The first ever photo of a living Santa Marta Sabrewing (Campylopterus phainopeplus) was taken on 24 March by Laura Cardenas beside the new "Condor Observation Tower" ay 1,900 meters (6,200 feet) elevation in the El Dorado Nature Reserve in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Laura was monitoring migratory birds in the reserve as part of the project: Crossing the Caribbean: identification of critical sites for migratory birds in northern Colombia. This photograph is the first confirmation of this spectacular hummingbird after over 60 years when the species was collected by ornithologists working in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta at the end of the second world war (in 1946).
Photo: Santa Marta Sabrewing (Campylopterus phainopeplus) by Laura Cárdenas
The Santa Marta Sabrewing, classified by IUCN as Endangered and endemic to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, is at high risk of extinction. Historical specimens come from the southern slope of the Sierra Nevada where birds would be feeding at high elevation (up to snow line at 4,800 meters) in low vegetation during the warmer wet season (June to September), so more easily seen and collected. During the dry season (February to May), the species is reported to descend to lower elevations (1200-1800 meters) probably because there was a more diverse source of nectar resources. This record at lower elevations during the dry season is consistent with this assumption.
Apart from a single sighting of the species above Valledupar, Cesar Dept in 1990 by Mark Pearman, ProAves and visiting birders have several sightings since 2000 in and below the El Dorado reserve to the town of Minca, typically single birds feeding in the canopy. However, the widespread and relatively common Lazuline Sabrewing (Campylopterus falcatus) is more common in the same area. The real difference is the tail coloration, which fortunately is easy to see.
Surveys by ProAves on the southern slope of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (considered the species core population area) witnessed extremely poor quality of páramo vegetation and lack of native forest - which highlights the species delicate plight. Recent records of the Santa Marta Sabrewing in and around El Dorado and Minca are probably related to the fact that this area remains some of the last remnants of native subtropical forest. This confirmation of the Santa Marta Sabrewing further emphasizes the national and global importance of the El Dorado Nature Reserve for endemic birds and wildlife.