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Since they were discovered in Ta'u, Manu'a ninety years ago in 1923, crakes have only been sighted a handful of times. So when Rudy Badia captured the bird in a rare photograph last month at the Laufuti Stream in Ta'u, biologists at the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) couldn't have been more thrilled. (See front page photo).


Earlier this year in April, DMWR contracted Badia, a biologist, to conduct intensive surveys throughout Ta'u island for the elusive Spotless Crake (Porzana tabuensis), one of American Samoa’s rarest birds.


The bird — known only to Ta'u — is so rare that it does not have a Samoan name.


The crake is one of the least known of American Samoa’s native birds and is currently a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. It looks similar to the ve’a (Banded Rail) and manuali’i (Purple Swamphen), but it is much smaller and more secretive.


According to information from DMWR's chief wildlife biologist Dr. Nico Suzanne Dauphine, the Spotless Crake was believed to be extinct locally after biologists who surveyed Ta'u in 1975-1976 were unable to locate the bird.


It was rediscovered in 1985-1986 but wasn't seen again until 2001.


No subsequent sightings were made until 2011, when a group of DMWR researchers caught, photographed, and released a crake that had entered a cage trap set as part of a rat survey of Mount Lata — the highest point in American Samoa — in the National Park.


Dauphine reported that between May and August 2013, with generous assistance from the staff of the National Park of American Samoa, Badia spent 18 weeks hiking and camping on Ta’u in search of the mysterious bird. While no signs of the bird were found in most of the areas searched, Badia did discover new evidence of crakes in the National Park, specifically on Mount Lata and in the Laufuti Stream area (see front page photo).


In an email to Samoa News earlier this week, Dauphine said that after months of searching, frequently in remote areas and in torrential rain, Badia was finally rewarded with a rare sighting of the elusive bird near Laufuti Stream on August 24."He also was able to capture the first-ever photograph of a free, live Spotless Crake in American Samoa," Dauphine wrote.


Badia has completed his surveys and has since returned to Tutuila.


He will present a seminar about his research entitled: "Searching for One of American Samoa’s Rarest Birds in Manu'a" tomorrow, August 26, at 2 p.m. in the DMWR Conference Room at the Fagatogo Market Square. During the seminar, Badia will be presenting preliminary results and observations of his work on Ta’u.


Members of the general public and the media are invited. More information can be obtained by contacting Dr. Dauphine directly at 633-4456.