Birder's Guide

DEC 2018

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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28 Birder's Guide to Listing & Taxonomy | December 2018 have poor flight capabilities, and arid val- leys, large rivers, cleared habitat, and some- times roads are barriers that prevent many forest understory birds in the tropics from moving even short distances. Researchers in Panama graphically il- lustrated the inability or unwillingness of many tropical forest understory birds to cross seemingly innocuous "barriers" by transporting birds that they captured to varying distances from a lakeshore and then releasing them to test their willing- ness to fly over water. A Checker-throated Antwren, which until fairly recently was included in the same taxonomic family as antpittas, is better equipped for flight than are the larger, ground-dwelling antpittas, yet one dropped into the water within 300 ft. (90 m). Several other antwrens couldn't travel as far as 600 ft. (180 m). (All birds were quickly rescued and returned to shore.) Antpittas' long legs, short tails, and relatively stout bodies are characteristics of terrestrial rather than aerial birds, and most antpittas walk, run, and hop far more read - ily than they fly. Given the inability or reluctance of many antpittas to fly significant distances, it was unlikely that our Undulated Antpitta was a vagrant from parts unknown. It seemed more likely that this elusive species had been overlooked in the Santa Marta re- gion, despite the area being one of the most heavily-birded locales in Colombia. Upon my return to the U.S., I excitedly entered my Undulated Antpitta sighting into eBird, providing as much information as I could. It was several months before one of the conscientious cadre of experts that verify innumerable questionable eBird sightings around the world contacted me, occurring in the Santa Marta mountains. Later, we ran into a local bird guide and assailed him with excited proclamations of having seen an Undulated Antpitta. "No," the skeptical Colombian declared with an authoritative tone that brooked no argu- ment, "they don't occur here." Pulling out a digital camera, we showed him the photos my fellow birder had taken of our auda- cious antpitta. The guide gaped. "That's an Undulated Antpitta!" he said excitedly. We all beamed at each other. Another visitor to the area chimed in dis- missively, "Undulated Antpitta? Oh, I've seen them." "But not here," quickly countered the guide. "They don't occur here. Or at least not that I've heard of, and I've worked in the area for three years. I'll check around with other guides to see if anyone else has ever seen one in this area, and we can check eBird, too." I had been astonished during my too- brief two-week sojourn in Colombia at how prevalently eBird, a worldwide program developed and spearheaded by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for birders to catalog their sightings, was used by Colombian bird guides and area birders. Conducting a search for Undulated Antpitta in eBird showed no sightings in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta or, in - deed, anywhere in far northern Colombia. The nearest sighting was over 350 miles away, just north of Medellín. For many migrants, this would be an insignificant distance and one would expect occasional sightings of birds that had purposely or ac- cidentally traveled such a short distance astray. But the ground-dwelling antpittas over 1,900 species, Colombia has a greater diversity of birds than any other country in the world—until I arrived at the antpittas. This ground-dwelling family of just over 50 species feeds on earthworms, grubs, ants, beetles, and other invertebrates, usu - ally in and below the forest understory. The greatest diversity of antpittas resides in cloudforests: those cool, mysterious, mon- tane haunts that drip with epiphytes and condensed fog. Relatively few antpitta species occur at high elevations in the isolated Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, where I was walk - ing, although the region has more resi- dent birds than does the continental U.S., and among them is a globally impressive concentration of endemic bird species. I had seen the aptly-named Rufous Antpitta high on a ridgetop the morning be- fore. I knew that the seldom-seen Scaled Antpitta also occured in the area. But the plump, big-eyed antpitta that had just ap- proached so fearlessly was boldly marked, unlike the only other antpitta that was supposed to live in the region: the endem- ic, brown-backed, streak-chested Santa Marta Antpitta. My antpitta's relatively large size and ochraceous front, heavily marked with dark, waved lines that looked like hesitant smiles, made it readily identifiable. But though it appeared to be an Undulated Antpitta, our guide book did not show this bird n Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. Photo © Mark W. Lockwood

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