Beck?s is Back
Another Petrel Assumed Extinct ReappearsBeck’s Petrel Pseudobulweria becki, unrecorded since 1929, has apparently been seen and photographed in the Coral Sea, east of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The observer, birding tour guide Richard Baxter, was able to compare it directly with Tahiti Petrel Pseudobulweria rostrata, the bird with which it is most likely to be confused (and with which it may be conspecific). Despite the 77-year gap in the record, BirdLife had categorised Beck’s Petrel as Critically Endangered rather than Extinct.
"It probably remains extant, because there have been a number of recent records of up to 250 individuals of the very similar Tahiti Petrel in the Bismarck Archipelago and Solomon Islands which may refer to this species," states BirdLife’s species account. "Furthermore, petrels that are nocturnal at the nesting grounds are notoriously difficult to detect, and there are numerous possible breeding sites on isolated atolls and islands that require surveying." However, it adds: "Any remaining population may be tiny."Baxter had been crossing the Coral Sea for two days, en route from Noumea to Australia. "Tahiti Petrels were abundant the entire time we were in suitably deep water and I had seen several hundred," he reported. "The Beck’s was the size of a Cookilaria petrel [a subgenus of small Pterodromas], significantly smaller than a Tahiti Petrel, and comparable to both Black-winged Pterodroma nigripennis and Gould’s Petrel Pterodroma leucoptera, which were also seen that morning. hen looking at the Beck’s it was very obviously not a Tahiti Petrel on size alone."
description continues: ”When looking at the Beck’s it was very obviously not a Tahiti Petrel on size alone. I also think the wings are shorter and broader than Tahiti and it does not have the same large billed appearance. The underwings also appear lighter. Photos of underwing plumage taken of Tahiti the same morning shows very dark at that time of year. The chin/throat is pale and the specimen also has a pale chin/throat! No one I know has ever seen a Tahiti with a pale throat!''Rollo Beck, an ornithologist and collector of museum specimens, took part in the Whitney expedition to Oceania in the 1920s. The petrel which bears his name is known only from two specimens: a female taken at sea east of New Ireland and north of Buka, Papua New Guinea, on 6 January 1928; and a male taken north-east of Rendova, Solomon Islands, on 18 May 1929.
BirdLife’s proposed conservation measures for the species include scrutinising and photographing all P. rostrata-type petrels seen within the region; and surveying far-flung atolls and reefs north of New Ireland and the Solomons, and high-altitude forest on Bougainville, where Beck’s Petrel may be breeding. Also recommended is biochemical analysis, to determine whether it is a species in its own right, or a subspecies of Tahiti Petrel.
"Conservationists are reluctant to designate species as Extinct if there is any reasonable possibility that they may still be extant, in order to avoid the 'Romeo error', where we might give up on a species prematurely." said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Global Species Programme Coordinator Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Global Species Programme Coordinator, is lead author of a forthcoming paper which explains the framework used to tag 15 Critically Endangered species Possibly Extinct. Beck's Petrel was not one of those 15 species, as the possible recent sightings in the Bismarck Archipelago and Solomon Islands weighed in its favour. However, another seabird, the Guadalupe Storm-petrel Oceanodroma macrodactyla was reclassified as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct).
"Guadalupe Storm-petrel has not been recorded since 1912 despite several searches, following a severe decline owing to predation by introduced cats and habitat degradation by introduced goats," Butchart explained. "Only the difficulty of detecting storm-petrels at their breeding colonies at night (when the birds are active), and the continued survival of other storm-petrels on the island, point to the possibility that some individuals survive, and hence that classification as Extinct would be premature." He says that listing a species as Extinct has significant conservation implications."Conservation funding is, justifiably, not targeted at species believed extinct. Therefore conservationists are reluctant to designate species as Extinct if there is any reasonable possibility that they may still be extant, in order to avoid the 'Romeo error', where we might give up on a species prematurely."
4th July 2014