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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

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Ornithologist finds bird last seen 139 years ago

A bird whose discovery in India in 1867 was also the last recorded sighting of the species has been found again in Thailand, a conservation group said Tuesday.
The large-billed reed-warbler was found anew at a wastewater treatment plant on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, said Birdlife International, an umbrella agency for worldwide conservation agencies.

Philip Round, an ornithologist at Mahidol University in Bangkok, caught one of the birds nearly a year ago on March 27, 2006, triggering scientific debate.

Researchers were uncertain about whether the reed-warbler, which lives in wetlands, was actually its own species or a genetic anomaly, since the last sighting occurred when it was discovered in India's Sutlej Valley 139 years ago.

"Although reed-warblers are generally drab and look very similar, one of the birds I caught that morning struck me as very odd," Round said in a written statement, noting that the bird's long beak and short wings grabbed his attention.
"Then, it dawned on me. I was probably holding a large-billed reed-warbler," he said. "I was dumbstruck."

Round sent DNA samples and photographs to Staffan Bensch of Sweden's Lund University, who had previously examined the Indian specimen. Bensch agreed that Round's bird was a reed-warbler and the animal represented a legitimate species.

Another specimen surfaced six months after Round's find, in a drawer in the collection of the Natural History Museum at Tring, England. The bird was part of a collection of reed-warblers gathered in India during the 19th century.

Bensch later used DNA to confirm the museum's sample, caught in 1869 in Uttar Pradesh, India, was part of the same species.

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