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Intrepid students rediscover one of the world’s rarest species

PUBLISHED: 20:53 22 August 2018 | UPDATED: 08:20 23 August 2018

Matthew Gardner and David Pereira on the trail of the Bahama Nuthatch. PHOTO: Matthew Gardner

Matthew Gardner and David Pereira on the trail of the Bahama Nuthatch. PHOTO: Matthew Gardner

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A team of researchers, including two Norfolk postgraduate students, have rediscovered one of the rarest birds in the world.

The endangered Bahama Nuthatch. PHOTO: Matthew GardnerThe endangered Bahama Nuthatch. PHOTO: Matthew Gardner

Matthew Gardner and David Pereira, University of East Anglia (UEA) masters students, set out on a three-month expedition to find the Bahama Nuthatch and other endemic species on the island of Grand Bahama.

The species, which lives exclusively in a native pine forest, had been feared extinct following the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and had not been found in subsequent searches.

It is now feared that there could only be two left – placing the species on the verge of extinction.

Mr Gardner and Mr Pereira made their way through 700km of pine forest with a thick ‘poisonwood’ layer of vegetation in what is thought to be one of the most exhaustive searches of the island.

Matthew Gardner and David Pereira on the trail of the Bahama Nuthatch. PHOTO: Matthew GardnerMatthew Gardner and David Pereira on the trail of the Bahama Nuthatch. PHOTO: Matthew Gardner

They worked in partnership with Birdlife International and the Bahamas National Trust, which works to protect the island’s habitats and species.

Meanwhile a second team of Bahamian students also searched for the bird.

The Bahama Nuthatch has a long bill, a distinctive high-pitched squeaky call, and nests only in mature pine trees. There had been a sharp decline in its population crashing from an estimated 1,800 in 2004 to just 23 being seen in a survey in 2007.

Both teams made Nuthatch sightings in May, and the UEA team were lucky enough to capture the elusive bird on film.

The endangered Bahama Nuthatch. PHOTO: Matthew GardnerThe endangered Bahama Nuthatch. PHOTO: Matthew Gardner

Matthew Gardner, 23, said: “We had been scouring the forest for about six weeks, and had almost lost hope.

“Then, I suddenly heard its distinctive call and saw the unmistakable shape of a Nuthatch descending towards me. I shouted with joy, I was ecstatic!”

“During three months of intensive searching we made six Bahama Nuthatch sightings. Our search was extremely thorough but we never saw two birds together, so we had thought there might only be one left in existence.

““The other team have claimed to see two together so that is promising. However, these findings place the species on the verge of extinction and certainly amongst the world’s most critically endangered birds.

“It’s an entirely different world, a bit like Jurassic Park! It’s exciting to go to areas people haven’t been to in 20 years.”

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