fredag den 17. juni 2011

The blue albatross

A couple of years ago a got a call from a friend of mine, with a problem. He is very much interested in birds, especially sea-birds, but unfortunately he is also the kind of person who can get seasick just watching The Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel. So he asked me if I knew of any place in the world where it was possible to do a decent spot of sea-bird watching from land. I told him in no uncertain terms to buy a ticket to New Zealand, and told him about various good spots.

That's nice, I hear you cry, but where does the cryptozoological bits come in???

He took of in november 2008, and soon I was experiencing a deluge of postcards, mails and phone calls from him, ranting and raving about petrels, shearwaters and albatrosses. All very nice, but nothing out of the ordinary, apart from one very interesting sighting. On December 6th 2008 he was birdwatching close to Kaikoura. The weather was filthy, rainy and windy, but a lot of the good stuff was coming in close to shore, among them several albatrosses - two phantastic royals and a wandering, and several smaller individuals of other species - and one of those was pale blue. Now he knew, and I knew, that we have several grey albatross species, and these could maybe look blue under certain circumstances. Except for the fact, that he saw the bird with several others, among those a couple of grey birds, and he insists, that this rather special looking thing was blue.

A blue albatros?? A marking experiment perhaps? No, my friend said, it was uniformly pale blue all over.

A genetic abberation? Perhaps - or perhaps even a new species.

I have no idea - my friend did not have a camera, so no pictures. But since then I have collected two other sigtings of blue albatrosses in New Zealand waters, one from the outer end of Milford Sound in 2007, and another one from the Cook Strait in 2010. It could be three different birds - it might even be the same one. I don't know - but please keep an eye out for a blue albatross, and if you get af picture - send me a copy!

torsdag den 9. juni 2011

Trial and tribulations of a cryptozoology

Sometimes people ask me:What exactly is it that you do? Well - just to give you an idea. On the cryptozoological front, I am currently analyzing various hairsamples from Australia - possibly from a yowie, the australian version of Bigfoot. I have a rather large sample of hairs from an orang pendek - taken somewhere in Sumatra. There are a few antler bits making their way through DNA analysis (who knows, there might be a new species in there somewhere). A strange carcass washed up on a danish beach a couple of weeks ago - that has to be solved as well. There are 7 tissue samples waiting in line for DNA - analysis. A couple of strange bird sightings have to be checked, and there are sightings of free-living siberian chipmunks here and there too. No problem in Siberia, but a bit strange in Denmark.
Oh yes, and there's a lady who wants me to rid her house of a poltergeist. Not exactly cryptozoology, but all in a days work.

The bird that shouldn't be

I have been a birdwatcher for more than 35 years, and like any other similarly inclined, I dream of seeing something rare, perhaps a species never before seen on my local patch, perhaps even a new species for my country (Denmark, in case you wondered) – I actually did once, but the Danish rarities committee wouldn’t accept it – or maybe even (dare I say it?), a species new to science, or one considered extinct. Although I am a qualified zoologist, I can’t claim any new species to my name, but when it comes to rediscovering, well… read on.
I have a lot of books in my apartment, most of which I am very fond of, and would hate to loose, but I suppose I could live without should the need arise. But by far the most precious ones are the lot sitting on the two top shelves of the bookshelf just to the left of my desk. These are all my old notebooks, chronicling my sightings of birds, insects, snakes, plants and sundry other organisms since I was about 14 years old. In case of fire they would be the first I would save after wife and kids.
Every now and then I take down one of them, flip through it and reminisce. I usually pick one at random, but every now and then I hit on number 17, the one that chronicles my first trip to New Zealand in 1991. I have been back several times since then, but this book contains the details of a sighting, that have bothered me for far too many years by now.
It was a beautiful spring day in New Zealand, and I was visiting Pureora Forest, a national park a bit south of Auckland. I had been in New Zealand a couple of weeks at the time, and had managed to see a fair selection of New Zealand birds. I had met a ranger who directed me to a very big observation tower in the forest, and told me I would have a good chance of seeing some good stuff, but just how good he probably hadn’t imagined. The observation tower was quite a magnificent structure and tall enough for people to be able to see over the top of most of the trees.
There wasn’t a soul about, as it was on a weekday, and not in the holiday season, so my girlfriend and I had it all to our selves. I was quite eager to see what was going on, so I sort of sprinted up the stairs onto the observation platform. Just as I hot up there, and stepped up to the edge to take a look, a bird took of from a tree about 20 meters from the tower. It flew straight off, with its back to me, continued for about 100 meter, and dived back into the trees. I never was able to find it again, and did not think much about it at the time, but I did make a drawing of it in my notebook. It was about the size of a European jackdaw, with what to me looked like slightly longer and narrower wings, and a longer tail. The colour was deep black with a greenish metallic shine, except for a broad white band across the tip of the tail-feathers. I couldn’t see the head of the bird, but it did call a single time. It sounded like the last part of the song of the European common rosefinch, something along the lines of “hyuuuuu”. And that was it – after making my little drawing, with the idea of trying to identify the animal at some later date – I forgot all about it. That is until I finally had time to sit down with an identification guide, which unfortunately was 7 weeks later back home in Denmark.
On the surface this sounds like any other poor sighting of a bird, and I would gladly put it to rest except for the fact that the only bird species in New Zealand with a tail like that supposedly became extinct sometime in the 1920’s. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a big round of applause for: The Huia. A very strange bird – mainly because the male and female had different shaped beaks.
So, did I see a living huia that fateful day so many years ago? I’d like to think so, and I still regret the fact, that I did not try to identify the thing at once – then perhaps some other birdwatcher could have gone in and taken a closer look.