Saturday, 19 September 2015

Colombian birds and the Conservation Leadership Programme

 Posted by Stu

In July, I finally had the opportunity to visit the world’s most birdy country, Colombia. I was working with Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) assisting a Colombian team with surveys of key birds on the Inter-Andean slopes EBA. CLP is a scheme which has, since 1985, funded, supported and trained promising conservationists from developing countries.

A target species, the Colombian endemic Chestnut Wood-quail Odontophorus hyperythrus (Photo: Fundación EcoAndina)
In recent years, the programme has supported young scientists from a wide range of biodiverse countries - for example, the scheme has supported over 200 projects in the Neotropics. Subjects and target species are also diverse (there is a great interactive map here). The programme also includes a fund to support visits by CLP alumni and ‘oldies’ like myself to assist the teams with their project planning, fieldwork and analysis.
Eliana and Diana using 'social cartography' to examine relationships between communities, land and wildlife across the sites identified at stakeholder meetings.

 My plan was to help Eliana Fierro-Calderon and Diana Eusse of the ‘Promoting conservation of threatened bird species in Western Colombia’ project to develop their field design for work on key birds in the Inter-Andean Slopes EBA. Eliana and Diana work at Calidris, a bird conservation NGO based in Cali, a large city in the Cauca Valley. They first won a CLP grant in 2008 and this current project extends that work on key birds.
The 'Vulnerable' Multicoloured Tanager Chlorochrysa nitidissima 'in the wild' (Photo: Calidris)

Their current project will involve visiting around six sites on the eastern slope of the Western Andes to calculate density estimates of birds and to examine their broad habitat associations. The sites include Cerro Dapa, Chicoral, El Cairo, Pueblo Rico and other sites where most forest remains (perhaps only 5% of original forest remains on this slope). They will use a point count distance sampling method to estimate bird abundance. 
The Endangered and tiny-ranged Cauca Guan Penelope perspicax (Photo: Diego Calderon)

Quick but detailed habitat information will be taken at each point, plus at places where the threatened species are found during informal birding forays and these will allow the team to examine differences between places the key species were recorded from a set of random points. An important component of the project is stakeholder involvement – and a key challenge will be to get the importance of the scientific information across to landowners for the benefit of local conservation. 

As well as trying to find out as much as possible about the threatened birds of the area, the team will also study a range of other, ‘commoner’ bird species in the sites. These include some species with specific ecosystem functional roles (e.g. frugivores as seed dispersers), species which might be hunted, birds which are easily recognisable or well-known by local people (e.g. motmots), and some understorey birds which might be seriously affected by forest quality changes. The list also includes some species related to the rare threatened species (e.g. Plain Antvireo, Red-eye Vireo, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch) which might be used as ‘sister species’ to help model detectability in the rare species in Distance – to enable them to calculate some sort of density estimates for the threatened species, even with a small number of records. Surveys of rare birds should always consider including extra species in the fieldwork. In fifty years time, conservationists might well thank us for collecting data on today’s common species – some of these will be the threatened species of tomorrow for sure.

Some of the world's best birding can be done from roads crossing the Andes - like this, the old road at Anchicaya.

The trip included some nice birds of course. It was great to be able to visit Anchicaya for a couple of days with Anderson and Juan Carlos of Mapalina, a grassroots organisation connected with Calidris. It takes far longer than two days to do this Pacific slope site justice of course, but we managed some nice species including many tanagers, some puffbirds, and two species I’ve wanted to see for a long time, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis and Scarlet-and-white Tanager. The training itself was done at Chicoral, close to Cali, where the exquisite Multicoloured Tanager was frequent. Eliana and Diana head out into the field this week so best of luck to them. 

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