Saturday, March 08, 2008

ENV: Beck's Petrel

Beck's Petrel rediscovered off Papua New Guinea

A rare sea bird not sighted since the 1920s and feared extinct has been rediscovered by a British expedition in waters off Papua New Guinea. The critically endangered Beck's petrel was re-discovered in the Bismarck Archipelago, in the south-west Pacific Ocean, north-east of Papua New Guinea. The Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club this week published a paper about the expedition by its leader, Israeli ornithologist and writer Hadoram Shirihai. Until Mr Shirihai's voyage in July and August last year, there were only two known specimens of the bird in the world, collected in 1928 and 1929 and held by the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Nick Askew, spokesman for the British-based bird conservation society Birdlife International, hailed the discovery as "incredibly important". "The voyage was specifically organised to look after the bird," Mr Askew told AAP. "(Mr Shirihai) was in the area four years earlier, in 2003, looking for other birds and he thought he sighted the Beck's petrel. "He then organised this extra voyage in 2007 to find the species, which was so successful. Mr Shirihai photographed more than 30 individual Beck's petrels on the voyage, Mr Askew said. He also observed young juveniles in flight, which indicated the birds were breeding nearby, and recovered a dead Beck's petrel from the sea - now only the third museum-held specimen. "It's fantastic, and it just goes to show his efforts were more than worthwhile," Mr Askew said. "We hadn't written the bird off. It's been classified as critically endangered, which is just one step off extinction, but this new sighting confirms the bird is still around, which is fantastic news. "It means we can now start focusing conservation efforts to try to save the species." Little is known of the Beck's petrel because of its scarcity and remote location. The Beck's petrel is a sea bird that may be nocturnal and is thought to breed in the Bismarck Archipelago, in an area of circular, mountainous islands. Mr Askew said the bird probably nests in burrows on the islands. Many of the petrels were discovered off the southern tip of New Ireland. It is not known why the bird is so rare. Mr Shirihai hired a ship locally, the FeBrina, and lured the birds by laying out pieces of fish. Efforts would now turn to preserving the species, Mr Askew said. "Now it's been rediscovered. Now we need to do some further survey work looking for the bird and trying to learn more about it. "We haven't actually found any breeding grounds at present, although there were young birds so they must be breeding in the area somewhere." A reported sighting of a single bird thought to be a Beck's petrel by an expedition in Australian waters in the Coral Sea in 2006 was rejected by the Australian Rare Birds Committee.




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