Chapter of the Month

Chapter of the Month: Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society- Cerulean Warbler Reserve

Audubon North Carolina has 10 amazing chapters across the state who help put a local focus on bird preservation and conservation issues. In this special blog series, we’ll focus on a chapter each month to learn more about their history, what they are working on, and to increase the statewide understanding of special ecosystems and habitats. Each month will include a series of posts about each chapter including a post from our biologists that will share a unique research project that is happening in the chapter’s geographic footprint.

This month, we get to know the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society Please welcome guest blogger and EMAS President Tom Tribble, as he details his experience with the Cerulean Warbler Reserve of Colombia.

On Dec 2, 2012, EMAS members Doug Johnston, Simon Thompson and Tom Tribble piled into a jeep in San Vicente, Colombia for the short 7-kilometer trip up the mountain to the Reinita Ceilo Azul Reserva de Los Aves or the Cerulean Warbler Reserve. After 45 bone-jarring minutes, we arrived. I emerged bleeding but excited. (Note to self – do not attach a bird pin to the center of your cap, as the pin may come between your forehead and the jeep’s roof.)

The Cerulean Warbler Reserve was established by Pro Aves, a Colombian conservation organization dedicated to acquiring land and establishing bird sanctuaries across the country. Pro Aves owns and manages 18 bird reserves, protecting 50,000 acres of critical habitat for birds and wildlife. Colombia is home to more than 1,880 species, more than any country in the world. Among these are many familiar North American breeders. Colombia is their true home for seven months each year, and the Pro Aves bird reserves are critical to the survival of these migratory birds.

We were welcomed by Carlos Julio and Luz, our hosts at the Cerulean Warbler Reserve, which is also a shade-grown coffee plantation, providing habitat to countless birds – although we tried hard to count them. The lovely four-room lodge is full almost 50 weeks per year, providing jobs and generating income for the local community. Our hosts cheerfully served delicious meals prepared from locally grown ingredients to our band of eight (always hungry) birders. For several days, we sat down to breakfast at 3:30 am, but Luz was still smiling as she served us dinner – and cold beer – in the evening. I hope she is able to fit in a daily siesta!

For three days we trekked through the tropical rain forests and coffee fields on the 545-acre reserve, seeing and hearing more than 100 of the 270 species recorded at Reserva Reinita Ceilo Azul. The reserve is a core wintering area for the Cerulean Warbler. The tropical birds of Colombia are beautiful and exotic, each more colorful than the last. But Doug and I, as first-time visitors, became increasingly excited when seeing our familiar migrants – imagining their 1,500-mile trip to Colombia, some perhaps making that journey all the way from western North Carolina!

We saw many old friends – Blackburnian, Black and White and Canada Warblers, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, Acadian Flycatcher and Summer Tanager. How about a yard bird Mourning Warbler on the two-minute walk from our room to lunch? On one afternoon walk, we must have seen 30 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. The only disappointment was no Cerulean Warbler.

During 2011 and 2012, EMAS donated more than $10,000 to the Reserva Reinita Ceilo Azul – all dedicated to purchasing rain forest - or farmland that is being converted to shade grown coffee fields. For Doug, Simon and I, it was an emotional experience. On our last evening, we raised a beer and thanked everyone who supported the EMAS Birdathons. In 2013, the EMAS Birdathon again raised and donated more than $5,000 to support the Cerulean Warbler Reserve.

On the day we left, we stopped for a final bit of birding and high in the tree someone – certainly Simon - spotted a male Cerulean Warbler! I feel certain he was fledged from a nest on the Parkway 10 miles from my house. He didn’t sing, but I felt that he too was thanking our donors. 

 For more information or to join the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society chapter serving the Asheville area visit or visit the chapter on Facebook. If you would like to donate to EMAS, please click here.

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