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The Dusky Tetraka, a small, olive-colored, yellow-throated bird that hops on the ground and has eluded ornithologists for 24 years, was rediscovered by an expedition team searching the rainforests of northeast Madagascar. The expedition team, led by the Peregrine Fund’s Madagascar program, found the species at two different remote sites: one on the Masoala Peninsula in late December 2022 and another near Andapa in January this year. The last documented sighting of the Dusky Tetraka was in 1999, making it one of the 10 most wanted lost birds by Search for Lost Birds, a collaboration between American Bird Conservancy (ABC), BirdLife International and Re:wild.
“Now that we have found the Dusky Tetraka and better understood the habitat it lives in, we can search for it in other parts of Madagascar and learn important information about its ecology and biology,” said Lily-Arison Rene. from Roland, Madagascar. Program Director for The Peregrine Fund and Expedition Leader. “There is still a lot of biodiversity to discover in Madagascar.”
René de Roland – who also rediscovered the Madagascar Scaup in 2006 in a remote area of northwest Madagascar and was a student working with The Peregrine Fund when the Madagascar Serpent Eagle and Red Owl were rediscovered – spent several months looking for the Dusky Tetraka in Madagascar, the only place where it is found. He and his team set off in late December 2022 in search of the tetraka, a warbler-like bird that is part of a family found only in Madagascar, near Andapa. The team had to drive for more than 40 hours and hike for half a day through steep mountains to the last place the bird was seen. No ornithologist had returned to the site since 1999.
When the team arrived on site, they found that much of the forest had been destroyed and converted to vanilla farms, even though the area is officially protected as part of the COMATSA Sud protected area. After five days of searching, they decided to move to lower elevations, as they had seen no sign of the bird, and realized that the Dusky Tetraka might not live at higher elevations.
While René de Roland and his team searched for the tetraka near Andapa, another team from the Peregrine Fund’s Madagascar program, led by Armand Benjara and Yverlin Pruvot, found the bird on the Masoala Peninsula where they captured and released a single tetraka sank in a trickle of mist on December 22. Benjara had hoped to find the tetraka since he started working as a biologist for The Peregrine Fund.
“Seeing the bird for the first time was really a surprise,” Benjara said. “Our whole team was extremely happy and excited.”
Tetraka may prefer areas near rivers
On January 1, eight days into the expedition, René de Roland’s team got their first glimpse of a Dusky Tetraka. While beside a rocky river, John C. Mittermeier, director of ABC’s lost bird search program, finally saw a bird that matched the description of the Dusky Tetraka hopping through dense undergrowth. near the river and took a picture of it. After consulting with the rest of the team, they agreed it was the Dusky Tetraka and quickly moved the search to that area.
“If Dusky Tetrakas still prefer areas near rivers, that might help explain why the species has been neglected for so long,” Mittermeier said. “Birdwatching in rainforests is all about listening for bird calls, and so you naturally tend to avoid spending time next to rushing rivers where you can’t hear anything.”
On the last day of the expedition, January 2, the team was able to capture a Dusky Tetraka using a mist net and observe and measure it more closely before releasing it unharmed. The two Dusky Tetrakas they found spent the majority of their time in dense vegetation near the river, presumably searching for insects and other prey in the damp undergrowth.
A story of mistaken identity
The Dusky Tetraka has a history of mistaken identity largely because it closely resembles another much more common species, the Spectacled Tetraka. With so few confirmed sightings for the Dusky Tetraka, it has been difficult for ornithologists to compile identifying characteristics for the species. Prior to the trip, the expedition team reviewed all historical records of the bird dating back nearly a century to ensure they could positively identify the Dusky Tetraka if they found it.
Rene de Roland says the next steps for the Peregrine Fund’s Madagascar team will be to search for the Dusky Tetraka again between September and October, when most of Madagascar’s birds breed. They hope to visit other sites that match the habitat and elevation where they saw the species in December and January to understand its distribution and conservation status. With the vast majority of lowland rainforest in northeastern Madagascar already destroyed, the Dark Tetraka is likely to be at risk.
“Several species from the extraordinary island of Madagascar were until recently ‘lost’, but have been rediscovered and are now regularly seen,” says Roger Safford, Senior Program Manager for BirdLife International’s Prevention of Extinctions. “The Dusky Tetraka was the clumsy exception, and it’s a credit to the team at the Peregrine Fund that they’ve put together such a comprehensive set of records of this mysterious bird. It appears to be truly rare – but now we can begin to understand why and take the necessary steps to ensure that the forests that meet its seemingly rather specific needs are conserved.
The search for lost birds looks for species that have not had a documented sighting for at least 10 years. It compiled a list of the 10 most wanted lost birds when it launched in 2021. The Santa Marta Sabrewing, another of the 10 most lost birds, was rediscovered in Colombia in July 2022 by Yurgen Vega, a biologist working with SELVA , ProCat Colombia , and World Parrot Trust in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The eight birds that have yet to be rediscovered are the Siau screech-owl in Indonesia, the South Island kōkakō in New Zealand, the Himalayan quail in India, the Itombwe nightjar in Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba’s Kite in Cuba, Negro’s Fruit Dove in the Philippines, Vilcabamba Brushfinch in Peru, and Jerdon’s Courser in India.
Thanks to American Bird Conservancy for providing this news.
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