M. Suranto

In the birdwatching equivalent of discovering the website of the city of Troy, Asia’s longest-missing bird was found in Indonesia.

For 170 years, the only known specimen of the black-browed babbler, found in Borneo, (thereby making it “Borneo’s black-browed babbler,”) was gathering dust in a Netherlands natural history museum.

Curious of the identity of a very much alive, small grey-brown bird flitting between the trees of South Kalimantan Province, Muhammad Suranto and Muhammad Rizky Fauzan—birdwatchers from a club named BW Galetus— managed to hold and photograph the avian for a closer look.

Since the bird soared through the air, it had the appearance of a Horsfield’s babbler, but the tentative identification never sat right with the pair: a hunch that birders among readers will understand all too well.

Sending the images of this bird to another member of their bird club finished with a word of the unusual bird getting around, and a few with nose to the floor, thanking God for the good fortune.

They went to another BW Galetus member, then on to a professional ornithologist, Dr. Ding Li Yong, a conservationist at BirdLife International in Singapore.

“It took me a while to come to grips with this thing,” Dr. Yong told the New York Times. Once he realized the photos were valid, he said, “I had a tear in my eye. ”

“This is a very big deal for Indonesian ornithology—as shocking as rediscovering the passenger pigeon or Carolina parakeet. But this is closer to home, a bird from the part of the world I reside in. ”

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Everyone involved with the discovery, including BW Galetus, expects that this will increase local interest in wildlife and nature, as well as bring in tourist revenue to the area, especially in the kind of birdwatchers.

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For Suranto and Fauzan, the discovery yielded them new jobs—as professional birding guides. Java-based birding group Birdpacker expects to start an expedition to examine the bird once COVID-19 constraints ease, as basically everything about this distinctive bird is still worth exploring.

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