Lost and Found

Going in search of unfamiliar birds can be thrilling, but so can discovering the ones there all along.
Doka Nason sits beaming, surrounded by green foliage, with a trail camera displaying a photo of a rust- and black-colored bird.
The joyful moment when Doka Nason sees Auwo, captured on a camera he deployed only days earlier. Video still: Jordan Boersma

When we first watched the video of biologist Doka Nason seeing a camera-trap image of a bird—the bird he and a team had just spent a month crisscrossing Papua New Guinea’s steep terrain and dense tropical forests to confirm still existed—we were enthralled. His delight was so palpable, so utterly spontaneous and emphatic, that our hearts soared right along with his.

We loved that feeling and wanted to share it. So with the team’s permission, we did some strategic editing (there were euphoric expletives) and published the video when we broke the news of their find online. And now our latest issue offers an in-depth account of the team’s expedition.

The thrill of going on a quest to experience something unfamiliar is a feeling that resonates with many birders. It’s why we so often travel to far-flung places in pursuit of new-to-us species. Although the goals (not to mention lodging) featured in our feature story on travel in the time of climate crisis are very different, that narrative also recognizes the value of expanding one’s horizons. Both stories address an ethical dilemma for adventure seekers: grappling with how such travel can benefit, rather than harm, local communities—particularly in the face of mounting economic and environmental pressures.

As he ponders this question in his firsthand report from Papua New Guinea, Jason Gregg asks another: “What does it mean for a species to be lost?” The Black-naped Pheasant Pigeon, or Auwo, had been missing from the scientific record. But we can look elsewhere in the magazine for another answer. As we learn in our feature about the American Kestrel’s mysterious decline, a bird can be the most abundant falcon in North America, nesting on the edge of housing developments, and still have disappeared from the skies by the millions—in effect, becoming absent to countless birders, hawk watchers, and nest-box monitors. The scientists in that story are on a quest to piece together the puzzle of the kestrel’s decline in hopes of slowing the concerning trend.

In this issue we also see that species do not need to be lost to be found. Especially during the pandemic, multitudes of people discovered the birdlife that had been in plain view all along, giving a boost to the birdseed industry and spurring entrepreneurs. In the process, they found for themselves the elation that comes from sharing a totally ordinary moment in the otherwise extraordinary life of a bird.

This piece originally ran in the Spring 2023 issue. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.