Boyacá – Rogitama la Biodiversidad

In surprising contrast to the dry hills surrounding Villa de Leyva, near Arcabuco one finds again cool and moist rainforest environment filled with mosses, ferns and bromeliads. Sadly, much of the area of the altiplano of the Eastern Cordillera of the Colombian Andes has long been cleared for dairy and potato farming. One couple though have made it their work of the last 20 years to restore some of this habitat and the biodiversity it supports. At their finca (farm) “Rogitama Biodiversidad” , Don Roberto Chavarro and his family have been planting flowering and fruiting species to attract hummingbirds and other species for the last two decades, with great results.

Though the finca is small, their impressive efforts have been recogized by the Colombian National Parks service:, and more than 80 species of bird have been recorded from the site. The quantity of flowers available is such that despite their being none of the usual hummingbird feeders, one can see about 10 species of hummingbird (of a total of 16 recorded at the site) within a short time walking. Highlights include the endemic Black Inca or “el Principito de Arcabuco” (Coeligena prunelli), the beautiful Lazuline Sabrewing, (Campylopterus falcatus), and the tiny White-bellied Woodstar (Chaetocercus mulsant). Other interesting species include the endemic Silvery-throated Spinetail (Synallaxis subpudica).

The management of the reserve now includes a focus on the propagation and planting of indigenous plant species as well as those attractive to birds, but there is an advantage to the previous emphasis on planting bird-attractive species.  Unlike sites with many feeders, at Rogitama that there is much less of an impression that the high concentrations of hummingbirds results in modified behaviour, including aggression, and possibly repercussions for patterns of pollination in local plant species. Instead, hummingbirds can be seen visiting flowers as they do naturally. Relatively recently in fact, an individual was photographed at Rogitama that could not be identified, causing a huge stir in the Colombian and international birding community, when it was suggested that it might be a rediscovery of the Bogotá Sunangel (Heliangelus zussi, This species is known only from a skin in the Museum of Natural History in the US, dated 1909 and marked “Bogotá, and is usually either considered extinct, or a rare hybrid. While the investigation continues, including sequencing of dna from feathers taken from the bird when it was eventually captured (and released unharmed), the rumour is that it is likely to be something else entirely. Meanwhile, it has yet to be re-sighted at Rogitama… one more reason to visit, and support this excellent example of a private conservation initiative.

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