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LSU researcher discovers new bird during expedition to Peru


He saw it. He heard it. But he needed proof.

For almost four years, LSU research associate Daniel Lane was haunted by the memory of an unusual, yellowish bird. He and an associate caught a glimpse of it while bird watching in Peru. They even recorded some of its song. Right away, they knew it was something new. Something different.

Now, thanks to Lane, a specimen of that bird – previously unknown to science – rests in a Lima museum and it will soon bear a name of Lane’s choosing. As the discoverer of what could be a new species or, perhaps, a new genus, Lane will also be the first to author a scientific description of the bird.

The process will take some time, but, for someone who says his interest in birds began when he was "three or four," it’s all a labor of love.

Lane, a New Jersey native who earned his master’s from LSU in 1999, says his quest for the mystery bird dates back to 2000. As a part-time international bird-watching tour guide for WINGS Tours, Lane was one of the leaders of a group near the Manu National Park in Peru. He and fellow guide Gary Rosenberg, also an LSU graduate, spotted the bird along one of the park’s major roads. Unfortunately, almost as soon as it was there, it was gone and no one else in the group had seen it.

The bird remained in Lane’s mind as he returned to lead tours in the area for the next few years, but it didn’t reappear.

"After three years, I was starting to doubt my sanity," said Lane.

Then, last year, the pair finally saw it again, and this time, the rest of the group saw it as well. They were also able to make a lengthy recording of its song, a critical part of ornithological study. Nevertheless, they were unable to obtain a specimen and, therefore, remained reticent about announcing their find.

Determined to obtain the proof he needed of his find, Lane returned to the region last November and played the recording of the bird’s song. His attempt to attract his quarry failed and he once again went home empty-handed. Then, last month, Lane and some cohorts were in Peru conducting other field work when they made spur-of-the-moment plans to give it one more try.

After obtaining permission from the proper authorities, Lane and his group set off on their mission. On the morning of June 9, the playing of the taped song worked and the bird appeared, coming to rest in some nearby bamboo, just off the road. After observing and playing "cat and mouse" with the bird for almost an hour, Lane finally got his specimen.

Lane explained that the bird is likely a tanager, a type of songbird found mostly in tropical regions of the Americas. He describes it as having a short, bushy crest and olive back, wings and tail that contrast with a burnt orange crown. For now, the specimen is in the keeping of the National Museum in Lima where it will become the "type," the specimen on which the species’ description is based and against which all others will be compared. Eventually, it will be sent to Lane so that he can write the scientific description and record his observations and its DNA will be tested to determine its specific relationship to other birds.

However long it takes, Lane is understanding of the pace of science. He’s been in a similar situation before. In 1996, while on another expedition in Peru, he discovered the Scarlet-banded Barbet, a small, colorful toucan-like bird. And besides, he says, it feels good to know that he was sane after all.

Lane is a research associate for the LSU Museum of Natural Science and can be reached at 225-578-2855.

Rob Anderson | EurekAlert!
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