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Photo: Yurgen Vega/Selva/ProCAT.
The rediscovered Santa Marta sabrewing. It is only the third time the species has been documented: the first was in 1946 and the second in 2010. 

As exciting as space exploration is, there are also exciting discoveries being made on Planet Earth — from ancient civilizations revealed by drought to rare birds showing up after many years.

Graeme Green writes at the Guardian, “A rare hummingbird has been rediscovered by a birdwatcher in Colombia after going missing for more than a decade.

“The Santa Marta sabrewing, a large hummingbird only found in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, was last seen in 2010 and scientists feared the species might be extinct as the tropical forests it inhabited have largely been cleared for agriculture.

“But ornithologists are celebrating the rediscovery of Campylopterus phainopeplus after an experienced local birdwatcher captured one on camera. It is only the third time the species has been documented: the first was in 1946 and the second in 2010, when researchers captured the first photos of the species in the wild.

“Yurgen Vega, who spotted the hummingbird while working with the conservation organizations SelvaProCAT Colombia and World Parrot Trust to survey endemic birds in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, said he felt ‘overcome with emotion’ when he saw the bird.

“ ‘The sighting was a complete surprise,’ he said. ‘When I first saw the hummingbird I immediately thought of the Santa Marta sabrewing. I couldn’t believe it was waiting there for me to take out my camera and start shooting. I was almost convinced it was the species, but because I felt so overcome by emotion, I preferred to be cautious; it could’ve been the Lazuline sabrewing, which is often confused with Santa Marta sabrewing. But once we saw the pictures, we knew it was true.’

“The Santa Marta sabrewing is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list of threatened species and features in the Top 10 ‘most wanted’ list in the conservation organization Re:wild’s Search for Lost Birds, a worldwide effort to find species that have not been seen for more than 10 years. The bird is so rare and elusive that John C Mittermeier, the director of threatened species outreach at American Bird Conservancy, likened the sighting to ‘seeing a phantom.’

“The hummingbird Vega saw was a male, identified by its emerald green feathers, bright blue throat and curved black bill. It was perched on a branch, vocalising and singing, behaviour scientists think is associated with courtship and defending territory.

“The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia is home to a wealth of wildlife, including 24 bird species not found anywhere else. But scientists estimate that only 15% of the mountains’ forest is intact. It is hoped the surprise sighting of the Santa Marta sabrewing will help to protect their remaining habitat, benefiting many different species found there.

“ ‘This finding confirms that we still know very little about many of the most vulnerable and rare species out there, and it is imperative to invest more in understanding them better,’ said Esteban Botero-Delgadillo, the director of conservation science with Selva: Research for Conservation in the Neotropics. ‘It is knowledge that drives action and change – it is not possible to conserve what we do not understand.

“ ‘The next step is [to] involve people from local communities and local and regional environmental authorities, so we can begin a research and conservation program together that can have real impact.’ ” More at the Guardian, here.

By the way, the Guardian routinely covers encouraging environmental stories, including a recent one on the strengthening numbers of protected hen harriers in England. Nadeem Badshah reported here that, according to England’s conservation agency Natural England, “nearly 120 rare hen harrier chicks have fledged in England this year, the highest number for more than a century. … But conservation experts have warned that work needs to continue to tackle the illegal persecution of England’s most threatened bird of prey, which hunt red grouse chicks to feed their young, bringing them into conflict with commercial shooting estates.”

Now, there’s a riddle for you!

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Near where I work in Boston, there is something new to see every day.

Here are two shots of the ever picturesque North End. 

Here are shots of the harbor post-Irene and the James Hook & Co. golden lobster.

And here are the deep red plants that attracted a hummingbird outside the cafeteria yesterday. He didn’t show up today for his screen test, so I borrowed someone else’s hummingbird.

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