Night Parrot rediscovery shrouded in darkness

Rumours that Australia's elusive Night Parrot has been rediscovered appear to have been confirmed by a press conference in Queensland yesterday, despite cloak-and-dagger intrigue surrounding the event.

Night Parrot, a unique nocturnal Australian psittacine known only from a few specimens for most of the last century – and which has not been seen dead or alive since a roadside corpse was found in 2006 – has been rediscovered and photographed alive, it was claimed earlier in the week.

During a press conference yesterday (Wednesday 3 July) at Queensland Museum, a select audience watched a short video of the bird and got the chance to peruse some of the images taken by the finder, John Young, who had been searching for the species on and off for 15 years.“I know now from walking through their habitat that they are the most secretive thing I have ever seen in my life and certainly the hardest [species] I’ve ever worked on,” he said to press conference attendees. Ecologist Dr Max Tischler was quoted on the Australian Geographic website as saying that the footage was "phenomenal".

Only six seconds of video was shown to the conference, but this is said to have depicted the bird hopping like a kangaroo, ground-dwelling behaviour unknown in any other parrot species. The bird's plumage also appears to match Night Parrot. Experts have yet to communicate their judgement of the evidence in detail, but two low-resolution images have been published online and confirmatory noises have been made by several attendees to Australian media. It is hoped that irrefutable public confirmtion will occur in due course, enabling ordinary birders to find out new information about the literally cryptic species, whose closest relatives are the coastal Ground Parrot of southern Australia and the strange Kakapo of New Zealand.

As yet, there are only vague allusions to the location where the alleged 600 images and sound recordings were also obtained, but it is believed to be on private property somewhere in the area of Diamantina NP in south-west Queensland.

Only two of low resolution images have so far been released, and the footage, sound recordings and images appear to be the subject of a deal with an unnamed media company.

The only previously accepted sight record of the species by the Birds Australia Records Committee was of two to three birds at Minga Well, Western Australia, on 12 April 2005, but this described the birds as running rather than hopping. There are no plans to make any of Young's footage, images or sound recordings widely available, effectively scuppering the possibility of birders or independent ornithologists sound-luring the species elsewhere in Australia's huge Central Desert and its fringes. In fact, the prevention of large numbers of alleged "twitchers" from searching for the bird was apparently loudly applauded at the conference, and there are moves afoot to draw up a conservation plan and perform methodical searches of the area where the bird was seen.

Finder John Young is a somewhat controversial figure in Australian birding, having claimed a putative new species called Blue-browed Fig-parrot in Queensland in 2006, a claim which was dismissed after forensic analysis of photographs, and also previously claimed the discovery of a nest of Princess Parrots, another little known Antipodean species. 

Mr Young said that he had recorded a whistle at night in the outback which he believed to be Night Parrot in the outback in 2008, and had been concentrating on the species ever since. A bird was tape lured on 26 May and spent about 35 minutes in Young's torchlight, allowing unprecedented views and photographs. This now looks like being one of the conservation finds of the century.
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