This is a poor image. It was taken on a breezy day with WC’s Olympus IS-10 35mm SLR. So there’s motion blur. The slide was scanned by WC, not a professional service, and probably suffered as a result. And it’s a heavy crop from the 135mm IS-10. WC inflicts this shabby image on you because this photo is unique among the tens of thousands of bird photos WC has taken.
This is a photo of San Cristóbal Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus dubius), taken in 2002 on San Cristóbal Island, in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
This species is extinct. In 2016, the species was determined to be gone. It became official this year. As bad as this photo is, it’s the only photo WC will ever have of this handsome bird, because it has been driven to extinction, vanished from the planet, in WC’s lifetime.
So far as WC knows, there’s no official determination of what wiped this lovely flycatcher. But there are two primary suspects: invasive rats, brought to San Cristóbal Island on early ships, which eat the eggs and nestlings. And there’s an invasive parasitic fly, Philornis downsi. P. downsi infest nests and attacks chicks as soon as they hatch. Once infected, the chicks didn’t have a chance at survival.
It’s the first documented extinction of an endemic species on the Galapagos Islands. By way of contrast, the Hawaiian Islands have lost all but 17 of its original 57 endemic honeycreepers. Island ecologies are notoriously easy to disrupt. But the same threats that likely took down the San Cristóbal Vermilion Flycatcher are still present, and have decimated the populations of other endemic bird species in the Galapagos Islands as well. Sadly, almost inevitably, it won’t be the last bird species WC has photographed that will be lost to extinction.
We can and should fight the wave of human-caused extinctions. It’s the reason WC wears this t-shiirt.
WC didn’t get a photo of a Mountain Caribou before it was extirpated in Idaho.
But we’re going to have to fight harder and do so quickly. As the Trump Administration tries to gut the Endangered Species Act, Because it might hurt corporate profits.
If you don’t find a species like this Vermillion Flycatcher to be worth the trouble, then consider this: each species you kill off upsets the ecosystem it was in. You are playing Jenga™ with human survival.
Who’s next? At some point, Humankind is next.