Thursday, March 08, 2007

Rediscovering the dodo

Well not quite. But the world’s least-known bird has been rediscovered in Thailand. The Large-billed reed warbler, not seen since a single specimen was obtained in India in 1867, has been positively identified (using DNA tests on material from feathers) in a Thai sewage farm, by British ornithologist Philip Round who announced the find yesterday. It has not been seen at all for nearly 130 years and has now been seen exactly twice in history.

This was widely-reported as news yesterday (here, here, here) and on birding chatsites like Birding-Aus. That is a puzzle since the find has been known for a while - it is discussed in Handbook of the Birds of the World, Lynx, Birdlife International, 2006, volume 11, pages 574, 626.

Meanwhile, while not quite as dramatic, but of interest anyway, two new bird species have been discovered in Australia in the last week or so – Saunder’s tern and the Javan Pond heron.

Australia’s most distinguished birdwatcher Mike Carter claims to have spotted nine Saunder’s terns on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, in the Indian Ocean off WA. This is a species similar to the Little Tern but now treated as a separate species.

This will take Mike’s total of Australian bird species seen to 785 – by a good margin the largest number of bird species seen by a single person in Australia and 21 species ahead of his nearest rival, the legendary Fred Smith.

Only a few years ago a total of 700 species in a lifetime was considered an amazing effort. The target is now getting close to 800. In part the growth in the target is taxonomic, reflecting the reclassification of sub-species into distinct species. In part, too, it is pushing the definition of what is ‘Australia’ to its geographical limits. But this does not detract from Mike’s effort – it is an achievement that reflects a lifetime’s efforts in studying and observing birds - Mike is an astonishingly knowledgeable person about birds.

The Javan pond heron (good photos here) was discovered by a university student in Darwin on Rapid Creek Road opposite the pub. This is an abundant bird in Asia but not, as far as I know, seen in Australia before.

Meanwhile, I am stuck in Melbourne writing research grant applications. Whoppee! The highlight of my 'birding week' (also observed by Lucy) was a Eurasian coot nest in one of the moats at La Trobe University in full view of an actively-used bridge. The female was sitting on eggs in a nest of lotus blossom stems while the male was chasing away other birds which came within a 10 metre radius as well as furnishing the female with extra lotus leaves to make her wait more comfortable.


conrad said...

Not that you should be doing it, but if you feed the Eruasian coots once they have chicks then they are really interesting in that they display co-operative behavior. You will often see the case where one guys gets the bit of bread (or whatever), then gives it to another, who then gives it to the chicks. There can also be the case where more than one collect the bits of bread that goes to the chicks, but they will still use an intermediate to give the bit of bread over.

lucy tartan said...

Conrad, the nesting birds at La Trobe have been doing that with bits of water plants and twigs from the bottom of the moat etc - quite often the one scurrying around brings a stick and puts it down in front of the one sitting comfortably on the nest, which then finds the best place in the structure for the new stick to go.

I just hope they can get their business accomplished without being disturbed by the many people using the campus. Bar Night is a particular worry.