Karimui Owlet-nightjar and its rediscovery

On 16th August 1964 a specimen of an owlet-nightjar was brought to Jared Diamond by a native  who had caught it by hand whilst it was sleeping during the day. He noted that it was considerably bigger with much darker and blacker upperparts, despite its distinctness it was placed under bennettii at the time and was known as Aegotheles bennettii terborgi, a subspecies of Barred Owlet-nightjar.

In the more recent on line version of the Handbook of the  Birds of the World  it is placed with Allied Owlet-nightjar, the only other known population of Allied occurs some 1400 kms to the west and the authors recognise the fact that they may well represent two species and knowing its vocalisations would go some way to correctly speciate it.

Having known all these facts for some time  I was very keen to visit Karimui but  was well aware that to get there and to explore the old volcano would require some logistical problems as well, but it did seem like an awfully good challenge. I had been making some enquiries with my most useful of contacts for the mountains of Papua New Guinea, Daniel Wakra for at least two years before my plans were finalised and along with two of my mad birding buddies – Markus Lagerqvist and Roger McNeill we set of along with Daniel to Karimui on 18th July, almost 52 years after the original discovery. Of course being PNG our plans were almost scuppered by Air Niugini who decided to cancel our flights to Goroka despite issuing us with boarding passes and it soon became clear that our plans would need changing if we were to board our charter flight on the morning of 18th, we decided to take a chance and fly to Lae and overland from there. Soon enough we were in Goroka with the help from a Guard Dog Security armoured car , a bit later than planned but in time for our morning departure to Karimui.

On 19th July as we were making our way up the ridge of the old volcano at about 1530m one of the local lads who was with us decided to suddenly take a few steps off the trail to the left and pulled at some rattan and amazingly an owlet-nightjar flew out and landed directly above Markus and myself, it was a completely up backside view , I quickly rattled off a couple of photos and even quicker I ran to the front of the bird and obtained a wonderful views of it staring down at me, it soon flew off but was quickly relocated and there we watched it for over an hour in several different positions, it even went into a hole for a brief moment.

It was just as Jared Diamond described like a large dark backed Barred Owlet-nightjar, the mantle feathers were dark grey with pale edges, the wing feathers were almost all dark with just some faint barring on the outer webs of the feathers. The breast was quite heavily barred with a nice arrangement of chevron shaped markings, and the lower breast and undertail was white. It was sound recorded the following night but only made one series of calls and it was not seen again.