A star knows no borders: the discovery of the Blue-throated Hillstar

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In the provincial border between Loja and El Oro, in the minuscule stretches of páramo that remain in the Chilla mountain range, a discovery of a new species of hummingbird was recently confirmed. Welcome, the Blue-throated Hillstar.

A year ago, ornithologist Francisco Sornoza was invited to Cerro de Arcos, a unique rock formation that forms part of the range. Franco Terazzi, a representative of the religious Mato Grosso organization, wanted to do something to conserve the area. Perched above the clouds, the cavernous hill was, to him, a piece of heaven. The organization, therefore, created a shelter at the site. Francisco joked optimistically: “We’ll have to find a bird to protect your mountain.”

Hours later, the bird flitted by them. Francisco knew it was special, took pictures, and returned many times to improve his knowledge of the species. In his Whatsapp birding group, people were suspicious that it could be a subspecies… Now we know it’s more than that. Its páramo ecosystem habitat, isolated from similar ecosystems by over 100 km, has caused the particular bird to speciate as it has.

Its closest relatives include the more common Ecuadorian Hillstar or the Green-throated Hillstar, a Peruvian bird recently discovered in Ecuador, but differs from them because of its green cap and a remarkable ultra-marine tone in its throat.

The bad news? Its conservation: as soon as the official publication of the discovery was released, the Blue-throated Hillstar’s status is already critical… It is threatened by the destruction of its habitat, with the need to compete against well-established species, and requiring to travel up to 5 km every day to search for nectar from its favorite flowers (the very range-restricted chuquiragua). This is why Fundación Jocotoco created, as of August 2020, a new reserve in Cerro de Arcos.

This high Andean gem is yet a new example (in a long list of examples) of how Ecuador, and more poignantly, how the entire southern fringe of Ecuadorian provinces (Zamora, El Oro, and Loja), still have many surprises in store

You can visit and overnight at the refuge of Cerro de Arcos, near the village of Sabadel, from Saraguro in Loja (2h30 due west) or Zaruma in El Oro (2h30 due east). Contact Joco Tours to organize a visit.

Photo: Francisco Sornoza

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