CONSERVATION GROUP REDISCOVERS 'LOST' BIRDS

The Invisible Rail isn't invisible anymore. The Cerulean Paradise flycatcher isn't lost, either, nor is the Lompobattang flycatcher.

With animal and bird species dying out all over the planet, the Cambridge-based global conservation group BirdLife International has good news: In 1995, it found three species presumed to be on their way to extinction after they were not seen for decades.

"It is terribly exciting to discover they still exist after all this time," says Nigel Collar, a BirdLife researcher. "But that doesn't mean they have been saved. Now we need urgent action to help them."

In the past decade, BirdLife searches have unearthed some 25 species "lost" for many years. Most dramatic was the yellow-throated Serin of Ethiopia, spotted in 1989 for the first time in 103 years.

BirdLife, which documents, analyzes, and conserves bird populations around the world, says some 1,111 bird species - 11 percent of those in existence - are threatened with extinction. Many more are in decline.

Some 80 species have been confirmed extinct since 1600, when international seafaring and colonization began to gather speed, spreading predators, researchers say. Newcomers also cleared forests and scrubland, destroying bird habitats in the process.

Until it was spotted in Indonesia in July, the Invisible Rail - so-called because it hides in dense undergrowth - had not been seen alive since 1948. There was great excitement when a BirdLife officer saw the small, bluish-gray bird with black bars in a swamp on the Indonesian island of Halmahera, Collar says.

The Cerulean Paradise flycatcher, a medium-sized blue-and-gray bird with a distinctive "beard," had not been seen alive since 1978. But in September, a joint expedition of Indonesian and British researchers saw a single female in scrub on the Indonesian island of Sangihe.

The previous month, two ornithologists had found a Lompobattang flycatcher, a small brown marsh bird. Last seen in 1931, it lives in the southwestern corner of Sulawesi Island.

It is not known how many of the birds remain; possibly only a handful in each case, Dr. Collar says.

"Sangihe, for example, is almost completely deforested, and we urgently need to survey and preserve what trees are left for the Cerulean Paradise flycatcher," Collar says.

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