Spotted! Rare bird not seen since 1882 captured by remote control camera

Search for lost birds
(Image credit: Doka Nason/American Bird Conservancy)

A bird that hasn’t been spotted for more than 140 years has been photographed using a remote control camera on Fergusson Island – the largest island of the D’entreCastaux archipelago off the east coast of Papua New Guinea. 

Very little is known about the black-naped pheasant pigeon which is known locally as Auwo. It was last photographed in 1882 and despite an expedition in 2019 to rediscover it, efforts were unsuccessful. Search for Lost Birds is a worldwide project to photograph birds that haven't been seen in at least a decade, so sighting the black-naped pheasant pigeon is incredibly exciting for bird lovers, locals and conservationists.

When the black-naped pheasant pigeon was last spotted, cameras, as we know them today, hadn’t even been invented. The French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce had developed a way to process negatives but the results weren’t permanent. Fast forward 140 years and not only can we capture permanent mages we can use remote control digital cameras to capture photos and videos which are vital for documenting wildlife without disturbing it. 

Today, of course, we can use the best trail cameras to find species of animals remotely as they can be left on location for days or even months.

The Search for Lost Birds project is a collaboration between Re:Wild, a conservation charity set up by Leonardo DiCaprio, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and BirdLife International. Together, the three organizations will travel to remote parts of the world in hope of photographing rare birds from the 10 most wanted lost birds list. 

Researchers were on Fergusson Island for a month before capturing this rare bird.  Having almost given up hope, just two days before the team was supposed to leave, the black-naped pigeon pheasant strolled into view of a camera trap located 1000 meters above sea level on Mt. Kilkerran.

The expedition team consisted of conservationists, scientists and bird enthusiasts living in the Porotona village with a particular interest in the black-naped pheasant-pigeon. Co-leading the team was John C. Mittermeier, the director of the lost bird program at American Bird Conservancy who described spotting the bird as “the kind of moment you dream about your entire life as a conservationist and birdwatcher”.

Although the black-naped pigeon isn't on the 10 most wanted lost bird list, this is still a significant achievement for the team who remain optimistic that the Search for Lost Birds program will lead to exciting rediscoveries and help the team action conservation plans.

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.