The “spectacled flowerpecker,” a bird species new to science, has been discovered in the heart of the Borneo rain forest,the Oriental Bird Club (OBC) announced today.
The species is yet to be given a scientific name.
Richard Webster, a biologist from the University of Leeds, UK, and two leaders from tour company Field Guides came across a pair of the new species near the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, in the Danum Valley Conservation Area in Sabah, Malaysia, last year, OBC said in a news statement accompanying these photos.
Their findings are published today in the latest issue of the Oriental Bird Club’s magazine, BirdingASIA.
“On June 18, 2009, Richard Webster was making his way along a 250-meter [800-foot] canopy-walkway, built to allow visitors the thrill of seeing the tropical rain forest canopy at eye-level, when he stopped to examine some flowering mistletoe in a tree, some 35 meters [114 feet] above ground,” OBC’s statement said.
“There, amongst several familiar species of flowerpeckers–small, wren-sized birds that specialize in feeding on mistletoe berries–was a bird that he could not recognize.”
Presumed male spectacled flowerpecker.
Photo by R.E. Webster/courtesy of Oriental Bird Club
From the photographs he made, shown on this page and published in BirdingAsia, Webster was able to document an attractive gray bird with bright white arcs above and below the eye, a white throat extending as a broad white stripe down the center of the belly, and white tufts at the breast sides, OBC noted.
“Back at the Lodge, Webster consulted with Dr David Edwards, a Fellow at Leeds University’s faculty of biological science who has been conducting ornithological studies in the region for three years. They soon realized that this was a species never before recorded from Borneo and–following visits to museum collections in London, New York and Washington, D.C. later that year–nowhere else either.
“Over the following days, Webster, Edwards and Rose Ann Rowlett made further observations and found at least two of the unknown birds feeding on the mistletoe and even heard one bird singing.”
“It was the kind of moment you dream of–like we’d won the pools and the World Cup on the same day.”
“The realization that in all probability we had been watching a species unknown to science was an incredible feeling–elated because we were on the verge of an amazing discovery, but mixed with trepidation in case it is never seen again,” Edwards said. “It was the kind of moment you dream of–like we’d won the pools and the World Cup on the same day.”
On subsequent visits to the spot between June and August, Edwards found no further sign of the birds.
David Edwards, a Fellow at Leeds University’s faculty of biological science, has been conducting ornithological studies in the region for three years.
Photo courtesy of Oriental Bird Club
The group’s findings are reported in the expectation it will lead to further sightings of the bird and its formal scientific description as a new species, OBC said.
“We hope the announcement of our discovery will lead to our ultimate goal: conservation of the new species and large tracts of its habitat, which is under threat from clearance for oil palm agriculture,” Edwards said.
The finding is all the more remarkable given its location in Danum Valley, where a scientific research station has been in operation since 1986, OBC said.
The mistletoe tree where the spectacled flowerpeckers were seen.
Photo by David Edwards/courtesy of Oriental Bird Club
“The discovery of a new bird species in the heart of Borneo underlines the incredible diversity of this remarkable area,” said Adam Tomasek, leader of WWF’s Heart of Borneo Initiative.
“It further emphasizes the importance of the commitment already made by Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia to protect the Heart of Boneo–but also highlights the need to fast-track implementation of these commitments to ensure the many new species discovered in the area survive,” Tomasek said.
Jean-Christophe Vié, deputy director of IUCN’s Species Programme said: “This discovery shows once more how little is known about the diversity of life on our planet.”
“2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. It is an opportunity to increase our knowledge of nature and its functioning, explain its importance to the wider public, and most of all, undertake action to reduce the current threats in order to allow thousands of more discoveries like this one in the future.”