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Posts Tagged ‘ornithologist’

Photo: Rafael Bessa
The Blue-eyed Ground-Dove was rediscovered in Brazil in 2015 after a 74-year absence from the scientific record. It was rediscovered more than 600 miles away from where it had last been seen in 1941.

Our birder friend Gene laughed at me when I told him that a woman I knew had spotted a Carolina Parakeet in New Shoreham. “Believe me,” he said. “She didn’t see a Carolina Parakeet. It’s extinct.”

Well, I suppose he was right, but I’ve always wanted to see a bird thought to be extinct — the Dodo, say, or the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

It turns out, hope is possible.

Sarah Gilman reported the story for Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Living Bird.

“The song was a surprise: A succession of coos like water drops, both monotonous and musical. They sounded sleepy, familiar, and yet just foreign enough to catch ornithologist Rafael Bessa’s attention.

“It was a brilliant June afternoon in 2015, and the song fluted from some rock outcroppings near the verdant palms of a vereda, or oasis, in an expanse of shrubby grasslands in southern Brazil.

“The country’s Amazon rainforest has long captured conservation headlines, but the cerrado — as this mixed savanna of grass, brush, and dry forest is called — covers 20 percent of the country’s landmass, and is more threatened.

“Bessa himself was there in the state of Minas Gerais to conduct an environmental assessment for a proposed agricultural operation. He had stumbled on the vereda while driving from his hotel to a distant survey site. There was no time to investigate the plaintive call, but the ‘woo-up … woo-up … woo-up’ sounded a bit faster and deeper than the Ruddy Ground-Doves that occur in abundance in the area. Bessa decided to return.

“The next day, he managed to record the mysterious call and summon its maker into a nearby bush with the playback. He aimed his camera and took a series of photographs, then zoomed in on the images.

“It was indeed a small dove — not necessarily the sort of quarry birders get twisted up over. Its back was an unspectacular greenish-brown, and its head, tail, and breast were a muted ruddy orange, blending to a creamy belly and a set of bony pink feet. But its eyes were arresting pools of spectacular cobalt blue, echoed by little half moons of the same dabbed across its wings.

“Bessa’s hands began to shake. ‘I had no doubt that I found something really special,’ he says.

“Seeking confirmation, he texted his friend Luciano Lima, the technical coordinator at the Observatório de Aves of the Instituto Butantan, São Paulo’s biological and health research center. Lima had done his master’s degree in a museum with an extensive specimen collection, and agreed to drive to his office to pull up the photos on his computer and see if he could identify the mystery dove.

“ ‘I was in my car,’ Lima recalls, ‘and he suddenly sent me one of the pictures, and I almost crashed!’ ”

Read more of this real-life detective story here. It contains a bonus in the form of new vocabulary words:

Just as there is a recently coined term for the last individual of a species — an endling — so too is there a much older phrase for those that reemerge — a Lazarus taxon.”

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A charming feature on the radio show Studio 360 this spring was about a young beat boxer who turns birdcalls into music. (Wikipedia says beatboxing is “is a form of vocal percussion primarily involving the art of producing drum beats, rhythm, and musical sounds using one’s mouth, lips, tongue, and voice.”)

According to Studio 360, “Ben Mirin is a Boston area birdwatcher turned New York City beat boxer who decided to combine his two passions. ‘As a mimic, I was able to imitate certain bird calls,’ Mirin explains, ‘the American Bittern, the Common Eider.’ Mirin mines birdcalls and layers them with his own beats to construct compositions that fall somewhere between a musical mashup and an ornithologist’s field recordings.

“When he performed at the American Beatbox Festival last year, Mirin improvised a set where he combined spoken word, beatboxing, and bird calls to take the audience on a forest bird tour. ‘It was totally off the cuff,’ Mirin remembers, ‘and people went nuts.’

“Mirin has traveled the world as a field ornithologist. Combining beatboxing and birdcalls isn’t just about new music: ‘My craft is about using beatbox to build a bridge to the natural world.” ”

Listen to the music Mirin makes using real birdcalls, here.

Photo: Nick Mirin
Ben Mirin photographing birds in New Zealand’s Fiordland

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