-bearded Helmetcrest hangs by a thread,” states Carlos Julio Rojas. “The impact of brush fire is everywhere, with the charred remains of plants littered across the páramo.” For Rojas and Vásquez, it is critical that these man-made threats are stopped and that livestock is removed from the highest elevations of the mountain to allow a fragile páramo, the hummingbird’s natural habitat, to recover.
A scientific article detailing the discovery of the Blue-beared Helmetcrest has been published in the journal Conservación Colombiana and is available online at the www.proaves.org website.