Beneath the feet of the dodo – a new ground thrush from Mauritius

The Mascarene Islands of Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues, situated in the southwest Indian Ocean, once harboured a number of diverse bird species, most notably the Mauritian Dodo. Unlike most other oceanic islands, the Mascarenes were in pristine condition when first discovered by humans, who recorded important but often vague details in ships’ logs and journals. The arrival of Europeans at the end of the 16th century, with their accompanying commensal animals, proved disastrous for the […]

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Poo in paradise: a week of fieldwork on Heron Island

When I decided to pursue my passion for poo at PhD level, I never imagined I would end up on Heron Island: a (very) small coral cay on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Just half a mile long, this sub-tropical island is home to a huge variety of biodiversity. So much so that David Attenborough opted to film there. Fig 1 Heron Island, credit: Andrea Estandía

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A new bird species, the New Caledonian Storm-Petrel

Storm-petrels are the smallest of the petrels, are closely related to albatrosses, and represent more than one-third of the world’s truly oceanic seabird species. Most are nocturnal at their nesting sites, shy by nature, and breed on remote and often inaccessible islands. These features of petrels render them difficult to study and many populations are hardly documented. The description or recognition of a new species is a very rare event. Our new study, published in […]

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How to name a white bird

Colour aberrations in birds have been my main research focus for more than 30 years, during which I have learnt that identifying and naming these aberrations still presents problems for ornithologists. Many terms for the different colour aberrations have been proposed during the last 175 years. These terms, however, have apparently been used at random to identify aberrations in published records, creating much confusion. Leucism seems to be the most commonly used term and is […]

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Serendipity and sound analysis – the discovery of Forbes-Watson’s Swift Apus berliozi in southern Africa

Africa still has vast regions which are ornithologically undocumented and may offer surprises and potentially new discoveries. This is certainly true of Mozambique: a country with low population density and poorly explored wetlands, lakes, woodlands and forests.  Even as a frequent visitor to this exciting country, one is never quite sure what to expect! The story of Forbes-Watson’s Swift in Mozambique begins in March 2017, when I led a birding tour to southern Mozambique – […]

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Is there an undescribed martin in Ethiopia?

Swallows and martins are admired for their graceful flight, their long migratory journeys and their often close association with humans, but they are probably not at the top of birders’ lists in Africa. In particular, the small and dull-coloured martins cannot compete with more “attractive” African bird species and may sometimes even pose identification challenges. Consequently, they are mostly only noticed when “nothing else” is to be seen. It is this lack of attention that […]

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