Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Prior Night Parrot Sighting

Here is a brief excerpt from the article describing the 1990 discovery of a Night Parrot specimen in Australia. Click here for the entire article.

Yet many discoveries in science depend on chance rather than a predetermined course of action. Many apparent observations have been incidental to the activities at the time. Stockmen working at night are among the most frequent non-ornithologists glimpsing the bird. And, in the 1970s, about 20 scattered but unsubstantiated reports of Night Parrots were made by amateur bird watchers while preparing surveys for the RAOU's The atlas of Australian birds. Our rediscovery of the Night Parrot in October 1990, confirmed by a specimen, was the outcome of a serendipitous sequence of events.

The Australian Museum had planned an extensive trip through northern Australia, where Walter Boles, ornithologist at the Museum, and Ross Sadlier, one of the Museum's herpetologists, would work on birds and reptiles respectively. Walter invited Wayne Longmore, an Associate of the Australian Museum, currently employed at the Queensland Museum, and Max Thompson, Professor of Biology at Southwestern College, Kansas (USA), to join the trip.
Heading out in two Australian Museum vehicles, our trip took us from Sydney to Broome, Western Australia, through the Kimberley, and into the Top End of the Northern Territory. Ross returned to Sydney midway through the trip.

After six weeks, we started our return through western Queensland. Rather than taking a direct route back, we headed south from Mt Isa along the Diamantina Developmental Road (Highway 83). On 17 October 1990, 36 kilometres north of Boulia, we stopped at the side of the road to look at some Australian Pratincoles (Stiltia isabella). When the birds flew and landed down the road behind the vehicles, Max turned one vehicle around to follow them for a better look. Wayne and Walter remained parked on the side of the road in the other vehicle so as to reduce the disturbance to the birds. After obtaining a suitable look, Max returned, pulling up and parking behind the first vehicle.
Walter got out and walked back to speak to Max through the window of the passenger's door. After speaking, he turned away from the vehicle and happened to look down. There, next to his foot on the roadside, was the carcass of a Night Parrot. He picked it up and handed it through the vehicle window to Wayne, then returned to tell Max what he had found. The discovery was made without overt demonstrations of excitement, tempered no doubt by a combination of disbelief and another week of field work in hot, dry conditions still to come. The thrill and wonder of the find surfaced only during breaks in our other activities.

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