Almost every day, instead of going to school, I made for the fields, where I spent my day.
–John James Audubon
A brightly colored bird has been discovered on a remote mountain range in South America. The previously unknown species, the Yariguies Brush Finch, has striking black, yellow and red plumage.
The London Daily Mail has the story.
A British expert co-led the team which made the find during the first biological expedition to the Yariguies mountains in northern Colombia.
Ms Blanca Huertas, a curator at the Natural History Museum in London, said: “The description of a new bird is a rare event in modern times.”
The bird, which has the Latin name Atlapetes latinuchus yariguierum, differs from its closest relatives by having a black back and no white markings on its wings.
Thomas Donegan, from the Colombian bird conservation organisation Fundacion ProAves, said: “Before we began this study, no-one knew what species lived in the Yariguies mountains and whether they needed protecting.
“Now, we are beginning to describe new taxa (types) and a national park was established in the region. It is surprising that this new brush finch and the forests of the Yariguies mountains could remain unstudied, undescribed and unprotected for so long.”
Two birds were caught by the team, one of which was used to provide a DNA sample and photographs before being released unharmed. This is the first time a live specimen has been used for a description of a new bird species.
Actually, that last line is false. This is not the first time a live speciment has been used for a description of a new bird species, but who is quibbling. And sooner or later, we will need to study the bone structure of this bird, which means taking a dead sample.
The DNA evidence will be used to fit the bird into the complex stratification system that separates bird orders, families, genre, species, and sub-species.
The discovery of a new species always makes the world seem large to me again. Just when we think that we know everything, we learn that a striking bird has been hiding from mankind for all of the past centuries. And that shouldn’t be a surprise given the recent sightings of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the United States after they were thought extinct for 60 years.
But as I celebrate this new species, my spirits become partly subdued by reflection upon one of God’s creations that no longer graces our beautiful planet. Below the fold is John J. Audubon’s contemporary account of Passenger Pigeons in the early 1800’s. This most American of birds, the famous Passenger Pigeon once numbered in the billions only to go extinct by 1910.
“The multitudes of Wild Pigeons in our woods are astonishing. Indeed, after having viewed them so often, and under so many circumstances, I even now feel inclined to pause, and assure myself that what I am going to relate is fact. Yet I have seen it all, and that too in the company of persons who, like myself, were struck with amazement.
“In the autumn of 1813, I left my house at Henderson, on the banks of the Ohio, on my way to Louisville. In passing over the Barrens a few miles beyond Hardensburgh, I observed the Pigeons flying from north-east to south-west, in greater numbers than I thought I had ever seen them before, and feeling an inclination to count the flocks that might pass within the reach of my eye in one hour, I dismounted, seated myself on an eminence, and began to mark with my pencil, making a dot for every flock that passed. In a short time finding the task which I had undertaken impracticable, as the birds poured in in countless multitudes, I rose, and counting the dots then put down, found that 163 had been made in twenty-one minutes. I travelled on, and still met more the farther I proceeded. The air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse, the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose.”
–John James Audubon, from Volume V of Birds of America