Endangered Beck’s petrels, new research

This video is called Beck’s Petrel, January 2017, New Ireland, Papua New Guinea

From BirdLife:

5 May 2017

Major breakthrough in attempt to unlock secrets of ultra-elusive seabird

An intrepid BirdLife Pacific team has finally managed to capture and tag a Beck’s Petrel – one of the world’s rarest and least-known birds. It’s hoped ‘Pato’ will lead us to its still-unknown breeding grounds, and teach us how to protect this vanishingly rare species

Trying to find the breeding grounds of the Critically Endangered Beck’s Petrel Pseudobulweria becki is like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. Except in this analogy, the needle (petrel) is so rare it once went unrecorded for over 70 years, and the haystack (nests) could be situated on any one of the dozens of oceanic islands scattered off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

How to begin such a seemingly impossible search? If we were chasing haystacks, perhaps we’d take a leaf out of a crime drama novel, and attach a satellite transmitter one of the hay bale delivery trucks nearby, to see where they lead us to.

But things get a little more complicated if the target you’re trying to tag is not a huge truck, but rather a Beck’s Petrel – a tiny, agile seabird that roams freely around a vast area of the southern Pacific Ocean.

The Beck’s Petrel is one of the rarest (with an estimated global population of less than 250) and poorly known seabirds going. For the longest time, it was known only from two specimens observed in 1928, until it was rediscovered by Hadoram Shirihai, the Israeli ornithologist, in a remote corner of the Bismarck Archipelago, north-east of mainland Papua New Guinea.

Beck’s Petrel is one of the rarest and poorly-known birds in all the world. We have no idea where they breed, or what threats they face there.

“Ever since the rediscovery, the big question has been: where does it breed?” says Chris Gaskin, who led the BirdLife expedition to satellite tag a Beck’s Petrel. “Finding these breeding sites is key to any kind of future conservation action”.

Capturing one of these elusive birds in such a way as to render it unharmed, is a task that requires a lot of patience and more than a little luck. (And a high-tech ‘net gun’ too, of which more later). But on 26th April of this year, Gaskin’s dedicated team managed to do just that – capturing, tagging and releasing one of these enigmatic seabirds for the first time. It’s a major breakthrough for our hopes of better understanding the land behaviour and nesting patterns of this enigmatic species – which will lay the foundation for future conservation work.

The successful capture was achieved during a ten-day expedition across Silur Bay, a remote corner of the Bismarck Archipelago, not far from the species’ dramatic rediscovery in 2007.

A follow-up BirdLife survey in 2012 discovered that this particular area – a deep-water bay on the coast of the island of New Ireland – was a Beck’s Petrel hotspot, with over 100 birds using the bay’s facilities – nearly half the estimated global population. The discovery led to the formation of an action plan to secure the species’ survival, an integral part of which was to locate the birds’ still unknown breeding grounds.

Gaskin was part of a previous expedition to Silur Bay in 2016, which re-confirmed the area as the hub of all known Beck’s activity. During this voyage, the team trialled numerous at-sea methods to capture and tag a Beck’s Petrel – including a net gun which, as the name suggests, propels a net into the sky in an attempt to snare the bird during flight.

Great care has been taken in the design of these nets to ensure that no harm comes to the bird during the process, as Gaskin explains: “The net guns we currently use are made from high-pressure plumbing PVC materials and filled with compressed air from a dive tank. They fire four narrow PVC tubes (projectiles) and a four-metre square mist net. The tubes are designed to float. We have captured something like 200 birds in New Zealand, Galapagos, Chile and now Papua New Guinea using this method without injuring any. It’s equipment we continue to improve through the Northern New Zealand Seabird Trust.”

Using these nets, Gaskin and his team came agonisingly close to snagging a Beck’s in 2016, only to be foiled by the petrels’ acrobatics. This follow-up expedition built on the learnings from the previous attempts, using different techniques in a bid to improve their chances. These include the use of kayaks and paddling boards to get closer to the petrels, and shining lights on shore to attract them. (Like many of its sister species, Beck’s Petrel is suspected to be a nocturnal hunter on its breeding grounds).

Despite all these measures and the considerable expertise and experience across the team, live-capturing a Beck’s was no sure thing. “To successfully capture a bird using these net guns requires patience, a lot of patience waiting for bird to approach, then quick reactions when a bird finally comes into the ‘capture zone’” says Gaskin.

But with patience comes great rewards. On April 26th, a single Beck’s Petrel, dubbed ‘Pato’ from the local name (pato lonbon – the duck of the sea) – was captured and fitted with a satellite transmitter. “Our team’s reaction to our capturing the bird was classic – yells, laughing, dancing, hugs, high fives, the works!” says Gaskin.

But it is too early to pop the champagne corks – with only one capture, so much rides on both the continued survival of Pato, and its new satellite transmitter, too. Given we know so little about this species, every bit of data we can glean from Pato is invaluable.

Pinpointing the breeding grounds, and the threats they may face there, is a priority. “Petrels only ever go to land to breed, so if we get consistent good quality signals from a location on land we will be able to determine a likely breeding site for a follow up expedition” says Gaskin.

But while we wait for Pato to feel frisky, there is still plenty we can learn from its adventures at sea. “We will be able determine favourite foraging grounds as well as any dispersal outside its known area post-breeding” says Gaskin.

“But as I said, everything rides on that one bird and one transmitter. At the most recent download our bird was approximately 250kms from where it was captured, flying in what appears to be a foraging pattern northeast of Bougainville.”

Capturing Pato was the easy part. Now, we wait.

The project is a collaboration between BirdLife International, the New Ireland Provincial Government, the Conservation and Environment Authority of Papua New Guinea, Ailan Awareness and the Wildlife Conservation Society, funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.

For further information about the Beck’s Petrel project please contact: Steve.Cranwell@birdlife.org

Read more about the Pacific Petrel in Peril initiative.


Australian government, stop imprisoning refugees, Papua New Guinea court decides

This video says about itself:

Guantánamo of the Pacific”: Australian Asylum Seekers Wage Hunger Strike at Offshore Detention Site

22 January 2015

A massive hunger strike is underway at what some are calling “the Guantánamo Bay of the Pacific.” The Manus Island detention center is paid for by the Australian government and run by an Australian contractor, Transfield Services, but located offshore on Papua New Guinea’s soil. The inmates are not accused of any crimes — they are asylum seekers from war-ravaged countries who are waiting indefinitely for their refugee status determinations.

They are asking the United Nations to intervene against the Australian federal government’s plan to resettle them in Papua New Guinea, where they say they could face persecution. Some have barricaded themselves behind the detention center’s high wire fences; others have resorted to increasingly drastic measures such as drinking washing detergent, swallowing razor blades, and even sewing their mouths shut to protest their confinement. We speak with Australian human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson and Alex Kelly, a social justice filmmaker who organized a New York City vigil in solidarity with the Manus Island detainees.

From the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia:

Papua New Guinea court finds Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal

April 26, 2016 – 11:02PM

Nicole Hasham, Michael Gordon

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says about 900 men being held at the Manus Island detention centre will not be brought to Australia after Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled their detention was illegal.

The decision strikes one of the central pillars of the Turnbull government’s border protection regime, just weeks out from an election campaign during which the government is expected to heavily spruik its asylum seeker record. …

The court ruled the detention breached the constitutional right of asylum seekers to personal liberty. It ordered the Australian and PNG governments to immediately cease the “unconstitutional and illegal detention of asylum seekers” at Manus Island, and stop the breach of their human rights. …

The vast majority of men in the detention centre have been found to be refugees. The court ruling said they were seeking asylum in Australia but were “forcefully brought into PNG” and locked in an Australian-funded centre “enclosed with razor wire“. …

Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs said the unanimous ruling by five judges was “further confirmation that Australia’s detention policies are increasingly out of step with international norms”.

Professor Triggs said the future of men on Manus Island remained “profoundly uncertain”, citing UNHCR concerns that the sustainable integration of refugees into the PNG community “will raise formidable challenges and protection concerns”.

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the reported court ruling showed Australia “has been illegally detaining refugees on Manus Island for years”.

“The [Turnbull] government has got to shut the Manus Island detention camp and bring these people here… so that they can have their claims assessed and be integrated into the community,” she said.

“These people have been through enough. It’s time they were given the safety and care that they deserve.”

Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesman Greg Barns said the decision was consistent with international law which stated that indefinite detention was unlawful.

The ruling also meant asylum seekers could likely make successful claims for damages for false imprisonment, and strengthened claims that Australia had breached its duty of care to asylum seekers.

“If Australia ignores the decision then it is contradicting its oft-stated claim that Manus Island detention is a matter for PNG jurisdiction,” he said.

Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson said the ruling was a “massive victory for asylum seekers and refugees” who had been detained for almost three years.

“PNG’s Supreme Court has recognised that detaining people who have committed no crime is wrong. For these men, their only ‘mistake’ was to try to seek sanctuary in Australia – that doesn’t deserve years in limbo locked up in a remote island prison,” Ms Pearson said in a statement.

“It’s time for the Manus detention centre to be closed once and for all.”

She said the detention centre had caused “severe mental health impacts. These refugees have suffered enough, it’s time for them to finally move on and rebuild their lives in safety and dignity”.

In March, PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said the Manus Island detention centre must eventually close, and was a “problem” that had done more damage to his nation’s reputation than any other factor.

PNG Prime Minister Says Manus Island Detention Centre Will Close: here.

In what amounts to an indictment of the Australian political establishment, the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the imprisonment of refugees in an Australian-controlled detention facility on PNG’s remote Manus Island was unconstitutional: here.

There is increasing evidence that Australia is torturing refugees, medical experts claim: here.

Saving Beck’s petrels in Papua New Guinea

This video is called Beck’s Petrel, 19th April 2008, off NW Bougainville.

From BirdLife:

Finding Petrel: an eight day voyage of discovery

By Steve Cranwell, Fri, 15/04/2016 – 14:43

A small, dark seabird with a white underbelly faces almost certain extinction unless its nesting grounds are found. It is with this sense of obligation that an intrepid BirdLife International team sets off on an eight day voyage of discovery this weekend.

They will set out to sea on the trail of the Critically Endangered Beck’s Petrel Pseudobulweria becki somewhere near New Island and New Britain in Papua New Guinea. More than eighty years since it was first described, the species’ nesting grounds still remain unknown.

Team member Jez Bird explains that this means we need to act immediately: “Throughout the Pacific, we know that petrels have either disappeared from historic sites, or populations are declining on most of the islands where they cling on. The greatest threat has consistently been predation by invasive species, so finding the Beck’s Petrel nest sites is paramount to assessing their fortunes and launching any follow-up action.”

Beck’s Petrel has an estimated population size of 50-249 mature individuals. We do not have long to save their chicks and eggs from predation by invasive mammals.

As part of a Pacific-wide conservation initiative, Petrels in Peril, a new approach is being trialled to find the nesting grounds of Beck’s Petrel: it aims to capture birds at sea in order to fit small tracking devices. Team member Chris Gaskin has experienced success with this technique, having used it in helping discover the previously unknown nests of New Zealand Storm-petrel Fregretta maoriana.

As Chris clarifies, “This is the start of a long road, but the next couple of weeks will be crucial. Each time we attempt this there’s a lot to be learned. Will we find birds? Can we attract them close enough to capture? Will the tracking technology work? All vital questions, but after this trip we expect to have answers.”

Since their rediscovery at sea in 2007 by Hadoram Shirihai, successive trips have begun to reveal the whereabouts of Beck’s Petrel. While there is still very little known about the species, BirdLife’s work has honed in on a search area. The trip will focus its attention on the seas around the southern tip of New Ireland, one of Papua New Guinea’s remote Bismarck Islands. If the petrels are found, and if they can be attracted close enough, then a specially designed net will be deployed to capture the birds. Any birds caught will be quickly retrieved and their breeding condition assessed, the bird photographed and released safely back to sea.

“We do have a few additional tricks up our sleeve. If the conditions are right and the birds are there, we will be using every means possible to find out as much as we can about them this time round”, Chris adds. “The plan is to return in 2017 to fit transmitters that will ultimately allow us to identify where the birds raise their young on land.”

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is supporting conservation work throughout the islands of Papua New Guinea, the Solomons and Vanuatu. Beck’s Petrel is one of their focal species. Funded by CEPF this project is taking place in collaboration with local conservation group Ailan Awareness and the Wildlife Conservation Society and has the support of the New Ireland Provincial Government and the Conservation and Environment Authority of Papua New Guinea. With these organisations, the project is aiming to build a wider constituency to support future Becks Petrel conservation efforts. John Aini, head of Ailan Awareness affirmed: “We are stewards here on New Ireland. Every species represents part of a bigger picture that we’re dedicated to protecting for future generations. That’s why we’re supporting this important project.”

For further information about the Beck’s Petrel project please contact Steve.Cranwell@birdlife.org.

An intrepid BirdLife International team are back from their voyage to discover the nesting grounds of Beck’s Petrel, a small seabird facing an uncertain future… Did they capture one with their net gun? Here.

Rare nautilus seen for first time in 30 years

This 26 August 2015 video is called Biologist Spots Rare Nautilus For The First Time In 30 Years.

Another video, no longer on YouTube, used to say about itself:

28 August 2015

The Allonautilus scrobiculatus has inhabited the earth for 500 million years and has only been seen twice, until now.

A rare species of nautilus, a marine mollusc, has been found by researchers for the first time in 31 years. It has been suggested that the Allonautilus scrobiculatus could be the rarest animal in the world.

From Wildlife Extra:

Rare nautilus sighted for the first time in 30 years

A rare nautilus has been sighted for the first time in three decades. Allonautilus scrobiculatus is a species of nautilus, marine animals that are small, distant cousins of squid and cuttlefish. They are an ancient lineage of animal, often christened a “living fossil” because their distinctive shells appear in the fossil record over an impressive 500 million year period.

The animal was first discovered by biologist Peter Ward and his colleague Bruce Saunders off of Ndrova Island in Papua New Guinea in 1984, when they realised that their differing gills, jaws, shell shape and male reproductive structures made them different to other nautilus species.

“Some features of the nautilus – like the shell giving it the ‘living fossil’ label — may not have changed for a long time, but other parts have,” said Ward. “It has this thick, hairy, slimy covering on its shell,” said Ward. “When we first saw that, we were astounded.”

This slimy nautilus turned out to be even more elusive than its siblings. Aside from another brief sighting by Saunders in 1986, Allonautilus disappeared until July 2015, when Ward returned to Papua New Guinea to survey nautilus populations.

“They swim just above the bottom of wherever they are,” said Ward. “Just like submarines, they have ‘fail depths’ where they’ll die if they go too deep, and surface waters are so warm that they usually can’t go up there. Water about 2,600 feet deep is going to isolate them.”

These restrictions on where nautiluses can go mean that populations near one island or coral reef can differ genetically or ecologically from those at another. The findings also pose a challenge for conservationists.

“Once they’re gone from an area, they’re gone for good,” said Ward.

Illegal fishing and “mining” operations for nautilus shells have already decimated some populations, Ward said. This unchecked practice could threaten a lineage that has been around longer than the dinosaurs were and survived the two largest mass extinctions in Earth’s history. As it stands now, nautilus mining could cause nautiluses to go extinct.”

Golden masked owl in Papua New Guinea, video

This video says about itself:

Golden Masked Owl @ Walindi Plantation Resort, Papua New Guinea

11 June 2015

New Britain Golden Masked Owl filmed onsite at Walindi Plantation Resort, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea. This could be the first ever video of a very rare endemic owl. Video by Walindi’s General Manager Cheyne Benjamin, location discovered by Walindi’s bird guide Joseph Yenmorro.

New orchid species gets Jane Goodall’s name

This video is called Jane Goodall: A Retrospective.

Translated from the botanical garden in Leiden, the Netherlands:

Friday, October 3, 2014 10:10

Scientists of Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Hortus Botanicus Leiden have named an orchid that was discovered in 2003 during a collecting trip in Papua New Guinea by dr. EF de Vogel and Art Vogel after Jane Goodall: Dendrobium goodallianum.

Dendrobium goodallianum

The orchid blooms only one day and smells like coconut. Once the orchid blooms, it will be displayed behind glass to the public.

Currently Jane Goodall is in the top ten of the most influential women in the world. She is United Nations peace ambassador and travels the world 300 days a year to fight for the future of our endangered planet. The orchid was named after her because of her constant commitment to the preservation of biodiversity and her outstanding work in conservation.

See also here.

I certainly hope that the influence of famous primatologist and United Nations peace ambassador Jane Goodall will prevail over the influence of some influential, but not so constructive women. Though most warmongering is done by men, a few women like Samantha Power and Condoleezza Rice have done major harm to the cause of peace.

Asian fossil birds, new research

This video says about itself:

Two of Papua New Guinea‘s many birds of paradise – the Magificent and the King – put on an show of dancing and hanging upside down in spectacular courtship display.

By Hanneke J.M. Meijer:

The avian fossil record in Insular Southeast Asia and its implications for avian biogeography and palaeoecology


Excavations and studies of existing collections during the last decades have significantly increased the abundance as well as the diversity of the avian fossil record for Insular Southeast Asia. The avian fossil record covers the Eocene through the Holocene, with the majority of bird fossils Pleistocene in age. Fossil bird skeletal remains represent at least 63 species in 54 genera and 27 families, and two ichnospecies are represented by fossil footprints. Birds of prey, owls and swiftlets are common elements.

Extinctions seem to have been few, suggesting continuity of avian lineages since at least the Late Pleistocene, although some shifts in species ranges have occurred in response to climatic change. Similarities between the Late Pleistocene avifaunas of Flores and Java suggest a dispersal route across southern Sundaland. Late Pleistocene assemblages of Niah Cave (Borneo) and Liang Bua (Flores) support the rainforest refugium hypothesis in Southeast Asia as they indicate the persistence of forest cover, at least locally, throughout the Late Pleistocene and Holocene.

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