Ghost of the skies

Elusive kingfisher

A BIRD that has been seen in the wild once has been found last month by scientists during the first biological survey of the highest peak in Solomon Islands.

The male moustached kingfisher was finally caught, photographed and studied by scientists on the morning of Wednesday 16 September at their Chupukama camp, in the foot of Mount Popomanaseu – the highest mountain on Guadalcanal.

Popomanaseu is also the highest ever peak below the equatorial zone that is located between Papua New Guinea and South America.

The discovery of the bird with its bluecoloured back and strips of bright orange in the head and beak was long time affair for the team leader of the bird survey group Dr Christopher Filardi.

Dr Christopher who is the Director of Pacific Programmes at the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation in the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) has been searching this bird for 20 years.

“Described by two female specimens brought to collectors by local hunters in the 1920s, the bird has only been glimpsed in the wild once. Scientists have never observed a male. Its voice and habits are poorly known. Given its history of eluding detection, realistic hopes of finding the bird were slim.

“Until on our third morning we heard an unmistakable ‘ko-ko-ko-kokokokokokokoko-kiew’ of a bird that could only be a large forest kingfisher. We paused, waited for what seemed like eternity, and then heard another cry from the mossy forest. It had to be the bird.

“Within moments our eyes caught movement: a large shadow of wings and a thick body abruptly stopped in a tangle. Our recordist Frank Lambert saw the bird first and called me over.

“There in plain sight pumping its tail, crest alert, in full colors, was the moustached kingfisher. And then, like a ghost, it was gone.”

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