ABC Deputy Director of International Programs Wendy Willis hit the Appalachian Trail on June 17, after launching a GoFundMe campaign entitled “Trailblazing for Brushfinches” for the Antioquia Brushfinch, a bird she recently wrote about. Willis' goal: to raise $5,000 “so that ABC can help Colombian partners do more area searches for this Critically Endangered species.”
Willis enjoyed the company of many great trail companions, including her dog Esteban, who started out with her in Damascus, Virginia, and logged six days and 87 miles before Wendy's family picked him up and brought him home. The journey was not without challenges, including many blisters and scrapes, made worse by continuous rain the first five days of the journey.
In the end, Willis tallied 380 miles on the Appalachian Trail and exceeded her fundraising goal, collecting $5,901 for the Antioquia Brushfinch. She was able to ponder her conservation work along the way: “By walking through eight wilderness areas, several state parks, and a couple of national parks, I gained an even greater respect for the protected area systems in our country and feel invigorated to keep protecting birds in Latin America,” she reports.
Before Willis took time off work to start her month-long journey, she vowed that if she reached her $5,000 goal, she would dye her hair the color of her beloved brushfinch's crown. The accompanying photo shows that she made good on this promise as well.
In October, Willis joined the “buscatón” or “big search” for Antioquia Brushfinches in Colombia that found the species in eight locations, five of them new. This search, supported by ABC and other organizations, helped raise the population estimate from fewer than 50 to 50-100 birds.
Re-discovered in 2018 by a keen-eyed conservationist on his way to mass, this large, rufous-crowned songbird hangs on in small patches of native scrub dotting expansive dairy farms and cropland on the outskirts of Medellín, Colombia. ABC has been supporting and joining local researchers to search remaining habitat for brushfinches, and to identify areas suitable for protection. Although land is expensive in the area, ABC and multiple partners are working to identify the most suitable areas to protect.
Meanwhile, silvipasture — a balanced use of trees, forage plants, and livestock — and other habitat enhancement techniques on working lands may also prove pivotal to increasing habitat for this species, and connecting currently isolated populations. Fortunately, silvipasture experts at the Colombian agricultural research organization CIPAV work in the area and are collaborating in this effort.