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New species of rail

A new species of rail was discovered on the remote island of Calayan, 70 km north of Luzon, Philippines. It was named Calayan Rail Gallirallus calayanensis after the island on which it was found, which is the largest island in the Babuyan island group lying between Batanes and Luzon (Allen, D, Española, C P, Oliveros, C H, Broad, G & Gonzales, J C T 2004. A new species of Gallirallus from Calayan island, Philippines. Forktail 20: 1-7). Calayan is still largely covered by rainforest and has c 8500 residents; it was last visited by ornithologists 100 years ago, in 1903-04. The discovery was made by a team of nine volunteer wildlife researchers from Britain and the Philippines, led by Genevieve Broad and Carl Oliveros, conducting a survey of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians on the islands from April to June 2004. On 11 May, Carmela Española, a Filipino wildlife biologist, found a group of the dark brown rails with conspicuous orange-red bill and legs foraging in the undergrowth near a stream in the rainforest, at an altitude of c 300 m. Her notes and photographs, and recordings of the birds' loud, harsh, rasping calls, later helped determine that the species was new to science. Locals, however, know it by the name 'piding' and apparently birds are sometimes even caught for food. Although its orange-red bill and legs look similar to those of Okinawa Rail G okinawae from Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands in southern Japan, c 1000 km north of Calayan, Calayan Rail lacks the white stripe below the eye and black and white barring on the underparts. During their stay on the island, the expedition team saw adult and juvenile birds on several occasions. Within a 2-km range of the rainforest camp, an estimated 100-200 pairs were recorded; one bird was collected and deposited as holotype at the National Museum of the Philippines, Manila. Further research will be conducted to determine the habitat requirements, abundance and distribution of the rail, working closely with local residents to minimize threats and to encourage long-term initiatives to protect the forest. Although apparently not under immediate threat, the limited distribution of the new species makes it vulnerable to habitat loss and predators introduced to the island such as cats and rats. The species will probably be classified as 'vulnerable' on the IUCN Red List. Rails and other similar species are among the bird families with the highest record of recently extinct or endangered birds. Of the 20 living species of flightless rail, 18 are considered threatened, and the majority of rail species that have become extinct since 1600 were flightless. Calayan Rail also appears to be nearly or completely flightless and birds were seen skulking in undergrowth or out on open trails, sometimes alone, sometimes in family groups. Rails are obviously a very vulnerable group but it is also a group that still produces new species to science every few years: Okinawa Rail in 1981, Talaud Rail Gymnocrex talaudensis and Talaud Bush-hen Amaurornis magnirostris from Talaud island, Indonesia, both in 1998 and now Calayan Rail in 2004.