Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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Chris Sharpe, an Associate Researcher with ProVita in Venezuela, contacted me (initially through my friend, Ian) regarding this entry about the “smiling bird” that I wrote and he would like to clarify several things for all of you. This message is especially intended for the ornithological and conservation communities;

[I wish to thank my Seattle bird-pal, Ian, for his concern about this issue as well as his long-term attention to my Birds in the News newsletter. I am more than happy to set the record straight via my blog audience which, even though I write mostly about birds, is rather considerable.]

I don’t think the news on the Recurve-billed Bushbird is quite accurate, at least from the URLs I have been sent so far. Just to clarify, I have [a] series of 52 photographs of Bushbirds taken in Venezuela in April 2004. Whether these were the first photographs or the first recent encounter with the species, I do not know, but until now that is what we had assumed.

Steve Holmer and Mike Parr at ABC [American Bird Conservancy] have confirmed that the photographs circulating on the Internet are later than this and have kindly offered to redraft the ABC press release to reflect that. Although it circulated widely in the Neotropical birding world, the news of our encounter with the species was kept relatively quiet for several reasons, not least of which were;

  • the assumption that CI [Conservation International] would take the lead on a press release
  • that we did not really want numbers of birders to descend on what (at the time) was only know with certainty to be a small population in a sensitive area and
  • also because we planned to return to obtain more data for publication

I did notify several colleagues at BirdLife immediately and they were keen to get the news out in a coordinated fashion, but naturally pending CI approval and presumably with the cooperation of national BirdLife partner Venezuela Audubon. The idea was to achieve maximum impact with a view to obtaining funding for conservation.

I also tipped off a couple of Venezuelan and US birders who I knew would be interested but discreet and gave copies of my initial recordings to people who might have been able to search for the species elsewhere. Later we sent some information to Stuart Butchart of BirdLife for the IUCN Red List. This was posted and documented in NBC’s inaugural issue of “Neotropical Birding“. Similar information will also appear in the forthcoming 3rd edition of the Venezuelan Animals RDB, written in 2004 / 5. Aside from that, we are working to publish this and the other exciting results of recent expeditions to Perija and would naturally appreciate any further information that anyone can contribute to this.

Whatever the case, I think it is important to congratulate all concerned on any effort to conserve this species and to use the press to good effect. I have the highest regard for the work of ProAves and ABC and I am sure their efforts are having a positive impact on the future of Colombia’s avifauna. However, on the basis of the comments by Diego Calderon-Franco and others it might also be an idea to correct the news releases that have appeared on the National Geographic website and elsewhere. If the Venezuelan sightings and captures are indeed the first in recent years, we would like now to make our own press release on this and that is something we are discussing right now.

Comments

  1. #1 Sara Lara
    July 11, 2007

    As Executive Director of ProAves, I would like to clarify that I very much appreciate Chris Sharpe’s details. Congratulations on the discovery! As you will know, ProAves never claimed the rediscovery of the bird as we had heard of rumors of that from Venezuela beforehand. But we did not know photos existed from 2004 and the fact remains it remains unpublished and this is the first news that photos were obtained.

    Also, the article was not just about the Bushbird, but Perija Parakeet and more importantly the threats to their habitat and actions we, ProAves are and have undertaken with ABC. The conservation message is critical.

    As regards Diego Calderon-Franco comments – they are sadly misleading. If you refer to both the ProAves article (http://www.proaves.org/breve.php?id_breve=88) and ABC press release (widely circulated)… they ALL credit the rediscovery of the Bushbird in Colombia to Ocsar Laverde from Universidad Nacional. That is clear and explicit and shows ProAves respect and gratitude to Oscar. What Diego ignores is that the media (such as National Geographic) receive detailed press releases and edit them as they wish and publish them without consultation.

    We encourage people to see the full article and celebrate the images of two wonderful and greatly endangered birds that need all of our support. Thank you.

  2. #2 DTorres
    July 14, 2007

    Aparently Proaves don’t claim the re-discovery but that what it say in the article like Nacional Geographic. The fact is that Proaves don’t rediscover the bird or not even photograph the first time. Still it is diseminates in all the internet like they make a big finding. Noones trying to criticise Proaves work, but why not then make a corrigendum when you know you make an error? Give to the light of the public what happen! (No trying to make a problem, just common sense, gracias.

  3. #3 "GrrlScientist"
    July 14, 2007

    DTorres: i am in contact with Chris Sharpe and there will be an official press release coming out on monday, so stay tuned for more details about this bird.