Lost and found in Nepal

by ZSL on

A team from ZSL, the Bird Education Society and the Nepalese Ornithological Union headed for a couple of days holiday birdwatching in Chitwan, central Nepal, and received a very welcome surprise when they spotted a bird that has not been seen in Nepal for 178 years!

On 21 May 2016 the team hiked up the hills, where they began exploring a beautiful forest, full of ferns, bamboo, rhododendron and orchids.

Plenty of exciting birds were seen on the trip including some really rare, and particularly pretty ones, like the Himalayan cutia and silver-eared mesia pictured below. But an even more exciting discovery was just around the corner…

Silver-eared Mesia, Nepal
Silver-eared Mesia, Nepal

Himalayan Cutia, Nepal
Himalayan Cutia

At around lunchtime, a strange laughing bird call was heard. Some of the group including Dr Hem Sagar Baral, ZSL Nepal’s Country Manager, recorded the sound on their phones whilst the others went off to have some lunch. On catching a glimpse of the bird, Hem  immediately thought of the red-faced liocichla, though it had only ever been seen once in Nepal, nearly 200 years ago!

The bird had a habit of skipping around a lot so no-one could get a clear view, and everyone was seeing different things! The only book the group had with them didn’t show a picture of the red-faced liocichla, as no-one had seen one in Nepal for so long. Sadly, with rain on the way they had to head indoors. Back at the lodge, they checked many books, and the signs all pointed to it being the rediscovery of the species.

Red-faced Liocichla, Nepal
The elusive red-faced liocichla

As a final piece of proof, the group needed to match the strange laughing song to the red-faced liocichla’s known call. As there was no internet connection, our team at the ZSL Nepal office downloaded the call from the internet, and played it to the group over the phone! The song matched the recording, and the team were now convinced that they had rediscovered the species, meaning it was not extinct in Nepal after all.  Needless to say there was a lot of handshaking, goat meat and rakshi (a traditional Nepalese alcoholic drink made from millet) that night to celebrate!

The team returned to the same spot the next day and found the bird again, getting a much closer look this time, and even managing to get some clear photos to prove what they had seen!

Dr Hem Sagar Barl, ZSL Nepal Country Manager stands in the field with binoculars
Dr Hem Sagar Barl, ZSL Nepal Country Manager

Hem had this to say about the team’s exciting discovery: "The red-faced liocichla’s re-discovery brings a lot of happiness and cheer to our lives. For over 178 years we believed that the bird was extinct. But this was not true; therefore the re-discovery also brings hope. The news has boosted energy and enthusiasm amongst people who go out enjoying and exploring nature.”

The red-faced liocichla was first described to science by John Edward Gray in the mid-1900s, and since then there had been no further records of this bird from Nepal until now, and it had long been presumed extinct.

Congratulations to all involved!

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