Silvery Wood Pigeon rediscovered

While making a short trip to Simeulue to check out the endemic taxa, I always had it in the back of my mind that really, I would actually be quite disappointed if I didn’t find a Silvery Wood Pigeon – after all, there are two specimens from the island, and judging by Google Earth there was still a lot of forest in both the areas where the birds were collected.

Having chosen a suitable looking spot on Google Earth – a gravel extraction site in Teluk Dalam District – Sumaraja and I headed there on our first morning, Christmas Day. As we arrived we had a flock of Red-breasted Parakeets flash by; our first endemic subspecies. We then decided to check out nearby trails and upon doing so we promptly came across a couple of pigeons perched out. Expecting Green Imperial Pigeons we were half right, as the left hand bird was side-on and a nice GIMP. However, the other bird, facing us, perhaps 100m away, appeared ‘different’. I was sure I could see white on the upperwing, but was a bit too far away for the bins, so I took some photos and zoomed in on the LCD display – WOW! a surreal feeling confirming that a Silvery Wood Pigeon – a species that is only really known from museum drawers, tales of old, and a probable photograph from 2008 in Mentawai Island group – was sat in front of us. 100 photos later the bird turned round, and showed itself side-on, confirming everything. For the next hour the bird kept perching lower and lower, flying around the quarry, until eventually perching just 8m away.

[nggtags gallery=silvery-wood-pigeon]

Returning to the site on 27th December to explore the area more, we found presumably the same bird perched on open snags once again. We then continued for the rest of the morning attempting to get deeper into the forest. On returning we had another pair fly by and perched in trees next to some workers, where they just sat for the next 20 minutes.

So what does this all mean? Well, the good news is Silvery Wood Pigeon still survives. Simeulue is still densely forested, particularly in the northern half, and Green Imperials Pigeons and Ruddy Cuckoo Dove are both very common, suggesting hunting is not yet having a significant impact on the birds. The huge Oil Palm estates currently being considered for the island could be more of a problem, as could planned mining.

The birds jizz and behaviour was reminiscent of Andaman Wood Pigeon, a low-density, rarely encountered endemic of the Andaman Islands to the north, so perhaps Silvery Wood Pigeon wouldn’t be expected to be sighted as often as other pigeons. Hopefully over time as more birders visited the west Sumatran Islands then Silvery Wood Pigeon will be found to be a low-density species persistsing throughout must of its historical range. For now conservation of the species should really be initiated on Simeulue sooner rather than later in case this really is the last home of this near-mythical species.

More photos of the species and others from Simeulue can be found on the Birdtour Asia Facebook page (!/pages/Birdtour-Asia/112873442081547).

James Eaton

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