Archiv der Kategorie: mysteriöse Vögel

Adanson’s – and Latreille’s Bee-eaters

Here I want to write a bit about two enigmatic birds that allegedly both were collected in Africa at the beginning of the 19th century; these are Adanson’s Bee-eater and Latreille’s Bee-eater.

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Adanson’s Bee-eater (Merops adansonii)

Depictions from: „François Le Vaillant: Histoire naturelle des promerops, et des guêpiers: faisant suite à celle des oiseaux de paradis par la même. A Paris, chez denné le jeune, Libraire, Rue Vivienne, N° 10. 1807“ 
(public domain)

Adanson’s Bee-eater is an enigmatic bird known only from a single specimen which is commonly thought to have been an artificially specimen, assembled from several bird parts, a practice that was rather common in these olden days when collectors were keen to have in their collections the most rare exhibition pieces.

The following French texts are all from François Le Vaillant, they describe this ’species‘ and give us some additional information about its wehereabouts. [1]

Ce guêpier à queue en flèche ayant été méconnu par Buffon qui l’a, donné comme une simple variété de climat de son guêpier marron et bleu, ou de l’Isle-de-France, espèce que nous avons décrite dans notre précédent n°, sous la dénomination de guêpier Latreille, nous avons dû encore lui donner un nom distinctif, et nous ne pouvions à cet égard mieux faire, je pense, que de choisir celui du célebre voyageur qui l’ayant rapporté du Sénégal, l’a le premier fait connoître en Europe. Il suffira, je pense, de comparer les figures exactes que nous avons publiées de ces deux oiseaux, pour être d’abord et du premier coup-d’œil convaincu de la méprise de Buffon à leur égard, et être persuadé enfin qu’ils forment deux espèces très distinctes, bien loin de n’être l’un qu’une variété de l’autre; on ne conçoit même pas, en voyant les figures qui représentent dans les planches enluminées de Buffon ces deux oiseaux, l’un sous le nom de guêpier de l’Isle-de-France, n° 252, et l’autre, n° 314, sous celui de guêpier à longue queue du Sénégal, comment il a été possible de commettre cette erreur, et encore moins qu’elle ait été perpétuée par tous les ornithologistes qui ont écrit sur les oiseaux depuis Buffon. On conçoit en effet d’autant moins cette méprise, que ces deux figures, d’ailleurs très mauvaises , different bien plus l’une de l’autre encore, que ne différent réellement ces deux oiseaux eux-mêmes entre eux, mais assez cependant pour être bien sûr qu’ils ne peuvent être confondus ensemble comme appartenant à une seule et même espèce.

translation:

This spiny-tailed bee-eater was ignored by Buffon who gave it as a simple climate variety of its brown and blue bee-eater, or Isle-de-France [bee-eater], a species that we described in our previous issue. Under the denomination of Latreille, we have had to give it a distinctive name, and we could not, in this respect, have done better, I suppose, than the guide of the traveler who brought it back from Senegal, the first to make it known in Europe. It will suffice, I think, to compare the exact figures which we have published of these two birds, to be first and for the first glance convinced of Buffon’s mistake with regard to them, and to be finally persuaded that they form two very distinct species, far from being one variety of the other; it is not even conceivable, seeing the figures which represent, in the bright plates of Buffon, these two birds, one under the name of the Isle-de-France bee-eater, No. 252, and the other, No. 314, under that of long-tailed bee-eater from Senegal, how it was possible to make this mistake, let alone that it has been perpetuated by all the ornithologists who have written about birds since Buffon. This misunderstanding is all the less so conceived, that these two figures, which are, moreover, very bad, differ much more from one another than the two birds themselves really differ from one another, but enough, however, to be sure that they can not be confused as belonging to one and the same species.

So, in short, these two birds were originally thought to be specifically identical, what they of course are not.

***

Le guêpier Adanson est d’un tiers au moins plus fort que le guêpier Latreille, ainsi qu’on peut le voir d’ailleurs, en comparant les portraits de grandeur naturelle que nous en avons donné: il a le front ceint d’un large bandeau bleu qui, se prolongeant au-dessus des yeux, couvre les joues, les côtés et tout le devant du cou, la poitrine, et enfin tout le dessous du corps, en y comprenant les couvertures siqjéricures et inférieures de la queue, et le croupion; mais ce bleu s’affoiblit toujours davantage à mesure qu’il approche du bas-ventre; le dessus de la tête, à partir du bleu du front, ainsi que le derrière du cou, le manteau, les scapulaires, toutes les couvertures des ailes, et même les pennes de ces dernières, ainsi que toutes celles de la queue, sont couleur marron; seulement la partie excédante des deux pennes prolongées de la queue, ainsi que le bout des premières pennes des ailes, sont noirâtres; et les dernières plumes des ailes, proche le dos, sont en partie du même bleu que celui du dessous du corps; le bec est noir; les pieds sont bruns rougeàtres. Nous ignorons la couleur des yeux, n’ayant vu que la dépouille de cet oiseau, que je n’ai rencontré dans aucune des parties de l’Afrique dans laquelle j’ai pénétré; je n’ai même vu de cette espèce que le seul individu qu’en avoit rapporté Adanson du Sénégal, où il l’avoit recueilli durant ses voyages.

translation:

The Adanson bee-eater is at least a third stronger than the Latreille bee-eater, as can be seen elsewhere, by comparing the life-size portraits we have given: it has at its forehead a blue band which, extending above the eyes, covers the cheeks, the sides and all the front of the neck, the chest, and finally the whole underbody, including the undertail coverts of the tail, and the rump; but this blue becomes more and more feeble as it approaches the lower abdomen; the top of the head, from the blue of the forehead, as well as the back of the neck, the mantle, the scapulars, all the coverts of the wings, and even the feathers of these, as well as those of the tail, are colored brown; only the exceeding part of the two elongated feathers of the tail, as well as the end of the first primaries of the wings, are blackish; and the last feathers of the wings, near the back, are partly of the same blue as that of the underbody; the bill is black; the feet are reddish brown. We are ignorant of the color of the eyes, having seen only the remains of this bird, which I have not met in any part of Africa into which I have penetrated; I have not even seen of this species the only individual who had been brought back from Adanson of Senegal, where he had collected it during his travels.

The author clearly states here that he did only see remains of this bird, but also that he did not see it at all, that is somewhat irritating to me.

But what was Adanson’s Bee-eater actually?

Well, the bird’s upper side looks almost exactly like that of the Southern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicoides Des Mus & Pucheran) or the Northern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicus Gmelin), the underside and forepart of the hea, however, come from another bird that, since the original specimen is now lost, will forever be unidentifiable.

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Latreille’s Bee-eater (Merops latreillei)

Depictions from: „François Le Vaillant: Histoire naturelle des promerops, et des guêpiers: faisant suite à celle des oiseaux de paradis par la même. A Paris, chez denné le jeune, Libraire, Rue Vivienne, N° 10. 1807“ 
(public domain)

Latreille’s Bee-eater, of which I won’t give any text because it isn’t really necessary, is said in its description to come from the Isle-de-France, known today as Mauritius but being far more widespread all over Africa. This ’species‘ might actually have been a Rufous-crowned Bee-eater (Merops americanus Statius Müller) or a Blue-throated Bee-eater (Merops viridis L.), both exclusively from Asia by the way. Again, the colors won’t fit completely, so again some parts of other birds might have been added to the depicted specimen. That was apparently a quite common practice in former times, the more rare and unique a specimen was the higher was its price …. 

My personal conclusion is that both these ’species‘ never have existed.

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References:

[1] François Le Vaillant: Histoire naturelle des promerops, et des guêpiers: faisant suite à celle des oiseaux de paradis par la même. A Paris, chez denné le jeune, Libraire, Rue Vivienne, N° 10. 1807

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edited: 05.11.2019

Miller’s Rail

Miller’s Rail is one of the more commonly known so-called mysterious birds.

This species is actually known exclusively from a single drawing made by Georg Forster sometimes between 1772 and 75 during the second voyage of James Cook [and a copy of it made by John Frederick Miller, who described the bird as a new species in 1784]. The annotation just states that it is a Rallus minutus, [a small rail], [called] Maho, [and coming from] Taheitee, [Tahiti]. 

The drawing is rather a crude one, not „fieldguide-suitable“ and shows a small bird, clearly identifiable as a crake, with rather dark, almost black feathers, sitting on its red legs.

The bird could very well just be a Spotless Crake (Zapornia tabuensis (Gmelin)), which today is still [patchily these days] distributed all over Polynesia, and of course was even more so 250 years ago!

***

There is yet another quite detailed description supposed to be of this species, made by John Latham in 1785 from the actual type, that is now lost.:

Otaheite R[ail].

LENGTH six inches. Bill three quarters of an inch, black: the head, neck, and all the under parts of the body, dark ash-colour: palest on the chin: the upper parts, and wing coverts, deep red brown: quills dusky, edged with white: edge of the wing, and the first quill feather, white: tail an inch and a half long, rounded in shape, and black: legs dusky yellow. Claws black.
Inhabits Otaheite, and the Friendly Isles. Sir Joseph Banks.
“ [2]

***

The same book contains the description of a variety of the Tabuan rail [now Spottless Crake (Zapornia tabuensis)] from the island of Tanna in the Solomon Islands chain which is often regarded to as being the description of the actual type specimen of Miller’s Rail, however, the description differs quite significantly from G. Forster’s depiction.:

This varies in having the plumage more inclined to brown: the vent white, transversely barred with black lines: legs red.
Inhabits the island of Tanna. Sir Joseph Banks.
” [1]

The island of Tanna, mentioned here as place of origin of this bird, was just one of several islands that were visited by Cook and his entourage in the middle of the 18th century, and the place names given by J. Latham are very often completely wrong, however, the descriptions on the other hand are rather complete and trustworthy.

It has to be taken into account that such old books most often lack any kind of register and that they mostly just use common names but lack scientific ones, searching inside them is a long-term venture.

***

It is now quite well known that in former times probably all of the islands in the tropical Pacific Ocean were inhabited by endemic rails, with several islands being known to have been inhabited by more than one species, and in many cases these were congeneric species, meaning species from one and the same genus – something that today is extremely rare, which, however, is a relict situation, left behind by human-induced extictions. [3]

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[1] John Latham: A General Synopsis of Birds 3(1): 235. Leigh & Sotheby, London 1785
[2] John Latham: A General Synopsis of Birds 3(1): 236. Leigh & Sotheby, London 1785
[3] David W. Steadman: Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds. University of Chicago Press 2006

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Depiction by Georg Forster, 1772-75
(public domain)

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edited: 23.10.2019

Micronesia – (not so) hypothetical species mentioned in accounts

Oh well, I did some research, and actually still do … here are the results I got so far.:

The first account dates from November 30th, 1895 and is given by a Dr. Georg Irmer, who was the Imperial German Government District Administrator in the Marshall Islands, which were a German overseas colony back then.

In his account he gives a bit information of some birds he saw when he inspected the Taongi Atoll (now Bokok) to collect guano samples for analysis and to reaffirm the German claim to the island, he mentiones seabirds and a large ground-dwelling bird which he named a ‘Trappe‘, the German term for a bustard. He gives no further description or whatsoever, but it is thought that he might not have seen any of the birds commonly known from the Marshall Islands because neither he nor his Marshallese crew were able to identify that bird.

Given his name for the bird, ‘Trappe‘, it is quite likely that he indeed saw a rail of the genus Gallirallus, very much like the one that once inhabited the Wake Atoll to the north of the Marshall Islands. [4]

***

The second account comes from the natives of the Marshall Islands and was forwarded by them to the German ‘anthropologists’ who explored these islands at the beginning of the 20th century.

It is a bird named as the anang-, annan-, or annang. This is said to have been a very small bird (the size of a butterfly (!)), and to have possessed a pleasant smell, it is said to have lived among the rocks around the shores of the northern Marshall Islands. The bird is known from oral traditions at least from the Jaluit-, and the Wotho Atoll, and it is always said to have been a ground-dwelling singing bird.

This may in fact be a description of a Turnstone (Arenaria interpres (L.)), a species that winters in Micronesia and that was very much appreciated, for example by the inhabitants of Nauru, who cought them not to eat them but to tame them and keep them as pets.

Or it is the description of a small crake or a reed-warbler, mixed with some phantastic components. [4]

***

The third account comes from Paul Hambruch, a German ethnologist that researched the life of the natives of the island of Nauru, his accounts are merely stories that were told him by a native named Auuiyeda, and which he translated into German.

Let’s read them.:

Es gibt auch Vögel auf Nauru, wie Fregattvogel, schwarze Seeschwalbe, weiße Seeschwalbe, Regenpfeifer, Brachvogel, Möve, Schnepfe, Uferläufer, Ralle, Lachmöve und Rohrdrossel.” [1]

translation:

There are also birds on Nauru, as frigate bird, black tern, white tern, plover, curlew, gull, snipe, sandpiper, rail, black-headed gull and reed thrush.

And he goes on.:

Die Vogelwelt ist nach Zahl und Art reicher. Der Fregattvogel (Tachypetes aquila), itsi, die schwarze Seeschwalbe (Anous), doror, die weiße Seeschwalbe (Gygis), dagiagia, werden als Haustiere gehalten; der erste galt früher als heiliger Vogel, mit den beiden anderen werden Kampfspiele veranstaltet. Am Strande trifft man den Steinwälzer (Strepsilas interpres), dagiduba, den Regenpfeifer (Numenius), den Uferläufer (Tringoides), ibibito, die Schnepfe, ikirer, den Brachvogel ikiuoi, den Strandreiter iuji, die Ralle, earero bauo und zwei Möwenarten (Sterna), igogora und ederakui.
Im Busche beobachtet man an den Blüten der Kokospalme den kleinen Honigsauger raigide, die Rohrdrossel (Calamoherpe syrinx), itirir und den Fliegenschnäpper (Rhipidura), temarubi.
” [1]

translation:

The bird world is richer by number and species, The frigate bird (Tachypetes aquila), itsi, the black tern (Anous), doror, the white tern (Gygis), dagiagia, are kept as pets; the first one was formerly considered a holy bird, with the two others are used for fighting games. At the beach one mets with the turnstone (Strepsilas interpres), dagiduba, the plover (Numenius), the sandpiper (Tringoides), ibibito, the snipe, ikirer, the curlew, ikiuoi, the beach rider [?] iuji, the rail, earero bauo and two gull species (Sterna), igogora and ederakui.
In the bush one observes on the flowers of the coconut palm the small honeyeater raigide, the reed thrush (Calamoherpe syrinx), itirir and the flycatcher (Rhipidura), temarubi.


The author is usually thought to have misinterpreted the things he was told by Auuiyeda, but I personally doubt that somehow, all the mentioned landbirds make in fact sence for georaphical reasons, so, why not?

Nauru is now almost deserted, the whole island looks like a building site – and it actually is one! There are some sad rests of the forest that once covered the whole island, and indeed some landbirds still manage to survive in small numbers, one of them, the Nauru Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus rehsei (Finsch)) is even an endemic species, there’s no reason not to accept the former presense of a fantail, a honeyeater, and especially a rail, no reason at all!

These birds, especially the rail, may already have been extirpated by the beginning of the 20th century, leaving only memories and storys told by the islanders. 

***

And last but not least, here the fourth account of birds from the Namoluk Atoll, Chuuk, that were enumerated by Max Girschner, another German who had lived in Micronesia at the beginning of the 20th century, he was a colonial offical, a doctor, and a ethnologist.

I have no access to his accounts, but I can give you quotations of them by Mac Marshall from 1971, here they are.:

Ponape Lory (no Namoluk name)

Trichoglossus rubiginosus

Extinct breeder.

According to Girschner (1912:126), this species was blown to Namoluk in a typhoon in 1905, and apparently it still occurred on the atoll at the time of his visit. there are no lories at present on Namoluk nor can anyone alive on the atoll in 1971 remember seeing them.
” [2]

According to Donald W. Buden this whole information is unlikely, and if these parrots have ever occurred on the Namoluk Atoll at all, they must have been brought there by people. [3]

I personally think … why not, typhoons may indeed blow parrots from one island to another, or how did the loris themselves came to end up on the island of Pohnpei in the first place?

But wait, there’s more.:

A second bird mentioned by Girschner that no longer is found on Namoluk is “a small black and white bird” for which he gives the name lipukepuk.” [2]

The author states that this can only be the description of a New Hanover Mannikin (Lonchura (hunsteini ssp.) nigerrima (Rothschild & E. J. O. Hartert)), which does not occur anywhere in Micronesia and which is not black and white by the way. The bird he is actually referring to is Hunstein’s Mannikin (Lonchura hunsteini ssp. minor (Yamashina)), which again is very well occuring in Micronesia, at least on the island of Pohnpei (yes, again), and which is at least blackish and greyish …. 

To me the whole account sounds very much like a nice description of the Truk Monarch (Monarcha rugensis (Hombron & Jacquinot)), and given the fact that most island-dwelling birds in Micronesia also occur on nearby atolls it is quite possible that there once was a native population of this bird here as well.

But we will probably never know for sure.

***

The most interesting things that I found out so far are.: 

1: Micronesian bird names are odd (to my ears and eyes), I mean the Palau Ground Dove (Alopecoenas canifrons (Hartlaub & Finsch)) for example is named omekrengukl, I do not even know how to pronounce that.   🙂

2: Micronesia harbors only 148 native breeding bird species (including the extinct ones!).

3: The Micronesian landbirds do not only occur on the higher islands but also on the atolls, even on those atolls that are quite far away from the next high islands, a situation that is completely different from Polynesia, where the high islands almost entirely harbor a different avifauna than the atolls. 

There may have been more species once, especially when we fill some of the illogical gaps between the islands and island groups.

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References:

[1] Paul Hambruch: Nauru. Ergebnisse der Südsee-Expedition 1908-1910. II. Ethnographie: B. Mikronesien, band 1.1 Halbband. Hamburg, Friedrichsen 1914
[2] Mac Marshall: The natural history of namoluk Atoll, eastern Caroline Islands. Atoll Research Bulletin 189: 1-53. 1975
[3] Donald W. Buden: The birds of Satawan Atoll and the Mortlock Islands, Chuuk, including the first record of Tree Martin Hirundo nigricans in Micronesia. Bulletin on the British Ornithologists’ Club 126(2): 137-152. 2006
[4] Dirk H. R. Spennemann: Extinctions and extirpations in Marshall Islands avifauna since European contact – a review of historic evidence. Micronesia 38(2): 253-266. 2006

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edited: 04.06.2019

The Raiatea Swamphen

Swamphens (genus Porphyrio) are distributed worldwide (except of course Antarctica), five species are currently officially recognized. In my opinion there are actually more species, 11 to be exact, namely if the Purple Swamphen (species complex) is split into the distinct species which it actually consists of.

And then there are the extinct members including five described species and seven not-yet-described ones.

***

And … then there are the hypothetical ones … two so far, one of which I have already written about here:

The Tahitian Mountain Goose

The other one is way less mysterious and on the other hand much more mysterious, it is a swamphen from Ra’iatea, Society Islands.

The island of Ra’iatea lies 50 km east of Huahine, the home island of McNab’s Swamphen (Porphyrio mcnabiKirchman & Steadman), one of 12 the extinct swamphen forms known on the basis of subfossil bones only.

***

What do we actually known about the mysterious bird of today’s post?

Not much. There is a little note among a big listing of Polynesian (including Melanesian and Micronesian) birds, which says the following.:

319.* Porphyrio sp.
Porphyrio sp. (Schmeltz), Cat. Mus. Godef. 1874 V, p. XVI; Garrett, 1. C. note.
Island of Raiatea, Society Is. (Garrett).
This species is known from two young specimens only.
“ [1]

***

And that’s it.

I could not find out anything else.

But … the Australian Swamphen is known to be a trampy species and has colonized new Zealand only quite recently, maybe only after the colonization of the islands by the first Polynesians. The same species has also colonized parts of Oceania, where the ssp. pelewensis Hartlaub & Finsch has evolved in Palau and the ssp. samoensis Peale (including. ssp. vitiensis Peale) in western Polynesia.

So, the two Ra’iatean birds may in fact not have been collected on Ra’iatea at all but on another island, or they may have been taken there but may have originated from another place, maybe from Samoa, the closest place where swamphens still exist today.
… or the Ra’iatean birds were indeed a distinct subspecies or perhaps rather species that survived into the 19th century.

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[1] Lionel K. Wiglesworth: Aves polynesiae: a catalogue of the birds of the Polynesian subregion (not including the Sandwich Islands). Berlin: R. Friedlaender & Sohn 1891 In: Abhandlungen und Berichte des Königl. Zoologischen und Anthropologisch-Etnographischen Museums zu Dresden Bd. 3: 1-84. 1890/91. herausgegeben von Hofrath Dr. A. B. Meyer, Director des Museums

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edited: 07.10.2018; 01.01.2019

A reed warbler from Raivavae?

Hi there!

While reading some stuff in my ‚reed warbler book‘ [3] last night, I suddenly remembered that there was a sighting or rather a ‚hearing‘ of a reed warbler on an island where no such reed warbler was known to exist, and I was quite sure that this was one of the Cook Islands, but could not find any mention of it.

But then, i found it, and it was one of the Austral Islands, namely Raivavae, where a reed warbler was recorded in 1968, and it was apparently indeed not seen but heard only, but it was at least identified as being a reed warbler.

The island of Raivavae has no surviving endemic land bird species today, but of course did have some of them in the past, among them very, very, veeery likely also a reed warbler species, and in my humble opinion this appears to have survived until the mid 20th century at least.

***

So, I’ve checked my ‚usual suspects‘ and found some furter informations, but not really that much, unfortunately.

Te Manu: Bulletin de la Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie. Nr 24. September 1998:

Une espèce non identifiée d’Acrocephalus a été notée à Raivavae en 1968 mais n’a pas été retrouvé en 1990 (Seitre et Seitre 1991) et pouvait donc être un oiseau erratique.

translation:

An unidentified species of Acrocephalus was recorded at Raivavae in 1968 but was not found in 1990 (Seitre and Seitre 1991) and could therefore be an erratic bird.

This record obviously is mentioned by D. T. Holyoak; J.-C. Thibault in 1984 [1] but I was not able to read it myself, however, I’m rather convinced that the ‚erratic bird‘ more likely is meant to be what in German is called a „Irrgast“, a migratory bird that appeared on the island inadvertently while flying from one point to another.

But are there migratory reed warblers flying over the Austral Islands? No, because if they fly from north to south or back, they just do not cross the middle of the Pacific Ocean since the migratory reed warbler species only inhabit the continents of the ‚Old World‘ and those inhabiting the Polynesian islands do not migrate, as far as I know.

***

In chapter 7 of David W. Steadman’s ‚Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific birds‘ from 2006 [2] it is mentioned as Acrocephalus vaughani and as a ‚M, modern record‘ from Raivavae. How could I actually miss that until today?

****

I personally are rather sure that this single record from the island of Raivavae is indeed the last record of a former existing population of native, probably endemic, Raivavae Reed Warblers which now join the ever-growing list of extinct taxa. 

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References:

[1] D. T. Holyoak; J.-C. Thibault: Contribution à l’étude des oiseaux de Polynésie orientale. Mémoire du MNHN, Série A Zoologie 27: 121-122. 1984
[2] David W. Steadman: Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds. University of Chicago Press 2006
[3] David Pearson; Peter Kennerly: Reed and Bush Warblers. Christopher Helm 2009

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edited: 20.01.2019

Rapa Nui – was there an endemic goose?

When James Richard Hill MacFarlane [unfortunately I could not find out who that actually was] stayed on Easter Island in February 1884, he made the following statement, which, however, appears to be very reliable after all.:

The only birds I saw in the crater [Rano Kao] were three ruddy-coloured Geese, but I was unable to get anywhere near them.“ [1]

There were at least three geese on the island, straying around in the crater of the extinct Rano Kao volcano, but what can we make of this observation?

***

Well, given the date of this observation, 1884, these geese certainly were not an endemic species now lost, but given the recorded color they may also not have been feral geese, which are always either gray or white or mottled gray and white.

The authors of the most recent listing of native and introduced birds found on Rapa Nui, Manuel Marin and Pablo Caceres, think that what Mr. McFarlane saw may have been female Upland Geese (Chloephaga picta (Gmelin)), a species that inhabits southern South America and that either may have stranded on the island after they lost their route during a flight or, probably more likely, were imported to the island by humans. [2]

***

I will possibly post more interesting [I hope it is] stuff about this very, very isolated island in 2019.

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References:

[1] J. R. H. MacFarlane: Notes on birds in the western Pacific, made in H. M. S. ‚Constance‘, 1883-5. Ibis 5(5): 201-215. 1887
[2] Manuel Marin; Pablo Caceres: Sobre las aves de Isla de Pascua. Boletín del Museo Nacional de Historia Natural, Chile 59: 75-95. 2010

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edited: 08.12.2018

Amsterdam Island Rail – gone with the wind

When C. Jouanin and P. Paulian surveyed beds of subfossil bones on Île Amsterdam in the subantarctic Indian Ocean in 1960, they found almost only bones of seabirds, but also some bones of what later was described as the Amsterdam Island Duck (Anas marecula Olson & Jouventin) – and – the mummified body of a middle-sized rail.  

The two just wrote some kind of short note [1], that later, in 1977, was translated by Storrs L. Olson.:  

A mummy of a small rail was discovered in a tunnel in a lava flow, under a block that had no doubt protected it from moisture. A sketch was made in situ, as well as taking measurements of the beak (22 mm), the tarsus (40) and the middle toe without claw (34), but the mummy fell to dust when an attempt was made to pick it up. In this case one cannot infer the former existence of a rail peculiar to New Amsterdam, although it would be perfectly likely (endemic species of this order exist on most isolated islands), for the measurements cited coincide with those of a skin of a Corncrake (Crex crex Linnaeus) in the British Museum collected 100 miles to the south of Madagascar. Still, this identification is not wholly satisfactory: the mummy did not have the bulk nor the heavy bill of a Corncrake, and it is most regrettable not to have been able to remove it.“ [2]  

The Amsterdam Island Rail very, very, very likely, if not absolutely definitely, was an endemic species, that indeed may have descended from the trampy Corncrake, a species that inhabits parts of western Asia and Europe, but on its migrations, pops up almost everywhere on Earth!  

***  

Imagine how many such endmic rails may have existed before mankind spread all over the planet, it must have been thousands …!  

*********************  

References:  

[1] C. Jouanin; P. Paulian: Recherche das ossements d’oiseaux provenant de l’île Nouvelle-Amsterdam (Océan Indien). Proceedings of the XIIth International Ornithological Congress, Helsinki: 368-372. 1960 
[2] Storrs L. Olson: A synopsis of the fossil Rallidae. In: Sidney Dillon Ripley: Rails of the World – A Monograph of the family Rallidae. Codline. Boston 1977  

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edited: 15.10.2018

Cook Islands Sandpiper ?

I just found an interesting account from the 19th century that mentions the Kiribati / Tuamotu Sandpiper (Prosobonia cancellata Peale / parvirostris J. F. Gmelin) as Phegornis cancellatus from the Hervey Islands (today the atoll Manuae in the northern Cook Islands). [1]

Is this just an error, or is it a report of a last population of the subfossil Prosobonia sp. that is known from Mangaia, Cook Islands?

I wish I had more time for all that, but sadly I have to work for a living (… it’s actually more work than living ….).

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[1] Lionel K. Wiglesworth: Aves polynesiae: a catalogue of the birds of the Polynesian subregion (not including the Sandwich Islands). Berlin: R. Friedlaender & Sohn 1891 In: Abhandlungen und Berichte des Königl. Zoologischen und Anthropologisch-Etnographischen Museums zu Dresden Bd. 3: 1-84. 1890/91. herausgegeben von Hofrath Dr. A. B. Meyer, Director des Museums

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edited: 10.10.2018

Saint Paul Duck … a species that never was?

Saint Paul Duck  (Anas sp. ‚Île Saint-Paul‘)

While describing a new extinct birb, the Amsterdam Island Wigeon (Anas marecula) in 1996, the two authors Storrs L. Olson and Pierre Jouventin mentioned an account from the middle of the 18th century, and quoted another author, W. R. P. Bourne.:

Of far greater interest, however, is the report of the explorer John Barrow, who was on St. Paul Island on 2 February 1793, where he mentioned the presence of „a small brown duck, not much larger than a thrush“ that was „the favorite food of the five sealers living on the island“ (quotes brom Bourne et al. 1983).“ [2][3]

To me, it seems, the two authors did not actually check the original source, John Barrow, here.

Well, but I did, I checked it!   😉

***

By the way; another well-known author of bird/extinction-related books, Julian P. Hume (in Extinct Birds; in the 2012 – or in the 2017 edition), even gives a completely wrong source.:

„John Barrow: Some Account of the Public Life, and a Selection from the Unpublished Writings, of the Earl of Macartney. Amsterdam London: T. Cadell and W. Davies. 1806“

I checked that source too!   😉

***

But back to the actual source, what does it really say?

Page 140:

On the 1st of February we discovered the two islands of St. Paul and Amsterdam, and on the evening of the same day anchored on the eastern side of he latter, at the distance of about a mile from the shore. …“ [1]

The latter one is Amsterdam Island, right?

What follos are several descriptions of the island, of its geology, and some quite interesting philosophical reflections about the fact that some parts of the planet appear to be older/younger than others, and that islands apparently can just appear out of nothing or disappear into nothing, obviously without aid of an unearthly higher being (remember; Darwin’s ‚On the Origin of Species‘ first appeared 66 years after).

… oh, and a list of birds of course.:

Page 147/148:

The number of birds was likewise astonishing, and the two causeways were strewed with teir eggs. During our short stay on shore we obtained the fossowing birds:

Anas, A small brown Duck, not much larger than a thrush, and apparently not described by naturalists.
“ [1]

The author still speaks about Amsterdam Island here, so this is the Amsterdam Island Duck (Anas marecula Olson & Jouventin)!

Its this little passage – „A small brown Duck, not much larger than a thrush“ – that apparently was copied again and again by several authors without checking the original source.

***

On page 155 resp. 156, the author reports about five seal hunters, that „all lived in a small miserable hut, as dirty and offensive as that of an Hottentot; and it was surrounded on every side by the dead carcasses of seals and sea-lions.“ [1]

Page 155:

If the smoke and the fires of Amsterdam Island had excited our curiosity, the discovery of two or three human being running along the shore, as our ships approached it, on so miserable a spot, and so distant from any other land except the little neighboring island of St. Paul, caused a still greater degree of astonishment. …“ [1]

This passage clearly still refers to Amsterdam Island! 

***

Page 156:

The birds, they observed, had a strong fishy taste, to which, however, long habit had reconciled them: those that were the least so were the blue petrel and the little brown duck.“ [1]

There again, the small duck from Amsterdam Island! 

***

The Amsterdam Island Wigeon clearly survived into the 18th century, since it is clearly that bird that is mentioned in the so often (incorrectly) cited quotes. There may a duck have existed on the Île Saint-Paul, however, up to now there is no proof for that assumption!

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References: 

[1] John Barrow: A voyage to Cochinchina, in the years 1792 and 1793. To which is annexed an account of a journey made in the years 1801 and 1802, to the residence of the chief of the Booshuana nation. London: printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies 1806
[2] W. R. P. Bourne; A. C. F. David; C. Jouanin: Probable Garganey on St. Paul and Amsterdam Islands, Indian Ocean. Wildfowl 34: 127-129. 1983
[3] Storrs L. Olson; Pierre Jouventin: A new species of small flightless duck from Amsterdam Island, southern Indian Ocean (Anatidae: Anas). The Condor 98(1): 1-9. 1996

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edited: 08.10.2018

Bruner’s Rail

Bruner’s Rail (Cacroenis inornatus Bruner) is a very enigmatic species of rail supposed to have been endemic to the Tuamotu Archipelago, whose name repeatedly appears in listings of extinct birds and other publications. [4]  

***  

Yet, this species has never existed, but see for yourself.:  

The name first appears in the “Field guide to the birds of French Polynesia” from 1972, obviously the first book about the birds of French Polynesia, and full of errors, some of them bad, others worst. [3]  

The story begins right with the discovery of the Cocos Finch in 1843.: [1][2]  

This bird, which is in all probability a female, is from Bow Island, and is, I believe, the only insessorial form that has been brought from thence. Only a single example was procured, and its principal interest consists in its forming an additional species of a small group of birds inhabiting the Galapagos, to which islands they had hitherto appeared to be peculiar. … 
Bow Island has truly little to boast of in its ornithology, since the only birds seen by us during a residence of six weeks at this Atol coral island were doves, the above new species of Cactornis, plover, a few black and white tern which appear attached to these situations, and herons; and none of these were at all numerous. The Cactornis inornatus was usually noticed about the lowly bushes of Petesia carnea, the succulent fruit of which most probably constitutes its chief food.
”  

***  

Bow- or La Harpe Island, both are old names for the Hao atoll in the middle of the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia, and the plant mentioned in the text, Petesia carnea, is now known as Psychotria carnea (G. Forst.) A. C. Sm., a species that is native to Fiji and Tonga, and that has never existed in the Tuamotu Archipelago.  

***  

The bird is mentioned in the “Field guide to the birds of French Polynesia” [as Cacroenis inornatus] as being confusing and obscure but also as being small, speckled and generally brownish in appearance; it appears in a checklist at the end of the book [this time as Cactornis inornatus] as having been introduced to the Archipelago, which is complete bullsh**!  

***  

The Cocos Finch is now named as Pinaroloxias inornata (Gould), however, how this finch-like tanager finally ended up as a extinct rail species is still not known to me.  

*******************  

[1] John Gould: On nine new birds collected during the voyage of H.M.S. Sulphur. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 11. 103-107. 1843 
[2] John Edward Gray; John Gould; John Richardson; Richard Brinsley Hinds and others: The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Sulphur: under the command of Captain Sir Edward Belcher, during the years 1836-42. London: Smith, Elder 1843-1846 
[3] Phillip L. Bruner; O. G. Dykes: Field guide to the birds of French Polynesia. Bishop Museum Press 1972 
[4] Greg Sherley; Rod Hay: Review of avifauna conservation needs in Polynesia. Bird Conservation Priorities and a Draft Avifauna Conservation Strategy for the Pacific Islands Region 10-17. 1999  

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Cocos Finch (Pinaroloxias inornata), female  

Depiction from: “John Edward Gray; John Gould; John Richardson; Richard Brinsley Hinds and others: The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Sulphur: under the command of Captain Sir Edward Belcher, during the years 1836-42”  
(public domain)  

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edited: 26.09.2018

The Tahitian Mountain ‚Goose‘

There exists an almost unknown contemporaneous account from the 18th century, made by James Morrison, boatswain’s mate aboard the famous or infamous ‚Bounty‘, who made mention of a mysterious bird [… and how I love mysterious birds …!].:

… the mountains produce birds of different kinds unknown to us, among which are a large bird nearly the size of a goose, which is good food; they are never observed near the sea nor in the low lands.” [1]

***

So, usually called the Tahiti Goose, Tahitian Goose, or Tahitian Mountain Goose – what are we talking about here actually?

We very probably do not talk about a goose, but why?

First we have to take into account who made the report: 

A boatswain’s mate from the 18th century very likely was not a zoologist, but may in fact have known at least several European birds, especially poultry, so very likely knew chickens, doves, ducks, and geese, and very likely also quails, partridges and other so called game birds. 

As a seafarer he perhaps may have had some good knowledge about seabirds, and probably could very well tell several species of them apart from each other.

These are the birds that we can just sort out, but what may it have been then? 

Well, the Tahitian Mountain ‚Goose‘ apparently was a somewhat large, terrestrial bird, more or less the size of a feral goose, it was ‚good food‘ so it must have been easy to catch, it probably [actually very likely to almost certainly] was flightless, and it was unlike any bird known to ‚us‘, to the sailors of the ‚Bounty‘. 

In my opinion, and in that of many others, the Tahitian Mountain ‚Goose‘ almost certainly was a kind of rail, a large, flightless rail, maybe a species from the widespread genus Porphyrio, somewhat like a Tahitian version of the New Zealand Takahe (Porphyrio mantelli (Owen)).

However, there is of course the chance that the Tahitian Mountain ‚Goose‘ was something completey different, we probably will never know for sure.

… mysterious ….

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References:

[1] J. M. Derscheid: An unknown species – the Tahitian Goose. Ibis 81: 756-760. 1939

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edited: 22.09.2018

Mysterious Polynesian parrots

I was writing about a hypothetical parrot species, that formerly may have inhabited the island of Bora Bora, Society Islands here.  

***  

I will now write about some very interesting accounts that were left by Teuira Henry (1847-1915), a educator, ethnologist, folklorist, historian, linguist, and scholar from Tahiti, Society Islands in a manuscript that she reconstructed during her lifetime from the pieces of a lost manuscript which again was written by her grandfather in the years between 1817 and 1856. It included significant amounts of oral folklore, genealogy, histories, myths, and traditional knowledge such as astronomy and navigation. Her manuscript was posthumously published as ‘Ancient Tahiti’ by the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in 1928. [1]  

***  

In 2006, Philippe Raust wrote a little article [2] about the newly discovered and described parrot species found as subfossil remains in French Polynesia, he also mentioned the old Tahitian names of several such parrots, of which some still cannot be assigned to any known species.:  

… Peut être étaient-ce le vini-pa-tea perroquet de couleur pourpre à gorge blanche commun à toutes les îles de la Société et le vini-pa-uri de Pora Pora entièrement rouge décrit par T. Henry dans Tahiti au temps anciens? Il est connu que les plumes rouges étaient recherchées dans les sociétés polynésiennes préeuropéennes où elle symbolisaient le pouvoir des chefs; c’est peut être à cause de cela que ces espèces, trop chassées, ont disparu. T. Henry cite aussi le vini- rehu (perroquet sifleur gris), le tētē (perroquet noir de la Société), le ‘ura (perroquet rouge des montagnes) et le ‘a’a taevao (‘a’a sauvage des îles-sous-le-vent), le tavae (au plumage brillant et multicolore de Motu Iti, Tupai et Maupiha’a): cela fait au moins six espèces de perroquets, perruches et loris qui sont rapportés par la tradition.”  

translation:  

… Perhaps it was the vini-pa-tea parrot of ​​purple color with white throat common to all Society Islands and the all-red vini-pa-uri from Pora Pora [Bora Bora] described by T. Henry in Tahiti in ‘Tahiti au temps anciens’? It is known that red feathers were sought after in pre-European Polynesian societies where they symbolized the power of chiefs; it is perhaps because of this that these species, overhunted, have disappeared. T. Henry also cites the vini-rehu (gray whistling parrot), the tētē (the society’s black parrot), the ‘ura (red mountain parrot) and the ‘a’a taevao (wild ‘a’a of the islands-under-the-wind), the tavae (with bright and multicolored plumage of Motu Iti, Tupai and Maupiha’a): this makes at least six [seven!] species of parrots, parakeets and loris which are brought back by the tradition.”  

***  

So obviously we have seven species of parrots here, which of them is which?  

‘a’a taevao – Society Parakeet (Cyanoramphus ulietanus (Gmelin)) 
tavae – Kuhl’s Lorikeet (Vini kuhlii (Vigors) ssp. ‘Bora Bora’) ? 
tētē – Black-fronted Parakeet (Cyanoramphus zealandicus (Latham)) 
‘ura – a more or less complete red parrot, since it was named for this color 
vini-pa-tea – Blue Lorikeet (Vini peruviana (Statius Müller)) 
vini-pa-uri – Kuhl’s Lorikeet (Vini kuhlii (Vigors) ssp. ‘Bora Bora’) ? 
vini-rehu – a gray parrot [?] which produced a whistling sound, anyway, rehu just means gray  

***  

The Society Islands were home to five scientifically named parrot species that are known either from historical accounts and specimens or from subfossil remains, furthermore there was another species that now is restricted to a single island in the Austral Islands group but was much more widespread in ancient times.  

There are only two of them still existing today, and only one of them still inhabits at least some remnants of its former range – the amazingly beautiful Blue – or Sapphire Lorikeet (Vini peruviana).  

*********************  

References:

[1] Teuira Henry: Ancient Tahiti. Bishop Museum Bulletins 48: 1-651. 1928 
[2] Philippe Raust: Les Psittacidés disparus de Polynésie Francaise. Te Manu: Bulletin de la Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie 56. Septembre 2006  

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Blue Lorikeet (Vini peruviana)  

Depiction from: François Le Vaillant: Histoire naturelle des perroquets. Paris: Levrault, Schoell & Cie. An IX-XII. 1801–1805  
(public domain)  

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edited: 17.09.2018