Ornithological surveys in Serranía de los Churumbelos, southern Colombia: 1

Paul G. W. Salaman, Thomas M. Donegan and Andrés M. Cuervo
Cotinga 12 (1999): 29-39

In July-August 1998 and July 1999, bird surveys were conducted in the Serranía de los Churumbelos in the East Andes of Colombia, Department of Cauca, during two Anglo-Colombian multi-taxa biological and conservation expeditions. Seven sites were studied from 350-2,500 m elevation, with 421 species recorded. We present a summary of rare species for each site including the most significant new distributional records. The results firmly establish the conservation priority of the Serranía de los Churumbelos, and we are now working closely with the local environmental authorities towards protective measures for the massif.


During 14 July-17 August 1998 and 3-22 July 1999, ornithological surveys were undertaken in Serranía de los Churumbelos, Department of Cauca, by two Anglo-Colombian conservation expeditions-'Colombia '98' and the 'Colombian EBA Project'. Seven study sites were investigated using non-systematic observations and standardised mist-netting techniques by the three authors, with Dan Davison and Liliana Dávalos in 1998. Each study site was situated along an altitudinal transect at c.300 m-elevational steps, from 350-2,500 m on the Amazonian slope of the Serranía. Our principal aim was to allow comparisons to be made between sites and with other biological groups (mammals, herptiles, insects and plants), and, incorporating geographical and anthropological information, to produce a conservation assessment of the region (full results in Salaman et al. (4)). A sizeable part of eastern Cauca-the Bota Caucana-including the 80 km-long Serranía de los Churumbelos had never been subject to faunal surveys.

The Churumbelos massif of southern Colombia encompasses c.50,000 ha of primary forest, a pristine wilderness that rises from the Amazon basin to over 3,000 m. It forms the southernmost spur of the 1,200 km-long Cordillera Oriental or East Andes. The Churumbelos mountains have a remarkable geology of sedimentary sequences which form several large 'mesetas' (table mountains).

We recorded a total of 421 bird species during the 44 days of fieldwork, including two Threatened and nine Near-threatened species. Over 100 notable new distributional and altitudinal extensions were recorded and will be published in detail in forthcoming papers and the final report (4). At sites from 350-1,450 m. elevation, six EBA (Endemic Bird Area) species were recorded (7). Most originated from the Ecuador-Peru East Andes EBA (044) suggesting a northerly range extension of that EBA4. Above 1,600 m, all four endemics recorded originated from the Colombian Inter-Andean Slopes EBA (040).

For each of the seven Study Sites (SS) in the Serranía de los Churumbelos, we have provided a brief summary of the location and habitat, followed by a description of the avifauna, with the principal elements described and attention drawn to poorly known and rare species.

Puerto Bello (SS1), Municipio Piamonte, 01�'N 76�'W; 350 m

A 26 km-road has been constructed within the last five years through lowland humid forest beside the steep eastern wall of the Serranía, from the Río Caquetá to Puerto Bello on the banks of the Río Fragua. A 1,200 m-transect was established, 300 m west of Puerto Bello, leading from the forest edge through a transition from tall selectively logged secondary forest to primary forest with a canopy level of c.30 m.

SS1 was the most diverse site for birds, which was reflected in other groups such as bats and herptiles. A total of 165 species was recorded, but when non-forest species are excluded, a total of 120 forest-dependent species is comparable with that of other study sites. The site was characterised by a wide diversity of Ramphastidae (six species), Thamnophilidae (12 species) and Pipridae (seven species). In almost all groups, birds were representative of an Amazonian avifauna, with Andean Solitaire Myadestes ralloides the most notable exception, representing a significant downslope elevational extension.

Lined Forest-falcon Micrastur gilvicollis was regularly heard in dawn surveys (and at SS2), but was replaced at SS3 and SS4 by Barred Forest-falcon M. ruficollis. The elusive Cinnamon Tyrant Neopipo (Myiophobus) cinnamomea was caught in primary forest, only the second known location for the species in Colombia. Other rare species with a poorly known distribution recorded here included Gould's Jewelfront Heliodoxa aurescens, White-shouldered Antshrike Thamnophilus aethiops and Swainson's Flycatcher Myiarchus swainsoni. No threatened or endemic species were registered, but nonetheless, the site is of much interest with several poorly known species, several range extensions and a probable new species of Myrmeciza antbird.

Río Nabueno (SS2), Municipio Piamonte, 01�'N 76�'W; 700 m

From the town of Miraflor, 14 km south-west of SS1, a trail follows the Río Nabueno for 4 km as the Churumbelos climbs steeply to over 1,500 m from the Amazonian plains. The steep terrain has largely deterred human activity, and an extensive tract of tropical foothill and premontane (subtropical) humid forest exists on the eastern flank of the Serranía. Hunting apart, the study site encompassed pristine forest, characteristic of lower premontane humid forest, despite the low elevation, with a vegetation physiognomy influenced by high levels of rainfall (estimated at c.4,000 mm). The steep terrain and ridge-top effects resulted in reduced canopy level (c.20 m) and high understorey vegetation density.

Of the 137 species recorded, 37 were not recorded at other study sites. Mist-netting proved immensely successful with 85 species caught. Thamnophilidae (11 species) and Pipridae (eight species) continued to dominate, although more species of Thraupidae (12 species) were recorded than at SS1. Hummingbird diversity and abundance appeared to be much increased on the basis of mist-net captures. The site was also most notable with 16 elevational range extensions, largely new high records of Amazonian species.

Two Near-threatened species were recorded: Lanceolated Monklet Micromonacha lanceolata and Pink-throated Brilliant Heliodoxa gularis. H. gularis is known in Colombia from just one specimen, collected in 1971 in Putumayo (3) and was found to be sympatric with Black-throated Brilliant H. schreibersii. Band-bellied Owl Pulsatrix melanota was previously known in Colombia from one specimen of undetermined location or date (3) and a recent sight record by PGWS. Individuals and pairs were regularly heard and tape-recorded in primary forest at SS2 and SS3, with one adult caught and photographed at SS2. Grey-tailed Piha Lipaugus subalaris is well-known in Ecuador, but a recent addition to the Colombian list, following the discovery of two specimens taken in the 1960s (3). Several individuals were seen in the subcanopy and four birds were trapped. Additional notable range extensions include Buff-tailed Sicklebill Eutoxeres condamini (sympatric with White-tipped Sicklebill E. aquila), Striped Treehunter Thripadectes holosticus, Hairy-crested Antbird Rhegmatorhina melanosticta and Olive Tanager Chlorothraupis carmioli.

Alto Río Hornoyaco (SS3), Municipio Santa Rosa, 01�'N 76�'W; 1,100 m

A new highway linking the Amazonian frontier town, Mocoa, directly to Bogotá was constructed in the early 1990s. It cuts across the western flank of the Serranía and has facilitated colonisation and associated deforestation. Following helicopter reconnaissance, a 10 km-trail was followed from the highway bridge over the Río Caquetá to the base of the topographicallyunique table mountains or 'mesetas', 18 km north of SS2. This premontane, very humid forest was similar in floristic composition and stratification to montane forest.

A total of 114 species was recorded here, principally Andean in composition, including 15 Thraupidae. Two Near-threatened species were recorded: Ecuadorian Piedtail Phlogophilus hemileucurus (previously known in Colombia from just one location in Putumayo (3)) and Fiery-throated Fruiteater Pipreola chlorolepidota. Napo Sabrewing Campylopterus villaviscensio, caught several times here and at SS4, was unknown in Colombia prior to 1985. A Scaled Piculet Picumnus squamulatus, a species typically restricted to dry open woodland in the Orinoco basin (3), was captured in an isolated patch of secondary growth within a vast forest wilderness at SS3, representing a significant range extension. Foothill Antwren Myrmotherula spodionota-with observations and 10 mist-net captures in both primary and secondary forest at SS3-was previously known only from sight records in Colombia8. Blue-rumped Manakin Pipra isidorei-with a total of 27 mist-net captures at SS1-3 (of which 20 were at SS3)-was previously known from just one Colombian record (3). Among other significant distributional records at this site, Golden-winged Tody-flycatcher Todirostrum calopterum is an Upper Amazon / Napo lowlands EBA 066 endemic. Colombia's first individual of the nominate subspecies of Orange-crested Flycatcher Myiophobus p. phoenicomitra was photographed. A pair of White-winged Tanagers Piranga leucoptera observed on the forest edge represents the first east slope record for Colombia.

Villa Iguana (SS4), Municipio Santa Rosa, 01�'N 76�'W; 1,450 m

Following a newly cut trail from the clearing at SS3, a large plateau was surveyed at 1,450 m, located 2 km north of SS3 between two 'mesetas'. A transect was cut to the base of the largest 'meseta', Alto Cagadero (1,600 m), which we ascended and studied briefly. The character and composition of SS4 were remarkable in containing many elements typical of a forest over 600 m higher in altitude. A very high abundance and diversity of arboreal and terrestrial epiphytes, and a low canopy level (c.12 m) characterise the forests as montane humid (cloud) forest.

A total of 106 species was recorded here. The avifauna was almost entirely Andean in composition, with, e.g. just four Formicariidae, but 16 Thraupidae. There were some notable exceptions. For example, Golden-headed Manakin Pipra erythrocephala was recorded at its highest known elevation to date.

One threatened species-Military Macaw Ara militaris, considered Vulnerable1-was observed daily in flocks of up to 12 birds around the 'mesetas', at SS3 and SS4 from 4-17 August 1998. Their considerable activity, particularly in forests adjacent to the large limestone cliffs of Alto Cagadero, suggests that the Churumbelos are an important area for the species. Yellow-throated Tanager Iridosornis analis, a recent addition to the Colombian list, was observed several times in the forest canopy. Other highlights included White-tipped Swift Aeronautes montivagus, Lyre-tailed Nightjar Uropsalis lyra, Rufous-vented Whitetip Urosticte ruficrissa, Violet-fronted Brilliant Heliodoxa leadbeateri, Black-billed Treehunter Thripadectes melanorhynchus, Rufous-tailed Tyrant Knipolegus poecilurus and Vermilion Tanager Calochaetes coccineus.

Ornithological surveys in Serranía de los Churumbelos: 2

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