Team of birdwatchers discovers new species of elusive wren babblers in Arunachal Pradesh
The sighting was a chance one as team members along with two guides from Arunachal Pradesh had reached the area in search of the rare and elusive grey bellied wren babblers, which are found mostly in Myanmar and in smaller numbers in China and Thailand.
Birdwatchers have discovered a new species of the elusive wren babblers in remote northeastern Arunachal Pradesh which has been named by them as Lisu wren babbler. The team, comprising of birdwatchers from Bengaluru, Chennai, and Thiruvananthapuram had sighted the new species in March this year at Mugaphi peak in Changlang district.
The sighting was a chance one as team members along with two guides from Arunachal Pradesh had reached the area in search of the rare and elusive grey bellied wren babblers, which are found mostly in Myanmar and in smaller numbers in China and Thailand. Their finding was published by Indian BIRDS, a peer-reviewed journal of south Asian ornithology.
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There has been only one report of the sighting of the wren babbler in India way back in 1988 in the same mountain. Two photos had then collected and one of them is now in Smithsonian Museum in the United States after being identified by ornithologist Pamela Rasmussen. She had included the species in her book published in 2005. Speaking of the new species of wren babblers, a member of the birding team Praveen J said “The birds we sighted had a sweet song that was similar to the songs of the Naga wren babbler and quite unlike the trilling song of the grey-bellied wren babbler.” The team, he said, managed to take some photographs and videos of the birds and and recorded their songs, he said.
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On their return the team members tried to match their photos with those kept in other museums, including Smithsonian Museum and other sites. They also tried to match their sounds with existing recordings of grey-bellied wren Babbler. “The name indicates the ground colour of the belly of the grey-bellied wren babbler. However, all the photos we got of the birds we sighted at Mugaphi had a whitish belly,” said Dipu Karuthedathu, another member of the expedition.
When all the information was put together, the team realised that it had probably documented a likely new species, or at least a new subspecies. The plumage in conjunction with the songs of the birds they found do not match with any known species, the two men said. The team had to first reach Vijoynagar, a village of the Lisu community that lies about 82 km from Miao, in Changlang district after an arduous journey driving through treacherous mountain roads and the Namdapha national park.
From Vijoynagar it is a two-day climb in the mountains to reach the altitudes where the grey-bellied wren babblers were likely to be sighted. Establishing and naming a species or subspecies will require genetic material from the new species of wren babbler to be compared with known species. The team has already named it after the Lisu community. “I believe the Lisu wren babbler may be present at more sites in the mountain range. We need to explore and maybe find more accessible populations closer to Namdapha,” said Yolisa Yobin, who has been organising birding expeditions in Namdapha for the past five years.
The birding team hoped that the discovery of the new species of birds will create interest among the locals at Vijoynagar and neighbouring areas to conserve this mountain habitat.